Gentle parenting is often considered synonymous with self-sacrifice. The stereotype suggests that as parents, we’ll do anything to prevent our child from feeling any form of upset – even to the point where we neglect our own sleep, our own health, and for that matter, all the rest of our own basic needs.
On the contrary, however, it’s entirely possible to take care of ourselves while also being gentle parents. Perhaps the misconception comes from a lack of understanding of what gentle parenting really is.
Some assume it means only these things, among others:
- Exclusive breastfeeding
- Safe co-sleeping (the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends room sharing for the first year of a child’s life)
- Babywearing and never touching a stroller
- Never having someone else care for our child
While these might be true for some (perhaps even many) gentle parents, they are definitely not a reflection of what’s true for all of us. Many people, by choice or necessity, use formula some or all of the time. Some prefer a different sleeping arrangement. Some love their strollers. And of course, many involve other caregivers in their lives. If handled lovingly and with the child’s physical and emotional well-being in mind, these things are totally “approved” under this parenting model.
For some of us, these very same things fit nicely into our version of self-care.
We can, for example:
- Pump milk for the other parent (or another caregiver) to give to our child or use formula, so we can connect with friends outside the home, take a nap, or do whatever it is that needs doing.
- Actually sleep while the child is sleeping (everyone recommends that, but few follow through on it).
- Exercise while walking or running with the child in a stroller
- Allow other trustworthy adults to take care of the child while we take care of our mental, physical, and/or emotional well-being
Some parents, of course, find their self-care in being with their kids 24×7—this is what makes them feel solid emotionally. That’s okay, too.
As for preventing our children from feeling upset, that isn’t part of the mantra of
this parenting style.
To clarify, it means we hold space for our children’s emotions – even the tricky ones – and lovingly support them with our presence every step of the way. Similarly yet separately, we model emotional authenticity with them by letting them know we need to take care of ourselves, too.
Self-care is an important message that we can send to the children we’re raising. We don’t want them growing up seeing their primary caregivers as martyrs; that’s a goal to which they should not aspire. They’ll model that which they know best.
The way to take care of ourselves and our children, then, is to give them our hearts, our time, our attention, and the resources we have at our disposal for a fulfilling life. We do that best, of course, if we have the emotional resources within ourselves from which to draw.
Sarah R. Moore is an internationally published writer and the founder of Dandelion
Seeds Positive Parenting. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.
She’s current world schooling her family. Her glass is half full.