7 Signs That You’re Actually A Lighthouse Parent

by Dina Leygerman

There is no end to the types of parenting styles society has arbitrarily created. I mean, we have helicopter parents, free-range parents, crunchy parents, silky parents, hippie parents, and, well, you get the idea. Now there's another parenting style to add to the list: lighthouse parents. Lighthouse parenting is a balance between free-range and helicopter parenting, and you better believe there are a few tell-tale signs you're actually a lighthouse parent. Parents using the lighthouse approach to parenting offer guidance and more structure, while free-range parenting is completely hands-off and helicopter parenting is entirely hands-on.

In his book, Raising Kids To Thrive, Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a developmental psychologist, professor of pediatrics, and author, claims that "parents should be lighthouses for their children, visible from the shoreline as a stable light or beacon." Dr. Ginsburg continues to explain that lighthouse parents "make sure their children don't crash against the rocks, yet allow them to ride the waves even if they get a little choppy sometimes." I know labels can be annoying and unnecessary in the parenting world (and in the world in general), but I often find it easier to label myself instead of having to explain everything I do as a parent. If someone tells me they consider themselves a free-range parent, I get it and I don't feel the need to ask any more questions. I realize labels oversimplify people into categories, but sometimes the oversimplification also makes our lives easier, which is why we do it. To me, parenting labels aren't offensive but are, instead, here to help us understand each other.

I didn't realize I was a lighthouse parent until very recently. I knew I was definitely not a helicopter parent (too lazy) and I don't consider myself entirely free-range (I'd have a panic attack before I let my 8-year-old daughter ride the bus by herself) either. So when I heard the term "lighthouse," I had to learn more about it. Lighthouse parenting seems like the common sense approach to parenting. I find value in its philosophy and I now have a simple name for my style of parenting. So if the following applies to you, you're probably a lighthouse parent, too:

You Don't Give Unconditional Approval

Loving your children unconditionally does not mean you approve and support all of their behaviors and actions. If your children are being rude or offensive, or if your children are hurting others, that kind of behavior should still be unacceptable no matter how much you love your children. And while this seems like common sense, I can't tell you how many times I've seen parents stand idly by while their kid bullied others, and those same parents will be the first to say their child can do no wrong. Just because you believe your child is a perfect angel doesn't mean that's actually the case. Blind parenting is harmful to children and society overall.

You Let Your Children Fail

I have heard and read about the importance of letting children fail since before I had children. It makes sense: in order for your children to grow up to be functioning members of society, they must be able to handle failure and know how to come out only slightly unscathed. Failure teaches resilience and parents should let their kids face age-appropriate challenges on their own and with minimal guidance.

You're Not Overprotective

When my kids and I are at the playground I am not following them around. I find a spot from which I can mostly see my children play and remain there. I am watchful and intervene only when I sense some kind of trouble, which hasn't yet happened. Most of the time, I watch my kids happily play on the playground with other children or on their own. They know I'm nearby in case they need me, but I'm also not running after them monitoring their every move. I believe that teaches them that I trust them to be on their own, but will always remain a short distance away if they need me.

You Set Appropriate Expectations

Parents should set realistic and age-appropriate goals for their children. My 8-year-old daughter is perfectly capable of making her own lunch, but would have trouble safely mincing garlic. My 3-year-old son is able to clean his plate after dinner, but probably can't get the hang of washing dishes just yet. Setting realistic goals allows children to succeed in those goals and therefore fosters confidence and self-reliance.

You Foster Coping Skills & Mechanisms

Children are a ball of emotions and handling emotions and coping with stress and anxiety and fear aren't skills that come naturally to most people. Therefore, it's up to the parents to help children learn coping skills. In our house, we use breathing techniques, time-outs, and writing to help us deal with our emotions in a constructive way. Coddling your children and telling them everything will be fine isn't teaching them anything useful. In fact, when we belittle emotions by saying "everything will be alright," we are teaching our kids that words can be empty and without meaning and that their emotions are superfluous.

You Pick Your Battles

On any given day, my kids can do about 50 things that I could fight them on. Just like in any relationship, however, picking your battles with your kids does a lot of good. We should not critique and comment on every single thing our children do wrong. Don't nag your children about everything, find a balance.

You Encourage Communication

Control your emotions and teach children how to constructively communicate their thoughts and feelings. The more I learned about lighthouse parenting the more I realized my parents were the same way. I knew my parents were always there for me if I ever got into trouble, but I also knew they weren't spying on me and were giving me room to thrive and be myself. Furthermore, I knew I could talk to my mom about anything I wanted without judgement or punishment. That is lighthouse parenting at its finest.