In my first few years of adjusting to motherhood, I made a lot of mistakes (and I’m not referring to buying a “colic machine” that vibrated my crying baby’s crib. Scam. I got a refund).
I worried a lot and second-guessed myself. Why is she crying? Is she hungry? Why won’t she sleep? I struggled with trying to control this new little human. Some days I spent hours trying to get my baby to sleep and other days I would go to great lengths to wake my sleeping baby so I could feed her.
My glaring inadequacies were more noticeable and I began to understand for the first time as a new parent how God feels about me, His child. Parenting is God’s mirror: it shows us a reflection of ourselves as we really are. I see myself in my children—good traits and bad—the way God sees me.
God is tender with me. He is gentle.
What Is Gentle Parenting?
It is intentional child-rearing that includes: empathy, respect, understanding and boundaries (discipline).
If you’ve ever had a two-year-old have a complete meltdown, kicking and screaming included, in a quiet library filled with serious book readers, you know what I mean. I’ll never forget marching my child back in the next day, so we could apologize, hoping they wouldn’t recognize us. They knew exactly who we were. I don’t think I went back to the library for a year after that.
I am stubborn too. I want freedom and choices. I want things my way. God is there, a constant. He never stops loving me. He is patient. He waits. I can see it now: the reflection. The gentle way He parents me. His discipline comes from abiding love. “Yes, I’m beginning to understand, God.” Thankfully, God isn’t repelled by our neediness.
Parenting is a journey. We don’t ever truly arrive. As our children grow, their needs change. Problems come and go, but they will always be our kids. I don’t want to wish away today thinking tomorrow will be easier with my children. I want to live today the best I can and learn from it.
I had reminded my notebook-forgetting child three times to get it off the stairs where it lay all weekend. And earlier in the week, when I’d dropped off the forgotten book in a rainstorm, I had said, “This is the last time I’m doing this.” Forgetfulness had become a recurring issue and it was time to put a stop to it.
Before I could respond, there was another text, “Mom? Are you there?”
I knew this wasn’t going to go over well. Sometimes doing the right thing as a parent is the hardest thing.
I took a deep breath and typed these words, “I’m sorry you forgot your notebook. Unfortunately, I cannot bring it to you.”
“Why? What r you doing?” was the response.
“I’m working at the warehouse and I have volunteers here. Plus, I already told you I would not bring anything else to school. I’m sorry, but the answer is no.”
I went back to work and all but ignored the vibrating phone. When I glanced again, I winced at these words, “You don’t understand, Mom. You just don’t care.”
The hard words found their mark and for a split second I nearly caved. Our kids know exactly what to say, don’t they? And I did feel bad. I felt horrible that my kid was about to learn a big lesson in responsibility and consequences.
It was hard not to imagine my child standing up in front of the class to do a presentation without notes. I really did feel bad.
I texted, “When I tell you no– it doesn’t mean I don’t care. It means the opposite.”
And while my kids might not be old or mature enough to believe or get this principal yet, it’s the truth.
Sometimes saying no is about not allowing them to go somewhere or be with someone or do something. Sometimes I get to say yes and that’s my favorite, but many times, no is the best answer.
Recently, I observed a woman in the store who could not tell her preschooler no. I mean she said it, but she just didn’t enforce it. And after watching him do the opposite of everything she said she continually changed the rules required of him, he started hitting her and calling her names. She laughed it off and I felt really sorry for both of them. Because what might seem like a harmless phase or stage now, can quickly become the norm. And if we don’t learn to tell our children nowhen that’s the best answer, one day they might just wonder if we really care at all. Kids aren’t meant to lead parents, it’s the other way around.
We say no because we want them to respect us. And themselves.
We say no because we want to respect ourselves.
We say no because real life won’t always tell them yes.
We say no because we want to protect them from things they don’t understand.
We say no now so we can say yes later.
We say no because we love them.
My friend Sally Clarkson, in a previous guest post, shared these 5 helpful ways to show unconditional love as a gentle parent:
5 Gentle Parenting Techniques
1. Embrace Empathy
“If there’s one thing a mama needs desperately, it’s patience, and we all know that life with children requires lots of it. The key to patience with my children, I’ve found, is empathy. It’s helped me to remind myself often of my own feelings as a young child, teen, and even young adult, when helplessness, frustration over my lack of control over my life, and discouragement were common to me. So they are to my sweet children. H. Clay Trumbull wrote, “It is not an easy thing for a parent of today to bear always in mind that every child of his is as truly an individual as he was when he was a child.” When adults had expectations set too high, when schedules were more important than my feelings or extenuating circumstances, when I’d had too much of instruction and not enough understanding, my discouragement grew and my ability to behave well was lessened. It takes a moment for me to breathe and put myself into my children’s shoes, but the patience this exercise in empathy brings is always worth it for all of us.
2. Acknowledge and Accept
Every mama greets her newborn babe with joy and expectation. Like it or not, we look into those tiny faces and there’s a lifetime of hopes and dreams uncovered in our hearts. As our children grow and we begin to see areas in which we fear their personalities and quirks and perhaps even handicaps threaten those dreams, our reactions are predictably negative. Reminding myself that Nathan was God’s gift to me, formed exactly as God planned, wired in a particular fashion with a specific personality and abilities designed to fulfill God’s plan for his life in his generation, transformed our relationship. “You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well” ((Psalm 139:13-14).
3. Read and Research
We all want to be understood and accepted just as we are, and children are no exception. While many people shy away from labeling their children’s personality quirks, mental illnesses, learning disorders, etc., our family found that actually, these definitions helped us better understand and live life alongside one another. Labeling someone in order to pigeonhole or categorize or put them in a box is unhelpful, but using those “labels” in order to learn more about another person and what makes them ‘tick’ can be incredibly helpful and empowering. We like the MBTI personality tests and definitions and keeping those things we’ve learned in mind especially as we interact with one another in our family.
4. Treasure Time
As a mama whose children are all grown and have flown the nest, I’m more aware than I’ve ever been that time with our children is fleeting. So here’s my advice: Take a deep breath and enjoy the moment in front of you. This is the only day you’re really guaranteed, so make it as full of love and life as you possibly can. Time spent listening to stories, offering understanding, rubbing backs, sharing cookies, walking in the park, correcting behavior; all of it is priceless and the best gift you can offer. And don’t forget, teens and young adults need you, too. The time together will be more difficult to find, but do it, anyway.
5. Listen and Learn
I’m a lover of words, and speaking comes easily to me. I have lots of advice and admonishment on tap for my children, and they know it! But I think it’s quite possible I’ve learned the most about how best to parent my children when I’ve really listened closely to their hearts so I can hear what they’re expressing to me. Finding time to listen takes a lot of intentional calendar and routine setting; whether it means a phone call every Saturday morning, tea at the local café every Tuesday afternoon, or a chat time together on my bed when the opportunity arises. Try to listen twice as much as you speak—it’s quite an exercise!
May you and your child grow closer throughout their growing-up years, and may their differences spur you to love further, deeper, longer than you could ever have imagined.”
At dinner a couple of years ago, a friend of my daughter’s was eating with us. My kids were teasing about how strict we were and listing off the rules we enforced, when this child looked up from their plate and said, “I wish my parents had rules. It would make me feel like they loved me more.”
It’s easy for our kids to whine and complain and even hate that we tell them no, until we don’t at all. We can do so with empathy, respect, understanding and boundaries.
Gentle Parenting vs. Attachment Parenting vs. Respectful Parenting
Gentle Parenting is the combination of four main elements in child-rearing: empathy, understanding, respect and boundaries (discipline). This evidence-based approach is proven in raising happy, determined kids. Gentleness in parenting allows us to remain calm, but firm during stressful times and sets a tone for positive growth.
Attachment Parenting is based on the theory that children learn, grow and eventually experience independence by having their needs constantly met on demand early in life. It stems from the idea that trust and love thrive through attachment early in life.
Respectful Parenting is parenting based on a mutually respectful relationship between parent and child. Instead of an authoritarian approach, the style focuses on working together to find solutions to everyday challenges.
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