When Avery was 3 years old, we had an aggression problem; specifically, she kicked and hit me hard and often.
Her little life had been considerably rocked by gaining a new sibling, being traumatized after seeing a house on our street burn down, and then of course, Covid. There was a lot to rock her security, so I tried to be understanding and calm with her.
But one night, she was getting so physical that I locked myself in the bathroom to get away from her; not because I feared for my safety, but because I was afraid I might hurt her fending her off.
Sitting on the toilet while she banged on the locked door, I texted friends with older kids asking, "what do I do now?"
I don't recall when I first heard the term "gentle parenting"
...but the description sounded appealing and reflected what we were trying to do with our own children. We wanted them to be emotionally intelligent and secure in a way that I certainly hadn't been when I grew up.
I think the goal of gentle parenting is an admirable one, but unfortunately one of the primary take-aways many have regarding gentle parenting is that it is the "no yell" approach to raising children. The problem is, you can't just tell someone what not to do...
You also have to tell them what to do instead.
During Avery's hitting phase, we were still breastfeeding 3 times a day, but even that often felt like too much. I was afraid to wean because it was still such a useful way to calm her down, but I really wanted my body back (I was also pumping 4 times a day for Luca who had cold-turkey refused the boob at 4 months old).
I used nursing as my parenting tool when I felt gentle parenting let me down because the alternative to breastfeeding couldn't possibly be just letting her scream, could it?
Well, it turns out that's exactly what the alternative is.
And I didn't like that. One, of course because it's hard seeing your child upset, but more so, I hated how uncomfortable her meltdowns made me feel.
Staying calm during a toddler rage session is exhausting when you don't have practice. I would feel emotionally hung over by the end. What was I doing wrong?
And ultimately, I would go back to nursing to get a much needed break from the chaos.
Why was gentle parenting so freaking hard?
Well, I think the main point for me was the discomfort I felt when my child was upset because that behavior would have never been okay if I had done it as a kid. Here come the feelings of shame, both the inner child wounds surfacing and also the fear of being judged by others for our lack of parenting skills.
Gentle parenting is hard because we have to grow and heal in order to do it.
In order to not go completely crazy, you have to get to a point of detachment from your toddler's big emotions in order to not spin with them. If you can stay calm in the storm, then they will begin to regulate to you, rather you to them.
So, all that said, is gentle parenting making toddler nursing harder than it needs to be?
I believe that nursing mothers' aspirations of gentle parenting is causing more women to consider extended nursing and child-led weaning.
I don't thinking that gentle parenting itself is harming extended nursers, but I do think that the lack of understanding about how to apply the gentle parenting principles to the nursing relationship can cause parents to accidentally fall into permissive parenting, which is when we give into our children for the sake of stopping the upset and fear saying "no" because of their big reactions to it.
This often leads to unintentional extended on-demand nursing, which is not sustainable long-term.
Gentle parenting on the other hand is about saying "no" in a loving way, without a harsh tone, expecting an upset, and loving them through it without punishment for showing their feelings.
In this way, setting loving breastfeeding limits is actually a perfect example of gentle parenting in action.
I hear you, easier said than done!
While year 3 of parenting was by far my hardest so far, with fours more years of practice, therapy, and parent coaching, I am so much more confident in my ability to stay calm in the storm and I rarely have the emotional hangover after an explosive session.
With help and understanding as to why gentle parenting is such a trigger for you, your parenting journey will become less stressful, regardless of the mood your child is in.
Because while our child's sense of security is so important, it can't come at the expense of our own sanity.
You matter too.
Would you like to learn more about the 4 Pillars of Gentle Parenting created by Sarah Ockwell-Smith? Download my FREE guide HERE.
I actually had breakfast yesterday with the two friends I texted that evening in the bathroom.
One of their kids just started middle school and the other is a senior in high school, but it seems just like yesterday that they were toddlers too. I have seen the amazing girls that have come out of the gentle parenting philosophy and can only hope my kids come out as well as theirs.
I am so grateful to have people who have been where I am and have perspective on where I will be next.
And I am grateful for my own growth through my gentle parenting journey to not just be okay with my children's big emotions, but my own too.
HERE'S THE LINK one more time if you'd like to learn more about the stepping stones of gentle parenting.
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