I have a distaste for labels but also love a good metaphor, so here we go. Turns out there are lots of animal and machine metaphors for parenting styles that were completely off my radar, and the articles I found these in are pushing 10 yrs old. Of course I’d heard of the much maligned authoritarian Tiger Parent and the anxious, overprotective Helicopter Parent, which I was smugly proud of never having enough energy to aspire to (but plenty of hidden guilt, too). Turns out I was shooting for Dolphin Mom but regularly hit Sloth Mom, who “loves her kids and lets them hang off her adorably sometimes, but she is a big believer in conserving energy.” Minimalist cooking. One extracurricular activity until you can drive yourself. Sports that take up afternoons and weekends and require service hours - um, no. Outings that require equipment on top of logistics? Nope. But I still didn’t relax into that or embrace it. I just landed there because depression was taking up all but a few drops of my capacity. Dad embraced sloth parent much more regularly than I did (especially on long road trips!) and I often seethed with resentment and tried to goad him toward more engagement (not recommending that strategy). I pinballed around between styles trying to navigate both my own tendencies and the myriad of societal scripts around “good parenting,” or let’s face it, “good mothering.” I wanted so much to be a Dolphin Mom. That’s why I homeschooled my kids for several years. But I didn’t have the confidence to really let them go whole hog and set their own goals, explore, make mistakes, play a lot more.
I regularly fall back into control mode, even with my adult kids: “Let me show you…if you just do it this way…but if you don’t do X, Y won’t happen…” ad nauseum, but mostly on smaller scale things now. (maybe Octopus fits the helicoptering - tentacles in everything?) I really have to sit on my hands and bite my tongue when it comes to making things like cookies or projects. I struggle to let them “make mistakes” (or make a mess!) because I’m a recovering perfectionist learning to regularly take the risk of getting it wrong, of putting the imperfect out there, of getting hurt, of being misunderstood, of making my life harder in some very concrete ways. Maybe maintaining an internal source of motivation is worth the risk of the occasional really bad thing that happens. Shark parent.
Want to geek out on social psychology? Rutger Bregnan’s Humankind: A Hopeful History is a fascinating and truly hopeful read on many fronts, but Chapter 14, “Homo ludens,” deals directly with how the tacit assumption that humans are bad has affected both parenting and teaching over the last few centuries. Some actual data in there that sloth parenting might be the way to go :)