Parenting Style is Similar to How One Would Purchase Eggs
As a parent and a professional who works with a lot of different families, I have noticed that there are two ways that Moms and Dads parent their child(ren) in this day and time. It appears that parenting style is similar to choosing eggs in the store: free range or caged. Personally, my style is caged. When it comes to parenting, and honestly all aspects of my life, I am organized, structured, detail-oriented and a borderline compulsive neat freak. Did I mention that I have two boys who are six and four years old?! Needless to say, caged parenting is often a challenge. I frequently find myself envious of free range parents, because they tend to be more “go with the flow” and be present in the moment and agile. One of my hardest obstacles to overcome, as a parent of a child with a disability, is the lack of control I have in his situation. After four years, I am starting to learn that my son has his own timeline when it comes to development and reaching milestones, and that’s okay. Free range parents may not feel the need to have complete control of a situation and have a nonchalant attitude towards their child meeting developmental milestones in a timely fashion. As service providers, we must learn to adapt to each parent’s environment and style. Let’s talk first about some do’s and don’ts for working with different types of parents.
Cock-A-Doodle-Doo’s and Don’ts
When my son started to receive services, I was slowly making a mental list of what I did and did not like to see from his providers. I have to admit, as I have been able to meet some great professionals in the field my expectations from providers continuously grows. I feel that we have an Olympic team working with us that share our same goals and outcomes for my son. Regardless of being a caged or free range parent, when a provider is completing the initial home visit, I am going to expect for that person to get on the same level as my son-literally. If we are both sitting on the floor playing, guess what, the floor is where you should sit as well. This is imperative if one is trying to establish a bond with the family. Don’t sit on the couch with your laptop shielding your face and start firing off a list of personal questions. To a parent this will come off like you are there to do your job, collect data, and that you do not have any interest in building a rapport with the child or parent. Don’t say things like, “I know what you mean,” “I get it,” “I completely understand.” This is a tactic for a professional to try to relate, but parents who have a child with a disability find this demeaning, frustrating and simply not true. Unless the person has a child with the exact same disability, and even then it is a bit of a stretch, you cannot compare your life to theirs. Instead you may want to say, “I cannot imagine what life is like for you, but I think that you are doing a fantabulous job”.
A free range parent may be more able to “brush things off” and not be as easily offended. They tend to be more reactive (rather than proactive) and may take longer to process, which is not bad. As we know, patience is a virtue and sometimes providers will have to give free range parents more time to respond, even with numerous communication attempts. The sooner the provider understands that you will not be a free range parent’s priority then the easier your working relationship will be. A caged parent, however, has a tendency to perseverate on words and recommendations. He/she tends to be more proactive and impulsive. When dealing with a caged parent, which can -at times- be intimidating, know that sometimes less is more. You do not need to always have an answer for everything and sometimes parents just want you to listen. Do find something to relate to with the parent, and it does not have to be centered around the child. Sports, movies, TV shows or food are all great conversation starters for parents to find a commonality. Do, if you feel comfortable, share some information about yourself. This will help lower the professional wall that is sometimes up.
Don’t Get Your Feathers in a Ruffle
Not everyone gets along, and that is okay! Confrontation is just a conversation; however, we seem to live in a society that avoids it. When I asked several of my free range and caged EI Mama friends about their experiences with their services, 8 out of 10 of them said that they had requested a new therapist or coordinator at one point. We should not view this as a bad thing. Sometimes personalities may not mesh well, and you know that you need to end the relationship sooner rather than later. What if the parent does not share the same educational or developmental philosophy as you?! Caged parents may constantly challenge your methods and thoughts and want you to see their point of view, whereas free range parents may not follow through with important outcomes, therapies or other administrative tasks. It is okay to take a step back and reevaluate. Being able to see a different viewpoint is imperative when working closely with families, so it is paramount to not take things too personally. Everyone is different, and that is what makes life beautiful.
Do remember that this is the parent’s child -their whole heart- first and foremost. Regardless of free range or caged, sometimes parents can be defensive, protective and unrealistic, but it is all coming from a good place of love for their child. And this is why it is important, as a provider, to keep an open mind and not pass judgement when working with families.
Either way the little chicken will cross the road, but how are you going to help them get to the other side?
Katie is the New Path Family Support Coordinator with the Arc of Virginia. She is native to the Richmond area. After receiving her Bachelor of Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University she pursued a career in marketing and sales. It wasn’t until she had her second son, in 2014, that her whole world changed. Unbeknownst to her husband and her, their son was born with a rare chromosomal abnormality. He is the only one in the world with his specific translocation. Although he does present with a developmental delay, he exudes happiness, love, and a tremendous amount of perseverance. In 2015 Katie began working closely with families to help facilitate the consumer directed portion of the Virginia Medicaid waivers. She understands the trials and tribulations of navigating the Medicaid system and this is why it became her personal goal to assist other families in their journey. After working closely with many new parents, Katie realized that her true passion was newborns to early childhood. She understands personally the whirlwind of emotions and the need for support when parents are first introduced to this new life. Email Katie at firstname.lastname@example.org.