By Rossana L. Llenado
Are you a helicopter parent? Do you constantly hover over your children, fussing over their every move? Or are you a free-range parent? Do you allow your children to go off on their own whether it’s meeting up with friends at the mall or doing their schoolwork?
The other week, I attended a seminar at the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM) at Ateneo de Manila University, one of the Philippines’ leading universities. During the seminar, there was a discussion of the various parenting styles employed by Filipinos. And I tell you that it was definitely an eye-opener.
Through the years, we’ve heard of different terms to describe different parenting styles. We’ve heard of the child-centered non-confrontational parenting, where the child is the center of the universe and the word “no” seems absent from the parents’ vocabulary. There is attachment parenting, where parents attempt to form intimate bonds with their children from birth. Some of the ideas that attachment parents espouse include breastfeeding, baby wearing, and sleeping close to their children or sometimes, co-sleeping. Positive parenting believes in the power of positive reinforcement, saying “do” instead of “don’t” and praising children for good behavior. And then there are those who choose to be uninvolved in their children’s affairs, relegating their parental duties and responsibilities to their own parents or to their kids’ school. Most recently, we met the Tiger Mom, who pushed her children to do their best through a stringent set of rules and schedules.
I suppose that there are as many parenting styles as there are parents. But really, all these parenting styles originate from three basic frameworks, as described by development psychologist Diana Baumrind. These are the authoritarian, the authoritative, and the permissive.
The authoritarian parent is very familiar to those who grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. This is the classic “because I said so” type of parent. He has a strict set of rules that his children must obey no matter what. Rules are set in stone with no room for discussion. And not following those rules would lead to serious consequences, often involving a bit of spanking or some serious grounding.
The authoritarian parent sees the world in black and white. For him, there are no gray areas. Picture the typical patriarch oftentimes played by Ronaldo Valdez in countless Filipino movies and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Control is his main objective. He believes that if his children follow the rules, then they would grow up into good individuals.
The authoritarian parent is often seen as cold and unfeeling.
The authoritative parent is also fond of rules and limits, but he makes sure to explain why those restrictions came about in the first place. Children have more wiggle room because they are given the freedom to make their own choices—just so long as they stay within socially acceptable parameters of good behavior, of course.
But make no mistake about it, the authoritative parent has no qualms about saying the word “no.” However, he tells his children the many reasons behind his “no.” For him, giving a valid explanation will enable his children to understand and respect his decision. He does not want any rebels in his family.
The authoritative parent is perceived as warm toward his children but firm about enforcing rules and structure into their lives.
The permissive parent puts his children’s wants and needs first and foremost. Rules are thrown out the window. What’s important for the permissive parent is for his children to get exactly what they want.
The absence of rules gives children a sense of freedom, which unfortunately is something that they cannot handle at that young age. While the permissive parent is known to be very loving, he is often perceived as not being dependable. That’s because his decisions are not based on his own beliefs, but on what his children want, which can sometimes be erratic.
Most parents use a combination of these three parenting styles. Some are more authoritarian when their kids are young and then go on to be more authoritative as their kids get older.
At dinner the other night, I asked my kids to describe my parenting style. At first, they couldn’t decide. Actually, they sort of got into a big argument about it. One of my kids said that I’m too controlling, the other countered that I actually let them do whatever it is that they like. Another said that I don’t spend enough time with them, which was opposed by another who observed that I spend all my non-working hours with them. It was fun—and enlightening—to see them dissect my every move. Actually, it never occurred to me that they would be so observant about my comings and goings.
When I showed them reference materials from the seminar, they realized I was more authoritative than anything else. They realized too that I always give my reasons when I impose rules, and that seemed to go very well with them.
The Need to Define Ourselves
Whenever a new parenting term comes up, I’ve noticed, it is always met with much nitpicking and sometimes furious debates. We worry that we’re becoming helicopter parents, so we try to loosen our leash a little. We would secretly love to be Tiger Moms, but are afraid of what our neighbors would say.
We like putting labels and defining our styles because we want to put some logic into this whole parenting thing. Raising a happy, healthy, and confident child is probably one of the most difficult jobs in the universe. But of all the jobs we do in this world, it is the one thing that we want to do right.
This essay was first published in Asian Journal.