Millennials Have Missed the Point of Gentle Parenting

Who exactly am I trying to be for my kids?

A millennial mom "gently" consoles daughter
Anastasiya Yunusova/Getty Images

A couple months ago, I had dinner with one of my best friends—alone, no partners, no kids. (OK, there was a baby present, but he was sleeping.) It was a feat of stunning coordination involving the ever-moving parts and pieces that come with children and work schedules, just so that we moms could split a salad and eggplant Parmesan on a weeknight. We kvetched about our toddlers and the manic rollercoaster they had us on, and I confided that I felt like a shitty mom. I was operating on very little sleep after having my second, and I often didn’t have the mental capacity to “gentle parent” through a tantrum over a hole in a pair of Elmo socks while my newborn falls into a precarious sleep across the hall. “I yelled at her,” I confessed, ashamed that I did the thing we gentleparents were ne’er supposed to do.  

My friend’s response: “Whatever. Gentle parenting is all about the repair anyways.” My brain screeched to a halt, my eyes cartoonishly sprang out and a big “HUH?!” popped up over my head. Had I completely missed the point? 

As a millennial parent, of course I dabble in the art of gentle parenting, that is, the in-vogue, nebulous catchall for child rearing that encompasses empathy, respect, mindfulness, intentions, boundaries, emotional regulation, [insert new buzzword]. In my strenuous research on the topic—aka bite-size lessons I’ve osmosis-ed from a TikTok here or there—I’d pieced together my own ad-hoc philosophy: no yelling, no time outs, be gentle (that’s gotta be one, right?), have empathy (can’t hurt) and all children are good and never bad (look at me all Mother Teresa up in here). At birthday parties and daycare pick-ups, I am among the parents who crouch down to my kid’s eye level to say things like, “I understand you want to run up and sing ‘Welcome to Wiggle Town’ to that group of Hells Angels tailgating near the park, but that man looks angry!”  

My friend elaborated: “You can’t be perfect. I yell all the time. I don’t want to, but I’m working on it. And then I repair and connect, which shows them how to deal with conflict-resolution.” By “repair,” my friend meant letting things cool, apologizing and taking a moment to “re-connect”—ask about their feelings, start an art project, make up a story together—to establish and build trust. Boom! She took a bite of salad. 

quotation mark

Gentle parenting, respectful parenting, collaborative parenting—whatever you want to call this school of thought—is asking us to release the shame...

And so, thanks to my comic-book-style epiphany brought about by cheese-laden carbs and girl-time (again, there was a baby there, but he was fast asleep for 90—OK, 60?—percent of dinner), I suddenly had clarity on this gentle parenting thing: Dr. Becky et al. aren’t instructing us to let our kids walk all over us or hand out first place trophies to everyone or inflate our children’s egos until their heads explode. No. Gentle parenting, respectful parenting, collaborative parenting—whatever you want to call this school of thought—is asking us to release the shame, shame that burrows its way into our cells and festers, poking its head out in moments when we need to be kindest to ourselves, moments where you’re simply trying to stuff your face with eggplant Parm and gossip with your bestie but can barely get through a single adult meal because the baby wasn’t actually sleeping the entire time. And that’s fine. That’s what we signed up for. But gentle parenting makes space for both ends of the parent-child relationship—it’s not just about being gentle with your child; it’s also about being gentle with yourself as you breastfeed your baby in the parking lot before driving home. Or when you forget to sign and return a permission slip. Or when you lose your shit over your toddler losing her shit over an Elmo sock.  

When I yelled at my daughter to be quiet, I spent the rest of the day spiraling. Did I ruin her forever? Was our connection destroyed? Will her future therapist mark this down as the inciting incident that led her to run away with a motorcycle gang? Modeling emotional regulation is important, but parenting books, blogs and influencer accounts seem to dole out advice as if we’re all working with eight hours of sleep and a good hair day. The reality is that most nights, I’ve slept a total of 2.5 hours, my diet consists of kiwi-cherry Celsius and my hair looks insane—how the hell am I supposed to stay regulated when I am swimming against the current with weights on my ankles? 

Nobody ever learned anything from pretending to be perfect. It only casts shadows for shame to hide in. And I would never want my kids to think that perfection was an expectation I had for them either. So maybe instead of every other name we can throw out there, we should just call parenting what it is: imperfect parenting. Like Japanese kintusgi, broken pottery mended back together with gold, the result nods to the past while standing strongly in its updated form—ugly, beautiful and covered in Dora the Explorer band-aids.  


Executive Editor, Frazzled Mom, Bravo-Holic

Dara Katz is PureWow's Executive Editor, focusing on relationships, sex, horoscopes, travel and pets. Dara joined PureWow in 2016 and now dresses so much better. A lifestyle...