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The Job of Parents

As parents we sometimes feel that our kids need us to have all the answers. But what if what they need most is to see us model learning and growth through uncertainty?

Help Wanted

Imagine if you had to apply to become a parent in the way you interview for a job (for those who have adopted children, this may not require a large stretch of the imagination). What might the job description look like?

Job Title: Parent (aka Mom or Dad. See also Mother, Father, Mommy, Daddy, Mama, Papa, etc). 

Job Summary: Raise children from infancy to adulthood 

Responsibilities and Duties:

1. Keep Child(ren) alive and in good working order

  • Feed
  • Clothe
  • Shelter

2. Teach Child(ren) how to human

  • Support Emotional Development
  • Nourish Social Connection
  • Foster Intellectual Growth 

Qualifications and Skills: Mostly learn as you go. 

Salary: Haha—Good one. 

That sound about right? Pretty daunting! 

Of course, trying to describe parenting as a job doesn’t cover half of what it is really like. Parenting is more than a list of responsibilities and duties: it’s a relationship. 

Parenting Styles

There are many different ways for parents to relate to their children. The types of parent-child relationships vary based on lots of different factors, from cultural or religious background to the type of relationships parents had with their own guardians. While there is no single “right” way to approach parenting, there are general trends which have different outcomes in terms of children’s well being. 

Many common depictions of parenting styles build upon the research of Dr. Diana Baumrind. The image below describes how intersecting levels of two traits, parental warmth and parental control or regulation (depicted below as Responsiveness and Demandingness), create four categories of parenting styles: Neglectful, Permissive, Authoritarian, and Authoritative. 

Image Credit: The 4 Parenting Styles Francyne Zeltser, CNBC Make It

Style Descriptions and Outcomes


With permissive parenting (top left), the parent-child relationship tends to be more akin to a friendship. Discipline is infrequent, and behavioral expectations are low, and rules are limited or poorly expressed. Though permissive parents have nurturing feelings towards their kids, the children tend to run the show and receive whatever they demand. Parents may either feel like they lack the ability and authority to direct their kids, or perhaps be afraid that their children won’t like them if they try to require anything from them.

Children raised by permissive parents can develop unhealthy habits in regards to eating, sleeping, homework, and screentime, since parents allow lots of freedom without guidance in moderation. This style can also cause children to be self-centered, undisciplined, and less capable of managing their emotions well.


On the other side, (bottom right), authoritarian parents have a strong presence and enforce their will without much input from the children. The home has strictly enforced rules that are kept in place by punishment with minimal explanation or communication. These parents tend not to demonstrate as much nurturing or emotional connection, and they expect a lot from their children behavior-wise. 

When children are raised by authoritarian parents, they tend to exhibit obedience for fear of consequences, and are accustomed to following rules. However, they also may be more aggressive, while also being shy, lacking social skills, and having a hard time making choices on their own. They also frequently experience low levels of self-esteem, and may eventually come to rebel against authority. 


A neglectful or uninvolved parent (bottom left) is neither warmly responsive to their children, nor strongly directing of them. The predominant attitude conveyed by this parenting style is indifference, as parents are distant both in terms of emotional connection and in terms of discipline or instruction. 

Children from this parenting background can develop resilience and self-reliance out of necessity, but it comes at a cost: they tend to face substantial challenges in school, in building meaningful relationships, and in coping with and managing their emotions.


The parenting style that consistently demonstrates the best outcome for children’s wellbeing is authoritative (top right). At first glance, the word “authoritative” might evoke a similar image as “authoritarian”, but they represent two very different approaches. This style reflects a relationship that is nurturing and directive, where parents provide clear expectations and fair discipline. You may have heard the terms “gentle parenting” and “positive parenting” gaining popularity on social media in recent years. Gentle or positive parenting shares traits of authoritative parenting, with a central focus on two-way communication between parent and child.

In a home with authoritative parents, children are helped to understand behavioral guidelines, and any correction of behavior is explained, becoming a supportive response rather than punitive reaction. Helping children grasp the “why” behind the rules prepares them to make their own decisions later in life and helps them learn respectful behavior more intuitively,

Authoritative parenting promotes a host of positive outcomes. It helps children to become more confident, more responsible, more capable of managing emotions, and more likely to achieve their goals. Children with authoritative parents are also more likely to have higher self-esteem.

Reminder: Your Parenting Approach Matters

The impacts of different parenting styles reinforces the key message of Raise, the idea that everything comes back to—your relationship with your children matters. In fact, it makes all the difference. 

We can move closer to being the type of supportive-yet-disciplined parents that our kids need by examining our beliefs about the nature of the parent-child bond. This is important because our beliefs shape our behaviors, which in turn determine the relational dynamic we cultivate with our children.

Ownership vs Stewardship

Becoming a parent is in some ways paradoxical. In a biological sense, most parents do make their children. A kid doesn’t physically exist before conception, gestation, and birth. Mothers know this arduous process intimately, and the work doesn’t even stop there! Bringing a child into the world is just the beginning of the endeavor. So it makes sense use language like “my kid” or “our children.” With how much parents invest in their offspring, it’s easy to feel some sense of ownership. But it also feels wrong to say that a parent “owns”their children. And there’s the mystery of how each child is unique, with their own destiny and a right to their own life that grows as they age.

Rather than adopting an ownership orientation, it can be useful to frame parenting as stewardship; a responsibility to guide and direct a life that is deeply connected, but also distinct from our own. This mindset reflects the obligations parents face, while also keeping in perspective how those obligations change over time. It also reflects how parents can powerfully influence—but are not fully responsible for—the behaviors and choices of the children. 

Having all the Answers

Now that we’ve looked at different parenting styles and the nature of the parent-child relationship, let’s return to the our original question: what is the job of a parent?

Most answers boil down to a few main ideas: provide, teach, and protect. This are all important things! But we sometimes think that parents need to protect children from uncertainty and complexity by providing them with clear and immediate answers to all of their questions. While it might seem like a good idea in some ways, this can become a real problem because life is uncertain and complex. Parents who feel pressured to have all the answers are likely to find it an anxiety-inducing weight. Plus, trying to offer every answer can also be a disservice to our children, who will have someday have to navigate the world without us. 

Embracing Uncertainty

Instead of trying to spare our children the discomfort of uncertainty, we can help them learn how to grow from the discomfort. Maybe that sounds like too much work or too complicated, but it can also be simple. When our children come to us with questions, we can wait to offer our insight until we first say something like, “That’s a good question! Tell me more about what you think.” or “Thank you for asking me about this. What made you start thinking about it?” By asking about the question before answering, we can invite our children to deeper thinking and reflection. It also allows us to see more of what’s going on in their minds.

Another way to help our children grow from uncertainty is by thinking before we answer a question, and not being afraid to say, “I don’t know for sure” or “ I think I need to learn more about that topic.” When we normalize not knowing and taking time to think, we help our kids to realize that nobody knows everything, and that’s ok! Being able to carefully consider and find more information is much more important than having quick and easy answers on the tip of your tongue! By modeling these sorts of behaviors, our kids will be more capable of productively responding to complicated issues. In fact, we can invite them to be our partners in finding answers, which will both empower them and relieve us from needing to know everything (or pretend we do!)  

Hard, but not Impossible

Parenting is hard. It’s one of those truths that can sound cliche, but that is also easily forgotten in the daily grind. Honestly acknowledging that the difficulty isn’t the same as whining or complaining; it can help us remember to give ourselves a little compassion, patience, and grace. It can remind us that it’s ok to ask for help. We hope you’re finding valuable support from the Raise app, community, and blog. 

As you think about the job of parenting, remember that your kids need you. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be a perfect parent or else your child is doomed to a miserable life. Children are resilient. Even if we sometimes err by being too authoritarian or too permissive, or even if we’ve fallen into some patterns that aren’t working, it’s not too late to make positive changes. As you model learning and growth through uncertainty, inviting your children to become joint problem solvers, you’ll be preparing them for life. 

And that’s a job well done. 

Cover photo by Victoria Akvarel.

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