In my formative years as a Child and Adolescent Psychologist, I tended to listen very carefully to colleagues who were older and generally wiser than I, be it Steve Biddulph, Bob Montgomery even Dr Phil. One of these mentors, especially when it came to wisdom around parenting, was the late great John Cheatham who once said “there is no such thing as a perfect parent”. For the record, I’m pretty sure my sons would agree.
We often parent on the basis of a mixture of our upbringing, lived experience as a parent or external advice from books, TV shows, websites or just listening on the radio.
There is no doubt that parenting can be a long and windy road, made more complex by divorce, separation, step-families, trauma, bereavement and anything else that life can throw at us. Two things are for sure, there’s no magic bullet and no shortage of expert advice and what there is – can be quite contradictory and confusing.
Most of the most significant work on parenting styles was done by the Diana Blumberg Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist. Her parenting styles were focused on the twin ideas of “parental responsiveness”, which refers to the degree the parent responds to the child’s needs and “parental demandingness” which is the extent to which the parent expects more mature and responsible behaviour from a child. Using these two dimensions, she recognizes three different parenting styles:
- Authoritarian (“Too Hard”): the authoritarian parenting style is characterized by high demandingness with low responsiveness. The authoritarian parent is rigid, harsh, and demanding. Abusive parents usually fall in this category (although Baumrind is careful to emphasize that not all authoritarian parents are abusive).
- Permissive (“Too Soft”): this parenting style is characterized by low demandingness with high responsiveness. The permissive parent is overly responsive to the child’s demands, seldom enforcing consistent rules. The “spoiled” child often has permissive parents.
- Authoritative (“Just Right”): this parenting style is characterized by high demandingness with huge responsiveness. The authoritative parent is firm but not rigid, willing to make an exception when the situation warrants. The authoritative parent is responsive to the child’s needs but not indulgent. Baumrind makes it clear that she favours the authoritative style.
The reality is that a number of variations on Baumrind’s styles have developed such as helicopter and lawnmower parenting. These two merit some discussion and my personal critique.
Helicopter is a term is used to describe parents who ‘hover’ around their children in order to ward off any or all potential dangers or threats that their child may encounter. It is micro-parenting to the point that they do everything for their child. involve themselves in their children’s lives to such a level, it can be developmentally problematic. So even if a child is fully capable of doing something for themselves, the parent comes rescue them anyway. When they step in and do things that don’t require our involvement it results in children who become helpless, and who rely on others to fix their problems, even into young adulthood. The upside for the parent is that it reduces their anxiety around the child’s welfare because they are doing everything for them. And it makes life easier, in the short term.
Snowplough parenting is a newer term to describe parents who ‘plough’ the path in front of their children, removing all obstacles to happiness and achievement along the way. These parents scan the horizon for obstacles and put energy into obliterating them so their child does not have to face any adversity.
Similar to helicopter parenting, It promotes an unhealthy reliance of the child on the parent and it teaches the child that somebody will always come to the rescue. Resilience and creativity goes out the window as well as their capacity to control their emotions and behaviour because if they do something that turns out to be wrong the parent ‘mows’ down any obstacles.
So which way is best? I am with Dianna, and am big on authoritative parenting, with the warmth and loving, but also high on limit-setting and establishing boundaries and fair consequences and studies over the last few decades have shown most children do best under these circumstances.
What I dislike most is permissive parenting which is high on love and low on limits. Permissive parents (often unkindly referred to as Nimbin parenting) tend to be very loving, yet provide few guidelines and rules, allowing children to develop a high level of autonomy, but without limits, the disadvantages are that sometimes they will push a little too far and try to do a little too much.
What all parents/adult carers need to remember as far as parenting is concerned – as Dr Phil says, is firstly, we teach people how to treat us and you can’t put toothpaste back in the tube, so think about your parenting today – and if necessary make the adjustments.