Parenting Theory vs. Parenting Reality: The Myth of the Responsible Parent

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Welcome to the June 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting:
Parenting in Theory vs. in Reality

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants are sharing how their ideas and methods of parenting have changed.


Whether it’s “little” things in the day to day or bigger questions such as vaccines or carseats, we all feel a little tug of doubt at some point or another: Am I being a responsible parent?

I can’t and don’t wish to tell you what matters to you. What I’m here to talk about is the myth I see plaguing almost every family I see when I’m out and about. In fact, I’d say it comes pretty darn close to being a universal stumbling block for all of us parents at some time (or perhaps forever for some of us).

Why the Myth of the Responsible Parent?

I know I held this faulty belief because people, myself included, talk and behave as if the myth is fact. Much of commonly shared parenting “theory” leads to judgment of our ability to uphold our responsibility in this area. Many of us “fail” time and time again. Yet, many of our own parents and the generations following continue to plod ahead down this bramble-filled path, passing down the weight of this myth.

May the truth, here and now, set you free…

PARENTING MYTH BUSTED: You are not responsible for your child’s (or your partner’s) feelings.

PageLines- parentpeacefullysmall.jpgHere are some underlying beliefs that hide away in our heads, sometimes until the screaming and whining starts:

  • I am responsible for my child/partner’s feelings.
  • I am responsible for my child’s/partner’s behavior.
  • I am responsible for who my child’s/partner’s is.

I show this belief when my anger disconnects me from my crying, whining, upset child after I have respectfully set a limit. (“I did everything ‘right’ and ‘everything she asked’ “)

I show this belief when I say (even in my head) “You make me/your little brother…” (angry, happy, disappointed, hurt, sad)

I show this belief when I say (or hold in my heart) “I have to … because you …”

That kind of talk and thinking does not get me the connection and cooperation I am looking for in my relationships and in my family.

I end up feeling frustrated and scared because I need some security. When I connect my life, my work, my “good enough”-ness on how others feel, I feel lost. What I seek is some kind of way to contribute to that which I and my family need more than anything: love.

In truth: My child’s/partner’s feelings, actions, or words  do not mean I have to do anything.

Yes, I feel frustrated, agitated, sad, angry. Still, I have the choice in those moments to take responsibility for my own feelings and needs. It is important for me to rewrite my parenting theory and use the words to express the reality I wish to create.

Parenting Reality: I am responsible for my own feelings, needs and actions. No one else’s.

I am responsible for moving through my anger, fear and sadness to clarity, calm and connection. Yes, my responsibility, as I see it for my family, is to nurture connection — to myself and my children — in order to create a nourishing environment in which peace, joy and love can sprout. This path is not instinctual for me. I carve it out consciously and with care. It is, in fact, out of a deep love for my children and a deep need to connect with my partner that I work to integrate Nonviolent Communication (NVC) into my self talk and into my family.

The parenting myth that other people’s feelings, especially those of our children, somehow obligate us or are a reflection of us is a weighty burden of belief that has crushed many an opportunity for connection.

I wonder: Where do you feel you might free yourself from responsibility for others? How might this release from responsibility of things you cannot control free you to nurture connection and sprout peace in your relationships and in your family?


Join me for a 6-Week Series on Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in Action for Conscious Parenting and Connected Relationships.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (posts will be live and updated no later than afternoon on June 11):

  • My little gastronomes — “I’ll never cook a separate meal for my children,” Maud at Awfully Chipper vowed before she had children; but things didn’t turn out quite as she’d imagined.
  • Know Better, Do Better. Except When I Don’t. — Jennifer from True Confessions of a Real Mommy was able to settle in her parenting choices before her children arrived, but that doesn’t mean she always lives up to them.
  • Judgments Made Before Motherhood — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks back on her views of parents she came in contact with before she became a mother and how much her worldview of parenting has changed!
  • A Bend in The Road — Lyndsay at ourfeministplayschool writes about how her visions of homeschooling her son during the elementary school years have changed drastically in the last year – because HE wants to go to school.
  • I Wish Children Came with Instruction Manuals — While Dionna at Code Name: Mama loves reading about parenting, she’s not found any one book that counts as an instruction manual. Every child is different, every family is different, every dynamic is different. No single parenting method or style is the be-all end-all. Still, wouldn’t it be nice if parenting were like troubleshooting?
  • The Mistakes I’ve Made — Kate at Here Now Brown Cow laments the choices she made with her first child and explains how ditching her preconceived ideas on parenting is helping her to grow a happy family.
  • I Only Expected to Love… — Kellie at Our Mindful Life went into parenting expecting to not have all the answers. It turns out, she was right!
  • They See Me Wearin’, They Hatin’ — Erin Yuki at And Now, for Something Completely Different contemplates putting her babywearing aspirations into practice, and discussed how she deals with “babywearing haters.”
  • Parenting Human BeingsErika Gebhardt lists her parenting “mistakes,” and the one concept that has revolutionized her parenting.
  • Doing it right: what I knew before I had kids… — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud, guest posting at Natural Parents Network realises that the number one game in town, when it comes to parenting, is judgement about doing it right. But “doing it right” looks different to everybody.
  • A synopsis of our reality as first time parents — Amanda at My Life in a Nut Shell summarizes the struggles she went through to get pregnant, and how her daughter’s high needs paved the way for her and her husband to become natural parents.
  • Theory to Reality? — Jorje compares her original pre-kid ideas (some from her own childhood) to her personal parenting realities on
  • The Princess Paradigm — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen had planned to raise her daughter in a sparkly, princess-free home, but in turn has found herself embracing the glitz.
  • Healthy Eating With Kids: Ideal vs. Real — Christy at Eco Journey In The Burbs had definite ideas about what healthy eating was going to look like in her family before she had kids. Little did she realize that her kids would have something to say about it.
  • How to deal with unwanted parenting advice — Tat at Mum in Search thought that dealing with unwanted parenting advice would be a breeze. It turned out to be one of her biggest challenges as a new mum.
  • How I trained my 43 month old in 89 days! — Becky at Old New Legacy used to mock sticker charts, until they became her best friend in the process of potty training.
  • My Double Life: Scheduling with Twins — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot was banging her head against the wall trying to keep up with the plan she made during pregnancy, until she let her babies lead the way.
  • Parenting in the land of compromise — As a holistic health geek trying to take care of her health issues naturally, Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama regrets that her needs sometimes get in the way of her children’s needs.
  • Practice Makes Good, Not Perfect — Rachael at The Variegated Life comes to see that through practice, she just might already be the parent she wants to be.
  • 3 Dangerous Myths about Parenting and Partnering: How to Free Yourself and Your Family — Sheila Pai at A Living Family shares in theory (blog) and reality (video) how she frees herself from 3 Dangerous Myths about Parenting and Partnering that can damage the connection, peace and love she seeks to nurture in her relationships with family and others.
  • 5 Things I Thought MY Children Would Never Do — Luschka at Diary of a First Child largely laughs at herself and her previous misconceptions about things her children would or wouldn’t do, or be allowed to do.
  • Policing politeness — Lauren at Hobo Mama rethinks a conviction she had about modeling vs. teaching her children about courtesy.
  • The Before and The After: Learning about Parenting — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work reminisces about the perspective she held as a young adult working with children (and parents) . . . before she became a mother.
  • Parenting Beliefs: Becoming the Parent You Want to Be — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how we can make a mindful decision to become the parent we want to be. Decisions we make affect who we will become.
  • The Great Breastfeeding Debacle — In Lisa at The Squishable Baby’s mind, breastfeeding would be easy.
  • What my daughter taught me about being a parentMrs Green asks, “Is it ever ok to lock your child in their bedroom?”
  • Sensory Box Fail! — Megan at The Boho Mama discovers that thoughtful sensory activities can sometimes lead to pasta in your bra and beans up your nose.
  • Montessori and My Children – Theory vs. Reality — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares her experiences with Montessori parenting and describes the results she sees in her now-adult children.
  • I Like The Mother I Am Now More Than The Mother I Intended To Be — Darcel at The Mahogany Way thought she would just give her kids the look and they would immediately fall in line.
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  • There is so much work, HoboMama, around freeing our children. I have been stewing in thoughts of freeing myself in my quest to free my children. What I realized is that part of the process is freeing my children and partner and others in the world from my beliefs that disconnect me from them and myself. It’s deep, long-term work. I’m glad to have you on the journey. 🙂 ~sheila

  • It’s a work in progress, isn’t it, Mrs. Green? Responsibility for our response feels so heavy sometimes. I find myself wishing with all my might for cooperation. Sometimes that leads to me asking myself how I can meet my own need. That sometimes leads me to peaceful and respectful connection. That sometimes gets me cooperation I am wanting from my children and partner. It’s all about each opportunity as it arises. Thanks for being part of the journey. ~sheila

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  • Dionna_CodeNameMama

    I still catch myself feeling responsible for others’ emotions (or what feels worse, blaming someone for my own). That is a challenge for me. And I constantly feel like a parenting failure for not working through my own emotions before reacting to something. But I keep trying, because I want NVC to be more natural for my own kids!

    • NVC = life long journey, Yes? We are in the hard position of paving a new way, Dionna. Our children are benefitting from every ounce of hard work we are doing to go inside and to express what is alive within us. They learn so quickly from our efforts. Each time we feel we failed, there is our child to ask us how we are feeling, heling to meet our needs. Each time we take the steps to make the connection we are forging a deeper groove of closeness in our relationship, of openness to humanity. It is an absolute blessing, this language for life. Yes, you feel sad and frustrated when your emotions lead you to saying a bunch of words that do not express what you are feeling but are learned language to talk around the life inside. You wish to connect with your children, to see them fully and to be seen fully, to be heard to to hear others. You wish to nurture life and sprout peace in your home, and don’t we wish it was easy!? And it is not. And we are not failing. We are enough. Each time we stop and say, “Wow, I feel sad that I spoke to you like that yesterday/an hour ago/just now. I am feeling anxious and in need of some time to take care of this, and I also need to connect with you and be kind with you” — Each time we can express that we are changing the world. Literally. Let us not think on failure, mama, but let us see the value in the getting up and falling down and getting up again for the deep lessons and love we are showing our children the best we know how.
      Much love, mama, and thank you for connecting with me around this post and for organizing this important carnival.

      • Dionna_CodeNameMama

        Thank you!! I definitely needed to hear that 🙂 I do feel much better when I stop and apologize for using a harsh tone or words that are hurtful. And Kieran *does* know NVC so much better than I did at his age. We’ll keep on keepin’ on 🙂

        • Know, too, Dionna, that it is actually through our mistakes that our children learn. It is not ideal for us to be perfect but to show our children how to shift out of a mistake towards connection — with self, others and the world. Keep on, sister mama. You’re doing the hard work!

  • Mercedes Donis

    Food for thought! This is definitely a weakness of mine and I wonder how I can pass this message on to my children when it’s time. Thanks for sharing.

    • Most of us, Mercedes, wish for more strength in this area because we were specifically shown the opposite time and time again. Some of us were punished to uphold this myth. I love that you are looking ahead to passing on the wisdom of NVC and connection to your children. My two cents would be to begin using it in every relationship you have in any moment you can bring your awareness to. I also have been and will continue posting my own experiences with my children. I do this in the hopes that people like you can learn from my mistakes and my efforts and move us all forward even farther. Thank you for stopping by to read and connect.

  • Yes, Jessica, plenty of us seem disconnected from our children. I am not certain these parents don’t consider how they impact their children. Some people are doing things because they believe it is what they are supposed to do. Some folks think there is one way to set limits and if they want to be a good parent and raise a good child then they need to do it this way. Some folks don’t have a lot of encouragement to do another way. I am wondering if these parents you and I see out and about are struggling with feelings as we are. In fact, it may very well be because they hold this myth so close to their heart that these parents seem from the outside to not care about the effect their words have. I know that raising a child can feel a terrifying journey, and I know that we do not do our best parenting out of terror. Were there more models around we might have an easier time, all of us. THANK YOU for stopping by to share the resource, your experience, your perspective and your story. ~sheila

  • Rachael Nevins

    Wow. I teach an online creative writing course, and I *just* found myself saying something similar to one of my students. The students are asked to critique each others’ writing, and in this evening’s chat, one of the students asked (basically), but what if I’m pointing out something the writer didn’t do in the piece I’m critiquing? Is the writer just supposed to suck it up? And I pointed out that all he is responsible for is being kind in his critique. Indeed, one can say the truth, but be kind all the same! But one cannot be responsible for how others react. And those reactions can be surprising! For example, someone might respond to a critique, even one that points out an error, with gratitude!

  • Kate (HereNowBrownCow)

    A very refreshing perspective. Sometimes it takes a step back to realise what our role really is as a parent. Thanks for the great read.

  • Ariadne

    Sheila, thank you so much for sharing this on the ppc wall. What you are talking about is so valuable and yet so hard for so many parents do to in practice. I have studied NVC for so many years and still it takes daily mindful practice plus plenty of failures to find that peaceful and connected way to interact, welcome upsets and just rest in the knowledge that my role can be to accept and support and it doesn’t have to be to fix, judge or prevent the upsets, frustrations etc…

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