It Takes A Village

Father and mother kissing infant.

by Jessica Fisch

Balancing Parenting Styles and Making them Work!

Let’s face it, when it comes to raising children there is no perfect way to go about doing it. Each parent has their own instincts, their own examples, and their own “best” way. Whether you’re married, in a relationship or even a single-parent, chances are you have the added complications of another person’s opinions and parenting styles influencing your own. Navigating through the complications of our differences and finding the common ground that exists between them is one of the greatest challenges found in raising children. “It takes a village to raise a child” is a very real cliché – so what do we do when the village disagrees?

Every parent comes in to this experience with their own parenting style. We may not be aware of it at the time, but as we grow up we save the memories from our own parent(s) and caregivers and weave them into the way we will parent our own children. We begin to do this immediately and learn through nurturing, touch, and discipline; every time our needs are met or not met, with every lesson learned, we learn to care for another human both consciously and subconsciously. When we finally become parents ourselves, the blueprint from our own families and upbringing are set and begin to show. This blueprint is the basic building block of the parenting style we develop and is built upon as we begin and work through the stages of parenthood.

What’s Your Parenting Style?

Family counselors currently divide parenting styles into four categories:

Authoritarian: In this style of parenting, children are expected to follow the strict rules established by the parents. Failure to follow such rules usually results in punishment. Authoritarian parents fail to explain the reasoning behind these rules. If asked to explain, the parent might simply reply, “Because I said so.” These parents have high demands but are not responsive to their children’s need for understanding and nurture.

Parent scolding young girl using a laptop.
Permissive parents rarely discipline their children because they have relatively low expectations of maturity and self-control.

Permissive: Permissive parents, sometimes referred to as indulgent parents, have very few demands to make of their children. These parents rarely discipline their children because they have relatively low expectations of maturity and self-control. Permissive parents are generally nurturing and communicative with their children, but often take on the status of a friend more than that of a parent.

Authoritative: Like authoritarian parents, those with an authoritative parenting style establish rules and guidelines that their children are expected to follow. However, this parenting style is much more democratic. Authoritative parents are responsive to their children and willing to listen to questions. When children fail to meet the expectations, these parents are more nurturing and forgiving rather than punishing. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative.

And lastly, Uninvolved Parenting: An uninvolved parenting style is characterized by few demands, low responsiveness, and little communication. While these parents fulfill the child’s basic needs, they are generally detached from their child’s life. In extreme cases, these parents may even reject or neglect the needs of their children.

In an ideal world, all parents and caregivers would have an Authoritative style which is said to foster the healthiest relationships and a better self-awareness later on. However, an “ideal” world doesn’t always exist and we have to raise our babies regardless. So what happens when you and your partner differ significantly?

Young child holding teddy bear while parents are arguing in background
Two conflicting parenting styles can cause the children to feel great confusion as to what to do, how to act, and generally what the “real” rules are.

The Negative: An Unbalanced Upbringing

Most commonly, two conflicting parenting styles being inflicted on the same child cause the children to feel great confusion as to what to do, how to act, what’s okay and not okay and generally what the “real” rules are. When parents openly disagree, when it’s known that one parent is unhappy with another’s decisions, parenting conflicts force children into a position of either/or; putting them between their parents instead of with them. As they get older, this may cause the child to manipulate their parents for their needs and essentially work both sides. This isn’t uncommon in even well-regulated households, but when it’s done for the purpose of pitting one parent against another, this undermining behavior can cause hurt and undue anxiety and/or depression within the household. Children can end up devaluing one of their parents as they align themselves with the parent they feel has the best style, or with the one that gives them the most privileges (which isn’t necessarily what the child needs). In addition, a child’s sense of self is questioned due to the tug of war that is played out through him/her over and over. The child becomes a battleground for the parents rather than a developing person who is being cared for and guided by parents who are in accord with one another.

The Positive: Coming Together

If two parents have a different style, but are able to merge those styles with some give and take in a cooperative effort to parent in concert with each other, a child has the opportunity to see how differences can become complimentary and productive. The best way to go about this is to first, educate yourselves on how you differ and to open up a constant line of communication with your partner. Once educated, review your own parent’s styles of parenting and decide in what areas, if any, you’d like to do better for your children. Work with your spouse to determine what issues need a discussion and what issues each of you can tackle alone. Use your strengths and weaknesses to balance each other instead of allowing them to separate you.  If your child has a request or needs guidance or discipline that can wait until a discussion takes place first, let your child know you are going to talk about the decision first, and give your partner the ability to be involved. Discussing the “why” with both your partner and your child can do wonders for two parents who come from opposite sides of the spectrum.

It is important to remember, that no two parents or caregivers are exactly alike. Compromising and coming together, especially in the area of parenting where emotional investments are so high, isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s very hard to do. For the sake of our own happiness as parents, for the security of our relationships and for the overall well-being and growth of our children it is incredibly important to do our very best. In choosing cooperation over separation and approaching parenting on the same front, we establish the groundwork for positive life-experiences for everyone. In seeing our differences as an advantage and not an annoyance, we open up new possibilities for lessons and growth. Like they say, it does ‘take a village’ and at times, variety is just the combination we need to make that village thrive.

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