“It is my pleasure that my children are free, happy and unrestrained by parental tyranny. Love is the chain whereby to bind a child to its parents,” Abraham Lincoln once said.
I’m certain Lincoln’s approach to parenting would be frowned upon by most in this day and age. I’m also certain he would ignore his critics. Children only get to be kids once, so why do so many parents expect them to behave and perform like little adults, and then punish or shame them if they don’t? My guess is it has to do more with fulfilling the needs of parents than the needs of children.
Instead of enjoying being a parent, many are stressed out, likely due to their parenting style of which there can be said to be three: consultants, helicopters or drill sergeants.
Being a “helicopter” or “drill sergeant” can be exhausting. They are the least-effective parenting styles, yet the most common today.
Helicopters parent by hovering over their children, paying extremely close attention to their children’s experiences and problems, particularly when it comes to education and academics. They are “hyper-present,” but about the wrong things.
Helicopters lack being emotionally and psychologically present for their children. That’s not to say helicopter parents don’t have good intentions — they do. It’s just that their good intentions have gone awry in response to societal pressure on natural parental fears.
Helicopters feel they need to rescue their children from the hostile world in which we live, indirectly sending messages of being incapable and not responsible enough to deal with life on their own, and instilling a sense of weakness and low personal self-worth in their children.
Some say the rise of the cellphone is to blame for the explosion of helicopter parenting — it’s the world’s longest umbilical cord.
Drill sergeants communicate the same sense of weakness and low personal self-worth in their children as helicopters, but instead of rescuing children from the cruel world, they command and control their children’s lives in a futile attempt to keep them out of “trouble.”
Drill sergeants have lots of demands and high expectations of their children. They tell their children how they should feel about people and experiences; what decisions to make; demand that jobs and responsibilities be done now; and use harsh words and tones to solicit desired behavior through shame rather than nurturing.
Drill sergeants will typically have “good” kids, but only as long as their children are within arm’s reach. Once out of sight, children parented by drill sergeants can experience the stereotypical “Catholic School Syndrome” by giving the appearance of conforming to their parent’s desires, but in reality have a deep compulsion to do the exact opposite.
I’ve witnessed this in action and liken it to hiding the “forbidden fruit” (whatever that may be) from children instead of acknowledging the fruit exists, but it’s forbidden, so they know not to eat it when their parents aren’t around.
Helicopters and drill sergeants are driven by a culture of conformity. Rather than seek to develop intellectual, creative and imaginative abilities in their children, helicopters and drill sergeants operate in more of a business culture. Akin to a financial services company run by accountants, in which data is more important than knowledge.
Alas, we circle back to Lincoln, a consultant, what many professionals consider the healthiest form of parenting.
Consultants use love and logic to raise their children; consulting with them, rather than smothering or trying to control them.
Love and logic parents are honest with their children. They share personal feelings about their own life experiences in order to encourage their children to explore alternative choices, and then allow their children to make their own decisions within boundaries and time frames.
Consultants also allow their children to make mistakes and experience the consequences in order to serve as teachers; as opposed to helicopters and drill sergeants who try to prevent mistakes from happening, never giving their children the opportunity to learn how to solve problems on their own and deal with the emotions associated with failure.
Being honest with children also develops trust. Trust that they can talk to their parents about their fears and challenges, and trust that their parents will listen and help guide them, not make them feel worse.
A parent can be defined as something out of which another thing develops. How we parent determines the type of person our children develop into as adults. It’s critically important for parents to keep that in the forefront of their minds.
— Nick De Fiori is an actuary by profession and a lifelong outdoor enthusiast. He holds a bachelor’s degree in earth science and has a passion for mountain environments. A Truckee resident, he enjoys spending his free time with his wife and two young boys exploring the wilderness during the summer and skiing in the winter. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.