I’d really like there to be a short answer to this question, but I don’t think there is.
There are too many things to consider and while my parenting style may be informed by my profession, there are other factors too. Here are my thoughts on being a clinical psychologist (who, by the way, works in children’s services) and how I think it has, or hasn’t, influenced me as a parent.
Just The One
Circumstances kind of dictated me having just the one child. More would have been nice but it didn’t happen. We got divorced instead. My point is that I don’t know how I would parent with more than one child. While I think my principles would remain, there would inevitably be a different dynamic. I’m not sure how I would parent with a partner either. You need to sing from the same hymn sheet and it must be so valuable to share your parenting ideas, experiences, and support each other. If it works, I would imagine you gain confidence from each other and your parenting style blossoms and develops as a result.
Is Knowledge Power, Or A Burden?
I’ve found it useful having knowledge of child development and what to expect at different ages. This is also true for knowing what the psychological evidence says good enough parenting consists of. It’s reassuring to remind myself of the developmental stuff. When I look back to the toddler years, I reminded myself regularly that the tantrums and difficult times were all part of development, and they would eventually go away. The downside is, if things don’t appear to be going smoothly (which is sometimes the case), I seriously overthink it and analyse what it might be about.
This means there are times when I feel like I know too much. Sometimes having all this knowledge about attachment and parenting means I analyse the minute details of different situations, to the point where it’s unhelpful. Things like, when I consoled my son on one occasion he didn’t put his arms around me. I began to worry our relationship wasn’t as strong as I believed. It wasn’t particularly helpful at the time but I look back and see it all as part of the process of learning what I’m like as a parent.
Becoming a parent means opening up to perpetual feelings of guilt about all sorts of things, including decisions that are made and whether they’re right. I always try and do the right thing (don’t we all?) but I do ponder on the impact some decisions may have on my son. It’s probably me overthinking situations that usually turn out fine, and I should learn to relax more. I’m sure some parents go with the flow a bit more, or is this normal?
Similarly, becoming a parent exposes our vulnerabilities; some of which we may not have been aware of. How we parent is influenced by how we were parented and what we learnt about relationships in our childhood. Having an understanding of ourselves is so important for when we become parents and we inevitably learn things along the way. That doesn’t mean the standards we have as parents are easy to implement or feel like they are inherently part of us. I guess what I’m trying to say is parenting can teach us things about ourselves. It’s important to be mindful of these and how they relate to our parenting style.
What If I Wasn’t A Clinical Psychologist?
It’s a hard question to answer as I’ve been a psychologist for most of my adult life. If I wasn’t a psychologist I think there’s a chance I’d be a more carefree parent but I probably wouldn’t have the knowledge or insight I have now. If I weren’t a clinical psychologist, I can’t say I’d be a better or a worse parent. I can only deduce that I’d be a different parent.
As for clinical psychology, I’d like to think being a parent has shaped my practice and made me a better clinician. I now know what it feels like to be a parent and how hard, yet joyful, it can be. I’ve always been mindful of not judging others but being a parent who sees other parents, I hope I convey a realistic appreciation of how much goes into good enough parenting, and the things that can sometimes get in the way.
What do you think? What informs your parenting? Do some of the things I’ve mentioned ring true for you too? Parenting is such a wonderful and rewarding experience, but I believe it’s the hardest thing we do.