“Britain’s Best Parent?” Is parenting a competitive sport?

I spotted the latest in a long line of TV programmes about parenting last week. Channel 4’s “Britain’s Best Parent” pitted 3 sets of parents against each other and a studio audience decided who came out on top! Each of the two couples and one lone parent had differing parenting styles. In summary, they varied from “gender fluid”, “Eastern influenced” and “lazy”, as described on the programme. As you might imagine, they all had their merits- allowing children not to be forced down the boy/girl division when choosing toys and games, valuing boundaries and contributing to family chores and being allowed to learn from their own mistakes without a parent immediately “saving” them. Is there really a perfect approach which always works?

The important combination of skills seems to be an ability to show warmth and an ability to be firm when necessary. Children thrive when they know that they are loved and nurtured through a warm parenting approach and when they feel safe because appropriate boundaries are in place and clear expectations set. It’s also important that we parent with awareness of what is developmentally appropriate. Expecting young children to exhibit huge self- discipline and choose educational pursuits over hanging out and having fun is as inappropriate as expecting them to be able to anticipate the consequences of choices they make without parental guidance. Children need support, encouragement and to be valued for who they are!

The notion of parenting being a competition is curious. It suggests that children are some kind of “project” which needs to be completed correctly. It made me wonder how much the parents adopted a particular style because this fulfilled their own needs? Interestingly, the audience voted the parents who had a strict regime of healthy eating, exercise and intellectual pursuits as the “winners”. Was this because they thought this was how perfect parents should behave in order to produce perfect children? In truth, family life can be a messy business and thankfully parents only need to be “good enough”. Being “good enough” means doing your best to allow your child to grow up to feel loved and safe and be the best version of his or her imperfect self!