A few weeks back I had the great honor of meeting one of my parenting heroes Dr. Shefali Tsabary. I went to a beautiful book signing where a group of mothers were invited to hear Dr. Shefali speak and encouraged to ask questions. I was a little beside myself with excitement because I am such a fan of her work. Her book The Conscious Parent was one of the few parenting books I read before having my daughter, and it resonated with me in a way that nothing else has. The afternoon turned out to be nothing short of transformative, and I wanted to find a way to share that with all of you. For those of you who don’t already know, Dr. Shefali Tsabary is a New York Times bestselling author, a world-renowned clinical psychologist with a doctorate from Columbia, and a sought after speaker. She has written three life changing books, THE CONSCIOUS PARENT, OUT OF CONTROL, and her latest book THE AWAKENED FAMILY. She is Queen O’s favorite parenting expert, can be seen on Oprah’s Lifeclass as well as Super Soul Sunday (this sunday Aug. 7th!) and her TEDx talk is a must see. Her ideas are truly revolutionary and I am so grateful to have the chance to spread her message. Read on!
1. What does it mean to be a conscious parent raising a conscious child?
A conscious parent is one who commits to a mandate of raising their own level of consciousness through the parenting journey. What this means is that the parent no longer looks at parenting as a path where simply the child gets raised, but instead also, equally, as one where the parent pushes themselves to be raised to a higher level of consciousness through their relationship with their children. The child is seen as entering the parent’s life for a very purposeful reason; to help the parent heal from past wounds and become more whole, empowered and healthy.
2. Your philosophy is a complete Paradigm shift that exposes traditional parenting as serving the interests of the parent instead of the child, how do you explain that to parents who feel they are doing everything in their child’s best interest?
The traditional parenting paradigm is set up in such a way that it misguides the parent to believe that if they throw all their efforts into their children, then they are serving their child’s best interest. The set-up appears to be selfless, but if we examine it closely, we see through its pretense for what it is: a highly selfish dynamic. Why do I say this? I say it because although the parent is made to feel that they are doing everything “for” their child, the hidden – albeit unspoken – script is that it is THEY who get to choose what it is they do “for” the child. They get to decide the school the child goes into, what instrument they play, what sport, what kinds of friends they have, what activities, grades, college, and the list goes on. Under the surface we begin to see that this set-up actually serves the parent, not the child. It is this unexamined and unacknowledged bias that is never talked about, but which makes traditional parenting a highly controlling process whereby parents feel they have the right to punish their children when they don’t abide; after all the parent feels as if THEY are the martyr and the selfless ones. This entire way of thinking is delusional and needs to be unmasked for what it is: parent-focused, parent-driven and parent-controlled. Only when we are able to take the blinders off will we truly engage in this process with attunement for what it is the child truly needs as opposed to what the ego of the parent desires.
3. In The Conscious Parent you introduced us to the concept that our children become a mirror to the unconscious places in ourselves and can therefore become our greatest teachers. Isn’t it the parent that is supposed to be teaching the child?
The Conscious Parenting approach turns the traditional parenting paradigm on its head. Instead of focusing on how the parent can “fix” the child, this approach focuses on another element of growth: the parent’s inner transformation. In this paradigm, the relationship with the child acts as a mirror for the parent to look into and ask, “what am I doing to create this moment in time? How are my unresolved emotional needs creating this behavior within my child? Am I contributing to the conflict I am experiencing with my child?” As the parent begins to look at the relationship as a mirror, the onus of change immediately shifts. It is no longer on the child, but now on the parent. This simple but profound shift creates a huge wave of change within the dynamic. Not only does the parent resist from shaming and blaming the child, but now the parent gives themselves the opportunity to heal themselves by looking inward. Each time they are triggered, they ask themselves, “what about my inner self is contributing to this present moment with my child? How can I shift so that the dynamic shifts?” It is here that our relationship with our children is the most powerful – by being a catalyst of the parent’s inner transformation, growth and healing.
4. I think some people confuse the conscious parenting philosophy with one where consequences don’t exist. On the contrary your new book The Awakened Family talks about “natural and logical” consequences. Can you explain how this works and how it is different from our traditional ideas of consequences?
The traditional paradigm of parenting relies heavily on tactics of discipline. In the name of “teaching” the practice of discipline has actually become highly un-disciplined. The parent feels righteous and sanctified to lose control when they deem their child is misbehaving. They feel as if it is their innate right to yell, scream, shame and physically abuse their children – all in the name of “teaching” them. In my approach I talk about the parent first understanding that when they lose their control over their children, it is not because their children are “bad” but because they have inner unresolved issues from childhood that are re-surfacing and need to be dealt with. It has nothing to do with the child. This realization is a hard one for parents to stomach. They simply do not want to acknowledge that they are possibly so very broken from within. However, if they were brave enough to examine their inner wounds, they would begin to see how much of their reactions to their children came from within them and not their children. Once their reactions have quieted down, they can now help their children learn from their mistakes in a loving, non-judgmental and empowering way. Instead of shaming and yelling at them into compliance, they can gently guide and encourage them. If their child repeatedly does the same misbehavior, the parent can try to understand the needs beneath the behavior. The actual behaviors are not in focus so much as much as what is happening within their child on an emotional level. We only act the way we feel. Therefore, if their child is acting “bad,” the conscious parent understands that they must be feeling bad. And therefore they try to connect to their children to uncover the root of their feelings. Once the root is taken care of, the surface behavior automatically changes.
5. You talk a lot about letting the child lead when it comes to their interests and hobbies rather than the parents pushing them. In the instance of a professional athlete like Tiger Woods or Serena Williams, who were clearly pushed by their parents to practice when they would have preferred to hang out with their friends, would conscious parenting ultimately have diminished their success in their sport?
Good question:) As a parent you have to ask yourself: Is this truly emerging from my child’s unique nature, or is it coming from my inner need to have my child excel at something or be someone “great.” As we saw through Andre Agassi’s biography, although he achieved staggering success, it came at a high price. As a parent you have to ask yourself: at what cost?
6. You also teach that conscious parenting should not be confused with giving children whatever they want or trying to help them avoid pain or uncomfortable feelings. Rather you emphasize helping children get in touch with their resilience so that they can transcend painful experiences in life. What does that look like for a parent who defines happiness as the absence of pain?
A parent who defines happiness as the absence of pain is one who is forever terrified of life. Life is inherently painful as much as it is joyful. It carries the potential for both within its intrinsic fabric. When we are afraid of fear, of rejection, of painful occurrences it is almost as if we are living in a delusion that life is supposed to only deliver happy-happy feelings. This is not the nature of life and certainly not the nature of a life lived well and courageously. We live and learn through an embrace of life as it is lived – both the painful and the joyful. When we ward ourselves off to only experience the happy-happy, we actually don’t end up living at all. We end up constantly afraid of what lies around the corner.
7. You say our children learn best through “absorption”. That we must embody the values and behaviors we want them to possess. Why doesn’t the old parenting go to “Because I said so!” work?
We are presuming it works because some children may blindly comply. I don’t believe it works in the long-run with any child at all. For the most part, it is a lazy opt-out for parents who simply don’t want to take the time to give their child a thoughtful response. Secondly, it is a high-handed approach that demands blind obedience on part of the child. This approach often breeds resentment in the child and creates a burning thirst in them to avenge others with a similar dominance. Is this what we want to teach our children?
8. In your new book The Awakened Family you talk about our “childhood blueprint” inherited from our parents that influences our emotional responses in life. Can you expand on this a little bit?
We are all deeply influenced by our parents. This is a no-brainer. Our blueprints – the one we were born with – is further etched and engraved by our parents and their relationship with us. In all the ways that they process their feelings, live their life and enjoy their relationships are absorbed by us at an early age. It is from them we learn how to be in this world. This is why their level of emotional maturity is highly influential in our upbringing. It defines who they are in the world, and most importantly how they are with us. This is why I write the books I do because I help parents become aware of their emotional immaturity and discover ways to heal and grow.
9. In The Awakened Family you also discuss the fact that our expectations for our children are a disguise for our fears and unmet needs. How can a parent discern between a genuine desire for their child’s fulfillment and this kind of misguided expectation?
Another great question! Well, it all boils down to how attuned we are to our children and how aware we are of the workings of our own sneaky egos and agendas. If we are blind to our inner ego, then we will automatically displace our inner needs onto our children and want them to fulfill them for us. If we are awake to our inner ego then we will always pause, and carefully discern whether what we are placing on our children in terms of expectations stems from within our ego or is truly in their service of growth and fulfillment.
10. In the new book you mention that a parent cannot set a boundary that they don’t already possess themselves. Can you explain that a bit? And how can a parent develop those boundaries in themselves?
For example, we expect our children to never be on a screen, and yet, we are addicted to Facebook. Or we expect our children to eat healthy, but we guzzle wine and chocolate at midnight. These hypocrisies create a double standard which our children quickly catch us on and see through. It all comes back to our children following our ways and not our words. When they see us embody the very things we ask of them, they are more likely to be inspired and incorporate these ways in their own life. However, when we simply ask things of them without necessarily creating a culture of it in the home, then things are more superficial and followed only because our children want to please us or because they fear us.
11. I know a lot of very busy young mothers who don’t have a mindfulness practice or a therapist, and who will feel overwhelmed at the idea that they have to completely heal/change themselves in order to be a conscious parent. Are there a few tools that they can easily incorporate into their day to day lives to help them move towards being a conscious parent and awakened family?
No one ever completely heals. All of this is a work in progress. A parent doesn’t have to be daunted by this. Instead realize that by incorporating even just 10 mins of quiet reflection – be it journal writing, walking with awareness or meditating, they will change the entire experience of their life.
The first place to start is to WANT to change. Do you want to change? If the answer is yes, then you begin to make a list of WHAT you want to change. And then you take the top two things on that list and create a practice to change that. If the top two things are: 1) I am too busy and 2) I don’t have time for myself – then you have to incorporate two things to create that in your life. No one on the outside can fix what is missing within. Only you can.
12. How can conscious parenting change the world?
It will change the world because we will raise healthy and loving children – children who don’t live in fear so they feel the need to dominate others. We will raise children who are deeply connected to their own sense of self so they don’t flail around searching for a self through an addiction or negative behaviors. They will feel deeply connected to their parents and this will anchor them to a sense of purpose and joy. In these ways, we will eliminate violence, bullying and inner lostness. Conscious parenting is the way to a healthier planet.
Beautifully said, thank you from the bottom of my heart Dr. Shefali, such an honor.
You can buy Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s book HERE.
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