As much as we want to be the best parents to our kids, unfortunately our own baggage often sets the tone for how we parent. Whether it is the way we were raised or a way of coping with our own hurt from childhood, we tend to fall into one of four camps when it comes to parenting. Although we’d love to contain our own issues so that they never leak out onto our kids, they inevitably do––which is why we have to pay close attention to how we’re interacting with and shaping them every day. Of course we are not perfect and will often affect our kids in ways we don’t mean to, but we can begin to work intentionally towards dealing with our own fears and wounds so we can better support our kids. So what are these four camps, or parenting styles, according to clinical psychologist Diana Baumrind?
An authoritarian parenting style is what it sounds like––it’s all about the rules. If your kid breaks the rules, they are punished. You’re not interested in positive reinforcement or shades of gray, and your kids do whatever you tell them to, no questions asked. There are no explanations for why you are telling them to do something, and no excuses allowed on their part. It is essentially a dictatorship and a one-sided relationship. Not surprisingly, kids who grow up with authoritarian parents can develop a lot of insecurity and anger. They may be well-behaved, but they also probably secretly resent you, and they may act out once they are no longer under your care. If you believe you may be an authoritarian parent, ask yourself:
Why do I feel such a strong need to control my children?
What is going on in my life that makes me feel out of control?
How may my control issues be rooted in my past?
What fears are driving my reactions?
The permissive parent can be seen as the opposite of the authoritarian parent––they allow their children to do just about anything and everything without enforcing consequences. If you are a permissive parent, you may want to be seen as the “cool” mom or be best friends with your kids. You are more interested in them liking you than respecting you. You are somewhat of a doormat; you let your kids walk all over you and convince you to let them do whatever they want.
While you may think you are encouraging freedom and independence in your kids, your lack of discipline may cause them to develop a poor regard for authority, which may lead to acting out in school or other academic problems. Additionally, your kids may grow up to have more indulgent behaviors such as overeating because they were never restricted as children. If this sounds like you, ask yourself:
Why am I afraid of disciplining my kids?
How can I begin to hold my children more accountable?
What parenting skills can I learn that would help me feel more confident?
The uninvolved parent doesn’t have time or energy for their kids– an example is the “absent father” who works all the time and barely ever sees his children because he’s always on business trips or out drinking with his buddies. Or the kids who are raised by their nanny because their mother is more interested in getting her nails done and shopping at the mall than spending time with her kids. These may be over exaggerated examples, but simply put, you know you are an uninvolved parent if your kids don’t come first (or second, or third…).
Whether it’s for reasons you can control such as how much time you are working, pursuing leisurely activities, or being overly-involved in your own interests (i.e. volunteering, mentoring others, attending to others’ health or personal needs, etc.), or for reasons you can’t control such as personal mental or physical health issues––you just don’t have the capacity to be a present and involved parent. Unfortunately this can wreak havoc on your kids’ lives. They may struggle with self-esteem and have behavioral and academic issues, or perhaps even attention-seeking behaviors to compensate for the attention they didn’t receive from you. If you think you are an uninvolved parent, ponder these questions:
What is more important to me than my kids?
Why don’t I want to spend time with my kids?
How can I begin to nurture my relationships with my kids?
Although “authoritative” sounds very similar to “authoritarian,” they are completely different. While the other three parenting styles are problematic, authoritative parenting is the gold standard of parenting styles––it is the healthy balance between honoring your child and still setting clear boundaries as the parent.
Authoritative parents understand that kids need both positive reinforcement and discipline. They engage with their children and seek to build a strong relationship with them, so their kids know they are safe and loved, even when they are out of line. If you are an authoritative parent, congrats!––keep going in that direction and you will see your kids grow up as secure, happy, and successful individuals.
Additional Parenting Styles
There are a few more parenting styles that researchers have identified following Baumrind’s findings. These include:
Overindulgent Parenting: similar to permissive parenting; essentially spoiling a child to an inappropriate degree with little discipline or boundary-setting. Children of overindulgent parents can become self-centered and entitled.
Helicopter Parenting: the parents that are overprotective; can lead to children becoming overly dependent on parents or others in their adult lives.
Traditional Parenting: non-Western, collectivistic blend of authoritarian and authoritative parenting with a high value on tradition and respecting authority; children of these parents do better in school and have less behavioral and social problems.
Don’t be discouraged or hard on yourself if you realize you practice one (or a combination) of the less-than-ideal parenting styles, but use that realization as a motivational tool to work through your own issues and fears, so you can be the best parent to your kids. All of us have room to grow and change for the better, so focus on where you want to be and how you can get there. One of our licensed therapist can also help you in those areas that you may need support wether it is a past trauma or emotional and hormonal changes due to postpartum depression or anxiety. Don’t be afraid to reach out for support among other parents who get it––parenting is a lifelong journey, and you need friends along the way!