How to measure the success of a parent

My mom and dad were pretty terrible parents. My brothers and I each went through our own hell, and everyone in the family has been in therapy—together and separately—to deal with the result of their parenting.

But still, my parents have conversations that go like this:

Someone will ask them, “What do your kids do?”

And they’ll say, “I have four kids: An economist, a chemist, a banker and a journalist.”

That’s how my parents answer. And it sounds like they did a great job parenting, right?

This is how I’m certain that you cannot judge peoples’ parenting by how their kids turn out. You can judge peoples’ genes by how their kids turned out. It’s nature. My brothers and I are all very smart. And so are my parents. Like I had to tell you that.

But high IQ doesn’t mean good parenting. My parents also had great jobs when they were raising us. And we lived in a neighborhood where the schools are so good that people don’t even write “good school” in the multi-million-dollar house listings: everyone knows.

So how can you judge good parenting? Psychology Today says good parents are those who know themselves. And I think if you know yourself then you will judge your parenting not on the achievements of your kids, but on whether your kids have good memories of their childhood.

I have written a bazillion times that nature wins over nurture. Big time. You can only argue with me in the comments if you educate yourself first by reading the book I have cited fifty times by Bryan Caplan that is a fantastic compendium of all the nature vs nurture research.

So the best argument for homeschooling is my parents. They prove that the only thing that matters for parenting is if you have fun with your kids. You have more fun with your kids if your kids are home with you when they have energy and are excited about their day, as opposed to after school, when they’re exhausted.  You have more fun with your kids if they are doing what they love, and you are watching, instead of them doing homework, and you are correcting it.

My brothers and I don’t give our parents credit for our achievements. We do give our parents credit for our memories of childhood. Which, by the way, are scant—that’s what kids do when they are living in trauma, they just tune out.

I stress a lot about being a good parent. It’s hard for me to believe that any kid likes their parent. It’s hard for me to understand it. But I am trying to focus on each day. One good memory from each day. That will be the measure of my success.


17 replies
  1. Nonnie
    Nonnie says:

    “One good memory from each day.” That is a really moving goal.
    I did have a good childhood, at least till middle school (which parents can hardly be blamed for I think). My parents have never struck me as particularly self-knowledgeable. But for sure, they always supported me unstintingly, and they really cared about my happiness (more than about how I reflected on them). I think good parents love their kids and don’t let their own egos get in the way.
    It sounds like you already do that for your kids to an incredible extent.

  2. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    This post reminds me of former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee’s latest book – Dear Chandler, Dear Scarlett (his grandchildren) – for a number of reasons. It probably immediately came to mind because of the recent Sandy Hook tragedy and some comments he made on it which some press vocally disagreed with him on it. But whatever, the book and this homeschooling blog seem similar to me.
    He writes the following on his web page regarding the book – “I wrote these letters so that long after I’m gone, you’ll know that I loved you, had great hopes for you, and wanted to give you my best advice on living in this tough world. If I can’t be there with you, I hope my letters will act as a sort of reminder of me, as if I’m standing there beside you, whispering in your ear, and putting my arm around your shoulder.”
    These homeschooling posts are like letters to your sons that you share with us and let us make comments on. I think they probably like them now and will treasure them in the future. I find your homeschooling journey to be a fascinating one and would likely be suspicious of this type of education if it were not for this blog.

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      This reminds me of the fabulous Maya Angelou quote about people never remembering what you say or do, but always and forever remembering how you made them feel.

  3. CJ
    CJ says:

    I love the notion of knowing ourselves making us better parents, and I would add, better people in the world. I like knowing my husbands strengths are so different from mine on things with the kids and we seem to begin where the other leaves off daily.

    I never used to believe there are happy people that really enjoy their parents either, and enjoyed their parents when they were kids. My upbringing was more like yours than I like to think about. I do have good friends that really had great, loving upbringings and more important for me is that I have friends, mentors really that are older than me that raised their children beautifully and their kids are now parents themselves and they all like nothing better than to be together. I hope and try hard to have the same destiny as a mom.

    You are awake at the wheel, present, paying attention, all your stress of trying to be good mother is the symptom of your massive caring. That makes you a genuinely great parent.

  4. karelys
    karelys says:

    Wow so eye opening. My sister is afraid to have kids because she believes every kid has to hate the parents. I just realized how it was hard to believe my husband when he’d share about his childhood and he didn’t seem damaged by his parents because I too believed it was impossible that kids didn’t hate the parents.

    This post gave me so much to think about.

    I’m surprised by how little I care for the thought of my kids achievements but I’m obsessed with him being happy. Probably because I spent my life doing rather than being. It resulted in me knowing how to focus and follow and do but I hardly know how to be myself without feeling like an anomaly.

  5. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    Yes. I love this. School is so focussed on grades. The smart kids feel puffed up and the ones who don’t do well, feel beat up with every paper handed back.

    I do think that public school is the highlight of the day for many kids who come from dysfunctional families but so many other families could benefit by shifting the focus off of the A’s and considering their whole child.

    It breaks my heart to see a truly amazing kid feeling bad about themselves for getting a 60% on a test that they tried their hardest on.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That part about the academic smarties getting puffed up in school is so true. And it doesn’t translate, and it’s such a mess after the world pulls the school rug out from under them. I read your comment and it’s almost like kids are being set up for disappointment – being rewarded for stuff that doesn’t really matter.


  6. Janet Dubac
    Janet Dubac says:

    Yes, some parents can get so caught up in raising a successful child that they forget about the importance of raising a happy child.

    As a parent, I wish to see my children have great careers too, but that does not outweigh my desire for them to have a happy life–a life with fond memories of all the years gone by. I believe that every parent has the best intentions for their children, some just have the wrong priorities in mind.

  7. Rachel D.
    Rachel D. says:

    Some parents just put all of their effort into hiding. They don’t realize their kids can see everything, and kids always figure out the truth that you never wanted them to know. Parents will say they can’t figure out why their kids are screwed up, but deep down in the recesses of their subconscious, they know exactly why.

    Creating good memories for your kids every day sounds like a great childhood to me. It takes love, and some parents hate themselves too much to do that.

  8. Josh
    Josh says:

    I love this post, and think it is very true. I have been reading your blog in the last few months and I admire you for the way you write and live up to what you think you need to do. Your honesty does not feel fake.

  9. MoniqueWS
    MoniqueWS says:

    My sister and I are lucky to be alive. Some adults/parents eat their own young. I feel very strongly that my parents did the best job they could with the tools they had and we are lucky to be alive.

    My spouse grew up in a very different family full of its own disappointments and joys. They all continue to hide from what doesn’t work in their lives and relationships. Out of five children in his family of origin we are the only ones to have children/grandkids.

    At 50 years of age I have no relationship with my father. As an adult I do not choose to live in his controlling, selfish and toxic world. I have had no relationship with my mother for the past 15 years once I had my own child(ren) and realized I could choose a different path for us as parent/child than the one I or my spouse grew up with. She and I are making tentative steps toward a healthy relationship.

    Yesterday I listened to my 64 year old aunt relive hurts and traumas from her childhood. Bullying at school and in the neighborhood, neglect and anger from her mother, distance from her father, terrorizing, beatings and lying from her sister (my mother). She is a sad and angry and hurt person.

    EVERY DAY my spouse and I spend with our children sharing and showing warmth, love, kindness, availability, empathy, concern, snuggles, joy, exploring, openness is a beautiful and healing and healthy day. I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh, gosh. I don’t want to be the 64 year old aunt who talks about childhood trauma. I want to be doing something different. But I’m getting so close to 64….


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