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As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

There is No Such Thing as a Perfect Parent

Thanksgiving traditionally is the time for the whole family to get together.  Some members enjoy this, others do not.  In the movie “Home for the Holidays”, one family member says to another: “we don’t have to like each other, we’re family.”

In Oscar Lewis’ book, “The Children of Sanchez”, people in the same family tell what they experienced growing up.  Identical events are recounted by different persons.  The stories told from the distinct viewpoints are so disparate that each individual seems to have been raised apart from the others.

Each member of a family experiences the family environment differently.  Ask your siblings sometime how they feel about an event that stands out in your mind as being very important when you were growing up.  The range of perceptions of this event will surprise you.  Siblings also remember parents differently and have very different feelings about them.

Families which keep records of their history need to remember that all events recorded are not necessarily “true”.  They have been filtered through the eyes and memory of the beholder and the recorder.

All influences shared by children in the same family, such as parents’ emotional warmth or disciplinary practices, get filtered through each child’s unique temperament and stage of development.  Siblings living in stressed households respond differently to negative experiences.  One child may have been born when there was family harmony while another was born during strife and never experienced harmony.  Family transitions and major events like illness, job loss and divorce also affect siblings differently.

Parents respond differently to their children according to what phase of growth they are in.  Some parents love babies but cannot handle a three year old.  Siblings are very sensitive to their place in the family and are aware of how each one is being treated.  An out-of-control three year old is resentful of the cooing baby brother who seems more loved.

Peers are another influence on the personalities of children in the same family.  Siblings are usually in different grades at school and develop different friendships.  These relationships sometimes set them apart from other members of the family.

As a result, although parents may feel they are treating each child the same, they produce children who are different.  Parents cannot control a child’s perception of what is being experienced.  The best parents can do is to appreciate the differences among their children and try to minimize preferential treatment of one child over another.

There is no such thing as a perfect parent or for that matter, a perfect child, but if you are a reasonable, loving parent, your child will grow up to be themselves — all different, but okay.  Their uniqueness is something to be thankful for, too.  Accept that as a given and the likelihood that this Thanksgiving reunion will be a loving and relaxed one is greatly enhanced.

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