Beyond the 4 Types of Parenting Styles: Should we stop labeling parents?

Helicopter, snow plough, tiger, crunchy, attachment, free range… It seems like a new style of parenting emerges every other day. One day you think you fit into this box, and then the next you find another description that better matches your approach. 

types of parenting styles

No matter what kind of parent you consider yourself to be, we can agree that raising children can be equal parts rewarding and challenging. It’s a privilege for sure, but it doesn’t come without its tough moments – or months. And it’s in those difficult times that we need a community to support us, to lift us up and have our backs. 

I’m talking about the times when your toddler has a meltdown in the grocery store line. Those times when you’ve tried everything and the fellow parent behind you happens to have a lollipop in their pocket.

They ask you if it’s okay to give it to your temporary gremlin of a child and the fit ends. The other parent doesn’t judge you, maybe they even say, “I know how it is.” Those five words alone can help a parent get through that tiny terrible moment that can otherwise feel like an eternity.

To combat mommy shaming in particular, which is so prevalent today because of social media – but not to say it didn’t always exist – we see calls from celebrities and influencers to lead with kindness and empathy.

There is a movement to relate to those going through early days of parenthood and to offer support in useful ways. Fed is best. Postpartum anxiety happens. New moms need someone to clean the house while she sleeps, not flowers. These messages are getting out there. People are receiving them. And that’s progress. 

Still, every time a new term or type of parenting makes headlines. I can’t help but think we’re doing more harm than good. With every new label we’re creating more opportunity for division when what we so desperately need is unity. 

Parenting Styles or Stigma?

Do these labels that we so quickly generate feel like just another way to judge parents? Or do you find it helpful to fit in with a well-defined community following the same approach? 

It’s true that children are all different.

A family with three kids can all have very different behaviors and personalities. So, why do we expect one style of parenting to fit all kids? It can feel like the choice is a reflection of the adult’s preference and desire to attach themselves to something they can belong to–something they can cling to in moments of doubt. 

And talking about ourselves and our style is just one piece of it. Labeling other parents can happen without even noticing it and that is when things get messy. 

“Oh, she’s an almond mom so they won’t come to the bake sale.” 

“You know they’re helicopter parents, so they won’t let him climb the monkey bars alone.”

“They choose free-range parenting, that’s why their kids run around like little chicks when it’s time to go.” 

We’re not only labeling ourselves, but we’re labeling others, too. And that works against the idea of parent-to-parent understanding and support. 

Traditional Parenting Styles 

While there are new parenting styles that we talk about often, the American Psychological Association lists three traditional types:

The Authoritative Parent

Children raised with this style are thought to be friendly, energetic, cheerful, self-reliant, self-controlled, curious, cooperative and achievement-oriented. Parents are nurturing, responsive, and supportive, yet set firm limits for their children. Explaining rules, discussing, and reasoning can help control child behaviors.

Those following the authoritarian parenting style may use punishments instead of discipline. An authoritarian parent will generally listen to a child’s viewpoint, but won’t always accept it.

The Permissive Parent

Children raised with this parenting style can be impulsive, rebellious, aimless, domineering, aggressive and low in self-reliance, self-control and achievement. Those practicing a permissive parenting style regularly show warmth, but are rather lax about strict rules or blind obedience.

The Uninvolved Parent

Children raised via the uninvolved parenting style tend to have low self-esteem and little self-confidence and seek other role models. Parents will be unresponsive, unavailable, and offer little guidance and nurturing.

The neglect from an uninvolved parent may not be intentional. A parent suffering from depression, substance abuse problems, or mental health issues may not be able to be as involved in their child’s life.

These different types of approaches were defined by developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind in the 1960s. A fourth style, neglectful parenting, was added later based on the work of other child psychology researchers. 

There’s no such thing as the perfect parent. In fact, much can be said for embracing imperfect parenting. And many parents don’t fit into one category. They may incorporate different characteristics of these styles based on various situations.

New Types of Parenting Styles

I guess the restrictiveness of the traditional styles helped to spawn these new ways of parenting. Many of these take child development into consideration, while some are clearly more about the parent than the child.

Here’s a look at some of the popular parenting methods that rival tradition:

Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter parents get the name from their tendency to constantly hover over their child, never giving them a chance to make their own decisions or do things for themselves. They are overly focused on their children and can inhibit personal growth because they are always available to help or shield their child. Children can miss out on fundamental learning experiences and may require consistent support and reassurance as they grow.

Snowplow Parenting

A bit similar to the helicopter approach, this parenting style removes all obstacles from a child’s path so they don’t experience pain, failure, or discomfort. In doing so, the child will miss out on developing coping skills and building resilience. 

Free Range Parenting

Unlike the previous two styles, a free range parent seeks to allow kids to have the freedom to experience the natural consequences of their behavior—when it’s safe to do so. It’s also about ensuring kids have the skills they need to become responsible adults.

Puddle Parenting

Puddle parents believe that their children should experience the joy of everyday interruptions, like playing in the rain and jumping in puddles even if their shoes get wet. The idea is that these children will be well-rounded and be able to adapt easily; however, they may struggle with structured environments.

Gentle Parenting

This is an evidence-based approach to raising happy, confident children. This parenting style is composed of four main elements — empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries — and focuses on fostering the qualities you want in your child by being compassionate and enforcing consistent boundaries.

Attachment Parenting

This way of parenting is about nurturing the connection between the parent and child. Attachment Parenting often involves breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping (which doesn’t always include bed sharing). Because of the strong bond and high responsiveness, the child will be secure, independent, and empathetic.

Some consider these to be indulgent parents, but in reality, meeting a child’s needs early on to helps them to establish the type of trust that allows them to be more independent as they mature.

Almond Mom

This is a new one that focuses on a parent’s disordered eating and how that can impact a child’s own diet. 

Tiger Parents

Coined back in 2011, this style of parenting pushes their children with high expectations for their academic achievement or success in high-status extracurricular activities such as music or sports. Some research has found a correlation between tiger parenting and anxiety and burnout in children, likely due to high demands and expectations for perfection.

Crunchy Parenting

This term can cover parents who prefer to bring up their children in the most natural, environmentally friendly way that they can, think cloth diapers and reusable wipes. They focus on relying on your own instincts and will stay away from mainstream recommendations. Children raised with this method are thought to be mindful and aware of the world around them. 

Surely there are more different parenting styles out there. But even with just this group, you can see overlap and similarities between some types. Still, there is often a desire to fit into just one box. 

Should We Criticize Each Other’s Parenting Styles?

If we wanted to pick a style and that gave us comfort and purpose, I suppose that would be okay. But it’s when judgment comes into play that our village, our community of parents, begins to crumble. 

Our society is so ready to judge that there’s even been a TV show made around it. “The Parenting Test” is a show that features 12 families, each using different styles, and giving them different challenges to see which style is most effective in raising healthy, well-rounded kids. 

Green Child Magazine reader Karolina shared her take, “My husband and I are watching The Parenting Test [and] while I disagree with several of these labels, which I think are just variations on a theme, I do find it helpful to reflect on our style with their examples. Karolina’s kids ages six and nine started watching the show with their parents and actually wanted them to join the show because they like how we do things and think they could win. 

“We’re having a very difficult time finding families whose values match ours, as it seems chaos prevails everywhere we go, and discipline is a dirty word for many parents. We espouse Nicholeen Peck’s Teaching Self Government approach, by the way. Relationships first, well-defined roles, family culture built starting with a family mission statement. We’re always tweaking and reassessing how we can improve. Parenting is the single most important thing we’ll ever do, so we want to get it right!”

So, maybe labels aren’t all bad.

Many of these have benefits when it comes to children’s behavior and overall wellbeing. Maybe we just have to be careful to compare and contrast and not criticize. 

But Do We Really Need to Label How We Parent?

Another reader, Chrislyn believes that parenting labels, like any label, are a double-edged sword. “On one hand, it allows you to find like-minded parents with whom you can discuss ideas, share advice and personal anecdotes about a particular topic, and find community for your kids and yourself.

On the other hand, the label can be used the same way other labels are: as a stereotype definition and it can invite unwelcome opinions, even hatred, about the way you choose to parent.”

Perhaps we should stop trying to define ourselves and others as parents and instead focus on being flexible and willing to adapt to the needs of our kids? Let their needs tell us how we should respond and nurture them. Truly, I feel like I can attribute almost all of the new styles to an hour each day. 

As the mother, I’m like a thermostat that sets the emotional climate of the home. When I tune in and trust my own instincts, I don’t really need a label or outside advice to tell me how to parent my child.

As Chrislyn puts it, “For me, I don’t label my parenting anymore because it’s constantly evolving as I learn and discover new things and ways to teach my children to be good citizens of the world. I approach parenting styles like I approach everything else: I respect it, can learn from it, but it doesn’t define how I parent because each family is unique and should be treated as such.” 

So what about you?

Do you find comfort and direction in following a specific style? Or are you into the idea of shedding labels all together? Let us know in the comments.

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