As our lives have become more hectic, I have noticed different parenting styles emerging from myself and many of my friends who are single mothers. Previously, we all considered ourselves to be “Soccer Moms” – always there to support our children and making certain their lives were as fulfilled as possible. But now, as we have to tighten our belts and in some cases work longer hours or two jobs, some of that philosophy has basically flown out the window! Take Jill – before the recession, she made brownies for the bake sales, took her daughters out to sell Girl Scout cookies, drove between ballet and piano lessons, etc. Now, most of those lessons are canceled to save money and her time is now spent working a second job to help pay her increased mortgage payment. As a result, her daughters, aged 14 and 16, have now had to pitch in and help around the house. To my amazement, Jill’s daughters are actually doing a great job contributing to the smooth running of the household. Instead of assisting with meals, the daughters plan dinner over breakfast in the mornings and have everything cooked and ready just before their mother arrive home from her second job. Jill says her daughters quickly learned that if they waited until the last minute to decide the dinner menu, there was no time to thaw anything that was frozen or to pick up items from the grocery store.
Jill is fortunate her daughters are old enough to take over some of the household duties like laundry, cooking, and cleaning. She is even more fortunate the daughters were so willing to pitch in! Jill explained she had sit down with her daughters one Saturday morning, described their economic situation, and let her daughters decide how they could help. The girls even came up with the idea of quizzing each other to prepare for tests at school while preparing the meals in the kitchen. Their mother knows if their money problems had occurred while her daughters were younger, the situation could have been much more stressful. Jill described how her parenting style has changed over the years based on the maturity of her children – from authoritarian to democratic. No matter what the style, Jill has always made the time for her daughters and made certain they understood changes occurring in their lives and that, no matter what, they were family and would make it through the rough times together. She also was quick to point out, that if she had explicitly delegated the household chores to her children, they would not have been nearly as cooperative. In the past, her daughters have actually been more likely to take on more responsibility than her expected and has had to hold them back to make certain they didn’t “grow up too quickly!”
This democratic style did not work so well for Tina who has one son, age 12, and twin daughters, age 10. When the family had to cut back, the children were outraged! Tina had always acted as more of a friend than as a parent – rarely were rules set and very little discipline if the rules were broken. Now that she needs her children’s support and have them pitch in with chores, the lack of a parenting structure is coming back to haunt her. Tina had always said she did not want to be a strict parent like her parents, and instead wanted to build relationships with her children based on friendship and trust. Tina overlooked the fact that younger children need structure, rules, discipline, and communications as part of a nurturing relationship. Now that her children are reaching an age where they should begin to make decisions on their own and accept some responsibilities, the foundation for the maturity does not exist. The end result? Tina is frustrated and home has become a battleground of wills!
Monica is completely different from Jill and Tina. Monica has always worked two jobs and gets to spend little time with her son, age seven. When Monica is home, she is usually too tired to do more than cook a quick meal and throw a load of clothes into the washing machine. To have her son help around the house, Monica’s normal tactic is to “nag” her son – pick up your books, put up your plate, etc. – not once, but making the request three or four times and she finally gives up and does it herself. The result? Her son has become quite skilled at tuning her out! When I asked why she doesn’t try another approach – like spending time outside the home with her son, grounding as punishment, etc., her response is that she is basically too tired and simply does not have the energy or time – even to enforce punishment. In one case she had tried to the “no television” for a week as punishment. There was so much arguing, temper tantrums, and then complete disregard for the punishment, she just gave up. Even she sees a future with a son that has little respect for others and will probably has little respect for himself, but she feels she does not have many other options. This is a problem many families experience when there are latch-key children who only interact with parents an average of three hours per day.
There is no one wonderous parenting style that works for every situation and for every person. However, there are certain characteristics that seem to stand out: time and adaptation. Time is a crucial element to establishing a healthy relationship between a parent and child. It does not require several hours per day, but spending thirty minutes a day to simply talk or play (without distractions like television, etc.) can help create open communications, trust, and respect between the parent and child. In addition, realize this relationship is easiest if it is started when the child is young. As your child grows and learns, your parenting style will need to evolve also. If the solid foundation exists, it will be much easier to understand and accommodate these changes, especially when the family experiences stress like a recession and everyone has to contribute.