‘A Tiger Parent? A Jellyfish Mum? No, I’m Just A Human Trying To Get By…’

What kind of parent are you? Dunno... depends how tired I am.

jellyfish parent

by Rhiannon Evans |
Published on

Every millennial who grew up on the halcyon days of the internet (MSN messenger I mean ofc) knows that there's nothing cooler than answering 78 seemingly random questions about your personality and having a quiz spit out what Friends character/zoo animal/novel character/festival tribe you are, then sharing it all over social media with a 'Totes moi!' with a load of emojis that'd leave Gen Z dying in embarrassment.

There's even a rather helpful one on this very site to discover What Motherland Character You Are.

It's all good fun of course, but there's a darker side to putting absolutely everything and everyone into a box...

This weekend the brilliant Bryony Gordon wrote her Telegraph column on Jellyfish Parenting. As ever with Bryony's columns, the spirit was warm, reassuring and funny. She described how a meeting with a fellow school parent about secondary school choices led to a conversation where she was given the label of Jellyfish Parent. As Bryony recounts, it's not a super flattering term...

'Experts argue that jellyfish parenting usually occurs when mothers and fathers are scared of upsetting their children,' she wrote. 'Instead, they simply give in to their needs. The result is children who grow up without the ability to emotionally regulate, or put down boundaries.'

The metaphor surrounds being backbone-less and going with the flow... but as Bryony cleverly notes in her piece, be wary how you attack a Jellyfish parent, because they can sting too.

The idea of separating parents into tribes was well-established by the rise of the Tiger Parent. Well, let's be honest, it's usually a 'Tiger mum' that you hear described, because let's not forget that women being ambitious is far more terrifying that the prospect of the dads doing it, which I presume is just called 'parenting'. Anyway, Tiger Parent was mostly popularised by the book, Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua. It describes parents who are strict and try everything to ensure the child's academic and career success is prioritised.

There are dolphin parents too apparently, akin to jellyfish, but sounds nicer, 'the dolphin parent is ... authoritative in nature. Like the body of the dolphin, they are firm yet flexible. Dolphin parents have rules and expectations but also value creativity and independence. They are collaborative and use guiding and role modelling to raise their kids.' Elephant parents are nurturing - that's nice.

Of course away from the animal kingdom, there are helicopter parents (buzzing around doing everything). One article says there are bulldozer and lawnmower parents. And of course there are schools of thought. There are the Gina Ford parents (naughty step fans). There are Gentle Parenting parents. There are millions more I'm sure out there and to come.

The thing is though, I don't know what I am. Some kind of mythic creature created from several parts? Because some days I wake up with the energy to be a gentle parent. When my child dashes towards a busy road, I can shape shift into an authoritarian parent - I can shout, basically. When I'm hungover from a hen do and have to solo parent for 11 hours, then we're not even talking jellyfish, we're talking one cell ameoeba levels of decision making and strategy. It can change by the hour. It can change in circumstance. Is it just me who has no idea what 'type' of parent they are? Who flicks through Instagram thinking, 'Well I did some good gentle parenting when they wouldn't get off the slide earlier, but I'm not sure I could take a whole day of it... Where's my guide? What do I do on the 87th time they won't accept my boundary about their 53rd chocolate biscuit?'

It feels like we constantly acknowledge now that all children are different and have different needs, but when it comes to parenting we're supposed to stick ourselves in boxes and follow them for guidance. It's understandable, we all want some help and a how-to manual most days.

But it's not just that I can't decide where I fit and the Millennial Buzzfeed Quizzer in me is coming out in hives. It's that when we're divided into boxes, it never helps.

These terms are usually just one thing - marketing. And so in actual fact aren't there in your best interests at all.

And it's also frustrating that all these terms seem to have pros and cons. Yes, you go with the flow, but actually that could be harmful for your child in future... Or, yes, you have great discipline, but guess what? That could be harmful for your child in future.

It's just another stick to beat people with... and there are enough of them around.

So who'll join me in branding themselves a shape-shifting minotaur and be done with it? Or, alternatively, we could just go with human.

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