Gentle Parenting and Me – By Sarah Storey

Welcome to the first of my special guest interviews on why gentle parenting matters to parents around the world. For this special first interview I chat with multi gold winning Paralympian Dame Sarah Storey about breastfeeding, bedsharing, tackling tantrums and postnatal bodies.

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Did you have an idea of how you wanted to parent before Louisa was born?
“I didn’t really know what to expect, I just wanted to make sure we raised a happy, healthy child. I read BabyCalm when I was about 7 months pregnant and everything in the book really resonated with me. It was as if the book was putting my thoughts into words and explaining things for me that I had previously liked but didn’t know why. I had watched shows like Super Nanny and seen the concept of the naughty step and how to deal with tantrums, but I never liked the idea of everything being a battle and hoped our house would be a calmer and more gentle environment.”
What made you want to take a gentle approach to both day and night parenting?
“I didn’t see night and day as being different, I didn’t want to create conditions for my attention. I always knew there would be night wakings and that was perfectly fine with me. I also never worried about the idea that life was going to change, the idea that we couldn’t have evenings to ourselves, or be on our own has never been a consideration, we wanted a family so that we could be with our little one all the time.”
How do you work gentle parenting in with your training and competitions?
“For training, Barney and I share the child care and I train while he looks after Louisa, and we also have a huge amount of help and support from my parents who live round the corner. When it comes to training abroad or competition we have to be really organised and plan to be sure that everything gets done from a training perspective and still be in an environment that functions for us as a family. Athlete mothers are still quite rare in British Sport and with a gentle or attachment
parenting style, there is less understanding of why this is important for mother and child. Many sports require huge chunks of time away from home but this obviously doesn’t fit well until a child is emotionally ready. Of course some children will cope early for various reasons but others won’t, and for Louisa and I and our natural term breastfeeding journey we are not yet ready for overnight separation. I don’t mind at all though, I love having her with me and when we are away with our road racing team [my husband and I run this and jointly manage everythinh] we have loads of
positive comments about how great it is to have Louisa around and what a positive impact she has on what can be a stressful competition environment.”
Have you noticed any changes in your body, when it comes to your fitness, since having Louisa?
“My fitness is better now than it was pre-pregnancy and I definitely benefitted from the strength that is reported from being pregnant and the physiological changes that take place. A temporarily increased blood volume and higher haemoglobin were two of the natural benefits that came with having a baby and I am now physically stronger and have more stamina. These aren’t given benefits for everyone though and I think I was lucky to have such a healthy pregnancy from start to finish. Immediately post birth I had to be careful not to rush back too fast so that my stomach muscles could knit back together and weight gradually reduce. I gained 4 stone whilst pregnant so there was a lot of work to do and I didn’t want to suddenly lose weight in case it affected my milk supply. I had a DEXA scan around 9 months after and my body fat was reduced to 22%, but 2 years further on and it’s back to 17%. It was really amazing to see my body change and change back!”
How have your fellow sportsmen and women reacted to the way you parent?
“I don’t know if they react to the way Barney and I parent or more likely to the way Louisa is. She is a popular visitor to my friends on the National Team and knows all of the riders on our road racing team very well. I guess it’s our parenting style and our lifestyle that has afforded her the amazing experiences she has absorbed and I think most people can see how beneficial it has been for us as a whole family.”
Would you say it is hard to take a more gentle approach to parenting in your field of  work?
“I think it is hard to have a gentle approach to parenting in most fields of work. Many people are trying to rush through life and get everything done and this can have an effect on the patience you have as a parent. For me it has been a brilliant way for life to be put in to perspective and whilst I used to do a lot of things such as blogging or writing race reports or just watching TV for no reason, I now have more direction and deliberately put Louisa ahead of everything else. When I am asked to do something my thought process used to be; “will it work for training?” Now that thought process is; “will it work for Louisa, can I still do my training?” With such a supportive family and lots of hands to help, we have been able to combine my training and competitions, but I guess that’s down to organisation and planning ahead.
I like to think a gentler approach to parenting has ensured we all benefit from taking time over things and seeing the world through the eyes of a Toddler is very, very refreshing and great fun.
One of the benefits of parenting in a flexible work environment that allows Louisa to be with us, is that she sees first-hand the work ethic and discipline of what we do. We are also able to explain the boundaries of behaviour with real life examples and by leading by example. 
It is obviously impossible to create routine as we don’t stay in one place for long. Our approach for this has been to create the cuddles and physical contact as the constant and so naps have always been taken whilst being cuddled and we co-sleep so that Louisa has the same sleeping  arrangements wherever we are in the world. This approach means she is really flexible and relaxed about travel, time zone changes and staying in different hotels every few days.”
How does your husband, Barney, feel about the way Louisa is parented?
“It’s very much a team effort. We both feel very strongly that Louisa is the most important thing and work hard to make sure we get everything done around her needs. Working as a team must make any style of parenting easier, but for us it has been of benefit to us all and I love the relationship Barney and Louisa share as they have so much time together.”
What would you say your three biggest goals are when it comes to raising your  daughter?
“We want her to be happy, confident and caring.”
How do you look after your own needs and ensure you don’t ‘burn out’?
“I go out on my bike! Also I get forced to sit down when naps happen and at bedtime. I find that because Louisa is included in our life and is good company, we can hang out and chill out together too. Co-sleeping means she lies in every morning too, so we don’t get up too early which is a bonus!”
What would be your best tip for any new parents reading this?
“Be as child led as possible, remember no child is deliberately naughty and always talk to them in a way you hope they will talk back to you, because they are good mimics!”
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Sarah Storey is Great Britain’s most decorated female Paralympian in history having won 11 Gold, 8 Silver and 3 Bronze medals across an impressive 6 Paralympic Games. There is also no doubt she is one of the most versatile athlete’s in the World having won World and Paralympic Gold medals for her country across two sports [swimming and cycling] and across 12 very different events [6 in the pool and 6 on a bike]. In an international career that has spanned more than 20 years, Sarah Storey [nee Bailey] has a unique and inspiring story, not least because she has also won some of her gold as an able-bodied athlete. In June 2013 Sarah and her husband Barney (also a gold winning Paralympic Cyclist) welcomed baby Louisa to their family.

Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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