How to Practice Unconditional Parenting in Real Life: Some Helpful Resources

Resources for Gentle Parenting (i.e. how to practice unconditional parenting in real life)

The posts I wrote a few months ago about Unconditional Parenting have inspired all kinds of delightful and interesting conversations, both on the web and in person with friends and family.

It seems like gentle/unconditional/non-punitive parenting resonates with a lot of people, especially mothers. But there’s one problem: most of us have a hard time understanding how to actually put it into practice.

“I love the idea of unconditional parenting,” one friend confessed. “It totally jives with me. I just can’t really get my head around what that looks like.”

I know exactly what she’s talking about.

See, most of us were punished for our behavior as kids. As adults, our friends all use it to discipline their kids. It’s the go-to method for dealing with problematic behavior.  So it’s difficult to even envision other ways of responding to our children, even if we feel in our bones that it’s not ideal. We don’t have any other tools in our toolboxes; so when our kids act out, we resort to the only thing we know.

And the truth is, I don’t really know how to put non-punitive parenting into practice, either. This is all new to me, too, and I’ve never really seen it in real life. As I’ve admitted before, I especially struggle to understand how to practice unconditional parenting with toddlers and young children who can’t understand reason. I don’t have any examples to look to.

That’s why I’m thrilled to have come across a number of wonderful resources in the last few months to help me out. I want to share them with you, too.

If you’re interested in gentle parenting but don’t know how to practice it, please: follow these wise folks. Subscribe to their blogs, follow them on Facebook. They offer all kinds of practical tips and share stories and provide examples. I feel so empowered already, even though I’ve only been following most of them for a couple of months.

So here are just a few to get you started. Check them out! (The titles are all clickable)

Authentic Parenting

(follow them on Facebook)

Lots of articles on non-punitive parenting. My favourite so far was Four Alternatives to Punishment: Positive Solutions in Practice.

Dulce de Leche

(Follow her on Facebook)

Don’t be fooled by the appearance of her her wonky-looking Blogger blog. You will find so much wisdom, as well as love and acceptance, here.

Dulce is as sweet as her name suggests, a passionate Jesus-follower, and ridiculously wise when it comes to parenting. According to her Facebook description, she’s “a mom who is passionate about gentle discipline, breastfeeding, and parent-child relationships. Let’s encourage each other!”

She’s one of my favourite people to follow on Facebook right now – every day, my feed is filled with links to informative articles, reflections on Scripture, and a general overflow of love from her.

Aha Parenting

(follow on Facebook)

If you’re looking for smart, accessible writing from a professional (Dr. Markham is a trained Clinical Psychologist), here’s the place to start! I LOVE AhaParenting. She might be my number one resource. From her About page:

Parenting is tough, but it isn’t complicated.  From tantrums to texting, the secret of happy parenting is a close relationship with your child.  Thousands of research studies over the past four decades show us exactly what kids need to turn out great:

Love (nurturing, respect, empathy, cherishing)
High — but age-appropriate —  expectations.

One of the best things I’ve read from her so far is Obedience: Why Do You Have To Tell Them Five Times?

Barefoot Parenting Facebook Community

I’ve come across so much great stuff from the Barefoot Parenting community, which, according to its Facebook description, focuses on “Celebrating gentle, mindful, attached parenting. Finding beauty in simplicity, and delighting in our children exactly as they are.” Follow them!

Positive Parenting Connection

(follow on Facebook)

Again, lots of helpful stuff here on non-punitive solutions to parenting problems. One of my favourite articles so far has been Help! My Child is So Whiny! Six Positive Ways to Deal with Whining.

* * *

And here are a few other fabulous articles I’ve come across lately on compassionate parenting. Read them!

10 Steps for Taming a “Tantrum” With Love – Mindful Mothering

I feel like I need to write a summary of this article and then memorize it for the day I have to start dealing with tantrums. So, so good.

From the article: “Positioning myself as a headlight in the distance allows my children to be guided back to the individuals we both know they really are, positive sense-of-self intact, feeling loved.”

Responsive Parenting: Why Tantrums Matter – The Mule

“When a child is having a tantrum, they are not being ‘naughty’ or ‘spoilt’, although it can seem that way to us as the parent. . . . But what we now know, thanks to advances in neuroscience, is that tantrums are not deliberate, manipulative or naughty — a small child’s brain just isn’t yet developed enough to make any other choice.”

How To Parent Without Ultimatums – Parenting from Scratch

“We’re so often recommended to give our kids choices, but ultimatums are really the Sophie’s Choice of parenting; a no-win situation. On one hand, if a child ‘chooses’ to stop a certain behavior, he is stopping out of fear or intimidation. Not exactly how we want kids to make decisions in their lives and learn self control. On the other hand if he ‘chooses’ the alternative, he is being punished–punished for something he most likely needs help managing in the first place. And either way, Mom or Dad has a headache and doesn’t feel like engaging with their child.”

Three Alternatives to Saying “Good Job” – Parenting from Scratch

“I realized how little information those words actually conveyed to my children for what is so ‘good’ about the ‘job’ they just did.  While my intention of saying ‘good job’ was celebratory, it wasn’t  really celebrating as much as it was telling them, ‘You pleased me, and that’s “good.”  That’s what you should be doing.’ I don’t want that!  I don’t want my children to please me, I want them to please themselves. ”

* * *

Have you got any excellent parenting resources you’d like to share?



For Moms Who Are Panicking Because Their Babies Aren’t Sleeping as Much as the Books Say They Should

I might strike people as a very confident mother.

I have very strong convictions about my parenting style and talk about them openly and extensively. I have done mountains of research which has led me to embrace attachment parenting. And most of the time, I do feel very confident about my parenting choices. They feel natural and have lots of scientific backing, and they have made our family very happy.

But sometimes I still panic. Every once in a while, I’m overwhelmed with doubt and worry. Have I got this all wrong? Have I screwed up?

This happened to me recently when Lydia went through a stretch where she wasn’t napping much, at around 10 months. For several days in a row, she would go hours and hours (and hours) without napping, and when she did sleep, it was for less than an hour at a time. It was a lot less than what the books said were the right amount, anyway.

I mentioned this fact in a blog post as an aside. Several commenters surprised me by suggesting that this was a problem. One even hinted that I was doing her harm by enabling it.

I also happened to be reading Montessori from the Start during Lydia’s napping strike, which really pushes the overwhelming need for routine in an infant’s life. (In many ways, the book’s philosophy is directly opposed to what I believe about child development, if you’re curious). This book, combined with people’s comments, made me double over in self-doubt: was I screwing up my kid?


We moms – especially we first-time moms – are such a vulnerable bunch. We want the best for our kids so desperately, we go kind of nuts if we get even the faintest indication that we’re not doing the best thing for them.

The following few days were plagued with anxiety. I tried everything to get Lydia to sleep, and felt guilty about all of them because none were allowing her to “learn how to self-soothe.” I refused to let her cry alone, so I tried lying down with her in a dark room; I tried nursing and rocking her; I tried walking her in a stroller. She didn’t seem one bit interested in sleeping. I was losing my mind.

Lydia seemed perfectly fine all the while. She was her normal, content, inquisitive self, even though she was sleeping a lot less than what the books said she should be doing. And yet all the while, I was beleaguered with worry: was I stunting her in the long run by getting her used to nursing to sleep whenever she felt like it? Was I preventing her from becoming all that she could be?

The only one who was suffering in all of this was me, and only because I had been told I was doing something wrong.

I had believed strongly from Lydia’s birth that babies are fully capable of self-regulating their sleep, and we only needed to facilitate that by creating an environment that enables them to sleep whenever their bodies are ready. I had believed from the start that babies sleep best in the warm embrace of their mothers, that breast milk was perfectly formulated to induce sleep, and that this was the way humans and other primates had been doing it for millennia. I also knew that you simply can’t force another human being to sleep, so it was a waste of energy to try.

And yet I had doubts.

I was all over the internet, trying to find answers to my questions: Can I screw up my baby by not forcing her to sleep? Is it even possible to not get enough sleep when you live in a quiet, low-stress environment? (In fact, that’s why I’m posting this: in case there are other mothers out there searching the internet, asking the same questions).

Finally, in an act of desperation, I called my go-to child-care expert: my mom. She managed to raise five robustly healthy children who all went on to be successful academics and obnoxious know-it-alls. (*Ahem* . . . well maybe that last one only applies to her eldest).

I asked her what she had done when her babies refused to sleep. She thought about it and replied, “Nothing. I would lay down with them in a quiet place and try to help them relax; and if they weren’t interested in sleep, I knew they obviously weren’t sleepy. So . . . that was it.”

If they weren’t interested in sleep, they obviously weren’t sleepy. It made so much sense when my mom said it.

So I stopped worrying about it. I let Lydia sleep whenever she wanted to and for as long as she wanted to. And by the next day she was back to two good naps a day.

Since then, there have been days when she slept SO MUCH that I worried I was doing something wrong. Maybe I was making her environment so boring that she couldn’t keep herself awake?

And then I had to laugh at myself and tell myself what I already knew: babies are experts and regulating their own sleep if you just let them.

Babies know when they need to sleep and when they don’t. At least, this has been my experience. If they’re not sleeping, even though it’s quiet and dark, and you’ve given them plenty of opportunity to wind down, it’s probably because they don’t need to. If they are sleeping a lot it’s because they probably need to. Some days will be more than others. Babies are going through so many changes, it makes sense that their needs would vary from day to day. They don’t need grown-ups – who have no idea what they’re feeling – to tell them how much sleep they need.

(I personally believe that the same applies to food, provided they only have nutritious options. They’ll eat what they need and leave the rest).

I don’t know why humans believe they’re the only animals in the world that need to be told when, where, and how long to sleep. Llamas, lions and goats all seem to do just fine without clocks and schedules.

I have no idea how much Lydia sleeps on a daily basis. (Or eats, for that matter. She breastfeeds on demand and feeds herself solids. I have no clue how much is going into her stomach). I don’t keep track.

I’ve decided that what the books say is the right amount of sleep is a lot less important than whether she seems healthy, happy, and energetic.

I know my baby is getting enough sleep and food because she’s growing like crazy; she’s developing new skills on a weekly (if not daily) basis; she’s curious, content, and enthusiastic about life; she exudes health; and her general demeanour is happy and relaxed, with occasional grumpy periods. These all seem like more adequate indicators than what the clock says.

There are surely many benefits to having a schedule. I don’t know what they are, since we’re perfectly happy without one, but others seem to benefit from them. But it’s not the case that a schedule is the only way to ensure your kids get enough sleep.

I’m not writing any of this to tell you what you should or should not do; I just want you to know (if you’re in a similar place that I was in) that as long as your baby seems happy and healthy, you’re probably doing fine, regardless of how many hours of sleep she’s clocking. Your baby will probably take a longer nap tomorrow.

Photo courtesy of MattDM.

Update on Attachment Parenting: Nine Months

mother babySo, Lydia turned 9 months old recently, and I thought I’d offer another update on our attachment parenting journey.

(I did a few of these on Project M, and figured I’d offer another update for those who might be curious. I know that I love to hear updates from the bloggers I follow!)

Attachment Parenting in the Media

Before I do offer my detailed update, though, I want to briefly address the Time magazine feature on attachment parenting that caused so much hullabaloo a couple of weeks ago.

So. You may or may not have come across this cover, featuring a young mother breastfeeding her three-year-old son, standing on a little chair.

I didn’t have any very strong feelings about the picture. I don’t care for the unnatural pose – nobody breastfeeds like that, no matter how old the child, and it gives a false image of what extended breastfeeding looks like – but I don’t have a problem with the fact that a mother is publicly breastfeeding a child of that age. I think mothers and their children should feel free to breastfeed for as long as they both benefit from it. I don’t intend to continue breastfeeding quite that long, just for personal reasons, but I don’t see anything essentially wrong with it. I’m sure such an image wouldn’t shock most people around the world and throughout most of human history – it’s just us uptight Westerners who think there’s something abnormal about breastfeeding beyond the first year.

What did bother me, however, was the byline: “Are you MOM enough? Why attachment parenting drives some parents to extremes…”

What a sad misrepresentation of attachment parenting.

I’ve talked about attachment parenting in terms of Dr. Sears’ “Seven B’s of Attachment Parenting” before, mostly because it’s an easy jumping-place from which to discuss how we practice attachment parenting (AP). But really, AP doesn’t boil down to a list of things you can check off a list.

You can practice AP while bottle-feeding – Dr. Sears has a chapter on it in The Baby Book.  You can practice AP without babywearing or bedsharing. You can even practice it as a working mom – Dr. Sears’ own wife, Martha, returned to work, at least with some of her later babies.

You aren’t “more mom” if you practice certain tenets of attachment parenting!

The way I understand AP is that it’s an approach to parenting based on TRUST. You trust that your baby knows when she is hungry or full, tired or alert, or has some other need, and that she will communicate her needs to you. At the same time, you teach your baby that she can trust you to help her get her needs met by responding to her cries. It’s based on the assumption that babies are equipped to express their needs, and mothers have a natural instinct to want to respond to those needs. There’s no need for scheduled feedings and rigid naptimes: your baby will tell you what she needs.

The idea behind AP is that if you just trust in these mutual instincts, keep your baby close, and respond to her cries, you will build a mutual relationship of trust that will make parenting easier.

It’s not about rules, but relationship.

There is no formula for building such a relationship (is there ever a formula for building relationships?), but there are a number of practices that can help make it easier – hence the 7 B’s.

* * *

So, that being said, I still find the 7 B’s of attachment parenting to be helpful, and so I will continue to explore some of them as I discuss our experiences with attachment parenting.


(Here’s my first post on breastfeeding).

I still breastfeed Lydia several times a day and usually at least once at night, though she sometimes sleeps through the night. I still enjoy it so much that I can’t foresee us ending our breastfeeding relationship any time soon. To be honest, the thought makes me cry a little bit, so I avoid thinking about it at all costs.

I must confess that it hasn’t always been simple and wonderful. It was hard for a while when she just got her top four teeth, giving her a complete set of chompers (she had eight teeth by eight months. Youch!). It took her a while to learn how to suck without hurting me – for a while, I experienced constant pain as she nursed. To make matters worse, she once bit me so hard she broke skin, and for a week it was so painful I had to feed her only on one side and pump on the other. I wondered if it would ever get better, and how long I could keep it up if it hurt so bad.

My worries were put to rest after a couple of weeks when it just stopped hurting. Maybe I just got calloused? Anyway, I still usually nurse her to sleep and it provides some nice cuddle time every day.

baby feeding

We’ve also been practicing baby-led weaning since she was about six months old. Until recently, she mostly just played with the food, but in the last few weeks she’s suddenly become much more intentional about putting food in her mouth, chewing, swallowing, and hollering for more. I still never have any clue how much is actually making it into her mouth and how much is falling to the floor to get snapped up by our very attentive puppy, but it doesn’t concern me. Her main source of nourishment is still breast milk, with fruits, veggies, cheese, meat, and eggs supplementing (we’re still avoiding grains).

This combo of breastfeeding and BLW is great for travelling – we still don’t have to pack special food for her when we go out. She enjoys a little bit of whatever we’re having at restaurants or other people’s houses, and tops it off with some breast milk.


babywearing back

(Here’s my first post on babywearing)

After a few months of slowing down with babywearing, I’ve recently renewed my enthusiasm for it since discovering how easy it is to wear her on my back in the Ergo carrier. It’s so easy to get stuff done with her there! She often falls asleep that way, which is convenient. No nursing or rocking her to sleep. Bonus!


(Here’s my first post on bedsharing)

Yeah . . . she’s still in our bed. It’s just so easy with her there. Every once in a while she’ll sleep through the night for a few nights in a row and I’ll start to wonder if we should transition her to a crib. Not because there is any pressing need to, but just because I figure we’ll want to eventually. The thought always makes me kind of sad. But then she’ll have a few restless, wakeful nights again, and I’m glad we’ve kept her so close. Helping her go back to sleep is still as simple as rolling over and lifting my shirt.

And oh, how Ben and I delight in waking up to her charming smiles and laughter every morning! I can’t imagine the day when that’s not the first thing I see when I wake up.

Elimination Communication

Enjoying some diaper-free time

(Again: this isn’t traditionally a tenet of attachment parenting, but I find it consistent with the philosophy. Here’s my first post).

First, the not-so-great: we still haven’t really gotten any better at catching pees during the day. We still only catch about five or six a day. But the number of times she pees in a day is always gradually going down, so that those catches now represents about 50% of her pees (as opposed to 15% in her earlier months).

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that for a while, she was able to sleep diaperless at night because it was so easy to catch all her pees in the potty at night.  That’s not the case anymore. We have her in a diaper again, because even though she usually doesn’t pee at all at night (until first thing in the morning), sometimes she still pees before I’m able to wake up and get her on the potty, and cleaning that up is just too much work to be worth it.

But now for the awesome: we haven’t had to change a single poopy diaper in at least three months. Now that she’s eating solids, her poop is more solid, and she gives very obvious signs that she’s about to go (getting really focused, pushing and grunting a little bit, etc).  A few weeks ago, I even got her to poop in the toilet in the Denny’s bathroom! It is SO GREAT to be able to give her bum a quick wipe and return to my meal, rather than having to deal with a big poopy mess.

Another great thing about poop-free diapers (aside from the immediate relief of not having to clean it up) is the fact that it makes laundering cloth diapers so easy.  Since it’s just urine, I just run them through a normal cycle. No multiple hot rinses, no stink, no stains.

Do practice any of things? What have been your experiences?

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