4 Things I've Learned About Gentle Parenting as a Black Mother

Gentle parenting isn’t new. But as social media makes gentle parents more visible, I’ve encountered misconceptions about how the parenting style applies to Black families.

Father hold hand little daughter lying on sofa
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When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I was afraid for many reasons. I had just turned 24 and was in an amazing relationship but unmarried. I had no idea what it would take to be a good parent. Don't get me wrong, my parenting tribe was amazing. My mom was, and still is, an incredibly hard worker, and I am 100% a grandma's girl. But I was raised "old school" where no mess was taken, and none was given. The parenting methods I witnessed provided a useful framework. But I noticed a lot of the parent-child relationships I observed were shaky. I don't fault anyone for that. I know many of our parents and grandparents were parenting so we could survive.

Seven years and three kids later, I can't say that I know it all about parenting, but I can say that I do my best to parent my kids consciously and meet their needs. One of the parenting styles that has helped me on this journey is gentle parenting.

My parenting journey has taught me that gentle parenting focuses on fostering the qualities you want in your child by being compassionate and enforcing consistent boundaries. Gentle parenting has allowed us to encourage discipline in an age-appropriate way by focusing on teaching valuable life lessons rather than focusing on punishments. Because this approach to parenting is meant to foster positive traits in children, I model my behavior based on what I expect to see from my children.

But I've found there are a ton of misconceptions about Black gentle parents and how gentle parenting can benefit Black families. Many folks still side-eye the parenting technique because they don't believe it is "for us." Read on to see why gentle parenting can work in Black families.

Gentle Parenting Isn't New

The belief that gentle parenting isn't for Black people, or that there aren't any Black gentle parents, might be because there is a lack of understanding about the structure and technique. There is also a lack of understanding about the benefits for Black children and families. But gentle parenting is not a new concept—though, with the help of social media, the practices are more widespread now than in its earlier days. The method of treating kids like their wants and needs matter is probably centuries old. But the term "gentle parenting" is typically accredited to British child care expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of The Gentle Parenting Book.

And while there may not be a ton of science-backed research on the specific term "gentle parenting," research shows that positive bonding between parent and child leads to children who can become happy, independent, and resilient adults.

Children Are Still Taught Boundaries and Respect

One of the biggest misconceptions is that gentle parenting is a free for all. Those who believe this might be surprised to find there is room for discipline in gentle parenting. Discipline and boundaries are crucial for parents and children. When we teach our children emotional regulation and meet them at their level, we respect them as people and help them to build empathy, self-awareness, and compassion. All of these things lay the framework for teaching children how to communicate effectively as adults.

Gentle Parents Do Teach Discipline

Discipline and physical punishment are not mutually exclusive. You can teach a child discipline without hitting them. While the connection is one of the main focuses of gentle parenting, gentle parents do not entirely forgo discipline. Instead, we should focus on learning through situations and implementing boundaries that work for your specific child.

In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement advising parents not to spank their children because various studies show the technique does more harm than good. Research links spanking to an increased risk of mental health disorders and impaired brain development. Experts like pediatrician Karen Estrella, MD, say children spanked by caretakers in their earlier years are more aggressive and have lower self-esteem.

Gentle Parenting Can Prepare Black Kids for the Real World

Our parents, grandparents, and caregivers parented similarly because most of them were parenting out of fear. They were keeping us safe in a world they knew wouldn't. In an edition of the American Psychological Association's Children, Youth and Families newsletter titled "Promoting culturally affirming parenting in African-American parents," Anita Thomas, Ph.D. says historical and current pressures like "omnipresent fears and dangers from police brutality and the school-to-prison pipeline, or living in violent inner-city neighborhoods," push Black parents towards physical punishment.

Concern for these factors might leave Black parents unsure that gentle parenting can meet our needs as Black families. "Gentle parenting is really built on a foundation of attachment, nurturing, community, and support. These are all traits of collectivist cultures, of which Black parents are a part of," shared Mercedes Samudio, licensed psychotherapist and bestselling author of Shame-Proof Parenting.

While more Black parents explore conscious and gentle parenting methods, we continue to unpack the trauma from our own upbringings. But in doing so, we are raising the next generation of kind, emotionally aware, and respectful adults. We remain our ancestor's wildest dreams.

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