Are you a ‘soft touch’, ‘Darth Vader’ or ‘Mamma Mia’ parent?

The Secret Teacher: We have already categorised you in one of our parenting styles

In the four lessons per week I have with most of my students, I learn everything I need to know about their parents. Illustration: iStock

In the four lessons per week I have with most of my students, I learn everything I need to know about their parents. Illustration: iStock


The soft-touch parent

You are forever writing excuse notes for your child. You often allow a lie-in during the week because your child is tired. When I get the note saying a student could not do the homework at the weekend because of camping or visiting cousins, I feel like writing one back asking if the child also had too little time to play on their phone or watch TV. You sometimes do your child’s homework, so you might as well know that I know.


Strict, very strict. Your child only socialises on very rare occasions. There is always homework or study to do, and even if there isn’t, there is some way of helping around the house. It’s “all play and no work makes Jack a bold boy”, and so you err excessively on the side of caution but at immeasurable cost to your child’s social integration, and probably happiness too.

You feel that the normal weekly quota of homework lets your child off far too lightly.

The hands-off parent

Whether I see you at school events or not is entirely dependent on the many variables that influence your approach to parenting.

You might be harder to pin down than most parents, but you can be more effective than you are given credit for, and I often find you open to, and grateful for, advice on how to best help your child do well at school.

Of course, among you there are also those who are hands-off in the extreme and therefore guilty of wilfully neglecting your children.

This style may seem normal to you, but for me observing your child in the mix of up to 30 others, the lack of nurturing is painfully obvious. And the others notice, too.

The omnipresent parent

You are the one I meet in the secretary’s office when I go in to phone you about some misdemeanour. I know you are worn out being called into school for one reason or another.

Your child tops the poll of skilled duckers and divers, those who rarely attend class, so your presence is inversely proportionate to your child’s. You are attentive and resilient and will clearly do whatever your child needs, and we always hope that you get plenty from your child in return, even if not in terms of school co-operation.

‘In my day’ parent

Very definitely on the decrease, despite people starting families later in life. Many of you remember growing up with your parents saying how things were different when they were children.

You yourselves are actively embracing and enjoying the everyday luxuries your children grow up with, so you don’t dwell on how things used to be now that the present is so much better.

Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader

Boundaries change all the time, depending on your own mood. You have different rules for different children.

However well-intentioned, and indeed perhaps even justified, this is a dangerous approach and can be very difficult to defend. It’s very hard for anyone to know where they stand with you. This makes reporting on a student’s progress very challenging.

While I might know I must brace myself for your admonishment, will it be “go easier on him”, or “clamp down harder”? When I am dealing with you, the force certainly needs to be with me.

Sports official

Plenty of sub-categories here. Those of you with a lifeguard approach stay well back to observe. At an event you’ll be the one approaching me with raffle tickets – you have reason enough to be on site but are tactful enough not to be mixing with the kids.

If you’re a referee parent, you want to observe your child but at the same time allow some very limited and calculated leeway in terms of living dangerously. You’ll be inside the school hall distributing the programmes and staying on to keep an eye on things and help maintain order (your other eye will be firmly on your child).

The key to these styles is establishing a position on the sidelines of your child’s life. Your child will be given some space but you won’t be far away if needed.

Mamma Mia, here I go again

At the school play you will be backstage having the craic and applying the make-up or altering costumes – and if someone is needed on stage, you are a safe bet.

At matches, you roar on the sidelines, and give the opposition backroom team tips on where they went wrong. You are the first to arrive and the last to leave school events. You are so hands-on that the parent-child gap is negligible. You think you are part of the gang and are practically reliving your own adolescence by shadowing your child’s.

You want to witness your child’s first real drink, and you let the boyfriend or girlfriend stay over. “The best way to know what my child is up to is to be there when it happens,” is your mantra – so your child’s life is lived out right under your nose.

Social networking

You are a discreetly ubiquitous parent. You have sussed out a way of always being in the know without ever being in the way. You are a master networker, and have established direct access to your child’s friends and their parents while being careful not to cramp your child’s style in the process.

You will host gatherings, offer to drop off or pick up a group, or go back for an item someone has forgotten. You are the parent that all the other kids wish they had. When everyone else is raving about how cool you are, this invariably has an impact on your child’s impression of you. This is truly inspired parenting.

Overall, it isn’t your parenting hat that defined you in my eyes. In the four lessons per week I have with most of my students, I learn everything I need to know about their parents.

I see whether they are well-looked-after or not. I know whether they are getting enough sleep. Some children’s school days are a litany of lost or forgotten books and copybooks and undone or half-done homework.

Patterns become established very quickly over four class periods per week, and it is those patterns that form my impression of you.