I often meet with couples who are getting a divorce primarily because they have opposite parenting styles. I’ve met with the fun mom and the strict dad, the fierce dad and the nurturing mom, as well as the taskmaster mom and the Disneyland dad.  Recently, I met with a couple whose divorce situation has motivated me to ask for your opinion. Do you want your children to fear you? Do you want them to respect you? Are the two mutually exclusive?

I am always learning from my clients.  I’ve learned that a fear-based parenting style often masks a parent’s own anxiety.  Am I doing the right thing?  Are my kids going to turn out well?  Will my daughter succeed in life?  Will my son be a good father someday?  I’ve also learned that parents take their kids’ behavior personally.  If your toddler has a tantrum in the grocery store, will  you seem like a bad mother?  If your teenager gets suspended from school due to excessive tardiness, is it ultimately your fault because you weren’t paying close enough attention?

Guess what, people?  Child behavior experts all agree that when kids misbehave, it’s because of two things:  either the child’s needs haven’t been met, or the parent’s expectations are unrealistic.  Actually, fear doesn’t have to play a role at all.  In fact, ruling our kids by fear can inadvertently be teaching them how to bully.

Let’s consider respectful parenting as an alternative.  Does that mean letting your kids run amok with no boundaries or rules?  Of course not.  Instead, try thinking about respect as a form of love, like how you treat your grandmother.  Would you ever tell Grandma to pick up her shoes, or else?  Would you “count to three” to force her to clear the dinner table?  Of course not.

When you start respecting your kids as humans, you’re doing a whole bunch of things right.  For starters, you’re showing love.  You’re also opening the door to your kids in the future.  If your son is failing algebra, will he turn to you for help if he’s afraid of you?  If your daughter is starting to get serious with her first boyfriend, will she be more likely to confide in you if she’s not afraid you’ll freak?

And what if you and your co-parent are on different pages about parenting styles?  Intellectually, we all know that providing a united front for our kids is ideal, but what if that seems impossible?  Whether you’re happily married and  parenting in one household, or whether you’re divorced, understanding the need to communicate with your co-parent is vital.  But if you  disagree on parenting styles, click here for some tips.

So how does the shift from fear to respect begin?  As with any modification of behavior, the beginning starts with awareness.  Understand why you think you need to rule your kids with fear.  Understand that it starts with you.  Understand that there may be far-reaching consequences to teaching your children to fear you.  Understand that it’s okay to shift the paradigm, one baby step at a time.