Stop Parenting and Be a Parent
“It’s called parenting!”
Most respectful parents have probably heard this one. If you give your children any more freedom or autonomy than mainstream parenting is comfortable with, this comment will be directed at you.
“It’s called being a parent. Do your job!”
What does this job ‘parenting’ entail? Well according to the people demanding you do it, probably:
- Being in control of your child.
- ‘Disciplining’ your child.
- Having rules for you child.
- Setting limits.
- Moulding your child into a ‘good’ and ‘successful’ human.
Yes, mainstream parenting is very focused on all the things a parent must do to a child.
But is this helpful? Is it helpful to view parenting as something you must actively impose on children?
According to Alison Gopnik, in her book ‘The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children‘, the concept of ‘parenting’ is a relatively new invention. She explains…
“As long as there have been animals, there have been mothers and fathers and their young. And as long as they have been Homo sapiens, human mothers and human fathers, and others as well, have taken special care of children. “Mother” and “father” are as old as English itself, and “parent” has been around since at least the fourteenth century. But the word “parenting,” now so ubiquitous, first emerged in America in 1958, and became common only in the 1970s.”
We don’t explain any other personal relationships in the context of doing something to another person.
“To be a wife is not to engage in “wifing,” to be a friend is not to “friend,” even on Facebook, and we don’t “child” our mothers and fathers.” -Alison Gopnik
The word ‘parent’ describes a relationship between people, that is all, though we have instead turned it into an action. But parenting is not something to inflict on a child. We need to change our perspective.
Describing your role as a parent as if it was a job that you needed to complete in a specific way in order to get a positive outcome, is setting yourself up for failure and stress. Children are people, not pets to be trained. Their worth or success is not measurable and it is not our place to even try to do that. How they ‘turn out’ should be their choice.
We justify so much control and interference in the name of raising ‘good’ kids, instead of recognising and supporting their right to be who they want to be. It’s incredibly disrespectful to base our relationship with children on us trying to change, shape, and mould them, instead of accepting them for who they are.
Our job is not ‘parenting’ as an action, but being a ‘parent’ and part of a relationship.
We need to move away from thinking we need to be doing something to children, and instead focus on working with them. We need to stop ‘parenting’ them, as if it were something to inflict on a child until they turn into what you want.
“What do my children most need from me? The answer is humbling: They need me to let them be.” –Ben Hewitt
Of course, we need to provide for our children’s basic needs and safety, we need to support and guide them as they grow, but there is no list of ‘good parenting’ techniques that you can apply to children uniformly to achieve ‘success’. Parenting is big business and many have tried to sell us this lie. There are endless books, tips, and tricks you can try to get children to do what you want, ‘for their own good’. We suppose that we have control over who they become and the right to decide that for them. But that shouldn’t be our goal!
Being a parent means you have a child. It doesn’t mean you’re obliged to do anything TO them. You are not trying to create an adult, but connect with them and live together today. To provide them with the freedom, trust, and support to grow into their own person. Our task is to love them unconditionally and foster a connected and respectful relationship between us, not tell them who they should be and work to shape them into our vision no matter how hard they resist. It is totally possible to respectfully guide children and help them learn about the ways of the world without resorting to controlling parenting tactics.
“But, in fact, parenting is a terrible invention. It hasn’t improved the lives of children and parents, and in some ways it’s arguably made them worse. For middle-class parents, trying to shape their children into worthy adults becomes the source of endless anxiety and guilt coupled with frustration. And for their children, parenting leads to an oppressive cloud of hovering expectations.” -Alison Gopnik
Sure, a relationship with children is unique in that we are in charge of their care. We interact differently with them, depending on their age. That might mean we need to think of different ways to do things, but it doesn’t mean we need techniques to use on them. And it definitely does not mean we have the right to wield power over them. They are not another species.
Instead of trying to ‘parent’ them we should turn our focus inward. We can concentrate on our own behaviour, our own boundaries, our own communication. We can model our values and show them how we like to be treated. We can hold our limits with respect and compassion. We can keep them safe and guide them towards healthy behaviours. That’s a very different perspective than one of doing your ‘job’ and ‘parenting’.
The word ‘parenting’ can be useful to describe certain beliefs about how children should be treated, i.e. respectful parenting, attachment parenting, conscious parenting. But as a command to do something to your children it’s entirely unhelpful and disrespectful.
Those people who tell me “It’s called parenting! Do your job!” used to frustrate me. They accuse us of ‘unparenting’. I would think they obviously didn’t understand respectful parenting at all, because it didn’t mean NOT parenting. But I’ve changed my mind. You’re right. I’ll admit it.
Respectful parents are not ‘parenting’ their children in the mainstream sense. We do not seek to control them and mold them into who we think they should be. We are not trying to impose rules and techniques on them. We are not invested in their achievements as a measure of our success. Respectful parents are being just that, respectful parents. We are in an equal relationship with our children. We respect them. We work together. We accept them and support them to grow into whoever they want to be. We’re about relationships, not techniques.
I wish more people would concentrate on just being a parent, instead of the job of ‘parenting’.
Want to learn more about respectful parenting, moving towards connected relationships, and working with children? Further reading:
The Best Way To End Power Struggles
How To Deepen Connection With Kids
20 Ways to Make Your Home a Respectful Environment
The Mainstream Parenting Myths We Need to Forget
I love this. I have just reread it after it was shared on the Parent Allies Support Group. I use the term ‘parenting’ a lot less now since I first read this. I write a FB page about ‘parenting’ but I am starting to describe my writing as about ‘interacting with children’ to avoid the term parenting but to open my writing up to everyone. We all interact with children and it is so important how we do so.
Thank you!!! This is exactly what I was thinking about this week after another parent communicated in shame and guilt to me that I wasn’t parenting my child. You really are a light for me right now. I wish you weren’t a continent away. Also, wow about the use of the word parenting since only 1958?
Oh I’m so glad ♥♥♥
Thank you. I came to homeschooling a little later in my boys life and one of the most remarkable benefits of this has been finding other mothers who are embracing their relationship with their children and as a family in a very refreshing way. Reading thoughts like yours touches my heart and makes me realize how sad it is for so many moms (and dads), myself included, who move away from what we feel intuitively to what we feel we need to be doing in order to be “good” parents.
Oh I agree ♥
Lovely except for what I interpreted as an inference that humans have the right to wield power over another species. Not sure if that’s really what you meant(?) but it really felt like a statement that didn’t align with the rest of the piece. Just my thoughts, thanks for all your efforts to show that children can thrive in their own right and are not a reflection of our own success.
Dear Sarah, where did you find this? I tried to see it in the text somewhere but really do not know what you mean? where does Sara writes something related to animals in this text?
sorry, got it now. “And it definitely does not mean we have the right to wield power over them. They are not another species.”
Oh yeah, I actually thought that when I wrote it and meant to come back and think of a different word or something. Any ideas?
“they are not inferior to us adults”
I think you are very brave to write this! There can be such a sense of fear related to not controlling our children, I imagine you could get some nasty comments from people. But keep it up! This view needs to be heard.
Oh definitely. It makes me feel good though the number of people who DO get it. We are changing things!
Dear Sara, thank you so much for yet another great article. Love your blog! I wonder if you ever wrote something about the financial side of unschooling. For example I do see a (future) problem in families where women do most of the unschooling work (that is, most families I know). Either families are rich and can afford to invest in retirement funds or similar for both parents. Or families do get by on one income (many, I believe) then where does the money for women later (retirement) come from? I feel this is an issue that does not get much attention, but as a feminist I believe is needed to be talked about! Because yes, I do believe unschooling is a great philosophy and choice no matter which social background! but on the other hand I see, to be fair, it is something for the somehow financially privileged only (many families do need two 9-5 jobs to get by or even more). even in families that can afford to live off just one income (well, mostly the mens income) I do see a problem coming for women later if they may separate from their husband or if they do not have enough retirement funds when they are old and maybe live longer than their husband. Do you have any thoughts on this? I feel nobody ever talks about this let alone has a good solution. Yes of course things can be worked out between husband and wife, both could work half-time etc. But still we have to recognize this is just not realistic for every family. Thanks again for your great work! would love to hear your opinion about this.
Hi Rike, personally, I don’t think that an unschooling blog could really address the financial repercussions of having one or both parents home full/part-time because each families finances are so different. It is one of those areas that we all wonder how everyone else handles their money yet we rarely talk about it. I was married in the ’70’s when banks decided to give bigger mortgages to families by including both spouses’ salaries. My husband and I decided at the time to live on one salary in case we decided to have children and just so we wouldn’t be reliant on both if something else happened. This bank decision was a major game changer as it has meant that both partners need to work forever even if they have children.
Now that we are at retirement age it is certainly an eye opener as to how much money we need to live a relatively comfortable lifestyle. Definitely having had only one salary has been harder but at the same time I wouldn’t trade having been home with my kids for anything in the world and they express their gratitude regularly that they are glad I was there for them and that because I was home doing the domestic work their father was free to spend time with them when he got home because all the yard work/cooking was done.
Now, I encouraged my daughters to have careers so because of that only one of my three is having children and she is the bread winner while her partner and I take care of the two kids, and yes they also live on one salary (student salary right now) but are managing just fine. They even bought a house a few years ago and by putting an apartment in the basement they make enough to pay most of the mortgage. They rarely buy new and they eat only local/and or organic food and they don’t own a car. This is a lifestyle they have chosen so they can keep their kids home from school. This was important and sometimes if things are very important we find a way. It doesn’t work for everyone, that is true. Not everyone has family to help out or a partner who is on board, or friends who are trying to life simply as well to support you.
As far as retirement goes, you should study up on what your government provides for you when you get older. In Canada we have CPP (which, yes you only get if you have worked. If your spouse has their own business you can do some income splitting so that you get some cpp as well) There is also OAS (old age security) and you should be putting money regularly in an RRSP for both spouses equally. If your partner has a pension plan then he/she could put money just in the other spouse’s retirement plan. You should talk to a financial planner about these things or read some books like The Wealthy Barber to understand better how to make your finances work for you.
If you can’t make it unschooling work financially, then send your kids to school but take them out for family days and mental health breaks when you can and don’t let school take away who they are or who you all are as a family. Take control and raise your kids the way you want the best you can.
Good luck, your kids are very lucky to have you as their mom.
I needed to read this today! Been feeling mom-guilt recently for feeling like “I let my kids do whatever they want” I don’t literally do that, but I am very “lax” in my approach but how I operate is much like this article described, yet it is so out of the mainstream (or anyone else I know) that I feel guilt often and lazy even ?! Like I should’ve be “doing more”
It is about time this issue was raised publicly.
What is wrong with society? If we kick the dog, pull the cats tail or starve the horse, we might end up in court. Rightfully so. Insult the kids and or their parents. Torment, starve or even physically assault a child, and the response is, they probably deserved it.
I am a 71 year old retired male nurse. I have 5 children that range from 32-42 years I have grandchildren. I have worked with children most of my life. If I could turn the clock back 50 years so I could re-live all of the magical moments I have had to enrich my life. I would.
You are truely richly blessed.