The Conscious Parent by Shefali Tsabary--An Introduction
“It’s no surprise we fail to tune into our children’s essence. How can we listen to them, when so many of us barely listen to ourselves? How can we feel their spirit and hear the beat of their heart if we can’t do this in our own life?” Shefali Tsabary
One of the first books I picked up at the beginning of my transition was The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children by Shefali Tsabary.
Shefali and I first met (figuratively, of course!) when I was in full throttle "panic mode" as to how John and I could possibly parent our children, in the wake of feeling more and more disconnected with the teachings of our LDS faith. That idea seems strange now--but at that time, we felt like if we did not have the church in our lives--our children would be in grave danger. I began my journey into making sure that John and I would be up to the task. Just to be clear, conscious parenting works well with religion too, so it is quite versatile and lovely that way. I am just sharing how I came upon it.
Shefali Tsabary stepped in and provided me my first glimmer of hope with the idea that our children are not empty vessels--devoid of a sense of conscience or morality. No. They are not little "tabula rasas" that we must fill in with our personal parental agendas. Rather, our children come fully equipped with an innate sense of goodness that will enable them to move through the world. While they may be young in experience, they are also able and ready. Our children naturally desire to be compassionate. And giving. They long to give voice to their own dreams. Dreams that exist quite separately from our own for them. What a shift for me!
And so, our major responsibility as parents is to tend to our own growing up. To create an atmosphere where we are conscious of the values we hold dear and seek to embody them. We awaken through our relationship with our children to the wounds that lie underneath the surface that sabotage our own growth. And then, we seek to heal them. Sounds like a tall order, yes? Deep breaths!
As an aside--did you know this book has a preface written by the Dalai Lama? Can you imagine having that kind of endorsement? Eckhart Tolle and Marianne Williamson also provide raving reviews. As nice as that is, I value my own experience with ideas. And I find much of what Shefali says to be worth considering. Is it for everyone? Nope. Cause nothing is. And I am the last person to prescribe anything in entirety. This included.
This book is foundational in approach. What does that mean? It is largely philosophical. It provides the underlying layer as to WHY conscious parenting is worth considering as an alternative to the authoritative style of raising children. And it happens to be quite focused on parents. That alone may make this NOT work for some of you. Now, Shefali Tsabary has two other books that I have also read. They delve into more specific situations with parenting. I was so ready for this-- as I am practical, practical, practical. If you are practical like me--you will likely enjoy Out of Control: Why Disciplining Your Children Doesn't Work and What Will a bit more, along with The Awakened Family.
But for now. Let's stick with The Conscious Parent.
I will share a few of my favorite ideas from the book. That way, you can get a sense for the conscious parenting approach and if it might be something that would work for you.
Reactivity versus Responding in Awareness. Think of reactivity as the way we respond to a situation with our child when we are on automatic. We aren't thinking about it. It is like when we touch a hot burner and recoil suddenly to protect ourselves. Our child says something rude or dismissive, and we are sent reeling. We feel, feel, feel. We may feel agitated, angry, or disrespected. We react. Period. Think of reacting as natural--but problematic. In contrast, when we are aware of ourselves, we tend to see the situation more fully. We are more apt to take responsibility for ourselves. We connect to our own wounds or triggers and we can usually see how what we feel is more about us than our children. It isn't that rudeness is acceptable but we aren't emotionally reactive in the moment. We are wise. And we can see a situation from our children's perspective--wondering if they are tired, feeling criticized, or controlled. From this place, we inhabit a world of choices. For example, we can choose to connect with our child instead of lose control of ourselves. Reactivity prohibits a choice. And it indicates a wound of sorts (in us) that in turn creates unnecessary hurt in our child.
Control versus Connection. Yes. We can set up rules and consequences all day long. I was so good at this. I love me some structure! It makes me feel safe. I wasn't actually safe because there is really no such thing. Unless our children feel honored and seen for who they are-- too much control may make our children less likely to share the parts of themselves that are wholly human. That don't fall in line. Often, children create two selves then. The one that the world sees and the one that lives in the dark. Not exactly what we are going for! In addition, control can make it challenging for our children to know their own voices in their lives. To be authentic. Why? They don't have practice. They have only learned to obey. To look outside themselves for answers. They aren't sure what they think. How they feel. And if they do choose to rebel and exercise their own will (say as a teen), shame often ensues and debilitates their psyches. Most of us would agree that we desire for our children to connect deeply with themselves so that they can grow up to honor themselves. Connection-based parenting allows for our children to voice their feelings and negotiate their desires with a guarantee of being respected and heard. It does not mean we give them everything they ask for--but it does mean that we care and give our children a "buy in" and some space to author their own lives. We talk about what matters to THEM. What THEY value. I love this principle!
Discipline versus Enlightened Values. What we mean when we speak of discipline can be little more than an expression of our desire to control our children's behavior and justify our own tantrumming (pretty sure that is NOT a word) when we fail to do so. We treat our children in ways we would never want to be treated. We ( I am absolutely 100% guilty of this madness) may take away their phones at the drop of a hat. Ground them from the happy places in their lives for doing some of the very things we are guilty of doing ourselves (Forget something ever? On your phone a bit too much? Late for an appointment? Grumpy and rude to those you love?). Enlightened values are proactive (instead of reactive) and they honor the child. They are strategic and always tie into the exact situation at hand. Our consequences can be so insanely arbitrary at times. We feel so desperate in the moment so we may lash out in whatever way comes to us. Many people mistake conscious parenting for a lack of accountability or structure altogether-- but this is not true. The structure is birthed from a mutual journey that includes the child in the process. Embodiment is huge here. Embodiment is the extent to which we are living the value or behavior we are asking of our child. It is the first place we look when desiring a different experience with our child. Do we require our children to be on time while we are often late? Do we act harshly with regard to their phone use when we are usually staring at our phones too? Are we short tempered or disrespectful to their views and desires while demanding respect for ourselves?
If you have resonated with the ideas I have shared from the book, you may just want to try it. You can also watch Shefali's Ted Talk here. She has been interviewed by Oprah several times, so you can also google that.
Conscious parenting is an art rather than a science. Perfection is not the goal. The process is the point--and our children are in many ways--our teachers. Parenting has been the spiritual journey of my life. So fulfilling. And heartbreaking. Ruthless. And forgiving. I am so grateful that conscious parenting is one of the tools in my toolbox.
What are your thoughts about all of this? What is a tool that has been helpful to you in your parenting journey?