One of the most common concerns I hear from parents who are attempting gentle parenting isn’t whether they’re doing this, that, or the other thing right. Although we all have questions about how to manage certain aspects of gentle parenting, it’s not usually the daily how-to’s that make us consider throwing in the towel.
One of the toughest concerns many of us manage, as gentle parents, is the lack of support we feel for the way we’re raising our children. Surrounded by naysayers, we often not only fear, but also hear, that we’re doing it wrong:
“My parents spanked me and I turned out fine.”
“Kids need to toughen up.”
“You’re coddling her.”
“You’ll make him a mama’s boy.”
“She’ll never be able to handle school when she’s older if you keep treating her this way.”
And the list goes on (and on, and on…). With every kindness we impart to our children, there seems to be someone–perhaps even a very well meaning someone who has the best of intentions–who wishes you would just do things differently.
And it’s hard.
It’s hard when the stranger at the grocery store comments negatively about your parenting. It’s hard when a well-meaning friend “helpfully” suggests you try something that just doesn’t sit right with you. It’s hard when your parents suggest you’re doing it wrong, and wow, it’s really hard if your own partner dismisses or flat-out opposes your gentle parenting style.
Believe me, I get it. (I was just looking for apples, not advice.)
I’m here to tell you that the words you hear others say don’t need to become the ones you repeat inside your head.
You’ve done your research, and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that positive discipline is more beneficial to your kids’ long-term mental health than punitive or authoritarian methods. You’re trusting your gut. You’re watching your child grow and thrive under the forces of goodness and kindness. Yet, it’s still tempting to listen to those who plant a seed of doubt in your mind, bringing up every insecurity you’ve ever had about raising your child in the way that feels right to you.
My suggestion to you is to take a deep breath and let go of your worry. It’s not serving you. If you can, find at least one supporter–be it someone you know in person, or even just an online gentle parenting group (yep, this one counts).
The moment I let go of my anxiety about gentle parenting happened shortly after I moved to a new city. I was taking a long walk with my child, who was then 18 months old. We got pretty far from home and were walking along a busy street. All of a sudden, she wanted to nurse. I panicked, since there was nowhere private and we were too far from anywhere I felt “comfortable.” Most of my friends in my old city, if they’d nursed at all, had weaned long before a year, and although I knew the World Health Organization recommends nursing at least two years for mamas who can (even in developed countries like the U.S.), I still worried that my child was “too old,” much less to nurse publicly. That said, it soon became obvious that it had to happen, so down I sat on a bench along the sidewalk, doing my very best to be discreet. Suddenly, a man who looked to be about 85 years old started walking our direction. I rearranged my daughter’s large sunhat to cover us both as much as possible, thinking he didn’t see us as he passed. A few moments later, though, he turned back to us and then (gasp!) walked back our way. Ever so humbly and respectfully, he said, “You know, I have no idea why people get so upset about mothers nursing their children. You’re just doing the most natural thing in the world.” Then he turned around and kept walking away.
From that moment on, it didn’t matter what the strangers at the grocery store said, or anyone else for that matter. I let his words become my inner voice, not only for nurturing my child as I had been in the moment he saw us, but also for gentle parenting overall. After all, gentle parenting comes in many forms.
Treating children with love and respect is, indeed, the most natural thing in the world. Why wouldn’t it be?
Find your advocate if you need one. Be your own advocate if you have no other, and know that with or without support, many others have persevered and continued to gently raise loving, happy children. And most importantly, know that by choosing gentle parenting, you’re being your child’s advocate and positively affecting the generations to come. It’s okay to normalize kindness. The world needs more of it, and you’re doing your part.
You’re doing it right.