Just What Is Conscious Parenting?
Becoming a parent requires no great skill. We all know how that happens. We see plenty of parents out in the world who seem to hate being a parent or appear mean or cruel to their children. We also know many parents who are infinitely patient and understanding with their children. How do they get that way? What do they do differently than the parents we know, or may have had, who were not patient or understanding? What makes a parent conscious or unconscious?
Perhaps before continuing on and answering these questions, we should first define the word “conscious”. Some definitions of the word, found on dictionary.com are:
~Aware of and responding to one’s surroundings; awake.
~having knowledge of something; aware: “we are conscious of the extent of the problem”.
~(conscious of) painfully aware of, sensitive to: “he was very conscious of his appearance”.
~concerned with or worried about a particular matter: “they were growing increasingly security conscious”.
~(of an action or feeling) deliberate and intentional: “a conscious effort to walk properly”.
~(of the mind or thought) directly perceptible to and under the control of the person concerned.
Each of these definitions applies very well to parenting. We are often painfully aware of what our kids are doing. We are sensitive to the things they say. We are concerned about them, and we need to be deliberate and intentional with what we say and do in order to get the behavior we want from our children. And, of course, we want them to grow into caring, confident and capable adults. That we love them almost goes without saying. But how do we embody that love in the healthiest, and most productive way?
All children push parents’ buttons and act in ways that, to us, are unacceptable. And we will react, often without thinking. This is what I call “knee jerk parenting”. Knee-jerk parenting eliminates the opportunity for a learning experience, both for us and for the child. Conscious parenting involves that well known pause before responding – Thomas Jefferson’s idea of counting to 10 before we react. It’s about being “on purpose” with what we do and say with our children. It’s about knowing that our words and actions matter. They WILL impact our children, to the positive or the negative, possibly for a lifetime. But how do we learn to pause, think, and choose our words and actions consciously when triggered? What can we do to learn a different way to respond?
There are many books and resources out there to help parents be the most conscious parent they can be. I know this because I needed all the help I could get. Having been raised in the ’50’s and ’60’s, the ideas about parenting were very different than the way I wanted to parent. When I brought my first child home at the age of 36, my husband and I looked at this tiny being and said “Oh my Gosh! Now what do we do?” I know my parents did the best they knew how, and I knew I wanted to do this thing differently. I didn’t want to parent the way I had been parented; I just didn’t know how to do that. So, I set out to find answers.
I read books, magazine articles, and watched TV. I was very lucky that when my girls were born (in 1991 and 1995) there were many TV shows about parenting on the air. I watched them faithfully and want to share with you 3 things I heard that strongly impacted my parenting.
“Parenting: the hardest job you’ll ever love!” helped me to remember that as excited as I was to be a mom, it was, at times, going to be very hard work. I was able to accept that even though it might be hard, the love I was going to feel and the rewards I was going to receive would surpass anything I had known before. That was so true!
“You have to allow a little unhappiness in order to have a happy family”. Wow. That was huge for this people pleaser who wanted everyone to feel good and be happy all the time. I would have to allow my children to experience their struggles and pain. I could be there for them and offer guidance, but I couldn’t save them from every difficulty. They needed difficulty, just as the caterpillar needs the struggle to get out of the cocoon to become the butterfly. That one took some work, and some major letting go, and has been SO worth it!
“If it’s not a problem for you, it’s not a problem” could be about any area of life, but I heard it in regard to parenting. It was a remark about other people’s opinions about how we parent. If you are a parent, you know there is no more judgmental group than other parents! Parents will give unasked for advice in a heartbeat. This quote helped me see that if I feel that a style of parenting is a good fit for my family, it’s no one else’s business how I parent. This idea requires being able to say to Grandma, when she offers her enduring (and unending) wisdom, “Thanks so much for the suggestion” and then just continue doing what you do with your family.
The greatest resource in my parenting journey, however, was the experience and wisdom of other parents. The value of being able to talk about parenting issues with others on the same path had such a myriad of benefits. Besides practical hands on experience of how to handle various situations, there was the camaraderie and fellowship with people who really got it, who helped me to see that I wasn’t the only one dealing with these challenges, and, perhaps even more importantly, broke that isolation that so many parents of young children can feel. So often we can feel that no one else understands what we’re going through. As parents, we sometimes get a competitive feeling from the parenting world that can say “My kid is perfect”; we think we’re doing something wrong when our kids aren’t perfect. How wonderful it was to talk to parents who helped me see beyond that facade, and to know that we all have challenges with our kids and with life. The benefits of not expecting perfection from my kids or myself have been beyond words.
Finally, I’ve learned that in order for us to not be “knee jerk parents”, we have to deal with “our stuff!” No one comes through life completely unscathed. Some are more damaged than others, but we all have some demons from the past. Many of us were raised with little understanding or compassion, because that’s what our parents thought was the best way to prepare us for life. Some of us have learned that this approach has actually hindered our ability to deal with what life throws at us. But no matter what our upbringing, we all need to take care of our own demons so we don’t pass them on to our children. Children deserve to be heard, valued and cherished. When we take the time to deal with our own baggage, and make the effort to give our kids the unconditional love they deserve, guess what happens? WE end up healing and we discover a love beyond our wildest dreams!
Consciously parenting our kids has the ability to create competent, confident, responsible adults out of our beautiful children; a worthy endeavor for any parent!
Jill Mann Pekofsky, a Columbia, MD resident, is the wife of Larry of 27 years, and the proud mother of two amazing daughters, Leah, 26 and Jenna, 22. Not becoming a mother until the age of 36, she had minimal understanding of successful parenting for a variety of reasons. It was the interaction with other parents, and researching other parenting resources – books, seminars, etc… that made the most significant difference in learning how to be a conscious parent. Jill is the author of the book, “The ABCs of Conscious Parenting: Bringing Ease and Joy into your Relationship with your Child.” The book is designed to allow parents to explore and learn about conscious parenting, gain tools and ideas for improving communication and cooperation, and have meaningful, rewarding relationships with their kids.
She will also be heading up the new “Conscious Parenting Group” beginning in April at Columbia Center for Spiritual Living.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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