Like most moms, I’m sure I over-analyze the parenting strategies I use and often question my ability to raise children. At times, I even look around and wonder why anyone would ever trust me with this all-too-important job. Sometimes, the only thing that we can hope for is that the decisions we’re making as parents are not screwing up our kids too much!

But that’s the thing about this parenting gig; we never truly know if the decisions we’re making are the right ones until we see the outcome, and even then, we still don’t know for sure if what we’re doing is the best thing for our kids.

The truth is, there’s no way to know if the recipe we’re using is going to work. We sprinkle a bit of love and add a pinch of firmness. We stir and taste it to test the flavor and consistency. Sometimes we find that we need to start over, while other times we discover that a minor adjustment to the recipe is all that’s needed to get it just right. The only thing we ever truly know for sure is that we do the best we can with the knowledge and tools we have.

Even researchers can’t say exactly what makes a good parent. There are way too many variables to consider and instead, they offer up a more holistic approach to raising kids. I came across an interesting study conducted by Dr. Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist, which was presented to the American Psychological Association, comparing the effectiveness of 10 kinds of parenting practices that have gotten the thumbs-up in various scientific studies. The researchers compared three things: what experts advise, what really seems to work, and what parents actually do.

The result – a list called “The Parents’ Ten” – details the competencies that they found to predict good parenting outcomes in order from most to least important. According to Epstein, “the skills – all derived from published studies – were ranked based on how well they predict a strong parent-child bond and children’s happiness, health, and success.” In order from most to least, the following list details the team’s research findings and definitions of each competency:

  1. Love and affection. You support and accept the child, are physically affectionate, and spend quality one-on-one time together.
  2. Stress management. You take steps to reduce stress for yourself and your child, practice relaxation techniques, and promote positive interpretations of events.
  3. Relationship skills. You maintain a healthy relationship with your spouse, significant other, or co-parent, and model effective relationship skills with other people.
  4. Autonomy and independence. You treat your child with respect and encourage him or her to become self-sufficient and self-reliant.
  5. Education and learning. You promote and model learning and provide educational opportunities for your child.
  6. Life skills. You provide for your child, have a steady income, and plan for the future.
  7. Behavior management. You make extensive use of positive reinforcement and punish only when other methods of managing behavior have failed.
  8. Health. You model a healthy lifestyle and good habits, such as regular exercise and proper nutrition for your child.
  9. Religion. You support spiritual or religious development and participate in spiritual or religious activities.
  10. Safety. You take precautions to protect your child and maintain awareness of the child’s activities and friends.

It should come as no surprise that love and affection is ranked number one. I think you would be hard pressed to find any parent who doesn’t see the benefit of loving on our children every day and telling them how much we love and care about them.

According to Epstein, one thing that surprised the researchers was that “two of the best predictors of good outcomes in children are in fact indirect: maintaining a good relationship with the other parent and managing your own stress level.” Both things you do for yourself and your partner. It just goes to show that our kids need to learn by watching us take care of ourselves and each other.

Here’s the thing, we’re all capable of being the parents we want to be and sometimes all that’s required is a whole lot of love and a slight adjustment to the recipe.

What do you think about this list? Would you order the competencies differently or do they pretty much align with your parenting beliefs and practices?