Your children can teach you more about yourself and about life than most adults can. I’ve found they can even teach you more than the most revered spiritual and personal growth teachers. If you approach parenting with this attitude of honouring your children as teachers for you, the rewards you gain are priceless. This type of parenting has come to be defined as Conscious Parenting and has become popularised since Dr Shefali Tsabary published her book The Conscious Parent. What Voice Dialogue and the Psychology of Selves offers is a clear explanation of what is actually going on in the parent/child relationship and how to be a ‘conscious parent’ in practice.
My three daughters are now 16, 14 and 10. Since becoming a mother to them, I’ve developed greater self-awareness and have become far more conscious than before having children. Each daughter has taught me something different – and they continue to do so as they grow and mature, and each one is just as great a teacher for me as the others.
All of our relationships, especially the close personal ones, teach us about ourselves and nudge us toward greater consciousness if we accept the teachings they offer us, so all relationships can be ‘conscious relationships’.
The difference with conscious parenting is that once you have your children, no matter what happens, you have to stay and be there for them, and give them the love and attention they need.
You can’t leave and start over with other children if you find yours too challenging. And if you ignore problems and pretend everything is ok, or you refuse to deal with issues, children won’t play the game with you as many adults will.
Children really force us to confront and deal with our issues. If we don’t, they will act them out. They will mirror what is unconscious in us.
The examples below, from my own parenting experiences, illustrate how conscious parenting works in action when you have an understanding of the makeup of your personality or psyche, as described in the Psychology of Selves.
Two life lessons my daughters have taught me
1. To embrace ‘slow’, to be in the present
My eldest daughter takes her time with everything she does, particularly activities such as brushing her teeth and washing her hair and her hands. She’ll stand at the bathroom sink for what seems to me like ages, and won’t finish until she’s good and ready. She washes her hands so meticulously, first the palms, then the backs of the hands, and then the fingers – one by one. I get impatient and frustrated with her because I tend to do that sort of thing quickly and move on. For me it feels like she is wasting time, and plodding along so s-l-o-w-l-y.
She is also an artist and becomes completely absorbed with creating one of her artworks or musical compositions that she has no concept that time has passed. She can work for hours without a break, even from when she was a very young child, and for her it feels as if no time has passed.
All children are able to be in the present easily. You just have to watch young children playing to see that. It is us adults who ‘teach’ them to snap out of the present and move on to the next thing.
So what does having a daughter like this teach me?
Before I witnessed how she relates with time, I was not aware that I was so identified with a more fast-paced energy that hurries me along to the next thing to be done – my Inner Pusher. It just felt ‘normal’ to be always moving on and thinking about what I had to do next.
Because I was identified with this Pusher energy, I easily became frustrated with my daughter – who was the opposite.
If I had not known about how our children reflect the parts of ourselves that we have lost contact with, then I would have stayed in judgement of my daughter being so ‘slow’ and tried to change her to fit in with my way of doing things. I would have considered her to be the problem. But instead I looked at her as a teacher for myself and learned to access in myself some of the energy she naturally embodies.
If I had stayed identified with my Pusher energy, I would have missed out on enjoying much of life and also would have suffered from more stress and other associated symptoms.
It would have also caused conflict in my relationship with my daughter: she would have felt that I did not understand her, I would have spent her childhood trying to change her, and our connection with each other would have suffered as a result.
Instead we have both learnt from each other and we have both become more whole. And our relationship has remained strong.
Now whenever I realise that I am feeling annoyed with my daughter for taking time with things – which she still tends to do at age 16, it is a sign that I’ve over-identified with the Pusher again. So then I do the work again on separating from my primary let’s-get-on-with-it Pusher self, and integrate the self that knows how to enjoy time and be present.
And the remarkable thing is that when I separate from my Inner Pusher, not only do I no longer look at my daughter with a critical eye, but she is more able to use her own Pusher energy more readily.
It’s as if when I become identified with pushing-forward energy, I take all that energy for myself and she is left without any, but when I let go of some of the energy, she can take it for herself.
2. You don’t have to do everything according to plan
Most parents will have a daily schedule they follow to enable them to get everything done each day – and this helps with bringing order to the chaos that often characterises family life, particularly with younger children.
But sometimes we can become too attached to our schedule. This can lead to unnecessary conflict and missing out on spontaneity and a more organic flow of communication with our children.
Most kids will challenge a parent’s schedule daily and this can be frustrating. But I’ve found that if I am flexible and agree with some of the requests from my kids, such as an extra story at bedtime or another episode of a favourite TV show, or more desert, then our lives become more pleasant.
Even straying quite far from ‘the rules’ you have about when and how things ought to be done can be liberating.
That doesn’t mean I allow my kids to run the show. When I give them their way, it is a conscious decision I’ve made, and it is in the context of a stable family life.
Whereas if I always expect my children to follow my pre-designed rules, then I give them no input or choice in how their lives progress. And it keeps me stuck in a kind of military mentality.
It is far more enjoyable to let go of control sometimes and enjoy ‘going with my children’s flow’.
If I find that my children are challenging my rules persistently, then it is an indication that I have become too identified with those rules.
If I pay attention to this and let go a bit, then a more harmonious balance in the family – and within every member of the family – forms.
I’ve actually found that if I listen to and seriously consider what my children are asking of me, and then make decisions taking their input into account, it keeps me in a more centred space than if I didn’t do that.
If you can look at the aspects of your children’s behaviour that irritate you and use those behaviours as indicators of the disowned selves within yourself, then instead of sitting in judgement of your kids and trying to get them to change, you will have an ever-present consciousness-enhancing mechanism in place. And you will have a far more enjoyable time with your children.
You will also give your children the precious gift of allowing them to be who they are, to express their own personalities, instead of constantly pushing them into either rebelling against you and becoming opposite to you, or giving them no choice but to be like you.
No matter what you do, they will still have their unique personality make-up, but it won’t be so difficult for them to get in touch with the multitude of other selves available to them, and their lives will be easier and richer.
(This article explains how your personality forms and this ebook gives you an overview of the selves that makeup your personality.)
The same applies for those qualities in your children you admire or are in awe of. So if your child has a particular talent or characteristic you think is absolutely amazing, take some time to consider whether you have disowned that characteristic in yourself.
It might be that you look at your daughter and think “My goodness, she’s so comfortable in her skin, I wish I felt so good about myself.” If that is the case, then consider whether you have disowned that part of you – this particular example applies to many women once they become mothers and get bogged down in domesticity and lose their connection to the non-mothering parts of themselves they might have had available previously.
All the feelings you have about your children give you clues for where to go on your own path of personal growth. I’ve found it’s well worth examining those feelings, looking at where they might have come from, and then learning the lessons my children are teaching me.
For more information on using parenting as a path to greater consciousness and on parenting more consciously, see my book Enlightenment Through Motherhood.