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Be a Mother Not a Martyr: When Gentle Parenting Seems to Bite You in the Butt

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Martyr: One who makes great sacrifices or suffers much in order to further a belief, cause or principle.

Ok, if you’ve read the title and you know me, you might be thinking, now wait a minute Kate, you ARE the craziest gentle attachment parent I know. Tandem breastfeeding, cosleeping, babywearing, elimination communication around the clock, gentle parenting extraordinaire. And, here I am saying not to be a martyr? Yup, I’m saying it!

What do you do, when after all your gentle parenting efforts, you end up with a biting, hitting, not listening, not cooperating, on the boob 24/7 and waking.up.all.damn.night child? Even though you, yourself, don’t hit, you don’t bite, you don’t yell (or try not to) and you try to explain things rationally. You don’t do cry it out, you don’t punish, you might co-sleep, breastfeed on demand or offer a dummy (pacifier) to sooth any cries. You’ve done everything you know how to be a gentle parent, but you’re at your wits end with how to deal with your child’s behavior. People tell you to that it will pass and you’re all like, “Yeah, but I’m going nuts NOW“.

Of course, there’s no way to spoil a baby or child through holding or keeping them close or giving them too much attention. You do as much of that as you can. This post post is not against gentle parenting, it’s about dealing with difficult behavior in young children.

Democratic Parenting
Democratic parenting acknowledges the needs of both the parent and the child. While gentle parenting is ‘gentle‘, it is by no means ‘permissive parenting‘. Gentle parenting does not mean that you let your kids walk all over you. Done over a long enough time, too much permissive parenting can result in some very resentful feelings on the parent’s end. It’s OK to give a firm “NO” to a baby who is biting. It’s OK to gently, but firmly grab a toddler hand that is about to hit their baby sibling’s head. It’s OK to tell a child that you need to go NOW otherwise you’re going to miss your appointment! It’s also ok to let a child play in the puddles and make messes if it’s time and place appropriate. Everyone has needs that need to be met, it’s all about finding a balance.

Loving Boundaries, Aggression in Children and Crying
No matter how perfect a family life you have, every child is bound to experience feelings of hurt and misunderstanding, so it’s not like you’re doing anything wrong if your child shows signs of being upset or is being difficult to handle! When a baby or toddler is acting aggressive, these are not acceptable behaviors. Diet, environment, too much TV, not enough meaningful connection from the parents and other sources of stress can all contribute to aggression.

A lot of people think that a baby toddler is too little to understand if you tell them that biting, hitting or pushing is not ok, but I have to disagree! A child who is not harboring stressful or pent up negative emotions will not act aggressively. Usually when a child is displaying these sorts of aggressive behaviors, it can be very beneficial to let them have a big loving cry. Emotional crying in children is not a bad thing! But, often, gentle parents are told to never let a baby or toddler cry, so we distract them from crying and having melt downs. An often overlooked reason for crying and fussing could simply mean that a baby or child has to poo or pee, yet we try to stop the crying even for that! Imagine if someone tried distracting you if you had to poo!? How frustrating would that be?!

When a child is prevented all the time from crying, a  lot of times, they will start becoming aggressive, hard to handle, fussy and not so resilient. They also may become addicted to the thing that stops them from crying (breastfeeding, a dummy/pacifier, rocking, patting, etc). I could write a whole post on the huge benefits of lovingly allowing a baby or child to cry, but you can read more words on it by Dr. Aletha Solter here.

Breastfeeding Martyrdom
But, doesn’t breastfeeding meets all needs of a child who is crying? A lot of attachment extremists think so… Even if the baby or toddler bites you, gives you niplash or hangs off of you upside down… you must persevere and feed feed feed till the baby falls asleep, or feed till you drop. *Sigh* I’m all about feeding on demand, don’t get me wrong ESPECIALLY for a young baby. And, I need to be careful saying this, because it is important to be in tune and know that our babies have their own feeding ‘schedule‘. Babies should NEVER be put on a feeding schedule. But, if a toddler has just had boobs… do they really need it again half an hour later?

Very often, what can happen with ‘breastfeed til you drop‘ is that you get a very boob addicted toddler and a mother with some VERY strong nursing aversion. I used to feed at every squawk, but, when my five month old started waking up every hour at night to feed, I started looking for the reason behind her feverish sleep. It was then that I discovered to allow babies to cry in arms to release stress rather than feed every hour, all through the night. Differentiating between when my babies needed a feed, as opposed to when they were crying for something else, has made our breastfeeding relationship last for so long (ahem, breastfeeding a four year old still?!) and has also helped them to sleep much better through the night.

But, isn’t it the biological norm to feed all night long? Mmm… a good question that gets asked frequently. Feeding a very young baby several times throughout the night, yes… but, I’ve practiced elimination communication (taking my kids to the toilet) and it goes without saying that the more you feed, the more a baby has to wake up to pee… The cave women, who didn’t use nappies, would not have been keen to wake up five times a night just to take their baby to the bushes. They too would have wanted to find ways to reduce the number of feeds throughout the night as the baby got older!

What To Do if You’re Feeling ‘Fed Up’ Over Breastfeeding
If you think your kid is addicted to boob and it’s driving you insane, BEFORE you consider weaning out of exasperation, considering dropping feeds first and really paying attention to the source of their wanting to nurse every twenty minutes. If you’re having strong nursing aversions, or think that your baby or toddler is a real boob addict, you might find that if you just drop a few feeds, your sanity could be restored and they will get that opportunity to release their emotions as needed (in the form of tears). Sometimes they can cry quite a lot, especially if their cries have been constantly ‘distracted‘ with boob since birth. You can read more about my nursing aversion journey here.

Laughing and Playing
Another remedy for any crazy behaviour or even of fears, is through laughter, play and connection. Parents often get so serious, that they forget to have any fun at all. I kid you not, just five or ten minutes of silly engaged playfullness a day, or even every other day, will make children (even babies) more willing to cooperate, less aggressive, more happy and easier to manage. For example, my kids always go crazy while I was cooking dinner. So last night, I asked my husband to play with them for a while. He asked me what he should do, so I told him to just go in the middle of the living room and hide under a blanket and see what they would come up with! They all laughed and played and I got to make dinner uninterrupted. I wrote a post on ways to play here.

Listen to Yourself and Your Child
Children are never out there to manipulate or deceive us. If they are acting out, they are searching for some sort of need to be met, either emotional or physical. Gentle parenting is an incredible journey and I really feel like it brings out the best in ourselves and in our children… But being a gentle parent doesn’t mean that you have to let your kids drive you bonkers! Take the time to listen to their true needs and to your own. Take time to nourish yourself. Be playful, Listen to their cries and tantrums with understanding and love and of course, I can’t end without saying, this too shall pass 🙂


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  1. Pingback: Time to “Aware Parent” your kiddies?? | nella inspired

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