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 ?
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.
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.)
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.