“Because I said so.”
Remember that one?
Far too many of us understand the childhood frustration of having to follow strict rules at home without a good understanding of why.
However, there’s a new way of parenting that has become increasingly popular. It’s called “gentle parenting.”
What is gentle parenting, exactly? Well, it’s not about just leaving kids to their own devices, exactly. (Some of that isn’t really bad, though—out until the streetlights come on, drinking from the garden hose kinda thing.) It’s more about not having strict rules “just because,” and instead, parenting with empathy and compassion. Kids don’t act out because they’re bad; they act out because they’re still learning how to deal with life. Life and its infinite rules and expectations is hard.
Here are 10 things we can do with our kids that make us “gentle parents”:
1. We respect them—we don’t own them. They’re a person; we’re a person; therefore, we are equals. We respect their feelings, their boundaries, and whatever stage they’re at in life. They are not blank canvasses that we are responsible for painting. They already exist in this world, and we’re just there to help them navigate it.
2. When they decide a few weeks after we’ve spent a bunch of time and money on a sport they were interested in—lessons, equipment, the works—that they don’t want to do it anymore, we don’t guilt trip them. We see if we can problem-solve, sure—maybe there’s something more going on. But we don’t force them to stay simply because we’ve spent money and time. We just ask them what they’d like to do instead.
3. We let them cry; we give them space to feel the bad stuff. And then we talk about it.
4. We don’t pay them for good grades. Think of the flip side: bad grades means your kiddo is struggling with something, and that needs to be figured out. Good grades also don’t mean everything is fine.
5. We let them (genuinely) help make family decisions about pets, travel, meals, and almost everything else.
6. We don’t spank, and we don’t require hugs. The only thing you’re teaching a child by hitting them is to fear the hitting. (Side note: this also goes for our fur babies. Cesar Millan’s style of “training” needs to be outright cancelled. Teaching anything to any creature must be force free.)
7. We set examples for how to take care of ourselves. This is especially important if you’re a mama who deals with mental health issues—or if your children do. Learning how to prioritize your needs is a life skill in a society that constantly asks us to put them aside.
8. We say sorry. Whether it’s a really big parenting blunder, or a small one, we learn how to tell our kids we effed up and what we’re going to do differently.
9. We don’t punish them for telling the truth—even if it’s a hard truth or an inconvenient one.
10. Rather than engage in a power struggle, we try to meet in the middle, whether that’s an exchange, a compromise, or we simply try to come to an understanding about the situation. And yes, this means sometimes we parents have to let things go, too. It can’t always go our way, or the kid won’t trust that you’re truly equals.