The Four C’s of Parenting
Phase One: Commander (0-5)
In the first years of a child’s life, a parent does everything for them. The parent functions as a benevolent dictator, telling the child who to listen to, what to eat, when to go to bed, how to perform a task.
In this phase of parenthood, the task of the loving parent is to encourage a child’s growth from discipline to self-discipline.
During the early years of development, repeatedly using parenting phrases like “Yes, for this reason . . . ” or “No, because of this . . . ” is crucial. Not only are we informing the child’s actions, but we are also taking pains to explain the reasons a certain thing was prescribed or prohibited.
Phase Two: Coach (5-12)
This phase focuses on direction and instruction. The parent functions as the guide; the idea being not only to teach but also to encourage their growth from direction to self-direction, giving them more responsibility with each new task.
The loving parent tries to help clarify — rather than dictate — their children’s choices for them. Repeatedly using phrases like, “Would you rather do this . . . or that?” Obviously, never tempt them to choose something wrong or foolish; the phrase is simply a tool to help them gain experience in making their own decisions.
Phase Three: Counsellor (12-18)
If you haven’t yet experienced it, you will soon: The day dawns for every parent when he or she is no longer the driving influence in a child’s life.
The task of the loving parent is to encourage a child’s growth from dependence to independence; it is especially important in this phase of parenthood. This is the phase — usually in the teen years — when a child can reasonably be expected to understand what is right, just and fair.
Too many of us continue to parent our teenagers in much the same way we parented them as toddlers or grade-schoolers. When our kids begin to strain against the reins, like a horse that’s eager to run, we pull back hard — as though it’s wrong for them to seek independence. But that’s exactly the purpose of the teen years. In fact, we should encourage that drive for independence and channel it in the right direction.
The operative phrase during these years is, “That’s a decision you can make.” When your children come to you for permission, quiz them about what decision they would make if you gave them that freedom. Encourage them to take responsibility in decision making, and they will respond accordingly. Offer suggestions and warn them about the potential consequences of poor decisions and try to leave the decision up to them as often as possible.
Of course, the risk you take is that your children will make poor choices, and sometimes they will. But little by little, they will become capable of finding the right course.
Phase Four: Consultant (18+)
No words adequately describe the jumble of emotions a parent experiences when their child officially enters adulthood. It’s frightening on so many levels. But it’s less frightening if the parent has successfully navigated the first three phases.
The task of parenting isn’t done at this stage; it is no longer one of proactive involvement but of patient availability.
Each phase has its own challenges, but phase four can be the most difficult because it requires letting go. For nearly two decades, the parent has been the child’s commander, coach or counsellor, but trying to prolong any of those roles will invite resistance and perhaps even resentment.
Interacting with your adult children by using phrases like “Let me know if I can help.” allows you to affirm your availability while respecting their independence.
You’ll find that the phases of parenthood aren’t entirely measurable or scientific. The phases overlap each other; one phase begins long before the previous phase passes completely. And different children will demand differing degrees of flexibility in moving from one phase to the next.