“What does conscious parenting mean?”
“Who is a conscious parent?”
“What does it mean to be a conscious parent?”
These are the questions I was asking myself as I began to delve into the world of conscious parenting. My own journey into this subject began quite by chance from a book recommendation. The book, The Awakened Family by Dr. Shefali Tsabary, felt like it was speaking directly to me. One of the first sentences that I read was: “We awaken when we become aware of who we truly are.”
To me, that message was that our essence, our true self is important. And while I was intrigued by the desire to find my true self, I also immediately wanted to know how this related at all to parenting.
As a clinical psychologist who merges the world of Western psychology and Eastern philosophy, Dr. Shefali has a totally different approach to parenting than anything I had ever encountered or experienced. She talks about our job of parenting our children as raising a spirit and honoring their essence—that the children who are delivered to us are done so for a reason. According to Dr. Shefali, conscious parents implicitly trust their child’s intuition to recognize their own destiny.
But here’s the part that might really blow your mind: They are brought to us to mirror back to us the parts of ourselves that we need to pay attention to and to heal. This aspect of Dr. Shefali’s approach to conscious parenting gets me so excited. It is why I have become so passionate about the subject, and why I feel a calling to teach and share this philosophy with as many people as possible.
This premise is also the foundation for understanding the reasons why we yell and provides us with the tools to learn how to stop yelling and start connecting.
Coming back to my original questions about what is a conscious parent and how we can become one: Conscious parenting uses ordinary, moment-by-moment interactions with our children to enable an authentic connection with them.
By being present, conscious and aware in the moment, overtime, a new family dynamic emerges which can dramatically impact families. When a parent changes their own reactions, behaviors, responses, and interactions the child’s behavior changes. This leads to a behavioral shift in relationships. How we respond to them, not react, becomes our own inner barometer of how conscious we are.
A conscious parent is something that is learned. It is learned through the actual experience of relating to our children, things we cannot learn by reading all of the many “how to” parenting books that are out there.
As we learn to become conscious parents some questions arise:
- Can we accept our children in their “as is” state in each moment?
- Can we get our entire heart and mind involved and in agreement to the process?
- Can we also accept the kind of parent we need to be for our particular child
- Can we be the parent our child needs us to be as opposed to the parent we think they need?
- Can we allow them to exist without the snares of our own expectations?
These are some of the challenges that we have to navigate in becoming a conscious parent. Conscious parenting spoke so deeply to me because of my many years of clinical work as a social worker and as a hypnotherapist. I understand the way our deeper mind works and how unresolved, unhealed childhood conflicts impact us in our adult lives. These unresolved issues will and do directly affect the way we parent and we probably don’t even realize the degree to which this happens. Being unaware of those issues is one of the reasons we wind up yelling.
Dr. Shefali teaches us that when we react to our children’s emotional reactions, tantrums, defiance, etc. we are reacting from our own child inside of us who is now triggered and is fighting back. She asks us to tune in and pay attention to our own inner landscape so we do not react from the place of our wounded inner child but instead can respond to our child from our adult loving self.
I know we can all heal our inner child; I am living proof. If our child is shining light onto the issues that we—as parents—need to address, acknowledging it is the first step. The next step is actually addressing it so that we can heal. We then can be in a healthier place with ourselves, and with our children. We will finally be able to connect with them and develop stronger bonds. This is your invitation to begin to peel back the layers to a better self-understanding, to yell less and to connect more.
Janet Philbin is the author of the book, Show Up For Yourself- A Guide to Inner Awareness and Growth. In this book she takes the reader on a journey to heal their own inner child. When we heal our own pain of the past it no longer will have control over us in the present. If this article speaks to your heart, the book will give you a framework to help you heal the pain that your heart has been holding. You can get a copy of the book here: https://amzn.to/3cgxKCp.
Janet works with clients worldwide, helping them to heal the wounds their inner child carry. You can reach her through her website, https://janetphilbin.com/. She is also available to come speak at your event, business or school.
Wasn’t it just yesterday?
We brought you home from the hospital in the car seat, wearing a blue and white winter baby jacket. We put you on the kitchen table, looked at you, looked at one another and said, “Ok, now what?” We had no idea what to do with a baby. Do we let you sleep, wait for you to cry, change a diaper or just sit and stare at you? We had more questions than answers. Even the simple questions like,”is it ok to leave you unsupervised to go take a shower or unpack my hospital bag?” became complicated. We seriously did not know. I read all the baby books, took the prenatal classes and thought I was prepared. But no one and nothing was able to prepare me for that moment. That moment, which was a snapshot in time, but a snapshot that is etched forever in my mind. There were other moments that have happened in our lives which I will never forget, but none quite as powerful, until today.
Today you grew up. Today you are truly adulting. Today you moved out. You packed up your bedroom of all of your childhood, teenage and young adult memories and began your life. As you backed out of the driveway, with your car packed full, we were crying. This is how it is supposed to be, right?
As a mom, I know this, and also as a mom I am left under prepared. I thought I would be ready. I thought I would feel differently than I do. I thought I would feel similarly to how I felt when you left for college, it was hard but I was also ok. I thought that I would just have to adjust to your room being empty and you not being home every day. However, this is different. It is a new life milestone for you, for me and our entire family.
I am back looking around at the space you left behind and once again, I am faced with the questions:
“Ok, now what?”
“What do I do first?”
“What feeling do I feel first?”
How do I begin to process the fact that we did our job? And in doing our job it means we have to let you go. It also means you did your job. You grew up. You were responsible. You finished the job of childhood and have been promoted into adulthood. You are stepping through the threshold boldly, bravely, nervously, excitedly and ready.
What is my job now? Who is a mother when the one you were called upon to mother does not require your mothering in quite the same way?
I am beginning to understand that I am being called to do a new job now and I am not
entirely sure about the job description.
It is not spelled out in black and white. No one has ever written it down for me. I am called upon to look back on my life and draw reference from the other women in my life who have already gone through this stage. Women like my mother, mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, my grandmothers, and my great-grandmothers. I find myself wondering, how did they feel, how did they do it? How did they make the transition from hands-on, being in the day-to-day life of your child to being a mother at a distance? They survived it. I moved out, my sisters moved out, my niece and nephew moved out, all of my in-laws moved out, my grandmother left Germany. My grandmother got on a boat to the United States right before the Nazi’s took over Germany. I cannot even imagine what my great-grandmother experienced as she watched her daughter, my grandma Alice, board a ship, knowing what was happening in Germany at the time. So, I know it can be and must be done. Because this is a pattern worth repeating.
It is a learning curve. Once again, I am called forward into unknown territory. The thing is, I do know what to do when I am called forward into a new stage of my life. I have to draw upon all the healing work I have already done. It is up to me to employ the tools I have learned. The very same tools I teach my clients to get to know and use. Here are some of those tools:
1. Look inside and feel your feelings.
2. What are the patterns that need to be recognized and uncovered?
3. Feel your emotional pain.
4. Allow the pain to pass through you.
5. Have conscious awareness, be present.
6. Do not get attached to a story or an outcome.
When we are aware of the fact that we are in a place of transition in our lives, as I am now, we are called forward to be. To be in the experience of this moment. The truth is, moments like this are hard and, right now, this moment hurts. I am not going to lie. This moment is present, it is here, it is now. There is no way to avoid feeling it. I know I must feel it until I am ready to move onto the next experience of the next feeling.
I also know the feelings will come in waves. I am ready and I am not ready. But, ready or not, I have no choice. When you allow yourself to ride those waves you can move through, not fall down, not get stuck and come out standing on the other side knowing you have all the tools inside of you to cope and survive. No matter what life throws your way, you can move through it successfully.
My daughter and I will move forward together. I will be there. I will be watching from just a few steps behind, just in case she wants to turn around, she will easily find me.
I will not intrude.
I will wait until I am asked.
What I do know is that I trust her.
What I do know is that I taught her as much as I could.
What I do know is that it is her turn to learn the rest on her own.
No one was able to teach me how to be her mother. I am so glad I was given the gift to learn, as my child is my teacher.
How is it that twenty-two years have passed? I find myself asking once again, this time as I look at an empty bedroom, “Ok, now what?”
Are you struggling with parenting or do your old patterns keep interfering in your day to day life? Here is a link for Janet’s book https://amzn.to/3hoIvWp, Show Up For Yourself- A Guide to Inner Awareness and Growth. This book can help you gain the tools you need to manage your emotions more successfully as life challenges show up each day. If you would like to book a complimentary 30 min consultation with Janet click here:https://janetphilbin.com/contact/
What is a nervous system to do?
Our children feel it, we feel it. When under stress our thoughts tend to take us into the future with worry. Right now, during the pandemic children all over the world are in a variety of new learning situations for school. Parents are worried. Parents of young children are worried about the impact of online school due to the lack of socialization and learning through play and sharing. Parents of older children are worried about how this will affect their child’s ability to get into college or be successful in life after graduation. We are all worried and wondering if our child is really learning what they need to learn and questioning if they are missing out. We are living in the year 2020, yet we are bringing the worry about some future event into the now.
The stressors you are under cause you to become emotionally dysregulated, and if you are dysregulated then your children may also be feeling dysregulated.
My clients often ask, “What am I supposed to do when I am feeling so dysregulated and I still have to parent my children?”
Essentially, they are asking, when I am dysregulated, how can I show up for my children?
This question applies to all life stressors not just the pandemic, online school and the current ways we have had to significantly alter our day to day lives.
It is up to you, the parent, to first regulate your own nervous system. Once your nervous system is regulated then you can show up for your children and help them by becoming their co-regulating partner. You do this for and with them, no matter how old your child is. Let’s explore how to do this through the lens of Polyvagal theory. Polyvagal theory gives a framework to understand your autonomic nervous system.
What is the autonomic nervous system?
The autonomic nervous system is always behind the scenes working and taking in the environment. Assessing what we see, feel, hear, and sense for cues of safety and cues of danger. This is called neuroception. The autonomic nervous system is always perceiving what is going on in our lives, in each and every moment. We react or respond based on whatever is coming into our autonomic nervous system through neuroception.
Based on our experiences, we respond through a hierarchy of one of three autonomic states when outside information comes into our awareness.
The 3 autonomic states are:
- The Ventral state. We feel safe and connected here. When we are in this place we respond, we do not react. We feel good, balanced, calm and connected. We also feel safe in our environment. When we are in this feeling of safety and connection we can pause, look at the situation with some objectivity and then thoughtfully respond.
- The Sympathetic state. Mobilization, fight or flight. Mobilization gets us moving and taking action which can be a good thing. However, many times mobilization is fueled by anxiety and/or fear. Not enough to cause collapse but enough to cause us not to function at the highest level we can function at, usually we react. Many of the times these reactions are not in our best interests or the best interest of our child. These reactions can look like yelling, punishing or other reactions that make no sense and much of it comes from a place of fear.
- The Dorsal Ventral State- Feeling immobilized or collapsing. We shut down because outside influences are way too much for us.
These are the three states of our Autonomic Nervous System. Our children have these 3 states as well. We are born with them and they develop over time. When we learn how to regulate our nervous system, we can be a co-regulating partner for our child’s nervous system. That is the key.
Become a co-regulator.
Tips and tricks, you can use to regulate yours and your child’s autonomic nervous system.
- Begin to be aware of your own nervous system by asking questions like: What is happening within you when you become overwhelmed or triggered by your child or an outside event? What happens within your body when you think about how you feel in relation to the trigger? You may feel or experience fear, confusion, anxiety. You may feel like a victim and may wind up shutting down or becoming very anxious. These reactions bring us into either a dorsal or sympathetic state. We do not function optimally when in those states. The goal is to move up the hierarchy into a ventral state.
- When you feel these big feelings of anxiety ask yourself these questions:
“In this moment that I am in, what is the response I need in order to begin to feel better? “
“Where am I feeling it in my body?”
“What does my body need to do right now to feel more calm and balanced?”
– Maybe you need to take a few breaths, grab a glass of water, take a walk, sit in quiet, stretch or anything else that helps you move into a place of balance inside.
-You are now tuning into and taking care of your nervous system. When you take care of your needs you can move from anxiety into the calm place of safety, the ventral state.
- Once you are back in safety then you can ask: What does my child need, in this moment, right now from me?
If you respond to your child from a place of anxiety, fear or uncertainty without taking care of you first, your child will respond to your anxiety, fear and uncertainty. Your child will mirror back to you the state you are in.
Your child’s nervous system reads your nervous system.
Autonomic nervous systems communicate with one another. This is why we need to take care of our autonomic nervous system first, before interacting with our child. Once we become aware of this, we can regulate ourselves, this sends our child cues of safety. In other words:
Your calm nervous system calms their nervous system.
Ways to create autonomic safety for your child’s nervous system:
- The tone of your voice– Prosody- when we speak in a calm, soft tone of voice your child’s nervous system will calm down. The research has shown that the tone of your voice actually matters more than what you are actually saying.
- Non-language sounds like hmms, ahhs and ah-ah allows your child to know they are being heard. This non-language sound is called a vocal burst and it lets your child know I hear you and you are safe telling this to me.
- Tilt your head– when you are listening to someone, tilt your head to the right or left. This creates safety. This goes back to our primitive brains and our basic needs for safety. If the neck is exposed, you are at risk. If you show your neck to another you let their nervous system know there is no risk here.
- A soft stare or soft eye contact. A soft gaze
- A welcoming facial expression. Smile with your eyes.
Three essential elements to help your child’s nervous system feel safe:
-Our nervous systems need these three elements to feel safe during uncertain times.
- Context: Information- We need answers to the questions of who, what, where, when and why. Giving this kind of explicit context and information gives our nervous system enough information that lets us know we are safe.
- Choice: Choice helps our nervous system feel safe. We need to find creative ways to create choices. This will be different for each child based on their needs and learning abilities. If your child is old enough, include them in coming up with creative choice.
- Connection: This is key, and it goes hand in hand with conscious parenting. Connection over correction. Keep coming back and ask yourself how I can be most connected with my child right now. We want to have connections to help them feel safe to decrease anxiety and strengthen the relationship.
Examples for creating safety:
-Have a dance party on a break.
– Give a hug.
– Give a cue of safety: sing a song softly into their ear that you used to sing when they were a baby while you rock and hug them. This works to calm their nervous system because the subconscious mind will remember. This will help them feel safe and help their nervous system regulate. What are the things you can bring forward from the past that used to be a cue of safety for your child and use it in the present?
-You are only limited by your imagination.
Have compassion for yourself and your child. This is a learning process. The more you learn about your own nervous system and how to regulate yourself, the better you will be to help them regulate theirs. You are your child’s co-regulating partner.