Whatever our background or beliefs, many of us are beginning to develop an interest in living a more ‘conscious’ life ~ that is, a life based in present moment awareness, appreciation and authenticity. In this article, Neil Seligman examines what it takes to be a ‘conscious parent’ and explains why it is worth the effort!
1. Parent From a Space of Authentic Humanity
From ‘ANTHEM’ by Leonard Cohen
Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in…
Whatever you do as a parent, every child will come to believe these three illusions at some stage in their development:
1) I am different.
2) There is something wrong with me.
3) I am alone.
So we might say that the aim of parenting is not to demonstrate perfection or to protect children from encountering the illusions, but to reveal our own humanity, so that when they meet these trials they have everything they need to meet the challenge.
Here are three practical suggestions to parent from a space of authentic humanity:
1) Genuinely welcome failure as a rich source of learning and inspiration.
2) Teach children that it is safe to experience difficult emotions (like the ‘weather of the soul’). The trick is to feel emotions fully and express them in words, movement or art. Tell your children when you feel sad or upset so that they feel comfortable doing the same.
3) Introduce the idea that pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. Pain is a neutral energy that we all must experience whereas suffering is the story about the pain eg. “I should not be in pain – poor me”.
In the intimacy of authentic humanity, children feel safe to experience their own vulnerabilities and learn to deal with them beautifully as a normal part of life. The family then becomes a sanctuary of welcoming for all aspects of uncertainty, a forum of love where no matter what occurs there are always rich human resources to draw on.
2. Let Presence Be Your Daily Guide
Being present for long periods as a parent is a truly enormous challenge. In every moment there are multiple distractions competing for attention. Being mindful of the present moment means that we bring our conscious attention fully to children when they call on our care. It means putting the phone down, listening deeply, engaging willingly and releasing ourselves fully into the now.
In practicing presence we are committing to experience every situation as ‘new’ and by doing so we might surprise ourselves with fresh solutions that emerge from this space of mindful attention.
Perhaps our ‘No’ will soften and we will find new ways of saying ‘Yes’. Our conversations also move more quickly out of conflict, as when we are truly present our capacity for compassion deepens.
3.Centre Your Parenting in the Energy of Welcoming
‘I see you, I love you, you are welcome here’.
The most important thing you can do for any child is to welcome their unique nature fully such that their essential self comes forward, safely nurtured in unconditional love beyond expectation. In order to do this we must control our natural desire to ‘shape’ the child.
Shaping is an opposing energy to welcoming as when we shape another, we fix them in our mind as our judgment. The outcome of shaping is the limiting of potential as it causes the child to experience a conditional aspect to love. We might say to the child – you are going to be a doctor, or a tennis player, you will go to this type of school, you will be this type of person.
Shaping is never positive for the child and is entirely unnecessary as a fully welcomed child will willingly communicate their authentic desires and preferences and seek your loving guidance.
A welcoming parent therefore promotes self-sufficiency, stability and authentic development in the child.
4. Speak the Language of Disapproval not Shame
When a child does something that we consider to be wrong or inappropriate it is vital that we show disapproval for the behaviour rather than shaming the child for who they are. Language is crucial here:
There is a world of difference between saying:
1) I am extremely disappointed with you. And;
2) I am extremely disappointed with your behaviour.
It is of course crucial that we guide children with clear boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, yet when we need to express disapproval we must learn to do so without breaking relationship and without withdrawing unconditional love.
Disapproval for actions should not be expressed as commentary on the essential nature of the child which would be shaming the child as fundamentally flawed. Shame language creates insecurity, unworthiness and feels like wholesale rejection.
Alternatively, disapproval in relation to behaviour allows the child to engage with you about what went wrong and what the consequences should be for the behaviour whilst all the time being safely held in the context of a relationship based in unconditional love.
Remember also to speak to your own feelings around your child’s behaviour and to call forward the behaviour that you would like to see. Life Coach, Jacquie Stebbings offers us this great example from family life:
“Joely playfully hit me yesterday. She did it a few times and I brought in an “I” statement (about my feelings of being hit) – I said: I don’t like being hit, Joely. Then I offered to her what I do like: I like to be hugged though. She then transformed her hitting to giving me a hug.
Often children are wanting our attention, they want the focus to be on them – I get this. Hitting is certainly a way for Joely to get my attention. Giving her an alternative behaviour is helping her to expand her perspective (and resourcefulness) on how to draw people to attend to her.”
5. Keep Learning. Being a Great Parent Means Being a Great Student!
Your children look to you for guidance, strength and care. They are absorbing your actions, your emotions and learning how to be, how to respond, how to behave. For you to fulfill this, the ultimate of leadership roles as best you can, focusing on your own personal development, wellbeing and learning is vital.
So make time for the yoga, persevere with the meditation and read books that take you beyond your current knowledge and awareness.
Anything which expands your ability to stay present, to reveal your humanity, to remain stable in the face of vulnerability will serve you and your family well.
If you would like to find out more about mindfulness or join an upcoming class click here.
Christopher McCurry: Parenting Your Anxious Child with Mindfulness and Acceptance
Daniel Siegel: The Whole-Brain Child – Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture You Child’s Developing Mind
Eckhart Tolle: A New Earth – Awakening to your Life’s Purpose
Byron Katie: Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life
Brene Brown: The Gifts of Imperfection