The Many Faces of Parenting

Chelsea, your ten-year-old daughter is invited to a slumber party. All the girls in the class are going. They get to order in pizza, and stay up as late as they want. You’ve never met Yolanda, but you know she gets free reign in her home and her parents take little interest in what she does. You also know that although Yolanda gets whatever she wants, she was caught stealing twice from other children’s desks.

Your reply to Chelsea is a) “I’m not crazy about the idea, but I guess it will be okay. Go and have a good time.” Your fears of something going wrong take a backseat to Chelsea’s happiness. You hate to see her disappointed.

b) “No way. I don’t want you turning into a thief like Yolanda. The next time I even see you talking to her, you’ll be grounded for a week!” You don’t want your daughter having anything to do with a spoilt rotten girl who was caught stealing.

c) “I’m not sure dear. Why don’t you invite Yolanda over so I can meet her. Maybe I’ll give her parents a call as well.” You’re not keen about Chelsea going, but it wouldn’t be fair to make a decision without meeting Yolanda first and talking to her parents.

Parent A has a permissive style, warm but lax. Permissive parents make relatively few demands of their children, let their kids freely say and do what they want, fail to monitor their children’s activities, and hardly ever step in to control their children’s behavior. Parents adopt a permissive style for several reasons: reaction to their own parents who were too strict, misguided feeling that good parents sacrifice for their children, afraid of conflict, fear their children won’t like them.

You have to be careful that you’re not too hungry for your children’s love. You need to live with the fact that it’s in your children’s best interests they don’t like you all the time. By the same token it’s not up to you to make your children happy all the time. Some parents are bound and determined to make their children happy, even if it kills them. Frustration is part of life, and if your children never experience it, they’ll be living under your roof longer than you’d like.

Some parents rule their roost with an iron hand. Authoritarian parents, like Parent B have lots of rules, some arbitrary and irrational, which they expect their children to live by. Rarely do these parents explain the reasons behind their rules, and often resort to punitive, forceful tactics to gain compliance. They are not sensitive to their children’s point of view, and expect their kids to accept their word as law and respect authority.

The preferred style is authoritative, a combination of warmth, flexibility, and a moderate degree of parental control. Children need love and limits. Love is the key to children’s self-worth and rules help children structure and evaluate their own as well as other people’s conduct. Parent C’s decision is fair and makes sense to the child. Authoritative parents give their children considerable freedom, provide reasons for their restrictions, and ensure their children follow guidelines. They are responsive to their children’s needs and ideas, and often ask their children’s opinions about family matters.

What do kids from these three types of parents turn out like? Authoritative parents generally had energetic, friendly youngsters, who were cheerful, socially responsible, self-reliant, achievement oriented, and cooperative with adults and peers. Children with authoritarian parents were mostly grumpy, moody, and unhappy most of the time. They were easily annoyed, relatively aimless, and not the best company in the world. Bossy, self-centered, and rebellious children tended to come from permissive parents. These children were aggressive, aimless, and lacking in achievement and independence.

It could also be the other way around–children moulding parents. For instance, extremely difficult, stubborn, and aggressive children tend to bring out more coercive forms of discipline from parents. The wear parents out, causing them to become lax, less affectionate, and possibly even hostile or uninvolved.

The worst type of parent is the uninvolved one who is extremely lax and sets few limits for their children. These parents either reject their children or are so overwhelmed by their own stresses and problems they have nothing left for childrearing. Their children usually fall behind academically as well as socially, eventually turning into hostile rebellious adolescents, prone to antisocial or delinquent acts. The biggest contributor to adult depression is a family setting in which one or both parents treat their children as if they are unworthy of love and affection.

Another problem parenting style is the over-functioning parent who does everything for their children. Their competence as parents hinges on their children’s actions. In the meantime their kids don’t get a chance to learn from their mistakes nor build up independence and self-confidence.