The Best Parent

Our world is filled with heartwarming images of smiling parents and caregivers, joined by their smiling children at athletic events, the beach, getting a first haircut or attending parties as we scroll our social media feeds. Images of best parenting moments.

We know that counterbalancing the best label is the worst label, with images posted far less often. Moments where parents and caregivers, impacted by life stressors, minimally may yell at their children. Where children perhaps with tear-stained cheeks, mirroring learned behavior, may yell back. This is a challenging reality.

Parents and caregivers experience days filled with seemingly never-ending questions (some familiar, even generational): What’s for dinner? Did I discipline too harsh? Am I spending enough time with my child? Is that behavior age appropriate? Why do they act like that? Will that bedroom ever be clean? Why won’t they stop crying? Am I doing the right things? Am I making the best decisions every day so that my child will grow into a healthy adult and be able to care for themself, maybe raise their own children?

Finding a person or place to hold and help achieve necessary answers can feel like a high hurdle. Maybe we believe that to ask such questions is to admit that we are not a good parent or caregiver. Perhaps it feeds into an assumption that all folks labeled parent or caregiver simply know what to do at every developmental stage in a child’s life.

The key to building strong family relationships is to create an environment where questions can be asked and answered. Where skills can be learned and applied. Building and maintaining this environment requires supports. The Center for the Study of Social Policy shares a research informed approach for increasing family strengths, reducing abuse and neglect. In their Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework they outline five key factors:

  1. Parent resilience: for managing stress and functioning well in the face of challenge, adversity and trauma.
  2. Social connections: for positive relationships that provide emotional, information, instrumental and spiritual support.
  3. Knowledge of parenting and child development: for understanding child development and parenting strategies that support physical, cognitive, language, social and emotional development.
  4. Concrete support in time of need: for access to concrete support and services that address a family’s need and help minimize stress caused by challenges.
  5. Social and emotional competence of children: for family and child interactions that help children develop the ability to communicate clearly, recognize and regulate their emotions and establish and maintain relationships.

This framework is being used in over 30 states, integrated in programming that supports families, fortifying them with useful, lasting skills. Additionally, these programs are accessible to families within community-based Family Resource Centers nationwide.

Research informed practices trickle down into easily accessible, no-shame opportunities for parents in abundance. One example (in Minnesota) is Circle of Parents, a facilitated weekly group meeting led by parents/caregivers where attendees can discuss the challenges and success of raising children. In Minnesota, FamilyWise facilitates these groups.

Parents and caregivers who participate in parenting education increase competency and are empowered with language and actions that increase positive family experiences. They benefit from more social and resource connections, and emotional support. When parents and caregivers are supported, children benefit.

– Sheri Hixon, Program Officer