By Julie Kucks
Parenting is complex. In today’s climate with the visibility and clamor of social media and so many different parenting techniques, it is easy for parents to feel overwhelmed. Which technique is best? Am I damaging my child by being too lenient? Am I too tough on my child? How do I know I’m doing what’s best for them, not for me?
A recently developed parenting approach that has been getting a lot of attention is gentle parenting, created by childcare expert, Sarah Ockwell-Smith. As opposed to authoritarian parenting which seeks to correct challenging behavior through positive and negative reinforcement and incentivizing, gentle parenting attempts to identify motivations behind challenging behavior and resolve a child’s unmet needs. Gentle parents are said to be “mind minded,” aware of child psychology with a desire to understand rather than correct.
This approach has gained much popularity in recent years. In a world that is increasingly destigmatizing mental health issues, the desire to understand child psychology rather than simply punish behavior is highly valued. This approach believes that, by operating from the mindset that a child’s behaviors make sense rather than that a child’s behavior is troublesome, a parent will better be able to help the child learn how to self-express and self-regulate.
But no fad technique escapes criticism. A recent New Yorker article entitled “The Harsh Realm of Gentle Parenting” expresses one parent’s concerns about gentle parenting’s effect on a parent’s anxiety levels. Writer Jessica Winter admits her personal exhaustion at how gentle parenting places parents in the role of both psychologist and, as she puts it, “emotional security-guard.” The responsibility to both understand a child’s motivation for behavior and protect them from ever feeling threatened can be an extreme challenge for a parent. Winter makes the point that kids act out simply because that’s what they do as they grow – having a good reason for behavior doesn’t necessarily make it easier to cope with as a parent. In her experience, gentle parenting can tend to over-direct the parent to self-critique their own motivations which can lead to overactive analysis and paralysis.
At the heart of it, Winter’s article poses the question: how do you allow yourself and your child to simply be even while acknowledging and understanding all of the psychological, and emotional “why’s” for challenging behavior? What do you practically do when your child is acting out and you’re overwhelmed, even if you understand why? How can you take a break from being aware of all the underlying issues and practically get through the day?
The first big step is to remember that you also are a human being with needs. There are reasons for your sense of overwhelm and over-analysis that need to be taken seriously.
And the second is to take a mental BREAK. Nothing can be accomplished if you as a parent are over-anxious, over-thinking, and exhausted.
We found the advice of Katherine Kostiuk in her blog post “How to be a Positive Parent When You’re Exhausted” to be extremely helpful on this topic. Some of these tips may be the correct balance of practical resource with understanding that parent needs when overwhelmed by the amount of analysis and emotional regulation they’re doing with their child.
Have a plan in place to get the sleep that you need either by arranging a workable schedule with your partner, hiring a nanny so you can take a nap, or napping when your kids are asleep.
Make an Exhausted Parenting Plan
We all like to make the ideal parenting plan for when we are at our best. But it is equally important to make a plan for when you are at your worst. Identify what your undesirable parenting moves are when you are stressed or tired and come up with a plan of action for those moments.
Is it more important that you get 7 tasks accomplished in an hour or that you don’t lose your temper with your child? Recognize that some days are not going to be productive days and be OK with that. Some days, it is enough that everyone is awake, fed, clothed, and living life.
Play Games that Let You Rest
This is one of our favorites of Katherine’s suggestions. If you’re so exhausted you feel you can’t move, there’s a game for that! Games like “Doctor” where you are a comatose patient and your child cares for you or “Massage” where your child acts as the masseuse and gets to oil your arm or leg can give you a few minutes of rest you need. Cleverly creating interactions with your child that simultaneously give you some needed space can be a great answer for overwhelm.
Always remember that parenting is a universally challenging job – you are not alone! Be certain to take moments to remind yourself of your needs, to breathe, and to relax your mind. While you do have influence in your child’s life, you are not responsible for every single emotion or mindset they experience.
We are all in this together.