Conscious Parenting & Being In The Now

I was bathing Lia today and found myself looking forward to the convenience that comes when Baby is able to sit up on her own. Lia is still 4 months and flops around, requiring support and the art of 1-hand bathing. “Then I’d be able to play with her, I’d be able to do more during her bath time with her” I rationalized.

I was living in the future.

I suppose its normal to look forward to who our children would grow up to become, how life would be different (or easier), how much more freedom we’d be able to enjoy, or simply being able to do the things we’re not able to do right now.

Later that night, it took me some time to fall asleep. I wanted to hug something. I wanted to hug her. I watched her sleeping soundly in her cot on my left. How I wished I could hug her to sleep. I missed the days we’d both fall asleep with her on my chest. She hates that now. She’ll squirm and protest. Sigh, “all grown up at 4 months old now” I lamented.

Here I was now living in the past.

You know what though? I have no regrets. I have had profound moments with her sleeping on me when she was just a few weeks old. I’d look down at her. One day, I thought, she’d no longer fit on my chest. One day further down the road, she’d probably cringe at the idea of hugging me.

The here and now with her moved me to tears.

“Better stay here with her now where she needs me,” in the present, not the past, not the future. I want to have a future with no regrets, and that thought often brings me back cherishing what we have going now, even if it’s 1-handed baths.

Conscious Parenting & Being In The Now

Conscious Parenting & The Gift of Presence

Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller’s famous 1998 study revealed the effects that praise has on a child’s relationship to achievement.

128 children were asked to solve math problems. 1 group was praised for their intellect (“you’re so clever!”) and the other for their effort  (“you must have tried very hard”). When given more complex problems next, the kids praised for intellect struggled more, whilst those praised for effort worked harder at the challenge. The kids praised for intellect showed lower task persistence, enjoyment and performance. When asked to report their task scores to an external group, they inflated their scores. This group of kids learned to define intelligence as a fixed trait, and showed signs of distress when they experienced a set back in their achievements.

So instead of practicing excessive praise, what could we do instead?

Notice when you dish out empty praise. It’s likely that the words “good girl!” or “clever boy” roll off your tongue without much thought. It take effort to respond to a child’s effort or achievement. Conscious parenting challenges you to firstly notice what you say automatically.

But more than that, a healthier alternative to praise could be simply ‘keen attentiveness’ paid to the child:

“I once watched Charlotte* with a four-year-old boy, who was drawing. When he stopped and looked up at her — perhaps expecting praise — she smiled and said, ‘There is a lot of blue in your picture.’ He replied, ‘It’s the pond near my grandmother’s house — there is a bridge.’ He picked up a brown crayon, and said, ‘I’ll show you.’ Unhurried, she talked to the child, but more importantly she observed, she listened. She was present. Being present, whether with children, with friends, or even with oneself, is always hard work. But isn’t this attentiveness — the feeling that someone is trying to think about us — something we want more than praise?”

*Charlotte Stiglitz, the mother of the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz

~ “How praise can cause a loss of confidence”, The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, by Stephen Grosz

Conscious Parenting & The Gift of Presence

Conscious Parenting Allows Our Child To Be Our Light

“We need to give birth to a new vision of parenting. This vision would be based on what we know about the special bond between parent and child, through which even ordinary communication is a sacrament. It would be based on the reverance for what our children can bring to us, as well as what we can bring to them.

By their light, we see what is hurt and hidden within ourselves, and we open creatively to new ways of responding to problems. Through them, we understand that parenting is a spiritual process in which we get back tenfold the love we give.

This is different from old models of parenting, which have been parent centered and based on the idea that the parent is a static figure, all-seeing and all-knowing. It is also different from newer models of parenting that are excessively child-centered and equally out of balance.

We are reaching toward a new model in which the parent-child relationship is at the center. The emphasis is on maintaining the quality of the relationship rather than serving the needs of one person at the expense of the other.

Many of us parents are entranched in our own view of the world. We don’t think of our child-rearing problems as harbingers of healing. Often what we see is disrespectful, uncooperative children who make life difficult for us.

Even when we are in conflict with them-perhaps especially then- children can give us information about ourselves that we can’t get any other way. Our children can be a light for us if we let them.

We take a step toward conscious parenting when we understand how our painful moments with our children can become a road map for our own healing journey. Follow the map, and we don’t have to walk over the same broken ground over and over again. We can find a new path.”

~ Giving The Love That Heals by Harville Hendrix Ph.D and Helen Lakelly Hunt, Ph.D.

Conscious Parenting Allows Our Child To Be Our Light

Conscious Parenting Celebrates Virtues

We often see the world in good and bad, which affects the way we parent. Very naturally when our children do something that we approve of, we praise him or her. It usually sounds like, “good girl!” or “you’re a very good boy today”. It comes rolling off our tongue unconsciously.

Good and bad is a conclusion from which we judged an action (or non-action). The effect of this is, the child feels judged. This robs their power and their say in the matter; it is a projection placed upon him or her from the parent. Or Aunt, like in my case with my niece. She didn’t want to share her cookie with me. I got upset, and I chided her for being selfish, that her unwillingness to share doesn’t make her a good girl.

Was I the judge of her? Yes. I condemned her action and made her sit under a big neon sign that flashed the letters SELFISH. If I had put myself in her shoes for a moment before judging her so quickly, I might have seen it from another perspective. Maybe she was being careful about her things. Maybe she wanted to savor her cookie at her own pace and just wasn’t ready to share yet. The point is, she was doing her thing, not mine, and got called a bad girl for it. Pretty unfair isn’t it?

Step out of the world of good and bad. Step out of judging these little ones by the way we interpret their actions.

Take that moment instead to ask “why did you do that?” and hear from them. Acknowledge their virtues or the intention instead, like “Ah hah! You’re exploring colors!” vs. “your paining isn’t turning out very good…” or “I get that you’re trying to take care of your toys” vs. “stop pulling your sister’s hair, you’re a bad girl!” (in the case of the latter, it’s natural that they will act to protect/defend themselves when threatened – we do it too, does that make us bad girls and boys?)

Over time, your child will grow up exercising those virtues instead of grow up being afraid of that voice in their head that judges everything he or she does as good or bad.

Conscious Parenting Celebrates Virtues

Conscious Parenting Focuses On Supporting, Not Condemning 

Sometimes we don’t recognize the child’s effort because it doesn’t come across as how we’d like it to be. We have an idea of what we want, what it should look like and how to get it – the ‘Adult’s’ way, usually formed from past experiences of what we’ve found works. Kids have their way too,but usually exercised differently from us. 

Just yesterday, Claire, my 3 year old niece reached for a tub of cookies and spilt my mug of hot Milo in the process. Shocked, I yelped and groaned loudly, “CLAIRRREEE!!!!!”and buried my face in my hands. She ran off to grab 6 pieces of tissue from the tissue box and went about cleaning up her chair, stepping all over the sticky liquid on the floor and spreading it as she ran back and forth to the tissue box. 

“CLAIRE your feet are sticky stop coming into this area! You’re making it worse!” I exclaimed. “I’ll clean it up for you, get away from here.” After two tries, she stopped, and walked away. 

After cleaning the mess up, I called out for her several times rather sternly wondering where she had run off to with her sticky little feet. It was a while before a small voice came from the garden. She was picking fallen flowers off the driveway looking somewhat disheartened. 

In that moment I realized that in my fervour to contain the mess, I failed to see and support her effort in helping clean her accident up. She was so focused on wiping down her chair of course she wouldn’t care, or know, the consequences of walking around with sticky feet! She’s a 3 year old, geez! I was expecting too much from her in that moment of chaos. I lost my clarity and calm. I chided her for being ignorant in her ways without noticing that I was equally ignorant in mine. I reacted, and my focus went to what she’s doing wrong instead of what she’s doing right.

I asked if I gave her a shock with my loud reaction and she nodded. I apologised and explained that I was shocked too. We fist bumped and made up. I still feel guilty for brushing her good intention aside, but I’m learning that conscious parenting is a journey. Make up and connect when you can; learn and own up when you can’t. It’s the second best way to do right to the Child.

Recognize efforts instead of right/wrong, then focus on supporting and improving those efforts. 

Conscious Parenting Focuses On Supporting, Not Condemning 

Conscious Parenting Encourages Authenticity

Instead of:

  • Obsessing over conformity, perfect behaviour and outward appearances, I will encourage genuineness in my child.
  • Praising compliance, I will praise the courage to be authentic.
  • Demanding obedience, I will encourage self-expression.

~ “Shifting from ‘Goodness’ to Authenticity”, The Awakened Family by Shefali Tsabary

Conscious Parenting Encourages Authenticity

Conscious Parenting: Reality vs. Fantasy

As parents, we romanticize what it means to be a mother or a father. We imagine how our children will turn out because of what wonderful, patient, giving and wise parents we would be. However more often than not, the reality of parenting is different from what we visualize and dream of. When the gap between fantasy and reality gets too large, we find ourselves struggling with the truth – stress, frustration, self-blame happens as we begin to wonder where it all went wrong. Marriages take a turn for the worse when finger pointing begins.

Where do I need to get real with myself about the fantasies of parenting I might be harboring? I have to admit that I imagine my daughter engaging in intelligent dialogues with me as I impart wise life lessons to her, packing up her toys after playing because she practices discipline, and respecting nature on our hikes.

Somehow at this point, the crucial questions come rushing in. Listing it down makes we wonder why I have these fantasies. What am I hoping to prove to myself? Why is this  fantasy important? Am I trying to make up for what I didn’t get to experience in my own childhood with my parents? 

I guess being happy on this journey of parenting means letting go of these notions. Let us not open the door to invite disappointment in. Take a deep breath, inhale courage and peace, let it all go, and open my mind and heart to what might be. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We will forge our journey as we walk the path together.

Conscious Parenting: Reality vs. Fantasy