Are You Unconsciously Ruining Your Kids? (A Little Eastern Philosophy May Help)
Are you a conscious parent? If you’re thinking no, because you’ve been sleep deprived and/or operating in an overwhelmed, zombie-like state for several years now, that’s not exactly what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the kind of consciousness and mindfulness that lets you see how your own conditioning may be playing out, most likely negatively, in your parenting style. I'm talking about being mindful of how your past may be clashing with your present. Or more dangerously, your child's present.
It’s exactly what Dr. Shefali Tsabary, author of The Conscious Parent, says is the missing element is modern parenting. A mom of an eight-year-old daughter, Shefali was born in India, and later studied in the U.S. and has always been passionate about integrating psychology and eastern philosophy.
Shefali and I met over the summer through a mutual friend, and I was instantly intrigued by her concepts. I mean, I think I’m a conscious parent—one who’s thought about how I was raised, one who’s spent time (and money) dealing with my issues, and one who deliberately tries not to bring any “bad” childhood baggage or "bad" learned adult behavior into my parenting. Of course, this all works well until it fails miserably—especially when the kids have ticked me off.
But Shefali says the problem with modern parenting goes deeper. And wider. In fact, for her the problem starts with the historical parent-child paradigm. She says the current model is based on a hierarchal pedestal, where the child is a “product” of sorts, to be created, shaped and formed into something great—something that actually reflects the parents. To be truly successful parents, Shefali says we need to lose the concepts of power, control and dominance that are the backdrop of modern parenting, and see ourselves as co-learners with our children.
This was sobering news to my “mama don’t take too much mess” mentality.
“Why have children, if you really want puppets?” she asks.
Well, what if you want part-time children and part-time puppets??? (just kidding. I mean puppets are very entertaining!...)
Instead, mutual kinship and spiritual partnership should be the focus, according to the principles of conscious parenting.
Meanwhile (and to me, most importantly), parents have to deal with their own issues, their own conditioning-- how we engage with the world, how we look at our self and others, and see what we are bringing into our parenting style. This conditioning may or may not work for your child.
For example, Shefali shares the story of a young girl who has come into a therapy session with her mother and complains that she is not pretty or popular. Her mother, based on her own conditioning, quickly offers to take the girl to get highlights, get a new haircut, and buy new clothes, thinking she is helping the child. But instead, Shefali says the mother has actually perpetuated the low self esteem by fostering the idea that how she looked would determine how she felt, instead of fostering the conviction that you are not what you look like. The mother could have helped the daughter develop a deeper inner sense of being despite cultural expectations, but did just the opposite.
It’s just one example, Shefali says of how our own conditioning can subtly and quickly take a child one way or another. As a result many of us are passing on an inheritance of psychological pain and emotional shallowness. Then we get bad behavior, Shefali says, and a slew of parenting books with clever techniques but only quick fixes for a deep dysfunction.
Throughout her years as a licensed psychotherapist (she’s still in private practice in Great Neck, New York), Shefali sees parents making two big mistakes:
- Living with your fantasy child. Shefali says most parents are dealing with the child of their fantasy, not the child they actually have.
- Falling prey to what society determines as barometers of success, such as grades, status symbols and zip codes, and not teaching other internal indicators of success such as resilience, inner goodness and the ability to connect with others and the world.
I can’t argue with that.
Parents owe it to their children to be more mindful of how they view racism, how they view love, how they view money, how they tolerate their emotions, how they are in the world--not just academic or athletic success--and taking that very seriously, Shefali says. “These are the things that have a long term impact.”
I can’t argue with that either. I may be one step closer to conscious parenting after all.
How about you?