The sorting hat

On entering parenthood, once you are beyond the initial tidal wave of newness and chaos, then the question of questions (much like the tortuous “Am I on the right path careerwise?”) raises its ugly head:

What kind of parent am I going to be?

You look ahead and you see the path to toddlerhood littered with decisions about how you respond to your kid, all of which will necessarily scar him or her for life whichever you choose.

The first few months are in a blissful bubble where you can simply respond to your baby on demand and most of the time she’ll simply be hungry or windy (for all the drama, sitting in a dirty nappy seems to have more traumatic implications for Mummy and Daddy than Elphie). Exhausting and relentless but without very much complexity in how you could or should behave.

But as the weeks go on you realise that your peers are starting to discuss different strategies to cope with their infant and that each of them is reflective of the type of parent they are deciding they want to be. A key question being whether you plan to approach baby wrangling from a baby-led or parent-led angle, and then, depending on which you embrace, which sub-cults you want to be part of.

The decision you make will define whose parenting styles you align with and hence can influence your friendships with other parents from this point forward. The sorting hat of parenthood has commenced, and which house you will join for the rest of time is being defined.

In 1967, Diana Baumrind published a study which seems to have been the bedrock for later parenting studies. It identified four styles of parenting: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive and uninvolved. has more to say on the matter but in summary Authoritarians are very strict but do not explain their reasoning for rules, Permissives allow children to do what they want, Uninvolved ignore their children and Authoritatives establish rules but explain them, and are forgiving rather than punitive. I love the way this study only really provides one option for which of these is the good parenting style – the names and descriptions of the others being distinctly negative. Which would you rather be: a bad, super bad, super super bad or good parent? But maybe that’s just me looking at it in retrospect, and maybe authoritarians and permissives were seen as valid parenting choices in the ’60s.

So once you have decided that you are going to be the good authoritative parent, the next question seems to be whether you will be parent-led or baby-led. As far as I can work out, baby-led style assumes the baby knows at least partially what it is doing – that when it chooses to nap or feed etc is what is right for them, that when babies scream it is for a reason and that parents should be responsive to their baby and that that response will often be tactile.

Parent-led approaches seem to relate more to a platonic ideal of babyhood – that through observations of lots of babies, a view has been built up of the ideal path your baby should follow, and you as parents know best and are tasked with leading your baby down this path to become a well-adjusted member of the human race. No pressure.

There are so many different views on babyrearing that I am going to make this into a series – as each time I try to work out what the parent or baby-led approaches boil down to, I am led down another rabbit hole of research. So join me as I enter the wonderland of parenting advice!

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