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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

The politics of parenting

Permissive parenting -- known as "gentle" or "mindful" or "intentional" parenting -- is spreading among left-of-center parents, writes Leonard Sax, a family physician and psychologist, on the Institute for Family Studies web site.

In nearly 34 years as a family doctor, he's seen parents were too harsh, too soft or just right. Only recently has he seen a link between parents' politics and their parenting styles.

He wonders if differences in parenting explain recent studies that found "left-of-center adolescents are increasingly more likely to be depressed than right-of-center adolescents."

A mom brought her six-year-old daughter into the office with a fever and a sore throat. I asked the little girl to open her mouth and say “Ah.” She shook her head and clenched her mouth shut. “Mom, it looks like I’m going to need your help here," I said. "Could you please ask your daughter to open her mouth and say ‘Ah’?” Mom arched her eyebrows and replied, “Her body, her choice.”

Children do best with parents who are authoritative, both "strict and loving," researchers have found, writes Sax. Kids need consistency and structure.

The gentle philosophy tells parents who let their children decide everything all the time, writes Sax. One mother asked Robin Einzig, a gentle parenting guru what she should have done when her son exploded in anger, hitting and kicking, because she'd told him she needed to do housework. Einzig responded: “He’s telling you very clearly that right now he needs your presence.”

The always-present parent is probably tired and cranky. Are the kids happier?

Research says no, writes Sax. The children of permissive parents are more likely to become anxious and depressed, to have less "autonomy and mastery of the world," and lower emotional intelligence and to be at higher risk of drug and alcohol abuse.

"Gentle" parenting is hard on parents, writes Bethany Mandel, who's a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of six children. She recounts a problem shared by a mother in an online forum: Her 18-month-old son wakes up every night three or four times to eat, crying until he's fed, usually a banana or two.

The child is "running the household like a tiny and irrational dictator," writes Mandel. "The secret tool his mother is looking for, of course, is to stop feeding him in the middle of the night."

Caroline Goldman, a child psychologist and parenting podcaster, is leading the backlash against gentle parenting in France, writes Leo Sands in the Washington Post. The mother of four, Goldman says parents should correct misbehavior beginning when a child is 1.

She advocates a brief "timeout," a few minutes in a bedroom, writes Sands."Do not let them out early if you hear them cry, sniffle or call for you, she instructs. Communicate to them what they have done wrong, but do not engage in a dialogue or show your own emotions."

Timeouts used to be the gentle discipline, replacing hitting and yelling. Now they're controversial. "In March, 280 psychologists, doctors and child development experts denounced Goldman’s use of the timeout method as coercive, ineffective and counterproductive in an open letter published in Le Monde," writes Sands.

“It’s really violent,” said child psychologist Héloïse Junier, one of the signatories, who said in an interview that sending a child to their room at such a young age is authoritarian and cruel and undermines their dignity. “This practice is an excellent illustration of ‘ageism,’” Junier said.

Parenting is inherently ageist, isn't it?

I decided when my daughter was born that the greatest gift I could give her was a sane mother. That meant I had to raise her to be a person who would not drive me crazy. Brats drive me crazy. My parenting rule was: "I'm the boss. You're the kid. You have to listen to what I say. In exchange, I will provide food, clothing and shelter and protect you from wolves and bears." She had to deal with the kid-sized challenges of growing up, but the big stuff was on the adults.

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1 Comment

Apr 09, 2023

I like your approach. There's a big difference between "authoritarian" and "mean", too many people refuse to see that.

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