Parenting Paradigms


by Janice Maddox


PART ONE 060511


Today’s article is one in a multi-part series on parenting. I thought I could encapsulate the main points about parenting in a 1000 word article. This task has proven to be impossible.  As a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT), I’m always fascinated by the difference in what we are taught and what information is available through popular media.   We seem to like to keep our secrets.  While a lot of what is out in popular media is good information, often it runs counter to what the research shows.  Much of it is written by people who aren’t required to get continuing education or who don’t keep up on the research.


I’ve been turning various shades of blue and purple this week over an article available on by author Pamela Haag. Her credential is given as “married professor.” There are writers who don’t have licenses who aren’t required to pass tests and 3000 hours of supervised internship and participate in continuing education that write competently and incorporate research into their articles. Others may be contributing to the end of life as we know it.


Pamela Haag endorses having partners outside the marriage, long term separation, and separate bedrooms as ways of fixing ailing marriages. She also puts forth as a good option divorcing but continuing to live in the same household to keep the family unit intact for the sake of the children. At the time I wrote this article, 521 people clicked the thumbs-up Facebook button and recommended this article to their friends. The night before, the number was 429.


My main issue with this, besides the fact it runs counter to research and common sense, is it ignores the complexities (this is why I’ve written my own draft book on relationships, which I’m in the process of  refining). The ignoring of complexities is an issue with a lot of what is in pop-psychology. Things are boiled down to “Seven Steps to a Happy Marriage,” or we get told about something simple like “time-out” but aren’t told what the research shows about what works and doesn’t work when it comes to helping children avoid drugs. This is partly due to a publishing and media industry that publishes what they believe will make money fast and, I think, has under-estimated people. 


Complexities include complex children and situations. What do you do when you have a child that won’t sit in time-out, or a violent child?  What do you do when your child lives partly with you and partly with their other parent and the other parent undermines what you are trying to teach?


Life is complex. Licensed practicing professionals who work with clients have a professional obligation to keep up on what works in complex situations, because that is what shows up in our office;  Real-life complexities that don’t fit into neat little boxes tied with pretty ribbon. Of course, just because somebody has a license doesn’t mean they will get it right or know what they are supposed to know, but I’m saving that for a future “Stupid Things Therapists Do” article.


One thing we can do that would be more helpful than what is often done, is to teach parents some of the things we do with children in our office, so they can do it at home.  As we go along in this series, I will be giving information on simple strategies for specific situations that don’t seem to be talked about much in the popular literature.  I’m starting with a broad focus which will become more narrow.


This series will include information on relationships in the context of co-parenting, step-parenting and parental separation. While there are always exceptions, for most relationships, the introduction of a child or children is going to put a strain on the relationship in a multitude of ways.  Having a healthy partnership as parents is good for children, although, sadly, not always possible.


People think the challenge for parents raised in abusive situations is that they will themselves become abusive (what is and isn’t “abusive” will be revealed more as this series continues).  This certainly can be a concern in that a parent who was raised in an abusive home can struggle more than others with regulating their emotions.  Others demonstrate more resiliency.


What can be true for parents raised in situations they reject is they don’t have a roadmap laid out for them.  They can’t just do what their parents did.  What I have seen as a therapist is that some parents who don’t want to be like their parents, don’t know what to do. They only know what not to do. Or, they don’t know how to intervene with their child without the emotional reaction, so they ignore misbehavior.  Parents who are over-worked and overwhelmed and just trying to survive can ignore teaching opportunities for their children, also.


This can be misconstrued, but research shows the parenting style associated with the poorest outcomes is parenting that is very permissive, or indulgent.  Indulgent or overly permissive parenting is associated with children who grow up into adults who think the rules don’t apply to them and aren’t prepared to be functioning members of society. 


Indulgent parenting or overly permissive parenting is associated with having few behavioral expectations for the child.  In this parenting style, parents are very involved with their children, but place few demands on them.  Parents are very responsive to children’s needs and wishes, but don’t require the children to regulate themselves and behave appropriately. 


Children who don’t have an expectation or fear of consequences carry that into adulthood.  They may have less anxiety than others, but fear of consequences is a primary motivational force. The people with the least amount of anxiety are people without a conscience.  Others don’t generate enough anxiety to have enough concern about being fired from a job. They don’t sublimate their desires for instant gratification to the need to set their personal wants aside in order to be able to pay their rent.


They can be the type of person that doesn’t perform well on the job, objects to rules and does not follow them, and then feels treated unfairly when they are fired or not given work. Instead of taking responsibility and changing their behavior to get a better outcome next time, they are merely resentful.  They have a hard time connecting their behavior to the results they get at an emotional level. 


The direct line from action to consequence is broken and they can expect to be taken care of into adulthood. They may not understand why people don’t want to help them when they need money due to their repeated failure to appropriately budget and related poor impulse control. The urge to buy the new television in the moment over-rides the need for rent to be paid in two weeks. This person has not learned to delay gratification or to fear consequences.


Of course, you can get this outcome with other parenting styles, for a variety of reasons which may be unrelated to the type of parenting the person received. But with overly permissive parenting, you can almost guarantee a poor outcome.  I say almost, because there is always an exception to everything.


What is best is a balanced parenting child-centered style that combines high expectations with a warm and nurturing parenting style. These parents can understand their children’s feelings and teach them how to regulate them. They help children problem-solve instead of just telling them what to do, which helps the child develop reasoning skills. 


This style of parenting encourages children to be independent, but still places limits and controls on their actions.  There is extensive communication between the parent and child which is contrary to the idea that children should be “seen but not heard.” The focus is on teaching, rather than punishing. There is consistency in parenting, which is very important.


Children in households with arbitrary rules or fluctuating expectations and inconsistently applied discipline are generally going to have a high rate of anxiety which can interfere with their ability to be successful adults. They never know where they stand in any given moment.


Strict or punitive parenting is less than ideal and not what we are aiming for, but is associated with better outcomes than permissive parenting. Overly strict parenting has a tendency to create rebellion, or children who become manipulative and dishonest to avoid punishment, as opposed to developing internal controls and motivation to “do good”.


Strict parents expect much of their child, but don’t usually explain their reasoning for boundaries, are less responsive to their children’s needs, and are more likely to spank a child rather than discuss the problem.  There is little or no time devoted to developing a positive bond with the child through child-centered interactions, which needs to exist in order to have the best outcomes. 


In the next article of this series, I will discuss the history and evolution of beliefs about parenting  in the United States, and related ramifications. If you have specific questions or opinions about parenting you would like to see addressed in this series, feel free to e-mail me at Don’t forget the period (.) between the first and last name.

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