While sharing about parenting with a focus on connection and teaching—and without punishments and rewards— I have been asked, “does it work?”. I’ve also seen fellow parents wondering if this gentle parenting thing is actually working.
I’d guess every parent wonders that at times; but it is, I think, more pronounced when you are parenting outside of the mainstream.
I’ve been pondering this recently. My second thought (after my initial “YES!” because of all the exciting growth and healing I’ve experienced, and the connection I’ve built with my sons) was that it depends a great deal on what your goals are.
I do think that’s important to think about. What are your goals for yourself as a parent? What are your hopes for your children?
As I’ve continued to ponder, however, I have begun to think that perhaps the question “Does it work/is it working?” is an unhelpful one.
Children are individuals. As parents, we do have a great deal of influence (especially if we focus on building connection and trust), but ultimately, in the end, the child is a separate human being with their own will, personality, and goals.
So—one might conclude that no parenting style “works”, in the sense that there is no method that can guarantee a particular outcome. None.
And while we can see glimpses of what the child may become as an adult, our view is very limited. We don’t see all their internal struggles and triumphs. We don’t see all the potential twists and turns their path could take. And, to further complicate matters, our vision is clouded by our own issues and fears and hopes.
Sometimes it does in fact appear to have worked; but it is only on the outside, and inwardly they are struggling with perfectionism and anxiety and find it difficult to regulate their emotions and connect deeply. Some adults take what’s been poured into them in a different direction than imagined, yet inwardly they are strong and carry their parent’s values. In other cases, great deal of how they turned out is due to their own learning and seeking to grow. Sometimes they do follow what’s been hammered into them, but in an unhealthy way.
Whether or not our parenting is working, or “worked”, is very difficult to quantify well. There are so many variables.
More importantly, parenting is a relationship—not a project; not a test; not a method.
Maybe it is wise to start asking different questions.
Here are some questions you might consider:
“Am I becoming the kind of person I want my child to become? Responding the way I want them to respond? Caring for others the way I want them to care?”
“What does my child need right now? How can I support them to develop their character and personality and interests? What tools can I give them to handle life well?”
“Are we connecting well? Does my child trust me deeply? Are they free to share their mistakes and failures with me so we can work them out together, or for my support as they work it out themselves?”
“Am I modeling healthy relationship skills? Am I modeling proper use of power?”
“What is the long term picture here? Does this really matter in the grand scheme of things?”
“What is my child struggling with right now? How can I help?”
“Which small habits can we work on together that will benefit us long term?”
“What questions can I ask my child to understand them better and perhaps help them understand themselves better?”
Any questions you’d add?