Submarine Parenting

I read this article from the Chicago Tribune, which describes different “parenting styles” used today by parents in the US.

Some of these parenting styles are probably familiar to you: tiger, helicopter, and free-range. Older terms for parenting styles included: authoritarian, authoritative and permissive.

But there was a parenting style missing in this article and it just so happens to be the one that I’ve been using for the past 18 years.

I call it: Submarine Parenting.

I see this parenting style as a combination of other parenting styles. But primarily, it’s a parenting style whereby I stay pretty deep under the waves, only sending up the periscope now and again to check the waters and see where my children may have gone off to.

Are they staying on task at school? Do they know where their soccer gear is? Can they provide me with all of the need-to-know information about their spirit week/field trip/class project? If so, then periscope down and we all just keep chugging along.

I’ve got four kids in four different schools — I don’t have the fuel or the air traffic control clearance to be a helicopter Momma. However, when necessary, I will rise up out of the depths and take charge, when and where I need to.

A couple of years ago, my son was not staying on task at school. He was telling us he was staying on task, but the NBA season had started and back then I didn’t realize that he had zero self-control in his desire to absorb all possible statistics, no matter how irrelevant, into his brain. This left very little bandwidth for things like, say, homework assignments.

When we questioned him, “Do you have any homework? Did you finish that project?” His answer was always the same. “Yep! I’m on it!” Until he wasn’t. His mid-term report card came home and my straight-A student had a C in one class, and a D in another.


My parenting style changed radically in that moment and became a lot more like tiger-style parenting. And I roared, my friends — oh yes, I did! It wasn’t that he didn’t understand the work, he was getting good grades on all of his tests, he just hadn’t turned in any of his homework, for weeks. This was completely unacceptable.

First, I had him write letters of apology to his teachers for disrespecting them in this way. Then, he completed every single missing assignment THAT DAY and turned them in to his teachers the next morning, despite not knowing if he’d be getting any credit — this was his lesson in natural consequences. Finally, we had a discussion about whether or not I needed to parent him differently. My default is to “submarine-it”, but maybe he needed/wanted me to “helicopter-it?”

“No, Mom — please, don’t.”

“Then, don’t give me any more reasons to come up for air! Understand?”

I’m happy to report that we’ve since had two successful NBA seasons without me ever having to access his “synergy account” (school assignments/grades tracking system). He’s figured out how to take responsibility for his school work first, and then feed his obsession. And I get to stay under the cool, calm surface of the water. It’s a win-win for us both.

My oldest is currently in the whirlwind of all that needs to happen when you’re 18 and getting ready to go away to college… There are FAFSA applications to fill out, essays that need to be written, scholarships to apply for. It’s a very stressful time — and my girl’s feeling it! I’ve been checking in with her periodically to see where she’s at and if there’s anything I can do for her, but she keeps telling me she’s good.

I was at a gathering the other night extolling the virtues of being a submarine parent and how the whole process of college prep has been completely hands off for me. I was reporting that her applications were almost all done and submitted. One of the other parents joked that I might want to be a little bit more “helicopter-y” and check to make sure she wasn’t locking herself into one school over all others by mistakenly submitting for early decision. But, I trusted that she knew what she was doing and, as it turns out, all the schools she’s applying to have November due dates — so she’s right on task.

I’m not saying that submarine parenting is for everyone. It’s not. There’ve been times when it backfires and something gets dropped, and there’s definitely been times when I end up looking like the parent who isn’t as engaged as all of the others around me.

But I’d like to believe that my kids have gotten a clear message: When you need me, all you have to do is send out an S.O.S. I’ll show up with my full armada ready to assist you, refuel you, take you into temporary custody… whatever’s necessary to get you ship shape again. In the meantime, I think it’s okay for my kids to find their sea legs, create their own maps to guide them, get lost every once in awhile, and navigate the waters that link them from one point to another.

I don’t know if this is a good parenting style or not. I just know that it’s MY parenting style and it’s one that works for me, my partner and my four kiddos. At least for now.

My two younger kids have already heard that if they don’t want me “all up in their business” they should be taking notes from their older siblings, and don’t give me any reason to be all up in their business. Because believe me — I can fly slow and low to the ground with the best of them! I just don’t want to. And I’m pretty sure my kids don’t want me too, either. Which is why submarine parenting is a good fit for our family.

But the real reason I’m coming clean about my submarine parenting style is because I’d love for new parents to have confidence in figuring out what parenting style works — for them.

Create a label for it. Give it a name that reflects how you uniquely attend to your children. Own it.

The reality is, parenting is a reflection of adults and their children combined. And even though I call myself a submarine parent, I parent all four of my children differently — sometimes I’m lurking in the shallows, and other times I’m hanging out in the Mariana Trench. Because each of them are different from each other and need different things from me based on their age and temperament.

Will I always get to parent from the depths? Maybe, maybe not — that depends on what my children need and who they become as they get older. I’ll continue to check in with them and make sure that how I’m parenting is working for all of us. And I promise to course-correct. But only if, and when, I need to.

How about you? What would you call your parenting style? Does it fit with one of the few that are more well-known, or have you created your own style? I’d love to hear more about it.


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