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  • Compassionate Parenting – Parenting Differences

    Sharon L. Werner, MA, LLPC, DP-C

    “We just cannot get on the same page,” Jessica said, sighing. “I am at my wit’s end. I think my husband is too harsh with the kids, and he thinks I’m too lenient,” She explained. “I think he’s too ‘old school,’ expecting the kids to respond to his every command with, ‘Yes, sir!’ He thinks I spend too much time explaining why I want the kids to do what I am asking.”

    A Look at Parenting Styles

    It can be an incredible challenge for parents to mesh parenting styles when they have been raised within differing value systems, as many of us have been. Some have experienced parenting that falls into the category of the do-as-you-are-told, my-way-or-the-highway approach that was popular for many decades. Others may have had uninvolved parents, for a variety of reasons ranging from personality and values to the need to work multiple jobs. We may have experienced a more laissez-faire style or parenting, or we may have had parents who explained the logic of their requests and involved us to some degree in family decisions.

    Different approaches exist describing the various types of parenting styles, but most acknowledge that we learn our styles primarily through our own experiences of being parented. One model for parenting styles describes four basic styles: authoritarian, permissive, uninvolved, or authoritative. It should be noted that as parents, we rarely fall completely into one category, and parenting style may vary based on situational factors. However, most parents fall predominantly into one category. These categories are described as being a mixture of control (low or high control) and warmth (low or high warmth).

    Authoritarian Parenting Style. Parents utilizing this parenting style tend to expect unquestioned obedience. They may not be particularly attentive their children’s emotions and may experience disobedience as a direct threat to their own sense of authority. This is a “do as I say, not as I do” style of parenting. It is considered an approach that his high in control and low in warmth.

    Permissive Parenting Style. The permissive parenting style is a “hands off” style that can be characterized as a “kids will be kids” approach. This is a high warmth, low control style that may be at times lenient; there is little guidance and often few consistent consequences for children’s behavior. Parents may act more like friends or buddies than role models or leaders.

    Uninvolved Parenting Style. Low in warmth and low in control, this parenting style is similar to the permissive parenting style in that there is little oversight and involvement, but it is a more emotionally aloof style. This lack of involvement may be the result of many factors, sometimes including lack of knowledge of child development, substance abuse or mental health issues, or simply being stretched between working several jobs and parenting.

    Authoritative Parenting Style. Authoritative parents balance warmth with appropriate control. They are likely to be highly involved in their children’s lives. Consistent in setting clear rules and guidelines as well as enforcing consequences, these parents are likely to explain the “whys” of rules that they set and involve children to some degree in decision making.

    What does this mean for parents?

    As you can imagine, there are certain benefits and consequences of the different parenting styles. Currently, the authoritative parenting style is felt by most experts to convey the greatest benefits for children, including a more secure attachment to their parents, greater empathy towards others, more respect for other adults in their lives, stronger resistance to peer pressure, and less anxiety.

    However, these benefits can be seen primarily when parents agree about their approach to parenting. When parents are at cross-purposes and don’t find a way to resolve their differing approaches, the resulting chaos can lead to anxiety and confusion for the children, who find it difficult to anticipate which actions are likely to lead to parental approval and which to punishment. Children who witness parents disagreeing about discipline can become distressed and act out in unexpected ways, and they may unintentionally end up participating in a power struggle between parents.

    What if spouse and I can’t get on the same page about parenting?

    First, accept that it is natural to disagree on parenting approaches from time to time. Each of us comes from a somewhat different background, has a different temperament, and has differing opinions on how to parent. Approaching the topic of parenting differences with a sense of curiosity can reduce defensiveness.

    Second, talk it out. Try to find areas where you do agree and create strategies that are acceptable to both partners. Use these strategies to create a consistent set of “household rules,” including establishing reasonable consequences…then agree to stick to these consequences.

    Third, agree to not disagree in front of the children. (The exception to this would be in cases of abuse.) This will help to create a sense of security that is at least as important as having a consistent discipline strategy.

    Fourth, try to utilize consequences that teach lessons rather than “punishment.” Think of “natural consequences.” If a child does something that harms another, for instance, a form of discipline that involves making amends may make sense. If an object is broken, discipline might involve helping to make repairs or earning money to replace an object.

    Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Parenting is not easy under the best of circumstances. Most communities offer parenting classes that can offer a fresh take on parenting approaches. There are a number of books that offer useful, practical approaches to parenting. You may find that insecurity about how to approach a particular issue creates additional stress that can be a challenge to intentional, conscious parenting. Falling back on the expertise of those who have “been there” and solved similar problems can reduce anxiety, leading to less stressful interactions with our children.

    Would you like to learn more about compassionate communication skills? Our therapists are trained to help you work with assertiveness and communication skills. If you or someone you know would benefit from learning more about compassionate communication, please contact us today. We would be happy to speak with you about how we may be able to help.


    The Gottman Institute – Parenting & Emotion Coaching Resources:

    Parenting for Brain:

    Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness – offers mindful parenting courses:

    Very Well Family:,Consequences%20of%20Disagreements,begin%20working%20against%20each%20other.


    How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

    1-2-3 Magic: The New 3-Step Discipline for Calm, Effective, and Happy Parenting. Thomas W. Phelan

    Parenting with Love and Logic. Foster Cline and Jim Fay.

    Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child the Heart of Parenting. John Gottman, PhD