Daddy Dearest

| 12/3/2014 10:47:00 AM

Father and son

Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC offers advice on family planning and parenting, LGBT issues, disability issues, education and work issues, relationships, ethics and "unusual" social issues. Send questions to Tim for future columns through his website.

Hi Tim,
I'm a man, 40s, married for 14 years with a 6 year old son. I hope you can help me settle a dispute with my wife. I believe she's too indulgent with our son. She refuses to spank, and against my better judgment I agreed to that. She constantly hugs and cuddles him and always brings him into our bed where he hogs all the covers and sometimes has accidents. I have been reading about child-rearing and some experts say that a father should be emotionally distant because a mother should be providing affection, and that the way to teach children to survive in the world is to keep a healthy distance and not be so touchy-feely with children, especially boys. It feels to me like this is accurate but these days no one wants to "man up" and love their children at arm's length. I want to be the best father I can be, but how do you know what is the right way? — Fatherly Love

Hi Fatherly Love,
Are you talking about your human son or your dog? I could not quite tell as I read your letter. In the 60's, Diana Baumrind introduced three parenting styles based on her research with preschoolers: authoritarian which is too strict, permissive, which is not strict enough and authoritative parenting, which provides support and security while still allowing children to learn and grow effectively in order to become self-sufficient. A fourth style called uninvolved parenting was later added to describe parents who are generally less responsive to a child's needs, make few if any demands of children and are often indifferent or even neglectful.

Ever since, there have been cretins who claim and promote the uninvolved style as if it were a badge of honor. They may even cite an insignificant amount of questionable research in support of their foolishness. If you are shopping for a magical parenting style, go with authoritative. You may have noticed that it is the only one of the four choices which does not represent an extreme. It will allow you to pair structure with security, focus with fun and, because I love alliteration, challenges with choices that are age-appropriate. It works because it requires more effort from the parent than the child, as it should be.

You do not have to establish a family bed, although there is nothing wrong with that, but turning your son away from the safest haven he knows when he may be frightened by a nightmare or noises or an upset tummy is cruel. Whatever you are reading, if it has a separate approach for girls vs. boys, throw it away or delete it immediately. There is no difference and any opinion to the contrary is nonsense and probably some variation of outdated, disproven theories. Pair structure and limits with exploration and a wide safety net, but most of all pour on the love, love, love and affection all day, every day. Listen to yourself when you suggest shunning your child to make him tough; it sounds ridiculous, but also like abuse. That is nothing more than rejection and it has never worked. Don't buy into whatever quackery you have recently encountered. Instead, love your son with all your heart and express it as often as possible.

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