There are many parenting styles and every parent has that moment of reckoning, the point when a karate lesson goes south or a temper tantrum at the toy store rises to a fever pitch. Your reaction may not be the most rational at the moment, or one you’re particularly proud of, inevitably leading you to wonder what kind of parent you are. That question was recently at the heart of a provocative piece in the The Atlantic by therapist Lori Gottlieb that suggests parents who agonize over keeping their kids happy might be steering them into an adulthood of disappointment and even depression.
Gottlieb acknowledges the argument that a child who is given limitless choices is a child who feels entitled.
If your parents did not demand perfection, were you raised by a mother and father who praised your every move? Or were your parents perhaps more concerned with finding a school that wasn’t crumbling and overcrowded? Were you offered a choice of snacks and grocery store destinations? Or simply given one option to eat at meals because that’s all there was in the house for that week?
For Latinos, and many other people for that matter, the recipe for raising a happy child in America is vastly more complicated than either of these paradigms suggest. a couple of experts to weigh in on the subject.
Dr. Milton Fuentes, a psychologist at Montclair University comments: “Even with this term ‘Latino,’ there is so much heterogeneity in terms of parenting styles that it is difficult to capture one’’ Several factors come into play, including acculturation, education, socioeconomic status, and even temperament.
“If you have an easygoing style and you can be tolerant and open to variability in your life, you may be more authoritative and possibly permissive than if your character is more rigid,” he said. “There are so many factors … My experience corroborates that this is a complicated and complex phenomenon.”
Fuentes says – to our hope as moms – that there are some common building blocks.
“I have yet to come across a parent who says ‘I’d like to screw up my kid as much as possible,’ ” Fuentes said. “They want their kids to excel. They want their kids to do better than they did. That value exists across cultures.” Fuentes uses those values to discourage parents from practices that can be harmful to their kids, like corporal punishment.
Fuentes shared a study in the journal Family Process that showed how traditional labels do not always neatly fit Latino parents.
Researchers Melanie Domenech-Rodríguez, Melissa R. Donovick and Susan L. Croweley studied 50 first-generation Latino parents who were mostly of Mexican decent and their kids (ages 4 to 9). They observed their interactions using traditional parenting labels (authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and neglectful). These labels have various measurable dimensions including: levels of warmth, “demandinginess,” and autonomy granting. In gauging these factors, the researchers in the 2009 study measured such things as: whether parents used terms of endearment, whether they yelled or shouted at their children when they misbehaved, and whether they encouraged the child to look at both sides of an issue.
Only a third of the parents scored in the four traditional categories of authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, or neglectful. The majority, 61%, were categorized as “protective,” which meant they scored high on warmth, high on demandingness, and low on giving their kids autonomy. The findings confirmed a suspicion about traditional classifications and the judgments that sometimes go along with them.
“When you think about immigrant parents, first generation parents, should we be surprised that parents are not granting a lot of autonomy? To me it seems highly adaptive and healthy,” said Domenech-Rodríguez, a professor of psychology at Utah State University who has done research on Latino communities in Northern Utah, Mexico City and Michigan.
The takeaway from all of this is that some differences in parenting styles can be embraced. Just because you may not be a Tiger Mom or a padded parent doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.