Friday, October 03, 2014

My Lonely Quadrant

I am a parent.  I am also a consultant.  So invariably I'm going to create a two-by-two grid to place my parenting style within the whole universe of parenting styles.  The visual above is my attempt to do that. 

I'm not entirely satisfied with the words I've chosen, but I hope you get my drift.  You've probably heard of Free Range Kids, Helicopter Parents, and Tiger Moms.  I have, but it wasn't until a recent conversation with a former student of mine - he doesn't have kids yet but is already quite wise about parenting - that the thought of organizing them in a matrix occurred to me.

Parents are, inherently, nurturing.  So start there.  We all know what Helicopter Parents are like: their nurturing nature manifests itself in a full-court press on their children's lives.  Homework, extra-curriculars, every waking hour they are present.  Helicopter Parents are ever ready to say an encouraging word,  do with or for their kids when they fall short, and come to their rescue when they are uncomfortable or under attack.    It is a vigilance and ubiquity borne of deep concern for their children.

Practitioners of Free Range Kids love their kids no less tenderly or fiercely, but show it by giving their kids lots of space.  I won't label this approach as necessarily permissive because it doesn't have to be that.  And neither will I label this approach as necessarily stemming from a discomfort towards structure or rules, because it doesn't have to be that either.  What it is is hands off, the exact opposite of helicopter parenting.

I think what makes the Tiger Mom school of thought so jarring is that it doesn't look like it comes from the same nurturing core that parents assume all parents share.  Tiger Moms can come across as downright, well, whatever is the antonym of nurturing.  They berate, hound, and prod relentlessly.  They are the antithesis of the Free Range Kid method because they get up in their kids' grill, and they sneer at the Helicopter Parent way because it's too soft on kids.  

And then there's the quadrant where I live.  Prodding, like the Tiger Mom, in that I always push and hardly ever insulate or pander.  But passive, like the Free Range Kid parents, in that I give my kids wide berth to do for themselves and to make their own choices and mistakes.  I guess this makes me the polar opposite of Helicopter Parents, since I think kids should have space and I don't think kids should have everything done with or for them.  

I have tried to keep my language as neutral as possible but I'm sure my biases have crept in.  I will say that I don't think that my quadrant is for everyone, nor do I necessarily like that I am where I am.  My kids would probably be better off if I was more sympathetic, more encouraging, and more forgiving, instead of constantly haranguing and pushing and drilling.  They would definitely be better off if I was less passive; I wonder if both they and I will look back and regret I didn't get off my lazy butt and spend more physical time actually interacting with them. 

There are merits for every style, and every parent and every kid is unique.  Indeed, part of parenting is figuring out how to parent each kid, and just when you feel like you actually have figured it out, you change, or they change, or another kid comes along, or something happens to disturb the equilibrium and send you back to square one.  Maybe this self-analysis will compel me to soften in some ways and man up in other ways.  At the very least, it helps me to place myself in the continuum of parenting approaches.  Hopefully, it is helpful to you too.

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