By Claire Standen
Good parents are gentle, loving and kind. I know that before I had kids of my own, I assumed it was that simple. You want to be a good parent? Just be gentle, be loving and be kind. But I know from my work with parents (and from my own experience) that it is not that easy. Many gentle parenting models are based on the assumption that it is, and this leaves parents struggling with the huge gap between how they want to show up for their kids and how they actually show up.
So what’s going on? Underneath our conscious efforts and intentions is a deeper layer of thoughts and feelings that drive our behaviour, and these are informed by how we were raised and by everything else that’s happened to us along the way. This is our subconscious, and until you work with it to overcome any past traumas, it will run the show. It’s not even just ‘trauma’ that lives there, but also just a whole heap of ideas about how the World should be. So, when you snap and say something really mean, when you feel the urge to be violent or when you reach total overwhelm and just can’t be gentle anymore… there’s some work to be done. The truth is, parenting will stretch your nervous system to the edges of it’s tolerance (and sometimes, far beyond!).
I don’t want to leave you feeling you’re doomed to be a snappy and reactive parent forever, because you’re absolutely not. There are three tips I have to get you started.
Firstly, we need to shed the shame we often feel around our parenting. Shame keeps things hidden and secret, so my suggestion is that you find someone you feel comfortable with and talk to them about how things really are for you. This may be a friend, a supportive family member, or you may want to hire a professional. You’ll be making an investment in your kids whenever you invest in yourself in this way.
Secondly, commit to really feeling your feelings. Even if you can’t do this in the moment, working with your emotions is the only way to start to shift your experience. A therapist who works in an embodied way or a somatic coach can help you with this.
Third, we need to radically change the expectations we place on our kids. Children will not always be happy, calm and compliant. They are actually total masters at processing their emotions, and if you look at it this way, you stand to learn a lot from your kids. When they totally lose the plot and do a full-body meltdown, they are clearing out their emotional body and releasing stress from their nervous system.
Your job isn’t to get them calm as quickly as possible, it’s to hold space for them while they feel everything. When we change this paradigm, we release our kids to be kids, and remove the expectation for them to display nervous system regulation that they literally don’t have the neurological wiring to ‘do’. You don’t need to be a ‘gentle’ parent, you need to be an emotionallyintelligent parent.
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