Brick-wall, Jellyfish, Backbone Styles – Barbara Coloroso

As mentioned in an earlier post, there is great danger in over-simplification, or “labelling”. Our parenting style is formed by combining elements from all of the different styles. A certain style’s elements may dominate, but, to a lesser degree, some factors from the other styles may also be evident, especially under different circumstances.

Barbara Coloroso, in Kids are worth it!, Penguin Canada, Toronto, Ontario, 2001, introduces different imagery from Diana Birbaum. Authoritarian” becomes “Brick-wall”, “Indulgent” or “Permissive” turn into “Jellyfish” and “Authoritative” is called “Backbone”.

Brick-wall Family
A brick-wall is a nonliving thing, designed to restrict, to keep in and to keep out. In brick wall families the structure is rigid and is used for control and power, both of which are in the hands of the parents.

“Children need parents who model self-discipline rather than preach it. They learn from what their parents actually do, not from what they say they do…. When parents rigidly discipline (and don’t walk what they talk), the child becomes over disciplined…. The over disciplined child is rigid, obsessive, overly controlled and obedient, people pleasing, and ravished with shame and guilt.”
John Bradshaw, Homecoming

Jellyfish Family
A jellyfish has no firm parts at all and reacts to every eddy and current that comes along. In jellyfish families structure is almost non-existent; the need for it (structure) may not even be acknowledged or understood.

“Children growing up in an atmosphere in which love and care are lacking or given with gross inconsistency enter adulthood with no… sense of inner security. Rather, they have….a feeling of “I don’t have enough” and a sense that the world is unpredictable and un-giving, as well as a sense of themselves as being questionably lovable and valuable.”
M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled

Backbone Family
A backbone is a living. supple spine that gives form and movement to the whole body. In backbone families structure is present and firm and flexible and functional.

“The ability to act in and through love, to be non-violent, to be generous, and to respect the rights and needs of others comes from having been generously and gently loved and respected.”
Rita Nakashima Brock, In Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse

Coloroso does a good job of identifying how parental behaviour varies between the “labelled” styles.







Control Democracy learned by experience Totally with parents

Strictly enforced roles

Anarchy and chaos
Cared for, loved Unconditional

“You are important.”

Smiles, hugs, humour

Highly conditional Highly conditional

Chaotic emotions rule

Motivation To be all that they can be

“I believe in you.”

Obedience expected mini-lectures, put-downs, humiliation
Creative, constructive, responsible behaviour Yes Ritual and rote learning of what is expected Chaotic emotions rule
Rules Simple, clearly stated Many, strict; punctuality, cleanliness, and order are most important No recognizable structure
Consequences Natural, reasonable Punishment, humiliation Arbitrary and instant punishment
Discipline “I trust you.” Rigid enforcement of rules by actual, threatened, or imaginary violence Threats, bribes
Second chance Yes Rigid enforcement of rules by actual, threatened, or imaginary violence Arbitrarily given
Recognizing and understanding feelings Sense of self-awareness encouraged Ignored

Rigid enforcement of rules by actual, threatened, or imaginary violence

Chaotic emotions rule
Competency, cooperation Modelled

“You are listened to.”

Competition, fear Emotions rule parents’ behaviour
“How” to think on own Yes

“You can handle the situation.”

Ritual and rote learning of “what” Chaotic emotions rule Children easily influenced by peers
Willing to seek help Yes; need acknowledged Need not acknowledged Oblivious to need


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1 Response to Brick-wall, Jellyfish, Backbone Styles – Barbara Coloroso

  1. Pingback: A grammar geek’s guide to the universe – Coffee Klatch

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