“So, I’ve been trying this Gentle Parenting thing and it’s great for my kids! They’re really responding to having their voices heard. I’ve noticed fewer meltdowns. And they’re even getting along with each other better!”
“Um…but…me? I’m exhausted. If this is supposed to be so good and natural for my kids, why am I feeling so worn out? I feel like I have a quota of gentle parenting and when that is maxed out, I lose my cool. Am I doing something wrong?” This scenario comes up for some parents who are working hard to parent consciously and gently, particularly if they were parented in an authoritarian or authoritative home. Let us explore why this occurs and in future articles, we can discover some strategies for easing the energy drain.
There can be many reasons why a parent could be experiencing this energy drain. For some, it may be that certain parenting situations are in fact triggering their own childhood emotions of feeling unheard or unable to fully express their own big feelings such as anger or sadness. Comments such as “Don’t be such a baby,” “That’s nothing to cry about,” or “Don’t speak to me that way,” might sound familiar to these parents. Being aware of our triggers and finding ways to process and release the old hurts are necessary for moving forward. It is a simple idea which is not easy. Coaching, counselling, journaling, talking with a trusted friend or having a good cry (or many!) have been helpful to parents striving to parent more consciously.
Another reason that parents might feel worn out is from overcompensation. If a parent was raised in a “Be seen and not heard” environment, they can be hypersensitive to recreating that type of environment for their own children. When they are intently focused on respecting their child and acknowledging their child’s point of view, the pendulum can swing too far the other way. In extreme cases this leads to permissive parenting; an approach without healthy boundaries or limit-setting. This permissive style wears out a parent excessively, as their own needs are not being met and the children are respecting them less and less as they grow up. This is not a healthy scenario for anyone and in fact, leaves children feeling insecure and unmotivated.
For some individuals who were raised feeling unheard and disrespected, they can feel burnt-out in a different way. These parents were expected to obey without question and may have felt the burden of a complete lack of autonomy and control. For them, they have made a conscious decision to parent differently. How great! But they become avoidant.
FEAR OF CONFLICT
Another version of a pendulum swing can occur when the parent is afraid of conflict in their relationships. Fear of conflict can be a powerful driver of behaviour. These parents allow others to disrespect them and quash their own needs and desires in order to keep the peace. Yet bottling up our feelings and compromising our own boundaries is unhealthy. Any time we fear something, it is an indicator that something is unresolved. This coping mechanism necessitates inner work on the reasons the parent might fear another’s anger, rejection and abandonment. Spending some time exploring the underlying beliefs is a necessity for moving forward. Then taking time for self-care and a sort of re-parenting of themselves is important. Managing our fear of conflict allows us to set healthy limits for ourselves and for our kids and it teaches them valuables lessons of standing up for their own needs.
For me, it was tough at first to parent gently. Since it was hard, I questioned whether I was doing something wrong. Although I was highly committed and understood the long-term value, I often felt like I was the only one questioning this traditional approach. Once I met others who were looking at the same research and trying different strategies, I could breathe again. Their support was crucial for those early times when I was unsure and feeling overwhelmed. Yes, it takes a village to raise a child, but what if your village and your beliefs disagree?
Another reason for feeling burnt out could be the perceived need to do it all ourselves. It would be great if our kids automatically wanted to wash dishes and only the dishes got wet! Or if they were born loving a tidy room. Or my personal joy: understanding that we only colour on paper; not walls, or the baby or chairs. Sadly, we must face reality on this one. We either do it ‘right’ ourselves and burn ourselves out, or we invest the energy upfront to teach them life skills. The bonus is that they learn that their contributions are both desired and required.
Along with setting boundaries with our kids and teaching them to take on age-appropriate responsibilities, we also need to set our own boundaries and ask for our needs to be met, too. Women especially have learned to put themselves last. Yet we cannot take care of others (for long) unless we take care of ourselves, too.
It is important to recognize however, that even when we get many of these puzzle pieces in place and do lots of the inner work required to manage our own histories and habits, it will still be hard sometimes. Sometimes fairly often. Parenting with conscious intention is hard. It takes self-awareness, self-reflection, self-discipline and a hard look at our own past; a past that is now hard-wired into our brains and full of emotional responses. But we know the reasons we do it. And we do the best we can. And when we get stuck, we reach out for support. And that is enough. You are enough.
I am thankful for this opportunity to share my thoughts with you. I hope you have read something that will support your families. Let me know how it goes!