Parenting Styles and Unexpected Outcomes

I think it was NZ parenting guru Ian Grant who invented the parenting labels: brick wall, jellyfish and backbone. Today I am going to add in an exoskeleton parenting style. Although there are about as many different ways to parent as there are parents, these can be handy for us to think about when outcomes don’t seem to be working out according to plan.

Brickwall Parents: If we’re in this group, other people call us Authoritarian. We make the rules, we govern the rules and we have our children on really tight schedules – we have everything organised down to the smallest detail and expect our kids to be organised and tidy in all they do. There is little room for our children to make any decisions because we know what’s best for them and, more than anything else, we want them to succeed. We give up our time and money to ensure that our children get to what ever classes they need to get to in order to achieve at the highest possible standard and we take great pride in our children’s successes. We want our children to know what discipline is, and that success comes from hard work over a long period of time, and “look what I have given up/gone through to give you these opportunities”. (Mostly operating as Persecutors or Victims in a Drama Triangle.)

Unexpected outcomes: alarming compliance, or intense rebellion and truly dangerous behaviours from the children and parental disappointment/embarrassment.

Jellyfish Parents: If we’re in this group, other people call us all sorts of things probably none of which are appropriate to print here. We don’t believe in setting or maintaining any rules for our children because we believe children function the same way adults do, and so we let our children completely dictate everything that happens in their lives. There is little or no room for our needs and we are most likely to attempt to reason with our children when they don’t want to do something that we suspect they really should do. We give up ourselves and do anything to appease them because more than anything we want them to like us. We want our children to know grow up feeling they have control over their lives, and that no matter what they do, their behaviour is OK with us. (Mostly operating as Rescuers or Victims in a Drama Triangle.)

Unexpected outcomes: bratty demanding children and parental exhaustion.

Exoskeleton Parents: If we’re in this group, other people think we’re Pushovers. We believe in setting and maintaining rules but are often unsure which ones we should keep and we often say, “No”, and then back down and then at other times say, “No”, to things that were actually OK and feel guilty about that. We want our children to know about discipline and to have some freedom to make choices, but we seem to be a bit out of step with what they really need, or we are exhausted and overwhelmed, and their nagging just wears us down. We give up a lot of our free time and go against our own wisdom at times then insist our children give up a lot of their free time and go against their internal drives, because we really do want to do the best job we can but are often pretty confused about the moment to moment decision making of parenting. (Mostly operating from a Serenity Triangle but probably don’t realise it.)

Unexpected outcomes: children who can be a bit whiny and sometimes do the wrong thing, maybe to dangerous levels every now and again, but otherwise know their parents love them and eventually work it all out for themselves, and parents who are really surprised at how well it all turned out.

Backbone Parents: Brickwall Parents think we’re too soft; Jellyfish Parents think we’re too harsh and Exoskeleton Parents can’t work out why our children don’t whinge and nag as much as theirs do. We keep pretty tight control over things like bedtimes, food eaten, dressing for the occasion/weather, family rituals and manners but otherwise allow our children to make decisions for themselves – even if we‘re not ready for them to make those decisions, and we’re flexible when we need to be. Our children probably get to play the old-fashioned way more than other children and take more risks, and we value their opinions and views. But we also hold overall authority in the family and knowing where to draw the line and our children probably do more chores than others. We might include fun and mischief in our day but we also know when that mischief becomes silly or outright naughty and can set a firm boundary if needs be. We want our children to know how to think and manage life for themselves, and can live with them having opposing points of view from our own. We accept that sometimes our children really, truly do hate us and don’t always understand the rules we set – but that overall they trust our decision making because we are a reliable source of comfort and what we say seems to match what happens in real life. (Mostly operating from a Serenity Triangle.)

Unexpected Outcomes often matching Expected Outcomes: children who seem more capable, confident and mature than kids of the same age, and parents who, mostly, enjoy their company.

The thing, as far as I can see, is we cannot predict what the world will look like when our children are adults. We cannot dictate whether they will succeed at something even if they do work their hardest. We cannot dictate whether they like us or even love us when they are adults. We can’t decide how society will perceive our children. We can’t decide how our children will function in that society. We can only provide them with a safe place to shelter and skills to manage for themselves – in a world that is as it is, not always or even often, as we would like it to be.

no idea

For more innovative and science based ideas about parenting you could buy my book,

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About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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8 Responses to Parenting Styles and Unexpected Outcomes

  1. I started out with a backbone, until my kid could argue. Then I was a jellyfish for about 5 years. Trying to find the backbone again, but am closer to that exoskeleton thing. ;^)

  2. faemom says:

    The exoskeleton is a brilliant observation. And I like your comment about where we sometimes end up due to exhaustion and confusion. I’m working hard on being that backbone parent. And it does catch my jellyfish friends and brickwall friends off guard. I’m a brickwall over sleeping and eating schedules, but then I let my kids run screaming through my house or outside on the playground or play in muddy puddles. In all instants, I shrug and say “What?” to questioning parents.

    • Good on you! I do much the same thing…and it’s interesting to watch people’s eyebrows raise when my boys are on top of playground equipment or high in a tree, covered in mud. Then I get the moans because ‘everyone’ else is staying up later or eating different foods.
      I think, feeling overwhelmed is a state many modern parents find themselves in and we are often hard on ourselves about that…perhaps an idea for the next post…

      • faemom says:

        I keep wondering if other generations of parents felt this overwhelmed. I know women have always worked and raised children, but they didn’t do it in this hyper-sensitive parenting media. They didn’t raise children in a culture of parenting that is hands-on as much as this culture. But parenting is parenting.

        • Yeah, I wonder that too. Being here, and rural, I often think about what it would have been like for pioneer women arriving in new countries with nothing familiar and none of the family around them, especially those out on farms miles away from anyone else and – especially those in miserable marriages and no hope of escape. In town, I guess the kids went off and played more and that would have at least left women time to manage the house and babies.

  3. I thought it was Barbara Coloroso who came up with the backbone, jellyfish, and brick wall — but maybe she referenced someone else.

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