Articles by Debashis Dutta – 8

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The Parenting Empowerment Program – Week 4

Homework Review

Last week, we simplified parenting down to two overall desired outcomes. It was proposed that anything we do with our children comes down to our wish for two desired goals. One is to help the child feel loveable, that there are special and important things about them. The other is to help the child understand that they are limitable, that they have to follow rules in life. The homework was to think about the words discipline, nurturing, guidance and accessibility and what these mean for you as a parent.

Here are some extremely basic words and phrases that come to my mind when I think about these four words and apply them to my little girl:

  • Discipline: Showing her right from wrong, holding her accountable
  • Nurturing: Loving her, fostering her strengths, encouraging her to feel good
  • Guidance: Steering my child, paving her way, teaching her
  • Accessibility: Being there for her

What did you come up with? What kinds of ideas and thoughts and definitions did you conjure up as you did this? I’d like to hear about your responses. I found that defining them objectively was a little hard. But when I thought about what they meant as they related to my role as a parent to Anjuli, the words and phrases came a little easier.

The four functions of parenting

These four words are known as the four functions of parenting. Now, I am forgetting the name of the author/researcher who develop these four functions, but I want to give credit to him (I do know that it was a he.) So, this idea of the four functions is not an original one, but one that we borrowed in our re-thinking of parenting in order to make some sense. Here is what the four functions look like:


four functions of parenting

So, all of what we do falls into these four functions. And I think we struggle when there is a lack of balance between these four functions. Remember last week when I suggested that all the work we do with our children, and all the interaction we have, comes down to the to overall desired outcomes of making the child feel loveable and/or limitable? Do you also remember the homework from a couple of weeks ago when I asked you to list all the qualities and characteristics you wanted in your child? Well now, I’d like for you find those little sheets (hopefully you have at least 20). Draw the above diagram on a sheet of paper with the four functions listed in their little quadrants.

Categorizing desired qualities into the parental functions

Your task now is to take each one of those desired characteristics and place it in the one function you think it most fits with. Go with your gut reaction. Don’t think about it too much. Just look at your quality and quickly place it where you think it belongs and then move on to the next one. You’ll then have a sheet of paper with a circle divided into four sections and lots of tiny sheets of paper littered across this sheet.

I’ll show you what happened when I did this. Because I’m not completely computer proficient, rather than try to draw the diagram with the qualities inside the quadrants, I’ll just list the qualities under the parenting functions. So our daughter’s desired qualities are listed under the parenting function I think it most directly fits under.

law-abiding honesty kindness sense of humour
respectful of others self-reliant gentleness generous
follows rules leader can ask for help spiritual
respects elders independence values family strong
knows right from wrong self-reliant receives love prosperous
not shy can give love respects self
physically healthy caring self-disciplined
clear thinker charitable friendly
hardworking creative makes healthy choices
cooperative    in tune with self

Now my wife Adrienne and I would likely differ in our categorization of some of these qualities. How about you? Do you have some differences in where you would place certain qualities? It is quite likely that there are several qualities where we all differ and several where we all agree. I’d like to emphasize that, THERE ARE NO RIGHT OR WRONG responses here. What you believe is what you believe. Now perhaps take a look at your map of functions and qualities and move them around a bit. Maybe, upon some further thought, you think the “humour” needs to go under guidance instead of nurturing. Or, that “respect” goes under nurturing instead of guidance. Or whatever. So spend some time rearranging these things. Hard, isn’t it? Did you find that some of the desired qualities fit into more than one function? There is definitely some overlap here, but I’d like for you to really try to pin each quality down to each function.

Balancing the functions with the outcomes – intentionality

Now, I’d like to show you how the four functions of parenting and two desired outcomes of parenting fit together. Take a look at the diagram below:


parenting context

So, here is how these two concepts fit together. All the tasks we do to discipline and guide our children have the ultimate goal of teaching them to be limitable in life. And all the nurturing and accessibility we provide help our children to be loveable.

My old team in children’s mental health proposes that we experience challenges in our parenting and sometimes things fall apart when the balance in the above areas is amiss. So, there might be too much on the discipline and not enough on the nurturing. Or, there may be far too much effort in being accessible, without providing the necessary guidance. And when this dis-equilibrium occurs we get frustrated with our kids because they’re misbehaving, or not doing what we want them to do.

The solution then would be to reflect back on all those desired characteristics we want in our children and re-balance our philosophy and intention around parenting. Once the thought process and intentions are clear, we would need to remind ourselves about the old Spheres of Control concept. (Remember that? Don’t lose sight of that one!!)

All right. We’ve spent a lot of time here categorizing many qualities we wish to have in our children into four parental functions and then briefly looking at always having a balanced perspective on our intentions as a parent. Let’s end here for this week.

For next week, here is what I’d like you to give some thought to:

1. Getting someone else to come up with the qualities they want in their children, then get them to categorize their wish list into the four functions.

2. Comparing the differences and similarities, and take note of these (like Adrienne and I). Do not try to convince the other person at all.

3. Thinking about those differences. Why do you believe a character goes in one function while someone else believes it goes elsewhere?

4. Thinking about the values with which you were raised. Why did you place the desired qualities in to the categories you selected? What are your beliefs?

5. What shapes and influences your parenting?

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