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Why Gentle Parenting Just Doesn’t Work for Me

I’m all for tapping into my kids’ emotional needs. But I don’t always cater to their feelings. And, sometimes, I yell.
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By Lauren Barth, Associate Content Director, Lifecycle
Published October 26, 2022
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Image: KieferPix | Shutterstock

Let me set the scene for you: It’s bedtime in the Barth-Boyce household. There’s laughing and crying and singing and wailing and begging and pleading and battling beyond measure. I panic mid-empty threat when I realize I left a window open, giving passersby an earful of our family antics. (Oh well, I suppose the neighbors know our nightly routine by now.)

Motherhood has tested my patience in ways I never could have imagined, and I’ve discovered shortcomings I didn’t know I had. As it turns out, I’m not a shining beacon of parental poise. I have a reservoir of patience, and when that runs dry, I’m loud. Suffice it to say that gentle parenting is not my jam.

I’d like to think I can be calm and quiet and centered in the face (or, in my case, faces) of petulance and attitude, but it’s not necessarily in the cards. This mama is tired. She has met her frustration tolerance. I’m not a mean mom or an aggressive, authoritative type. But I do yell, and I have buttons that are easily pushed by my own expert pushers.

Of course, I understand that gentle parenting isn’t all sunshine and rainbows either. Despite the narrative that social media has fed us, I know it’s not actually about coddling our kids, but, rather, empathizing with them and acknowledging their feelings. And I do. My heart hurts when my littles are frustrated or disappointed or sad. I feel their anger and passion and pain. I get that they’re sometimes not emotionally mature enough to have rational reactions to life’s inequities. They’re supposed to push boundaries—testing is part of the growing-up gig! They’re learning through emotional experience, and I support all of this. But let’s be honest: Other times, they’re just hoping to get a rise out of me. And sometimes they succeed.

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I truly believe that there’s a time and a place to be composed and collected—to tune into your child’s emotional needs and respond in a loving, affectionate and respectful way. But there’s also a time to lose your s#!t. Because it’s just not sustainable to be completely reined in at all times. And I want my kids to know that. If one pillar of gentle parenting is to teach our children that it’s okay to have big emotions, then why can’t I own mine? The truth is: Toddlers, big kids, grown-ups—we’re all humans with strong, wild feelings that need to be let out. (And, yes, moms can have meltdowns too!)

My hot take: Gentle parenting—and, for that matter, any approach to parenting—doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing commitment. You can respect your kids but get unhinged during a standoff. You can empathize and still laugh at the ridiculousness of a toddler tantrum. You can be gentle but raise your voice when irritated. You can be flawed and imperfect and improvise as needed—because no parent can get it right all the time (and we shouldn’t want our kids to think that’s the goal anyway). I’m navigating this terrain as I go, rolling with the punches and going with my gut—even if that means I may snap or overreact in the moment. No, I’m not gentle parenting—I’m just plain parenting.

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