The Rise Of Parenting Styles

July 22, 2022

I had a conversation with someone a few years ago, it was the sort of ‘getting to know you’ conversation where we shared those basic details of how many children we had, what jobs we did but then it quite quickly got into the nitty gritty details of our thoughts on parenting. We had just moved, and this was the first real outing with the new group of parents, so I didn’t know them well. It turned out to be a very interesting chat. 

I was still in the middle of feeling that I didn’t quite know what we (as parents) were doing was the right thing to be doing (we’d taken our boys out of school to home educate and were in our second year at that point). I’m sure most parents have this feeling at one time or another: is the school my child goes to the right one? Should we move because the grass definitely looks greener over there? I don’t think I’ve ever met a parent who’s got it nailed in terms of parenting, choice of school, house, job, relationship etc; we’re all just trying to do our best. 

H was settling and finding his own way, T had found his person and was ecstatic to have done so, F was discovering the world (and how awesome but scary that was) and O was still happily at boarding school. I was a bit of a mish mash in terms of knowing what we were doing was right; we were doing something so different from everyone else and while this was exciting and gave us a freer approach to education, I was wanting reassurance that things would work out fine. 

This person and I were discussing our children and whatever I said I received a <<Head cocked to one side, pitying facial expression and a>>, ‘Yes, well, we Gentle Parent.’ 

This was the answer to anything I said. 

I was, as you can imagine, a bit of a mixture of emotions by the end of the evening but I most of all felt that this person hadn’t listened to a word I’d said, hadn’t heard me as a person at all and had just hid behind a parenting style (label) that, for them, seemed to explain everything but yet informed and educated me of nothing. 

As an aside though I have always had trouble with the labelling of parenting styles and fads. It’s like being back at school and belonging, or not belonging, to a group and we all know about the in/out dynamics that can occur in these situations. I find the parenting labels divisive. A good example of this was when I was a second time mum who was trying something different with no 2 than I did with no 1. We tried ‘Baby Led Weaning’ and this was fabulous for us. (Baby no 2 loved it as did baby’s no 3 and 4) I had a conversation with another parent who, on finding out about my ‘Baby Led Weaning’ the proceeded to tell me I was, ‘Doing it wrong,’ because baby no 2 was occasionally using a spoon.  

Personally, after having 4 children, I subscribe to the ‘Whatever gets you through the day/night’ mode of parenting and if what you’re doing is working for you then I’m all for it. 

I appreciate parenting styles/fads can be empowering and they can give you a group of like-minded people to hang out with, but they can be divisive and a feeling (whether active or anticipated) of, ‘You’re not in our gang.’ 

From then on, I walked my own path of parenting.

So, in all honesty, I did come to the conversation with that person with a bit of baggage and yes, them repeatedly telling me that they were ‘A member of a parenting style’ did get my heckles up.

But it did make me think about ‘Gentle Parenting’ and I am someone who does think about what people say. So, I did what I always do in times of confusion: I bought a book. 

I bought Sarah Ockwell-Smiths ‘Gentle Parenting’ and devoured it. 

What I learned from the book and what shocked me the most was that I was a Gentle Parent-er because the idea of respecting your child, letting (and enabling) your child to make decisions that matter to them, listening to their point of view, allowing them to question and challenge my ideas and we parent from the 4 main Gentle Parenting principles of empathy, boundaries, respect and understanding. For me, Gentle Parenting wasn’t a parenting style more something that was an obvious way we should parent. 

But I hadn’t packaged it up and given it a funky trendy label.

Labels can help but, as I’ve said, they can also be divisive. Think of nuerodivegency and how we contrast the nurodivergent brain with the neurotypical brain and insinuate (however knowingly or unknowingly) that ‘typical’ is ‘normal’ and that anything other than typical is other than normal. ‘Gentle’ is a very strong way to label a parenting style. If you look at the opposite, then ‘Not Gentle’ is a very worrying way to view how many parents’ parent. Sarah Ockwell-Smith herself uses the term Gentle and ‘Mainstream’ parenting. Again, it’s the idea that the label followers are special and more special than the humdrum of the mainstreamers. I find this problematic and I’m a ‘Gentle Parent-er.’

I am not criticising Sarah Ockwell-Smith; I have read her Gentle Parenting Book and also Between and I have nodded sagely along to what she has written and read passage out to Hubbie AND I recommend her books to fellow parents. I am critical more of the problematic nature of labelling a way of thinking or behaving and the ‘You’re not in our gang’ thinking that some followers can take on. The person I was having a conversation with assumed that I, as someone they hadn’t met before, automatically parented from a negative standpoint and that they, the self-proclaimed Gentle Parent-er had it all sorted. As time often shows us and it did in this situation, we were far more similar in our thinking (not in our executions though) on how to raise our children. 

Labelling also sets out, for some people, an invisible barrier to connecting with other parents. I found this to be true during my conversation with that other parent. By not listening and retreating to their stock phrase they had, again knowingly or unknowingly, put up barriers. They had decided that we were going to be too different to be able to have even a discussion about parenting, family and our children. I have found this time and time again throughout my 18 years of being a parent. 

I would say we need to be careful with our tribe memberships. Make sure you’re allowing yourself space to think and grow and take on board ideas that aren’t your own. Make sure you have friends and parent friends who do things differently to you because they could still teach us a few things. Each baby I’ve had I’ve adapted and honed my parenting style and I am definitely not the same parent currently as I started all those years ago – thank goodness because I found it far too hard in the beginning and I really wasn’t coping for a lot of it. 

I’m a Gentle Parent-er who occasionally becomes authoritative; I was a Baby Led Weaner who led her child use the spoon that her child wanted to use. I used a sling for baby’s 2, 3 and 4 with 4 virtually living in her sling for many months but I wouldn’t say I was an attachment parent-er. I have 4 neurodivergent children so, at times, I have helicopter parented (though I really don’t like this at all and managed to get out of this approach as soon as I could), I am not a permissive parent, but I identify with parenting in an Instinctive style. There are so many ‘styles’ and approaches that I couldn’t possibly raise 4 children using 1 approach because that in itself isn’t tailoring my thoughts and behaviours to my child/ren and their needs. 

I don’t nail my parenting colours to a mast. I go with the flow having voraciously read about the subject. I’ve got knowledge of many different ways to bring up children but, in the end, I use my own judgement and instinct and I ask opinions from people whom I admire or know might be able to help me. I think that’s the best approach to take. 

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