Often times I find myself wondering how other people found gentle parenting and why they choose to practice it, especially given that it’s such an underdog in the parenting world. I honestly didn’t know that this was the path I had (subconsciously) chosen when I entered the world of motherhood. Even before I became a parent, I knew that I wanted to treat my children as equals and guide them through the journey of life, rather than dictate them. As their mother, if I couldn’t be the one who they could openly confide in without fear, who else would they have in their worlds? I knew that I wanted to be their best friend, while firmly setting the expectation that I was not there for them to walk all over. And I didn’t want discipline to be a negative experience, but rather an opportunity for them to learn. In short, I wanted to be their confidant, their friend, and their “go to” when the going gets tough, while still guiding them through the rights and wrongs of behavior and how the world works.
It’s my personal belief that children are the most underestimated population. As a student of psychology (both as an undergrad and my two years spent in grad school), and through personal experiences, I have learned that childhood experiences shape the way we form our adult relationships and conduct ourselves when we enter the “real world.” “Four decades of longitudinal and brain research have proven that humans’ optimal physical, mental and emotional development depends on meeting the infant’s innate relationship needs.” (ahaparenting.com). Things as simple as responding to our baby’s cries, being nurturing, and following your child’s lead can really make a difference in the long run. And trust me, my experiences and educational background have taught me that children understand more than we, as adults, realize.
From the very first day, I have always talked to my girls about everything. Sure, I don’t always talk to them in the same manner that I would to a friend or another adult, but that has never stopped me from telling them about their days, surroundings, or how I was feeling and what was going on with my life. (And research shows that the more you talk to a baby, the more rapidly their brain develops.) Often times, I feel like as adults, we don’t expect our children to have the ability to understand the complex world we live in, or that we owe them any explanation. “It just is what it is.” But if we are supposed to be teaching children about the way of the world, why wouldn’t we want to be open and honest with them? It’s important to keep in mind that we, as parents and caregivers, are here to teach our tiny humans how things work, because let’s face it: life's not fair. It is us, the adults, who are the ones that possess the experiences and knowledge about the way the world works, not them. How can we expect children to learn if we are constantly demanding them to do things our way without offering any explanation? I mean think about it: How do you feel when someone demands you to do something just because they “said so?” How long did it take you to learn how to meet certain expectations/behave before you were actually able to do so? (Think back to your own experiences as a child, or even as an adult in the workforce. How much more effective were situations when you had an explanation about why certain things were expected of you?) Simply put, if we reinforce our parent-child relationships with dominance instead of open communication, it can make it hard for them to understand and learn why we are making the decisions we choose to enforce.
From day one, I have instinctively felt the need to respond to all of the girls cues and follow their lead to meet their needs, instead of forcing “my ways” on to them. (It never sat right with me to allow them to cry or to not explain myself to them, especially in situations where they were learning how to shape their behaviors.) I think it’s safe to say that we all make mistakes when we are inexperienced, and that learning from mistakes is a healthy way to grow. As parents, it's equally as important to be open to learning as much as we are going to teach our children, and accept the fact that we will mistakes along the way. (It’s not like children come with an instruction manual!) Just remember that everything is going to be ok, even if you have the occasional slip up, as long as you keep open communication. Most importantly, accept yourself as human too. If you have a moment where you (for example) yell, after the dust settles don’t hesitate to own up to it and apologize. Explain what caused your reaction, whether it was their fault of not. (“Mommy got upset because you were not listening and I had to keep repeating myself,” or “Mommy is really stressed out because of XYZ, and I am sorry that I did not do a better job of listening to what you wanted,” are both equally good ways for children to understand that everything is not perfect in life, and that we all have emotions that sometimes get the best of us.) The most important message that we send our children with this type of communication is that IT IS OK TO BE HUMAN and that part of being human is owning up to our mistakes and learning how to do better next time.
Don’t be afraid to trust your instincts and follow your heart. Children are like adults in a foreign country. New to the language, customs, beliefs, and expectations. If you keep that analogy in mind, you may find yourself looking at things from a different perspective. Babies cry because that is the only language they know, and they rely on their parents to be their guides to help teach them how to function in this new world they now live in. Parenting is not about being right all the time, nor should it be seen as a chance to enforce authority. Rather, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow together. You may be surprised at just how much you learn about yourself and life along the way too. I am constantly amazed at how much my life has changed, and continues to change, as my girls and I travel down this road together towards their adulthood. I have learned more about myself- and life- since becoming a parent, than I ever had in my twenty-plus something years of life. THIS is real life, and no amount of schooling or other experiences could offer the opportunity to learn and grow as raising children can. I can only hope that others find the joys that I have since becoming a parent. It’s not always an easy job living the gentle life, but I have faith that it will continue to pay off and benefit all three of us.
I look forward to the journey that lies ahead for us all and welcome to my new site!
*It is important to note here that while I accept all walks of life, my goal is to promote and educate about topics that are less mainstream, such as babywearing, breastfeeding, baby led weaning, etc. I am here to support parents, especially those of multiples, and offer an alternative to what is typically advocated to them. I had such a hard time finding the information and support that I was seeking as a first time mother (of twins nonetheless) and my intention is to make it easier for those who want to learn more about creating-and keeping- a secure bond with their child(ren).