This time of year is a time of reflection and introspection for me. Another year is just around the corner, there is a flurry of activity to push through organising end of year celebrations with family, and my thoughts turn to the kinds of things I’d like to achieve in the next 12 months. I tend to take time to think about how our family is travelling along and how I personally am feeling about where our life is headed. It gives me a chance to think about the ways I’ve grown over the year, and this year is no different.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my journey with gentle parenting throughout this year. I’ve been parenting for just over 15 years now, and my understanding and practice of my parenting approach has definitely evolved and been refined over those years. I still rely on observation and my close connection with my children over books and articles – I can’t do dogma in any form, which comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me, and that includes parenting dogma. Even gentle parenting dogma.
Something that I hadn’t really considered until just recently was what gentle parenting has given to me. Especially the gentle parenting of my autistic daughter. I’ve spent much of my life feeling broken and awkward. Like I don’t fit, or I fit wrong. Like I’m missing one or more essential bits of information that would just make everything clearer to me. I’ve repressed feelings, complied, tried to change, experienced severe depression several times, severe post natal depression several times, self harmed a lot and been suicidal. I’ve felt cracked and fragile, like I was compromising the well-being of my children simply by existing. Through most of that I’ve also parented. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to parent gently. I wanted something different for my children. It made logical sense (still does) to treat my children with the kind of respect and love that I want for myself. I don’t always get it right. But mostly we seem to do ok.
It has always been easy for me to understand why treating my children with respect is right. I’ve been a feminist for a long time, since my early teens. The idea that women are treated differently because they aren’t men has never made sense to me. As I grew up and became more exposed to social issues, my feminism became increasingly intersectional. It is still doing that, and I suspect it always will. So when it came time to parent, those intersectional ideas expanded. I couldn’t call myself a feminist if I was going to say it was ok to treat children with less respect than other humans simply because of their age.
It has taken much longer for me to understand why treating myself with the same respect is right. I knew it, intellectually, but I had (still have, some days) a hard time applying it to me. I’ve spoken with other parents about the need to be as kind to themselves as they are to their children. To give themselves the same kind of love and respect. But doing it myself was something I struggled with. I felt like it was ok for other people, but I was just too broken. I just needed to accept that, and stop hoping for something different for myself. If I could not pass on my own hangups and brokenness to my children, I would call that a win.
I was right, to an extent. I needed to accept who I was. It wasn’t until I became involved with Respectfully Connected and with autism acceptance that I really understood what that meant. I’d known before then that I was autistic too. And I was right behind the concept of accepting who my child was without reservation – like my feminism, it just makes sense. I could see what it meant to change the ongoing dogma around autism and autistic people, the changes in language and approach, the unlearning of ableism. I could apply all of that to my own parenting and to the world around me. It took much longer to apply it to my own self image. It took much longer to realise that I was worth that effort. That while I have cracks, they aren’t to do with who I am, but what I’ve been through.
The gentle parenting of my children has overflowed onto the care that I give myself. The joy with which I see them, the openness they have in expressing themselves, the strength they feel and the confidence they have with who and how they are; those are all things they have unwittingly encouraged me to want for myself. Especially my youngest daughter. She is unquestioningly herself, in every way she wants to be. She does not doubt who she is. She does not doubt her worth, or the love we give her. And that unquestioning self acceptance is like a balm on my heart. It shows me how to heal myself, moment by moment. It is a gift that I can never repay.