Unconditional Parenting in Practice

Dec 02, 2013

Ahh, playground politics! A friend of mine recently said to me, “I didn’t get this down when I was a kid, and now I have to re-live it as a mother!?” Who (among us who spend any time picking up our kids from a Dutch school) doesn’t relate to that, I wonder? Today I was confronted with a hefty dose of it and found myself mediating between three 7-year-old girls, all three quite upset about who would be having a playdate with whom.

The scenario: Em and my daughter, En, promised each other a playdate for this afternoon and Em’s elderly sitter and I agreed. TODAY was another day, and En forgot all about that date and made another playdate plan with her other bosom-buddy, Es. Well, you can imagine that Em didn’t take this news all too lightly. En felt terribly in the middle, because she wanted to please both of her friends and not let either one of them down. What a dilemma.

What happened next was important—the sitter turned to me and said, “What I always say to my grandchildren is ‘a promise is a promise!’” This sentiment was already going through my mind, and yet as soon as the words came out of her mouth, I knew that I didn’t want to force this “grown-up” approach on my daughter. I felt the finger in my own face as I heard the words. All three girls had some genuine feelings to process, and being told what they should do probably wasn’t going to make any of them very happy. So in that moment, I asked myself to have trust in these girls’ ability to come up with their own solution. I helped only marginally with some empathic listening and prompting (after asking the sitter to please give us about 5 minutes) . . .

me: Can you imagine En and Es, how Em feels right now?

En: Yes . . .  I promised her we’d play, and I know she’s sad because I also want to play with Em right now.

Es: It’s sad for me, too, because my brother has a playdate and I don’t want to be alone.

me: So you both are sad to be alone today and you really want to play with someone?

Em: I want to play with En – she promised!

En: I know, maybe we can all three play together!

[We then went through the various scenarios, but none worked because Em and Es were both expected to stay home.]

me: It’s too bad you can’t all three play together, because that would make each of you happy.

En: I want to keep my promise to Em.

me: OK, so you know that for sure now? Es, I’m wondering if there might be another afternoon this week that you and En can play together?

Es: I don’t think so [snif!]

[that’s when Es’ little 5-year old brother who had been listening, intervened and said, “Yes you can – on Thursday!”]

me: Would that work out, then do you think, Es? Can you understand that En doesn’t wish to break her promise to Em today?

Es: yes, I understand.

And THEN En gave Es a big hug, and together with Em waved Es a cheery goodbye. Everyone walked away without a tear, feeling good it seemed that they worked it out together.

Not a single grown-up was needed to tell them what to do, and certainly not with an annoying catch-phrase that gives absolutely no room for self-expression or choice!

I chalk this event up as one of my better moments of unconditional parenting, using nonviolent communication skills!


Cara Crisler
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