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Authoritative and Democratic Parenting Programs
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The Big Answer

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Parent Power: A Common Sense Approach to Raising Your Children

a book by John K. Rosemond

(our site's book review)

This unfortunate tome—by a child psychologist no less—mixes authoritarian power trips and good tips into what is likely to be a recipe for disaster. (The second word of the book’s title says it all—it’s about parents overpowering kids and then finding ways to rationalize this as a good idea.) The book was germinated when the author tried “enlightened democratic” parenting methods (actually, what he tried was permissiveness) with his kids and they didn’t work, so he switched to authoritarian methods after he dreamed his family would go crazy soon if he didn’t do something. The fact that he woke up screaming from this dream tells us something, the fact that his parents had been authoritarians who had kept him “in virtual servitude” tells us something more, and the fact that he makes his kids obey now, and uses spankings when “needed” and used “The Benevolent Dictatorship” as the first chapter subtitle completes the picture. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what happened with this man.

A guy with harsh authoritarian parents becomes a dictator to his kids—it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why
A guy with harsh authoritarian parents becomes a dictator to his kids—it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why

When authoritarians put the fear of God into a kid and the kid fills up with anger and resentment, it’s hard for such a kid not to make an attempt to even the score someday by having kids of his own and ruling them with an iron fist. In such a situation, one is psychologically predestined to be bursting with internal forces that drive one in that direction. If one fights these, one may rebel and raise kids with permissiveness—an even worse disaster. If one loses the fight and caves in to these motivations, one ends up as a dictatorial parent with an authoritarian agenda—nearly as big a disaster as a permissive parent. In either case, his response was reactive, when proactive parenting was needed.

The thing is, there was a good excuse for such black-and-white thinking back in the sixties before there were any well-documented authoritative or harmonious methods available. But the book was written in 1981. He is of course entirely right to rebel in disgust from permissive methods and look elsewhere. But he didn’t look hard enough. If he had, he’d have found that the two bad methods—authoritarianism and permissiveness—are the thesis and antithesis of a power continuum, and that a balanced approach to parenting transcends the continuum via dialectical synthesis which leads right to authoritative (e.g., Winning Family Lifeskills) and harmonious (e.g., P.E.T.) approaches. He’d have found that permissive “democracy” is an oxymoron, since permissive parents have their rights and freedoms oppressed quite often (which often makes them mad so they switch to authoritarian methods while they’re angry and then later regret it and apologize and feel guilty). He’d have seen that the either-or context he’d been conditioned with was anachronistic—now there’s an alternative to parents win/kids lose or parents lose/kids win.

Win-lose—what his foolish parenting ideas boil down to
Win-lose—what his foolish parenting ideas boil down to

Of course, Rosemond thinks he did opt for a balanced approach, and he soft-pedaled his methods with various ways of being nice and attentive in such a way as to convince himself he was merely firm but nice—as well as effective. But balance doesn’t mean that one uses techniques from each end of the power continuum. It means that you balance power between the parties involved as much as you can, and use consequences training to discipline without resorting to the need for orders or spankings. (E.g., Winning Family Lifeskills uses logical consequences but only when vital to the situation.)

The fact that the author says that he spanks “whenever he feels like it” because he “trusts his feelings” shows a serious lack of true, real, empirical psychological knowledge (obviously he has book knowledge and course knowledge, but that in no way proves that he “gets it”) as well as lack of consideration and good judgment. He’s set up an elaborate system of rationalizations to cover his tracks for the times when he loses control of his emotions and resorts to violence—his book is a statement of that rationalization system. It should be called "Parent Power Trip" or "Parent Overpowering." Kids that drive him crazy until he spanks them are victims of his foolishness, and the situation is a darn good reason to immediately stop trusting his feelings!

He gets his buttons pushed, loses control, spanks, feels guilty, then acts 'nice'—a truly foolish way to parent!
He gets his buttons pushed, loses control, spanks, feels guilty, then acts 'nice'—a truly foolish way to parent!

That fact that he says “children respect their parents by obeying them. (Search for the word obedience in A Dream Deferred.) Parents, on the other hand, respect their children by insisting that they obey” and “learning obedience enhances a child’s independence” and the fact that he thinks democracy in the home is wrong shows that he doesn’t understand respect any more than he understands discipline. Part of a chapter is dedicated to criticizing his critics who cite research that shows the harm done to character, cognition, personality and growth by authoritarian child-raising. Instead of learning from their actual fact-based criticisms and dropping the violence and rationalizations, he meets their challenge with even more rationalizations.

On the other hand, he makes a strong case for parenting classes being part of everyone’s education. He’s perfectly right, but one cringes when one thinks of the material he would put in such courses if he had his way! On the other hand, if he admitted his merciless confusion in all things parental and took classes himself, he could actually transform into a decent parent instead of a rationalizing bully.