Child-centered, critics say, seriously compromises a parent’s sense of balance and may lead to children feeling entitlement. Parent-centered, critics say, seriously compromises a child’s need for parental attention and attunement.
But is this polarization, this black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking, reality? Should we be debating for which is the better of the two “evils”?
The fear centered on parenting with attachment – common terms used for this parenting approach are Attachment Parenting, Connection Parenting, Empathetic Parenting, and others – is that, because it involves a parent to be attuned to her child around the clock, that it must be synonymous with or at least bordering on permissive parenting.
Scary music please… Permissive parenting is that style of parenting that conjures thoughts of dread in as many parents as abusive parenting does. Permissive parenting indicates a seriously imbalanced, child-centered parenting style where parents bend to the will of the child in everything, perhaps out of fear of rejection or out of pure indifference, without setting behavioral limits.
It can lead to the parent having no rights to her own sense of self, because the parent will forgo her own needs to satisfy her child’s wants.
The rebuttal by critics of, say, Attachment Parenting, is instead of understanding the ins and outs of what it means to parent with attachment, they often recommended to completely overhaul the principles of parenting with attachment: shut the child in the bedroom and let him cry himself to sleep alone, schedule feedings, punish and shame and ignore requests.
As if doing the very opposite of their perceived fears is any healthier?
Rather than focusing entirely on parenting child-centered or parent-centered, perhaps we should be looking for the healthy middle ground, where both parents and children are valued equally. This doesn’t mean parents aren’t the authority. And this doesn’t mean that children aren’t expected to have boundaries on their behavior. Children are wired to look to their parents for guidance, but that authority doesn’t need to be harsh.
I like to say that parenting with attachment is family-centered. It takes the good components of the child- and parent-centered parenting styles: children are in need of round-the-clock attunement from their parents but parents have very real needs for personal balance.
Children are treated with the same respect by adults as they are expected to give to adults. They may need more guidance, of course, but I liken it to working in a company with employees of different generations and skill levels: mid- and high-level workers naturally have more responsibility and freedom than entry level positions, but everyone is treated with the same respect.
Good managers do not berate or ignore their employees – they train and give second chances and allow entry level workers to gradually gain more responsibility. We model the character we want to develop. We teach. We try to develop human resources, rather than discharging employees who might otherwise benefit from nurturing. This is good for the company and for the individuals.
A critic may say that children aren’t developmentally at the same level as parents and therefore can’t be treated the same. It’s true that children and adults are obviously at different developmental stages, but they can be treated equally as far as value goes. We’re understanding when our spouse or friend or coworker does or says something that hurts our feelings or angers us. We don’t shut them out or yell at them – we talk it through, empathize, and work from a position of trust rather than a position of fear that this latest infraction will spell doom for all other interactions with us and others.
It’s a different way of looking at children, I know. And it requires a very different view of ourselves and how families “should” work. It requires changing our expectations of balance, of educating ourselves on needs versus wants, of seeing the family moving as a unit rather than each family member struggling against each other to fill their emotional needs.
And it’s enjoying one another, and enjoying being together. Really enjoying it, not wishing we were somewhere else. If I could have one wish answered, that would affect everyone in the whole world, it would be that we would take more time to enjoy our families.
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Last reviewed: 5 May 2012