This blog post has been running through my head for a good few months now. Sitting in drafts, working its way to the surface.
I want to talk a bit about the ever-sensitive, deeply personal, yet very important issue of how we parent. Let me preface by saying I hope what I write about here is always in the tone of understanding and desiring to learn, never condescending or in a way that claims to know all the things.
I'll be the first to throw my hands up *game over style* to admit that 70% of the time we are absolutely winging it. For parents of one child, we are all doing this stuff for the very first time, ya know? The requirements and demands of parenting change daily - so most of the time - WINGING IT.
How should I react to that? How do I balance other things in my life with this? Where do I find out more about that?...the inner monologue of a parent is a repertoire of endless questions about how on earth we raise a child well (not to mention our extensive google search engine history when they are ill). It's a lesson in endurance, time-management and multi-tasking capabilities.
For parents that are on round 2, 3, or more (you crazy cats) - you know a little bit of what to expect from the next kid along but you're still winging it with the first one as new stages pass.
We're all trundling around some wild and wonderful unchartered territory here in parent-land.
The concept of chosing a 'style' or 'method' of how to parent never really occurred to me as a 'thing' at the beginning (so much winging it). As time has gone on and the winging it has become a little harder to conceal, I've started taking the time to read articles, pour over parenting forums, websites and blogs and I can truly say that for our family, our unit, the to-the-book methods just aren't for us. The 6 steps to contented, non-crying, all singing all perfect child-raising just seems a little nuts.
What I do know through all this reading is that there are elements in some schools of thought on parenting that do resonate deeply with me as a person. There have been ways of explaining parenting styles or ways to handle things that I have read that have made me nod my head in solidarity and weep with a comforting sense of not being alone.
A couple of weeks ago during an instalment of Fresh Finds Friday, I linked up an article outlining the basic principles for anyone interested in understanding more about Gentle Parenting. I do not claim to know or practice everything about this style of parenting, but it really has been our more conscious, less-winging-it, go-to method when we are struggling to know how to handle things (which is, again, most of the time).
I guess for us (and I do say US, because Dave is my parenting partner and our parenting decisions are made together), gentle, mindful, respectful parenting has seemed like the most natural path for us. Our innermost instincts seem to have found a soft place to land in the methodology but I will admit that our practice of it has taken a steep curve of learning and un-learning a lot of the default parenting baggage that we have unconsciously collected throughout our respective lives. We do not have it all together.
I can already hear a few of you sighing and rolling your eyeballs at me, but hear me out. I promise I'm not talking mumbo-jumbo-pie-in-the-sky nonsense. Gentle, respectful, mindful parenting? OBVIOUSLY, MEL. Who doesn't aspire to that? And I hear you. But, for some reason I get this vibe (maybe it's heightened here in slightly backward Northern Ireland) that we are too proud to really get informed about our parenting; that admitting the winging it isn't always getting us by is a bit too raw. I wonder how many of us (like me) have been quick to be informed, trained and educated about lots of other areas of our lives (jobs, hobbies, big issues, even relationships etc) but haven't really considered that giving a similar amount of thought to working out our way of raising children is something we should do.
For the skeptics, and to mark my own learning in all of this, I have devised my own top 3 myths about Gentle Parenting that have really come to light for us in the last year.
MYTH #1) Gentle Parenting sounds a lot like the kids are the boss and there are no boundaries:
It does. It does on the surface sound a lot like that, and this is a big one for people looking in. To the passer by, it could look like we allow Levi to do a lot of things that other people might not allow. But we aren't passive, nor are we walk-overs. We simply believe that there is a lot of negotiation to be done with children in order to ensure that their feelings and bodies are respected. We try not to say no right away, we try not to demand things of him that we wouldn't want to do ourselves and we see him as an equal, with equal say in our three-part family. Of course our boundaries are firm when it comes to not letting Levi hurt anyone or damage stuff but everything in-between is a discussion and an opportunity to show respect. We don't talk about 'who the boss is' in our family because nobody is the boss of anybody and I really do wonder if that kind of language is helpful. We set boundaries for him as we would for ourselves and our role is to help him understand why those boundaries are good and give him the freedom to explore his choices in the rest. We aren't afraid of getting it wrong, because we know that we can't control it all.
2) Gentle Parenting sounds like a bit of a cop-out and a blasé way of parenting:
It isn't. We have had to unlearn so much of our default ways of dealing with things. Instead of hurrying, demanding to be listened to and isolating Levi during difficult times, we now spend more time listening to him, allowing for more time to get places, negotiating decisions so that everyones needs are met, checking ourselves to see if our attitudes and actions are coming from a place of frustration or from a better place of empathy. It takes patience to teach patience. It has been hard, especially when people don't understand the ethos behind your decisions and want to weigh in. It has stretched our communication skills to the limits and given us a lot to think about and although sometimes it feels like it would be easier to send Levi to his room or sit him on the naughty step during difficult times, we are confident that keeping him close and fostering his security is right for us. Lucy did a great post about the kind of thought process and daily rhythm of thinking that goes into this way of doing things.
3) Choosing to parent gently means that your child will behave perfectly all of the time:
Definitely not true. "WELL WHAT'S THE POINT, THEN??" you cry! Choosing to parent gently; respecting, listening and empathising with your child in all aspects of their lives is a long-term approach. It is not a fool-proof guide to making your kid do all the right things and never throw a spoon full of baked beans at you in a fit of public rage. This isn't about producing results. It's about raising a respectful, empathetic, secure person. It's about fostering a culture in your family life that sees you all through (so ALL our needs are met). They will still hit out, cry when you set limits, be unreasonable about things that you don't understand but showing consistent empathy and respect in all of those moments is part of the process. In saying that, listening and creating space for Levi to make his own choices has definitely already shown to diffuse tension. The point is not creating a perfect child, the point is modelling something different (time, space, choices etc) to what the rest of the world is currently pushing on us (rush, boundaries, manipulation).
This is not exhaustive - I could write for days about our struggles and the things we are learning as we go. We are still figuring a lot of stuff out but I hope that in some way this gives some food for thought to someone who might be winging their way around it all too.