While most of us prepare for the births of our children by purchasing a layette and considering baby names, the question of how we will parent often doesn’t actually arise until our little ones are toddlers or even later. “Deciding what kind of parent you want to be is one of the most important questions you will ever explore,” says Leslie Parrott, Ph.D., who co-authored The Parent You Want To Be with her husband, Les. “How you answer this question will shape your child’s life.”
Parrott, co-director at the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University, remembers thinking about this issue with her husband five years ago, when their first child was 3-years-old: “My husband and I hired a babysitter and went to a romantic mountain retreat 30 minutes from our home in Seattle,” she says. “We spent 24 hours of uninterrupted time talking about what kinds of parents we wanted to be and what kinds of kids we wanted to raise.” Rather than discussing parenting techniques or philosophies, the Parrotts discussed their personal traits. “We took a hard look at our own unique personalities and even the personalities of our parents,” Parrott says.
Family experts say we typically develop our parenting styles based on our own childhood experiences. Yet, while some people may be mirror images of their own parents, others develop a style that sharply contrasts how they were raised. “I always had a great relationship with my parents, but they separated when I was a teenager and it became harder for me to talk to them,” says Brooke Hughes of Gardnerville, NV, mom to Madison. “I want my daughter to know she can always come to me when she has problems or needs advice.”
Even if your parents made mistakes, it’s possible to become a better parent than they were. “If you want your children to have a different childhood than you did, you need to make a conscious effort to raise them in a manner that reflects your own values and beliefs,” Parrott says.
Amanda Woodhead of Nashville, TN, and her husband, Matthew, discussed how they wanted to parent their daughter, Shelby, long before she was born. “We talked about how we planned to praise and discipline Shelby,And what values we wanted to instill in her,” Woodhead says. “Both Matthew and I have seen marriages end because parents failed to discuss these issues and discovered they had very different beliefs.”
To determine your own unique parenting styles, Parrott suggests talking with your partner about the qualities you appreciated and admired in your own parents, and what you wish your parents had done differently. The second step is discussing what each of you needs to do better in order to become the best parent you could be. (See “Affirmative Action” on p. 49.)
“For my husband, that meant addressing his hardworking lifestyle,” Parrott says. “He didn’t want to be a father who was preoccupied and distracted, but rather a father who was connected and attentive and really tuned into his child’s life.”
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
In the 1960s, University of California research psychologist Diana Baumrind developed a classification of parenting styles that some developmental psychologists still use today: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and uninvolved. Now, however, most parenting experts agree the best parenting style is a customized approach that reflects your own personal strengths.
In her book, MotherStyles: Using Personality Type to Discover Your Parenting Strengths, Janet P. Penley, a mother of two, discusses how parents can use the My ers-Briggs system of personality type to determine their parenting styles. In all, Penley has categorized 16 types of parenting styles—combinations of extrovert vs. introvert, thinker vs. feeler, sensing vs. intuitive, and judging vs. perceiving.
“Knowing your personality type helps you to better understand yourself and others,” Penley says. “When you see a mom looking happy and relaxed, despite the fact that her four young children are running around the supermarket, it’s probably because her personality type is energized by action and stimulation, while your own type may crave calm and quiet.”
And just because your parenting style differs from that of your friends, parents, or in-laws, it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Penley says that understanding different personality types gives parents the tools they need to improve relationships with their families and to strike a balance that makes everyone happy.
“Type parenting can help moms and dads learn how to use their strengths to effectively co-parent,” Penley says. “They can help you to diffuse conflict and learn how to negotiate with your partner.” As an example, Penley cites a mother with a “judging” personality type, one who likes an orderly, planned lifestyle and is a stickler on getting her children to bed at the same time every night. Her husband on the other hand may be a “perceiving” dad, who likes to take life as it comes and is more flexible and spontaneous, feeling that the children should go to bed whenever they are tired rather than at an exact time. “Knowing each other’s personality types, these two parents can work with Each other’s parenting styles,” Penley says.
“Maybe Sunday through Thursday, the children go to bed at a set time, while on Fridays and Saturdays, they stay up later.”
Candice Dhane, of Yakima, WA, has already discovered that she and her husband, Matt, have different parenting styles. “When it comes to discipline, I can see myself more as the ‘let’s talk about it’ kind of mom, where Matt is more of the ‘go to your room and think about it’ kind of dad,” says Dhane, mom to 6-month-old Jackson. “I think that by working together, our parenting styles can complement each other.We both had great parenting role models and we both want the best for Jackson.”
Karol Ladd, a Texas-based mom and author of numerous books including, The Power of A Positive Mom, believes it’s possible for all parents to achieve a positive parenting style based on their individual strengths. “In addition to focusing on discipline and saying no when your child does something wrong, it’s also important to encourage them when they are doing something right,” Ladd says. “If you find your little one being kind and sharing their toys, compliment them on their behavior. By rewarding them with good words, it makes them want to rise to the challenge.”
In her book, Ladd cites the seven principles of being a positive parent as the powers of encouragement: prayer, a good attitude, strong relationships, leading by example, strong moral standards, and love and forgiveness. “When you start talking about parenting styles, I think parents need to discuss how they plan to handle the three D’s: dishonesty, disrespect, and disobedience,” Ladd says. “The essential challenge for new parents is to be consistent with their children and to find common ground as they learn the parenting style that works best for their family.”
Linda Childers is a California-based freelance writer and mother of a son. She frequently contributes articles to Redbook and More.
What’s Your Style?
According to Penley’s system, people have innate mind-sets in four different areas: energy, information, judgment, and outer-world structure. To learn about your personality type in parenting, take this MotherStyles.com quiz.
1. Are you extroverted or introverted?
Extroverted parents are energized by going, doing, interacting, and experiencing. They are typically “in the know” and get children out to experience the world. Too much time isolated at home can make them feel shaky and ungrounded. They are uncomfortable with a child who is more of a loner and needs a lot of solitude.
Introverted parents are energized by solitude and time alone.They are observant, reflective, and prefer one-on-one interactions.They know their children as individuals and provide them with “downtime” to unwind and recharge. Drained by too much interaction, they must guard their energy to make it through the day without exploding.
2. Are you sensing or intuitive?
Sensing parents focus on details and specifics. They attend to practicalities and the here and now.Hands-on parents, they see to children’s basic needs and do concrete activities with them. They struggle to join in a child’s imagination or understand a child who is different.They can get stuck in a rut.
Intuitive parents focus on the big picture and possibilities.They quickly leap from facts to patterns and themes. They encourage children’s creativity and imagination, point up options and offer them choices. Drained by the nittygritty, they struggle to deal with practicalities and be realistic.
3. Are you thinking or feeling?
Thinking parents trust logic, objectivity, and impersonal analysis.They let children do for themselves, foster independence, and answer children’s why’s in order to fuel their rational development. They struggle to tune in to and be patient with children’s irrational feelings.
Feeling parents rely on values, feelings, and personal information to decide. They strive to be physically and emotionally close, attuned to children’s feelings, and go to great lengths to make them happy. Seeking family harmony, they struggle to say no and be firm if it may cause conflict.
4. Are you judging or perceiving?
Judging parents are intentional parents who like structure, plans, limits, and order. They are adept at organizing day-to-day living so kids feel secure and don’t miss out.
They aim to get things done on time and in the right way, but struggle with adapting to the unexpected, relaxing, and having fun.
Perceiving parents take things as they come and keep their options open. They are flexible, spontaneous, and generally tolerant and accepting of children. They enjoy hanging out and can be relaxed about clutter, but struggle to do chores regularly and keep the house in order.
Take your results to motherstyles.com/quiz.asp to determine your personality type and the type of your partner, as well as information about how you can use your personality type to enrich your family relationships.
We all tend to parent as we were parented. For some people, it may be important that you make changes to the methods your mother and father used. To learn what those changes are, complete the statements as they apply to your family of origin. Record your answers in a journal or on a separate sheet of paper.
In my family…
1. The children were _____________________ .
2. My mother was the ________________ and my father was the ________________ .
3. We ________________ together.
4. Birthdays were ________________ .
5. The children were punished __________ .
6. My parents never ________________ .
7. Discipline was ________________ .
8. We showed love by________________ .
9. My parents always ________________ .
10. The rules were ___________________ .
Take a look at your responses. Take the positive aspects and place them in one column on a page. Next look at the negative aspects and change each of them into a positive affirmation of how you would like to parent your child.
Now make a list of the positive parenting statements that you will incorporate into your parenting plan. Use these affirma tions daily as they will make a great difference in your ability to project positivity, harness any doubts and fears, and help your mind focus on desires as a new parent.
Some samples of positive affirmations:
• I will speak to my child in a calm tone of voice.
• I understand that my child is innocent and growing in wisdom.
• I will take deep breaths to reduce an emotional charge.
• I will connect with my child in the heart.
Excerpted from New Parents Are People Too: 8 Secrets to Surviving Parenthood as Individuals and as a Couple, by Sharon Fried Buchalter, Ph.D.
— Linda Childers