Gentle parenting should be gentle on you, too

orange and blue cloudy sky

I did all the things that gentle parents do. I co-slept, breastfed forever, carried them everywhere. I never spanked, tried (and failed) not to raise my voice, and basically made parenting my end all and be all life’s purpose. I have no regrets for my choices but I do regret the fear that governed them. I wish I hadn’t punished myself so much when I didn’t get things exactly right. And I wish I’d remembered myself more.

Many of us are parenting so intensely because we’re trying to undo our own relational trauma. In our communities of attachment parents/gentle parents/instinctive parents, there is a pretty high number of traumatized former children desperately trying to undo that trauma through our own parenting. We confuse our experience with our children’s, thinking that taking a shower while the baby cries is the same thing as abandonment. We ignore our own need for sleep and space because we are terrified of inadvertently harming our child’s psyche. What matters beyond never harming this perfect little being? Never mind that we are perfect beings, too, as messed up as we might feel.

We fret over details — first foods, baby equipment, the minutia of tummy time — because every little decision seems fraught. We feel undone by our love for our child, laid bare and vulnerable, our tunnel vision making it impossible to see anything else.

Recently my daughter was looking through old photographs of her babyhood. We were both struck by how completely wrung out and left-over I looked. She and her brother were dressed so carefully and beautifully and I was wearing stretched out tees and worn baggy pants. I carefully did my daughter’s hair every morning but my own was frizzed and ratty. I baked them wholegrain muffins for breakfast and literally ate the crusts of their sandwiches instead of fixing my own lunch.

Sound familiar? Oh my gosh, it’s so hard.

And then there is the advice and the peer pressure, the arguments that turn cruel on our support sites. “How could you!” someone sneers. “How dare you! I would NEVER!” So the mothers, shamed, have no place to talk about their own needs or resentments. Our gentle parenting communities can be cruel to moms. I remember when my own email list for attachment parents blew up in a flamewar about the suitability of Goldfish crackers for afternoon snack. We were so ready to condemn each other because we were insecure and covering up. It had to be our way or no way because we wanted promises that we could get it right!

Even our experts tell us DO THIS NOT THAT but forget that sometimes (many times) we are parenting from a place of exhaustion and fear and it’s so easy to reach the wrong way for an answer. Especially when our instincts have been muddied by our experiences. How easy it is to yell first! To snatch, or pull, to escalate the conflict instead of coming with rationale calm. And then the regret, the self-loathing, the fear that we are going to do to our child what was done to us.

Oh intense moms, how I love you!

The spaces I create to support moms are and always will be safe space to share our ugliest feelings about parenting — our jealousy, our rage, our exhaustion, our sorrows, our fears. Because I know these, too. I know how it is to want to do your best and to feel like you are ever failing. I know how it feels to be judgmental and also to feel judged. I remember the urgency to get it right, to find someone to approve of you, to acknowledge how hard you’re working to give your child a better chance than you had to grow up happy, confident, and secure.

I also know the path to better balance and how individual that is. I know that there are many many ways to be a good mother and that good mothers make lots of different choices. I trust you; I will help you trust yourself.

If this post resonates you, please sign up for the You Are Not Your Mother waitlist via my newsletter. I want to support you to support yourself AND your child. because you both matter. You are both growing — together.