You know those lite rock radio stations with slogans of “playing hits from the ‘80s, ‘90s, and today”? The radio station that tempts you to stop flipping through stations on your way to work with a song by Journey and before long you find yourself singing along to “Wonderwall” by Oasis and then belting out the latest Taylor Swift song? The one that might not be super popular or well-known but usually makes you feel pretty good? Well, that’s my parenting style: lite-rock-radio-station parenting.
Before googling it, this 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 the lite-rock-radio-station parenting, as I’ve come to think of it—has helped me hit my parenting stride.
There’s no shortage of parenting styles these days. Gentle parenting. Lazy parenting. Helicopter parenting. Free-range parenting. Tiger parenting. Hummingbird parenting. Dolphin parenting. Potted plant 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 one of these styles is pretty impractical. I feel like a failure right out of the gate.
I do think we all have certain parenting styles that we’re more drawn to, because they fit with 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. For me, that means a lot of lazy parenting. But I’ve also been more free-range at times, a little helicopter-ish at times, with aspirations of mustering enough patience to use gentle parenting more. And that’s OK.
Actually, it’s better than OK. This buffet-style parenting—or the lite-rock-radio-station parenting, as I’ve come to think of it—has helped me hit my parenting stride. It has made me a more confident parent. It has enabled me to be more accepting—of both my kids and myself—and, as a result, it has been the key to finding joy in parenting. Isn’t this what we want, after all?
How I’m an ‘80s-style parent: sometimes I’m a free-range parent.
I think we all have the image of an ‘80s mom as someone who drank Tab in the backyard, gossipping with other mom friends, while the kids roamed the neighborhood until the lights came on. As an ‘80s kid, I can confirm that this was, for many, the default way to parent. And it was awesome.
Nowadays, this kind of parenting is often referred to as free-range parenting. When my kids were in preschool, I let them play unsupervised. In elementary school, they walked to school (a half-mile away) with a pack of neighborhood kids. And in the summers, I would regularly kick them out of the house, telling them to “find something to do.” One summer day when they were in elementary school, that “something to do” ended up being visiting garage sales. Another summer was spent walking to the convenience store down the street with a couple dollars to buy a bunch of sugary candy. I had a few hours of quiet time to work; they felt the rush of simple carbs and independence. Win-win.
How I’m an ‘90s-style parent: lazy parenting is my love language.
Having been raised in both the ‘80s and ‘90s, from my perspective, it seemed like parenting didn’t change all that much from one decade to the next. Parents still promoted independence in their kids, but they were more intentional about it. Today, this philosophy might be called “lazy parenting.”
First of all, there is nothing lazy about lazy parenting. In fact, sticking to this philosophy takes a lot of patience and intention. Lazy parenting generally means no rushing in to help so 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 step forward.
And while I do believe whole-heartedly in the goals of lazy parenting, sometimes it makes sense just because I have nothing left to give. By Friday night, all I want to do is sit on the couch and knit while watching "Bridgerton." Kids, it’s up to you to entertain yourself. If that means playing a few hours of video games, so be it.
Lazy parenting does not mean negligence. It means that we don’t hound our teenager about his homework or upcoming tests, even though we are very aware of what his grades are on any given day thanks to the school’s reporting app. It means I don’t put my kids’ clothes in the laundry for them—if they forget, that just means they don’t have the shirt they wanted to wear.
Though I strive to be a lazy parent, sometimes my own impatience gets the better of me. When my kids forget to pick up their wet towel from 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 running late for school, I pack a lunch for them even though they typically do it themselves. They’re kids, after all, and doesn’t everyone need some help once in a while?
How I’m a hits-from-today parent: a little of this, a little of that, and a whole lot of grace
Over the past two decades, there have been countless parenting styles promoted by experts. Just take a look at that long, non-exclusive list above. There are so many parenting styles that it can feel overwhelming, like no matter what you’re doing it’s wrong. We want to be good moms. We want to raise kind, resilient, and independent children. And we also want to enjoy parenting.
Having been a parent for more than 15 years, I’ve realized that there is no one “right” style for any family or any child. Different children need to be parented in different ways. Even the same child might need something different in different situations. A preschooler might do well with gentle parenting on most days, but lazy parenting might come in handy when they are refusing to pick up their toys. The potted plant approach might work best in dealing with your tween’s friendships, but they might need a more helicopter-style when it comes to keeping up with their school work. There is no bright-line rule, no one “best” way to parent.
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 mess it up sometimes.
While I’m mostly an ‘80s and’90s-style parent—because it fits my personality, aligns with my values, and comes most naturally to me—my husband and I also put an emphasis on 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 (key word is try) to control our own emotions while guiding our children through theirs so they make better decisions next time. I suppose this has hints of gentle parenting.
But I also make lots and lots of mistakes. I yell. 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.
I suppose this might be the number one reason I’m a lite-rock-radio-station, buttet-style kind of parent: 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 mess it up sometimes. I’m going to make mistakes. But that’s OK. Some flexibility and a whole lot of grace is essential to raising kind, resilient and independent kids. It’s pretty key to raising happy parents too.
So turn the dial over to that lite rock radio station now and then. 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 does feel good.