I recently took some time to clear some space on my laptop. My files are a disorganized mess, with the only folders I really keep track of being the images I download for use on the blog, pictures from concerts sorted by artist, and things relating to my books.
Scattered among all of that are old MP3 files of self-made airwave-safe edits from my college radio days and countless essays, Powerpoint presentations, class notes, and study guides that got jumbled around after having to transfer the content of my previous laptop to my current and no longer bear a comprehendible file name because they’re all something like $ntro_tosnlaknjwrw instead of the original Intro_to_Sholay.pdf or what have you.
Basically things I feel I should hang onto in case I need them in the future but haven’t needed at all in the two years since graduating.
One of the files I came across was notes on different parenting styles from the Intro to Psychology class I took as an elective during my senior year, in part for fun and to give myself a bit of a challenge in a new realm outside my comfort zone, but also because I thought it might be helpful as a writer to have a rudimentary understanding of some areas within psychology for things like character development and backstory.
While it’s common for authors to kill off the protagonist’s parents early on in the story, have them out of the picture well before the first page, limit their involvement, or ignore them entirely, their parenting styles can have long-lasting effects of your protagonists and influence their way of thinking or acting.
These parenting styles also lend themselves to tropes within writing, so it’s a topic worth exploring—but not without a little bit of history and background knowledge.
Diana Baumrind was a developmental psychologist who established these types of parenting in the 1960s.
Baumrind studied, leading her to suppose that there is a correlation between style of parenting and the behavior of their children, and that some of these characteristics can last well into adulthood.
At the time of her study, Baumrind designated three styles of parenting. In the 1980s, John Martin and Eleanor Maccoby expanded on the Permissive category, splitting it into the Indulgent parenting and Uninvolved parenting.
Baumrind’s Parenting Styles are as follows:
These parents tend to be more restrictive and less responsive towards the child’s requests and expect obedience without question. They set out to shape the child to conform to their rules.
They believe children should stay out of the way and mind their own business and don’t want much to do with them in the first place. In this setting, the parent is the one in charge and the child cannot say anything against them. If a rule is broken, the punishments are typically more harsh than those doled out by other parenting styles.
Children of Authoritarian parents can struggle with their self-esteem or have fears of making the wrong choice when not told what to do. It is believed that these children are also more likely to take on a follower mentality rather than make their own decisions.
Authoritative parenting is identified as having high expectations for the child but is typically more forgiving than Authoritarian parenting. They establish rules and boundaries, but these are more like guidelines than they are laws. The relationship between parent and child is generally more affectionate than that of Authoritarian parents.
These parents also listen to their children more than Authoritarian parents typically do, and allow their children more freedom to make their own choices rather than always being made to do as the parent tells them.
Children raised in an Authoritative household tend to have an easier time trusting their own judgement and make their own decisions, and they exhibit better problem-solving skills because they are brought up in an environment where failure is not treated as a catastrophe and teaches them to learn from their mistakes.
Also called Indulgent parents, Permissive parenting is as the name sounds. They are more lenient when it comes to parenting and while they are very involved with their children, they do not employ as many rules or limits. Discipline is not as frequent here.
These are your standard “helicopter-parents” who pretty much let the kid do or have whatever they want and interfere to prevent them from failing.
The assumption shared among psychologists is that children of Permissive parents tend to become unruly or defiant when they are told no, which can cause problems in adulthood. It’s also suggested they feed off of instant gratification and lack an understanding of boundaries and consequences, which can cause emotional or behavioral problems.
This is the style of parenting added on by Maccoby and Martin.
Uninvolved parenting is also referred to as Neglectful parenting, as either term suggests, these parents spend little to no time with their children. This creates an environment where no rules are in place, but the child’s needs are not being met.
In a wost-case scenario, children who grow up with negligent parents can struggle to connect with others and have a harder time forming long-lasting relationships. Behavioral problems can also be the result of this parenting style.
How Can This Be Useful For Writers?
Baumrind’s parenting styles are not a one-size-fits-all situation. It’s possible that some parents exhibit traits from multiple areas in their methods and that their children’s resultant behaviors may not necessarily “line up” with what is the expected outcome of their parent’s style. It’s also not unheard of for co-parenting to exhibit more than one of these styles, say an Authoritarian mother and an Indulgent father. As is the case with Love Languages, parenting styles can mesh well or create conflict, which can influence your character.
Working with the theory that the behavior of children is the direct result of parenting styles, determining what kind of upbringing your character had can play a role in the way they conduct themselves.
This seems to be a common theme in antagonist and villain backstory. A character who feels that they feel they did not get enough love from their parents growing up may be driven by that, whether to make everyone love them or worship them or to make everyone miserable because they could not be happy. This idea can also be applied to a good guy, in that they want to do better for others than their parents did for them and go against those expectations.
In one of my own books, Against His Vows, William’s father has a vastly different style of parenting than Miranda’s. While Miranda’s father is generally easy-going and Authoritarian, William’s father is very Authoritative, which puts a bit of a strain on William as a result; when William does defy his father’s orders, things don’t go so well for him, and this also puts a strain on his relationship with his brother.
Eventually, when William and Miranda have a child of their own, William’s parenting style contrasts his father’s and more closely resembles that of Miranda’s father.
Parenting styles can also play into your character’s traits. Maybe they have a hard time being told no because they had Indulgent parents, or they might be a workaholic as an adult because they had an Authoritative parent who would punish them if they came home with so much as an A- on an exam instead of the coveted A+.
It’s important to note that the your character’s parent(s) used are not going to be the only thing influencing them. Others relatives, mentors, and peers can also play a role and thus factor into their development, but parents are often viewed as the start of it all.
Remember, this post is designed to give a brief overview of these different parenting styles. I will be the first to admit my knowledge of this topic and pretty much all others within psychology is limited and vague.
That said, if your character’s parents are alive and in the picture, or if they are a parent themselves, taking a look at these different parenting styles into consideration can play a role in their actions.
I’ve also used essays I wrote while in college as inspiration and resources for my posts on Five Nights at Freddy’s creator Scott Cawthon and on the relationship between Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy, which you can view via those links.