Coffee Chat: The Parent Test

Last month, I saw an IG promo for The Parent Test on ABC. It’s a competition-ish show, originally from Australia, on 12 different parenting styles and which one is the most effective.

Each week, four of the 12 families are given two filmed challenges. The other eight sets of parents watch and give their critiques based on how the parents handle their kids in the challenge.

Immediately, we knew we were watching and would most likely be cringing for every single episode. A tweet said it best, “This show is triggering, messy, and impossible not to watch.”

We watched the first episode together and the next with our husbands, and so far we’ve been decently surprised. Here are our initial thoughts:

The premise of the show is flawed.

When we started our blog, we wanted to make sure that all parents feel included. No one style is better or worse than another. Even if the terms of the show are “which parenting style is the most effective”, it’s still a bit uncomfortable to give it a value. The competition aspect, I think, can be a bit alienating, especially when almost all of the participating parents do have very strong dedication and great relationships with their kids.

Once a couple is “voted out”, they get to sit with the other parents as permanent judges. Again, parents don’t need to judge each other. Constructive criticism, even with the best intentions, can be hard to swallow and people get defensive. And as part of the audience, I also feel a little bad whenever I get a bit judgy when I watch.

For reference, the 12 styles represented are: Disciplined, Traditional, Intensive, Natural, Child-Led, New Age, Routine, High Achievement, Helicopter, Free Range, Strict, and Negotiation.

It emphasizes three semi-measurable goals.

Are the kids emotionally whole?

Do they form healthy relationships?

Can they navigate today’s world?

First off, we like that these aren’t academic or talent-based. They also fit really well into the goal of creating trust and a secure attachment with your kids.

Some of the families have younger versus older children, multiple children versus singletons, etc. There is also a diversity of families ethnically, educationally, and geographically. Out of the 12, two styles are represented by single parents. Most of the parents look older, so I don’t think there are any Under-30 parents or even any Millennial parents. They all look firmly Gen X.

So even with all of these different variables, these three criteria should still be relevant.

This is a conversation starter.

You might have to twist an arm, but this is a great opportunity to do some reflection with your partner. When I watched the second episode with Troy, we must’ve paused the show at least five times to talk about what was going on. We would have two different interpretations of the challenge, or one of us would play devil’s advocate, or sometimes we would agree but say it completely different. I even caught a tear or two from him.

Over the holiday, I talked about the show with some other family members who didn’t even have kids yet. It still got us talking about the parenting dynamics we observed within our own families growing up and what we personally plan on bringing to the table; and in some cases, how we plan to break the cycle.

Yes, this isn’t the most riveting television show out there, but rarely does the opportunity arise when we can talk objectively about parenting, free from directly comparing ourselves to friends and family.

We also realized that even if we are completely happy with our own parenting style, there are a number of things we have not yet talked about with our kids; whether it’s how to face scary things, or what to do if a stranger knocks on the door. It’s a nice little reality slap to remind you that there are conversations to be had about your kids and with your kids; and it absolutely helps to be on the same page with your partner.

A Nudge

I almost feel that this show is a bit of a concerted “nudge” to create more engaged, mindful parents. Kind of the same way The Biggest Loser brought a spotlight to the obesity epidemic. I’ve been reading about types of nationally-sponsored public messaging, so hear me out…

During the pandemic, we saw a very real shift in how parents operate, working from home and navigating remote learning. We’ve seen rising cases of depression and mental health issues in young adults as well as ourselves. We’ve seen a mass exodus of school teachers. We’ve seen ongoing calls for required paid family leave, maternal health care, greater support for middle-class and lower-income families. We’ve seen a bigger emphasis on identifying and squashing toxic masculinity, outrage over the number of school shootings, and awareness of social media brainwashing.

That’s a lot going on, and one way to really get at these problems is for parents to really do the leg-work of talking to their kids. Not just talking, but connecting, instilling healthy habits, and supporting those three goals of becoming emotionally whole, developing healthy relationships, and navigating the world.

Yes, it is much harder to be a parent now compared to decades ago because this role is so much more encompassing. The more studies come out, the more we know that the early years of our kids’ lives set them up for an entire future. And the relationship we build with them during that time is the blueprint.

Could all of our societal problems be solved with more involved parenting? Not completely, but it’s a really great start to have a ready generation of kids who are emotionally secure, who can clearly communicate their needs, and who have healthy role models to take after.

I appreciate that in the second episode, one mom said, “If we are going to be sacrificial lambs for people, …it’s going to be a little bit triggering and I’m okay with that, because these discussions need to be had.” Perfect timing to break the fourth wall.

Next month, we get into Good Inside by Dr. Becky Kennedy. We went to an event she was doing in November and since then, we have constantly been using one of her talking points: Parents will default to how they themselves were raised unless they actively intervene.

The Parent Test is an opportunity to intervene. Whether you want to call it re-parenting or untigering, this show is a chance for you to see what other parents are doing, reflect on your own ideas of parenting, and actively make adjustments for the benefit of your kids.

Related Posts:
What’s Your Parenting Patronus?
Sitcom Parenting 101

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2 thoughts on “Coffee Chat: The Parent Test

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