What is mild parenting?

Mom and son seperated by window

Maybe you’ve heard about before and asked yourself, what is mild parenting?

While pregnant with my last baby I had been reading many websites and books on parenting. Like most parents right? But at the time of my last pregnancy it had been 20 years since I had my first. I must have this parenting thing down…

Well, I did learn a lot while parenting my two first children who are now in their twenties, but I regret some parenting choices I then made and wished that I had better tools. I’m “mild” with myself. I mean, I was a teen mom, who’s parents did not do a great job themselves. Everyone was swarming me with their advice and I did what I thought that I had to do ( someone told me I was starving my child and that I needed to thicken my breast milk with sugar and cornflour). There was a lot of me getting angry and a lot of punishing, chore boards and stickers involved. Not that I was physical, but my eldest son had spent a lot of time in his room, broke.

I love my children so much. They are my world and I wanted to change the way I parent. I wanted peace in my home, in their hearts and mine.

Mild parenting is binding parenting. And in order to be able to do that, it is important to connect with yourself.

Then one day I went to a lecture given by this kick-ass psychologist woman named Nina Mouton who comes from Ghent. (a kick-ass town to visit too)

Nina came to talk about mild parenting, a term that I hadn’t heard before. Unconditional parenthood, attachment parenting, RIE parenting…on the other hand, these concepts have often been around our ears in recent years. Briefly until now, for me, this only meant: wear your baby/child until your back breaks, breastfeed it until your nipples fall off and sleep together until the age of 16. I knew a lot. Nina made me look at this approach differently that afternoon.

Because there was Nina, with her obvious -and at the same time magical- vision to just being there for your child. Uh okay. And what after that? Nothing. After that, the rest usually comes naturally.

What is mild parenting?
Peter Gamlen

It seems simpler than being there for your child, isn’t just the physical presence. It’s main commitment to an emotional bond, and you do that by leaving space, naming emotions, and letting the child be who he or she is.

Any “awkward” behavior usually has an underlying desire. The real underlying wish is the reason a child will show difficult behavior (for us). This kind of behavior is always a signal (“help me, I don’t know anymore”). There are very different wishes: affection, autonomy, closeness… It is up to you to find out what your child wants and to name it 🙂

Once you know the underlying wish, you can start naming what you see: what feeling do you think is behind the behavior? Stick to the basic feelings: angry, scared, happy and sad. Other feelings are still too unclear for young children (e.g. jealousy).

Let the feeling be there, don’t neutralize it as soon as possible because it bothers you or someone else (“you shouldn’t cry”). “Children have a right to their injustice,” Wow, I understood that there for the first time.

Often a child already knows that certain emotions are not okay and they start looking for a way out. A very nice example of this is a child that hurts mom, gets a reaction to it and starts running away. Or the child that doesn’t want to sleep, starts crying very hard and after a while says it has a stomach ache. So that’s why it is crying and not because it doesn’t want to sleep.

This educational approach is really something of our time. In the fifties, there was not much attention to parenthood. You sent your children out onto the field and hoped that just as many would come back in the evening.

When I was a first-time mom the behavioral approach was the pinnacle: punishing and rewarding until your child is completely molded the way you want it (in my opinion still a form of conditioning that brings little added value, they really don’t learn anything in the end because my eldest son just stopped doing chores for money because he started a student job). Even now, these theories are often proclaimed as “the” means of raising children, just think of the super nanny. Until the stickers came out of my ears and I didn’t know it at all.

Nina Mouton doesn’t like punishment either. A child will learn something if there is a “natural consequence” from certain behavior. E.g.: don’t clean up, then there’s no time for a story. It is not a punishment if a child has a choice.

Mild parenting, all well and good. But how can you be a mild parent with sleep deprivation? That went right through my head. I sleep very badly, and when my son was still nursing, he was nursing sometimes every two hours. Nina devotes a chapter to that, too. Self-care is the code word. A few tips:

  • Be authentic, stay calm. Get out of the situation if you’re in danger of being overwhelmed. Then come back to what happened afterwards.
  • Find a mommy buddy. (check)
  • Don’t be a champ all the time, it only takes energy from you and they won’t learn anything from you (except for a child of the most aggressive age ever, of course).
  • Find out what gives you energy and what requires energy from you (energy guzzlers).
  • Do things you did before the birth of your first child. (for me that was playing with Barbies)
  • You can’t do everything, choose your battles. (That’s one I’ve already mastered!)
  • Define your own boundaries: e.g. safety and health is not an issue.
  • Determining a “higher goal” can help: what values and norms do you want to give when they are out of the house? Is that what you are doing right now important? Often what you want NOW, and what you want later, is very contradictory. A higher goal can be: I want a child who can stand up for his opinion. What do you do if that child doesn’t want vegetables in his spaghetti sauce… He stands up for his opinion, doesn’t he?

You see, there’s still a lot of work to be done for me but now that my youngest has turned 6 years old, I can already see the difference mainly in our home and in myself. I very much prefer the mom (and person) that I have become, calmer and milder *insert smugness here*

There is so much more peace and happiness in our house now that I just wish that I had known (and understood) then, what I know now. Many things would have probably been different.

Be milder.

Life by Mim
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Who is Sinterklaas? Saint Nicholas explained.

Who is Sinterklaas?

Who is Sinterklaas? Saint Nicholas explained, hereby me! A Canadian mom of three living in the Antwerp province of Belgium.”

‘Sinterklaas” and of course “Zwarte Piet”. Maybe you just moved to this side of the globe and wonder who the heck is this guy that you are seeing all over the place in the form of chocolate and speculaas cookies? He kind of looks like Santa, maybe Santa looks like the Pope here in Belgium/Netherlands?

Even though Saint Nicholas brings presents like Santa, there are quite some big differences. And try explaining that to a 6 six-year-old. More about that in another post.

Here in Belgium, it’s a big big thing. It’s quite as magical as growing up with Santa. Books about Saint Nicholas are read in schools. You can see Saint Nicolas arriving from Spain at the Antwerp harbor from your parent’s shoulders or watch it on tv. You can visit him at the mall and sit on his lap, just like Santa. Saint Nicolas even came to read at our local library. And then on the eve of the 6th of December, the children put out one of their shoes, put a carrot in it or some sugar cubes for the beautiful horse of Sinterklaas. Some children like to even put out a bottle of beer for Saint Nick. Quite different from putting out cookies and milk for Santa.

Sinterklaas is a celebration that is celebrated in the Netherlands and Belgium, but where does it actually come from? Have Sinterklaas and Piet always looked like this? And are the Netherlands and Belgium the only countries where it is celebrated? In short, do you know Saint Nicholas? A piece of history.

Saint Nicholas, the saint

Sinterklaas currently lives nice and warm in Spain. Once a year he comes to the Netherlands and Belgium on his steamboat to bring us all presents. However, he has not always lived in Spain, has not always had a steamboat and has not always been called Sinterklaas, but Saint Nicholas.

Saint Nicholas was as the story goes, a monk who was born in the year 280 AD in Asia Minor, now Turkey in the village of Patara. Nicholas was praised in his time for his dedication to his faith and goodness of action. He was a rich man who found joy in giving. Nikolaas was loved by children because he was generous and very friendly to them. He loved doing good deeds, the best-known being that he would have saved 3 sisters from going into slavery and prostitution by giving them a dowry so they could get married. In the course of time, Nicholas grew his popularity and later the church renamed him Saint Nicholas, the saint, patron of both children and sailors.

From Turkey to the Netherlands

The stories of Saint Nicholas became more and more popular and spread over the world via land and sea over time. Sailors took the stories to Italy, where they subsequently spread through Switzerland, Austria, and eventually from Germany to the Netherlands. The journeys made by the stories of St. Nicholas made the story and the face of Sinterklaas change a little to what was celebrated by the people at that time. Sinterklaas, for example, has many similarities with the Germanic god Wodan (also known as Odin). This god flew through the air with a horse and had a large white beard, staff, and red cloak. On his shoulders, he had 2 black ravens who told him about the actions of the people and sometimes he crawled through the chimney of people to scatter seeds in honor of fertility.

A trace of the journey that made the story of Sint Nicholas can be found in different parts of the world. These celebrations show that the sweet story of Sinterklaas that we know today used to have a much darker tone where Piet was sometimes depicted as a demon and where the roe (symbol of fertility) was used to beat women when she left walked down the street.

Such celebrations symbolize the good and the evil and are still celebrated today in countries such as Austria, Switzerland, southern France, Macedonia and even on our own Wadden Islands. These unique celebrations have been preserved because they originated in more isolated places in, for example, mountain villages or on the Wadden Islands where it is more difficult for outsiders to get into local opinion.

Who is Sinterklaas? Saint Nicholas explained.

Jan Schenkman

Sinterklaas, as he is known to us today, with his loyal servant Zwarte Piet and having a steamboat plus living in Spain, was conceived by the Dutch teacher Jan Schenkman. Jan Schenkman, born in 1806, was the first to write the Sinterklaas story in its current form in a picture book, a story that consists of several books. In his first booklet called “St. Nicholas and his servant,” he gave Zwarte Piet a page suit, clothing worn by squires and introduced new elements such as the steamboat and living in Spain. He also wrote several poems and was the creator of songs such as “Zie ginds komt de stoomboot uit Spanje weer aan“.

From Santa Claus to Santa Claus

For example, the Sinterklaas party as we know it today has come a long way and in its journey, it has been adapted in every place to what best suited the people of that time. Just as the Dutch and Belgians received the Sinterklaas story from their neighbors, so did Dutch immigrants bring the Sinterklaas story by sea to America, from which the Christmas story ultimately emerged. You can find more about the origin of the Christmas story on the website of History.com, follow the link here.

If you did not grow up with Sinterklaas, what were your first thoughts when experiencing this magical time of the year?

How do you explain Sinterklaas or even Santa to your children?

I do not want to lie to my child, but I also do not want to rob him of these magical memory makers and so I’m just waiting until he figures it out himself. If he will ask me at some point whether Sinterklaas exists, I will just simply ask him what he thinks and see from thereon.

How about you?

Life by Mim