written by: Cortney Ricks, CSW
I am a parenting book junkie. I have way too many parenting books but can’t bear to part with them because I refer back to them often! I am also a child therapist and a mother of 3 little ones. I’m in the throes of parenting my own children right now and also helping other people with their children. We all know that parenting is not for the faint of heart and parenting done right is dang hard work. I mean DANG HARD! That’s why I love parenting books. They give me little tricks and tips and also hope that I can do this wonderful, beautifully rewarding and hard job! I love to reread the great parenting books every few years and be reminded of all the things I forgot I’m supposed to be doing (yep, I’m a child therapist and parenting is dang hard for me too)! I’m actually really careful about the parenting books I read. I can tell right away if it’s going to be helpful or just make me feel like a bad mom. Recently, I came across one of the best (if not The Best, in my humble opinion) parenting book. The name of the book is The Conscious Parent by Shefali Tsabary. It’s not the typical parenting book with tips and tricks on how to make it through difficult moments with children. Those books are great, and let’s be honest, we have to have tips and tricks to get through difficult moments with our children, but this book goes a lot deeper and gets to the root of our parenting problems. I want to share with you some of the things I learned about parenting while reading her book and add some things that I’ve observed and learned while working as a child therapist for the last ten years.
When I talk to other parents about what they want for their child (or what outcome they would like to see as result of their child going to therapy), most parents answer with, “I just want my child to be happy.” That sounds reasonable, right? But what if happiness wasn’t our goal for our children. What if instead of wanting our children to be “happy” we hoped and wished instead for them to Know Themselves, to understand who they truly were as a unique individual. And because of this knowledge, they were able to still have joy and peace in difficult moments. What if our wish for them was that they could handle the crap that life throws at us sometimes? That they could ride the so-called wave of life, including the disappointments and failures along with the successes and achievements and still come out on the other side of all that as the person who they were born as? That beautiful little soul that hadn’t yet been tainted by the world or told who or what they were supposed to be. What if our children were nurtured in a way that they just felt comfortable existing in their own skin and knew that they didn’t need to prove anything to anyone – that they were of worth and value just for existing? What if this was our wish for them?
The biggest “a-ha” parenting moment I have ever had was when I truly realized that my child is not “mine”- that he is William, a beautiful soul. I of course have a responsibility as his parent to “parent” him, but I realized that I sometimes put my own desires (baggage) on him when I am parenting. I also came to understand that my job is to nurture, guide, and love unconditionally and NOT to make him into something I think he should or could be. That is his job – to eventually recognize his own uniqueness and embrace that uniqueness. Children our not ours to make what we want of them.
Sometimes, when children don’t “act” or “perform” in life the way that we want them to, we unconsciously punish them for it. Here’s a great example from yours truly. Almost 8 years ago, when my son was very young, I took him to his pediatrician’s appointment. I was so proud of my beautiful curly-haired boy who knew his alphabet, not to mention the planets, names of all the dinosaurs, etc. etc. He was smart and my ego was dang proud of that and boy was my ego enjoying this phase of parenting when my son was all things I thought he “should” be. I was planning on a normal pediatric checkup where the doc could do her routine and I could brag all about my son. Well let’s just say that he had a different plan, other than gratifying his mama’s ego. In his young mind, he thought it would be funny to do everything I wouldn’t want him to do in the office. “Horrible” things like not recite his alphabet when I asked him to, tickle the doctor, run around the office and dump out the toys, rip the paper off of the chair instead of sitting still! Well, I was embarrassed (to say the least). I can fully acknowledge that my ego was in charge this day. Instead of going home and teaching my son lovingly about how to act in a doctor’s office, I screamed at him and put him in time-out. Looking back, I realize this had nothing to do with him and his behavior. He wasn’t doing anything “terrible”. He was acting like a child and it was my job to help him learn gradually and lovingly how to act in public. Instead I let the incident at the doctor’s office become all about me and my needy ego.
Our egos talk to us all day long, telling us “this shouldn’t be happening,” “this should be happening,” “my child is not what they should be at this point in life,” “I am failing at parenting,” “my children are failing,” etc. These are not problems. This is just life. In her book, Shefali says, “Life doesn’t happen to us, it happens with us. “Sometimes things are great, sometimes they’re not and sometimes it’s a mix with our children. The problem is that we are parenting unconsciously. We are putting our baggage, our insecurities, our plan, and our so called-failures onto our children. In other words, our EGO is parenting and we are unconscious to it.
We carry a lot of baggage around as parents from our own childhood and the way we were raised. I think most of have said at some point before we had children, “my child will never act like that. I will never say that to my child. My child will never go through what I went through as a child.” etc. Unfortunately, what most of us don’t’ realize before we have children is that children come with their own little personality (soul, spirit, etc.). Shefali says, “We don’t realize it, but most of the time when we think we are responding to our children, we are reacting to the pieces of ourselves that our children have internalized. Unable to separate our emotions from theirs, and unable to be objective and rational, we are in reality identifying with something in our own past. In this rather complicated psychological process, we unintentionally squelch our children’s ability to be who they are.”
Now please know that I’m not talking about children running the show. That’s called permissive or laissez -faire parenting and it’s not healthy for children. In fact, children NEED boundaries and healthy rules in order to discover their true selves. I’m talking about something different here – something a little deeper. Our children need to be raised and nurtured in a way that they know that no matter what, they are loved and accepted. No matter what profession they choose, you are ok with it. No matter what sport they decide to play, you are happy to cheer them on. No matter what their hair looks like, they see their beauty reflected in your eyes. Our children need to look at us and know that they are ok.
Oh it’s hard, I know. I make mistakes on a daily basis. I have ego problems with my daughter’s hair. She likes it down. I like it up because, “she doesn’t look like she has a mom,” when her hair is down (or so my ego tells me). We have fought about her hair for years until finally one day, I thought, “SHE IS BEAUTIFUL.” This isn’t about you. She likes her hair down. It’s her hair. Let her be. The fight ended. Again, I have to say I’m not talking about rules and boundaries that keep our children safe and healthy. I’m talking about our parenting egos. My daughter’s hair was definitely about my own ego and stuff that I need to work through.
So where do we start? How can we be better at accepting our children for who they are instead of trying to make them into what we believe they should be? Well, first go read Shefali’s book! It’s awesome and you won’t regret it. And the long hard answer is that we need to work on ourselves and be aware of our own “stuff “as we parent. And during all of this introspection and journey to become a better parent, remember to breathe, be still, listen, repeat. You will start to become aware of the little thoughts that float into your head and the ones you choose to listen to in order to gratify your own ego. Become aware and more aware until you are parenting consciously. It will take time and more time. You will make mistakes. Forgive yourself. Your child will begin to notice. When we start to become conscious and aware and start to work on our own stuff, we put less of that stuff onto our children. When we choose this brave and vulnerable route of parenting, our children can start to blossom into their own beautiful selves. Parenting is truly a humbling and beautiful gift.