THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Duality of Parenting: The Authoritative vs. Permissive Debate

What makes a perfect parent?

Is it laying down the law or accepting kids for who they are?

Is it setting high standards or providing unconditional support?

Do you expect your kids to adhere to the rules of the world? Or do you expect the world to adjust to the needs of your kid?

If ever there was a subject where people have differences of opinions, it's parenting.

Most of us tend to fall on one side or the other of the permissive vs. authoritative debate.

From the helicopter parents who hover over their kids 24/7, insulating them from hurt feelings, strict teachers, second place finishes and other realities of life, to the commanding disciplinarians who bounce quarters off beds and reign over the chore chart with an authority Patton wouldn't challenge, styles run the gamut, and everyone is convinced that their way is the best way.

The "free-to-be-you-and-me" crowd believes that their children are unique and special, and thus, should treated as such. These are the people who try to get the grading scale changed to accommodate their child and who insist that everybody get a trophy. You can spot them in public because their child is often the one riding the pony.

The other side of the spectrum is the stiff upper lip crowd, parents who believe that special treatment is for wimps. Their favorite mantras include, "Suck it up," "Tough luck," and "How is this my problem?" These are the parents who buy their kid a bike for his birthday so he'll be able to drive himself to his part-time job.

Yet as much as we may condemn, or defend, the hoverers and the disciplinarians, the inherent intent of both styles have merit.

The authoritative vs. permissive quagmire is yet another example of how either/or thinking locks us into false choices and keeps us from seeing the real truth.

Children need unconditional support AND they also need the discipline to stand on their own.

This is the duality of parenting. Just like so many other areas of our lives, it's not as simple as an either/or choice.

True success as a parent requires mastering the art of AND. (Six Simple Ways to Harness AND)

Despite being almost thirty when I began my adventures in parenting, I came into the job pretty clueless. However, when my first child was barely a month old, I read a line in a parenting book that became a guiding principle for me and forever changed the way I viewed my role. It said:

In an ideal circumstance a child is raised to believe that they are incredibly special, but no more special than anyone else.

It's been almost seventeen years since I first read that, and I continue to find that the simple elegance of this wisdom applies to every age, and every child.

Many of us were raised by well-intended parents who erred on the side of emphasizing that we were no more special than anyone else. We grew up knowing how to make our way in the world, and get along with others. Yet we also suffered from insecurity and a deep, child-like hunger for someone to see our inner magnificence. (Which explains much of our adult dysfunctional relationships.)

We were determined that things would be different for our kids. We would give them all the love and affection we wished we'd had. We wouldn't allow them to feel alone out there in the cold cruel world.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to make your child feel loved and adored, every child should feel that way.

But in trying to make our kids feel special, we sometimes forgot to tell them that everybody else is special too. And that as much as we're put on this planet to be loved, we don't experience true happiness until we learn the discipline of returning that love to others.

Parenting isn't about trying to shield your kids from set-backs, disappointments and the unfairness of life. It's about preparing them to deal with it.

It's a tricky duality to master, you have to be both supportive AND demanding.

You have to create an environment of boundless creativity AND rigorous discipline.

You to be the boss AND let them be in charge of their own decisions.

It's not about compromise or watering-down either approach, it's about combining them.

We need to be both nurturing AND tough.

And we need to honor our child's unique magnificence while at the same time, help them understand they have no more rights and privileges than anyone else on this planet.

Is hard?

Of course it is. You have to hold two ideas in your mind at the same time and simultaneously embrace two approaches at once, which is something we humans struggle with.

The Triangle of Truth is a model that enables you to assimilate seemingly conflicting ideas in a way that makes their whole greater than the sum of the parts. And there's nowhere we need this approach more than when it comes to parenting.

Parenting is powerful monarchy and indentured servitude at the same. It's the ultimate challenge in mastering dualities.

But God wouldn't have sent you such magnificent children if you weren't capable of raising them.

You hold the future of the world in your hands.

And so does everybody else.

Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, syndicated columnist, consultant and keynote speaker. Her newest book The Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Resolving Conflicts Large and Small hits books stores January 5. More info: www.LisaEarleMcLeod.com

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