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Family Matters: Parenting with Distinct Styles

Matthew Krugh, MSW | Family Services Director

Featured Team Members: Matthew Krugh, MSW


A United Front

At Open Sky, we are committed to our vision of being the premier family-centered wilderness experience. This means we support the entire family system, rather than just focus on the student’s experience. We come alongside parents in their endeavor to grow personally and better lead their family system. This involves addressing the parent-child relationship, examining each one’s own parenting style, and mindfully creating a healthy and encouraging growth environment for each family member.

To provide the best parenting environment for children, parents need to be a united front. This is the case for whether parents are separated or divorced, happily married, not getting along well, and yes, even if they have different parenting styles. A united front means parents are on the same page in prioritizing and upholding values, creating and enforcing boundaries, and emotionally attuning to themselves, each other, and their children. These characteristics also apply to single parents, as strong values, boundary-holding, and emotional attunement are paramount for a positive environment for the child.

Of course, each parent is an individual with unique personalities and parenting styles. This is actually an incredible strength! Each child will need a different expression of the parental unit because the children are unique as well.


What is a Parenting Style?

Parenting style refers to how a parent encourages, challenges, and teaches a child to complete tasks and exhibit appropriate behavior. Three common parenting styles are:

  • Authoritarian – parent puts an emphasis on compliance, strict rules, specific expectations, and performance.
  • Permissive – parent does not provide effective structure and boundaries for the child’s behavior.
  • Authoritative – parent consistently sets and enforces rules and limits while doing so in an assertive, clear, and thoughtful manner; parent balances power and compassion.

These styles are fluid, meaning that although parents will gravitate toward a certain style, they will not always exemplify only one style. It behooves a parent to look intentionally at his or her own parenting style; where he or she generally falls on the spectrum. The simplest way to understand this spectrum is to visualize the authoritarian style on one end, permissive on the other, and authoritative in the middle. If parents find themselves operating primarily from either end of the spectrum, we encourage them to intentionally endeavor towards parenting closer to the authoritative style, which is the balance of boundary holding and emotional attunement.

Family researchers also acknowledge a further, outlying parenting style: distant or disconnected. Parents with this style tend to be unaware of or inattentive to their child’s emotional and developmental needs. Those who parent with this style are often preoccupied with their own needs and wants, putting those before their child’s. Therefore, the child does not receive the support he or she needs to thrive emotionally, physically, and/or relationally. Their children often turn to others to find self-worth and engage in a wide range of behaviors to please others or gain attention.


The importance of values-based decision making

The first step to building a firm foundation as parents is to determine and prioritize core family values and parenting values. This goes for parents under one roof, for those who are separated, and for single parents.

Next, parents will want to demonstrate integrity and alignment with their values by practicing and modeling values-based decision making. At Open Sky, we also ask our students to look through this lens on a personal level when thinking about their own values and behavior. This takes self-awareness and conscious effort. It requires acknowledging, “We may have missed the mark on these values at times, but we’re re-committing to them. Everyone can have their needs met in this family, while simultaneously upholding our values. We can be respectful, communicate assertively, and experience healthy relationships while celebrating our unique differences.

A key to values-based decision making is attunement to one’s own emotional experience that is informing behavior. It is all too easy to fall into the pattern of emotionally reacting in situations rather than attuning and responding. Emotional attunement supports us in managing emotions, which inform our actions and communication, empowering us to practice and model values-based decision making.

For example…

Let’s consider a father who tends toward the authoritarian parenting style: He is generally inclined to respond to his child’s disobedience with reactivity and anger. He sees this as important in keeping his child in line, and acceptable in teaching life lessons. If he attunes to his emotions prior to reacting, he’ll gain insight into what was informing his expression. He might realize he feels disrespected because the value his child violated is an important family value. Perhaps the value centers around safety and the father is disappointed or even scared because he’s trying to protect his child with the boundary. The father’s intention here is pure and loving, but the messaging is lost in translation, as is the value he was trying to impart. Without being aware of these feelings of disrespect, disappointment, and fear, he reacts with anger and intensity, as opposed to conveying his genuine care and concern at the heart of his communication.

Another example…

A mother who generally leans toward the permissive parenting style: She tends to be “soft” on the child, and does not enforce boundaries with healthy discipline when her child crosses a boundary. She sees this as forgiving and protective of her child’s emotional development. In attuning to her own emotions in the moment, she may discover anxiety or fear that delivering a consequence may threaten her relationship with her child or hurt her child’s feelings. Of course, she values keeping her child safe, yet her lack of discipline will not serve her child in the long run. The mother’s intention here is pure and loving, but her softness does not truly protect her child. It actually compromises safety in the end. Without attuning to her own anxiety and fear, she reacts with a passivity, which undermines the importance of her value of safety with boundaries and consequences.

By attuning to their emotions, these parents can model values-based decision making and better parent from a place of integrity, accountability, and security. They can hold boundaries with “responsible love,” which encapsulates the authoritative parenting style.


Tips for maintaining healthy co-parenting

Carving out time each week to cultivate their relationship (not focused on business or parenting) will give parents a solid foundation on which to come together as a united front. It is also beneficial to spend time checking in about the children; a “meeting of the minds” so-to-speak. Regularly-scheduled family meetings—completely separate from fun family time together—are also important to tend to the issues of the family and ensure everyone’s voice is heard. It may seem like a dull notion to have a family meeting once a week, yet some version of that concept is valuable for constant maintenance and revisiting of family culture.

So much of this applies also to separated or divorced parents. It’s important to put grievances aside in order to communicate with each other respectfully and assertively, and present as a united front for their child. Between households, there are bound to be differences, but establishing and maintaining a shared parenting culture is what is best for the child.


Support from Open Sky Family Services

The family of each enrolled student at Open Sky receives the Family Pathway, which follows the model that the students work on in the Student Pathway. It contains information, resources, and assignments designed specifically for parents and the family as they work on their own parallel process. Some helpful resources in the Family Pathway pertaining to parenting styles are:

  • Definitions, explanations, and examples of each parenting style.
  • Parenting style self-evaluation assignment that helps parents to think about the style that best describes them, reflect on how they were parented, and think about changes they’d like to make.
  • Core values exercise that helps parents to identify personal core values, develop a unified list between co-parents, and create a plan for instilling these values into the family.
  • Awareness wheel – This tool is like a concept map, providing a comprehensive framework to understand one’s experience and become more intentional in one’s actions and interactions.
  • Additional parenting resources, like recommended books and webinars useful in navigating their parenting styles, family values, and boundaries.

Wellness Weekend is a service offered to Open Sky parents that allows them to practice helpful mindfulness, communication, and emotional regulation skills. Each attendee spends time focusing on his or her own well-being. This experience gives parents common skills and language that they can use as they parent together. They will also be better able to relate to their child who is learning the same skills and language in the program.

Parent Coaching is an Enhanced Family Service. It provides individualized coaching from a Family Services Therapist, geared specifically toward the parents and caregivers. In Parent Coaching calls, the therapist regularly asks the parents if they are emotionally attuning with themselves and each other and practicing mindful communication. Are they implementing 3-Fold Breaths and 4-Line Feelings Checks that they are reading and talking about? Practicing with each other is a beautiful way to hone this skill and be prepared to model it for the family.

Family Quest™ is a 3-day/2-night family therapy intensive with the student in the wilderness. It brings together all of what the student and family have been working on. It gives the parents immediate experience, practice, and respectful loving feedback from Family Services therapists and guides.

To find out more about Family Services at Open Sky, contact If you are interested in general information about Open Sky, contact our Admissions Team at 970-759-8324 or

October 1st, 2018

Matthew Krugh, MSW | Family Services Director