By Rachna Muralidhar, Psychologist & Outreach Associate, Mpower-The Centre, Bengaluru
Parenting is referred to as one of the most powerful experiences in life. Since there is power, it can become tricky too, like a double edged sword. So much power, that what the child learns while growing up can have long term effects into adulthood and beyond. Because, the child’s experiences with the primary caregivers (most often parents) determines how the child perceives and expects from the world. It becomes the template for functioning in the lives of children. We would like for that template to be pleasant if not for anything else. This article will explore potential ways of making it as healthy as possible. Not a miracle path to doing everything ‘right’, but a thrust towards more conscious and mindful parenting, I hope!
Before we go further, let us explore the different types of parenting according to Diana Baumrind:
Authoritarian – Restrictive punitive style in which parents exhort the child to follow their directions leaving very little scope for negotiation. (“Because I said so”)
Authoritative – Encourages children to be independent but still places limits and controls on their actions. Extensive verbal give and take is allowed, with parents being warm and nurturing. (“You know you should not have done that. Let’s talk about how you can handle the situation better next time”)
Permissive – This type can take two forms. Neglectful and indulgent. Neglectful as the name suggests is where parents are uninvolved in the child’s life. Children have an innate need for parents to care about them and this makes them feel like every other aspect of parents’ life is more important than him/her. On the contrary, indulgent parenting involves being highly involved placing barely any demands or controls.
According to research, authoritative parenting is said to be the most effective style that has been tested to result in more mentally, emotionally and socially competent and responsible children.
For instance, we all like our children to be obedient and fulfill our expectations. Sure, that is convenient. However, let us transcend this reality and think deeper about it. Will it allow the child to be able to grow logically, emotionally or in any other way if we constantly instructed them as to what needs to be done all the time? Do you think it gives them scope for any negotiation? Will it lead them to be healthy functioning adults?
Let us look at it from this perspective. We teach them obedience as the best way to be. Of course, it is required. But, we don’t teach them assertiveness if we are using either ends of the spectrum of parenting styles. A child, when an adult, and goes to work is under an unconscious impression that authority demands obedience (because, that is what he/she has learnt growing up!) and feels like he has to be a victim of harshness of it. Because, he hasn’t learnt another way! This makes him struggle with anxiety. He has learnt no boundaries to step up if he feels disrespected or burdened leading himself to potentially dangerous burnouts. Also, struggles with decision making and problem solving. Do we want our children to turn out that way? It’s a common story and we need to be cognizant of it.
Most often, we end up unconsciously behaving in the way that our parents behaved when we were children. However, does it mean they were always right? Parenting is a dynamic and constantly evolving process and techniques have to change depending on the age of the child and with awareness of the age that we are in too! I have come to understand that the supposed rights and wrongs are subjective. There are no absolutes. With this in mind, we are allowed mistakes; nobody has ever figured out what the best way to be is, as We have to step up, beat our auto pilots and do what is reasonable, moving towards a more mindful, conscious parenting.
In my interactions with several children and their parents, there are some things to be considered to build a healthy relationship. My observation has led me to understand that the below are important.
Be the role models: If we are acting up when we are going through times of stress or difficulty, the child is watching. So in his world, it becomes normal behaviour. And with that, if we expect the child to not do the same, there’s very little chance that would happen!
Making mistakes is normal: If we expect that the child understands he has made a mistake and must apologize for it, think about whether you have displayed that behaviour for the child to learn. And treat the child with dignity and respect while you set rules with him about the consequences he would face if repeated. Not in a threatening fashion (the threat loses meaning at some point) but in a firm and yet compassionate way. Also normalize mistakes for the child. That everybody makes mistakes and it is ok to be wrong sometimes. This sets stage for how the child treats himself when he makes mistakes later on in life. I have seen a lot of my young adult clients be hypercritical to the level of dysfunction. Even if they don’t live with you anymore, your voice still guides them. So you have the power to choose what that guiding voice can be!
Don’t guilt children if they are not fulfilling expectations: It is but natural to get into the monologue of how much we are doing in terms of expenses and everything that is being provided to the child. But is it helpful? There’s a huge possibility that it is giving rise to either feelings of not being good enough or outright rebellion. And let us not forget, that we don’t fulfill all of the child’s expectations too!
Overprotecting can be dangerous: Often, it leads the child to feel like there is no safe place and in adolescence gives a feeling of a lack of autonomy. It is completely understandable that we want to protect our children. But if the child doesn’t learn to fend for himself, then we are responsible for hampering the growth of the child. This might seem harsh, but there is a lot of truth to it.
Deal with your emotions: Do not use the child as your friend to talk about all of your problems. Especially, the ones with the spouse. It is an extremely unhealthy practice. It leads the child to feeling responsible to fix things for you when in reality there’s very little. It also has the risk of making him averse to you.
We are all ever evolving beings, and I hope these pointers help in the evolving process!