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Understanding Parenting Styles

Know What Philosophies Drive Your Grandchildren's Parents

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Grandparents should strive to understand the parenting philosophies of their children.

Parents appreciate grandparents who mirror their own beliefs about child-rearing.

Photo © Jean-Pierre Pieuchot / Getty

Family conflicts have many causes, but those centered around grandparents, parents and grandchildren often have a common root: The grandparents do not understand the parenting philosophy embraced by the parents. Because they do not fully understand it, the grandparents may act in ways that are contrary to the parents' wishes. Families have been irreparably damaged by such misunderstandings.

Classic Classifications

One way of classifying parenting styles dates back to research done by Diana Baumrind in the 1960s. Baumrind put parents into one of four categories:

  • Authoritarian parents believe that parents should be in control. They do not feel that they owe their children explanations, and they are motivated by the need to be obeyed and to maintain their status.
  • Authoritative parents also make rules and set standards, but they are more flexible and supportive than authoritarian parents.
  • Permissive parents de-emphasize discipline and emphasize communication. Their relationship with their children may resemble a relationship between friends.
  • Uninvolved parents take care of their children but don't interact much with them. Children are expected to learn from their experiences rather than from their parents.
You may be able to classify your grandchildren's parents by this brief summary, or you may need to know more about the four types.

Modern Movements

While modern parents can probably be classified according to Baumrind's system, many parents have embraced more recent movements with somewhat different approaches to rearing children. Grandparents may need to be conversant with these philosophies as well.

Attachment parenting is a movement that emphasizes building strong, tender bonds between parent and child. Attachment parenting believers typically practice breastfeeding, co-sleeping and baby-wearing (in a sling or other device). While most attention is focused on attachment parenting as it applies to infants, the principles can be applied to older children as well. The movement emphasizes maintaining warm, close and positive relationships between parent and child and using positive practices for discipline rather than punitive ones.

Parents who practice attachment parenting will probably want grandparents to use the same principles; in fact, the term attachment grandparenting is often used. When caring for an infant, grandparents may be asked to cosleep and to carry the child in a sling. Since the rate of death from SIDS is slightly higher when infants co-sleep with someone other than parents, sleeping arrangements should be the subject of careful discussion between parents and grandparents. For many grandparents, a portable crib in the grandparents' room is the best solution.

Adherents of simplicity parenting or slow parenting strive to reduce the number of possessions in the home, to simplify kids' schedules and to cut down on children's exposure to media. Grandparents of children who are being reared with this philosophy will need to be especially careful with gift-giving. They should rely on the parents' input about appropriate gifts and number of gifts. They may also have to restrict their screen habits when the grandchildren are in the house.

Mindful parenting is somewhat similar to attachment parenting and simplicity parenting in its emphasis on parent-child connectedness, but emphasizes moment-to-moment awareness in parenting practices. This philosophy may be the easiest one for most grandparents to practice, as many grandparents report being able to enter into the world of their grandchild much more easily than they could with their own children, when their responsibilities were more oppressive and impinged more often on the moment.

Green parenting is child-rearing in ways that are healthiest for the planet and the child. Those who embrace green parenting are likely to use cloth diapers and organic foods. They emphasize recycling and, like simplicity parents, may want to cut down on the amount of clutter in their homes. Going green will seem natural to many grandparents. After all, many green practices mean returning to the way things used to be done. But if you've been corrupted by the modern world, having children who are practicing green parenting may be just the push you need to lead a more eco-friendly lifestyle. And you may be certain that when your grandchildren are old enough, they will scold you for any wasteful habits that have survived.

Free-range parenting is a reaction again overprotectiveness and helicopter parenting. It encourages children to become self-reliant. It is associated with Lenore Skenazy, who garnered headlines for letting her 9-year-old son ride a subway alone and writing about it. The free-range kids movement is likely to resonate with grandparents, who grew up in a freer time. They may, however, be concerned about their grandchildren getting hurt on their watch and be inclined to helicopter a bit. If so, they can at least learn to helicopter at a distance.

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