When Gentle Parenting is Hard

I'm going to preface this blog by being honest: I am not always a gentle parent.

It's still the standard I aspire to.

Gentle parenting is the logical way to follow on from attachment parenting, something I've written about a lot before. I followed the methods of attachment parenting from the beginning, although I didn't know that it had a name until Judah was a few months old. As babies become toddlers you need more skills and understanding, as problems present themselves that have more complicated solutions than either breastfeeding or rocking.

Sometimes I am the mother gritting her teeth and suppressing rage as she carries a screaming toddler away from a situation. Sometimes I am the one muttering under my breath "Or you could just ignore me.." I have been known to say "Stop crying" when I am really at the end of my tether. 

I haven't been very gentle lately, and I don't feel good about it.

When I was married, there was always the sense that I was on a team, even if I was the one doing most of the work. That somebody had my back, was there to discuss these issues, had Judah's wellbeing at heart. The situation as it stands is the only other person in the world as invested in Judah as I am, who knows him as well as I do, will barely talk to me. I was not prepared for how difficult single motherhood would be.

Gentle parenting is hard. It is not the easy, permissive way out. It requires so much more than just gaining compliance. No gentle parent is perfect, no gently-parented child will display perfect behaviour. I'm not here to sell it to you, to prove it "works", because it might be we have different ideas about what working means.

Does it get results? Yes. Are those results immediate? No.

My son will often display less than ideal behaviour. The conventional solutions that some might think are appropriate could be rewards and punishment. The idea that we can use behaviourism to tweak a child and make parenting more convenient and our child more compliant. 

Gentle parenting goes to the source of the bad behaviour, acknowledges that every negative behaviour is generally an expression of a need that your child is too immature to articulate. It is your child attempting to connect with you, albeit in a frustrating way.

I'm not going to go into massive detail with the research around rewards and punishments and how they affect morality, motivation and can even encourage children to develop a fake, likeable persona around adults then subsequently misbehave at first opportunity when the adult's back is turned. The book "Unconditional Parenting" by Alfie Kohn was a revelation for me. 

My son has been consistently whining and crying for me in certain situations for a few weeks now. Anybody who has spent quality one on one time with my son will know what a fearsome, independent little soul he is. I am often the last thing on his mind. This is out of character behaviour. Conventional parenting wisdom tells me I should lay down the law, show him that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable. I'm the boss. I could do that - time outs perhaps, or a stern reprimand.

But does this go to the heart of the issue? If anything it will make it worse.

If he is whining for me, to me that says he is feeling insecure. He is needing more love and more attention. If I try and "behaviourism" that away, it doesn't solve the problem. It just encourages him to bottle up that need to avoid the punishment. I'm sure we all can see the logical conclusion that bottling up feelings might have on a teenager or young adult, and I don't think I would be surprised to find a lot of friends of mine were encouraged to suppress feelings as a child and still do so today in their intimate relationships.

That need for love and connection will never just go away.

Gentle parenting, far from being perfect parenting, demands that you are self-critical. Why is he demanding to connect with me in such an unpleasant way? If I honestly examined my own behaviour over the past few weeks, I have been busy and unavailable. I've spent too much time on my phone conversing with friends or answering emails. I've been grumpy and short-tempered. I've used television as a way of keeping him quiet while I get things done. None of which I'm happy with. The less gentle I was, the worse his behaviour became. Shining the light on your own behaviour and asking yourself if you're really surprised by your child's is hard.

Children, far more than adults, are beautifully forgiving.

Once I'd identified the problem (which was essentially my own behaviour), I immediately set about fixing it. We have had a lovely morning. I tried to be more involved, less rushed, more quick to smile. I banished my phone to my backpack. I once read that it's important to smile whenever your child enters the room, giving them the impression you are always so pleased to see them. I think that's lovely. We chased each other round softplay and chatted and although he did have a few little whinges before he went for a midday nap, I feel relieved. I know that I can do it, I will keep doing it, I will keep trying.

This won't be the last problem, this won't be the last time I need to examine both our behaviours and identify the need. It's exhausting, it's demanding, often the solution takes a while to come to you after a spate of less than ideal behaviour from your child. But I'm confident that I'm doing what feels right to me and will have a positive impact on Judah as he grows.


I used to have this hanging in my bathroom in my old house.. a lot of things got lost when I left. I've been thinking it's time to have it somewhere again.


When you wake me in the middle of the night, I choose love.
When you have a meltdown in the supermarket, I choose love.
When you refuse to take a nap again, I choose love.
When you act aggressively, I choose love.
When you begin to whine, I choose love.
When you have separation anxiety, I choose love.
When you want to talk back and test your voice, I choose love.
When you don't want to do your homework, I choose love.
When you are dawdling, I choose love.
When you don't want to go to bed, I choose love.
When you experience your first heartbreak, I choose love.
When your friend betrays you, I choose love.
Whatever you choose to be in life, I choose love.
When you are packing your bags to leave home, I choose love.
When you find "the one" for you, I choose love.

When I see you choosing love with your own child, I'll be so thankful I chose love.

I choose love because I want you to choose love. I choose love because love is always an option. I can force your obedience or I can invite your cooperation.

Fear is a choice. Love is a choice. I choose love.

Copyright 2015 Rebecca Eanes