I spoke with Tsabary about some of the questions that come to me as a parent coach time and time again. Here, she shares with us the main points that drive her work, and our work. Which is to be the best parents we can.
[Also, join us Wednesday, June 1, for a live chat with Tsabary. Ask your questions now. ]
One of the topics that parents talk to me about is how they know the culture is “too much.” They know that they are pushing their kids; they know that it is too much for their children, but they are afraid of being left behind. And the truth is saying no is painful. What can you say to parents who are trying forge their own path?
Shefali Tsabary: It is not easy to walk away from a mainstream culture that dictates we should push our children to move ahead of the curve. The predominant parenting paradigm has developed into a model where children are no longer allowed to be children enjoying their childhood. Instead, they are to become super mini-adults rushing to produce more, achieve endlessly and race to adulthood. What we don’t understand is that these years from 0-18 are the incubation years where the identity is not formed — nor does it need to be. This is meant to be a time for reckless abandon, lazy ordinariness, and simple enjoyments. When we truncate this essential growth period and contaminate it with adult-like activities, aspirations and endeavors, we overload our children’s systems. We might not see the results of this endless pressure right away, but we will once our kids turn into adults who are burned out, depressed, sluggish and constantly anxious.
What if we turned the tide? What if we actually managed to create a new mainstream? One where we were present and attuned to our children — but not the hovering, anxious maniacs we have become today. One where we were able to allow our children’s inner being to unfold instead of obsessively contouring, managing and producing it? Imagine how that would feel.
Can parents ever truly abandon our own fears regarding our children? Our own baggage? Is the work to eliminate it or to simply see it and dance with it?
There is no relationship as intimate as the parent-child relationship. While there are many aspects of this attachment that are pure and endearing, there are equally those that become toxic and harmful for a child. It is precisely because we care so deeply about our children that we become enmeshed in their identity and well-being. We feel responsible for them to such an extent that we forget that they are their own beings. We cross boundaries freely because we are “allowed” to as parents. This role of parent lends to us forgetting that we are here to usher their unique spirits and it is because we forget the unique nature of our children’s spirits that we micromanage and control them — under the illusion that they are ours — as in our possessions, puppets and projects.
This intense enmeshment breeds from one place: fear. It is ultimately fear for our own sense of self that we act in this way. We know that our well-being is tied into that of our children’s — and not only well-being but our sense of self, who we are as people and how we fare in the role of parent.
We can only abandon our fears as long as step away from the paradigm that we are in control and in charge of their spirits. We are only in charge of how we are and the conditions we create in our home. The old paradigm breeds fear. It is hierarchical, control based, dependency based, and constantly creating a sense of lack in both parent and child. We need a new paradigm that moves away from fear into abundance. If we do that, we’ll feel empowered to enter our own growth and transformation, and then will set our children free to be their own people.
What do you want to say parents who have children with special needs, diagnoses, and other challenges? How can being an “awakened parent” benefit this population of parents?
Benefit: you can stop having to fix your child. You can liberate yourself from the idea that there successful children and unsuccessful children. Letting go of that creates connection with your child because you, the parent, are liberated from the idea of fixing the child, who is not a product. Enjoy the child as they are. It liberates the child and the parent. Therapies are not done from a “lack,” or a “fix” or “to be made normal.” Instead we are a work in progress. It is the parent’s perspective that creates the delusion, not the child’s perspective.
From your viewpoint, why do the traditional disciplines of spanking, time-outs, and sending a child to his room often fail?
Because they don’t get to the root of the misbehavior. At the root of every misbehavior is a skill that could be learned or taught in a loving and compassionate way or a need not being met, and an emotional need for connection that is not being met. This is the most important. We teach our children how to regulate their behaviors and feelings through conscious connection, not through shame and punitive measures. The child needs skills and connection rather than shame, anger, separation. Feeling unworthy just leads to more misbehavior. Punitive techniques are a band-aid that is a portal for greater dysfunction. You have not created a lack of trust, you have broken the trust, and your child feels betrayed. The child is young. How would we feel if we got to work and forgot a file, and our boss trashed us? Shamed us terribly? We would feel helpless and betrayed. The same behavior we wouldn’t tolerate from our bosses and friends, we believe is helping is to control our children. It does not make sense.
Punitive punishments give us a false sense of control. When we believe we are control, we assume that this okay, that this is parenting. We were controlled, we were shamed, we were betrayed growing up, so we repeat what we know. We can’t tolerate our children having their own big feelings. We don’t want to have to hold a boundary everyday, a problem every day. The instant that they are human, and feeling human feelings or acting in human ways, we focus on how they are not who them to want to be.
I have seen you speak and you are very funny. So tell us: What’s so funny about parenting?
When we are unable to laugh at ourselves, we are unable to grow. It’s only when we move away from the idea that we need to be perfect that we will heal ourselves and others around us. I could easily pretend I have my act together. But what good would that do? No one learns anything that way. However, if I share my failings along my path, then I have allowed others to look within and seek the courage to walk the path as well.
My onus is never to look good or be considered perfect.
My only mandate is to be authentic and help release others from inauthenticity.
Meghan Leahy is a parenting coach and author of the parenting advice column at The Washington Post. You can follow her on Facebook or on Twitter @mlparentcoach. She will be chatting with Tsabary June 1. Ask questions now.
You can follow Shefali Tsabary @DrShefali.
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