Modern Parenting vs Traditional Parenting: What You Need To Know First

As a montessori mom and youtuber, I get this question every so often: “We're transitioning to montessori ‘late in the game' and feel overwhelmed trying to unlearn ‘bad habits' of traditional parenting. What should we do?” And the truth is, whether it's montessori parenting, RIE parenting, gentle parenting, positive parenting or some other form of modern parenting vs traditional parenting: they aren't that different when you dig in.

That's right. I said the unpopular opinion most people don't want to acknowledge or talk about. In this post we'll dive into the definitions of each, disadvantages, and some modern parenting vs traditional parenting examples that show how similar they actually are at their core.


What is traditional parenting?

Generally speaking, traditional parenting is typically viewed as an authoritarian style. Parents focus on raising obedient children by means of fear, control, guilt, shame, and even corporal physical punishments on the most extreme end.

Typically, traditional parents typically have strict rules held in place by punitive measures. These parents can also be anxious and avoidant in their attachment styles. But the general gist of things is to raise child who “do as they say.”

Underlying this parenting style is the idea that “parent knows best” and authority figures are to be obeyed.

Traditional parenting styles:

Classically, we had four traditional parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved/avoidant.

  • Authoritarian parenting styles often rule by fear. They often lean towards old-school parenting methods of corporal punishment or other forms of emotional/psychological abuse. Typically a family unit like this is unaware of any mental health issues or potential impact on child child. They strictly look towards high achievements and being a good citizen as the standard to success.
  • Authoritative parents are typically considered the gold standard in parenting as an authoritative figure takes a balanced approach. These are nurturing and supportive parents who remain firm in their limits or boundaries. Often times there is a focus on traditional values despite societal norms shifting (e.g. allowing screen time or a cell phone to young children). These kids often have good social skills and are internally motivated. This parenting style has given way to even more effective communication and positive reinforcement parenting styles in modern times.
  • Permissive parenting is essentially the “doormat” parent. These parents have few demands on their children and all of the support in the world. These parents sometimes can be classified as “helicopter parenting” and often produce children with low self-esteem as the parent would jump in and respond before the child could develop their own problem-solving skills.
  • Uninvolved parents often don't place demands on their children (like permissive parents) however they are also unresponsive to the child's needs. These parents are exactly what they sound like: uninvolved. They're typically dismissive or indifferent to their child's needs. In some instances it's unintentional as they are too busy multitasking.

When raising children, parents can fluctuate between these different parenting styles.

Pros and Cons of traditional parenting:

  • High achievers / good grades and academic achievement
  • Can handle clear boundaries/structure and discipline
  • Historically lower behavioral and psychological problems (though this may be due to an unwillingness to self report)
  • Lacks a sense of self / low self-esteem
  • Externally motivated
  • Anxious
  • Avoidant
  • Struggles in relationships

Traditional parenting focuses on producing “worker bees” in many ways. These children are high achievers since they're externally motivated and typically lack a sense of self to fall back on. They thrive in structure and boundaries too.

Typically we see these people with less behavioral and psychological problems; this may be true or it could be the result of:

  • avoiding their emotions and denying there's a problem as mental health is often not discussed
  • never acting out behaviorally due to fear of punishment

Often times, children raised by traditional parenting methods of authoritarianism, struggle with their relationships, ability to express themselves, and self worth. These people appear strong, but suffer in silence as their emotions come out sideways.

What is modern parenting?

Modern parenting approaches focus on a nurturing environment where family members connect with the child and lead by example instead of fear. A strong emphasis is placed on the child-parent bond and raising kids with open communication, strong emotional resilience, and rooted in family values, despite cultural norms.

In some cases, modern parents today even believe their children are their own experts and it's simply the parents job to help the child remain sovereign in their identity.

I’d say modern parenting approaches strive for an authoritative approach to parenting that strikes the right balance of preparing for the real world and a strong emotional bond between parents and children. There is typically freedom within limits. Boundaries and guidelines are clear, and kids are ultimately allowed to make their own mistakes.

Modern parenting styles:

Modern parenting has niched down on authoritative parenting in recent years to include a variety of parenting styles such as:

  • Montessori Parenting
  • RIE parenting
  • Gentle parenting
  • Positive parenting
  • Concious parenting

Ultimately, these all seek to achieve some level of authoritative parenting style that values respect, the parent-child bond, and raising a successful, sovereign, and emotionally intelligent child.

Pros and Cons of modern parenting:

At it's best, modern parenting styles lead to children who become expressive, open, and effective communicators who excel at problem solving, critical thinking, internal motivation, and self directed work. These children remain close with their families into their adult years, have positive relationships, and a strong sense of self that allows them to do meaningful work in the world.

  • Excellent communicators
  • Critical thinkers
  • Problem solvers
  • Internally motivated
  • Emotionally intelligent
  • Self directed
  • Anxious
  • Avoidant
  • Directionless
  • Low self esteem

Disadvantages of modern parenting:

Many parents attempting modern parenting styles have not done the inner work to do it effectively, which ultimately leads to permissive parents or uninvolved parenting styles. These styles historically raise anxious and/or avoidant children who struggle with a sense of self. You can also see a “failure to launch” situation where these children become underachievers.

Modern parenting approaches require a great deal of patience, self awareness, and compassion. It's a very fine dance between being respectful of the child and too gentle. At the end of the day, children need to feel safe to take risks and grow, and it's the parents job to create that safety where the child feels confident taking a step outside their comfort zone and not living there forever.

Traditional parenting vs Modern Parenting: Which is better?

Neither. You can find research in support and against both styles. And that research often does not take into account how times have simply changed. One article I came across talked about how traditional parenting was better because high schoolers didn't commited suicide in the 1950s and moms were home more; but there also wasn't social media, the level of drugs, or an openness to talk about what *actually* happened in those times either. It's not an apples to apples comparison.

Based on the above definitions my response may surprise you, but the truth is neither is better or worse. Both parenting styles offer pros and cons and have something for us to learn from.

If we can take the wisdom from each, and not overcorrect from previous generations, then we can ultimately raise well rounded children who feel confident in their ability to achieve, and have positive relationships.

Parenting Manifesto: Defining Successful Parenting

When I was pregnant with my first, my husband and I decided to reflect on how we defined being a good parent. We did a series of exercises that ultimately led to our “parenting manifesto.” This living, breathing document is what we fall back on during hard times in parenthood. And I created a workbook that takes you through the process:

I think it’s so important to acknowledge with all these parenting trends is that no one parenting method is the better or worse. They all have their time and place and pros and cons. And ultimately no child gets through childhood unscathed. 

This isn’t some measuring stick of doing it “right” or doing it “wrong.” Ultimately the biggest guide is how you feel inside.

We generally approach parenting by asking ourselves “Do I feel uneasy or at peace about how this was handled?”

Because we all have our own childhood baggage to deal with and unpack here, our automatic responses may not always be the best version of ourselves. So first and foremost ditch the shame and measuring stick. There’s no perfection.

This is why I encourage you to write down YOUR views on good parenting and let that be a working guide you add on to and revisit as you move through your parenting journey. 

Modern Parenting vs Traditional Parenting Examples:

I want to take a look at some traditional parenting terms that often leave millennial parents feeling uneasy, and look at how they've essentially been rebranded by the modern parenting movement to make them more palatable. But when you dig deeper, you see they are for more similar, but it has to do with the *energy* and *perception* behind them, that dictates how they are received.

My hope is that you look at these examples, and see just how important your perceptual shifts are in parenting and it makes the transition from “traditional parenting” to “modern parenting” feel easier.

Time Out vs Calming Corner

I had a friend who was staying with family and feeling very uneasy because her parents kept telling her to put her 2 year old in timeout. And this felt very very triggering for her… so I suggested, “what if you call it time-in and make it a calming corner?”

She breathed a sigh of relief; and that’s exactly what I’m talking about in this section.

Traditional parenting of time out conjures this shameful experience of a punitive moment where a child is placed on a stool wearing a dunce cap.

But if we think about the words – time out – it means just that.

Taking some time out of the grind to regroup.

At least that’s what it is in sports – yet when it comes to our kids, it was made to be this horrible thing because in parenting it became used as a tool to “extinguish an unwanted behavior.”

Which technically both time in and calming corners aims to do the same thing.

We were staunchly against time outs, but then my daughter starting coming home from school telling us kids were being put in time out and I felt super triggered and surprised by it.

The teacher/school was very montessori/waldorf/reggio emilia – after further questioning I came to realize it wasn’t a big deal if the teacher wasn’t bringing a shameful or punitive energy to it (which she wasn’t).

In modern parenting we telling kids to visit the “calming corner” which is just a round about way of saying time out when you think about it. 

The only real difference is a time-in which is when you sit with the child and co-regulate with them, which simply isn’t possible all of the time.

Punishment + Rewards vs Natural Consequences

In traditional parenting we all know the use of punishments and rewards. 

“If you don’t eat your dinner, you can’t go out and play. If you do eat your dinner you get desert.”

In modern parenting, they rely more on natural consequences. A popular example floated around Instagram looks like:

“No other food is being offered for the night, so you can eat your dinner or not, if you don’t, you may go to bed hungry.”

But then if you’ve ever attempted that, and sat there with a hysterical toddler about how hungry they are as the clock ticks past their bedtime, you know it certainly feels like punishment for both the child and you.

And ultimately this isn’t a realistic natural consequence. As adults, if we don’t eat our dinner we get something from the fridge later don’t we? 

The reality is: in both situations the parent is ultimately setting the boundaries and consequences.

We are just splitting hairs on terminology.

Another quick example here:

In traditional parenting a child may put away their laundry instead of leaving it on the living room floor because they don’t want to get yelled at, spanked, or grounded.

In modern parenting, the child may put their laundry away from the living room as an act of respect to themselves and their family because being in a clean home feels good or because they understand everyone in the family has a job for the house to run well, and by doing their job it's a show of respect, gratitude, and teamwork for everyone. Or because they know they won’t be able to play in that space until the laundry is gone (or go outside and play until the laundry is done).

Notice how both of these end with more or less a similar consequence of not being able to play?

On a moderate scale, punishment/rewards and consequences aren’t necessarily that different.

Families have rules, or “boundaries” as modern parents like to call them, and those rules/boundaries have consequences (whether those are rewards or punishments).

The initial reasons I gave for the child putting away the laundry (fear of being yelled at or spanked vs out of respect and gratitude) are the EXTREME examples of these styles and not the typical day-to-day for most families. 

So I want to really acknowledge that perceptual shift. 

Punishments and rewards and consequences are far more similar and “middle of the road” than we realize – both situations a child is experiencing some form of grounding. 

It’s our inner work as parents, and whether we take a corporal or communicative approach during the in-between moments that color the lens our child experiences us and safety through. And truthfully, it's the in-between moments that really show our parenting style; not the points of tension.

Cry It Out vs Trusting the Body

This is sort of an inverted example, where traditional parenting manipulated our bodies natural (healthy/healing) response, into something punitive. So let's look at reclaiming it:

In traditional parenting, “cry it out” has become associated with an infant sleep training method where babies are left to cry by themselves for hours and hours, days and days, for up to 2 weeks.

Loads of research has come out about the negative effects on an infant's brain and nervous system in doing this. Yet it became normalized and in turn, has led many new parents to feel anxiety whenever their child cries as children are meant to be “seen and not heard.”

But when we think about the words – cry it out – it actually explains our bodies natural physiological response to stress.

Crying releases oxytocin and endorphins, relieves stress and anxiety, our bodies literally need to do it in order to complete a stress cycle at times.

Recently, I saw a modern parenting mom reframe this on her IG stories. She felt deeply triggered by her infants “witching hour” and felt helpless. Her baby would not stop crying, no matter what she tried. Something I know many many many parents have exerpeicned.

She found herself dissociating – sort of checking out of her body and spirit – despite being physically their with her child. Again, something I think most parents can relate too.

That's when she decided to view the crying as child's freedom to express themselves within limits; with the limits being a loving, supportive, present parent there to help the child through it.

Our bodies store memories our minds can't access. Chances are, if you have a visceral response to your child's big emotions or tears, there was a time in your own childhood where you were not allowed to express those things or learned that those feelings were “unsafe.” Now that your own child is doing it, it's triggering you, and causing an energetic abandonment of your child (both literal and inner child) you're being asked to heal/look at, despite being physically present.

If we can get past the way these words have been politicized and used to inflict harm, we can access the wisdom in letting our children cry it out.

By remaining with them physically, emotionally, and spiritually during the release – talking them through the experience during and afterwards, we can teach them they are bigger than their feelings and they are safe in their body, even when things feel really big and scary. This is critical in learning to trust their bodies and bodies responses in situations.

Final thoughts on modern vs traditional parenting

So with that, I encourage you to dive deep into what has triggered you about traditional parenting that you feel like needs unlearning in your home, see if you can squeeze some juice out of it, and make some lemonade!

Afterall, traditional parenting does foster high achievers and generally self sufficient children with essential life skills.

And while modern parenting may seem wonderful, it also provides a lot of opportunity for parents to swing the pendulum too far in trying to “do things different,” which may result in young adults who struggle with self sufficiency, anxiety, poor decision-making skills, or subpar personal and professional relationships.

Be sure to download our “parenting manifesto” workbook to get you started on this journey of self discovery and (re)parenting: