When I became a parent, I was like any other: I wanted to be the best possible parent and avoid the mistakes that my parents made. I came at it with everything I had, using my education in clinical psychology as way to read up on the best approaches to this or that childhood issue. As I soon learned, being a perfect parent was much easier said than done. I made plenty of mistakes. I now understand that working on my personal development along the way was the most impactful thing I did. In addition to personal growth, every parent (and in turn, their kids) can benefit from learning the basics of how to help kids thrive. Conscious parenting becomes even more vital as stress increases, which is often the reality in stepfamilies. Learning about authoritative parenting is a great place to start.
This newsletter is the first in a two-part series. Today I’ll describe what authoritative parenting is and its benefits. Next week I’ll write about common patterns in stepfamily parenting.
If you’re a parent, there’s a good chance you’ve read a book or blog posts, listened to a podcast, taken a class, or perhaps just had conversations with friends and family about parenting. It’s likely what you’ve learned is based upon authoritative parenting concepts. Authoritative parenting emerged from the work of Diana Baumrind, a developmental psychologist, and Stanford researchers Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin. Their work, together with extensive studies by other researchers have made it clear: authoritative parenting has the best outcomes for kids.
In authoritative parenting, there is a combination of warmth and limit-setting. The parent has high expectations that are balanced with responsiveness, negotiation, and empathy. These parents really listen to their kids. While connection and respect for the kids are important elements, so are consistency and firmness. The parents have realistic, developmentally appropriate, clear expectations of their kids.
If I tell my teens that they’re in charge of making dinner once a week, then I make it clear what that entails: I ask them to decide what they’re going to make and write out a list of needed ingredients by a certain day of the week, so I can get everything from the store (my kids still need lots of reminders to do this in time). Also, I consider whether they will make the entire meal. Depending on their age and experience, they might need some help mincing the onions (which is also a great opportunity to connect with them about their day). If they overcook the chicken or break a plate, I look at it as a learning opportunity, rather than a failing on their part. Afterall, they are not yet adults with fully formed brains.
Kids raised with this parenting style are more confident, have better relationships with their parents, experience less mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, are more self-reliant, develop stronger social skills, perform better academically, are less likely to behavior abuse drugs, and more. There are no guarantees, of course, because there are plenty of other factors that can come into play, such as child temperament. Still, the research is clear that the benefits of authoritative parenting are many. If you’d like to learn more about authoritative parenting, a quick online search will provide you with plenty of information.
Stay tuned for more information on parenting and blended/stepfamilies in my next post.