I was brought up in a strict household, sometimes a bit too strict. The level of strictness sometimes felt unnecessary and conjured as a way of relieving stress. If you grew up with authoritarian parents, you know exactly what I mean. This kind of style meant that you never questioned what went on. Your main role was to repeat, obey and ask no questions. Opinions were those things you could have after you got your job. So, as a child who grew up in an authoritarian home, you can imagine how confusing gentle parenting is. Gentle parenting is exactly as you read it, and it is by all means gentle. It is the total opposite of authoritarian parenting, and if you ask me, it makes sense, but only to an extent.

According to verywell, Gentle parenting is a proven method for developing children who are confident and happy. This parenting approach, which comprises four basic components—empathy, respect, understanding, and boundaries—focuses on helping your child develop the traits you want by understanding and setting clear boundaries. In contrast to some more lax parenting strategies, gentle parenting promotes age-appropriate discipline that imparts important life skills.

When you read this definition, it sounds doable, and if you’re to sign up anywhere, I bet you’ll quickly do it. I’ve read countless articles and social media posts that encourage this style of parenting. Recently I read a carousel post where the author compared adults to children. In her post, she wrote, “many children are told, “you better do this or else…” many call this setting limits. Some adults are told, “you better do this or else…” what do we call this? A threat? She gave a few more comparisons and even said that rewards are a sort of bribery. I read that questioningly, and I felt attacked.

For one, comparing a child to an adult is not ideal. Children can never reason as well as adults do, so it is our job as parents to ensure that we break down logic to them as much as we can, but there are times that it doesn’t work. For example, my son started school recently, and guess what? He dreads it, every bit of it, from waking up to the instructions his teacher gives him. If it were up to him, he wouldn’t go. Now, as an adult, I understand that structure, knowledge, and committing to work and responsibility is the only thing that makes sense to be a part of a functional society. For the last two weeks, I’ve had to set rewards for my son to encourage him to go to school. My rewards would be simple things like extra screen time. Why? Because the real world has a reward system, and if you don’t get a reasonable reward, most people look for more. The reality is our motivation to thrive is some sort of reward. As I write this article, my reward will be your opinion about all this. I will smile that someone took the time to read my opinion. That’s some form of reward, isn’t it?

Gentle parenting insists that we must take the child’s lead. I think kids can take the lead when there’s time for that. For instance, if we’re building blocks and my son takes the lead and says that we should build a truck instead of a house, then that’s fine. However, if we’re getting ready for school and my 3-year-old is screaming fire about his school routine, I will take a much more authoritative approach and insist that if he doesn’t get to wear his shoes, the school van will leave him, and if it leaves him then there’ll be a consequence for that, consequences such as withholding privileges because that is how life works.

Gentle parenting claims that for every reaction a child has, there must be something deeper going on and that we must help them evaluate their emotions. As a mother, I have come to terms with the fact that sometimes my toddler will simply refuse to brush his teeth simply because he doesn’t feel like not because deep down he’s struggling with instructions or invisible germs that are fighting him. In a perfect world, the time to sit down and hug your child every time he/she has a tantrum sounds beautiful, but that is not possible. Sometimes, kids need a bit of tough love. When my son refused to go to school, I would cry after leaving him in school that first week. By the second week, I had to have a different mindset. I was tired of being gentle because he needed to understand that whether he screamed fire or not, he still had to go to school, I took the necessary measures and let the teacher know that he was struggling and that we had to work together to ensure that he adjusted, but that was as much as I could do for him. Gentle parenting forgets that teachers and other members of society don’t have the time or the patience to get down to children’s levels, so the best most people can do is be authoritative, which is still kind but with clear expectations and deadlines.

There’s also this air of judgment that parents who practice gentle parenting have. They have an air of confidence that says, “you guys are damaging your kids and ours are safer than yours.” I hear it in blog posts, social media captions, and conversations between mums who practice time-outs and those who don’t. Most times parents (in this case mostly mothers) are made to feel as if every reaction of a child is the mother’s fault. While children’s behavior is especially affected by their environment it is impossible and unrealistic to expect that mothers can keep assessing all emotions because there are times we simply don’t know what is going on. Sometimes, we are as gentle as they come and still get meltdowns that last hours or even daily. Sometimes you tick all the right boxes, and still, your child will hold back his/her sleep when it’s bedtime. There are times when mothers simply have no clue what to do, and do you know why? Because they are also trying to figure themselves out while also trying to process their children’s emotions at the same time they didn’t get their certification from Dr. Phil to be children psychologists.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that my role as a parent is to help my child navigate his emotions, but it is impossible to help him process every emotion because there’s only so much I can do. I realized that gentle parenting can easily be used as an excuse to be a permissive parent, the kind of parent who always has an excuse for their child’s naughty behaviors, for example, “my child hits because he’s just finding it hard to adjust to his routine” as parents we always want to safeguard our children but there comes a time where you have lovingly mimic the real world, the real world will not excuse physical violence as a way of expressing anger, instead teach your child how to communicate and process their emotions.

Another thing I’ve noted is how horrible gentle parenting makes you feel as a parent. The advocates of gentle parenting tend to catastrophize our parenting errors as well as assign moms the burden and the guilt. We are “programming a child for co-dependency” when we concentrate on how a child’s behavior affects us rather than whatever is going on inside of them.

It seems like no matter what we try. We’re failing. Am I raising my child to be a people-pleaser with no boundaries or sense of value if I admit that she offended me when he yelled at me at the playground for telling him that time was up? If I tell my child “good job” for achieving straight As, am I fostering an extrinsically motivated dependency and possibly ensuring a prescription painkiller addiction? It seems that no matter how hard we try there’s something with this approach that always finds fault, in the end, it always feels like what we’re being encouraged to do is be full-time therapists and friends, where’s the role of a parent then? Discipline? Setting boundaries? Socializing our children for society?

What is the point of having a child who is fully aware of his or her emotions but is not able to evaluate his/her actions and how it affects others? Emotional awareness and knowledge, including comprehending and recognizing the child’s emotions, are the main goals of gentle parenting. Understanding our own emotions and motivations is only one aspect of emotional intelligence; another aspect is being conscious of the potential effects of our actions on other people. How can we expect kids to understand this if we don’t assist them in doing so?

Gentle parenting puts a lot of expectations on parents and especially mothers but very little room for the fact that we’re humans. I don’t want a parenting style that tells me that telling my child to hurry up is wrong because keeping time is important. I don’t want a style that makes me wonder if my telling my child that his actions hurt other members of the family or me was good or not(of course it was good).

As a parent, you know what is best for your child and to be honest you need to follow your instincts because not one size fits all. There is no clear-cut guideline or one “best” method of parenting. Furthermore, perfection is not possible no matter what we do. As much as I try, I’m going to make mistakes as a parent no matter which parenting approach makes the most sense for my family and me. I’m going to screw up. That’s fine too.

Parenting is a cocktail of permissiveness, positive parenting, authoritative and authoritarian, a fair balance between being strict when needed, sometimes allowing rules to be broken, and also reassuring our children with love and being a source of comfort is not the worst thing I know that even though primarily I tend to be an authoritative parent, there’s a small fraction of times where I will have to use strict punishments because that is how the world works.

I will continue to strive to parent gently instead of trying to adhere to gentle parenting guidelines. And I should also be kind to myself. Raising kind, resilient, and autonomous children requires some flexibility and a tonne of grace. It’s crucial that you’re happy as well. Otherwise being a good parent overall will not work.