Conscious Unparenting™ is about diverting some of your energy away from the kids, and into improving your parenting experience by:
Being honest about your feelings, to yourself and others;
Spending time with friends; and
Engaging in self-care on a regular, consistent basis.
One way to practice all three elements is to start and/or participate in a Parenting Discussion Group (PDG) – a safe place for moms (and dads) to meet and discuss their biggest parenting challenges. How the group will function and what members will discuss is completely individualized. To get you started, however, we’ve provided some ground rules, as well as suggested guidelines for you to follow. Write back and let us know how it’s working. Good luck!Dawn and Kim
You might be tempted to turn to your circle of friends and invite them to your first meeting. That’s more of a wine and cheese party, or a book club. Plus, you’ve probably already vetted all your issues with your friends. Time for a fresh point of view.
To get the most out of this type of group, it’s best to invite some new people: people with kids of varying ages, different parenting styles and world-views. You’d be surprised what you can learn from strangers when the setting is all about honesty and respect.
Though these suggestions can have broad reach, remember that you can (and should) limit the number of attendees. Aim for at least two (other than yourself) but no more than 15 (any more than that can be unruly). Not everyone will show, and even if they do show for the first meeting, only your true core will come for the second, and third, and so on.
- Start with Facebook. Most schools these days have some sort of page, whether it be the PTA or the principal. Create a post asking if anyone would be interested in attending your first group meeting.
- Check out these national sites that help you make local connections and offer a place to join an existing group or start one of your own: Macaroni kid, MOMS clubs, The Big Tent Community through Care.com, and Meet-up. Meet-up charges a nominal fee, but you can ask members to bring a dollar or two to each meeting to help you offset the cost.
- Ask your local hospital if they have a referral service for new moms. Then ask the group administrator to make an announcement about your group
- Go to your favorite parenting blog. Free Range Kids, for example, has a page called “Find a Free Range Friend” where you can enter your zip code and meet like-minded people in your area.
- Ask your child’s teacher and/or principal if they’d be willing to make an email announcement. Many schools have strict rules about the use of their email distribution lists, but if the topic is school related (which you can convince them that it is), they might be willing to help you out.
- Meet at least once a month/every six weeks. If you go too long between meetings, group members will lose interest.
- Use some sort of talking device, like a talking stick or other inanimate object. It can be anything so don’t over-think it. Though it might sound a bit cheesy or new-agey for your taste, this is a great way to ensure that no one interrupts or talks over the speaker. In groups like this, people often get eager to have their say. A talking object helps as a gentle reminder: it’s not your turn!
- Have everyone agree that discussions will remain respectful at all times. Perhaps start each meeting with a pledge: We pledge to be honest and respectful at all times. We understand this is a place where judgment and disrespect are not allowed. We are here to listen and support one another. We might not be friends, and we might not always agree, but we’ll never be cruel or discourteous to one another. If members of your group have a great sense of humor and seem willing, add in a line that makes your pledge unique and funny. It will help to set the tone that, although this is a serious venture, we’re here to have some fun too. (see Rule number 7).
- Serve something to eat and drink. It doesn’t have to be fancy or homemade, but having something to sip and/or nibble on makes it more attractive. To allay costs, have members take turns bringing the snack.
- Select a group leader. It will be you in the beginning, but have it switch from time to time. This person should begin and end the meeting, read the pledge, monitor comments, manage the talking device, and set the next meeting time/place. The group leader should also play host, meaning she can host at her home, or find a suitable meeting spot (like your local library or a coffee shop).
- Start and end the meeting on-time. Members should have a clear understanding that meetings will begin and end at a certain time. If the end-time approaches and a great discussion is underway, poll members to see if they want to continue and until what time, or taper the conversation until later.
- Always have a topic for discussion that you’ve chosen ahead of time. Selecting a topic for discussion will help get the conversation started, even if the topic is a book, movie or current event – you need something as a frame of reference. Check back here (link to suggestions) as we’re constantly updating our suggestions for topics.
- Enjoy yourself and make new friends. Though the purpose of the group might be learning new parenting techniques, don’t forget to have fun.
Topic 1: Defining Success For Your Children. Ask any parent what he or she wants most for their children and you’ll hear, “I want them to be happy,” yet we spend so much time and mental energy worrying about our children’s academic future. Click here for suggestions on exploring the dynamic between “success” and “happiness.”
Topic 2: Spousal/Partner Relationships. It’s no secret that having kids changes your relationship with our partner/spouse, and not necessarily for the better. Let’s explore the dynamic of our relationship as parents and partners.