This is obvious, but often forgotten:
— Rolf Degen (@DegenRolf) July 18, 2018
It stands to reason that parents would adapt to their kids this way. In fact, we would hope that to be the case. Responding to facts on the ground is peak parental performance, so long as you don’t overdo it. The temptation to stick to your guns is often stronger.
When we talk about helicopter parenting and free-range parenting and the superiority or inferiority of the models, we tend to think in absolutes when the truth is different kids need different amounts of attention. When we talk about strict or lenient, different kids will likely respond to each with different degrees of favorability and unfavorability. This has to be especially frustrating in families where one kid responds better to better to more rules and the other to less, because you need a degree of uniformity.
The other side, though, is that while parents are adaptable they are not infinitely so and in some cases shouldn’t because they’re not good at it. For example, I don’t think I have it in me to be a particularly strict parent. If I were to have a child who needed that, I am not sure how well I would respond. It’s not just that I would be reluctant to crack down, it’s that I would do it all wrong. I don’t have the intuitions to make it work. My wife does, though, so I would have to take my cues from her. And vice-versa.
This makes things really quite difficult on not just a family level, but a societal one. What’s true of families is also true of schools. What’s true of families and schools is also true of family law. In the latter two cases – especially the law – we have to have uniformity across a lot of different scenarios. So while parents can adapt to take care of their one or two or three or however many kids, the general rules cover millions. That’s difficult to adapt.
But back at the nuclear family level, that hardwiring affects parenting is an important thing to consider not only when we talk about parenting styles, but when we talk about data and outcomes. You know those stories about child behavior with authority-driven parents? Causality there isn’t necessarily unidirectional.