A scale tilted to one side where one part is getting more importance than the other.

Parenting Styles: Getting Out of Balance

Finding balance in our lives is one of the most common challenges and parents often struggle to find balance between structure and nurture. This can be further complicated by the differences in parenting styles. Couples often struggle to reach a consensus on which style is the most effective and will provide the best outcomes for their family. There is growing evidence that having a secure attachment as a child will lead to increased benefits not only for their emotional well-being, but for their physical health as well. A secure attachment will come from finding an appropriate balance between structure and nurture. Children need to be seen, heard, cared for, loved and be provided with enough structure to feel safe and secure in their environment. Structure provides modeling for healthy limits, boundaries, social-skills and emotion regulation skills.

Look at this review of four different parenting styles given by Terrence Sanvictores and Magda D. Mendez (2022) found in the National Library of Medicine. Think about how you were parented and which style sounds the most familiar. Explore with your spouse or partner which style they grew up with and which method you would prefer to use as a couple.

AUTHORITARIAN PARENTING

This style of parenting favors structure over nurture. The parent establishes rules and expectations and the child is expected to obey.  There is less communication or negotiation between parent and child and mistakes are met with punishment. According to Sanvictores and Mendez (2022), children raised by this style often learn to be well behaved and follow instructions precisely to achieve a goal. Conversely, they may be more likely to be aggressive, have difficulty managing anger and rebel against authority.

AUTHORITATIVE PARENTING

This style of parenting seeks to create a balance between structure and nurture. To parent in this way, the parents make time to prioritize the relationship with the child, the child feels loved and supported while also having clear expectations and reasons explained for any rule violations as a way to support development and growth rather than punishment.  This style of parenting is more time consuming in that it requires increased communication, allowing for input from both parents and child and space to negotiate and adapt as the child grows and circumstances change. These children benefit greatly from the balanced approach with increased emotional health, self-esteem, improved academic performance, independence and the fostering of goal-oriented individuals.

PERMISSIVE PARENTING

Parents using this style of parenting will put the emphasis on the nurturing of the relationship. Less time is focused on rules, expectations or punishment. The children and parents will communicate openly though the expectations or solutions to problems are not clearly stated. Children are left to manage problems primarily on their own. These children grow up independent and have some self-worth and social skills yet often struggle with moderation. The lack of limit setting in the home can lead to impulsive behaviors, over-eating, excessive computer usage and selfishness.

UNINVOLVED PARENTING

Children raised with this style find themselves having the most freedom and the least amount of interaction with parents. Neither nurture or structure is emphasized whereas the basic needs of the child are the focus. The parents have no specific style of discipline and they have limited communication with their children. There is less feeling of warmth, connection and fun in this home. Expectations of the children tend to be set low. Children in these homes are resilient, resourceful and at time the most self-sufficient. Other children will struggle with emotion-regulation, poor coping strategies, poor social-skills and lower academic success.

What happens when you and your spouse have different parenting styles?

This can lead to stress in the relationship as depending on the parent’s communication style and personality passive parents will give in to the more verbal parent and just “do things their way.” If the outcome of this style is less than expected the one parent may blame the other parent for the outcome. In another scenario, the two parents may polarize where one focuses primarily on the nurture and the other on the structure. This can lead to one parent being resentful of the feeling “being bad cop all the time” isn’t fair. Finally, a difficult scenario is when a child matures, they will make choices and inevitably mistakes that are not aligned with the parent’s thinking. This can fuel fear in the parents.

Fear can lead to all kinds of reactive defenses that often lead to more disconnection rather than fostering secure connection. Parents may in an attempt to control or contain a situation that feels out of control lose balance between structure and nurture. In this situation, parents tend to focus on the structure creating more rules, consequences, rewards and punishments. The adolescent will rebel against the increased structure and long for the lost level of safety from the nurturing connection that existed in earlier years. At this developmental stage, most adolescents will be focused more on their peers and not outwardly own how much they feel the loss of the nurture from their parents.

It is also possible for parents to swing the pendulum to the other side and focus entirely on the nurture. They fear, “I am losing them.” They seek to become friends and focus on loving them unconditionally. Limits and boundaries are not addressed. It is hard to see the benefits of structure when children respond with anger or blaming words that hurt parents who make loving sacrifices for their children on a regular basis. This disrespect hurts parents and often parents will either withdraw and give up or seek to overcompensate with blurred boundaries. Adolescents need ongoing support as they navigate the difficulties of transitioning into adulthood. Without the safety of the secure connection and ongoing open communication, the adolescent makes erroneous assumptions that may be internalized as “I am not lovable,” “I don’t matter,” or “They view me this way so I may as well do what they think I am doing so it will hurt less.” The assumptions can also be turned outward as in “You can’t trust anyone,” or “What it is the point of trying as I can’t make it in this world anyway.”

The stress of the loss in the relationship and the unique differences in personality and styles, create added strain on the marriage. Parents might find themselves battling each other, fighting for their side of the issue and feeling disconnected as well. As tensions rise, children will sense the disconnect and this may contribute to an increase in the child’s anxieties and insecurities in the world.

Having an open and ongoing conversation as parents.

According to John Gottman, healthy couples are able to keep the dialogue open and avoid rigidity and gridlock. Below are some helpful things to consider if you find yourself out of balance with structure and nurture, polarized or in gridlock due to the deep love you have for your child, the intense fear that this fuels for their safety and well-being and the best of intentions you hold in your heart for them. Though all of this is true, often your child and your spouse, will notice the reaction you have to this emotion and not your deep seeded intentions. Depending on how you react either in anger, protest or withdrawal the other person in this relationship will likely get a “not safe” signal. If the reaction is anger, resentment, or hurt for being disrespected, the child will create their own defenses which could range from indifference to rebellion. When we move in the opposite direction and withdraw from the pain of the situation the child usually concludes that “you don’t care” or “they don’t matter.” This leads to the child internalizing this resulting in increased anxiety and depression or externalizing this to continued acting out, aggression or conduct disorders.

Consider asking yourself the following questions:

  1. What is my deepest intention for my child?
  2. What is my biggest fear in this situation?
  3. How do I react or respond to this fear? How does this impact my child? How does this impact my significant other?
  4. Have I become polarized or rigid in one side hence being out of balance between two important components that lead to healthy development in children? If so, what can I do to restore balance?
  5. Have I acknowledged my partner’s deepest intentions? Have I acknowledged and validated their deepest fears?
  6. Have I acknowledged the strengths of my partner’s parenting style?
  7. Am I holding on to any resentments and if so, have I practiced mindful awareness, radical acceptance and forgiveness?
  8. Do I have clear boundaries, limits and realistic expectations of my child at this stage of their development?
  9. Does my child know how deeply they are loved and cared for and can they feel that now?
  10. What can I do to foster warmth and connection in my relationship with my child?

Once patterns of disconnection have reached a point of crisis, it can be difficult to reverse or restore balance on your own. Our trained therapists can help you slow down, recognize your blocks to connection, learn tools to better self-regulate, communicate and restore balance.

Please reach out today. We are here to help.

Resources:

Sanvictores, T. & Mendez, M.D. (2022) Types of Parenting Styles and Effects on Children. Retrieved from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK568743/

 

 

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