๐Ÿ“• My Experience with Conscious Parenting

A book that really made it harder for me to raise my daughter was The Conscious Parent Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children, by Dr. Shefali Tsabary. I loved the book’s message that parents should accept their children the way they are, and it was probably not meant for small kids or to be literal, but I tried to use it that way.

I think when your child doesn’t use the toilet, and then they become ready to use it, you aren’t accepting what they want, you are training them to do things in a better way and somewhat change who they are.

Dr Shefali mentions that “normative” things should be taught as a routine, assertively, but she doesn’t address the dissidence between not trying to change your children vs changing them to do “normative things”. I also read Dr. Shefali’s second book, and loved it on paper. I committed myself to trying to use her method for my family, but many years later I am admitting to myself it did not work for us.

My understanding of the idea of conscious parenting is to 1. examine each situation on a case by case basis, 2. take in the moment, 3. examine your own soul and upbringing, 4. think about what to do, 5. put a space between being mad and acting (wait five minutes before punishment), 6. act to address the situation.

That all sounds fine, but it all doesn’t work for us. Examining each situation sounds great, but if you are pregnant with another kid vomiting in the toilet, how do you examine why your first child broke something in the playroom that you didn’t witness, and they say they didn’t break it… you don’t, you really can’t always do that. Clear, consistent rules are better for us, than a family meeting over each and every new infraction. We have tried it both ways. With clear rules my daughter isn’t scared of the punishment (you drop your ice cream you have no ice cream – you don’t get another, you hit your brother I talk to you about “mฤlama” (caring for) him and using your strength in a helpful way), she knows it is coming, she doesn’t love it, but it doesn’t give her anxiety the same as when we decided punishment on a case by case basis.

Conscious Parenting was a huge cognitive burden for me, to try to think about myself and my childhood every time anything bad happened. Yes,it was important for me to let go of a traumatic childhood, but having done that, not everything that happens to my family now has anything to do with my past upbringing.

When I am mad, it is often because my valid boundaries are being violated, not because I am a raging psycho who needs to chill out.

For me, especially with two kids to care for by myself, it makes things way easier if I don’t have to think about what to do when the same problem comes up, sure I have to figure out each new problem, but the set protocol really helps.

For something unsafe, phase 1 I grab my daughter and take her away, phase 2 soothe her, then phase 3 explain, I don’t ask for permission, I don’t negotiate, I just take action.

For emotional fits, I allow the fit, but ask her to go to her space so not everyone else in the family has to be disturbed from their life (quiet meal/music practice/computer project/work from home phone call) for her to throw her fit.

The protocols allow me to be a much better person in the heat of the moment than my attempt at conscious parenting did. For a big disturbing mess I separate her and the mess, have her wait, I clean, then I talk to her about mฤlama/caring for our home, or items she may have broken. I really do that. Before I had the protocol, it wasn’t as nice… There was yelling sometimes, it didn’t really seem to change her bad habits though.

Now with standing protocol I get less flustered, I treat her better, my husband can help me decide on the protocol (sometimes he has good ideas). The last point about why I’m not a fan of conscious parenting anymore, is that when you want to modify behavior waiting five minutes uncouples the cause and effect in the brain of the child, if each time the child does something bad something adverse happens (like they get their toys taken away for the day, when they hurt someone with the toy) it’s a more powerful learning message, than if that toy was taken away five minutes later, when they are already thinking and possibly doing something else.

Sometimes I get too angry to talk to my child about our values when she does something bad, and I confine her somewhere safe while I calm down, but I don’t expect her to learn from that… I’m just keeping her safe from being verbally abused by me, while I am furious. I talk to her when I am calmed down, and I tell her what our family values are. I’m trying to use ICC, inform, consequence, choice from the Four Tendencies book, so I say “when you kick the dog you are not mฤlama-ing/caring for our dog” (inform), “if you kick the dog you can not be in the living room where the dog lives anymore, you will go to your space” (consequence), then I let her choose to either apologize to the dog, or go to/be taken to her room (choice). I don’t punish her with hitting, with screaming, with taking away toys (except if she used them as weapons), I don’t confine her in her room as punishment (though I do for safety, while I calm down) and over the past month I’ve noticed a big improvement in her behavior.

There are some really wonderful ideas in Dr. Shefali’s books, so much so that I tried to live by them for about three years. However, I think it’s so important for parents to know that not all ideas work for all parents or children, even if you try them consistently and do a good job, since kids are different, parenting can never be a one size fit’s all eye glasses prescription. My favorite Ted Talk about parenting, Jennifer Nacif’s “the Secret to Motivating Your Child,” changed the way I saw all parenting advice forever, and empowered me to start viewing my child as a person first, and child second and if all people are created equal, that means my child isn’t really somehow “holier than me” needing me to constantly be the one to go the extra mile, while she won’t meet me half way.

๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘งโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆ Why I Want to Change My Child

I’m not that traditional, but everything “kind of normal to society” is optional to my daughter: wiping her dirty butt after using the potty, washing her dirty hands before putting them in her mouth… I had pinworm for two years because I couldn’t stop her from sticking her dirty hands in my and her mouth for two years.

My daughter doesn’t just hurt herself when she won’t take health and safety advice from me, she hurts other people in the family too. I had less nutrition for my growing baby, when I was pregnant with my son, because of my daughters never ending parasites that she shared with me (that was emotionally difficult), but the downsides of our child are an unavoidable cost that we pay to have the great parts of her in our lives, it’s the ticket price for the show…

I haven’t given up on trying to keep my daughter safe, and trying to advocate health and hygiene, and make normal routines like hand washing override what she wants to do (run off to play without hand washing), but I’ve made peace with the fact that a certain percent of the time I will fail, because my daughter is a rebel, not because I suck as a human being.

Other parents may have better behaved children, other parents may be kinder to their children, other parents may have a better relationship with their children, or do more enrichment activities with their children, but I do a good job with the real life situation that I have within my capacities as a human being.

There are parts of my daughter that I do want to change and parts that I don’t want to change. When I say I don’t want to change “her” anymore, I mean her soul, her personality, her “higher self,” but it doesn’t mean that I can’t tell her we don’t steal or try not to hurt the baby (head butting his nose when you flop down on the bed for fun – that happened today) or we put trash in the trash can not the floor. Someone vs someone’s behavior a very fine distinction to make, a difficult line to divide, a subtle, yet vital distinction.

Some people say “don’t try to change you kids,” but in real life, I will continue to try to change my daughter’s actions and habits, not because I’m uncomfortable with her being different, or because I want to meet the status quo, or I don’t want to be judged for her outbursts, but because I love her.

Discipline, to me, means teaching with kindness, what is wrong and right (sure it’s situational, but there is a wrong and right, punching her four-month-old baby brother when she is frustrated is so wrong). Discipline, even in a kind manner, is a very ugly, tiring job, but to skip teaching what is expected ie discipline, is a form of neglect.

I grew up without discipline, it was scary not knowing what punishments would come if my parents did get mad. They didn’t make any rules, but when they got mad they punished us unexpectedly, it made me really afraid of emotions instead of being afraid of misbehaving.

Discipline is not bad, like guns are not bad, it’s the way that it is used that matters.

Is the intent teaching with love? If so, the method probably works. If the intent is to punish a child for making a parent be uncomfortable in some way, that’s not really discipline.

There are things I never want to change about my daughter, that she is creative, that she is empathetic, that she doesn’t blindly follow, but I do want to force her not to cut people with knives and garden shears, I do want to force her to not kill people and eat them (which is what she says she wants to do when she grows up, because I showed her a Youtube video saying not to do that and she is quite contrary), I do want to force her to wash her hands (so no one else in our family gets pinworm again), I do want to force her to not hit the baby when she is mad. I don’t want to change “her” thoughts, feelings, personality, soul, but I do want to change her beliefs, actions, understanding of cause and effect, hygiene and safety practices, out of love for her, and a belief she will have a better life if she learns to be kind as she stands up for herself and be a gentle friend to the people who she wants to keep around her.

Sometimes it gets really confusing to know what I want to change, and what I should never try to change, but I have to take the responsibility for bringing my kids into this world by making the best decisions that I can, out of love, and hope that what I do is enough to let my kids someday enter the world ready to be confident in who they are, yet not shoot other people on a whim or because they had a bad day.

I recently read a helpful post, by Dr. Fawzy Masaoud, about mental health in sibling relationships, that helped me get more insight into my daughter’s internal struggles. Since the first child, my daughter, was the center of attention for three years, she is trying to act like our baby, to get the attention back. She swings in the baby swing, walks in the baby walker, chews on the baby’s teething keys ext. we tried to stop her at first, but she does it with such a strong compulsion, that since it hasn’t caused any real problems, I stopped trying to stop her.

It may seem obvious to everyone else, but I really didn’t know my daughter was doing it for attention… I thought she wanted to use the new stuff, just because it was new.

Although I plan to give her attention and love, I think it’s going to be more important for her to get used to having less, than it will be for me to try to tend a three-year-old and a four-month-old with exactly the same amount of attention.

I was also the oldest child and the habit of expecting more attention to be due to me, than what other people want to give me, caused problems in my marriage. Sometimes having less can be a blessing, because it gives you the opportunity to exercise developing gratitude, then even if you get more you know how to be happy with what you have. {Note from 2 Years Later: My daughter did not learn much gratitude by the way, but happily I did and that helped me get through my daughter’s Sensory Processing Disorder which explained why she didn’t develop much gratitude, unfortunately her prefrontal cortex was too overwhelmed to develop at the normal pace.}

๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘งโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆ Rock Bottom to Redemption

Recently in the kitchen, I confronted my three year old daughter about loving a purple dino cup more than me…

My sister said I was being ridiculous and that my daughter loved me more than the dino cup, we asked my daughter and she said over and over that she loved the purple dino cup, because it was a dino, and that she didn’t love me.

We asked her in different ways, we made a Venn diagram about what she did or didn’t like about me, and it just became clearer, and clearer that my daughter and I didn’t love each other anymore.

It happens with spouses, couples, and I guess with children too.

Initially I was so angry, I very uncharacteristically threw the purple dino cup full of water to the floor. It was another rock bottom emotional moment for me. As the water spread across the floor, the problem I had been having internally, emotionally, vaguely, became tangible, physical, measurable in density… (the problem I have with my daughter displaced about 2 cups of water).

I have had this problem, since she was born, but before the water hit the floor everyone dismissed it.

My husband, my sister, my father, refused to believe that things weren’t great between my daughter and I, but they never had been.

They had been better, but never great.

I remember my baby, screaming, flailing, crying out, in my opinion, to be understood.

I fed her, I held her, I carried her in a carrier, I taught her to read, I never left her to work (I brought her to work), but none of it mattered to her. Her dad understood her on a deep emotional level, that I never did, and that kept her dissatisfied, and me exhausted, feeling inadequate and bitter that my best effort wasn’t worth anything to my demanding daughter. {Check out When Your Daughter Has BPD by Daniel Lobel if this is too familiar.}

That was 22 days ago, August 1st.

Today things are much better, because I finally understand my daughter a bit more, and also I’ve been using “ICC” (a boundary setting tool) from Gretchin Rubin’s the Four Tendencies book. It has really helped.

I’ve tried literally a dozen very good sounding parenting books that were not able to help me with my extreemly rebellious, high spirited toddler: The Whole Brained Child, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, The Happiest Toddler on the Block, No Drauma Discipline, Siblings Without Rivalry, No Bad Kids, Elevating Child Care, Boundaries with Kids, Brain Rules for Baby, The Awakened Family, Parenting Without Power Struggles, The Explosive Child, with Gretchin Rubin’s the Four Tendencies, I finally got what I wanted, something to help me manage my daughter’s constant crazy outbursts.

ICC specifically fits well with my daughter, while many of the “How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen” ideas made her amused, but didn’t solve the problems we had, ICC does solve them 80% of the time. “Whole Brained Child” was too listening based for my daughter, even when she is being good, she doesn’t listen well, she is super visual and kinetic, but not auditory, she doesn’t have much inborn ethics at all to play upon. We have built an I don’t want to kick my brother, because I get a dollar less allowance “ethics” recently and that’s better than nothing. {2 years later it hasn’t backfired, some kids do respond well to rewards without loosing internal motivation or loosing the habit when the reward changes, despite experts saying it’s impossible, it’s happening due in part to habit stickiness}

ICC is inform (this example is for hitting the dog): “we malama (care for) the dog in this family, the dog lives here in the living room and deserves to be safe here” consequence “if you keep hitting the dog, you can not be here in the living room, you will have to be in your room,” choice “what do you pick to do? Will you stop hitting the dog or will you go to your room?” If she doesn’t go on her own, she would be grasped lightly, yet firmly on the wrist and escorted, if she stopped walking I would drag her gently like I would drag a heavy, yet valuable item around the house. But lately, she just decides to comply.

This is literally the first month of her life that she has started complying with anything I have asked her to do without a fight, her whole life. {Later learned my daughter has Sensory Processing Disorder, I’m the same mom and my other child was pretty reasonably compliant from about 1 year onward}

It was 20+ struggles a day with this child, since I met her in October 2015, I’m not 100% sure if it’s her age or the new discipline technique, but I’m 100% happy that we can spend the day learning, having fun, talking about values, instead of fighting over stupid stuff like wiping after using the bathroom, wearing shoes over rough terrain ext.

Today was amazing, she woke up and got through our normal morning routine, potty, wash hands, new underwear, have hair brushed, breakfast without any fights, then we did the entire school day without any fights, then we helped a neighbor go shopping and did our shopping and she didn’t have any melt downs shopping, or in the very long car ride, she was so amazing today compared to normal. It was family movie night and after the movie (Minuscule) she drew her first family portrait on the white board.

It was kind of beautiful that it was family movie night and she drew her first family picture. I want to believe that there is some internal values of unity and harmony getting through to her from the efforts we make to do things together at least one night a week.

Yesterday I found some very reasonably priced taco themed stuff (she loves the books “Tacos y Dragones”) for her upcoming birthday party, from Oriental Trading Company, and my husband says I can get it Wednesday.

Life seems really good right now. I’ve made a lot of mistakes with my daughter, but she is very forgiving and it feels like the relationship is reversing it’s sourness.

I’m very grateful that the 13th book I got to help me with the problem between my daughter and I, had the answers I have been looking for, for the past four years. Yesterday I wrote a post about the downside to persistence, but today I see the upside. Persistence over a long amount of time, has the ability to produce results that seem impossible to most people.

I thought my daughter and I being a poor fit would always make our lives worse, and that she would just have to rely on her father to be there for her in ways that I couldn’t because I couldn’t understand her. But thanks to raising my awareness above the level that created the problem, I can live a completely different kind of life with my daughter now. I’m starting to love her the same way I did when she was a baby again, I’m starting to enjoy her company again, I’m starting to look forward to watching her grow and hopefully being someone she can turn to as a teen and adult again.

Knowing why my daughter fights me so much, and does so much stupid stuff everyday, is what I needed to have patience with it, and find love for her. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong for me to need to understand her to be patient with her, but that is truly what I needed, and I’m very grateful to have finally found it. A special thank you to Gretchin Rubin!

I’m hoping to improve my other relationships with The Four Tendencies book’s techniques as well.