Parenting is the toughest, most challenging, soul-threshing job there is. It forces you to bring your best self to the table. Even if you resist, the challenges serve as opportunities for you to take Life up on its offering in the most amazing package: your child. Who knew? I certainly did not when I started out! Deciding on a parenting style and/or strategy can be complex, especially if you differ from your spouse or maybe you do not want to repeat patterns you experienced with your own parents. Even if you do not have children of your own, you may play an integral role in a child’s life. However you touch the life of a child, my hope is that this article will serve as an opening for further reading and conversation. Maybe it will speak to a knowing inside of you that has always been there, but did not have a voice, until now.
As my son enters the tween years of middle school, and I feel myself floundering a bit in this uncharted territory, I came across the ground-breaking book “The Conscious Parent” by Dr. Shefali Tsabary. Its taking me a while to get through it as her ideas are deep and take some time to sink in. Yet, the basis of what she talks about has been percolating within me for the past several years as I have gone deeper into my own personal work and continue to evolve in my experience as “Mom.” Since picking it up, I have recommended it to every parent I encounter. I truly believe it is a responsible philosophy.
As no one gets a manual when becoming a parent, Dr. Tsabary provides an important reminder of where to keep your focus as you navigate the incredibly muddy waters of life with your child(ren). Each one unique, just as you are your own unique being, your children are here to teach you just as much as you are here to guide and teach them. As I come to understand the concept of conscious parenting there is actually a more mutual learning experience, indeed a spiritual opportunity, within the parent/child relationship that has never really been discussed before. Each role has its place, but the opportunities to learn and grow are just as vast from both perspectives.
I believe we come into our lives to learn and to do our personal “work” so that we can heal and develop our soul to become more clear in its purpose here in this time. Every person and experience we encounter serve as a guide along our journey. Yes, even and especially the most challenging folks and times. Fortunately or unfortunately, you have a choice whether or not you want to accept the gifts that come to grow you, or you can choose to live in victim energy, blame, resentment, or powerlessness. Recognize that Life is neutral; its not trying to make you miserable, it just is. This “as is-ness” as Dr. Tsabary puts it, frees you to see your life and your children through a new lens.
Rather than taking his/her behavior personally, what would happen if you saw it as just “is?” From that space, might you be able to lessen your reactivity, make a more clear decision about the next step, or stay in touch with the bigger message in your child’s behavior? How about coming to see what in your child triggers your own unhealed childhood wounds and opens up an opportunity for your own healing as you learn to manage the anxiety that seems to sometimes manage you? What may you need to learn or stretch in yourself as a result? Hmmmmm. That way of thinking opens a space for change and also for a much more authentic relationship with your child.
You are human. The role of “parent” is not and should not be equated with “all-knowing superhero.” Even when your children attempt to put you there. If you attempt to inhabit such an unrealistic way of being, you will set yourself up for a lot of trouble. This egoic reasoning makes way too much room for the shadows of perfectionism, superiority, righteousness, control-freak, and neediness to dominate your relationship with your children. If you aren’t yet able to recognize your own shadows, just wait, at some point your child will serve up that awareness on a silver platter through their own struggles and choices.
For example, if you struggle with boundaries or co-dependency, you may focus on pleasing your children or “making them happy” so that you can be happy and everybody is happy. This sends the message that your happiness is conditioned on the state of your child’s emotions. This disables them from being able to show their true emotions. Then, the “seemingly happy child” transforms into an unruly teenager who is always yelling at you to get out of their business and to stop focusing on them!!
In this example, your teenager (or tween, or toddler, etc.) is here now to help you learn an important lesson of co-dependency: you must learn to take care of your own emotions and realize that the only person you are completely in charge of is you. He or she teaches you that the only way to have a real relationship is to back up and take good care of yourself. Although it doesn’t always feel good in the moment, and you may not be focused on your own life lesson when your child is demonstrating rebellious, dangerous, or otherwise concerning actions, their behavior has a message for you. And when you can become clear about what YOU can change in your behavior, the pressure may just ease up off of your child who may begin to come around as well.
I encourage all of you to read “The Conscious Parent.” If there is a child anywhere in your life: your own, a niece or nephew, grandchild, step-child, cousins, a child you mentor, students or your best friend’s children, you can benefit from reading this book. As we are all teachers, you do not necessarily have to be directly in the role of parent to realize the greater purpose of showing up for each other, no matter what our age. Start a greater conversation about looking at our relationships in a new way. Happy reading!