You know those little rock radio stations with slogans of “play hits from the 80’s, 90’s and today”? The radio station that tempts you to stop flipping through stations on the way to work with a song by Journey and before long you find yourself singing along to “Wonderwall” by Oasis and then turning off the latest Taylor Swift song ? The one that might not be very popular or famous, but usually makes you feel pretty good? Well, that’s my parenting style: lite-rock-radio-station parenting.
Before I google it, that’s a totally made up name for the way I parent. Another name for it could be “buffet-style” parenting. But whatever you call it, it makes me a better parent. A happier parent. And you know what else? I think most of us are this kind of parent too.
Let me explain…
This buffet-style parenting—or lite-rock radio station parenting, as I’ve come to think of it—helped me make my parenting stride.
There is no shortage of parenting styles these days. Gentle parenting. Lazy parenting. Helicopter parenting. Freewheeling parenting. Tiger parenting. Hummingbird parenting. Dolphin parenting. Potted parenting. (And no, those aren’t made-up names, but actual names for parenting styles that have popped up in recent years.) Just thinking about all the different ways we’re told we “should” parent makes my head spin . Not only that, but trying to stick to any of these styles is pretty impractical. I feel like a failure right out of the gate.
Related: From Hummingbird to Helicopter—What’s Your Parenting Style?
I think we all have certain parenting styles that we’re more drawn to because they fit our personality or align with our values or they just come most naturally. But most of us, I suspect, do a little of this and a little of that. To me, that means very lazy parenting. But I was also sometimes more freewheeling, sometimes a little helicopter-like, with aspirations to find enough patience to use gentle parenting more. And that’s right.
Actually, it’s better than OK. This buffet-style parenting—or lite-rock radio station parenting, as I’ve come to think of it—helped me make my parenting stride. It made me a more confident parent. This allowed me to be more accepting – of both my children and myself – and as a result, it was the key to finding joy in parenting. Isn’t that what we want?
How I’m an 80s-style parent: sometimes I’m a freewheeling parent.
I think we all have the image of an 80s mom as someone who drank Tab in the backyard, gossiped with other mom friends, while the kids wandered around the neighborhood until the lights came on. As an 80’s child, I can confirm that for many, this was the default way of parenting. And it was awesome.
These days, this type of parenting is often referred to as free-range parenting. When my children were in kindergarten, I let them play unsupervised. In elementary school, they walked to school (half a mile away) with a pack of neighborhood kids. And in the summers I used to kick them out of the house and tell them to “find something to do.” One summer day when they were in elementary school, that “something to do” ended up going to garage sales. Another summer was spent walking to the convenience store down the street with a few dollars to buy a bunch of sugary candy. I had a few hours of quiet time to work; they felt the rush of simple carbohydrates and independence. Win-win.
Related: Why Unstructured Play Is Critical to Brain Development
How I’m a 90s-style parent: lazy parenting is my love language.
Having been raised in both the 80s and 90s, from my perspective, parenting didn’t seem to change that much from one decade to the next. Parents still fostered independence in their children, but they were more intentional about it. Today, this philosophy might be called “lazy parenting.”
First, there is nothing lazy about lazy parenting. In fact, sticking to this philosophy takes a lot of patience and intention. Lazy parenting generally means that you don’t rush to help so that your child can figure out how to do things on their own. Whether it’s a preschooler pouring a bowl of cereal in the morning, or a third grader doing their math homework, or a tween doing their own laundry, lazy parenting is about stepping back so your child can walk forward.
Related: It’s Science: How You Use Social Media May Be Associated With Your Parenting Style
And while I do wholeheartedly believe in the goals of lazy parenting, sometimes it only makes sense because I have nothing left to give. By Friday night, I just want to sit on the couch and knit while watching “Bridgerton.” Kids, it’s up to you to entertain yourselves. If that means playing a few hours of video games, so be it.
Doing lazy parenting not means negligence. This means we’re not hounding our teenager about his homework or upcoming tests, even though we’re very aware of what his grades are on any given day thanks to the school’s reporting app. That means I don’t put my kids’ clothes in the laundry for them—if they forget, it just means they don’t have the shirt they wanted to wear.
Related: Why ‘Lazy Parenting’ Is Actually a Recipe for Happy Families
Although I strive to be a lazy parent, my own impatience sometimes gets the better of me. When my kids forget to pick up their wet towel off the bathroom floor, I might pick it up for them. When one of them forgot their backpack at their friend’s house, my husband drove to pick it up. When they are late for school, I pack them a lunch even though they usually do it themselves. After all, they are children, and don’t they all need help now and then?
How I’m a Hits-of-Today Parent: A Little Bit of This, a Little Bit of That, and a Whole Lot of Grace
Over the past two decades, there have been countless parenting styles promoted by experts. Just look at that long, non-exclusive list above. There are so many parenting styles that it can feel overwhelming, like no matter what you do, it’s wrong. We want to be good moms. We want to raise kind, resilient and independent children. And we also want to enjoy parenthood.
Having been a parent for over 15 years, I have come to realize that there is no one “right” style for any family or any child. Different children need to be educated in different ways. Even the same child may need something different in different situations. A preschooler can do well on most days with gentle parenting, but lazy parenting can come in handy when they refuse to pick up their toys. The potted plant approach may work best in dealing with your tween’s friendships, but they may need a more helicopter style when it comes to keeping up with their schoolwork. There is no bright line rule, no “best” way to parent.
Related: What’s the ‘Best’ Parenting Style for Raising a Successful Child?
I’ve realized that whatever style and parenting philosophy makes the most sense for me and my family, try as I might, I’m going to screw it up sometimes.
While I’m mostly an ’80s and ’90s parent—because it fits my personality, fits my values, and comes most naturally to me—my husband and I also emphasize emotional health in our family. We talk a lot about feelings. My kids know that I see a therapist from time to time. We often talk about things like anxiety and depression, and we don’t dismiss their feelings of sadness. When they make mistakes, we try (keyword is try) to control our own emotions while guiding our children through theirs so they make better decisions next time. I suppose it has hints of gentle parenting.
But I also make lots and lots of mistakes. I shout I nag. I say the wrong thing. And when I do, I apologize. And then I try as hard as I can to forgive myself.
Related: When a bad day makes you feel like a bad mom
I suppose this might be the number one reason why I’m a little rock radio station, buttet-style parent: I’ve realized that whatever style and parenting philosophy makes the most sense for me and my family, try if I might , I’m going to mess it up sometimes. I’m going to make mistakes. But that’s right. some flexibility and a lot of grace are essential to raising kind, resilient and independent children. It is also very important to raise happy parents.
So every now and then turn the dial to that lite rock radio station. Sure, it might not be the most popular. It might not have a buzzy catchphrase. You might get a little of this, a little of that. And you know what? It sure feels good.