The above image represents how delicate our children’s hearts are, and how our parenting can shadow them for the many years to come. We are all experts in ourselves and our children and if you feel you are already the master of gentle parenting then great. Just take a minute to read what gentle parenting involves, and the aspirations you could adopt. You may come to realise that there are in fact even gentler ways to treat your loved ones.
My own Mum probably believes that she is a gentle parent. When asked about her parenting style, she would *pause for a breath* “I only smack when my kid is in danger e.g. crossing a road”. That is not the personal memory I have, but that’s a different blog to come about the trauma caused by being smacked regularly.
This is why it’s important to outline my personal goals of gentle parenting, so that you can decide if they align with yours. It may also give you the confidence with what you are currently doing well and where your parenting may be not-so-gentle in nature.
What are some of the key themes I follow in my parenting style?
- Children are born to copy.
- Most of the time they want to do the right thing and please.
- Babies are born seeking comfort and connection.
- Any emotions you have that your child is purposely being [insert a negative word of your choice], are simply that. They are emotions that sit within your own trauma or lifestyle, and your children do not pull your triggers intentionally.
- Mistakes can be made by both parent and child, but there is always room for healing together.
- We strictly aim not to shout or smack, and avoid raising our tone or behaviour to exert (unnecessary) pressure on our kids.
- Enjoy this precious time now. While there may be times that you battle with healing yourself, soon your children will be too big to need you as much as they do now.
- There is always opportunity for connecting with your children in some way.
- I decided to ignore comments from others that I was doing harm to my children because I cosleep / longterm breastfeed / comfort their every cry. Why? Because the outcome of me following my gut instincts of what ‘feels right’ turns out to be the best thing for my kids in the end.
If the above example themes of parenting seem to align with your own, or you are interested in learning more about the reasons why I so strongly support these things, then this is the perfect place for you. Welcome!
Goal: To Be Happy
When my eldest was newborn, I wrote down the main goal I wanted for my children once they had grown up. The article I read suggested writing a handful of ideas as the way you treat them now will help those goals come true. I only wrote one word – ‘Happy’. I felt a bit deflated at the time as I could not think of two no matter five goals for my children. On reflection, did that make me a bad Mum? No!! It was so simple. I wanted my children to be happy.
I tried to work out what would ‘happy’ mean to my children when they were grown. I felt they would likely feel happy if the following points were true:
- They can be themselves
- Feel no shame or guilt
- Express their darker emotions easily
- Bring happiness and care to their loved ones
- Be assertive enough to only pursue healthy relationships
- Be confident enough to achieve anything they put their mind to
- Take pride in their lives, knowing they are doing the best they can regardless of outcome
- Reach out for support when struggling
- Feel connected to their immediate family and friends
For me, after researching different parenting styles, the only choice that would enable all of the above aims was gentle parenting. Let’s delve into each of those aims and explain my view on why gentle parenting offers the best solution to making them come true.
Any parent will understand, at least on a subconscious level, that children are driven to copy those to whom they are attached. Why not try allowing your children to follow their own paths? That you as their parent are there to standby and witness their love of life. You can guide them when asked, or step in if they are posing a danger to themselves or others, but try and relax a little on the less major things. You’ll feel more relaxed and so will your child.
No Shame or Guilt
We have all made mistakes on our parenting journeys, even if some parents can’t bear to admit it. The question is – do you feel shame or guilt about any of it? If so, it’s worth working on healing yourself which I’ll cover in a future post. If we seek reconnection after making a mistake, then it shows your children that mistakes can be resolved and that love is there. If we don’t seek to apologise for our mistakes, in the many years ahead this may result in their own childhood traumas coming out in the form of shame or guilt.
This was a huge part of my own upbringing. I would be shouted at or smacked, sometimes without any need for this treatment, and it would never be followed up with a conversation and sincere apology. As the years went on, I started feeling great shame in my day-to-day life. I felt judged by everybody. I felt guilt for hating my own Mum so much. Now I am a Mum myself, I realise how much I would have valued a genuine heartfelt apology after these hurtful moments. She is suffering from her own childhood issues, but her own guilt, grief and shame prevented her from reconnecting with me after a fight. This was harmful to my longterm emotional wellbeing.
I strive to apologise to my children when I make a mistake or hurt them, even if that hurt was not intentional. I ask them if they are ok. I hold them as long as they want me to. I explain that my behaviour was inappropriate and that I was feeling overwhelmed but should not have upset them in that way.
Our society places such an emphasis on acting strong, getting over it and moving quickly on. Ultimately this suppresses our emotions. If we are expected to act like we are fine, it can come out in other forms of harm. We may explode at those closest to us in frustration. We may say hurtful things to others. We may hide ourselves away and miss out on some wonderful opportunities for connection with our loved ones.
My goal with assisting my whole family to express our emotions more freely is to not judge whatever emotion or behaviour is being expressed. That behaviour is releasing built up emotions from your child. Try to block it and they’ll remain inside their bodies and minds, bubbling away. We must let them release it.
The best way I have found to achieve this is to gently explain what emotions they are feeling, why they are feeling them and any way that they could improve that distressing situation going forwards. It has helped stop my oldest daughter from smacking her younger siblings. It’s helped her to ask me for help when she needs it. It has helped us continue connecting even in the angry / wild / crazy emotional moments that all toddlers experience.
Bring Happiness and Care to Loved Ones
What is the point of having relationships if they don’t create happiness and care? The themes of gentle parenting ensure your children be guided by yourself as their role model. Aiming to be kind to your children sets them up for being kind to their loved ones in the longterm. This will bring themselves, as well as their loved ones, happiness. If those connected to you are happy in your presence, they will care much more for you. This brings much more positivity into your children’s lives.
Be Assertive Enough For Healthy Relationships
If you are raising your children gently then the likelihood is they will be drawn towards relationships who offer a similar level of love and kindness that you do. However, there is a huge combination of life interactions and experiences that your children will have before deciding who to get close to.
Another theme of gentle parenting is to encourage your child to say no when they are uncomfortable. By respecting your child’s desire not to be tickled one more time, for example, can all contribute towards their ability to be assertive in their future relationships too. Even if they enter into a less than healthy relationship, they will have the confidence to say no and to expect that to be respected by the other person.
Confidence, Achieving Potential & Pride
Every school report of mine at Primary School stated that I should have more confidence and speak more. I did not achieve my potential at school. Why? Because I lived in such fear of being judged by family, or myself, if I did not get exceptional grades. My sister had accomplished such high grades in her exams and my Mum was so proud of her. I felt too much pressure to match her grades or better. It led to me doing fairly average, but inside I know I was also capable of the exceptional grades of my older sister.
If my parents had raised me with respect and love for who I was as a person, rather than what each of us achieved in grades, my gut tells me I would have thrived. When I set off to University and achieved an average grade in my first year, I cried. I cried to my lecturer, saying that I didn’t want an average grade, I just didn’t know what I needed to do to get the best grade. A year later, another lecturer gave me the connection and time I needed to take my grades from average to first class. I achieved a first class degree, top of the year, with all of my subjects being graded first class.
I later went on to become a qualified accountant and my final achievement was my Masters of Science. My husband and I set up our own business together and it has done extremely well amidst huge competition. I am now the master of achieving my potential. What changed? Somebody who looked me in the eyes and saw my desire to do better. They then gave me the tools needed to achieve my goals. My desire, with their assistance, evolved the timid, unconfident person into a confident and successful person.
I want the same for my children but from an early age. They don’t need to feel belittled or like failures to be driven to find their paths to success. I can help them by hearing their dreams and giving them the tools to achieve them.
Gentle parents unite in responding to their children’s needs. This starts right from birth, with feeding your child when they are hungry to holding them when they cry. When they reach the age of toddlerhood and they start crying, many parents aim to stop the child crying. Subconsciously when a child is responded to in this way it may signal to them that we don’t want to support them when they are crying as we’d prefer them to be happy. Gentle parents support us in responding to the child’s cry, no matter what the age or our view on whether they need to cry that much. This involves cuddling and talking with them about what they are feeling so that they know they get comfort from us when sad.
Going forward it encourages them to continue seeking support from us when they are in trouble or need some help. Who wants to go to someone who tells us to calm down when we’re sad? We would prefer to seek our comfort from those who hold us and empathise with our feelings.
Last, but not least, I feel that gentle parenting will help my children grow up to be connected to me. Their nature will have grown into feeling most comfortable in a supportive and connected environment. They will continue to want to be part of my life when they have flown the nest as they will miss how comfortable I made them feel. This feels inspirational to me. To increase the likelihood that my kids will choose to have an everlasting relationship with me, rather than feel pressure to just because I’m their parent.