Every month, I see a new article in my Apple News feed about authoritative parenting. Why the big fuss? Why do we need to hear about this topic every month?
The answer is because developmental science consistently finds that parents who are authoritative raise the most well-adjusted, happiest kids – and that’s an impressive outcome.
What exactly does an authoritative parent do that makes them so special?
There are two key features of authoritative parents
One: They are loving and kind.
Two: They set structure and boundaries for their family.
(Sound familiar? These are two of the three secrets to being a Relaxed Mom.)
Why is this such a magical combination?
First of all, parents who are loving and kind build a strong relationship with their child. The parent-child relationship is a safe, bedrock that nurtures the child’s emotional needs, and supports the child in overcoming their challenges.
Second of all, the structure is sufficient so that the child knows what to expect in family life. When a child’s life is predictable and fair, they can thrive.
But the real magic comes when these two dimensions collide.
When there is conflict, change, and big emotions, the loving and caring parent is reasonable and responsive.
Take some examples from parents I have worked with:
Toddler throwing a tantrum about the shoes they wore yesterday suddenly being too small? An authoritative parent responds with a hug, compassion towards the child’s big feelings, and a solution of how to achieve the goal of putting on shoes, in a way that works for everybody.
“Oh baby. I am sorry your shoes don’t feel right to you. Can we pick a different pair of shoes for today? You have a minute to pick this one or this one because we have to get going to make it to daycare on time.”
8-year-old losing their mind about homework? An authoritative parent sees the frustration, acknowledges it, and works to find ways to be compassionate to the frustration, but also get the homework done.
“Oh wow. I see why you are frustrated. This does feel like a lot of work right now. Why don’t we have a snack, take a break, and work on it together after dinner?”
Teenager pushing back against curfew rules? An authoritative parent remembers what it was like to be a teenager and negotiates opportunities for their teen to get more independence, with a pre-decided consequence if it doesn’t work out.
“Look, I get it. I remember being seventeen, too. Let’s keep the same curfew for tonight, but tomorrow at lunch, let’s come up with a new plan for you to earn a later curfew. I want you to think about a fair plan too in case you break curfew – like, what we will do to deal with that.”
In every scenario, the authoritative parent is warm, empathetic, and giving to their child.
This doesn’t mean that an authoritative parent doesn’t make mistakes, or get annoyed with their kids, or occasionally yell. They are just compassionate with themselves, apologize, and explain to their child how they are trying to improve as a parent.
It doesn’t matter what the outcome is – academic success, resilience, good mental health, life satisfaction: authoritative parents raise well-adjusted kids.
The goal of all these articles on authoritative parenting is trying to encourage us to evaluate where we are at as parents.
In other words, do we have room to grow as parents?
The answer for every parent is yes.
Just remember, perfection is not the goal. But progress as parents should be.