There are many challenges for parents passionate about raising their babies gently into children and through to adulthood. I write in this blog as a mother who in some ways was on course to become a toxic mother. I feel that without gentle parenting, I’d have probably resorted to smacking and shouting by now, not just because that’s how I was raised. I would have found having ‘3 babies under the age of 2’ so hard that I may have lost my cool much more than if I’d had 1 or 2 children.
Constant Questioning of Your Own Actions
One of the biggest challenges on my list has to be the constant questioning of any parenting response. It doesn’t feel natural or genuine when you first start gentle parenting because you have to think through every conversation or interaction you have with your children before doing it. Then you usually end up reflecting afterwards about what you could do better the next time. This makes gentle parenting a draining choice, and is certainly not for the faint hearted.
Feeling Questioned by Others
On that note about constantly questioning your own reactions, it can feel as if everyone else seems to be judging your parenting choices too. When you have 3 babies of slightly different ages, you also find that people even openly try to educate you on contraception, as if you did not plan or want so many children. I mean, why would you choose that, they think. Even walking into a local restaurant can get a reaction along the lines of “oh sorry, we’re fully booked…”. As you look around the dining room, you see at least half of the tables are available. You ask when they have a space and they say “not anytime soon”. Yes this exact conversation happened to us.
Our babies are generally so chilled. They make less noise than the waitresses walking around the room. What I feel is people judge you for having too big a family and that you must be noisy / a nightmare to be near as you can’t possibly control 3 babies in a restaurant. My experience is… each family is different. Our babies tend to be chilled and happy when out and about because they are experiencing exciting new things. Also the important difference is we don’t try to control 3 children, we just control everything else and hope our example follows through to our children through our connection.
Suppressing Your Gut Reactions Around Your Children
This is the biggest challenge ultimately for changing your parenting for the benefit of the future generations. Your gut reactions, particularly at times of stress, may spark you to react rather than follow your gentle parenting experiences. Do whatever it takes to not react to your children harmfully. If you do react, try to repair the damage as soon as possible by apologising. See my previous blog post about how to apologise properly. This apologising part is also important if you have made a decision later on your parenting journey to become gentle.
Family Support Network May Try to Sway You
Toxic behaviours tend to run in families and the actions are often justified convincingly. When you are a new parent, all of the longstanding parents like to come out and tell you the best way to raise your children. They may throw all sorts of fear inducing statements out such as “they’ll never respect you..”. You need to remain focused on why you connected with gentle parenting and continue following your own instincts. Have a read in my previous blog post about some of the common statements said by others when you are raising your children gently.
Finding Your Path Alongside Your Partner
Typically we are drawn to people who make us feel comfortable. That comfort is more likely if the other person has similar childhoods to our own – either they have experienced a similar trauma to you, or they are applying the same abusive strategies that your family did to you in the past. If you realise that this is the case, couples therapy may be useful. You may also find my previous post about aligning with your partner useful.
Going the Distance
The aim of gentle parenting is not to have the perfectly behaved child in the present. It’s to have a well raised child who typically chooses to do the right things by the time they reach adulthood. They have learnt how to deal with the whole range of emotions life throws at us, and consider other people in the process. Being consistent in how you parent is the best way to ensure this happens as soon as is right for your child. It is not easy to hold onto this faith when you are feeling triggered by immature or frustrating behaviours.
Becoming the Best You Can Be
A key part of loving another person unconditionally is to be the best you can be. If you are overwhelmed by your past traumas, it can act as trigger points around your loved ones for being themselves. For more information on learning to accept the past caused by a toxic mother, have a read of this blog post. The whole category on emotions may also be useful for you, depending on what your past is and your current stage in the healing journey.
So, Is It Possible to Grow into Gentle Parents?
Daniel Siegel is an international expert on mindfulness and therapy. His book, ‘The Power of Showing Up’, confidently confirms that no matter what your past is, you can offer secure attachments to your children. First, you need to be in a position to tell a a clear yet concise story about your own history and how it affects your present. Then you will be able to become the parent you want to be for your own children. Why is the story about your past important? Because ultimately the past has shaped the choices you make in the present.
It is not only possible to become gentle parents inspite of a toxic upbringing, but it is essential. The last thing you want as a parent is to do the same damage to your loved children that was done to you. You need them to know you care and love them. The best way to do this is to allow healing within yourself to be an emotionally strong guide for your own and your children’s futures. When you mess up, apologising effectively will help repair any damage caused.
A big step to your own healing is treating yourself like you would your child. If you’ve been following the gentle parenting style for a while, you’ll know what this involves. It inolves being free with someone, whether that be a professional therapist or a friend or family member, to express your emotions fully about what has happened to you. Some people may respond to your pain with “oh well, just forget about that now!”, or “there’s no point thinking about that, it’s so long ago…”. That’s not what we would say to our children if they are hurt, is it? So, if that’s the kind of reaction to your emotions that you hear, potentially you need to find a different person to express your feelings with. Find someone who listens how you’ve been aiming to listen to your children, with care and respect. The more you deal with the past traumas in this way, the more refined your personal story becomes. You no longer need to dwell on the fine detail of it, and instead can summarise the traumas for what they are and how they made you who you are today.
I’ll just touch on my personal story here. I was raised in an emotionally challenged household, where my Mum felt it beneficial to use harmful techniques to try and control me, such as screaming, emotional manipulation and smacking. I have changed that generational traumatic environment for the better, so I can assure you it can be done. It involves a lot of healing and emotional work. Talking things over helped me realise that most of my sad experiences in life were a direct result of the difficult relationship I had with my mother. Upon that realisation I went no contact with her, which initially was hugely difficult for me. After 18 months of no contact, and a sour response from my Mum when I poured my heart out, I realised she was toxic and far better out of all of our lives. Especially my babies’ lives who I am doing everything I can to keep them feeling loved, safe and secure. Since then, a huge weight has gone. I know I have done the right thing, and the past no longer hurts. I also plan to keep my internal calm when the waves of emotion come, which was beautifully recommended through a mindfulness story towards the end of Daniel Siegel’s book above.