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Parenting Style and Mental Health

How I changed my parenting style & eased my life

Parents have different styles or ways in which they prepare their kids. Nobody is born with the training of being a parent. Parents learn it on the job. So did I. Here I am listing the various styles of parenting I adopted and how they turned out. Am sure there is learning in this that other parents can pick from.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was excited and overwhelmed. I picked up almost the books I could that talked about pregnancy. After my son was born, I continued reading on parenting. I focused on teaching him self-care and discipline. However, slowly my focus drifted and my priorities changed. I kind of got sidetracked. Yet, I was observing that my son’s behavior was changing, he was getting more hooked to electronics and T.V, his grades were falling down, and he was not following the rules.

During the same time, I visited my relative’s place for a family gathering, she had two teenagers. When we entered the house, the host greeted us. The children were sitting in the corner watching their phones. I greeted them but they overlooked and didn’t respond. The whole evening, we were around, the children were by themselves in their respective rooms. I felt sorry that the children were neither involved in the family gathering nor did they seem to be happy.

This made me rethink and I sensed I was sailing in the same boat. I recalibrated my priorities and that is when I started looking around parenting styles and their effects on children’s mental health. After understanding each parenting style, I discovered I was being a permissive and uninvolved parent.

Permissive Parenting

As a permissive parent, I was nurturing and loving towards my kid. My kid’s freedom mattered to me more than him becoming responsible. I wished I could have both - freedom and responsibility, but generally one tends to come at the cost of the other. I as a parent enforced rules yet there hardly were any consequences when the rules were not followed. Permissive parents generally bribe or dangle carrots of toys, gifts and incentives and expect the kids to behave as per their expectations. This is different from positive reinforcement, where positive behavior is rewarded and negative ignored. In positive reinforcement, parents reward children with toys and gifts when they do a good job, not bribe them to behave. In retrospect, I feel I could have been a better positive reinforcer than a permissive parent.

Uninvolved Parenting

Uninvolved parenting, as the name says, parents don’t respond to their child’s needs or desires beyond providing them basic needs like: food, shelter, and clothing. It's like I don’t know so I don’t care. Parents provide little guidance, discipline, and nurturing to their children. Oftentimes, kids are left to raise themselves and make their own decisions. This helps the kid grow in self-confidence and tends to become an independent adult. Yet, what the kid misses on is coachability and ability to listen and course-correct. Also, you are leaving the kid open to all kinds of potentially unfiltered influences, such as Internet and mobile addiction.

Authoritarian Parenting

In the Authoritarian parenting style, children are expected to follow strict rules established by their parents. Failure to follow these rules usually results in punishment. Authoritarian parents don't explain the reason why children should have rules and boundaries. If children ask, why should we follow the rules? the parents will reply, "Because I said so." This parenting style leads to children who are obedient and proficient, but they may rank lower in happiness, social competence, and self-esteem.

It is important to know that kids follow what you do and not what you say. If you don’t give reasons for rules, they themselves would not open up to you and may try to follow your style. Authority always comes with responsibility. So if you demand authority you must act responsibly. Here kids may be dealing with mental wellbeing issues such as unwanted stress, or anxiety, and yet they may be too scared to open up to you as there could be consequences running in their mind.

Authoritative Parenting

In this style, parents are responsive to their children and they are willing to listen to their questions and answer them patiently. However, parents do expect a lot from their children. In addition, they provide warmth, feedback, and adequate support for the child's needs. Nevertheless, if the child fails to meet the expectations, parents nurture and forgive the child rather than punishing. Authoritative parent’s children are considered to be happy, capable, and successful. It is full of positive reinforcements, intangible rewards and availability. Children crave for attention and approval of their heroes: their parents.

In my parenting journey I finally evolved to the authoritative style as I sensed it would work for me and is appropriate. This definitely required me changing myself first. I set reasonable rules in the house and expected my son to respect those rules. However, if he failed to do so, I patiently and repeatedly explained to him why he needs to stick to the rules and if he still doesn’t obey, he faces consequences like: cutting down his playtime or no playtime for weeks. Furthermore, from time to time I set goals for him.

Sometimes he failed to meet them and got disappointed. However, I always asked him one question, are you happy? He says, “No”. Then, I would ask him, why? Often he would say, “I should have put in more effort for better results.” My effort was directed to help him process and realize why he couldn’t meet the goal. This was a very different approach from how previously he would try to not make me upset instead. Our vocabulary now was about goal and effort instead of blame and upset. Later, as the situation demanded, I adjusted my parenting style. For instance, at times even now, I become too authoritative with my son. Here my partner would take a Permissive approach to balance it out.

As parents it’s hard to be balanced, understanding, and nurturing on a day-to-day basis. Occasionally, we lose our equilibrium. Building resilience is critical. However, once we find the parenting style that works for us and our kids it makes our parenting so very enjoyable. Raising kids is a big responsibility and it is important we keep it enjoyable.

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