Gentle Parenting is just a term that describes a natural, instinctive way of parenting that involves respecting and empathising with our children and allowing them to be who they naturally are, whilst only using gentle, respectful techniques to teach them about boundaries and discipline.
Something that is often misunderstood when we talk about Gentle Parenting and Attachment Parenting is that to be a good, gentle parent we need to sacrifice ourselves completely and leave making time for us at the bottom of our never-ending to-do list. But is this true? No! Indeed, it is a trap that I have fallen into many times (and continue to do so sometimes!) but I know and understand now that for me to be the very best parent I can be, I need to find some time to be gentle with myself too. When I occasionally reach my breaking point and feel as though I can’t cope with much more, I can trace it right back to not giving myself enough care and attention. If I’m feeling stressed because I’m ignoring my needs, then I am much more likely to behave in ways that go against my gentle parenting instincts.
Most mothers I speak to, both professionally and personally, seem to be holding on to guilt. Sometimes just a little bit and sometimes a crippling amount. Fathers, of course, can experience this too, but as I am a mother and tend to work mostly with women, I feel better qualified to talk about this from a mother’s point of view.
So where does this guilt come from? Usually, it’s that same old mistaken belief that causes so much negativity in all areas of our lives: We believe we are just not good enough. We aren’t good enough mothers because our babies cry a lot. We aren’t good enough mothers because our children are unhappy in some way. We aren’t good enough mothers because our teenagers rebel against us. But where did we learn to feel this way?
Everything we feel can be traced back to an initial thought and every thought can be traced back to a deeper, core belief. If we feel guilty, it’s because we’ve experienced a thought that tells us we have done something wrong. This can then be traced back to some very common core beliefs, including I’m not good enough. I need to be perfect. I am a failure and so on. These unhealthy thinking patterns and core beliefs cause so many uncomfortable feelings and unhealthy behaviours and there’s nothing like a good dose of parenthood to bring every single issue you have to the surface! Which is actually a great thing, because we then have an opportunity to heal. Hoorah!
Many of us hold an image of what parenthood should be like. I’m wondering what yours looks like? Does it allow for mistakes and experiences that will take you to some uncomfortable places? Or is it an unrealistic vision of perfection? Unfortunately, for most of us, it’s the latter. We all want to be great parents and to do our best which is wonderful, but what happens when our idea of perfection comes crashing down and we realise that this parenthood lark is pretty challenging and most of the time completely out of our control? Well, we feel like we are failing. We feel guilty. We feel like no matter how hard we try, we just aren’t good enough.
When we feel this way, it causes us to try even harder to reach that place of perfection. We push ourselves to be better; to do more, to be more, to say more, to listen more, to have more, to give more…I don’t know about you, but I feel completely exhausted just writing this! Yet, for so many of us, this is our daily reality. Sometimes it is for me too! But at some point we need to STOP, take a deep breath and remember that we are human.
You’ve made mistakes in the past and you will probably make plenty more in the future. But that’s okay…because you aren’t a machine. You are a living, breathing person who is here to learn and grow and there’s very little in this world that will challenge you more than being a parent, especially if you are the main caregiver. So it’s time to be gentle with yourself. We can still give our children everything they need to flourish, whilst taking care of ourselves too. We don’t have to neglect our emotional health and wellbeing in order to be good, gentle parents. You don’t need to be perfect to raise happy, emotionally healthy children. The most important part of gentle parenting is this: Gentle Parenting means being gentle with yourself too. After all, the more you have, the more you can give to your children. You’re no use to your children if you are constantly exhausted and stressed out.
Here are my top 5 ways to start being gentle with yourself today:
1. Ask for Help
It’s okay to ask for help. It doesn’t mean that you are weak; it means that you have reached your limit and you need some assistance. In those moments when it all feels too much, don’t suffer in silence. Talk to your partner, your family, your friends or anyone who can help you and tell them what you need. Maybe you need someone to watch the children, maybe you need some help with housework or maybe you just need to talk to somebody openly and honestly about how you’re feeling. It’s amazing how much better you can feel after admitting that you need help. If you’re going through a particularly stressful time in your life then perhaps talking to a professional therapist will give you what you need. Don’t be afraid to ask, we all need help sometimes.
2. Forgive Yourself
Usually, when we have made a mistake we become extremely hard on ourselves. We beat ourselves up, punish ourselves with harsh words, unhealthy food and so on. But what good does this do ourselves, our children and the rest of our family? Being critical of ourselves and our behaviour causes us to feel guilty which is a complete waste of energy. Instead, the healthiest thing for us to do is accept we have made a mistake, put things right in the best way we know how and learn and grow from the experience. The best way to ensure that we don’t make the same mistake twice is to reflect upon our behaviour and work out how we got to that place so that we can prevent ourselves from ending up there again. Have you been doing too much? Have you been neglecting your own needs? Is it a particularly stressful time? Once you understand, you can put things in place that will stop you reaching that point again. For instance, asking someone for help or arranging regular time-outs for some well-deserved ‘me time’ could be just what you need to make sure you never reach that breaking point again. Then it’s important to forgive yourself and let it go.
3. Feed Your Body with Healthy Nutritious Food
The types of food we eat have a dramatic impact not only on how well our physical body functions, but our mood and emotional health too. We’ve all heard of comfort eating and nobody understands this better than I do! I am a complete sugar addict and in times of stress, I always find myself being drawn back to the chocolate and cake aisle in the supermarket. At one point in my life, I really did believe that it was making me feel better. On a bad day I would eat my piece of cake and suddenly turn into Superwoman; I could take on the day once again, and nothing would bring me down. That was of course until the sugar dip brought me crashing down into an even deeper hole than I was in before! It was when I quit sugar that I realised what a huge effect it had been having on my mood and energy levels. After the initial withdrawal stage, I felt so much better in myself and my moods balanced out beautifully. By drinking enough water and ensuring that our diet is one that works well for our bodies and emotions, we are being gentle with ourselves. The love you have for yourself should match the deep love you have for your littles ones. When I realised that I was putting food into my body that I would never put into my baby’s body (processed, sugary foods), something clicked. So, nowadays, if I wouldn’t give it to my child, I’m not giving it to me!
4. Develop a Kind Inner Voice
What’s your inner voice like? Is it an inner source of love and support or is it more of an inner critic constantly nagging away at you? We all need help from time to time and receiving love and support from those closest to us is a beautiful part of human relationships, but it’s our responsibility to give ourselves the love and support we need too. If you depend solely on others to make you feel good there undoubtedly will be times when you are not receiving the support you need. Think of somebody you love unconditionally and ask yourself how you talk to them, especially if they are struggling and in need. Is this how you talk to yourself too? For many it’s not. We are kind, loving and supportive to our friends and family but when it comes to us we can be our worst enemy! If this is the case for you, it’s time to change things. Be kind and gentle with your words, especially the ones you use on yourself.
5. 10 Minutes a Day Keeps the Stress Away
Taking just 10 minutes a day to rest, relax and recharge can be all you need to keep the stress away. We are usually so busy taking care of everybody else that we forget to keep some time free for our own needs. No matter how busy your life, you can find ten minutes that belongs just to you. It could be when your baby is sleeping, when your children are at school, or even ten minutes in bed before you drift off to sleep. The most important thing is that these ten precious minutes belong to you and only you. As a hypnotherapist, I am passionate about the amazing benefits of hypnotherapy and meditation and have created self-hypnosis recordings that include ten-minute boosters or soothers that are ideal for busy mums who have little time to spare, but want and need to experience a lovely sense of calm and relaxation. Taking care of you is a necessity, not a luxury!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
NICOLA HASLETT is a British Holistic Therapist with a special interest in Women’s health and wellbeing. She trained in Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy after experiencing the life changing effects of these therapies herself and now she is dedicated to using her experience and wisdom to help others.
With a passion for helping other women, Nicola is the co-owner of publishing company ‘Aluna Moon Publishing’ which produces self-hypnosis and meditation apps and recordings especially for Women; helping them to relax, heal and come back to their true authentic selves.
Aside from her work in Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy, Nicola feels passionate about natural, gentle parenting and enjoys writing articles that will support, encourage and inspire parents everywhere to live more naturally and authentically.