Inside: You may have heard of “gentle parenting.” You may have even heard that it’s too permissive. Each person’s view of GP may vary, but this is how we use gentle parenting in our home.
There seems to be a stigma surrounding gentle parenting, or GP. But like most things, GP is a tool that doesn’t have to be bad.
The word “gentle” in and of itself can make us think of passivity or being overly permissive. And sure, there are those who take gentle parenting to an extreme and unhealthy level. But that’s not what it HAS to look like.
Gentle Parenting: What it Means For Us
For our family, gentle parenting was an answer to a festering problem. How could I teach my children to be kind and patient when I was reacting to them with harshness and anger?
In parenting, the fruit that we see growing in our children’s lives is often the result of what they’re seeing in us. My children were on the receiving end of my frustration and anger, so that’s what they started to display with one another.
It was one thing for me to justify my harsh reactions and blame them on my children’s poor behavior, but when I saw what it looked like from the outside of an argument (as I watched my children reacting the way they had learned from me), it didn’t look so justifiable anymore.
I couldn’t just preach patience, peace, forgiveness and love to them. Children are example sponges. If I wanted their behavior to change, I had to live it. I had to learn to walk out the principles that I wanted them to learn. (And instill the gospel deeply within them, which is a different post for a different day.)
In our home, the act of parenting gently isn’t about giving in, letting our kids run our house, or allowing them to nearly get away with murder. Instead, it’s about mercy, empathy, discipleship, and yes, teaching them to follow rules given by authority.
Even though I can never come close to God’s goodness, I pray to be even fractionally as merciful as He is. If it wasn’t for His mercy, where would I be? Even on my best days, I’m in desperate need of it. Thankfully, my Father doesn’t turn me away.
When our kids break the rules or expectations aren’t met, we can get angry. We can lose our cool. Our patience slips.
But my goal is to stop holding my kids to a higher standard than I hold myself. If there is mercy for me, there’s mercy for them. All have sinned and fallen short.
Does mercy say it doesn’t matter? Just keep messing up? Choose not to care?
No. Mercy says, “you’re forgiven. You’re not cut off because of what you’ve done.” Then we’re extended the grace to move forward and learn to do better.
So in this family, there’s mercy.
Empathizing & understanding
There’s also a listening ear who understands. I’m just as human as they are, and when I mess up, it’s edifying to have someone by my side instead of over my head. Empathy and understanding solidify our family bonds while giving our kids support.
Empathy says, “I’ve been there. You’re not too far gone. Not worse than anyone else. But we should go this way instead.” It gets down in the thick of it with our kids so that discipleship (my next point) is possible.
It’s the way we train them up. And it’s something my husband and I learn more about all the time.
Discipleship isn’t easy. It takes a lot of patience and choosing to keep connection unbroken so that correction is more easily accepted (instead of rebelled against). It may look a little different for every family, but the basic gist is the same. Through discipleship we lead, train, edify, and correct our children.
Rules with Natural & Logical Consequences
Yes, there are rules in our home. Especially when kids are young, structure is important.
For rules to be more effective, there needs to be some form of consequences.
This is a debate within the Gentle Parenting community. There will be many who disagree with me, but my desire to parent my children with kindness does not mean that there won’t be consequences when poor choices are made. Since my goal is to prepare them for life in this world, I have to teach them about consequences (both positive and negative) for their actions.
In our home, we use both natural and logical consequences when our kids make poor choices.
Natural consequences are things that we, as parents, don’t come up with. They naturally arise from whatever choice was made.
For example, when we lie, the natural consequence is that others may question whether or not they can trust what we say.
When a natural consequence arises, we use discipleship to talk to our kids about what happened and give them opportunities to make better choices.
Logical consequences are consequences that make logical sense based on whatever poor choice was made.
So if someone chooses to refuse dinner (healthy food), they can’t have a dessert (junk food).
If they don’t clean up a mess they’ve already made, they can’t make a bigger mess by pulling out more toys.
If they break something that belongs to someone else, they need to earn money (through chores) to pay for a new one.
One thing to note when giving consequences: it’s all about the delivery.
There is a gentle way to give consequences (letting the consequence speak for itself and carry its own weight) and a not-so-gentle way (all the yelling I used to do…).
Consequences work best when thought through ahead of time, not in the heat of the moment. So think about the rules that your children normally offend, and then pair them with a natural or logical consequence that carries its own weight.
What It’s NOT
Because of the misconceptions surrounding GP, these are some of the things that it’s NOT for our family.
Passive or Permissive Parenting
When hearing the phrase “gentle parenting,” we may assume that it’s just a nicer way of saying permissive parenting. But that’s not true for all cases (although there may be some overlap, depending on the family).
If you’re interested in gentle parenting, know that it does NOT have to include passivity or permissiveness.
This goes hand-in-hand with permissive parenting, but I just really want to drive it home.
While my children do get warnings, they only get one per incident. After that warning, there is a consequence. Being gentle doesn’t mean letting behavior slide, which leads me to my next point…
When our expectations shift–even if our heart is in the best of places while doing it–it’s actually harder on our kids.
I used to “give in” when it came to consequences because I felt like I was being more gentle. But in reality, I was confusing my children and breaking down the structure that they NEEDED in order to understand what was expected of them.
So while my heart was in a good place, it wasn’t the most loving or gentle stance to take.
Instead, giving my kids stable expectations is a gentler way of parenting them because it doesn’t keep them guessing.
While we’re doing our best, gentle parenting doesn’t mean everything is perfect. We’re far from it. There are days when we rock it and other days when we miss the mark and fall into old parenting patterns.
While we learn, we’re accepting mercy and grace to continue growing together as a family.
Do you use gentle parenting practices in your home? How do they differ from ours? If not, are you considering using gentle parenting? Leave questions and comments below!
Until next time,