Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Unconditional Parenting

I believe it was in The Unschooling Handbook where I came across the mention of unschooling being contagious. Reading that it could overflow into a whole life approach was foreign to me. I only intended it to be unschooling as it related to education. Unschooling as it relates to homeschooling alone is just the beginning of a fantastic life change. It's really almost impossible to not want to extend unschooling into the rest of your life. Life is unschooling, so how can the two not intersect and be one?
What I'm learning is that it's actually the parenting that opens the doors to what unschooling can really be. Once you dip your foot into the unschooling pool education wise, you want to learn more about the whole life radical aspect which seems almost in a way to be the yin to the yang in the unschooling lifestyle. If the parental love isn't unconditional then how can there be success with unschooling at all? To change the schooling without the parenting seems to be unbalanced. To have one change without the other now seems to be impossible. Sandra Dodd has mentioned, gradual change as an important step in unschooling. Too much to fast does not make for a smooth transition and can be overwhelming for parent and child. So part and parcel of that would be that the changes in parenting as part of the transition.
Sandra also makes mention of a controlling parent not being able to be an unschooler. I scoffed when I read that in her book. But you know what... Sandra is right. How can you unschool a child when you want to control them in any aspect? The two are such opposite ends of the spectrum.

The changes in parenting specifically, bring me to the book by Alfie Kohn called Unconditional Parenting. This is one of the must read books I've seen mentioned on unschooling blogs, lists, forums, etc. Having read it myself I can see why. It's a game changer. A parent cannot read this book without feeling inspired in their heart to change their parenting style. This book will touch you to tears and you'll aspire to be... well an unconditional parent in the true sense of the word. As I've been reflecting on my parenting. I've seen things in myself I never realized before or never stopped to notice. Things I'd describe by my own definition (not the author's) as broken, misguided and even foolish about my parenting. Things some “experts” have said are the way to train up our children, the right steps to take so to speak. Even when they are lacking in respect for these little blessings God has entrusted into our care and doing anything but strengthening the parent child relationship.
This is not a book about unschooling. But about loving your children in a way that shows them respect as the amazing humans God has created them to be. Become their partner in this life not the dictator.

When I first began researching Radical Unschooling. The Radical life views were quite overwhelming.
The thought of giving children choices of food, bedtimes, chores, etc. is a scary proposition for most parents. Most parents, but not all. Some parents are in on a secret that the rest of us haven't heard yet. This is what you will find it Mr. Kohn's book.

One of the questions Mr. Kohn encourages us to ask ourselves in his book is ... “Are my everyday practices likely to help my children grow in the kind of people I'd like them to be?” He talks about how our reactions or how we handle a situation will make that outcome less likely. And encourages readers to ask themselves, “What should I be doing instead?”

He goes on to say that parenting should not be about overcoming our child's resistance to our requests. It's not an us verses them, get them to obey me type of mindset. He talks about avoiding the temptation to do what it takes to get our children to comply. This means not using things like rewards, praise, time outs or spankings to gain compliance. He has an amazing amount of statics and studies for those that like to have those as a reference point. And he offers other ways to relate to children using respect, kindness and unconditional love.

For myself this meant examining things I've done or beliefs I've held in regard to raising children. Looking at the way my parents parented me, the examples they set of how a parent does their job. Things I've done because it's what my model of parenting looked like. This reflection didn't start with reading this book. But it began many months back when I began seeing a Christian Therapist because I wanted to improve my parenting. Once I began seeing her and seeing how I parented my children I began to take notice of how my parents parented myself and my brother. What I began to notice were patterns I copied not because I wanted to, but because it was so ingrained in me that's how a Mother, family, etc. interacts.

Mr. Kohn has a great description of unconditional principles to help parents (He doesn't do rules or one size fits all type advice or provide scripts or the like.) He elaborates and explains what he means with these principles in the book, gives examples, etc. I've added just short snippets. These barely scratch the surface. I would encourage reading the book to really dive deeply, enjoy examples he shares and see yourself in the pages of this book. You will have those ah ha type moments as you read through the pages. And most of all you will not walk away from this book without feeling the need to change deep in your heart.
  1. Be reflective. (Figure out what may be driving your parenting style, be honest with your motives, reflect on how your parents modeled parenting.)
  2. Reconsider your requests. (Before searching for a method to get kids to do what we tell them reevaluate the value or necessity of the request.)
  3. Keep your eye on your long term goals. (How are you treating your child, does it line up with the long term goals?)
  4. Put the relationship first. (Being right isn't what matters. It matters very little if your children stiffen when you walk in the room.)
  5. Change how you see, not just how you act. (Be willing to see things through your child's eyes, not as actions of a child that need to be met with a consequence.)
  6. Respect. (Talk to your children the way you would a guest. No snide comments, no digs or insults, don't act as if adults are the center of the universe and children must revolve around them.)
  7. Be authentic. (Be real about your flaws, if you treat your child badly apologize to them, let them know adults are not perfect, we make mistakes, have bad moods, don't pretend to be flawless, how they see you navigate this is a model you provide for them.)
  8. Talk less, ask more. (Don't dictate to kids, don't list out their “faults”. Listen don't explain.)
  9. Keep their ages in mind.
  10. Attribute to children the best possible motive consistent with the facts. (Don't assume the worst of your child.)
  11. Don't stick to your no's unnecessarily. (Offer alternatives to “no”, say “yes” whenever possible. It won't result in spoiled kids. )
  12. Don't be rigid. (Be flexible and spontaneous, allow for off days in a child's mood, we all have them.)
  13. Don't be in a hurry. (Think about how much time you need to get a toddler ready, or a family of 6 in my case ready to go somewhere. Rushing makes parents moody and often times bossy. Allow more time to avoid this).

A change we made around here was how we view meal times. In Mr. Kohn's book he talks about parents forcing their children to eat at set times. Implementing punishments if they don't clear their plate, or eat x and y, or offering the enticement of dessert for eating something they find distasteful. With my babies they breast-fed on demand. With my toddlers they graze as they like. Gosh, it makes so much sense to offer that same option to eat or not eat to children of all ages. Eating only when we are hungry is something so valuable for adults. Think of all the issues with food that folks have in adult years. Why make food an issue for our children. Just let them eat because they are hungry. And give them choices of which foods to enjoy. My children don't all like the same things. In a perfect world offering each of them only what I know they like when they like it would be great. But finances and time do not make this a viable option. I would grow resentful if I were acting as personal chef on demand. And when you are feeding a family of six on a single income money does play a part. What we have done as I had blogged about previously, is the platter options which we read about on Demanding Euphoria, for all meals except dinners on the nights Bry is home to eat with us. This gives the kids varying foods to choose from. There is no nagging to eat or clear your plate. They eat what they like from the selection. All the options are foods using good ingredients. So though the kids are choosing what to eat, I'm not serving up food with questionable ingredients. I will add organic cookies, crackers and even organic candy to the platters.

Random Reflections: 
It bugs me when Summer leaves her wet towel on her bed. It's such a silly thing for me to pester her about. She may have a damp bed, or a damp towel the next time she goes to use it, but it's really not causing a hair of harm. It's not my bed. If it doesn't bother her it surely shouldn't bother me. I've been so good and not said a word about this wet towel. 

It's a bit of a pet peeve for me when the girls don't make their beds. This stems a bit from my own germ issues, cats walking in a litter box and then the thought of them laying on my pillow, yuck! So I always make our bed and the baby's bed. I've explained to them why I don't want to find a cat on my pillow. They understand my preference for my bed. But if a cat on a pillow doesn't bother the girls then it just shouldn't bother me in the least. I remember when I was a kid, having a cat on my pillow didn't bother me then either. And so there it is. No longer bugging them about something that doesn't need to fixed, they don't see it as broken. 

Skylar has a hard time sleeping at night. We used to insist she go to bed when the other kids did, especially to keep the peace with her sister, Summer, two years younger. She didn't have to sleep but could do anything in her bed, play quietly, read, etc. Upon reflection, that was a very unfair requirement we put in place. That was one of the first things we changed, not just with Skylar but with all the children. Just like if Bryon or I can't sleep, we know we have options to watch TV, grab a snack, do anything quietly that will not disturb the other family members who are sleeping. Now the kids all know that is open to them as well.

Decklin tends to have tantrums. When he gets upset, angry, frustrated, he lets us know it through tears. It's so much better to be a warm loving presence offering a hug instead of talking at him or getting annoyed with him or trying to ignoring the tantrum. Empathy and compassion go so much further. In those hard moments that loving hug means a lot.
The same can be said for Ember. She is now at the I don't need to nap stage. I'm fine with that. Even though it means she drifts off about 6 PM or so on the couch, so she does want to nap just not when I had previously preferred it : ). I know this means she will be up late into the night. It may mean I don't get that time at night to just veg alone when Bry's at work. But on the flip side, I get to enjoy cuddles and fun conversation with Ember so it's not as if I'm getting the short end of the stick by any means. These moments of a toddler who loves being in arms for cuddles won't last forever. I remind myself of that the moment I feel a bit of selfishness creep in.

One thing Mr. Kohn mentioned in the book is how some religions are about control and obedience. That's mentioned only in a short paragraph or two actually. I was raised with God being very separate from his human creation, not loving but vengeful, judgmental and something to live in fear of. Something was always missing from my life but it was not until a Pastor spoke to my heart that I realized it was God that was missing. This is the reason that it's important to me that my children never view God through those glasses. In our home, we have no rules or requirements to be followed to have an authentic relationship with God. No steps that must be walked in order to get into heaven. God loves us, accepts us and waits for us patiently with open arms, no matter what, he always loves us. I would consider it an unfair trick against my children to use God or fear of God as a weapon to change or encourage behaviors in them. He is a part of daily life, just like breathing. Just like the relationships we have with those we can see on a daily basis in our home, as do we have a relationship with God. I should love my children and accept them as God made them. God is the perfect example of unconditional love.

I hope that what I've shared has inspired another Mom to want to read Mr. Kohn's book. This is the kind of book every new or veteran parent should read.

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