A Debate On Parenting: The Importance Of Applying Consistency

At this present time, there are many families in lockdown and homeschooling children the best they can. Many of these parents are also working from home and trying to survive the biggest public health crisis ever known. Many of my clients have reported a “numb or dissociated” feeling as they drift through each day with no release. I have also had couples who have reported that it has become obvious that the parenting styles that they individually adopt are very different and they do not feel as if they are on the same page. The consequence is inconsistent parenting and confusion for the children. It seems that in many cases, one parent has a stricter style and the other more liberal, perhaps as a counterweight. Some like firm discipline and others go in for more positive parenting. We can argue the merits of each style and everyone would have an opinion but essential is to agree on a common parenting style that is applied by both parents, and indeed grandparents too. This calls for a discussion to take place before children are born, knowledge gained and compromises found.

The role of parents in a child’s development has long been seen as crucial. Great minds like Freud and Peck, among many others have highlighted generations of parents’ inadequacies and the effect this has on the subsequent adult. This idea is borne out every day in my practice where clients seem to be held to the past by tentacles of guilt and obligation. Living dysfunctional lives and making the same mistakes with their own children, some seem unable to break the chains of parental influence, even later in life.

It appears to be a universal thought that we are a result of what our parents made us, good or bad and not many people would argue with that.

There is a fine line between good and bad parenting styles but one thing is for sure..get it wrong and your child will suffer in adulthood! The difficult thing is to work out what is the best style and to consistently apply it. Not an easy job under the best of circumstances and we mostly all get it somewhat wrong. However, the consequences of inadequate parenting can be seen everywhere. Adults who suffer from depression, perfectionism, lack of self-esteem can all pinpoint the start of this to upbringing and parenting styles.

As parents, we feel our job is give our children more than we had, to make them the best they possibly can be. We work hard, we push them, we love them, we sacrifice ourselves, maybe our career and relationships for the “sake of the kids”. And yet it never seems enough and something always seems to be missing. It seems that children generally tend to succeed despite the parents rather than because of them and spend their adult lives trying to make sense of what went before. So how can all this good intention go so horribly wrong sometimes? Firstly, parents had parents too and are also a product of a “parenting style”. They often carry this forward as an example and a model of how it should be done (or not).  Secondly, even with the best of intentions, it is sometimes hard to push through optimum  parenting styles when dealing with everyday stress, especially when there is more than one child. So, we muddle through, do the best we can under the circumstances without realising we are sowing the seeds of dysfunction in the next generation.

During the early 1960s, psychologist Diana Baumrind conducted a study on more than 100 preschool-age children (Baumrind, 1967). She identified four important dimensions of parenting:

Disciplinary strategies

Warmth and nurture

Communication styles

Expectations of maturity and control

Using this as a guideline, she came up with four distinct parenting styles, authoritarian, authoritative, permissive and uninvolved.  In addition to Baumrind’s initial study of 100 preschool children, researchers have conducted numerous other studies than have led to a number of conclusions about the impact of parenting styles on children.

Authoritarian parenting styles generally lead to children who are obedient and proficient, but they rank lower in happiness, social competence and self-esteem.

Authoritative parenting styles tend to result in children who are happy, capable and successful (Maccoby, 1992).Permissive parenting often results in children who rank low in happiness and self-regulation.

These children are more likely to experience problems with authority and tend to perform poorly in school.

Uninvolved parenting styles rank lowest across all life domains. These children tend to lack self-control, have low self-esteem and are less competent than their peers.

In our attempts as parents to show the right amount of discipline or protection, we are often too strict with our children. Most parents believe, wrongly, I might add, that children dealt with strictly go on to become balanced, polite adults. Setting harsh limits may certainly temporarily control behaviour and a parent may feel that the job is done but it takes away a child’s ability to self-regulate behaviour, one of the best tools a parent can give a child. Instead harsh limits will more often than not trigger resistance. They also see themselves being controlled from outside.  Get it right and they will self-internalise their own limits of behaviour brought about by loving, reasonable limits. The ability as a parent to listen as well as talk is absent in this style and research has shown that children from authoritarian parents tend to more rebellious, bully more, learn that only “power” works and suffer more from depression and low self-esteem. On the other hand, authoritative parents set boundaries but are much more democratic, assertive but not over hard. Is then the alternative permissive parenting where few demands and boundaries are set?  Permissive parents set few limits on their children’s behaviour and while showing love and empathy act more as a friend than a parent. The parents have low expectations of self-control and subsequently, rarely discipline their children. They are generally more nurturing and loving with their offspring but boundaries are often grey and when done wrong, can lead to poor social skills, children who are self-centred and demanding or lack self-esteem due to not recognising borders.

It would be easy to suggest that all parents should adopt an authoritative style as that has shown the best results. However, this disregards the many factors that go into to creating a parenting style in the first place such as education, culture, parental influence and social situation. The answer lies in the co-operation between two different individuals working together for the good of their children.

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