By Robin Jean Marie Conte

Robin, with one of her children, says she has a ‘laissez-authoritarian-it’s-not-faire’ way of parenting.

People love to complain about their kids, but if you raise them right, they can be great assets. They’ll babysit each other. They’ll take out the trash. They’ll open a bottle of wine for you and pour you a hefty glassful while you’re reheating dinner.

It all comes down to your parenting style and your parental goals. Me? I raised my kids to sleep late and appreciate good comedy.

I started them young. If they awakened before dawn, I’d pull them back into bed with me and whisper into their tiny, infantile ears, “sleep is good…sleep is good.” They didn’t know that 7 a.m. existed until they started kindergarten.

I nursed my babies while watching Dave Letterman, Conan O’Brian, and reruns of Seinfeld, so they learned to laugh while latching-on. As they aged into coherence, I tutored them with the classics. I’d gather them around the laptop to show them YouTube videos of Eddie Murphy’s Hot Tub and Dan Aykroyd’s Bassomatic, saying, “Look, kids! This is what we watched before there were reality shows!”

Let’s face it, we all have different parenting styles. “Experts” try to classify them into a few distinct types — authoritative, permissive, laissez-faire, for example. But I think we’re all really parenting combination-plates. For instance, I’ve identified my own parenting style as laissez-authoritarian-it’s-not-faire.

It’s a style that’s been working for me. By the time my kids were in middle school, I could use my cellphone to call them from my bed and ask them to empty the dishwasher…and then come upstairs to kiss me goodbye before they left for the bus stop.

Problems arise, however, when houseguests have a different parenting style.

My most scarring experience came when my children were very young and an old friend of mine stayed with us for a week. She and I used to dance on tables together, back in our single days. She used to drink cosmopolitans and she looked great in a mini-skirt. She was all about fun.

So imagine my surprise when, years later, she came to visit with her own children and a strict authoritarian attitude. Eager to set boundaries for her offspring, she asked me for my House Rules. I didn’t have a list at the ready, so I thought I’d make something up.

“Well,” I started jokingly, “I don’t let them run naked through the living room.”

Right on cue — I kid you not — my little boy ran naked through the living room.

I don’t think I have to tell you that I felt like a fool and a failure, and the visit went downhill from there.

After that (rather humiliating) experience, I questioned my own child-rearing techniques. Was I too permissive or too controlling? Was my son running around naked because I was too lenient? Or was he rebelling against too-strict expectations? Or was romping about alfresco just a fun thing to do?

I’ve since accepted the fact that our parenting styles, like our families, are as individual as snowflakes or tastes in music.

I might have felt like an incompetent parent when I was raising toddlers, but I’m not concerned any more…because my kids let me sleep late, they like Steve Martin and right now they’re mowing the lawn.

Robin Conte

Robin Conte lives with her husband in an empty nest in Dunwoody. To contact her or to buy her new column collection, “The Best of the Nest,” see robinconte.com.

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