Parenting Styles – how should we parent?

playing children

This is the first part of the blog reflecting on the way we parent our children. It presents the wider context in which our ideas of parenting develop. It aims to help us understand what shapes and influences us as parents.

How we act as parents, depends on our beliefs and values. These are formed partly by our personality and partly by society i.e. the cultural and historical background we come from, and of course our own experience of being children.

Two major issues regarding parenting styles are: 1) parenting control; the degree to which the child is monitored, controlled and disciplined and 2) parenting warmth; the amount of emotional support and encouragement the parent gives the child.
How to combine those two ingredients in a way which is beneficial to our children? Isn’t discipline contradictory to the warmth and encouragement? Those questions bring us to the roots of our idea of parenting. It wasn’t so long ago, when the firm discipline and control were the accepted way to rear the children. Parenting then went through major cultural transformation, which brought benefits, but also new challenges. Where are we all now? Where could you situate yourself on the scales of controlling and respecting your child?

Authoritarian or Permissive Parenting?

The era of a saying ‘the child should be seen not heard’ is long time behind us. Western society went long way from one extreme idea of parenting to another. In the Victorian era attitudes formed an idea that children had to learn to be obedient, to control their emotions and their behaviour. They were to obey the unquestionable authority of parents, their matrons or carers and all adults. This fitted with wider ideas of how society was organised: in the workplace society was stratified, and authority was layered, the lower class didn’t question the higher class, and a worker obeyed the boss. Also this was the era of the ‘stiff upper lip’ – children had to learn to suppress their emotions, as in adulthood showing emotions wasn’t frowned upon. In terms of ‘parenting styles’ researched and described by psychologists*, this way of bringing up children would be called ‘Authoritarian Parenting’.
In the post-war period, and particularly following the 1960’s counter cultural revolution, we moved to the opposite extreme, which was personified by Carl Rogers Person Centred Approach to parenting. This approach drew upon Humanistic Psychology, the Human Potential Movement and the growing ideology of individualism. Rejection of discipline and focus on children’s individuality brought new challenges for parents, and adults more generally, who lost the capacity to draw boundaries and speak from a position of authority. Parenting derived from this period of social changes, can be characterised as liberal attitudes, following the child and encouraging their expression. We could call this style ‘Permissive Parenting’.
On one side we have a child deprived of expressing their feelings, and learning to control their emotions and behaviour. On the other side, a child learns to express themselves, to focus on him/herself, and who is listened and respected.

The difference between Control and Boundaries

Yet many permissive parents mixed up the issue of being controlling and setting clear boundaries. When this happens, we see children who are not happy, not nurtured but who develop narcissistic tendencies, become demanding, and most of all literally ‘cry out’ for parental boundaries which would make them feel safe and cared for.

Humanistic psychology was created as an antithesis to what was before, and the old world of institutional hierarchy and authoritarian society was rejected as a whole. We are learning today, that being completely child centred, deprives the child of the parenting it needs; it abdicates the responsibility of the parent to be a parent.
It seems we need to respond to children as individuals, yet we also need to be parents and it involves clear boundaries.

How is this synthesis happening in our homes? How do we set consistent, clear and safe boundaries, and also respond to children’s individuality?

The parenting style which addresses these issues is called ‘Authoritative Parenting’, and we will have a closer look at it in the next post.

*Diana Baumrid’s model of parenting styles, described in: Child Psychology. Development in a Changing Society, Harwood, Miller, Vasta (2008).

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2 thoughts on “Parenting Styles – how should we parent?

  1. So whats the answer Agata?? aaahhh!! its awful isnt it? you feel like every little word or move on your parenting part may potentially shape your child for good ot bad never mind the self imposing mannerisms and characterisitics that you blatently recognize as having come from YOUR own parents!

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    • Thank you for the comment, Sarah! You mentioned two crucial issues, which are often at the heart of parents’ concerns. 1. Re influencing our children by who we are – I don’t think it’s that bad, after all. It can be helpful to look at it from wider perspective: we are all influencing each other, because we are relational creatures – we become who we are through relations with others, it is the nature of human beings. And it’s good to remember that in parent-child relationship it is also mutual – children influence parents too. We don’t have a control over this process, but it is a beauty of it. 2. It is true that the way we parent our children is highly influenced by our experience in our own childhood and our parents become prototypes of parenting. But I don’t believe we are condemned to our past. Moreover, this is our task as parents to learn from what we experienced and learnt as children. For example – talking about boundaries – it might be the case that someone was a teenager ‘crying out’ for boundaries and not getting them from parents, no matter what he/she was doing (extreme risk behaviour, abusing alcohol, etc). Later on, as a parent this person might find him/herself in the same position as his/her parents – using similar methods, maybe even resembling parents’ tone of voice or repeating the same set of sentences and messages, while speaking to own children. The major task here is to recognise two things: needs which weren’t met back when we were kids and this resemblance to our parents in our present behaviour. This is the place from which we can develop our own way of doing things and go beyond the generational circle. It takes awareness, courage and hard work, but it gives loads of satisfaction in return. And our children will be grateful.

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