A Mother’s Account of Why She Believes in Gentle Parenting
When I speak about being a gentle parent, I can see the looks many people give me. The ones that question why I’d bother when it seems all these other children are doing “fine” with the typical, mainstream parenting we’ve got going on today. If someone asks, I take the opportunity to share my reasons, but many times, they just roll their eyes and change the topic. I have now had two years of relative misfortune and grief and I have come out of this with an awareness that my gentle parenting has helped produce one of the most empathic, loving children I’ve ever met and so I want to share with you the outcomes you can hopefully be privy to by making the effort (because yes it is effort, especially when you were raised differently) to change your parenting.
Two years ago, I lost my mother very unexpectedly. When I was told, I was holding my daughter in my arms and was ready to make a call to my mom to say we had landed safely in Toronto for her and my daughter’s birthday party later that week. Instead I was told she had a stroke and was found dead that morning. I couldn’t help myself. I burst into the wailing tears that signal grief we don’t know how to vocalize and my daughter looked terrified at me. She was about to turn 2 and had never seen her mother in such a state. She immediately hugged me, kissed me, then signed, “Are you okay now?” I couldn’t breathe. I kept crying. She repeated: Hug, kiss, “Are you okay now?”. I muttered, “I’m sorry sweetie.” I kept crying. She repeated a third time only it was a bigger hug, a bigger kiss, and a hopeful smile as she signed, “Are you okay now?” I still couldn’t stop crying and at that point she started to cry too, burying her head in my shoulder and just hugging me for dear life. We went upstairs and we both calmed down (note my husband was still back in Vancouver). I explained to her my sadness and she calmed but stayed close all night, trying to make me smile and giving me hugs any time tears even started to fall down my face.
Fast-forward to last month. We were forced to drop everything and fly out to New Jersey upon a call that my grandmother (my mom’s mom) had a stroke and was in the hospital. She was non-responsive. We got there late in the evening and although I worried about what my daughter would see, I also knew that this is life and there was nothing she should fear and that I would be there. That first night, after we removed all intubations (per my grandmother’s living will) and she held on, we went back to the hotel, but not before my daughter pulled up the sheets, gave her Ga a kiss on the arm, and said “Goodnight”. My grandmother held on another day and it was the same scene at night only coupled with my daughter proclaiming that “Ga looks so cute sleeping like that!” (clearly we needn’t have worried about her being fearful).
My grandmother died the next morning. We were just too late to make it in and I cried all over again. With two years under her belt (and some more families deaths’ that she had been witness to in the intervening years), she didn’t get as upset, but she still knew how to help. She gave me a hug and a kiss and then went and found the little packs of tissue they had in the room. Each time the tears took over, she took out one tissue and handed it to me, then another and handed it to me. Each time she gave me the same explanation, “One tissue for each eye mommy.” When we left the hospital, she told her Ga she loved her and explained to a friend that was there that Ga’s body was going to live in the ocean but that she would live in her heart.
I would love to be able to say that this is all my own doing and that I’m that awesome a parent. I’m not. I know that there is temperament involved (she’s a sensitive soul and always has been), but I also know that’s not all of it. I have a stepson who is equally as sensitive (as my husband said, as babies you wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart temperamentally) and feels when these things happen, but with the type of upbringing he had – especially in the first three years – he cannot help others. He is frozen in his own grief and comes across aloof and sometimes uncaring when nothing is further from the truth because he is a loving and caring boy that lacks the knowledge of how to cope (yes, something we are working on). It is the difference between them that solidifies for me the idea that gentle parenting – the lack of punishments, the acknowledgement of all feelings, the modeling of kind and caring behaviours, the discussion of how our actions impact people, the responsiveness to distress – is so very important if we want to raise a generation of compassionate individuals.
The degrees of compassion will vary, no doubt, but if they vary along lines that all fit under “compassionate”, who are we to argue? Imagine a playground where a child is hurt and others rally to help them feel better before moving on. Even better, imagine a school where bullying no longer exists because our children see the pain it inflicts, the isolation it creates, and the loneliness they don’t wish on anyone. We can have this. We have to be willing to accept that the “status quo” simply isn’t working and then put in the effort to change things.
Why do I believe in gentle parenting? Because I have been lucky enough to reap the benefits of the seeds I have sewn and there is no greater feeling that realizing you have helped mould a human being you would be proud and honoured to know, even if she wasn’t your child.