I am fully on board with the Gentle Parenting movement that is underway. There is ample science to support its ultimate goal. New studies published in the New York Times show that raising the next generation of children who are kinder and capable of empathy is something that is largely bred from Gentle Parenting.
What is Gentle Parenting?
The crux of Gentle Parenting is to treat your child with respect. Something that was often neglected in eons of parenting past. An example would be Victorian era parenting when children were essentially treated like mini adults.
Or even in the past few decades when it was believed you could beat bad behavior out of your children. That has been proven multiple times over to not be an effective deterrent. If anything, it builds resentment and disrespect.
Gentle Parenting on the other hand doesn’t rule with a heavy hand or punish with an iron fist. So when my son is being a complete a****** to his brother, instead of automatically taking things away or putting him in a corner to process what is happening alone, the goal is instead to speak to him calmly.
The time should be used to explain to him that those words hold weight because the way that we speak to people matters. It is also time for him to reflect on his own behavior. I want him to understand those two things are interconnected.
In terms of treating children like human beings, I am on board without reservation. We as adults have bad days, and so do kids. The consistent implementation of Gentle Parenting, however, is much more ambiguous.
But why is it so hard?
Gentle Parenting is so, so hard, because it is contrary to how the majority of people parenting now were raised. It doesn’t mean we all had trauma, and God bless the cycle breakers, but it’s learning an entire new form of parenting, and that’s draining mentally and physically.
You cannot perfectly execute an entirely new school of parenting without making some mistakes along the way while you learn. Not having to learn it is a form of privilege within itself.
Gentle Parenting is a form of parenting that requires ample amounts of time as well. While taking a child to time-out and simply leaving them there for three minutes might be more damaging to them, it is also a lot easier.
With Gentle Parenting you need to try to have a conversation with a toddler or child who might be irate over something that to you is so inconsequential it makes you want to scream (like when my son wanted to put rocks in our washing machine).
You are to pause, get on their level, ask them what they are feeling, validate what they are feeling, offer them support and compassion, and let them know you are there for them even when they have such big feelings. Great.
The privilege of time is a key element in Gentle Parenting.
The crux to the entire exchange is time. Therein lies the privilege of Gentle Parenting.
Gentle Parenting is time-consuming. For parents who have the luxury of time, which let’s be honest, is not most parents, Gentle Parenting, while still difficult, seems to be more realistic.
When you are a parent who needs to rush out the door in the morning to get to work, Gentle Parenting often goes by the wayside. When you are dealing with a kid who refuses to put on his snow pants, while also trying to strap your infant into their car seat to drop them off at daycare, all while getting yourself ready because you have to be on your factory line at 7 a.m. or be lecturing at 8:30, you crack.
The adult world is not currently structured for Gentle Parenting, or young children in general really. These people who think it is perfectly acceptable to collect dirt for 20 minutes while you are trying to leave your driveway for a doctor’s appointment.
In those moments, Gentle Parenting ceases to exist. Instead I temporarily revert to a dictator because sometimes things just need to get done. When I have overstepped, I make a point of apologizing to my son.
This is hard to do sometimes, because there are moments when I just really don’t like him. That doesn’t mean he still isn’t deserving of an apology when I have hurt him by yelling. These moments are critically selected however. I will not apologize for not letting him run around the house with a screwdriver.
Maybe it’s more about us.
Maybe the key to success of Gentle Parenting isn’t so much just the way we relate to our children, but more about how we relate to ourselves as parents. We are also in need of gentleness and respect and self-compassion.
There will be plenty of opportunities for Gentle Parenting. When we are within our resources that day to carry it out, then we can seize those opportunities. However, let’s be realistic about the fact that not every teachable moment will be one that is gentle. There will be yelling and cracks, and none of that makes you a bad parent because you are trying.
If I can hit a threshold of 60% Gentle Parenting that day because that is what I am capable of, that is better than none. Striving for Gentle Parenting 100% of the time is not realistic. You are setting yourself up for failure, and that can be more damaging than anything else.
We are flawed as people, and our parenting will be too. Just as you try to treat your child’s blunders with compassion, it only works if you hold yourself to the same standard.
Maybe that’s enough.