#AD This is a sponsored post as part of my ambassadorship with Johnson’s Baby.
What is Gentle Parenting?
We spent a lot of time at our most recent Johnson’s Baby Ambassador Day discussing Gentle Parenting: what it is, how it’s emerged, why it’s so popular and if it works for us. Straight off the bat, I’ll say I (more or less) identify as a gentle parent. Proper ‘gentle parenting’ purists would most likely take issue with some of my methods, but on the whole, I think it’s been a natural transition to us from the attachment style we fell into at the start of our parenting journey.
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#AD – I feel like I’m at a real transitional stage in my parenting journey. Pickle is now three years old, and he’s getting more and more independent by the day. ‘I can do it by myself!’ is a phrase I hear about twenty times a day. My role as a parent is changing, but my approach is still the same: centred around kindness and being gentle. Although I find the labelling of different parenting styles challenging, it’s fair to say I fell into the attachment parenting camp from day one (I say fell as it wasn’t really a conscious decision, it was just where my instincts led me!). Now that he’s older, I’m not sure that really applies anymore. We’re entering a new phase, and whilst I don’t necessarily agree with all the principles, I’m becoming more and more of a ‘gentle’ parent. But what does that even mean? To me, gentle parenting is about validating and respecting my child’s emotions. It’s about empathy and understanding. It’s about acknowledging that ‘misbehaving’ happens for a reason, and it’s not because he’s trying to cause trouble. It’s about giving him freedom and trusting him (which is much easier now we’re out of that awful biting stage!). And it’s about modelling the behaviour I want to see from him. It’s not always easy. It takes A LOT of patience. But I’m confident it will pay off in the long term. Having the time and space to discuss parenting has been a real benefit of my #JohnsonsAmbassadors role with @JohnsonsBabyUK, so let’s open up the discussion here: how would you describe your parenting style? Have you heard of gentle parenting? Do you identify with it? And what does it mean to you? #ChooseGentle
The Generation that Parented Me
One of the areas I’ve been particularly interested in learning about, reading about and discussing is the application of generation studies to parenting. Last year at our Ambassador Day in Bath, we heard from The Pineapple Lounge research company, who looked at how different generations have parented, and then how that has affected that generation’s parenting style. We looked at Boomers parenting Millennials, Generation X parenting Generation Z, and Millennials parenting Generation Alpha.
Growing Up with Boomer Parents
(Interestingly, when I first wrote this section, I wrote in very general terms, using plural personal pronouns (we, us). I’ve now amended it, using single personal pronouns (I, me). Whilst I’m fairly sure there any many out there feeling the way I do, I’m not sure I feel comfortable writing such sweeping statements.)
For me, and by the sounds of it, many other Millennials will be the same, my childhood could be summed up by this mission statement: work hard and you’ll reap the rewards. A lot of focus was placed on academic achievement being the door to lifelong happiness and success. The formula was simple: hard work + good grades = University ∴ well paid job + success.
And guess what? I bought into that. I worked hard. I said yes to every opportunity going, and I thought I’d have the world at my feet. It didn’t necessarily turn out as easy as that. The world changed. University tuition fees were introduced, and then hiked. Youth unemployment hit a peak in 2010. House prices soared, creating a pretty high barrier to entry for home ownership. And before I knew it, I was engaged, married and trying to juggle new priorities of parenthood too (which put career aspirations at odds with what was important to me as a mother). Life as an adult wasn’t just challenging, but it was a sharp contrast to what I’d been lead to believe.
And I wasn’t well equipped to deal with that, emotionally. With so much of our time spent studying, working and gaining that well-rounded life experience purely attained for padding out a personal statement on a UCAS application, it left little time to work on mental and emotional health. It wasn’t a primary concern. In our household in particular, no one ever really talked about how they were feeling. It just wasn’t done. Any eruptions of emotion were dealt with by being sent to our room: a signal to us that dealing with any extremes of emotion was something to be done on our own, out of sight.
If I think about how I deal with my emotions now, it is exactly in that way: it’s a private matter, dealt with on my own and behind closed doors (she says, typing on what will become a published online document…). Whilst blogging has enabled me to push my boundaries in that respect (done through a feeling of obligation to share my ‘reality’ and not present our life as unattainably-perfect), I’m not sure it’s necessarily a healthy relationship to have with emotions. And it’s something I’m working on.
The effect on my Parenting Style
I am very grateful for the way I was parented. It’s made me who I am: determined, hard working, moral almost to a fault. But there’s been a huge gap in how I was prepared for adulthood around emotional health and finding happiness outside of a career. It means as a parent, raising an emotionally intelligent child is high on my list of priorities.
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#AD –If we think life today is pressured, busy and full of potential mental health pitfalls, can you imagine what it will be like for our children when they are older? The world is getting bigger, faster and ever more competitive. With @JohnsonsBabyUK, we’ve been talking a lot about self care: what that means and looks like as a parent, and it’s got me thinking about how I model, teach and encourage self care for Pickle too. A big part of that, is my decision to parent in such a way to encourage and foster emotional intelligence. I want Pickle to grow up in tune with his emotions. To recognise when they’re good, and to recognise when they’re negative. I want him to be able to vocalise how he’s feeling, and to be able to make rational decisions about how to make himself feel better. I want him to be in control of his own mental wellbeing. If we can teach that, our children will go through life able to tackle any challenges that come their way. Since the day he was born, I have made every effort to honour, respect and appreciate his feelings –it’s why I parent the way I do. As a baby, it’s why I picked him up every time he cried: no matter the hour. As a toddler, it’s why I treated tantrums with empathy rather than anger (even in the supermarket!). And as a young boy, it’s why I try to explain rather than shout, negotiate rather than dictate. I #ChooseGentle. Because I want him to #ChooseGentle too. #JohnsonsAmbassadors
For me, the way to do that is to show him from an early age that his emotions are valid. I always, always, try to put myself in his shoes, and understand why it is that he is feeling the way he is. It means tantrums (for the most part) become less annoying and more of a chance for me to understand a bit more about him: what is it that’s important to him and what reassurance does he need?
It’s not about being soft, but about giving him a bit of empathy. Children have so much to learn! They’re not going to get things right all of the time, and they only ever really want to please us. Despite all my worries, I have surprised myself that I’m not a shouty parent (although, I’ll openly admit there’s still time for that to happen in the future, my tougher parenting days are still ahead of me!).
Thinking About Generation Alpha
When I think about Pickle, and his generation (Generation Alpha), I have so many hopes and dreams for what they’ll achieve and the world they’ll create. I have visions of a generation that are accepting and welcoming; a generation that eradicates prejudice and champions inclusion. I hope this generation are well prepared for their adult lives. That they anticipate the challenges ahead but still feel optimistic, knowing they have a toolbox of coping mechanisms to deal with set backs and know how to get themselves back on course.
I hope this generation don’t feel the pressure to measure themselves against an invisible, arbitrary yardstick. I hope they realise that success and happiness comes in many forms.
I parent in a way that I hope will help these dreams come to fruition, whilst holding my hands up to admit that there will of course be things I get wrong, and that we as a generation get wrong. But that’s how it works. This is how we’ll shape the next generation, and they can decide how then to best shape the following generations. For now, for better or for worse, I’m choosing gentle.