You Didn’t Come With a Manual!
The tomes published on the subject of parenting could fill a small town’s local library. The daunting undertaking to draw some definitive conclusions on the subject would give pause to the most experienced child psychologist or social scientist. What would possess me to attempt to author anything that brings clarity to the subject?
The long time interest in this project was the result of one phrase spoken by mother; “you didn’t come with a manual”. Her response was offered in rebuttal to an unsolicited critique of her parenting by my sister, brother and me at a holiday dinner in 1986. The motivations for our critique could be the subject of its’ own book.
I do not credit my mother with the genesis of the phrase. Several books on parenting make reference to variations of it. However, it remains in my personal experience the most succinct statement that alludes to the many challenges involved, and speaks to the differences in personality and needs of each child, and the demands of adjusting the parenting style to address them. What may be right for one family or one child may not be suitable to another.
As a parent of grown children I have come to believe the objective of child rearing is to raise socially functional and emotionally well adjusted individuals; it is not to be loved or even liked by them. Although I also believe when it’s done properly, that will come.
With this essay my intention is to examine the various factors that affect parenting, assessing their impact, reaching self-realization through analysis, and to hopefully provide insight into becoming a better parent.
The premise is a pragmatic one that some will suggest lacks the emotional component that they consider critical to the process. This expression of objective does not discount that consideration, but tries to place it in proper perspective to environmental, social and psychological factors. In the interests of illuminating these factors, in addition to presenting empirical and statistical evidence I will also present anecdotal evidence to help illustrate points, and maybe even have some fun with this.
I also believe that our own experiences as children will affect our parenting style to the negative and positive. An honest analysis of these experiences and of existing parent child personal interactions are the first steps in an objective assessment of an individual’s style.
The seminal work on parenting style was done by Diana Baumrind (1) in the 1960’s. She proposed that parents fell into four major categories, and designated common impacts/results of these styles:
- Authoritarian Parenting – Is characterized by the application of strict rules and regulations. These parents fail to explain the reasoning behind the rules, and answer a children’s inquiries with responses such as “because I told you so”. According to Baumrind, these parents “are obedience-and status-oriented, and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation”.
The children of this style tend to be obedient and proficient, but lack social confidence/competence and self-esteem.
- Autoritative Parenting – Is also characterized by the establishment of rules and regulations. However, this style is more democratic, and these parents are more willing to listen, answer questions, and to explain the reason for the rules. They are more forgiving and understanding, rather than punishing. Baumrind asserts that these parents “monitor and impart clear standards for their chidren’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive”.
The children of this style tend to be happier, more capable socially , and more successful.
- Indulgent (Permissive) Parenting – Is characterized by a parent’s relatively low expectation of maturity and self-control from their children. These parents make few demands on their children and rarely discipline them. They are nurturing and communicative, and often take on the role of friend more than that of a parent. Baumrind asserts that permissive parents “are more responsive than they are demanding. They are non-traditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self- regulation, and avoid conflict”.
The children of this style tend to rank low in happiness and self-regulation, experience problems with authority, and perform poorly in school.
- Negligent (Uninvolved) Parenting – Is characterized by parents that make few demands, do not show warmth, and are unresponsive to all but the most basic needs. These parents are detached and uncommunicative.
The children of this style tend to lack self-control, have low self-esteem. They are generally less competent than their peers and rank lowest across all of life’s domains.
Few parents fall cleanly into any of these categories. The style adopted can vary at any time depending on the situation, the parent’s state of mind and the personality of the child…to be continued…