Parenting is one area where my husband and I have had our major disagreements. I've learned over the years that I actually have something to teach him. But he has stuff to teach me too. It's a good thing that our children have two parents and not just one. We both have strengths that complement each other. It's the areas where we are weak that we run into difficulties with our parenting.
Parenting can be simplified by understanding that there are only two basic styles. One is "firm edge" and the other is "soft touch." It's useful to know which style comes naturally to you because it's the style where you're weak that you'll have the most trouble with your kids.
The Firm Edge Style
When you're strong in the firm edge style of parenting, you know how to set limits with your children. It's easy for you to develop consequences for bad behavior, teach responsibility and discipline. You like helping your children learn to reign in their messy, loud, "uncivilized" ways and teach them to be polite, moral and kind. This style helps children feel safe knowing there are rules they can count on. They know there is a parent who is solid and won't waver or be manipulated. Children can feel protected when they know what's expected of them and are aware of the boundaries keeping them safe.
The Soft Touch Style
The soft touch style of parenting tends to be strong in parents who are comfortable with feelings, messiness and flexible boundaries. If you're good at listening and creating a safe place for self-expression, then you're probably strong in soft touch. You may be the type of person who will easily follow your children's lead and allow for mistakes and creativity. You might also be someone who can go with the flow and not have to have your own agenda all the time. This style of parenting gives children lots of room and lets them know that whoever they are is lovable and acceptable. Children can feel comfortable in their own skin when they are given ample soft touch parenting.
Which Style Works Best?
Some parents have an ease with both styles of parenting. It helps to be able to use whatever style's necessary in the moment. If you find yourself favoring one style over the other though, you might run into difficulties. On the other hand, if you find that you can move from one style to the other as the situation warrants, your kids will benefit.
Sometimes one parent will be stronger in one style while the other parent will be more comfortable with the other style. This can work really well in a family where parents share responsibility, pick up where the other left off, and back each other up. Unfortunately in some families, parenting styles can be a source of friction and parents end up sabotaging each other's efforts at parenting. It can be especially difficult when parents aren't able to admit when their own style of parenting isn't working. As the old saying goes, "insanity is repeating the same mistakes over and over and expecting different results." It's a wonderful thing when one parent realizes he/she has hit a wall and asks for help from the other parent or an outside resource like a teacher or counselor.
Some children do better with one style of parenting over the other style. Other children do better when there is a blend of both styles. The most important thing about styles is to know when one is better suited to a particular situation than the other. Each style has its benefits and children will be served best when a parent can master the very style that's being called for. Different personalities, different stages of childhood and different situations will need to be handled by parents in very different ways.
Your Growing Edge in Parenting
Where are you strong in your parenting style? What are the difficulties that you run into with your kids? Do they know just how to push your buttons? Then look at your parenting style. If your kids are having a hard time interacting with you and vice versa, it could be that you need to flex your growing edge around parenting styles. Grow into the style that is least comfortable for you and maybe you'll see a difference in your relationship to your child.
Your Important Work
Parenting can be the toughest, most rewarding part of your job if you are the primary caretaker in the family. You have the opportunity to shape a life. How will you shape it? You also have the opportunity to grow from this work. Will you grow and change as a result? Will you become softer, more patient, more understanding, accepting and loving? Or maybe you will enhance your ability to set boundaries, limits and rules that serve you and protect others. Parenting is truly a time to learn as well as a time to teach. It can be the most rewarding part of this job or the most frustrating. How is it going for you today?
Allison Gilbert is a licensed psychotherapist in Santa Cruz, California. She has a website that offers counseling support for mothers, along with many free resources. You can sign up for a free tips weekly email or read the articles that she's written, request a free phone or email consultation, or connect with other mothers in her discussion forum. If you want extra support, she offers phone counseling as well as email advising, in addition to the personal counseling in her office.