When it comes to parenting, there are four basic styles that we tend to take:
- Authoritarian — Parents make all the decisions and expect the child to do as they say without exception. This is the “my way or the highway” or “because I said so” approach to parenting.
- Authoritative — Parents work democratically with children to set rules. Parents enforce rules and give consequences; however, they explain their reasonings while also taking into consideration the child’s feelings and validating their child.
- Permissive — Parents set rules but they do not enforce them or they do not dole out consequences. Permissive parents are lenient and typically only step in when there’s a serious problem. This is the “kids will be kids” approach to parenting.
- Uninvolved — Parents are very “hands off” and are not very involved with their children. For example, they may not know about their day-to-day life (who their friends are, what they have going on at school) and there are very little rules.
Research supports that children thrive when parent’s take a more authoritative parenting approach — they do better academically, behaviorally, and emotionally, as they have higher self-esteem and are at less risk to experience anxiety and depression.
While parents may strive to be authoritative, many parents find themselves resorting to other parenting styles, particularly in times of stress — perhaps when children are pushing boundaries or when parents are swamped with work, and so on.
So, what can we do when we find our parenting style conflicting with the authoritative style we want to be taking or when our style conflicts with our partner’s style?
Four steps to thrive when parenting styles conflict:
- Take a deep breath. If we or our partner are not parenting authoritatively, it may be because we are not emotionally centered. If we take deep, slow breaths it helps our brain and body calm down. As a result, we feel more capable of parenting effectively and taking an authoritative stance.
- Hold compassion. Be kind to yourself and your partner. Treat yourself like a friend. Take into account your partner’s perspective — maybe they are parenting similar to their own parents, maybe they are sleep deprived, or maybe they’ve had a rough day at work — it’s likely that there is a valid reason as to why they are struggling to take an authoritative parenting stance.
- Validate. Validate, or express understanding, of you or your partner’s reality. Validation — which, side bar here, is not approval or agreement — is an emotional diffuser and it can prevent our partners from getting defensive. For example, calmly stating to your partner: “Honey, I know you’re tired and that the kids aren’t listening to you right now, which is super frustrating…”
- Act authoritative. Course correct by taking an authoritative parenting approach. This can be adjusting your own parenting style in the moment or helping your partner shift their parenting style. This often looks like validation followed by giving options to act. Continuing from the example above, this can sound like, “… I want to support you in your parenting and I notice your frustration is preventing the kids from really listening. Why don’t you take a break and let me step in and help.” In this example, you can then step in and work from an authoritative parenting approach. This models for your partner what this approach looks like to help them learn, if that is what’s needed. Too, the break can create space for your partner to re-center and then re-enter the conversation or situation from an authoritative stance.
Whether you’re practicing these four steps to help yourself or your partner move towards authoritative parenting, it takes a lot of time and practice for this style to become second nature. Even then, like most things in parenthood, there will be moments that are particularly challenging and you find yourself acting from a different, less effective parenting style. That’s okay —