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Parenting Styles: Yes, One is Better Than the Others

Parenting has got to be one of the hardest things we do as humans. It takes our heart and soul. Like most things in life, you get out what you put in, so the rewards are also the most fulfilling. You’d think, with thousands of years of experience, we would have figured out the perfect parenting pattern by now. Unfortunately not, but I do believe we are getting closer.  

Parent face to face with her child while smiling engaging in loving parenting

Over the last 60 years, parenting has been a big topic of study for psychologists and sociologists. We are beginning to gather empirical evidence for and against certain styles of parenting. There are three main styles that are often described: Authoritarian, Permissive, and Authoritative.  

The Authoritarian parenting style more closely resembles that of a military drill sergeant. This style values rules over the relationship and relies heavily on consequences or punishments to enforce those rules. There is often a “My way or the highway” feel to the parenting. Or a “Because I’m the parent” sort of response to any pushback. Those in this camp typically subscribe to the old adage, “spare the rod, spoil the child.”  

The Permissive parent is on the other side of the spectrum. They value the relationship far above the rules. If Authoritarian parenting is tough love, this is Charmin soft love. There is often a feel of “I’d rather be friends”. This is also where helicopter, enabling-type parenting lives. This is the parent who can’t stand to see their child suffer to the point of removing all suffering from the child’s life. Discipline? No way, this is “Gentle Parenting.”  

So, if parenting is on a spectrum, with one side being Authoritarian and the other being Permissive, you would rightfully assume that Authoritative parenting is in the middle of the spectrum. Authoritative parenting is a creative and flowing mix between the two described. There is a balance between rules and relationship. Depending on the circumstance, sometimes rules win out and other times the relationship wins out. Authoritative parenting takes the best parts of each to create an atmosphere of both love and boundaries. Children feel safe speaking with their parents and also respect the rules of the home. This looks like flexibility versus rigidity or elasticity.  

Star Wars figurines enacting a parent child relationship with the parent tossing the child into the air while a small Darth Vader watches.

Now, time to be honest with yourself. Which side of the spectrum do you naturally lean towards? I have yet to meet a parent who naturally lands in the middle, though I’ve met many who like to think they do. We all have leanings one way or another. It’s helpful to know where you lean so you can understand where you will need to put your efforts to move closer to the middle of the spectrum. 

To help motivate you to find the middle, here are some of the outcomes of these styles of parenting as found through decades of research. Authoritarian parenting often leads to children who question their own internal feelings. They think there is something inherently wrong with them because of the constant discipline and lack of emotional connection. They may struggle with emotional regulation.  

Permissive parenting leads children to struggle with their own emotional regulation. They struggle to understand boundaries with rules and with relationships. They often have difficulty concentrating, making friends, and getting along with others.  

Authoritative parenting leads kids to develop high self-esteem, get along with others, and learn well. This also helps children learn to trust their feelings, problem solve, and regulate their own emotions.  

Being too far to one side on the parenting spectrum can have long-lasting effects on our kids. In a world of extremes, let’s all try to find a more moderate middle as there is often more health to be found in moderation.  

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