Do You Have A Parenting Mindset?

Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by Kristin Noelle of Trust Tending.

We’re often asked about our parenting styles, but equally important might be the question, what is your parenting mindset?

In my better moments, my mindset is all about becoming a better parent—learning how my kids work, gaining new skills, getting better at what I do. However, I admit that much of the time I’m focused more on whether or not I am a good parent, especially in the eyes of others. I want badly to prove that I’m great at this parenting thing and, moreover, that it all comes naturally to me—no sweat!

In a book titled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck gives a name to what I’ve just described. At heart, she says, I’m operating with a “fixed mindset”.

The Fixed Mindset

“Believing that your qualities are carved in stone – the fixed mindset – creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character–well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.”

The Growth Mindset

By contrast, Dweck describes a growth mindset, which assumes intelligence and all the qualities for which a person could aspire, are things to be practiced and cultivated. They aren’t pre-determined traits destined to bring pride or shame.

  • Good parent? Practice and cultivate it.
  • Successful family manager? Practice and cultivate it.
  • Simply happy habit-maker? You get the picture.

The point is not to safeguard a label, but to recognize that labels themselves are as inherent as one’s mood – i.e. not so much.

Dweck writes, “For [those with a growth mindset] it’s not about immediate perfection. It’s about learning something over time: confronting a challenge and making progress.”

I’ve noticed these two mindsets at work in my meditation practice as well. The part of me that’s frustrated by my inability to still my mind for more than a few seconds and then soars when I’m able to one day, is operating with a fixed mindset. This part of me wants to prove that I’m good at meditating, that I’m spiritually advanced, that I’ve reached some optimal level of serenity.

The part of me that watches my incessant thoughts and feelings rise notes them, sometimes chuckles at them or sheds a few tears in their wake and then continues on to draw me back again to my breath: she knows something about growth. She knows about the value of simply showing up, about the normalcy of fears and limitations and mental ruts, about the practice itself being the goal, rather than its results.

Which of course is ironic, given what happens when this mindset is applied: growth. Learning. A back door wide open to the very inner world, parenting style, and family relationships I most want to cultivate.

For anyone eager to transform fears of imperfection – in you or your kids – into places of deepening trust in our capacity to learn and grow and delight in that process instead of in its results, Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success might be just what you’re looking for.

Kristin Noelle is a mother, writer and illustrator. Her blog, Trust Tending, uses music, words, and art to explore how to live Life beyond fear.

20 Responses to “Do You Have A Parenting Mindset?”

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  1. Wendy Irene says:

    I am a big believer in the benefits of the growth mindset and think it empowers us not to put limitations on ourselves. Thank you for sharing this Kristin!

  2. Wendy, thank you! I was so surprised, in reading this book, how different my beliefs were from what I viscerally *felt* about our inherent intelligence and qualities. It’s been invigorating and humbling, both, to be in the process of conversion on this visceral level.

  3. Kristin, understanding these different mindsets not only will help me in my parenting, but they can also be fantastic models for my own daughters as I help them navigate through school and friendships and all the delights of adolescence.

    One daughter especially seems to have more of a “fixed” mindset, and showing her how practice and cultivation can help her succeed at anything she wants to is a great life lesson from her.

    Of course the best way to show her is to model it myself!

  4. Heather, I got to listen to Dweck lecture on this book at Stanford and during the Q&A session afterward the mother of a 16-year-old stood up, fighting heartfelt tears, to thank Dweck for changing her whole relationship with her daughter. Apparently the two of them read the book together and were astounded by how helpful and life-changing it was to name these 2 mindsets and work toward cultivating the growth one. Your comment is so spot on!

  5. Kristin – great article. Being the parent of what I would call two perfect children I thought I had parenting down to a fine art. I was an expert and could advise all parents of exactly what they should and should not do.

    Then number 3 arrived. Wrecked all my theories and trashed all my mindsets that were, until then, set in concrete. Love that! My final analysis? I didn’t know squat about parenting and needed to go back to parenting school.

    Through the years I have learnt to love each child and go with the flow. Flexible is the name of the game.

    Now with 3 adults in my company – 2 still at home – well at least they sleep and graze there, and one now married – I’m getting ready for the next challenge – grandparent mindset destruction! Can’t wait! Anyone got any gelignite?

  6. GutsyWriter says:

    Thanks for this informative article Kristin. Like Peter Sinclair, I have three sons, all 16 and over, and good parenting is about being flexible and adapting to each child. Five years ago, we left California for Belize Central America to get our oldest son away form peer pressures and to teach our sons gratitude. This was our way of handling defiance and it worked. Sometimes, action is what is needed and as long as the family can be united, magical things can happen.

  7. Peter, gotta love life for the way it humbles us. Your words feel like an echo of so many experiences in my life!

    Best of luck as you navigate grandparenthood!

    GutsyWriter, your story sounds fascinating! I’m so glad your move was a good experience!

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