Parenting Styles and their Evolution: Old, New, Recent Studies and Recommendations

Parenting styles have changed a lot over the years. Learn about how they've evolved and discover the benefits of where they're headed.

Over the last few decades, we’ve seen massive change and growth in clothing, architecture, food, technology – you name it. So it’s totally logical to wonder: with all of the external changes happening around us, are parenting styles the same? Or have they evolved, too?

Let’s explore.

Today, we see a very egalitarian approach to parenting. We find this both in the shared responsibilities of two-parent households and in the partnership approach that parents take with their children. Many parents long to have a healthy, loving relationship with their children into adulthood, which means that they’re now parenting more consciously and with that long-term goal in mind. Parents have employed a more “gentle parenting” approach to raising their kiddos in recent years.

But it wasn’t always this way.

3 Main Western Parenting Styles Over the Years

Post-WW2 Era Authoritarian: emphasizing discipline, low warmth, and high expectations
1960s - 1970s Permissive: emphasizing warmth, lenience, self-expression and individuality
1980s - 1990s Authoritative: emphasizing warmth, connection, boundaries and explanation
Present DayConscious Parenting

Authoritarian Parenting

In the post-World War 2 era, parents were generally authoritarian, emphasizing discipline and structure. This is your classic, traditional control-based style of parenting. Children are “seen and not heard,” and are expected to submit to their authority. There was little to no talk of parents feeling overwhelmed, guarding the mental health of themselves or their children, or finding ways to find parental support when coping with parental burnout. Typically, there was very little warmth, frequent punishments, and no rights reserved for the ideas or emotions of children.

Parents operating with this style are typically:

  • Strict
  • Cold
  • Dismissive
  • Non-responsive
  • Employ Parent-Directed Uni-lateral Communication, i.e. “Because I said so!
  • High Standards
  • Controlling their child’s behaviors
  • Rules with an iron fist

We see this “Tiger Mom” style today in many households and present-day cultures. Oftentimes, children raised in an authoritarian household are unhappy and feel insecure or uncertain. They're also more likely to develop chronic stress and/or become more hostile and aggressive under pressure. They may have inconsistent academic achievements and can demonstrate more mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Permissive Parenting

In the 1960s - 70s, we see the pendulum of parenting philosophies swing in the opposite direction towards the permissive parenting style. I have a lot of compassion for permissive parents because, in the moment, it can feel easier and it can feel like you’re being more loving to your children.

In this style, we see that parents are:

  • Responsive
  • Nurturing
  • Affectionate

However, we also see:

  • Inconsistent Boundaries
  • Little Discipline
  • Lack of Control
  • Over-indulged Emotions

Naturally, this may seem better than the strict, authoritarian iron fist. However, many of the children raised by permissive parenting often have difficulty with self-regulation, possess feelings of entitlement, express less empathy toward others, perform poorly in school and, in some circumstances, may even be impulsive and aggressive to others.

Authoritative Parenting

In the decades that followed Permissive ‘anything goes’ Parenting, the pendulum swung once again, this time ending up in a more “middle of the road” position between the two. By the 1980s and 90s, parents looked a bit more like Mary Poppins – minus the flying umbrella and teaspoons of sugar, of course.

Notice this authoritative style is different from “authoritarian – the strict post-WW2 style we discussed above. And, the key difference lies in the importance placed on a parent’s connection with their child.

You’ll be able to identify this Authoritative Parenting style when you see parents who:

  • Set clear rules and boundaries
  • Are responsive to their child’s needs
  • Allow for open communication between themselves and their children
  • Encourage independence, yet offer guidance and support

Children in this type of environment are typically happy and content, with high self-esteem and healthy assertiveness. They show good emotional control, higher levels of empathy, are resilient to change and typically perform well in school and actively participate in their community.

The Authoritative Parenting style is the gold standard for effective, positive parenting. High warmth, high nurture, and firm boundaries give you and your child a consistent and reliable channel to relate to one another.

You’ll likely notice that Conscious Parenting is an evolved form of Authoritative Parenting. The difference is this: a conscious parent is warm and presents firm boundaries while also expressing age-appropriate expectations and demonstrating an increased element of attunement, self-reflection, and parental awareness. Research suggests these additions support relational security for children.

There are a few other nuanced types of parenting that you may hear about:

  • Attachment Parenting encourages parents to focus on the nurturing connection between parent and child. In this style, parents believe they should be available for the child for the first 3 years, breastfeeding, babywearing, and supporting the child emotionally every step of the way. The eight principles sound great in theory but give very little room for the parents to have healthy separation from their child or work outside the home. This constant connection between the mother and child has been shown to increase anxiety in parents if/when these familiar conditions cannot be met. Oftentimes, there is an unfair and unreasonable pressure that parents using this style put upon themselves because research does not suggest these particular conditions must be achieved for a secure attachment.
  • Free-Range Parenting gives children a ton of freedom. Free-range parents do not parent out of fear, allowing their children to play freely while knowing that they may get hurt. It’s important parents don’t use this style as an opportunity to neglect the needs of the child. Parents who tend to be avoidant may feel attracted to this style of parenting, so be mindful if you're the avoidant type — you may be driven to push your child toward independence to avoid intimacy and connection.
  • Helicopter parenting is a frequent natural style for anxious parents, driven by the parent’s need for control. This constant vigilance causes distress in the child and can lead to more codependent relationships. Parents may insert themselves to help protect their children from harm, but in the process, this can make children feel like they cannot do things on their own without the guidance of their parents.
  • Lawnmower parenting is an even more exaggerated style of helicopter parenting. Instead of swooping in at every conflict and sign of trouble, lawnmower parents go before the child, paving the way so they can prevent any challenge before the child encounters it. These parents don't want their children to face any obstacles, so they 'mow' and 'blow' them away before the child has the chance to face adversity, which can limit the child in building resilience.  

Your parenting style is more than any label

Labeling each of these parenting styles is just that...a label. We don't need to limit ourselves and squeeze into one box. There may be elements to each parenting style that work for you, and there may be elements that absolutely don't. Parenting is not one size fits all, and the unique environmental, cultural, and social factors that impact our daily lives will also influence how we show up as a parent.

Across the board, however, Authoritative Parenting has been supported by research and of all the parenting styles, has been proven as the most effective and beneficial parenting style to promote healthy, functional, positive outcomes.

I encourage you to focus less on how you label what you’re doing and, instead, work on increasing your self-awareness, practice tuning into your children’s underlying needs, and focus on feeling less triggered when you inevitably disappoint your child.

You are your child’s parent for a reason – you are the best one for the job! Step into that with confidence and joy.

Want to learn more about Conscious Parenting? Join the Conscious Mommy Community, where parents come together to learn how to best support their children, share experiences, and grow together. We’d love to have you!