We ALL Need Boundaries – some thoughts on my nanny response, one week later




Nauseating.  That’s one of the most recent comments I’ve read in response to my 5 (Alternative) Reasons post, which has since become my single most viewed, and most shared, post of all time.  Truth be told, I’ve grown sort of fond of the one-word critiques. They’re succinct, to-the-point, and require no attention on my part.  They rip right off like a band-aid. Plus, there’s just something exhausting (albeit mildly amusing) about reading the three paragraph diatribes expressing disgust and irritation and annoyance at the mere existence of my words.

That’s not to say that I didn’t receive positive comments as well.  I did!  I read many lovely and encouraging words of support, and I appreciated every single one of them.  Sometimes I get bogged down in feelings of, “No one understands” (which tends to extend into, “I must be a horrible writer”), so hearing that someone both gets what I said, and even concurs with me is hugely validating.   Thank you for that, truly.

Ah, but the critics abound.

And after a week of reading, and reflecting, and ruminating, I’ve recognized some honest objections that deserve some follow-up.  In keeping with the spirit of the original post, I’ve organized them into five main categories.  In no particular order:

1.  You suck / I hate this / This is the worst piece of drivel I’ve ever read.  Just kidding. Not about getting those comments, but about them deserving a response.  Every time something I’ve written is shared more than a few times, sooner or later I get the above responses, nearly verbatim (I’ve filtered out the F – words.  You’re welcome) And honestly, I can really only feel sorry for people who 1) feel so badly about themselves that they need to try to tear others down, and 2) have nothing better to do with their internet time than troll blogs that they hate.   Also in this category are the people who made comments about gentle parenting producing “spoiled rotten little brats”, and sadly there were lots of them.  The issue of spoiling is one to be discussed for sure… but not with people whose first line of defense is to resort to calling children names.  I’d like to think we’re all adults here, and as such should be able to have conversations sans name-calling.

2.  But kids need boundaries!  I absolutely agree.  Kids do need boundaries.  We all need healthy boundaries, regardless of our age.  Lovingly and respectfully helping our children establish and maintain their own personal boundaries is an important part of any kind of mindful parenting…. which is why I’ve never – in this post or any post – stated otherwise.  The people who are raising this objection are reading something that simply isn’t there. One of the limitations of a blog post as a means of communication is that it’s just a snippet of a larger philosophy; not the whole picture.  I would have to add about a jillion disclaimers to every post to head off this kind of assumption, and nobody wants to read that.  So let me just state for the record, as clearly and plainly as I possibly can:

Gentle parenting does not mean that there are no boundaries.  It does not mean that there are no limits.

It means that boundaries and limits are not something that are arbitrarily prescribed for the child through control, coercion, and punishment… but rather something that are navigated together, with respect, compassion, and mutual communication.

3.  But kids need to hear the word no / they need to learn that life won’t always hand them everything they want!  I have a thing for a good caprese salad.  There’s a local pizza place down the street from us that has the BEST caprese appetizer.  They serve it in a stack, and it’s drizzled with a balsamic reduction that is just about the most delicious thing I’ve ever had in my life.   Seriously.  My mouth’s watering just thinking about it.  The last time we went there, we all sat down, ordered our drinks, and ordered the caprese…. only to be told that they’d run out, and would we be interested in some garlic bread or antipasto instead?

Life sometimes deals us a “no”, this much is true.  From small things like appetizers, to larger things like desired jobs.  And certainly, sometimes as parents, things such as circumstances, finances, or practicality dictate that we need to tell our children “no” as well.  I’m not arguing that fact at all.  But the thing is, it’s an inevitable fact that kids WILL learn about the “no’s” of life in time… and as for me, I would much rather my children view me as the person they can always trust with their disappointment when life hands down the “no”… and not the person who delivered an utterly unnecessary “no” just to teach them a lesson.  They will learn about no’s!  When I need – legitimately and genuinely need – to tell my children no, they understand.   They may be disappointed (just as I was disappointed when I couldn’t have my salad) but they understand.  And knowing that those times will and do come, I view my job as being their soft spot to fall when it happens, not as the person doling out more disappointment in order to “toughen them up”.  The world makes us tough enough.

So yes, when it’s at all possible, I’m going to say, “YES”, with no disclaimers, and no apologies.

And while I’m on the subject of life and toughness:  one person who disagreed with my post stated that she could never be as “soft” as me.  She said it as an insult, and while there is clearly a difference between respectful and being “soft”, the more I thought about it, the more I thought that are much worse things to be called.  The world is full of harshness.  I can’t help but think that a little more softness – in ourselves and in our children both – could only be a positive thing.

4.  To each his own / Everyone needs to do what works for them / There’s no right or wrong way to parent / We need to support each other, not judge each other

This is hands down one of the most frustrating things I ever hear in regards to parenting.  YES, we need to support each other.  YES, every family is going to look different.  But complacency – especially when it comes to how someone is treated – is never going to help anybody.  Not speaking out against harmful practices (yes, I’m calling some of the nanny’s recommendations harmful) is never going to help anybody.  Not advocating for kindness and compassion is never going to help anybody.  Children are far too often marginalized in this society, treated as “less than”, viewed as second-class citizens.  And we do no one… not the children, and not their parents, who are arguably trying their best to do right by them… any favors by not first recognizing and then talking about this very real issue.

and related to this:

5.  “I think the easiest thing one can do is critique another’s work. Instead of polarising views how about a piece of work that is put forward on it’s own merit.   I’m not a fan of they said this, I say that.”  I quoted this comment simply because it was one of the last ones that I read, and it was fresh in my mind.  But it wasn’t unique.  There were several that said essentially the same thing.  Why did I have to attack the nanny?  Why did I have to be so mean?  So judgmental?  So petty?  Why couldn’t I just write a positive piece about my own views instead of comparing myself to her?

Well first, I don’t disagree.  It IS easy to respond to something that’s already been written, especially something that’s all neatly laid out in a list.  Bullet-point lists almost beg to be answered.  In all fairness though, I was not critiquing someone else’s work.  I don’t know the nanny.  This was not about her personally, and it was not about her work.  It was about ideas. About philosophies.  Philosophies that an alarmingly high number of people – in fact millions of people – were accepting as fact and gospel.  Why shouldn’t alternative views also deserve to be heard?

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

Believe it or not, I don’t enjoy writing responses to someone else’s article.  In fact, few things fill me with such a “damned if I do, and damned if I don’t” kind of dread.  I never respond to these things when I first become aware of them… in fact, I mostly wish they’ll quietly go away.  But then they’re shared again and again.   People praise them again and again.  One by one my readers start to send me the links….. “Have you seen this yet?”  “Would love to hear your response to this!”  “I hope you’re writing a rebuttal to this”  “Can you believe this nanny??”    So I’ll carefully write my response, truly trying to be as kind and as diplomatic as possible.

Every time, these posts are far and away my most read and most popular.

And every time, I’m told how glad you are that I wrote them.

And every time, I’m scolded:  “You’re so, so….. MEAN!”

I cannot win.

As for a piece of work that’s put forward on its own merit:  I write those all the time.  My blog is full of them. They’re just not as widely read or shared as this kind of post.

Which is … uncomfortable for me.

Because in real life, I’m just a quiet, soft-spoken mom.  My kids think I’m a big dork.  My husband thinks I’m neurotic.   I dislike drama; I avoid confrontation.  I hate the icky feelings that come with being the center of attention in any way, especially when I’m being looked at with such critical eyes.  I am the last person in the world you’d expect to take some big stand for anything.  I never planned on writing, or growing, a blog.  I never, ever strove to convince anyone that “my” way of parenting is the right way.

But I continue to do what I do and write what I write for one reason:  I think how we treat kids matters.   I think kindness matters.  I think compassion matters.  I think this is worth discussing…. and discussing and discussing… if it means that even one child will be treated with a little more patience, or a little more understanding.

Even if it earns me a title of “nauseating.”

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Filed under gentle discipline, gentle parenting, parenting

13 Responses to We ALL Need Boundaries – some thoughts on my nanny response, one week later

  1. Annie Regan

    I love that you are willing to be a voice for change, to help people think about how they treat children. You are definitely helping to make the world a better place

  2. Julie

    I love the way you have written this. I also think that the way we treat children matters, and cannot be brushed off by saying, “Each to their own” or “Whatever works for your family (read, whatever works for the parents)”. I thought what that nanny had written was nauseating! I clearly remember being a child and being reprimanded and shamed, when I hardly knew what I’d done wrong. It only taught me to be more introverted and avoid my parents. I still can’t relate well to them. I know right from wrong from being observant and thinking about things as well as reading, not from being told off as a child.

    • Rob Vermeer

      Well, exactly what Julie said. Also, think that ‘the normal way’ of raising children which I consider a kind of pre-punishing is a result of generations doing exactly the same thing. This ‘style of parenting’ does not encourage self reflection and these families just don’t see that there can possible be another way of doing things.
      It is born out of fear, instilled by the previous generation. and it just goes on and on. I think that most of the parents that shame and punish are not dealing with something in their own life, and projecting that, essentially blaming the children. How can they, when they have not been given the tools to do it? . I am glad I woke up from this cycle. thanks for being a help in my search.

  3. Mom

    I LOVE YOUR WRITING!!! Encore, ENCORE, on this subject!!!

  4. MommyOf3

    Children matter! I especially love how you said the world will make us tough enough. I agree! I also know that the world will try to pull us down so much that parents should just help build their child up to sustain what they will go through in the world. Be encouraging, supportive and understanding. Keep up the good work

  5. Mama Mo

    Whew… I went back and read the original nanny piece, your list, then this post. And I have to say BRAVO! Thank you for well-written, child-friendly, refreshing (is that the opposite of nauseating?) posts. Seriously, thank you. I look forward to more!

    Two things are sticking in my mind. First, from the nanny’s post. “Give less.” I can’t help but think that sounds like a hurt child advising another hurting child. Gentle parenting will– hopefully, intentionally– allow children to grow up with less hurt so they are able, ready, and willing to give *more* because they have more in their emotional reservoirs. That’s my hope for my children.

    Second, in this post, where you say you can’t win. You don’t have to “win” because gentle parenting cannot be a zero-sum game vs mainstream parenting (although it often feels like it is). We can just keep sharing, writing, thinking, reflecting, and modeling that there is a way to raise children gently. Each time you get someone to think, it’s a win. Each time someone who is so riled up by your words to comment is a win, too. At least you got them thinking. They might not agree now or ever, but the thought that there is a different way is there.

  6. Dawn

    Thank-you. Beautiful.

  7. Lisa from Iroquois

    Succinctly and cogently done. Nice work 🙂 I love how you share your opinion without raining vitrol down on the other side. Thank you for standing up for what you beleive in.

  8. ASunnyDayFor Bluej

    Thank you for putting yourself out there. I love reading your blog and often refer to it and share it with other parents who are trying to break away from “conventional wisdom” find a respectful way to interact with their children.

  9. Grandma 7

    Thank you for standing up for what you believe (and, as a mother who has brought up four children, I totally agree with what you say).

  10. Stacie

    Thank you for writing what you do. Never stop. It’s been such s tremendous help for me and I’m a lot like you, center of attention isn’t were I want to be, confrontation I usually avoid, but our kids MATTER! So thank you 🙂

  11. Stephanie G. Cox

    Thank you so much for all you do. Keep it up!

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