In the world of parenting, we have various techniques and terms that we like to use. Most of us were not raised with any specific term applied, and most of us who are parenting today were not raised in any way that could be considered gentle or consensual. Some new parents begin their journey with this mentality in mind and apply gentle parenting from the get go. Others gravitate towards it as they grow in the mind as people and as parents.
I am the latter. I did not begin mothering with the standards that I now have. I went with what I had been taught and what was familiar to me. But what is that, exactly? When people think of gentle parenting, consensual living, natural parenting, etc., the words imply a classification that is in some way different. If you’re not what you consider to be one of these terms, then what are you? We flip the spectrum around and look for the opposite of the word: “forced parenting,” “rough parenting,” “unnatural parenting,” and I don’t think the majority of parents identify with those words either. That is because for most parents, becoming a gentle parent does not mean doing a one-eighty but more of a quarter turn.
This turn – this shifting in perspective – will be bigger for some parents and smaller for others. For me, it was more like a friend taking me gently by the shoulders and tilting me just a little to the left. It wasn’t Earth shaking but offered a clarity of vision, looking from an adjusted perspective. One that felt more focused than my previous position.
My parenting mentality was tweaked in a way that allowed my methods to become much more effective. In some ways this is subtle; in other ways it has a greater impact. The difference could be as simple as phrasing a request as, “I need you to,” instead of “You need to,” or even, “You’d better, or else…” Sometimes it is a matter of saying the same thing but in a different tone of voice. But it always comes down to that minor shift in perspective.
Before I considered consensual living, I would expect compliance from my children in order to maintain a calm and peaceful household. That was my end goal, and it was rarely ever met because squabbles were common. Now, my focus is to maintain a peaceful household, which in turn elicits cooperation all on its own, most of the time.
The difference in my household is incredible, but we still have issues that hang us up. When we hit a rough patch, it’s time to go looking for new tools. I ask my friends for advice or for reading references. We forgive ourselves for being imperfect. We focus on finding solutions that will work towards our goal of maintaining peaceful cooperation and continue our emotional and mental growth.
Here are a few things I do differently now that make a big difference in the response I get from my children:
- Helping my children determine the motivations behind their behavior, rather than simply getting angry at them. Children do things, often thoughtlessly, without regard to consequences or internal motivations. The problem with exacting punishments is that it doesn’t fully deter behavior because the children haven’t resolved their reasons of why. In doing this, we focus on feelings, rather than behavior.
Consider this scenario:
My five year old daughter is freaking out because her brother won’t stop staring at her. On the surface, it’s annoying and she’s upset but couldn’t begin to articulate why. I can see right away that he is purposely antagonizing her. I could thoughtlessly yell at them both for interrupting me, or I can help my kids gain emotional intelligence by picking apart the behavior and showing them the motivation behind it. The five year old learns that she is upset because she feels disrespected and doesn’t enjoy becoming the source of entertainment for someone else. The six year old learns that he is purposely aggravating his sister because he is bored and seeking to entertain himself with her reaction. And I’ve just taken all of the fun out of it. The next time he stares at her, she can tell him exactly what he is up to, and it’ll no longer feel fun to him at all. I will also have given my daughter the knowledge and confidence to determine the why in other situations which will occur when I am not around to intervene.
- Making requests instead of demands means having a lot of self discipline. When you make a demand, it opens you up for challenge, which has an opportunity to escalate. Power struggles ensue. But making a request will allow the child to say “no” and have that “no” be accepted. I admit, this is sometimes hard on my ego. That doesn’t mean I give up or stop explaining why the request is important. But here’s the thing: making trivial matters a point of contention means you have an awful lot of contention on a day to day basis. That does not lead to cooperative attitudes. Therefore requests are only made when I am willing to accept a negative response. Demands are reserved for very serious situations, and all is put forth in the spirit of maintaining safety and family harmony – not in the spirit of coercion and control.
- Constantly questioning my own motivations is the biggest defining factor in the choices I make as a mother. There are times when my children want to do something, and my knee-jerk response is no. Instead of going with that initial response, I ask for a moment to consider it. I examine what my own needs are.
Consider this scenario:
My teenage son is wanting to spend the night at a friend’s house and I just learned that there will be a group of older people at this sleep over that I have not met. My fear-based “no” response is likely caused by concern that these could be the worst sort of people who would behave dangerously and pressure my son into making harmful choices. I then determine what I need to help alleviate these fears. I question my son about these new people. I may then make a phone call or a visit to the parents of his friend to find out more about the situation. Often, this is more than enough to put my fears at ease and allow me to feel comfortable in saying “yes.” I won’t say yes to everything, but I make sure that I have a strong, clear reason if I don’t. Because I rarely tell my children no, they feel much more generous towards me and we have a mutually considerate relationship.
Gentle Parenting, Natural Parenting, Consensual Living – these terms do adequately describe my goals as a mother. But they are not some codex to be followed mindlessly, hoping that if the formula is rigidly maintained the result will be a perfect human being. What it comes down to for me is changing the way I see my children, modifying my parenting goals and creating a new philosophy that, when followed, helps everyone meet their personal needs.
Destany Fenton, Author of They Are All of Me
Destany is an artist who works from home while raising her four kids, who range in age from teens to littles. A self proclaimed cheapskate and “maker-queen,” her do-it-yourself attitude compels her to promote self-education, frugality, and taking responsibility for our global community. She is attentive to her children and works to foster and maintain a deep connection with each one, while finding harmony within herself and remembering to take time for her husband. When she is not painting, cooking, gardening, knitting or playing with her kids – even the big ones, she is blogging about her life at They Are All of Me, where she shares crafts, recipes, and crazy mama mishaps that are bound to crop up when living with pets, teenagers and little ones.