I often hear parents discussing their parenting style like a badge of honour but have you ever wondered where parenting styles come from? It all started with the 4 parenting styles of authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and uninvolved parenting and their impact on children that was developed in the 1960’s by Diana Buamrind. She was a psychologist who used them to define the outcome of certain mainstream parental behaviours. But those 4 parenting styles were just the start.
Over time and particularly in the last decade, that trend to define has blossomed in to a bizarre attempt to ideologically differentiate one parent from another and has created a huge explosion of parenting styles. You can see them all over the internet. We can be ‘instinctive’ parents or we can practice attachment, positive, unconditional, holistic, nurturant, slow or equalitarian parenting, to name a few. So what do the idea of styles really mean and what’s behind this apparent need to label?
Parenting labels have a downside
I can’t say I like labels because every time you label someone as having one quality either positive or negative, you exclude everyone else and that’s just plain silly. For instance, take attachment parenting. If I’m not an attachment parent practicing co-sleeping and baby wearing then it implies that I’m not attached to my kids, which just simply isn’t true.
Similarly, if you set out to be an egalitarian parent which apparently is defined as providing a democratic environment for your kids with lots of choice, does deciding to deny your three year old a chocolate bar before dinner make you an outcast amongst your egalitarian peers?
What do different parenting styles really mean?
Why am I mentioning all these parenting types and why is it even important what people call themselves or what kind of parenting style they identify with? Well, it’s important because it makes people feel there are multiple and very different ways to bring up emotionally normal, healthy, resilient children and that’s something that’s frankly not true.
What there is instead is multiple ways you can deviate from the norm of child raising, but the basics of child raising is the same as it’s been since the dawn of humankind and it isn’t going to change any time soon.
The 4 parenting styles
Let’s start with the four well known parenting styles mentioned above. They are authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and uninvolved. Well it’s not hard to see the one being pushed as the ideal. Have you found it? That’s right, it’s authoritative. A good balance between providing strong boundaries and lots of love and cuddles. The other three styles are frankly a mess and will create kids with various holes of one kind or another.
The 4 parenting styles were just the start
As time has gone on, more and more parenting labels have shown up trying to describe a parenting style that further subdivides our ideal and those styles have got more and more creative. Ok, so what happens if a parent focuses on one of these styles? Well, if someone practices a minor variation, nothing much but trouble begins when anything is taken to the extreme or one aspect of parenting is focused on at the expense of another. It’s the same in any area of life. Work the right amount of hours and you achieve balance with your home life. Work too much and you become a boring workaholic that’s always stuck on their phone and unlikely to have many friends.
It’s the same with food. Eat a balanced diet that’s just about right and stay healthy. Go too far the other way and you either starve yourself or it becomes decidedly more difficult to move around.
Parenting is about balance
The same dynamic is at play with parenting. Get the balance between boundaries on the one hand and love, cuddles and attention on the other hand, right and you’ll have a great connection with your kids and a largely fun parenting experience.
Have your kids stuck to you all day or co-sleep your way to heaven but offer no boundaries and you’ll have a problem, no matter what you call the style. That’s why ‘style’ can be such a misnomer and it seems parents have adopted it without even thinking about what those labels represent. They take us away from what’s important and focus us instead on what divides us. They make the minutiae count at the expense of the whole and that can make parents focus on the forest, often at the expense of the trees.
Let’s take stock of what’s important
The 4 parenting styles were just the start of a huge explosion of parenting labels that have put up walls and continue to shield us from the support of common experience. I think we should focus on what unites us as parents rather than what divides us. We don’t need to make our parenting special, the equivalent of filet mignon with sauce béarnaise when beans on toast will work just as well and in many cases, better. After all, we’ve had 60,000 years of human history to get it right. We know what makes happy children. I think we should just stick with it and keep it simple.
Would you like to know the secret to building resilient kids that bounce back from disappointment?