How Gentle Parenting Changed My Life

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Gentle Parenting Changed My Life

My childhood is not something I’m proud of — it’s not even something I look back on in fond remembrance. My parents flew by the seat of their pants even for themselves yet alone my brother and me. This has led to neither one of us having a close relationship with either one of them.

We were seen but not heard.

“Yeah yeah, we will get to that later.” “Stop being so noisy.” “Don’t cry.” “Quit doing that.” And so much yelling.

I don’t pride myself in airing out my dirty laundry but my parents, in a lot of ways, were intensely selfish. If it made their job harder, it was frowned upon and contested on the spot. It reminds me of a quote I heard: “The son is doomed to carry the sins of the father.”

That sentiment is crippling to me.

Because of my bad childhood, ripe with mental abuse and physical limitation, I take a great deal of thought into what type of father I am to my two sons. Being a stay-at-home-dad, some days are heavy; others leave me in tears. It was always easiest for me to be angry before any other uncomfortable emotion, and to rob myself of the severity of the moment.

“When you become a parent you forever become more than yourself.”

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The bell rings loudest when I look back on how I was raised. I remember my father saying, “This isn’t a democracy, it’s a dictatorship. We don’t discuss what we are doing — YOU’RE DOING WHAT I TELL YOU!”

I suffered all the cons of that parenting style (inability to make decisions as an adult, overwhelmed at immense responsibilities) but I’ve also gained from the pros (being punctual, able to follow instructions extremely well).

Before having my kids, I never even knew 'gentle parenting' was a thing. 

Once I started learning about it, I doubted the concept. “Why? Why reason with my young child? He doesn’t know. It’s my job to tell him. This isn’t going to work. This is stupid."

I regret those thoughts.

I am not, however, as stubborn as my remarks would suggest. In a lot of ways, I believe my wife has saved my life. She's smart, strong, committed, loves like no other, and is forged in conviction the likes I have never seen. No matter what my thoughts on something are, if she believes in it, then there's truly something there. She believed in gentle parenting.

I have been to intense therapy and have worked very hard to address and continuously fix issues I was raised with (anger problems, irritability, authoritarian tendencies, and even selfishness.) It's been challenging practicing gentle parenting methods, such as asking my kids what they think, getting down to their level, or conversing with them through a temper tantrum. At times, I dismissed the effectiveness of the concept all together.

Photo: Author

One day, my oldest son Everett was having a terrible tantrum because we had told him he could do only one of two things. He demanded both. It had been a very long weekend and I was already feeling internally irritable. I held him as I was getting him out of his car seat and calmly tried to explain, “Everett, I hear you want to do both things, but we can only pick one.” 

In an instant, he got nose-to-nose with me, screamed as loud as he could, and swung his whole body into a punch on my left ear that felt devastatingly painful. I had never felt hurt so mentally and physically at the same time.

I felt betrayed — like all I had tried to do wasn’t working. I wanted my easy way out like my parents had done to me so many times before. I was harboring so much anger from the hurt I felt, I didn’t even know how to address my son.

My wife took over calming Everett down and I took a break.

I wasn’t loud. I was just silent and struggling.

My wife suggested I go talk to my son. "He doesn’t know how you feel or how to even communicate with you because you left off at that high-strung moment.”

I didn’t have any faith that that strategy would work — I felt so hurt and miserable — but I made my way out to the living room, sat down, and calmly said, “Everett, remember when I tried to tell you that you could only choose one option and you hit me and you yelled at me? I feel really hurt.”

I started crying, deeply, sincerely and at that moment, my son's expression entirely changed as his eyes became more open and caring. He held my face, as I so often have held his during his tantrums practicing gentle parenting on him before, to make him feel secure.

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Photo: Author

He said, “Daddy, I don’t want you to cry.” He wiped my tears and said, “I’m sorry I did that. I will work on choosing one option next time and not being so angry so quickly.” Then he held me and told me, “Just take big deep breaths, okay? (The very same thing I’ve told him that’s calmed him down.) 

He wanted to do everything he could to let me know he understood my hurt, agreed with it and wanted to make me feel better.

He offered me snacks since that’s made him happy after crying before. 

In my own fear that I was becoming my parents and the fear I, myself, was a bad parent, being shown that gentle parenting — a concept I had judged so harshly — was working before my very eyes made me weep. Even Everett's youngest brother, Zebadiah, ran to me and hugged me so tightly, pressing his fat little face into mine. He said, “It's okay, it’s okay, I’m here, I’m here." Two years old and saying exactly what I’ve said to him while he’s cried.

My beautiful children do not fear emotion, but embrace and support it in others. I have given my children what I, as a 31-year-old adult, still struggle to comprehend, which is emotional understanding. Gentle parenting works. Your children hear — and more importantly, remember — things you may have never even imagined.

Please don’t be like I was and feel like growth in your child is fruitless and that no matter how hard you try, your gentle parenting isn’t working. Because it is and in time, you will see. I hope you will be as proud of your children as I am of mine.

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Cody Rumpel struggled throughout his childhood, experiencing a commonality of a broken household and an authoritarian upbringing. He now strives to be a gentle parent daily through its role as a stay-at-home dad to his two wonderful sons.