THE BLOG

Do We Need to Label Parenting Styles?

27/01/2014 12:07 GMT | Updated 26/03/2014 09:59 GMT

When I tell people about how Mindful Parenting helps me, I tend to get one of two reactions. They are either interested to know what it could do for them too. Or I can sense them bracing themselves for me trying to 'convert' them. (If you're one of the curious ones, I describe Mindful Parenting simply as being mindful while being a mum: paying attention and being compassionate, to my boy and myself, as best I can. If you're bracing yourself, ignore that last sentence and skip to the next bit).

So why do we label parenting styles, and is it helpful? For me, the advantage of describing my approach as Mindful Parenting is that it gives me something to check in against when I start to feel a bit lost - a touchstone to reconnect to what's important to me about being a mum. And a way to keep bringing mindfulness into real life, not just when I've found 10 or 20 minutes to sit down and meditate.

But the downside of defining different parenting styles is the defensiveness that this can cause. Understandably, when we come across someone who does things differently to us, it can make us either want to defend our own way, or convince the other person to try it out. We all want to feel secure that we're doing the right thing because it's such an emotive issue, we all care so deeply about getting it 'right'. That's how arguments break out on social media.

One thing we can easily lose sight of it that different things are important to each of us. The way we parent can reflect our own values and life struggles. In my case, I can be over-vigilant about my child's safety, due to a history of anxiety and recurrent miscarriages. To me, keeping our boy safe and helping him to feel secure emotionally are two ways I tend to measure what being a good mum feels like to me. So I worry less about what he eats, more about whether he might choke. Less about him crying because I say no to more sweets, more about him ever feeling unsure that I'll be there if he needs me. It's not right or wrong, it's just me.

Other mums will have a different experience of life and different ways to define what good parenting means to them personally. Remembering this helps me to navigate the inevitable discussions about how our children are sleeping, what they're eating and how they're behaving. The other thing I try to remain aware of is how different all children are. My son has HLP (High Learning Potential) which means that he goes through learning spurts and phases where he needs very little sleep. It would be pointless and frustrating if I tried to apply a particular approach during one of these phases just because it works for a friend.

So whatever style or methods of parenting we've adopted, there will be times when they aren't mirrored by the other parents we interact with. Over time I've learned to spot the warning signs in myself that it's time to step away from a particular conversation. Typically, this will be when I notice an urge to justify myself, or a judgement in my thinking that the other person's way is 'wrong'. Any hint of comparison is a good tip-off, like if I hear myself saying 'oh but that wouldn't work for my child because...' It can be hard to let someone tell you about their experience of parenthood without comparing. But I'm working on noticing when I get tipped into unnecessary comparison talk. As soon as I spot that, it's time to switch to a safer, more neutral topic of conversation. (And no, I don't always manage it - but mindfulness is helping me move towards it).

But what if - when we're exposed to a different way - we just asked ourselves 'what can I learn from this?' We can cherry-pick the bits that work for us and combine them together, creating our own individual style - one that works for our unique relationship with our children. For example, I've read a bit about Attachment Parenting and I don't feel that all of those principles would work for us as a family. But I probably do use some approaches that are the same. And I've recently come across the term 'Gentle Parenting'. Again, I'm not sure if it's something I'd want to adopt in its entirety. But I'm keen to learn which bits I could borrow and adapt, as I'm guessing that some of it would sit quite well alongside a mindful and compassionate approach. Maybe all of these parenting approaches overlap and get blended together anyway. When I came across a piece about Attachment Parenting for toddlers, it resonated with me as it seemed similar to what I describe as Mindful Parenting. So it doesn't really matter what we call it. We don't need to be this or that, we can just choose the bits that work for us.

I've found that what works for me is to stay committed to being more mindful as a parent and a person. Which may mean that I describe myself as a fan of Mindful Parenting, but it doesn't mean that I expect every other mum to do things the same way as me.

What do you think about creating a customised parenting 'style'? If you'd like to share your thoughts, tweet me @sheilabayliss