Why I Suspect My Laid-Back Parenting Was the Right Approach

Vintage photo from the seventies of a boy looking straight to his sister.
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My husband and I are raising four kids together. This year they are 12, nine, five, and three. Both my husband and I were born in the ’80s and we were both raised like typical ’80s kids. We played outside unsupervised, we drank from the hose, we rode our bikes to neighbors’ houses and to the store down the street. We prepared our own meals at an early age and stayed home alone at early ages too.

As our children have gotten older we’ve noticed that our default is to parent like our parents did. Sometimes these are conscious choices, and other times we just fall into the same patterns and routines our parents implemented for us. We have also noticed we are in the minority these days. Most of the parents we encounter are far less laid back than we have been in our twelve years of parenthood. We are often intrigued by the evolution of parenting we have witnessed between our own childhoods and now.

At this point in our life, most of our friends have multiple children. We spend a lot of time around a lot of kids and are witness to a wide range of parenting styles.

One thing we have noticed over the years is the varying level of awareness in the children of different families with whom we are acquainted. Some families’ children regularly practice self-control and empathy, express concern over disobedient and reckless behavior in their peers, and respond quickly and respectfully to being told no. Other families’ children tend more towards unawareness, compulsive and aggressive behavior, and disregard of rules and boundaries.

Because these varying degrees of awareness seem consistent inside varying family units, we have concluded that it is a result of parenting practice. But we have never been able to connect what parenting practice might affect this.

Many of the parents we know are what my 12-year-old refers to as “overprotective.” They hover, they say “no” a lot, they correct and reprimand nearly constantly. I think all of this is done with good intention. We all want our children to be well-behaved, to make good choices, and to be safe. Most of their intervention seems to be with those things in mind.

At first glance this appears conscientious and effective. Maybe even necessary. But this week I had a lightbulb moment and I think I am onto something. Throughout our twelve years of parenting, we have received many comments and questions about how laid back we are and how well-behaved our children are. I have never directly connected the two. Until now.

I think children are given an internal alarm that warns them of danger and makes them aware of others and of action and consequence. And I think when parents hover, when we reprimand and remind and warn every few minutes throughout our children’s day, we silence that internal alarm.

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