Parenting. It’s a topic that ignites sometimes explosive thoughts, feelings and opinions. But have you ever wondered why you parent the way you do?
In order to become better parents, we need to make sense of who we are, what influences us and what we need to do to move in the right direction of healthy parent-child relationships. We look at historical parenting influences and how our parenting style impacts our children.
As parents, most of us share the same objective – to raise healthy and happy children. The parent-child relationship has been thrown into the spotlight as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown restrictions. In the blink of an eye, many parents were home with their children on a full-time basis, taking on the additional roles of playmate, full time companion and teacher. The stressors of the pandemic were many, including re-establishing and maintaining healthy parent-child and family relationships, as well as a healthy home environment.
Why you’ve adopted the parenting style you have
Many people – at various stages of their life – wonder about the things that make them who they are, why they behave a certain way and how to overcome various life stressors and difficult experiences. Some people even wonder why they parent the way that they do and how they can improve the quality of their parenting through learning healthy techniques and strategies. It is important to understand the influences of our parenting styles, including how we were parented.
Do you parent the same way your parents did?
Intergenerational transmission of parenting looks at the process in which parenting by a certain generation can psychologically influence the attitudes and behaviours of the next generation. Despite this, many parents will say that they are aware of how certain parenting influences affected them and are aware of what they do or do not want for their own children. More and more parents have realised the impact, benefits and effectiveness of conscious, present and mindful parenting.
A history of trauma
In the South African context, we have a long, painful history of familial trauma, with parents being away from their families (often beyond their control) or cases of children losing their parents at a young age.
Many people experienced an absence from their parents – many times a physical absence but also a psychological and emotional one. Parents had slightly different priorities back then – often working hard to survive the circumstances they found themselves in, while caring and providing for their families’ basic needs. While we have similar priorities, our perception of our circumstances plays an important role in the way in which we cope with them.
Our grandparents and parents have anecdotes about their childhoods and the impact of growing up with or without their parents, other relatives and caregivers who filled parenting roles. Many of these stories are saddening, painful and traumatic, while others may shed a more positive light on family togetherness and community parenting influences.
The different parenting styles
While there are many theories on parenting styles, how to understand them and how they are expressed; there are some commonalities in how parenting styles can lead to certain feelings and behaviours in children.
Parenting styles look at various elements such as warmth, nurturing, communication, behaviour management and our discipline strategies. Let’s look at the four main parenting styles:
The authoritarian parenting style is characterised by parents who believe that children should be controlled as much as possible. They believe that children should follow strict rules that are often non-negotiable. Very often these parents do not see the need to explain the rules and why they exist, with disobedience often leading to punishment. The main focus is on obedience so children are usually not encouraged to engage in problem-solving or decision-making. Sadly, these parents also tend to focus on pointing out mistakes and enforcing consequences.
This parenting style was often used to cope with the demands of everything they were faced with but various studies have found that children of authoritarian parents are at higher risk of lower self-esteem. While these individuals may grow to be obedient and proficient in their lives, they can struggle with feelings of happiness, display higher levels of aggression and can also struggle in their social relationships.
Similar to authoritarian parents, authoritative parents also have rules and consequences but are open to their children’s opinions and take these into consideration. These parents are able to validate their children’s thoughts and feelings, and effectively manage issues before they worsen. Authoritative parents tend to use positive reinforcement and positive discipline strategies to encourage good behaviour rather than punishing bad behaviour or mistakes. These parents put a lot of effort into maintaining positive relationships with their children and don’t mind explaining why there are rules and why there are consequences.
Research has found that children with authoritative parents are more independent, responsible and develop good emotional-regulation skills. Due to the fact that their parents are reasonable and fair, these children find it easier to comply with rules and requests, and they are easily able to internalise information they learn because it has been explained to them. Authoritative parenting has been proven to lead to happier, capable and successful individuals later in life.
Many parents of the current generation tend to be more authoritative in their parenting style – they see the importance of providing healthy and firm boundaries for their children but without the need for controlling their children or using unnecessary punitive and damaging strategies.
The permissive parenting style is a near opposite of authoritarian parenting where parents are too lenient and only step in when there is a serious problem. Children to permissive parents view them as more of a peer or friend, rather than a parental and authority figure.
Studies have found that these children can struggle in school, display behavioural problems and struggle with authority and rules. In some cases they also experience more feelings of sadness and struggle with their self-esteem.
While this style of parenting can be the default for many parents, a lack of rules, routine and boundaries can actually be overwhelming for children. There needs to be a balance between rules and a healthy, open relationship with our children.
Parents who don’t know much about what’s happening with their children are described to have an uninvolved parenting style. Often these parents will not ask about homework, friends or school, do not spend much time with their children, and are not always aware of the whereabouts or wellbeing of their children. There are very few rules, poor communication habits and very limited parental attention, guidance or nurturing. Children are expected to “raise themselves” as parents may not have the energy to meet their children’s needs (e.g. in instances of parents with mental health issues/a substance abuse problem/overwhelmed parents).
Sadly, children of uninvolved parents have been found to have issues with low self-esteem, perform poorly in school and frequently show behavioural problems. These children also struggle with self-control and positive emotions, which affect their ability to relate in relationships with others.
So, what’s the way forward?
With children being the recipients of our influences, parenting techniques and strategies, it is our responsibility to unpack who we are, our thoughts about parenting and our current frame of mind regarding our parenting styles and abilities.
On a positive note, many parents are open and willing to do the work that will allow them to grow as conscious parents. Parenting workshops, parental guidance, psychotherapy and parenting support groups have become a norm, as we grow to be a healthier and more self-aware generation of parents.
Everyone is capable of improving themselves – we just need the time, guidance and resources to do so.