Is there such thing as bad parenting

In a recent interview, I was asked this question,” Is there such a thing as bad parenting?” 

It made me think. Does being a  parent educator give me a right to define a person as a good or bad parent? Can anyone have an opinion on what kind of parenting helps or harms a child? There are examples of people who have gone through a difficult or traumatic childhood and yet emerged strong and successful. On the other hand, if there is no such thing as good or bad parenting then why is there a  need for parent education? Why do we have many experts and a body of research telling us how to parent? 


I thought about this question from yet another angle- Every parent loves their child dearly and would want to do the best by him or her. And if they are unable to do so then there is a reason for it. Ruth Beaglehole, a pioneer in the philosophy of Nonviolent parenting begins every parenting class by saying, “ You have not been wrong in what you have been doing with your children. You have been caring for your children in the best way you could !” She firmly believes that at each stage in our journey as parents we do the best according to the knowledge available to us. 


This helped me understand that parent education is not about defining a “right way of parenting” but inviting parents on a journey to learn more about two things


  1. What really helps children grow to their full potential and what do they need from us, caregivers: Today we are in the lucky position with neuroscience and brain scans to actually know how our children's brains develop- what helps or harms them. For example, science tells us that the brain seeks safety more than anything else. Stress hormones such as cortisol are released when a child is feeling fearful which even kills brain cells! With this information, it is clear that actions such as hitting a child definitely harms his development. So rather than defining a person as a good or bad parent, it is imperative that every parent has  information based on research about the needs of the child. This would give parents clarity about which actions on our part foster a child's development.  


  1. After knowing that some of my actions may be harming my child I still am unable to help myself, what can I do?  Parent education helps us understand ourselves. Shefali Tsabary, PhD, clinical psychologist is the author of the award-winning book, “The Conscious Parent” says, “ No parent wants to hurt a child. We hurt them because we are hurting ourselves”. When we find ourselves doing things we constantly regret there are questions we could ask ourselves- What is my backstory? Is my reaction more to do with my own story than my child's actions? What could I do to process events that have happened in my life so that my children have the benefit of a parent who is parenting from a mindful space? What are the events presently happening in my life that may be causing stress which I take out on my kids? What could I do to prevent this.? 


In conclusion, I told the interviewer that I didn't believe there was such a thing as “ bad parenting”. I said there can be actions we take without being aware of how it may be impacting the child or because we have not worked on ourselves. As a community, we have a responsibility to offer support to every parent in this challenging work of raising the next generation. When parents receive the support they need, there will be more actions which bring out the “ good” for every family.  


Author: Kesang Menezes is a certified parent Educator with Parenting Matters, an organisation that promotes parents to build deeper connections within families.