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What Kind of Parent Are You? A Guide to Parenting Styles

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re loving, you’re giving, you’ve made more sacrifices than a ninety-nine-year-old monk. But what is your parenting style. Take a look at these descriptions and find out. From YOU: Raising Your Child by Drs. Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet Oz

It’s easy to make the comparison between the elements of a river’s environment and the elements of a child’s environment. On the river, it’s the rate of the rapids, the number of rocks in the way, the tree branches that’ll guillotine you if you don’t duck; in other words, as in life, it’s a combination of the expected and the unexpected. For the child, it’s everything from his home and his toys to his friends and family. They’re all part of the landscape that determines how easy or difficult it will be for him to reach his destination.

But the most important element in determining how your child’s boat will run the river of life is his river guide: you.

Until your child is old enough to hold a paddle and strong enough to navigate life’s currents on his own, the job is yours. How you decide to manage the currents of childhood and parenthood is absolutely the number one environmental contributor to overall child development.

Our goal in [YOU: Raising Your Child] is simple. We want to make it easy for you to set your course and go with the flow, rather than feel like you’re paddling upstream. We’re going to help you find the best paddle, and we’ll help you choose the best route for you: smooth sailing if that’s your preference, or a safe white-water experience if you’re more adventurous. In either case, the goal is to raise a child who is secure and skilled enough that you can eventually hand the paddle over to him to practice a few strokes here and there and, ultimately, to take total control for himself.

So where do we start? With a question that you need to answer now and reassess every so often during your parenting journey:

What kind of parent are you?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re loving, you’re giving, you’ve made more sacrifices than a ninety-nine-year-old monk. We’re with you, and we know that’s the deep-down truth for the majority of parents in the world. Our question, though, is much more about your parenting style. What kind of environment are you creating for your child through your words, your actions, your approach to discipline, and your attentiveness?

There are two basic ways to think about parenting styles — one that reflects how you deal with authority, and one that reflects your overall parenting personality. So take a look at the following catalog of parenting descriptions to see what best describes you.


Zero Authority: The Pudding Pop or Marshmallow Mommy
soft, easy, sweet to the point of being unhealthy — i.e., a pushover.

This parental variety comes in all shapes and forms, but its most notable trait is the ability to say “Yes, sweetie” to offspring in any situation. As in: “Yes, you can go to bed whenever you like.” “Yes, you may have cotton candy for dinner.” “Yes, you may swing from the monkey bars with your teeth.” More interested in being a friend than a parent, this type offers little guidance, often to the point of seeming to be disengaged or uncaring. These moms and dads have several predators: namely, their own offspring, as kids learn to manipulate parental units in all situations. Potential for destruction to relationship runs high.

Hyper Authority: The Iron Maiden or Master
rigid, inflexible, superscary for everyone — i.e., a tyrant.

This fierce species comes with very sharp teeth and a loud growl to scare off any and all challengers in the quest for complete control. Parent will roar with a series of “No, not a chance!” responses, even to the most innocent of requests from offspring. Species rules the only way it knows how, having descended from equally controlling parents of its own. This beast creates a tension that can be felt not only throughout its own tribe but also throughout neighboring tribes as well. While the strong-arm approach can work to achieve short-term goals, long-term damage is likely, as tension escalates and offspring rebellion rates soar.

Sensible Authority: The Flex-a-Family
establishes ground rules with clear priorities (health, safety) and logical consequences for actions. Authority is exercised in a warm, loving environment, and is balanced with flexibility to allow kids to play and explore.

This species has a firm, foam-pillow-like quality to it: strong enough to provide support but soft enough to provide comfort. Parents work together and understand that raising the young requires a firm set of rules that teach offspring protective societal boundaries. But they also give offspring enough space to learn and grow on their own. Parents are not afraid to say no, but when they do, it’s not about exerting control but about teaching why an action or behavior is unsafe or unacceptable. Success rates of raising a healthy, happy child are highest among this species.

Once you’ve identified which species of parent you tend to resemble most in regards to your approach to authority, consider your overall parenting personality:


The Hyper Parent
always on the go, go, go — moving, scheduling, social climbing — and doing everything for child, so that he never learns to do for himself.

The Hyper Parent views parenting as an extreme sport. Everything is controlled, and everything is the best (best pizza, best camp, best school, best neighborhood). Every minute is scheduled with not a minute spared for actually thinking or feeling or relaxing. Why waste time daydreaming when you could be working with flash cards? Gotta get your child involved in everything, and if he isn’t the best, get a coach or a tutor who will make him the best. Make him shower in antibacterial gel. Do absolutely every single task by the book with no wiggle room at all. Perfect parenting, if you will.

The Absent Parent
solitary creature who camouflages self into the background or is too busy with own life to pay attention to the child.

Here the parent is as uninvolved as possible: plops the kid in front of the TV so the parent can take care of his or her own life. There’s little or no social and emotional interaction. The thought process is clear: Let the kid fend for himself and learn the hard knocks as they come. “My parents didn’t do one thing with me when I was a kid, and look at me, I turned out just fine.”

The Go-with-the-Flow Parent (GWTFP)
adaptable, able to make decisions based on the specific situation at hand.

Life is unpredictable, kids are unpredictable. So the GWTFP remains flexible and adapts to any and all kinds of parenting situations and struggles. That means helping your child live in a balanced world that’s neither too lax nor too tough. Life shouldn’t be boot camp for a child, nor should it be a twenty-four-hour playground, either. It should be a little bit of both. The GWTFP knows how to balance appropriate stimulation with downtime and unstructured play. Providing free time is key to cultivating imagination and creativity (which teaches kids to think outside the box and to innovatively solve problems later in life). Unstructured play — at the beach, on the playground — also helps teach kids social skills as well as how to deal with the unexpected.

Note: A GWTFP should not be confused with a Marshmallow Mommy or Pudding Pop; there’s a difference between laissez-faire and loving limits. And absentee parents can be darn totalitarian when they do show up. To produce the healthiest environment for your child’s development, we recommend that you aim to be a GWTFP with a Flex-a-Family style.

There are big implications for parenting in any of the extreme environments: Each end of the spectrum can create tension for kids, albeit for different reasons. In fact, some research suggests that chronic stress (the same kind of stress that would be experienced by youngsters in any of these four familial situations) hinders the development of memory. Other studies suggest that the same kind of chronic stress in kids can be linked to obesity later in life. Still more science shows that a highly temperamental parent leads to all kinds of problems in kids, including anxiety, shyness, and behavioral problems. Not good, needless to say. This is also one of the reasons why nurturing your relationship with your spouse or significant other is so important to your child’s health, as stress can come in the form of observing constant parental conflict.

Our goal as parents is to create the optimal learning environment for our children so that they develop competency and can eventually handle the world themselves. If your parenting style falls too far on the “easy” end of the spectrum, you don’t give them the boundaries that they need to grow and to assimilate with their peers (not to mention assimilating with adults, too). And if your style falls too far on the tyrannical or hyper end, you’re teaching your kids to live life scared, and that creates stress and anxiety levels that actually inhibit learning.

For some, finding that middle ground of parenting — the one in which you’re strong yet flexible — will come naturally. But it’s not always easy, and, at times, many have a hard time finding the middle. Sometimes it’s because it’s easier just to give in than to fight with your child or try to explain why-oh-why he can’t have Guitar Hero when he turns two. And sometimes it’s because having an iron fist can keep a child from even making such a request. And sometimes it’s just easier after a long day to flip on the TV than read The Cat in the Hat for the eighty millionth time. The fact is that it actually takes a reasonable amount of work, discipline, and focus to live in that middle ground day after day, hour after hour, parenting challenge after parenting challenge.

Michael F. Roizen, M.D., is a four-time New York Times number one bestselling author, and is cofounder and originator of the very popular website. He is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute of the Cleveland Clinic and chief medical consultant of The Doctor Oz Show. Mehmet Oz, M.D., is also a New York Times number one best-selling author and Emmy Award-winning host of The Dr. Oz Show. He is professor and vice chairman of surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and the director of the Heart Institute. They are the authors of YOU: Raising Your Child (Copyright © 2010 by Michael F. Roizen, M.D., and Oz Works, LLC).





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