PARENTING: STYLE MATTERS
By Tierce Green
Developmental psychologists have long been interested in the cause-and-effect links between parenting styles and child development. Psychologist Diana Baumrind identified three styles from her extensive research (1967). Further research by Maccoby and Martin suggested adding a fourth parenting style (1983). Generally speaking there are four parenting styles: permissive, neglectful, authoritarian, and authoritative.
To understand the differences in these four parenting styles, it is helpful to position them in quadrants defined by four coordinates. The top axis point represents parenting that is high in love, and the bottom point represents parenting that is low in love. The far left is low in discipline and instruction. The far right is high in discipline and instruction. The diagram below illustrates where each parenting style operates and how they function.
Starting from the top left quadrant and moving counterclockwise, here are explanations of the four parenting styles:
 PERMISSIVE PARENTING is high in love, but low in discipline and instruction. This is quite appealing to some parents because it comes with very few demands. Discipline and instruction are rare. In effect, it allows parents to take on the role of a friend more than that of a parent. According to Baumrind, permissive parents, sometimes referred to as indulgent parents, "are more responsive than they are demanding. They are nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation" (1991). In my experience, many parents who are permissive and indulgent grew up in an environment where there were lots of rules and restrictions with little nurturing and communication. Their parents may have loved them deeply but didn’t know how to communicate effectively. Now, as parents themselves, they have determined that love equals leniency. The meter is pegged-out on the extreme left with a version of love where discipline and instruction are virtually absent.
 NEGLECTFUL PARENTING is low in love and low in discipline and instruction. These parents are basically uninvolved with few demands, little communication and minimal direction. While they fulfill the child's basic needs, they are generally detached emotionally, socially and spiritually. It's as if two adults just created a baby, accidentally or even intentionally, but with little thought given to the care and nurture required. In extreme cases, these parents neglect or even reject the needs of their children. Proverbs 29:18 (NIV) says, "Where there is no revelation (or vision), people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction." Without healthy guidelines and proper restraints, children will drift. Without a clear vision they are robbed of the blessing that comes from heeding wise instructions.
 AUTHORITARIAN PARENTING is low in love but high in discipline and instruction. Children are expected to follow strict rules with little to no explanation behind the rules. “Because I said so” is a familiar phrase in these environments. The primary goal in this type of parenting is to raise compliant kids, and failure to comply usually results in punishment. According to Baumrind, these parents "are obedience and status oriented, and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation" (1991). Ephesians 6:4 (NIV) tells us this: "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." Authoritarian parenting is exasperating, even to the point of provoking children to anger. When a follower of Jesus takes an authoritarian stance the collateral damage can be devastating as their representation of our Heavenly Father is twisted into an ugly caricature of a legalistic master.
 AUTHORITATIVE PARENTING is both high in love and high in discipline and instruction. Rules and guidelines are clearly established for children to follow, but this type of parenting is more responsive and willing to listen to questions. When children fail to meet expectations, discipline is appropriately applied with love and forgiveness rather than pure punishment. Baumrind suggests that these parents "monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative" (1991).
Studies show that the two worst parenting styles are authoritarian and neglectful. Rules without relationship—authoritarian parenting—often leads to rebellion. No rules and no relationship—neglectful parenting—creates a void in a child’s life that leads to a lack of self-control and self-esteem. Both authoritarian and neglectful parenting styles produce children who rank lower in happiness and social competence. Permissive parenting also produces children who rank low in happiness, as well as low in self-regulation, while struggling with authority and performing poorly in school.
THE BEST PARENTING STYLE IS AUTHORITATIVE—high in discipline and instruction but also high in love. This reflects what the Scriptures say in John 1:17 (NIV) “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” We have a tendency to swing to extremes with grace on one end and truth on the other. But Jesus didn’t switch off grace to access truth, or switch off truth to access grace. They were always integrated. His presence in us enables us to extend grace and truth to our children even when the circumstances are hard. Discipline, correction and boundaries, as well as love, forgiveness and compassion, are all expressions of grace and truth.
Leading, loving, and relating to our children with an authoritative parenting style—high in love and high in discipline and instruction—is parenting with grace and truth. It’s the way our Heavenly Father leads, loves and relates to us, and it is the way he wants us to parent our children.