I was flipping through the TV a few weeks ago when I saw Oprah talking with Dr.Shefali Tsabary, clinical psychologist and author of The Awakened Family.
I wasn’t only struck by her beauty and neat accent, but her profound words. She said, “(Let’s) shift the parenting paradigm so it is no longer about the raising of the child, but the raising of the parent.” She teaches her readers and clients to respond to life consciously through reasoning and active will, rather than reacting out of impulse and passive conditioning.
Conscious parenting isn’t about changing or fixing our children, but looking within for growth and healing. This shift fosters love, acceptance, and respect among all family members.
A few weeks after discovering her, I seized an opportunity to join her 7-day conscious parenting challenge. Here’s how it went:
Day 1: Be a conscious parent by directing awareness on how we communicate
The goal today was to focus on the words, energy, and tone I use when speaking. Dr. Shefali says to ask,
“When I talk, am I controlling my children or connecting to them?”
Being aware of this was very eye-opening. I realized my inclination to bark orders and make little threats. Choosing connection over control made our day harmonious, and minimized the battle between wills.
By treating my 4-year-old like a friend, it actually felt a lot like hanging out with one. At one point, he wanted to take a cup of “potion” he was mixing into a store. I suggested he leave it in the car, but he responded, “I don’t want it to get stolen. I just want to take it.” I said okay, and that the cup was his responsibility.
That was that- there was no forcing, demanding, or bribing. We both respected each other’s points of views, and compromised. All day long, he felt validated which resulted in him being pleasing and helpful. Our interests and goals became each others.
He even swept and wiped the counters after dinner without being asked.
Day 2: Be a conscious parent by watching your reactions
The goal today was to simply not react. We often think others
We often think others make us act certain ways. For example, my son, who sometimes doesn’t put his shoes on even after asking 12 times, makes me yell. Dr. Shefali says our reactions are never about our children or the situation, but us. We react because we feel scared, helpless, unheard, and so on.
Rather than react, she recommends taking deep pauses during which we slow down and pay attention. She says
Here’s Dr. Shefali:
“Having a perfect kid isn’t the way to get a handle on our responses, but through awareness, restraint, and discipline.”
Today my 4-year-old begged me for a blender. (Yup, a blender.) We actually needed one, so I bought one “for him”. He spent the entire day making smoothies, juices, and messes. I cleaned, put the kids in the bath, and embraced bedtime with open arms.
That’s when Javin said, “Can I make one more thing with my blender?”
I told him the kitchen was closed for the day, and that it was time for bed. He got upset, but I was firm and calm. He yelled, “You’re a mean mommy. You make stupid rules!” As I was running through the bedtime motions with my 1-year-old, I felt agitated by the noise and commotion he was making. Plus, his personal attacks were starting to penetrate me.
With complete awareness of my goal, I stayed in control. I kept reminding myself he was tired, and that the storm would pass soon. After setting the baby in his crib, I crawled next to my raging son and said, “Listen. I always want to say yes. I don’t say no to be mean. After dinner, the kitchen is closed. You can make us breakfast smoothies in the morning.”
The baby started crying so I kissed him on the nose and said, “I must go see Ash, I’ll be back.” As soon as I left the room, he fell asleep. Typically I would have lost my cool, and been left with guilt, but on this night, only peace was left in the storm’s wake.
Day 3: Be a conscious parent by getting in touch with your feelings
The goal today was to experience our feelings without escaping them or looking for quick fixes. The task was to write down how I felt every two hours. Dr. Shefali says,
Dr. Shefali says:
“Once we are inwardly attuned, we are able to be aware of our feelings and in this way we donʼt react to our feelings in a dysfunctional way such as yelling or screaming instead of simply feeling them.”
I was mostly having a happy, energized, and confident day. By regularly checking in with myself, I didn’t take my joy for granted. It was actually magnified through my reflection on it. However, when my husband got home from work, his energy was all wrong. I was buzzing happily, and he was anxious and irritable. We weren’t agreeing on the details of an upcoming trip I was taking, and it was clearly bothering him more than me. He was respectful and in-control, yet intense.
As usual, I wanted to run away and shut down.
However, I was accustomed to looking inward all day, so instead of doing those things I simply told myself, “You feel uncomfortable. Stick it out.”
Because I felt my feelings rather than react to them, we were able to come to an agreement and enjoy the rest of our day together. I didn’t even slam a door or zoom away in the car.
Day 4: Be a conscious parent by nurturing connection in the form of presence
Dr. Shefali says:
“Commit to 30 mins of pure connection where you do not try to change (your children) or mold them to your fantasy. You simply join them with your entire being and display your enjoyment for who it they are – in that moment – through your complete presence.”
I have two children, and wanted to get this time with each of them. My toddler woke up at 6:00 am and I carried him downstairs. I didn’t go to the coffee maker, grab my phone, or pop open my computer. I took him into my bed with no agenda but to hang out. We talked, played peek-a-boo, read a book, and snuggled. It felt amazing to be so present and connected. There was plenty of time to start the day, and I reveled in the delay.
In the afternoon, I took my 4-year-old to the playground. I put my phone in my backpack, and made a silent vow to keep it there. Javin went over to the monkey bars and I followed. Just like old times, I bent my legs around the bar and hung upside down. It filled me with nostalgia and invigoration. I even impressed my son. We had the whole playground to ourselves, and I ran around and laughed with him like I was a child myself as we played tag.
When it was time to leave he said, “Mama, I love you more than anything ever.”
I hope he doesn’t expect me to be so fun everyday because it was exhausting. However, I can give my complete presence as we eat, bathe, put together puzzles, and chat before bedtime. We can make everyday activities sacred by keeping distractions away.
Day 5: Be a conscious parent by connecting through play
Today the goal was to play for 30 minutes.
Dr. Shefali says:
“A playful approach to life is key in cultivating mindfulness. Play allows us to enter the moment, fully enjoy it, and most importantly, learn to detach from the outcome. It releases our fears and challenges us to engage with life with spiritedness, courage and most of all, creativity.”
This morning was rainy and comfortable. I asked my 4-year-old what he wanted to play and he said tag. (I told you yesterday was fun!) I set the kitchen timer and ran all over the house with my little guys.
It was so nice for play to be the activity I was supposed to be doing. It was a welcomed break from the household chores and my own agenda. Serious play with my kids is the best physical work out I know, and a good one for the spirit, too.
Truthfully though, four minutes of tag feels like an hour. I think I’ll suggest Candy Land or a craft next time.
Day 6: Be a conscious parent by connecting through practice
Dr. Shefali uses the word “practice” in place of discipline, because discipline is often confused with punishment.
She believes children learn best through encouragement and the repeated building of skills. The goal today was to practice skills that our children haven’t mastered yet, rather than punish the lack of them.
Earlier today I put my fussy toddler down for a nap, and turned the TV on for my preschooler so I could get some much-anticipated time to myself. Six minutes into meditating I heard Javin moan “Moooooooommmmmmmmmmm.” Then a few minutes later, “Mooommmmmmmmmm?” Irritated, I went out to the living room and met his request for water.
I snapped, “You can get yourself water! You’re big enough to do this!”
That’s when I caught myself and realized- here’s a teachable moment! He’s not being “bad”, but showing the need for a lesson. I backtracked, “Come with me, and I’ll show you how to get yourself water.” I had him practice finding a cup and filling it up from the filter. Then I kissed him and resumed.
Equipping him with new skills, building his confidence, and demonstrating trust in him certainly felt more effective than being condescending and sharp
Day 7: Be a conscious parent through mindfulness
The goal today was to devote 10 minutes to meditation.
Dr Shefali says:
“It is only when we learn to sit in silence each day and watch our thoughts that we will be able to bring them slowly under our watch, then slowly under our care, and then slowly under our direction. Once you are seasoned in doing this, you will literally be able to direct your thoughts on a path of your choosing. If you want to feel happier, you can direct your thoughts there and before you know it, you will feel happier.”
I feel a constant pressure to be productive, so taking 10 minutes to do nothing but look within is relieving, but hard. It’s difficult to break my addiction to stimuli, and I find myself wishing the 10 minutes of quietness away fast. However, the silence fosters our connection to ourselves, and the source of our creativity. When I came out of my meditation I felt inspired and energized.
These past seven days have been powerful. Although the week is over, the challenge isn’t. I will continue to follow these daily goals because I feel closer, not only to my boys, but to myself. I want to continue reaping the benefits of living in the moment, choosing connection, practicing self control, and raising myself so I can better raise my children.
If you want to check out the challenge for yourself, find it here.