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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!