by Scott Marshall

One of the great ironies of life is that arguably the most important job many of us will ever have is the job that we have the least amount of training and experience to handle: parenthood. Most of us make it through high school. Some continue further into university studies. How many of us have a degree in parenthood? In today’s world of single parents and two-income families, it is rare to see a “stay-at-home” parent for longer than the first year or two of a child’s life. The “distraction” of work makes deciding how to parent your child even more critical.

There are four basic parenting styles: permissive, authoritative, neglectful and authoritarian. How many of us consciously decide to elect one of these styles? How do you even know where to begin? Parenting with purpose requires you to consider who you are and who your child is to be the most effective parent you can be.

Most child psychologists find that the authoritative parenting style best benefits children’s cognitive development. It involves a combination of warmth and love with moderate discipline and structure. Here, you establish rules and consequences in a loving environment. You explain why you are taking the action you are taking. You are firm but calm in your decisions and discussions with your children.

Permissive parenting is parenting with love but few or no rules or expectations. Permissive parents shower their children with love and create a close parent-child relationship. Unfortunately, children in this environment often become insecure. The lack of structure leaves them unsure of what to expect, and they need more reassurance.

Authoritarian parenting follows a strict approach with rules and demands for performance. Love, while present, is not an essential part of the equation. The answer to “why do I have to do that?” is often: “because I said so.” Authoritarian parents often make decisions for their children that other parents would allow their children to make by themselves. They can be overprotective. This approach can make children long for the warmth and love that is missing in their lives, causing them to lash out or rebel. These households can lead children to drugs and other risky, rebellious behaviors.

Neglectful parenting is only worth mentioning so that you can avoid it. Neglectful parents are the worst parts of permissive parents (zero consequences and total leniency) and authoritarian parents (zero to little warmth and love). Neglect can easily happen when parents are so wrapped up in their own lives that they don’t recognize their children’s needs.

Choosing Your Style
Must you choose one of these styles of parenting? No. A cookie-cutter approach to childrearing can lead to ineffective parenting and harm the child. Each child is different. Different personalities. Different strengths. Different weaknesses. Different needs. Whether your child is gifted, has special needs or falls somewhere in between, you may need to adopt characteristics of more than one style.

Child psychologists usually recommend that you begin with the authoritative approach and observe your child’s response. You may find that one child requires more love while another requires more structure. The key is to determine this as early as possible so that your style is appropriate for your child or children.

Be on the Same Page with Your Co-Parent
Regardless of whether or not you are living together, you are raising a child together. Being on the same page with the other parent is paramount. Adopting a good cop (permissive) bad cop (authoritarian) approach can cause conflict not just between child and parent but between parents, which can have catastrophic results for the well-being of your children. You must work with each other and decide on the best approach. Involving a family therapist at an early stage can open your eyes to what you both want to achieve for your child and how to do it, as well as assess your child’s response to the style you have adopted.

In the end, it takes a village. Don’t be afraid to seek help from a family therapist. The most important thing is that you parent with purpose. Develop a plan together and stick to it. Children need consistency and structure. Mixed messages and contradictions can create a disaster. By developing the appropriate parenting style for you and your children, you can help ensure they grow into independent, confident, happy adults.