4 Reasons Why Gentle Parenting Fails to Connect with Black Parents

The Problem with Gentle Parenting in the Black Community

By and large, Black Parents aren’t here for Gentle Parenting. We aren’t a monolith, of course, so there are some Black parents who feel aligned with this parenting philosophy, but it’s safe to say the vast majority of Black parents reject it outright.

Unveiling the Challenges Exploring The Problem with Gentle Parenting

But why?

On its surface, Gentle Parenting is a parenting philosophy that can and should be adopted by all parents. It falls under the umbrella of Authoritative Parenting, one of the four main parenting styles identified by psychologist Diana Baumrind in the 1960s.

The Authoritative Parent, according to Baumrind, espouses high levels of warmth and responsiveness with an emphasis on setting limits and enforcing boundaries. Authoritative parents likewise eschew traditional methods of discipline such as spanking and punishment.

While this parenting philosophy is often mistaken for permissive parenting, it continues to be the parenting style championed by experts in child-rearing, and supported by countless peer-reviewed studies.  Both The American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, encourage an authoritative approach to parenting.

So if doctors and parenting experts all agree that Gentle Parenting is best, why is there a problem with Gentle Parenting from the perspective of Black parents?

Our journey as parents is shaped by a myriad of factors including cultural influences, personal experiences, and societal norms.  Therefore, many of us rely on what feels right, versus what science tells us is right.

And what feels right is usually what has been passed down to us through the generations. So while Gentle (Authoritative) Parenting has gained popularity as an effective parenting approach, most black parents express hesitancy when it comes to embracing this method. 

1.The main culprit for this hesitancy, I believe, is fear.

If you ask the average black parent why we feel we must be hard on our kids, we will often respond that we are hard so that we can prepare them for the real world. And the real world ain’t pretty.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a black person in America who hasn’t encountered racism. And even if we’ve not encountered it ourselves, we’ve heard stories. We’ve seen the news. And some of it, this fear, has almost become part of our DNA.

Emmitt Till was murdered decades before I was even born, but somehow I remember. We all remember. For many of us, his death is a cautionary tale: it’s what happens when a child is not prepared for life in America as a minority.

We also believe that being soft with our kids will lead to children who become adults who are either inclined to a life of crime or incapable of handling life’s stressors.  The problem with Gentle Parenting, as it’s been introduced to us on social media, is that it fail to address these fears.

And these fears are not unfounded.

A 2022 study found that teachers blame Black boys more than White boys for identical behavior and are more likely to send them to the principal’s office.  Black and Latino boys also receive harsher punishment because the schools they attend tend to have more punitive cultures.  This, of course, leads directly into the Preschool to Prison Pipeline, 

“A report by the Equal Justice Society showed that students removed from the school environment fall behind academically, are at higher risk of getting in trouble, feel stigmatized when they return to school, and are more likely to drop out, never obtaining high school diplomas.”

The fear Black parents have can also be attributed to what Dr. Joy DeGruy calls, Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS). PTSS is a term coined by DeGruy to describe the multigenerational trauma and psychological, emotional, and social effects of slavery and racism on Black individuals and communities.

The trauma associated with PTSS often influences our parenting styles. Some parents may be overprotective due to fears for their child’s safety, while others are more authoritarian to prepare their children to navigate a racially biased world.

2. Another problem with Gentle Parenting in the Black communities is the lack of awareness and education about this approach.

The vast majority of the people discussing and promoting Gentle parenting on social media are White. And when the parenting advice comes from people who do not experience the world the way we do, it’s hard to give credence to the information they share, especially when they fail to discuss the unique fear Black parents hold.

How can we tell parents that they must change any and everything about the way they parent if we do not address why they parent the way they do and allay those very fears?

As reported above, our kids are not treated the same way as other children. In essence, Gentle Parenting can feel as though we are asking Black parents to gamble with the very lives of their children.

So when creating content about this parenting philosophy, to reach Black and Brown parents, we must belabor the point that Gentle or Conscious Parenting is not an absence of discipline and that we can still prepare our children for the dangers ahead without the use of a belt or harsh punishments. They need to see that it is possible, over and over again. With example after example showing exactly how it is done.

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3. The term “Gentle Parenting” is an improper fit.

Gentle Parenting as a term doesn’t begin to describe what we do as parents. And truth be told, many of us aren’t that gentle. This is why I prefer the label Conscious Parenting, or even intentional parenting. Gentle Parenting as a label has been stigmatized and interpreted to mean permissive parenting. It isn’t, of course, but due to this stigma, it’s hard to get parents to give gentle parenting the time of day. 

Problems with Gentle Parenting as a Black Parent pinterest 1

4. Spare The Rod, Spoil the child

This exact phrasing is not Biblical. This phrase comes from a 17th-century poem called Hudibras. However, the concept is found in Proverbs 13:24 (King James Version):

“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”

The phrase “Spare the rod, spoil the child” has often been misinterpreted to endorse physical punishment, but its origin lies in an era where a shepherd’s rod was a tool for guidance rather than a means of corporal punishment.

In other words, you were never meant to take it literally. The rod is a rod of comfort and guidance. For instance, the rod appears again in Psalm 23:4. The verse reads:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

Many Black parents in America are Christian and feel that to parent their children without the use of corporal punishment goes against their faith. That’s why it’s important to allay their fears by showcasing that God is a God of love, and he seeks to protect, not harm, children. For instance:

  1. Matthew 19:14 : “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'”
  2. Ephesians 6:4 : “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.”

Understanding the emotional and psychological impact of physical punishment, Christian parents can choose alternative methods such as setting clear expectations, using time-ins and employing constructive conversations to guide their children. This approach fosters a nurturing environment that aligns with Christian values of love, compassion, and understanding in the upbringing of their children.

The problem with Gentle Parenting in the black community is shaped by a complex interplay of cultural and religious influences, societal stereotypes, and the need to balance tradition and progress.

It is essential to engage in open and respectful conversations about parenting practices and offer educational resources to ensure that families can make informed choices that best serve their children’s well-being.

Disrupting generational patterns of harm is work.  It requires a willingness to truly examine the parenting practices of old so that we can systematically dismantle the ideologies that do not serve us.

Black children, like all children, are entitled to live in homes where they are both emotionally and physically safe. Where they can make mistakes without the threat of being assaulted physically or verbally.

Indeed, it is time to let go of the fear that rightfully gripped our ancestors, and parent our children for the world they and their peers will create.  Ultimately, the well-being of children should be the guiding principle in all parenting decisions, transcending any specific parenting method or cultural influence.

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