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The Harsh Realm of “Gentle Parenting”

daftandbarmy

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More proof that we are all doomed ;)

The Harsh Realm of “Gentle Parenting”​

The approach flourishes because it caters to a child’s inner life. What does it neglect?



Not far into her new book, “Brain-Body Parenting” (Harper Wave), the child psychologist Mona Delahooke makes a confession. She recalls a time when her three daughters were young and she often felt overwhelmed. “When my body budget was in a deficit,” she writes, “I’d sometimes say things I later regretted, projecting my own lack of internal resources onto my kids: ‘Hurry up! You’re making us late!’ ” Stress and exhaustion, she goes on, “turned me into an authoritarian and controlling mom.”

I paused over this. I went back and reread the paragraph from the beginning. I skimmed ahead for further disclosures of Delahooke’s authoritarian tendencies. But that was it: “Hurry up! You’re making us late!” As someone whose morning exercise takes the form of a power struggle over when and under what circumstances my five-year-old will put down his trains, put on his shoes, and leave for school, I knew, reading Delahooke, that I had entered a reality-distortion field, but I wasn’t sure which one of us was the agent of distortion.

Delahooke’s recommendations in “Brain-Body Parenting” hew closely to the child-rearing philosophy commonly known as “gentle parenting,” which has been the vogue among vigilant, trend-aware P.M.C. parents for some time. It has no official doctrine: writing in the Times, Jessica Grose called the approach “a sort of open-source mélange, interpreted and remixed by moms across the country.” It doesn’t even have an official name—“gentle parenting” is a catchall for variations that include “respectful parenting,” “mindful parenting,” and “intentional parenting.” In its broadest outlines, gentle parenting centers on acknowledging a child’s feelings and the motivations behind challenging behavior, as opposed to correcting the behavior itself. The gentle parent holds firm boundaries, gives a child choices instead of orders, and eschews rewards, punishments, and threats—no sticker charts, no time-outs, no “I will turn this car around right now.” Instead of issuing commands (“Put on your shoes!”), the parent strives to understand why a child is acting out in the first place (“What’s up, honey? You don’t want to put your shoes on?”) or, perhaps, narrates the problem (“You’re playing with your trains because putting on shoes doesn’t feel good”).

The gently parented child, the theory goes, learns to recognize and control her emotions because a caregiver is consistently affirming those emotions as real and important. The parent provides a model for keeping one’s cool, but no overt incentives for doing so—the kid becomes a person who is self-regulating, kind, and conscientious because she wants to be, not because it will result in ice cream. Gentle parenting represents a turn away from a still dominant progressive approach known as “authoritative parenting,” which likewise privileges emotional attunement but allows for positive and negative reinforcement. Authoritative parents may use time-outs and groundings, for example, which are discouraged by their gentle counterparts.

There is a lot to like about gentle parenting. Delahooke’s book is particularly strong when it illustrates the rudimentary rigging of children’s physiology: kids aren’t (yet) wired for compliance and self-control, so it’s only fair for adults with fully developed brains to show them patience and empathy. Inhaling the expertise on the subject—books by Delahooke and Sarah Ockwell-Smith (the author of “How to Be a Calm Parent” and “The Gentle Parenting Book”), the RIE-descended philosophy of Janet Lansbury’s “Unruffled” podcast, Robin Einzig’s “Visible Child” Facebook discussion group, Destiny Bennett’s TikToks, and the enormously popular Instagram tutorials of Becky Kennedy, a.k.a. Dr. Becky—has made me a more mindful, less reactive parent. It has changed how I speak to my children and how I attempt to negotiate tough moments with them, and for that I am grateful.

Still, across the parenting boards and the group texts, one can detect a certain restlessness. A fatigue is setting in: about the deference to a child’s every mood, the strict maintenance of emotional affect, the notion that trying to keep to a schedule could be “authoritarian.” Sometimes, the people are saying, a tantrum isn’t worthy of being placed upon a pedestal. Sometimes, they plead, their voices rising past a gentle threshold, you just need to put your freaking shoes on.

Because so much of parenting is a practical matter, the how-to aspects of the gentle-parenting industry hold the most appeal. Kennedy, whose book “Good Inside” will be published in September, offers adaptable scripts for typical conflicts. (When a kid lies about knocking down his brother’s block tower: “Well, if someone, not you, but someone did push down a tower . . . I think I’d understand. Having a brother is hard. Sharing is hard.”) Bennett, a Black voice in a field crowded with white women, often draws on interactions with her own children: in a TikTok video labelled “The most emotionally invalidating things I stopped saying to my kids,” she rattles off the verboten phrases—“I don’t care,” “You don’t listen”—while a sleepy toddler nestles against her. Her videos collectively garner millions of views, and, in part because she often seems to be working through her approaches in real time, her advice feels friendlier and less doctrinaire than that of some of her gentle-parenting peers.

Elsewhere, the prohibitions on certain words and phrases can feel paralyzing. The parenting coach Einzig warns against “The Dreaded and Dangerous WE,” as in “We don’t hit people” and “We don’t throw food.” “It’s condescending,” she explains. “Children notice that we don’t speak this way to adults, and they figure out that we think that children don’t deserve the same respect that we give adults.” Gentle-parenting advocates are near-unanimous in the view that a child should never be told that she “made Mommy sad”—she should focus on her internal weather rather than peering out the window. “Good job!” is usually not O.K., even if you corroborate why the job is good. “Because I said so” is never O.K., no matter how many times a child asks why she has to go to bed.

One of the major themes in “Brain-Body Parenting,” and in gentle-parenting discourse generally, is that children don’t defy for the sake of defiance, but that their challenging behavior is a physiological response to stress and should be seen as essentially adaptive. The assumption unto itself is questionable: if little Timmy is on the front lawn tossing gardening implements at traffic, his motivations are probably obscurer than stress. This is one of the most confounding dilemmas of parenting, especially as kids exit the toddler stage: that sometimes a child tests or destroys boundaries for the thrill of it. Under the gentle-parenting schema, a child’s every act must be seen through a lens of anxiety and threat-detection—which heightens the parent’s dual role of child psychologist and emotional-security guard.

And why does this child feel so threatened, so stressed? The answer might be found on an episode of “Unruffled,” in which Lansbury addresses a mother whose five-year-old keeps hitting and pinching his younger sister. “He doesn’t feel safe to open up and share himself,” Lansbury explains. “He feels attacked. He feels judged. He feels misunderstood. . . . He feels he has to defend himself rather than having his mother or father or both of them being really curious about what’s going on.” In a post from 2012, Lansbury adopts the perspective of a toddler with aggression issues. “If I keep repeating the behavior,” the imaginary toddler declares, “it’s because it doesn’t feel resolved for me. Either you aren’t being convincing enough, or you’re being too intense and emotional.” If, toddler-Lansbury goes on, “there’s anger in your voice when you say ‘Don’t hit!,’ it unnerves me and I’m compelled to keep behaving that way until you can give me a calmer response.” These scripts are an inversion of the look what you made me do school of authoritarian discipline: the child gets to be the one who will turn this car around right now.

For the most part, though, “Unruffled” is digital-audio Xanax; bingeing a few episodes always adds some levity, even serenity, to the day-to-day parenting project. To witness the true blame-Mom wing of gentle parenting, look to Einzig’s heavily moderated Facebook group, “Visible Child: Respectful/Mindful Parenting,” where the tone toward the parent-supplicants is one of weary passive-aggression edging into contemptuous disbelief. (Disclosure: I was blocked from “Visible Child” after objecting to a post in which Einzig expressed disdain for members of the group whose partners have authoritarian parenting styles.) Once, a mother asked about her young son, who hit and kicked her after she told him that she would be taking a break from playing with him to do some cleaning. “He’s telling you very clearly that right now he needs your presence,” Einzig replied—the housework should wait. (So much for setting firm boundaries.) She went on, “If you don’t want him to hit you (perfectly reasonable), look at your part in the things that result in that.”

What is bewildering about some tenets of gentle parenting is their presentation of a validated child as a solitary child, and a mother as only Mother. When Lansbury counsels the mother of a child who hits, there is no acknowledgment of the little sister’s experience being hit, even though she may also feel “attacked”; there is no expectation of her mother “being really curious about what’s going on” inside the girl after she’s been hit, no recognition that the girl may wonder why her brother hitting her should not be “judged,” no thought given to the social consequences of being known as a hitter or of how those consequences might adversely shape a child’s self-perception. The housework that Einzig says to put off is a synecdoche for everything that the gentle parent—and, perhaps, the gently parented child’s invisible siblings—must push aside in order to complete a transformation into a self-renouncing, perpetually present humanoid who has nothing but time and who is programmed for nothing but calm.

Delahooke, to her credit, never goes to such extremes. “Brain-Body Parenting” is a warm, forgiving book—there’s even a passage on the childhood importance of coziness, including an endorsement of hygge. That’s why it’s odd that she presents “Hurry up! You’re making us late!” as the stuff of a mommy-forum struggle session. Then again, catastrophizing such a small incident is useful, because it plants the grain of doubt. The reader may have assumed that her own parenting missteps were minor; now her tuning for major and minor has changed.

Last year, at a preschool birthday party on a playground, as kids whaled away at a piñata, I solidified a friendship with a fellow-parent—the father of two comprehensively delightful children—when we realized that we’ve both found ourselves trawling Wikipedia, late at night, trying to find serial killers who had O.K. childhoods. This form of sleep procrastination is, in its own disordered way, a means of lowering the parenting stakes, of reassuring ourselves that it takes vastly more than saying “good job” or yelling about shoes to do lasting damage to our kids. It is just as perversely soothing, perhaps, to consider the failures of our forebears. If members of Gen X can blame their high rates of depression and anxiety on latchkey parenting, and if millennials can blame their high rates of depression and anxiety on helicopter parenting, then perhaps a new generation can anticipate blaming their high rates of depression and anxiety on the overvalidation and undercorrection native to gentle parenting.

The business of parenting advice, though, is to raise the stakes—to say it’s all your fault, but that means you’re in control and you can fix it. In “The Addiction Inoculation,” from last year, the author Jessica Lahey presents steps that parents can take, starting in preschool, to lower their children’s odds of developing substance-abuse issues in adulthood; action items include “be specific in your praise,” “be honest with your praise,” and “don’t go overboard with your praise.” In “The Child Code,” also from 2021, Danielle Dick, a professor of psychology and genetics, promises to “help you identify your child’s unique genetic tendencies,” which “will enable you to influence the pathways through which their genes and environments intermingle across time to shape their development.”

This is child-rearing as brain surgery, and it’s everywhere in contemporary parenting literature. “Sensitive, attuned parenting helps build the brain architecture that leads to” resilience, Delahooke writes. One of Kennedy’s maxims warns, “When you orient a child to focus on the impact of her feelings on you instead of the reality of the feelings inside herself, you are wiring a child for co-dependency.” The aggregate effect is to encourage a dysmorphic sense of one’s own power as a parent (If I say ‘Good job!’ it is more likely that my child will abuse drugs) but also, at times, a kind of self-erasure in the name of equanimity (If I show my kid that her shenanigans upset me, it is more likely that she will become a people-pleaser with low self-esteem, which will lead her to abuse drugs). The essential enigma of parenting, though, is that you are responsible for your children and yet you can’t possibly be responsible for them. They are clay in your hands; they are the rocks that break your hands.

The other morning, like any morning, I was trying to coax my son away from his toys and out the door. I was sitting cross-legged across from him on the living-room rug, and, though my entreaties were gentle, they didn’t necessarily meet the strictest gentle-parenting standards. The algorithmic censor in my head kept pinging away. “C’mon, honey, we’re going to be late.” (Hmm, are you suggesting that he is making you late?) “You know that you don’t like to be late for school.” (Hmm, a bit manipulative, no? Who are you to presume what he likes?) “Don’t you want to see your friends?” (Hmm, isn’t he showing you right now what he “wants”?) He protested; he frowned and shook his head. I foresaw mornings past: raising my voice, dragging him out the door. And then, for reasons unknown, reasons that may or may not have had to do with anything that I have ever said or done or read, he got up and put his shoes on.

The Harsh Realm of “Gentle Parenting”
 
I have met people who will never say "No" to there child, sadly that child is likley to be shot by police at some point. At Cadets we sometimes get kids sent to us to "undo" some of this stuff because by 9 they are all ready getting out of control. I swear it's the first time in the kid life that they met the concept of consequences.
 
‘Gentile parenting’ is the type of nonsense brought to you by people who believe a child can determine their gender and sexuality (which I refuse to believe before a child even hits puberty is a concept they can’t even begin to comprehend). This concept of treating a child as a equal is insane. They physically and emotionally are not, if they were they wouldn’t require parents.

Children can make some decisions, but they need to be decisions that are age appropriate, i.e. asking a two year old if they want the dinosaur shirt or plane shirt. Boundries need to be firmly set. We can see the result of ‘Gentile parenting’ from people who have rich kids that have never been told no in their lives. They are simply nightmares.
 
Like all of us, we need rules to live by or suffer the consequences. This concept has been forgotten by soft headed “experts”- many who have never had children or worked with troubled kids.
 
The gentle parent holds firm boundaries, gives a child choices instead of orders, and eschews rewards, punishments, and threats—no sticker charts, no time-outs, no “I will turn this car around right now.” Instead of issuing commands (“Put on your shoes!”), the parent strives to understand why a child is acting out in the first place (“What’s up, honey? You don’t want to put your shoes on?”) or, perhaps, narrates the problem (“You’re playing with your trains because putting on shoes doesn’t feel good”).
There’s some mental word salad right there…
 
So I would state that like anything there are extremes along a spectrum.

I would be classified as someone who "gentle parents" to most folks, however, I would state it's more a "consequence based" or "cause and effect" based model. Our kids hear no all the time, but they also get a "why" answered in the no. (e.g. No you cannot stay up past 9, its a school night and you need to be rested for class tomorrow.) With that is also the aspect of "I told you to empty the dishwasher when you came home from school. Now it's dinner time and it still hasn't been done. You are now stopping whatever it is you're doing and emptying the dishwasher because we need dishes. If this happens again, you're not getting access to tech before I can see the job is done."

Incident>Problem Behaviour>Corrective Action>Consequence of Non performance.

Didn't have to yell. Didn't have to use Authority of Parental status. Didn't have to hit or belittle the kid. Also didn't have to go into the "how are you feeling that would make you not want to....."

To broad brush such a complex concept as child rearing is folly.

Everyone is trying to do their best and living with the guilt of it afterward. Some do it better than others.
 
Spare the rod, spoil the child is a phrase that has worked down through the centuries. I'm not talking about ten year olds working in coal mines or overblown and damaging corporal punishment.

"Because I told you to." is a phrase that should have never left the parent's vocabulary. Children are not a bargaining unit to be consulted with.
 
So I would state that like anything there are extremes along a spectrum.

I would be classified as someone who "gentle parents" to most folks, however, I would state it's more a "consequence based" or "cause and effect" based model. Our kids hear no all the time, but they also get a "why" answered in the no. (e.g. No you cannot stay up past 9, its a school night and you need to be rested for class tomorrow.) With that is also the aspect of "I told you to empty the dishwasher when you came home from school. Now it's dinner time and it still hasn't been done. You are now stopping whatever it is you're doing and emptying the dishwasher because we need dishes. If this happens again, you're not getting access to tech before I can see the job is done."

Incident>Problem Behaviour>Corrective Action>Consequence of Non performance.

Didn't have to yell. Didn't have to use Authority of Parental status. Didn't have to hit or belittle the kid. Also didn't have to go into the "how are you feeling that would make you not want to....."

To broad brush such a complex concept as child rearing is folly.

Everyone is trying to do their best and living with the guilt of it afterward. Some do it better than others.
👍🏼 From the references, that sounds at least like a structured/moderate parent. (Likely the reasonable median position)
 
Spare the rod, spoil the child is a phrase that has worked down through the centuries. I'm not talking about ten year olds working in coal mines or overblown and damaging corporal punishment.

"Because I told you to." is a phrase that should have never left the parent's vocabulary. Children are not a bargaining unit to be consulted with.
I for one am glad it is gone.

There is always a reason you are saying no (or whatever). If you get the urge to say “because I told you so”, take a second to self-reflect and ask yourself “why am I saying no?”. Share it with your kids. They are smarter and more empathetic than you give them credit for. My daughter has stopped doing certain things, and will even tell my wife “Mommy, I’m not going to do X because Daddy said Y.”
 
The law (at least in Ontario) requires fencing around backyard pools. By itself I suspect that this one simple law saves the lives of innumerable children every year. Only a fool would fail to establish very firm rules with their children about when they can go through the gate and they have to include the consequences of disobedience. There is no negotiation, there is no consideration given to their mood at the time and there is no allowance given for next time. Children have to know that freedom comes with a fence: this far and no further. They need the security that known rules and results produce.
 
I had to spank both my kids a few times, and the threat of that was used occasionally afterwards. The great thing about spanking is that it is a direct and immediate consequence to the act. It's also over and done with as well and does not linger. It also does not come out of the blue. They knew where the boundaries were and pushed them. My wife and I are pretty close in parenting styles, but they found the crack and got to work at it with pry bars. As they told me later: "We knew we could not break you, so we break Mom and then she breaks you" and to be honest it worked. Neither of my kids fault me for spanking them and nor do I my parents. In fact corporal punishment was generally the only thing that got through my thick skull. Considering what I did back then, I surprised my parents didn't disown me completely.
 
"Gentle parenting" would, I assume, refer to the people constantly negotiating as equals with their children ("which cereal should I buy?") and constantly overseeing their children's recreation ("slow down; don't cycle so close to the edge of the sidewalk, watch out for that blade of grass...").
 
"Gentle parenting" would, I assume, refer to the people constantly negotiating as equals with their children ("which cereal should I buy?") and constantly overseeing their children's recreation ("slow down; don't cycle so close to the edge of the sidewalk, watch out for that blade of grass...").
Its more extreme than that. The negotiation is either as equals or even the parents being subservient to the child. The second part your describing helicopter parenting.

Gentle parenting with your examples would be stuff like ‘I can see your going pretty fast, maybe you would like to slow down a bit?’ Or ‘Hey buddy, I know your biking pretty close to the edge there, if you want you can bike close to the middle’. Basically they are leaving the decision with the child. They also pretty much never tell the child no.
 
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It's funny. Watching a bunch of military people discuss whether children should be seen as subordinate and ordered to do things or the other side that says negotiation with your subordinates is the way to get it done, not SOP's. Think about that when you're at work, trying to get things done properly, safely and in a timely fashion.

😉
 
It's funny. Watching a bunch of military people discuss whether children should be seen as subordinate and ordered to do things or the other side that says negotiation with your subordinates is the way to get it done, not SOP's. Think about that when you're at work, trying to get things done properly, safely and in a timely fashion.

😉

Time and place.

My 9 year doesn't need to be ordered to make her bed. I don't need the steps of battle procedure to make that happen. She's a 9 year old girl, making her bed.

The attack team I'm sending into a put out a fire does need to understand that's an order, and they are expected to follow it, as the ship is more important than them.

Even at work, I don't bark out orders all day. 90% of what gets don't I don't ever even need to mention because my people just do it, it's their job. The other 10% might take some individual tasking but it's not all knife hands and spitting while I talk.
 
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Im glad you have such a proactive daughter. No need to defend. I was just voicing an opinion. That's all it was, just my mindless meanderings.
 
Im glad you have such a proactive daughter. No need to defend. I was just voicing an opinion. That's all it was, just my mindless meanderings.

She's not perfect... Well she is in my eyes but you get it I'm sure.

Sometimes I have to take the time and explain the why. Nothing she's doing is mission critical.
 
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