Gentle Parenting Is a Chance for Black Children, and Parents, To Thrive

For me and my family, gentle parenting—a loving partnership between parents and children—is a healing alternative to the survival-based parenting methods I was raised with.

Mother holding infant son
Photo: Gloria Alamrew

I kept a journal while I was pregnant and wrote directly to my unborn son. I wondered what he'd look like, if his personality would be more like his dad's or mine, and what he'd think of me. As an already anxiety-prone person pre-pregnancy, I had concerns about how my child would internalize that anxiety and view me. But one central question kept returning to me: "How do I want my son to feel when he thinks about his mom?"

Enter gentle parenting. I discovered it as one does most things these days: while scrolling through Instagram. In the later months of my pregnancy, I began following some Black "momfluencers" who were honest and vulnerable about how they navigated motherhood. And in a simple reshared post on a story, I found what I was looking for.

Gentle parenting is a style of parenting that promotes an authentic two-way relationship between parent and child. It's about encouraging positive behavior, fostering free will, and the capacity that children have to make their own choices within safe and healthy boundaries set by parents. It is the antithetical approach to fear and punishment-based parenting.

What Is Gentle Parenting?

The three foundational pillars are simply: understanding, empathy, and respect. And the crux of those pillars functioning optimally is appreciating that they are reciprocal between parents and child.

Mercedes Samudio, a licensed clinical social worker and author of Shame-Proof Parenting agrees, "Gentle parenting changes the narrative that there is a point where we no longer deserve empathy. All humans deserve empathy regardless of age," she says. "For parents, they begin to realize that in gentle-parenting their child, they can gently parent their own inner child."

It almost sounds like a painfully obvious solution doesn't it? It should be easy to respect your children for the people that they are. Our children possess desires and tastes, likes and dislikes. They have changing moods, big, confusing feelings, and boundaries of their own. The only difference is that they don't possess the language to effectively communicate these things to us yet. So then, gentle parenting is not simply "don't yell at your children." It's knowing that parents will fail to regulate their own emotions just as their children will, but now there's an opportunity to start over, immediately in the moment, and acknowledge that there is a better way to handle the situation.

It's easy to fall into the trap of statements like "I'm the parent, you're the baby," or "what I say goes," but our children are only ours for so long. What happens to them when they enter the world as autonomous adults who only know how to interact with others through transactional, punitive methods? What kinds of people are we creating?

For Black parents, gentle parenting is not the opposite of what our elders have done. This is how we thank previous generations for keeping us safe in a world that wouldn't.

Why Gentle Parenting Was Right For Us

As a first time mom and raising a Black child, I saw gentle parenting as a chance to heal things in me from my own childhood. I can think of no better parents than my own. They were models of unconditional love and protection. They adored me and poured everything they had into me. They worked tirelessly to provide a life for me that they couldn't have dreamed for themselves as immigrants. But naturally, there were still gaps because, as I've learned for myself now, there always are in parenting.

Many of their rules and methods were born out of survival. Their habits of overthinking and excessive worrying were passed on to me. Gentle parenting allowed me to see my child differently—as a partner in his own growth and upbringing. It's permission for both parent and child to make mistakes, to be held accountable to each other for them, and to move forward in healthy ways. It invites both parents and children to be soft and to let themselves relax into the process and trust each other enough to let the growth and learning unfold at its own pace.

The tropes of Black parenting that often bounce around Twitter and Instagram in memes or viral tweets often make me wonder if we were all raised by the same mama. Many similarities are cultural but some lessons were passed down from Black mothers, fathers, and caregivers who were simply scared. They knew what this world would do to their children if they weren't hard on them first. Our elders didn't have the tools or capacity to allow their children to explore and learn the same ways other kids did because they knew the reality of what awaited them outside their home.

Samudio explains that there can often be hesitation from Black parents in accepting or understanding gentle parenting as it is (currently) a predominantly a white-centered space and practice. "Representation isn't just in entertainment. Colonized parenting practices that ask families to emulate a cis/het, able-bodied, two-income household causes Black families to be judged harshly with measurements that ignore cultural and systemic oppression," says Samudio. "What we have been shown about what makes a healthy family might not be as reflective and inclusive as we once thought."

Gentle Parenting Deepened My Love For My Parents

When I think of how I view my own mother now, I see a woman who was trying. My implementation of gentle parenting has led to newfound grace and compassion for my own parents. So often, parents hide their own shortcomings, bad days, and doubts in the name of protecting their children. I want my son to see the fullness of me, as I now recognize in my own mother. I want him to see me as a woman that embraced every part of her, on the best and worst days, and my hope is that in witnessing that, it gives him permission to do the same.

For Black parents, gentle parenting is not the opposite of what our elders have done. This is how we thank previous generations for keeping us safe in a world that wouldn't. It's the offering of protection that isn't fear-based, but trust-based. Samudio encourages parents who are even a little curious to let themselves be open to it, "Don't worry about what it's called. This is the new narrative: "I deserve to show up as a full human and so does my child. I commit to making changes, small or large, daily that help me get to this vision." Print that out somewhere as a reminder that this is a journey, not a destination."

So we now raise our own children to be strong enough to be curious, to be held, to make mistakes, to be scared, to know that no matter what predicament they may find themselves in, they can always come home to their parents and find a soft place to land. And in doing this, we let them know that we're going to make mistakes, too. We're going to have hard days and we're going to try and fail, too. But we're going to try again—together. Every day, every moment is a new chance to get it right.

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