Even if we haven’t had children of our own, we still know about those children screaming down the grocery aisle or the kid who makes a fuss everywhere. In fact, that may be one of the reasons some of us haven’t had kids of our own. Well, one of the most common issues dealt with in therapy are families dealing with children’s behavior problems. Whether it’s about emotional issues, not finishing homework, getting into fights at school, or some combination of these, we deal with a lot of these issues by teaching parents behavioral management techniques.
These techniques may include creating more positive interactions, or giving praise, timeouts, rewards, or consequences. All of these techniques can be really great and create the change you want. But what if there was something more? What if there were other layers to this? In Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s book The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children, she argues that
“Conscious parenting goes beyond techniques aimed at fixing a specific behavior, speaking instead to the deeper aspects of the relationship between parent and child.”
Now this idea Dr. Tsabary talks about is different than what we’re usually taught. Often times in therapy, we try to maintain a present-focused mentality. This doesn’t discount the past, but often times, dealing with present items effectively, past issues can get illuminated or resolved in unexpected ways. Dr. Shefali’s exposure to Eastern mindfulness at an early age with Western teachings in psychology from Columbia University have afforded her a unique perspective on how the past and present interact to inform the future.
What is this “deeper aspect” of parent-child relationship that Dr. Tsabary talks about though? And more importantly, what is “conscious parenting”? The conscious approach refers to the presence we bring to our children. It’s about bringing awareness, consciousness, and intention to the way we parent. She states if we were to head up a multi-billion dollar company, we would have a mission statement and a carefully constructed objective with clear steps to get to where we want to be. However, we often lose this kind of focus and intention with parenting. We need to ask ourselves,
“What is my parenting mission, my parenting philosophy? How do I manifest this in my everyday interaction with my child? Have I mapped out a thoughtful, mindful mission, as I would were I running a major organization?”
Parenting, she says, isn’t what many of us think of with the parents being this overseer of the child who is omniscient. In fact, she states that
“The parenting experience isn’t one of parent versus child but of parent with child…Our children contribute to our growth in ways that are perhaps more profound than we can contribute to theirs…It’s my experience that the relationship between parent and child exists for the primary purpose of the parent’s transformation and only secondarily for the raising of the child.”
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Parents often learn more about themselves throughout the child’s development than the child. In fact, she argues that parents should transform their parent-to-child “know it all” approach to a more mutual parent-with-child relationship where the parent and child learn alongside each other. Now this is often a contentious idea with parents because we do know more and we have had more life experience. However, both parents and children are on the same journey just at different stages. They are each learning things for their respective level of development. Dr. Tsabary says,
“Only to the degree we as parents are attuned to our being will we know how to help our children attune themselves to their unique essence.”
What this means is that just as we are our own individuals with our own “issues,” our children have their own salient developmental tasks. And the degree to which we recognize how our own issues can affect the way we parent will impact the degree to which our children will become aware of their teachings. For example, Dr. Tsabary provides one example of how our own parental issues can impact our perception of our child’s behavior. Anya and her daughter, Jessica, came into therapy because Anya was concerned about her daughter’s recent rebellion: lying, stealing, clubbing, and smoking. Through therapy, Anya realized that she sent Jessica messages of how to fight through life with control, responsibility, but without emotion. She never learned how to communicate and have a reciprocal relationship with her mother. As the home became more controlling, Jessica’s behavior worsened.
“Instead of seeing Jessica’s rebellion as a cry for help, she interpreted it as undermining her role as a parent.”
So often we misinterpret the signs. It’s easy for us to judge other people, especially our children, and say what is good and bad. We see the alcoholic and ask ourselves what they are doing with their life. However, as a former addict and current addiction expert, Seth Jaffe, spoke about Philip Seymour Hoffman,
“A lot of people think the problem for Philip Seymour Hoffman was drugs. It wasn’t – That was his solution to his problem.”
How often do we look at the problem and not see it as a solution? It’s easier for us to see it as the problem because seeing it as the solution would mean that we would have to correctly identify the problem. That’s particularly difficult because the problem isn’t always on display. It’s often internal. This is all part of the “conscious” approach to parenting. Let us be more mindful and think more carefully about our parenting views.article continues after advertisement
There are layers to Dr. Tsabary’s words and I’m only beginning her insights towards parenting. However, as I continue reading the book and hopefully share more on the site, I hope we can begin a conversation about consciousness. How can we become more aware in our lives? Can we see what the solution and what the problem is and correctly identify each one? What’s one small step you can take to a more conscious existence? Your family, friends, and children will thank you for it.