Permissive vs. disciplinarian, firm vs. kind

Do you ever do this?

You decide, today, you’re going to be the chill parent. You’re going to let go of all need to control and just go with the flow.

You’re determined to do this and you do your best to relax and not care. You’re kids are having a great time.

And this goes well. At first.

Then, all hell breaks lose and you SNAP.

The pendulum swings all the way back to the other side and you turn into a semi-hysterical control freak on steroids.

Now, no one’s having fun!

Or maybe the opposite is a little more your style. Maybe you’re usually the relaxed, chill parent that’s super flexible with the rules and today is the day you will follow through on everything you say and enforce all rules.

And as you’re enforcing rules, it feels good because you’re taking control of your kids.

But then, after a while, you’re exhausted. You realize your children are expert negotiators with nothing to lose. You feel your control slipping away and you’re not sure what to do.

So you give up.

…And all of the sudden your kids are doing the naked dance in the living room instead of enjoying a nice family meal with you.

Welcome to the insane, yet very normal, world of parenting!

You might tend to lean toward being naturally more permissive and being firm is uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

Or, you might be naturally more strict and enforcing the rules is easier for you, and you find that softer, emotional stuff exhausting and confusing.

To further complicate parenting in our minds, you envision this perfect happy median. You know, the one that’ll enforce all the rules while being super kind and make your child listen all the time while you get to stay in your happy place.

Parents are CONSTANTLY struggling with this question: How firm do I need to be? How do I balance this with being the kind, caring parenting I want to be?

I recently heard Tim Arnold, the author of The Power of Healthy Tension speak about the tension that exists when we have values that are both a high priority.

It’s not that firm is better than being kind or kind is better than being firm. One is not better than the other. It’s not an either/or.

It’s somewhere in the middle.

There IS that perfect sweet spot that we imagine but it’s not easy to identify.

That sweet spot lies somewhere in the tension that exists between the two high values that we have – the need for structure and boundaries, and the need for flexibility and kindness.

It’s a moving target.

It’s not the same in every situation.

The perfect sweet spot is in that moment when you toss aside your structured bedtime routine to enjoy an evening bike ride in the beautiful summer sun.

It’s that moment when you’re totally OK as your child splashes in that deep puddle that leaves them soaked from head to toe with a wide smile on their face.

It’s those moments where you’re in a hurry but you take a minute to look at those interesting ants carrying that cheerio.

And those moments you’re terrified to let your child climb to the top of the playground by themselves but you let them do it anyway and pray they won’t take a tumble.

Parenting isn’t about knowing what to do at all times. There’s no right answers.

Perfect parenting is about learning to live in uncertainty and balancing the tension that exists between competing priorities.

The need for structure and the need to be flexible.
The need to respect rules and the need break rules when it makes sense.
The need to be on time and the need to slow down and enjoy.
The need to keep your kid safe and the need to give them space to learn.

It’s not either/or. Both sides are equally important.

We need to get comfortable in that awkward unknown area, where we value both options in front of us.

If we get stuck in this either/or mentality, we’ll never find that happy median – That perfect sweet spot.

Originally published on


  • Lindsay Ford

    Parenting Coach

    There's no one "right" way to parent, but there's a right way for you. Lindsay committed to helping you find parenting strategies that fit your family. She's certified in Positive Discipline and applies many different parenting philosophies in her classes, coaching practice, and in her own parenting. She has two young kids and believes in the goodness of children (and parents!). She sees children as capable beings, rich in potential. And any behaviour issues are simply a miscommunication. She'll help you understand your child better (there's more than meets the eye when it comes to behavior). Check out for parenting tools you'll be glad you discovered (and grab her free mini-course: Handle Tantrums Like a Pro, while you're there).