Being a parent is more often than not (or always) a thankless job. It is also a job where you’re not exactly presented with a lot of consistent feedback on whether or not you’re getting it right. It’s also quite probable the daily feedback you do get from your kids (in the form of their words and actions) may leave you feeling a bit, well, terrified. I’m here to tell you, if you can hang in there and stave off the panic for a few years, you just may start to pick up on some miraculous signs that you are not, in fact, in close competition for the World’s Worst Parent award.
1. You receive a compliment from another human being (outside of your family) regarding your child’s character.
I’m talking about when teachers, family, friends, or any other respected person offers a compliment beyond grades or academic pursuits. A compliment that speaks to who your child is as a person. It’s hard not to beam with pride when your daughter’s preschool teacher informs you that she goes out of her way to be helpful and supportive to the special needs child in the classroom.
2. You observe them doing a selfless act (when they don’t know you’re watching).
Young children are egocentric, meaning their brains make it nearly impossible for them to see a situation from another person’s point of view. Read: They don’t give a crap that you are holed up in your bedroom with the stomach flu—they want their grilled cheese, and they want it now! Because of this, those fleeting instances when your child doesn’t stop for a second to consider his or her own agenda are amazing. Seeing your child shop for a charity gift, in the toy section, and not asking once for something they would like is huge.
3. You witness them struggle through a challenge and overcome it on their own.
A big part of parenting is that we spend a lot of our children’s young lives helping them solve problems they encounter throughout their days. Some days, it seems as though the list of their “problems” is endless, and you are a firefighter, dashing around a burning building and putting out flames. Watching your daughter try ice skating for the first time and witnessing her lack of confidence and coordination before resorting to quitting, only to have her return to the ice 10 minutes later and continue falling for another hour until she finds her balance, is remarkable.
4. You see them utilizing one of their ‘gifts.’
As you exit out of the crazy toddler years, an amazing thing happens. You start to see consistent attributes of your child’s personality, and their natural gifts and talents begin to emerge. I can’t think of many cooler experiences as a parent, than realizing what exactly makes up this little person you’ve helped to develop. It is pretty awesome catching your 4-year-old overtly utilizing their goofball personality (which they are very much aware of) in an attempt to cheer up your cranky household on a Monday morning.
5. You find out they use their voice for good.
We live in a world where kids strive to “fit in” now more than ever. Sometimes this leads to kids backing down, as opposed to speaking up, when someone else’s safety or emotional well-being is at stake. The hope is that our kids believe in themselves enough to speak out about significant matters. Finding out that your child showed the confidence to stand up to a bully or the assertiveness to inform a teacher of inappropriate behavior at recess is infinitely reassuring as a parent. As our kids grow, we become aware that we will not always be there to help them make good choices. Knowing that they can—and will—speak up for what’s right helps us sleep a whole lot easier.
6. You finally start observing the skills you’ve been teaching.
Hallelujah! Thanks to prefrontal cortex development, kids will eventually (around 6 to 8 years old) develop a consistent ability to practice self-control. This opens up a world of new possibilities for their actions and behaviors! You may just see your child stop, take a deep breath and think before yelling at a sibling. You’ll feel like you’ve just climbed Everest—first, because it’s so shocking that would happen, and second, because it’s just awesome.
7. You see your child loving others and being loved.
This one is hard to put into words, but I’m thinking most of you parents know exactly what I mean. It’s when your child steps out of themselves for the moment and is completely consumed by the joy and presence of love. The moment when your daughter lovingly looks at her baby brother and then proceeds to run over and wrap him tightly in her arms. The first time you hear “I love you, Mom,” and know they actually truly get what it means.
So, the next time you collapse on the couch after a hard-fought day in this crusade we call parenting, hold tight to the subtle signs your child may be giving you—signs which quietly let you know that parenthood is not all pain and no gain. The business of childhood is tough, and the behaviors are not often pretty. However, if we can keep the focus on long-term goals and values for our kids, we will see that slowly but surely, they are in fact being shaped into the awesome, loving and remarkable little people we always knew we’d send out into the world.