Last night we completed the third week of "The Parenting Children Course". While the previous weeks had focused largely on the happy and positive side of parenting (expressing love, setting aside adequate time etc) - this week we looked at the necessary but less enjoyable task of setting and keeping boundaries. One aspect that got us all thinking and talking was the concept of making sure that we are 'authoritative parents'. That is not to say 'authoritarian' - which is something quite different, as we saw in the following diagrams, based on the book 'Toxic Childhood'.
The first diagram (taken from the course manual) suggests that we can plot our parenting style on a graph of two axes, representing "warmth" (ie love, affection, closeness, fun, time and emotional connectedness) and the other "firmness" (ie the extent to which rules we set, imposed and re-enforced with punishments).
We then thought about the implications of different combinations of these attributes/failings. We first thought about a home in which there was no warmth, love, affection - but equally no setting of boundaries of acceptable behaviour. This they described as "Negligent Parenting". In this bottom-right quadrant, the parent is either too busy, or incapable of either meeting the child's emotional need for love, or its developmental need for understanding right and wrong. This is disastrous.
The top-right corner was then considered. In this quarter of the chart, parents are warm, generous, devoted and caring - but do not ever discipline their children. The children are either considered to be incapable of wrongdoing, or the parent is simply scared to say "no" when required. These children are spoilt - with serious implications for their future happiness and success in relationships.
At the bottom left, the "authoritarian parent" makes the opposite error to the indulgent parent. In this model, rules are set firmly and transgressions punished severely. There is little scope for independent judgement or beginning to take responsibility for making good choices by the child. The child is forced to behave in accordance with the parents code of behaviour, but there is no sense of closeness, love, affection or warmth. Fun is certainly not on the agenda.
The right balance is found in the top-left quadrant on the diagram, which is labelled "Authoritative Parenting". In this model, the parent seeks both to develop a warm relationship with the child in which skills such as the " love languages for children", discussed last week are used deliberately and intentionally to make children feel loved, accepted, and valued. However - along with that (and not in any sense in tension with it!) this love goes hand-in-hand with the kind of positive disciplining which makes children feel secure.
My wife and I were fascinated to realise the extent to which, while we strive for this balance, when tired, stressed, busy, or overwhelmed by three children, we can each slip into a dangerous imbalance. Our personalities mean that we would each naturally get pulled in a different direction, and become imbalanced in different ways!
We spent a long time thinking about and discussing the different methods of maintaining standards, imparting a sense of right and wrong, and re-enforcing the boundaries we have set. It was really interesting to speak to other parents about the different things they have used; systems of warnings, red/yellow cards, star-charts, withdrawal of privileges and working towards defined rewards - to inculcate the ability to make good choices. Obviously the need for consistent application of these is vital - and difficult; and requires long-term application for results to be seen.
Once again, this has given us loads to think about and some really important adjustments to make. On The Marriage Course, we discovered that sometimes our 'default settings' weren't helpful, and that taking a step back in order to think things through to make changes -is a hugely constructive exercise. It is proving to be the case with the Parenting Course too.