As the mother of a now 3-year-old, I have thrown myself into parenting books, courses, and podcasts, basically anything I can get my hands on to make sure I am doing all I can to raise an emotionally intelligent individual. Doing so got me thinking: What parenting style would result in the best outcome for my child? In researching the history of child-rearing, I was surprised to find the subject is only 100 years old.
Before this revolution, there was no standard. There was no such thing as “childhood” and no “right: or “wrong” way to parent. The further back you go, the lower the level of childcare was. As Lloyd de Mause put it in his book,The Emotional Life of Nations, “The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken.” Infanticide was very common, with no law or public opinion finding it wrong until the fourth century AD, leading to an “abandoning mode.”
During the abandoning mode years (which persisted into the 13th century), parents would send their children away for several years. Some went to wet nurses, others to monasteries and apprenticeships, while some were even sold.
In the late pre-industrial period, agricultural work was prevalent. Children were to get up, help on the farm, and do chores before school (when school was available). Kids were expected to be responsible at a young age and given many responsibilities. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that pediatrics, parenting (also known as childrearing), and child psychology became of scientific interest, changing parenting forever. Before this time, families raised children based on tradition, word of mouth, moral codes, and religious convictions. Only in the late 19th century did the voice of scientific thinking influence parents, slowly replacing moral advice and leading to the first modern approach to parenting.
The early era of parenting in the 18th century was intrusive, and became known as Authoritarian. As the prevalence and severity of child beating lessened, mental and emotional tactics became more common in child-rearing. Based on strict rules, force, shame, threats, manipulation, and verbal and physical punishment, any needs or wants of a child were not acknowledged. A popular book published in 1928 by John B. Watson called Psychological Care of Infant and Child continued this kind of teaching. He told parents children “should be seen as objects to be strictly shaped, molded, and controlled so they can become efficient tools of society.” Parents were told to keep children under tight control, teach strong work ethics, give instant discipline, require chores, use threats and aggression, and withhold any affection to obtain and maintain strict obedience. Literature during this time advised withholding parental affection altogether and abandoning any motherly instinct to nurture a child so as not to spoil them and see them grow into “little tyrants.” This was the era of “A child should be seen and not heard.” Positive or negative emotions were considered threats to maintaining proper obedience. This meant a child was only considered “good” if they were completely compliant, supressed emotions, and didn’t question or negotiate. Everything was determined by the parent, and was played out with a rigid schedule, including nap times, when a child got up, went to bed, ate and learned. This was the most popular parenting style up to post-World War II and is still highly popular in some cultures and religions.
The next era came about in 1946 when Doctor Benjamin Spock’s book Baby and Child Care was published. Mothers were encouraged to trust their parenting instincts again instead of abandoning them. Parenting was now child-centered. Spock urged parents to see the world through a child’s perspective to understand their personality, behavior, needs, and development. This included being attentive to the baby, being generous with affection, and understanding that parenting is not one-size-fits-all. He preached that the most crucial aspect for the well-being and healthy future of the child was acknowledging and meeting their needs. Although there was no advice on ignoring discipline or promoting permissiveness, many of his ideas were possibly misinterpreted or misunderstood. Spock did believe discipline was important and had a role in raising a child, and said “I didn’t want to encourage permissiveness but rather to relax rigidity.”
Spock was a spokesman for what is now called Age-Appropriate Discipline. This is discipline centered around what a child is capable of at certain ages and stages of their development. Many called Spock the “Father of Permissiveness” and claimed his advice led to a generation of spoiled children (aka Baby Boomers). The younger generation’s anti-war positions and distrust in the government led to Minister Norman Peal saying, “Maybe Dr. Spock raised too many peaceniks.” He inaccurately represented Spock’s advice as “Feed ‘em whenever they want, never let them cry, satisfy their every desire.”
In the mid-1960s, developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind categorized the three most widely used parenting styles of the time: Authoritarian, Permissive, and Authoritative. A fourth parenting style, Neglectful or Uninvolved, was added later. These are sometimes known as the Baumrind parenting types and can be divided by two factors: warmth and expectation.
Authoritarian parenting is based on low warmth and high expectations. Authoritarian parents are controlling, have strict rules, and value conformity. They expect no errors or mistakes and punish harshly. Children of authoritarian parents tend to be less independent due to tightly controlled childhoods. They have difficulty making decisions, appear insecure with low self-esteem, have poor social competence, and are prone to mental issues and substance abuse.
Permissive parenting is known for high warmth and low expectations. Permissive parents are warm, nurturing, and responsive, giving their children full freedom with few boundaries. There may be threats from parents, but follow through is rare. The kids get what they want, and their parents are often their friends, who must negotiate or bribe to get their children to do what they need them to. Children of permissive parents have good self-esteem and social skills but lack self-regulation, self-discipline, and impulse control, leading them to be more demanding and selfish.
Authoritative parenting (also known as Gentle parenting) is high warmth and high control. Don’t confuse this with Authoritarian parenting despite their similar wording. Authoritative refers to the role of the parent as a guide or “authority” in the child’s world. Authoritarian refers to the role of the parent as the judge and enforcer of rules and punishment. Authoritative parents have high expectations but are also warm, responsive, and nurturing. They encourage independence and give freedom within age-appropriate limits. The child’s needs and opinions are respected, and they are given reasonable demands and consistent boundaries. The child is respected as a human being who has a right to at least an explanation of boundaries and rules, even if they are not up for negotiation. Many studies and research have found that children of authoritative parents tend to be more independent and self-regulating, have higher self-esteem, and have good academic achievement.
Uninvolved parenting is low warmth and low expectation. Uninvolved parents are indifferent to their children’s needs and have no boundaries or high standards. Basic needs like food and shelter are taken care of but, aside from that, the parent shows no control or warmth. While children of neglectful parents usually end up resilient and more self-sufficient, it’s also been found that they are unable to self-regulate, have low self-esteem, struggle with substance abuse, suffer academically, and find it difficult to maintain healthy relationships.
In 1990, a fifth style was added, known as Helicopter parenting. These parents remove obstacles in their kid's way and do anything to prevent their child from any challenges. Children of these parents have similar outcomes to those of the permissive parent, including a lack of self-regulation and impulse control. They are demanding and can become codependent.
Looking back through time, we can see these parenting styles play out. The abandoning mode could also be seen as the uninvolved parent, which then moved into authoritarian parenting until the mid-1940s, where permissive parenting took hold. Today, roughly 46% of parents (mostly Millennial age) use an Authoritative parenting style, 26% have an Authoritarian parenting style, 18% exhibit a Permissive parenting style, and 10% have a Neglectful parenting style. Statistics show, the most encouraging parenting style is Authoritative. Many other parenting styles have surfaced in recent years, including Attachment style, Free-Range, Snowplow, and Tiger. These all fall under one of the four Baumrind styles in some way or another.
This subject hit home as a new parent. I know I’m not the only one who have had the same conversation with their parents. That conversation typically including something along the lines of “I did _____, and you turned out fine.” I continually stress the point that we do the best we can with the information available to us at the time. There was a time when it was recommended babies sleep on their bellies, for example. After further research, science has found this can be dangerous. This does not make you a bad parent if you had your child sleep on their tummy when they were infants. That said, I have taken much of my own parents Authoritative techniques into my own but also adjusted or added new evidence based parenting techniques.
By researching for this article, I can now better identify my parenting style. All of the techniques I use are evidence-based, and while I have boundaries and expectations, as much as anyone can have with a toddler, I respect my daughter's feelings and personal needs. I hope this encourages openness and trust in the future. This idea falls under the Authoritative style, with gentle parenting techniques. It was nice to see that my instinct was right in what I wanted for my daughter as an independent, emotionally intelligent adult.
Now that you know these styles, what do you think your parenting style is or was? Have you used the same style as your parents or something altogether different?
Coste, Birgitte. “Parenting Styles History & Essence: Diana Baumrind's 3 Paradigms.” Positive Parenting Ally, 2019, www.positive-parenting-ally.com/parenting-styles.html.
Sanvictores, T. (2021, March 6). Types of parenting styles and effects on children. StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK568743/
Grille, R. (2018, June 8). From Horror to hope: The evolution of childrearing. Kindred Media. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from https://www.kindredmedia.org/2006/12/from-horror-to-hope-the-evolution-of-childrearing/
Author Pamela Li, M. S. (2022, March 17). 4 types of parenting styles and their effects on the child. Parenting For Brain. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from https://www.parentingforbrain.com/4-baumrind-parenting-styles/Mechling, J. (n.d.). Child-rearing advice literature. Child-Rearing Advice Literature - Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Nineteenth Century, Early Twentieth Century - Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from http://www.faqs.org/childhood/Bo-Ch/Child-Rearing-Advice-Literature.html