Gentle Parenting is Not Working

Are you struggling as a parent?  Have you read all the books on gentle parenting and feel frustrated, resentful, and your child’s behavior is less than desirable? You are not alone.  This topic comes up a lot in mom’s groups and in my individual counseling sessions with moms. Rest assured, there is help and it does not mean you have to give up on it.  

What is Gentle Parenting? 

First, what is gentle parenting?  Unless you are  living under a rock, you probably have heard of it.  If not, it is essentially a parenting method that falls in the authoritative style.  It emphasizes empathy, boundaries, attachment, and play.  Backing up, authoritarian parenting refers to “old school” parenting in which the parent’s word goes above all else and bad behavior is addressed punitively.  Authoritative parenting is partnering with your child.  Examples of gentle parenting are holding space for your child’s tantrum instead of trying to get them to stop, time ins instead of timeouts, making things fun instead of commands.  For instance, gentle parenting would make a race out of getting ready in the morning instead of commanding “We have 5 minutes, come on and get those shoes on. ” 

Is Gentle Parenting the best method? 

In short, no.  There is no one best method.  Emily Ostler, whom I adore and strongly urge all parents to explore her work, does a great analysis on gentle parenting.   Unfortunately, I can not link to the newsletter, you need to subscribe.  However, it is truly worth it. She points out that there is no definitive “gentle parenting” method the way there is for other methods like 1-2-3 Magic so it is really hard to study.  What she did find in her research is, frankly, common sense. Understanding developmental abilities and consistency in whatever you do are key, spanking and physical punishment are bad. Outside of that, it is fair game.  Therefore, gentle parenting is great but so are other methods. 

Parenting is a relationship, not a method. 

Please read that and repeat it ten times.  Just kidding, 100 times! Seriously, I scream this from the rooftops.  Disclaimer: I am not a parenting coach nor a child psychologist. However, I am an expert in maternal mental health.  I have seen mom after mom totally stressed out because she (falsely) believes she is failing at parenting. She, and you, are not failing.  The issue is the belief that parenting is a theory or a method.  In truth, parenting is a relationship. Books on parenting styles are a great tool but not a mandate.  Children are not cakes and can not be raised by recipes. Focus on the relationship, not the method.  Please don’t misunderstand, gentle parenting can be great–it’s not problematic in itself.  The problem is following something so tightly you find it stressful. Or, continuing to follow it when it is not working for your family. 

a woman and a child sitting on a couch with throw pillows. Gentle parenting can help foster connections.
Photo by Arina Krasnikova on retireved 5/20/22

Parenting is a relationship, not a method.

-Sharon Fisher

What will work? 

1. Know appropriate child development.  Referring back to Emily Oster, understanding what your child can do and how they see the world will go a long way.   A three year old is not going to be able to dress herself. Siblings fight. The average kid will not automatically put away a toy before getting another one.  Kids prefer play over chores. 

2. Know yourself. Understanding yourself and your triggers will help you better understand your response to your child’s behavior. What do you need?  How does it feel for you to set boundaries?  If your boundaries were not respected as a child, then it may be hard to consistently enforce them as an adult.  If you are an extreme introvert, then being with a child all day may be too draining.  Perhaps you need to put them in preschool a few hours a week. Psychotherapy and self help books are a great way to learn about yourself.  

3. Discuss your values with your spouse. Ideally, this conversation starts prior to conception.  Explore your family values with your spouse.  Be intentional.  What do you want for your kids and how do you want them to be in the world? Children enter a family and it’s a dynamic relationship.  The happiness of the whole household matters.  Our colleague, Hannah Caradonna, created a great list of questions here

4. Get rid of “All or Nothing” thinking.   Yes, consistency is important but following someone’s parenting book to a tee is not healthy nor possible. For example, perhaps you utilize gentle parenting methods around meals, clean up, and tantrums but not when it comes to buckling up the car-seat. 

5. Tune into your instincts.   You know a lot more than you think. There are many parenting experts that can inform you but ultimately, you really do know what is best for your family.

Time is on your side. 

Slow down.  Parenting can feel so urgent.  The truth is, no one thing or moment will make or break your child. You are learning and growing as a parent as your child is learning and growing as a human.  You will yell, you will do things you regret.  However, you will also do amazing, loving, nurturing things. You’ve got this, mama! 

Are you struggling? We can help. We help women just like you. Get started with the help you deserve and need. Call or email Jen now to schedule your appointment with one of our talented nurse practitioners or therapists.

2 thoughts on “Gentle Parenting is Not Working

  1. You have the terms all wrong. Read Diane Baumrind to make a good distinction between authoritarian (dictatorial) and authoritative (more democratic parenting). You mix the concepts. Please do some research on how empathy refers to taking the perspective of the other, understanding the emotional needs before the child’s behavior, responding to the needs..
    I am afraid you are misinforming people.

    1. Thank you!!!! I’m not sure how that happened—-probably result of managing kids and a business at once! I corrected it.

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