Unconditional Parenting: Introduction

Ideas to Consider and Share:

Please leave a comment on your thoughts to one or more of the following. The more we share, the more wisdom we all have to draw from to become the best us parents we can be!

  • How similar or different was your own upbringing, and how do you see it affecting your own experience as a parent?
  • What didn’t you really know about being a parent before you had children? (p.1)
  • If the primary goal shifts away from control, what goals do you hope to move towards?

What are your long term objectives for your children? What word or phrase comes to mind to describe how you’d like them to turn out, what you want them to be like once they’re grown? (p.3)

  • What is an expectation you (or others) have of children that you think is unreasonable? What might be a reasonable expectation for a child? (p.4)
  • Do you agree or disagree with the idea that children don’t need us to teach what is right, that we can let them develop their own values? Do children need to be taught what is right? (p.6)

Online Resources:

8 responses to this post.

  1. Hello Mamas and Papas,

    My name is David Basior, a Mt Airy papa with a 7.5 month old named Madrona. I have a female partner, Ariel who is right now helping Madrona get back to sleep. I want to firstly name the fact that I have been really feeling the different roles that Ariel and I have assumed, chosen, and become good at in this whole parenting-thing. I find myself taking more time to think about matters beyond Madrona. This has its benefits and its drawbacks – I actually think about Madrona less than Ariel does. I have come to be able to say that without judgement and am deeply wanting to discuss this with other people committed to having partnerships that work – are sustainable, loving, aware, and communicative.

    I actually read Unconditional Parenting in Madrona’s first month outside of Ariel and am so glad to have community to discuss it with. This year, we are living in Jerusalem as a family, so thank you for setting up this online community.

    Here are my thoughts on some of the above questions, so thoughtfully taken from the Introduction (thank you!)

    -How similar or different was your own upbringing, and how do you see it affecting your own experience as a parent?

    I was parented in a way that when I look back on it and really think about was about keeping me good (=quiet and compliant and non-bothersome). As an adult I have figured out how to act with (some) independent thinking and the ability to take unpopular stands (sometimes). I want to raise a child who is a rabble rouser – someone who speaks up immediately when she sees injustice, calls out BS and doesn’t necessarily do what is popular when it is wrong, unsustainable, or hurtful. So far (she is 7.5 months) this has looked like allowing her frustration, her unconsolable cries, even her anger to have a full life and not shut her down, shush her, or label these fits as anything other than what they are. I will tell her that I notice that she feels upset or frustrated and that’s okay and she should keep “telling me” what she feels and thinks until there is nothing left to say.

    Because I did not grow up with any of this, it has been a struggle to maintain this path. I feel tired or frustrated or tired with the sometimes endless feeling fits of rage or frustration and do not want to have to listen to any more of it. I credit this desire for her to stop with the fact that no one really ever listened to me have such fits when I was little.

    -What are your long term objectives for your children? What word or phrase comes to mind to describe how you’d like them to turn out, what you want them to be like once they’re grown? (p.3)

    I had also read some of Becoming the Parent You Want to Be (which I highly recommend) and had some practice with this question of long-term objectives. I haven’t thought about it since Ariel was in her third trimester, though! Thank you Alfie and our organizers for posing it here.

    I want to raise a child that adores other people, is confident in trying and learning new things, and experiences the world as a safe, enjoyable place, despite (and with the knowledge) that there is much that needs fixing and healing in our world.

    -What is an expectation you (or others) have of children that you think is unreasonable? What might be a reasonable expectation for a child? (p.4)

    With such a young one, so far I have experienced people’s desire for Madrona to “cheer them up” by smiling at them or being cute or not fussing when they hold her (everyone wants to hold her as if it will make them feel better….which it might). I have so far been pretty frozen and unsure how to step in and basically say “look, my kid isn’t your therapist” or something of the sort. I am would be so wonderful appreciative to hear from folks what they think would work to say to other people in these circumstances. Please tell me!

    Reply

    • Welcome, David(and family)! So glad you’re able to join us from so far away! You bring up several pertinent and important topics.

      First, I love the description you give of a relationship: sustainable, loving, aware, and communicative — all things I want out of my relationship as well. Thank you for having the courage and wisdom to acknowledge and share that you and Ariel have different roles and that it is ok to have different roles. You immediately bring to mind the book “Equally Shared Parenting” which would encourage and affirm your move away from judgment. Each family will need to find what works for them, and roles will differ more or less depending on each person’s situation. However, it isn’t necessarily easy or natural to have the open and honest conversations that it can take for caregivers to express their desired roles and come up with a plan that works. Some folks settle naturally into something that works, but if/when it doesn’t work it can be difficult to stop and say, “Wait a minute. Can we reevaluate these roles we have fallen into for however long?” I would love to hear from other dads, but I am wondering two things in particular, if you are comfortable sharing:

      1. How do you think your role is influenced by your being the father/male and not the mother/female?
      2. How were you (and your partner) able to work through to a place of non-judgment.

      I was particularly struck by this comment: “I credit this desire for her to stop with the fact that no one really ever listened to me have such fits when I was little.” I agree that this is a major disadvantage. I believe in body memory, and I agree parenting in a UP way would come more naturally through personal experience and remembrance.

      I love the idea of striving to have my daughter feel safe in the world (not just in my home or with people she knows). I have been thinking about this lately myself. I would love to have her move through life and space with confidence.

      The last part you bring up about others wanting your daughter to spread joy, essentially, raises the larger question of handing over your child at all. I, too, felt hesitation despite my strong inner voice saying “keep your baby!” I have encountered people who seem to believe they are entitled to access to my daughter even if we are complete strangers. I am wondering if I will be more confident this second time around saying no when I want to and yes when I feel comfortable….and maybe being more clear when I feel yes and when no.

      About your plea of what to say and do with people who want to use your kid for therapy–I wish I could understand more clearly what people are saying. I imagine it being something like telling her not to cry or taking it personally when she fusses. If that is the case, what do you think this? If someone is holding her and she fusses, they might say “Oh, you don’t want to be with me? You’re going to fuss? I just want to hold you. Don’t cry.” You might say (as you reach out your hands to take your child) “Yes, everyone has hard days. Sometimes we not ready.” However, I haven’t really thought about a diplomatic way to actually reference the therapist bit. 😉

      Thanks again, David, for taking the time to share your wisdom and experience, thoughts and questions with us. Looking forward to hearing more as we continue!
      sheila

      Reply

  2. How fortuitous! Janet Lansbury of Elevating Child Care posted something on exactly the topic David brought up!

    “The Problem with Cute Kids” http://www.janetlansbury.com/2011/12/the-problem-with-cute-kids/

    Here’s an excerpt:

    “Is it our well-meaning perception of children as cute and adorable that causes us to treat them less respectfully than we would another adult? Is every child’s round head ours to touch? Are babies ours to pick up and hold; their cheeks ours to pinch?”

    Reply

  3. Here is what I asked in that above post:

    We have an Unconditional Parenting book club on A Living Family, and one of the commenters told a story and asked about this very thing just this week. He was having trouble thinking of what to say to people who seem to want his child to cheer them up (because they are cute). I was having a hard time thinking through why exactly others behavior towards our kids can be so troubling when it seems things like pinching cheeks is so common. Thanks for getting to the heart of the matter.

    Do you have any suggestions on what a parent might say to a stranger who is crossing personal boundaries of a young child or baby? (Something beyond a dirty or angry look?) How can a caregiver make this concept make sense to someone who clearly does not see a child’s person(hood) as something to be respected?

    Here is what Janet Lansbury said:

    Sheila, that is an excellent question. I would simply place my hand in the way and say, “Please don’t come too close, she might be afraid of you. She needs a little time to warm up to new people”, something like that. Most adults don’t want to risk making a child cry.

    Here’s what Magda Gerber says in Dear Parent: Caring For Infants With Respect (book)

    “What many parents find truly difficult is to ‘protect’ the child from the ‘assault’ of well-meaning family members and friends. My advice is to start out saying that you have learned that your child functions better when given the time to adapt to new situations and people. Do not criticize what others do, just gently yet firmly stick to your own principles — for example, not letting your child be handed around like a ball. Family and friends may tell you or think that your are crazy or exaggeratedly protective. Take the blame; quietly accept responsibility for your stance. Soon they will accept your ‘stubbornness’ and may learn to enjoy you and your baby on your terms.”

    Reply

  4. Posted by Christine M. on December 8, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    David- so cool to see a father’s perspective and so very awesome that you are in tune with your babies needs. Here are a few of my thoughts on the questions:

    How similar or different was your own upbringing, and how do you see it affecting your own experience as a parent?
    My parents were very authoratative. They had the “children should be seen and not heard” mentality. Because of this I don’t have a positive point of reference to fall back on when it comes to parenting my child. I find myself wanting to control DS instead of letting him figure things out for himself. I have to work hard to keep anger and frustration at bay at times as well. I have had to kind of reprogram myself to react differently.
    If the primary goal shifts away from control, what goals do you hope to move towards?
    I want DS to be able to learn from seeing me model for him. For him to be able to come to his own conclusions about things. For him to be self motivated.

    Do you agree or disagree with the idea that children don’t need us to teach what is right, that we can let them develop their own values? Do children need to be taught what is right? (p.6)
    Yes and no. I think that children need to learn the social workings of us and for that they need to be taught what is socially acceptable and what isn’t. We don’t need to verbally explain this to them. They can and will learn by watching the world around them and experiencing things w/ their peers for themselves.

    What are your long term objectives for your children? What word or phrase comes to mind to describe how you’d like them to turn out, what you want them to be like once they’re grown?

    Bottom line for me- I want my children to be socially responsible and happy. Whatever form that takes doesn’t matter.

    Reply

  5. One last update from Janet Lansbury — thought it was a great suggestion:

    “In my own experience (and I tend to be a people pleaser) this sometimes comes down to choosing your battles and doing the best you can, but always acknowledging to the child afterwards if anything odd or uncomfortable has happened. Maybe even apologizing, too. “I’m sorry I let Uncle ____ take you away from me. I won’t let that happen again.” “

    Reply

  6. Thanks all for a lively discussion. This has been wonderful as a place to put some of my thoughts in writing and share it with others and receive excellent, warm feedback and suggestions. Thanks for the outside resources and your own perspectives!

    I do want to highlight something that Christine M wrote: “so cool to see a father’s perspective…”

    This struck me. First, I know that not every family has a “father.” My does, as does the one I grew up in. My father was not around much – he worked for the family business in the West Village of Manhattan, NYC and went to work at midnight and came home in the early afternoon. He napped all afternoon, woke up for dinner, hung out a little bit, and then went back to bed. He did this every day until I was 12ish years old. The exception was that he and his business partners (his father, brother and uncle) had set up a system where every 6 weeks, he would have 2 weeks off. This was in affect from when I was born until I was 8 years old. don’t remember most of those 2-week breaks, but I do remember that sometimes we would travel when we had a break and that he was very fun and present when he was around on those breaks. I remember my mother feeling a little left out and jealous when he was off like that as we (my younger brother and I) were so excited to get time with him, and yet we took for granted the fact that mom was pretty much always around.

    I see this dynamic playing out in small ways with myself, Ariel and Madrona. I have a VERY different schedule than my father did – and I made a point to pretty much not work or be in school for her first 5 months of life…but in the last 2 months I have gone back to school – I am a full time student studying to become a rabbi. I have a fairly easy school schedule this year – set up on purpose so I could be around Madrona as much as possible and not fall too behind in my studies.

    I hang out a lot, I have 4-5 days a week where I am home most of the day-time hours, I do naps, I take Madrona on day-time walks, we play together, etc. And yet on those few days when I disappear for long periods of time, I can’t help but be burdened with the feeling of leaving them both – as well as when I come home after being away for awhile and see how much Madrona leaps and gets excited to see me again. Ariel and I haven’t checked in about how this makes her feel and if she feels any of the feelings I attributed to my mother above…so maybe I will later today. Thanks for giving me the space to think about that.

    On the note of it being “cool to see a father’s perspective…” Do the fathers in your life have an outlet to express what it is like being a father? Are there other fathers reading this?

    From Jerusalem,
    David

    Reply

    • David, I can understand your feelings upon leaving your family. I went back to work full time when my daughter was 5 months (still exclusively breastfeeding, too). Every work day for the next year and a half of work felt harder and harder. I think for some people, leaving family can be so difficult, even hurtful. I don’t really have any helpful suggestions. It sounds like you are making a lot of the time you do have with your girl.

      I will say that balancing the adult partnership can be even more challenging, especially because it often takes a backseat to time with the child(ren). It is helpful and thoughtful (and reflective) of you to consider how your partner might be experiencing some of the same hardships your mother felt. I am sure that just asking will be a meaningful action. I know my husband and I have had conversations to communicate more of what our roles are and how we are feeling about them. Always feels useful.

      About fathers: I wonder, too, if other fathers are reading and are willing to share. I am working on my husband sharing more, so thanks for the backup!

      ~sheila

      Reply

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