Parenting Is More Than Parenting Labels

Parenting Is More Than Parenting Labels

Adults label children.

Labels are harmful, confining and hurtful. Yet we hide behind them because they’re also helpful.

“You’re the smart one…the goofball…the shy one…the one who always got into trouble.”

Wait a minute, you scream, there’s more to me than that. 

We also label ourselves. 

Labeling yourself means you are choosing how you want to be seen and how you want to see yourself. 

When it comes to parenting labels, it gets interesting. 

Parents also label themselves. 

A parenting label today is a buffet table of identities to choose from. 

  • holistic
  • free-range
  • organic
  • homeschooling
  • tiger
  • attachment
  • no-cry
  • open bed
  • vegan

Labels are choices. But they aren’t parenting styles. They don’t address what’s really going on beneath the surface. The stuff most of us try to hide with our labels. 

The tough stuff. 

Let me break it down a bit. 

A parenting label is a chosen parent identity. “This is who I am.”

It’s intentional and motivated by wanting to find the “right” way to parent. But it’s not a parenting style. It’s more a cultural, lifestyle choice.

For instance, one mom might say, “I’m a holistic parent, free-range parent.”  

Self-labeling is how we experiment with parent identity. We try on things. When we become parents, we’re continually working to find our own way. That’s a good thing, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Self-labeling is how we proclaim who we are to our community, our family, to our children and to ourselves. And it’s often temporal. 

What’s not temporal is parenting styles. 

We each are driven by what the impossibly dense DSM IV – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders- refers to as Parenting Styles. The underlying “sub-dimensions” of who we are. 

Three Parenting Styles are: 
  • Authoritative parenting: warmth/involvement, reasoning/induction, democratic participation, and   a good nature/easygoing.  In short – a firm and loving parenting style.
  • Authoritarian parenting: verbal hostility, corporal punishment, non-reasoning/punitive strategies, and directiveness.  In short – a “my way or the highway” parenting style.
  • Permissive parenting: lack of follow-through, ignoring misbehavior, and self-confidence.  In short – a “lets be friends” parenting style.

These parenting styles are not labels as much as they tell parents what’s driving their parenting. 

Our parenting style is in reaction to how we were parented. 

If you grew up with an authoritarian parent, you are more likely to reject an authoritarian parenting style, yet find yourself being one under stress.

We get to choose how we want to parent when we’re calm, but the parenting style that takes over when we’re stressed is where the real work is.

A label won’t touch that. 

Parenting styles inspire parenting labels. No parent is 100% any one style, but it’s helpful to know which style you lean towards when you’re stressed or triggered.


When my kids were young, I labeled myself as a free-range parent, but the truth is I was often anxious and over-involved. I wanted to be cool and calm, but behind the scenes, I was always a little terrified. 

The way I wanted to parent my kids had to do with the way I was parented. 

As for my parenting style, I started out as more authoritarian for sure, which runs counter to my “free-range, homeschooling” label, and I worked hard to be more authoritative. I was never permissive. 

Parenting labels and parenting styles are intertwined. One informs the other. 

We want to choose who we want to be and how we want to parent, but we can’t ignore where we’ve come from and what lives inside of us. 

Sometimes we think we’re choosing, but in reality, we’re reacting to how we were parented. 

Real choice comes from knowing ourselves.