Family, Kids & Relationships

Most parents agree on the best parenting style — here’s why it’s not an option for everyone

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These days it seems that most parents, regardless of race, class, or socioeconomic status, believe the more time we spend with our children, the more we talk to them about their thoughts and feelings, and the more we reason with them and fill their lives with enriching activities, the better off they’ll be.

But is that standard too high — and is it even attainable to everyone?

A survey of about 3,600 parents with kids ages 8 to 10 found that this hands-on style of parenting is what the vast majority of parents aspire to, even if they don’t actually practice it in their homes. In large part, researchers say the disparity between what parents do and what they believe they should do arises because maintaining the “ideal” levels of involvement and enrichment requires an enormous amount of time, money, and patience. Researchers refer to this style of parenting as intensive.

The reality is that many parents constantly struggle to reach that standard, a draining effort in and of itself. At times they may even feel guilty that their work schedules — or their wallets — keep them from being able to fill those intensive parent shoes. The resulting stress can affect everything from parents’ attention span to their patience, researcher Patrick Ishizuka, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University, told the Atlantic.

No single parenting style is perfect for everyone

Experts caution parents against sticking to one style of parenting, especially this intensive variety — because as much as one style can serve a child well, it may also hurt them in other ways. For example, children whose parents adhere to this intensive style may grow up to be very comfortable expressing themselves, but feel constantly exhausted from their lives being filled with activities. Some experts say when the parent is constantly present and intensely accounted for, it can stunt a child’s sense of self-reliance.

Research shows that intensive parenting can also leave parents feeling like they’re always falling short, never quite reaching the ideal level of involvement.

On the other end of the spectrum, the free-range parenting style is the polar opposite. These parents try not to get over-involved or over-schedule children, but rather give them a greater degree of independence when compared to the more intensive style of parenting. Similar to any other parenting strategy, it carries pros and cons. Children raised in a free-range household might grow up more independent and self-sufficient, but may also be at an increased risk of encountering dangerous situations due to reduced supervision and the absence of a modern “village” to help watch over them.

It’s hard to ignore the piercing socioeconomic implications. When white or affluent parents practice a hands-off parenting approach, for example, society welcomes it as forward-thinking. But if a parent of color, working class or poor parent were to practice it, they’re more likely to be looked at as neglectful, sparking fears of criminal charges or interventions from Child Protective Services.

Whatever parenting style speaks to you, the key is to remember that no parent is perfect and there is no one perfect way to parent. Doing your very best each day with the best intentions possible is the only gold standard, and no matter what we do, that will always look different depending on individual circumstances.


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The former Content Director at Parenting, parenting.com and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.