Does Gentle Parenting Work?
I recently came upon an article entitled, Why Gentle Parenting Isn’t For Me, and I knew I had to write a response. I’m sure the author felt really empowered when she freed herself from the shackles of Gentle Parenting, but I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at her ill-informed take. No doubt, the article has received a plethora of praise from others who have likewise felt the parenting style to be too oppressive. I hear it all the time, “I tried Gentle Parenting, and it Didn’t Work.” The tagline for the article even reads
I’m all for tapping into my kids’ emotional needs. But I don’t always cater to their feelings. And, sometimes, I yell.Lauren Barth
I’m not sure exactly who to blame for this, but there is a pervasive fallacy being spread about what Gentle Parenting actually is. And this fallacy is making parents feel that if they yell, punish, or even strike their child, they cannot call themselves Gentle Parents. It’s a lie, and I need you to hear me out.
Yelling, Spanking, Punishments, are all off the table when it comes to Gentle Parenting. This is true. What’s also true is that we are human beings, and most of us were raised by traditional parents. This means, from the time we were born, we have been conditioned to parent in the ways of our parents. Gentle Parenting is not the norm. Most people believe gentle parenting doesn’t work. So those of us who endeavor to even attempt this style of parenting are going against every single belief system we’ve held about the proper way to rear children.
Even the most well-intentioned person will have to go through years, yes years, of de-conditioning and reconditioning to fully adopt all tenets of Gentle Parenting. Throw religion into the mix and forget it, Gentle Parenting can feel impossible. Heck, you may even believe you truly tried it and then fall into the “Gentle parenting doesn’t work.” crowd
Yes, it works.
This is partly why I adhere to the term Conscious Parenting. In practice there really isn’t much, if any, difference between Gentle Parenting and Conscious Parenting. The difference, I believe, is in the way we think about this parenting style. I recognize that most people aren’t like me. Most parents aren’t up at night reading books about the effects of trauma and attachment theory.
The average parent will hear of this style, follow some influencers who do it, and maybe join a Facebook group for other Gentle Parents. They won’t even understand the science behind what we do, but they will then say they are practicing Gentle Parenting. They will even try, with all their might, to speak gently to their children, but when they discover they can’t stop yelling or that they even have reverted to spanking, they give up. Furthermore, they, like the writer whose article prompted this post, will declare “Gentle Parenting Doesn’t Work.”
Conscious Parenting vs. Gentle Parenting: Is there a difference?
When I discovered this parenting style, I only knew of it as Conscious Parenting. It wasn’t until I began making content about the subject that I learned of the term Gentle Parenting. I thought it was a silly thing to call what we do. Certainly, being gentle is an important component to this parenting style, but before we can be gentle we must be conscious. The whole idea of being gentle comes second to the work the parent must do on themselves to truly adopt this parenting style. Consciousness is about being present. It is about recognizing your triggers and doing the work to unpack and heal from that trauma.
Consciousness is about being aware of who you are and why you do the things you do. Consciousness is about leaving ego at the door and focusing on what’s in front of you today and in this moment. It’s about being mindful. Most of us are reactive with our children because something they’ve done has triggered something from our past. The behaviors of children are typical and old as time. Most of them do variations of the same thing. The way we react to this very typical behavior depends on our own upbringing and how aware we are of what lies beneath our subconscious.
On Gentle Parenting and Yelling
When you begin to think of this parenting style as requiring consciousness, you will undoubtedly find yourself on a mental health journey. I know I tried Gentle/Conscious Parenting for a year before I realized that the trouble was me. And once I began to unpack my own shit, for lack of a better word, I was able to give myself grace. If I yelled, I apologized, and carried on. Of course, the goal is to minimize the yelling as much as possible, as I am aware of the effects it can have on my child’s mental health, but if I sometimes yell it doesn’t mean Gentle Parenting doesn’t work. It means I yelled, and I need to work on yelling less. Yes, people, Gentle Parents yell. We just apologize when we do.
On Gentle Parenting and Corporal punishment
Spanking is another one. Spanking was never a huge part of my parenting to begin with, so it didn’t take much for me to abandon that practice. However, there are parents who have begun Gentle Parenting who have on occasion reverted to spanking their kids. It is absolutely not okay to put your hands on a defenseless child. It’s abusive in nature and incredibly harmful to the child’s self-esteem.
That being said, if in the course of practicing Gentle Parenting, you strike your child, it’s because you are still going through the process of deconditioning and reconditioning. You have to unlearn that hitting isn’t an appropriate means to solve a problem. Again, because you’ve struck your child doesn’t mean Gentle Parenting doesn’t work. It means you need to do the work. You need to unpack, heal, and learn some emotional regulation skills, and this can take years to do.
Is gentle Parenting for you?
Only if you’re willing to do the work. To ride it out. To heal. To unpack. To accept that it does not require you to be perfect. It is not a parenting style meant to elicit well-behaved children. It’s a journey. And not one meant to be completed in a day or a week. It’s a life-long journey. If you’re willing to commit to parenting your child in an emotionally healthy environment, Gentle Parenting is for you. If you want a quick fix, it may not be for you.