It is a great responsibility to raise another human being - an incredibly sacred and powerful experience. Every emotion comes to the fore and every last nerve is tested in this most profound relationship to ever exist, that of child and parent.
While many of us know that parenthood can be a crazy journey without a roadmap, and we can laugh at the little mishaps that every new parent will experience (poo explosions we’re talking about you!), there is a very serious side to raising children that many parents may unconsciously fail at.
We know that for troubled adults there is often a link back to a troublesome childhood, and we’ve learned from many experts that the first few years of a child’s life is very important in forming their character. We also believe that no parent intentionally sets out to be a ‘bad parent’ or to emotionally scar their children and yet countless lives have been affected by the poor decisions or behaviours of parents.
So where does it all go wrong?
We looked to the experts for the best insight and tips on how best to raise strong, healthy and conscious children and how we can remove the guilt, fear and pressure in parenting.
The Parental Unconscious
Clinical psychologist Dr Shefali, popularly known as ‘the parent whisperer’, believes that we are all beings of our own upbringing, and by understanding our own shortcomings and insecurities we are able to better ourselves and our parenting techniques by being ‘conscious’.
She explains that the first step towards conscious parenting is being conscious of your ‘Parental Unconsciousness’ - or becoming aware of how and why you behave and think the way you do. It’s about uncovering your cultural conditioning from your parents and wider community to question and become more curious.
Dr. Shefali explains that when children enter our lives as babies they are already their authentic selves, but as they grow and learn from their parents, certain cultural rules and beliefs shape their life and they become less true to themselves the more they try to fit a specific life template. Through a parent’s unconscious behaviours and ideas of success, unrealistic expectations are formed for the child, which when they cannot meet them or be the ‘ideal version of the self’ that the parents have set, the child feels guilt, shame and fear.
The Battle of Egos
Parents and children often disagree, but Dr. Shefali believes the real fight is The Battle of the Ego. By ego we aren’t necessarily referring to a narcissistic power play, we are looking at the version of yourself you created to survive against negativity, and it is often a character built from a place of fear.
“The Battle of the Ego” is understanding how to release ownership of your child and allowing them to be the best version of themselves rather than an idea of your own self. As a parent, it can be an interesting revelation that we do not own our child’s lives.
The battle of the ego can extend to an “I’m the teacher, you’re the student” mentality or “I’m right and you’re wrong”, “my way is the right way”. Subconsciously many parents will be frustrated with their children and think (but probably never admit), ‘do as I say because I created you and your role is to follow me and complete me.’ However, children are unique beings with their own personalities and come into your life to teach you just as much as you will teach them.
Although that may sound a little “airy fairy” it is important to understand that your child shouldn’t be treated as the idolised version of what you never were. This is an important paradigm many parents face when raising their children, overcompensating or justifying their actions in the belief that they are guiding their child in the right direction, this behaviour can be attributed to their own parents not giving them a sense of fulfilment.
When you release the ego and share in mutual respect and authority with your child, you grow together. Dr. Shefali says to consider this scenario - that your child came into your life as a being to help you grow spiritually, and not the other way around.
What Children Really Need
Parenting is less about ‘doing’ and more about ‘being’. Sure there are plenty of things to ‘do’ when you’ve got children (we know all about the cooking, cleaning and unending to-do list) but the most important thing is being present. Your child may be fed, clothed and safely tucked into bed and you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done, but they won’t be completely fulfilled if you haven’t connected with them emotionally or shown them that you understand them.
Dr. Shefali believes that children teach us to be present, and what they truly yearn for is to be acknowledged for who they really are, not what you want them to be.
Dr Shefali has described the following three things as a child’s core needs:
Am I seen?
Am I worthy?
Do I matter?
These are key three questions we should ask ourselves as parents when considering our child’s feelings. Reflecting on our own childhood, it is also important to ask our younger self – did we feel seen, welcomed or like we mattered?
How to Show Up For Your Child
To help your child be the best version of themselves, you need to show up as the best version of yourself and you do this by removing the ego, stepping away from outside pressures and living with gratitude and acceptance.
- Accept that the ego exists
- Recognise when it surfaces and release it
- Emerge into your true self, living without fear
This can sound idealistic, but what if you wake up cranky and stressed? Stop yourself in that moment and pause, understand where your fear and stress is coming from and try to remove yourself from it. Try to understand what you believe you are lacking or needing and address that as quick as you can before you project that onto your child. If you can separate yourself from the need to achieve superficial success, you will release a lot of stress and pressure both from yourself and your child, and it’s liberating.
Dr Shefali encourages parents to understand who they are - if you don’t live who you truly are you are teaching your children to live a false self as well.
The hardest but most important lesson for parents?
The plethora of fears are endless when raising children and the hardest part is learning to let the fears go. Dr. Shefali encourages parents to have complete faith in the child’s destiny and to let children learn their own lessons and let them go through pain. She says to let your child be rejected, let the child come last in the race - and don’t fix it. Help guide them, but don’t deprive them of experience. Let them try, believe and be there for them if it doesn’t turn out but don’t prevent them from learning their own lessons.