Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Be Reflective (Unconditional Parenting Principle #1)

Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1...
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In this series of posts, I summarize the 13 basic principles of unconditional parenting as described in Kohn's book, Unconditional Parenting. I include insights and interpretations gleaned from other resources. The information-based posts run in parallel with a series of personal accounts of how I attempt to apply these principles in my own mothering. Want to start from the beginning? Click here for the Introduction to Unconditional Parenting.

"The unexamined life is not worth living" - Socrates, The Apology

Being reflective is a great starting point for unconditional parenting, or any life endeavor for that matter. Out of mindfulness and introspection comes insight, righteousness, and occasionally, wisdom.

What it means to be reflective
Being reflective, simply put, means thinking consciously about what you are doing -- or have done. When it comes to parenting, this can be a big challenge. We often have knee-jerk reactions or do things because that's how we were raised or how mainstream society tells us to parent. When practicing unconditional parenting, the trick is to be conscious and reflective about what you are doing and why.

Be mindful and self aware. Be present when you are with your child. Watch your own thoughts, words, and actions. Speak and act consciously. Notice your tone of voice, your words, your body movements. Avoid judging yourself. Kindly allow yourself to gradually learn mindfulness. It takes practice!

Critique your own parenting without lingering on harsh criticism or guilt. Consider your strengths and weaknesses. What would you like to do more of? What's working? What do you feel really good about that you do as a parent? On the flip side, what doesn't feel right? Which practices are difficult or not working? When are you less patient, understanding or mindful? When are you more controlling or harsh? Take a good look and decide what you can or are willing to change. But don't berate yourself. The guilt will tell you what you really want to change, but change will happen more easily when you let go of it. Focus on solutions and acceptance.

Search for the roots of your own parenting practices. Are your parenting  behaviors, expectations, and rules in line with who you truly are and what you believe? Or did you pick them up from your own parents or cultural messages, even though they don't necessarily fit into your value system?  Do you react to your child(ren) or respond?

As Dr. Markham from Aha!Parenting puts it, the buttons that your kids push were installed in your own childhood. Something that sets you off may have no effect on the next mama. Often, your reactions have less to do with your child's 'annoying' behavior and more to do with how you may have been treated as child. Get -- and keep -- in touch with that inner child, help her heal, and give her the parenting she and your child deserve. Then, you can decide which practices you'd like to keep and which you can do without.

Avoid rationalizing a behavior or practice that feels wrong. If you've done something (or want to do something) that doesn't feel right, notice that unsettling sensation, however unwelcome it is.  There may be an urge to rationalize your own behavior in order to justify it or to avoid guilt and deep-seated emotions. Don't. It's OK to make mistakes (really it IS!), but the path to change will evade you if you convince yourself they aren't mistakes. Instead of rationalizing, accept yourself. Let go of the guilt. Love yourself unconditionally.

"Be honest with yourself and your motives" (Unconditional Parenting, p.121) Being reflective is also a way of being candid. The more you are willing to face yourself and be sincere about your own parenting choices, the easier it will be to honestly express unconditional love to your child.

For some great ideas and inspiration on becoming more reflective, check out:

What does being reflective mean to you? Are there particular aspects of self-reflection that resonate for you? Go ahead....leave a comment and share your thoughts. I'd love to hear from you! 
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  1. When there's something I want to learn about or change about myself, I tell myself simply to NOTICE. As in, "I'm just going to notice the times when I get angry." There's no pressure, I don't have to change, I don't have to have profound thoughts, I don't have to count the times or reprimand myself or even tell anyone what I'm doing. Just... notice. Sometimes later I might decide that some kind of "trying harder" is in order, but often I find that the very act of just noticing has caused a shift in my thinking and in my actions with no extra effort on my part.

    I think sometimes when we think of being reflective or meditating or being mindful or doing "personal work" however we think of it, it's intimidating because you think you have to DO something and GET SOMEWHERE mentally. But that's wrapped up in criticizing ourselves and telling ourselves we have a lot of work to do on ourselves. The gentle approach that works with kids works with ourselves, too.

    Sometimes when Dylan (7 mos old) is cranky/irritable, I find that all I have to do is move a little closer to him and look at him, and he settles a little more peacefully into doing whatever he was doing. I can do the same thing for myself when I or my relationships are in need. Just... get a little closer to myself, pay a little more attention inside.

  2. "Often, your reactions have less to do with your child's 'annoying' behavior and more to do with how you may have been treated as child." I come back to this concept very often and I find myself thinking the exact negative phrases my parents (mostly my father) would throw at me in his anger and frustration and I feel ashamed because I don't want to be that kind of parent to my son. The first step is really even noticing those detrimental thoughts and then transforming them with affirmations that align with my true values. It is a difficult process.

  3. @Issa, yes I think that noticing is a really big step. Your point about not adding the pressure TO DO something about it is also well made. It can be too easy to just get stuck at the noticing step because of the feelings of guilt or shame attached. Not judging or criticizing are crucial aspects of mindfulness. After noticing and ACCEPTING where we are, it's a lot easier to make changes.

    I've also used the "getting closer" trick (I even wrote a post about it here:

    However, it only works for me if I'm grounded and centered. Really, being mindful is at the heart of parenting consciously!

  4. @FabulousMamaChronicles, yes this is something I also struggle with. Frankly, I think more people do than are willing to admit (which is why unconditional parenting isn't the norm!). How incredibly painful to carry that with you. Sending hugs your way....

    Also, check out Issa's comment above. I've also found that if I stop judging myself, I'm more likely to stop a behavior I don't like. Letting go of the guilt was such a vital step for me. I've been meaning to write about living without the mommy guilt because it's such a pervasive obstacle to mothering. Perhaps after this series!

  5. I find that the times that I "fail" at my parenting goals have very little to do with my daughter and everything to do with myself. I may handle her whining (which was something my mom constantly harped on me about and, not surprisingly, is now very hard for me to hear) just the "right" way on Monday when I'm feeling good and had a great day at work, but on Thursday after a really stressful meeting and maybe when my endometriosis is particularly painful and I'm hormonal, the exact same behavior may cause me to snap at my child or whine back or other un-proud parenting moments. The only thing that has changed in the intervene int 4 days is ME! So just by noticing this, I find I keep my control much better and can be prouder at night for having parented well even when dealing with chronic pain or high stress. Great post!

    1. So true! I've noticed something similar about trigger points have more to do with where I am with my own emotional state than my son's. Thanks for sharing your insights!