Read more Expanded Views on Parenting.
In May of 2014, I was sitting on the couch getting ready to watch Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday show. I didn’t know the person she was interviewing, but it was about parenting, so I was interested.
Before I knew it, I had tears streaming down my face. I’d been so caught up in the interview that 15 minutes had passed. I was mesmerized by this woman who was speaking my parenting language.
She was talking about awareness, attunement, connection, consciousness. She was suggesting that we move away from fixing and changing our kids and instead really trying to understand them, hear them, and support them in becoming who they are meant to be. She was talking about how much the way we were parented and the messages we received as a child impacts the way we parent our children today.
This interview was with Dr. Shefali Tsabary, author of The Conscious Parent, Out of Control, and The Awakened Family (just released May 31st, 2016, and the catalyst for this blog post).
I continued to listen — Dr. Shefali was describing how I had been practicing parenting for the prior 4 years.
I just kept shaking my head — yes, yes, yes.
I had already been trying to understand the needs and feelings behind my kids’ actions — when they were dragging their feet as we were trying to get out the door for school, I was able to empathize with their desire to stay home and be lazy all day. I was already learning to shift from trying to control my kids and their behaviors into understanding and controlling my own behavior and reactions. I was fully on board with the idea that life happens for me (not to me) and that everyone and everything is my teacher – especially my kids. I was working on “loving what is” as I was learning from Byron Katie’s work.
While listening, I felt extremely grateful for my stellar therapist and mentor who had been helping me to use all of my triggers, fears, reactions, judgments, beliefs, and stories to wake up out of my unconscious stupor and into consciousness.
Dr. Shefali’s approach validated the way I was intuitively drawn to parent my kids. And I now had someone to learn from so I could go deeper and grow more.
At its core, Conscious Parenting views the parent-child relationship as the pathway for the parent to heal from their pasts, grow up, and wake up. When we do that, our kids can become free from our pasts and from the shackles of our fears and anxieties and can grow into who they are here to be. And we find true liberation and empowerment in our lives. It’s a win:win for everyone!
The Awakened Family
This is a complete paradigm shift for most parents.
Most of us were raised in a home where the parents were in control and in charge and the kids were to listen and obey. Many parents have shifted away from that dominant paradigm, but perhaps into more contemporary methods such as timeouts, rewards, threats and bribes. Both are short term solutions and are an attempt to control our kids and their behaviors so they won’t trigger us. It comes from the concept that if the “kids would just do what I say, I wouldn’t get so mad.”
Here is a real example of how I would have handled a situation with my son in the past (or even now when I am triggered and unconscious):
This weekend, my husband and I discussed going out to dinner at a local restaurant that doesn’t take reservations and gets crowded with a long wait by 5:30. At 5:45 when we realized we were still hanging around, my husband called and they said that there was only a 20-minute wait so we had to go now.
My husband jumped up and tried to rally everyone. My older son was digging his heels in: “I don’t want to go. I’m tired, I just want to eat here. No one told me we were going out to dinner (true). I just don’t want to.”
So, I told him to get his shoes on and get in the car. I told him “Stop complaining — there are people who are starving and don’t even get dinner and you’re complaining about being taken out to dinner? What a rough life you have. Seriously kiddo, it’s time to get a grip. Get off your phone, get your shoes on and get in the car or else I will take your phone away for the night. Got it?”
He starts to interrupt and tell me that he as a sore throat. I tell him, “Well, you have to eat, so let’s go and I’m sure you’ll feel better.” He pushes back again, and I walk over and take the phone out of his hand and tell him that his phone is gone for the night.
He starts crying and getting upset. I tell him to get in the car if he wants his phone back tomorrow morning.
He’s still teary but he gets his shoes on, slams the door, gets in the car and mopes all through dinner.
Sound familiar? I’ve done plenty of this kind of reacting – resorting to threats and punishment. But on that night, here’s how I actually DID handle it:
As soon as my son starts digging his heels and and complaining …
I look up and see him. He looks bummed. I remember that he had been out for a while during the day and had only just recently sat on the couch to chill out. He was looking like he was so happy to just be relaxed on the couch playing Madden Mobile.
I first notice my desire to just leave right away. And I notice that I am feeling pressure from my husband. I know he would like to just take charge and say, “We are all going and that’s that.” I feel a little caught in the middle and was wishing he would just cooperate. But I realize that taking just a few extra minutes will preserve my relationship with my son and might even work better than trying to control the situation. I feel a little frustrated and impatient but not too bad. I know he’s feeling annoyed and a little caught off guard.
I walk over and say, “Hey bud, geez, I just realized that wasn’t very fair of us. We forgot to tell you we were going out and then sprung it on you. You probably had it in your mind that we were in for the night, and we just disrupted your plan. Daddy and I really want to go to this restaurant and if we want to go, we have to leave now so the wait isn’t too long. Would you be willing to just get ready quickly so we can get there soon?”
His response was “No, I don’t want to go. I don’t want to wait for even 20 minutes. I’m too tired and I just want to stay here.” I said “I hear you, you want to stay here and just hang. You don’t want to wait for even 20 minutes, and if it’s longer that would be worse. Honestly, I don’t want to wait either, but I do want to try out this restaurant. How about we bring some cards and we can kill the time playing BS?” He said, “No, I really just don’t want to go.”
I felt the impulse to be dominant and just demand that he do as I say. I’m thinking, “What am I going to do? I want him to come but I also am not going to resort to force … it’s not that important.” I wanted to just say, “Come on … get your shoes on and let’s go or else…” But I didn’t. I had to release my attachment to a specific outcome.
I said, “Hey, I hear you. If you really don’t want to go, I guess it’d be okay if you stay home. You’d have to make your own dinner, but I understand. I want you to come and wish you would, but if you want to stay home it’s okay. But if you want to come with us, we have to go now. What do you think?”
At this point, he feels released from my agenda. Suddenly, he is able to make his own decision. He’s conflicted — he wants to stay but doesn’t want to miss out. He concedes, seems really okay with it, and it ends up that we all had a great time. It’s true that we missed our window at our preferred restaurant (the wait had gone up to 60+ minutes by the time we got there), but we accepted the “as-is” and found another restaurant. When we got home we realized he had a sore throat and was getting a cold which explains part of why he wanted to stay home.
Conscious Parenting focuses on the dynamics that create the behavior in the first place.
Each time our child is pushing back, acting out, or otherwise doing something that causes us discomfort, it’s simply an opportunity for us to look within. And to examine our kids’ needs and feelings BENEATH the behavior—which gives us an incredible opportunity to strengthen our bonds with our kids because we are able to get beyond our own egos (and agendas) and into true connection.
Conscious Parenting allows us to meet our kids with empathy and do our own work to heal and grow up. Once we change, our kids naturally shift — it’s not a quick fix or one specific tool, but it’s real change that happens over time (and faster than you might think). As we address our fears and anxieties and bring them into our conscious awareness for examination, we free our kids from the shackles of our pasts.
Today, see where this is true for you:
What is your child mirroring for you?
If this resonates and YOU want to turn your parenting upside-down and inside-out, schedule a FREE exploratory session with me here.