A five-year-old boy is crying over his father's shoulders while being carried


My Sweet Spot As A Dad Is Between Conservative and Hands-Free Parenting

Apr 13, 2022

Some conservative parenting styles feel too outdated.

Too controlling. And rigid.

But I also see the other side of the spectrum as being far too permissive.

The hands-free approach gives little room for discipline.

I believe, however, that there is a middle ground for me. A merging of the benefits of both sides of this parenting divide.

Ask Joseph Wilson and he'll tell you plainly: parenting is a dictatorship.


I don’t raise my children without limits. But I also don’t parent without limits.

Because I think limits are important.

They set parameters for the things I believe my children should and should not do. They additionally set my own parenting parameters.

And that’s a real survival mechanism for me because, as you may know, kids are extremely stubborn. And persistent. Sometimes, I need to rein mine in.

When young, these little megalomaniacs will fight us, triangulate mom vs. dad, plead to grandma for a third opinion and more. There is no end to what kids will try to have their way, even when it’s against their best interest.

"I don’t raise my children without limits. But I also don’t parent without limits."

At some point, I can see why a parent would simply cave.

The song and dance is excruciatingly painful at times.

But I promised myself I would not pander to their whims simply because it was uncomfortable.

I want to show my kids that the sun doesn’t only shine on them.

There are more apples on the tree.

Getting the Point Across

Kids will kick and scream. They will throw tantrums.

And parents will react in any number of ways, from feeling flustered to being in control to looking askance, wishing they could disappear.

I judge none of these reactions.

Knowing what to do in any given moment can feel harder than a daily Quordle.

But it goes further than that.

Because even when a parent makes a decision, somebody will have an opinion: 

"Parenting is a grey area where there needs to be some wiggle room and some firmness."

You should have done it this way. This way works for me. Why are you letting your kids do that?

The aftermath can often feel the most judgmental.

Knowing when to set boundaries or when to let go isn’t easily found in a book, it takes real-life experience to find a sweet spot.

But for me, a sweet spot is important.

Because parenting is a grey area where there needs to be some wiggle room and some firmness.

I want my kids to make decisions, sure, but in their youth I believe it’s my role as a parent to guide them in the right direction. To encourage them to make the best choices, even if denying their wishes turns into a choir of screams.

I’m The Parent

I’ve learned that even my approach to “no” isn’t easily adapted by everyone.

Take, for example, one of my kids wanting a Slurpee.

It’s fairly small request, but in that moment I said, “No.”

My wife didn’t side with our child, but instead probed: “Why can’t he?”

From there the conversation between us was a quick burst of:

  • “Because.”
  • “Really?”
  • “Yes.”
  • “Why can’t he?”
  • “Because.”
  • “Really.”
  • “Yes.”
  • “You are being really stubborn about this.”
  • “He needs to hear no more often.”
  • “But on this?”

While the situation may seem banal, I believe that hearing no is something that everyone could benefit getting used to.

It sets a precedent for disappointment — which we all will continue to experience at different stages of life.

As I see it, children cannot always get their way.

We choose the moments to say yes and no, knowing that we have the option to choose either.

Because always saying no will send a message that nothing is possible. While saying yes to everything suggests that everything is possible.

Neither, in my opinion, set kids up for a life of success into adulthood.

Striking a balance that is fair and compromising is the most effective strategy I have as a parent.

Through the Years

Life is hard.

Most children will at some point in time struggle to fit in.

And like all of us, they will eventually decide their own rules to live by.

In the meantime, it’s my duty to ensure they hear answers they may not wish to hear.

When my kids were really young, it was an endless chorus of yes you can, no you can’t, don’t touch that, say please and thank you, don’t eat that, you’ve had enough, it’s time for bed, baths are fun and that’s not a toy.

It sounds neverending, but that’s because it is. I was helping guide my kids to learn about everything.

But I wasn’t strict.

Yes, there were firm expectations around baths and bedtimes, but I still wanted them to feel like they could express themselves and be who they wanted to be.

By allowing some space for them to thrive in their own ways, glimpses of self-reliance are formed.

"I then told him that because he didn’t listen the many times I had asked, we were leaving the zoo."

Like when our second oldest was three, he ate the dog’s food.

We warned him that it wasn’t a great choice, but he did it anyway.

After an upset stomach, he learned two things: one, that dog food isn’t meant for humans, and two, that parents sometimes know what they’re talking about.

Another time, we were at the Calgary Zoo. My oldest, then a five-year-old, wanted to crawl into the mouth of a playspace meant to replicate a Jaws-like shark. After 15 minutes, it was time for us to see the red pandas. But when I asked him to come, he said, “No, Daddy.”

I sternly said it was time to go, but I heard nothing. After five more minutes, he said “no" again.

So all six-foot-three of me had to traverse the large shark, first scrambling up a cargo net.

I grabbed his hand to lead him out, and we tumbled down the net, cartwheeling our way to the bottom. My son laughed — it was less fun for me. 

I then told him that because he didn’t listen the many times I had asked, we were leaving the zoo. It was a consequence. His laughs turned into a tsunami of tears, complete with stomping feet, waving arms and snot bubbles.

As I sped through the zoo with my son, the protesting did not end. But we got in the car, and headed home. A valuable life lesson was learned.

There are things in life we won't want to do. Just as there are things we want to do that we shouldn't. Quentin Janes is showing his daughter the difference.

The School of Life

As kids grow up, they are exposed to many different people, from other adults to peers.

They may mimic the behaviours of their friends.

What I learned as a dad is that the older kids get, the more negotiation becomes part of a parent’s arsenal.

Because I was a teen once, I know how harmless a group of teens walking around can be.

Sure, there are things like drugs and alcohol to concern myself with, but as the kids age, so do the conversations.

I can talk about broader subjects, using personal experience. I can demonstrate cause and effect more clearly, even if sometimes it goes in one ear and out the other.

"One day they’ll be pleased, and the next they will feel challenged by my rules."

But just because we look each other in the eye now does not mean I remove the power of “no.”

I still set rules, like “come home times,” which are not universal and more situational. My eldest often remarks about how much stricter I was with him growing up. He’s not wrong, but we were just making these rules up as we went.

With other kids, there was more flexibility, because like our kids, us parents were growing too.

But while my kids are under my roof, I want them to see that not everything they want is inevitable. That there will be roadblocks that make some things difficult to achieve. Or perhaps they exist to prevent the worst from happening.

I’ve learned that kids will not always be happy with my decisions. One day they’ll be pleased, and the next they will feel challenged by my rules.

But that’s life.

Article Author Paul Gagnon
Paul Gagnon

Paul Gagnon is the father of four boys and is a long-time teacher from Calgary, Alberta, specializing in mental health, social studies and best practices in assessment. When he's not teaching, coaching or attending his kids' sporting events, he enjoys spending time laughing with his family, reading, golfing, firing up the barbecue and going for long walks with his wife and their dogs.

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