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Dolphin, Tiger or Helicopter? Why It's Time to Stop Labelling Parents

08/07/2014 12:06 BST | Updated 05/09/2014 10:59 BST

There's a new type of mum in the playground, and she's the answer to our parenting problems. It's time, you see, for helicopter mums to hover away, for tiger mums to shove over, and for earth mothers to take a few deep breaths and follow this new example. It's the lead of the dolphin parent.

The dolphin parent label is the newest one to do the rounds. Coined by Canadian psychiatrist Dr Shimi Kang, it refers to a style of parenting which offers guidance to children from adults who are firm but also flexible, collaborative and good at communicating. Dolphin parents take a balanced approach and trust their instincts.

It all sounds pretty sensible, really. I'm just not sure that it makes us into dolphins.

I get the analogy. I get where this kind of parent resembles a dolphin. I get how this kind of parent is different from the pushy, overly competitive parent. I see how this kind of parent won't be found clasping onto their child as he negotiates a new slide at the park. I see how this kind of parent won't be allowing their child to grow up in the total absence of boundaries.

But I also don't think this parent exists.

This is the thing. There is no helicopter parent or tiger mum or earth mother. And there sure as hell isn't a dolphin mum swimming it's way up the climbing frame at my local playground.

Mothers are mothers. They are carers, teachers, lovers, friends, enemies, chefs, cleaners, taxi drivers, hand-holders, role-models, advisors. They are pushy, they are sensitive, they are competitive, they are ambitious, they are calm, they are boundary-setters, they are over-protective, they are under-protective, they are creatures of habit, they follow their instincts, they have no rules, they follow manuals by the book. They are these things on some days but not on others. Mothers are mothers.

We each change our minds every day. We each change our moods every day. We may set boundaries one day which are relaxed the next. We may hold our child's hand on the slide one day but decide to let them try it alone the next. We may force a strict schedule of homework on them one week but allow them a night off when they ask.

I don't believe that parenting is done by numbers. I don't believe any of us are one kind of parent.

It is surely human nature to change and to adapt. To label us and assign us parenting styles is to overlook this. It's also, I believe, remarkably unhelpful for parents.

For the new mum who is finding her way, for the mother who is sleep-deprived and wondering whether her pre-schooler will ever have a good night, labels are detrimental. They create images of a mother who doesn't exist - a mother who is consistent at all times, a mother who is an ideal. Let's not pretend that any one of us does things the same way or in the same vein each day with our children. Let's not imagine that we stick by our beliefs and act in the way we want to at all times. (Because surely, we all have our moments of weakness?)

Categorising us as parents serves simply to pit us against each other. It serves to divide us and separate us from other mothers.

This is not what parents need. Whether we feel like a tiger or a dolphin, whether we feel like on some days we are too over protective but on others are more laissez faire - however we feel - we need each other. Whether we see the actions of one parent as so far away from how we would act on that day; whether we feel like we are a jumbled, inconsistent mix of all the mothers we know - we need each other.

Let's not be dolphins or tigers or moths anything else for that matter. Let's be mothers and fathers who see past labels and break down barriers. Let's be parents who stand strong together, no matter whether we do things differently from the other mums and dads at the park. Let's be kind to each other and forget about judging each other. Let's let each other be human. Let's do this together.