Have you got an interfering Mother in Law? Maybe it’s a friend who just can’t keep her opinions to herself? Or perhaps it’s your own mum who makes you feel like you’re doing a rubbish job as a parent?
Well you’re not alone.
Especially when it comes to gentle parenting.
Gentle parenting is quite a radical approach to parenting and is probably very different to the way you were raised. To the untrained eye, it can look like we’re indulging our kids, too afraid to discipline them properly.
But what people on the outside might not be seeing is the careful groundwork that we’re putting in; the foundations that are going to set our kids up for a happy, successful life.
Definition of gentle parenting
Lots of people have an idea about what gentle parenting is, but there are many misconceptions. So let’s have a quick look at the core principles of gentle parenting – what do we do? And why?
(For more detail check out this comprehensive gentle parenting guide)
I’m not necessarily expecting you to share all of this with your interfering mother in law (that bit comes further down). This section is more so that you can straighten out in your own mind what you are trying to do and why this approach is so helpful.
These are the 3 core principles of gentle parenting:
We believe that children are equal in value to adults.
That doesn’t mean they’re ready for the same level of responsibility and decision-making. But it does mean that they should always be treated with dignity.
We see ourselves in a nurturing role rather than a position of power.
We are looking to develop responsible children who will learn to make wise choices. This takes a lot of time and patience, and quick fixes like yelling, manipulating, or threatening aren’t an option.
We use empathy to learn about our children and build up mutual trust. This makes us better placed to develop them because we know what they need from us and where they’re struggling.
We try to avoid labelling emotions as “good” or “bad”, but simply accept the whole spectrum of feelings as normal. We want our kids to process their emotions in a healthy way.
How to speak to your interfering mother in law about gentle parenting
Of course I expect your interfering mother in law (or whoever it is) will think this is a load of twaddle!
They will spout off about how children need to be hardened because it’s a big bad world out there. They might suggest that your kids have got you wrapped around their little fingers because you don’t raise your voice to them. They may even say that you’ve lost your authority because you allow discussion and opinions.
Well if you’ve come up against some of these arguments, here are a few practical ways to defend your gentle parenting approach…
Actions speak louder than words
Your first, and probably best, defence of gentle parenting is the results. Your interfering mother in law may not approve of your methods, but if you manage to raise a child who is secure, well-rounded, and kind, then she has nothing to complain about!
She may moan that you don’t yell at your child when he’s fidgeting in the restaurant. But quietly talking to him and finding out what is causing the unwanted behaviour (probably boredom, let’s be honest!) means you can solve it.
It may take longer to fix the problem this way, but your child will be happier. Plus you’ll have new information about how to make the next restaurant trip easier for your child to deal with too.
Investing time in your kids and respecting their feelings will, over time, reap its rewards.
Demonstrate the benefits of a calm approach
One of the most common complaints about gentle parenting is that it’s lazy. Again, this is probably because you don’t yell or clamp down on your kids at the first sign of mischief.
If your interfering mother in law is making these accusations, then you need to show her why you are taking longer to react and how that is beneficial.
One of the key ingredients in gentle parenting is empathy; seeing our kid as a whole person, rather than just reacting to the behaviour on the surface. By stepping back from a situation and assessing what’s going on before jumping in, we can deal with it more effectively.
Shouting at a group of kids to be quiet may work for five minutes. But if you take the time to watch why they’re suddenly being loud, you might be able to find a more long term solution:
- Maybe they’re getting a bit giddy and need a change of scenery
- Maybe one of the children is being unkind to another
- Maybe they’ve chosen a noisy toy to play with and you could swap it for something else
- Maybe they’re bored and need some ideas for play
Try not to let your interfering mother in law rush you. Be confident in your method of observing and then offering a solution.
Stick to your boundaries
However much your interfering mother in law mutters, this one is sure to get her on board.
She probably needs the reassurance that you can control these “little monsters” (her words, not mine!), so let her see where you draw the line.
As gentle parents, we try to include our kids’ opinions wherever possible, but there are also some non-negotiables.
For example, I have a rule that my kids must hold my hand when we cross the road. We live in a busy city and keeping them safe is an absolute priority.
Because I have always been consistent about this rule, my children just see it as a normal part of life and usually go along with it. When they are in a rebellious mood and refuse to hold hands, it is my job to explain why the rule stands.
I will get down to their level and calmly explain that holding hands keeps them safe. And if they’re still not cooperating, I will set the warning-consequence process in motion. If that means having a time out on the pavement in the middle of town, then that’s what it takes.
However, whilst you will see me being strict about this, you will NOT see me shouting, yelling, smacking, or forcing my child to bend to my will.
(Of course nobody is perfect and their may be occasional times when I just need to tuck her under my arm and march across the road – those teachers can get very narky if you’re late for school…!) but as a general principle, you get my gist!
Go through with the fair consequences you have laid out
Again, this is another one that will demonstrate to your interfering mother in law that you are capable, you are involved, and you do teach your children right and wrong (albeit in a less forceful way than she is used to).
Gentle parenting relies on respecting our kids. A key way of doing this is by being consistent – our children are fully aware of their options and what is expected (no unexpected punishments or traps).
So once a consequence has been triggered, you need to enforce it. Do it firmly but with love – the motivation is to correct and develop, rather than give payback.
Ignore the jibes
Finally, ignore what she says. Your interfering mother in law (probably) means well, but at the end of the day, you are the parent. You are the one who can make the final call on this stuff, and if you believe in gentle parenting, then go for it!
In reality, it doesn’t matter what she thinks. Your priority is your children, and if you feel gentle parenting is beneficial to them, then that’s your answer. Everybody can have their own opinions, but you do not need to justify your decisions.
Keep reassuring yourself that you are capable, and that you are playing a long game. Quick fixes only mask the underlying problems. You are working hard for your kids’ futures, not just looking for an easy life today.
I’d love to know – has this ever been an issue for you? Do you have an interfering mother in law or friend who likes to criticise your parenting style? Do you find it easy to be confident in your parenting decisions or do you worry about making the wrong ones? I’d really appreciate your feedback so please leave a comment below.
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