Healthy Parenting: An Art or a Science? (Part 1 of 3)

First-time parents usually wonder about any sure-fire secrets to raising children. They often ask, “Is there a bottom-line rule to healthy parenting? If so, what is it?” Thoughtful listeners generally tap into great philosophers, their own personal history, a popular child-rearing fad, a blend of these, or something along those lines.

Some embrace Abraham Maslow’s expanded hierarchy of basic needs, that urges parents to provide more than just food, clothing, and shelter. The child-rearing environment would also include meeting the intellectual and emotional needs of the developing child. Maslow’s perspective focused on the positive. He theorized about personality growth and development. He held that children, deprived at any stage of development, are compelled to satisfy unmet needs on their own in order to achieve self-actualization.

What a concept! It seems to release parents from ‘blame’ if/when misjudgment, overindulgence, or deprivation overshadow the child-rearing experience. This might relax first-time parents, to some degree. While Maslow didn’t suggest parents share responsibility with the developing child, he did recognize there are inevitable parental missteps and, though these occur – all is not lost. In areas where the parent falls short, it is the job of the young adult to self-reflect and, once the age of independence is reached, embark upon self-actualization. This is the way young adults compensate for what was lacking in childhood; thus, the individual meets his or her own needs and moves on to healthy adulthood.

This would seem to be the very definition of ‘empowerment’ of the individual, and a perspective that suggests, since there is no way to know the individual personality of the newborn – until it is expressed, parenting is more of ‘an art’ than a science. Parents tap into inner wisdom to find creative ways to rear their children. Ideally, examples are set that empower each developing child with healthy life tools, including self-respect, self-esteem, gratitude for blessings, a work ethic to become self-supporting, sensitivity to humanity, and so on. Then, what the growing child brings into the family relationship plays a significant role, as well. But Maslow wasn't the only one who had an opinion about child-rearing, growth and development.

The reader might be familiar with the teachings of other theorists and philosophers, such as Aristotle, Locke and Skinner who held each is born as a blank slate. If true, parenting would be more of a predictable science with logic and ‘right vs wrong’ at every turn, would it not? Doesn’t a clean (or blank) slate suggest a perfect picture could be drawn? If we are indeed born as Aristotle suggested, then wouldn’t all libraries and bookstores be able to carry the same book of instructions designed to work for everyone across the board? Problem solved! Not so fast. Parenting isn’t that simple, is it? Click here for Part 2, which addresses the greatest lifelong gift a parent can give a child. Here’s to your health and wellness, today and always. ~ Dr. Nancy Iankowitz