What You'll Learn
- The Difference Between Respect and Compliance
- The Role of Values in Respectful Parenting
- Misconceptions Around Empowered Parenting
- The Role of Repair in Gentle Parenting
- The Outcome of Empowered Parenting
- Tips for Single Moms Who Struggle To Get Breaks
The world of gentle, respectful, empowered parenting can be difficult to walk. What does empowered parenting look like? Does gentle parenting always mean giving into your child? What does “respect” mean when it comes to your children?
Today, parenting coach and author of the upcoming book Very Intentional Parenting, Destini Ann, joins me to discuss what gentle parenting really does (and doesn’t) look like.
Breaking Cycles and Defining Respect
Many of us work very hard to break generational cycles. Just because we were raised a specific way doesn’t mean that’s how we want to show up as parents.
But our background, our upbringing, and our cultural differences do play a role in the way we interact with our kids. That’s especially true when it comes to the idea of “respect.”
Some people view gentle parenting as the same as permissive, or believe that respectful parents inherently let their children walk all over them.
Some people believe that respectful parents inherently let their children walk all over them.
My husband and I, who are of different races and bring different cultural backgrounds into our family, also came in with different ideas of respect.
Respectful parenting or gentle parenting are even described as “white people shit” by my social circle.
That’s why I was drawn to Destini Ann when I stumbled across her on TikTok. She is a well-known parenting coach and influencer, a single mom, and a Woman of Color, who often speaks out about breaking her own cycles, working through her own anger, and parenting in an empowered and respectful way.
I couldn’t wait to hear what she had to say about the misconceptions surrounding gentle parenting and discipline, and the role that race, culture, and being a single mom play in her parenting approach.
The Difference Between Respect and Compliance
For many of us growing up, respect meant compliance and obedience. Any time that we veered out of that, it was considered disrespectful.
There wasn’t a lot of thought given to how to show respect to our children. Gentle parenting involves allowing our children to voice their emotions and assert independence. Under the regimenting definition of respect many of us grew up with, when children do that it can be perceived as disrespectful.
Destini pointed out that many people misuse the word respect when it comes to kids. They might say they feel disrespected when their children do something that makes them uncomfortable.
But just because somebody makes us uncomfortable, or doesn’t comply with what we want, doesn’t mean they’re disrespecting us. Rarely as adults do we equate compliance to respect—but we do often associate it with respect from our children.
When our ultimate goal is compliance, we often fall back into generational cycles of yelling or scolding, because the only way you can actually force a child to comply is to make them small or disempower them.
We often fall back into generational cycles of yelling or scolding.
Compliance in response to yelling doesn’t mean they have learned a good behaviour—it just means you have activated their fear response, often missing teachable moments in the process.
Sometimes people will question the gentle parenting approach or claim that it doesn’t prepare kids for adulthood.
But in reality, respectful parenting often does align with how we treat other adults. As Destini emphasized, there aren’t many situations where adults don’t have options, where compliance is forced from fear, or where it isn’t expected that adults will communicate with kindness and patience.
Respectful parenting is about honouring youth, but also about understanding that we don’t grow adult skills by osmosis—children will not develop good interpersonal relationships and respectful skills out of nowhere. When they see us treating them with respect, it serves as a model for how to engage with others.
The Role of Values in Respectful Parenting
Destini said that the most important part of respectful parenting is understanding our own personal values. (This is not the same as our religious beliefs or the values we were raised with—they are the values that define what’s important to us at our core).
She pointed out that there are a lot of things she values more than compliance—such as equity, kindness, play, connection, and communication. And she wants to parent in a way that aligns with those values—not in a way focused on obedience.
Some people refer to it as gentle parenting, others as respectful parenting. Destini often calls it empowered parenting—an approach that empowers both herself and her children.
Destini approaches empowered parenting in a very nonjudgemental way, however. She was quick to point out that different families have different situations and different values. Sometimes the respectful parenting approach is not the right option for families.
Misconceptions Around Empowered Parenting
When people criticize the gentle parenting approach, it often stems from misconceptions. They believe that gentle parenting means never disciplining your children, never using a stern tone, or always letting kids get their way.
None of those concepts are true. Destini likes to say that she puts her foot down—she just does it gently. Empowered parenting involves firm but gentle boundaries. It also includes acceptance and understanding when your children have big feelings in response to those boundaries.
She pointed out that people often think empowered parents aren’t holding boundaries. But the very fact that children are displaying big feelings is evidence that they are. If gentle parents always gave in, their children would be happy all the time–not openly expressing frustration, disappointment, or anger.
But sometimes observers perceive that expression as disrespect. As she said, “It’s almost as if they want us to punish our kids when they don’t like our discipline.”
Sometimes adults expect more from their children than they do from adults. They demand that children control their emotions, but they yell at them. They give demands to children, ordering them to “ask nicely.” We often ask too much of children but don’t model desired behaviours for them.
Destini also pointed out that tone is an important tool in empowered parenting. Gentle parents don’t always speak with a passive or soft voice.
Yes, she might operate with a gentle tone the majority of the time. But sometimes she needs to get firm or stern—and because she does this only when necessary, it has become a valuable tool that allows her to really get through to her children.
The Role of Repair in Gentle Parenting
Even the most well-intentioned gentle parents slip up and raise their voices or lash out sometimes—especially if they’re feeling stressed out or angry.
But respectful parenting also involves modelling how to repair. Real, genuine apologies are important—even if they weren’t always modelled for us.
Real, genuine apologies are important.
However, Destini also pointed out that we can repair without apologizing if we didn’t do anything wrong. She never apologizes for holding a boundary or apologizes for her children’s feelings—it can be confusing for children. But you can repair by helping your children work through being upset, without letting down your boundaries.
The Outcome of Empowered Parenting
Gentle parenting allows us to break out of the generational cycles of reactive parenting. Many of us grew up having to shut down our emotions or believing that our emotions are bad.
But when we take a different approach, and model for our children how our emotions show up and how to deal with them, we give them the skills to navigate through life.
Destini experienced this through her own relationship with anger. She was always taught that anger was bad, but was never given the tools to work through it. It was only in very recent years that she realized she might pass this cycle on to her daughters.
She was always taught that anger was bad, but was never given the tools to work through it.
She had to work on herself to learn how to cope with her anger in a healthy way. But now her daughters can see her as an example for processing their own emotions.
Gentle parenting means parenting the child that’s in front of you and responding in different ways based on their needs and the season of life your family is in. It also means parenting their needs and not behaviours.
This teaches our children how to process their own needs. For example, if a child is jumping on the couch and their parent orders them to stop, they don’t learn how to express their need for movement.
But if their parent gives them the language, saying, “You need to move your body. Let’s find a place where you can jump safely without tearing up the furniture,” then they learn how to communicate, express, and problem-solve their needs.
Tips for Single Moms Who Struggle To Get Breaks
Destini is also outspoken about being a single mom, and she had guidance for other single moms who are easily triggered because they don’t have support systems or a chance to take a break.
The first step is to make peace with the situation. For Destini, that required therapy, journaling, and taking care of her body—she had to become okay with the situation and deal with her internal responses before addressing the external outcomes.
She had to deal with her internal responses before addressing the external outcomes.
Once she did that, she experienced a major shift in the way she showed up as a parent and the way she perceived possibilities. She ended up finding new opportunities, creating new solutions, and just feeling better about her life in general after she came to terms with being a single mom.
Destini also pointed out that as a single mom she sometimes became prideful to the point of not accepting help. But eventually, she realized that she didn’t have to do it all and be it all. She could accept help where she was able to find it.
Finally, it’s important for single moms, and for all moms, to hold boundaries for themselves, practice self-care wherever possible (without allowing it to be one more thing to do), and carve out time for themselves to get restorative breaks if they can.
If you are struggling and looking for ways to take care of yourself and prioritize your own mental health, our Wellness Center mom therapists can help. Book a FREE 15 minute virtual consult to get started!