Recently in an online parenting forum (where I’m likely the only mom who doesn’t subscribe to the “gentle parenting” philosophy) a mother shared a problem:
“My son, 18 months, wakes up every night three or four times to eat. We usually give him a banana or two. If he doesn’t eat, he will cry until he gets something. He is a healthy toddler, he is big enough to sleep all night. If anybody had the same experience and has a secret tool, please let me know.”
The one reply recommended drugging the kid with melatonin and leaving beef jerky on his nightstand. Outside of that being a choking hazard, it’s also a recipe for a miserable parenting experience, with the child running the household like a tiny and irrational dictator. The secret tool his mother is looking for, of course, is to stop feeding him in the middle of the night.
Recently Pew Research Center released its latest survey on parenting. Unlike other studies, Pew measures sentiment over time, and the report is a fascinating window into what makes American society tick.
Some of the most striking findings revolve around discipline and parental relationships. Only 29% of the respondents are raising their children with discipline similar to how their parents raised them, and 32% are intentionally diverging from their parents on the matter. The remainder, presumably are forging their own road when it comes to discipline, not intentionally mirroring or rejecting their own upbringing as they raise their own family.
In its reporting on the findings, Pew explained: “Many parents who say they’re raising their children in a different way focused on their parenting style, approaches to disciplining their kids, and setting expectations for behavior. Some mentioned taking a gentler approach to parenting, while others said they are firmer with their children than their own parents were with them.
About 1 in 10 of these parents specifically mentioned that they would not use corporal punishment when disciplining their children.” One 36-year-old mother, raising her children differently from how she was raised, instead wants to focus on “gentle parenting versus authoritative.”
On love and relationships, the authors of the Pew study went on to explain: “Among parents who say they are raising their children differently from how they were raised, 44% gave answers that focused on love and their relationship with their children. This theme was less common among parents who are raising their children similarly to their own upbringing (16% mentioned it).”
Quite a few of the respondents who are consciously parenting differently subscribe to the philosophy of gentle parenting, which I discussed in a recent Deseret magazine piece. In it, I explain the broad outlines of the gentle parenting approach, which at its core is responsive first and foremost to the feelings of children, trying to understand their motivations instead of correcting their behavior.
Instead of a parent’s responsibility being to raise a child with a healthy sense of respect and morals, protecting the emotions of a child is the top priority in gentle parenting. It creates a situation where parents are held hostage to the feelings of their own children, becoming like butlers to them on any number of issues, namely sleep and feeding in the younger years.
After the magazine article was published, I heard from Katherine, a mother in Minnesota, about her experience with gentle parenting. She told me, “I am a former victim of the gentle parenting propaganda machine, frantically trying to change everything we’re doing so we can have more kids. We are drowning with two, completely unnecessarily.”
Katherine’s situation sounds a great deal like the mother with the child who demands to eat several times a night. She told me: “I haven’t slept through the night in five years. The notion of nighttime parenting, or whatever it’s called, made perfect sense to me, but I’m not certain my kids wouldn’t be better off if they’d been taught to sleep through the night when they were babies.
“So much of what I read online at 2 a.m. validated my choice to be available to my children all the time and talked about how other cultures wear their babies and co-sleep and never put the baby down — without mentioning that many of us are raising kids without local family or close relationships. So you’re up all night with the baby or the toddler, and there’s nobody to relieve you during the day. And then years later, you’re not fun and you’re snapping and yelling, and your kids don’t have a framework that lets you take a shower without them banging on the door. It’s bleak. I know everybody is well intentioned. But the theories don’t hold up in practice in my experience.”
Why, then, has the “gentle parenting” movement taken hold of an entire generation of parents? Katherine places the blame on parenting “experts” and influencers, and wishes she could go back in time to 2018 and delete all social media that espoused this parenting advice.
The data on how we’re parenting and the kinds of children (and parents) coming out the other side of modern parenting is equally bleak. In short: Nobody is particularly happy and how we’re raising our kids is partially why. Part of growing up is learning that perhaps your parents weren’t total idiots, that maybe they knew a thing or two when you were growing up. Raising children with a more traditional idea of discipline is retro, according to the Pew report, but it’s one of those things that is due for a comeback. Kids need discipline, parents need discipline, and it just might be what makes parenting a more enjoyable experience for kids and parents alike.
Bethany Mandel, a contributing writer for Deseret, is a home-schooling, stay-at-home mother of six. She is the co-author of the forthcoming book “Stolen Youth,” coming March 7 from Daily Wire Books, and an editor for the children’s book series “Heroes of Liberty.”