There are lots of different ways to parent of course – likely as many ways as there are parents out there, as we are all individuals! But lately, I feel there has been quite a lot of hype around 3 particular categories of parenting and I want to explore these in this blog a bit more. What are these types of parenting, what is the difference, and why does it matter to me in the day to day? I know I sometimes slip from one to the other, but the more I am able to stay in the space of gentle and respectful parenting (even if it is hard sometimes!) the happier I feel – and so do my children!
The three types of parenting that I am talking about are permissive parenting, authoritarian parenting and gentle/ respectful parenting. So first of all, what is the difference?
This is when you consistently put your needs behind the needs of your children. Of course there are times, when the needs of our children have to come first, like when they are overtired and need to go home, even though you might like to stay at the family friend’s dinner party and continue talking, or when they are hurt and need your attention no matter what you might be doing. But that is not what I am talking about. An example of permissive parenting would be when I wanted to go to my gym class the other day, but my two little ones were adamant they needed me to stay at home (even though Daddy was there too) to play with them:
Me: ‘I am just going to head over the road to the gym. I’ll be back in an hour!’
I & R: ‘Nooooooo Mummy. You can’t go. We want you to stay. We NEEEEEEEEED you. We want to play NOW.’
[And then in my mind I start thinking: Well, it is the weekend and they have had a busy week and I feel like I’ve hardly seen them. I really do want to go to the gym because I know it will make me feel good and set me up for the day. But they look so sad and they look they really do need me to stay… maybe I can go on Monday instead…]
Me to the kids: You’re really sad that Mummy wants to go to the gym? You really need me to stay? Hhhm. Ok, I’ll go to the gym another day.
And then I stay. Even though part of me is resentful and I deep down know that they would have been fine to play with me just an hour later, once I’d finished at the gym. I know that when I consistently put all my children’s needs before mine frustrations build up and that is no good for anybody!
This style of parenting is all about getting the children to do what you want through threats and generally being more aggressive and confrontational. There is little room for discussion or seeing the child’s point of view – it is all about the parent getting what they want, when they want. And if they don’t, they resort to punishment to force the child to show the desired behaviour. I know that when I am either tired, or get really frustrated by my children’s behaviour and I fee like they are not listening to me, that I sometimes resort to this form of parenting. But when I do, it always leaves me (and the child) feeling bad and more disconnected. I feel there are no winners in this scenario.
An example was the other day my eldest was playing on his tablet and I was calling him to come for dinner. He not only didn’t answer me, he completely ignored me and didn’t come to the table, even though I’d asked him over and over again. Every time I asked him, I was getting more frustrated and wound up – I could feel the tension rising and my patience wearing very thin. So I ended up shouting at him: “If you don’t come down right now, there will be no more screen time for the rest of the week!’ If I had had more patience, I would have gone up to his room (rather than shouting from the bottom of the stairs) and come to speak to him directly. I would have been able to explain how it was time to turn the screens off now and come downstairs calmly and I would have seen that he has headphones on and wouldn’t have been able to hear me shouting.
I find this hard sometimes, as I feel like I just need the children to do as I ask, especially when it is getting late and everyone is tired and hungry. I often don’t have the energy or the inclination to walk up the stairs, sit down next to my child and gently set that boundary and explain what I need them to do. But I know, that when I do, it means that we both come away happy AND what I’m asking for gets done with far less fight.
Calm/ Respectful parenting
This is the parenting style I aspire to. It is all about setting boundaries kindly. Following through on them calmly and respectfully, but still staying firm. So an example for this was when my two youngest wanted me to play with them and make a den just before it was time to go to bed. Instead of giving in to this to avoid a battle, or getting all strict and impatient about their request, I was able to say something along the lines of the following: ‘Building dens really is a lot of fun, and I can tell you both want to do that right now. You’ve put everything out and you are really excited! The problem is, it is bedtime now and we don’t have time. What we can do though, is I can wake you up extra early tomorrow morning and we can build a den before we go to school. Make sure you leave everything set out, so that we can get straight into it. Let’s get into bed really quickly now, so that we can have lots of energy to get up extra early and build that den together. I’m really looking forward to doing that with you!’
When I am able to hold my boundary firmly but kindly, I am always amazed at how that actually is a win-win for all of us. Sometimes, my children will be upset and need to be allowed to let all their frustration or sadness about not getting what it is they set out to. But when I am able to just sit with them and accept those feelings rather than change them (by giving in, or by getting frustrated myself), we all walk away feeling connected and ok.
I think I can blur the lines at times though, which can make it harder for all of us. Sometimes, especially as my children get older, they are very good at explaining their point of view, or their idea or solution. And I want to hear what they have to say, as they genuinely can have the better solution to a problem at times – especially when they work together. The bit where I come unstuck is when I am not actually looking for a ‘better’ solution. In the example of building the den – the suggestion I give them (let’s build it first thing tomorrow) is all about me setting my boundary (I am too tired tonight and it is time for bed. I don’t want to build now).
In their desire to build the den now, the kids will bring a compromise to the table. In the example of the den at bedtime it was something like this: But Mummy, if we build half the den tonight, then we can build the rest tomorrow even faster and have time to play, too.’
And this is where I know I have some more work to do for myself: Especially when my children are being really constructive about the alternative approach they are offering, I find it really hard to stick to my guns and still say: ‘No, we need to build it all tomorrow. Now, it is bedtime. I am too tired tonight.’ No matter how good their solution might be, I just want them to go to bed at that point. The bit that I struggle with, is to keep my calm – rather than getting frustrated with my children’s ability to speak up and try and find a way to get what they would like, just to calmly stick to what is important for me. And know that by doing this, I am also teaching them a really important lesson: That it is ok for everyone to have needs and boundaries and to say no. Only by doing this myself and leading by example will my children truly know that they can, too. There are times to negotiate and find a solution and there are times when ‘no’ is ‘no’ – and as long as that is communicated calmly and respectfully, we all win
What are your thoughts on this? How do you deal with such situations and what are your solutions?
I’d love to hear from you!