Clearly, it can be challenging to stay conscious as a parent. I think that as a spiritual practice, it has to be a fast-track to enlightenment. It’s just that so many of us haven’t engaged it that way because to do so requires immense courage and faith, and there aren’t many examples available to us. It is much easier on Sunday to put the kids in daycare and get our enlightenment in the sanctuary with all the other polite adults. But as parents, what opportunities we have every day of the week! — to become conscious of where we hold ourselves back, and to choose more liberated responses.
I’ve been interested in conscious parenting since I was a little girl. I remember listening to my mom yell at me about cleaning my room and thinking she could get a lot further with me if she would just talk respectfully. I promised myself that if I ever had kids, I would do a better job than she. While my mom was all about being in control at all times, I was full of dreams about creating mutual wins, treating each other respectfully, and having fun together.
And now that I’m a mom, (you knew this was coming) I can understand and appreciate my mom a lot more. Although our styles are different, I know now that it would be arrogant to even imply that I could do a better job than she did. I have found being a parent can be all at once humbling, mystifying, thrilling and sometimes shattering. Not such good news to my ego.
Perfect Parenting vs. Conscious Parenting
Conscious Parenting isn’t about being perfect, another opportunity for you to feel guilty and nail yourself for getting it all wrong. It’s the opposite of perfectionism, which, while it seems harmless, is key in keeping the painful story going.
Perfect is focused on behavior and appearances.
Conscious is focused on the inner experience.
Perfect is about forcing or controlling to bring about a desired outcome in the future.
As a conscious parent, my priority is connection and bringing my awareness to the present moment.
Perfectionism seeks approval in vain. Funny, I almost wrote “vein”, which expresses it maybe better — seeking an intravenous infusion of approval from an outside source, a drug that must constantly be sought but that never, ever gives the deep nourishment we really need . . . its futile quest is to medicate an imagined deficit. And that’s the trap, because you’ll never be good enough when you’re judged against an illusion. That’s what perfection does: sets up an illusory, unattainable goal, and then accepts nothing less. Do we really want to hold ourselves and our children up to this unforgiving measure? Failure is guaranteed; the soul has no choice but to express through dysfunction.
Consciousness experiences being in the moment. There is no lack, no right & wrong way to behave: instead, a deeper awareness of the love that we are guides our decisions. We get to live deeper lives when we engage life consciously. Yes, it can be messy — but so worth it.
Using triggers to track down and transform cycles of trauma and abuse
It’s cliche’ to talk about parenting as being the most difficult job in the world. I think it’s a mistake to blame that on children. I think it’s challenging to engage parenting consciously specifically because of all the trauma we carry from generations and lives past. Unless we can find ways that work for us to heal and release the cycles of trauma and abuse, we’ll pass them on.
My sister Toni A. Rahman, LCSW (http://tonirahman.com) is a counselor and therapist in Columbia, Missouri. She sees clients every day who are grappling with the various manifestations of trauma, and she supports individuals and families in releasing painful patterns and claiming renewed lives. According to Toni, “Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes and tends to plague us all to varying degrees at one time or another, whether it’s the Big-T Trauma of an automobile accident or the loss of a loved one, or the smaller-t trauma a child experiences when encountering emotions that he or she can’t yet put into words.”
When we live with the effects of unhealed trauma, it can be hard to think clearly and respond appropriately to what is really present — we’re caught in a loop trying to address something that happened in the past. When we’re with young children who have not yet learned to dodge the places where we’re traumatized, we can feel our painful places triggered constantly. Which is exhausting!
In my journey in moving from perfectionism to conscious parenting, I have found these triggers to be a powerful opportunity for
healing and growth. Even while it may feel awful at the time, a trigger always points directly to something that I’ve hidden from myself due to past trauma, but that will hinder my growth and healing until it is revealed and released.
My personal practice has been that when I feel deeply triggered, to “be like a log” — do nothing, just observe myself, and pay attention to my breath.
One big trigger for me is when my two young sons fight. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told them to stop fighting with each other. I’ve told them to make up and be friends and the battle intensifies. I’ve screamed at them and threatened them and been big scary monster mommy. No luck. “Being Like A Log” can sometimes be excruciating because it calls to my present awareness some old long-forgotten pain that had been too much for me to handle at the time and which I had stashed away for such a moment as this.
What I first notice are the beliefs flying around in my head about the situation. “He’s evil.” “He must be punished.” “I have to put a stop to this.” The next thing that comes to my awareness is the intensity of my feelings — often grief, rage, terror. Always, the feelings I have are out of context with what is actually happening between the boys in the present moment. They are feelings left over from what happened in the past. Any actions I take while in this state will be similarly out of context, and I’m at risk of being abusive myself.
I sit and be still, and watch my breath, and feel my feelings. I also find prayer to be very powerful. I ask for help in healing and releasing the trauma, as necessary — sometimes, the trigger is so great and my mind is mush, and asking for help is all I can think of to do. But it’s enough. And I feel myself coming more into the present moment.
Often after giving myself some space, watching my breath, connecting with myself and feeling my feelings, almost like magic, I notice that the children are playing delightedly with each other. Doing and saying things together that are so beautiful to me that they bring tears to my eyes.
Now, please be clear — I am NOT saying that I think it’s a bad idea when kids are fighting with each other or bullying to set firm limits and re-direct and give information about how to get needs met in a positive way. I most certainly do think that these are important skills. What I’m talking about is recurring situations where you’re feeling really triggered, where you feel the pressure rising and it feels all too familiar — you are concerned that you might flip out and act in a way that damages your relationship with your child.
Take the test
Do you see yourself as being someone who’s relatively free from trauma? A great test is this — play with your child. Let them take the lead. Do what they choose. Do it for 15 minutes — set a timer and don’t look at your watch for the duration. Notice how you feel. Do you feel refreshed and invigorated and in love with the young person you’re with? Or are you feeling drained, frustrated, bored, antsy? Can’t wait for it to be over? Sometimes I struggle with staying awake while playing with my four-year-old, but have a very easy time hanging out with my seven-year-old, which tells me that there’s material ripe for healing my inner four-year-old, and that I’m pretty clear at the inner seven-year-old level.
If you find yourself experiencing some stuck places, do yourself and your family a favor and get help! You didn’t deserve what happened to you, and you and your family deserve to be free of painful patterns. Don’t isolate. Whether through reaching out to a friend, committing to a course of therapy, spending time in nature, praying and asking for prayers of others, there is help available. Yes, it takes courage! But when we engage the process of becoming more conscious, we can begin to release the wounds of countless generations, and set into motion a new way of being that will bless countless generations to come.