Easier than I thought...
Unparenting. is it possible?
My recent, radical decision (decided in just one day) to unparent my kids, has shaken things up a bit in our house. The first mention of it snapped the kid's heads forward and had them listening full out as my partner Peter and I, proposed the idea of a 7-day experiment of unparenting them completely.
A life-changing speech by the renowned doctor, Shefali Tsabary has sent me down the rabbit-hole of redefining and re-evaluating my current parenting strategies. Her profound and explicit manner in stripping back the parenting ego, and breaking out of the paradigms engulfing parenting, had me both, standing on my feet in praise, and crawling under my chair in shame. Not often does a speaker deliver a keynote that has me making a one-eighty degree change in under twenty-four hours. Usually, I am logically minded as I observe a speaker attempting to unravel certain human conditions, that I take my time to analyze their suggestions. Not to this day have I heard one person speak on parenting as she did; in such a way that everything she said hit a chord deep within my knowing.
I do consider myself a wonderful parent; strong, loving and diligent. It wasn’t until I realized from Dr. Shefali that possibly, just maybe, my insistent coaching and ever-present scrutiny was hurting them, deflating them and even disconnecting them from their very own sense of self. Yes, it is a deep and far more esoteric view than the basic concepts of; “that’s just what I was taught”, and “that’s what my parents told me to do.” This is a look at the long-term consequences of a mind forced to be molded by another or a spirit put in a box already built by someone else. Instead, I embraced her words and asked myself, who am I to define my child: mold his brain to my will, constrain her ideas to match mine? It all begged the question…why not try unparenting my children, and let them just be themselves. What is the worst thing that could happen???
As a family, we agreed that if we were unparenting and allowing them to set their own bedtimes, then getting up and being ready was also up to them. They assured us there would be no excuses about being ready when the time arrived to get out the door. Each one was prepared without the standard yelling, the coaxing, pleading and eventual throwing the covers off the bed and shouting. Each one was dressed according to the weather. Each ate what they wanted and left either with a knapsack and provisions or empty-handed. I said nothing, only smiled and hummed along doing my own responsibilities, void of the usual morning commands, my hectic worries and frazzled mind trying to do everything for four other people. It was peace, it was easy, there was no stress, just harmony.
We spent the day having fun, enjoying our time at the Medieval Fair on a sunny Sunday. The kids all played, engaged and took part in the town festivities. They were all relaxed, calm, open and at ease. It was one of the best days ever. No nit-picking or rolling eyes. No commanding or expecting. If they wanted to play in the games, they did. If they wanted to take a picture, they did. I asked for what would make me happy, like posing for a silly photo or waiting while I watched a craftsman make his wares, and I let them each decide if they were going to accommodate me or not.
When we got to the artisan’s market, I set them free to explore, over my usual demanding that they follow me; as I have so often done in the past. I gave them a time and a meeting place. I let go of parenting and trusted that they should follow their own desires, to see their own interests, and without having to patrol them, they would return at the designated time, to our meeting spot. Then I got to enjoy the market without all the questions, nagging and grumbling of when it would be over, as kids can often do.
At dinner, we let them sit at their own table in the restaurant and gave them a dollar limit, but no instruction as to what they had/should/must order. We let them be by themselves throughout their meal, and we (the parents) got to miss out on all the talk of memes and gaming, Utube stars and fashion labels. Instead of banning gaming conversations and childish teasing as we often have, we just enjoyed our time as a couple, and let the kids talk about what kids love; kitchy things and insulting jokes.
I will confess the day was glorious, and when I asked each of them at the end of it how unparenting was… they each had a different answer. The youngest asked if I still cared about her? Saying that unparenting seemed like I wasn’t interested in her so much. The next said that it was cool and he mostly liked it. The third said it felt the same and that nothing was different. The oldest said it was awesome and can it stay this way all the time!
So many different answers to the same behaviour from their parents, and yet a striking example as to how the young mind of a ten-year-old feels, over the blasé’ attitude of two thirteen-year-olds, and then the budding independence of a seventeen-year-old. It is a diverse set of responses, and shows how one feels constant nattering is somewhat loving, while the other almost loathes it. How one child thought the way we parented before was fine, and the other was indifferent. How they begged for unparenting, yet still were caught up in their own interpretations, and unable to fully accept what was different due to locked-in filters and beliefs. I suppose, years of instruction from their parents, will take a bit more time to wear off.
I guess the best news is, none of them said unparenting sucked. None complained or said, “go back” to the way we use to be. They all are happier, less stressed and more carefree. I got to see them being children today, and that was the greatest blessing ever. It seemed so scary just a few days ago, to relinquish, let go, and agree to not parent them, and yet the day, was simply magical.
Let’s see how tomorrow goes, it will be a Monday and full of things to do.
To be continued….