Raise your child however you want – just stop labelling your parenting style

Are you a helicopter, a hummingbird, a lawnmower or free-range parent?

Or are you perhaps more of a lighthouse, tiger, permissive or a koala parent?

When people announce their parenting styles, I have to say that I find it a little unnecessary. While I have no issue with the way they raise their kids – their child, their way, after all – as a parent and as my role as a parent consultant, I am not sure that it is particularly useful to know. 

There is a long list of parenting styles that, if you so wish, you can aspire to follow, but whatever happened to just being a parent? You know, like it always used to be?

These days, we seem to like trying to fit ourselves into boxes; we like to label ourselves as one thing or another, and parenting is no different. Being a koala parent, for instance, means that you follow the attachment style of parenting – it is a label that originated largely from the work of Dr Sears, a paediatrician who promotes a parenting style that involves close contact with kids (bed-sharing, babywearing) as well as responsiveness and reading babies’ cue. 

Free-range parents, on the other hand, like to allow their children greater independence. They do not hover over their children, but have rules and boundaries, unlike helicopter parents who hover and solve their children’s problems for them.

The problem is when we label how we parent, we pile extra pressure onto ourselves and onto other parents who feel that they should follow suit. We start to give ourselves a hard time, which leads to us feeling like we are failing, as one new mum confided during a recent parent consultation with me. 

These days, we seem to like trying to fit ourselves into boxes. We like to label ourselves as one thing or another, and parenting is no different

She confessed that she had been reading up on parenting and decided that she would like to follow the attachment parenting method, but was finding that she hated co-sleeping and having her baby attached to her all the time. 

On top of all these worries, breastfeeding was also not going well. Not only did she feel like a failure, but she felt embarrassed to admit it too, as some of her friends from her antenatal class were loving parenting like this and she felt that this was the only way to parent if she wanted to bring up a child who was full of self-esteem and who felt loved – which of course, is really not true.

As a parent consultant, I work with parents at all stages of the journey, helping them in all areas, from potty training and weaning to sleep and behaviour. Often when I work with new parents, this kind of scenario is common – this mum is very much not alone.  

For some parents, particularly new parents, having a certain style to follow is important. Babies do not come with a manual after all, but once the baby arrives, they often feel a little lost with it all, especially when their ‘style’ doesn’t seem to be working. I also have first-hand experience of this, as I am a mum of two myself.

Before having my own children, I had a successful career as a nanny where I would be asked by the children’s parents to try and follow certain parenting methods or styles. Some would like me to follow strict routines as seen in parenting books, others wanted me to be very specific on diet and take an authoritative approach, where I would implement expectations and boundaries. 

When I then became pregnant with my daughter, I had ideas and thoughts of how I was going to (or not going to) parent her and I felt immense pressure to be the best mum I could possibly be. I was asked several times how I thought I would parent – would I follow a particular method? Would I be strict? Along with being repeatedly told that I would find it easy due to all my years’ experience looking after other people’s children. Pressure? Just a tad.

The reality though, was that my daughter made an unexpected entrance eight weeks early and spent her first month in the Special Care Baby Unit. It didn’t take long for me to realise that trying to pigeonhole myself into a certain category and attaching another label to myself was going to be unhelpful to my already frail mental health, caused by the stress, shock and complete feelings of guilt and failure that premature parents go through. I found it was more a case of just trying to survive, rather than having a set plan to follow. 

Parenting expectations versus parenting reality are rarely the same thing. So, instead of labelling parenting styles, I believe encouraging parents to follow their instincts would be empowering for themselves and their children. From my own experience, this really does work. No two children are the same, including siblings, and so what works with one will not always work with another.

Modern day parenting is hard enough to navigate without a ‘judgy’ label placed on it

When I get asked, which I do frequently, about my own parenting style, I am always very honest – that it can vary from day to day, and vary throughout the day, which means that I take elements of all styles and execute where necessary. Sometimes this means I am ‘winging it’, sometimes this means that I have gone totally free-range – the kids have had control and independence for the day, and often I am exhausted. But I always just try to do my best, with the emphasis on try and I don’t worry that I haven’t put a specific label on myselfMy children see me as Mummy, whatever way I parent and that is the only label I need.

This seems to work well for us, and I feel confident in my own abilities as a mum, despite having been told that I am wrong a few times, by well-meaning older generations. You know the sort – ‘You are spoiling them’ because my kids like to cuddle, ‘You should do it this way…’, ‘It worked for me in my day’.  

Even if you are not a fan of labels though, the meaning beneath them can be useful – it is good to be aware of how we parent and when there is room for improvement so this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t reach for outside help when we need it. Asking for help is not a sign of failure, and I am often telling that to stressed parents who see it as a black mark on their parenting CV. There is merit in most parenting styles, but it doesn’t mean we should allow ourselves to be stereotyped as one type of parent or another.

Modern-day parenting is hard enough to navigate without a ‘judgy’ label placed on it. Perhaps we should look to the past, to help us shape how we parent in the future.

Of course, some previous trends really should stay in the past, but having no labels or particular parenting style, and being more carefree is definitely appealing.

You do you, and I’ll do me – let’s avoid the unnecessary labels and pressure as they are doing much more harm than good.

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