Modern Mums: Racheal Kwacz on Respectful Parenting during a pandemic and beyond

Respect is a two-way street


By Natalie Khoo

Modern Mums: Racheal Kwacz on Respectful Parenting during a pandemic and beyond

What do you think about when you hear the word respect? Who would you say deserves it? While some say respect has to be earned, many—especially in Asian households—may argue that it is commonly expected of children towards their parents and elders.

Regardless what your sentiments are about this social norm, consider these musings by KL-based Child and Family Development Specialist Racheal Kwacz: “I wonder if there are times when we demand respect disrespectfully? I wonder what it would mean to us and our relationships if we could respond to disrespect respectfully?”

As an advocate of Respectful Parenting—what some may consider a radical parenting approach—Racheal is passionate about honest, heartfelt, and meaningful approaches and conversations while leading and parenting. Along with her husband Joseph, she is also a proud mother and parent to her “curious, funny, wild, and brave” seven-year-old, Ella Grace.

We speak to Racheal about what Respectful Parenting stands for, why it’s important, and how to apply its principles while navigating parenthood during a pandemic and beyond.

Child and Family Development Specialist Racheal Kwacz.

What are the key principles of Respectful Parenting?

“Respectful Parenting is really about authentically leading and teaching little ones what it means to respect ourselves and each other inside out through meaningful connection, healthy boundaries, consistent routines, and time for play and wonder. [It’s about] trusting that each and every child and parent is whole, able, and competent.”

Why is Respectful Parenting so important to you?

“I feel compelled to this work, to look for the little ones and the mamas hurting, and to be able to come alongside and say ‘I got you. Here are some brain-based, heart-centered, tools and approaches that work and will make all the difference’. In my practice everyday, we see not just lives and relationships changed but generations impacted simply by the courage of one person, one mama, one daddy, one advocate in a child’s life to say: ‘I see you’.

What would that mean to a child? What would that have meant to you as a child? It’s important to me because I’ve had the privilege to see the impact of Respectful Parenting over and over again. The breakthrough that Respectful Parenting gives isn’t just in parenting—for every little child to feel safe, seen, and supported even as their parents feel safe, seen, supported—but also in workplaces, marriages, relationships, and communities.”

Seven-year-old Ella Grace and her proud mama.

How would you describe your experience of parenting during the pandemic?

“Madness! Courageous, brave, unnerving, revealing, unifying, clarifying. As our world opens up again, I’m still trying to process what the last few years have been for us. I feel like I’ve learned so much about myself, my husband, and Ella Grace both separately and together.

“If you asked before the pandemic if I ever would have considered moving online, working only from home, I would have told you absolutely not. If you had told me two years ago that my husband would end up unschooling our daughter and being her primary caregiver, I would also think you were nuts. But here we are, online and in-person experiences, unschooling and pivoting, completely unexpected yet also surer than I’ve ever been in my life that this is exactly where and who and what we were meant to be and do.”

I understand your daughter is immunocompromised. How do you still give her space to play without compromising her safety during the pandemic?

“Very early on, we were committed and tried our best to make sure that despite her challenges, Ella Grace would still be able to have a childhood full of wonder, play, and experience. We didn’t want to rob her of those experiences so we just had to go back to the drawing board and ask if there was a different way, a different time, a different perspective we could get curious together with her.

“Sometimes it would look like organising an epic socially distanced neighborhood trick-or-treat for Halloween; sometimes it would look like taking schooling and community into the real world by learning how to roast and make coffee at our local cafe on a quiet afternoon. Exposure is limited but learning is not. A lot of the time it’s weighing the pros and cons. I want to be the first to say that there’s never an absolute right or wrong, just what’s right for you and your child and your family and it will look different for everyone.”

The Kwacz family’s socially distanced Halloween party in 2021.

How do you deal with your daughter’s tantrums or outbursts?

“There’s a tool I love, developed, and use called the PLEASE Tool that marries the neuroscience of what is happening in you and your child’s brain with Respectful Parenting principles. It is designed to help children, parents, educators, and leaders work through any problem by understanding the ways our brains think, feel, and communicate. It lists a step-by-step on how to not only deescalate a tantrum but also build the framework and structure that empowers the parent and child relationship individually and together. At the heart of it, it centers on connection over correction—seeing the child, pausing for clarity and understanding, and responding as a parent.”

What has the pandemic taught you about parenting?

“As we begin to come out of the pandemic and enter into an endemic stage, I look back on that time through a different lens and see what a gift all that time together was. It changed everything about my ‘why’ on parenting. It is through Respectful Parenting that we knew how to repair, reconnect, learn together, and come together instead of apart.

“There were so many times I looked forward to today, but there’s also a big part of me that longs also for all that uninterrupted slow time together. It’s something that I hope I don’t forget moving back out into the world again. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow, and it’s in that perspective that so much of what we hold sacred in parenting really shifts. At the end of the day, I want Ella Grace to know that she is deeply loved, believed in, and seen; and that she is the best Ella Grace she can be.”

Something runs in the Kwacz family—can you tell? 

How do you juggle the WFH life with parenting, chores, me-time, and time with your husband?

“This is the million dollar question and something I share about frequently. The reality of it is that I don’t. I will not always be able to be everything and everywhere and we hurt ourselves the most when we think we must be. One of my favorite quotes by Nora Roberts is the way she describes work-life balance as learning that a) you will drop balls and b) the most important thing you can learn to do and prioritise is to learn which ones are glass that will shatter if they fall and which ones are plastic that will bounce.”

“Sometimes it might look like having to delay work because Ella Grace needs me to play UNO with her because in that moment, playing UNO with her isn’t just about shuffling cards, it is saying ‘I love you, you’re important to me, I’m here’. Some days, it’s having to say ‘I’m so sorry, I can’t play UNO right now because my mamas need me’ and this is a glass ball moment for work and a plastic ball moment for home. It’s learning to listen to the heart about what is right for you and your family and the people you love and respect.”

What were some memorable moments you had with your daughter during the pandemic?

“I realise that if I look back over the last two years, the moments that I want to keep forever and hope I never forget were never the big, hallmark memories but all the teeny tiny little ones in-between. Being able to climb in and share intimate conversations on nothing and everything; a billion bike and scooter rides and walks to our park; telling pun jokes and laughing over and over again; cooking together (Ella Grace makes a mean naan!); building ridiculous forts and obstacle courses and treasure hunts.

“Even the hardest moments—when I was most scared, unsure, and heartbroken for our little big brave girl—were some of the most powerful memories of our time together. They taught me so much about who we are and what we are made of. Those moments feel like the catalyst to a deeper more meaningful relationship with ourselves and each other.”

A mother and her child—seen and loved.

What does motherhood mean to you?

“Motherhood, for me, is a dream I always had since I was a little girl and Ella Grace is in so many ways, is exactly the little big girl I hoped for but had no idea. She is funny and wild and brave and challenges me in the most sacred ways to redefine what it means to be a woman, a wife, a mother, a teacher, a boss, a friend because I know little eyes are watching and learning.

“It is a constant exploration into the hardest parts of me to accept and grow from. It is also a deep dive into the wonder of being able to see the world through a child’s eyes and soak in the gems we so often miss as adults. I love being Ella Grace’s mum and it is why I will fight till my last breath for mamas to be able to build deep, meaningful connections not just with their little ones, but also themselves.”

Keep up with Racheal on Instagram @rachealkwacz

Read more stories on motherhood here.

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