Dear Mr. Kohn,
I finally read Unconditional Parenting, which was recommended more than a year ago by a mom I really dig. At the time I was too busy to read it, and we were doing pretty dang well with the whole “respect kids don’t dictate to them; give them choices and empathy” stuff. I prioritized other work because I didn’t need your book at that moment.
Except that I did, because pretty soon after I put your book in my online shopping cart as a reminder to eventually read it, he turned Three.
All our parenting techniques went out the window as we fought to figure out how to get through each day. We started listening to those voices from family and friends who told us to take a harder line; as he got more out of control, we tried harder to control him. We tore out our hair and bookmarked the gypsies’ “going rates” page, and I cried almost every night in exhaustion and rage and terror at the creature who replaced the child we had parented so carefully. We drew the boundaries more tightly and he acted, predictably, as though the walls were closing in on him.
We barely made it out of Three alive. It took everything we could muster to survive. But unfortunately it meant we went from working with to doing to our son. And now that we’re coming out we know we’ve lost our way.
So thank you for the reminder that kids who are given firm rules and punished into following them misbehave just as often as children who are given respect and choices. And that those children who are treated as decent humans turn out to be just that.
Thank you, too, for the reminder that focusing on our long-term goals means both boys need to make as many decisions as possible now so they’re practiced in making good decisions later. That if we want to learn to influence them, we can’t coerce them. Not just because it’s demoralizing but because it doesn’t work.
Thank you for making me write down what I value so I’d remember that if I want these young humans to grow up and stand up for what’s right—to question repressive rules and fight for what’s important—they have to do it now. Gulp. With our structures (which are now more reasonable, generally created with his participation, imposed only when necessary, and flexible).
I feel more in control now that I’m not controlling. My son feels less caged and cornered and is a lot nicer to be around.
And we’ve redoubled our efforts to find an elementary school that refuses to create an environment where punishment and reward teaches kids only to obey, to do things for what their actions will get them rather than how their actions affect others.
Thank you for getting us back on track toward unconditional love and respectful, flexible, mindful parenting.
—The Calmer, Gentler NaptimeWriting Family
P.S. Dearest readers: don’t worry. The snark doled out weekly for most of the residents of this planet remains in all its bloggy goodness. There are only two mushy little dudes who get the aforementioned awesome me. The rest of you get the worn little nubbin that’s left after all the patient, respectful, engaged, long-term-focused defaulting to yes stuff.