Can I Really Practice Unconditional Parenting?

Can I Really Practice Unconditional Parenting?

What are the worst things I have ever heard my children say? Anything that sounds like me in a bad parenting moment – the echoes of my own words. That impatient tone they get when frustrated with each other or the refusal to share a toy because “last time you lost mine”, I know somewhere along the way they learned these tones and issuances of consequences from their parents. In those parenting moments I probably did everything wrong according to Alfie Kohn in Unconditional Parenting.

However, after reading Unconditional Parenting, and swallowing hard through a good chunk of it, I understand why Kohn would frown on my bad moments. I’m just not sure I’m ready to throw out the rest of what does seem to really work with my children and that Kohn feels is so innately disabling for them.

What is Unconditional Parenting?

Alfie Kohn, author on human behavior, has written Unconditional Parenting, where he takes apart most of the conventional parenting methods and tries to show why they just don’t do what we truly want them to do. His premise is that modern parenting approaches – like time-outs – are only ways in which we try to control our children, not truly show them love unconditionally.

According to Kohn, in order to demonstrate unconditional love, we need to build relationships built on trust and loving communication, where we empower our children to think for themselves. In order to do this, we need to get rid of time-outs, praising and rewarding our children, and dishing out consequences. These, in Kohn’s eyes, are all ways that we manipulate their feelings. He refers to these as moments of “love withdrawal” where we might think we are teaching our children how to behave, but we are actually teaching them that we are in control and that they are more loved when better behaved.

What Works from Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting?

Kohn pulls at my parental strings with his descriptions of moments I have had with my children, where I have dictated what must be done and how it needs to be done. He asks parents to consider if we would consider talking with our adult peers in the same manners we speak with our children? I doubt it. But I don’t know if it is as simple as parents failing to show unconditional love to their children. I don’t get the same stern look on my face when talking with my friend because my friend isn’t throwing crayons on the floor to prove her point.

The long-term goals we have as parents are what Kohn says we need to focus on as we commit to parenting. Are we trying to teach our children how to conform because they feel more love from us when they do, or are we trying to teach our children to be thoughtful, compassionate, and driven? Kohn does an amazing job at challenging us as parents to rethink how some of our strategies might work in the short term (issuing a time-out might elicit the immediately needed response), but they fail to teach long term better behaviors, all the while teaching our children that we love them less when they misbehave.

Some of the strategies encouraged by Kohn that I have also found to improve my own children’s behaviors and improve our family dynamics include:

  • Getting to eye level with my children when speaking with them, especially if they are or I am upset.
  • Asking my children what I can do to help – even when I might not feel like it.
  • Letting my children experience natural consequences for their behaviors.
  • Treating my children the same, whether they win or lose.
  • Treating my children as real people with their own perceptions, needs, and ideas, even if they don’t always align with my own.

Is Unconditional Parenting Possible in the Real World?

Unconditional parenting, especially when viewed form Kohn’s vantage point, is challenging at best. Even for a non-conformist homeschooling parent like myself, I think there is some value to the things Kohn cites as detrimental to our children. I see value in rewards when implemented well. I think there is value in and need of discipline.

However, yes, I would like to do less instituting of consequences and have fewer moments where I feel the kids are only making decisions based on extrinsic outcomes. I think Kohn’s strategies can help achieve this.

That being said, if I take all of Kohn’s ideas and try to apply them to parenting my four children, I just don’t see how eliminating some of the traditional strategies of parenting will truly and honestly be possible. We don’t live in a world where kids aren’t graded, don’t join competitive teams, aren’t responsible for following seemingly rigid rules, and don’t face consequences. More importantly, when our children do grow to be adults, they will be faced with competition in the job market, rewards and consequences in social circles and higher levels of education. That is the real world.

In a utopian society Kohn’s plans for parenting and raising children might work, but in the real world, I think the best we can do is try with all our abilities to demonstrate unconditional love. His ideas for stopping and asking ourselves about our long-term goals for our children are absolutely valid. His premises for showing unconditional love are sound. Pulling all of these ideas together to work is the challenging part – but no one ever said this job was easy.

If you are ready to challenge your ideas of parenting and how to raise children who feel unconditionally loved, explore Kohn’s ideas in Unconditional Parenting. There are no punishments or rewards if you do or don’t!

About the Author

Join the Conversation - Your Comment Could Win $50 (details)


Interact with us: Follow Better Parenting on Facebook Follow Better Parenting on Twitter Subscribe to Newsletter Subscribe to RSS