Gentle Parenting – how we apply it

So many things are shared on our family Whats App group, but lately I really cherish the openness of my parents about their experiences as children and parents. My dad told a story about his first experience at a barber shop and how different it was from what my nephew experienced when he had his first hair cut at the local barber. It came down to the way children were seen and ‘handled’ – without empathy and very rigid rules of acceptable behaviour: mostly shut up, sit still and behave!

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It made me very emotional to think about my dad as a little boy, not only did he experience this hostile treatment in a public place but also at home, the lack of understanding and compassion, the lack of comforting and emotional support, especially for boys of his generation. But that’s just it, a generational thing, what they thought was necessary to raise unspoiled, well-behaving children is totally opposite of what we believe, all the while not knowing the impact it would have on their children’s emotional intelligence and confidence.

Some of that trickled down to the way he raised me, strict and without affection. When Ian and I discussed our parenting style while we were expecting Mishka we disagreed about a few things but we were very clear about one thing, we will raise her to have a strong emotional bond with us. This means we will guide her with warmth and acceptance, not judgement and preconceived rules. Our main aim was to break the cycle of emotional deficiency in the parent-child relationship.

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Later I discovered that there actually is a name for what we thought would be a cool way to raise our kid: Attachment Parenting, and it has 8 principles:

  1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting
  2. Feed With Love and Respect
  3. Respond With Sensitivity
  4. Use Nurturing Touch
  5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
  6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care
  7. Practice Positive Discipline
  8. Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life

Sounds easy! Not so easy!

Every day I realize that my little girl is growing up. She challenges me on new levels, she is strong-willed and definitely has her own set of ideas about how things should work and it is not the same as mine. So responding with sensitivity seems very low on my list when I want to get her to do what I want her to do. This is the fine line between letting it go or practicing positive discipline.

Especially when I know we are going to disagree a lot going forward because we are both very strong-willed, and this is part of the problem, too much alike!

My aim is to focus on building our relationship and loving her unconditionally, I don’t want to transfer my own unhealed pain onto her so I make a point of distinguishing between what is mine and what is hers when it comes to emotions. This is striving to provide consistent love and care, regardless of my past experiences.

Gentle parenting asks us to consider how we make our children feel. It is the foundation of all other relationships: does she feel safe with us, or does she feel she has to hide her true feelings from us?

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I think about the 8th principle, to strive for balance, then I know for sure: rules are not what will win her heart. Yes it is important to provide her with a set of skills, but the deal breaker in a parent-child relationship in my mind is respect.

Balancing discipline and love is probably my biggest challenge. That’s why I bring in another element, inspiration!

I ask myself daily, do I inspire her to be a good person, to feel safe, to feel she belongs.

Making a lot of mistakes along this journey always brings me back to this: do I lead with love?

For me to respond with empathy, I have to first acknowledge my own fear and pain, I struggle with this sometimes and can project my own lack of emotional control by trying to control her.

I want her to grow through making mistakes and sharing with me and learning from it.

My thinking is that if she feels safe and reassured, she will behave because she will not feel the need to prove herself or seek attention. This underpins everything for me, she must trust her own heart, and the only way for that to be an option is if we guide her. So yes, when she makes poor decisions I will listen and figure it out with her, that way she will learn how to trust her own judgement.

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This sounds very grown-up for a 7 year old, but in reality it is applicable to small things, for example to do her homework halfheartedly or with all her potential capacity. The consequences will be clear, either she will do well or poorly, and given her competitive nature she will question the outcome and I will be able to lay out the facts, with compassion.

“Connection is a child’s greatest need and an adult’s greatest influence.”

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“Motherhood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you would have. It’s about understanding that she is exactly the person she is supposed to be. And that if I am lucky, she might be the teacher who turns me into the person I am supposed to be.”

Raising a girl with old fashioned values but an open mind

I absolutely love Women’s Day, not because we get the day off, but it makes me think a little bit about what it means to be a woman, especially in today’s world where anything and everything goes. Not that I am or ever was an angel, but I do look back at where my experience as a woman started and how it was guided by a mother who made sure I have a good foundation, regardless of teenage rebellion or mid-life crisis moments. The basics are there and I can always go back to it when I struggle with moral issues or more importantly have to raise my own daughter.

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This is no easy task, and I am sure every generation has their challenges when it comes to raising a child (I’m thinking walkmans, hard rock, roller scates and bubblegum for my mom). For me, definitely the challenges of excessive information available at all times to everyone by the click of a button, so give her a mobile phone and she will have access to a world I simply have no control over (well not exactly, but very limited control).

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What will she learn from that world of information? What will she take from it if I don’t give her the proper looking glass and filtering skills, to keep what is good and discard what is bad.

It is such a fine balance between making her street wise but locking in good old fashioned values. I see no point in raising a daughter sheltered from reality, she needs to be equipped to deal with whatever is out there, but she needs to do this through the eyes of innocence. What a task! How do I do this?

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I go back to my upbringing, there are things that I wouldn’t repeat in raising my child, but there definitely are things that I am passing on to her, because it enriched my life and it gave me tools to survive tough times, both mentally and financially.

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One of my friends always challenges us by asking, what would your value be if everything had to blow up: no electricity, no cellphones, no internet, no laptops, no credit cards, no codes. How would you survive or earn a living? I know, ridiculous question right, like that would ever happen! Or is it ridiculous? It is a question about what other things you can do except scroll on a phone and make calls and swipe a card. In other words do you have some skills sister?

The skills I want Mishka to have are very simple but very useful and that is why I involve her in everything I do in and around the house. Not chores, fun! She’s been sitting in my kitchen since she was old enough to sit by herself, watching mommy gather ingredients for cakes, stews and some very complex french cuisine. I didn’t force her, I simply included her. Today, as a seven year old, she gathers her own ingredients and asks me for recipes. I am so proud!

This weekend my mom completed an heirloom crochet blanket, our whole family was in awe of the detail and skill that went into that work of art. What does it take to make something so astonishing. Firstly the desire to create, then some skill picked up from someone who had the patience to teach you, then all of your extra time and love, woven into every block and stitch. It doesn’t get more special than that. I am lucky, because my mom showed me the basics, I can build on it, and now I can show my daughter, and she will one day want to show hers. So its not just a skill, it’s a gift to pass on. Does it have a place in a world of artificial intelligence and everything quick and easy? Who knows what life will be like for her as a 45 year old? I only know that I gave her something that she can use one day.

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I was happy to come across this when I did some research about old fashioned values:

Young people are starting to see the value of etiquette. Some like to write this off as an old-fashioned concept, but etiquette will always be relevant, because it’s about human interaction.’

As middle-aged parents, we have come a long way, raised in the 80’s (the start of anything goes), all the way through the technology driven 90’s and millennium, to now where organic, authentic, handmade, plastic-free and community driven projects are hip and in. In a way we are lucky, we are street wise but also old fashioned. We can give our children so much in terms of old fashioned values but keeping an open mind.

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I am a keen supporter of tea parties and crafts as much as I am of technological advancement. I want Mishka to have it all, but I never want her to lose her ability to recognise value in people, in nature and tangible life.