As I read The Conscious Parent by Shefali Tsabary, PhD, I reflected as a clinical social worker/family therapist, as a daughter, as a wife, as a step-mother, and as a mother… my roles and my close relationships.
In the past when I have done family therapy, the main objective was never to “fix” the child. Most times, the whole family was hurting and the parents needed to heal before the child could then themselves heal. Advocating for this personal work on the part of the parents was the hardest part of my job. Looking at ourselves… our own triggers… our own wounds from the past and how they may be affecting our current relationships… that’s hard haaaaard hard work. Parents of children who are acting out and struggling would rather a step-by-step guide in how to “handle” their child and support from a therapist while executing the steps, versus look at themselves. That was NOT what I did as a family therapist… and that is NOT what this book is about. There are no quick fixes in this book. There are no techniques. It is not a how-to manual of parenting.
This book is a philosophy.
“This approach takes the relationship between parent and child as it is, then introduces the element of awareness. In other words, conscious parenting uses ordinary, moment-by-moment engagement with our children to foster authentic connection. Because this approach is highly relational, it can’t be packaged like a prescription. Rather, as stated earlier, it’s a life philosophy, which means that each lesson is intrinsically connected to every other lesson, so that nothing stands apart, isolated from the fabric of the family unit.”
Shefali Tsabary, PhD
There was SO much lovely guidance in this book… I’m going to try my best to capture what was meaningful to me. I definitely recommend running out and buying this book. Not only do I feel it’s important for parents, but for all of us to engage in ego work.
Observe thy ego
Parenting from a conscious state means being AWARE of ourselves: our egos, our triggers and our needs that we may be attempting to fulfill through our children. We unknowingly may impose our own agenda onto our child, thereby holding their true spirit down vs uplifting it. How do we tune into our children’s essence when we can’t even tune into ourselves?
So, what is our “ego”? Shefali proposes that our ego is NOT our true selves, but a picture of ourselves that we hold in our own heads. This picture may be a far way off from our essential being.
“”Ego” as I’m using the term is an artificial sense of ourselves. It’s an idea we have about ourselves based mostly on other people’s opinions. It’s the person we have come to believe we are and think of ourselves as. This self-image is layered over who we truly are in our essence. Once our self-image has formed in childhood, we tend to hold onto it for dear life.” Shefali Tsabary, PhD
Ego isn’t bad nor good. It just is. It was helpful in our development, but now as adults and parents, it is time to shed our ego and allow our true selves to emerge. How wonderful that our children can help us with this transformation! Tuning into our children, tuning into our own emotional reactivity, tuning into our expectations and hopes for our children can help us tune into our unconscious ego. Conscious parenting is about letting go of control, letting go of parenting being hierarchical, and breaking free of power struggles. It’s about a circular parent-child dynamic, a partnership of learning and higher consciousness. Letting go of control does not mean we become permissive as parents, we still teach appropriate containment of behaviours and emotions for our children with a warm but firm hand.
“As our children show us our way back to our own essence, they become our greatest awakeners.” Shefali Tsabary, PhD
Honor thy child
I ask myself often – Who will Dottie be? I have no preconceived notions of who this little person may become… at least I don’t think so? We will see as time goes on!
JW and I love to revel in who Dottie appears to be now, and will continue to do so on a daily basis, attempting to honor who she is moment to moment. We work hard as parents to guide Dottie in positive ways: exposing her to many different social situations by traveling with her and spending time out in our community, enjoying meals and healthy foods as a family, and providing structure around sleep times. I’m working terribly hard to not attach myself to what I perceive as her “positive attributes”: she is warm, social, patient, she enjoys a variety of food, and she sleeps well through the night. Though we play an active role within our relationship with Dottie, I try not to take “credit” for who she is… I attempt to simply bask in her light, feeling deep enjoyment and gratitude in her presence.
Presently, my own ego and unconscious is challenged more in my step-parenting role with Jack than with Dottie. Jack and I have lived together with his father since he was 15 years old; he’s now 19. He’s lovely. Our first year together was rocky, each of us trying hard to connect with the other, figuring out our roles and boundaries. JW did an amazing job at facilitating us three becoming a family – consulting with me regarding parenting, having important family talks with Jack and I both present, and always coming at parenting and our family from an attachment lens by prioritizing the relationships (even if he didn’t realize it or have that language at the time). Jack also was amazing that year, being open to allowing me into his life even though it was uncomfortable and strange. Though he was hurting from his original family structure no longer existing, he maintained an open heart with me. He continues embracing our new branch of his family to this day, including myself and his new little sister. I admire and love him deeply for that.
The Conscious Parent talks about the teenage years and how challenging they can be. Typically the parenting relationship prior to adolescence truly sets the tone for how it will go in these years. I wasn’t around for Jack’s childhood, so this was all the more confusing. Jack is a person separate from JW and I. We’ve actually had family talks in how different he is in many ways from us – he’s more introverted, we tend to be quite extroverted; he tends to sit back and allow friendships and social plans come to him versus pursuing them like I do; JW and I are doers, constantly having projects and goals on the go whereas Jack’s aspirations are perhaps more internal and less obvious.
The Conscious Parent had me exploring my hopes and expectations around Jack and his future. I asked myself, “When I’m feeling concerned for Jack’s future and possible achievements or failures, what does that say about ME?” “When I’m frustrated with Jack, what is being triggered within me? Where does THAT come from?” I truly want to honor who Jack is and who he is becoming. This can be difficult at times when he’s a typical adolescent boy, as he can be quiet and I don’t get to be privy to his internal world. Part of me wants/needs to KNOW to be able to understand and accept him… But that’s not my privilege at this time. JW and I will continue to provide guidance, as our parenting role has not come to end in Jack’s life… and I will continue to work on my own emotional triggers, my own ego, and honor his light – whatever that light may be.
Embrace thy emotions and break free of thy unconscious
Most of us were not taught in our own upbringing to simply observe our emotions and to embrace them, therefore it’s quite difficult to do so as adults. It also means it is incredibly hard for us to teach our own children how to sit with their emotions, honor them, feel them, and contain them versus react. To teach we must first learn.
I have been on a journey of self-discovery since struggling with depression in my early twenties. This fascination with my own inner world, as well as the inner world of others, led me to majoring in psychology. After graduating with my BA, I was lucky enough to learn from the best, working as a support worker for three years with wonderful people in the community living with mental illness. While some of my clients truly struggled with their illness, others flourished in their communities in a way that only you and I could hope for. This was my first lesson regarding mental wellness – one can have a mental illness and be WELL, while another may not be diagnostically mentally ill but still be UNWELL.
My education in social work, then working as a social worker, continued my path which I now recognize as ego work. I first had to learn to tune into my body, to feel and acknowledge my physiological reactions to life (either shutting down or nervously revving up). Then I had to learn a more thorough emotional vocabulary to label and acknowledge my emotions. Now I continue to delve deep to understand and accept where my strong emotions may stem from (childhood, important relationships, societal messages). I still get strong WHOOSHES of emotion, especially in response to those closest to me – JW, Jack, my mother… I continue to do my best to honor my feelings while attempting not to spiral into reactivity, allowing my family to be my guide to my unconscious. As Dottie grows and our relationship may challenge me, I hope that I can remain open to questioning my part in our potential clashes and continue my path to consciousness.
“Consciousness isn’t a state to arrive at, a destination. After we become conscious, it doesn’t mean we experience no more moments of unconscious. Rather, living consciously is an ongoing process.” Shefali Tsabary, PhD
Revel in your child’s ordinariness
Oh goodness. This one is a biggie. Even as a baby, I look to Dottie for what may be exceptionalism. I look to other babies and see where they are developmentally and I compare… I contrast… Many of Dottie’s peers have been crawling for some time and are now taking their first steps. Dottie loves to sit and explore in a precise manner, focusing on her fine motor skills. Crawling has JUST truly begun and walking is likely far off. As I said before, I attempt not to revel in what I perceive as talents or positive attributes. I also try not to be distracted in areas where she is average or perhaps under-performing. How complicated this journey is!
As I have said in many blog posts prior to this one, I am myself quite ordinary. I enjoy many activities, but do not necessarily excel at any. Meanwhile, I have a husband who seems to be quite exceptional at all things… darn him! It can be frustrating living with someone with such talent. It’s also inspiring. He appears to be extraordinary in many areas as he has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and creativity, which has led to his dabbling in many areas for many years… practice makes perfect! (well, not perfect, but perhaps better than others who never tried at all). My hope is to explore the world with Dottie in every aspect, not deterred by if we are any “good” at things… but for the sheer joy of it all! I will revel in her ordinariness as I revel in my own.There is so much to learn… about myself, and therefore about myself as a parent. Mostly, I just want to treasure every moment with Dottie and honor her in a way that allows her to be whomever she will be! It’s a lifelong journey I’m willing to explore.
I could go on and on regarding this book. It gives wonderful examples of how one’s ego can get in the way of one’s parenting… some of them I thought, “Nope that’s not me!” Other examples I thought, “Yup! There I am!”
Get out there and read this book!
Until next time!
Read, Write, Grow