Labelling parents: the good, the bad and the downright unnecessary

Labelling parents: the good, the bad and the downright unnecessary

If you had to slap a label on your parenting style, what would it be?  There are plenty to choose from, from attachment to out-sourcing and free range to French ­–­ although none are particularly positive.  And many sound like options on your Ocado order.

Patchy approach

I often start the day determined to lovebomb my way to parenting nirvana, but by breakfast time I find myself wishing I could afford to outsource.  After school I move into helicopter mode, encouraging my son to finish his dinner and interfering with my daughter’s homework.  Finally, at the end of another exhausting day, with a relaxing glass of wine in hand, I switch to free-range.

I’m fairly sure I’m not alone in this patchy approach to parenting.  I remember my own mother veering between loving cuddles and corporal punishment, but in the early 70s parents weren’t labelled for their failings.  They were just doing their best, even if, according to Philip Larkin, it meant they were effing us up in the process.

Most labels are designed to induce guilt, but they all have a place at some point in our children’s lives. 

bare-biology-tiger-parenting-braids-in-hair

These days, parenting has become a badge of honour to be worn with pride or a heavy chain of guilt around our necks.  You know the badge-wearing mums I’m talking about.  The ones who send their children to school with hair plaits more complex than the showstoppers in Bake Off’s bread week.  I’m not sure what the label is for them.  Hollywood, perhaps?

Which parent are you?

Most labels are designed to induce guilt, but they all have a place at some point in our children’s lives.  I adopt helicopter parenting during playtime if I think one child is being treated unfairly and when it comes to extra-curricular activities I admit I have to quell my inner tiger.

Here are a few of the current labels doing the rounds:

Helicopter: this describes overprotective mums and dads who hover over their children.  Instead of allowing them to make their own mistakes, or sort out sibling arguments, the parents step in to ‘help’ (i.e. interfere).  This mode of parenting is blamed for creating a feckless generation, unable to cope with failure.

Curling: another label for interfering parents, coined by Danish psychologist Bent Hougaard.  You know that really weird, but also weirdly popular, Olympic sport where ‘athletes’ (I use the term in the loosest sense) frantically sweep the ice to ensure a clear path for the stones?  Well, curling parents do the same for their children ensuring nothing stands in the way of their goals.  Also known as lawnmower for those who have never seen the Winter Olympics and snowplough for those who have a lot of s*** to shovel.

Apparently the French are stricter with their children, but spend less time curling and more time imbibing red wine and looking fabulous.  What’s not to like?

Tiger: it’s all push, push, push with these parents who prioritise academic success over actual happiness.  Rather than allow their children to play or watch TV, they’re schooled, groomed and pummelled into over achievers.  First adopted by Amy Chua as the title of her book and now often associated with high-achieving Asian families.  But hey, lets stick to parenting labels here and not delve into racial stereotypes.  Parents of all nationalities can eff up their kids by channelling their inner tiger.

bare-biology-free-range-parenting

Free-range: this old-school parenting style, where children are left to their own devices, is the antidote to all of the above.  But be prepared to be judged pretty harshly on this one.  Writer Lenore Skenazy was dubbed “the world’s worst mom” for letting her nine-year-old travel alone on New York’s subway.

Outsourcing: another alternative to getting over involved is to outsource your parenting to a paid professional. Also known as working mums trying to get support….  Please don’t judge us – even if you’ve never paid for childcare, chances are you send your child to school and a variety of life-enhancing clubs (yes YOU Tiger mum). Whether you like it or not, this is outsourcing.

All these labels miss one crucial element.  Love.  However we parent and whatever mistakes we make, we love our children and are simply doing our best.

Attachment: this one maligns parents who love their children just a little bit too much.  Bed sharing, long-term breastfeeding and baby-wearing can lead to clingy kids and exhausted mums.

French: we have long been obsessed with how the French do things (eat croissants and stay slim being the no: 1 Google search), so it was only a matter of time before their parenting techniques trickled over the channel.  Apparently the French are stricter with their children, but spend less time curling and more time imbibing red wine and looking fabulous.  What’s not to like?

Lovebombing: a method developed by psychologist Oliver James that “resets the emotional thermostats of children aged three to puberty”.  It involves spending time alone with your child and offering them unlimited love and control.  The love bit I can do, it’s the ‘control’ thing that scares me…

Doing-my-best mum

If you are none of the above there are plenty more to choose from, such as the concerted cultivator, little-emperor, elephant mum and lighthouse parent.  I’ll leave it for you to work out what these involve as, quite frankly, since writing this piece I’ve been in free-range mode and I really need to check in on my two kids.

Before I go, one final thought…  Aside from lovebombing all these labels miss one crucial element.  Love.  However we parent and whatever mistakes we make, we love our children and are simply doing our best.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to throw a few labels of my own into the mix.  These are based on my reality and not some study in a lab, or a journalist looking for a new angle on old copy.  Today I’ve been a combination of ‘fun mum’, ‘frazzled mum’ and ‘sorry-I-got-really-angry-but-I-still-love-you mum’.

Tomorrow is another day, so who knows what kind of parent I’ll be?  The one thing I can guarantee is I will always be ‘doing-my-best mum’.  That’s the only label I need.

Charlotte Ricca Smith is a journalist and blogger who writes about real health, real women and real life.

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