Browsing Tag



How To Be A Gentle Parent

7 January, 2014

This is a weird old month for us- settling into a new country and trying to get a new website off the ground ( – do have a look!) I’m thankful that some of my ABSOLUTE favourite parenting authors and bloggers will be helping me out over the next few weeks, continuing the How To Be A _______ Parent series.

First up with this second round is Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of the wonderful Babycalm and Toddlercalm books. Here Sarah gives a beautifully honest and nuanced perspective on gentle parenting.

When Lucy gave me the title of this guest post my first thought was “easy peasy, I should get that written in an hour tops”, but I have to confess, three days in and I’m still pretty stumped. It should be easy right? Especially as she gave me the option of writing a bullet point list, but something is stopping me, it’s hard! (then again isn’t everything in parenting?)

I keep coming back to the idea that ‘being a gentle parent’ is just something that you inherently are. The clue is in the title “how to BE a gentle parent”, not “how to DO gentle parenting”….and I think this is the cause of my difficulty, how to write an article giving advice to people to change who they are? That’s not so easy!

Then again, as soon as I get engrossed in this thought I keep coming back to the good old ‘nature V nurture’ debate. If gentle parenting is all about the being rather than the doing, then nurture theory tells us we can and do change as a result of our environment. Perhaps the key to gentle parenting therefore lies in our own childhoods, in the way that we ourselves we raised, but if we were not raised in a wholly gentle fashion does that mean we cannot break the mould with our own children? I don’t think so.

I do think that perhaps the hardest thing about parenting isn’t the arduous physical demands – the sleepless nights and the like, it’s about coming to terms with our own upbringings and realising that we need to work on fixing our own internal problems before we can even begin to think about working on those of our children (because all too often issues with our child’s behaviour are rooted in our own). Navel gazing is a necessity for all parents in my opinion and if you allow it to, the experience of parenting can be the start of an intensely important, enlightening and often painful period of personal growth. I think this is where ‘being’ a gentle parent kicks in.

It starts with us, the parents, and who we are – it’s not about a set of rules or guidelines to follow or things to ‘do’. I think that’s why I have had so much trouble writing this article, nevertheless here are some points I feel are important:

1. Recognise that in order to be the best parent you can be to your child you need to think about your own childhood. This might take the form of realising how privileged you were and realising how amazing your own parents are and how much you owe to them, or it could take the form of realising that you were treated anything but gently and recognising the importance of not subconsciously using the same techniques on your own children that were used on you. Often it will involve having to forgive your parents and sometimes yourself too.

2. Making a pact with the guilt monster. All parents feel guilty, about pretty much everything, it’s an inherent part of being a parent, but it’s so important that you don’t be so consumed by guilt that you close your mind to information that may make you hurt. What you did three years ago, a month ago – or yesterday – is in the past, leave it there and forgive yourself. When you know better you do better, if you didn’t have the information you have today how could you have done differently? Don’t let your guilt blinker you to learning and growing and ‘doing better’ for your child.

3. Growing up. I’m not really sure how to phrase this point, I know what I mean but I’m not so sure it’s going to come out in the inoffensive manner I mean it to. Making the momentous decision to bring a new life into this world is a big deal. It *will* change things (everything) and you won’t be able to hang onto your old life, not all of it anyway. For me one of the biggest crux’s of gentle parenting is about losing the selfish parts of our personality, life isn’t just about you any more, it’s about a delicate dance of balancing your needs to cope and the needs of your child.

4. Following on from this point is the really crucial idea of mind-mindedness, or in less psycho babble jargon – empathy. Trying to understand how your child feels whenever possible. It’s hard sometimes – boy is it hard, but if you can try to imagine how your screaming baby/tantruming toddler/stroppy teenager feels, everything is easier and your actions will be very different. Quite simply if you treat your children how you would like to be treated in the same position you’ve pretty much got gentle parenting nailed.

5. What do you need to be able to do all of this? Support and nurturing yourself. If you’re struggling to do this all alone and you’re all wrung out, however do you expect to ‘be there’ for someone else? This is the biggest problem with our society today, parenting is so fragmented from the support network we’re supposed to do it in! If you don’t have that lifeline no amount of babywearing, breastfeeding, bedsharing or AP books are going to help, in actual fact – these props (none of which are necessary for gentle parenting in my opinion) might very well contribute to point number 2. the all consuming guilt, if you don’t have support in place. I might have put this last but it is at least as important as my first point if not more-so!

So, there you go – no special recipe or “5 step plan to gentle parenting” to follow, I don’t even really think there is such a thing as “a gentle parent” really, we’re all just people doing the best we can to muddle through and trying to inflict the least amount of damage possible onto our kids!

Sarah Ockwell-Smith is a mother to four, a parenting author and co-founder of GentleParenting UK. A new gentle parenting website launching in Spring 2014 on – until their launch you can find them on Facebook and on Twitter.
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Library activism for gentle parenting

28 October, 2013

When I was a brand spanking new mum (actually, not spanking, just cuddly) I wandered down to my local library in Peckham to see if I could get some reading matter on gentle parenting. I was looking for advice on building attachment, the norms of breastfeeding and what to expect with cosleeping.

I found the parenting aisle, and bent down to scan the books. Spine after spine yielded Gina Ford’s name. The parenting section seemed like a shrine to the Contended Baby Empire. I didn’t find anything to help me out that day; fortunately I found the solace and wisdom I was after later on in online groups.

Whilst being in London over the last couple of weeks, crashing at my folks place while Tim rescues Betty the Camper from the grubby hands of peculiar mechanics, I’ve joined their library. Honestly. Libraries. They are so FLIPPING BRILLIANT. I’m too scared to hire books these days as I have an actual Forget-To-Take-Books-Back Syndrome. We just go up there and laze amongst the tomes and read on the sofa together, and I use my library card to download books on my E-reader. (I can’t tell you how ridiculously happy downloading free ebooks with no overdue fine possibilities makes me.)

The first time I was there I perused the parenting aisle, hoping that in the last three years things might have gotten a little more representative. Well, every single Ford volume was there- guides from sleeping to potty training to riding a bike to singing a Nursery Rhyme (just joking about the last two, but I expect they’ll be next!) But there WERE other books… Tizzie Hall and her similarly extreme, ungentle methods, also a sleep training guide describing the “extinction” method. (What a name. If a name of a method could perfectly sum up what you are doing to your child’s trust in you, and your connection then they have NAILED it.)

Why, WHY, would I pick these books up for a flick through? WHHHHHY shatter my hope that people are moving towards more peaceful and respectful interactions with children and babies? I blame my hands. The rascals grab these books and open them up to the saddest parenting advice and shove it in my face… My eyeballs are like “DON’T LOOOOOK!!!” But they always do. The same thing happens with the Daily Mail at my granddad’s house. My hands are fisticuffs, Well Up For It. They didn’t get my memo about peaceful living.

I approached the librarian for a conversation. I wanted to find out why the shelves were stocked with pretty harsh, punitive child rearing methods. A reading of Parenting for a Peaceful Word by Robin Grille has convinced me that there is a really strong link between the mainstream parenting practices and the quality of societal well being, justice and peace in the subsequent decades, when the kids are adult and making decisions that effect their country. It may sound a bit conspiracy theorist, but it seems to me that the most predominant parenting literature at the moment is designed to squeeze our children into a mould that will make them compliant and obedient Contributors to the Economy. What is the relationship between this idea and our libraries?

You’ll be relieved to hear that George Osbourne doesn’t hand select the books with the most punitive regime, package them up and send them via UPS (he doesn’t use the Royal Mail, it’s inefficient) to each library. The librarian told me that it is simply the publishers who send their books out to a central library hub, who then pass them on. Chief librarians also request books that have come to their attention, that they feel their community might enjoy and members of the public can also request them.

It could be as simple as the fact that some of the more attachment/ gentle parenting books have lesser known publishers, and smaller marketing budgets, so don’t come to the attention of the library decision makers in the same way. After an enormous conversation with my local librarian about all of this it seems to me that WE can have an influence on making our library shelves more pro-child.

    Five ways we can get more gentle parenting literature on our library shelves

Request them. Each library should have a “Stock request form” – this means that if they don’t have it in the borough they will seriously consider buying it in. My old library would ALWAYS buy the requested books, but my current one only promises to consider it. This is still quite a power we have, particularly if one or two people request the same book in the same borough, giving the request much more weight. Get a few of your parent chums together and chose a book to request, each using a separate form. Toddlercalm by Sarah Ockwell-Smith is a new one just out, and anything by Dr Sears, and if every library had Robin Grille’s Parenting for a Peaceful World the world would surely be more peaceful.

Borrow them. Once they have a few attachment and gentle parenting texts you should get them out! (Unless you have the syndrome that I have…) Use your library, support them not just because libraries are wonderful for you right now but because they are wonderful for the whole of society long term. Borrowing these books will show the library that they are desired, and it will make them more likely to buy in more of these books.

Review them and share them. If you have enjoyed a respectful/gentle/ attachment parenting book then shout about it. It is possible for us to rival the big marketing budgets of controversial Super Nanny book publishers, simply by doing online reviews through Amazon, tweeting, face booking and generally making a fuss about the books that we think will make society a more beautiful, peaceful place. This will bring these books to the attention of librarians and book stockists, giving the books much higher chance of getting read by more parents.

Move the others. Okaaaay, so the librarian didn’t EXACTLY suggest this one and this is quite an active kind of library activism. The librarian told me that the books that are often hired most are those that are displayed with their front cover facing out. If you want you could, when no one is looking, rearrange the displays with gentle parenting books being the most obvious. You could also, if you felt like it, take some of the harsh tomes and, if they seem to be massively over represented on the shelves… well, errr….HIDE THEM. Good luck finding the Extinction Method in my local, unless you are well into horse riding.

Send a letter A quick phone call to the Head of Library Services in your borough, or even to the library number on your library’s internetz page (not your branch) should give you the name of the Aquisition Librarian. It would be well worth emailing them, or writing them, copying in your MP, with your concerns and some of the suggestions for books you have. You should also, anonymously this time, write them a letter about all the reshelving you have been doing, just so the librarians don’t get the blame…


I’d love to hear from any librarians or publishers about how to get our library shelves reflecting society’s need for more gentle child nurturing literature…

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Attachment parenting, Parenting

Best reads for gentle pregnancy and parenting – and a giveaway

20 January, 2013

I have a bump! 28 weeks pregnant  and I finally have a bump. It took a while to arrive and then, aided by several Christmas dinners and a few weeks of festive chocolates left in the house, it burst on to the scene, knocking into things, rendering my clothes unwearable and making the poking of my bellybutton (of which I, er,  have a slight phobia) irresistible to my daughter!

Suddenly I feel veeerrrrry pregnant. Every morning begins with the Beetles anthem for tired souls – “No, don’t wake me, please don’t shake me, leave me where I am! I’m only sleeeeeeping!” Even my knees creak as I walk around. I have had to change the start of my maternity leave from 2 weeks prior to my due date to 6 weeks prior because I am just so weary! GAH, being pregnant with Ramona wasn’t like this, I was a (probably slightly annoying) energetic bundle of glowing hormones.  It is partly having a rambunctious toddler, I guess, and also partly to it being cold, old January. I think everyone is a bit exhausted just now.

I am still nursing Ramona, and we have good days and bad days with that. I see so very many benefits for her still, so aim to keep going, and some days as I  snuggle on the sofa with her and we lock eyes as she nurses I love it as much as I did when she was a new born. And other days it is, as one mama put it, like getting a “30 minute long wet willy” – that classic, sloppy saliva finger wedged in your ear hole trick, eeep!

Of course, I love this baby growing inside me already, and I love parenting Ramona, and can’t wait to have both here on my lap. But sometimes I need a bit of a boost, reminders about why I am parenting peacefully, I need some comfort in shared experience.

I feel so fortunate to have a stack of books and online resources to help me get through some of these more sleepy, short-wick, big emotion days. It is always good to read of other people dealing with similar things, getting encouragement and ideas, and being part of communities that aim to parent in similar ways.

So. I thought I’d share my list of where I find this!

These are my favourite off line and online resources for parenting and pregnancy and birth.

I’d love to hear your own faves though- the books and blogs you rave about when you hear someone has a scrumptious new bun in the oven.Best parenting books and book giveaway


Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering. The BEST book. Oh my days. It covers SO much but in a really readable way. It is, without a doubt, the book I would recommend to every newly pregnant couple.

Hypno Birthing by Marie Mongan. I am a massive fan of hypnobirthing, primarily because of the complete faith it bestows upon women’s bodies. I am sure that reading this book in pregnancy created the gentle birth I had with Ramona.

The Science of Parenting. This was probably the first parenting book I read and I devoured it in one sitting. It covers babyhood to older childhood and brings, er, you may have guessed, a bit of science into it but in a super accessible way. It covers cosleeping, babywearing, breastfeeding and gentle parenting.

Playful Parenting. This is the manifesto for parents who want to have relationships with their children that bring joy and freedom, for those who want to move away from punitive, tension filled parenting. It is story after story of how play can restore our children and our relationships. Brilliant.

How to Talk so Kids Listen and Listen so Kids Talk. I read this book over Christmas and it has given me this pair of specs that I can’t take off! I feel like I see every adult-child interaction in a new way, a way that reveals where children are coming from. It has such incredible power to help parents understand, and respond to, their children.


The Green Parent. This is a WONDERFUL magazine, but also an online site with forums. These forums got me through my first few months of motherhood!  The community of people on there are so helpful and inspirational.

Kellymom. What breastfeeding question has Kellymom NOT answered? None. Nope, not one. The articles on Mothering stretch my mind with potential, often full of creative and reflective stories on motherhood. There is a lovely community of mamas in the forums too.

Attachment Parenting UK Facebook group. I really like being part of this group! They post encouraging quotes and blogs and posts and generate alot of discussion.

The Natural Child Project. This site covers so much with the most simple, story based articles. From Elimination Communication to Unschooling it challenges main stream philosophies with really practical examples.

La Leche League. This is an incredible breastfeeding support network to tap into. Jampacked with resources, but also access to support lines and groups to help in the most hands on way.

The Mule, Baby Calm, Little Hearts, The Other Baby Book, Hobo Mama, Analytical Armadillo, Uncommon John and Aha Parenting are all blogs that I love -along with about a billion others-  and will often delve into their archives for inspiration and research on attachment, peaceful parenting. You have to follow these peeps too!


A few weeks ago I was in an Oxfam Bookshop and found four of the above books in pristine condition, two each of Hypnobirthing and The Science of Parenting. I already have one set myself,  have given one to friends who are expecting so for the final duo I am giving them away on this ‘ere blog.

To win The Science of Parenting and Hypnobirthing (with CD)

Please leave a comment! That’s all folks!


For an EXTRA entry you can follow this blog through email (see below to enter email address and hit subscribe button) or through Facebook (let me know in the comments)

And for a THIRD entry you can share this post either on Facebook or Twitter (again, let me know in the comments)

Winner will be chosen on Friday 1st February at 9pm. Winner will be drawn at random from all the entries. UK entrants only, unless you indicate that you’d be willing to help out with postage.

Thank you SO much everyone, and especially for your beautiful and lovely comments. The winner was MrsXpat- congratulations! Thanks for entering everyone, and I’ll have another giveaway soon I’m sure!

Thank ye, my friends, and good luck!
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