Is ‘Gentle Parenting’ Too Extreme and Impossible?

Janet shares an exchange she had with a parent who wonders how anyone can possibly live up to the extreme idealism of “gentle parenting.” She writes: “It sounds so lovely… but it’s also crushing to never be able to live up to despite having all the tools and knowledge.” While “gentle parenting” is not a term Janet uses, she understands that it’s a catch-all for recent discussions and news articles about parenting philosophies. In response, Janet shares her own mental and emotional struggles as a new mother striving for perfectionism as she tried to put Magda Gerber’s teachings into practice. She describes moments of frustration, feelings of failure, and being judged, and how through her own experiences of self-doubt and criticism, she learned to give herself permission to be an imperfect parent in a process.

Transcript of “Is ‘Gentle Parenting’ Too Extreme and Impossible?”

Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled. Okay, I admit I’m a little more nervous than usual about this podcast because I feel it’s going to be maybe more personal and revealing than what I normally share.

The impetus for this episode came in a recent Facebook exchange that I had with a parent, and the parent concluded “this ideal of gentle parenting is feeling more and more toxic and gaslighty to me.” In response to her comment, I finally had the chance to ask a question that I’ve been wishing to ask for a while now in light of this recent flurry of complaints in the press about gentle parenting. Maybe you’ve noticed some of them. And then I really, really appreciated this Facebook parent’s candid response to my question — my question that was in response to her comment.

I’m going to be sharing these exchanges and some of the thoughts that they’ve brought up for me. I really hope you’ll find this clarifying and encouraging.

The Facebook exchange happened in response to a post of mine from several years ago actually that I reposted called “I Think I Know Why You’re Yelling.” It describes some of the things that as parents might lead us to yell. Number one is: “you aren’t taking care of yourself.” It talks about self-care, not just the wonderful bubble bath or getting away with friends or a spouse type of self-care, but something more basic and crucial, which is knowing our limits and our personal needs and setting boundaries early, starting even with speaking directly and honestly to an infant.

I give examples like: “if you’re a sensitive person who can’t sleep deeply with a baby or a toddler near you but you’re co-sleeping because you think you should, maybe you’re not taking care of yourself.” Or, “if you want to wean your child or limit their nursing, but you feel guilty about that, then you’re not taking care of yourself. If you need to go to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, but you’re afraid to leave your fussy baby or screeching toddler, you’re not taking care of yourself. In fact, if you feel guilty about any self-care moment, you’re probably not taking care of yourself.”

I conclude: “we all give up much of our lives for our children, but it’s unhealthy for us and even less healthy for our kids to become an egoless parent, neglecting our needs and virtually erasing ourselves from the relationship. We need personal boundaries and our children need us to model them. This is what it means to have an honest, authentic, respectful relationship that will make limit setting in the toddler through teenage years clear and simple. Notice I didn’t say easy because it’s hardly ever easy.”

Oh, and one of the things I share first in that post is I say: “My sense is that we often end up yelling because we’ve actually made the very positive decision to give our children boundaries with respect rather than using punishments and manipulation. We’re working really hard to remain gentle and kind, and yet our children’s testing behaviors continue. Maybe we become increasingly frustrated, even fearful, feeling like we’ve lost all control without any way to rein our children in.”

Anyway, it’s a pretty long post, and I’ll be linking to it in the transcript, or you can look it up. Here’s the comment that I got on Facebook. She said:

This all sounds good on paper but doesn’t really apply in the real world. In the real world, taking a break to the sound of a screaming toddler is anything but a break and will leave you more frazzled. In the real world, tantrums are horrible to be around on a visceral level no matter how many books you read about childhood development. In the real world, many parents have little to no support and no amount of telling ourselves we are capable leaders can curb the sheer exhaustion we are feeling. This ideal of gentle parenting is feeling more and more toxic and gaslighty to me.

Before I share the question that I asked her, I want to talk a little about the press articles that have come out recently. They’re in pretty major publications. Assuming that they’re all written sincerely and not as a pile-on to a trend, I took them quite seriously, like I take everything. They all mention me as part of the problem, and they’re basically bashing the idea of gentle or respectful parenting, that it’s impossible. One of them even implies that there’s this harsh dark side to it all. A couple of the authors who are also parents, it sounds like they’re trying it, but they don’t feel like it’s working for them and they’re saying, “This is too extreme.”

Now, when I read these pieces, the first feeling that I had besides feeling a little attacked, the first feeling I had was I relate to what these people are saying. I totally relate to them. I remember feeling some of the feelings that they’re describing: that I just couldn’t possibly do this, that it was unrealistic, that somehow there was this expectation on me that I couldn’t live up to and it just made me frustrated and want to throw in the towel. I wanted to throw it away. I’m going to talk about the couple of those instances where I felt that way, but I felt like what I’m relating to, and I could be wrong, is this pressure that we put on ourselves as parents.

Some of us are more inclined towards self-judgment, and perfectionism, and it can get in our way when we’re learning challenging things. Learning a different way of parenting than the way that we were raised, breaking those generational cycles even in small ways is very, very challenging. It’s so courageous to even be trying, in my view. And it sounds like this commenter on Facebook was coming from that place too. This is just impossible. You’re expecting unrealistic things.

In these articles in the press, if I was to take a very unnuanced extreme take on those, I could feel this implies that they were maybe suggesting that it’s better to physically punish your children, and lash out at them when you’re frustrated. I don’t think that’s what they were saying, but I wasn’t sure what kind of alternative they were suggesting.

And so, that’s why I was happy for the opportunity to ask this parent on Facebook this question, “What would be helpful?”

Because believe it or not, and I didn’t say this on Facebook, believe it or not, all I’m trying to do is help. I’m sharing an approach to parenting that inspired me and helped me beyond measure. That’s what I’ve been doing since 2009, sharing what I’ve learned from all the classes I’ve taught with parents and children. When I get a little lost in what am I doing? Why am I doing this? What’s my purpose here? I often ask myself that question to focus me and give me the perspective that I need to know what to do next: How can I help? What can I share that might be helpful?

There’s no implication in what I’m sharing that if you’re not doing it this way, there’s something wrong with you or that I expect you to do it this particular way. It’s a very specific way that I’m sharing. I started calling it “respectful parenting” because I didn’t think people would know or understand or want to understand what RIE parenting meant. And also because I was using a lot of my own experience to interpret Magda Gerber’s RIE approach, even more for toddlers than she did and for older children, and all these details that I learned through working with parents.

So, I thought: well, if I say respectful parenting, which is about treating even a newborn with respect, maybe if I use this term, then it will make more sense to people. That’s why I started using that term. I’ve never actually used the term “gentle parenting” to describe what I do, but I noticed that I seem to be part of a catchall of gentle parenting. That’s how people are seeing this, that I’m one of the many people sharing about gentle parenting. I’m assuming that just means this non-punitive, not harsh, not lashing out type of parenting.

Anyway, I asked this parent, “What would be helpful?” And I said, “I’m also interested in the concept of,” quote, ‘gentle parenting,’ which is not a term I use. What does this mean to you?”

I thought she gave brilliant responses that were very enlightening to me.

First, she said:

Gentle parenting to me is the ethos of teaching and disciplining in an empathic way that is never punitive or emotionally reactive on the parent’s part. It sounds so lovely. It’s a beautiful idea to aim for. It’s also crushing to never be able to live up to despite having all the tools and knowledge because we are human and we are wired to be uncomfortable around screaming. We all want to do better, and we even know exactly what to do thanks to the many sources of information out there for parents and yet so many of us are stuck. I’m thinking about your question, what would be helpful? Maybe it’s just permission to be gentle-ish, capable-ish.

Wow. She really says it all there, and it helps me understand that I’m coming across as this voice of authority that’s telling you you should do it this way, and if you’re not, there’s something wrong with you.

Well, I’m a very imperfect messenger, no doubt, and I also have the problem of… Well, it’s not a problem. It’s a positive thing, but I forget that I’m not still this underground voice sharing for the couple hundred people that would follow me in the beginning where I could really speak my mind and be a little bold and share unique ideas without it being taken as that I’m any kind of voice of authority.

Well, to my surprise, a lot of these ideas that I’ve shared that were very weird to people, in the beginning, are now almost mainstream, almost conventional. Not because I did it all, but I think I had a part in it and it’s just happened that way. That is amazing to me, that ideas like you talk to a baby like a person, that you allow children to have all their feelings, that you don’t try to fix or squelch them, that a child can have ideas about what they should be doing in regard to play or exploring or spending their time even as an infant… Not all of these ideas, but a lot of them are now accepted and that’s fantastic. With it comes a responsibility that I don’t always take, which is, oh, so I actually have the power for someone to feel like they’re not living up to something that’s just supposed to be this way.

I also want to say though that everything this parent said in her comment and a lot of the things in these articles as well, I personally have felt in my early days in learning this approach.

This is one of the benefits of getting older. Between just aging and the work that we do on ourselves or even work that naturally evolves on ourselves, we become much more self-forgiving. I do, and these really strong judgmental voices that were always in my head when I was younger have very much weakened. They still have their say, but it’s not overwhelming, and other voices will usually win out.

I started taking RIE classes with my daughter when she was an infant. When I was first learning this, everything I was being taught was different than what I’d been doing pretty much. I took all of that as: oh, I’m wrong. I’m wrong. I’m wrong.

Here I was putting everything into trying to be a new mom, and now this must mean I’m failing, failing, failing, because I’m learning all these things that I could have done that I wasn’t doing. There was that to get over. At the same time though, I was so compelled and inspired to stick with it, and luckily that won out.

And then later on when my daughter became a toddler, I remember… Okay, this is 28 years ago, so we know that this had a big effect on me because I can totally remember the moment. I said to my teacher who wasn’t Magda, but another teacher who will go nameless, I said, “What do you do when you just find yourself yelling?” And my teacher said, “You’re yelling?”

And the way she said it, I believe she was probably just surprised. She didn’t have children at that time, so maybe it didn’t make sense to her, but the way it felt was so mortifying. I felt so ashamed. I broke into a million pieces, and I was never going to bring that up again. But what it did was help me to get a perspective: yes, I have a very precocious, strong, powerful toddler. She wasn’t even two yet, but still, why would I yell at this tiny person? What is threatening to me? What is overwhelming to me? How am I not taking care of myself with my boundaries with her that I’m getting to this point?

Once I got over the shame and brokenness I felt, or at least start to get over that, I was able to look at where I needed to grow because I didn’t want to be a person yelling at a not-even-two-year-old. I knew it wasn’t the parent that I wanted to be. It didn’t feel good to me.

So, that happened. But all the voices came to me in that brokenness, in that shame: You can’t do this. There’s something deeply wrong with you. This is impossible. I wanted to throw in the towel, and I feel like throwing in the towel still a lot when some kind of situation feels too challenging. I don’t like feeling uncomfortable or inept less than other people or that I’m not living up to some kind of expectation.

But the expectations weren’t coming from my teacher. They weren’t coming from Magda Gerber. They weren’t coming from anyone but me.

I’m not saying that’s what’s going on with all these people that are complaining about gentle parenting, but that’s my experience. I’m so grateful that there was a stronger voice in me that said: Don’t let those voices win. This matters too much to you. Don’t give up on yourself. Maybe you can do this.

Now in terms of everybody else though, maybe what I’m teaching isn’t what inspires you or feels supportive to you. This is just one style of parenting. It’s not the only one that works. It’s not maybe even the best one for you. These are only suggestions, not rules or meant to be taken rigidly. We have to look out for ourselves in this tough journey, find sources that feed us, nurture us, that make our lives easier and more joyful as parents. We deserve that.

I understand feeling stuck and I understand feeling crushed that I’m supposed to live up to something. At least when I was learning this stuff, it was very unique. It wasn’t so popular. So, it was clear to me that I was wanting to live up to my own goals.

Now I realize that might be less clear and that’s harder, and it’s something that I want to take responsibility for as much as I can.

Yes, tantrums are horrible to be around. It’s really hard to let another person have their feelings. That’s why I’ve written and podcasted about that topic so many times and noted that it will always be challenging. It will never be reflexive for most of us. It just won’t.

But only we can give ourselves permission to be in a process and not perfect at every aspect. In fact, not even close to that.

Here’s the response that I shared with this parent after her comment, which I really, really appreciated. I said:

I hear you. I really do. As I was reading your comment, I was thinking exactly what you said at the end. I was thinking, where is she getting the idea that respectful parenting means never punitive or emotionally reactive? Where is this never coming from? People like me also talk a lot about repair and self-compassion and imperfection. I share what I know helps build relationships and lessen challenging behavior, and I try to share a perspective that can help us feel less reactive. But there’s no implication coming from me that if we don’t live up to this every moment or go through periods where we just can’t at all or don’t want to, we’re failures or doing something wrong. Gentle-ish, capable-ish is exactly where most of us are most of the time. The good news is that gentle-ish, capable-ish is enough to be a great human parent. I understand perfectionism and bagging on ourselves. I can go there myself, but those feelings don’t come from parenting advisors or other messengers out there. Mine come from me.

I want to talk a little about the ideals that she’s talking about living up to. I appreciated Magda Gerber‘s approach and its idealism because I started to see those ideals as signposts. They weren’t a destination even. They were just helping me go in a direction, baby step by baby step. If I didn’t have those signposts, I couldn’t be assured of the direction that I was taking.

But it wasn’t about achieving those signposts or not. It was about the journey, the process.

Yes, there are going to be frustrations and feelings of giving up along the way. Absolutely. But if we keep following these sign posts, maybe there’ll be less of that. There was for me.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with being frustrated. It’s that it doesn’t feel good and it’s not the way most of us want to be with our children. It doesn’t feel good to us, but there’s no judgment on the feelings that we have in a process. They’re all just right, because they’re all our feelings, just like children’s feelings are just right. That’s what they feel.

This is definitely not about being robotic or stifled or I’m just fine all the time. No. Our children want a relationship with us. With all of our sides.

Speaking about frustration, maybe it could be helpful to let out frustration at children sometimes. My mother, I don’t remember her really yelling at us, but she would get very judgmental and angry about certain things, and there were two things. One was if we tried to tickle her… Whew! Or if we’d walk in on her in the bathroom, she made it very clear with emotion that those were boundaries that she was not going to allow us to cross and we didn’t because that was scary.

So this isn’t to say that letting out our emotions on children is not productive. It can be in the short term, I think, but for me, it was helpful to know that we don’t need to do that. We can set the boundary without creating fear.

If gentle parenting is what this parent beautifully describes, which I would like to think, I love that, then it will only work if we have very strong boundaries. Very strong boundaries. I think maybe that’s missing in some of the conversations about gentle parenting, I don’t know, but maybe that is a problem out there that people should rightfully complain about because it’s just not going to work and it’s not going to help those children. Children need boundaries.

I also want to share one more story from my learning days. I’m still learning for sure. But in the early days when I was training with Magda, there was a conference coming up and this other parent and I were going to present a workshop at the conference from a parenting perspective because most of these RIE conferences, they’re mostly attended by early childhood professionals rather than parents. But we wanted to do one for the few parents that might be there.

When we were talking about this with Magda, I said, “Well, what should we call it?” And she said, “Parenting Made Easier.” Immediately that came right off the top of her head. I’ve got to admit I was taken aback because that wasn’t the first thing that would come to mind for me about this approach that I was learning from her. To me, it was very thoughtful and careful, deep and challenging in many, many ways. But when I thought about it, I could see what she was saying.

And then a few years later when I had a three-year-old and then two other children after that, oh yeah, it totally made everything easier. When I would compare myself to the struggles other parents were having, all this care and thoughtfulness and mental challenge and emotional challenge that I’d faced learning this really paid off. This doesn’t mean it’ll pay off for everyone, or that this is your way, but it did for me.

When I hear people saying, “Oh, this is this impossible thing, and we can’t do it. It’s somehow judgemental of people that aren’t doing it,” I think of that. I think of how much easier this makes everything and therefore more enjoyable. Because if we’re struggling, we’re not enjoying being a parent. But it’s like moving that rock to the top of the mountain so that it can roll down the other side. It does get so much easier. It does.

Whether you follow some of the advice I give, follow advice other people are giving, whether you decide you want to do this non-punitive parenting thing or you want to find your own way that’s different, take a little from this, a little from that, this is your journey. My feelings about parents are all about trust. Just like my feelings about children. Trusting their process, trusting that you will find your way.

Am I the right person to help you? Maybe or maybe not. I trust you to know what works for you.

I think I would love to change the name of this podcast to Respectful-ish Parenting, Unruffled-ish. I’m going to consider that because that’s what I have learned to expect of myself and the best that we can hope for. It’s always an ish. It’s always a journey. Some days we feel it, some days we don’t.

So, I really, really hope that you’ll be good to yourselves and kind to yourselves and trust yourselves and definitely not give up on being the parent that you want to be because we really can do this.

Please check out some of the other podcasts on my website, JanetLansbury.com. There are many of them and they’re all indexed by subject and category, so you should be able to find whatever topic you might be interested in.

And both of my books are available in paperback at Amazon: No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting.  You can get them in eBook at Amazon, Apple, Google Play or barnesandnoble.com, and on audio at Audible.com. Actually, you can get a free audio copy of either book at Audible by following the link in the liner notes of this podcast.

Thank you so much for listening and for all your kind support. We can do this.

16 Comments

Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. avatar Ayelet Efrati says:

    Dear Janet,

    I always enjoy listening to your podcasts, and this week’s podcast about gentle partenting was of special interest to me. I relate to the mother who wrote to you very much (except for the comment about gentle parenting being ‘gaslighty’- I was really curious how it would be). I, too, feel that I don’t meet the standards I set for my self on my path to be a respectful parenting and it feels to me, too, like an impossible feat. I admit I have a lot of criticism about myself in that area, and I feel like I am failing many times.
    Following this week’s episode- I have two thoughts or questions- sorry if it gets too long-
    One is about self-care. I feel that for me, many times the problem is the transitional times of day, especially after dinner and when getting ready for bed. I am a single mom of two 7 year old twin girls. They are amazing girls, smart and kind. But this time of day is definitely the “whitching hour” at our house. Usually we are after a long day, tired and sometimes stressed, and their reaction is this ‘wild’ energy (this would lead me to the second thought later). There is a lot of extracarricular activity during the week, and so the routine starts later than I would like- sometimes around 19:30-19:45. I want to get them to bed on time, and also clean up after dinner. They are quite independent but still need my help with some things. I still follow up on their teeth brusing, and help them wash their hair. When they wrestle each other, or go about doing other things rather than getting to the shower, and it’s late and things get loud- this is when I get triggered. At those times, it is very hard for me to take a step back and regulate myself. Even if I momentarily retreat to the other bathroom or step outside, something would inevitably happen to “reel me back in”- a fight, someone falling, something gone missing that is key to the evening routine. At those times, I am ashamed to say, I am the least regulated person in the house. I lose my patience- sometimes yell. One of my daughters even offered to teach me ‘calming-down techniques’ (which I find very sweet and funny, but it also makes me ashamed at the role-reversal). My point is that self care at these moments is very hard to do and I am at a loss on how to create it for myself.
    My second thought, is that a lot of times, in your podcast and with other parenting advice, when the subject is what triggers parents- it is always about your child’s “big feelings”, or tantrums. Personally, my daughters’ big feelings were never an issue for me. I welcome them, because I was brought up in a house where they were not really allowed or encouraged. The fact is, that many other things in our daily interaction with our kids may trigger us, such as the example I gave above.
    Thank you for all the good advice and information. I am learning so much,
    Ayelet

  2. I’m a first time mom, expecting my daughter in October, and I’ve spent a lot of time this pregnancy reading about different parenting approaches and philosophies. RIE and similar concepts really appeal to me and my husband is on board as well. At times I’ve found myself reading some of these articles or watching RIE videos and feeling pretty discouraged, because it is SO different from the environment I was raised in, and I definitely got caught up in thinking I had to do this perfectly, all of the time, otherwise I would be failing. Thank you for this post, which is a really nice reminder that that is not realistic nor the expectation. I plan on implementing a lot of RIE concepts once baby is here, and even though I know it will be nothing like I expect and you can only plan so much when it comes to parenthood, you and other “respectful parenting” teachers really help me feel better prepared and supported. Thanks again.

  3. avatar Amy Appel says:

    Janet I love this! I love how open, accepting, and reflective you are. I think the “ish” concept is so freeing. (PS, have you seen the children’s book “Ish”? So good!) I fell into the trap of taking RIE philosophy and your blog so literally that I felt like putting my baby in an infant swing was going to break him forever. I had no family and little support around me when my son was an infant and I remember crying when I finally broke down and bought the swing. In hindsight, it seems so ridiculous but at the time, I really felt like a swing was a life or death decision. I was also struggling with postpartum anxiety and depression, so I think that was part of it, but I really felt like if I didn’t do all of these things perfectly, I was failing. I put a lot of that pressure on myself, but at the time I did feel like that’s what you were saying. I appreciate your and your perspective so much and I think you are doing so much good for so many people and I think it’s great that you are able to look at yourself so honestly and put yourself out there.

    1. Oh I hear you and relate to this. Thank you for sharing your perspective and memories of being a first time parent. -Sarah

  4. avatar Tori Jane says:

    I’m glad you took the time to respond to the “gentle parenting” criticism that’s been pretty high profile recently. When I read some of these pieces, I thought to myself exactly as you. That many of these writers were completely leaving out the strong, early boundaries part of the puzzle, as well as the (admittedly difficult) daily practice of tuning into yourself, feeling and addressing your rising irritations/frustrations/anxieties with child-rearing before they erupt in yelling or lashing out.

    I had twins 5 months ago, and I have a 4 year old daughter. She’s big for her age, super communicative, and honestly a big help to me in so many ways. So I sometimes forget, she’s just 4. Her meandering in the morning when we are getting ready for school. Her strong instinct to flex her independence against the smallest of instructions I issue. I gets to me so quickly. “Wear socks please, S. We can’t stop over and over while walking the dog to get rocks and dirt out of your shoes.” “What about the sandals? I don’t feel like putting on socks! I promise we won’t have to stop!”
    I’ve found myself expecting “more mature” behavior from her than this. And I forget that the well of patience is lower overall now that 2 babies have me dipping into it more often.

    This morning, as I struggled keep her on task and get her ready for school, I could feel myself getting short and snippy and close to yelling. It’s not that I need her to be more mature, really. I just need ALL of this to be easier. “Parenting Made Easier.” What would be easier for me in this moment, would be a little empathy and cooperation. I strive to have empathy for her. Today I needed it. And so I told her how I was feeling.
    “S, I woke up this morning in a good mood. But each time I give you an instruction and you take as long as you can to follow it, or tell me no, or do whatever you want instead of what I asked you to, I get a little more frustrated. I don’t like feeling frustrated with you all morning. You don’t like it either, do you? Can you cooperate with me so we can have a nice time getting ready instead?” The morning didn’t magically go perfectly following this interaction. The babies still cried. S still got off track here and there. I was still a little irritated since the emotional momentum had already headed in that direction, and I couldn’t just reverse it on a dime. But largely, she got with the program, and everyone was calm and happy by the time I kissed her goodbye for school.

    Talking to her felt better than trying and failing to hide my rising frustration. It felt better than yelling. It felt better than saying “brush your teeth right now or no television.”
    Dare I say, it felt easier. For me this is “gentle parenting” or like you, I prefer “respectful parenting.” Choosing to be real and even a little vulnerable with my child, because I respect her and I trust she is going to give me her imperfect best, just as I’m giving her my imperfect best.

    I can recognize after the fact that my 4 year old was probably just doing what felt natural to her. Craving a slow morning, enjoying her room and her belongings, feeling reluctant to head to school and be separated from her parents and baby brothers all day. I think this is where people get a little hung up on the concept of “gentle parenting,” the idea that you should be endlessly empathetic to the possibly unconscious motivation behind your child’s actions. That maybe, you should never give them a hard time. Always approach them with a positive attitude. Never clue them in to how their actions might be affecting the feelings and experiences of those around them.

    And possibly, they think gentle parenting forgets: It is also natural and expected that you will get frustrated with your child when they seem to be thwarting your every effort at completing a task. I think people mistake “gentle parenting” to mean that children are delicate, and that a parent’s negative emotions are a wrecking ball we should shield them from.

    For me, respectful parenting is about seeing my child, not as delicate, but as a whole person with her own interests and motivations. And as someone who is ultimately capable of being a team player when it comes to family life, as someone who can rise to meet challenges.

    I’m struggling to tie a bow on this, but I just want you to know, your advice as helped me find myself as a parent. It has helped me avoid, to some extent, two seemingly opposing traps. The first is that I have to be stern and unmovable to raise my children well. The second is that I have to put myself dead last and always put on a good face for my kids. What both of these traps have in common: they make us inaccessible. Our kids never get to connect with the real us. The joy of true connection, the permission to tell my 4 year old the truth when I’m frustrated. That’s what respectful parenting has given me.

    1. The principles you teach absolutely make parenting easier even though it may take some conscious effort. In the past nine months, I’ve gone from a frazzled, unsure parent to a boundary setting, self care prioritizing, confident, happier person. It hasnt been a perfect path for me. I have off days now and then, but theyre fewer and farther between. Thank you. Sharing your teachings has made parenting so much more enjoyable for me. I also apply these concepts to work and life in general and they work wonders there too.

  5. I’m a longtime reader and aspirational respectful-parenter, and I resonated with the original poster– feeling constantly guilty and angry that I can’t live up to the ideals so abundantly available in this information-overload age. I wanted to say how impressed I am with your gracious response– how graciously and compassionately you always respond. I certainly wouldn’t say the same of some other spin-off respectful parenting coaches (one of which was highlighted in an article and truly has created a cult-like, shame-run dictatorship in a FB group; I won’t name her) but I could really sense the generosity and humility in your response. You’re one classy lady. Thanks for all you do.

  6. avatar Pak Blodorn says:

    Thank you Janet for this very detailed and honest response to the parent (and general feedback you’ve been getting from many parents) who felt that “Gentle Parenting “- her term- was too idealistic etc. I have 3 grandchildren aged 7 1/2, 4 1/2 and 2 1/2. I am very close to them and spend as much time as I can with them (the older 2 have lived in Georgia for 4 years now) . Their parents are wonderful and pretty much embody naturally (somehow) your methods . I was attracted several years ago to your books and podcasts. After the last 2 week family get together ( they all left last Saturday) I was feeling like the “Facebook parent” you responded to in this article/podcast. My frustration with myself for not being the perfect grandmother with in particular our 4 1/2 yr old granddaughter was really bringing me down. My son had to gently motion me several times to “slow down or stop” my response to her behaviors. I wasn’t yelling, but I was very clearly disapproving of her behavior in a way that made her cry. She is very sensitive and feels that I don’t love her when I respond to her negative behavior in a tone of voice that is probably punitive sounding. Of course I know that she responds much more positively when I start with “I hear you, I understand that feeling..” but I get so tired and frustrated with her pushing the limits and not listening or responding to directions regarding what is ok and not ok or what is expected in a given scenario. So that frustration takes over.
    Her parents are not together, the breakup (3 yrs ago) was very hard, and her mother definitely has a different approach to raising kids. So many reasons to stay patient like my son does. Anyway I feel better having read your article and knowing that so many parents find this method very difficult. I was much stricter with our 3 children, and know that my husband and I did the best we could! At least we broke away from our own parents attitude that spanking is good for children!! I’ve been involved with children for most of my adult life, and worked as an Office Manager at a local elementary school for 21 years. Your Respectful Parenting approach immediately clicked with me when my other son’s wife (they have the 2 1/2 year old) recommended your books and podcast to me.
    So thank you! I will give myself permission to be frustrated or sad when I “blow it”, but will continue to strive to be gentle and respectful!

  7. Dear Janet,

    I have a 8 yrs old daughter and I raised her reading your blog, reading your articles again and again – when she ha tantrums, when we decided not to potty train and give her space etc You totally transformed me as a mother and I broke the legacy chain of the way we raised our kids, for generations, in my family, That does not mean that my parents approve my approach.
    I have never yelled at my daughter, I have always treated her with utmost respect, the way we should treat each and every person. I learn from her the same as she is learning from me when she is wiser, wittier, more balanced. I am always amazed how we, as parents, in general, tend to normalise the yelling at our kids, but we do not see it in a similar way when it concerns our close friends or co-workers or any other person that we encounter.
    I am deeply grateful to you for sharing your knowledge and insights, it is giving me the greatest chance and honor I may have as a parent, to have true/ honest and close interactions, every moment, with my daugher – this is why today my girl is able today to express her feelings and be heard and have full confidence in my unconditional support. This style of parenting changed me deeply, turning me into a more empathetic person and more careful to other people individual way of being. Thank you!

  8. Wanted to share this story after listening to this episode.

    My sister was visiting with her 10 month old son and staying at my parents. My 3 year old daughter and I were dropping off some baby gear for them to use during the visit, and my daughter was upset to have to leave her things behind for her cousin. We were in a rush to leave, and while getting her in her car seat she saw the stroller we were leaving. We were in a bit of a hurry, so thinks felt rushed.

    3yo: (crying) that’s mine I need it!
    Me: (still buckling) it is yours, but we’re going to leave it here
    3yo: why?
    Me: (stopping buckling, resting my hands on the door) good question. This stroller is a 5 point harness, and that will make it safe for your cousin (pointing at the 5 points). You have a stroller that’s just 3 buckles at home, and you’re big enough that’s safe for you.
    3yo: (calmer) ok
    Me: does that answer your question?
    3yo: yes

    And we continued on, and had a very pleasant ride to our next errand. Not every moment it’s that smooth, but it’s great when they are!

  9. Thanks for addressing this openly!
    I tend to be confused by the “this is unrealistic, it’s too hard” complaints re: gentle/ respectful parenting because 1. you’ve got to deal with your kids one way or another, and the yelling and obedience-demanding thing doesn’t look less stressful to me 2. you were the first person I read from, so I always knew that personal boundaries were not just allowed but essential. Every time I read a post about a parent getting overwhelmed because their kids are doing six different noisy things at once I’m like “why are you letting them?!?” 3. I’ve always seen it emphasized that you’re going to make mistakes, the idea is to just keep trying.
    So I’m glad you’ve addressed these ideas!
    I love the idea of calling it Unruffled-ish! I think that genuinely would help with people getting discouraged and giving up because they think they’re being expected to do it perfectly all the time.

  10. I hadn’t heard of the backlash on “gentle parenting” until this podcast episode, after doing some reading I agree that the portrayal of gentle parenting in the articles is scary and exhausting – and that it doesn’t match up with what I’m hearing in your podcast.

    “Social media portrays gentle parenting as this thing where if your child has any kind of tantrums or behavior, it’s an unmet need that is your fault for not meeting and that puts unrealistic pressure on mothers and fathers.”

    What I’m hearing from you is: If your child has any kind of tantrums or behavior, this is a common way for children to express themselves. It’s not their fault, its not your fault. Together you can find your way forward, take courage!

    Thanks for that message!

  11. Hi Janet,

    I want to thank you for being so open about this. I was raised in a home that in no way used the type of respectful parenting you promote (abusive) and now that I am raising two young daughters (4yo and 23months) my primary goal is to raise my girls as respectfully and gently as I can. I feel this parent’s need for ‘permission’ to be “gentle-ish” or “respectful-ish”, especially considering the societal pressure to be this perfect parent who is always unruffled and who meets their child’s needs while maintaining boundaries, etc.

    It is so hard to be that perfect parent who is always respectful and meets our kids perfectly where they need us to be, and when I do loose my temper/patience/yell/don’t parent “respectfully”, there is a lot of guilt that I am a bad parent or somehow becoming my emotionally abusive parents. It’s even hard to talk to other parents because of this pressure to be a respectful parent and it can definitely feel impossible and crushing, especially when you don’t do it perfectly. It has taken a lot of therapy to get to a point where I give myself the forgiveness and grace I need to accept that I don’t have to be perfect. To accept that I will have moments that I won’t be that perfectly respectful parent that I want to be to my girls and that it’s okay to be human and make mistakes, but that it is worth it to keep trying as all of my successes will help make my mistakes less harmful to my girls.

    I go to your podcast regularly to re-focus me and keep me inspired to stay on the respectful parenting track and not give up hope. It might sound silly, but thank you for the permission to be respectful-ish and unruffled-ish, because you ARE a voice of authority in this realm and an amazing resource for imperfect parents who are just doing their best.

  12. Hi Janet,
    I am a parent of a 4 year old and 14 month old. I’ve been following your work since my first was born. I appreciate your candor and willingness to respond, and I found what you said to be helpful. One piece worth considering is a mention or acknowledgement of the significant challenges parents, as a group, have been facing right now, be it the pandemic, lack of childcare, gun violence, and the limiting of parental leave/lactation rights/reproductive rights. It’s a scary time to be an American parent and that certainly makes it harder for me to be “unruffled” with my children. Thinking collectively rather than individualistically can be a a cultural challenge for us white women (speaking as one myself!) so I encourage you to consider that framing. Thank you for your work—it has been a great help to me and my family.

  13. I love this! Thank you for your work!

  14. avatar Caravelle says:

    I notice there were two episodes recently that weren’t mentioned on your twitter or blog; the one about saying “sorry” and the latest one about when validation doesn’t work. I assumed the latter at least was as recent as this one as it referred to an article complaining about gentle parenting techniques not working but I guess they’re both old episodes ?

    On the validation thing I find it so frustrating when people say it doesn’t work after (to all appearances) treating it as a simple script. The way I see it the reason acknowledging feelings “works” (I don’t think it “works” all the time I think it depends on the *reason* the kid is upset, I just think that reason is one that’s helped by acknowledging a lot more often than we as parents might realize. But “more often” doesn’t mean “always”) isn’t through saying any specific thing to the child, it’s through the child *thinking that we fully understand their feelings and point of view in that moment*. And it makes perfect sense to me that this would help – isn’t that something that can also frustrate us as adults, when we feel that a decision is being made by people who are ignoring some concern we have? In that situation it’s not always about being upset about the decision per se, it’s a worry that it’s not being made with full information and that there’s a *chance* it could be different if they knew our point of view. And just being reassured that it *was* taken into account can help even if the final decision doesn’t change because it puts that nagging possibility to rest.

    And while a script can help with communicating to our child that we understand them I don’t think you can really substitute for *actually understanding the child*. And that’s where I think you can have failure modes, if you’ve misinterpreted what the child wants or if you’re saying the right things but the child can tell your mind is elsewhere. I’ve had both things happen. For example I’d tell my kid “oh you don’t want to go in the car, I get that” and that didn’t help, but he did calm down after I thought a bit more about what else he might be feeling and said “or maybe you’re OK going in the car but you wanted to run a bit outside before? I’m afraid we don’t have time for that either”. The outcome was the same either way it really seemed to me that I had understood him correctly that second time and that’s what calmed him. Alternatively I had time I’d be going “you don’t want X” on total autopilot to absolutely no success until it occurred to me he might realize and not be satisfied with autopilot, and I’d pull myself together, refocus, put myself in his shoes and then again say “Okay, so… you don’t want X, I see that” and that would calm him. Again as if this had been exactly the issue, that he wanted me to engage and could tell when I wasn’t doing so.

    Thing is, from that point of view you don’t even *need* to understand the kid every time, I think the kid just needs to think you made a good faith effort to engage. I’ve had other times where I couldn’t figure out what was going on, or really couldn’t focus on them in that time, and saying “OK I see there’s a problem and sorry I don’t know what it is but we’ll have to make do because I don’t have time to figure it out right now” or “I guess you don’t like that I’m replying automatically but I need to focus on this other thing right now” also sometimes worked. Well, the first at least I’m not sure I’ve ever had the second *actually* work without enforcing the boundary in some other way.

    I think that might be some of the most valuable advice or script I feel I’ve gotten from your writings – the notion of keeping the verbal “I understand you” message to the absolute most conservative thing possible that you *can* be pretty sure is true instead of more “natural” sentences that make a lot more assumptions about what’s actually going on that could be incorrect. Like for example “I took the ice cream and now you feel like screaming” (which makes some assumptions in the events you choose to highlight but it still a pretty simple description of events that’s open-ended in terms of the child’s feelings or motives or wants) instead of “you’re angry because I took the ice cream”. I also like how you emphasize making the effort to try and understand the child’s point of view. I wonder how easy that really is to do though. Like, I feel I’m very good at doing this with my child but I also think that’s very informed by reading books like The Whole-Brained Child and The Philosophical Baby and my own issues being maybe half-toddler myself. I don’t know if it’s that easy to do for people who don’t have that background or have very different ideas on how children think or are inside.

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