I’ve been asked in a few different contexts if my husband and I follow any particular parenting style, so I thought I’d have a little journal-style ramble, practical and theoretical, on our thoughts on this.
In a nutshell, the answer is no. Pre pregnancy I always believed in doing what felt right, not picking a dogmatic theory and adhering to someone else’s thoughts on raising kids.
That’s still kind of where I land.
BUT I am naturally an obsessive researcher so I read alllllllll the things about child development with a focus on neurological, psychological and emotional development so that I was informed and able to decide what felt right from a space where I felt sufficiently educated about the impact of our decisions on my child.
I knew lots of the old fashioned control and coercive ways of parenting were out for me based on how I felt when I experienced the use of these in one of the households I grew up in. Threats, bribery, punishment, time outs sitting on the stairs, being told our heads would be banged together, lots of shouting… I knew that 100% none of that would be okay for raising my daughter.
All the research on child development supports this, so our natural inclination towards gentle parenting felt supported by science. I don’t love the label, as the word gentle is thrown around a lot and the exact meaning is unclear. But it’s as good a descriptor for mine and my husband’s leaning as any.
I’d probably describe our approach as going by our instincts but underpinned by the following basic beliefs:
• children are individuals and humans, not robots or pets who need teaching and training; they deserve respect, autonomy (within safe boundaries) and to be treated with the same respect and dignity as adults
• Children’s behaviour has to be understood in the context of their physical and emotional development. Things like tantrums are expressing emotions kids don’t have the tools to cope with. This is key for me to how to handle topics like “discipline”; punishing them for not being able to emotionally regulate is not only ineffective but immensely unfair
• Shouting and violence towards adults is not okay. There is NO REASON why this is okay for children. See above re: respect and rights!
• Secure attachment is surely the goal of all parents and evidence shows this is achieved by responsiveness; children need to be able to trust and feel secure their needs will be met but their caregivers. Following an approach like attachment parenting doesn’t guarantee this, only responsiveness does.
While I do a few things that are on the attachment parenting approach checklist, it’s not because I follow AP, it’s simply because those things happen to work best for me and my baby (example: Cub hates prams and pushchairs so we’ve always worn her in a carrier. We also breastfeed exclusively. But even if you do these to specifically follow AP it’s worth reiterating these things as check box items don’t guarantee secure attachment; only responsiveness and cultivating that confidence and knowing their needs will be met does).
For these reasons we naturally fell into the gentle and responsive styles, but we don’t actively follow specific practices, this is just how we tend to be, if that makes sense. What does responsiveness mean? Always responding to her! Crying, day or night, shouldn’t be ignored. As she gets older, not dismissing or belittling her moods or reactions, meeting her where she’s at, allowing her to feel however she feels (e.g. validating that no, I still won’t let her do xyz as it’s not safe but I understand she’s feeling upset and frustrated. I’m going to move her away now to keep her safe but it’s okay to be mad at mummy and cry if you need to, does she want a hug? No? That’s okay, I’ll stay here with you. Etc etc)
I also align with some elements of mindful parenting and reparenting – I.e doing the inner work on myself and my issues, my reactions etc so that I can regulate my own emotions and responses to things and respond to my daughter rather than react, to get rid of or manage my own triggers and my feelings about any difficult experiences I’ve been through to avoid or reduce the chances of them affecting her.
My husband doesn’t read all the stuff, he parents by instinct. But we align completely (feel like you need to know this before you have kids personally!) We’ve spoken to colleagues etc and people where dad is shouty and disciplinarian and mum is the soft one but not respected and the kids ignore her. That’s totally not for us. My husband agrees it’s not okay to shout at children, we feel like its expressing parental anger and frustration rather than helping them. We both feel a responsive, gentle approach is for us but that doesn’t mean being permissive; we both hold boundaries jointly and equally. He just doesn’t read all the things and know all the buzzwords.
There are things we know are ideal (avoiding praise etc) that we can’t do, it feels wrong and too hard, and I explained the literature on it to my husband and he suggested we don’t overthink it. We both decided to place emphasis on effort over outcome to avoid negative effects, but will you stop us telling our daughter how curious and intelligent and beautiful she is? Nope, not a chance! We’re humans not walking textbook-swallowing-robots! I don’t believe you need to, or that this is mutually exclusive with cultivating a growth mindset.
I feel like it’s nice to parent with “informed instinct”; to do what feels right but understand the neuroscience and psychological implications of things. Data and emotion, right?! 🤍
Obviously with a baby much of this feeds in to debates around sleep. All of the above should make obvious we wouldn’t ever sleep train our child. Having studied holistic infant sleep courses and currently finishing off a CPD accredited infant sleep certification, I love helping parents work on sleep WITHOUT sleep training or teaching (I.e. anything that limits responsiveness). I don’t judge people who do choose to sleep teach, it’s just not for us and a holistic, responsive approach is my specialty and what feels good to work on in our family, and when I work with other families ❤️ I do this over at @infantsleepclinic if you fancy talking sleep! 🌙
Now it goes without saying this is our view, our baby, our life, and not passing judgment on anyone else (with the exception of hitting/spanking/any physical violence, which I do find intolerable and won’t apologise for opposing it).
Everyone is doing their thing and finding their way with what’s best for their family, which is all any of us can really do 💙
I guess that’s my feelings on parenting styles in a nutshell. I’m an over-researcher and over-planner obsessive reader which obviously affects and informs what I do. But hopefully that ramble sums up how I/we are navigating this “parenting” thing! I don’t follow a set method, I cherry pick practices that feel optimal and aligned with our views and values à la informed instinct 🥰
Hope you and your little ones are well in these crazy times. Parenting hey?! What a wild ride!