Annalisa Barbieri: he secret to being a good parent

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The Independent Online

This week we saw two items in the news that gave cause for judgement on what makes a suitable parent. The Ukip couple who, last week, had the children they'd been fostering taken away from them because of their political beliefs. And we learnt that the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Justin Welby had a father who, although "brilliant" and interesting, was an alcoholic.

What does make a good parent and who decides it? It is perhaps easier to reverse this question and look at what doesn't make a good parent. For it is often the least obvious things that are the most pernicious. The stress-filled, sarcastic response; the not listening; the discounting of a child's opinion; the endless putting off of watching or listening to their latest dance or song or story. No biggie once or twice, but repeated often they will erode a child's self-esteem to the point of no repair.

Conversely the trying too hard to be a good parent by overloading a child's itinerary with things you think they should be doing without ever having asked them. The not letting them be occasionally unwatched and unjudged to discover who they are, not who you want them to be. The basis of every parental fear is about what might happen; it is this that is planned for, often to the detriment of what is actually happening right now.

Almost all popular parenting literature is about taming children, not listening to them. In all the rainfall of comments about Jimmy Savile, so little of it was about how to listen – really listen – to what children are actually trying to say to us.

Yet the absolute central core of being a good parent is the hardest to achieve and one that would sell no books. It's not discipline, or striving for respect (often another word for fear). It's trust. Trusting your child because you trust yourself to have done a good job is harder than Olympic gold to achieve.

And who the hell am I to tell you what makes a good parent? No one. But I was once a child. And I have a good memory.