If you’ve stopped by our blog and maybe even read our book, you probably have a vague notion of the concept “Conscious Unparenting.” Perhaps now you’re wondering: what does it look like in one’s day-to-day life, and is this the right philosophy for me? Great questions…Let’s discuss.
You might recall a year ago or more when Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin split up. Rather than get a lowly divorce like the rest of us plebeian slugs, they opted for a conscious uncoupling. Of course this begs to be mocked, so that’s what Dawn and I did one summer afternoon when discussing potential book titles – hence the term “conscious unparenting.” The more we thought about it, however, the more we realized that the title truly fits what we’re trying to accomplish, as we’re not asking our readers to disengage from their children and families, but rather to intentionally begin the process of doing less “parenting” and more enjoying.
For example, one of the biggest issues I face is complete cluelessness when it comes to discipline. I grew up without any sort of discipline whatsoever, while my husband was raised in an authoritarian regime. Together we’re a hot mess, as we each struggle to find a middle ground. In my attempt to do better than our parents (because that’s what we’re expected to do, even if we all truly turned out just fine), I’ve read stacks of parenting books, magazine articles and blogs searching for answers.
I love the advice I get from the experts and have, on many occasions, attempted to put it into practice. The problem is that, once I close the book, the advice becomes intangible; something that seems to apply to people from another planet who are able to always to take a breath, remain calm and be “firm but kind.” Also, the advice often feels inconsistent: use time-outs; don’t use time-outs; be sure to say “no;” never use the word “no;” explain the issue to your children, don’t use too many words. Ugh…At the end of the day, I feel like a human robot who’s spewing clichés that don’t resemble anything that would otherwise come out of my mouth. None of it ever felt right.
One of the ways I’ve consciously unparented is to throw away the expert advice and use the tools my mom and those before me used: gut instinct and talking with friends. As my children get older (they’re currently 5 and 8), I’m starting to actually understand their different personalities. My older son responds very well to yelling and threats. My younger son, on the other hand, is super sensitive and just wants to be loved and understood. Yelling and threats don’t work on him, so I adjust the way I parent each child accordingly. This means I still yell and threaten my eight year old but rarely have to follow through on my threat. The five year old, on the other hand, doesn’t get yelled at too often but his consequences come quicker.
Admittedly no book I’ve ever read condones yelling but let me tell you this: raising my voice to my 8 year old is ridiculously effective so I will continue to do so. I’m not verbally abusing him or screaming at him 24/7. I’m simply doing what feels natural for me – using my “scary” voice when he’s not listening to my otherwise gentle demeanor. It always works, without fail, along with lots of love and communication. When I feel unsure about something specific, I turn to my friends. I ask how they’d handle the situation and if they think my approach is ok. I always get a practical response and a nod of support. In the end, that’s all I really need.
Does all of this make me a great parent? Hell no! I’m probably screwing them up left and right, but here’s the difference: I feel no guilt; no inadequacy, and I’m not looking to do better. Plus, let’s be real. All this helicopter parenting and over-involvement is screwing up our kids just as badly – if not worse – as the parenting tactics employed in the ’70s and ’80s. Also, I don’t call what I’m doing “parenting” – that’s too much work. Instead I’m raising my kids on my own terms in the best ways I see fit…and I’m doing so with the support and help of my friends. For me, that’s conscious unparenting.
For you, the term might come to mean something else. Generally, it’s about finding the places where you struggle the most as a parent and intentionally scaling back; finding the right fit for both you and your child and eliminating guilt completely. It’s about being more like a ‘70s mom, but with a 21st century twist. Why is this so important? Because the beast known as modern-day parenting is unsustainable. Worse, it’s completely removing joy from the equation, as we are so hyper-focused on our kids that we completely neglect our own needs. That’s not good for anyone, especially us, and, contrary to popular belief, WE STILL MATTER.
Since the concept of conscious unparenting is so new, and it’s also so individualized (there’s truly no one-size-fits all model), we would like to start a forum where we solicit questions and/or scenarios from our readers and, just like a good friend would do, discuss the issue fully. This isn’t an advice column, because you know best how to raise your kids. This is, however, a place to come if you want to scale back but don’t know how. Or maybe you know what to do, but you’re afraid of the consequences or the stigma in your social circle. Tell us about your issues and we, as your new online girlfriends, will give you the support and answers you so crave. Better yet, share your successes and suggestions about the ways you’ve consciously unparented so we can all learn from one another.
We’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment here and we’ll post your questions/suggestions along with our feedback on a weekly basis. We can’t do this alone, but together we’re invincible. So grab yourself a disco ball and join the party.