Learning to parent ‘unconditionally’

     (Courtesy of  D. Sharon Pruit)

    (Courtesy of D. Sharon Pruit)

    Do you read parenting books? If so, what is your favorite parenting book? What spoke to you or challenged you to think differently about your parenting?

    The book that really woke me up from my behaviorist slumber was Alfie Kohn’s “Unconditional Parenting.” Though I’d long been a Kohn fan in the educational realm, I hesitated to read his parenting manifesto. Mostly because I knew he’d have a lot to say about how I was doing things.

    The vast majority of parenting books urge parents to set limits, be consistent and use logical consequences whenever undesired behaviors arise. In fact, behavior is the name of the game. They’re all about preventing, responding to and shaping behavior.

    So when I read articles and books with that clear and consistent message — limits, consistency, consequences — I would nod my head. I’d go through the mental checklist of our recent parenting and realize we were doing all of those things. Check, check, and check.

    Only it wasn’t necessarily working out the way we’d hoped. We realized that as the kids got older, the equation grew more complex. That despite our consistency and incremental behavioral consequences, we were often seeing the same repeated offenses. We wondered what our kids were really learning from our responses. How to behave better or how to comply? How to make more ethical decisions or how to avoid getting caught?

    Out of frustration, I finally read “Unconditional Parenting.” I felt Kohn’s punches coming, one after the other, but it honestly felt good. Kohn was bringing me back to what I really believed and holding me accountable to working towards it.

    Kohn wants me to be more reflective, more accepting — more working with them, less directing them. Kohn doesn’t want me to set rules, explain them to the kids, and be achingly consistent and loving. Kohn wants me to be loving first. Loving at the center. Loving no matter what.

    Kohn’s book is based on 13 simply stated, but transformative concepts:

    1. Be reflective.2. Reconsider your requests.3. Keep your eye on your long-term goals.4. Put the relationship first.5. Change how you see, not just how you act.6. Respect.7. Be authentic.8. Talk less, ask more.9. Keep their ages in mind.10. Attribute to children the best possible motives consistent with the facts.11. Don’t say “no” unnecessarily.12. Don’t be rigid.13. Don’t be in a hurry.

    Those 13 ideas may sound simple, but they are powerful and very, very tough to stay true to. Kohn has become the little bird who sits on my shoulder, reminding me that “the relationship is more important than the behavior.”

    While the concept of unconditional parenting is easy (of course I love my kids no matter what!), the reality is challenging. Letting go of control and creating opportunities for true dialogue and more power-sharing challenges many long-held beliefs about parenting.

    Most days, I fall far short of Kohn’s advice, but I am ever grateful for the reminder to keep trying.

    If you’ve read “Unconditional Parenting,” what did you think about Kohn’s framework? What are your go-to parenting books or blogs? Why do they resonate with you?

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