The third mode of parenting

Permissive, Repressive, and the magic bit in between.

The third mode of parenting

“Just letting them get away with it.”

Far too often, I've seen therapeutic practice dismissed for this reason.

There's a pervasive idea that if there's no immediate (and often significant) punishment, then we're just letting kids get away with it.

On a recent podcast interview with Dr Rangan Chatterjee, Dr Gabor Maté explained the three modes of parenting.

  1. Permissive: The child does want they want. You don't intervene.
  2. Repressive: The child is punished for getting anything wrong.
  3. Authoritative: That magic bit in between.

I immediately recognised Dr Maté's description of authoritative parenting. When a child is upset, you comfort them. You validate their feelings. You hold them. There's no punishment for feeling something.

That's therapeutic parenting.

There's an idealistic view of the permissive mode that perhaps looks like free range parenting. Kids run free. Set their own bedtimes. Learn when and how they want. Maybe it works for some. It's not what we're talking about here. In my view, permissive parenting looks more like neglect.

I hope any free range parent would agree that while all feelings are valid, expressing anger by kicking the dog would not be acceptable. As a parent, you can't allow that behaviour. You step in.

And yet too often we see children held to impossible behaviour standards. They get tired, angry, upset. And our response... sorry, you can't feel that way.

“I don't want you behaving that way, but you can have the emotion, and I'm not going to reject you for it.” — Dr Gabor Maté

As parents we may pick our battles. It may be helpful to avoid the argument about the coat when it's a little cold outside. When it's –5°C and snowing, we need to do something. We can empathise with how unfair it feels. We can sit with their frustration. Then we can help them put their coat on. And remind them they're loved.

That mode of parenting stays with a child for the rest of their lives.