Analyzing Kids and Personal Voice
Authoring Your Life by Marcia B. Baxter Magolda is, as the title implies, about “authoring your life” by way of developing your personal inner voice. The main part of the text is made up of a very detailed recounting of interviews with six different people over 20 years as they attempt to develop their personal voices. Each one of these provides a crucial insight on how people of various backgrounds deal with cultivating their voices through the different challenges life throws at them. What interested me was how these different approaches to authoring their lives affected their parenting styles, and in turn, their kids. It seems like a given that these people, with different life experiences and different methods of taking charge of their lives would also have different parenting styles which would in turn affect their children in different ways. However, closer examination of the subjects in the book who had kids reveals that perhaps the book is a bit too focused on a single topic to provide enough diversity for a thorough analysis of how self-voice affects parenting style and how that affects the kids.
Mark was one of the main characters that had to go through raising a kid during the interview process. Just like everybody else in the stories presented, Mark had to go through many challenges in his life, but his preferred intra-vocal development technique was distance. In his attempts to grow his inner voice he found that the most effective way was to control how he reacted to things in life, rather than his emotions being based on the events that transpired around him. He read texts about Taoism and psychology, eventually getting to the point where he could look at events objectively and try to think about them optimistically and intuitively. He took a similar approach to parenting. Immediately into fatherhood his internal foundation was tested when his son was born with a critical medical condition. Throughout the proceeding hospital trips and surgeries, Mark remained cool and collected, stating “It’s completely out of my hands at that point…I just couldn’t see how I could do anything productively by getting incredibly emotionally worked up” (Magolda 88). Even later into parenthood he kept his distance, where, as Magolda describes “Mark was always present and intervened when he thought it was necessary, but he wanted his son to learn to deal with things on his own” (96). Even though Mark provided his son Nate with unconditional love and support when he thought he needed it, this style of parenting is very reminiscent of what some call the Laissez Faire style. This is where the parents are more hands-off from the kids and let them do what they want, trusting that they’ll make the right decisions, or if not, that they’ll learn from their wrong decisions. This can also be called the permissive style of parenting. However, Mark’s alleged availability for support and love also indicates a mix of authoritative parenting, where the parent is more involved and sets down rules, but is focused on the child’s growth and well-being, rather than punishment and strict obedience. What does this mean for the kid? We can never be truly sure of how Mark and his wife actually go about parenting, or how the kid will handle it, but according to studies, a mix of authoritative and permissive parenting will create a kid that should be “happy, capable, and successful,” while the permissive side could lead to some trouble with authority (Cherry). This means that, depending on how Mark and his wife actually execute their parenting, Nate and their next child could be successful and end up learning the life skills and self-authorship that their parents want them to learn. However, with a bit too much permissive parenting, the kids could end up believing too strongly that their internal voices are always correct and run into trouble with authority that are trying to lead them in some way.
Lydia was another person who had to deal with kids growing up, however her circumstances were different in that for a lot of the time she had to raise her kids by herself due to her husband being on active duty tours. For most of her life Lydia had been rather shy and not very confident, but due to these tours and following her husband around the world, Lydia had lived a very fickle lifestyle, which forced her to develop a strong personal voice to help cope with the changes. Over the years her voice became stronger. Lydia put her full faith in her voice. She became comfortable with making her own decisions when nobody else was around to give advice. This approach proved to be extremely beneficial when it came time for kids. Both of Lydia’s kids were born while her husband was actively participating in the Navy, meaning that Lydia bore the sole weight of parenting for extended periods of time. Where others may have gotten excessively worried and stressed being in such a situation, Lydia’s strong internal foundation from years of change enabled her to be calm and make decisions she knew to be right, such as quitting her job to parent her first child full time, or constantly asking doctors for a re-diagnosis when her second child was chronically ill. Her certainty of herself, yet caring for her children looks like a mix of authoritarian and authoritative parenting. Authoritarian parenting is the type where a parent tells a child definitive rules and enforces them strictly, with little or no discussion about why those rules are in place with the child. Authoritative, as mentioned before , deals with the growth and well-being of the child, so what we end up getting is a mix of strict, organized parenting, where the parent firmly believes in the rules they make and how they parent, while still being caring and trying to get the best for their child. Once again there could be many ways that parents could execute this type of parenting, and many ways the kids could respond to it, but typically we would see a kid who is subdued under the leadership of his or her parents. This child would follow directions very well, but depending on how strict the parents really were, he or she might grow up with a lack of personal voice and a large reliance on the parents for decision making. Factoring in that Lydia’s kids are growing up in a Navy environment with a very organized and personally driven mom, these characteristics could be exacerbated, potentially making the child more submissive to authority figures and therefore less happy and less personally driven later in life.
These are just two examples from the many stories in Magolda’s Authoring Your Life. On the surface they are different, but they hold many similarities, as is the case with the rest of the stories as well. In this text we are given only a handful of the total number of interviews conducted, and since they’re there for the purpose of showing us how to author our lives, they hold on to a narrow theme and largely follow a similar thought pattern. For example, Dawn and Kurt have very similar opinions as Mark on how to handle life’s challenges; they all try to control their reactions to life rather than letting life control their emotions. Alice, from a small section in the back of the book, has a parenting style similar to Mark’s where she keeps her hands off and for the most part lets her children guide themselves, trusting that they will learn through living their lives. Evan, meanwhile, although in a vastly different situation, is a similarly authoritarian-authoritative parent like Lydia, heavily involved and somewhat strict, while still participating in dialogue with his child. We can certainly analyze the parenting styles and we can get a basic idea of what the kids may be like in the future, as I’ve done with Mark and Lydia, but we have to remember that the nature of the book prevents us from doing so with accuracy and certainty. The kids of the subjects are not the subjects of the book, so we have very limited knowledge about them. And without this definitive evidence we can’t really come to any conclusions about how a parent’s self-voice affects the kids. We can certainly assume the effects. But an assumption is essentially just a guess based on some vague evidence. So while we may have been able to assume some things about the children of the subjects based on how the subjects cultivated their personal voices, all we’re really doing is guessing about the kids based on how Magolda portrayed their parents in a book she sold to us with the goal of showing the development of personal voices.
Cherry, Kendra. “Parenting Styles.” About.com Psychology. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2013.
Magolda, Marcia B. Baxter. Authoring Your Life: Developing an Internal Voice to Navigate Life’s Challenges. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub., 2009. Print.