Family traits and our parenting

  
How we parent our children is strongly influenced by our childhood experience and our parents become role models (for good and bad) for our own parenting. 
Some of us might hate the way our parents treated us in certain situations, or we may even have really bad memories of the childhood in general. We will then promise ourselves that we won’t be doing this to our children. We will be different! However we all find ourselves resembling our parents in some way. We might hear critical voice or angry voice of our father or mother, pouring out of our mouth when we are stressed. If we stop and think we know precisely where is it coming from: ‘this is exactly what I used to hear from him/her’. 
Our first relationships influence our life in the sense that we learn from them about relationships in general. We gather experience and we learn: what happens when someone’s gets angry, what happens if I do something wrong? how does it look like in the eyes of my mother when I am sad? How does it feel to be loved? How does my father show warmth towards me?

The way our parents deal with their own emotions and our emotions as children is the very thing which shapes our future relationships – among others – relationship with our own children. Some of these patterns are available to us and we can easily see them – for example: ‘I get angry when my child disobeys me. I remember my parents getting angry in the same way’. Some of them are unconscious hence more difficult to deal with; it’s then a matter of self reflection to discover them – for example: ‘I realised that I can’t say ‘no’ to my child even if I know I should – I feel hopeless in the same way I do with my mother. I can’t say ‘no’ to her either’.  

But we are not condemned to our past. Moreover, our task as parents is to learn from what we experienced as children and adapt differently. For example – talking about boundaries – it might be the case that someone used to be a teenager ‘crying out’ for boundaries and not getting them from parents, no matter what he/she was doing (extreme risk behaviour, abusing alcohol, breaking any rules, abandoning school, etc.). Later on when 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 feelings of hopelessness and worrying for the child overpower the parent and he/she is not able to be firm and strict with the child; sends mixed massages about rules and expectations, etc. 

How can we stop these repetitions and start doing things our own way?

The major task here is to recognise two things.

Needs 

Firstly, we need to recognise our needs, which weren’t met when we were children, and how this pattern repeats itself in our present behaviour. These might be the very needs which we now have to meet when relating to our children (for example by creating boundaries and providing sense of safety). 

This is the place from which we can develop our own way of doing things, make changes and go beyond the generational cycle. 

Priorities 

Secondly we need to prioritise our parenting. We can laugh at some patterns of our parenting. It may be frustrating to us, that we behave like our parents, but this is not harmful to our children’s development. Whereas other patterns can have big consequences. We need to make sure we don’t focus on the small things and ignore the big ones, because dealing with them seems much more difficult. 
We become who we are through relations with others, it is the nature of our development. It’s good to remember that in parent-child relationship it is mutual – children influence their parents too. We don’t have a full control over this process and accepting it gives us the opportunity to learn from the experience.

First published on herfamily.ie
Photo: http://www.welearntoday.com

Parental Authority – out of fashion?

Authority needs to be imaginative, If you become authoritarian, you loose your authority’, Simon Western.

The dirty word

There is a problem with word ‘authority’. As said in a previous post, Authority is very often associated with the Authoritarian Parenting, characterised by little warmth, huge control, and harsh, punitive discipline*. In this light authority seems to be the tool of devil and many parents would be inclined to claim authority free parenting, and set up standards for Permissive Parenting – a warm and highly accepting style, employing reason rather than force, and indifferent about applying parental discipline.

The Parental Authority figure

Whether we like it or not, a child sees their parents as an authority figure, as this is part of developmental process. Usually parents are the main point of reference for infants, the first significant ‘others’ in children’s life, their first role-model of how the world is organised. Children carry parents in their minds and use those images when engaging in all further relationships and decision-making. In this sense, our way of caring, our values and beliefs are consciously and unconsciously the strongest of influences on our children. It is not to say that we have a full control on what we pass onto our children, other social factors also occur. Yet parents are always an authority figure to the child, as the child is always influenced by the parent… they carry parental authority whether they choose it or not. The question is how do they use this authority?

The need of authority

What is also missing in the polarised picture, represented by authoritarian and permissive parenting is the notion that children need authority to feel safe when learning and exploring the world. Applying parental authority with confidence, clarity and love provides firm, safe and consistent environment, which is the basis for children to develop.
Children are their carers’ dependant, which is not an equal relationship. It involves the use of power to make things happen. This is parent’s task to make children do or not do something, draw clear boundaries, lead actions and use their power – for children’s own safety and benefit. Put in practical context of basic needs – it is parents’ responsibility to feed children, keep them safe, warm, offer emotional security and encouraging conditions for learning.
Big part of children’s learning happens through testing, pushing boundaries, through challenging parents’ power. The hope is that through this process children learn to understand the sense of boundaries, and learn to create their own boundaries, for their own safety and benefit.
For example, it is expected from the very early stage of life, that children will be trying to break the rules, do the things which they want to, regardless parents prohibition. But provided with very clear and consistent message from parents – regarding what is right and not right – they are also expected to recognise their own benefit in moving within the boundary, and be able to take care for themselves.

Authoritative Parenting

Drawing boundaries and providing a consistent discipline is part of the safe and pro-developmental environment. The other part, equally important is emotional warmth and support. There is no right and wrong way, no absolute rules, the challenge is that as parents we must find our own way, taking account of each child’s individual needs and personality. Each parent has their unique styles of applying parental authority, and different children have unique responses and needs. The task for parents is to navigate the child’s needs whilst not avoiding their parental responsibilities.

According to the Baumrind’s model of parenting styles* these are the characteristics of Authoritative Parenting, which is claimed to be the most beneficial for children. The following lists presents the main elements of the style:

  • is accepting of child; displays frequent expressions of affection
  • sets high standards for behaviour
  • maintains consistent discipline and limit setting
  • employs reason rather than force
  • listens to child’s points of view

What is your baggage?

We all differ in a way we speak from the position of power. The way we enact authority is deeply rooted in our history of relating to important others. This why, when learning to take up the authoritative role as a parents, it is important to explore some of those topics below:

    1. what emotional reactions do you notice in yourself
      when trying to set boundaries for your children or telling them to do something?
    2. how do you look and sound like when speaking from your authority as a parent (for example talking about crossed boundaries)?</
    3. who was your first or most important authority figure?
    4. what emotional reactions did this important person evoke in you when speaking from the position of power (i.e. telling you what to do, telling you off)?
    5. what similarities can you point between you and your first authority?
    6. what differences can you point between you and the authority?

*from the model of parenting styles by Baumrind, described in: Child Psychology. Development in changing society

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).