Parenting is a journey you hit the ground running. No matter how much you read up about raising children, your children will surprise you, constantly. From the first day that you hold your swaddled baby in your arms in the hospital, to when they start preschool, reach 9th grade and beyond. Recognising your parenting style may be helpful in the parenting journey. How does one do that?
A good place to start is the parenting grid developed by Diana Baumrind that provides four key styles parenting can be divided into. But first, a backstory.
Diana Baumrind was a Ph.D in psychology from the University of California Berkeley. In her study she found a correlation between parenting styles and children’s behaviour. Baumrind undertook the study using cluster analysis by grouping parents under different categories for the study.
Her study was titled Baumrind’s Parenting Typology. She identified three styles of parenting, Authoritarian, Permissive and Authoritative. These styles were based on four basic elements that shaped successful parenting, i.e., responsive vs. unresponsive and demanding vs. undemanding. A fourth style, Neglectful parenting was added by Maccoby and Martin where they placed these styles into two distinct categories: demanding and undemanding.
These four styles account for normal variations in parenting. She advocated that good parenting involves being demanding and being responsive. She emphasised that a good parent-child relationship is built on mutual respect. The building blocks for a good parent-child relationship was in her opinion affection paired with rules and boundaries.
The two key variables she was assessing were Responsiveness and Demandingness.
Responsiveness is the parent’s ability to provide support, emotional strength that a child needs when they are vulnerable. Children need deep understanding and direction from their parents so that they may thrive. Responsiveness is a key giveaway by parents to children.
Demandingness is an expectation from the child. The child needs monitoring and control. The child is integrated into family norms and structure through habits. The parent should provide the structure and order for the child to have a sense of predictability and therefore balance. It also helps children not to be disruptive.
Now let us take a look at the 4 parenting styles.
Authoritarian Parenting: Baumrind defined this style of parenting to be restrictive and heavy on punishment. In this form of parenting, the parent sees themselves as a boss and the child must be subservient to their authority. If not, the child must face strong consequences. This high degree of pressure can result in a servile child or a rebel. The probability of such children being estranged from their parents in adulthood is high.
Permissive Parenting: In this parenting style parents usually keep saying yes to the child’s demands. There are hardly any boundaries or rules in the parent-child relationship. The parent seeks the child’s approval. Children raised using this style of parenting often end up seeking the same in adulthood and can be seen as being immature and without focus.
This style of parenting brings to mind sage a passage from Roald Dahl’s poem, Veruca Salt, The Little Brute from the children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
...For though she's spoiled, and dreadfully so,
A girl can't spoil herself, you know.
Who spoiled her, then? Ah, who indeed?
Who pandered to her every need?
Who turned her into such a brat?
Who are the culprits? Who did that?
Alas! You needn't look so far
To find out who these sinners are.
They are (and this is very sad)
Her loving parents, MUM and DAD.
Neglectful Parenting: A child may seem to be growing in relative comfort and yet the parenting style may be very neglectful. Children lack help in building social bridges and parents adopting this parenting style are often unaware of the goings and comings of their child’s life. In many cases, parents may not be absent emotionally alone but fail to provide basic resources a child needs. The child raised like this will feel unwanted or a burden even. The parents are consumed with their own needs and desires and do not provide children with the mental, spiritual or emotional guidance they need.
Authoritative Parenting: This more collaborative style of parenting allows both parent and child to voice their expectations. Parents adopting this style take care to explain to the child the reason why certain rules are being put in place. The emphasis is on self-management with the support and guidance of the parent. Parents take the time to pause and explain the idea of consequences to children. This style of parenting results in self-sufficient, well- adjusted adults. Authoritative parents are supportive and assertive rather than restrictive and intrusive.
If we now look at the styles of parenting through the lens of the two variables Demandingness and Responsiveness, this is how it would look.
Ultimately, parenting is not a competition in which there are prizes for whose child turns out best. It is a process, a unique opportunity to build a reservoir of self-worth in a young person so that they know they are are enough in being themselves.
Critics of Baumrind’s theory say it is unidirectional. Parenting itself has evolved greatly since the mid 60’s when she conducted her groundbreaking study. The study is relevant because it understands how best parents can assert power on their children. This may sound like a bad thing but seen in the light that it helps produce self-determining adults with high moral character and competence.
One school of parenting thought advocates that children should be allowed to grow with minimum intervention, since power assertion may lapse into high parental control. When done correctly parental assertion becomes very powerful. It helps children develop self-regulating mechanisms and nurture internal reserves of perseverance and fortitude.
Prudent power assertion helps parents facilitate the development of competence by helping young children initiate self-regulating mechanisms and develop internal reserves to persevere in difficult or unpleasant tasks. Over time this habituates the child as they face complex situations outside the ambit of their home. This habituation is particularly useful when children transition into adolescence and then adulthood.
We can all benefit from the author and essayist Ayelet Waldman’s parenting wisdom when we contemplate on what parenting style suits us.
“There are times as a parent when you realize that your job is not to be the parent you always imagined you'd be, the parent you always wished you had. Your job is to be the parent your child needs, given the particulars of his or her own life and nature.”