I’ve never liked the way we label ourselves as parents. It’s difficult enough for me to pick a team when I make my March Madness brackets. As a new parent, the idea of choosing a “side” for parenting made me completely squirmy. Who has the better jersey? Which mascot is cuter? The notion that there is a right or wrong way to parent feels like a disaster from the beginning for any mother. Hi, no, sorry there’s no instruction manual for your child but here is this rulebook for your chosen parenting style. Read it carefully in between feedings and diaper changes. Break the rules, and you’ll be shamed for life. Good luck!
In classic Enneagram Nine Peacemaker personality type, I decided I would not pick a side. I would follow my child’s lead to understand who they were and what they required for guidance. A create-your-own-adventure style works for me!
However, if pressed, I would have told you I planned to follow a Gentle Parenting approach. This particular parenting philosophy is one that promotes a relationship with your child based on willingness and choices, rather than demands and rules made by a parent. It teaches children to make good choices by using positivity and patience, rather than fear and punishment. It takes a team approach rather than a top-down method where both parent and child work together to grow and learn. Even the word “gentle” aligned with my personality so this felt like a natural choice for me.
With my first, this method worked perfectly. Once we both got through that first-year culture shock, Gentle Parenting was easy. I didn’t need to read any books or follow any child psychologist on the internet or join any Facebook groups to tell me the rules for my chosen philosophy. I just listened to my daughter and her needs and acted accordingly. What a lovely field of daisies we skipped through she and me.
And then my second came along.
The same people who like parenting labels might also call this child the “spirited” child. With him, every emotion is expressed off the scale and every boundary is put through rigorous testing. I discovered that what I thought was “Gentle Parenting” with my first was actually just “parenting a gentle child.” My second taught me why I really needed Gentle Parenting. Because if I wasn’t gentle, one of us was not going to survive.
This is how I became intimately acquainted with the world of Gentle Parenting on the internet. There is a multitude of therapists offering their empathic wisdom on navigating parenting challenges. I follow many of them on social media and comb through their advice to find what best supports my needs (i.e. which ones don’t make me feel bad about myself and then forward the links to my husband with the simple caption “READ THIS!”) I throw the lingo around like it’s my fight song. “Two things can be true at the same time!” I refer to the therapists by their first name like I have an intimate relationship with a personal guru when in fact this person doesn’t know me from any of their other 5 million followers desperate for any nugget of truth to rescue them from their “spirited” child.
But there is one very important guru I missed entirely in my search.
You might know him as the lovable college football coach turned, well, football coach, but the kind only Americans understand as soccer, in last year’s hit series starring Jason Sudeikis. If you’ve been anywhere near me since last December after we got past pleasantries I would have asked you if you had watched Ted Lasso. And likely if you had not I would have told you to leave and not come back until you had. The show is as unlikely as they come to something I would like. And that is why it is so charming. I fell in love with Ted Lasso’s character, and it took me a few episodes until I realized why.
Ted Lasso is a Gentle Parenting philosopher.
No, you won’t find him sharing messages on his Instagram stories or running workshops to save your relationship with your child. But as I studied his coaching techniques I discovered there was more to his character than fun-loving entertainment.
Everything I need to know about parenting I can learn from Coach Ted Lasso.
- Be humble. Lasso was hired to coach a struggling English football team without an ounce of knowledge. But that didn’t discourage him. Like the imperfect parent that we all are, he reminds us to not be ashamed of what you don’t know, ask questions, and always be willing to learn. Our kids will respect us when we admit we are learning right alongside them.
- Don’t let insults be personal. As a new coach, Ted decided to set up a comment box for the players to help him understand what they need, most of which returned with words not suitable for the internet. But instead of taking this personally, he used the words to get to the heart of the players’ concerns and hunt for where he could make quality change, like something as simple as fixing the water pressure. I think of this when an angry child throws out words that sting. I see the outburst as a sign of the frustration at a situation, not a sign of my character, and use this sign to understand what is really bothering them. I doubt it’s a frustration with the water pressure in our shower, but it never hurts to ask.
- Be curious, not judgmental. Coach Lasso makes a point to get to know the people he works with and the players he coaches. He asks questions in order to learn more about them instead of making assumptions. As a parent, when I ask questions about my children and their behavior, it not only allows me to stay away from judgements, but it helps them feel seen in our relationship.
- Be a goldfish. When a player made a mistake on the field, it ruined his mood for the rest of the game. Lasso told the player he needed to be a goldfish. He says to him, “You know why the goldfish is the happiest animal on earth?” The player has no clue. “He’s got a 10 second memory. Be a goldfish.” We all need to be reminded to not dwell on our mistakes, children and parents alike.
- Run with the team. After the team slacks at practice, Coach Lasso tells his players to run laps. But before they start running, he takes off in a gallop, challenging them to a race around the field. It’s game on and the players chase after Lasso, determined to beat him. It’s so easy to stand over our children barking orders to make them better. But when we work alongside them, or better yet, make a game of it, they see us as a part of their team.
- Apologies go a long way. In a moment of stress and depression, Ted snaps at one of his assistants. The next day he makes a point to apologize and ask the assistant to share some coaching ideas. If there is any strategy that works well with my children, it’s apologizing. It admits my imperfection, models empathy, and strengthens our bond of respect. Gentle Parenting reminds me that it isn’t about the mistakes made but the repair that happens after.
- Forgive. The impact of teaching the art of the apology is teaching the art of forgiving. Shortly after apologizing for his behavior to his assistant, Ted finds himself in his boss’s office listening to her apology for lying and betraying him. He does not miss a beat before he responds to her. “If you care about someone and you’ve got a little love in your heart, there ain’t nothing you can’t get through together.” I think I need to turn that line into a giant poster in my house. Maybe send one to the rest of the country.
- We’re sad, together. I don’t want to offer any spoilers in this but let me just say there is a point in the series when the team faces a difficult loss. They are all sitting in the locker room and Coach Lasso comes in to offer his words of encouragement. “There’s something worse than being sad out there, and that’s being sad and alone. Ain’t no-one in this room alone.” Cut to me in a puddle of tears. After a long year, not just in the world but inside my own home and parenting demands, there is nothing more I need to remember than this. Our children, like us, need to know that they might be sad, they might be angry, they might be scared, but they are not alone. We can feel all of those things together. That is really the whole point to Gentle Parenting. We are doing this hard thing together. I can’t think of a better parenting philosophy than that.
Thanks Coach Lasso.