I ditched gentle parenting. As my child got older, I felt like I was enabling bad behavior.

  • I'm a millennial mom and always dreamt of being the cool parent.

  • While pregnant I came across the concept of gentle parenting and was sold.

  • I realized I was enabling bad behavior from my preschool child, and stopped gentle parenting.

As a millennial mom, I've always had this fantasy of raising my child as my friend — being the "cool mom" was absolutely my dream. I was so afraid of traumatizing my son by being too firm and imposing too many rules. Would he grow up hating me? Would his only memories of me be arguments and punishments? Would he label me as a dictator to his friends?

I was convinced I could raise a child by giving him free rein. While pregnant, I read up on parenting styles and came across an ultramodern movement called "gentle parenting." It instantly struck me as empathetic, respectful, and mindful.

It promised a deep bond between parent and child, with a strong focus on the child's feelings. It leaned more toward giving children choices instead of orders. Importantly, it frowned upon punitive tactics. It perfectly aligned with what I wanted from motherhood— peacefulness — or so I thought.

Gentle parenting worked when my child was little

Gentle parenting was relatively easy during early motherhood. I managed to avoid using the word "no," I didn't implement time-outs, and if my son really didn't want to do something, instead of being reactive, I would exercise a level of patience and graciousness that previous generations probably wouldn't have. I always tried my best to model a sense of calmness by giving my son a safe space to experience his negative emotions. This seemed like a fundamental aspect of gentle parenting.

However, as my son approached preschool age, it became apparent that he would struggle in school — and the real world — if I didn't change my approach to parenting. His tantrums would go on for too long, he would be defiant with everyday tasks, and he would struggle to recognize authority. Even when I followed the gentle parenting scripts laid out by gurus, everything felt like an ongoing tug of war.

I had joined numerous parenting groups on social media to get a better idea of how to handle certain situations, such as my son's refusal to brush his teeth. Instead of seeing rational responses, I was shocked to find some parents suggesting to avoid brushing teeth to keep children happy while defining it as "negotiable" This seemed unacceptable to me.

I needed to change my parenting strategy

I quickly realized that every child has varying levels of noncompliance, and in order for my son to assimilate well outside the home, he couldn't keep up with his behavior (which I had admittedly enabled).

I could no longer align myself with the parental restrictiveness of the movement. I felt like I was treading on eggshells all the time. The pressure to be the perfect, patient parent was wearing me down.

I found gentle parenting to be unrealistic and stressful — it was making me miserable. A small but recent study found that 40% of gentle parents who were interviewed confessed to being overwhelmed, exhausted, hard on themselves, and uncertain. I can definitely relate. Confining myself to a parenting style wasn't feasible — I needed to be adaptable to changing situations and moods with my son, which required a blended approach.

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that gentle parenting is way too gentle. Children need to learn that the world doesn't revolve around their personal feelings. Children need a level of firmness and accountability. There should be balance instead of leaning toward extremes for the sake of fitting into parenting structures.

In all honesty, drifting away from gentle parenting made me realize that parenting is more about trusting your gut than following scripts and best practices. I've learned to be myself and foster a healthy mother-son relationship with my child by enforcing firm limits and expectations while always giving warmth and support.

That's not to say I don't believe in gentle parenting. I definitely still believe in treating children with respect, modeling behaviors for children, and regulating myself as a parent before reacting.

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