For those not familiar, positive parenting is a form of parenting that involves a complete absence of negative disciplinary measures like punishment, threats, guilting or shaming. One of its foundational no-no’s is keeping your temper around your progeny and avoiding yelling, which is of course impossible for any average parent. This does require some training for yell-o-holics, as termed, particularly in mindfulness and soothing the inner child that detests misbehavior rejected by our own parents. The heart of the success of positive parenting lies in “special time,” actual quality time spent with your children in which they get to pick the activity for a predetermined length of time.

I personally went through an online training system for positive parenting a few years ago and have tried to live by its tenants since then, though not always perfect in execution…. Okay, almost never. There are a few things that I’ve noted to be universal, however, and some restrictions that I’ve noted as very difficult to uphold.

Special time is most certainly gold. My son and I play a board game of his choice before bed every night and it softens his mood and strengthens our bond notably almost immediately. This is in turns solves a number of problems of misbehavior that would normally occur without taking the time with him, namely getting into his bed and staying in his bed(!). However, carving out this time to spend with every child for both parents and has proved virtually impossible. While it only takes 5-10 minutes of planned time to make an impact, sustaining this kind of schedule for both parents is unrealistic. We have three children, too, so that’s 6 sets of special time, which may be possible (perhaps?) in the short term, but sustaining that is, well… forget it. However, continually returning to special time efforts in waves still has its merits. As they say in the program, ‘80% of positive parenting is special time.’ You can still positive parent without special time, but it’s about as fun as uphill skiing… on a sheet glacier… without any clothes on.

While I will never be a perfect ‘positive parent’, one thing I’m 100% positive about is that I prefer it to traditional forms of parenting. I’ll never forget one moment about five years ago discussing parenting our young children with my own parent. After years of repressed rage, a sibling of mine finally came forth with a zinger: “The only way you ever parented us was through guilt and shame!” A long held bolt of truth belted across a dimly lit Thanksgiving dinner table (why does Thanksgiving always host the drama?). Without a hesitation, minus the one produced by the perpetually boozy glaze, my parent (name and title of the guilty party redacted) retorted “…A powerful combination.” While obnoxious and incomprehensibly unaccountable, this unnamed parent was 100% correct about that much.

Guilt and shame are an exceptionally powerful combination in parenting, and they regrettably slip into our vernacular on a daily basis in insidious fashion. “Don’t you think you’re a little old to be fighting over a chair?” “How could you hit your brother like that– don’t you think about his feelings at all?” (Note: these are the mild to moderate versions, as well. Out of shame (ha ha), I omit any harsher dialogues I’m familiar with.) However, if you’re anything like me(and nothing my unnamed parent who seemed to relish these tactics), you feel terrible about employing these psychological tools and always regret it later after they’ve gone to sleep and your blood has cooled back down to room temperature.

And herein lies the conundrum facing working parents. If I had a thousand years to sit and coach my toddler through every angry fit he had over getting a green band-aid versus a blue camping one, it wouldn’t be a problem. I could validate his feelings, sit quietly while he vented. Take 20 minutes to go through the whole process. Unfortunately, in a thousand years I’ll be dead… well, more like 40. He’s also got two siblings that are equally filled with charged emotion, and the clock is ticking on them as well. Also, I’ve got a phone call coming from a parent, several bills to pay, a parent in the hospital and a tutoring session upcoming.

So the key is confidently fail about 60% of the time and be okay with that. I was 100% negatively parented and I’m not a total gib-gabbering fool wetting himself in a padded room (yet). 40% successful in positive parenting is still pretty damn good, though it’s so easy to wallow in our parenting foibles. Ultimately, positive parenting(and really parenting in general) is a game of ‘pick your battles’ in all respects and forgiving yourself (or attempting to!) for the inevitable failures along the way.