What is Atticus's approach to parenting in To Kill a Mockingbird, and can it be criticized?
Atticus's parenting style seems to be best explained during his Christmas talk with his brother Jack.
"I just hope that Jem and Scout come to me for their answers instead of listening to the town. I hope they trust me enough... (Chapter 9)
Atticus gives his children more independence than most parents, and Jem and Scout seem to understand that their relationship is something special, as evidenced by the children calling their father by his first name. Atticus has never resorted to spanking his children, and Jem knows that the threat is enough to keep him honest.
"Atticus ain't ever whipped me since I can remember. I wanta keep it that way." (Chapter 6)
Although Atticus does set neighborhood boundaries for Jem and Scout and puts his foot down when he has to (such as when he puts an end to the Boo Radley game, and when he demands that Jem read to Mrs. Dubose as punishment), he hates to force his children to do things without an explanation. When Scout decides she wants to quit school, Atticus reasons with her instead, offering her a compromise.
"If you'll concede the necessity of going to school, we'll go on reading every night just as we always have. Is it a bargain?"
"Yes sir!" (Chapter 3)
Atticus's advice is memorable to both the reader and to his children. Scout never forgets about how important it is to "climb into his skin and walk around in it" before judging others, and she comes to understand the meaning and symbolism found in his warning that "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
While it is true that many people--particularly Aunt Alexandra and Miss Stephanie--believe that Atticus allows his children too much freedom and that they are in need of a mother's touch, Atticus always makes time for Jem and Scout, reading to Scout each night and always making himself available to answer their questions. We know that Atticus's parenting skills served their purpose and that Jem and Scout both turned out okay. Scout reveals on the first page of the novel that, even as adults, it was the much older, wiser, and always diplomatic Atticus that they still turned to.
We were far too old to settle an argument with a fist-fight, so we consulted Atticus. Our father said we were both right. (Chapter 1)