woman sitting with children on bench

The most challenging job of all: being a parent

As both a mother and head of an international school for many years, the role of a parent now seems to have become the most challenging that it has ever been.  

Children are living in the touch-button age where everything is available instantly, values have changed dramatically, roles have altered, families and what constitutes a family have been redefined. Parents find themselves increasingly placed in new and ever-evolving situations.

It has become increasingly popular for parents to express that they wish for their children to be both their friends and, at times, confidants. More and more, from a very young age, children are being asked to make decisions that they may not be emotionally able or have the maturity to make.

The role of parents as the adult in familial scenarios has been challenged. Children have become their parents’ confidants and are being encouraged to make decisions beyond their age, maturity, and capability. They are and must remain children first and foremost.

Parents have to wear many hats. However, it is and remains very important, for both the parent and the child, that the emotional and functional role of a parent operates in unison. Afterall, our parents are our role models for life from the day that we are born – be it our natural parents or those assuming a parental role in our modern blended society.

It is both challenging and, at the same time, very important that a parent provides both their love and care as well as assuming the role of functionality in the relationship.

Parents need to ensure that children have the correct amount of sleep and oversee homework amongst other guidelines in the home that require establishing and adherence.

All parents need to understand that both their emotional and functional roles together combine to ensure that children will grow and develop into fully functioning adults.

It is a juggling act. The emotional role of a parent is often deemed easier than reinforcing our functional role of setting boundaries. Saying no to a 13-year-old wanting to go to a party without responsible adults being present, establishing screen-time usage or night-time curfews … the list is endless and so is the role of being a parent.

Parents have to establish and monitor the limits that they set; yes, children may not like them, and parents may worry accordingly. However, children need guidelines, and it is important that they realise that rules are set in their own interests to keep them safe and healthy.

It is equally important to consider what we talk to our children about. They are not our confidants. If parents argue with each other, friends or other members of their family, we should not be sharing how we feel about this with our children. This may well alter the way that they regard their other family members.

This may result in a very difficult situation as inevitably children will not have the maturity to cope with these types of situations. Adults should confide in adults. Our burdens are not and should never become our children’s.

This is especially important when it comes to your child’s school and their teachers: if you have an issue with your child’s school or a teacher, this should be directed at the school and/or teacher and discussed adult to adult. Children of all ages normally respect and really like their teachers. If we disrespect authority figures in front of our children, we should not be surprised when they themselves show disrespect for us!

Twenty-first-century parenting is complex, children are being brought up in a range of familial and, at times, complex settings. It is naive to assume that all parties involved are singing from the same hymn sheet!

Parenting is influenced by our own experiences and the situations that we find ourselves in. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that we are our children’s role models and the adults in any given scenario.

Of course, we should always listen, empathise, console and show love to our children. However, it is equally important to establish security, rules and routines in order to enable that our children may grow from unencumbered children into well rounded, independent adults.

As adults, we have our own friends to confide in, discuss the world about us and express our thoughts and opinions on an adult level. Our children must also be allowed this engagement at their level. They are our joy, yet also our responsibility.

There is no such thing as a perfect parent. We must be the very best that we can be for our children, using the knowledge and understanding that we have.  

By Penelope Best, Head of School,
Eupheus International School, Loulé