This thoughtful New Yorker article sparked a lively debate on my friend’s Facebook wall. Most people seemed fairly hostile towards the approach.
The article says, “In its broadest outlines, gentle parenting centers on acknowledging a child’s feelings and the motivations behind challenging behavior, as opposed to correcting the behavior itself.”
The New Yorker article goes on to say, “a gentle parent holds firm boundaries, gives a child choices instead of orders, and eschews rewards, punishments, and threats—no sticker charts, no time-outs, no “I will turn this car around right now.”"
What’s interesting about this is firm boundaries and choices (versus orders) sound contradictory to me, right? You either have boundaries OR choices, not both.
VeryWellFamily.com defines gentle parenting as, “Gentle parenting focuses on fostering the qualities you want in your child by being compassionate and enforcing consistent boundaries. Unlike some more lenient parenting methods, gentle parenting also encourages discipline, but in an age-appropriate way. Discipline methods focus on teaching valuable life lessons rather than focusing on punishments.”
These two different practices with the same name seem to have contradictory ideas.
Guidepost.Montessori defines gentle parenting as, “Gentle parenting is a parenting approach that encourages a partnership between you and your child to make choices based on an internal willingness instead of external pressures. This parenting style asks you to become aware of the behaviour you model for your child, encourages compassion, welcomes emotions and accepts the child as a whole, capable being.”
It’s not clear that this third approach eschews boundaries, either.
It looks like a lot of the controversy is based on the differences in how gentle parenting is defined versus how it is practiced. Perhaps a lot of parents who like the idea of gentle parenting have trouble maintaining boundaries? It’s hard to say.
For myself, I don’t like the term “gentle” because it sounds loaded. It sounds like maybe parents aren’t supposed to have strong emotions, never mind strong words for their child.
I don’t know about you but for me, I am definitely not gentle (in my words and feelings) all of the time.
Also, I find that people tend to equate “gentle” with permissive. Being afraid of upholding boundaries. I believe strong boundaries are essential not only for parents but for children. Boundaries make children feel safe!
I prefer the term “respectful” parenting. It sounds like it allows some big feelings on either side. It suggests that you don’t have to be calm all the time. You just have to manage those strong emotions in a thoughtful way.
I am not a leader – by any stretch of the imagination – in the respectful parenting movement, if indeed there is one.
But this is how I define respectful parenting to my clients:
This is simply not true of respectful parenting. You acknowledge the emotion and correct the behavior. “I know you’re mad we have to leave. Do you want to put on your shoes or do you want me to help you?”
"Across the parenting boards and group texts, one can detect a certain restlessness. A fatigue is setting in: about the deference to a child's every mood, the strict maintenance of emotional affect, the notion that trying to keep to a schedule that could "authoritarian." Sometimes, the people are saying, a tantrum isn't worthy of being placed on a pedastal. Sometimes, they plead, their voices rising past a gentle threshold, you just need to put your freaking shoes on."
I couldn't agree more... with most of this.
A tantrum should not be placed upon a pedastal. It should be tolerated, then the parent should offer a hug and move on.
A schedule is authoritarian and there is no problem with this. Children's brains are not developed enough to drive the daily schedule. We adults need to do our adulting, parenting jobs. To make decisions that our children may not like.
And when it's time to go, yes, you need to put on your freaking shoes. But I think this can be accomplished just as clearly without the negativity of "freaking". The reason for the "freaking" is that the parent is asking too many times. THIS, not gentle/respectful parenting, is the culprit. Ask only once, then "help" to get the job done, before you are annoyed.
The only part of the above quote I disagree with is this: this is not a definition of respectful parenting and I bet it's not a rule of gentle parenting too. It's the opposite.
Respectful parenting isn't easy. It's hard to always keep your cool. But by respecting your own boundaries and acting swiftly, before they are crossed, parenting actually gets a lot easier.
Want some help with sleep or parenting (there's a lot of overlap!). Schedule a free consultation and see how life can get easier for your family.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.