Permissive Vs Liberating

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 KidsLiberated Kids
Connection is a priorityConnection is a priority
“No” is respected“No” is respected
Not forced into decisionsNot forced into decisions
Met with love and affection from caregiversMet with love and affection from caregivers
Enjoys freedom of thoughtEnjoys freedom of thought
Not subjected to punishment/harsh approaches Not subjected to punishment/harsh approaches
Governs themselvesGoverns themselves with support from caregivers
Has no responsibilitiesAge-appropriate responsibilities; competence assumed
Non-interventionist approach can result in dysregulationCo-regulation with caregiver as needed
Receives limited oversightInvested and involved caregivers
Heavy emphasis on freedomHeavy emphasis on autonomy
Limited efforts to curtail harmful behaviorCaregiver provides gentle intervention; restorative justice
Offered bribes to smooth over unhappinessNo manipulation of kids
No schedulesChild and caregiver develop daily rhythm together
Overruns boundariesBoundaries and consent are crucial
Cannot tolerate mistakes or failuresEmbraces mistakes and failures as life learning
Caregiver does not necessarily seek to liberateFamily 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.