Is Gentle Parenting privileged Parenting?
When I was first confronted with the question: Is Gentle Parenting privileged parenting, I scoffed at the suggestion. I immediately connected the question to race and felt that it was suggesting that Gentle Parenting was something exclusive to white families. I thought it was absurd. How can simply treating children with the respect to which they are entitled be a privilege? And I held this belief for some time before thinking about it more deeply and arriving at my current position: Yes, you have to have some degree of privilege to truly adopt all tenets of Gentle Parenting.
Is it about Money?
I’m not talking about money (well not directly). People almost always equate privilege to wealth. And certainly, having access to money would no doubt facilitate one’s ability to keep calm and parent. That being said, money isn’t everything. I first discovered Gentle Parenting early in the pandemic. Like most of us, I was in 24/7 lockdown with my family and had nothing but time. This pause in my normal routine allowed me to examine myself and the relationship I have with my children more closely. I realized that I yelled, a lot. i also realized that I threatened my older son with spankings a lot. It wasn’t normal. And to this day, I don’t know if I would have every given my parenting a second thought had it not been for the year and half of time I had to confront the many ways in which I was doing the whole parenting thing all wrong.
Is Gentle Parenting privileged Parenting?
In order to be a Gentle Parent you must be a conscious parent, and you can’t be a conscious parent if you are not aware of who you are. And this awareness doesn’t happen over night. It takes work to unpack and process who you are as a person and how you got to become who you are. And once you go down this path, you will inevitably find yourself where it all began: your childhood. Believe it or not, just a few years ago I would have declared that, “I was spanked and I turned out fine,” and I would have meant it. I was working, had built a successful online platform, had a terminal master’s degree, was married to the love of my life, and had two beautiful children. Sure I battled some depression and anxiety here and there, but by and large, I was fine. I thought the negative thoughts and patterns I wrestled with were simply a personal defect, a cross to bear. I was fine. But I wasn’t, of course. I had difficulty maintaining close friendships, I struggled with feelings of worthlessness, and was distrustful of every and anybody. I would find myself looking for signs that people in my corner weren’t in my corner. I was hypervigilant to a fault, and gave myself absolutely no grace. I thrived for validation from others because I could not validate myself. This behavior left me open to people who preyed on the person I was. And it all began in my childhood.
Our childhood’s matter
I like tell the story of Mr. Green to drive home my point.
Mr. Green was the gym teacher at my elementary school. One day, during gym class, he was timing me as I ran a short distance. For some reason, I stopped short during my run which enraged Mr. Green. He began screaming at me. He slammed his stop watch down on the ground and got so close to my face I could smell the coffee on his breath and feel his spit on my face. I was 7 or 8 years old. I was humiliated. But I never told anyone. I remember going inside the building and burying my face in knees as I cried. It never occurred to me to tell my parents that I had been mistreated at school by a teacher. You see, I had been raised to respect authority. I believed I deserved it, and was afraid I’d get in more trouble if I told my parents what had happened.
The thing is, I never grew out of this behavior. As I grew older I had a hard time recognizing when I was being mistreated and that I had the right to stick up for myself. So I began to wear a mask. As an adult I became a people pleaser and a perpetual victim. And I was angry. I was very quick to anger because I had never been allowed to express anger, disappointment, or even sadness. And I was sad a lot as a child. I was often shamed for being said. I was told that I was pretending to be sad for attention, which, again, made me feel awful because it meant that I was not worth paying attention to.
Looking back on it today it’s interesting that I would have ever declared that I was fine. I was perpetually unhappy as a teen and often wrestled with suicidal ideation. I still have scars on my arms from where I used to cut at them when I became upset. Twice I was taken away from my home in an ambulance for threatening to commit suicide. I never learned how to regulate my emotions, so self-harm is how I handled it. I eventually grew out of it, but the scars remain. And they showed up in the way I was parenting. But I wouldn’t have made these connections without time. I wouldn’t have made these connections without ‘reading books like The Body Keeps the Score. I wouldn’t have made these connections if I hadn’t undergone EMDR therapy. I wouldn’t have made these connections if I didn’t have the support of my husband who stepped up to watch the kids while I dove headfirst into healing. And without making these connections, you cannot call yourself a Conscious or Gentle Parent.
Gentle Parenting Requires the Privilege of Time
You have to be willing to confront what lies in your subconscious to be able begin the process of de-conditioning and reconditioning that is required to adopt all tenets of gentle parenting. Your whole way of thinking and being has to change, and this takes time. So if you’re a single parent who is living on auto-pilot it’s going to be harder to do, especially if you did not grow up with a Gentle or Conscious Parent. And while for many of us gentle parenting is ancestral parenting, we don’t live in ancestral times. Most parents are working 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet. Most parents are also operating without a village, which again affords parents little to no time for self-care. This also means there isn’t a whole lot of time to think things through and/or unpack childhood trauma. So is Gentle Parenting is privileged parenting? Sure it is. Without the privilege of time how can one do the work?
In short, Gentle Parenting is work, and depending on your life’s circumstances, your ability to do the work will be contingent upon the privilege of time. This is partly why I do not have an “all or nothing” approach to Gentle Parenting. So many of us are traumatized people trying to do what feels impossible, so some days our version of Gentle Parenting may not seem as “gentle” as the world would like, but we are trying, and that counts. Giving our children the childhood we didn’t have, even if it’s not perfect, counts.