I sat down to write this blog when my mom who was playing with my child interrupted me. “What are you now writing about?” she asked me. “Different parenting styles and this one in particular that many are talking about- Gentle Parenting”, I replied not taking my eyes off the screen.
“Which is?”, she prodded.
“Mom it’s basically a style that is composed of four main elements—empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries—and focuses on fostering the qualities you want in your child by being compassionate and enforcing consistent boundaries”.
“Ok, that’s great. But why this label called “gentle parenting”?
“That’s because this way, the parent continues to have the authority but it is conveyed in a way that reflects love and empathy and doesn’t make the child feel like they are obliged to do something just because we told them to”
“Okay. It all sounds a lot complicated when you say it like that. In our times, things were much simpler”, she said and walked away with her granddaughter to continue playing. And that got me thinking. By labelling these different parenting styles, are we making it confusing for today’s parents to understand where they belong to?
Gentle Parenting- The Plusses In This Approach
On paper, this sounds like a great and ideal way to bond with the kids. Isn’t that the essence of good parenting- to be able to establish a good relationship with our children?
In what some cultures call “positive parenting“, “mindful parenting” or “respectful parenting”, gentle parenting, in essence, aims to involve your child at every step rather than putting yourself as the commander-in-chief of the family, in lieu of you being the parent. The idea is to eliminate from your conversations “no, don’t, you can’t” and other negative tones that impact the child’s mind.
For instance, instead of direct commands like “You need to put on your shoes, we are late!”, we modify and say it as “What’s the matter sweetie? Do you not want to wear those shoes?”
Though gentle parenting as a concept was introduced decades ago, it has now found more relevance in current times where parents are exploring different options to suit their style and adapt accordingly. As of August 2022, #gentleparenting had 2.8 billion views on TikTok, says Kathryn Watson on Oprah Daily.
In the current times, with so much peer pressure, uncertainties, and stiff competition at every stage from elementary school to university admissions, it goes without saying that our children are having it tough. They need a softer approach and not the traditional “spare the rod and spoil the child” take. Let’s admit it, whatever your style, you are looking at winning your child’s trust and love, in a way that isn’t too authoritarian. Like how experts say when there is trouble you need them to come running TO you and not AWAY from you.
Patience, unconditional love, and support are the key pillars of any parenting style and gentle parenting emphasizes this a lot more. So from that aspect, the core of Gentle Parenting is intact and something I would want to imbibe in my parenting journey.
In a fabulous article in The New Yorker by Jessica Winters, it says “one of the major themes in “Brain-Body Parenting,” and in gentle-parenting discourse generally, is that children don’t defy for the sake of defiance, but that their challenging behavior is a physiological response to stress and should be seen as essentially adaptive”.
Experts who support gentle parenting do not rule out disciplining the child altogether but to be affirmative with evident love and concern and not in a “my way or the high way” rule.
“It (Gentle Parenting) encourages children to do what is asked of them because they see themselves as an individual, capable of affecting others and creating change in their environment,”Chanel Johnson, a licensed clinical counselor and certified clinical trauma professional in Detroit
But What About The Minuses?
Every aspect comes with its share of pros and cons and the Gentle Parenting style is no exception. With this approach, I agree the child feels more involved and interacted with than just having to take orders from a senior member. But does it prepare them enough for life?
Let’s approach it from the parent’s angle first. Speaking for the fraternity, I confess that there are days and times when I haven’t reacted the best with my children. In my defense, that only makes me more human and relatable than putting me on the “mommy” pedestal. I don’t mind sharing my vulnerabilities with my child if I have to, and that to me makes me more approachable to my daughters. I need them to grow up understanding that mommy has her flaws, she gets tired, she is overwhelmed and hence she even yells at times. To practise gentle parenting even when you are not fully rested or exhausted or uncertain about the next minute sans help, is not quite practical, and I confess it might not be something I can promise about. How about you?
I am not saying I am not all for gentle parenting. I love the approach and core it promotes, but for me to be a saint, and to hold my patience longer on an everyday basis is not something I can relate to. It would need tremendous patience and practice over the years that unfortunately, our society and culture don’t give us much.
As much as it offers my children choices and liberation, I feel to embrace gentle parenting 24*7 would take a hit on me, as a mom. I don’t feel ashamed admitting this. But mommy’s needs need to be taken into account too. I don’t want to bubblewrap my children into believing that all is rosy and life often gives you so many choices. No kiddo, life isn’t that easy.
Agreed, I can let you choose if you need the brown or green lollipop. Hell, why, I will take one and enjoy eating it with you too, in fact! But as a mom, I need to explain to my children that at the crossroads of life, you ain’t going to be offered brown vs green. You just need to make your pick and move on. I personally loved writer Amil Niazi’s coloumn on The Cut about how effective this parenting style is. She says,
I want to build a relationship with my kids that centers the health and well-being of the family rather than a more severe approach that places one or the other first.Amil Niazi, the Cut
As a parent, I am open to reading more about the different approaches and blending them all to finally build my own style that is tailor-made to my child’s and my choices. ‘Coz I am the same Amma who reminds them not-so-pleasantly for the 65985th time that they are late to football class while ending the day with a dance party to Nattu Nattu. That’s me and that’s how my children see me. How about you?