Tag Archives: parenting difficult children

How to deal with different parenting styles in the home

No two parenting styles are the same. People come together with different histories, values, wishes and dreams which impacts how each of us parents our children. When it comes to kids with difficulties, emotions and pride complicate the picture. Parenting a child with difficulties often results in parents having arguments about everything; nurture more or less, discipline more or less, being too hard or soft, schooling, extra-murals, therapies, finances. The stereotypes of parenting often also come through with a mom being too soft and a dad being too hard and then the game of overcompensating to right the wrongs of the other or even right the wrongs of ones own guilt is prevalent.

As parents we have core values or goals as to what we believe is important for our children, for example, a well-mannered child, an all rounder, an academic child, a sporty child, etc. We also have a philosophy or vision around how we want to parent – a fun parent, a strict parent, a parent who provides financially, or emotionally etc. In practice, these ideals change. I never thought I would be the type of parent who could raise her voice, get so angry or take things so to heart. I never realised how important having well behaved children would be to me. All of these things are just my own stuff I put into the parenting space. There is the other half of the picture – my husband and all his needs and wants and desires for our children, his history and parenting ideals. In my family there is also a very involved granny with her own set of values, histories, parenting experiences and visions as to the granny she would be and aspirations for her grandchildren. It all makes for a complicated dynamic in the home and then there are all the external forces of in-laws, experienced siblings who have raised great families or have made mistakes they do not want us to repeat.

Before we address the nuances around handling some of these dynamics, what do the experts say about parenting styles?

There are four main styles of parenting:
1. Authoritarian – Children are expected to follow the strict rules laid down by the parents. Failure to do so results in punishment. Authoritarian parents fail to explain the reasoning behind these rules, because “I said so” or “because I am the parent” is a mantra used in the home. The result; children of authoritarian parents are usually obedient and proficient, but this compliance is usually driven out of fear of punishment and withholding affection. There are however many more shortfalls and authoritarian parenting can have complex outcomes.

2. Permissive parenting – sometimes referred to as indulgent parents. They place very few demands on their children. These parents rarely discipline their children. They are typically non-traditional, lenient and avoid confrontation. Permissive parents are generally nurturing and communicative with their children, often taking on the status of a friend more than that of a parent. Unfortunately, these children often rank low in happiness and self-regulation. They are more likely to experience problems with authority and tend to perform poorly in school.

3. Un-involved parenting – characterized by few demands, low responsiveness and little communication. These parents fulfill the child’s basic needs, but are generally detached from their child’s life. In extreme cases, these parents may even reject or neglect the needs of their children. As a result, these children rank lowest across all life skill areas. These children tend to lack self-control, have low self-esteem and are less competent than their peers.

4. Authoritative parenting – authoritative parents also establish rules and guidelines that their children are expected to follow. However, this parenting style is democratic. Authoritative parents are responsive to their children and willing to listen to questions. When children fail to meet the expectations, these parents are more nurturing and forgiving rather than punishing. They strive to have children who are self-regulated and co-operative. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. This is the parenting style to strive for, as it results in children who are happy, capable and successful.

It would seem that authoritative parenting is the style we should all strive for. If only it was that easy. In practice things do not work like this. Culture, personality, family size, parental background, socioeconomic status, educational level, religion, histories, values and the child’s temperament and stress all affect our ability to parent in the “ideal” way. Yes striving to be an authoritative parent is good practice, yet there are always the anomalies; parents with authoritative styles can have children who are defiant or who engage in delinquent behaviour, while parents with permissive styles can have children who are self-confident and academically successful.

The truth is there is no one perfect parenting style – that is what makes parenting so difficult. Authoritative style is generally linked to positive behaviours such as strong self-esteem and self-competence. However factors including culture, children’s perceptions of parental treatment, and social influences also play an important role in children’s behaviours. For example in my own home, we try to predominantly use an authoritative style, yet I have one child who always perceives the environment as unfair to him and he sees us entertaining questions and explaining our reasoning as a negotiating platform, which is exhausting and often results in us having to be more authoritarian with him than authoritative.

Sometimes a mixed style in a home is perhaps more successful. One style will not suit all children and one style will not suit all homes at a specific time. For example if a parent is ill, an un-involved parenting style is acceptable for a period of time and sometimes it is nice to be permissive and indulgent. So what happens when everyone has different parenting styles, can this not also be used to create a unique family blend? For example, the mother may be authoritative style while the father is permissive. A cohesive approach to parenting can still be created if the parents learn to cooperate and combine the unique elements of their parenting styles. In fact the one thing research is clear on is; if handled correctly, two parents with different parenting styles, that are able to merge those styles with some give and take, gives the child an opportunity to see how differences can become complimentary and productive.

So how do we do this? For those who have interested third party parents, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, caregivers etc, many of the same tips below can and should be applied to your conversations around parenting.

10 Points to develop a unique parenting blend in your home:

1. I think the most important thing to remember is both of you actually have your child’s best interests at heart, and you both want to parent “right” but how this looks to both of you may be different. Always try to remember each others’ best intentions in the heat of the moment, to help cool things down.

2. Communication is key. Couples normally make sure they are on the same page with religion and politics and probably have a conversation about whether they want children, but they don’t talk about the kind of parents they want to be until its crunch time. Do you really know what type of a parent you want to be? Ask your self these questions; are you parenting purely rote either as you were parented, with the attitude I turned out alright or the perhaps the total opposite of how you were parented? Or do you have a blueprint that you have questioned and adapted some of the parenting tactics that did not work for you and keeping the ones that did? Or are you a researcher, reader, planner and parent according to your values. Do you know the answers to these questions about your partners parenting style, do you know their wants as a parent, do you know what is important to them, and why? Having this discussion is a worthwhile one.

3. You need to decide what is important to you as a couple for your children and how you think you can achieve this? Compromise may be part of this picture. Mom may have to be more authoritarian and dad may have to be more permissive. Also discuss each of your non-negotiables. For example mom may insist on doing co-sleeping (don’t know what co-sleeping is. Another example?) And as much as dad may hate this, support your partner in her decision but you also get to have a non-negotiable, that also needs to be adequately supported.

4. For those who are willing you can use this to refine your values and make a parenting strategy you both agree to.

5. Take to heart the things about your parenting style that really irks your partner and see if you can scale back on this element. If not, why? What is the root cause of you being so adamant about driving a specific point? We all have elements of our parenting style that are unconscious processes often wrapped up in our own history or marital unhappiness. Often the awareness of the behaviour and the reason driving it makes it easier to change.

6. Form a united front, even if your partners authoritarianism, or permissiveness, makes your skin crawl. Keep the conversation calmly to yourselves. Allowing the kids to sense your disquiet only compounds the problem.

7. Sometimes you need to agree to disagree. Unless your partners parenting practices cause bodily or emotional harm, or are threatening your child’s development, battling over differing approaches is not worth the strain it puts on the marriage. Learn to let it go.

8. On the same thought process, know when to take a step back. If your partner has chosen to take charge of a situation and you disagree with how they are handling it, unless once again there is a threat, it is not necessarily your place to intervene. Let them sort it out. Post the event once everyone has calmed down, you can have a discussion about this if it will be conducive to changing the experience going forwards.

9. If you feel things are getting carried away and know your partner may say or do something they may regret, then step in and suggest nicely that you take over. Do not attack your partners handling of the situation in front of your child. Remember that united front. If your partner does intervene, take the break.

10. Never criticise each others parenting style, this will only result in a power struggle as to who is right or wrong, who is the better parent? . Engage in positive communication about elements of each others’ parenting style you do not like and why.

When to worry:
Parenting differences can drive a wedge between partners. Agreeing to disagree, needs to be done with respect, but beware if disagreements become chronic and hostile. If there’s eye rolling, contempt or dismissiveness, then you’re less likely to want to compromise. Or if you are unable to resolve your differences or at least enough of them that you can begin to move forward as you work through the others, then perhaps you need to seek third party help.

Remember while issues are being worked through, Keep that united front to the kids and work out differences behind closed doors.
Back to those with third party parents, listen to their views and remember they do have your child’s best interests at heart however you are the parent and you do have the final say, which you are always entitled to express respectfully.
The key lessons that come through consistently are communication, a united front, compromise and respect.

Looking back on six years.

My son recently turned 6 – it was such a beautiful day of good behaviour, great fun and only doing what his heart desired. It really was his day! It all worked out so wonderfully and I tried not to over analyse the day but I did wonder how we could recreate this wonderful day, all the while knowing it is not feasible to only do what he wants on his terms all the time.

On the day I just went with the flow and really enjoyed his special day with him. That night I will admit to tears and immense sadness. Six is a big number for neuro-typical children – six year olds can typically do so much for themselves and normally want to be independent. But my six-year-old Autistic spectrum son is not nearly at this level. This makes my heart ache. He so often cannot do the small things, buttons or shoelaces. He still puts his pants on backwards and his shoes on the wrong feet. He also struggles with the big things like swimming, reading, writing or riding a bike.

For once I will not counter this with a “but” or with all the things he can do. I am realising it is okay to feel sad at times and feel the emotion. If you feel the emotion you can move it. This is a very new feeling for me. I do not normally sit well with being overly emotive; I pride myself on being strong. When you have a special needs child you need all you wits about you, all the time. Your child demands this. There is no time for self-deprecating behaviour and wallowing.

In looking back on my sons six years of life, maybe it is time to reveal a bit more about him and our path thus far.

I had a normal pregnancy with no complications; he was born at 39 weeks via elective Caesar. He was born at a good weight and all tests and results came back perfect. Yet he was a difficult baby, feeding was difficult to start, and at 6 weeks the reflux, colic and lactose intolerance went into overdrive. He would settle for 30 minutes at a time, and then we would start the feeding, winding and cramping cycle all over again. He also became over sensitised very easily. As a first child I knew he was difficult, but reasoned it was normal as you often hear of colicky difficult babies. Obviously in retrospect the signs were there early on. But there is no reason to say that colicky, difficult babies have anything but colic and gastro-intestinal upset.

He developed slowly – specifically his gross motor functions. His speech seemed on track and yet at 3½ years, with an assessment from a language therapist, we became aware of his delay in language development.

He was also a difficult toddler and at around 18 months, I had a suspicion he may be autistic. I did not however understand or have any knowledge about the Autistic spectrum. I believed that autism was coupled with symptoms such as rocking, head banging, lack of speech – similar to a “locked in syndrome”. I had no idea what it entailed or the full array of tendencies. Most people are ignorant about things that do not concern them, or those around them.

My suspicion about our son’s autism was based of the way he came apart when he threw a temper tantrum. I could never put it into words at the time, except that he became “unglued”, not through violence but he would be so sad and inconsolable. I recently learnt more about this tendency. Whether or not it is common in Autistic spectrum children, I do not know. In truth it is not something I have heard many parents comment about in their own special needs children, but maybe that is because compared to some of the other behaviours, it is not alarming. For me it was something I felt was uniquely different about him as a young toddler.

Annihilation anxiety is the most primal anxiety in infants – “the human infant in its helplessness, is saddled with a fear of its own annihilation.  The protest cry of the infant is designed to summon the caring ministrations necessary to restore a homeostatic state and to avoid any threat to its continued existence.” (1)

Annihilation experiences and anxieties are common in early childhood. They seem to manifest in the following ways; “fears of being overwhelmed, of merger, of disintegration, of impingement, of loss of needed support, of inability to cope, of concern over survival, and of responding with a catastrophic mentality.” (2)

My own description of this relating to my son as a young toddler and even today is that his becoming “unglued” is probably due to annihilation fear or anxiety. When he becomes so upset because he cannot have his own way or he is frustrated, he feels overwhelmed and helpless. Then the crying and helpless feelings overtake him, his behaviour is as if he may actually come apart. He is inconsolable and cannot hold himself together. The dark clouds of emotional anxiety overwhelm him. At times like this, I try to let him calm himself down; strategies to calm himself are of paramount importance. But sometimes the ultimate way  is to let him climb into my lap as I hold him like an infant, until he calms. Fortunately this is becoming less frequent but it still is the quickest and easiest way to restore that homeostatic state.

At 2½ years, he was still developing slowly and after a brief hospitalisation at age 3, we started play therapy, mostly to address his anxieties. He was such a unique child and presented so differently that the extremely experienced play therapist never considered autistic spectrum as a diagnosis. She did refer us to a psychiatrist for an assessment at around 3½ years of age. I had done some basic research and knew based on all the psychiatrist’s questions that she was investigating autism as a diagnosis. At this stage we were not given a firm diagnosis other than cognitive language delays and a therapy path was devised.

2 months before his 4th birthday a locum school principal requested a meeting to discuss our son’s progress. This resulted in her disclosing that she thought our son had special needs. When I begged her for her professional opinion as to what his problems could be, she confirmed my gut suspicion, with an Autistic Spectrum diagnosis. I was devastated even though I was not surprised. I found it extremely hard to accept. In truth to this day, I am still not convinced, but in my heart I know it is true!

It has since then been an arduous journey of discovery. We continually increase our understanding of his condition, which is constantly evolving. Obtaining a good network of experts and professionals we trust has also been a challenge. As a new year approaches and he starts at a new school, this will change and we are in a way back at the beginning, which is scary for us and of course for our son.

But in truth these are the easier parts. When it comes to assessing people, referrals can always be used, and trusting my gut is helpful. Seeing how they bond with my child is an important factor. It is also feels so easy because I have a path of action and a semblance of control.

It is the day-to-day things that are so hard. Understanding some of his behaviours and anxieties. What he can and cannot do, versus what he is not interested in doing. His sensory sensitivities are so hard to grasp, as is what is going on in his head. His sadness and at times depression, his anger and frustration, his bad moods, his anxieties – these leave us all perplexed.

The day-to-day planning is also so time consuming and draining. Holiday preparations, aeroplane trips, shopping malls, restaurants can all be exhausting at best. Parents of neuro-typical children take for granted the decision process they go through. Special needs parents have to think of all the eventualities, variables and permutations. If you do not think of them and have strategies for when the breakdown happens (because it will happen) it can be the difference between a scene and a mini catastrophe. We also need to research so many of our decisions for example sensible holiday destinations, as not all places are suitable. A further challenge is finding appropriate relaxed restaurants, parks and places for outings -what should be daily, easy decisions often need to be laboured over.

Of course there is a counter to all of this. He has the best smile and laugh. He is so loveable and confident even bullish at times. So clever, even if it is in an off the beat kind of way, and he surprises me all the time. At the end of everyday in the reflecting moments of happiness and sadness, my heart bursts with such overwhelming love for him. Even though I do wish he were not so hard and exasperating at times, I love him for all of him.

Looking back on 6 years, it has been hard and I know the next 6 will be tough too. Who can anticipate what the teenage years will bring. Finding parenting hard or exhausting, disliking aspects of our children and ourselves as parents, needing a break, desiring a different set of outcomes. Giving up on dreams for our children, and for ourselves, mourning the losses of the person you thought may be or what you hoped your children might achieve one day. Living with continuous uncertainty are thoughts we as parents never like to indulge and always counter with a positive. I can write these down and think them, but I am still learning to feel them. This does not make me a bad parent. In the long run, it is supposed to be part of my healing process in having a special needs child and lessen my anger and make me a better person and parent.

I am coming to terms with this sadness and it gets easier. I think that in the last six years, my growth has also been slow. I can only hope I grow and handle my son and his difficulties with aplomb and tackle my own personal demons with success. But as all parents do I wish and hope my son’s success is far superior to mine, not for my lack of trying but for the success of his.

References:
http://www.attachmentdisordermaryland.com/attachmentdisorder.htm
http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3435300090.html