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Strict Parenting vs Permissive Parenting: Finding a Middle Ground

How to find a middle ground between the authoritarian parent (strict parenting) and permissive parent (permissive parenting). Help for parents to find the best parenting style.

A parent writes, "One of our family's big challenges is the ongoing debate between my husband and I over how strict vs. how lenient we should be. Our kids complain that we are too strict, my husband complains that I am too flexible, and I complain that he is too rigid. This creates too much stress. How can we find a middle ground?"

Of all the necessary ingredients that parents add to the mixture called childrearing, rules and limits are among the most vital. Complicating this task, though, is the fact that excessive limits leads to the boiling over of resentment and defiance, but inadequate limits interfere with adaptation to rules and the willpower needed to resist unhealthy pressures.

It's not uncommon for mothers and fathers to be on opposite sides of the "firmness fence," each convinced that the other is doing it wrong. This leads to inconsistencies, mixed messages about rules, and the undermining of each other's authority. Such circumstances can breed dishonesty, deceit and manipulation within children, some of the very behaviors that proper limits are designed to discourage and prevent. Therefore, it is particularly important that parents are united in their approach to this issue.

Authoritarian Parent vs. Permissive Parent: Can't We Get Along?

The authoritarian parenting style and permissive parenting style are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Here are some suggestions for finding the elusive middle ground:


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Bear in mind that upbringing plays a pivotal role in this clash of philosophies. The limits and punishments handed down by our parents creates a template for what we refer to as parents. Some of us defend our parenting decisions with the statement, "I turned out o'kay," as if this indicates that our kids will be just as happy and well adjusted. To borrow a phrase from the investing world, past results do not guarantee future performance. Today's complex culture has led to an entirely different array of forces and frustrations that parents must help equip their kids to contend with. Simply doing what was done to us risks overlooking many opportunities to use limits, coaching, and consequences to build stronger character strengths in our kids. One way to act upon this knowledge is to consider which past parenting lessons are helpful in today's world and which ones need discarding.

Take heed of your spouse's opinions since to ignore them leads to troubling results for your children. Children who are raised with two different sets of limits and consequences have more difficulty adapting to the outside world. Rather than internalizing rules that become self-governing, they seek out fulfillment of their desires by deception, avoidance, and self-justification. This underscores what's at stake if parents don't resolve their differences. If you can't totally agree with your spouse's position consider what you "can live with" as the next best choice. The benefits of unified rules and consequences, even if you are somewhat unhappy with them, is preferred to the arbitrariness of shifting standards and attempts to "make up" for the perceived excesses of one's spouse.

Remember that parenting often leads us directly to our triggers or hot spots. This is due to the expectations and emotions that we wrap tightly around our children's behavior. When they act out inappropriately, we are at risk for losing control over our reacting sides. This can be a major issue when couples don't agree about rules and discipline. One parent is responding emotionally to the child's misbehavior; the other parent attempts to shield the child from this fall-out. The over-emotional parent is wise to consider where their triggers are in order to prepare a more thoughtful response. The other parent would be wise to use verbal diplomacy when discssing this loaded issue.

Consider what mental blinders you might bring into your parenting role. These blinders get in the way of our seeing our child accurately or responding empathically. Sometimes it's due to behaviors in our child that remind us of parts of ourselves, siblings, or parents that we have associated with negative or hurtful memories. Sometimes the blinders are due to aspects in our spouse which we find undesireable and find evidence of in our child. If this is the case, it's likely contributing to an overly harsh or lenient disciplinary style. Try to have as open and honest a discussion with your spouse as you possibly can, recognize where these blinders may be emanating from, and pledge to find ways to shed them.

About Dr. Steven Richfield: Known as "The Parent Coach," Dr. Richfield is a child psychologist, parent/teacher trainer, author of "The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today's Society" and creator of the Parent Coaching Cards.

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next: The Pitfalls Of Permissive Parenting

APA Reference
Writer, H. (2010, May 18). Strict Parenting vs Permissive Parenting: Finding a Middle Ground, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/the-parent-coach/strict-vs-permissive-parenting-finding-a-middle-ground

Last Updated: July 31, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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