How to Be a Great Parent – Pt. 2


Well, here it is Monday, and as I promised, the sequel to my article from a few days ago with some answers to what it takes to be a great parent. The answers may surprise you, but then again, maybe not. I know that many of us are just plain old worn out and feeling beaten up trying to love and parent our hurting children. I hear your cries, and I have felt your pain. My wife and I have been there, done that. We know how disparagingly hard it is, or can be. I know your doubts, your fears, your loneliness. I along with many others have experienced what you have experienced, and worse. Many of us have learned that the way out is through. And for most of us, there is no other choice. I hope you will take some solace, some encouragement, some last ditch effort that will help you keep going. Don’t underestimate being “just a human”. There is an untapped power in there. Choose love.

“If you get straight A’s, I will love you. If you get 3 detentions each week, I will love you the same. And I will spend the next 9 months proving it to you.”

I recently heard a middle school teacher say this to her 6th grade students. I wonder how many of us parents can say this to our children – especially our hurting and challenging foster/adopted ones – and mean it. What would it take to be able to do this relentlessly – no matter what. Really, what would it take?

A 2006 ground-breaking in a Fortune magazine article by Geoffrey Colvin, senior editor-at-large, shows that researchers have determined that What It Takes to Be Great is nothing less than this daunting guideline – “The lack of natural talent is irrelevant to great success. The secret? Painful and demanding practice and hard work”

Imagine this being said to you before you had your first child, or before you adopted or became a foster parent. Want to be a great parent? Here is what it takes – “Painful and demanding practice and hard work”. Most of us would still reply, “sure, sign me up”. But having said that, we would really have no idea what it means, or just how painful and demanding the hard work would turn out to be. So let me give you the corollary of what it takes to be a great golfer as an example in a quote from the article.

“Reinforcing that no-free-lunch finding is vast evidence that even the most accomplished people need around ten years of hard work before becoming world-class, a pattern so well established researchers call it the ten-year rule. The ten-year rule represents a very rough estimate, and most researchers regard it as a minimum, not an average.” In many fields (music, literature) elite performers need 20 or 30 years’ experience before hitting their zenith. So greatness isn’t handed to anyone; it requires a lot of hard work. Yet that isn’t enough, since many people work hard for decades without approaching greatness or even getting significantly better. What’s missing?

Practice makes perfect

The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call “deliberate practice.” It’s activity that’s explicitly intended to improve performance, that

• reaches for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence;
• provides feedback on results;

• involves high levels of repetition.

For example: Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate practice, which is why most golfers don’t get better. Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day – that’s deliberate practice.

Consistency is crucial. As researcher Ericsson notes, “Elite performers in many diverse domains have been found to practice, on the average, roughly the same amount every day, including weekends.”

So back to my question, what does it take to be a great parent? Please allow me to extrapolate, summarize and add to the investigative findings to make this palatable and applicable to our needs as parents.

Firstwe need a plan, a set of instructions that are worth the relentless and deliberate practice. Otherwise as Bryan Post has been saying for 20 years by quoting Bishop TD Jakes, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” So let’s use Bryan’s approach of “unconditional love” by learning to calm the stress and diminish the behaviors of our children by utilizing the 3Rs – Bryan calls it 3 Steps to Peace: Fostering Love in the Midst of Fear. This Three-Phase Intervention is the most powerful tool he has ever found to offer to parents. Remember the 3 Rs – Reflect, Relate, Regulate.

You will be surprised by how powerful Bryan’s Three-Phase Intervention can be. Do the following to create a POSITIVE feedback loop in the middle of chaos:

  1. The first thing a parent must do is stop and Reflect. Take 3-10 deep breaths, and ask yourself how you feel first. Get in touch with your own feelings and fear. Let go and let God.
  2. Then, Relate to your child. Tell the child how you’re feeling, and then, ask your child how he or she is feeling.
  3. These steps will Regulate you both. Keep breathing, love will enter, peace will follow.
Second, develop a different mindset about parenting.
“Again, research shows that this difference in mental approach is vital. For example, when amateur singers take a singing lesson, they experience it as fun, a release of tension. But for professional singers, it’s the opposite: They increase their concentration and focus on improving their performance during the lesson. Same activity, different mindset.”
Applied to parenting,  no matter how good or how bad we judge ourselves to be as parent, we relentlessly, unswervingly
  1. increase our concentration – mindfully of course – by paying attention to what is going on in us, in the present moment, non-judgementally and in what we see in our child;
  2. focus on improving our performance.

Why all the fuss about improvement? Because there is no ceiling to greatness. Why not try to do the best job possible in parenting your children? Let’s put an end to this “well, I turned out all right so lets just keep doing what we have been doing”. Why be an “alright” parent when we can not only help our children be the best that they can be, but become the greatest vision of the best person we can be in the process.

I once saw and ad for a marriage retreat and suggested to my wife that we attend. These opportunities excite me. Her response was very interesting. She said, “why, what’s wrong with our marriage? Aren’t you happy with it?” My reply was, “absolutely nothing is wrong. It’s great. I love it. I just think there is so much more to experience.”

‘Good enough’ is just where we draw the line, but there is so much more to experience, to share, to be. This is called CANI – Constant And Never Ending Improvement. This is the ‘different mindset’.

Third, begin to imagine what 10,000 hours of deliberate practice means, again from the article:
“Evidence crosses a remarkable range of fields. In a study of 20-year-old violinists by Ericsson and colleagues, the best group (judged by conservatory teachers) averaged 10,000 hours of deliberate practice over their lives; the next-best averaged 7,500 hours; and the next, 5,000. It’s the same story in surgery, insurance sales, and virtually every sport. More deliberate practice equals better performance. Tons of it equals great performance.”
Okay, so let’s do the math. 10,000 hours equates to 416 days of 24/7 non-stop deliberate practice. If we only practiced for 8 hours per day, which we don’t, it would still take 1,250 days (almost 3 1/2 years) to “be great”. A 2015 article found “Parents ‘spend just 34 minutes a day with their children’ – A quarter of all parents admit to spending a very small amount of time undistracted with their children because stressful life is too distracting”. So let’s just assume this article is accurate, 34 minutes per day would take us 13,333 days (36.528 years) to be great. Get the picture?
So get real, go easy on yourself and others. Toss out the perfect parent, and with it for most of us, the great parent. What it takes to be great and taking the time to do that are worlds apart it seems. And most of us will never really start the deliberate journey.  We are either too busy, too exhausted, too worn out by being beaten up in the process of trying to love our hurting/challenging children, or just too jaded or skeptical to believe that this is even possible, let alone probable.

Get to work. Bryan has a summary of steps to help us get started. If we add some of the “painful and demanding practice and hard work”, we can get there all the quicker of course. It will be worth it for your child, and for you.
Here is what you can do to begin (again):
  1. Order the eye-opening 154-page book now on sale for only $10, From Fear to Love: Parenting Difficult Adopted, Foster and Diagnosed Children
  2. Go through the book From Fear to Love one chapter a day;
  3. Implement the solutions in the book and use the key points at the end of each chapter;
  4. Enjoy your child(ren) again, or maybe for the first time.
  5. Choose love.

There is no end to love. Love cannot be quantified. There really is no ‘love more’ or ‘love less’. There is just love. And the meaning and experience of love is something that uplifts us as anyone who has ever fallen in love can attest to. Maybe that is what parenting is, falling in love with our children over and over again. There is no end to love.