The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned About Gentle Parenting

Over many years and thousands of conversations about gentle parenting, I’ve gained insight into the way I’ve framed this approach to parenting. I’ve realized that a lot of folks aren’t comfortable with my direct, evidence-forward approach, despite my best intentions, because it comes across as the one true way to be a gentle parent. You’ve shown me that the emphatic way I communicate about gentle parenting has its drawbacks.

A lot of people, especially people of color, regularly challenge me on the way I present this information I’m so passionate about. Some of the content creators I admire most in the world – like Parenting Decolonized, Three Token Brown Girls, Fidgets and Fries, and Unmasked – talk a lot about privilege and cultural competency, and I’m listening. Black mom friends, in particular, keep telling me that the things I say aren’t necessarily applicable or helpful for marginalized parents. Yes, in theory, my passion for defending the rights of children and offering suggestions for ways to mitigate relational harm produces insights that should be universally applicable, but real life doesn’t work that way. Tone and word choice matter.

I’ve been frustrated because I don’t feel like my way is the only possible, right way to parent a child. Yet, that’s what’s been coming across. From my perspective, I view gentle parenting as a framework through which we can develop our ideologies around children and parenthood. The knowledge I’ve gained from people with significantly more experience than my own has deeply impacted my worldview and pushed me from an authoritarian, highly punitive mentality to an authoritative and restorative mentality. Being a low-income, disabled, neurodivergent parent has meant I’ve had to take what I’ve learned and figure out how I can apply it to my life. In the process, I’ve become a lot more understanding of different circumstances.

If y’all only knew the amount of haughty chest-thumping I did early on… it’s shameful. I’ve grown from there and I started this blog with the intention of contributing interesting and informative, evidence-based information plus relatable how-tos. I think I’ve done that on many occasions, but there have also been many other times that I presented information in such a way that I came across as being a hardline stance with no hint of grace for people who couldn’t make it work.

What I’ve learned is that, above all, gentle parenting has to be flexible enough for every family to benefit from it. So, for instance, when I present information about the downsides of punishments and rewards, I have to also acknowledge the motivations behind using these tactics and leave room for people who need to combine intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in order to be able to get to work on time. All of us gentle parents have got to remember that gentle parenting isn’t a quick fix and there is going to be a transition period, the speed of which is heavily determined by how long a family has practiced other forms of discipline.

Perhaps a better approach is to demonstrate what incremental change looks like and to maintain an attitude of progress rather than projecting an air of perfection. I don’t think sharing my missteps is enough when so much of my content unintentionally comes across as “this is bad” or “this is good.”

The reality is that every gentle and positive interaction we have with our children is wonderful. When we aren’t as gentle as we have every intention of being, it’s not a failure. None of this is happening in a vacuum. We’re coming to parenting with complicated histories, wounds, and challenges. More than just accepting that we are flawed people doing our best, I think would all be more encouraged if we paused to acknowledge where we stand in our gentle journey. How far have we come? What can we read or watch to learn a preferable solution? Who is in our support system who can help us process our feelings or commiserate with our sorrows?

I’m not sure how it will look, but I’m going to be more intentional about prioritizing the flexibility inherent in gentle parenting. I hope y’all will stick around to relate with, challenge, and affirm me, as the occasion allows. I’m finding that one of the best ways to grow more proficient with gentle parenting is to be more gentle with adults too. I’m working on it.

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