Parenting Styles

Helicopters, French, and Tigers, oh my!

Lately there’s been deluge of articles about parenting styles. Or maybe it’s just that so many of my new-parent friends are social media mavens; thus I get hit with it everywhere I look. Regardless, it makes my head spin.

The funny thing about these articles: I have a sneaking suspicion we’re all just seeking info that pats ourselves on the back, while voyeuristically chastising the styles we don’t like.

I’m curious: Have any of you ever changed your opinion based on a something you read on the Internet?

There is one good thing I’ve discovered from these articles. They’ve made me stop thinking about the kind of parent I want to be and focus on the real goal: the kind of person I’d like to raise.

Here’s what I settled on: BRAVE. A she-knight. A happy she-knight.

Every she-knight needs a good steed.

By contrast, I was raised somewhere between tiger cub and helicopter landing pad. I was the all-A student sweeping the award ceremonies, spurred on from one accolade to the next, propelled by other people’s expectations of me. Perfection was the goal, not fulfillment or happiness.

I can’t blame my parents. They had the best intentions. They figured perfection would lead to success … ergo prestige, money, and security … ergo happiness. For many years, I thought that, too.

Then my first semester at Northwestern, I got a C. It was the hardest grade I’d ever worked for. And you know what? That “satifactory” was my best, and it made me happy. There was power and certainty in that awareness. It was the beginning of an essential life lesson I’ve been learning ever since.

That’s why I’m trying to make a living writing for myself rather than some marketing department. It’s less than half the money, but quadruple the satisfaction.

You don’t have to be perfect. No one is. But if you want to be happy, you have to be brave. And the psychological research is with me on this. According to the findings of Dr. Jean Twenge, among others, the best predictors of fulfillment and success are perseverance and resilience.

Similarly, in Gottlieb’s popular anti-helicopter-parenting article, she argues that parents need to come to terms with the fact that their “best” parenting efforts should really fall somewhere between doing too little and too much—for both the sake of the parent and the child.

For the children, too much protection from failure chips away at their “psychological immunity,” which they’ll need as adults. (Dan Gilbert also explored this phenomenon in his enlightening TED Talk on happiness).

For the parents, trying too hard causes stress, demonstrating to their kids that they overvalue the unrealistic pursuit of perfection and undervalue happiness, both their children’s and their own.

It takes bravery to aim for a parenting style somewhere in between. When you do, you turn your back on the “experts” and trust yourself.

Gottlieb theorized that this fear to be a less-than-perfect parent comes from “the hopeful belief that if we just make the right choices, that if we just do things a certain way, our kids will turn out to be not just happy adults, but adults that make us happy.‘”

I refuse to rely on my daughter’s happiness for my own. That’s unfair to her and to me (not to mention that it could set up an unhappy domino effect for her kids some day). Rather, I want to give her the tools to construct her own meaning of happiness and try to show her a good example through the way I live my own life.

I don’t want a pretty princess on a golden pedestal waiting for her white knight (or me) to save her every time she falls. I’d rather show her how to fall gracefully, get back up on her own horse, and ride off into the sunset, appreciating it all the more. Hopefully, she’ll lend a hand to other brave adventurers along the way, too.

With our children, as with ourselves as parents, let’s acknowledge our failures just as much as our triumphs.

Read the parenting articles or don’t. Pick a parenting style or don’t. Or make your own. Or blend them all up (literally or figuratively).

Just be brave enough to see past the means to the end: a happy, fulfilled, healthy person.

By recognizing the unavoidable pitfalls, confusion, and everyday bravery of being a parent, there’s so much more that we can learn about ourselves and teach our kids.

As Joseph Campbell said, “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”

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