Dear Mr. Dad: Like a lot of parents, I do my best. But I can't help but think that I could be doing better. How can I tell if I'm doing a good job or not?
Answer: The fact that you think you're not doing a good job and that you care enough to learn more is a pretty good indication that you are, in fact, a good parent (or at least a good-enough one). In my experience, the parents who are supremely confident that they're always right, and who never ask for help or input, are usually the worst.
Here, in no particular order, are a few more signs that you're on the right track:
1. Your child has failed at something - and you just stood there and let it happen. Way too many parents try to protect their children from feeling the sting of disappointment or inconvenience. Skinned knees build character. When you let children fail - but discuss it later and talk about what they learned from the experience - you're teaching perseverance and the value of hard work.
2. Your children are interested in things that you're not. The fact that your kids are passionate about something they know you might not like is a sign that they know your support is unconditional and that you're more interested in helping them become the best versions of themselves instead of turning them into mini-me's.
3. Your children buckle their seat belts and put on their bike or skateboard helmets when they don't know you're watching. Keeping your kids safe is a huge part of your job, and your goal, as with most of parenting, is to raise kids who will make good choices on their own. The fact that they take basic safety precautions seriously is a sign that you've taught them well.
4. You've let your child go to school in pyjamas and fuzzy slippers even when it isn't PJ day. One of the most important lessons of parenthood is to choose your battles. And in the grand scheme of things, a happy kid in PJs and slippers is a much better outcome than a furious parent and a miserable kid wearing whatever it was that you were insisting on.
5. You've given up a bad habit because you know that your kids are watching and will imitate you - even (especially) the things you're not proud of. Dads, especially in the early years of parenting, often quit smoking, exercise more, sell their Harley, or give up bungee jumping. Mums make major changes too. For me, it was learning to see yellow lights as something to slow down for instead of as a sign to floor it.
6. You've screwed something up. The only way you'll become a competent, confident parent is by making mistakes. Kids are remarkably resilient creatures. And if worse comes to worst, you can already turn their college fund into a therapy fund....
7. You have regular family dinners. Doesn't matter if it's gourmet taco Tuesdays or takeout. The point is that you're together, hopefully without electronic devices, and focusing on each other. Kids who have regular dinner with their parents - especially with dad - do better in school, have higher self-esteem, and are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol or become teen parents.
8. They scream, "I hate you." It hurts. A lot. But it's usually a sign that you've set a boundary, stood your ground, and enforced a consequence when it was broken. Bravo. Trying to be your child's friend may be more fun, but your child needs you to be a parent.
Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org