The internet is filled to bursting with articles about “gentle parenting”. Described by one expert as “the sweet spot between authoritarian and permissive parenting”, gentle parenting is a partnership between you and your child.
The parent should always interact with the child in a mindful and respectful manner.
You should never, ever yell.
Allow the child’s emotions to naturally play out instead of demanding the child “calm down”.
Always factor in extra time so that everyone can get things done in their own time.
After a tantrum (that you’ve allowed to fully manifest), talk about how you might have done things differently.
Love. It. All of it sounds so wonderful. But I don’t think it’s a sustainable way to parent.
Parents are already so critical of themselves and this sets the bar impossibly high. Be in charge while letting the kid think they are in charge?
And who has so little to do that we can schedule in chunks of time for complete meltdowns to run their course? Even the most loving and respectful parents are going to fail if this is the ideal.
I had never heard of gentle parenting 13 years ago when I was pregnant with my first but I was determined to do everything the right way. For me, that meant making my body a baby manufacturing temple that was caffeine and paraben free, having a natural birth, with an airtight birth plan, learn baby sign language, and on and on the list went.
I recall a phone call I had with my doula. I was having a panic attack that I wouldn’t know how to properly care for the person I was growing.
She assured me, “This baby is going to be your buddha. He’s going to teach you everything you need to know.” M’kaaaaaaay.
My hypnobirthing instructor was also a proponent of baby-led parenting.
Between guided meditations, she spoke very highly of the novel, The Spirited Child. I came to find out this was a euphemism for a child with “exceptional” or “special” needs. Eerily prescient of her considering I have 3 kids on the autism spectrum.
Let me tell you, “birthing without fear” is kind of hard to swallow when your gurus have put it in your head that you’re going to be spending a lot of time in IEP meetings with behavioral instructors and that you should go with that because the kid is your buddha.
When I say that gentle parenting is an unattainable standard, you should listen. This comes from a woman who had a doula AND a hypnobirthing instructor. I really wanted to believe it was possible to gently parent!
Now I know that I cannot effectively raise (my) children without sometimes being a drill sergeant, a bossy pantelones, a shushing librarian, and even a yeller. Because while kids are a rollicking pile of puppies on the best of days, they are ferrel badgers the rest of the time. And the only way to be heard above all of that laugh-screeching is by yelling. Sometimes, you also have to cracking the whip if you ever want to get to the beach. And when three of them are having big feelings, someone needs to be told to calm down, even if I’m really saying it for my own ears.
But did you know that yelling is the new spanking!? It’s the worst sin a parent can commit!
I do not want to spank my kids’ feelings, but most days I do because I am not a saint. I am not my best self when it’s me against three little goblins and the dinner hour is upon us. And I’m really not my best self when I have to pile everyone back into the car after a failed outing and we still need to pick up groceries. And that’s everyday. So mostly, all the time I’m not my best self.
And that’s OK.
I’m going to give myself, and you, the grace I would insist a friend give herself.
You’re doing your best, and while it may not be pretty, it’s getting the job done. You’re not crushing their little spirits. They will grow up to be lovely people with good values because you are a lovely person with good values.
And if you f@ck up and have an epic meltdown and say some harsh, albeit true, things about their savagery, apologize.
That’s my best piece of parenting advice. Try to do your best and if you *gasp* yell at them to “calm down”, apologize.
It’s going to teach them that you’re a human with big feelings, just like them. And just like them, you don’t always make the best choices. But you own your mistakes and move on.
They will know that I love them and that I respect their feelings even if I don’t let them steer the ship.