Gentle Parenting in a Big Family

I first became committed to Gentle Parenting–parenting without threats, spanks, yelling, anger–three years ago. We always have been Attachment Parents–breastfeeding, baby wearing, cosleeping are a few of the tenets–, but  I didn’t understand Gentle Parenting or Peaceful Parenting, or how it could possibly “work”. I even joined a Gentle Parenting board and tried to learn more, almost a decade ago, but it was not a good fit at the time.

Gentle Parenting as described eloquently by L.R. Knost “is guiding instead of controlling, connecting instead of punishing, encouraging instead of demanding. It’s about listening, understanding, responding, and communicating.” It is a concious shift away from the way I was brought up, away from what everything in my body is demanding, away from the gut center of my brain.

Gentle Parenting is, I think, a bigger challenge for me than traditional parenting because it requires more from the parent. More thought, more emotion, more connection, just more. No matter how you parent, or how many kids you have, it’s hard, don’t get me wrong. When I had two little daughters and I was spanking, it was hard. Now though, I have to think more about why I’m being reactive and what is going on in my child and what is the behavior trying to tell me and teach them how to problem solve at the same time I’m trying to change a diaper and spell a word and give directives and help a child and there are six of them!

I follow several Gentle Parenting pages on Facebook and it seems like they all have one or two children. It feels frustrating because they offer their good solutions, and say things like “if you…then they will…” and it just doesn’t happen right away. The dynamics in a home with one or two children are very different than a home with several. I am dealing with teenagerish hormones at the same time I’m nursing a baby with four loud and active and strong children in between!

I don’t think I thought this “big family thing” through very well.

It is hard to coach a small child through their big emotions. It is hard when some kid is lying stiff as a board and mad faced in the middle of the floor when everyone else is following directions and  you know if you stop and help this kid through it, everyone else’s well oiled machine-ing will grind to a halt. It would be so much easier to say, “Fine. If you’re not going to clean up then no TV tonight.” Or “Fine. If you’re going to act that way, you don’t get to be with the family” and physically drag that child to the corner. I know this, because even though I’m committed to Peaceful Parenting, I’m not perfect at it. 
There is still yelling and still anger, and still fights and frustrations and upsets. The differences are dynamic though. Instead of angrily telling my child “You’re acting like a brat!” (yes. I said that.) I can now angrily say, “I am so angry right now! I feel so frustrated when you hit your sister! I need to calm down! (I take some deep breaths, and ask, more calmly)What can we do differently next time?” I am teaching my children important skills when I do this.
I see a huge difference in Aviana at 3 and Elivette at 3. Elivette knows she is respected as a human being and an integral part of our family. I thought I was showing the same sorts of things to Aviana, but because I punished her when she threw tantrums, didn’t allow her grace when she was angry or “disobeyed”, because I honestly thought I was doing what would teach her how to be a compassionate, loving grown up. 
Elivette and Aviana handle their emotions completely differently. Aviana, almost 12, has been ‘gentle parented’ for three years, but Elivette has known it this way her entire life. Aviana will sneak pinch or hit her sister when frustrated; Elivette will cry “I’m so mad!” and we’ll work through it together and let her feel those emotions and let them dissipate. Aviana is used to stuffing them down because they weren’t accepted for so much of her life. Elivette doesn’t really have tantrums, because she feels heard most of the time, and knows she’s accepted. Aviana threw tantrums of epic proportions. 
I know a lot of it has to do with personality and I know each child is different. I don’t want you to read this and think “I gentle parent and my kid still has fits. I must suck.” That is NOT what I’m saying! I just know this to be true in my own family–that I am seeing the fruit of this hard work of gentle parenting these lovely chiddlers, as they grow into compassionate, loving adults.
(As an aside, I was spanked, screamed at, belittled, criticized, hurt, and more, and I still grew up to be a lovely human being. This post is not meant to give guilt trips. At. All. I’m just trying to relate how positive of a change this has been in my family, and how I am seeing delightful things happening here. )
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One thought on “Gentle Parenting in a Big Family

  1. How do you deal with one child interrupting the flow of the day for everyone and their activities? I have only 3 with #4 on the way, but one of my kids can get so out of hand that I have to cancel us goingn to sports practices etc. I dont know how to deal with it.

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