Observed ***UPDATED***


One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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50 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    I’ve worked with hundreds of familes and i think this is rough, but correct, generlazation. Being more authoritative or more “liberal” does not equate to being a better or worse parents. I’ve seen restictive parents and very non-restrictive parents do a good job and a bad job.

    Why? I think more conservitive parents believe more in “traditional” gender and family roles. The father works and makes most of the final decsions.Mom focuses more on the kids and defers to some degree to father. Hierarchal role relationships are imporatant and must be maintained. Many conservitive folks are fine with authority, rules and communitarian values. That really is pretty obvious if people know many conservitive folks.Report

    • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to greginak says:

      I tend to think that current notions of “conservatism” are more a result of political packaging than actual observed belief. The Right, undoubtedly influenced by the libertarians that are currently part of their political coalition, have captured the mantle of “freedom,” and have characterized liberals as anti-Freedom.

      But in the wild, I think conservatives are much more likely to embrace authoritarian policies. If you look back to the time of the GWB presidency, you have a number of authoritarian strains that I found somewhat alarming: the willingness to override constitutional and Federalist limitations in order to force the family of Terry Schiavo to maintain her on life support. The rhetoric about “traitors” who didn’t support the Iraq war. Doctrines about the broadly expanded powers of a “unitary presidency.” The Patriot Act, and its many violations of civil liberty as understood for the last 40 years. The casual intermingling of state power and religious / cultural traditions to oppose, say, gay marriage, or widespread availablity of birth control.

      That is not to say that there is not an authoritarian segment of the left as well: as evidenced by support to “save people from themselves,” as with motorcycle helmet laws, soda bans, and the like.

      But the crux of the argument boils down, I think, to the notion of “economic freedom.” And that boils down to two core issues: progressive taxation, and economic regulation. And on both of these, the left does a shit-poor job of defending its positions. I have little problem with either, as long as they are done in a light-handed way, and made absolutely no more onerous than circumstances require.

      George Lakoff, while sometimes glib, had a very powerful core insight: that liberalism and conservatism both have their roots in different models of parenting. Conservatives tend to come from “strong father” households, in which the patriarch was “tough, but fair.” Liberals, on the other hand, have tended to come from families with a “nurturing mother,” in which personal growth, and willingness to explore were the primary parental goals.Report

  2. Burt Likko says:

    Not sure that observation is true. “Helicopter parents” are often quite liberal; the stereotypical Soccer Mom is a moderate Democrat; the stereotypical Hockey Mom is Republican and more conservative; both are intensely and actively involved in their childrens’ lives.

    Even if it is true that conservative parents are activist parents and liberal parents are more hands-off-do-your-own-thing with their kids, I’m far from certain that we can make a normative judgment about superiority of parenting styles. I strongly suspect I’m a Broderist on that point.

    Now, to answer your question. I think it’s a question of identification with authority, rules, and hierarchy rather than political alignment. Upon finding themselves cast in the role of authority figures at least as to their own children, those who like rules tend to use them more often than those who dislike rules. To close the circle, we’d need to establish a correlation between degrees of identification with and enjoyment of authority and hierarchy on the one hand, and political alignment on the other.

    I know there’s some conventional wisdom floating around that conservatives love authority and hierarchy more than people of other political alignments. While it’s Truthy, I’m not at all sure if it’s true.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Just to clarify, I am not judging either of these broadly-described parenting styles as better or worse than the other. I generally subscribe to the theory that there is no one “best” or “right” parenting style and as gregniak points out, most approaches can be utilized in good or bad ways. And I think both have their merits and places. I’m more broadly discussing the phenomenon, including if what I’ve described really does exist (and you offer good data points on the fact that it may not).

      Any more I say will give away my thoughts on the matter, though both comments thus far are covering the same territory I would.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

        Ah-hah! A fellow parenting Broderist! I knew it! Partisans of all sorts will now descend upon us, knives bared. Brace yourself!Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

          And what, praytell, is a Broderist?!?!Report

          • greginak in reply to Kazzy says:

            Referring to David Broder, famed Washington columnist who always finds and praises the middle ground in any argument. Being centrist is viewed as always the best position since both parties are always equivlently wrong.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to greginak says:

              Duly noted. Thanks to you both! There are many matters on which I’m certainly Broderish, with parenting (disclaimer: I’m not actually a parent) being one of them. To be more comprehensive, though, I think it is not simply a matter of “both/and” but also a matter of “place and time”. Some kids, based on who they are, will do best with one of the parenting styles described above. Others could be raised in the same house by the same parents employing the exact same technique, and suffer for it.

              Let me ask this, since we’re riffing on a tangent anyway… does Broderist tend to be seen/used/perceived as a pejorative?Report

              • greginak in reply to Kazzy says:

                Yes Broderist is definetly pejorative. It implies a thoughtless adherance to “both sides do it” without actually thinking about what the issue is. It’s more about not thinking then your actual point of view.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to greginak says:

                At least no one called you a Friedmanist, which, I guess, would mean that you parented based on the advice of cabdrivers.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Gah! How the heck did I overlook hierarchies! Big factor.Report

  3. Burt Likko says:

    One who practices Broderism, a world view named for its founder and primary exponent, the late David Broder.Report

  4. Fnord says:

    This only seems surprising because if you map “liberal/conservative” to “big government/small government”. Which, as has been pointed out on many occasions, is far from universally the case. And, if anything, liberal maps to permissive/small government in the areas that seem to tie most directly to parenting, like civil liberties and police power (as opposed to, say, environmental regulations and tax policy).Report

  5. sam wilkinson says:

    Which parenting style says, “Stop being a dumbass!” several times a day but then also is loving and encouraging?Report

  6. DensityDuck says:

    ” if they are *generally* accurate, why do you think this apparent contradiction exists? ”

    Conservative parents are more controlling because they want their kids to grow up with the attitude that moderation, temperance, thriftiness, and industry are the normal way that you live.

    Liberal parents are less controlling because they believe that the government ought to do the controlling.Report

  7. Will Truman says:

    I think that your observation is broadly true. I have some ideas, but I think it mostly comes down to #1:

    1. Parenting falls more on the social governing rather than economic governing sense, and the conservative preference for “small government” often ranges from “less strong” to “non-existent” on the social side. The social issues on which they are “big government” tend to be the issues that dominate parenting.

    2. Conservatives often tend to have a more acute sense of the strength of social networks, which factors into parenting. Staying out late? With whom. Don’t hang out with those kids. Hang out with the people from church, who are vetted by faith. I get a much stronger concern of “hanging out with the wrong crowd” from conservatives more generally than from liberals.

    3. Though it varies from thing to thing and issues to issues, generally speaking conservatives have a lower tolerance of ambiguity. This very much lends itself to more pro-active parenting, or at least I’d think it would.

    4. I believe there are SES issues at play, broadly speaking.

    5. There are different – and often more stringent – social norms and ideals to uphold. Less room to let them “find their own way.” This may simply be an extension of #1.

    6. Sex. The degree of concern over teen sex casts a large shadow over what their teens are or are not allowed to do.

    On the other hand, there are some specific things where liberals to seem to tend more towards “big government parenting.” They seem to have a higher tolerance threshold for personal injury. Also, while conservatives seem more likely to restrict TV for content, liberals seem more likely to banish it from the house altogether. This doesn’t negate the generalities of which you speak, which I agree with, but I do find it interesting.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Will Truman says:

      Liberals–or, at least, Democrats–have a long history of restricting things for content.

      You have to wonder what Tipper Gore thinks of the fact that Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne songs are used to sell family minivans these days.Report

      • I’m referring to what families do in their own households (by my observation), not the actions of the politicians. I’d be willing to bet that if you removed Tipper Gore’s name from it, conservatives parents would support her views more than liberal parents by a pretty significant margin.Report

        • Sam in reply to Will Truman says:

          It’s not even up for question which parents trend more toward censorship, is it? Although liberal parents may be more opposed to their children ingesting violent content, but surely conservative parents are just as skittish about letting their six-year-olds watch Robocop or whatever a more modern equivalent might be.Report

          • Will Truman in reply to Sam says:

            The only exception that comes to mind is that conservatives might carve out exceptions (say, war movies) that liberals wouldn’t. That’s just guesswork, though, since I don’t know any conservatives that would seem to make that exception. I don’t notice much difference in filtering for violence, or if I do, conservative families are more likely to wish to censor since they are already doing so for sex.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck says:

        The Tipper Gore story continued. Tipper Gore is a competent drummer. When Frank Zappa began to succumb to cancer, she wrote a letter to the Zappa family and left the PMRC the same year, 1993. There’s no more nourishing meal than one’s own words and Tipper Gore did eat them, to her credit.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to DensityDuck says:

        I don’t want to jump too deeply into the, “Which side censors more than the other…” argument, but I do not think that parents restricting access to certain content is necessarily censorship in the way that we typically use that word. Is it censorship if the parent of a 4-year-old refuses to let him watch “Pulp Fiction”? Is it censorship if parents keep their doors closed while having sex? Is it censorship when parents adjust their vocabulary around children?

        Generally speaking, I think parents are right (if not somewhat duty-bound) to do their best to limit their kids to taking in ‘developmentally appropriate’ content, with the full concession that ‘developmentally appropriate’ is one of the squishier terms in existence. There is nothing wrong with deciding that a child does not have the necessary cognitive, emotional, social, or moral development to make proper sense of a particular form of media and thus limit their exposure to it. Of course, there comes a point where parents have less control over the media their children are exposed to, at which point I think it best that they help ensure their children a proper venue to make sense of what might be very confusing representations. Barring them from viewing it negates this. The reality is that a 14-year-old is going to here music with horrible words or messages in it. Parents can ban this music from their house, meaning the child likely has no adults with whom he can attempt to understand these words and messages. Or the parents can accept it (while not necessarily promoting it), thus hopefully encouraging the child to say, “Hey mom/dad, what do they mean when they say, ‘Skeet, skeet, skeet’?”Report

    • aaron david in reply to Will Truman says:

      “They seem to have a higher tolerance threshold for personal injury.”
      Are you saying that liberal parents have a higher threshold for personal injury? I would say that conservative parents are more allowing of actions that could be perceived to cause injury, like dirt biking, firearm ownership, pocket knives, etc.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:


      I have no doubt that SES is a factor looking at this more broadly. As I should have said from the onset, my “observation” is based on the parents of children I work with, all of which are attendees at an independent/private school. There is still a range of SES, but the group still skews middle to upper-class and my hunch is that SES was not impacting my observations in the way that you are thinking.Report

  8. b-psycho says:

    I figure to the extent this holds true with conservative parents it’s because conservatives think people need to be intentionally and strictly molded to operate properly in society. I think the liberal characterization is outdated though, there’s a much lower degree of skepticism of authority than there used to be within what we know as liberal politics and that has influenced parenting.

    Yet, the worst behaving children I’ve seen by far have been in Deep Red America. By. Far.Report

  9. aaron david says:

    Anecdotaly (I have a son about to be a senior in high school) liberal parents are infinitely less permissive than conservative parents, with the exception of sex. Then again, I think it really boils down to the parents age relative the the child’s age. The older they were when they first had kids seems to reduce permissiveness more than any other factor.Report

  10. Marchmaine says:

    I think you might be misinterpreting what you are observing.

    Some conservatives (and liberals) believe that subsidiary authority ought to be distributed throughout the social commonwealth; such that, parents ought to exercise authority in families so that the family might participate properly in a community, which helps to enable better governance at a local level, and so forth. In essence, any “small government” philosophy is really a small government(s) philosophy… and the smallest of those governing units is the family.

    Conversely, the “freedom” of the so called liberal parents is (perhaps) a fundamental trust in the single state/single culture model that is really what folks mean by “big government.” The overwhelming power of “youth culture” is the thing to which these parents entrust their child’s upbringing. If you are ok with the current dominant culture (whether or not you are sensitive to Youth Culture and where it differs) you are more likely to allow those forces to educate and shape your child for participation in that political culture.

    But, absent the mitigating structures of subsidiary institutions and the various claims to authority external to the dominant state/culture there is no need to “govern” children for participation in communities other than the One-Big-One… you are seeing “liberal” parents employing a big government style of parenting. Just a thought…Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Marchmaine says:


      You are the person I was referring to in my point above. Thank you for this perspective. I think that this might give a little bit TOO much credit to parents, at least insofar as their parenting style is a deliberate extension of their political beliefs (and I suppose my broader point is that… it’s not), but it is possible that this is manifesting itself subconsciously in ways that are harder to identify and define but no less real.Report

      • Marchmaine in reply to Kazzy says:

        Surely you are correct that no one is *that* consistent.

        In fact, I’d suggest that the real issue is authority and modern American understanding of it and its proper uses. In my experience, most conservatives are actually quite unhinged by authority… in that sense they are more or less identical to certain liberal notions of authority. So, my anecdotal evidence actually points to generational variances on authority with certain “conservatives” being positively phobic of all authority (including their own rightful parental authority) and it shows in their children and parenting styles.

        As a communitarian type fellow, I think getting authority and its limits right is quite important; but mostly I observe an almost uniform incoherence that is actually worse on the right. This is not so say that I think the Left “get it” with regards authority…they are just unhinged in their own special ways. But parental notions of authority are fundamentally what you are observing and that does not really correspond to conservative and liberal self-identification because authority and its (ab-)uses is incoherent at the party level.Report

  11. The Left says:

    I don’t think our political tribes map very well to how we conduct ourselves in our daily lives.

    First, authoritarians lurk at the corners of nearly any ideology or faith. Likewise, laissez faire managers.

    Second, political constructs, like religious texts, are complex and contradictory, since they are trying to make order out of human nature.

    So any theory contains enough directives to justify nearly any action.

    So involved parenting that is done under the banner of Christian Patriarchal Hierachy is a conservative trait, while involved parenting that flies the flag of touchy-feely “lets just be friends” is liberalism.Report

  12. BlaiseP says:

    I remember an argument with my oldest over my parenting. I stood there and listened to her vent. When she was done, I narrowed my eyes and told her this:

    “There will come a day when you are standing on very ground upon which I stand and your child will stand where you are in this moment. On that day, you will remember this one and cringe in horror, as I stand here, cringing at what you now say, for all you say is true.

    “You cannot imagine it but once I stood where you are standing and my father stood where I stand now. My father seldom had a kind word to say of his own father though I found him a remarkable man, worthy of respect. His father was a stepchild, as you are. While his half-brothers went off to good schools, he was made to follow the plough behind a pair of mules.

    “You’ve never been made to follow the plough and if you’ve been treated unfairly, that’s likely true enough. I have done as well as I knew how to do, guided by love and what I thought was right. There never was a good example for me to follow, my father’s career came first and I was dragged along for a ride across three continents, saying goodbye to every friend I ever made, a fate from which I carefully preserved you. My world revolved around you.

    “You have said cruel things and I will return the favour and this is my blessing upon you: may you go your own way and swear never to repeat the mistakes I made, as I swore to never repeat my father’s mistakes and may your every wish come true, as mine came true. And may you be fated to have your child curse you as you have cursed me, as I cursed my father and he cursed his.”

    She yelled back: “Well, I’m never having kids!”

    Well, now she has kids and we have long since reconciled. The Romans say grandparents and grandchildren are natural allies for they have an enemy in common.Report

  13. Jason Kuznicki says:

    What on earth does this have to do with government? Families are a part of civil society, not government.

    If anything, your observations show people acting consistently, rather than the opposite. Conservative parents believe that the government shouldn’t be the parents — they should be. Liberal parents believe that it takes a village, so the pressure’s off.

    That said, conservatives aren’t really the champions of limited government in the public sphere. It’s not a big government spending program if it’s Team Red doing the spending.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


      If you saw my update, I noted that the parent-child relationship is not analogous to the government-citizen relationship, for many of the reasons offered.

      The point of this post was that I observed this tendency that initially seemed contradictory, only to reach a better understanding of it upon further reflection that indicated that no contradiction truly existed. I held off on offering my further thoughts on the matter to see how others would respond to the initial facts (assuming that my observations were generalizable between my data points).Report

  14. Patrick Cahalan says:

    For the most part, I consider my job a combination of airbag and lighthouse.

    Here. Here is where I think you ought to be. But provided you’re not hurting yourself or someone else, if you think here isn’t where you ought to be, that’s probably okay.Report

  15. Annelid Gustator says:

    That’s one heck of a false equivalence, there, DensityDuck. Whales!Report