What Is a Jellyfish Parent and What Can We Learn From Them?

Jellyfish parenting tends to be more flexible and lenient than other styles of parenting.

Father and son looking at jellyfish in a tank

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Jellyfish parenting is back in according to social media trends and is battling for top parenting style next to tiger and dolphin parents. So, what is a jellyfish parent?

Writer Emma Brockes calls the style "boneless, diaphanous and endlessly flexible." Kristene Geering, director of education at Parent Lab, describes it as "practicing the art of really tuning into your kid." The Internet warned me that jellyfish parenting is "too permissive" and can lead your confused children into nefarious activity and promiscuity. That's quite the range! So what does it mean to be a jellyfish parent?

What Is Jellyfish Parenting?

At its essence, parents lean into the idea—and reality—that children are overstimulated by running from activity to activity. The theory is that parents have dragged their child from lesson to activity to sport, not necessarily based on any burning passion for the piano or ballet or swimming, but largely to fulfill parental social pressures, requirements or feelings that their child will not be able to succeed in our society unless they attend the art series and flute workshop and weekend French class.

The idea behind jellyfish parenting is that one listens to what their child wants to do—and just does that. Sounds excellent until I sit with the idea of my ten-year-old telling me all they want to do is play Roblox and Pokemon after school for the rest of the academic year.

What Is a Jellyfish Parent?

Like any parent paying attention to their kid's needs, a jellyfish parent is flexible if nothing else. Some may call this spineless, but giving kids the choice to not attend the lesson or practice they are signed up for is baked into being a jellyfish parent.

All parents struggle with how to best support their children. Most of us have had to ask ourselves questions when assessing our child's schedule: Is this for me? Is this for someone outside of my family? Or is this really in the best interest of my kid?

When my son was four we immediately signed him up for soccer. He had no interest in group sports of any kind, but I was surrounded by soccer parents everywhere I went and told myself he would learn how to play well with others, develop new strengths and confidence, and become a team player! Maybe youth soccer would lead to a college scholarship one day!

Fast forward to me watching a ball blaze past my child who was playing "dead bug" on the soccer field. Or that time he pretended to be a zombie and death-walked his way across the grass with a jacket draped over his head. Or my personal favorite—the time he picked up the soccer ball and ran with it. And kept running. Just ran right off the field and away. Yeah, soccer wasn't his passion.

What Would a Jellyfish Parent Do?

Part of the being a jellyfish parent is to open space for different activities or none at all when a child is resistant to the schedule—either indefinitely or for an agreed upon amount of time.

The idea behind jellyfish parenting is that one listens to what their child wants to do—and just does that.

In the years since I have offered him a range of after-school activities and summer camp options—many of which were informed by my interests, passions, and the pressures I felt in my immediate social surroundings exponentially weighing greater upon my shoulders as a single parent. From painting to drawing to Spanish to swimming, from magic to cooking to drums to theater—he has been offered all of it. He has tried some. And a couple, like art and music, have stuck.

Maybe the pandemic helped to refocus our time and our "why." It has helped me understand that just because my son doesn't want to do ultimate frisbee or after-school fill-in-the-blank, doesn't mean that he won't be able to finish something from start to finish. It has helped me listen to what he is curious about and what he is truly interested in. It has helped me to better hear his voice and to make family choices that take his voice into account.

Whatever type of parenting you are doing, all that matters is that you are doing what is best for your child and your family. Call it dolphin or tiger or jellyfish parenting—or don't, but maybe we can just embrace the journey and stumble together towards grace every day.

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