There is no one right way to parent. We all make compromises each day that juggle the concrete short-term needs of the day with long-term goals for our child, balanced with our child’s temperament and our own. Having a vocabulary for talking about our parenting style can help us make more intentional choices that can guide us, over time, to becoming the type of parent that we want to be.
Let’s start with a quiz. For each spectrum, there will be two statements representing two different parenting approaches. If the one on the left describes you perfectly, make a mark on the left end of the spectrum (yellow). If the one on the right is exactly what you would say, make a mark on the right end. If you’re somewhere in between, mark somewhere in between, wherever feels right.
What is your approach to parenting a 6 month old baby?
|Parent-Led. Parents create structure by scheduling feedings and naps. They may leave a baby to “cry it out” so the baby learns to self-soothe.||Attachment-Style. Parents watch for baby’s cues to decide when to feed or to settle to sleep. Parents always respond to crying.|
What is your approach to early learning? (for a 2 – 5 year old)
|Structured learning. Parents buy educational toys, sign a child up for classes, and when they play, the parent works to find ways to teach new ideas.||Child-Led. They have a variety of toys, go out on adventures to see what child discovers / decides to do. When they play, parent follows child’s lead|
What is your approach to supervising at the playground? (for a 5 – 8 year old)
|Close Supervision. Parents help children on the swings, remind them about rules, encourage them to try all the activities and play nicely with others.||Free Range. Parents sit back and let child explore – it’s OK to climb up the slide. If kids squabble, parents allow them to sort it out on their own.|
What is your approach to school and extracurriculars (for a middle schooler)
|The Director. To get good at anything you have to work hard. Kids don’t want to work hard, so parents have to push, make choices for them.||Unschooled. Parents trust their child’s choices about what to do, when to eat and sleep. Children learn what they’re passionate about.|
What do your answers say about your parenting style?
Parenting styles are often talked about as three categories. If you tended to make marks in the yellow zones, you may be an authoritarian style parent. If you tended to mark blue, you may be permissive. If you were always in between, that’s called authoritative (or balanced).
Parenting Style and Choice
One way to think about parenting style is how you handle choices. A permissive parent offers a wide range of options and lets the child make the choices. An authoritative parent offers fewer options and tries to educate and persuade the child about how to make the best choice. An authoritarian parent offers few choices, generally dictating what will be done.
The permissive parent may value independence and imagination, and believe that if they allow the child to follow their passions, they can trust them to do their best. The authoritative parent may value hard work and smart decision-making that balances short term desires with long-term goals. The authoritarian parent may value obedience, and believe that learning to follow the rules and doing their best at their assigned tasks is the path to success.
Balancing Expectations and Choices
Parents are generally attempting to prioritize their child’s long-term well-being and success, and feel that they have wisdom and perspective that helps them to know what’s best for the child. Children generally prioritize their own happiness in the moment, and don’t worry much about the long-term. So, part of parenting style lies in how we negotiate that conflict.
Parents who have high expectations for their child’s success (however the family defines success, whether that’s in academics, athletics, financial, support for the family, etc.) tend to want more control over their child’s choices, so lean authoritarian or authoritative. Permissive parents may place more emphasis on the child’s happiness than on their accomplishments.
Authoritarian parents believe they know what is best for their child, are not responsive to a child’s individual desires, and apply the same rules in all situations. Authoritative and permissive parents are more responsive to the child as an individual, and also adapt to the situation. (For example, if the child has had a rough week, the parent may let them skip an assigned chore.)
Questions to Reflect On:
What style of parent do you WANT to be?
What type of parent are you on a rough day?
Are you the same style as your parenting partner? Or different? How is that going?
Are you the same style of parent that YOUR parents were? Or are you very different? Why?
I’ve written before about the four parenting styles, about other parenting labels like helicopter parents, free range, and tiger moms, and how parenting style might affect how we handle choices in our families.
Here is a free printable handout of this post’s content on parenting style.