Something I’ve noticed since the beginning of my parenting journey is how gentle parents tend to worry a lot about being judged for doing things differently. I’ve always done things differently and I’ve always thought differently from other people so it really never bothered me much. What I did worry about was that people would think I was judging them.
I’ve read many stories about parents getting defensive and feeling judged just because a gentle parent admits they co-sleep/don’t punish/home school. I don’t know how many of those stories are because of an actual or perceived tone on behalf of the gentle parent. I also don’t know why I haven’t had these confrontations at all; I sometimes wonder if it’s my resting bitchy face! I tend to play down what we do rather than present it boastfully (I think), but I’ve probably had my moments. I know I’ve enjoyed telling colleagues about the lack of punishment in our household which seemed to be mind blowing to them. I probably mention home education and my negative views of school too much for some, which I’m trying to quell, but it’s never ever about judging parents. My frustration about school is in the wrongness of an entire governmental system doing things SO sub optimally when they know better.
In Sophie Christophy’s brilliant post about attachment parenting, she discusses how over time AP parents develop an enlightened feeling about parenting gently and the way that it can change the world (or at least raise some fabulous people into the world.) This is exactly my experience; I’ve come to a much deeper understanding of patriarchy, injustice, politics and how it all stems from infancy in all of us. This is why I started this blog, because it seemed to me a very important point in feminism was not being discussed at all; attachment. These two very important halves of a story are so rarely synthesised in the mainstream conversations.
However I’ve come to a more enlightened understanding of the micro aspects of parenting as well. When my eldest was a baby, I was a new convert and I had that ‘born again’ feeling about it all. I was convinced this was the way to do it and parents just needed to put their kids first; after all the baby didn’t ask to be born did she?
Putting Theory Into Practice
I still put my kids needs first but six exhausting years, and three kids later, my understanding and empathy for parents with a different experience has deepened. That is, personal circumstance and personality affects the relationship between theory and practice. Theoretically, through psychology, anthropology and sociology research we have a very good idea of the optimal ways to bring up a child. Depressingly little of that knowledge has trickled into mainstream consciousness, which is frustrating and even when we try it’s met with denial and cognitive dissonance quite often. This we know.
The other barriers to optimal parenting practices though are culture, society, mental health, emotional and physical reserves and they all intertwine with each other. I’m sure we have all felt the tension in most, if not all, of these arenas.
I understand this isn’t usual and its only in retrospect, but I found breastfeeding and co-sleeping with my babies easy. Not without struggle mind you, but it was easy for me compared to the relentlessness of chasing a toddler and pre-schooler constantly. The emotional and physical reserves necessary at this stage outweigh my ability to do everything optimally. I find it difficult to prioritise healthy food in a way to get them eating the things I know are best for them. I find it difficult to get us out of the house and socialising every single day which would help limit screen time without arbitrary rules about “screen time.” I find the mess difficult and I find maintaining the mindfulness, always watching for teachable moments and always being aware of how I frame things, explain things, describe things very difficult. Watching for whats happening with my children emotionally and responding appropriately regardless of what else I’m trying to do, and regardless of my own stress levels is HARD. This means I’m not always enjoying myself or feeling like I’m having the time of my life. Sometimes I’m just getting through, waiting for the next day, or the next stage, or maybe just the next sleep.
Finding Empathy For Other Parents
I was involved in a discussion on an AP group about yelling. I don’t advocate yelling, but it does happen in my house. I feel guilty about it and I believe if I had enough space in my life for proper self care I would manage the zen not to. I know this because when I get an afternoon off (otherwise known as time off from my kids) I’m a much better parent for those 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. But as a strong introvert, I don’t have enough down time and beating myself up over it will only stress me further and make it all worse.
So I choose to focus on the positives: my kids are happy and loved, they are home and unschooled, they are not punished and they are very attached to their happily married parents. None of us are perfect people and so none of us will be perfect parents which means we will all fuck up our kids in some way. The best we can do is know in what way that is and choose it consciously. Do some introspection.
In this way, we might manage to be more understanding about someone who is unable to do that optimal thing.