Answer by Julie Anne Exter, mum of three boys:
The true measure of this will, of course, be different for all parents. Some will feel they've been good parents if their kids get into Harvard. Others will feel they've been good parents if Junior can produce a passable rendition of Happy Birthday with armpit farts. So I'll answer for me.
I'll feel like I've been a good parent if (and from where I'm coming from right now, these are big 'if's):
- My kids turn out to be compassionate. They are able to recognize when others are in need and respond with kindness.
- They turn out to be dedicated. They try their best. Even if they aren't great at whatever it is they're doing.
- They take life seriously, but not too seriously. They will hopefully be able to propel themselves into happy, self-sufficient lives, but will also be able to laugh at themselves. And others. Life's pretty funny.
- They're able to thoughtfully express themselves. Verbally, in writing, whatever, however.
- They are respectful. They don't approach anything with feelings of entitlement and treat others well, especially people they don't agree with.
- They can think critically. I don't care whether they get into Harvard or not, but I want them to have the wisdom to be able to approach problems from a number of angles and evaluate any number of potential solutions.
- They are open-minded. They're able to see things from other viewpoints, even if there is a difference of opinion.
- They are family-oriented. They put their loved ones first. And they call their mother from time to time.
- They tell me I'm a good parent.
- They love.
Here's how I'm doing so far, point by point:
- My preschool-aged sons delight in each other's suffering, using it as as a muse that fuels them in all their creative endeavors;
- My 4-year-old will completely annihilate a Lego tower if one block gets misplaced, not only giving up on what he was doing, but destroying all evidence of the effort;
- They don't find it nearly as funny as I do when they can't zip their pants up and they're having a total freakout about it;
- My 3-year-old frequently resorts to impotent screams of rage when he's feeling angry about something, despite being pretty well spoken most of the time;
- They are entitled and demanding and will walk all over anyone who gives them half a chance to do so;
- They will have a full-blown tantrum about not being able to find something, when it's literally, like, a foot away from them;
- My 4-year-old will anoint himself "right" and you "wrong" with military authority, even if he's trying to assert that humans can walk on the sun if they wear fireproof shoes;
- They call their mother all the time. Literally. Including right now.
- They tell me I'm a lousy mother because I won't give them cookies for dinner.
- They love.
Ask me again in 40 years and I'll be glad to provide a status update.