Elephant parenting-Nurturing or enabling?

Elephant parenting has hit the news recently has the latest addition to animal descriptions of parenting styles. This to follow “Tiger parenting” back in 2011 when a an article hit the Wall Street Journal discussing the overly aggressive Asian style of parenting founded on discipline, strict rules and rigid structure. Elephant parenting is being dubbed as the nurturing, caring more passive parenting where parents do more for their kids in the name of “nurturing.” Interestingly however what follows in the description of nurturing in the recent articles are examples of parents doing things for their kids. Is doing things for our kids such as tying their kids, sheltering them from emotional strife and protecting our kids from having to fall-and learn to stand up again, really nurturing?

As a psychiatrist I can assure you I have seen elephant parenting but I have known it as enabling, often coupled with emotional distance or inability to connect in a truly emotionally nurturing way. Instead parents tend to do more “stuff” for their kids, make their life easier and essentially use that as a replacement for letting them face fears but be their emotionally to bolster them, love them and show regular emotion.

Ideally it is great if a parent can find the perfect balance and if you are a parent who does truly nurture through love, emotionally grown and quality time, than this does not describe you. However the danger is that most commentary on the topic equates it to parents simply enabling their children.

Now if we all were elephants and we lived in a world where all people were raised by “elephant parents” than we may all do great. However the reality is we live in reality where our friends, co-workers and spouse are all a mix of tiger’s, lions and a whole mix of animals.

We need to blend in with those other animals in life and to be successful we need to have our kids not be completely enabled. I can assure you this leads to some of the most common reasons for life-long problems with people and can be quite easily prevented.

Michael Yasinski MD