Philip Larkin, Dr Laura & ‘Perfect’ Parenting

cropped-wp_20151022_09_10_50_pro.jpgWhat do Philip Larkin and Dr Laura Markham have in common? Well, Philip Larkin was a no-nonsense 20th century poet from Hull and Dr Laura Markham is an American Clinical Psychologist and founder of Aha Parenting. It sounds like they have nothing in common, doesn’t it? The thing they have in common is that they are both helping me steer my way through the turbulent waters of parenting. Here’s how.

Philip Larkin penned a rather famous poem entitled ‘This Be The Verse‘, which goes like this:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

(Copyright the author)

Not quite one for framing for the nursery wall! However, despite the cynicism contained within, it serves to remind me that I shouldn’t beat myself up about my failings as a parent or my fear of passing on my own faults to my children. None of us are perfect, which inevitably means that none of our children are going to be perfect. We shouldn’t expect them to be so and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to do a perfect job.

Dr Laura Markham has a similar message in her introduction to ‘Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings’:

‘Don’t worry. You don’t have to be perfect at it. It’s always a work in progress. There is no perfect parent, because there are no perfect humans. What matters is that we notice when we’re off track, get ourselves back in balance, and reconnect with our kids.’ (Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings. Dr. Laura Markham. Perigee (Penguin) 2015)

She advocates a parenting style built on three main principles:

  1. Regulating our emotions and modelling this for our children.
  2. Connecting with our children and building strong bonds.
  3. Coaching rather than controlling, by setting effective limits and using empathy, respect and positive discipline to parent.

The ideals and parenting tools of Aha Parenting resonate with me. I was sceptical at first, but willing to try it out with our eldest, with whom I was clashing more and more. She’s only eight, but I was fearful that our relationship would struggle when it came to the teenage years, so I wanted to do something about it now. Within weeks our relationship was so much better. I’m by no means perfect. The children still fight, they still push the boundaries of what they can get away with, they still have days where their sole aim seems to be to send me absolutely bananas, but I feel more equipped to deal with it. And when I have a parenting fail, like last week when I ranted loudly (and unnecessarily) at the children about how breakfast in the holidays seems to last all morning (yes, I know I sound like a crazy lady, but I honestly felt like a hotel waitress!), I can pick myself up, dust myself off, apologise to the children for losing the plot and get on with trying harder to be a better parent.

So while Philip Larkin’s verse is the one that instantly springs to mind when I’ve failed to regulate my own emotions, it is Aha Parenting’s guidance that allows me to let go of perfectionism and prevents me being unduly hard on myself and, most importantly, encourages me to strive to do better.


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