Dr. Pezalla’s expertise is in adolescent risk and resilience, social identities, family relationships, and narratives in health.
Gentle Parenting is Not-So-Gentle on Parents
There’s a parenting approach right now receiving widescale popularity, and it’s called “gentle parenting.” Yet this approach has received zero attention in empirical research. What does it entail, exactly? Is it good for children? Equally important: Is it good for the parents?
My colleague, Dr. Alice Davidson, and I set out to explore this parenting approach in a systematic way. We asked over 100 parents of young children, across the country, to tell us about how they’re raising their kids and whether they identify as a “gentle parent.” For those who did, we asked them to tell us what that meant.
About half our sample identified as gentle parents, a largely white and highly-educated group. To them, gentle parenting was about staying calm during challenging moments with their children; it was also about helping their children understand their emotions. Gentle parents described their approach as “unruffled,” “conscious,” and operating within a “gentle rein.” Despite these measured responses, about 40% remarked that they were struggling. They shared sentiments like “I’m hanging on for dear life” or “I confess I have no idea what I am doing.”
We are starting a new phase of our study with a more diverse group of parents and with a longitudinal design. We are curious to know if gentle parenting is limited to highly educated, white parents, whether this fatigue is specific to gentle parenting, and of course, how gentle parenting is impacting the kids. These parents are certainly emotionally sensitive, but what about their children? These are empirical questions, and they deserve an empirical approach.