By Dr. Dan Peters
Do you think about how you parent or are you more in “auto-pilot”? Do you approach parenting in a way that feels natural to you? Do you think about what you want for your child’s future, and parent in a way that will lead to those goals, or do you focus on the parenting moments as they occur and feel the future will work out for your child? Different parenting styles tend to produce different outcomes?
The “authoritarian” parenting approach has been practiced the longest and by most cultures. This parenting style is generally considered to be “traditional.” The authoritarian parent is in charge, tells kids what to do, and expects compliance. While there are surely different outcomes and loads of variables that impact a child’s experience beyond parenting alone, children of authoritarian parents tend to lean toward achievement and doing the “right” thing. They may be less likely to think outside of the box or take chances so as to not make a mistake or get in trouble.
The next most common parenting style, the “permissive” parent, emerged as a reaction to the authoritative style, and was seen more in the 1960’s in the U.S. The permissive parenting style allowed children to do what they wanted, and parents did not tell their kids what to do. This style tends to produce children who grow up not knowing where to draw limits in their behavior and may range from being anxious and nervous in the world to rebellious and lacking responsibility due to lack of guidance and parental expectations.
The “authoritative style” of parenting emerged in the 1980’s. The authoritative style continues to be common today because it is a combination of setting limits when necessary and giving space and freedom to children to have more choices in their own lives. Authoritative parents tend to talk more to their kids and listen to their thoughts and wishes, yet still make the final decision on matters of importance. Children raised in this parenting style tend to be responsible and cooperative adults yet may need to look to others for validation as they may lack an inner confidence in their decisions.
Do any of the above parenting styles describe you? Are you parenting like your parents parented you? Are you doing what you liked experiencing as a child? Are you repeating things you told yourself you would never do to your own child?
I can best answer these questions by using a term I invented: The Parent Footprint. We are all leaving footprints on our children just as we had footprints left us on by our parents. They may be positive, negative, or neutral, but we are all leaving our legacy to our children and future grandchildren every day. The real question is not whether you are parenting “correctly,” but whether you are parenting with intention and purpose and whether you are acting in a way that is consistent with what you want for your child. The real question is – what footprint you want to leave?
As our society is evolving, so is parenting. There is a new paradigm of parenting that is focused on the type of person we are as parents and how who we are matters most to the outcome of our children. Sure, our parenting approach matters, but consider what your kids see you do day in and day out? What are you doing with your time, what are they hearing you say? Do they see you engaging in your life or “sacrificing” everything for them? Do you tell them to stand up for themselves with mean friends, yet they see you get taken advantage of from others? These are hard questions to ask ourselves, but the good news is that our kids benefit from us parents looking at ourselves and becoming aware of who we are as individuals and as parents.
The new paradigm of parenting also focuses on parents teaching and guiding, rather than controlling and exerting our will over our children. It highlights the importance of parents realizing our children are separate people from us with separate paths, separate interests, and separate goals. This new paradigm focuses on us parents becoming more aware of ourselves, so we can separate what is our goal versus our child’s goal and taking a step back to parent in the moment to know the difference. Once we know who we are and what we want for our child, we can observe and listen to what and who our child is.
I want you to ask yourself the question that the late, wise Wayne Dyer asked in the title of one of his many enlightening books, “What do you really want for your children?” Pondering the answer will provide you with the initial plan in which to parent your child. Do you want your child to be confident, successful, compassionate, or hard working? What are you doing to support this parenting goal? Are you controlling and managing your child or are you guiding and teaching?
I work hard to be an “aware” parent – aware of myself, aware of where I came from, aware of what I want for myself and my kids, and aware of what I am showing my kids as an example of a grown person. I invite you to get on board. This is a 2 for 1 special. Your kids will benefit if they see you fully engaged in your life – and so will you. I challenge you to become more aware of where you came from and what you want for your children. We are all evolving, always, so be kind to yourself while you are growing. What footprint do you want to leave?