For me, gentle parenting feels like a lot of negotiating with irrational toddlers. And honestly, I find it hard.
What parent doesn’t want to be gentle? I want my child to be eased into personhood, and I want to have reasonable expectations of them for their age. But at times, I’ve wondered if those simple things will cost me my sanity. When I talk with friends or other parents about their parenting style, it seems like we’re all going for some form of “gentle parenting” — and we all feel like we’re struggling with some aspect of it.
According to a thorough VeryWell article, “gentle parenting is an evidence-based approach to raising happy, confident children. This parenting style is composed of four main elements: empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries.” These sound like reasonable tools to include in any relationship, especially one with a child. But that doesn’t make them easy to employ.
Empathy comes the easiest for me. As a doula, I really feel for how babies are simply trying to figure everything out. As a mom, it’s been good to keep that attitude as my children get older. I remind myself that although my son has the perfectly formed sentences to drive me crazy, he is only 3 years old. He pushes my emotional and physical limits because he has none. He’s never been 3 before! How fun is that? Super fun but super hard when it comes to just about every other aspect of this gentle parenting thing.
Respect and understanding
In my family growing up, respect flowed most strongly in the direction of child to parent. While I want my children to respect me, I want them to understand that I respect them, too. I hear them and comply when they say no, but I need them to understand that “no” works in both directions. I try to model respect in my relationships with myself, my husband, my family, and my friends, and I hope it pours over into how they treat themselves and others. Respect and understanding are deeply intertwined, and I’ve never known it more than now.
If empathy has come easiest in gentle parenting, boundaries have been the hardest. Children spend the beginning of their lives pretty upset that they are no longer attached. Sometimes that upset can be found in meltdowns on the other side of a locked bathroom door. The ebb and flow of appropriate boundaries for toddlers can be really hard. No, I don’t want you to sit in the bathroom with me, but I’d rather you do that than cry. No means no, but today, for my sanity, no means yes.
In learning to parent my boys this way, I am, in some ways, parenting myself. I’ve been showing myself more grace and empathy when I don’t get it all right — even in motherhood. I’m learning to let go of rigid boundaries to meet my highest needs. Treating my body well by nourishing it properly and giving it rest. Engaging my mind in new activities and pushing my boundaries — sometimes too far or too hard; but just like my boys, I’m learning. Even if I don’t get gentle parenting perfect every day, I’m sure the kids appreciate me trying.