Ep. 32 – Stop Trying to Be Your Child’s Best Friend

As many countries are still in lockdown or entering a second lockdown, many parents find that staying home with their kids is not an easy job, to say the least. And that's especially true if you're trying to set boundaries all they long. So, naturally, some parents tend to get more and more chill with those boundaries, sometimes to the point of giving them up.

But, is that even a problem? Maybe fewer boundaries are the sane way to go? What's so wrong about being your child's best friend and eliminating the hierarchy?

That's the topic of this episode, as we explore the negative effects of what is known as permissive parenting.

You'll Learn

  • What permissive parenting is, and what it is not.
  • Why it's not a good idea in the long run.
  • How to keep setting respectful boundaries during a lockdown.

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Resources Mentioned in The Episode

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At the time of this recording in the middle of September 2020, some of us are experiencing almost six months of lockdown. Others, such as me, are going to go into a second lockdown. And when you have to stay at home with your kids for so long, I bet that some boundaries tend to, well, change. And there is one important aspect here that we have to talk about. And this is what I'm going to do right after the intro.

All right, my friends. Welcome to the 32nd episode of The apparently parent podcast. How are you today? How are you doing in the middle of September? Almost six months, I think, since the lockdown started for most of us, especially here in Israel. It was, yeah, exactly six months ago. And what do you know? We are going at it again. So this is something that made me think about how we act with our kids during these periods of time which is unprecedented for our generation, for sure. And I got to thinking about how we as parents, staying with our children at home, trying to work while they have to do their remote learning. When you stay so long at home with your kids boundaries tend to start to get more flexible. You start to loosen your grip on some of the boundaries. It’s natural, it's predictable, because you know, you can do everything right, you know, you can give you 150% all the time and which is which is okay.

But there's one place that we have to really notice that we don’t put ourselves in a too flexible mode when we're talking about boundaries in parenting. And I want to take you back 20 something episodes ago, it was episode number five where we talked about the parenting styles. Now in psychology, we have a discussion about parenting styles. There are many kinds of ways we can define parenting styles, but one of the major ways we define parenting style in the psychological literature comes from the work of one psychologist called Diana Baumrind.

Now, I'm not going to go into that because it's all in episode number five, I'm going to put a link in the show notes, you can get them at apparentlyparent.com/32. And you can find the link to that episode if you want to listen to that.

But generally speaking, we can look at parenting through two scales. One is the demandingness scale and one is the responsiveness scale. Now, the demandingness scale is all about how you put your demands in front of your children. Do you have strict demands? Do you have strict rules? Do you have strict boundaries that need to be set? And do you enforce them harshly? Is there your way or no way?
That's the extreme of that scale. You know, when you're high on that scale.

When you’re low on the demandingness scale, you put no demands in front of your children, you let them do what they want to do.

Now, the second scale is the responsiveness scale, which is all about how you respond to your children. And I like to call it also the closeness scale from the word close. How close you are with your children, how warm you are with your children, which is all about how you respond to their needs, their wishes, their hurts, their pains, whatever.

Now you can be either high or low on either of those scales. And broadly speaking, it breaks into four different categories. Now, when we're talking about parents who are high on the responsiveness scale, they're really warm, and in feeling close to the child they put effort into knowing what their children are feeling and care about what their children are feeling and doing. However, they're low on the demandingness scale. This is what we call in psychology permissive parenting. Now it sounds fun. It sounds cool. It sounds okay. Sounds like you're the best parent in the world because you don't put too many demands in front of your child. You're not acting like a dictator for your child. And you know, some parents even tend to say, Yeah, I am my child's best friend.

Now, as we saw in episode number five, we had a brief discussion over there about that. The effects, especially the long term effects of permissive parenting are not so good as you might think. And today, I want to talk about what happens when you're too permissive, which we'll chat about now. If you listen to the part of this podcast, you know, I'm all about caring for your child and being a positive parent, a conscious parent and being connected to your child, seeing what your child is going through and being there for them. But that does not mean that we become our children's best friend. Because if we look at it from the attachment perspective, and I'm talking about the parenting MAP, the A in the parenting map is attachment. Our children need an attachment figure. An attachment figure is someone who is bigger and wiser and stronger and is responsible and is there to protect the child. Now, if you become your child's “best friend”, if you put yourself at the level of your child, your child might feel that he's alone, because he doesn't really have a strong, you know, what we call responsible adults to take care of them.

Okay, so, why is this important in this day and age? Because when we are spending so much time with our children, it can be exhausting and frustrating. A lot of bad emotions may come up, and then you start to flex the rules a little bit.
“Okay, have some more screen time, okay? You don't feel like going into the zoom lesson with your class, whatever, let me finish my work. I don't care anymore. Okay?”

If you find yourself going into those modes, first of all, that's okay. You're a human being. And that's natural, right? But I want you to notice and I want you to be aware that when you do that too much, this is no good. Right? So this is what we're going to talk about today. How permissive parenting it's not a really good idea.

So as we've said, permissive parenting means you're being high on the responsive scale and low on the demanding scale. And that means that as a parent, you tend to have low demands, low expectations from your children and your various responses to your child, which is fine, okay. So again, this is why these kinds of parents tend to view the children's needs as really important, sometimes even more important than their own needs. And here's the tricky part because, you know, every parent who regards him or herself as a caring and positive parent, will put the child's needs in high regard. You do that as well, I'm sure. Okay, one of the hallmarks of positive parenting is being very mindful and very attuned to what your children are saying, what are they doing, what are they going through. But permissive parenting is not only about, you know, seeing the child, it starts there, but the problems arise when he goes into putting the child before everybody else, including your own needs as a parent, and more importantly, before the needs of the entire family as a unit. Now, again, I'm not saying that this is what happens to you, but this is where things can go. So I want you to be aware, you know, when you sail your ship down the ocean of parenting or the ocean of life. You want to look ahead, you want to know where the storms are. You want to know where the dragons are, you want to look ahead. So this is what we're going to do today as we're looking ahead.

So let's take a simple example. Let's take, for example, a couple of parents that I'm going to make up. Let's call him Jack and Jill. And they have two children. And those two children are Danny and Susan. All right. And Danny and Susan are five and seven years old. And Jack and Jill are both working from home right now because of the corona issue. And the children are home as well. And you know, Jack and Jill are really trying to enforce some kind of schedule for the kids, you know, between some screen time and some play time between their work and they really want the kids to go to bed by 8:30pm. But that doesn't work for them. Both kids are rebelling day in and day out against that bedtime. So Jack and Jill, believing that their kids' needs are important, they follow their lead. And also they're exhausted from an entire day of spending time between work and taking care of the kids at home. So they refrain from imposing the schedule and they let the kids stay up late, sometimes way past 9 or 10pm which of course leaves them exhausted and unrested for a new day.

So does that sound familiar? Now you may think to yourself that it doesn't sound so bad. So, you know, some tantrums over bedtime and then there are no tantrums over bedtime because you give up on imposing a boundary over their bedtime, okay?

And you know, maybe Jack and Jill even have fun with the children spending even more time with them or the evening, playing games or whatever. But when you look ahead, there is a price to pay. And again, I'm talking about the price of permissive parenting as it comes out from years of studies. It's not specifically about what happens when you're in lockdown and you give up on one rul. But I want you to notice what can come when looking ahead. And when you give up, you know, too much. So first of all, let's talk about sleep when you give up on bedtime, going to sleep, right? It's not a good idea for children at that age, or, you know, any age. They need their sleep because their bodies are growing and their brains are developing. They need ample sleep hours, right? So if they go to sleep, they know we're going to get enough sleep, they're gonna have a hard time waking up, then you know functioning tomorrow. And also what about the parents themselves? Okay, you need some rest, right? You need some time for you know, doing some grown up stuff. You need some time for each other as a couple, you know, even if it's just you know, Netflix and chill.

As you can see, permissive parenting may give some peace of mind for that moment. Okay, it's great for putting out fires and I'm sure that you feel like you’re day in and day out in lockdowns, putting out fires. Okay, but when you look at things from above, you know, you're gonna take a 30,000 foot view over everything. Then you're gonna see how permissive parenting is doing a disservice for everyone including your children. Okay, so let's talk about some short and long term effects of being a permissive parent. Research has been done and shown that kids of permissive parents, either children whose parents were self identified as permissive using different parenting scales, or by the report of the children themselves, those children tend to be self confident and self reliant, which seems awesome. A confident and self reliant child. Those three children trust themselves and they think highly of themselves. Who wouldn't want a child like that?

However, there's a dark side. Those kids also tend to be really impulsive as opposed to other children. And their ability to exercise self control tends to be lower. Especially as it relates to their own needs, their own drives, their own impulses. Which means those children may engage in more risky behavior than other children, such as alcohol consumption, drug abuse, and engaging in not safe sex or smoking.

So why does that happen? Because when there are no boundaries, or when you are taught from an early age that your needs come first and you don't have to answer to an authority figure such as your parents, there is no real authority over there. Then you're not going to learn how to manage your own needs inside a society and how to take care of yourself and how to stop yourself because no one's taught you before you know. It starts with having another cookie and another cookie and another cookie or, you know, okay, you can watch another hour of YouTube videos. So we can start there. But when it starts there and there is no external mechanism imposed by the parent of a boundary of when to stop, the child doesn't learn how to stop himself when it's needed. Hence, you get more impulsive children.

Lower self control may also lead to eating problems. Children of permissive parents are twice as likely to be overweight when compared to other children. And there's another important effect of permissive parenting, and that is that kids raised like that may have a lower sense of social responsibility. When you're raised with the notion that your needs are more important than those of the rest of the family, you may find it difficult to be empathetic to other people's needs. So that's another bad effect. And if that's not enough children of permissive parents were found to have higher rates of suicidal ideation than those of authoritative parents.

Now, it's important to say we're talking about suicidal ideation, which means suicidal thoughts. It doesn't necessarily mean higher rates of suicide behavior and actual suicide. Okay, we're talking about more depression and suicidal thoughts. And interestingly, the same is true for children of authoritarian parents. Just to remind you, authoritarian parents are kind of the mirror image or the 180 degrees image of the permissive parents. So if the permissive parent is low in demands and high on responsiveness. Once you flip that, you get the authoritarian parent who is high on demand, and low and responsiveness. Now, for those parents, it's not really surprising, at least for me, that those children have more depression and suicidal ideation. But when you flip that for the permissive parents, it's surprising. But yeah, that's a robust finding that is found in the literature.

So, again, you can see where this kind of parenting, the permissive parenting, can lead. But it doesn't mean it always does. We're talking about generalized information, but it can lead to several outcomes that no one wishes for their children. If you're listening to this podcast, you want to practice a positive, mindful, and calm kind of parenting. So you probably don't want to be the highly demanding non responsive, authoritarian parent. Because, as we already know, it leads to bad results as well. But now when you stay with your children day in and day out, and they have to study and they don't feel like spending an hour after an hour in front of a zoom lesson, and you have your work to do, and some of you may work outside of home and you know, you're not really know what your children are doing all the time. It's complicated. It's really complicated. So, you may give up on some of your boundaries and some of your rules. And I am not saying that you should never do that. Really, I'm not. Because I do that as well. I know what you feel because I'm there exactly the same way. I know that if I want to keep my sanity, and I want to keep doing my work, you know, putting these episodes for you creating content for you, taking care of my clients working with them, either remotely or in person, I have to, you know, flex the rules and boundaries a little bit. So, you may need to do that as well. But I want you to be aware, really aware of where things can go and how things can go. And the trick is to find the right kind of parenting style that will be both responsive and warm without letting go of demands and boundary setting. Okay, which is as we talked about in the fifth episode as an authoritative kind of parenting. Okay, so this is where you still have boundaries. You still have demands, but you're also responsive, and you really, you know, respond in a warm way to what your children say and want.

And here's the trick that can help you. Sit down with yourself and make a list. Make a list of the most important rules and boundaries or demands, or expectations. You can call it whatever you want. It can be around bedtime, it can be around what you're gonna wear when you're at home. Maybe you don't want them to be in their PJs all the time when they have to study. It can be about screen time, it can be about food. List at least five to ten of these. And keep that in mind. And it's a wonderful thing to have a discussion with your children about, have a family meeting and discuss your expectations and ask your children as well.

What are their expectations? What do they think is going to happen and what is hard for them? And what is easier for them? Open it up for a discussion. And you know, you can tell them “I expect x, y and z from you. What do you think about it?” And your child may tell you, I don't think that I can do y. So let's say that y is up to 90 minutes of TV a day. And he says but I want more, 90 minutes is nothing. Please let me have two hours at least. So you can open it up for discussion. But You know, you have to be really true to yourself and your own beliefs as a parent and your own values as a parent, and decide if it's working for you or not. And if it's not working for you, then you tell your child empathetically. But strictly, I can't agree to that. I understand that you want to work two or three hours of TV a day, I understand that you're bored, to be at home all the time, and you can go out to see your friends. I understand that. But I cannot allow that because it's not good for your brain. And it's not good for your health, whatever your beliefs are.

So to conclude, when we're talking about positive parenting, we're talking about something that is best both for your child and you. So being highly demanding without respecting your child is just wrong. And I know, this is not the kind of parent that you want to be because if that was the kind of parent you want to be, you wouldn't have listened to this podcast. But being a positive, caring parent doesn't mean letting your children do whatever they want to do, even when you're exhausted in lockdown. As a parent, you have a responsibility to raise your children to be a part of a functioning society. And, you know, if you don't teach them to respect the rules and to respect boundaries and to impose their own boundaries, and especially to respect each other, they will really have a hard time growing up and being, you know, the best adults that they can be inside the society. Right. So that was a little short talk about the bad sides of permissive parenting. Now, if you want to learn more about that, and especially if you want to learn more about how permissive parenting tends to be different between different cultures, which is an interesting topic for maybe a different discussion, I'm going to link a nice article about that. And in the show notes for this episode, so you can check those at them apparentlyparent.com/32.

Now, if you need some more help, about how to handle your children and yourself during these times during a lockdown, and even if you need some help, just not to feel alone as a parent, and you know, learn from each other and, you know, ask me more questions and do this together because we're all in it. Together, please join my group. I have a free community over Facebook here that you can join. It's called “navigating parenting - raising secure and confident children.” And it's there for you to ask whatever you want to ask. You can help each other out. You can answer other parents, when you know by helping other parents, you're really helping yourself as well.

And if you want to join that it's free, it's open for everyone. Just go to apparentlyparent.com/Facebook.

And you can join us. That's it for today. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of The apparently parent podcast. I hope that you know, everything's gonna be fine as soon as possible. Stay safe everybody. If you haven't yet subscribed to this podcast, please do so on whatever platform you like. That way you will get every episode as soon as it comes out. I put new episodes every Thursday and That's that for today. Have a nice weekend everybody. Bye bye.

About The Apparently Parent Podcast

On this show, I share with you my perspectives and experience of parenting and psychology.

Enhance your understanding of the relationship with your child and yourself by learning about attachment, mindful and playful parenting mindset and techniques.

Listen to me sharing my knowledge and experience both as a parent and a therapist, as well as interviews with parenting experts from around the world. 

Eran Katz - Clinical Psychologist and Parenting Counselor

Your Host

Eran Katz

First, I’m a father of two kiddos. But I’m also a Clinical Psychologist and Parenting Counselor specializing in Attachment Theory and Experiential, Emotional Focused Psychotherapy. I believe that parenting is one of the most important things we ever do in our lives. This is why I love talking about it and helping parenting just like you and I find their best-parenting-selves.

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