- Written by Lynn U. Nichols Lynn U. Nichols
Do what works best for your family
Parenting trends shift and change with the winds of each generation. Some are the same as in the past, just rearranged to appear new. Others come in like a storm to mix everything up, like the tiger parent who pushes kids to be high academic achievers at all costs, or the helicopter parent who stays in their child’s business long past high school graduation. When a strong wind comes along, the next generation tends to react to it, sometimes by going the opposite direction. Take the authoritative style of parenting in the past, where children only spoke when spoken to, received punishments, and were expected to be little adults. It brought on the highly permissive, child-first movement in the 80s and 90s, where kids needs came first and discipline became a dirty word.
Which brings us to today’s parents. Where have the winds settled? It seems extreme is out, reasonability and practicality is in. Helicopter parenting is giving way to third-child parenting, where parents are more relaxed, and kids are less hovered over and allowed more freedoms. French-style parenting, where parents’ needs are more equal, is gaining ground on child-first parenting. Quality time still reigns over quantity of time, and parents are more willing than ever to ask for help. What’s your style? Whatever it is, know there are many options and hold your own on doing what works best for our family.
“There are a lot of ways to be a healthy family, so pick a style that fits you and your family. If you have more than one child you may have to parent each child differently. One child might respond well to one approach while another might not,” says Andrea Holt, LMFT, CAC III, Marriage and Family Therapist with UCHealth's Family Medicine Center in Fort Collins.
Helicopter whizzes out, third-child settles in
You are likely familiar with the idea of helicopter parenting. It’s about orchestrating the world to make sure your child succeeds. Instead of letting your children advocate for themselves, you put down the landing gear and call their teacher yourself. Or, you put finishing touches on an art project, wake them up in the morning to a ready breakfast, arrange their daily schedule, fill out college application forms, or rework a composition paper to the extreme. The downside is your kids don’t learn to do these things themselves, so when they are out on their own they may lack the confidence to do so, or feel overwhelmed trying.
Today’s parents are starting to get this, having possibly grown up with a helicopter parent themselves, and are relaxing the controls and setting the copter down more often. Third-style parenting is parenting your first as if they were your third, without high expectations of perfectionism, and with independence and the acceptance of natural consequences.
“I still see a fair bit of helicopter parenting across generations, and I see parents who are not millennials with a more third-child parenting style. I think it depends more on finding something that fits with your temperament and your child’s needs versus endorsing one specific style,” Holt adds.
French parenting lands smoothly, child-first skids
Some American families are trying the French style of parenting, where kids’ needs don’t always come first, and parents put equal effort in maintaining their own relationship as they do in raising their kids. French parents give their kids more independence early on, they are less focused on highlighting their kids’ individuality, and they don’t jump at every desire. They set a few concrete rules and do less catering to—rarely making separate meals or allowing kids to talk back. They are more relaxed about doing everything just right and more apt to go with the flow. They trust their instincts rather than what their neighbors are doing, and know there is a balance to everything—all without the guilt. That’s the ideal, anyway.
“There’s a fair bit of research supporting that when couples make their lives all about their children, their marriages suffer. Data shows that by adopting a child-first parenting style where parents rearrange everything for their children and don’t prioritize their own needs or their needs as a couple, their chance for divorce increases. I talk to my clients about creating balance and building self-care and couple care into their lives,” Holt says.
It’s not about ignoring your child to take care of yourself; it’s about knowing it’s okay to not make every single one of your child’s practices or events. It’s about sometimes responding with an “in a while, mom needs some relax time,” when the need is not urgent. It’s carving out time each week to just be a couple.
“It’s good for kids to see parents nurturing their relationship. It makes them feel secure, and they learn how to have a happy marriage. It’s not selfish, it’s like the airlines say, ‘put on your own mask before helping your child.’ The same goes for parenting,” Holt adds
Asking for help and getting creative with childcare take off
Parents are realizing they can’t do it all on their own—especially those who work two jobs to support a family. Families are getting creative on how to hodgepodge childcare together whether that’s hiring two child care providers, working opposite shifts, working from home, exchanging childcare with friends, or calling on neighbors or family for help. When a nanny or provider is hired to come in the home, more parents are relying on them to help with the daily grind including light housekeeping, cooking meals, and transporting kids to and from activities.
“Parents are getting really creative to make things work, and parenting well is far more about quality than quantity. You can spend all the time in the world with your child, but if it’s not quality time, it matters less than if you actively engage with them,” Holt says.
Remember, what works for other families may not work for yours. Some parents have the luxury of not working and being there at every step of their kids’ days. Trust what you do is good enough.
“With social media, we now get a window into other families’ lifestyles and it creates a lot of comparison and judgment. It doesn’t offer the most accurate or well-rounded representation of a family and it can be damaging to make assumptions. There are a lot of ways to be a healthy family. Don’t worry about what other people are doing, do what works for you,” concludes Holt.
Making time for quality time
With electronic devices taking over our lives and hyper-connectivity to everything and everyone is at our fingertips, some families are opting for device-free times and concentrating on real connections, instead. Here are some ways to bring more quality time into your home.
- Create a daily ‘devices down’ time and call it ‘family time’
- Take turns picking how to spend the time
- Be active together—ride bikes, play board games, wrestle, shoot hoops, play bean bag toss in the back yard, build forts, play hide and seek
- Share stories about your days
- Engage in a conversation about something that really matters to your child, even if you think it’s silly
- Snuggle, give backrubs, and get cozy together
- Make eye contact and really listen, without interrupting or giving advice