It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Reasonable Parenting

My clients are reasonable people. For fifteen years, with one or two notable exceptions, I’ve seen lots and lots of reasonable people. And these reasonable people also aspire to be reasonable parents.

“Reasonable” in the colloquial sense, in that they want to be sensible, balanced, measured, common-sense. But also “reasonable” in a more specific sense. They want to raise their child rationally. They want to be the kind of parent who has reasons for what they do, who doesn’t respond in a knee-jerk, reflexive, irrational way to childish flaws and misbehaviours. They will never be the kind of parent who says, “Because I said so, that’s why!” They want to parent with their hearts and their minds.

This is all very laudable. It is how I have always endeavored to raise my own children, how I deal with the daycare children.

This approach, however, has its weaknesses, which most of the parents I’ve seen through the years have not considered beforehand. When they run into them, they are blind-sided. How does a Reasonable Parent deal with this?

One main weakness exists entirely in the minds of the parents. It is not, in fact, a weakness in the approach at all, but rather unhelpful, unexamined — often unconscious — assumptions about Reasonable Parenting.

This weakness arises from their desire to be principled parents. Let me be clear, here: I am ALL FOR principled parenting!! Principled parenting saves you from a world of on-the-fly decisions, rules made up on the spur of the moment when there is no guiding directive to show you the way. Principled parenting provides you with that blessed clue of thread which guides you through the maze of events which are NOT IN THE RULEBOOK, DAMMIT!

Where parents can go off the rails with principled parenting, though, is in the over-application of the idea “I will never be the kind of parent who says ‘because I’m your mother, that’s why!'” In trying to avoid authoritarian parenting — inflexible, uncompassionate, rule- and ego-driven parenting — many of my clients are squeamish about any parenting ‘because I say so’s’.

You know what? Once in a while, it’s totally fine to say “Because I said so. Now do it.” Though you should always have a reason, you do not have to give it every time. It is enough that you are the parent, you treat your child respectfully, and you can expect them to acknowledge this by responding respectfully to an instruction, request, direct order. You don’t do that every time. That would be rude. But to expect, every so often, your child to ‘just do it’, based on 1) your proven track record of reasonable, respectful parenting, and 2) the fact that you are the parent… that’s reasonable.

My clients have a tendency to blur the line between Authoritarian parenting and Authoritative Parenting. There is a world of difference between the two. Authoritarian parenting is hard-line, intolerant, disrespectful of the child. “Because I said so!” is the response to any questioning, no matter how reasonable the question might be. Authoritarian parents may or may not work on principles, but when they do, they are principles which favour the parent’s will, and are unlikely to be shared with the child. Authoritative parenting, while confident, is flexible, compassionate, and respectful. An authoritative parent’s principles focus on the long-term character development of their child. An authoritative parent has rules and expectations, but can be flexible in them. A child is allowed input into parental decisions. The parent is still the authority, but it is a more co-operative, compassionate authority.

Okay, so that’s the flaw in the pre-assumptions which cause Reasonable Parents a world of difficulty. It’s okay — it’s REQUIRED — to make rules and expect the child to obey them. It’s REQUIRED to say a firm and unyielding “no” sometimes. You are not being an unkind, unloving parent when you do these things, so long as you are doing them out of parenting principles rather than a fit of pique. (Which is not to say you can’t lay down the law in accordance with your principles while you are EXASPERATED OUT OF YOUR MIND. Of course you can! You can, you will, and you must.)

The first weakness in Reasonable Parenting, then, is the assumption that it is disrespectful to the child to exert any form of parental authority. Most of my parents would immediately grasp the weakness in that assumption… but many of them stumble over it in practice anyway.

The second weakness of Reasonable Parenting does not exist solely in the parents’ unexamined assumptions. This one is a genuine problem.

Here you are, all prepped and ready to be Reasonable in your dealings with your child. You are going to be rational, measured, sensible. Your emotions will enrich your dealings with your child, but you won’t react in ill-considered emotion. (Yes, I’m kind of smiling now, too. No parent alive will achieve such a paragon of virtuous behaviour at every moment of their life. I know that, and I hope you all know that, too. No beating yourselves up for the times you fall short of pure parental perfection, okay?)

And there you go, being Reasonable with your child… and he is NOT REASONABLE BACK! In fact, she’s positively savage! Shouting, screaming, flailing. No amount of reasonable conversation is bringing him around. Your expectations are reasonable, your demeanor is reasonable, your words are reasonable, and what do you get back?


In fact, the little cretin may even be taking swings at you while s/he creates this uproar! The Reasonable Parent confronts the Anti-Rational Toddler.

Now what?

That, my friends, will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.


February 14, 2011 - Posted by | manners, parenting, parents, power struggle | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Ah, balance. While I believe that authoritarian parenting is an abuse of power, I also acknowledge that children are given to their parents by God and put under their authority by Him. We do have authority, we simply have to use it wisely.

    I like the distinctions you make here. 🙂

    Balance. Yes! Though I’d be proud to claim the concepts, the distinctions are not original to me. The authoritarian and authoritative parenting styles were first identified by Diana Baumrind. I picked them up in developmental psychology courses; Barbara Coloroso, whom I greatly admire, uses the same/similar concepts in one of her books (Kids Are Worth It, I believe) calling them “brick wall” and “backbone” parenting. (Baumrind’s third type, “permissive” parenting, is called “jellyfish” by Coloroso.)

    Comment by rosie_kate | February 14, 2011 | Reply

  2. Looking forward to tomorrow’s post!

    Comment by Paula Douglas | February 14, 2011 | Reply

  3. Bwaahahahaha! 🙂 I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s post.

    I’ve always found it amusing when reading or talking about parenting techniques with someone to realize that they have yet to encounter a child such as the one you just described or they would realize that their pet theory may not work in practice.

    One of my favorite statements is from Veronica Mitchell, I don’t think she’s blogging anymore. “I am suspicious of any parenting technique that doesn’t work with more than one child at a time grouped closely together in ages.” Or something like that.

    And of course, “a child such as the one…just described” is pretty much any (except the most mild-mannered) toddler at a certain stage of development…

    Comment by carrien (she laughs at the days) | February 14, 2011 | Reply

  4. Can’t wait for tomorrow’s post!

    Comment by Judy | February 14, 2011 | Reply

  5. My husband and I are often frustrated by “please” parenting (as we call it). We hear things like
    “Honey, please don’t put your fingers in that photocopying machine. Sweetie, Daddy said to please not do that!”

    Um, when your child’s fingers are in danger, this is not a please situation.

    Comment by IfByYes | February 15, 2011 | Reply

  6. Being a parent is making choices regarding your child and living with the potential guilt with regard to those choises every single day of your life. Accepting that is a part of being a mature parent.

    Comment by Markku Latvala | March 26, 2012 | Reply

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