Helicopter parent. Snowplow parent. Tiger parent. Jellyfish parent? I’ve never strongly identified with any of these parenting styles, but recently I heard one that I can get on board with: puddle parent. Broadly defined, puddle parents let their children choose their own path in life, but it can mean different things to different families.

The term came from a comic that ran in The Guardian, and then Scary Mommy covered it, but I’m not sure the term is widely known. Regardless, it was nice to read something that validated my parenting style, because sometimes (okay, daily) I question if I’m doing anything right. (Parenting in a nutshell, right?)

For me, being a puddle parent carries multiple meanings. First, it literally means encouraging my kids to be playful and experience the joy of jumping in puddles. Even better if they’re doing it outside in bare feet.

Especially in early childhood, life should be all about child-led exploration and play. Getting dirty, spending time in nature, climbing trees and rocks, and taking risks are the main goals for the day.

Play is how my kids will learn the skills that are most important in life, like problem solving, conflict resolution, sharing, creativity, and independence. Playing outside has the added benefit of fostering a connection to nature, which later translates into a desire to take care of and conserve the environment.

My son goes to a play- and nature-based preschool, and when I asked for feedback once his teacher simply said that my son was “really learning how to be a good friend.” If that’s all he learns in preschool, I’ll be overjoyed. (Especially since research shows that social and emotional skills are a greater predictor of academic success in first grade than cognitive ability or family background.)

Academics and formal instruction will come later. Team sports and extracurriculars will come later, if they so choose. What we need more of in this world is people who know how to be a good friend.

The second layer of puddle parenting is about resilience. My job is to give my kids the strength to jump right in the puddles instead of avoiding them; in other words, to go through hardship and failure.

It’s not my job to shield them from adversity. In her memoir Untamed, Glennon Doyle articulates this perfectly: “I do not want to protect [my children] from life’s fires,” she writes. “I want to point them toward the fire and say….We can do hard things, baby. We are fireproof.”

Doing hard things is how we develop resilience, something everyone needs in order to thrive. Life is full of challenges, so as a parent the best thing I can do is raise kids who are able to cope with those challenges and bounce back. Kids who aren’t afraid to fail because they know that failure and hardship make us stronger, and because they know they always have my support even in tough times.

As a puddle parent, I value all of the above—resilience, play, social and emotional intelligence, creativity, kindness, connection to nature—more than traditional markers of success, like prestige or a big paycheck.

I’ve grown tired of the idea that how much you achieve or produce determines your worth. That if you have time to rest, to be creative, to play, to nurture relationships, it means you aren’t working hard enough.

To that end, I don’t want my children to feel like they have to conform to that traditional, narrow definition of success. I want to encourage them to be exactly who they are, not who I or the world thinks they should be. Of course, I hope that they grow up to lead lives with balance, purpose, fulfillment, community, and resilience, but the most important thing is they lead lives that are their own.

I don’t need a bumper sticker or a “Proud Puddle Parent” t-shirt. Most of us, no matter our parenting style, are just trying to do the best we can for our kids.

But on those days when I think I’m screwing it all up, or I feel insecure comparing myself to other parents, or I worry that my neighbors are judging me for letting my kids run around naked and covered in mud, the label comes in handy. It reminds me that there are many different ways to be a parent. As long as I focus on what matters most to me, and my kids find some puddles to jump in, we’ll be okay.

Photo Credit :: Noëlle Westcott Photography



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