Not Your Parents’ Discipline: Does the Parenting of the Past Fit Your Needs Today?

August 24th


family togetherness

“My parents did it that way, and I ended up just fine!” People often invoke these words to defend or justify their childrearing strategies or beliefs, or critique current practices that differ from those of the past. But are we really “just fine?” And is that a valid argument against the need for change? Last week, we explored the evolution of parenting psychology through the years, and how the various approaches came to be. This week, we’ll help you to contemplate which path you’d like to take in your co-parenting. Should you break from the past? Read on to find out!

The Gist

  • Some people question why we must veer away from the parenting styles of previous generations, if we “survived” them and they led us to where we are today.
  • We internalize our parents’ style and it can creep into our own parenting without us even realizing it. This isn’t always a positive thing, if it means that we’re not reaching our full potential as parents.
  • Our societal values, family structure, and lifestyle have changed over the years, and we have acquired more information through research about best practices in parenting. These factors have led us away from authoritarian parenting toward a more positive, relationship-based approach.
  • Through self-reflection, co-parents can make their own decisions about their parenting and leave behind strategies their parents used that no longer serve them.

Parenting Change Happens For A Reason.

In today’s world, everyone seems to have an opinion on parenting, and those opinions vary greatly (we talked about this in our previous post "Not Your Parents’ Discipline: How Parenting Has Changed Over the Years, and What It Means for Your Co-Parenting") Many parents respond to the overwhelming surplus of advice by hitting their “default” setting: they resort to the strategies their parents practiced with them.

Whether we realize it or not, much of our current behavior can be traced back to our past experiences with our primary caregivers. The parent-child relationship is the foundation for all other relationships; we model our interactions with others after this example, especially when it comes to our own children. Perhaps you’ve experienced this phenomenon before, when you talk to your child and find that your mother or father’s voice seems to pop out! It’s natural (and sometimes advantageous) to emulate the behaviors of those who cared for us. But do those behaviors still serve us?

In many cases, the authoritarian approach to parenting- “Children should be seen and not heard,” “My way or the highway,” “You’ll do it because I said so,” etc.- may no longer meet the needs of today’s families. But disciples of that style are often the first to claim, “My parents did things this way, and I turned out ok, so what’s so wrong with it?”

There are virtues to be found in many of the parenting styles of yesteryear, and in some cases they even served their purpose well at the time. But today’s circumstances are different, and so we must do things differently. Let’s explore some of the justifications behind the evolution of our parenting practices.

  • Our beliefs about power structures and hierarchies have changed over time. Now more than ever, our society strives to live by the tenet that all people are created equal, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. American democracy gives everyone a voice. Parents of course still have the right, and responsibility, to take charge of their children’s care and utilize the knowledge and resources available to them as adults. But the idea that parents have unquestionable authority doesn’t jibe with this egalitarian philosophy.
  • The makeup of the average American family looks different than years ago. Parental separation/divorce, single parenthood, the legalization of gay marriage, more diverse couples having children (i.e. people from diverse backgrounds, interracial couples, mixed faith, etc.) all reimagine our idea of the word “family.” This in turn reimagines our idea of “parenting.”
  • Alongside those changes in demographics come changes in how we spend our time. In previous generations, typically only one parent worked, and flexible schedules allowed for things like family mealtimes and more time at home. Mothers and fathers thus had more time to directly care for and connect with their children and shape their behavior. Because of this, they were often able to discipline using only a harsh tone or a stern “look.” In today’s busy world, on the other hand, parents and children sometimes lack the extra hours to simply enjoy each other’s company. When you have less “quality” time together, or must share that time with other caregivers (like your child’s other parent, or daycare providers, for example), each parenting “moment” or decision becomes increasingly significant. You may not have as much time to correct your child’s negative actions (or acknowledge positive ones!) as they’re happening, and if you and your child have a difficult interaction you may have less time to resolve the conflict and repair your relationship.
  • Communities have changed. The expression “it takes a village to raise a child”sometimes seemed like it held more weight years ago. Many people do not know their neighbors or fellow community members well and would not trust them as readily to pitch in and help care for their children.
  • We face increased competition for our children’s attention. TV, video games, movies, social media, tablets, laptops, etc. entice them with sensory stimulation, and they also overwhelm them with both positive and negative messages. It’s our job as parents to somehow shift their attention away from all that noise to shuttle them down the right path.
  • We know better. Over the years, we have acquired information through research and advances in science and technology on how to best care for our children. We know more about their development and emotional needs. The evidence guides us to shift toward more positive, nurturing, relationship-based strategies, as these prove to be more effective in raising children who become happy, healthy, productive adult members of society. Learn More
  • Recommended Resource

    For more information about positive discipline, view our previous piece on this approach


In a 2018 article, the New York Times calls the idea of the “I turned out fine” argument “a fallacy” (a great read! Find it here) A unilateral statement like “it worked for me, so it should work for you” negates the importance of individuality. It forces a singular philosophy or approach onto an entire population, which is a surefire method for failure. All humans have unique needs and life situations, including our own children! Your child may share your genetics, but that doesn’t guarantee that he will do well with your parents’ strategies. In fact, if you really stop to think about it, you may find that your parents’ strategies didn’t do perfectly well for you either.

Most of us internalize our parents’ approach without thinking about whether it actually worked or made us feel good. The messages they imparted upon us through their words and actions become the messages we tell ourselves in our own mind. Sometimes those messages may be overly harsh or critical or get in our way, but we have long since accepted them as truth. But if we can become aware of our internalized beliefs about parenting, we can grant ourselves the power of choice. We can allow ourselves to make changes to suit our current reality, to suit our needs and those of our children today.

Defining Your Parenting, Your Own Way: Questions for You and Your Parenting Partner

Whether from our parents’ era or from a parenting Instagram reel, no one parenting approach or strategy will work for everyone. To find the best fit for your family, you and your parenting partner should reflect together on what’s most important to you and what feels best. Some questions to ask yourselves when considering any of the diverse parenting techniques include:

  • Does it work? What does research say? If/when we have tried it, has our child responded well?
  • Does it strengthen our relationship?
  • What are the potential benefits and consequences in the short-term? What about the long-term?
  • Does it feel good? Parenting is hard, but neither you, your co-parent, or your child should walk away from your interactions feeling defeated, shamed, unloved, hopeless, etc.
  • How does it align with our values?
  • Can we both adopt it consistently in our separate households?
Multi-generational family

Co-Parenting in the Here and Now:

Our series intends to help you both understand the parenting styles of the past and define your own parenting future. Parenting is a live art, happening in the here and now; don’t live your life looking in the rearview, but rather take what you’ve learned and then forge your own path forward. Next week, we’ll be talking more about how to do just that with a post on the importance of self-reflection in co-parenting. Stay tuned!

Where you can stay informed on what's happening in the world of co-parenting and learn more about what we do.

By Koh-Parenting Services LLC

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