No One Asks Darth Vader for Advice- Unpacking Authoritarian Parenting

On a mainstream parenting group there was a discussion about whether or not to make your toddlers say please and thank you. Obviously all parents want their kids to grow up to be polite and have manners and more importantly be respectful and appreciate others. That isn’t the divide when we talk about parenting. The divide is all about “make them”.

Authoritarian parents have high expectations of their children and have very strict rules that they expect to be followed unconditionally. I call this Darth Vader parenting. Power, intimidation and control. I am obviously not a fan.

Authorative parents maintain firm expectations and restrictions on their children’s behaviour while holding them accountable for their own moderate in both responsiveness and the demandingness elements of parenting. I think of this as the Obi Wan leadership style of parenting. Strong, firm but all about connection. This is definately what I aim for.

If we split the world of parenting in this way, there are also subcategories. I practice and believe strongly in positive parenting- firm guidance offered in a positive way that resists any temptation to be punitive. It is a style of parenting mostly defined by what we don’t do- no punishment means no time outs, no imposed consequences. Positive parenting is keenly aware of developmental stages, emotional needs and works to encourage kids to cooperate, have strong relationships and accept our guidance.

If you were raised in an authoritarian family, and most people over 30 were, you either behaved well or you rebelled- either way there are costs.

  • You may feel pressure to conform or at times pressure to rebell.
  • You may have issues with anger, resentment or frustration because you don’t expect your needs to be responded to.
  • You may have a fear of failure or shame over making mistakes.
  • You may struggle with self esteem or taking initiative in your life.
  • You may have a hard time expressing yourself fully in close relationships.

These things have an impact on your marriage as well as on your skills at parenting differently.

  • You may struggle with requests from your partner or your kids- pressure to conform or rebell  but not make requests or set firm limits. See how that doesn’t work?
  • You may not be great at expressing your feelings but want deeply to honor your partner’s or kids’ but have no model of this being a two way street.
  • Your fear of failure or shame over making mistakes is a hell of a burden when being in an attachment relationship, loving people means making mistakes over and over again.
  • Your self esteem issues may limit your ability to be really proud of the work you are doing as a parent and a partner and at times will have you doubt their love for you.
  • Your struggles to politely only say  things that are acceptable may limit your expression, your sense of being heard and valued in your relationship.

How are you supposed to create this powerful, positive family where people get to make mistakes, say what they mean, feel what they feel and expect to have their emotional needs responded to when you are locked inside of mistakes and free expression lead to punishment and disconnect?

Ha! In a blog post? Sorry- no easy answers. Just know that you are unpacking and rewriting generations of injustice. It is messy, radical work.

  • Create and build cooperation.
  • Identify and ask for you needs to be responded to. If you suck at this…ask for help. (Funny, huh?)
  • Make lots of mistakes. Clean them up. Apologize. Reconnect. Repeat.
  • Practice mindfulness- notice how great things are going and give yourself a pat on the back. Gentle parenting begins in your head. Practice daily.
  • Be bold. Speak up. Journal. Find your truth. Surround yourself with people who get you.

The world needs us. We are doing tough work. The buck stops here. My kids won’t need positive parenting – they will just have parenting.

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