Parents’ joys and parents’ needs

The duties of parents are obvious: they must be perfect. This is not difficult either, everyone knows that parents are supernatural beings, loving, caring and selfless. They have inexhaustible patience and a thousand ideas how they can help their offspring to get out of boredom and out of trouble.

That is true! With one small reservation: Parents are not always like that. In every mother and father there is also an ordinary person with strengths and weaknesses, with quirks and moods. It is high time to free ourselves from exaggerated expectations of parents.

Parents can fail, as we all know, and on several levels on a daily basis. The blunders they make are as numerous as the sins of omission on their account. Bad grades, sibling rivalry, allergies, sloppiness – there are countless opportunities to develop a guilty conscience. And if one day it turns out that a child doesn't find his way in life without problems, everyone knows where to look for the blame: With the parents, of course! After all, they have taken care of the child for years – or not enough. No wonder many parents are under enormous pressure. Nevertheless, most people cling to an idealized image of parents. Why is that?

Sociologists point out that in a society that is oriented toward productivity on the one hand and products on the other, it's not surprising that parents squeeze into the Superman outfit to create a perfect product. Because this proves that they have done their job well.

The super-parent craze is also encouraged by scientific findings that attribute to parents an almost unlimited influence on their child – and thus also responsibility for everything that goes wrong.

In the Hollywood comedy "Sky High," shy Willi and his classmates are graced with supermoms and superpops who have bear powers, can bend like rubber, and can freeze entire swaths of land with one move of their little finger. The superparents can do everything, and everything better than their children, who are constantly measured against these great achievements. It's funny in the movies. In real life, superparents are a burden. No child can grow up under such circumstances without being damaged. Inferiority complexes are probably the least of their problems. This makes it all the more important to debunk common myths for once and ensure a more relaxed and realistic view of parenting:

Myth no. 1: Parents love unconditionally and without limits. Only God loves without limits. At least that's what it says in the Bible. Parents are human beings, and each person has his or her own individual limits of love and understanding. You don't have to think of extreme unkindness to know that unwavering parental love is by no means a given. And: there is no right to love. It is a gift, the greatest gift parents can give. But love alone is by no means enough for children to become responsible, caring, competent adults. It also does not guarantee lifelong emotional security, stability and happiness.

Myth no. 2: "Children are the center, and the world revolves around them."This sentence comes from Ursula von der Leyen, the former Federal Minister for Family Affairs. It may seem to a mother of seven that the world revolves around children, but for most parents – and probably also for Frau von der Leyen – children are undoubtedly very important, but fortunately not the only purpose in life. This would be a heavy mortgage that would prevent children from leading their own lives. It is good for them to learn that there are interesting and important things for their parents outside the microcosm of the family. A father who is passionate about his job and rehearses a musical with an amateur choir, or a mother who attends training courses and is active in local politics alongside her job, can be important role models.

Myth no. 3: Parents love each of their children equally. There is hardly a myth that parents knit more eagerly than this one. Of course they love each of their children, but not each child in the same way. Because no two children are alike, and every child needs something different. Children themselves do not want to be equal in the eyes of their parents. They want to be treated differently and loved differently. Parents can't be impartial either. When a child is pulled over the table by his big brother, all alarm bells ring, especially if you have experienced something similar as a child. If you didn't grow up as an only child, you will often relive the rivalries, anger, and pain of your own childhood during sibling disputes.

There are also always times when parents and children are not so well matched. This does not only apply to puberty. Even if a child is at times overflowing with vitality, parents can experience his wildness as exhausting and aggressive and turn inwardly more to the calm older brother. Fortunately, siblings usually take turns playing the role of black sheep, and one child ends a difficult phase just as it begins in the other.

Myth No. 4: Parents are selfless and self-sacrificing. That would be practical, of course, but this idea has been floated by economic and family politicians. Many children, especially older ones, also believe that self-sacrifice, selflessness and tireless helpfulness are the right attitude for parents to have. For themselves, politicians, like children, prefer to distance themselves from these ideals. Especially for teenagers, they don't seem to be as attractive as the benefits of healthy selfishness. Parents should also adopt this attitude now and then. For "he who always looks after others loses sight of himself", as the Dalai Lama says. So, please don't feel guilty if you no longer feel like jumping into the breach for every little thing. Or if one feels the urgent and healthy desire to do something good for oneself and not for one's child. Psychologists suspect, not without reason, that exaggerated self-sacrifice usually conceals a rich selfishness, albeit in an indirect way. Indeed, it obligates others to eternal gratitude. This is no basis for a good relationship, which is always based on a balance of give and take. It is advisable to keep the greatest possible distance from the myth of self-sacrifice.

Myth no. 5: Parents are patient and always in control of themselves. Patience is undoubtedly a quality worth appreciating. Buddha was certainly right when he recommended it as an advantage for a healthy life. In the Bible, however, only God possesses this quality. Yet patience is demanded of parents to an extent that can undermine their self-esteem. In reality, parents' patience wears thin much more often than they admit to themselves and others. They push and prod their child, they command "you do what I say" instead of explaining what they want and why. And instead of following their child's activities with never-ceasing attention and kindly interested comments, they are annoyed. Actually, they would rather sit in the sun with a book and a Campari. This is quite normal, but parents have a guilty conscience all the time. This is why the admonitions of psychologists that a loss of control has the worst effects fall on fertile ground. But this is nonsense. When parents occasionally (!) into a fire-breathing volcano, this is in no way in contradiction to the love, attention and appreciation they show their child. Guilt can be saved. And all the more so because children occasionally know how to cleverly use feelings of guilt to elicit from their parents what they did not want to give up beforehand.

Myth No. 6: Parents are irreplaceable. Every relationship between parents and children is unique, and the loss of one or even both parents is a tragedy. Nevertheless, parents are not irreplaceable. This would mean that an abandoned, orphaned or neglected child could never again receive maternal or paternal attention. The fact is that relatives, godparents, adoptive parents or parents in a children's village take care of their children with devotion and love, sometimes even better than the biological parents. In the past, in almost all cultures, it was common for grandparents or other relatives to take care of the children when the parents were working or sick.

It can be a great relief to realize that mother and father are to be replaced at least some of the time. And not only that. Children benefit from being cared for now and then by other friendly and reliable people. Many take an important step forward during this time, becoming more independent and self-confident, partly because they learn that they can cope with a temporary separation from their parents.

Myth no. 7: Parents always know what their child needs Parents (including fathers)!) are fortunately equipped with a natural basic program that ensures that communication works, at least during the time when a baby cannot yet communicate verbally. At least most of the time. Still, there comes a day when parents realize they have no idea what their child, who is currently rolling over the carpet in a tantrum, actually wants. Often the child itself does not even know what it lacks.

Even with the best will in the world, parents cannot always know what is going on in their child's mind. Children are not miniature adults. They live in a completely different world of imagination and fantasy, not all parts of which are accessible to adults. Parents can't read minds, and they don't need to. Rather, children must learn to express what is on their minds, perhaps one day without tantrums or tears.

Parents do not have to anticipate or immediately meet the needs of their child. "Delayed need satisfaction" is one of the most important experiences children should have, behavioral scientists say. Many studies show that children who can wait and control themselves are more emotionally stable and also more successful than children whose every wish is read from their eyes.

Myth no. 8: Parents solve all problems and do not show mistakes and weaknesses. Toddlers fantasize parents larger than life and omnipotent because they need it that way. As children grow older, they gradually realize that parents also have weaknesses and faults. This process can be painful and often lasts into adulthood. It is a sign of great maturity if one day one succeeds in accepting and loving parents as flawed and imperfect beings. If, on the other hand, parents or children continue to claim perfection, this inevitably leads to disappointment. Therefore, it is advisable for both sides to make room for new perspectives and understandings. Let the child fiddle around a bit until he finds the right solution to his problem himself. One day it has to get rid of difficulties without help. How can this work, if parents constantly reach under the arms like saving angels? And how is a child supposed to accept himself with his less perfect sides if parents always pretend to be perfect?

Myth no. 9: Parents must always understand their child. For a child to grow and thrive, he needs understanding parents who recognize his motivations, respond appropriately and make him feel, "The way I am, I'm right. I am even allowed to do something wrong without losing the affection and support."

Babies in particular are existentially dependent on wordless, instinctive understanding. But as soon as children get older, you don't have to and can't, with the best will in the world, understand and certainly not agree with everything that's going on in their minds. Children are independent beings who often have quite idiosyncratic ideas about what is right and what is wrong. If a five-year-old tramples on his parents because they don't buy him ice cream, you don't have to understand it. Not even if it is tired. Understanding is a wonderful thing, but children who break rules, put themselves in danger, or disregard values that are essential to peaceful and friendly interaction need clear boundaries, the opportunity to reflect on themselves, and support to see how to do better. This is how they learn to understand themselves. This is at least as important as understanding parents.

Myth no. 10: Parents never hurt a child. Inflicting pain on my child? For parents, this is a tremendous performance. Some people feel miserable when they have to hold their child so that a doctor can give him an injection. Others keep their child in the dark for days because they can't bring themselves to tell him that his guinea pig has died. Or they get a new one right away. For many parents, their child's grief and pain are worse than when something hurts them themselves. But even the most sensitive parents cannot spare a child every pain and disappointment. Unintentionally making a hurtful remark, dragging your child rudely across the street, or daring them to keep walking on a hike even though they have blisters on their feet. You don't have to pack children in absorbent cotton. But it is important to stay close to them in difficult situations. An important individualization and maturation process also takes place in pain. For this to succeed, children need strong parents who trust that they can endure the pain and are confident that things will soon be okay or at least better.

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