Ages ago I read Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. While I don’t adhere to or believe in everything that he wrote, and it is definitely on the ‘a little too extreme’ side, I think that it was worth reading. And that it has fundamentally changed the way that I look at parenting. The basic premise that I came away with is that we should raise our kids to know and feel that they are unconditionally loved by us. Also, that we should parent thoughtfully, and not just using knee-jerk reactions.
So, what is parenting thoughtfully? For me, I think that it involves actually thinking through what I do with the kids, and what the undertones of what I tell them, restrict them from, and permit them to do says about my values, the values I want for them, and how I feel about them. When I tell my kid ‘no’, but don’t have a good reason, and expect him to listen, am I instilling in him that he has to listen unquestioningly to authority? Do I really want that to be how he grows up?
Because of this, I really have changed my parenting. I’m not perfect, by any means. I still get frustrated and yell at my kids. I still put them in time-out–although I do it more mindfully, and using a totally different process than before. I still deal with typical kid behaviors. But Kullervo and I spend a lot of time talking about how we want to act and respond in certain situations. When Oliver backtalks, how do we want to respond? What about his semi-refusal to use the potty? How do we feel about him sleeping on the floor instead of his bed (he prefers it most days)?
I think that talking about stuff, even the inane, helps us react better when it comes up again. And discussing together how we reacted in the moment helps us figure out what we could have done better or wish we had said instead, or what magically worked. And we’re figuring out that things that worked or that we took for granted with Oliver are totally different with Hazel. And so we also discuss the ways that we wind up parenting our kids differently from each other.
I want my kids to grow up secure that, no matter what, their parents love them. My love really isn’t conditional on them being or acting or doing something specific. When they do things that I don’t like, I want to be supportive. I want them to know that I don’t like what they do, but I love them, because they’re my kid, and they don’t have to do anything to earn that. It just is. Even when I’m pissed off. Even when they hate me. I think that maybe parenting pays it forward, because I don’t feel like love of a parent is necessarily unconditional–but love of a child should be.
I also want them to grow up with values, values that Kullervo and I think are important. We’ve been tossing around ideas about the values we want to instill in our kids, and I might start a series of blog posts to get any other feedback in ways to help teach our kids these values, or whether anyone else thinks they’re important, or stupid, or whatever. The process we’ve been going through is, I think, necessary for us as we grow into different avenues, religiously, but still share a life and a family and a relationship.
So, expect more to come in the future.