I scanned the living room, exasperated — the mess I’d asked my two children to clean an hour ago was still strewn about. I tried asking them again, but I was interrupted by their shouting, the usual argument over who had the remote first. My irritation simmers beneath the surface. Then a voice popped into my head: “Remember, you’re supposed to be gentle!”
I was raised by parents who, I believe, were trying their best. It was the 80s and I’m sure there were parenting books in existence, but I have no idea if they read any of them. My parents were yellers. They spanked us from time to time. I don’t think they knew any other way. It was the way they were raised, and people generally followed what they knew. I remember the last time my mom tried to spank me, sometime in middle school. She wasn’t very strong, and I turned around and looked at her afterward and shrugged. She shook her head and after that she gave up.
Fast forward to when I had kids. By the time my first was born, I decided that corporal punishment would not be part of my parenting repertoire. The raising of my voice, however, was something I didn’t realize was engrained very deep into my being.
I have been guilty of raising my voice as a first resort to catch my children’s attention. My husband’s approach has always been gentler unless he has been completely pushed to his edge. Watching his parenting style helped me understand just how much I take after my parents and that I would benefit from taking a step back. I wanted my children to feel loved, and I wanted to be a more approachable parent than my parents seemed to me when I was young. I watch my husband react to my children with humor more often than with anger or irritation. I admire how he sends them into fits of laughter if they are upset, instead of somehow taking it personally as I tend to do. This inspires me to do better, be better.
But is that enough? That’s what I’m asking myself now that “gentle parenting” is everywhere. In this approach, parents are told we must be empathetic and respectful and kind in all of our parenting interactions. My children are already 6 and 9, despite my best efforts, am I still screwing up? I can appreciate that the world is ever-changing, and as a medical professional I lean toward evidence-based practice, from which the gentle parenting approach is derived. But knowing that I may yet again have to change how I approach every interaction I have with my children feels discouraging.
For the most part, I do think I am doing okay. I show them and tell them I love them. We spend a lot of quality time together playing games, going on outings, and eating every meal together around the table without the distractions of technology. But then I will ask my 6-year-old repeatedly in the morning to brush her teeth, and on the fourth request, I find her talking to her stuffed animals in her room. It’s hard not to loudly inform her the bus is going to leave her behind so she better get moving. In those moments, I battle myself because gentle anything will likely be fruitless. I can either hurry her along or let her go to school late and unkempt, too.
I carry a lot of self-doubts, much of it related to my parenting skills. In part because I recognize the shortcomings of my own parents. I want a different relationship with my kids. But it’s hard to navigate the pressure of the ever-changing expectations of society. I am always open to change, but it takes me a while to warm up to the specifics. If it will benefit my children, and help them to become well-rounded, happy, and functioning members of the world, then I am all for it. But first we have to get on the school bus on time.
Chandi Kelsey is a wife and mother two and she had her family live in the metro Detroit area. She works as a physical therapist and in her spare time enjoys reading, baking and writing in her blog mommingonfumes.com.