- A parenting evaluation from one's kids can help parents tune into their kids' perspective.
- Having kids evaluate parents reverses the typical adult-child dynamic, leading to greater empathy for both.
- Every child is different, and an evaluation is a way of getting at their unique needs.
I don’t profess to be a parenting expert, but I am a parent of twins with 32 years of experience (they are 16, so that's 32 in twin-parenting years) and I wanted to share one piece of advice, borne of my experience as a professor. At the end of every semester, my students are asked to evaluate my teaching. They are given the generic multiple-choice questions that are posed for every professor: On a scale of one to five, how clear is this instructor? How organized? How difficult was this course? How much did you learn?
To these I add my own open-ended questions: Which part of the course was most interesting to you? Which was the most memorable? What do you like best about this instructor? What makes this instructor so much better than other instructors? I pay close attention to my students’ comments, revising my course according to what they find interesting, what assignments work better, and so on.
Years ago, when my kids were about ten, it occurred to me that while I’m being evaluated and given feedback constantly about my teaching, which has undoubtedly helped me improve, we as parents never ask for feedback from our kids about how we're doing as parents. So I sat down with my sons, pencil and notepad in hand, and asked for an evaluation.
“How would you characterize my parenting?” I asked. “Characterize?” they asked, confused. “Yes, what kind of mom am I? Strict but loving?” I offered, hopefully. "You’re not that strict," they laughed. Oh. Then, some of the descriptions they offered were: caring, protective but not over-protective, silly, creative about fun ways to do stuff, busy, always working, good attitude but do not make her mad by reading her emails!, easy to bargain with (“I’m way better”), peaceful, tries to keep in shape (“Mom, I don’t mean that as an insult”), tough “because you don’t cry much. You cry sometimes, like when Charlie died” (Charlie was our dog), good at communicating, laughs a lot.
It was a very generous list with no negatives, in fact way too generous to be completely accurate. But I was touched that my boys cared about not hurting my feelings. And maybe that’s an aspect of the evaluation too, what the process reveals about their relationship with you, even if the results may be skewed. What are they trying to tell you? What was missing? How did it feel to be evaluated?
All of these may help to tune into what kind of parent you think you are, what you want to be, and how your kids see you. A parenting evaluation from your kids is a more systematic way of listening to them. It empowers them to be partners in how they are raised and respects their unique perspective. When I screw up with one of my sons, I ask him how I can be a better parent to him, because every kid is different and has different needs. I try to take my own explanation to heart and not be too tough on myself, because every kid is different, and I can’t expect myself to be perfect, or even good, across the board.
Having your child evaluate you also reverses the parent-child dynamic for a little while. Kids are evaluated on a daily basis and implicitly judged, by parents and teachers. Did you brush your teeth? Pick up your clothes? Do your homework?
It is telling that when I tried to find images of kids talking to parents for this article, almost all were of parents talking to kids. Reversing the dynamic gives everyone a break and may foster empathy and empowerment on both sides.
More recently, as my kids became adolescents and more independent with their own lives, I asked for another evaluation. One of them said, “You are too supportive.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “You do too much for me.” I got it. He is growing up and wants—needs—to do for himself. I asked his brother if he felt the same, and he said no, he liked that I did things for him. “I can do those things myself when I’m in college,” he said.
See, kids—even twins—are different.
What do I do with the feedback? Like with my students about teaching, I try to modify my parenting accordingly. Recently, based on their feedback that I tend to be overly intrusive and inquisitive, I'd like to share another piece of advice, particularly for those with the same parenting profile, a mantra I say to myself when I’m driving them around: hold on tight to the steering wheel, keep your mouth shut, listen, and keep driving.