Methods of parenting typically vary from generation to generation, especially when it comes to discipline. If you ask an elderly grandfather about how his parents disciplined him, you would likely get a far different answer than that of what his son or even grandson would say about being disciplined during the course of their own childhoods. While this is normal, it does not necessarily mean that these patterns are beneficial to repeat.

If you’ve spent any amount of time out and about with older adults such as aging grandparents, it is not uncommon for them to note with a shake of their head that modern day young people are not disciplined enough. This is usually not said out of spite so much as it is said as a nod to their own childhood, in which they were subjected to strict, authoritarian discipline and grew up fearing authority.

This older, authority-fearing generation typically utilized that same parenting style with their children, many of whom, now adults themselves, look back upon their childhood as a time fraught with emotional (and sometimes physical) pain. One gentleman remembered being spanked by his father for lapses in politeness. He said that although that discipline did make him a more polite young man, he came to both fear and resent his own father for it.

Unfortunately, many children who experienced a rift with a parent because of harsh childhood discipline, carry those angry feelings into adulthood with them. This can yield some potentially damaging effects, such as:

  • Male children fearing their fathers and feeling such anger toward them that it prevents their having closer relationships.
  • Grown children reaching their thirties or forties before they are able to truly experience caring and warm relationships with their parents.
  • Grown children adopting parenting skills at the far other end of the disciplining spectrum (excessive permissiveness) in an effort to avoid emotional separation from their children.

Fear-Based Parenting

One of the biggest issues with fear-based parenting is that, while it may yield a desired behavior in a child, it can also possibly destroy the opportunity to have close relationships with that same child. Using tactics such as psychological or physical punishment to scare a child into “being good” may change a child’s actions on the outside but not change the internal issues that prompted the acting-out behavior.

Many parents who use an ultra-strict approach do so in hopes of teaching a child respect when in reality it creates an atmosphere of fear. In other words, parents should acknowledge that respect and fear are not one and the same.

  • If parents create an environment in which their children fear them, the result may be children that only feel judged, mistreated, angry or guilty. Children are more likely to want separation from those who make them feel fearful.
  • Respect is freely given to people who are admired and who serve as positive role models–not to people who act like fear-mongering tyrants. Children give respect to people who show respect to them. Fear separates people; respect bonds them together.

Compensating for Fear-Based Parenting

It is not unusual for parents that practice fear-based parenting to show love to their children by giving them things. For some parents, money may be their way of trying to close the emotional distance between them and their children.

The result of this unfortunate arrangement is that it yields children who see evidence of their parents’ affection primarily through materialistic things. This can in turn cause children to question the sincerity of a parent’s love, especially if the parent is not present on a regular basis.

Recognizing the Need for Change

If a person was badly parented in their own childhood, it does not mean that they must choose to raise their children in that same manner. The road to choosing better is paved with making wiser decisions.

For example, consider the below options:

  1. Parents should spend more time at work so they can give their children more things.
  2. Parents should spend more time actually being present with their children.

In the end, parents placing a priority on spending time with their children are creating the foundation for unconditional love.

A parent who is present reaps emotional rewards for themselves and their relationship with their child. Those who are absent, miss those key moments. One parent described this scenario perfectly as she shared about her daughter’s soccer team on Parents’ Night. At this last game of the season, each player and their parents were recognized by the announcer. For at least one-third of the players, “pretend” parents had to be recruited from the crowd to stand with these girls since their own parents were absent. She went on to say that despite putting in crazy hours at work and “doing it for the kids,” some parents are missing precious time with their children to grow their relationship in a personal and healthy way.

Love-based parenting can be achieved by a parent willing to give of themselves to their children by being present in multiple areas of their lives. “Presence” is a way of showing unconditional love.


Finding A Healthy Love-Based Parenting Style

No matter what kind of parenting style dominated your childhood, take time to examine the parenting behaviors of your own parents. Vow to discontinue any behaviors considered harsh that could be examples of conditional love. Keep the behaviors rooted in unconditional love. Then create a parenting model for yourself and your family that utilizes a combination of boundaries, consequences, love, and respect.

Leave the sting and regret of fear-based parenting behind and invest your time and patience into providing your children with a healthy love-based parenting style that will serve them and generations to come with strong and healthy family relationships.

Dr G

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