The value of an engaged parent is immeasurable. In over fifteen years in the field of speech-language pathology, I’ve had the opportunity to meet, work with, and develop relationships with hundreds of families. They come in all shapes and sizes, cultures and beliefs, but there are some basic tenets of families I’ve met who had a healthy perspective on parenting and raising kids with special needs.
They still had their struggles, their doubts and fears, their moments of concern and anger, but within the wide-world of parenting and all its challenges, they kept the element of positivity.
Now, no family has it all together. No family is perfect and every family is a work-in-progress, which is one of the great parts of growing and learning as human beings, but here are three common factors I’ve seen in parents who showed the healthiest mindset and relationships within their families.
Parents who displayed a realistic-yet-positive outlook of parenting.
Let’s face it, very few of us wish to be the ‘bad cop’ in the parenting realm. Initially it’s much easier to give in to a child’s demands, cries, or complaints, than fight the battle of tears, tantrums, or tirades – but at the very heart of every child (every person) is the need for boundaries. Boundaries add a ‘frame’ around our worlds in which we can feel safe, protected, and loved. Boundaries also create a positive environment for learning such things as life-skills, consequences, self-control, cause-and-effect, or social relationships.
Saying ‘no’ is not a bad thing. Our kids certainly learn how to say it (or act it out) quickly enough, but parents are given the unique and awesome responsibility of providing a haven of safety, rules, and discipline (which means ‘teaching) into our kids’ lives to help them grow into productive, responsible, and thoughtful adults.
Just imagine if the ocean had no boundaries? Or our roads had no boundaries?
Creating healthy, consistent boundaries in which your child can learn, grow, and feel safe is a foundational part of parenting well.
Family-Centered instead of Child Centered
Another consistent strength in these parents is their understanding that their family is a unit, not a one-kid-show. Many times it’s easy to feel the pull of caring for a child with special needs.
As parents, we may be more lenient, provide more attention, or give-in to more demands from that child over the other siblings or even a spouse. Of course, parents must provide for their child’s needs, and of course a child with special needs may require more from the parents than the other siblings, but here’s the basic heart of this tenet: Keep the family in focus and not only that child.
If the family’s interest, fun, communication, schedule, and everything else revolves around a single child, it creates an unbalanced system which can lead to difficulties not only within the family, but also with the child who has special needs. No child needs to remain the center of attention.
Focusing on the family as a whole (along with setting consistent boundaries) helps develop an environment of give-and-take, sharing, learning from others, compromise, and community.
Positive Perspective as Life-Long Learners
One other characteristic I’ve noticed in these families is their positive perspective. This does not mean that they don’t have tough, frustrating, or sad days. It doesn’t mean that everything is always easy or quick-fix. What I mean as ‘positive perspectives as lifelong learners’ is that these parents keep a hopeful spin on their child’s abilities and progress, while grounding their hope in continual learning. They ask questions to learn more, they try to place therapist’s tips into practice as best they can, they search for communities to build connections, but they constantly keep an attitude of hope.
Life throws many difficult and painful situations. Some are short struggles and others are life-long challenges, but a realistic-yet-hope-filled vision keeps those hardships in their proper places so the family can move forward, learn, and grow.
Being positive is not always easy – and these parents fail at it sometimes, but on average they have an ability to face the storm head-on, learn from the rain, and still see the silver lining.
Certainly there are other valuable aspects of parenting we can learn from healthy parents. I’ve only listed a few here. What would you add to the list?
The Superpower of Positive Parenting
Pepper Basham, MS, CCC-SLP
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