Are you doing it? Parenting “consciously”? Turns out, your child’s happiness could hang in the balance. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs on the planet, and parents need all of the help and support they can get to raise happy children. That includes learning how to be conscious. What, like, stay awake while parenting? Not quite, though I know for some over-worked and over-tired parents, that in and of itself is a feat. If you watched Super Soul Sunday a few weeks ago, featuring Psychologist Shefali Tsabary, you know “conscious parenting” implies focusing not on your child, but on yourself. It sounds counterintuitive, right? But that’s exactly what she’s saying; instead of being merely a “giver” of your psychological and spiritual legacy to your children, they actually function as givers to you, of your own development. So that means your kids are a mirror for your own ego, your forgotten self, those pieces of you that stay unfulfilled. What we tend to do with this is place all of the emphasis on the child, willing them to fulfill all of our unfulfilled dreams and potential, to be a scapegoat for our having sacrificed to get them this far. “I gave up my lifelong dream of becoming a doctor to have kids, so I can appease myself by giving them opportunities to become doctors themselves.” Sound familiar? In her conversation with Oprah, Dr. Tsabary said tantrums and acting out were markers of something more than a child needing to be disciplined. Perhaps something the child was trying to tell you without having the emotional competence to do so.
I was watching with my mother, and turned to her and asked, “Did I ever throw tantrums?” I already knew the answer from stories my mom had shared with me, of staging silent (and noisy if my demands weren’t being met) protests in bookstores, seated cross-legged in the aisles where my favorites were, obstinately refusing to be pacified with anything less than one new read to add to my collection. This was particularly true of the Sweet Valley series, which had me so hooked I couldn’t rest until I knew what lay in store for the twins next.
My mom smiled, and nodded, “yes, you couldn’t walk by a bookstore without demanding a new book to read. If I said ‘no,’ you’d sit on the floor of the bookstore and cry until you got what you wanted.” I was a voracious reader as a kid, tearing through books like the hungry caterpillar. There were these Indian comics that were less “comic” and more morally and historically instructive. Man, the things I learned about Indian history and mythology from those things-and they were my most prized possessions. I would collect them on each trip we made to the Motherland, making anyone who would listen go out of their way to find them for me. As early as 5, I would take them into the bathroom, hop on the toilet, and sit there for an hour, poo long ago taken care of, but there I stayed, on my porcelain throne with no one to disturb me, absorbed in my reading material. No wonder, then, that I had a penchant for language, winning awards every year in English and French, writing stellar essays, acing every English section of every standardized test I ever took. I’m talking like 99th percentiles every time. Yet somehow my Immigrant parents were so focused on me being a doctor, they weren’t consciously picking up on these not-so-subtle cues to my inherent strengths and talents. Instead, the emphasis was on math and science, and man did I have to work hard to make sense of those. They were working tirelessly, sometimes at the expense of their own dreams, to give us all of the trappings of a life headed for white collar success and security, filled with things they didn’t have in a new country, things they barely had in the old one. I literally veered off course in College, throwing myself into coursework that didn’t “do it” for me, getting good grades simply because I just knew how to study and score the right letters and numbers. But this just masked the fact that I wasn’t passionate or particularly talented in any of those areas: Finance, Pre-med, Accounting. Not a single English class anywhere in the mix.
Now, I’m not saying indulge every demand and whim of your child. But in those moments where you’re tempted to yank the screaming child off the floor of the art supplies store, pacify the crier in the museum gift shop with promises of lollipops later, or get angry with the middle-schooler before tennis practice because the racket has been misplaced for the 10th time, take pause to get conscious about reading between the lines: what are they telling you? And why? You might just find some insights into your child, and more importantly into yourself, and be a better parent for it.