Ah, the age-old question of how to raise a child.

Especially these days, parents (especially moms or primary care-givers) can feel torn about how best to raise their child.

We know we mustn’t hit our children, but can we give them paddy whacks on their bums when they set fire to the house? We know we shouldn’t shout at them but what about talking really loudly when they don’t answer you the fifteenth time you ask them something? Certainly we mustn’t feed them sugar, but then salt is ok?

If we try to be diligent parents – which we all generally want to be – then we can end up more confused than the first time we put on a nappy. It seems easier to pick and take what you like from each parenting style, but that seems like it would defeat the purpose, doesn’t it?

Millenial parenting

Gentle parenting is the parenting style I thought I wanted to follow when I first had my oldest son, Jeremy. I mean, it’s in the name! It’s a parenting style closely followed by millennial parents (of which I am unashamedly one), likely because of our relationship with social media.

Older millennials like myself didn’t have social media when we were young. Hell, our first mobile phones were Nokia 3310s and we got those when we were 16. Watching TV consisted mostly of waiting until MNet Open Time came on, or tuning in to Radio 2000 to simulcast Alf. We thought we were the bee’s knees when we learnt how to please-call-me.

Then, social media became a thing and we were hooked.

By the time we were having children (bearing in mind us older millennials tend to have had children later) influencers were taking the internet by storm.

So when the gentle parenting gurus told us that we should speak to our children as little humans rather than children, we all started saying things like, “I see that you’re angry with your brother and that must be hard but I won’t let you kick him in the face”. Meanwhile, all we wanted to do was kick the child in the face and say, “See, asshole, how’d you like that?”

And even though no children were hurt in the writing of this blog post, I think you get what I mean.

But see, we really take this parenting gig seriously. While our parents would happily let us play who-knows-what who-knows-where in the neighbourhood until the street lights came on, now we have to worry about traffic, drugs and kidnappers. (Not that they didn’t have to before – they just didn’t seem to).

We didn’t grow up with Google literally at our fingertips. Some of us were already in high school by the time we touched a computer. We grew up using Encyclopedia Brittanica’s and bad drawings for our school projects. If our parents had no clue on how long a dolphin was pregnant for, we were stuffed.

We have a close relationship with information. We are innately intrigued by facts and figures. We love finding out things we didn’t know – the whole “Today I learned” movement. And we brought those tendencies to parenting.

I don’t know about you, but I read practically every single blog, article and book on parenting when I was a new mom. And I still do now, though it’s less about potty training or weaning and more about raising boys and developing a growth mentality. Surely I’m not the only one?

But let’s go back a step.

What is gentle parenting?

Gentle parenting posits that a parent’s job is to acknowledge a child’s feelings and help them become more self-aware by recognising their feelings, while maintaining boundaries without using threats or rewards. Gentle parents encourage good behaviour through modelling and discussion, rather than punishment. The three Cs of gentle parenting are connection, communication and consistency.

According to gentle parenting, children should be seen as equals. Team players rather than children. Parents should respect the wants and needs of their children. They should understand they are developmentally younger but they are still human beings, and not just tiny humans who are trying their utmost to frustrate us or manipulate.

Gentle parenting is a huge movement. If you’ve heard of Janet Lansbury and Sarah-Ockwell Smith, then you’re probably familiar with gentle parenting. If you’ve ever been told to give your child permission to be human or tantrums are not bad behaviour, then you’ve been gentle parented.

What went wrong with gentle parenting?

I think – and please remember I am a mother but that’s the sole extent of my professional credentials when it comes to children and parenting – we constantly feel guilty because we believe we’re not living up to the expectation of a “perfect parent”.

If our kids misbehave, we take on the brunt of the blame – because we made them.

Did innocent little Seb throw his bowl of spaghetti at the wall? It must be because I didn’t pay attention to the signs. Totally my bad.

As a gentle parent, we are encouraged to communicate and collaborate with our children to problem-solve the issue at hand. Work with your children to clean up with playroom by making it a game, instead of asking them to do it outright. We offer choices instead of ultimatums.

No time ins or time outs. No forced pleases, thankyous or sorrys. And definitely no shouting or swearing.

The problem comes in when all common sense is taken away. Gentle parenting sounds great and all, but if taken too far, it’ll let children get away with maybe not murder but definitely drawing on the walls with marker pen.

Parents have become so gentle they’re basically flapping in the wind every time their kid breathes.

They say one of the marks of a gentle parent is one who can ask, Do I feel peaceful most of the time, and does my child perceive my parenting as peaceful?”.

I tell you what, those times when my kids have asked me the same question 52 times while I’m finishing up a Zoom meeting, I definitely don’t feel peaceful, and there’s no way my parenting (or my household) could be perceived as peaceful.

When my children look like they’re going to have a tantrum because I won’t let them buy the Paw Patrol lucky packet in Checkers, I’m not going to give them a choice of Paw Patrol or Frozen, because they’re still winning.

Or get down on my knees and tell them I understand they’re frustrated and wait until they’ve calmed down. I know my kids – this can take an hour! I don’t have an hour to talk about Paw Patrol!

No, I take a feather out of my husband’s hat (who most certainly hasn’t paid any attention to gentle parenting) and leave the kids until they’ve realised we’ve almost left without them.

(Side note: I would never actually leave them. They know this. But going out of sight can certainly give them a hint of a doubt when necessary).

We can see the slow decline of gentle parenting on social media. Anonymous posters lamenting the thoughtless behaviour of kids while moaning about the lack of backbone of their (gentle) parents. Reward charts are making a comeback. Mom groups are becoming safer spaces for moms to vent about their children without fear of being judged.

Is this the end of gentle parenting?

Don’t get me wrong, I think there is certainly a time and a place for certain key concepts of gentle parenting but I can say the same thing of authoritarian parenting or helicopter parenting or any parenting style. I feel like if you’re not embracing a style in it’s totality, then you’re just kinda muddling along.

WHICH IS WHAT WE ALL DO ANYWAY.

Of course we should respect our children and understand their brains are not fully formed until they are 25, but we also can’t let them rule the roost. Because then we’d have pancakes for supper every night and only go to school on Wednesdays.

We understand our 2-year-old doesn’t understand sharing but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t teach them the consequences of grabbing.

We know we need to acknowledge our children’s feelings, but surely we need to teach them to consider other people’s feelings? (Including our own increasing frustration when they ask you to look at them every 2 seconds while you’re driving on the highway in the pouring rain.)

We are still the safe space for our children, which is becoming more and more important.

And we can see this in the way they melt down with us when they are tired or hungry or drained. But we’re still not going to stop a conversation with a friend because they’re pulling on our shirt, crying “Mommy, mommy, mommy…”. The child can wait.

Millenial parenting disclaimer

I realise I might get burned at the stake for my views on gentle parenting. There are still many supporters of the movement and, of course, that’s fine.

Do what you need to do.

That’s basically my view on parenting. Do whatever you need to do to survive.

Because as the parent to your child, you know what’s best (unless it involves putting them in a cardboard box, of course).

This is not news, anyway. It has been called “gentler” parenting. Some might call it “wtf-am-i-doing” parenting. Last year I admitted I am an average mom. So maybe this is average parenting.

Whatever you want to call it, you do you, boo. And if you see me shouting at Seb because he purposefully urinated on Jeremy’s head (true story, don’t ask), keep on walking and leave my family to our own business.