Why the Best Parenting Style Isn't One Style at All, But Many

I'm the kind of parent who will use whatever she needs to get the job done—whether that's a snowplow or helicopter, a lighthouse or a tiger. And I'm sure I'm not the only one.

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Depending on how long you have been in the parenting game, you have likely heard at least a few of the following terms to describe parenting styles: free-range, helicopter, authoritarian, snowplow, tiger... And the list goes on. Each style is thought to emphasize a different tactic to raise kids. Helicopters hover, for example, and snowplows demolish obstacles. But does anyone really only use one tactic when it comes to parenting?

When I read articles on the different styles for parenting, I feel a little lost about the idea that someone could commit fully to a single one. We as parents employ every tool that we have at our disposal to get through. It's the only way to survive it. So when it comes to different parenting styles, I like to think of them as pieces of a well-rounded repertoire of tactics. I see them as compatible instead of exclusive.

To better understand how theses parenting puzzle pieces fit together, I sat down with experts to explore the different aspects of a few popular parenting styles and saw myself in many of them. Chances are you will, too.

The Free-Range Philosophy

Free-range parenting is all about raising kids to be more independent by letting them practice skills.

Dr. Emily Edlynn, a clinical psychologist in Illinois who writes our 'Ask Your Mom' parenting advice column, describes free-range parenting as "an antidote to the over-protection characteristic of helicopter parenting." She points out, "free-range parenting allows children to build independence, confidence, and self-sufficiency, which will serve them well as they grow up and spend more time navigating the world without us by their sides."

How I use it: My 7 year old and 10 year old recently have seen their range extended and it's made some positive changes in our house. The morning routine is improving as I watch them make their own lunches and pack snacks for themselves.

The Helicopter Philosophy

Helicopter parenting is when a parent is very involved. Sometimes it's used to refer to the parenting employed when interacting (or some would say interfering) with teachers or extracurricular activities.

How I use it: My version is less about interfering in their school, but being present to supervise when the trust was broken. The key to judging your helicopter parenting status is to check in with friends. I have a friend at work that used to be a teacher and before I stomp in to demand that snowflake is being treated fairly, I run it by her to make sure I haven't stepped into overzealous helicopter parenting that flattens everything in its path. Overzealous helicopter parenting can have an effect on self-esteem.

The Authoritarian Philosophy

Authoritarian parenting involves high standards for the child, but there is low responsiveness. Tiger parenting can often be lumped in with this parenting style.

How I use it: This particular parenting style is the last resort in my toolbox. If my children have melted down, not had enough sleep or are in a poor mood all that is left is to not respond until they pull themselves out of it. When they have pushed it to this point, they realize that the only way to come back is a big gesture. Beyond apologizing (cleaning of the room, notes, or pictures drawn) to show that they understand the problem with the act.

The Attachment Philosophy

Attachment parenting is closeness and responsiveness. Dr. Edlynn explains, "Caregiver responsiveness is part of building trust with our babies in those early stages—really paying attention to our baby's cues and providing them physical nurturing. This doesn't necessarily require other parts preached by attachment parenting, like babywearing or co-sleeping, but if this comes easily to you as a parent, those strategies do contribute to that responsiveness."

How I use it: I never referred to what I was doing as attachment parenting, but I wore my daughters occasionally to soothe them, and I held them often.

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The Permissive Philosophy

Permissive parenting is where there aren't a lot of rules placed on the children. The parents tend to be highly responsive to the needs of the child. One potential problem with permissive parenting is that they don't require anything from the child. This can create a child with an unrealistic expectation of how the world around them will be.

How I use it: This is something that we use sparsely. It's a special treat for a long week where we cut loose and stay up an extra half hour, or we allow them to be loud for 10 minutes before bed.

The Snowplow Philosophy

Snowplow parenting, also referred to as lawnmower parenting, is when obstacles are cleared from the path of the child by the parent.

How I use it: My snowplow parenting version is more like a shoveled path through a drift. I don't clear all of their pathways, but enough for them to get through. If they need to be more cleared, they need to do it themselves. An example would be if there is a problem at school. I will bring up any concerns that they have. I will reach out to the teacher and set up a plan to attack math or handle a student they don't get along with. However, once that contact is made and I've started the path it's up to them to take responsibility to speak to the teacher to continue taking care of it.

The Lighthouse Philosophy

Lighthouse parenting is focused on providing stability. When I first read the name, I assumed it was just standing on the porch slowly turning with a flashlight in my hands and occasionally making foghorn noises. Turns out I was too literal. Lighthouse parenting suggests that the parent is a beacon at the shore. They allow life to be experienced (like a boat experiences the ocean) but the parent is always visible and available to guide.

How I use it: This approach is a long-term practice for stability. We do this with bedtime routines where we talk about whatever worries hit us for the day in order to speak about the best way we can deal with them. I bring up something from our talks a week later to make sure they know that they are heard. I see them from the lighthouse, and they can see me.

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