Stressed Parenting/Gentle Parenting

Modern day parenting is often characterised by its stressful nature. Everyone is busy, not least of all the kids with their highly schedulised extra curricular activities. We all get stressed, we all get a little shouty. It’s sad , it’s tough, it’s inevitable. Isn’t it ?

Shouty Parenting

I’m guilty of being the stressed, shouty mam. Full time work, full time kids, dinners to make, lunches to pack, laundry to fold, birthdays to organise, homework to do, bedtimes to navigate, tantrums to soothe. Sometimes it’s all too much. Sometimes I just want to eat my dinner without trying to appease an explosive toy sharing situation at the same time. So I get stressed, I shout. She cries. He slams doors. Next thing you know we’re all overwrought and upset.

I try not to be too hard on myself about this. It is far from ideal, but life is demanding and kids are damned irritating and bloody high maintenance. I think kids , and grown ups, can learn important lessons from these kind of situations. Everyone has breaking points, everyone needs space to themselves. People can react badly and apologise.

However, of course I don’t want to shout at my children unnecessarily. I don’t want them to think their presence is a cause of irritation to me and that I don’t have time for them. I don’t like myself in these moments, and it’s unfair on them. I don’t want them to communicate through tantrums, so I should model a better way.

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Gentle Parenting

Whilst researching feminist parenting for our recent Raising Feminists event, I came across the idea of Gentle Parenting. Gentle Parenting is often described as focusing on three key points – empathy, understanding and respect.

With this model, parents are guided by the needs and rhythms of the child. The parent is respectful of the child – and might ask themselves ‘would I speak to an adult like this?’ before addressing their child. We know that we should of course treat our children as we would like to be treated – but I’m guessing that a lot of us snap at our kids in a way that we wouldn’t to another adult.

The natural stages of dependency are recognised and children are not encouraged to be independent before they are ready. Night-wakings are not seen as a disruption to be managed and avoided, but a natural stage which will stop when the child is ready.

This is not to say that proponents of gentle parenting let their children set the rules and run amok. Boundaries still exist within gentle parenting, but they are always explained and can be flexible to suit the child or the time. They are consistently implemented, rather than the often random and ever changing boundaries many of us impose (hand held firmly aloft here – I often let my kids do things I have otherwise told them not to do, if it will make things easier for me in the short term.)

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Feminist Parenting

In ‘Feminism is for Everybody’ bell hooks talks about how conventional parenting props up the patriarchy when parents rely on traditional discipline and controlling their children through fear. This is obvious when we think about the classic line ‘wait till your father gets home.’ Granted, the majority of us have – hopefully –  moved far away from that mentality now but mostly parenting is still a hierarchical relationship. How many of us can really say that we always treat our children with respect?

A More Mindful Approach

I don’t think gentle parenting is in my nature. I think it is something you do instinctively, rather than a manual you read in order to parent ‘the right way’. But I don’t think being a shouty parent is in my nature either. I’m naturally a pretty laid back person, so what is it about parenting that brings out the stresshead in me?

I think it’s a matter of time. Not having enough of it. Having to march to the beat of someone else’s drum – the school timetable or the work schedule. It’s the demands of modern life where so much of what we do is based on ‘should’. We pack our lives to the gills and then wonder why we are stressed. How can we resolve this?

I can’t control the demands on our time. I certainly can’t control the ever changing moods and demands of a three year old. But I can try and accept these things and instead of reacting against them, take a deep breath and pause.

Remind myself of the importance of kindness – to my children, my husband and my self.

I’d love to hear more about Gentle Parenting if you want to share your experiences in the comments.

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8 comments

  1. Great post. I related so much to your experience. I can remember the feeling of frustration when I tried to both work from home and parent my three children. This only intensified when I needed to find work and became the primary carer, in particular of my son who at the time was 10 months old. I can remember vividly the anger rising as I’d want to finish reading or replying to a work related email, but could hear my son needing my attention.

    In reflection it was as though I was hitting my head against the wall expecting the wall to shift or break. It took a lot of time for the penny to finally drop, and though I can’t remember when it happened, I absolutely remember the feeling that came with it. It was far more a revolution of thinking than a small mindset shift. For me, all it took was that I changed expectation into appreciation. Rather than expect to get 30 minutes to answer the email, I accepted and appreciated that I got 5 minutes, or 1 if I was lucky. And with that small mental gymnastics, I relaxed, a little. I could breath again. I accepted that what I wanted to do had to stop and appreciated the time for what I had achieved.

    It’s important to note that this technique doesn’t see you skipping down the path, sunshine on your face and smelling flowers. It simply gives you an edge out of the frustration. From which, you can begin to feel a little better, breath a little easier and get a more useful mindset that allows you to better parent.

    Do I get frustrated now? Absolutely. Do I know how to make the mental shift out and begin to appreciate? Yes, and it gets quicker with practise. But you gotta practise. It’s not something you download once and then forget about. It becomes part of your daily parenting. Even if it’s not directly called upon, you can start the day by saying: What can I appreciate about today?

    Thanks again for such a great post 🙂

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  2. Sinéad (shinnersandthebrood.com) · · Reply

    A lovely post as usual. I think we’re all guilty of being stressed at times. Parenting is bloody stressful. End of. We try (but don’t always succeed) to engage in gentle parenting and it definitely makes us feel like calmer, more responsive parents. Most of the time! For us, it’s definitely the way to go.

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  3. There’s a book you might like called Practicing Feminist Mothering, by Fiona Joy Green 😊

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  4. I wish my own very angry, shouty, slammy, screamy 1970s parents had read this piece…

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  5. dracoprocg · · Reply

    Lovely! I don’t think gentle parenting adequately prepares children for the world. I have also had shouty times 😦 it’s not ideal, but it is real, people are often overwhelmed by life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I don’t want my children to crumbling at the first strong wind. I think we should show the whole range of emotion to our kids, how they overwhelm us and how they change us and how we handle them. Then they would know their not alone in their feelings.

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  6. I loved this post and will be coming back for more. I am a single Mom and so my days are filled with work, housework, and of course my 9 year old. After a recent shift in the family dynamics, he had a rough time of coping with the drastic changes of his father and I going our separate ways. However, I was as understanding as possible. Myself and his Dad have VERY different parenting styles, but one thing that we are consistent with is the ability to listen so long as our son is articulate and not whining at us. I am totally guilty of losing it and being the shouty Mom, and I hate myself afterward. Even when discipline must be delivered, I do my best to speak to him as an equal and encourage him to understand why he is being punished before bringing down that proverbial hammer. Hopefully he will be a better adult for having a healthy relationship with me where we can communicate in most cases without all the yelling and high emotional states.

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  7. You capture the stress of it all quite well!

    I think, as long as you take the time to apologize and explain your actions in a way that your kid can empathize with you, they will be less likely to be angry with you for having emotions, at least in the long term. They have emotions too, and I think it’s something parents and kids forget they can relate around. Sort of how couples are encouraged to face problems in the relationship together – work on facing the anger not work on making each other do something different.

    If you snap because you’re stressed, I say just tell them in a way that is in alignment with gentleness. You can be both: “I’m so sorry I acted like that before honey. Have you ever been really focused on something and then someone interrupts that? Does that ever make you feel angry, or annoyed? Sometimes it makes me feel angry too. Is there anything you do that makes you feel better? Maybe I should try that too. I appreciate you listening to me and giving me advice, I hope you can forgive me, I forgive you for being mad at me in return, I deserved it. You know I love you very much, but we’re both only humans doing the best we can.”

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