In his book ‘How to Survive Family Life’ Oliver James describes four parenting styles and the impact they have on children.
Avoidant: unconsciously we consider our mother to be rejecting, controlling and negative. Mothers of avoidant children are observed to communicate with their children about their own emotions and difficulties, rather than commenting on their child’s acts, sounds or emotions. They are controlling and intrusive, ensuring their child focuses on the things they want rather than the things the child wants, and are adverse to cuddling. This rejecting pattern of care causes the child to grow up expecting rejection – so they always reject first. They are fiercely independent, assuming other people will be hostile and rejecting, and don’t want to settle down and have children. Avoidant children who do marry are more likely to divorce. Avoidant adults work long hours, preferring work to love, but are critical of co-workers because they are less committed to work than they are. Generally avoidant children grow up feeling very unhappy on the inside, but they dare not show it.
Clinger: One in ten of us are clingers. The mothers of clinger children provide inconsistent and unreliable care. They are very confusing to the child because although their mother’s try to engage with them, they do not respond to their communication. To the clinger child it seems their mother is not particularly involved with them, that they don’t have any real passion for them. Although she did pick them up there was little warmth or communication towards the child. If the mother left the clinger child for too long they would be extremely ‘clingy’ on their return, but then feel a need to punish their mother’s by withdrawing for a period of time to show them how frustrated they felt at their absence. The clinger fundamentally fears abandonment and this carries on in to adulthood and their adult relationships, which are often full of highs and lows, jealousy, conflict and dissatisfaction. The clinger adult mothers their partners, wanting them to commit early and move in with them. Clinger adults fall in love easily, and are often hurt badly when the relationship ends because they idealise every partner they have. They have a very negative view of themselves. Clinger adults constantly worry about letting down their boss and losing their job, and are very over protective of their children – almost to the point of smothering them with attention. They limit their child’s exploring activities and promote dependence on them.
Wobbler: The wobbler has characteristics of avoidants and clingers in that they want secure relationships but are terrified of being rejected and hurt – ‘wobbling’ when things get serious, difficult or stressful. 85 per cent of wobbler children suffered emotional or physical abuse or neglect. Mother’s of wobbler children are more likely to be alcoholics, or dependent on drugs, or to have suffered a severe trauma, depression, mental illness or bereavement. Wobbler children desperately want the closeness and security of a mother, but fear what will happen when they do seek out their mother due to her unpredictable nature. Wobbler children are ‘all over the place’ emotionally, and spend a lot of time in their own world. By six they boss their mothers around, the role of child and mother almost becoming reversed. To friends and colleagues wobbler adults are a mystery, and difficult to relate to as people. Sometimes they are annoying, other times they are withdrawn and sometimes they are very engaging.
Secure: 50 per cent of us are secure. Secure children are comfortable depending upon others, and in turn being depended upon. The secure mother was responsive to her child(ren) and was there when needed. Although she couldn’t be there all the time secure mother was very interested in her child(ren), allowing them to take the lead and explore. She maintained eye contact and enjoyed cuddling, and never allowed how she was feeling to impact on her relationship with her child(ren). Secure mothers are very unlikely to have suffered from any form of depression or mental illness. As a result secure adults are good partners. When there is a problem they are positive and supportive, not getting annoyed, being competitive or showing any malice. They are generally warm and caring people who have a great deal of empathy for others.