The newest phenomenon in parenting that I have recently come across is “gentle parenting.” When I had my first daughter in 2010 it was all about “attachment parenting” and with my second daughter it was all about baby wearing and being “crunchy” and with baby number 3, we have “gentle parenting.”
So what is this gentle parenting, am I part of the gentle parenting club? What does one need to do to become a gentle parent? HOW DO I GET MY GENTLE PARENTING PASS?!?
I did some research (via Google, Facebook and Instagram memes, and some really guilt inducing hashtags, because that’s how we researchers roll) and I quickly discovered that I am not a gentle parent. Gentle Parenting is basically Attachment Parenting, rebranded. It is all about working with your children and addressing their needs, and asking them what they believe their needs are. There are no rewards, no punishments, that means no sticker charts, no treats, many people apparently don’t even say “good boy/girl” and no time outs…no punishment, just using our words. It is a partnership between parents and child.
The first meme on Instagram that I read was something along the lines of how we shouldn’t be taking things off our children, but rather we should talk to them about what it is they *need*. As I stood there, clutching my daughters recently confiscated iPad I thought I’d take a crack at this whole “what do you need? How can I, your mother of 5 years and 11 months address your needs?” business.
So I approached her room, she was sulking because 1. She was over tired, 2. She was overtired and wouldn’t go to sleep and 3. I had recently confiscated her iPad. Her only gateway to Netflix, after multiple warnings that it was time to stay in her bed and go to sleep. I should clarify that she was not watching Netflix at bedtime, she doesn’t spend all day watching Netflix (because she’s at school…duh) and she’s not allowed iPad time at bedtime, but she does get iPad time and it’s the first thing I confiscate…for maximum effect. I should also clarify (because I’m sure the mummy judges are ready with their pitchforks to criticise my parenting) that she has an excellent bedtime routine that is exactly the same every night. Her night time routine has also recently been amended to allow her an extra half hour of quiet time in her bed after the younger girls go to sleep, where she’s allowed to read a book or draw or write. However this only works if she agrees at 8pm that it’s then time to go to sleep, which she has been doing magnificently for the past 6 weeks. However, this was night 4 of her getting up out of bed and complaining about everything she could possibly complain about. Things had gotten serious and her iPad confiscated as a result.
“I apologise (wait…do gentle parents apologise?? Probably not better Google that) for confiscating your iPad. What is it that you believe you need right now?”
“I can’t sleep. I don’t want to go to sleep. I was born as a person who doesn’t need sleep.”
“I appreciate that you think you can’t sleep. However, you have to go to sleep. You just have to. You have school tomorrow, you need your rest to be able to function.”
“I. DON’T. NEED. SLEEP!!! I ALREADY TOLD YOU!!! I WAS BORN AS A PERSON WHO DOESN’T NEED TO SLEEP!!!!”
It went on and on like this for a little while, she’s thoroughly convinced that she does not need sleep. So then I reverted to my old inferior parenting ways and told her that if she didn’t stay in her bed and go to sleep, she would lose her iPad for another day.
Eventually she went to sleep. And then we did the same dance the next night. At this stage she has been told that if she cannot go to bed and go to sleep when she has been asked to do so at her agreed bedtime, her privilege of being allowed to stay up later than the other two would be removed. Clearly my pass into the world of judgmental hashtags has been denied.
Ok, so obviously the whole attachment/gentle parenting isn’t going to work overnight when I’ve been failing to abide by the guidelines and have destroyed my children’s lives already. Baby steps. But after reading into it I thought why? Why do we have to be an (a) (b) or (c) parent? Can’t we just take a little from column (a) and a little from column (b)? We try our very best to do positive parenting. We do reward charts (the horror! The damage!) and for every 10 stickers they get, they get a movie night. But we also do punishment. We don’t smack, but we do confiscate their things if it is warranted. I have breastfed and formula fed, our first approach is generally to talk it out and my children can and do come and talk to me about anything and everything, especially when I’m on the toilet. We give them treats, we even call them treats, we use bribes, we say good girl frequently (they’re all girls and sometimes they are good) we don’t offer them a choice when it comes to personal hygiene or hair grooming, it must be done! Our bed is always open and they come in every morning and sometimes overnight for a cuddle and that’s okay for us. But we have also done cry it out (eek! Yep, we went there) with our second daughter, and you can read about our approach and our decision to do so here (and if my hyperlink doesn’t work, head over to my very first post “sleep my little one sleep). I mean I didn’t leave her in a room to scream for 45 minutes, but tears happened. And do you know what? She is wholly and completely loved and shown that every single day. A couple of evenings of crying at bedtime when she was an infant has not damaged her long term. In fact out of the two of them, she doesn’t stuff around at bedtime, she just goes to sleep.
I guess my point is that there is a lot of mummy judgement if you don’t follow the correct “rules”. And that applies to all aspects of parenting these days. There are also those who are proud to stand up and say “I’m judging you as a parent!!” Don’t breastfeed? Don’t cuddle your child to sleep? Do cuddle your child to sleep? Circumcise? Punish? Screen time? Pierce your child’s ears? Brush their hair without their consent? YOU SHALL BE JUDGED! Because there are mothers out there who are simply better than you (insert sarcasm). And they’ll let you know that whenever they get the chance.
For us it’s always a bit hit and miss and work it out as we go. We basically just try to have fun, and we want the children to have fun as well. We want them to look back and think “yep. We had a fun childhood.” I certainly don’t look back at my childhood and remember being breastfed or wonder whether my mum let me cry at bedtime. And I think overall, my children won’t worry about those details either. Because overall they’re pretty good kids. They’re currently in their bedroom listening to music and singing and dancing and pretending they’re ninja turtles, while I feed the baby and settle her back to sleep. Those are the moments they’ll remember. Hopefully anyway.
I’m certainly not an expert at parenting. And I completely support all people who want to embrace Attachment Parenting, Gentle Parenting, whatever parenting style you may have. If it works for you, go for it! Be passionate about it. But don’t be a dick about it. Don’t put people down for their parenting choices just because they don’t match yours, don’t think that because it works for you means it is right or works for another family. Hell you may end up like me and have two completely different children who don’t respond to the same type of parenting!
And yes of course just to be clear, because sometimes people take things I say out of context, if they are using corporal punishment or whipping their kids with a belt or feeding them processed foods (kidding!) or just generally abusing their children…best to bring that to the attention of the appropriate authorities. I am not talking about child abuse, please let me be clear on that.
But in general and to summarise, just because it isn’t YOUR way, doesn’t give you the right to judge. For example, until you’ve been curled up in a corner crying at 3am trying unsuccessfully to get your screaming baby to sleep, and have tried every calming and gentle approach you have been able to get your hands on, living on around eight hours sleep a week for the past nine months of your life…I mean you just can’t judge! The mental wellbeing of a parent is so important, because without that, everything falls to pieces. There’s more than one way to cook an egg my friends. Let’s just all play nicely.