If YOU consume parenting content on social media, you may have seen the rise of the term “gentle parenting”.
Today, millennial parents heavily advocate this type of parenting style, but what does “gentle parenting” mean and how do you achieve it?
In its essence, gentle parenting consists of four elements: empathy, respect, understanding and boundaries.
Gentle parenting aims to instil discipline using age-appropriate tactics based on the child’s cognitive development by offering guidance and support instead of punishment.
More often than not, parents who opt for this kind of parenting style have undergone strict parenting during their childhood, where their parents placed high standards and demands on them.
As such, they have grown into adults who refuse to allow their children to undergo the same childhood as they did.
Some people may view gentle parenting as being too lenient, however it has been proven to have a significantly lower negative impact on a child’s mental health.
On the flip side, children of strict parenting tend to suffer negative consequences such as anxiety and depression.
Gentle parenting can be challenging as it involves self-control, empathy and patience on the parents’ part.
So how can parents reframe their mindset to prepare themselves to become gentle parents?
Here is one simple reminder that has helped me: Understanding that my decision to become a parent is selfish to my child.
Whenever I say this to other parents, their first instinct is to retaliate.
They respond by telling me they are not selfish because they provide for their children.
Mothers, especially, would say to me they risked their lives to give birth, an act the child should be grateful for.
This is why they believe children are indebted to their parents, because of their parents’ sacrifices to bring them into this world and raise them.
Besides the fact that providing for your children is the bare minimum of parenting, this sense of entitlement parents have over their child’s life is detrimental to the child’s upbringing.
When you hear children saying they never asked to be born when they argue, instead of seeing it as whining, perhaps consider that they have a valid point.
Your desire and conscious choice to become a parent does not mean you get to treat a child you have foisted existence upon like a future retirement fund or a trophy to parade around to your peers.
Unrealistic expectations of children create resentment, avoidance and detachment.
When children feel detached from their parents, they seek comfort from others, even those who may not have your child’s best interests at heart.
Actor Will Smith has another name for gentle parenting, calling it the Gardener-Flower concept.
In his words, “The seed already is what God designed it to be. The gardener is not trying to make the seed become what the gardener wants. The gardener wants to create an environment where the seed can become what it wants to be.”
Many strict parents who dictate every aspect of their child’s life would say that their parenting style comes from being worried about their child’s future.
But here’s a thought: Maybe the goal of parenting is to give your child a good past instead.
In Alison Gopnik’s book, The Philosophical Baby, she mentions there is an important aspect of our child’s adult lives that we get to determine: The childhood they bring into it. A huge part of who we are as adults are shaped by our memories.
While it’s important to plan for our child’s future, it is perhaps more important to provide them with the ineradicable gift of a happy childhood.
When your child thinks about their past, what do you want them to remember?
Being aware of the fact that my child should not be held responsible for my decision to become a parent has helped instil in me the empathy and patience I need as a mother.
Just like every other parent, I do hope that my child will continue to love and care for me as I age.
More importantly, I hope she will do so because she wants to and not because she feels forced to.
The last thing I want is to be a burden to my child. I owe my child a good life, not the other way around.
Now, I am not saying that children should not care about their parents. I am saying that it should not come as a prerequisite. I absolutely commend and encourage healthy parent-child relationships where you can communicate your emotions and concerns safely with each other.
As a daughter, I have regrettably blamed my parents. Growing up, I realised they raised me the best way they knew how.
Today, our relationship is closer than ever because we both put in effort to understand each other, in turn creating the trust needed to communicate.
As a mother, I vow to break the toxic parenting cycle that my parents were accustomed to. I vow to create a safe household for my child to confide in me without fear of judgment or punishment.
One of the most important aspects of gentle parenting involves spending more quality time with children.
This fundamental shift in parenting has resulted in fathers being more involved in their children’s lives, which allows for a generation of boys to grow up without the pressure of submitting to “man box culture”.
What is man box culture, you ask? That is a topic for my next column.
Shafiqah is a women and children’s rights activist who has worked with various NGOs that focus on issues of fundamental human rights. She believes in the importance of intersectionality and strives to lend her platform to silenced voices.