My daughter and I flew to New York last weekend and stayed with
a very close friend of mine with two kids, ages three and 18
months. Seeing our children play together for the first time
carried special significance for an old friendship, yet also
brought into sharp contrast our respective parenting styles. I
couldn't help but notice how differently we interacted with our
My friend and her husband are blunt
and direct with their kids and not timid about using the word no. I
take a much gentler approach, with lots of compliments,
distractions and general playfulness. Initially, I was caught
off-guard by their parenting style. But as my daughter and I
elbowed our way through the bustling streets of Manhattan, I found
myself asking: Am I properly preparing my child for her future?
When my daughter was born four years
ago, parenting was all about the positive: positive redirection,
positive reinforcement - my new mom friends and I treated "no" like
it was a four letter word. My husband and I fell for this approach,
even asking our daughter's caregivers to follow along. The results
seemed great - my daughter cruised right along through the first
couple of years of her life with relative ease.
But as she engages more with other
children, and as the warm cocoon we've spun around her wears away,
I wonder whether our gentle approach has given her the tools she
needs to become a strong, assertive, successful adult.
I brought up the topic of "soft"
parenting with some mom friends, and during our lively
conversations a few observations hit home.
One is that we're preparing our kids
for what we know will be hyper-competitive academic and
professional careers, where everyone is vying for a few slots on
the debate team and honor roll. Does a soft parenting style match
the road ahead of them? Someday, when their spreadsheet,
presentation or report is completely off the mark, will they be
ready for a tough conversation with a boss who thinks positive
redirection is for the birds?
The second observation is that
mention any sort of nice/not nice concerns to parents with young
kids and the response is practically automatic: What about the
bullies? In this age of online, uncensored and often anonymous
communication, bullying is ever more present and concerning. We
know it's our job as parents to avoid having our kids become the
bully. But the worry I try to brush aside, as I tell my child to
share, be polite, not talk back, and generally try to stomp out an
innate aggressiveness that actually seems quite healthy is: what if
she's the bullied? Will she be able to handle it?
And having seen both styles in one
house last weekend, the question remains: Will my friend's kids,
who have more of a realistic taste of human communication, with all
of its nuance and complexity, fare better?
-by Wendy Widom
Wendy Widom is CEO of Familes in the Loop (FITL), Chicago's hippest hub for parents and kids.
See more of Wendy 's stories here.
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