Ok, I’m sorry I tricked you into clicking that headline. I don’t really have an answer. Not a definitive one, at least.
I used to think that it all boiled down to the kind of adult your child became. If they were kind, loving, compassionate and contributed to making the world a better place, then, as a parent you did a good job. Maybe if you were able to hover as a ghost at your child’s funeral and listen to the things said about them by their friends and family, then you might know with some certainty that your parenting passed the test?
How else can you measure the quality of your parenting? For me it’s about being conscious of my choices. It’s about caring about what I do in relation to my children. It’s about caring about them and being involved in their lives. Knowing what’s going on in their heads.
But as a friend and I sat at a café having lunch, discussing the (yet another) death of a woman at the hands of a man, we wondered what happens to a man, to a boy to turn him into a rapist, a murderer? Is it his upbringing? Is it the lack of good role models? Is it a life of abuse, lack of love, mental illness? Getting involved with a bad crowd? Drugs?
I really began struggling with this, because as a mother of two boys I suddenly realised that it was quite possible that no matter what I did as a parent, no matter how hard I tried to do the right thing by them, who knows what triggers a boy, a man into becoming violent towards others.
Yes it’s true there are some indicators we can go by in childhood and adolescence. Neither of my boys tortures animals, they don’t sneak out at night to maraud the neighbourhood with a gang, they are not in the least interested in drugs.
So does that mean that I’m safe? Does that mean I am a good parent? How much does my parenting really matter? Is it enough to overcome the genetic material gifted to them by the man I was married to? Will they grow up to be kind and emotionally mature, rather than cruel, manipulative narcissists?
I am told by those in the know that both boys are psychologically sound. They have some anxiety issues, but don’t we all? They don’t show any signs of disturbing thoughts or behaviour. Yet I worry.
There will come a time when I will lose control over who they hang out with, where they go, how they spend their time. Will something happen then to turn them into the kind of man I and others abhor?
Will they eventually drift towards their sperm donor and learn his behaviours and thought processes? Will the values groundwork I laid for them be enough to protect them from wanting to impress him?
It’s futile worrying about a future that may or may not play out.
Today, I am doing the best I can. I am conscious of my choices. I talk to my boys. They talk back. The teenager-in-waiting is beginning to give me attitude and the nearly nine-year-old still hasn’t grown out of his tantrums. But if that’s the worst I have to cope with, I will be truly grateful.
What do you think it means to be a good parent?