Parenting is a unique experience that encompasses a wide variety of approaches, philosophies and styles. We may parent how we’ve been parented ourselves or seek to approach parenting in the exact opposite way. Parents may believe their parenting style is “best” and judge others or they may subscribe to a more laid-back “to each their own” approach. Research psychologists have also taken an interest in parenting styles. With the goal of healthy relational attachment in mind, psychologists sought to separate parenting styles into three groups for ease of categorization. Although the variations within these styles are as numerous as our children’s unique temperaments, research psychologists identified three primary styles of parenting and examined their strengths and challenges.
The three overarching parenting styles identified by developmental psychologists are:
Authoritarian, Authoritative and Permissive
The Authoritarian parent is one who offers high structure and boundaries to their child with low levels of warmth and support. You may hear these types of parents answer questions with “Because I said so” or observe that their approach is rooted in the old adage that “children are seen not heard”. This type of parenting is heavily focused on obedience over relationship. Decades of research does not support this parenting style. It leads to blind compliance, mental health struggles and difficulty with vulnerability and emotional awareness.
The Permissive style of parenting is when the parent seeks to be a child’s friend or is so fearful of their child struggling that they allow their child to run the show. This type of parenting leads children to feel ill equipped for the challenges of life. It’s also, ironically, not great for a child’s self esteem because if a parental figure is constantly doing things for the child and not allowing them to persevere through struggles, they’re inadvertently sending a subtle message that they believe the child is incapable of rising to the challenge.
The third style of parenting, which is consistent with positive outcomes long term, is Authoritative parenting. This parenting style combines high boundaries coupled with high levels of warmth and support. This approach is reflected in empathic responding and boundary setting. In practice, it looks like validating the child’s feeling (support), setting the limit (and keeping it– high boundaries) and then giving choices to help grow a child’s autonomy.
Authoritative parenting is characterized by reasonable demands and high responsiveness. Authoritative parents seek to provide their kids the resources and support they need to succeed. They desire their children’s independence, while instilling a sense of support and safety simultaneously. This approach to parenting seems to avoid punishment and threats and instead relies on strategies such as positive reinforcement. Authoritative parenting mirrors grace-based parenting, and these parents seek to connect before they correct. The empathetic bend in this parenting style also leaves room to alter the approach to fit the needs of the child.
Discussing parenting styles can be tricky, because the goal is to support the parents moving forward without eliciting shame about past styles of parenting that may have been well-intentioned at the time. If you find yourself stuck on mistakes you’ve made as a parent, take a moment to practice some self-compassion.
The Journey of Re-Parenting
We can only offer what we’ve received ourselves and many parents feel they are starting the parenting journey in a deficit due to their own childhood emotional insufficiencies. Psychologists acknowledge this– and have developed a way for parents to grow in their emotional health so they can provide a source of stability and support for their children. This framework is called Re-parenting. When an individual engages in re-parenting, you actively learn what you didn’t receive as a child and offer it to yourself now. Some people spend their entire lives waiting for a parent to apologize and become the parent they wished they had when the whole time they have the ability, as an adult now, to become that parent to themselves. Individuals with a faith-based perspective have a wonderful resource in this area as they learn to be parented by their Heavenly Father.
If you find yourself in need of re-parenting, it’s important to offer yourself grace as you journey through the process of filling your emotional cup. Add the word ‘yet” to your perceived deficits. “I don’t know how to respond patiently…yet.” “I can’t respond without yelling when I’m triggered… yet.” Perfect parenting is a myth, but connected and “good enough” parenting frees us to learn and grow with our children.
If you’re interested in learning more about parenting styles or want additional personalized support on your parenting journey, visit our main page and take our free assessment.