"The Conscious Parent" by Shefali Tsabary
This book was recommended to me by a friend and I tracked it down through my local library. I always approach "self help" books with slight trepidation and caution. I have read a fair few over the last decade and some have offered helpful insight, some were relevant at a particular moment in time and some have just exasperated me! My feeling with these sorts of books is that you will never fully embrace the whole theory presented to you - especially as they have a tendency to over zealously present the more extreme versions of their theories which are often impossible to follow to the letter - but even if you take one or two core thoughts away and are able to apply to your family, then that is sometimes enough. Maybe even having made time to reflect on your parenting is as important as what you actually read. However, I also think that for all the reading in the world- most good parenting probably comes from trail & error, tips from peer groups, the way you were parented and generally a mix up of a huge range of influences and experiences!
I found this review really hard to write. Parenting is a highly emotive subject and it’s hard not to feel vulnerable and defensive when you are forced to consider the way you interact with your children. I hope I have understood the messages in the book as they were intended and I hope my attempts to explain the key points are clear enough to follow. I was surprised by how much I struggled to write a coherent and valuable review and it really has taken me hours! I apologise to the author if I have misunderstood anything and to the reader if I’ve been unable to fully articulate my opinions!
So the premise of this book is very different from anything I had read before. The basic message of the manual is that we need to be more aware - more "conscious"- in our parenting. By being more mindful of our own behaviour and engaging more fully with our children as individuals, then we will in turn become better parents and raise happy, well adjusted children. Tsabary explains that when we parent we are subconsciously influenced by layers of emotional baggage from our own childhood. Situations with our children can often trigger "hot spots" within us and therefore sometimes our reactions are muddled with our own issues rather than acknowledging what has actually happened and the appropriate reaction that the child actually needs from us. There was also a huge emphasis on “being present” and thinking more about what “being present” and “fully engaged” actually means.
In principle I found this quite enlightening and it made sense. The concept that we often parent from a “triggered” state was interesting.
“To be triggered is to be resistance to whatever may be happening in our life. By reacting we are saying “I don’t want this situation; I don’t like the way things are.” The reason for this is that the ideal view of ourselves to which we are attached is being shaken, which is threatening to us. In this state …..we react. The manner in which this reaction manifests depends on our unique life scripts, roles and emotional inheritance.”
Our “triggered spot” is when we react to a situation with an emotion which is bound up with our immense layers of baggage and history - possibly fears and anxieties which we have inadvertently inherited from our parents- therefore our response is processing something from within us. Are they pushing you into a state of conflict which you are uncomfortable with? Are they evoking a sense of helplessness or disbelief in yourself from your past conditioning? Our reactions are also governed by how we feel about ourselves. If I am tired, I am impatient and will be quick to chide the children; if we are late I will shout even though it’s ultimately the fault of the traffic which was beyond anyone’s control! If I am tired, or running behind on my chores, I may resent having to do homework and try to rush and nag them when in fact I need to accept I’m behind, forget it for the time being and focus on helping them. And ultimately I need to slow down, refuel, be better to myself and just “be”! We all need time to “be still”, “be bored” and to take time to just absorb the “present moment”.
The whole concept of "being present" did strike a chord and really resonated with me. Our family life is absolutely rammed full of after school activities, clubs, sports, music lessons, play dates and we spend most of our time together hurtling from one place to the other, briefly refueling either at home in great haste or on the go. Am I then a "good" parent by providing my children with numerous opportunities to develop skills, talents and greatness? Or am I a functional cog in a machine that feeds, drives, cleans, irons, packs bags, washes clothes, tidies up, shops, organises and generally "provides"? Do I make time to sit and just "be" with the children? Do I really listen to them? Do I respond to their conversation with interest and engagement or do I just utter the next instruction and time check?
But it is never too late. And it doesn’t take much. We all know that children don’t need gadgets, expensive gifts or the latest technology to feel loved and affirmed. We all know we give in to “screen time” too easily and life moves too quickly for all of us as we are constantly bombarded with “updates” and “notifications” from numerous social media websites. We all know it is probably harming all of us, threatening family life and certainly preventing us from actually “engaging” fully and “being present” in the moment. There was some very valid discussion about this – but I found the more I read of the book, some of the advice was rather too idealistic and overly “spiritual”. For example I couldn’t help but smile inwardly at the suggestion that for your child’s 18th Birthday you don’t buy them a fancy car but instead send them to a Third World country to earn the money to buy their own…..
I do agree about “surrendering the need to do” and that we are often deluded into thinking that by “doing” we are engaging with the present when actually it is obsessing about yesterday and worrying about tomorrow. But it is hard to shelve the daily “to do list” and switch off your brain from the running commentary of everything you need to achieve by the end of the day. However, I think I can make some simple, more conscious choices, about how I speak to the children in order to validate and affirm them more. I can make more time for them in very small ways. I can listen better. I can look at them when they are talking to me. I can recognize when I am “triggered”, take a deep breath, step back and try to see the situation for what it really is. And I can definitely attempt to segregate my time for jobs, work and social media from that of my time with them.
I liked that Tsabary talked about how important it was to make sure you were fulfilled as a parent by something other than your children so that you are not piling on your own pressures and expectations upon them. Pressures that often stem from a need to be perfect, controlled, accepted and a feeling that you have to nurture brilliant, exceptional children. The children also need to see you fulfilled by other interests in order for them to form a sensible, balanced, grounded emotional intelligence and understanding of parenting. They don't have to be the only thing that makes you feel validated and important. Sadly, it is often hard to both find time to do this and to actually allow yourself to do this. But, then am I more “triggered” when I have spent all day cooking and cleaning only to be met with untouched plates and decimated bedrooms than if I had spent some of the day walking with a friend, half an hour reading a new book or a few hours completing a project for work which challenged me and reminded me of the wider world?
There was a lot of good advice in this book. Yes, it is a book with a deep spiritual vision so at times this is a little bit much but it does make it a calm, gentle, soft read and there is plenty or reassurance for parents. The lists of phrases that show you how you could talk to your children in certain situations were helpful. There is also a leveling of what is acceptable, sensible and reasonable empowerment between the parent and child so it is not completely out of touch with modern parenting; it is relatively reasonable and realistic in what it expects from both parent and child. Yes, children definitely are the most precious gift in the world, and yes we are extremely grateful for them and all they give us. Although, to be honest, that's generally that’s how I feel about them when I check on them last thing at night -when they are lost in their dreams; quiet, clean, still and I have had time to forget the events of the day!
We went for a walk in the woods yesterday. It was extremely muddy. I tried to “just be”. I was firmly in the “present” and I was trying to “engage fully” and see "wonder in the ordinary and focus on the small things in life". It was fun. The children ran wildly, shouted loudly, climbed, threw sticks, laughed. They jumped in huge muddy puddles. They actively sought out the swampiest part of the pathway.
Then one fell over –head first, one lost both his welly boots but kept walking knee deep in mud, one managed to splatter mud across their face while making mud balls to throw at his siblings. They were filthy. I was still hanging on to that moment…..clutching at it….
Until they started crying because they were cold, heavy with clods of stinking mud and hungry. One refused to walk back to the car. Two hours later with three baths, one washing machine load, one soaking bucket full of jeans, a bin liner full of socks that simply were not fit to be saved, a car boot full of boots that are still awaiting desperate attention, car seats smeared in dried mud and most of the forest floor and three over tired, exhausted, fractious children, I was a fully triggered, totally reactive, overbearing and shouting. A parent who would only be calmed by the “moment” everyone was asleep and there was a large glass of wine in my hand.
Well, as the book says in its opening lines, “To parent perfectly is a mirage. There is no ideal parent and no idea child.”
Let me know what you think of this book or parenting manuals by leaving a comment below!
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