Y’all know I love a good “versus” post! Let’s talk about the difference between permissive and liberating parenting. First, though, I must acknowledge that what’s considered permissive parenting is highly cultural. This article from Parenting Science does a fantastic job of explaining about how permissive parenting outside of the U.S. isn’t always problematic and why that may be. In the U.S., when we talk about permissive parenting, we generally mean giving children virtually unlimited freedom without the requisite parental involvement.
Here, unlimited freedom is usually the dominion of white families, especially those who aren’t actively pursuing anti-racism and anti-colonialism. White children carry all the white supremacist messaging – and protections – they receive through osmosis and otherwise and that indoctrination factors into the choices they make. The result can be children who do not recognize safety limits or the personal boundaries of people around them. They can develop an attitude that “I do what I want and I don’t care what anyone says.”
To a significant extent, white children are the only group of kids who have the cultural privilege to do what they like without life-altering repercussions. Bottom line: white USian parents are the most likely to engage in permissive parenting and the least likely to suffer any meaningful backlash as a result. Something to keep in mind, especially when reading about what permissive parenting looks like outside of the U.S.
All of that said, I’ve put together a simple chart to look at the ways permissive parenting and liberated parenting might affect kids and the parent-child relationship. This chart is not comprehensive and each point could be argued but, in the end, it provides a comparative framework to better understand how each approach impacts children.
|Permissively-Parented Kids||Liberated Kids|
|Connection is a priority||Connection is a priority|
|“No” is respected||“No” is respected|
|Not forced into decisions||Not forced into decisions|
|Met with love and affection from caregivers||Met with love and affection from caregivers|
|Enjoys freedom of thought||Enjoys freedom of thought|
|Not subjected to punishment/harsh approaches||Not subjected to punishment/harsh approaches|
|Governs themselves||Governs themselves with support from caregivers|
|Has no responsibilities||Age-appropriate responsibilities; competence assumed|
|Non-interventionist approach can result in dysregulation||Co-regulation with caregiver as needed|
|Receives limited oversight||Invested and involved caregivers|
|Heavy emphasis on freedom||Heavy emphasis on autonomy|
|Limited efforts to curtail harmful behavior||Caregiver provides gentle intervention; restorative justice|
|Offered bribes to smooth over unhappiness||No manipulation of kids|
|No schedules||Child and caregiver develop daily rhythm together|
|Overruns boundaries||Boundaries and consent are crucial|
|Cannot tolerate mistakes or failures||Embraces mistakes and failures as life learning|
|Caregiver does not necessarily seek to liberate||Family is intentional about disrupting oppressive systems|
Liberated children hold tremendous autonomy. They have the space to be independent and make their own decisions within a conscious, respectful relationship with their parents. Permissive parenting and liberating parenting have so much in common, because they both embrace the free will and agency of children. However, liberation involves noticing, compassion for self and others, and intentionality that may not be present in permissive homes. I believe the goal of peaceful, gentle parenting should be liberation, starting with an end to childism and branching out to combat the oppression of all survivors of marginalization.