This is painful to admit, but in the interest of public service, I’m coming clean. I was a flop of a father. Sure – I put bread on the table; they went to good private schools; they were dressed, and fed and bathed, had their annual doctor visits and semi-annual dentist visits, all their school bags and school supplies, and recreational activities as well… any checklist item you care to name was there. Except one. I wasn’t so available… emotionally.

Their joys, their fears, their hopes, their dreams, their concerns, their loves, their beliefs and values.. I had no clue. I also didn’t really play with them much. I was too busy with work and other projects. There are reasons, valid ones. And there are excuses, too. But bottom line, I had no clue what it really meant to be there for your kid. To really connect with your kid. Somehow today I’m blessed with great relationships with some of them, but with others, let’s just say I’m busy building bridges that I accidentally burned long ago, and no great surprise it takes a lot longer to build them than to burn them.

My better half, Leah, is quite different. She’s the sweetest person in the world, smart, creative, responsible, stable, what more could you ask for? When it came to parenting there was one major difference between us: Her parenting style was very non-confrontational, while mine was more, in your face.

In short, she was the jellyfish and I was the brick wall. She’d ignore the coats, etc., dumped each day on the floor in the front hall. While I’d re-declare World War 3 on a nightly basis. And so it was with all the other ‘contentious’ issues that come up in every household.

What we were missing was the third parenting style, what internationally acclaimed parenting expert and bestselling author, Barbara Coloroso calls “Backbone Parenting”.

A Lesson

Here’s a summary of Barbara Coloroso’s three parenting styles concept.

Authoritarian (Brick Wall)  

  • Parents demand absolute obedience.
  • Parents control their children – no discussion.
  • Children are afraid of being punished.
  • There is an emotional distance between parents and children.
  • Children may rebel (drugs, alcohol, sexual activity).
  • This is a way of getting back at parents.

Permissive (Jelly Fish)  

  • Parents do not set any rules for their children.
  • Children do whatever they want.
  • Children are confused, because no one cares.
  • Children feel insecure.
  • They may look for escape through drugs or alcohol.
  • They may try to find a sense of belonging through sexual activity or gangs.

Authoritative (Backbone)  

  • Parents care about their children’s behaviour.
  • Parents set rules for their children and enforce consequences.
  • Children are involved in decision-making, but parents are the final authority.
  • Children understand the rules, so they are more willing to accept them.
  • Parents change the rules as children become more responsible.
  • Parents teach children how to think – not what to think.

An Exercise

Find a parenting ally, another parent you can trust and talk to openly, and think out loud together, reflecting on your parenting style. Which parenting style is yours?

Are you a Jellyfish? Is so, why is that? Are you afraid of negative reactions from your kids? Are you afraid of failure, yet again? Lean into your fear and choose one behavioural issue to tackle for this week. Find that child at a quiet moment and get their attention. Calmly, quietly, and briefly state your concern – then wait for a response, and listen to it. No matter what that response is, don’t overreact or debate. You can keep up the conversation or politely exit the conversation at that point. In either case, that was a parenting victory, regardless of the immediate reaction or outcome.

Are you a Brick Wall? If so, why? What is your trigger? Why get angry? Do you think it will help? What are you afraid of? Losing control? Being a failure? Lean into your anger this week and confront it in the face, instead of confronting your child. Ask your anger if it is helpful, and appropriate or harmful and dysfunctional. Try that each day. Once you’ve tamed your anger, you can enter the family circle again, but this time with a calm and pleasant tone of voice. Make a point of connecting with your child in a positive way. Only after that, see about addressing the mess or the homework or whatever it is that’s bothering you.