Parent Well-Being: From Rubix Cubes to Gumby

An Overview of Parent Well-Being

Posted Dec 11, 2010


The Parenting Puzzle

With this being the inaugural entry of the Parent Pulse blog, I want to take the opportunity to define parent well-being, since my writing will be centered on this topic.  The definition of well-being is complex.  For instance, in his book Well Being, Tom Rath pinpoints career, social, financial, physical, and community domains as the five elements that lead to well-being, with the goal of possessing  a balanced portfolio in all five areas.  Rath's holistic model is like imagining well-being as a Rubix cube.  Rotate one side or element, while giving attention to the other four, reprioritize and focus on a different element, give one more time than another,  until the moment when the relationship between all five synchronize.   Have you then solved the well-being enigma?  Is there a magic formula?  What happens when there is a shift in life circumstances, such as employment, health or marriage?

Dr. Martin Seligman offers another view of well-being, with his theory that positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment (PERMA) are the maxims that lead to  flourishing.  The PERMA framework describes conditions that lead to flourishing rather than prescribing a one size fits all approach.  And one need not possess all five elements of PERMA to flourish. 

Flexible Parenting

Parent well-being is an amalgam of Rath and Seligman's frameworks, but it also incorporates another key component: psychological flexibility. In the world of parenting this translates into mindful parenting.   How adept are you at adapting to situational demands, shifting mindsets, and remaining open and curious while facing the everyday challenges of parenting?  Do you focus and engage with your children?  How do you handle difficult feelings that arise from parenting?  When your child is throwing a temper tantrum in the grocery store aisle, how do you respond?  Do your emotions dictate your response?  Mindful parenting calls for a Gumby-like approach to parenting.  That adorable green, flexible fictional character handles life's challenges by bending, folding, and flexing in response to the present situation.   Being a mindful parent means knowing oneself inwardly and working at the interface of where our inner lives meet the lives of our children.   It is the convergence of intrapersonal and interpersonal worlds.  Using Jonathan Haidt's metaphor of the elephant and the rider, where the elephant represents our emotions, gut feelings and visceral responses and the rider is our reason and ego, mindful parenting aims to harmonize the unconscious and conscious mind to train the elephant in productive ways.    

In the end, parent well-being is a sprinkling of all of the models and frameworks discussed in this entry.  No matter the present state of your psychological health, it is important to remember that inner experiences as a parent influence the relationship you have with your children.  Like a Rubix cube, parenting is a puzzle that is hard to figure out. But a Gumby-like flexibility enables parents to reshape and reconfigure their individual story and look at the parenting puzzle with a sense of openness and curiosity.  How do you define parent well-being?