When we say we follow ‘gentle’ or ‘positive’ parenting practices, that can be very subjective. We all are different people, and as such we handle situations in our own unique ways regardless of what style we’re using. And while we may know what gentle parenting means to us, and how to respond to situations based on it, that doesn’t mean our partner has the same definition. In fact, for purposes of parenting together in a unified way, let’s get rid of the term ‘gentle parenting’ altogether in this article. If you and your partner are already disagreeing on the methods, just saying that term may be driving a wedge between the two of you. It separates you, and defines you both as different, when in reality you are one entity with the same goal: parents, raising your children to adulthood. We all know the kind of stress that comes about when we are not on the same page as parents. Having vastly different styles and not being on the same page can undermine one parent, put strain on the relationship, and make the children tend towards one parent over the other, which can also put strain on the relationships they are having with each of you.
The following are super important for any relationship, and especially when applied to parenting children together:
1. Communication is the MOST important factor in parenting. Tell your partner how you were parented, what you agreed with and what you didn’t like, and encourage him/her to talk about how his/her own upbringing.
2. Compromise. Listen to your partner’s concerns about how you are handling certain situations. You’re too soft? Not strict enough? Then have your partner demonstrate what he would do in those situations. Perhaps your partner feels like he is being undermined in the parenting relationship, or that you are swooping in and rescuing your child when he’s trying to parent. After his/her demonstrations, demonstrate yours. If these particular situations come up, explain why you don’t want to yell/hit/send to time out. Be personal, and specific. Only bring up studies and articles if your partner is open to hearing about them or reading them. If not, it’s best to simply explain why YOU are not going to do these things. Use a lot of “I” statements.
“I don’t want to yell, because it stresses me out more, and it seems to make the situation worse. I feel like I have a better handle on the situation if I stay calm.”
“I don’t want to hit/spank when C. does this, because I don’t want her to learn that I solve problems by hitting. I also want her to learn to hear my words, since I won’t be spanking her when she’s older. Not to mention, the thought of hitting my child really bothers me, and I don’t feel comfortable doing it.”
“I don’t like to send her away by herself when she’s having a meltdown. I want her to know that I’m here for her, even when she’s unable to control her emotions. I am better able to make the situation better, and faster, when I stay near her.”
Understand, though, that you may in fact be handling situations in a permissive way. Your partner may see this, even if you’re not realizing it. It’s ok to take on a more ‘strict’ tone when your child has done something inappropriate, and make sure that when you set a limit you consistently follow through. If your partner feels you should be more stern when addressing your child after he’s hit his brother, then it will not hurt anything to take on a more serious tone. This sets the stage for compromise, and will allow your partner to feel as though he/she has an equal say in parenting aspect of your relationship.
Unless your partner is abusing your child, try not to step in and “rescue.” This heavily undermines your partner and can cause a lot of friction between the two of you, and it can teach the child not to take that parent seriously. We’re all continuously learning how to navigate our own world as parents, and we can only truly learn by doing. Yelling can be a gray area when it comes to stepping in. We all lose our tempers at times and raise our voices. Yelling becomes abusive when the person is name-calling, insulting, or humiliating the child. It can also be abusive if the parent is taking an overly-threatening posture (such as leaning over the child with a hand/fist raised). When these things are happening, stepping in is appropriate. But if they are not happening, then understand that your child, while upset and possibly scared, is ok, and will be ok, and that this is just one more situation in which your partner and your child are learning how to interact with each other and that you stepping in will interfere with this learning process. After the situation, you can certainly help diffuse emotions by talking with your partner separately, being supportive and asking if he/she is ok, and encouraging him/her to go talk with your child.
3. Set CLEAR EXPECTATIONS on how to handle certain situations. Of course, we can’t predict every situation, but we can be pretty sure our kids are going to throw tantrums, whine, lie, hit, have bathroom accidents, and go to bed every night. So agreeing on how to handle those things will take a lot of the stress out of the situation when it happens. It’s important to know that, as with many things, ‘parenting’ is a pretty abstract concept. It helps immensely to have specific, concrete tools, or methods, in the form of phrases to say and actions to do, when handling certain situations. Make it simple, and even write it down if you’d like.
“When C. throws a tantrum, we’re going to stay near her and not say much until she starts to calm down.” (Without even saying it, this sets the expectation that time-outs are not to be used, and that yelling and making a lot of our own noise should be avoided).
“When C. comes out of her room at night, we’re going to ask her what she needs, get it if possible, then guide her back to her room.” Everyone’s child and bedtime routine is different, so this is merely an example. Make this as specific as you need.
It’s important to come up with these expectations together. And then follow through with them when the situation arises. Having clear expectations of what to say and do gives each person a concrete tool to use, and makes it easier to understand and handle stressful situations.