There are so many types of parenting styles out there these days. When I had my first child 13 years ago, things were so different. Decisions about how you'd raise your kid basically amounted to whether or not you'd go breast or bottle, and if you were going to let your baby cry it out or not. OK, there was more to it, obviously, but my point is that there is wayyyy more information now, more studies, more results, more definitions, more choices to be made. Now, with my second baby, born 10 years after my first, there are all kinds of methods to guide (read: confuse) me, from trying authoritative parenting to helicopter parenting to attachment parenting, from sleep training to co-sleeping, from hypno birthing to lotus birthing, to hanging upside down from an organic silk trapeze while twerking birthing. I hear these buzzwords all the time, but realized I don't know much about many of them, and figured it was time to educate myself a little before I fall completely out of the parenting loop and my kids become weird rogue parenting product outcasts. So I started reading up, and after finally looking into it all, the type of parenting I found appealed to me most was a style referred to as authoritative.
Authoritative Parenting is a set between super relaxed permissive parenting and super hardcore authoritarian parenting. Unlike permissive parents, who basically only have a few behavioral expectations for their kids, authoritative parents are firm, they set and enforce rules, and they expect their children to behave responsibly. And unlike authoritarian parents, who don't give explanations for their rules and withhold love and affection as punishment, authoritative parents value open communication with their child and give ample emotional support. It's reasonable expectations with high responsiveness.
My parenting aims to be all the things that authoritative parenting outlines, but admittedly meanders into other styles at times. My husband and I have expectations of our kids and want them to grow into responsible, compassionate adults, but parenting is not easy, and we slip up all the time. We give in to our kids when we know we shouldn't. We sometimes accommodate both of their picky eating habits. We let our daughter sleep with us most of the time because she kept coming in night after night and then it just somehow turned into "aw, screw it, just put her in the bed to begin with." As much as I'd always believed in what authoritative parenting represents, in practice, I find myself veering off at times into practices that are more authoritarian (I grew up with parents who were loving but sometimes very strict) and often times, even permissive. Maybe strictly adhering to this middle-ground style would help us work out our parenting kinks, help us give our kids and family more structure, and simply become better parents.
I strictly practiced authoritative parenting for a week with both of my kids. I made a conscious effort every day to set goals for my kids and expected them to follow through, but also make sure that they felt loved, listened to, and supported. Here's what I learned after spending a week trying my best to be an authoritative parent.
It Encouraged My Son to Take Positive Action On His Own
I was pumped to go all in with this experiment because I hoped that, at the end, clearly see the effects of this style of parenting would mean it worked. Not that I hadn't been taking parenting seriously before this experiment, but I was the first to admit I needed a reboot and more structure to my parenting efforts. Basically, I needed to go Parent 2.0. So the first day, I had my sleeves rolled up, ready to rumble. I gave my 13 year old a little teaser course that morning as he was getting ready for school. I told him, "I need you to get your homework book signed off by all of your teachers today. You need to bring it home and show it to me."
"OK," said my son, nonchalant, as usual. The remarkable thing about my son is that he rarely gives me lip. He's a respectful, loving kid. And if he challenges me, it's in a respectful, no-backtalking way. But he does have a problem controlling his urge to socialize, so much so that it's been hurting his performance in school. We've been battling this problem for a few months now, and it drives us mad.
I tend to be on the stricter side with my 13 year old son. Maybe it's because I raised him until the age of 9 as a single mom, or maybe it's because both my partner and I know how this age is ripe with rebellion and experimentation. Or maybe it's also because this year marks a crucial time in his schooling, and it'll help pave the way for his future. To be totally honest, I'm freaked out that there's not much time left to help shape him and guide him, so I often feel like I have put it into overdrive. Because of this, my response to his dipping school work had been fueled by anger and outrage. This week, however, I took a different, quieter approach, and it began with asking him to have his teachers sign his homework book.
Our patient and supportive approach made him feel loved and respected and smart enough to do better.
That evening, my husband and I explained to Evan why we needed him to have his homework book signed off on daily. We positioned it like this: It was a goal he could easily meet that would help him to be more responsible when it came to finishing his work. Not to mention, it'd also improve his efforts and grades. Simple enough. Then, the three of us set another goal together: to get good marks for his efforts. As far as what the actual grade was, we didn't exactly care, we just wanted his efforts to improve. And we explained to him that it wasn't for us, but for him, to create strong habits and practice self-discipline, which will ultimately help him in the long run. We've had these conversations before, but they were usually under a cloud of frustration. That night, however, we switched it up and went about it with an understanding, completely loving approach.
The very next day, my son came home not only with his homework book signed, but also with news that he'd requested a seat change in every one of his classes. He felt that sitting on his own away from his peers at the front of the class was necessary to help him refocus and get back on track. He'd done this on his own without any external urging. I was so proud of him I bear-hugged him for much longer than is acceptable to a 13 year old. He expressed (in 13 year old speak) that our patient and supportive approach made him feel loved and respected and smart enough to do better. It was clear that this practice of clear demands and high responsiveness shown in a consistent and loving manner works.
My Toddler Was Slower To Freak Out
There are times when I secretly (and with a great amount of guilt) think that I'm not one of those people who were naturally cut out for parenting. This feeling usually hits whenever my toddler, Stella, gets pissed and loses her cool seemingly out of the blue. I know it's totally normal for toddlers and young kids to do this because their coping mechanisms aren't fully developed yet so, for them, the easiest way to express frustration is by dramatically falling to the ground and either screaming things like, "You touched Rainbow Dash with your hair!" or "You pulled the straw off the juice box!"
The fact that she was open and honest with me about what was going on helped get to the source of the problem instead of missing it entirely.
I try my best to stay calm in these moments, but sometimes — and I hate to admit it — I also losing my own cool, which of course is not mature of me, and it escalates the situation. On the third day of the experiment, my daughter got really upset when she couldn't draw Taylor Swift the "way she really looked." I tried to console her and calm her down, but she got more pissed and threw the colored pencils against the wall like John McEnroe in the '80s. Instead of reacting with anger and telling her to go to her room and think about what she'd done (our normal model), I stayed in my authoritative parenting space and picked her up and took her to her room and asked her if she could spend time in her room to "cool down a little bit."Once she stopped crying, which was almost immediately, we talked about how she was feeling. "I'm just tired," she said. And then she said, "I'm sorry for throwing the pencils, mom." I realized that whenever she does act out it's usually because she's tired. Then I feel like the fact that she is tired is ultimately my fault. Is she not getting enough sleep? Too much sleep? The fact that she was open and honest with me about what was going on helped get to the source of the problem instead of missing it entirely.
A few days later, she got upset that I wouldn't give her Oreo pie for breakfast (the horror). And she cried, as I knew she would. But with all the structure and communication and calm, cool, collectedness that had been going on, Stella did some crazy self-soothing thing. She walked herself into her room and just chilled out. She stopped crying right away and then got caught up playing with her Peppa Pig plushies. Not sure if that was because of all this or just because deep inside, she knew how ridiculous her request had been. Either way, I'm counting it as a major win!
It Improved The Way I Communicated With My Spouse
This was an unexpected result, but I guess it makes sense that this would happen since authoritative parenting focuses in large part on communication. I've always thought that my husband and I communicated pretty well, but this experiment had me in a communication overdrive. I wanted to get the most out of my week as an authoritative mom, so I was not only willing to communicate, I was also eager to actively encourage everyone to do the same. I know that sounds mildly annoying, and it probably was, but it did inspire a lot of healthy and real communication from my husband.
Our household just seemed more organized, and we were all working more as a team, more productive in our efforts to do anything and everything.
I found myself talking things through with him more thoroughly, even asking him more questions about his day and his work. I even found myself being more patient with the things that normally get on my nerves. And SURPRISE! He felt more loved. Because of that, he reciprocated the attention and patience and overlooked the things I do that irk him, but like, not even possible that those things exist. *Inserts winky emoji right here*
When You Try Harder, Your Kids Try Harder
Throughout the week of really putting my best efforts into authoritative parenting, I noticed that everyone was also putting in their best efforts. My son was keeping his room tidier and was even more of a beast on the rugby field, my daughter was being more patient and agreeable than usual, and my husband was taking over bath and bedtime duty without my requests. Our household just seemed more organized, and we were all working more as a team, more productive in our efforts to do anything and everything. It was a warm and fuzzy feeling to see that when we all consistently show our love and respect for one another, we are motivated to try harder and be better.
Authoritative For Life?
I've always felt like I was doing a fairly decent job of setting expectations and having reasonable disciplinary measures in place for my kids. And I'm super touchy feely, so I almost err on the side of smothering my kids with too much affection. But using a more strategic and structured style of parenting, and maybe more importantly, being consistent and strict about it, showed me how much more both my partner and I can help our kids achieve their personal goals and become independent, responsible people.
As it stands, both of my kids are pretty mellow. My daughter, who is definitely the less mellow of the two, however, seemed even more laid back than normal this week. She was less inclined to get upset over her normal toddler tantrum triggers and less in need of a big reaction from me, whether it was anger or excitement, which probably meant that she was getting more quality attention throughout the day. That made me happy.
My son genuinely tried harder at everything: school, sports, and playing by the rules at home. He's always been good at being respectful to us, but this week he seemed to put forth extra effort because he truly wanted to improve, not because we wanted him to improve. My guess is that he saw us trying harder at parenting, which in turn sparked something within him.
After a week of strict practice of authoritative parenting, I'm convinced it's truly the winner of all the parenting styles out there. I only see pros, no cons here. OK, maybe one con would be that it takes a lot of patience, diligence, and effort to overcome stubborn behavior and lots of tweaking to tailor goals and expectations and punishment. Then again, this is your child we're talking about, and teaching them to become responsible caring adults is worth all the effort, diligence, and time out there. I realize no one ever told me it'd be a breeze to raise little humans, but using this parenting style — and using it strictly, without wavering — made our household run a little more smoothly. It made us all try harder. It made us all talk to and listen to each other more. It made us all work together as a team. And we all really loved that.