Where I’ve landed: Thoughts on Unconditional Parenting

Alright. I’m finally ready to put my thoughts out there about the Unconditional Parenting book.  I’ve written about what led me to read it and I’ve given a summary of the book too. It’s taken me a really long time to process my thoughts on this whole philosophy of parenting and I’ve wrestled with my own values and beliefs over and over during the last week or so.  I’m still not at a place where I’ve come to firm opinions or conclusions, but I’ll share my thought process with you here today.


What I agree with:

I really like that this way of parenting is focused around unconditional love.  The way Christ loves us.  No matter what we do or how we treat him or others, he loves us unconditionally.  He will forgive us and forget our wrongs and take us back no questions asked each time we run away or rebel.  For the longest time, even growing up in church and attending and working at a Christian college, I had the idea that our relationship with God was about following all the rules. I’ve since learned it’s not.  Not at all.  We end up wanting to follow the guidelines Christ sets out in the Bible because of his love for us and our love for him. Once we see and understand his love for us, we can’t help but want to follow and obey him with all our hearts. So we should be modeling unconditional love in the way we parent our children. It should be more than just telling them we love them no matter what.

I also agree with treating children the same way we’d treat our peers.  Would we boss our friends around or punish them for their behavior? Maybe some people do, but it’s not the norm and not how most of us act.  I agree we should be models for our children, showing them how to live out the morals we’d like them to develop, so it makes sense to be using the kind of language and tone of voice we’d use with other adults with our children.

The other part I like is taking time to ask questions about what happened and why it happened in order for the child to process the morality behind his or her actions. When there’s a conflict, the child can retell what happened so they’re able to be heard and valued, and then they can look deeper to see why they did what they did.  This helps you as the parent to address the deeper conflict rather than only the behavior that resulted.  It also gives you  a chance to talk about options for future conflicts “what could you have done instead?” (or could you do next time). Instead of just stopping a fight or wrong behavior, you’re working towards preventing future conflicts and developing the whole child. Working with instead of doing to which Kohn likes to say.

Overall, the book helped me to see I need to “Let it Go!” more than I do right now.  Choose my battles.  Quit commanding and demanding every move.  Let them be kids and have some freedom.  Make their own choices even if it’s not what I’d like to do. When you need to step in, it’ll be more effective and meaningful when you haven’t been constantly battling with your kids all day. I like control. I like calm and quiet and neatness.  This is super hard for me.  I giggled out loud when I read Kohn’s words: “If you’re unwilling to give up any of your free time, if you want your house to stay quiet and clean, you might consider raising tropical fish” (p. 135)


What I don’t quite agree with:

I don’t agree that behavior modification is all bad.  That training with punishment or rewards should never be used.  I think most parents (myself included) use this method most often and we should make the shift to use more of the methods Kohn suggests, but we can’t and shouldn’t avoid some form of behavior modification.  I do think we should praise our children for a job well done, and that they do need to face some sort of consequence sometimes.  It’s how it works in the real world.  How can they hold a job without learning these concepts?  How can they learn to sleep without a crib, or hold your hand when crossing the road, or put on a coat in the middle of winter without this?  You can’t reason and have a discussion about everything.  You can add to the behavior modification by letting them know you understand they don’t like what you’re doing and explain why they need to do it, but sometimes you just can’t let them run wild and free.


What I still don’t know:

I don’t know how damaging a system of rewards and punishments is on our children in the long run.  Sure, his book is full of research on how it will screw us all up and he paints a picture of how I turned out, but again I’m not sure how much is nature vs nurture or even the method a parent uses when choosing behavior modification.

What does the Bible really says about how we should parent?
I always grew up hearing the verses “Spare the rod, spoil the child” (Proverbs 13:24) and “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not part from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)  That’s about it.  I’d never really taken the time to see for myself what else it might have to say.

Like most things in the Bible, there isn’t a section on parenting, just like there’s not a section on most other topics I’d like to learn about.  I did take some time to research a few key verses and I’ve started to simply look at how God “parents” his people. (Which is where I come into a whole new set of problems for myself in trying to figure out how much of the Old Testament should we follow because he’s pretty harsh sometimes in that section.)

A really helpful look at these ideas came from a pastor’s blog that turned up in a Google search.  It got my wheels turning. I also found an interesting series of articles against spanking that explains the context of Proverbs 13:24 and has me thinking even more.


Where I stand today:

Reading all these new ideas threw me for a big loop.  It had me question everything I was currently doing with my girls.  It made me feel guilty when I couldn’t stay calm and help them find the real meaning behind their actions.  I didn’t know whether I should let them have freedom or to rein them in.  I saw how selfish I am in how I parent. I flopped around all over the place trying to find a good place to land.  It also didn’t help that we were in the middle of colds/sinus/allergies and molar cutting while I fumbled.

So for now, the ideas above are where I’ve landed.  Nick and I still need to work out what issues we’ll be letting go and what to stand firm on, but I’ve come to the conclusion that my girls are going to turn out ok even if I don’t do it all “right”.  You’d think by now I’d know it’s not about doing things right.  But letting go of perfectionism is the hardest lesson for me to learn.

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