Children have become an inextricable part of social media today. So much so that you couldn’t scroll through Facebook or Instagram without immediately seeing reels with chuckling babies or toddlers saying the darndest things. You like one or two of them and before you know it, your feed is inundated with them. I sometimes wonder if, as a woman of child-rearing age, I’m the target audience of such content anyway, but who’s to say.
Regardless, what’s not to like about kid content? Children are innocent, intelligent and fearless in a way that can be so energising to witness as a grown-up. And once I get over the anxiety of seeing such tender, impressionable beings so exposed on the Internet—which is certainly easier because I don’t have children of my own—I am able to notice other feelings that such content evokes in me.
Specifically, the videos and reels that exhibit glowing parenting moments: like a man having a pretend-conversation with his adorably babbling toddler about a football match they’re watching; or a hairdresser soothing and reassuring a little girl when she looks into the mirror and says “I’m so ugly”; or a woman teaching her daughter a fun song about asserting her boundaries with people. Even better are the videos that show parents calmly conversing and co-regulating with screaming, wailing toddlers.
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Aside from evoking the warm and fuzzies in the viewer, such videos make ‘gentle parenting’ look cool. Gentle parenting, which has become the latest buzzword in online ‘sharenting’ circles, refers to a style of parenting that involves parents building a relationship with their children based on empathy, understanding and respect instead of bulldozing over their individuality with arbitrary rules and punishments. Innumerable reels and posts can be found on social media wherein parents and experts explain and demonstrate how this style can be worked into everyday situations.
Psychologist Rayna Mehta recalls a gentle parenting reel that she recently enjoyed: “This woman spoke about how when her husband asked her to end an activity that she was really enjoying, she was very irritated. This made her realise that she also dysregulates her child when she interrupts his playtime by saying, ‘Enough now, it’s time for a bath’. Now, she gives the child a five minute window to gently wind up before moving on to the next activity.”
Millennials are commonly known to be the first generation to openly address childhood trauma and work towards healing. Therefore it makes sense that we are attempting to raise our children better than we were raised, by bringing greater awareness into our emotions and behaviours. We want to be present for our little ones and support them in ways that our parents couldn’t do with us. We want to treat our children the way we wish we had been treated when we were little. And, like in the example Mehta gives, as we work towards raising emotionally healthy children, we are also simultaneously reparenting our own selves.
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While I neither have children, nor any immediate plans of bringing them on board, I have found immense value in applying gentle parenting techniques in my relationship with myself. Whenever I find myself in a conflict or a crisis, experiencing big feelings I was never taught to process, I talk to the part of me that is freaking out like I would to a scared, dysregulated child. I acknowledge my feelings, give myself permission to express them instead of shoving them down and hold myself until they pass. When I find myself demotivated and sulking through my days, I appeal to my inner child to come out of her shell and do something fun. I take myself out on ice cream dates and watch reruns of the Home Alone movies. Attempts at working discipline into my schedule have been made a lot easier with this approach, as scolding and shaming myself has never worked anyway.
This has not happened overnight. It has taken practice, as it wasn’t easy to accept such kindness even from myself. And it is still difficult on some days. But even trying this out intermittently has made a huge difference. It has been a boon in that sense to have so much content on the subject on social media that—if nothing else—serves as a reminder to be thoughtful and kind towards oneself.
Mehta concurs on the importance of tending to one’s own inner child. “I work as a school counsellor in Mumbai. I find that a lot of adults who work with children—teachers, counselors, even parents—tend to want to portray (a sense of) perfection in front of children, while (in reality) we are less than kind to ourselves. If we can employ gentle parenting skills and strategies with ourselves when we’re having a bad day, we can really nurture our inner child,” she says.
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This is especially relevant with adults who may have a history of trauma, Mehta adds. “There may be days when your inner child is just not having it, or wants to let loose or be angry about something. It is important to be there to co-regulate with the child and listen to what you need.”
Even as we grow older and take on the weight of the world, our inner child prevails. They are the source of all the joy and creativity we bring to this world. We owe it to ourselves to be a gentle parent to them.
Indumathy Sukanya is an artist and independent journalist based in Bengaluru