This is something very near and dear to my heart: the choice to parent. “The choice to parent“? you may ask. You mean “choosing to become a parent, right?” Well, not exactly. Yes, you choose to become a parent (or not…sometimes it more or less happens to you without your choosing. I’m a firm believer, however, that those little surprises can be life’s most amazing blessings!). But more important is how you choose to parent your children. How you choose to guide them, teach them, and raise them into adulthood. A parent I very much admired told me they always thought about how they’d like their children to act when they are 21; that thought is what encouraged and guided them to make the parenting choices that they did.
Through my work with children and their families, I’ve seen so many variations of the way people choose to parent their children: Authoritarian Styles, Authoritative(Democratic) Styles, Permissive Styles and Neglectful Styles. These are terms used in pyschology, but you don’t have to be a psychologist to recognize that neglectful styles of parenting are probably not going to be the best choices. They range from never attending your child’s softball games to forms of abuse, mainly not providing a child with adequate food, safety, or nurturance to the point where they fail to mature or develop appropriately. But what about these other “styles”? Here’s a brief overview of what each typifies:
- The parent is highly demanding, but not responsive
- Attempts to control to an absolute standard.
- Values obedience and does not encourage give and take.
- Emphasizes strict family rules and is often referred to as military style parenting
- Authoritarian parents attempt to exert complete and total control over their families.
- They can be restrictive and rigid, demanding absolute obedience, often in a ‘do as I say not as I do’ style of parenting.
- Punishment is often harsh and punitive.
- The authoritative parent encourages independence, originality, open communication, and listens to the child’s point of view as well as expressing his or her own, while at the same time maintaining a fairly high level of expectation from the child in terms of conduct and responsibilities.
- The authoritative parent believes in developing close, loving and nurturing relationships with their children, giving them clear, firm and consistent guidleines.
- Open communication encourages verbal give-and-take.
- Authoritative parents encourage their children’s independence, individuality and creativity by being highly responsive toward the children and expecting a degree of responsiveness in return. In terms of demands, age appropriate behavior is expected, along with clear standards and boundaries which are firmly set.
- Because children are encouraged to think for themselves, a high level of autonomy is achieved for the child. This is placed right alongside a balanced and disciplined conformity which is of equal value.
- Children of authoritative parenting style grow up experiencing safe boundaries, against which they are also encouraged to push and question in a mutually respectful environment.
- Authoritative parents exert firm control but do not hem the child in with restrictions. These children become socially responsible, able to control aggression, self-confident, and high in self-esteem. By encouraging independence, the child learns a high awareness of social responsibility through openly discussing how their actions will affect other people.
- Authoritative parents want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated and motivated as well as cooperative.
- The parent is responsive but undemanding
- Is accepting and affirmative of the child but makes few demands for responsibility or conduct.
- The permissive parent tends to take a tolerant, accepting attitude toward the child’s wants and impulses, including sexual and aggressive impulses.
- Permissive parents have trouble saying no and setting boundaries and guidelines for their children. They tend to be lenient and to avoid asserting authority, or imposing controls or restrictions, or indeed, any confrontation wherever possible.
- Few demands are made for mature behaviour, like displaying table manners, or sharing responsibilities around the home. There are very few rules governing the child such as for bedtimes, homework schedules, mealtimes, or TV watching.
- Permissively raised children are generally allowed to control their own behavior and to make their own decisions.
- Inconsistent discipline creates problems around lack of responsibility, motivation and self control become more apparent.
I will say I tend to lean more towards the authoritative/democratic side of the spectrum, while recognizing just how challenging this is. To follow authoritative parenting 100% of the time with no occasional slips of acting out of anger (yelling when I didn’t really need to) or giving in (letting them have the dang toy even though I said no) would make me perfect. And that is something I am certainly not nor will I ever be. In those situations I pray I have the strength to recognize when I’ve made a mistake, apologize to my child and forgive myself. All I can do is hope that my core values of loving my child regardless of who they become or what they choose, being available for them, providing unconditional support, and always giving them what they need, not necessarily what they want will help me to give a loving, empathetic and responsible adult to the world.
For another perspective on parenting, Bo Bryson (someone far more experienced in parenting than myself) offered to share his and his wife’s thoughts on their choice to parent:
At the most basic level of our parenting, Jen and I have defined our principles as:
- Proximity – The state, quality, sense, or fact of being near or next; closeness. Proximity is being close in person but also in heart reality (mind, body, spirit) – being there for our children when we are with them no matter at home or other place; letting them know we are close and not allowing our mind to wonder to work, hobbies, etc…
- Availability – Present and ready for use; accessible, capable of being gotten. Being available means being able to be contacted by your kids – being available means many times being at home but also when unable, making sure they know you are available. I also think this means being available even if we have something we think is ‘of more importance’
- Responsiveness – Answering or responding; readily responding to influences. Being responsive means to not be dull nor deaf – being responsive means to listen and act – being responsive means to not neglect a kid’s call for attention- being responsive is to guard your children’s heart
- Sensitivity – The ability to respond to stimuli; the degree of response. Being sensitive is being aware of your child’s needs – being sensitive is knowing when to say yes and when to say no – being sensitive is being aware of when to step in and when to back off – being sensitive is helping our children be ok with who they are. But as a Father, being sensitive meant to me to be engaged and ‘attached’ from the start of the pregnancy, not waiting until the toddler years to enjoy my child.
These are the four foundational principles we have adopted. I would not be truthful if I were to tell you that we do not adhere to more of the attachment theory of parenting. This does not mean this theory is correct or the best for each family because we have close friends who use a more – well, what would be termed ‘a scheduled model/theory’ and it works well for them. And we have yet other friends who use a combo. And you know what – they all work for the families that use them. Again, what is the underlying principle of the formula being used? If the principles are broken, the formula may also be broken. However, since we gravitate toward the attachment theory, I will mention what Dr. Sears terms, “The 7 B’s of Attachment.” They are: (1) Bonding at Birth (2) Breastfeeding (3) Baby wearing (4) Bedding close to baby (not necessarily in same bed) (5) Belief in value of responding to baby’s cry (6) Beware of baby trainers (meaning all advice is not good advice) (7) Balance for parents and children.
These 7 B’s are not a set of rules but rather an approach that incorporates the four foundational principles I listed above. I have had a parent ask me, ‘What if I do not use all 7 B’s, does that mean I am not attached to my children?’ My answer is of course not! Maybe one of them does not fit with a foundational principle you have or maybe one of the seven is unable to be done for physical, mental or emotional reasons.
Once foundational principles are identified…a point to consider (if not the starting point) is: what is the ultimate goal of parenting? And as with anything in life, if you know the goal or a desired destination the journey seems less confusing and many times more enjoyable. For Jen and I, the ultimate goal of parenting is two-fold: (1) Realize we are raising adults not children (2) Realize we are stewards of a precious soul that God has blessed us with. Now let me expound on this. As a mentor told me, you reap what you sow. Therefore, we want to sow seeds of love in our children’s lives that in return will reap a harvest in their adult years. I recognize that one of the potential hazards, if you will, of attachment parenting/theory, is that the child becomes the center of the universe. While at some level, this has to be the case when they are small. We desire our children to know that the world not does revolve around them. Simply, that it is ‘not all about me.’ Herein lies the balance of parenting; we so much want/desire our children to know, recognize and feel loved but once this love is recognized, not to assume it is just for them. This love they know then needs to be poured out to other family members, friends and others they touch in their life. You see, it is one thing to know you are loved but it is quite another to be able to give that love away.
There are many more wonderful points Bo raised, and those will be included in his next newsletter if you’d like to read more(http://www.trinitychiro.com/treatment/children.htm). There are so many ideas, theories, styles, and beliefs about how to raise children that there could be a never-ending list. It’s important to remember that you’ll grow and change as a parent as much as your children will grow and change as people. When it comes to parenting, be willing to listen to your heart, pay attention to your child, and be prepared to learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible.