Gentle Parenting, The Dark Side


These days we have women entering their soft life era, men and women on “healing journeys, and enter stage left, Gentle Parenting. Guidepost Montessori defines gentle parenting as “a parenting approach that encourages a partnership between you and your child to make choices based on an internal willingness instead of external pressures.” In other words, interacting with your child in a matter in which they are treated and respected with the same regard as if they were little adults, or as I like to say “little humans.” Studies suggest that this way of parenting vs. authoritarian parenting creates more emotionally sound and well-rounded children, yielding adults who require less recovery from childhood trauma. In keeping with all things trendy, there are so many takes on “alternative living” these days, and that’s wonderful, but no one ever talks about the dark side of gentle parenting.

Woosah! First, let me start by saying I don’t think there’s a perfect way to parent. Sure there’s definitely a bad way, and by bad, I mean any way, that jeopardizes the health and safety of a child, but outside of that, all of us are doing the best we can. Some of us parent the same way we were raised. Others of us take bits and pieces from our childhood and apply new strategies that they wished they had growing up. Some of us are trying something completely new altogether, like gentle parenting. If you’re like me, you’ve realized that you may have been doing that even before it had a name. And that, my friend, is the caveat!

You see, I am the product of teenage parents, and I was raised by my grandparents on both sides. On both sides, there were variations in parenting styles. So what happens when you mix the two? You get a person who parents from the outside looking in as authoritarian compared to the gentle parents of this day and age, but on the inside looking out very much gentle….too gentle. At least that’s my opinion now, having crossed the milestone of one of my children turning 18. Welcome to the dark side! Perhaps I had the best of both worlds. My grandparents were strict where they needed to be and gentle where applicable. I had grandparents I could talk to about most anything as a child/adolescent, and I have grandparents I can talk to now about most anything as an adult.

When I became a mom, I wanted to be more nurturing (you know, a gentle parent) than anything else, especially with my approach to discipline. Ha! That didn’t last long. Well it lasted about 13 years before the shift. However, since my children’s father and I divorced early on, the reality was I had to be more like Florida Evans than Carol Brady. I felt I had to be not only their mom but also the dad in many regards.

The one thing that remained constant was my consideration of their feelings, especially when making decisions that would directly affect them. This meant a lot of family meetings. I mean, picture it, me age 30, holding family meetings with an eight-year-old, a four-year-old, and a one-year-old for decoration and put it on repeat.Whether it was moving from one side of town to the other, extracurricular activities, moving into a new home, relocating multiple times across multiple states, spring break, Christmas break, you name it. If a decision was to be made that affected my children, I included them in the decision-making process. That meant I considered their feelings, asked their opinions, and took it all under advisement when making decisions. I always talked to them like they were little adults but on their level. This made for very mature, respectful children…until they weren’t.

As I’ve said before, the teenage years have been none too pretty for parenting of any kind, gentle or otherwise, around my house. At times they can be very entitled and if I’m being honest flat-out disrespectful. Now let’s put that into perspective; disrespectful to me can be something as simple as using all of my coffee creamer after repeatedly being told not to and then leaving an empty bottle in the refrigerator, all the way to not coming home because you decided you’re 18 and don’t have to, but that’s still putting it mildly. It gets worse, but I don’t have enough keystrokes for all of the stories. However, I often find myself wondering, had I not considered their feelings so much in the past, had I not always tried to talk to them at their level, had I not wanted to be more of a nurturer than a tyrant, would I now find myself staring face to face in the eyes of entitlement, with children who think direct instructions are negotiables?

Today’s society is calling for gentle parents, but these are not gentle children. So while this attachment parenting style may be the wave and all the rave, I find myself slipping further into the dark side, where the letter of the law now is, because I said so.