BOOK REVIEW, LOVE FIRST, PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS

Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn

There is a Better Way

The subtitle explains the book quite clearly: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason.

So many of us have grown up with the stick and the carrot as deterrents against and incentives for behaviour, so this can seem like a rational way to treat our children. Kohn argues that there is a better way.

When my kids were very little, I parented them that way: withholding approval until my kids behaved the way I wanted them to. 90% of my communications with them was to criticize them so that they could improve. However, something about it seemed off, even as I justified my punitive approach to correcting their behaviours. I became more aware that I was raging rather than disciplining.

Choosing to Parent Differently

When I finally realized that my children deeply feared me, I knew I had to change the way I parented. I started by verbally telling my kids all the time that I loved them no matter what. 

When we disagreed, we would often toss out to each other a reminder “I love you [Mommy/Kiddo]” as if the unspoken part was, “despite our disagreement or your poophead move just now”. 

Then I started shifting a higher percentage of our communication into conversations that built our relationship and trust, rather than me just doing parental “duties,” like nagging, reminding, cajoling and ordering, I watched the kiddie shows they liked to watch, we talked about their video games, etc. And slowly they stopped tensing up when I would come into the room, knowing that I wasn’t going to yell at them to do something they SHOULD be doing.

Now they say things like, “Mommy, you’re not going to like this, but…” and proceed to talk to me honestly. This change is a huge win for us because it means they aren’t trying to hide things from me but rather feel safe enough to share something that might have in the past made me very angry.

Why Unconditional Parenting is Important

The most striking long-term effect of love withdrawal is fear. Even as young adults, people who were treated that way by their parents are still likely to be unusually anxious. They may be afraid to show anger. Then tend to display a significant fear of failure. And their adult relationships may be warped by a need to avoid attachment—perhaps because they live in dread of being abandoned all over again.

Fundamentally Alfie Kohn’s argument is that behavioural scientists developed positive reinforcement as a way to control animal behaviour. Using this technique to influence children without taking the time to understand their thoughts, feelings, or intentions ends up being counterproductive for the longer-term goals we have for their success as self-sufficient and confident, resilient adults.

Parenting through fear may seem like it works in the short run, but a child experiences that as love that is conditional upon their behaviour. Because children fear the withdrawal of that love, they will often do whatever they can to stay in the good graces of their parents. They will be obedient regardless of their own feelings, perspectives, and ultimately what is actually right or wrong.

Creating obedient kids controlled by their fear of parents means that they may be easily controlled by others as well, like peers or authority figures and less able to fight for their needs or protect their boundaries.

Do we want to raise our kids to make decisions based on fear? Do we want them to have challenges with their relationships!? Do we want them to be easily manipulated by others? Or do we want them to know how they feel? To trust their own judgment about what is the morally right thing to do?

If I always tell my children that “they are wrong and I am right,” how are they to develop their judgment? If I dictate how they SHOULD feel, how can they learn how they DO feel, and to trust that? 

It’s about the Why

Shouldn’t our goal be for the children to refrain from doing certain things not because we’ve forbidden them, but just because they’re wrong? We want them to ask “How will doing x make that other kid feel?”not “Am I allowed to do x?” or “Will I get in trouble for doing x?” We want our children to understand the impact of their actions and intrinsically make good decisions.

In other words, we want to raise moral human beings, people who make decisions based on logical reasoning and empathy for those around them, not because they were told that something is right or wrong. 

The world is a complex place with many moving parts. The more we help them find their own way to interpret the multiple pieces of information, the more they will be able to live their lives the way they want to—with integrity and confidence.

We cannot just raise our kids based on how we see the world, but how they will need to see the world when they become adults.

Our Own Childhood

By the way, Kohn points out: “It’s pointless to talk about what holds you back from being a better parent without reflecting on how the way you were raised shapes your internal architecture. It affects not only what you do with your kids, but what you don’t do.” 

We must do the work to figure out where our parental playbook came from, how that impacted us, and which parts we want to change as we parent the next generation.

Just a gentle warning: For many of us, doing this work can be triggering. Understanding the past can help us connect the dots to why we behave in ways we don’t want to behave now as parents and lead to positive change. At the same time, it can be incredibly difficult to live through the fears from our childhood.

But we are all doing the best we can and change takes time, not measured in days or months, but years. We start where we start. 

PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS, PODCAST INTERVIEW, UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

A Recovering Perfectionist

Michelle Lee Diasinos is a Conscious Parent advocate, coach, author, and co-host of The Mothers’ Roundtable podcast with two children of her own. Read her chapter in the #1 International Best Selling Change Makers Volume 4, where she shares her personal transformation that led her into this place of service to parents navigating their unique path. A recovering perfectionist, Michelle delves into the challenges parents face when perfection becomes a problem. One of the many exciting projects she’s initiated is “Heal My Story,” a platform for people to anonymously write about their healing journey. Join our chat and hear what moved me to tears in what she said.

Podcast: Conscious Parenting with Michelle Diasinos

I chatted with Michelle about:

  • Motherhood was the first time she truly met herself.
  • She spent a lot of time doing work on her own, making peace with her past, releasing anger, frustration, and sadness. She was able to get to a place where she could be comfortable with the fact that her parents did the best they could at the time and did what they did with love.
  • Prior to parenthood, Michelle was a Special Education Teacher and worked in occupational therapy. She was a very calm person and thought she would be a patient mother. But being a parent is nothing like what you think it’s going to be like!
  • Michelle put immense on herself to be the best parent ever! She then realized that she was also pressuring her son to meet her perfectionist tendencies. As many parents did, she took her son’s behaviour to be a reflection of her (bad) parenting. This kind of situation made her realize she had a lot of work to do.
  • Even as a trained professional who was calm and using all the ‘right’ tools and techniques, she discovered she was capable of raging anger, explosions, and subsequent guilt. She’s come to realize that the anger is just an invitation to look deeper. All it meant was that she had a need that wasn’t being met.
  • Perfection is insidious! Most of us don’t even know we are perfectionists. Listen to the language you are using when speaking to yourself. For example when parents go to bed at night, they’re often thinking, “Did I do a good enough job?” This question might be driving their every action!
  • Children’s behaviour is an expression of their unmet needs. We as parents can do everything possible to meet their every need. How do we help them gain the tools to deal with not having their needs met?
  • Her “Heal My Story” project is a platform where anyone can share aspects of their healing story. I highly recommend you try it out if you are thinking about processing your trauma through writing. It is for anything that has surfaced during your healing journey that you want to put out there in the world.

Michelle’s message to Sandwich Parents is: “I acknowledge you. I know how tough this can be. I want to remind you that compassion is the salve. When you mess something up, and you inevitably will, because you are human, give compassion to yourself. Because each time that you do that, you are showing yourself unconditional love. You are showing your kids how to do the same, so that they can go out into the world and they can show it to others. This is sacred work. I see you. I thank you for doing this work.”

Join her on Instagram and Facebook, where you can learn more about how to live a truly Conscious Parenthood. And listen to her podcast, The Mother’s Roundtable, where every week she and her co-host Jessica Crescenzi  examine a topic related to parenting and give advice based on their expertise as parent coaches and their perspectives as mothers.

PODCAST INTERVIEW, STORYTELLING

Parenting with Humour

Adrienne Hedger is the award-winning cartoonist behind the popular web comic “Hedger Humor.” Her work has been featured on BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Upworthy, Today.com, Yahoo!, Disney, Nickelodeon, and other popular media outlets. Several of Adrienne’s cartoons have become viral sensations, reaching tens of millions of people worldwide. She lives in California with her husband, two teenage daughters, and her dog.

When you are doing the work to understand your (often over-) reactions to your children, a lot of it can be quite challenging and emotionally heavy. Triggers take a lot of headspace to understand and process. Reframing our thoughts is difficult to do! So when I discover a source of humour that reflects parental challenges, I grab it and hold on as tightly as I can. That’s why I subscribe to Adrienne’s monthly emails: they make me laugh out loud.

It’s not that Adrienne’s cartoons are all mirth and jolliness, it’s that she gets it. Okay, yes, her cartoons can be silly and hilarious for sure, but she really, really knows the frustrations we parents feel and captures that perfectly. She then expertly takes challenging parental moments and helps us take a step back to see a bigger picture. She finds the funny in an emotionally charged moment,skillfully using storytelling to shift our perspective. Her message is: Parenting is HARD, but if we can laugh a bit during situations we can’t really control, maybe we can enjoy them a bit more.

We had the BEST conversation, in which she shared her story and parenting approach. We even had a cartoon moment of our own when she went into her closet to be near the Wi-Fi and have some quiet.

Podcast: Parenting and Cartooning with Hedger Humor

We talked about how:

  • Her life was lived in two very different worlds because her parents were divorced — her father was delighted by kids and laughed a lot, whereas her mother had to do the day-to-day parenting and so the threshold for silliness was at a more ‘normal’ level than Adrienne’s is now.
  • Her husband has a very different parenting style and she has had to share parenting duties full-time with another person, unlike her mother who had complete control. She cannot just run her own show! That took adjusting.
  • Her “unpredictable” parenting approach (to quote from her daughter) is actually consistent if we look at it from the perspective of stakes, like ‘harmless’ versus ‘safety’ issues. We concluded that the litmus test consists of asking: Is it ‘reversible’?
  • Sometimes people think that she lives in the ‘ha-ha’ happy world of cartoons. In actuality, she’s living in the same frustrating parenting world we all do.
  • The act of cartooning her life has changed her parenting. It’s kind of like being a reporter: she can step out of the drama and take a more meta view of the situation.
  • Parenting is so ridiculous. It is really, really hard. You love your kids so much. There is so much at stake. The best way to survive it is to turn to humour!

Her advice: Get yourself a notebook and put it somewhere very convenient, where you spend a lot of time in the house. Jot down funny ‘moments’ in your family life whenever they arise. Capture things that made your laugh or touched you. After a year of that, you will have gems to look at with warmth.

Read Adrienne’s hilarious and relatable cartoons at her Hedger Humor website, watch her videos on YouTube, like her Facebook page, and laugh along at Instagram.