Danielle Aubin, LCSW
Why Being A Conscious Parent Is Really Hard
Parenthood and Mindfulness
Before becoming a parent, I was a regular at my local meditation center and I volunteered every weekend so that I could attend the daylong meditations for free. I even sat for a 7 day silent retreat. I've always been an anxious person and meditation was the perfect medicine for me. I attended meditations up until I gave birth to my first child. After giving birth, my world was turned upside down and I found that although I had read lots of books about giving birth, I'd read hardly any about parenting itself. My mindfulness skills went out the window.
I discovered that I was in way over my head and that even as someone who had worked as a nanny and a therapist, I lacked the tools I needed to be the parent I wanted to be. I was overwhelmed with the demands of caring for a baby 24/7. The sound of her cry caused me to feel almost panicked and she cried a lot.
As I tried to settle into my role as a parent, I began to devour any and all books on parenting. I rediscovered my practice of mindfulness although I rarely sat to meditate but I practiced being mindfully aware of my daily life. The more I practiced being mindful, the more I was able to make a choice in how I responded to my child. I found this to be incredibly freeing but also incredibly painful and challenging.
Repeating Old Patterns
Although I found mindfulness to be incredibly valuable as a parent, I also found it incredibly challenging. I had so much old programming from how I was raised and cultural norms that were intruding on my daily life and practice of being a mindful parent. I would find myself thinking that my daughter needed to "learn a lesson" when she did something harmful to others or something inconvenient. I discovered that if I let my automatic thoughts dictate my behavior, I would become a punitive, cold, and controlling parent. In order to avoid this, I had to carefully choose how I responded to my children. And it was not easy.
This also caused some resentment in me since I began to grieve the treatment I received as a child. Although mindfulness was challenging, I was disappointed that my parents had not practiced it when making choices about how they treated me. I realized I had a lot of healing to do.
I also felt exhausted by pushing back on what society teaches us about how to treat children. There were (and are) days I felt like I was fighting an uphill battle. The more conscious I became of harmful parenting practices like conditional praise, punishment, reward, etc, the more I would bristle when I heard people using them or when I found myself practicing them unconsciously. It was hard to be conscious of every action I took with my children but if I let myself become less conscious, I would find myself falling into harmful patterns from old programming.
The Pain Of Consciousness and Self-Compassion
To practice conscious parenting means to realize that it will be difficult and we won't get it "perfect" and that is ok. There are many days when I watch myself act in ways I don't like and my default programming is so ingrained and hard to shift, that I feel helpless and defeated. There are other days when I feel empowered, strong, and like a hero-cycle-breaker mom. There are days I feel guilty for my behavior in the past. Each year, I see myself growing into a better mom and the more conscious I become, the more conscious I am of my past mistakes. I practice self-compassion. I am doing the best I can and I did the best I could with the level of consciousness I had in the past. Growing is painful because once we reach a new level of consciousness, we are aware of our unconsciousness of the past.
The path of conscious parenting can be a lonely road. Many people won't get it or don't think the small ways in which we interact with our children is a big deal. But consciousness teaches us otherwise. When we become conscious of ourselves via conscious parenting, we notice that every small action adds up to a pattern of behavior and treatment that affects our children for the rest of their lives. How our children are treated will set up their own programming and patterns in the future. There is no time to be unconscious about it. We have the power to make it easier for them to be conscious people and/or parents via our own modeling of this practice. It's hard but it matters.