JOHN ROSEMOND: ‘Gentle parenting’ just a rebrand of ‘parenting’

John Rosemond

Upon arrival on-site for a recent speaking engagement, I am told that several rather vocal parents refused to attend because I am not an advocate of “gentle parenting.” That implies that I proselytize for “rough” or “harsh” parenting, which I do not, and be assured dear reader, at this stage of my life I am acutely clear concerning what I do and do not believe.

Curious, I went to that most reliable source of information, the Internet, and after rummaging around a bit, discovered that so-called gentle parenting is nothing more than a rebranding of the same-old, same-old child-rearing philosophy that got us into this mess we now call “parenting.” It is what I — much more accurately, I contend — call “postmodern psychological parenting.” It is postmodern because its proponents care nothing for truth or fact – in this case, research has established that children reared prior to the 1960s were much, much happier, were far more emotionally resilient, and possessed much better mental health in general than children raised since. It is psychological because its contentions rest on discredited psychological (more specifically, humanistic) theory.

According to its proponents and practitioners, gentle parenting involves treating children as equals, having them participate in family decision-making, giving them a plethora of choices (as opposed to commands) and explanations, and never, ever telling them that something they did was wrong, bad or, Heaven forbid, immoral. After all, wrong is a valid concept only if one believes that morality is a constant. To be clear, gentle parents are not authority figures; they are “partners.”

According to the gentles, misbehavior is not the child’s natural inclination. If the child does something that is – I cannot for the life of me figure out what word should be substituted for “bad” — punishment is not an option because punishment identifies the behavior as precisely what the behavior is apparently not (i.e., bad) and assigns responsibility to the child for that which must not, at all cost, be termed bad. According to the gentles, children behave badly only because their adult caregivers have failed to “connect” with them in some essential way (e.g. they have failed to treat said children as equals). It is essential to maintain the charade that children are divine beings sent from Heaven to grace us with their immaculate presence.

Apparently, at some point in one’s life, one is capable of doing wrong things, but no gentle parenting website clarified this, probably because when people actually do wrong things it is because they were not parented gently enough, if gently at all.

At this point, full disclosure is in order: Along with a good 98 percent of children raised in the 1950s, I was not raised by gentles. I was not even “parented.” From early on, I was raised by people who treated me as if I was intelligent and resilient enough to accept full responsibility for my behavior, which was often — GASP! — bad.

I have a question for the gentles: If misbehavior is not a child’s inclination, how is it that youngsters who’ve never witnessed acts of violence will hit people when they don’t get their way, slap and even bite other children in order to possess their toys, and act demon-possessed when they, the parents, do not obey? If children are semi-divine beings, why then do they begin to lie (i.e. “I didn’t do it!”) as soon as they begin to talk? Why do children raised by even overly-generous parents refuse to share?

This gentle parenting flimflam is nothing more than a rehash of the unmitigated balderdash that mental health professionals have been peddling since the late 1960s. Since then, child mental health has plummeted (and continues to do so), child and teen suicide has soared, and college campuses now have “safe spaces” where 20-something little boys and girls who’ve been gentled – that is, coddled and enabled — for their entire lives can play with puppies and sing “Puff the Magic Dragon” through maxi-pacies.

Once again, what goes around (and around and around and…) comes around.

Q: My 4-year-old daughter, when I do something that upsets her, like reprimand her for something, begins to cry and tell me that I don’t love her anymore. (She’s actually very obedient and well-behaved, so the incidents in question are quite small.) When I’m finally able to calm her down, I reassure her of my love and explain that Mommy getting stern about something she has done doesn’t mean I don’t love her. This began about six months ago, shortly after she turned four, and despite my reassurances, it’s getting steadily worse. Are some children just more naturally insecure than others? Is there something else I need to be doing?

A: It may be that some children are naturally at the high end of the “sensitive” scale and therefore more thin-skinned than most when it comes to being reprimanded. I’m not aware of any research on this issue, but enough parents like yourself have testified to having emotionally-delicate children to convince me that there’s some innate quality at work here. Then there’s the bell-shaped curve, which predicts that relative to a “sensitivity norm,” a minority of children will be hyper-sensitive and a somewhat equal minority will be hypo-sensitive.

Regardless, children – all of them – if given the opportunity, will produce great drama, and it would appear to me that you are certainly giving your daughter the opportunity. In the first place, you obviously take your daughter’s operatic outbursts seriously enough to think they warrant equally serious reassurances. In my experienced estimation, these comforting conversations you have with her are why her “sensitivity” to your discipline has become more and more of an issue over time. In short, she has an audience for her drama, so she puts on bigger and bigger productions.

Not that it is her conscious intention, but her drama also serves to distract attention away from her misbehavior and focus it on the rather silly issue of whether or not you truly love her. Granted, it’s not silly to her, but little does she know you would give up your seat in a lifeboat for her.

It is axiomatic that if one wants to raise up a child into emotionally-sturdy adulthood, one must treat said child as if he or she is, in fact, already emotionally sturdy. Children rise (or sink) to expectations. Therefore, my advice to you is to stop allowing yourself to become sidetracked by your daughter’s drama. The next time you discipline and she begins to cry and claim emotional orphan-hood, simply say, “We’re not having that conversation again…ever. You misbehaved, I reprimanded you, end of story. Now, if you need to cry, you may go to your room until you can get control of yourself.”

Children need equal amounts of love and leadership. Love is not your problem. You obviously need to begin working on strengthening your leadership muscles.

Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.

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