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Strict Father vs. Nurturant Parent

16 Jun 2004 by Matthew Linderman

What’s the best approach to raising children: strict-father discipline or nurturant affection? Your answer just may be the deciding factor in your political affiliation according to “Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know That Liberals Don’t” by Santa Fe Institute Science Board Member George Lakoff (for conservatives, political metaphors evolve from a strict-father family model…for liberals, a nurturant-parent model). In this interview, Lakoff, a liberal, explains how he uncovered his family-based metaphors through his study of linguistics and cognitive science.

What the strict-father model attempts to accomplish is this: it is assumed children have to learn self-discipline and self-reliance and respect for authority. Now another important part of this model, in America but not in other countries, has to do with what happens when such children mature. The slogan, “eighteen and out,” is common. The mature children are supposed to be off on their own as soon as possible. Good parents don’t interfere in their lives. If the nation is the family and the government is the parent, in the strict-family model, the government shouldn’t meddle in their lives.
When I looked at the liberal model of the family, I found it a very different model. It assumes the main thing a parent has to do is care for and care about his child. It is through being cared for and cared about that children become responsible, self-disciplined and self-reliant. The purpose is to make children become nurturers, too. Obedience for children comes out of love and respect for parents, not out of fear of punishment. Instead of punishment, you have restitution.

One interesting part of the interview mentions that developmental psychology research on strict and nurturant child-rearing methods has shown that nurturant family values are empirically superior.

People who have done work in different, unrelated traditions of research have all come to the same conclusion. Namely, the strict-father model is dysfunctional.

If we buy all this so far, does this mean that liberals are empirically superior to conservatives?

15 comments so far (Post a Comment)

16 Jun 2004 | One of several Steves said...

It's always nice to see something as horribly complex as raising children reduced to truisms.

16 Jun 2004 | Darrel said...


Clearly, Bush is leading the country like the strict parent. We'll bomb the crap out of you until you behave!

That said, Bush would not be where he is to day with out his parents nurturing his path.

All metaphors break at somepoint.

16 Jun 2004 | Darrel said...

It's always nice to see something as horribly complex as raising children reduced to truisms.

Ha! Well said.

Same goes for policits, I suppose. But that's what we as the american public eat up. Oversimplified metaphors!

16 Jun 2004 | MH said...

>Clearly, Bush is leading the country like the strict parent.
>We'll bomb the crap out of you until you behave!

Bush is bombing the U.S. ?

16 Jun 2004 | Benjy said...

If we buy all this so far, does this mean that liberals are empirically superior to conservatives?

YES! But then that's always been obvious...

16 Jun 2004 | Don Schenck said...

My daughter is 24, my son 22 ... both ridiculously successful no matter how you measure "success".

My take on this?

Ha ha ... I ain't talkin'!

16 Jun 2004 | jENG said...

First off, children are best raised with a bit of BOTH.

Everyone I know that was raised under both nurturing parents has little sense of responsibility, has little respect for others. They SAY they do, but they don't really. They assume their neighbors don't care if they crank up the music loudly, they assume their coworkers don't care if they come to work late and do less work. They assume a LOT of things. Why? Because when you're "nurtured", there are few consequences.

On the other side, those who have been raised by both strict disciplinarians tend to grow up hating everybody. They assume everyone isn't as good as they are.

The key is to get some of both. Sometimes it's also not entirely on the parents' shoulders. A nurturing mentor can offset a disciplinarian homelife. And a disciplinarian professor can sometimes bring structure and meaning to a nurturing-based life without consequences.

One needs both.

16 Jun 2004 | but that's just me said...

Now people are bringing partisan politics into something as incredibly UNpolitical as parenting?? My God, is nothing sacred?

16 Jun 2004 | waylman said...

Children are best raised with a bit of BOTH.
I couldn't have said it better myself. Neither extreme is completely successful. A balance betweent the 2 is most effective. Finding that balance is the hard part - espesially for anyone on either end of the spectrum.

16 Jun 2004 | ~bc said...

It's funny, despite the nation's desire to have things black or white, republican or democrat, liberal or conservative (the last two are horrible adjectives, IMO); if you actually sit and speak to someone about all their beliefs, they'll likely in reality, (even if they claim and believe otherwise) take some from both "sides". Many will take more on one "side," but no one really believes strictly in one line of thinking.

This is why I'm fervently against the terms right or left wing. Politics is a sphere: as far as you can go from 2-D. I'm quite "progressive" in my politics in general (ex, environment or corporate policing) but in other topics, I'm quite libertarian... (certain things just have to work themselves out... like I hate SUVs, but I don't believe we should outlaw them, people need to get smart, not legislated. Why waste money on the "war on drugs" when it'll just weed those stupid people out of the gene pool? ) My overall theory of life is things need to be balanced for them to work out... sometimes they need help, sometimes they balance out on their own.

And as for parenting being UNpolitical, I don't think that could be further from the truth. You certainly pass your politics on. I know very few people who fall far from the tree on that. Or at least if they did, they roll back.

17 Jun 2004 | Arne Gleason said...

I have some objection to the “nurture” vs. “strict” analog on the grounds that there is obviously disagreement of what those terms mean (at least I’m guessing that’s the case from the previous posts)

For example:

“Everyone I know that was raised under both nurturing parents has little sense of responsibility, has little respect for others.”

Here, I think nurturing is being confused for something else. Nurturing does not mean unmitigated indulgence (in fact unmitigated indulgence would be counter to good nurturing – as unmitigated consumption would be to good nutrition). On the other side, I sense “strict” is being interpreted as the absence of support coupled with the liberal application retributive punishment. I think “strict” applies more to a rigid of enforcement of policy (the policy could be “do something I disagree with – get a good beating” but that’s not explicit).

I’m going to take a wild stab that Don would eagerly describe his children’s upbringing as strict, and I’ll proceed with even wilder speculation that you’d find a great deal of nurturing went on. Of course, you should find no contradiction because the terms are not incompatible.

17 Jun 2004 | Jason Wall said...

To concur with jENG, most, if not all extremes have fault. In Philipians 4:5, the Apostle Paul enjoined the church to, "Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand." Life is about balancing the needs of Love and Mercy with the demands of Truth and Consequence.

17 Jun 2004 | but that's just me said...

I totally disagree, bc. My parents never let on during my entire upbringing what political side they were on. They made a point of keeping their political views completely out of our household so that their children wouldn't be swayed by their beliefs. In fact, I'm almost 30 now and I still have no clue what side my parents are on. And that is how I raise my children.

Maybe in your world parenting is political, but it shouldn't be. It should be one of the areas in our lives where politics never rears its ugly head. And as a mother of two kids under five, I agree with the idea that parenting is a combination of nurturing and discipline, no matter what political party you vote for.

17 Jun 2004 | Don Schenck said...

Arne nailed it vis-a-vis our child-training techniques.

In short, an iron fist inside a velvet glove. Draw boundaries, but offer unconditional love and support and encouragement. No judgment when they fail -- we all fail.

17 Jun 2004 | One of several Steves said...

Excellent points, Arne. "Nurturing" seems to be being used as a synonym for indulgent in this discussion, and that's not my understanding of the world at all. A nurturing parent is one that still sets and enforces boundaries, not out of any sense of legalistic compliance but because children need them to thrive as children, let alone learn how to deal with the world as adults. They enforce their rules in a manner that tries to help the child understand why the rules are there and why they're important. It's not about permissiveness and indulgence at all.

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