Monday, February 6, 2012

What kind of parent are you?

What kind of parent are you? Permissive, authoritarian or authoritative?

Who Says American Parents Are Inferior?
By RANDYE HODER/The New York Times
February 6, 2012

Enough already.
A year ago, The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from Amy Chua’s book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” under the provocative headline “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Now, in an article adapted from Pamela Druckerman’s soon-to-be-published “Bringing Up Bébé,” the Journal sets out to tell us “Why French Parents Are Superior.”
In both cases, the message is clear: Americans are terrible parents. Our children are overindulged. They misbehave, they’re rude and they have poor eating and sleeping habits. As moms and dads, we are anxious, we shout too much and if that weren’t enough, Ms. Druckerman asserts, French mothers are even skinnier and sexier than their Yankee counterparts (and they never wear pajama bottoms when dropping their kids off at school).
But what is an “American” style of parenting? Can anyone legitimately say there is such a thing in a society as heterogeneous as ours?
American parents are Anglo, African-American, Asian and Hispanic. They are Christian, Jewish, Muslim and much more. They are rich, middle-class and poor. They are urban, suburban and rural. And as numerous academic studies have shown, different cultures and different socioeconomic groups in our country tend to parent their children in different ways. A quick trip to your local playground or to Chuck E. Cheese will reveal all kinds of parents interacting with children in all kinds of ways: some laissez-faire, some more strict, some frenzied, some cool, some by the book and some by the seat of their pants. Within my own circle in Los Angeles, there are parents who more or less fit Ms. Druckerman’s stereotype, but many others who defy it.
The clinical psychologist Diana Baumrind in the mid-1960s came up with what are still widely considered the three prototypical parenting styles. The “permissive parent” consults with children about family decisions and makes few demands of them. The “authoritarian parent,” by contrast, sets a strict standard of conduct, often theologically motivated. The “authoritative parent” provides the best balance, encouraging give and take with children but exerting firm control when it’s needed.
From reading the Journal excerpt of Ms. Druckerman’s book, one could easily conclude that practically all American parents are pathetically permissive, while most French families operate under a superior authoritative model. Ms. Druckerman writes:
After a while, it struck me that most French descriptions of American kids include this phrase “n’importe quoi,” meaning “whatever” or “anything they like.” It suggests that the American kids don’t have firm boundaries, that their parents lack authority, and that anything goes. It’s the antithesis of the French ideal of the cadre, or frame, that French parents often talk about. Cadre means that kids have very firm limits about certain things — that’s the frame — and that the parents strictly enforce these. But inside the cadre, French parents entrust their kids with quite a lot of freedom and autonomy.

In truth, it’s not nearly so simple — at least not when it comes to the American side of the equation (where about 16 percent of the population is Hispanic, 13 percent is black and 5 percent is Asian).
Indeed, numerous analyses have suggested that African-American and Asian-American parents typically aren’t permissive; rather, they tend to be mostly authoritarian in their parenting practices (albeit in different ways). At the same time, the literature also makes clear that painting with too broad a brush is dangerous. Within racial and ethnic communities, all three types of parenting styles — permissive, authoritarian and authoritative — can be seen. As a team from Marquette University wrote in a study published in the Journal of Social Psychology: “Hispanic parents, rather than being characterized by one dominant parenting style, demonstrated a variety of styles depending on their acculturation, education background and income level.”
Other factors also affect how American children are raised. For instance, it has been found that parents are more likely to employ an authoritarian style with boys than with girls. What’s more, “the levels of warmth, conflict and permissiveness children experienced is directly affected by family structure,” noted a 2007 study by researchers from the University of North Carolina and University of Chicago.
In the end, though, I don’t need a bunch of academics to convince me that a work like Ms. Druckerman’s is full of overgeneralizing, about both American and, I suspect, French parents. My husband and I are more authoritative than permissive. And while they weren’t perfect, my own two children (now in their teens) never engaged in the kind of bad behavior that Ms. Druckerman describes as commonplace among young American kids, like throwing their food. My son and daughter have both always eaten their vegetables, and they’ve never had a problem looking adults in the eye, just like French children supposedly do.
And for the record, I’ve never once dropped off my kids at school while wearing my pajamas.