“What makes a good parent?” From the moment the test strip turns blue, most parents wrestle with this question. We are naturally wired to sacrifice, care, and fight for our children. We all want to give the absolute best to our children. The question comes in defining “the best.”

Helicopter/Lawnmower Parents — Helicopters started the trend and lawn mowers revved the approach. These parents focus on keeping kids comfortable. They circle children — fighting their battles for them, then they mow down any obstacle standing in the way of their child’s happiness.

Advantage — children rest in the confidence that their parents are on their side. They enjoy opportunity without fear of failure — because the parents ensure that children won’t.

Disadvantage — children become disabled adults. Never having faced adversity, these children have no skills for coping with it when it inevitably comes. The growing number of 20 and 30-somethings living in their parents’ basements attests to the bleak futures for children who cannot engage with the larger world. When mom and dad provide everything during childhood, children depend on parents doing so through adulthood.

Tiger Parents — At the opposite end of the spectrum are parents who push their children to succeed — to meet all obstacles and conquer them. These parents typically focus on academics first with extracurricular activities following close behind. But, only those activities that shine on college applications. If an endeavor doesn’t prepare their child for a stellar future, parents refuse to support it.

Advantages — children hone their innate strengths and follow a detailed plan for future success. They usually enjoy high achievement and accolades. Their success can lead to popularity and esteem — as well as a future filled with career potential.

Disadvantages — children often feel valued only if they achieve. Many children feel incredibly insecure in their relationship with their parents, and even in their own success. One young man described it this way, “After months of study, I got a very high score on my SAT. I was thrilled and relieved to have that over. When I told my dad, I thought he would be excited, too. Instead, he just nodded his and told me that with that out of the way, I’d better focus on making captain of the soccer team.” Children of Tiger parents also often feel detached from their own lives and interests — focusing solely on their parents’ priorities for success. With little down-time, they miss out on close friendships and even on learning the skills to create relationships.

Character Parents — These parents focus on building character at each developmental stage. They parent with the end in mind. So, when their children are fighting over the last donut or face telling the teacher they didn’t finish their homework, these parents ask, “How can I equip my child in this situation to train him/her to be a secure, happy, healthy adult?” They then work with their child to hone that trait. Instead of mowing down obstacles — these parents equip children to face them. They also focus on instilling values and skills in their children rather than specific goals for achievement. The goals become the context for building character instead of an end for themselves.

Advantages — children sense being accepted for who they are but with room for improvement. They enjoy security, a solid foundation for making choices, and the skills to cope with life. Childhood consists of exploring interests, engaging with people, and learning from parents how to handle the range of challenges life will throw.

Disadvantages — they must face adversity and mere achievement doesn’t get them accolades. Instead, affirmation comes from growing into the kind of person who can succeed in life as an adult — a much bigger task.

What makes a good parent? Parents’ answers depend on the future they want for their children. Parents who want their children free from adversity choose Helicopter. Parents who want their children to attend Harvard choose Tiger. Parents who want their children to engage life from their own strengths and interests and with the skills to cope well choose Character.

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