Parenting Styles in Balance: How to Be Firm and Friendly

By Stephanie Thomas

Do you struggle to find balance in parenting? We’re unpacking three parenting styles —authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative —to help you find the sweet spot.

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parenting styles

I remember watching my niece, at just over a year old, sit at the kitchen table and color quietly. Pregnant with my first child I thought, “My son, too, will draw quietly one day.” 

And he did . . . about six years later. 

In small ways, my son surprised me twice. First by running and building and climbing instead of coloring. And second by learning, ever so slowly, the joy of sitting still. 

After all, he’s his own person. Just like my niece. And just like your kid too. 

A Parenting Reality Check 

This is the moment where I’m inclined to say something like: 

Parenting an individual can be challenging. But it’s what we all wanted as kids right? To be seen and known and loved? And it’s what our kids deserve too. 

But then there’s the other thought circling my brain:

Forget sitting to color. Sometimes I just need my son to sit while he eats. And I’d love for his younger brother to take a puzzle from the dumping-out-of-the-box stage to the fully-realized-picture stage before starting a wrestling match.

Sometimes I just need calm. 

Because these two realities can exist can’t they? 

The desire to recognize our children in their unique giftings and struggles and to also have our boundaries respected and our own needs met . . .

To be able to shepherd them toward greatness without squashing what’s already great inside of them . . .

Authoritarian vs. Permissive Parenting

Oh, let’s just say it: Parenting an individual can be challenging.

That’s why it’s vitally important that we learn to find a balance between being firm and friendly. 

You might hear the two parenting styles of “firm” and “friendly” more formerly labeled as authoritarian and permissive. Here’s an easy way to distinguish between the two: 

Authoritarian parents say: “My way or the highway.” 

Permissive parents say: “Whatever you need, baby.”

Take a moment to ask yourself, “Do I tend more toward authoritarian parenting or permissive parenting? Am I naturally more firm or more friendly?” In our home, I’m the tough cookie and my husband is a grandpa-in-training. 

We could both benefit from meeting in the middle. In an effort to do so, let’s take a quick look at the good side of each approach. 

Top 3 Benefits of Being a Firm Parent: 

  1. Kids know what is expected of them, both in and out of the home. 
  2. Kids respond to instruction quickly and often follow through. 
  3. Kids respect a parent’s authority. 

Top 3 Benefits of Being a Friendly Parent:

  1. Kids feel comfortable in their own skin and in their own homes. 
  2. Kids are more likely to go to their parents with tough questions and circumstances. 
  3. Kids enjoy a close and authentic relationship with their parents. 

And while, yes, we can all easily point out the downsides of these approaches—childhood counseling session, anyone?—there’s a reason it’s helpful to focus on the benefits. 

As parents we want our kids to be themselves and also behave. We want kids who come to us with their curiosities and heartaches and sorrows and also listen when we talk. We want kids who consider us tender, loving parents and also respect us as the leaders of the home. 

We want balance . . . which comes from a parenting style you might hear referred to as authoritative

What it Looks Like to Be An Authoritative Parent

Authoritative parents sit in the sweet spot—between firm and friendly—able to see their kids as people in need of affection, understanding, and autonomy while also recognizing the necessity of a parent’s role in setting boundaries, enforcing rules, and encouraging growth

When a parent learns to live in the balance, they enjoy the benefits of both the permissive parent and the authoritarian parent, while ditching the downsides of each approach. 

Those combined benefits look something like: 

  1. Kids who consider their actions with others in mind. 
  2. Kids who develop confidence as their competence grows. 
  3. Kids and parents who share a mutual respect for one another. 

This balance is backed by science. Kids raised by authoritative parents exhibit fewer behavioral problems and experience the most favorable outcomes.

And isn’t that what we want? 

Authoritative Parenting in Practice 

In our home, striving for balance means finding ways to respect my boys’ need for movement and noise during the times I’d prefer they sit still and stay quiet. 

First, I’ll ask myself, “Who should sacrifice in this moment?” Because sometimes kids are just being kids and that’s okay. Other times, it might be more appropriate, helpful, or kind for my kids to practice a little chill. And that’s okay too. 

If calm is called for, I open up the front door and send them outside. I set up a little scene of toys on the rug in their room, start an engaging audiobook and leave them to create something new. I ask my husband to stage a wrestling match. 

I let my older son stand at the dinner table while he eats, provided he stay in one place (ish). An arrangement that suits us both. And when he finishes his meal, finally (finally!) declaring himself full, I pat myself on the back for a job well done—firm and friendly indeed.