So there’s this person you’re seeing on the regular. Before you know it, they become a person you really dig. Then, slowly but surely, you begin to dream of a long-term future with them. You know you want kids, so as this guy or girl begins to occupy more of your happy thoughts, you start to wonder, “Would they be a good mom or dad?” This is a thought that you might’ve had on your first date, or maybe it didn’t occur to you for years, but at some point, if you like someone enough and your however-old relationship is doing well enough, you start plugging this person into your hypothetical future scenarios to imagine how they might measure up against the unattainably ideal, faceless placeholder you’ve had there for years. Fun!
Allow me to help you out here. You see, I’ve watched a lot of parenting shows and Marriage Bootcamp: Reality Stars so I’m basically an expert on this subject. (Not really.) (But kind of.) (Actually, no.) A lot of people assume if you’ve demonstrated some aptitude for being good with kids, you’re automatically going to make a great parent. While not hating children is a very good start, it’s not the final word on the subject. In fact, I would say if you’re going to parent with a partner, one’s ability to positively interact with children is only going to carry them about 50% of the way. The other half of the equation — and it’s an important half — is their willingness and ability to positively interact and work with you as a co-parent. (And I will stress that I put “willingness” above “ability,” since the former will, if consistently applied, foster the latter.)
If you have a good partner already, mazel tov! But even that isn’t a guarantee. A good parent has to take a certain subset of skills that have made them a good partner and continue to apply them to your relationship in some capacity while also demonstrating them to your kid. To be sure, it’s a tall order. But here are some of the pre-existing qualities they could have that might indicate that they’ll be up for the challenge when the time comes.
Kids require a level of patience every single day that most people do not have to call upon ever. Imagine the kind of patience you have to endure while sitting in a terrible traffic jam. “I sit in traffic every day on my commute!” you tell me. Well, then you kind of understand. But now imagine that you are in charge of and responsible for the traffic jam, and the traffic jam never alleviates. It just goes on and on and on, 24/7, 365 for, at the bare minimum 18 years, but probably longer. Patience will be crucial to you and your partner maintaining your sanity.
They’re Good At Explaining Things
This is a good parenting quality to have for two reasons:
- Kids ask a million, billion questions and it’s wonderful to have extremely curious children. (I hear curiosity only kills cats, so they should be safe.) Being able to explain how a lever works, or what’s inside a banana and why, is just a useful tool to have in the ol’ mommy or daddy belt.
- Most importantly, if you’re good at explaining things it probably means you’re a good communicator. Good communication is absolutely crucial in being a good parent. From communicating with your child to communicating with your partner. Even simple logistical things. When we’re with our kids, my husband and I require “verbal hand-off”s with our kids so we always know who is responsible for whom. So if I have to go outside or even just into the kitchen, I’ll confirm that he knows he is the sole guardian of both children and vice versa. You may believe we’re overthinking it, but every now and then, the verbal hand-off is ignored — he’ll think I have the baby, I’ll think he has the baby — meanwhile the baby has found her way to bathroom and is playing in the toilet. Communication is clutch.
They Can Fake Enthusiasm
Have you ever read Goodnight, Moon? It’s a fine book and not too interesting. But that doesn’t matter. If your kid is anything like mine (and despite the fact that everyone thinks their kid is THE MOST UNIQUE PERSON EVER TO GRACE THE EARTH WITH THEIR PRESENCE, they’re all basically the same in many regards (except for my kids, who are precious snowflakes)) they will demand Goodnight, Moon be read over and over and over and over. And not just once a night forever. Many times, sometimes in a row, for weeks or months at a stretch. And if you, like me, want to encourage an enduring love of reading in your littles, you’re going to have to get really pumped about that goddamn bowl of mush every single time, even as you wonder, “Why is there a bowl of mush in that little bunny’s room at bedtime, by the way? Shouldn’t the old lady stop whispering ‘hush’ and put it in the sink? No wonder they have a young mouse in there.” You’re also going to have to pretend to be super-excited about puppet shows, cartoons (and not necessarily cool ones), toys, and art projects you don’t understand.
They Can Tell You When They Need Help
All of us, parents or not, have been burned out and/or flummoxed at some point. To use the parlance of the day, there comes a time when we “can’t even.” When you’re a parent and you get to that point, you should hopefully be able to turn to your partner and say, “Yo. This is really tough right now. Can we talk about how to make this less tough?” If you are parenting with a partner in any way, this is absolutely essential in maintaining some degree of harmony. It doesn’t matter if you’re living together, or divorced/broken up, or together but living separately. Being able to reach out to your co-parent for help makes you a better parent.
If my favorite person I’ve never met and patron saint Jo “Supernanny” Frost has taught me one thing (and she has taught me so, so many things), it’s that children require consistency. In a sense, it’s kind of weird: Children are the most capricious little minions you could ever hope to come across. They’re all manic pixie dream tots; even the calm ones are mercurial little weirdos. So you’d think they’d do fine or maybe even thrive in a similarly chaotic environment, but children need routine and structure. That’s not to say you need to go all Captain Von Trapp on them or anything, but they have to know you’re always going to be there and the rules aren’t a moving target. If your partner demonstrates this sort of anchoring consistency, that’s a great sign for their parenting future. That said, it’s also important that…
Having a child requires a lot of changing plans, thinking on your feet, and keeping on your toes. If your boyfriend or girlfriend freaks out at the slightest deviation in your plans, be aware that this is something that will be tested over and over again with a little one in the picture. And then if you throw more than one in the mix? Forget it.
They Always Try And Don’t Shut Down When Faced With Adversity
If they are known for peacing out when things get difficult, this is a huge red flag. Because chances are, a child is going to be at least one of the most difficult things they’ve ever come across. I’m not talking someone who, like, playfully but exasperatedly throws the controller across the room when they can’t beat a level of Pac-Man (because I can’t and I stopped trying but I’m still a really good parent!), I’m talking about the actually tough stuff. Like, do they walk away whenever you try to have an emotionally difficult conversation? Do they always leave jobs because they don’t like putting up with their bosses’ crap? Do they shut down and never try to do something new with you and your friends even though you’ve expressed how important it is to you? Or are they invested in talking something through with you? Do they make an effort to put up with their sucky job until they’ve found a new one? Do they make an honest effort to enjoy themselves at your yoga class because they know it was important to you that they at least give it a whirl? Shutting down or walking away doesn’t work as a parent or a co-parent. It’s selfish, and selfishness will get you precisely nowhere in either role.
They Don’t Take Themselves Too Seriously
Most parents really aren’t cool. Know why? Because it’s really hard to be cool while you’re dressed up in toddler’s Batman costume while doing a Scottish accent because you also have to be “the mom from Brave, but also Batman.” (Wait a minute — that sounds awesome.) Between playing completely insane games with your kid, missing out on a lot of social activities, and having to lug around a million child-related items with you everywhere you go, your hip factor takes a hit when you become a parent. If your partner is super into their image, this will not go smoothly for them.
They Are Calming Without Being Condescending
An excellent quality for any parent to have is the ability to deescalate a situation. If you’ve ever thought “My boyfriend/girlfriend would be a really good hostage situation negotiator,” they would probably also make an excellent parent. Whether they have to talk a child down from a tantrum (like the other day when I had to figure out how to stop my child from wailing at the Bronx Zoo because he didn’t want to be there despite looking forward to it for months) to being able to soothe a frazzled co-parent without coming across as aloof and accusatory, a calming demeanor and the ability to employ it is a fantastic mom/dad skillset.
They Have Told You They Would Like To Have Kids
OK, so this in and of itself isn’t necessarily a great indicator. A lot of people want a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean they’d be any good at it. For example, I want to be a great ballerina, but the fact that I live in an uncoordinated, pain-adverse, 32-ear-old body that loathes exercise and hasn’t taken a ballet class since I was 8 means I would be terrifically bad at ballet. (Don’t worry, I fill the void by crying inspired tears watching So You Think You Can Dance clips on YouTube.) The reason I bring up this point, however, is that even if your partner possesses all the other qualities I have mentioned, if they don’t want kids then let’s not assume they would be a good parent. That’s not to say people can’t change their minds later on, or wind up being a parent inadvertently and rising to the occasion, of course. I know lots of people who have done either or both. But I find it’s best (and just polite and respectful) to take people at their word on this one and not insist they would be great at something they have no interest in.