Do you recognize these models of parenting?
George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist, says there are just two basic models: What he calls the “Strict Father” and the “Nurturant Parent.” Linguists have a trained ear for language and the underlying meaning of the words we use.
Here’s how Lakoff describes the Strict Father way of thinking in Moral Politics:
“The world is a dangerous place, and it always will be, because there is evil in the world. The world is also difficult because it is competitive. There will always be winners and losers. There is an absolute right and wrong. Children are born bad, in the sense that they just want to do what feels good, not what is right. What we need in this world is a strong, strict father who can: protect the family and support the family in a dangerous world; teach his children right from wrong; and teach them how to compete and win in the world.”
And the Nurturant Parent way of thinking:
“The world is filled with evils that can harm a child. Crime and drugs are significant, but so are less obvious dangers: cigarettes, cars without seat belts, dangerous toys, pollution, and so on. Protection of innocent and helpless children from such evils is a major part of a parent’s job. Children should be taught to take care of themselves, to deal with existing hardships, to be responsible to others, and to realize their potential. Children are taught the value of emotional connection with others. In addition, it is important that children have a childhood, learn to develop their imaginations, and just have fun. By interacting positively with their children, parents develop close bonds with children and teach them empathy and responsibility towards others and toward society.”
These models are not just about parenting, Lakoff says. They are the basis of views about the world and how it works. They connect to a wide range of values and attitudes. Conservatives, for example, tend to adhere to the Strict Father model, liberals to the Nurturant Parent. George W’s worldview is based on the Strict Father. I’m sure he would say that Obama’s is based on the Nurturant Parent.
Do you buy what Lakoff says?
Does it ring true to you?
Do you see these models lurking behind your parenting style—or that of your parents?
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