The approach parents take to setting and maintaining boundaries for their children can take different forms. At one end of the spectrum is what experts call the 'authoritarian' style. Authoritarian parents can be perfectionists at heart: they like to have lots of rules and to be in complete control. Homework has to be done before any television is allowed, meals are at set times and children are expected to sit still and finish the cauliflower on their plate. There may well be a rota on the fridge door for jobs to be done around the house and this is adhered to with military precision. Family life is fitted into fixed slots and there is little room for creativity or manoeuvre. I remember one of our children stopped going to a friend's house because the parents were so strict and there were endless rules. I think he was just scared of putting a foot wrong.
The good news is that the children know clearly where the line is drawn - they know without a doubt what is and isn't allowed. However, there's a flip side to the coin. The problem with this style of parenting is that the child can feel hemmed in and controlled with no room for independent thought or to express their individuality.
Right at the other end of the spectrum is the 'permissive' approach to parenting. Children with permissive parents are often initially the envy of other children, particularly those who come from homes where authoritarian parenting is the style of choice. Their parents are chilled and relaxed, there are few boundaries and if they are crossed there are no consequences. The children decide whether or not to do their homework and there are no limits on screen time. Meal times are whenever people are hungry and there's no requirement for the children to sit still, to eat cauliflower or in fact to do anything they don't want to do that day. Jobs are done by whoever is around at the time, and family life is chaotic but carefree. The mantra of these parents is: 'Do what you like.'
The good news is that the child has complete freedom to explore and discover things for themselves. However, the disadvantage of parenting in this way is that the child can feel lost and lonely. Our children need boundaries, if only to push against. Boundaries give security.
Finally, in the middle of the parenting style spectrum - and something to aim for - is the 'assertive' style. Assertive parents know the importance of setting boundaries, but set as few rules as possible. The rules that they do set are enforced. For example, they lay down guidelines about homework (generally it is to be done before watching television), but they are prepared to agree exceptions when a reasonable request is made. They monitor their children's screen time and negotiate it with them. There is a routine for family meals - children are expected to sit at the table and to try to eat everything, but the parents will compromise over some things (usually cauliflower). As a general rule, family members are expected to help clear the table, but this can be relaxed as agreed - for example, when the child's friend comes round. They give their children a clear understanding of what they expect, give explanations and listen to opposing views. This style of parenting is sometimes described as 'firm but fair'.
Children can see where the boundaries are and so feel safe, accepted and loved. They have room to explore, to grow in independence and to push against the boundaries in the knowledge that they are there for their benefit.
Our approach to parenting will be influenced by the way we have been parented ourselves, as well as by our individual temperament and personality. With the benefit of hindsight, most of us will look back and regret having either laid down the law too firmly or been too relaxed on a specific issue. None of us will get this right all of the time. The pithy statement, 'Rules without relationship lead to rebellion' is well put. If we can simply aim for the assertive parenting style - to be firm and fair in the context of a good relationship with our children - we will be giving them a secure base from which to explore the world.