When my oldest daughter was born I remember loading her into her pumpkin car seat, driving away from the hospital and thinking “wait – where’s the instruction manual for this thing we are taking home?” I recall my wife and I staring at each other when we got home thinking “holy shit, what do we do now?” If you are a parent, I bet you had a similar experience.
Something that would have been helpful is if new parents were advised to take parenting classes. We tend to parent based on how our parents raised us – taking some of what was good, avoiding what they did we thought was bad. But, that’s about the extent of it. We don’t receive formal parenting instruction.
Fortuitously, I happened to attend parenting classes years ago that were being offered by my daughter’s school, a program called “Parenting with Love and Logic.” I believe it upped my parenting game and I wish I had learned the techniques from the workshop when my kids were infants.
A key concept from Parenting with Love and Logic is that there are three main parenting styles:
1. The Helicopter Parent.
This sort of parent constantly hovers over their children and tries to keep them from making mistakes. They try to protect their children from the cruel world and all harm. These parents make decisions for their children.
The implicit message a helicopter parent sends is “you can’t make good decisions on your own – I have to do things for you.”
2. The Drill Sergeant Parent
The drill sergeant parent commands and directs the lives of their children. They order their children around and are strict disciplinarians. Their commands often come with threats such as “get your homework done and show it to me or you are grounded this weekend.” Like helicopter parents, drill sergeant parents keep their children from making mistakes but do so in a different manner – by giving orders.
The message a drill sergeant parent sends is “you can’t think – I have to do your thinking for you.” Drill sergeant parents also tend to think how they are parenting is the best way and that all other parents are too weak.
3. The Consultant Parent.
Consultant parents are like coaches. They provide their children with alternatives and let the child decide. They say “It’s not my life – it’s yours – you get to decide. Good luck to you.” These parents hold their children accountable for their decisions but allow them to make mistakes and to learn from their mistakes.
A key thing Consultant Parents do is allow their kids to make “affordable mistakes.” These are mistakes that have negative consequences that they learn from but won’t ruin their lives. For example, a Consultant Parent will allow their child to half-ass and turn in a crappy science project in elementary school or junior high, get a bad grade, and learn from it so they won’t mess up in high school or college when grades really count. Helicopter and drill sergeant parents will ensure (each in their own way) that the project is done well now but rob the child of the negative experience that they can learn from receiving a bad grade.
Being a Consultant Parent is what we as parents are supposed to be. It’s really hard to do. Giving your child alternatives and allowing them to make mistakes is VERY HARD.
The diagrams in this post come from Jim Fay’s book Helicopters, Drill Sergeants & Consultants: Parenting Styles and the Messages They Send. To learn more about Parenting with Love and Logic, here’s their website with links to their books and their training sessions: love and logic