I'm a parenting expert & this is what it means to be a 'crunchy' mum – and why 'gentle' parenting is best long term

WE know there's no rulebook when it comes to parenting and people choose to raise their kids however they see fit.

But your style probably fits into one of these parenting types – so which one are you?

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, parenting expert and author of 'The Gentle Parenting Book' (Piatkus), says there are three main styles of parenting – Authoritarian, Permissive and Authoritative – which were coined by psychologist Diana Baumrind in the 1970s.

But some 50 years later we're faced with a whole new vocabulary when it comes to labelling parenting styles, including crunchy mums and helicopter parents.

So what are they exactly and what do they mean for our kids?

"Every single new name for parenting styles is just renaming the styles that already exist," Sarah tells Fabulous.

"They are just labels that come and go, a new way of naming something that already exists and a way for parents to find a group of like-minded parents."


"This is used to describe parents whose expectations of their children are very high (too high) and not age-appropriate (they expect more than their children are capable of)," Sarah explains.

"Authoritarian parents have all of the control in the relationship, controlling what the child does and when. There is not much empathy for how children feel, or time taken to understand the emotions behind their behaviour.

"There is also not a high level of nurturance/connection. This is class Victorian-style parenting, they are disciplinarians – 'do as I say, not do as I do'."


The parenting expert says this describes parents who have little control over their children, either because they're "quite neglectful", or because they are "scared of 'clipping their child's wings'."

She says: "They don't have appropriate expectations of the child's behaviour, they often think their child is more capable/mature than they really are and so leave them to get on with things that they really should not be left to do alone."

What's more, permissive parents tend to not discipline very much – either because they're neglectful, or because they love their children so much they don't want to make them cry.

They're often very nurturing and caring, they're just misguided, Sarah explains.

And adds: "It's quite common for people to raise their children this way if they grew up with authoritarian parents (ie they don't want to be like their parents)."


"This is when parents have a good balance of control, they give their child autonomy, but they're mindful about doing it appropriately," Sarah explains.

"They are clued up on child development and understand their child's emotions and what they are capable of understanding. They discipline very effectively because they understand discipline is about setting boundaries and teaching children."

"They're not afraid to make them cry with their discipline, but when they do upset their children they are highly attuned and nurturing. There is a strong bond and connection with the child."


Being a "crunchy" mum is something that's been thrown around recently but Sarah points out that it's actually a derogatory term that most mums wouldn't use for themselves.

She says: "These people could use any parenting style (the name says nothing about the way they are with their children), but usually they are focused on a more natural, organic lifestyle, so you may see things such as natural birthing, homebirth, homeschooling, organic/vegan eating, using natural products, being eco-friendly etc.."


This is just another name for Authoritarian parenting, Sarah explains.

She says: "Tiger parents are very controlling, very strict, disciplinarians and very pushy – classic authoritarian parents"

Similarly, a lawnmower parent is someone who will go in and aggressively clear a path for their child so they never have to face problems – which basically means they micro-manage their child's life. 

Sarah said it could be accompanied by authoritarian tendencies because it's very controlling.

Gentle parenting

You may have seen this term used a lot in recent years, but it's just another name for authoritative parenting.

While the term has soared in popularity recently, people have been raising children like this for thousands of years without using the label 'gentle parenting', Sarah said

"It basically just describes parents who are knowledgable about child development, have good relationships with their kids and show them empathy and respect.

"[They also] discipline mindfully (including having boundaries and limits)."

There is also 'positive parenting' and 'conscious parenting' which are fairly similar to 'gentle parenting'.

However, positive parenting borders authoritarian and authoritative parenting while conscious parenting is another term that describes authoritative parenting.


This describes a very anxious parent who 'hovers' over their children, worrying about them getting hurt, upset or making mistakes.

Sarah says: "Usually a parent is like this because of something that happened in their own upbringing where they learned that children couldn't be trusted (ie their parents didn't trust them).

"Their expectations of their children are usually too low – like permissive parents and they don't trust the child to make good decisions alone. Their intentions are usually well-meant, just misguided.

So what does this mean long term?

According to Sarah, authoritarian and permissive styles can be damaging to kids long term.

Not only does authoritarian parenting (or tiger/lawnmower) encourage kids to hide their emotions, which can cause them to act out during their teenage years, but the relationship between parent and child breaks down too.

Meanwhile, permissive parenting (crunchy) means kids can struggle with no boundaries so misbehave more as a way to try to get their parent's attention.

Difficult behaviour can escalate if there's no discipline and the child may end up quickly out of control,

But Sarah points out that it also means they can feel very loved and value their freedom as well as having better self-esteem.

Finally, Authoritative parenting (gentle/conscious) has no negative effect on the child, according to Sarah, but "it's time-consuming and emotionally hard work for the parents."

She explains: "It usually produces the best behaviour in both the short and long term and the positive effects of discipline last."

What's more, it's known to help raise kids with high emotional intelligence, positive future relationships, greater levels of respect for others, less substance abuse, less depression and anxiety, greater happiness and greater career fulfilment, she explains.

In related news, we shared 'we’re ‘tiger’ parents & our kids busk in the street to earn money – people call us harsh but it teaches them hard work.'

And this mum says, 'I’m a gentle parent and let my kids have all the control, people say it breeds little monsters but I know I’m right.

Plus Meghan Markle’s a ‘Lawnmower Mum’ while Kate Middleton’s a ‘Lighthouse’ – what the royal parenting styles say about them.

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