Being a mother or father is different than being a parent.
Parenting is a generic term that refers to a set of behaviors that we engage in to raise our children. It refers to the environment that we try to establish as adults and a set of behaviors that we engage in to raise our children. While most people would agree that raising kids is a deliciously irrational experience, the art or craft known as parenting is irrefutably rational. A child does X so parents do Y. A parent does C in the hope that a child will do D and so forth. Very logical and rational.
Being a father or a mother is not about rationality. It is steeped in emotion. That is why it is so difficult to raise our own kids. It easier to raise a neighbor's children – we can see exactly what they need. But our hopes, dreams, fears and anxieties prevent rationality when raising our own children.
However, it is the emotion involved in being a father and mother that makes us go out on a limb for our kids, worry about them and devote all of our physical and mental resources if necessary for them.
There are times when being a parent is contradictory to being a mother or father.
For instance, the parent in me says that it is good for my child to struggle a little, become frustrated at times when trying to learn a new skill. The struggle strengthens him or her and promotes resilience. That's the logical side of me. Yet the father in me wants to protect my child from hurt or harm and smooth the way as much as possible. This response is even stronger when it comes to my daughter as fathers are very protective of their daughters and tend to be harder on their sons. That's the father, not the parent reaction.
Kids use this language in the same way. They usually refer to their mother and father as 'my parents' but singularly, it is always 'my mother', 'my father' or just 'mum' and 'dad'. They know the difference between mum and dad and parents. Parents are those people who raise them, nag them to do homework, feed them and do all those managerial type duties, but it is their mother and father who they feel attached to, and who is their source of self-worth.
My son recently turned seventeen and I responded to this event as both a parent and a father. The parent provided presents and a ritual to celebrate the occasion. That is what parents do. The father in me reacted quite differently - with paternal pride and happiness and a tinge of regret that my son is growing away from me. It was quite a strong emotional response that is not really covered in any parenting manual. And I recalled one of my favorite moments as a father when I overheard my son, who was four at the time, say three little words to his pre school friends, "That's my dad." "That's my parent" just doesn't sound the same!
Michael Grose is a popular parenting expert. For great ideas and inspiration to help you raise happy, confident kids and resilient young people, visit Parentingideas.com for free articles and access to a free advice line.