Do You Want To Be a Great Parent or Raise a Great Child? (Hint: They Are NOT the Same)

(This article is part of our series on self awareness)What Every Parent Should Know About Raising Kids They Can Be Proud Of

Recently, my daughter and I were at a party at her friend’s place. There must have been 8 or 10 girls, all of the same age there. Many of us parents were meeting each other for the first time. We all wanted our kids to behave the best and make us proud.

You’ve been in such a situation before, right? You’re at a party, or a get together, or some kind of gathering and you desperately want your kids to behave so everyone can see what a great parent you are. Your chest swells with pride when your kids behave appropriately, and you feel sad for the poor parent whose kids are acting out.

Here’s the thing though. Life is not all black or white. If you did a good job as a parent, yes, perhaps your child(ren) will behave well. If you’re a lousy parent, yes, they might misbehave.

Between these two black-and-white cases though lies the fact that your kids are human. No matter how well you parent, or how much they would like to behave, unless you raise a robot with no emotions and feelings, there will be cases where they’ll just not behave the way you want them to.

The Bigger Picture

Now broaden that expectation a little more. We all want our kids to succeed. Yes, we want them to succeed for their own sakes. But we also want them to succeed for our sakes. Because their success validates what good parents we’ve been.

We want them to score the highest in the tests. We want them to be the class toppers. We want them to win medals in sports. We want them to gain recognition in extra curriculars.

If they fail, somehow we fail.

So we prod them on. To be successful. At all costs.

To be a topper, a gold medalist and be recognized by certificates and accolades.

The Folly

Here’s the thing. If a classroom has 25 students, and if every parent pushed their kids to be a topper, there will be 24 students who believe they are failures. Even if they tried very hard. Even if they came to within inches of being at the top. Even if they would have made it given a slightly different set of circumstances.

And that’s true with life in general as well.

No matter how much money they make when they grow up, they will never be the richest… there will always be someone who has more money.

No matter how smart they are, they will never be the smartest… there will always be someone who knows more.

No matter how good they are in any area for that matter, there will always be someone better.

How many of you remember Ryan Lochte? Ryan has won 11 Olympic medals in swimming. Unfortunately, his swimming career spanned across the same time period as Michael Phelps, and his great accomplishments were overshadowed by Phelps’s 22 Olympic medal haul. Can you imagine winning, not 1, not 2, but 11 Olympic medals, and still not being at the top?

No matter how much your kids accomplish, or what lofty heights they reach, they will end up severely lacking in something far more important – inner peace, satisfaction and contentment – if all they chase after is success as a means to validate themselves.

Breaking the Cycle

We need to snap out of this culture of seeking validation. We need to stop pushing our children to succeed at all costs and let those successes define their sense of self worth. We need to encourage them to take pride in their effort rather than the results. The honor must come from working hard instead of earning rewards, and in persevering in the face of obstacles.

But…. we can’t.

How can we possibly teach our kids not to seek validation in the results, if we constantly expect them to validate us as parents? Without first being able to detach ourselves from the results of our actions ie., an expectation of how our kids turn out, how can we teach them to focus on their actions instead of the rewards?

Which brings us a full circle — our tendency to seek validation from our kids behavior is just a reflection of our tendency to seek results instead of focusing on the effort in general. And with that tendency, consciously or not, we teach our children to seek success as a means of validating their self-worth, and cripple their ability to find joy in their hardwork and effort.

Both for the sakes of our children’s and our own happiness, it is time to break out of this validation cycle, and focus on just being the best parent you can be, under any given circumstance. Sometimes, things work out. Sometimes, they don’t. As long as you put in the effort, take pride in what you are doing, and commit to keep doing your best day in and day out.

The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents

Take the next 2 minutes to just pay attention to how often you snap at your kids or discipline them not because the situation calls for it (e.g., they are about to run into a busy street) but because they behaved in a way that does not validate you as a good parent (e.g., they back answered you in front of your friends)?

What are your expectations of what your kids will be like when they grow up? Does that question invoke images of a big house and fancy cars, or a happy, content and well-adjusted person?

Share it in the comments below. Use an anonymous name if you must, but write it down anyway – there is nothing like putting things in written words to realize what you think deep down!

The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents

It’s not easy, but start to detach yourself from your expectations of what you want your child(ren) to be like – now and in the future. It is hard. Harder than anything you will probably do in your life. Close to impossible, if you ask me, going by how I’ve been faring in this exercise so far.

It’s worth striving for, nevertheless. Just the attempt to stay focused on being a great parent, without expectations of raising a great child, can do a whole lot of wonders to the way you approach parenting, and your relationship with your child. That, I can attest to!

[NOTE: I am out for a vacation with my family till Dec 8th with no Internet access. I value all your comments, and promise to respond to every single one of them when I get back. Surprise me with tons of them? ;) ]

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  1. says

    I totally agree to what you say but don’t you think education starts at home and we need to constantly remind them about what is right and what is wrong and to be in a society they need to behave and act in a certain way

    • Sumitha says

      I do, Medha! I am totally with you and believe that it is in fact our job to do so. But to expect that the kids will turn out a certain way because of our efforts, and to feel like a failure if they don’t (and in turn make our kids feel like failures) is where I think a lot of us slip up.

      Let’s say for example you are working with your child on math. And then in the math test your child scores really bad. The first reaction of most parents is to feel disappointed that either (a) they somehow let their child down or (b) their child somehow let them down (or worse, both!). But if you can somehow detach from the results (easier said than done!!!) and be able to say, “I did my best and I know my child did his/her best, so let’s see what the hold up is” I think it’ll be a lot easier to get to the bottom of it. Maybe it’s something simple like your child needing a professional tutor, or something less obvious like the test was in the late afternoon and your child didn’t have sufficient breakfast/lunch and so couldn’t stay focused!!! Unless you get past the initial knee-jerk reaction to the results, it is a lot harder to see clearly.

      I think the same applies to a lot of behavior and discipline issues… Don’t you think?

  2. middleagesamosa says

    My expectations of my children when they grow up? (1) Teach them that life (especially in America) is a race, but be able to handle failure and move on. (2) Life is not easy all the time and hard work is the only tried and true method to succeed. (3) Empathy and emotional intelligence.

    My kids are 1 month and 16 months, so I’m staying mentally flexible as they grow into their own personalities. As a parent, I’ve been told not to hold onto any dogmas/doctrines and be ready to adapt on a dime.

    • Sumitha says

      @middleagesamosa, Thanks for sharing! Those are some of the things I hope to teach my daughter as well. Like Tanya, I am curious about how you go about applying it in day to day life…. Would love to hear some of the stories from your life (either here or in response to future articles, as we will be inspecting different aspects of this all this month!)

  3. haji says

    Love your blog! I would love for my 10 month old son to grow into a kind, thoughtful, empathic young man. I hope that he will be fair and loving, and as free with hugs as he is today! lol

    • Sumitha says

      Ah, haji… that is such a wonderful thought… especially the last part about being as free with hugs when he grows up as he is now :) It’s amazing isn’t it, how kids are so open-hearted and so generous with their love and yet somehow as they grow up many tend to lose that… I love that it is one of the things you hope to keep intact in your child. I hope I can too :)

  4. Geeta krishnan says

    Hi, hope you enjoyed your vacation. Going out with family to different holidays associated with nature such as trekking, overnight camps, sanctuaries, museums, nature parks and thereby visiting acquaintances, friends and relatives in newer countries, villages and places other than where we reside can do the trick of developing an all-rounded personality with social ettiquette in our children. Eventually they realize that life is not about marks, grades, ranks and money. It’s about passion about a profession, hobby, talent and love and compassion to entertain people in one’s house, accompany and guide guests I.e. A lesson in hospitality and last but not the least love and compassion with the nature, the trees, mountains, rivers, animals, birds, insects etc.

    As a parent, we have done all that I have stated above and only wish that my children should come into contact with better personalities and live a life of contentment.

    • Sumitha says

      Hi Geeta, We had a great vacation, thanks! This was the first time in a long while that both my husband and I have been able to take time off so completely (with no Internet access/cell phone for a whole week!!!) and totally devoted the time to just being together as a family… it was an amazing experience and I hope we can do it again sometime. You are so right that moments like this where we are just present with each other and where we try all kinds of new things that impart some of the most important lessons in life! Thanks so much for tying it together!

  5. Geeta krishnan says

    I would also like to add that more a parent encourages the child to be a part of any group sports and also one individual sport along with lessons in some form of music and dance and see to it that at home parents and children have their own activity of some kind of card game or board game among themselves, then believe me, there is no need for any parent to spend energy on telling a child to ‘do or don’t do this or that’.

    • Sumitha says

      Good point, Geeta! My daughter has a mean competitive spirit, and playing board games at home where she can learn to win and lose (and play out the consequences of each) in the comfort of the home with the people she trusts has been a great way to prepare her for the “real” world out there. We still have a long way to go, but so far it’s been a good start :)

  6. Trupti says

    Hi Sumitha

    I am not a parent yet…but right from the time i started planning for my baby I was always worried…will i be a good parent….how will i be able to manage my kid ….and I came across your website…I have started following your posts and I am already trying to be a good parent :) Thanks for putting so much efforts and giving us a chance to collect and streamline our thoughts (I am now expecting and am 2 months pregnant :))

    • Sumitha says

      Awww…. Trupti, Congratulations!!!! You will make a great parent, I can tell :) Every parent I know worries at some level if they will be good enough… but if you are already reading parenting sites and articles, how can you NOT be a good parent? Sure, there will be times when you’ll slip up, and times when you might feel a little overwhelmed, but as long as you remember that you are human, forgive yourself and vow not to give up, you will do great! I look forward to hearing the news of your baby’s birth and chatting with you along the way and far beyond! Wishing you the very best!

      • Trupti says

        Thanks Sumitha… I really appreciate your words…and it surely encourages me…sure will share my baby’s birth news with you…. looking forward to read and train my self to be a better parent till then :D

  7. Bernadette says

    Sumitha I hope you had a wonderful vacation with your family. No Internet can be a blessing sometimes.

    It is hard to do this. My daughter is 8 and we have found out she isn’t necessarily sports-inclined but she loves being around kids and part of a team. We encourage that and trying her best and do not push her that she has to do this, that or the other and be the one pushing for goals and baskets. She is a very creative child and I believe her destiny is in her left side of her brain, so to speak. I was a very good student and I know I cannot push her beyond her means or try to coerce what I want over what she wants or who she really is, or is meant to be. She’s headstrong and fairly confident and I encourage her to stick up for herself as well. You love your child unconditionally and to see them grow, even at her age, in small ways, is very encouraging. Compassion, love, empathy, kindness, manners, respect are what matter in life. A good job, yes; being happy, of course; but you need a good base to start. She has a strong faith as well that guides her little life and in the big picture of things, I believe we can try or maybe help, mold a bit, encourage them but as hard as it is, they will be what they are meant to be with us on the sidelines. Cheer them on!

    • Sumitha says

      You know, Bernadette, you have a way of really nailing it! When I read your statement “as hard as it is, they will be what they are meant to be *with us on the sidelines*”, I had to swallow a lump, even though that’s what I’ve been trying to sort out (for myself) in this article. It’s really, really hard though — sometimes I feel like there is two parts of me, one trying to jump right in there and trying to “make” her (my daughter) into someone that I expect her to be, while at the same time the other trying to gently pull myself back into the sidelines, where I truly belong. Gosh, what an incredibly layered and complex experience parenting is!

      We had a great vacation, thanks! I was actually worried about suffering from withdrawal at the prospect of being without the Internet for a whole week, but today, I actually felt a little bit apprehensive firing up my laptop and leaving behind the simple world of books, real-life activities and lounging :)

    • Malini says

      Bernadette…. you are right when you say…”with us on the sidelines”. Whether we like or not as children grow up, we are confined to sidelines and we are not the only one from whom they learn their life lessons.
      In a day I get hardly an hour to spend time with my 9yr old son – he has school, then sports after school, few days of tuition classes, homework etc. This ‘our time’ seems to be shrinking as he is growing up and is being replaced with ‘his social time’. And this is the only time I get in a day to give him right values, to make him strong to face newer challenges as I cannot control what he picks up from the outside world on his own. Though I put all my effort but it makes me feel like being on the sidelines and I keep my fingers crossed.

  8. says

    Great peice on breaking a too-often-unacknowledged cycle. Most people probably are unaware of the behavioral expectations we place on our kids in an effort to fulfill our own need to be validated, and what’s worse is that by seeking that validation from an external source we will NEVER measure up to what we THINK we need to. True validation comes from within, by acknowledging our own efforts and saying f*ck all to anyone that would otherwise criticize us. People’s opinions only count if we allow them to and by placing our sense of self-worth in the hands (control) of another person we are doomed to a sustained sense of self-loathing. Our children learn by example (always have), and if we show them that we seek validation from ourselves then there is a better chance that they will learn the same skills. Learn to love yourself, your kids will too.

    I particularly enjoyed the comparison of the swimmers’ medals… A great example of how a success-driven society can easy overshadow a person’s efforts simply because “they didn’t meet the numbers.”

    • Sumitha says

      Thanks Johnny for the kind words and the insightful comment! Looking to others for validation is one end of the spectrum, the other end of which is completely disregarding others’ opinion. I’ve personally found (the hard way) that neither ends of the spectrum serve me very well. I am learning that, if I manage to look past the criticism without letting it effect my self-worth, while at the same time without dismissing it altogether, there is usually a lesson in there to learn — sometimes it is just a gentle reminder of something I had lost sight of and at other times, it is a big sucker punch right in the gut :)

  9. Malini says


    I agree with you that we shouldn’t make our children extension of our identities – but until unless our own yardstick to judge our achievements continue to be the external world, it would be easier said than done. We cannot teach our children to measure themselves on the effort put in, while we continue to measure our success and failures by the defined yardstick of society – comparative results. Now days children are smart and can spot the inconsistencies in our talk and behavior and we cannot educate them what we ourselves don’t follow. I have gone through a complete paradigm shift after I have become a mother. It is like learning all over again and I believe somewhere I have become a better person.

    • Sumitha says

      Thanks for the wonderful comment, Malini. I really love how you’ve pointed that learning to become a better mother is making you a better person! I had a similar experience — sometime back I was jarred into realizing what a lousy job I was doing as a mom, but I just couldn’t turn things around in the way I was raising my daughter until I turned myself around first. How we parent is intricately tied to who we are — the only way to become a better parent is to become a better person first, and conversely, if you are genuinely committed to becoming a better parent, you will in the process become a better person. That is the core realization on which this site is founded. I am glad to hear that other parents like yourself have similar experiences and beliefs! Thanks for sharing :)

  10. says

    Hi sumitha

    Thank you, I am really enjoying your blog and working with you on improving my parenting. I have three sons. I want them to be courageous with their life choices and true to themselves. I want them to love who they are and see the good in others, to be open and honest and to live in the moment. An issue that I am struggling with at the moment, especially with my oldest son who is ‘spirited’, is that I see so much of myself in him, he reflects so many of my own negative behaviors and traits and I don’t want him to be like me, I want more for him., and by this I don’t mean more material worth, I mean emotional intelligence and self assurance. I have learned more about myself since having children than I did in the 30 odd ;) years before. I find even reading your of has given me the time and space to think about my own behavior and how this impacts on my children and work in making small but significant changes. Please keep up the great work.

    • Sumitha says

      Thanks for your kind words, Michelle!

      You know what — I sometimes feel that my daughter’s got a combination of some of what I consider the “worst” in both me and my husband, and I want her to go beyond our “limitations” and excel! Thanks for bringing it up… Wonderful insight that will definitely impact the way I look at my interaction with my daughter (and probably will find its way into one of the future articles). I love having smart readers who take the discussion far beyond what I started out with! :)

  11. Janelle says

    I love the title of your post! And it has caused me pause over the last couple weeks. I couldn’t agree with you more – there are definitely many situations where we can be prone to lash out at our kids because of our own insecurities, as opposed to properly dealing with their misbehavior. Although I would disagree with you about disciplining for back talk (disrespect in our home does not fly), there’s definitely an appropriate way to handle it. And that’s *not* by flying off the handle. I like to remind myself that every other parent out there has dealt with their kids acting up in a similar way that my child is acting up in that moment. If others feel the need to be smug and consider me a bad parent for my child’s misbehavior, I don’t care much anymore (usually it’s from parent who haven’t been there yet, or those who have sincerely forgotten). I know most of the time, other parents can sympathize with normal child behavior. I find that most tend to judge the child’s action less, and judge the parents reaction more. I like to keep the phrase “I’m raising my child to be great” in the back of my mind. It helps me to be a proactive parent and discipline (teach) rather than to be a reactive parent and cut down a child because I’m dealing with the shock of the situation or my own insecurities.

    • Sumitha says

      Hi Janelle, Thanks for your wonderful comment and kind words of encouragement!

      I see your point about disciplining for backtalk – in fact that’s one of the biggest things I am struggling with right now. I’d read some time back that the ability to say “no” to authority so they can stand up for what they want is crucial – it is what will keep them safe from the unwanted advances of someone in authority that they trust but is abusing that authority/trust (eg. a coach in a locker room)… But when I am lax on letting her get away with saying “no” to something I say, I wonder if I’m letting her turn into a brat. I know there is a happy middle ground somewhere… still on the quest of finding it :)

      You seem to be on the right track with your parenting… it’s all about the attitude we parents have! Keep up the great work and do stop by to share your experiences…. I love the insights!

      • Janelle says

        I completely understand where you’re coming from. While we place a high importance on respect and courtesy, we also encourage them to listen to their gut and not do anything they’re uncomfortable with. For example, when we say our goodbyes at someone’s house, they must be polite and say or wave goodbye. But they are not required to hug or kiss anyone – even a grandparent – if they don’t want to. We encourage questions and open discussion, just in a respectful way. Back talking is more than just a disagreement, in my opinion. It also includes a foul attitude or other defiant behavior. What some consider “back talk” is really just a child’s way of disagreeing or questioning “why” in order to have a fuller understanding. For us to consider it back talk, there will definitely be some defiance or intentional disrespect backing up their comments.

        What we found that works for us, is giving our kids options. If it’s not something important, we’ll ask a question (eg. Would you like to wear your coat?) whereas if it’s something we need them to do, we’ll be direct in our request (eg. Please buckle your seatbelt). That way, we can choose our battles, we don’t have to follow through on every single sentence we make, and, our kids understand that when we say something, there is little wiggle room.

        • Sumitha says

          You really nailed it Janelle… I think what bothers me most is the bad attitude that sometimes goes with what my daughter is disagreeing with. I think making that distinction between “disagreeing to do something because it does not feel right” vs.”disagreeing because of a foul attitude or trying to get attention etc.” is key. It hadn’t made that distinction in my mind, and was trying to find some sort of a universal middle ground in dealing with disagreements, and that was why I was struggling! Thank you so much for helping me see that, and explaining with example — the goodbye example really drove it home for me!

          I am so happy for readers like you who help me become what I’m trying to be – a decent person and a good parent! Love this blog more with each passing day :)