I’ve been thinking a lot about gentle parenting lately. Maybe it’s because I’m knee-deep in toddler-rearing. Or maybe it’s because every single person (and their mom—definitely their mom!) has an opinion on the matter. Scroll through your feeds, and a 13-year-old TikToker is explaining the pros and cons of empathy-building in the parent-child relationship while every other news outlet is running a hot take on why parenting “gently” is destroying the universe. The discourse has fueled me to return to the mothership, Good Inside by Dr. Becky Kennedy.  And though she has literally said at length that her approach is not “gentle” but “sturdy,” Dr. Becky has become synonymous with what us laypeople understand the gentle parenting framework to be. And I’ve gotta tell ya, as I’m re-reading the book, I’ve been re-inspired. But this time, not so much for kids (they get enough attention). This time, I want to try it on my adult friendships.

Growing up with two brothers, I think of my best girlfriends as my sisters. They’re my family. I would walk over fire for them. But here’s the thing…I already have my own family…and they have their own families…Not to mention extended families, jobs, pets, taxes, grocery lists, karate practice, a broken sewage line for which I’m waiting to hear if the city is going to cover the cost to fix or if I’m responsible, and in that case my friends will probably never hear from me again unless I’m screaming! (See: dysregulation)

All this to say, (deep breaths, regulate) I am circling the perimeter of the blackhole known as the 40s friendship dip. It’s the period in our lives, coined by journalist Anne Helen Peterson, that just isn’t conducive to forging or sustaining friends or community. This is deeply annoying, because, as my colleague Rachel Bowie writes on the matter, “I’ve come to understand that—no offense to my husband and child—friendship is the life blood that will guide me through the best and worst of times. My immune system is bolstered by it. It will help me live longer. Heck, friends can even help me sleep and heal better.” Hear, hear.

Women are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to maintaining friendships in our 40s. And that’s a problem I want to get ahead of.

While it warms my heart to know that I am not alone in finding friendships sacred, knowing that I’m entering a stage that is hostile to these bonds is no consolation prize. If only there were a way to forge connection during times of emotional struggles and unexpected growth and change.

Yep, all roads lead back to Dr. Becky. Here are the lessons I’m taking from Good Inside and applying to my adult friendships…gently, sturdily, vigorously, heartily whatever! (And like Dr. Becky says, it’s never too late for you to start too.)

The lesson: Dr. Becky’s premise is that kids are good inside. Bad behavior does not indicate rot at the core. Instead, behavior is a door through which we can understand what’s really going on. This means that we can try to see their behavior through the “most generous interpretation” (MGI) as Dr. Becky calls it. Your kid isn’t tantruming because she’s “bad.” The MGI could be that your kid is feeling emotions bigger than her brain can make sense of at this moment, and her only recourse is to throw 16 wontons on the floor.

In practice: I’ve spent years and years weeding and pruning my innermost circle. So I think it’s safe to say that if I count somebody among my dear friends, they’re good inside. The MGI can always come back to the fact that they want the best for me and to be part of my life, just as I want that for them. So even if my friend is responding to my texts with a singular “k,” (the indignity!!!) I shouldn’t assume it’s because she’s a terrible person who wants me to suffer, but more likely because she has something else going on in her life.

Many of my best friends are the same girls I had cry-fights with every other school period in junior high. The same friends who, in high school, I often feared were leaving me out, becoming closer as I faded into the background. There was a scarcity mindset to my friendships, and I was afraid of being left with scraps. One thousand years later, navigating our relationships with the assumption that we’re all good inside resolves that pesky scarcity mindset. Having a baseline that my friends are good elevates my adult friendships into a tier of relationship that’s supremely rewarding, fulfilling and uncomplicated.

The lesson: The gentle parenting method is to repeat your child’s grievance back to them instead of ridiculing them for feeling that way or even trying to solve their problems: “You’re sad because I turned Beat Bugs off mid-“Hey, Jude.” As Dr. Becky writes, “At our core, we all want someone else to acknowledge our experience, our feelings, our truths. When we feel seen by others, we can manage our disappointment, and we feel safe and good enough inside to consider someone else’s perspective.” Just because a tantrum over a TV show is bonafide silly AF to me, it doesn’t mean it’s not any less real for my child. Simply acknowledging that truth is grounding for any human being.

In practice: Adults don’t just magically grow out of that innate desire to feel seen. (I mean, it kinda explains why we’re obsessed with the concept of gaslighting). Brushing off a friend’s hurt because I believe she should just “get over it” is actually a graver violation than the initial offense. Recently, when one of my best friends texted me that she was really hurt by me for canceling plans at the last minute, I went straight on the defense. Doesn’t she understand what I’m going through? We’re all busy people! I’m not taking this on. I’m a conflict-avoidant person (not a good thing), so the idea of getting on the phone and talking it out makes my heart race. But my much more evolved friend made it happen. She spoke her mind, about how it hurt her that I just canceled plans without so much as a second thought, and I tried to block her shots. “But actually!” “OK, but!” “Hold on–!” When things finally simmered down a bit, I was finally able to hear her: She felt like I didn’t care. That is her truth. When I finalllllly was able to repeat what she felt back to her, without judgment, it’s like the air came back in the room.

The lesson: Try as you might, you will not be the perfect parent. And that’s OK. That’s expected. But it’s why, Dr. Becky argues, using those moments of failure to connect and repair is key to the parent-child relationship: “When we return to a moment that felt bad and add connection and emotional safety, we can actually change the memory of the body. The memory no longer has such overwhelming ‘I’m alone and bad inside’ labels. It’s not more nuances, as we layer on support after criticism, softness after yelling, understanding after misunderstanding.”

In practice: Back to the tiff over the canceled plans. She was hurt. I was hurt she was hurt without understanding what was going on in my life. It seems frivolous, but it doesn’t matter: our feelings were both real. And when we acknowledged the other’s feelings, it’s like that scene at the end of Beauty and the Beast where Mrs. Potts and the candlestick et. al. turn back into people as peace is restored to the castle. Our phone call that started with a grievance ended in repair and connection—laughing over the fact that we’re so obsessed with each other and that we hate feeling disconnected and ultimately making plans to make sure we got in some face time.

Again, this might seem like the smallest, dumbest win, but remember: women are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to maintaining friendships in our 40s. And that’s a problem I want to get ahead of. Whether it’s gentle, sturdy, mindful—whatever—parenting is a noun, so why not add friendshipping to the dictionary as well?

This 3-Word Question Instantly Made Me Feel Closer to My Long-Distance Friend

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