I get a ton of strange looks, questions, and comments whenever I tell people that I am a gentle parent. "What does that mean?" and, "I bet you let your kids run the show," and, "But, you don't look like a hippy?" Of course, there's always the, "How's that working out for you? (usually asked with a snicker), too. There are plenty of misconceptions about how we parent and things no one will tell you about gentle parenting that I am totally willing to share.
First and foremost, however, I think it's important to establish a clear and concise idea of what gentle parenting even is. Can you imagine a home where kids do things because they're the right thing to do, not because they are afraid that their parents might hurt or punish them? How about kids who willingly help out with household chores and clean up after themselves without being asked? Parents who never raise their voices above a whisper?
Yeah, me neither.
We are definitely not there yet. Hell, we have four kids and a fifth one on the way. Most of the time our house is far from quiet and peaceful. However, we do try to parent in a way that respects our kids' abilities, emotions, strengths, and challenges, rewards effort over outcomes, and teaches them about natural and logical consequences with respect for their bodily autonomy and rights, and without using physical discipline.
Although it's far from how my husband and I were raised, we've found that this style of parenting works for us. It really works, and way more often and more effectively than yelling, grounding, time-outs, or spanking ever could. Which, honestly, is why I think it's important to clear up misconceptions about gentle parenting. You might be surprised or even inspired to make some changes in your own family. After all, we've tried a lot of things that I was sure would never work, that I now credit for helping us find a happier, more fun, calmer parenting existence.
Gentle Doesn't Mean Permissive
We have rules. In fact, we probably have more rules than the average household. We try to make rules that make sense, aren't arbitrary, and focus on what our kids can do by establishing when they need to get a parent's permission or ask for help.
It's way more fun to treat your kids like they are little people on your team (we call our team: Team Ruckus), than it is to yell, punish, and be disappointed all of the time. Seriously. We have tons of fun.
We Still Discipline Our Kids
We have a somewhat structured routine, within which our kids are expected to help and stay calm and try to help themselves succeed. We want to teach them to be good people, rewarding them when they do well. However, we also use discipline strategies. Most of the time, that means kids who break rules face a logical or natural consequence.
Examples: If you don't wear a coat outside, you'll get cold. If you yell or throw a fit, you need to find a way to calm down. If you do something risky on the internet, you lose internet privileges for a time so we can figure out how to make it safer or you understand what went wrong.
Our style of parenting respects our kids as individuals, includes both parents, and respects our kids' bodily autonomy and right to consent.
Example: my kids can choose their own hairstyle, clothes and/or style without interference, unless it is a bikini in sub zero temperatures. We don't do gender roles or body shaming in our house, and we ignore sexist school dress codes.
It's Sometimes Hard...
On a daily basis, I find myself wanting to yell. When my daughter was in her tantrum stage, I seriously found myself parked outside of her bedroom or holding her close, begging her to stop crying, and repeating the same phrases over and over:
"How can I help you calm down?"
"Let's take some deep breaths together."
"Let's count to thirty."
"Please don't hit mommy. That hurts me."
Then, one day, it worked. It definitely takes patience and empathy (and some days wine) to be a gentle parent.
...But It's Easier Than You Think
It's so much easier to parent now that I view all of us as on the same team, hoping to achieve the same goals, than it was when it was "us against them," or worse, when I was a single mom and was outnumbered by two tiny kids. It takes more time but, eventually, everyone gets it and things become easier than you ever thought they could be.
It's Not Just For Hippies
While I started my parenting journey as a stereotypical, granola-crunchy "natural" parent, now I am more of a science-geek, hot-mess, feminist mom. My husband has always been science-minded, logical, and focused on finding strategies that make sense from a psychological standpoint.
Together, we value things like our alone time as a couple, modern medicine, and most importantly, what works to keep our kids and ourselves healthy, happy and running as smoothly as possible.
Well, it works for us.
Sure, the first few times we introduce a concept our kids test boundaries and the limits of our patience. I mean, they are still kids, but it seems like we've really had some breakthroughs.
Some key successes have been our reward system for good behavior, chores, and moments when we "catch" our kids doing things that are helpful, kind, or challenging for them. Collectively, our kids saved $175 before the holidays by earning quarters for kindness.
Another area of success has been our calm down spot, a cleared out living room closet that now contains bubblewrap, paper that can be torn up and pillows, where our kids can go if they need a quiet place to calm down.
It Makes Me A Better Mom
Everyone Is Happier
Our kids are happier. My husband and I are happier with each other and with their behavior. We do things as a family and miss our kids when they aren't aren't here. Although secretly, I like the quiet moments, too. (shhh, don't tell anyone).
Sometimes we screw up, but we are more forgiving and definitely gentler with each other and with ourselves when we do. By not yelling and being angry all of the time, we see more smiles from everyone and that is worth the extra energy it takes to find a gentler way to parent.