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What’s Your Parenting Style?

May 4, 2012

Anyone who watches the Today Show before work or skims through the Health section of the New York Times app each day is bombarded with different cultural, socioeconomic, and ideological takes on parenting. The attachment parenting movement is certainly experiencing a surge in attention and popularity, promoting baby-wearing and exclusive breastfeeding. And of course, that is countered by the fervor over Amy Chua’s 2011 book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which Chua explores the high pressure parenting that she deems the hallmark of her culture’s approach to bringing up their kids. Vastly different from both are the parenting approaches cited in Pamela Druckerman’s recent take on French parenting, Bringing up Bebe, which touts encouragement of independent behavior and boundaries for children. And thousands of parents have found other books and studies to support the parenting style they feel works for them.

Many psychologists and family counselors reference the work of Diana Baumrind, a researcher and psychologist who defined three common parenting styles: authoriarian, permissive, and authoritative. While most people do not fall neatly into one of these camps, and while different words are often used to express these three basic styles, the principles of each one are often applied when families struggle to determine what will guide them in the raising of their children. Authoritarian parents are typically defined as moms and dads who set strict ground rules and schedules for their children to follow, believing that parents know best. Permissive parents are usually defined as parents who allow the child to lead the parent, instead of the other way around, with fewer rules and a child-led schedule. The third parenting style, authoritative parenting, is a blend of the two other styles, and is often considered closer to ideal. Authoritative parents set consistent boundaries and guidelines for their children, but are flexible about these rules depending on the situation, and are communicative with their children, often doling out guidance, rewards, and punishments based on both the behavior of the child and the beliefs of the parent.

Most parents do not find themselves neatly subscribing to one of these styles at all times. And what’s more, it is rare that both parents in a household will have the same approach to parenting in every situation. Some stay-at-home moms may find themselves enforcing strict rules throughout the day, only to find that their discipline goes out the window when Dad comes home and wants to have fun! In other cases, a father may see the benefit of putting certain boundaries and schedules into place as a newborn grows older, while Mom may have a harder time letting go of an infant-led routine.

One way of learning to parent together is to realize that there is no one right way to parent in every situation. There will be times when the more permissive of the two of you is in the right, and other times when the stricter parent is needed to bring a situation under control. By accepting the fact that neither of you is going to win all of the time, you might find yourself learning from your partner’s own unique parenting style, and applying his or her philosophies in situations that call for a change from your own specific inclinations.

Also important? Maintaining a united front! When your child acts up or attempts to stretch your boundaries, you and your partner may find yourselves immediately coming to two entirely different conclusions when determining how to resolve the situation. Instead of attacking one another in the moment, reserve the discussion of your differences for later. If one parent has quickly put a certain course of action into play in front of your child, try to go with it, making subtle tweaks if necessary. But becoming combative with your partner in front of your kid is only going to confuse him (and undermine each of your authority as parents).

No two parents are alike, just as no two kids are alike. Before you have a child, it’s easy to make predictions about your future parenting outlook, but once you have a baby, your parenting style will likely be determined by a combination of your child’s specific needs, your own philosophies, and your family’s unique dynamic. You and your partner will find that your parenting styles will evolve as you learn to work with one another and adjust to your family’s specific and changing needs.

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