Last night we hosted the first of our two annual Parent Nights (this one for middle school parents), with the second to follow next week. As the school year has begun, I have found myself reflecting once again on the challenges and opportunities and plain old hard work entailed in effective parenting. Over fifty years ago developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind identified three distinct parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. The key criteria for determining these paradigms are based on the level of parental responsiveness to and demands on their child(ren).
I think this framework remains a helpful one after all these years. I clearly agree that the paradigm to which to aspire is the authoritative one. That is the position of balance in which parent responsiveness and parent demand are present in similar measure.
In other words successful parenting depends on finding the authoritative sweet spot between the extremes of authoritarianism and permissiveness (or worse, indifference or neglect). That task is frequently rather daunting, and adding to the challenge is that the sweet spot frequently needs to move a bit. So some experimentation and nimbleness in that regard is part of the process for parents and teachers alike. The sweet spot moves for a couple of reasons. One is that we need to monitor frequently the value of our parental style and make adjustments accordingly. Another reason is that no child remains static and may need a parent or teacher to move the sweet spot in one or another direction given that child’s fluid developmental needs. And we all know about the dramatic individual differences among children in the same family.
I’ve already acknowledged that I have made effective parenting sound like very hard work. As a matter fact it is, but it is never tedious and always noble and honorable. In parenting and guiding children, we also have to be accepting of our own imperfections. We are not going to be right about every single parenting decision we may make. The critical factor is that our children and our students discern in the series of individual decisions we make a consistent and dependable pattern that tells them our love for and expectations of them are sincere and credible and worthwhile.
Until next time…