Wondering how you can be a really good parent to your child? The answer lies in prioritising key aspects of your life. This will help you to successfully raise a family while dealing with the numerous challenges life throws at you. Different people may, of course, have different priorities. For someone whose sense of contentment comes from a successful career, position of power or materialistic possessions, parenting may not even be a priority; they might see it more as an encumbrance or additional responsibility. But someone who sees their family’s happiness and well-being as a priority might enjoy parenting and look forward to it.
Another significant aspect of parenting is the relationship between the parents. Both may have different outlooks on parenting, but it is essential that they sort out these issues. Any discord between the spouses will have negative effects on their parenting methods. Also, parenting and decisions about their child should preferably be a joint effort of only the parents and not involve other family members.
So, what should your major priority areas as a parent be? We speak to Ms Aarti C Rajaratnam, renowned clinical psychologist (www.millionsmiles.in) and author of Parenting: Innocence to InnerSense, who discusses five key priority areas. Ms Rajaratnam says there are no set rules for prioritising. But giving precedence to some aspects can make a difference in how you raise your family.
1. Financial Security: A new addition to the family is always a cause for joy, but there are constant expenses. In a developing country like India especially, sudden changes are possible and a vast majority of people may not come from affluent backgrounds. So, it is advisable for couples to plan for a baby after they achieve financial stability. Otherwise, it can be challenging or even traumatic – both for the parents and for the children. Financial stability will help in taking major decisions with regard to schooling and locality to live in or even the peer groups the child associates with. Recurring expenses on children can be a major financial commitment; so, one must think about the ‘affordability’ or ‘sustainability’ of this significant milestone.
2. Discipline: You need to set some ground rules about appropriate and acceptable behaviours. However, you need to follow these rules consistently and not enforce them unexpectedly. Consistency provides structure to the whole family and gives the child a sense of security. Disagreement or conflict between you and your spouse on disciplinary measures can lead to tumultuous parenting experiences. You must both remember to constantly model your own behaviour according to the definitions of discipline you have mutually agreed upon.
3. Roles and Responsibilities: As parents, you must plan and work out ways to share and shoulder responsibilities, keeping in mind that you should move away from stereotypes. This contributes greatly to the smooth execution of routine chores – often the reason for discord at home. Moreover, it is an excellent way to model equality for your children. Parents must also make time for themselves and take a break from their roles as parents or spouses. This will promote a healthy and harmonious marriage and parent-child relationship. The absence of this can be stressful to you, as parents; as a consequence of this you could set a poor example for your child.
4. Beliefs and Practices: You should discuss significant topics like religion, traditional beliefs and practices, gender issues, political affiliations and other subtle choices with your spouse. A cordial balance in this regard will give an opportunity for effective communication, thereby resulting in healthy relationships both within and outside the home. Ambiguity in such matters will make it difficult for your child to have a sense of identity, while rigidity will make her incapable of being sensitive and receptive to differences.
5. Plan–Do–Review: You can practise the ‘plan–do–review’ approach in your day-to-day parenting methods, wherein you implement rules or changes that you have mutually agreed upon for a certain period. You can then review how these work and accordingly continue with, modify or stop them altogether. Remember, nothing works the first time, all the time or for every child. Therefore, these priorities need to be reviewed and altered as necessary.
Setting priorities enables you to function within a framework where both parents can not only work together but also support each other. It also helps you to identify areas that are particularly challenging and may perhaps require additional effort. Often, we don’t realise that parenting demands changes and sacrifices. Establishing priorities will allow you, as parents, to accommodate and cope with these changes, while promoting a healthy and balanced relationship with your child. It is vital to plan these priorities early enough and not only when a crisis involving your child arises. Remember though, these priorities can shift as your child grows. So, you may need to change them over time. Most importantly, establishing priorities does not guarantee perfect parenting but it will definitely make the whole process a more joyful one.