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Finding the right fit amongst the popular parenting theories

Published: November 3, 2023

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Parenting theories or approaches that “experts” promote as The Right (or Wrong) Way to raise kids have taken on many forms and names over the years. For example, today there’s Gentle, Attachment, Tiger, Snowplow, Helicopter, Free Range, or Positive – just to name a few. Somehow, certain theories or approaches to parenting grab hold of the general public and become the de rigueur in certain parenting circles or cultures. Many of them have overlapping ideas; some are drastically different. One thing they all have in common, however, is a set of clear assumptions about the role of parents, the expectations for kids – and how parents and kids should (or shouldn’t) interact. And finding the right fit for you family isn’t always easy.

The confusing world of popular parenting theories

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All of these approaches offer something interesting to learn. Some are even born from solid foundations based on what we know about parents’ and kids’ growth and wellbeing. That said, it’s also not always clear how a theory translates into day-to-practice when you’re deep in the trenches of parenting. Like, how do I practice gentle parenting when we really just need to get out the door? (Don’t despair: There are solutions!)

Finding a parenting ethos that feels right to you gets even more complicated when, inevitably, much of the popular press and social media don’t fairly or fully describe the options. Articles, parenting blogs, and self-help parenting books, often reduce these theories down to their most rigid and dogmatic ideas. By doing so, what gets highlighted are the basic and sensationalistic themes around what it means to follow any particular approach. Does attachment parenting really mean that you must ALWAYS wear your baby, every minute of every day? (Short answer: No!)

Then there are all the naysayers or the pushback against an approach. Sometimes the criticism is warranted, but sometimes it’s based only on assumptions that acknowledge all the nuances that a well thought out approach can have. Whatever the case, if you are a parent looking for some inspiration and guidance, what a confusing landscape for you to navigate!

And these are just a few of the many reasons why parents trying to follow an approach can easily get off track.

Finding a common sense approach that fits you and your family.

Here’s the thing: Every theory brings something useful to the table! Yes, it’s great to have more empathy for your kids’ experience. Yes, it’s great to have high expectations of what your kid can accomplish. Yes, it’s great to give your kid freedom to try new things and experiences even and especially when they fail.

What’s the problem then? Sometimes – no, MOST – of the time you are not going to be the “perfect” parent. More than you may want to admit, you know it happens that you want to just tell kids how it’s going to be rather than have a democratic discussion about putting pants on.

And, what’s more: even if you are perfect (which no one is!) there is no one theory that will cover every situation, every kid, every time. Despite your best efforts to do things in the way you think the theory suggests you should, your kid will always react in ways that you (and the theory) hadn’t anticipated. Your theory says giving stickers for good behaviour will destroy any sense of internal motivation they may have in them? Well, maybe that’s just the only approach your kid will respond to at this particular time, and maybe it’s okay to use reward stickers for a while, and in a thoughtful way.

It’s a matter of finding the right fit.

Finding the right fit for shoes

Some theories actually allow for flexibility, whereas others are more rigid. But regardless, finding your way is always a matter of trying on different things, experimenting with how you are able to put a particular idea into practice, and finding the best fit.

If aligning yourself with a theory feels right to you – if it gives you direction, purpose, or structure – then by all means go for it!

If it doesn’t, there’s still a way to find structure and guidance to help you through the tough moments. Here are a few main steps to get you started:

  • Identify your main priorities and goals in parenting
  • Mix and match different ideas, techniques, and practices
  • Create overarching environments and expectations that fit your goals

In other words, you can parent from a loose model that, overall and in general, captures most of what you’re trying to accomplish with your kids. Be a tiger parent sometimes, but also a gentle parent. Handle some situations like a free range parent would, and others like a helicopter parent. Focus on the big picture, look at trends, overall feelings and habits. And most of all, have lots of empathy for everyone – yourself included!

What is the advantage of this mish mash of approaches? It’s realistic. It’s forgiving. Finding the right fit means being flexible enough to fit you and your family as you all grow and learn together.

The Global Digital Mindful Project can help with finding the right fit

On a mission to construct and enact strategies for empowering kids to thrive in today’s global, digital, mindful world.

Rather than parenting from a place of outside direction, parent coaching at The Global Digital Mindful Project provides a solid foundation, and then helps you find where YOU fit in it.

Global. There’s flexibility built into the process, which makes room for global and cross-cultural influences to find peace with each other as you make intentional and mindful choices about your parenting identity.

Digital. This is a perfect example of where a flexible approach based on simple foundation and underlying parenting goals can be of great value. Handling tech in your family is a complex juggling game, and simple rigid rules just won’t cut it.

Mindful. Starting from overall parenting goals will gently push you towards being a mindful (aka, intentional or aware) parent. And aligning those goals to a basic parenting foundation can help you make intentional and thoughtful big decisions, even while allowing room for minor, everyday decisions to just happen (without so much intentionality).