Unconditional Parenting: My Favorite Parenting Style

Our girls keep us on our toes. They drive us crazy one moment and astound us the next. While I have yet to figure out our 13yr old, I approach parenting these 2 humans the Universe sent me with Unconditional Love. Read more to see what that looks like in action.

I gave a brief update on E over the weekend in regards to reading and how Powell’s became a bribe and a reward.

So, I figured it was time for a full-on review of both kiddos. Kind of like a yearly physical, but totally not.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

B, the 13yr old is definitely a 13yr old. Attitude, anti-pictures, and all.

E, the 10.5yr old is definitely a 10.5yr old. Wanting to be more independent like her sister, but not quite ready yet.

B now attends a billion classes a day and doesn’t miss a chance to tell me how tired she is when she gets home.

E goes to a new school that was said to have the resources for her and hell yeah they do.

I mean, I am proud to say that they do. And I am so thankful for her new school and her aides. I haven’t received a single call home to come and get her *KNOCK ON ALL THE DAMN WOOD*. There have been a couple of calls home, 2 positive principal calls, and 1 where she just couldn’t calm down but she finally did!

However, E is still having a hard time going to school some days. If we were still at her previous school, she would be on time every day because she wouldn’t be considered late until 810am.

At this new school, you are late at 745am. It took me way too long to figure out that I needed to wake up earlier to get her up earlier.

Waking up at 710am and getting her in the shower, dressed, medicated, and through all the distractions in 20 minutes, was never going to work, no matter how hard I tried.

Ok, so I knew I needed to wake up earlier, but I just couldn’t. I love sleep. Fast forward to now, and I can’t sleep in past 7am anymore. Damn kids…

But, that thankfully has changed now. Powell’s played a huge part in it because not only do I get to bribe E with getting a new book or journal, I get to reward myself with a new journal if I also wake up and get her to school on time.

It turns out, E needs extra special care and gentleness in the morning.

These days, at 645am, my alarm goes off, and I usually hit the 5-minute snooze once. When it goes off again, I go into E’s room, turn off her lights (she can’t sleep without the lights on), and gently, quietly, calmly, wake her up.

Her response is usually “10 more minutes.” Depending on if I hit the snooze button more than once or not, those 10 minutes are pre-built into my 645am wake-up. 

“No problem, kiddo. 10 more minutes.” Or 5 minutes depending on my snoozing.

While she is getting her 10 more minutes, I go downstairs and refill all the water bottles for the day. B and I like cubed ice. E is now into cubed AND crushed ice whereas before she used to just want crushed ice. That was a whole thing when E decided she ALSO wanted cubed ice and I only gave her crushed.

Since filling their water bottles only takes a few, I then go and get the kids’ meds for the day out of their pill organizer.

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These have been a GAME changer and I am NEVER going back. Pink for E, purple for B, and blue for me only because B decided Purple is a tad better than blue currently.

Last Tuesday, when I hit snooze too many times, I didn’t have time to take out E’s daily pill organizer, so she freaked because she wasn’t sure what day it was (she did know what day, but it was just the straw that broke her brain that day), and then she didn’t go to school. It was a whole thing.

Hard words were said.

I parked my butt on her bed and sat silently doing my own thing while she raged and begged me to leave. She didn’t actually want me to leave. And I wasn’t going to flee.

Once I get all the meds and deodorants next to the appropriate water bottles, I go back upstairs, tell B to start stretching, and give E usually a 1-minute transition to get in the shower (if she needs one).

And then I sit there on her bed. Waiting for the subjective 1-minute to end.

When her final 1-minute is up, I transition her to the shower. By this time, it’s about 7am.

E gets in the shower, and I ask what she wants for breakfast, “Oatmeal or Waffles”. If waffles, “Chocolate, Strawberry, or both?”. 

She gives me her answer. Sometimes.

Sometimes she can’t handle those 2 simple questions in the morning, at which point I just wait until she comes downstairs. Those days, she tends to eat breakfast at school.

Before I go back downstairs, I get dressed and tell B that her stretching time is almost over.

I go downstairs, start breakfast for E since B tends to eat at school, and then get my shoes on, my coat on, and grab my keys so that I don’t have to worry about myself once E is loose downstairs. Once she is loose, all my attention needs to go to her, making sure there are no possible triggers.

One thing we learned at the end of January, after some really hard mornings, was that she had a hard time going straight from home to the classroom. Turns out, she needed another transition before entering the chaos of the classroom.

Thankfully, E has an AWESOME IEP team and staff that care for her AND an amazing Occupational Therapist and we all worked together to come up with a game plan.

So, now, E has the option to go straight to the SCC (Social Communications Classroom) room where she can slowly transition by coloring or playing with legos to get her regulated and ready for the classroom.

For the first couple weeks, she went most days. Now, she is just happy that she knows that’s an option.

Anyway, moving on.

Once I am all done with my stuff, and making breakfast, I then go back upstairs and give E a 1 or 2-minute transition to get out of the shower. By this time, it’s about 710am. The goal is to get her in the car by 730am.

Keep in mind, that all these transitions – aren’t specific. I don’t have a timer. I just wing it. This is probably why my kids have poor time management, but that’s neither here nor there…for now…

I hang out upstairs, chillin’ because the moment I leave – yelling for her to get out of the shower WON’T work and, while Daddy’s alarm goes off at 720am, he will forget to transition her out. So, I need to be up there to gently and calmly give her a countdown.

“Ok, baby, 1 more minute. 30 more seconds. 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1.”

On a good morning, she has no problem getting out. On a bad morning, I give her another 2-minute transition warning. And then another 1-minute transition. And then plead with her because her big sister needs to take a shower.

As E wraps up her shower, I go to B and tell her it’s time for her to get up.

Before I started the new 645am wake-up routine with E, I rushed B too. I didn’t give her appropriate time to stretch. Mainly because she just went back to sleep and nobody had time for that!

But, with me waking up at 645am, I started acknowledging that stretching time and surprise! mornings became so much easier.

I am SO thankful for B. Once I get her started, and once I make sure all of her meds and deodorant are in an obvious location i.e. on top of her water bottle – she gets herself going and up the hill to get to the bus.

Very rarely does she miss the bus anymore. And that’s because she knows that I won’t drop her off at the very front if she misses the bus because of poor time management.

Look, the cats distract her. Grandma’s puppy distracts her. Our puppies distract her. And when that happens, I drop her off behind the school (at an approved drop-off location, of course).

When I was really super sick a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t get out of bed, she woke up on her own, well, after Daddy woke her up. And got herself to the bus by herself. Got her meds by herself. And I was so damn proud of her.

I catch myself looking at her some days and realize that she isn’t my baby anymore. She isn’t a little kid. She is becoming a young lady. I am not ready for her to grow up. I have so much to teach her. There is so much I want to do with her, experience with her, before she leaves the nest.

But I struggle with B.

Where E has become my adventure buddy, curious and eager and excited to join me on my adventures, I can’t get B out of the house without forcing her or telling her to “suck it up, buttercup.”

Hold up. Pause. Timeout. Once I get B out the door, she has a great time. I just hate having to resort to forcing her all the time.

E is now talking non-stop. Non. Stop. We can now understand about 90% of what she is saying!

But, when she doesn’t take her ADHD meds, her words come out so damn fast that we are back to understanding MAYBE 60% of what she says. Which isn’t a huge problem, but getting her to slow down is damn near impossible.

B only talks when necessary or when she wants to tell us a story.

Where B still wants to be a Vet when she grows up, E wants to rescue cats and be a photographer just like me “because it’s easy.”

Oh, kiddo. I hate to break it to you, but being a photographer isn’t easy. Is it rewarding? Yes. Does it feel like work? No. Because it’s my passion. But it’s not something I can raise a family on, and it’s not something that will pay for all the needs of those rescue cats.

Will I tell her that? Nope. I love that she is experimenting, and thinking, and planning, and dreaming.

With that being said, E is ridiculously smart. When she wants to be. And only for subjects that matter to her. Like playing video games and reading.

side note: Don’t hate on the video games. Playing Minecraft actually helped teach her how to read AND become less non-verbal at the age of 8.5. Playing video games is how she interacts and socializes with her sister and daddy. It works for her and I am all for what works.

But, I feel awful because I don’t know how to get E to attend and participate in class. Mom guilt eats at me constantly because I am worried she will never learn anything, ever. And then I spiral and worry that she won’t be able to go to college (if she wants to) or get a good job or be able to pursue any passions she may have, and ugh.

I mentioned this in another post, but the mere thought of E and Middle School makes me want to vomit. And since I have somehow, accidentally (don’t ask), trained myself to not puke – the need to vomit when I think about E and Middle School is telling.

As for B, I don’t even know where to start with her.

I love her so damn much it hurts.

She drives me both crazy AND makes me feel like a horrible parent.

Since birth, since pregnancy really, she has been our easy-going kiddo. Slept through the night, goes with the flow, agreeable. But now, oh she is definitely a teenager.

I don’t know how to help her understand the importance of follow-through and honesty. Honesty is a HUGE sticking point between her and I. Half the time, I cannot take her word for it. However, she has been getting better with the lying lately. Thank god.

And, while I have tried my damnedest and will never give up trying, I preach self-love. I make sure to ALWAYS build up my girls. I don’t point out their flaws, I point out their strengths. I am trying to be the mother I needed but didn’t have.

But, I can only help as much as my girls want to hear, believe, and internalize.

I don’t know what comes first – low self-esteem causing an inability to focus, or ADHD and anxiety causing low self-esteem. I need to take them to see a counselor or a psychologist but A) waitlists and B) money.

I find it funny that both our girls are super competitive against each other, but put them on a team or make them join a sport and it’s like they forget competing is an option.

I also find it funny that while both girls are competitive and can be outgoing, I literally have to FORCE B to do the thing even though she and I BOTH know that she will have fun, all while E is super duper excited to do the thing but then will run straight for the hills the moment the thing has started.

It’s aggravating, frustrating, and a tad hilarious. They are competitive introverts much like I am an extroverted introvert.

Look, if I don’t laugh some days, I would be crying, and I am all about positive vibes and fun times.

B is smart, I just don’t know how to focus and get her to use her smarts for good.

E loves legos and Minecraft and Roblox and playing racing games with daddy and watching daddy play racing games.

B is perfectly content being a couch sloth playing games on her phone and watching Youtube videos.

Hold up. Pause. Timeout. Her being a couch sloth like that happens one day a week and on the weekends. We have unofficially instituted a “do-abso-fuckin-lutely-nothing” day in our home, and that’s when B can become her best couch-sloth self.

B is an enigma, a true Scorpio while E is most definitely a true Gemini and will give you whiplash if you don’t prepare yourself.

Our girls are definitely not neurotypical. Our girls don’t do things that other kids normally do – like play sports or participate in a bunch of activities or even play an instrument.

I find myself sometimes grieving over never being a “soccer mom” or a “band mom”. But, I find joy in watching E build legos and B do whatever she does.

Hell, they don’t even know how to make their beds or consistently brush their teeth (we are working on both those, so shh).

But, as both girls get older, and as I quickly realize my time with them as kids is not going to go on forever and ever and ever and… I have made it my mission to raise my girls in a way that I was not raised so that they do not have to spend their 20s number and their 30s healing.

I am giving them space to be their own humans while also providing enough boundaries so they will be able to function (appropriately) in society when they become adults.

Call it gentle parenting or free-range parenting, but don’t you dare say I am “permissive parenting” or an “indulgent parent” because I don’t want to be their best friend, and definitely keep “uninvolved/neglectful parenting” out of your mouth because that is the farthest from the type of parent I am, the type of parents we are.

I know!

Call it unconditional parenting.

Because, while I am scared shitless of the future and am hoping and praying that some of the things I teach our girls, sticks, whatever we do, whatever they do, I make it known that WE love them UNCONDITIONALLY. Unless they murder someone, then they need to face the consequences. We can still love them from the other side of the bars. And yes, we have had that discussion. Maybe a couple of times.

We have also had discussions about peer pressure and how daddy and I are both OK with being their scapegoat and blamed for the reasons they can’t do XYZ.

We have also had discussions about falling in love with whomever their heart loves, regardless of gender or identity, even though they have told us multiple times that they will not be falling in love but will still adopt kids when they grow up. Along with cats.

We have also had discussions about what to do if a stranger tries taking them, or if someone they know has ill intentions. We also talk about whom to go to when they get away. That a woman is more than likely willing to help because they tend to have kids and a mama will always help (usually).

We have also had discussions about spirituality, religion, bullying, being kind, and treating people with respect, that everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and included, regardless of abilities.

We haven’t had the sex talk, and frankly, that is so far from my mind that I am hoping the school will teach them…

While teenagers scare me, I think that these ages are my favorite because we have some pretty interesting conversations these days.

And I hope that they never lose their sense of curiosity or stop finding adventure in the little things – like being stuck in traffic and guessing what animal or face the rear-end of the car in front of us looks like. p.s. a Subaru Ascent’s front-end looks like a Thunderbird.

I have 5 years left with B and 8 years left with E. That is NOT a whole lot of time to cram everything in.

B’s first term of 7th grade was a mixed bag of grades – but we didn’t chastise her.

In fact, we don’t chastise or judge or demean either of our girls for their academics. While I was a super rockstar at school, it’s why I burned out and went on a Gap Year or two adventure (story coming soon).

I know that B wants to be a Vetrinarian and she will need to make friends with academics, but for now, we try our absolute damndest to make sure she knows, that no matter what, no matter what grades she gets, this has been a huge learning moment for her.

We reminded her that 7th grade is a completely new system she needed to learn on her own, with us by her side. We knew she was going to struggle. Not as much as E will, but we knew B was going to struggle.

And we told her we didn’t care about her grades. Because we don’t. Not right now at least. But I will be talking to her Advisor and seeing if we can get her on a 504 at least due to her anxiety and ADHD because it has become clear that, even though B won’t ask for help, she needs help.

But, how do I do that without stepping on her toes? That is something I will need to figure out in the coming weeks, months. Regardless, she will know that I am doing this because I unconditionally love her and she deserves to be able to access all the tools she needs to succeed with.

My parenting style has changed over the years. I had to become my own parent and I am so glad I did because I am more mature and am able to handle the stress these kids throw my way.

I used to be an authoritative, wet blanket kind of parent. But I am so glad that I have evolved and adapted to meet my kids where they are. It wasn’t an easy journey, but I LOVE being an Unconditional Parent.

Now? Now, I want them to have fun. I want them to fail. I want to watch them find a new way. I want to provide boundaries and simple routines so their days are still structured. I want them to give me a plan when they don’t want to do what I want them to do right away. I want them to try something once before they say never again. I want to give them the space to feel safe and welcome and independent.

I want to sit next to them, or on the outside of their room, as they rage, so they know that I won’t run, I won’t hide. I won’t punish them.

I want them to tell me the honest truth, even if it hurts. And I want them to tell the truth because they know I won’t be mad at them, no matter how much it hurts. They know that I’d rather they tell me the truth, than lie. Because when they lie, double the consequences happen.

And depending on what the truth was, if they are honest with me, their consequences won’t nearly be as harsh as if they lied.

But most importantly, I am all in on parenting with unconditional love these days.

E is starting puberty, and I only know that because she has been having some HUGE emotions with hard words that hurt my heart.

But, hopefully, next month she will be starting hormone blockers. Fingers crossed.

As an aside, I am trying my damnedest to tune out all the anti-trans bullshit happening around our country and the world because I can’t fall again.

I can’t sacrifice my mental health to be angry at the world anymore. I need to focus on what I can control, and that is unconditionally loving E and making sure every single human in my inner circle and in our life, unconditionally loves her too.

With that being said, every day, I work my hardest to make sure my girls know I love them. I make sure they are independent and know that we are safe people to come to when they need help.

I may not teach my kids chores, and they don’t have a set chore list. That would probably make my life a little easier, but hello, ADHD family here.

No matter what, in all that we do, I do teach them and show them how to love themselves, how to put themselves first, how to be kind and have fun, find fun, smile, laugh, and let go.

While our time together while they are still kids is getting shorter and shorter, I think I am doing a pretty damn good job. However, this is going to be an excellent long study because I am curious about the type of humans they turn out to be.

In the meantime, Adventure on with Curiosity,

~ Kelly Steele

p.s. This blog post has been in the works since Christmas 2022 and I wrote the following on Christmas morning before we were notified Papa was in the ICU.

We legally changed E’s name and gender marker last year and surprised her on Christmas day with the news. I don’t think she necessarily understood just how BIG of a deal it is. At least not yet. She knows she is trans, but could care less about that title. To her, she is a girl and that’s that.

So, it is intriguing to me how she approaches this part of her identity and I am not sure how much of that is due to her autism and delays or due to who she is as a human, that part of her DNA is to just be unapologetically her with zero fucks to give about the label.

I am stoned. It was a rough morning and I lost it (so out of character for me as of this past year) so I took 2 edibles instead of 1 and I think they both just hit. Elsa is currently building all the legos before Christmas brunch and cannot be disturbed, so after she eats, I will be taking a photo and posting it. Love you guys!!!!! p.s. I didn’t get to take a photo because Papa was in ICU.

Meanwhile, Bailey is an interesting little human that I can’t figure the fuck out lol.

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