The Best and Worst Parenting Styles

Parenting styles vary drastically from one family (and situation) to the next. But what is the best parenting style? Is there such a thing?

To an extent, yes.

Some experts believe that the answer lies in understanding which parenting style works best for each individual child. Of course, there is no single “right” way to parent, and what matters most is consistence and warmth.

I wrote a huuuge article on the 19 Parenting Styles (yes, 19), but tried to keep my opinions out of it.

Now I’m taking the gloves off.

These are the best and worst parenting styles, according to me.

The Worst Parenting Styles

Stop sign in New York City
Hold up.

Not much nuance here: these parenting styles are the bottom of the barrel. Toxic, narcissistic, and uninvolved/neglectful parenting styles are actively harmful.

Often, where the worst parenting styles exist, larger mental health, addiction, trauma, or poverty issues loom in the background.

Toxic Parenting Style is The Worst

With toxic parenting style, parental mistakes aren’t mild or isolated. They are a pattern of behaviors designed to tear children down.

That’s a no from me, dawg.

Toxic Parenting Hot Takes:

  • Toxic parenting isn’t always as camp and overwrought as media portrayals makes it out to be
  • If a parent is unable to control themselves in the face of strong emotions then their children can’t, either
  • Toxic parenting increases the risk of substance abuse in adulthood
  • The “war on drugs” needs to be a War on Trauma (aka more social and community supports)
  • Toxic *is* a word that gets thrown around too much; is it toxic or unpleasant? Are they toxic or just bad people? It’s not always one and the same

Narcissistic Parenting Style: Slightly Better, But Still Bad

Narcissistic parenting style is not necessarily or always abusive; it’s about the parent consistently putting their needs first.

With narcissistic parenting, both children and parents see children as extensions of narcissistic parents, rather than individuals.

A narcissistic parent is driven by their own needs, rather than what is best for their children.

Narcissistic Parenting Hot Takes:

  • Hi, stage parents (the extreme versions, you know who I mean)
  • If you are the child of narcissistic parents be very, very, very careful about who you cuff/move in with/marry/have children/etc
  • Narcissistic parenting creates more narcissists and we don’t need any more of those
Narcissistic parents should curb their ego, as this sign says
Big Advice

Uninvolved/Neglectful: Mostly Sad, Also Bad

Uninvolved parenting is a reaction to stress, and can be unintentional. Uninvolved/neglectful parenting style is characterized by parental withdrawal, indifference, or neglect.

It can look like emotional detachment, physical withdrawal, or neglectful behaviors such as not providing adequate food or shelter.

Uninvolved/neglectful Parenting Hot Takes:

  • Uninvolved/neglectful parenting is sad AND illegal
  • Reach out and offer help if you can
  • If that’s not feasible and stuff is bad, contact authorities

Parenting Styles That Aren’t Inherently Bad, But Can Be In The Wrong Hands

Most parenting styles aren’t inherently bad (except those listed above), but I think these parenting styles can become bad in the wrong hands.

Most parenting styles start with good intentions, like keeping children safe and day-to-day life operating smoothly. But you know what they say about good intentions…

Attachment Parenting Style Makes Me Uncomfortable, Mostly

Attachment parenting is based on the idea that a strong parent-child bond is essential for a child’s healthy development. What a wonderful intention.

But! Attachment parenting style becomes problematic when taken to extremes. It can foster an unhealthy sense of dependence between parent and child.

Also, the tenets of attachment therapy in no way guarantees secure attachment. The extreme proponents of this parenting style do not make this distinction, which sets up the average parent for all kinds of failure.

Attachment Parenting Hot Takes:

  • When attachment parenting is taken to the extreme, who is it really for? Cuz, I’mma be honest, seems like it’s for the adult who needs to feel needed
  • The whole bed sharing thing sounds like a nightmare
  • That TIME cover is *seared* into my subconscious
  • Baby wearing is pretty cool, though
Ish Mom doing babywearing attachment parenting
I did love the baby wearing

Authoritarian Parenting Style

Of course, it’s important for children to listen. (Ope! That’s the good intention!) Authoritarian parenting zeros in on compliance.

Rules and limits are also important (another good intention!). But, authoritarian parenting takes these strictures too far.

While this often results in obedient children, it comes with a cost: a child’s self-esteem and self-worth.

Authoritarian parenting can lead to a cycle of violence, as children who are raised in an environment of fear and intimidation are more likely to resort to aggression themselves when they become parents.

Authoritarian Parenting Hot Takes:

  • Children who obey from a place of fear become adults who obey from a place of fear
  • The costs of authoritarian parenting far outweigh the benefits
  • The studies on punishment are very, very clear: punitive measures don’t work in the long run, period


Wanting to connect with your children is a good thing. Same with wanting them to be happy. But with permissive/Indulgent parenting these warm intentions become warped by passivity and co-dependence.

Permissive/indulgent parents essentially give their children whatever they want, whenever they want it. It’s an easy way to keep kids happy.

In the long run, permissive/indulgent parenting style does more harm than good. Kids who are never taught how to delay gratification or deal with disappointment become entitled and spoiled.

Permissive/Indulgent Parenting Hot Takes:

  • Permissive parents often describe their children as their best friends. Excuse me?? If my best friend was constantly tugging on my clothes and demanding to play on the floor, I’d reconsider that friendship.
  • Permissive/indulgent parenting is lazy (I said what I said)
  • Permissive/indulgent parenting makes both kids and parents feel good, in the moment
  • But those kids grow up and they’re awful (trust me, I’ve dated a couple)

Tiger Parenting Style

It’s only natural to want your child to succeed and to help them when you can! But there’s a line, and Tiger Parenting is all about crossing it.

Tiger Parents push their kids to be the best at everything they do, often at the expense of their mental and emotional well-being. From hovering to helicoptering, from coddling to caving in, Tiger Parents go way beyond what’s necessary to help their children succeed.

And while their intentions may be good, the result is anything but.

Overparenting can lead to a sense of entitlement, a lack of self-confidence, and a hypersensitivity to criticism.

Tiger Parenting Hot Takes:

  • Tiger and Narcissistic parenting styles can overlap
  • My grandmother was a *bit* of a Tiger Parent and I’m kinda grateful for it now
  • Is Tiger Parenting really about the child’s success? Or is it about the way the adult wants to be perceived as a parent?

Annoying Parenting Styles

Ish Mom rolling her eyes at annoying parenting styles
Just me rolling my eyes at these parenting styles

Alright, so there’s nothing really wrong with these parenting styles. This is personal; it’s not them, it’s me.

These parenting styles set my teeth on edge.

Gentle Parenting Style

On paper, I have no problem with gentle parenting. Gentle parenting seeks to strike a balance between too-strict parenting styles (like tiger parenting) and too-lenient styles (like permissive).

So why does it seem like most gentle parents are so…intense? They’re constantly trying to foster a positive and peaceful relationship with their children. Which, again, sounds like a great idea.

But all of that intensity can be a bit much.

It makes gentle parenting seem more like a full-time job than a parenting style. That intensity can make it difficult to enjoy the simple parts of parenting, like playing with your kids or just spending time together.

Gentle Parenting Hot Takes:

  • Why does it seem like only the moms have all the responsibility for this gentle-ing?
  • The idea that children are too precious to witness strife or hear raised voices can quickly veer to the ridiculous-how do you expect them to know how to handle conflict when older?
  • Overexplanation is nearly as problematic as screaming
  • Natural consequences aren’t mean, they’re the stuff of life

Helicopter Parenting Style

Kids need to fail to thrive. Helicoptering parenting doesn’t allow that.

Helicopter parents swoop in and help their children with every problem, not allowing the opportunity for failure. When children are not allowed to experience setbacks, they can’t develop resilience or learn to problem-solve.

As a result, the children of Helicopter Parents may find themselves ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of adulthood.

And you know what? I’m finding myself more and more ill-equipped to deal with the adult versions of these Helicoptered Kids.

Helicopter Parenting Hot Takes:

  • Another parenting style for the co-dependent, need-to-be-needed types
  • If Millennials were the first Helicoptered generation, did the Boomers invent this? Discuss.

Snowplow Parenting Style

Snowplow parenting style is like helicopter, but more intense. So take all the annoyance from up above and add more eye-rolling.

Also, snowplow parents are typically more aggressive. While a helicopter parent may stay up all night making their kid’s science project, a snowplow parent will make it and confront the science teacher if they don’t like the resulting grade.

Snowplow Parenting Hot Takes:

  • The Karens of Parenting
  • You know these are the ones who freak out at coaches, too
  • But could someone come Snowplow Parent me? ‘Kay, thanks.

Parenting Styles That I Want To Borrow From/Need To Do More

glenn carstens peters RLw UC03Gwc unsplash
Me taking notes about these parenting styles

Normalize liking parts of “movements” without having to swallow the whole thing or taking it all so seriously.

I can dabble in Free Parenting, it doesn’t mean the boys should start memorizing train schedules for their new solo travel adventures. You know?

I may not love the whole package, but, where these parenting styles are concerned, I at least appreciate the detailing.

And I may not commit whole-heartedly to some parenting styles, but I can borrow the tenets that best serve my family.

Free Range Parenting Style

My kids are too young to be unsupervised, but I’d like to institute other parts of Free Range Parenting, especially the focus on unstructured play.

Unstructured play allows time for kids to develop their own interests, practice problem-solving, and figure out how to entertain themselves.

Free Range Parenting Hot Takes:

  • The focus on unstructured play is lessening our reliance on screens
  • Sometimes I wonder if A1 can be as “free range” as his brother, because of his autism. And then I wonder if that’s ableist?
  • I’m glad we live in the Midwest

Reflective Parenting Style

Reflective parenting is the answer for parenting in this fast-paced, digital world, providing a sense of calm and connection.

With all of the demands on our time and attention, reflective parenting allows us to take a step back, breathe, and connect with our children.

I’d like to take a page from the reflective parenting book, slow down, actively listen and attempt to understand my children (as opposed to jumping to conclusions and/or taking their behavior personally).

Reflective Parenting Hot Takes:

  • Mindfulness doesn’t just happen, it isn’t a just state of mind for the privileged, it’s something I need to support with small, conscious habits
  • Mindfulness is hard, and must be sustained by a foundation of common sense self care: getting enough sleep and vitamins, attempting to manage stress, etc (nothing too fancy, now)
  • When I’m too distracted by the noise, be it social media, my own emotions, world disaster, I can’t be mindful, either

Slow Parenting Style

Old fashioned pay phone that took credit cards
This slow?

Speaking of our fast-paced, digital lives…

The slow parenting movement is another great deterrent from the modern rat race. It encourages families to wipe their calendars clean and revel in unstructured time and activities.

While I’m not ready to throw our calendar away, I’d like to incorporate more familial navel-gazing.

Slow Parenting Hot Takes:

  • Kids birthday parties are getting ridiculous. Idk if this is the place to air this grievance, but I wanna discuss it.
  • The possibility of childhood head injuries really freaks me out, so that takes alot of extracurricular sports out of our future schedules

Spiritual/Holistic Parenting Style

The spiriutal/holistic parenting style is rooted in philosophy that’s a bit too woo woo for me.

However! The aim to be present (a big part of this parenting style) is always welcomed and appreciated.

Spiritual/Holistic Parenting Hot Takes:

  • There’s nothing you can buy that will make you more present

My Favorite (The Best) Parenting Styles

Ish Mom and A2
These parenting styles make us so happy!

These parenting styles are just…chef’s kiss, in my book.

There’s not much, if anything, I would change about them. I’d like to blend them all together in a sweet, sustaining Parenting Concoction.

Lighthouse Parenting Style

I love that lighthouse parenting aims to guide children without overwhelming them. A lighthouse parent hopes to be visible from afar, a beacon of stability and guidance.

That’s a beautiful goal.

And much saner and less exhausting than helicopter or snowplow parenting.

Lighthouse Parenting Hot Takes:

  • The visual metaphor of the adult as the lighthouse, child as boat, ocean as life makes me tear up a little

Positive Parenting Style

Did somebody say “a focus on growing internal strength?” Yeah, that’s right up my alley.

I love how positive parenting focuses on finding, accentuating, and communicating the positive. Such a refreshing take on raising kids!

Positive Parenting Style Hot Takes:

  • Positive parenting style, not toxic positive parenting style; there’s a difference and we know it

Unconditional Parenting Style

Unconditional or conscious parenting, whatever you want to call it, I dig it.

How could anyone be against modelling the principles of respect, love, and non-violence in parenting?

Unconditional Parenting Style Hot Takes:

  • No, but seriously, who could sneer at that? Red flag, that’s what that is
  • Trauma gets in the way of a lot of things, not least the ability to Unconditionally Parent

The Very Best Parenting Style There Ever Was

nonreactive parenting image

I mean…how else am I to categorize the parenting style I coined?

Non-Reactive Parenting

Non-reactive parenting is not an absence of reaction. It’s reacting strategically: neutrally when children misbehave and reacting happily to children’s positive behavior.

This style of parenting isn’t about “letting children get away with it,” either. It’s about parents going off autopilot where their feelings are concerned; to feel negative emotions without reaction.

Non-Reactive Parenting Hot Takes:

  • Non-reactive parenting works with adults, too
  • The practice of non-reaction changed (and continues to change) my life
Grace Paley quote on picture of children at park


There you have it, my ranking of parenting styles. I’ll be the first to admit that I may be biased in saying mine is best, but overall, I think this list is pretty spot on.

Let me know what you think in the comments. I’m so curious to see your rankings!

Happy Parenting!


megan imhoff


Megan writes everything on Ish Mom. She possesses a bachelor's degree in psychology, a flair for theatrics, and a whole lotta nerve. She lives in the Midwest (and loves it) with her wonderful husband and three young boys.

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