Many of my clients fear reenacting the parenting style they grew up with and go to great lengths to raise their child in a different manner. This is particularly true if they have a negative pattern of relating to them or they are estranged from them. It’s my belief that examining our parents’ style more closely can shed light on why we might feel this way and to avoid the “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” phenomenon that might cause us to feel concerned about the legacy we leave our children.
A recent article on the website The Candidly unpacks the universal, often difficult to decode impact that our parents have had on our lives, personalities, and out own abilities as mothers and fathers to children later in life. Citing research conducted by John Gottman of The Gottman Institute, the piece begins with a straightforward premise, noting that “how our parents regarded and responded to our emotions has likely had a profound and ongoing effect on us.”
Gottman’s four stylistic categories are then broken down, each one defined by “how [parents] handle their kids ’emotions.” Along with each of the style, behavioral example are provided, along with how they affect the children.
First, Gottman has outlines “The Dismissing Parent,” a way of rearing children that is often disinterested, out of touch and “avoiding and actively overlooking their child’s feelings.” As the name would suggest, parents of this type often dismiss their child’s feelings, brushing off emotionally significant moments.
In the face of a child’s often challenging attempt to process their emotions, The Dismissing Parent will say things like “crying won’t solve anything,” or “you’re fine,” and ultimately, this type of parent is unable to “handle negative emotions, treating them as unfavorable, inconvenient, or unhealthy.”
The second style is that of “The Disapproving Parent,” a disposition that sees the parent taking “their intolerance for a child’s emotions to another level, tending to be more harsh and critical than a dismissing parent.” The Disapproving Parent is judgmental, harsh and impossible to please.
The Candidly sums ups Gottman’s Disapproving parent by saying “if you grew up with a disapproving parent, you probably felt very judged for your feelings. They may have tried to control or manipulate your emotions through punishment, discipline, and a generally overpowering way of relating to you. Again, they enforce the message that any negative emotions are weak, useless, and an imposition.”
Gottman’s third style of is “The Laizzez-Faire Parent.” Unlike the previous two models, The Laizzez-Faire Parent is passive, overly permissive and struggles to impart guidance and structure for their child. Despite not being overbearing or aggressive, this inaction leaves a child without the tools to mature and learn to appropriately cope with life’s inevitable hurdles.
Finally, Gottman has labeled the fourth style as “The Emotion-Coaching Parent.” Here, we see a definite departure from the largely regressive traits of the previous three categories, instead observing a parent who “generally meets feelings with patience.”
Further, The Emotion-Coaching Parent understands their child’s processing of negative “feelings as an opportunity to grow, problem-solve, and get closer” and they often “show more emotional intelligence, tolerance, and acceptance of their own emotions.” The Emotion-Coaching Parent is caring and curious, and “they ask questions, listen, empathize, and offer affection to their distraught child.” The children of Emotion-Coaching Parents are armed with the tools to tackle tough moments, and are “much more likely to feel safe with [their] feelings and trust [themselves].”
All told, Dr. Gottman’s four styles of parenting encompass a range of good and bad experiences that children live through with their parents and can account for the reactions that parents have to those realities. It’s clear that the way one parents not only affects a child in their young life, but also predicts how they will function as parents themselves later in life. While the children of dysfunctional parents can certainly transcend those circumstances, it’s also true that healthy dynamics predict emotionally adept, well-adjusted families now and for future generations.
Find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award-winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020.
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