Unconditional Parenting: Be Reflective (Principle 1)

I am reading through Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting as part of a Peaceful Parenting online workshop. The first part of this book deals with conditional parenting, and the negatives associated with that. I am slowly reading this part and will comment more in later posts. In our workshop we are discussing the principles of unconditional parenting, which is covered in the second half of the book, so my posts for this reading may seem a little disjointed as I jump around the book, but I hope you will follow along and glean something meaningful from them.This week we are tackling the first two principles of unconditional parenting that Kohn talks about in the book.

Principle 1: Be Reflective

Kohn comments (p. 120) that …”most of us would benefit by spending more time reviewing what we’ve done with our children in order to be better parents tomorrow than we are today.” This is a wonderful statement – and a really great place to start. Most of us would well to look over our parenting techniques and honestly critique them. We might be doing things a certain way because that is how we were raised – but that doesn’t mean it is the best or healthiest way to do things. Honest evaluation is vital. What are our parenting styles? What are some of our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to parenting our children? When do we resort to controlling behaviors? What parenting techniques are in line with the kind of parents we want to be, and what needs to change?

What are our parenting styles? I would describe myself as an involved, hands-on type of mom. I am interested in what my kids are doing, their interests, their well-being. I care if they are bored, scared, lonely, unhappy, or worried about things. I don’t like to tune them out. I want them involved in my life. I actually enjoy spending a lot of time with them. I want to put thought into activities I plan out for them, and the food they eat, the lifestyle they lead, the influences that are around them. This is a major reason I want to stay home and homeschool at this point in my life. I want to be PRESENT for my children.

What are some of our strengths? I love my children, and am willing to admit to making mistakes. I am always willing to read books, interact with others, reach out, anything needed to be a better parent. I am willing to apologize to my children and say, “You know what? Mom messed up. I’m sorry. Let’s do better next time.”I don’t think apologizing to our kids makes us weak or somehow less of a leader in our home. I am also a comforter. I love to hold my kids when they are upset about something. I wake up readily to their crying during the night, and will always snuggle with them if they don’t want to sleep in their room alone. I am empathetic – when Kyri is upset at something, my heart hurts. I am sensitive to her moods and can usually tell when something is “off.” 

What are some of our weaknesses? I have a short fuse. Patience has never been one of my strengths and small children obviously test patience like nothing else can. When I want something to get done (or for something to stop being done), and Kyri battles me, I quickly lose patience with her. I have little patience for her tantrums and whining. In the moment, I can get frustrated and resort to yelling, which of course does NOT improve the situation. This is the biggest thing I am working on now, how to deal with her tantrums. Not just reducing them on her end (something we have made a lot of progress with) but also how I can deal with them calmly. Tantrums will happen, whether because children are tired, hungry or just having an “off” day, so it is unrealistic to expect them to disappear completely. However, I need to work on my ability to calmly deal with them. My reaction and response can either calm and redirect a tantrum, or it can aggrevate the situation.

When do we resort to controlling behaviors? If we are merely struggling with not having something done, and Kyri is not tantruming, I am flexible and will come up with creative ways to get something done. If it is cleaning her room or doing her school work, we can work together to get our tasks accomplished. But when she gets into her tantrum phase, I lose patience and demand compliance. Compliance of course probably won’t happen if she is tantruming, but in the moment I’m not thinking about that. I’m just venting my frustration at the situation. Also, when the environment I am in is cluttered or out of control, I tend to become controlling. I get frustrated at my surroundings, and feel anxious. As a result, I am short-fused with everything else, including my spouse and my children.

What parenting techniques are in line with the kind of parents we want to be, and what needs to change?  My desire to comfort my children and be there for them are in line with the type of parent I want to be. This is the biggest thing working for me right now. I am willing to admit mistakes and learn and grow from them. Too often people get stuck in their old way of thinking or doing things, and they don’t want to change or improve. I am always open to finding a better way to do things, especially when it involves my kids. We are learning as a family a better way to handle tantrums. As we work on Kyri – how to redirect and calm herself, I am also working on my reactions. I take note of my reactions now. I spend a lot less time yelling and a lot more time talking about the specific situation. When I find myself yelling, I try to remind myself, “this isn’t helping the situation.” Things aren’t perfect but it’s a work in progress.

Reflecting on my parenting style, my strengths and weaknesses has been an awesome, and exhausting, exercise. Being honest about what we are doing right, and wrong, as a parent can be stressful, but ultimately it can be very rewarding. This also isn’t a one-time thing – we should be willing to reevaluate our parenting frequently and make changes as needed.

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