When Dr Shefali Tsabary published her book The Conscious Parent she coined a phrase that sparked many questions. What is a ‘Conscious Parent’? What is ‘Conscious parenting’? And are there really any parents who aren’t conscious? There isn’t a simple, one-line answer to these questions.
Conscious parenting is not a thing. It’s more of an atmosphere or an attitude. It is a parenting practice that centers around skillful relationship. David Myers describes “an atmosphere of learning from each other rather than fostering an attitude of ownership of our children."
There isn’t a badge that you can wear that says “I’m a conscious parent.” Because the moment you put it on, you are bound to fail. In one moment you are engaged and able to listen lovingly to your child. In the next you are ready to throw your own temper tantrum.
We know that being conscious is a moment-to-moment experience. Conscious parents recognize the gifts in the challenging moments. They welcome the edges as an invitation to turn inwards and heal their own tender places.
Many great parents are living these ‘new’ principles without knowing they have a name. They have followed their inner knowing and done their own personal work. They know how to create healthy relationships. But, for many of us, there has been something missing. Something in the way that society talks about the parent-child relationship.
I was chatting to the lead teacher at a Denver Montessori school recently. She said, “Our parents know that the old way of punishing and disciplining children doesn’t work. They’ve stopped that, but they don’t know what to replace it with.”
She went on to say: “Dr. Shefali’s given us the answer we’ve been looking. Her books The Awakened Family and The Conscious Parent map the way. They put words to what many of us know inside.”
Are You a Conscious Parent?
There are many different different actions and attitudes that a conscious parent practices. Here are 6 important ones:
- When you get rattled by your child, you take yourself time-out!
- You take responsibility for your triggers, rather than blame your child
- Your family members all get to express and share their values in the home.
- You prefer to engage than to discipline.
- Harmony in the home is a function of your inner harmony
- Your relationship with yourself is the greatest influence in your child’s happiness
Can you really find time to connect with your kids the way you want to?
Even the best parents have to face the busy-ness of the world. We have so many moments of rushing past each other in the hustle and bustle of each day. Getting ready for school. Dashing to sports practice. Throwing together a meal. It seems like finding moments of meaningful connection can be a pipe dream. But I’m here to say: You do have time to create sweet, nourishing, healing connection with your child. There are 20 minutes easily available to you, every day, for the first 8 years of their life. And the best part… you don’t need to add anything to your to-do list.
Every night, when you tuck you children into bed, you have the perfect moment to fulfill your goals of being a conscious parent.
You only need to direct your presence to the moment that is unfolding right in front of your eyes. The last 20 minutes of every day are precious.
There are many teachings that encourage adults to use the end of our day for gratitude, journaling, stretching, reading or prayer. This is exactly what our mind, body and spirit needs to complete our day and transition into sleep.
It is even more relevant for our children. They need to integrate their days, just as much as we do. Perhaps more so. They grow in front of our own eyes. Each day is full with new experiences that they need to interpret and make understanding of. When you snuggle with them at the end of the day, you help them with this integration.
Dr Shefali says, “When we spend time each day in the heartspace of being it allows our children to feel that we are on their team as their partner instead of their boss.” This is different to ‘coming at a child’ and helps parents reduce the power struggle that can occur. For more tips to parenting without the power struggle watch Susan Stiffelman, author of Parenting Without Power Struggles.
Why You Should Connect With Your Child in the Last 20 Minutes of the Day
Connecting in the last 20 minutes of the day helps your child:
- Know they are loved
- Integrate the day
- Enter peaceful sleep
It also helps you:
- Erase any uncomfortable parenting moments from the day
- Know you are a great parent
- Fulfill your daily spiritual practice
All sort of things can happen in the preciousness of the last twenty minutes of the day, if you are open.
One thing is certain. It is so much more than storytime. It is time for connection, time for play, time for massage, time for laughter, time for snuggles.
Sometimes, if you are lucky, your little ones will open up to share. This can be hard if you are hoping they’d fall asleep. But if you stay present, you will glean insights into their heart.
Presence is the center point of conscious parenting.
It is the gift that you give yourself, and in turn give your children. Catching these unexpected moments is like finding treasure. The open doorway between hearts is nourishment for both them and you. What can you do to help create such moments and be ready for them, so that they don’t slip by unacknowledged?
Four Factors that Influence Connection at Bedtime
There are many factors that influence the quality of connection you make with your little ones at bedtime. Here are 4 key factors that you have some ability to control. They are:
- Your child
- The space
- The content you read
How are you tonight? Are you stressed, tired and irritable or happy, open and resourced? If you are running on empty, hoping for the day to be over, then you may find things don’t go smoothly. The ‘controlling mom’ will probably emerge with her proverbial whip and there will be tears and egg-shell silences.
You have control over this. You can find the space to breathe yourself back to yourself. Yes… you really can. This is the moment to fall into your spiritual practice. To breathe each breath with mindfulness so that you have the inner resources to be the parent you want to be.
“You need only one or two minutes of mindful breathing or mindful walking, in order to reestablish yourself in the here and the now, to be alive again.” ::Thich Nat Han
What has you child’s day been like? Have they had the best mix of structure and flow that suits their individual nature? Have they exercised or been behind the computer screen all day? Have they been eating healthy today or has it been a sugary snacks birthday party kind of day?
You have (some) control over this. You get to make some decisions in the home. Decisions about the timing of meals and activities. You can help your children arrive to bedtime with just the right about of energy. Not too little. Not too much.
The atmosphere or mood of a room affects how we feel when we are in it. Feng Shui experts have specialized in the subtle art of harmonizing the energetics of a room. If you take a leaf from their book and look around your child’s room, where does your attention snag? Is it the noisy TV, the dirty clothes on the floor, the toys scattered around?
You have control over this. Bring your heart to the task of making the bedroom ‘feel’ cozy each evening. Change the linen when it ‘feels’ needed, rather than on a schedule. Adjust the lights before the kids get there. Put on the evening music that you have chosen. Imagine getting ready for a special guest, every evening.
The Content You Read
All the news, media, TV and marketing we see has an effect on our inner environment. To prepare for sleep, we need to choose a different type of content. We are best to feed ourselves with quiet, nourishing, spiritually centered content. Material that resonates with who we are at our deepest levels.
Our children can understand this. Thicht Nhat Hanh suggests we, “Discuss a strategy of mindful consumption with the people you love, with members of your family, even if they are still young.” This is extra important in the last moments of the day. When you chose value centered stories to share at bedtime, you provide a counter-balance for the less supportive inputs of the day.
So here is my invitation, to all you fabulous parents. Consider implementing a curious experiment in your home. Each evening, for the next 2 weeks, set your intention to create moments of deep connection at bedtime. When bedtime comes round, take a few breaths and come present to yourself. Then to your children and the space they are sleeping in. Be curious. See what happens.
I wish you much love and care as you snuggle into togetherness.
Full disclosure: I don’t have my own children. When I say “our children” I mean the children of the world. I believe we are all custodians of their wellbeing, as they will be custodians of our old age.