What Gentle Parenting Really Is (And Is Not)
I’ve had it with “gentle parenting.”
To clarify, I’m still giving children love, respect, and a whole lot of grace as they learn to navigate this thing called life. More than ever, I see the value of positive parenting not only in my own child, but also in those with whom I interact regularly. I’m fully committed to the notion of treating others, including children, the way I’d like to be treated. The “golden rule” is very much my parenting mantra.
But yeah, I’m done with the marketing myth of gentle parenting.
You see, “gentle parenting” has turned into a marketing buzz phrase that, in many cases, is neither descriptive nor accurate. After having wasted hours on Pinterest last week looking for gentle parenting articles to share with my readers, I realized just how liberally people are using the term. The same is true for its nomenclature siblings: positive parenting, positive discipline, and conscious parenting, among others.
Once we dilute it so much that it refers to almost anything we want to “accomplish” as a parent, it becomes meaningless.
Spend three minutes on most social media and you’ll find things like:
“Safe Babywearing in Your Skydiving Harness”
“How to Gently Wean Your Toddler from the Poker Table”
“A Gentle Approach to Balancing Your Newborn on Your Harley”
In short, I don’t trust an article, book, or well-meaning friend who says something is “gentle” if it isn’t in sync with what positive parenting really is.
We all want to practice gentle parenting. So, how do we know when we’ve found the real deal?
I don’t know a decent parent anywhere who doesn’t want to be gentle with his or her children. We all have good intentions.
Skydiving, gambling, and motorcycle riding aside (and with respect to those who do those things without baby present), there are a few telltale signs that you’ve found the “real deal” when doing your positive parenting research. I’ve boiled them down to the basics that I keep in mind as a parent and educator.
Gentle parenting is kind.
I once joked on my Facebook page that I’d written the shortest parenting book ever. It included only a single question parents can ask themselves when deciding how to handle something with a child: “Am I being kind?”
In all seriousness, this really sums it up. What’s the kindest response you can have to any given situation?
Is the sleep solution you’re considering peaceful, or does it leave one or the other of you feeling unsettled? Is the discipline situation your friends have suggested kind, or does it involve something designed to induce feelings of shame or regret? Is the parenting book you’re reading suggesting ideas that will bring you and your child closer together, or do the ideas inflict emotional strife on either of you?
Oftentimes, I make parenting decisions only after I’ve consciously assessed whether I’m choosing the kindest option I can in the moment. I never want to justify suboptimal parenting by thinking, “It’s for the best” or “I wish I didn’t have to do this, but it’s the only option.” I assure you there’s always a way to be kind.
Gentle parenting is patient.
I’ll confess that even as a gentle parenting writer, I sometimes struggle with this one. We all have tired days, too-many-rainy-days-in-a-row-days, and we’re-humans-who-sometimes-want-different-things-while-living-in-the-same-space days. Case in point: I intended to spend an entire screen-free day with my child the other day, but my computer broke when I was doing “just one thing” on it, and I ended up sufficiently grouchy that I had to fix it.
It wasn’t my child’s fault that my computer broke. She got antsy that I had to devote time to fixing it instead of playing, and I got frustrated by her antsy-ness. Her need was legit; mine was, too, in its own way. But as truly gentle parents, we know that our children’s behavior is often a reflection of our own.
When we find ourselves feeling impatient, we don’t punish our children for it or make them our emotional outlets. We find ways to stay connected amidst suboptimal circumstances. We actively seek out the emotional tools we need to help us keep our cool, understanding that our kids need us to model patience. That’s how they learn emotional regulation, themselves — by observing us.
Gentle parenting models respect.
When we make a mistake, we apologize for it. We don’t equate immediate compliance with respect.
We understand that parenting is not about “How do I get my child to do (whatever it is)…” — that doesn’t fit into the golden rule. We don’t “get” people we respect to do things. We collaborate with them. Problem-solving works best in partnership with others.
We model what it means to engage in healthy, respectful adult relationships — because that’s what we want for our kids when they get older. Their training starts now in their daily interactions with us.
For many of us, gentle parenting is hard work.
We don’t choose gentle parenting because it’s the most convenient option. It’s often downright hard, especially if it involves facing triggers from our own upbringing. (Wait, that happens? Heck yeah it does, and it’s tricky emotional stuff to work through!) We have to examine our hard wiring. Often, we need to very intentionally rewire our brains to not do whatever the default response might’ve been in our family of origin. Oof. It’s doable, though, if we’re mindful about actively working on ourselves.
So, do I believe in the value of gentle parenting?
Of course I do. We just need to know what it really is (and isn’t), and make the practice real in our own homes. It’s absolutely worth discerning the good advice from the bad and understanding that just because an article or a book is labeled as gentle, it really needs to be gentle for it to foster the results we’re seeking as parents. And as parents, what better result than a long-term, positive, and loving connection with our children?
This article was originally published on