Learning To Parent Is As Important As Preparing For Birth

Larissa Dann 21 November, 2016 (updated 16 December 2016)                                 Image:Shutterstock

 

When I was pregnant I planned. I prepared for the birth by attending antenatal classes, where I learned about stages of labour, and how to breathe through pain. I thought I was ready . . . to have a baby. But was I ready to be a parent?

We know, but maybe don’t realise, that being a parent is the most important job we could ever undertake. Yet, as respected psychologist and multiple Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Thomas Gordon said, "Parents are blamed, not trained."

As I held my newborn, I realized that having this baby was the easy part. Now began the real work, the work of a lifetime. Somehow, I had to guide this new person into becoming a contributor to society, someone who could be the best they could become.  

Gazing into my babies’ eyes, I wondered about their future, and the relationships they would have – with each other, their friends, their partners, and their children.  Their ability to form respectful relationships would be crucial to their success as adults.

And here was the rub.  The first relationships my children would ever have were with their family – their parents, their siblings, their extended family. 

I needed to ensure that my children’s experience of their early family relationships would stand them in good stead.  I needed to build a relationship of respect, trust, warmth, and compassion.  I needed to take them seriously, from the moment they gave their first cry, so I had a basis for modelling the relationship skills they would take into their lives.

But did I have the skills and knowledge to do this? 

Research from the Parenting Research Centre found a difference in attitude between 'experts', and 'public', towards knowing how to parent. Experts saw parenting as a set of skills that could be acquired. The public thought parenting should be something that comes naturally, through 'having a concern' for children.

As a new parent, I thought parenting should come naturally. Then I lucked onto a parenting course (which happened to be Parent Effectiveness Training, or PET), and completed the class, despite the disapproval from some close to me.

I learned that parenting skills could be acquired.

As a Mum-In-Training, I discovered that I could learn how to really listen, to truly understand my child. I discovered how to talk to my child, in a way that encouraged them to change their behaviour because they wanted to, not because they were afraid of me. I discovered that there were words and phrases that would undermine our relationship. I discovered I didn't need to reward or punish my children. In fact, I could involve my children in solving our problems together.  I learnt how to develop a mutual relationship of warmth and respect.

I found that by changing the way I thought about children, by seeing them as innocent people who don’t ‘misbehave’, but simply behave to meet their needs of the moment, I respected them as my equal.

These were all skills that I learned in a course. I read about them in a book, wrote about them in homework exercises, talked about and practiced them in role-plays with other parents.

These skills changed my life, and arguably, the lives of my children. Now, I teach those same skills, and I've been fortunate to hear how other families' lives have changed as the result of parent training.

I've come to the conclusion that it's not just parent training that is important, but the approach and philosophy behind the program that will affect our children. Research suggests that, in order to do well in their adult lives, we need to help our children develop empathy, to solve problems, and have the social skills to build warm, respectful relationships.

Moving beyond the individual, Robin Grille's book Parenting for a Peaceful World describes how parenting styles influenced history. He indicates that the way we parent and think about children, the quality of relationships within families, and a family's attitude towards relational power, form the foundation of a society.

So . . .

If parent training can teach parents how to relate warmly and respectfully with their children, then their children will relate respectfully with other

If parent training can teach parents to listen with empathy to children, then their children will learn to listen with concern and understanding to their friends, their future partners, their workmates.

If parent training can teach parents to assert their needs without blame or shame, then children will learn to consider others, value themselves, and to assert their needs with compassion.

If parent training can teach parents to resolve conflict peacefully, and avoid rewards or punishment such as time-out, then children will not bully. Instead, they will learn to problem solve with respect. And they are less likely to become perpetrators, or victims, of family violence.

Imagine we are children again. We will learn our social skills from the way our parents interact with us. Whatever we experience through living in our family, we will take to our childcare centre, our preschool, our school, and our workplace. We will take the relationship skills we learned from our family into our friendships, our partnerships, and, full circle, to the way we parent our children.

Learning how to parent needs to be as normal, as acceptable, and as available, as baby birthing classes.

When parents learn to value children and communicate respectfully, they equip their children with skills to use every day, for the rest of their lives.

© Larissa Dann. 2016.  

Comments

Thank you Larissa. This is absolutely wonderful. Thank you for all the hard work and careful thought you have put into your blog and this article in particular. Your writings have been very helpful to me and my P.E.T. course participants.

Thank you very much, Janine. I sincerely appreciate your thoughts, and I am so pleased that what I write is helpful to others.

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