Evolving From Control to Connection Parenting: An Interview with Dr. Shefali Tsabary

On October 12, 2015, I had the privilege to speak with Dr. Shefali Tsabary. Dr. Shefali is a clinical psychologist, author and thought leader in the realm of parenting. She’s also Oprah’s parenting guru.

But this is not just any type of parenting, it’s conscious parenting.

When you parent, it’s crucial you realize you aren’t raising a “mini me,” but a spirit throbbing with its own signature. For this reason, it’s important to separate who you are from who each of your children is. Children aren’t ours to possess or own in any way. When we know this in the depths of our soul, we tailor our raising of them to their needs, rather than molding them to fit our needs.
― Shefali Tsabary, The Conscious Parent

Those are Dr. Shefali’s words.

How do I interpret it?

To begin … con means: with and together; sci comes from science meaning know; ous/ious is found is words that have a general sense of “possessing, full of”. In latin, conscius means: conscious of, aware of.

For me, among many other things, conscious parenting is a philosophy that espouses ideas such, “Let’s figure this out together. I don’t always know the right answer.” Instead of, “Do it because I said so.”

Manipulation of another out of fear, even a child, is old energy; a thing of the past. It’s just not going to work on this generation of kids. They knew too much coming in.

Co-creation, out of self-awareness and love, is where it’s at now; a thing of our desired present and future.

This generation of kids are asking us to walk beside them, to help them figure out what is best for them, not relive our bedraggled dreams and failed ambitions out on their personal landscape.

As the writer of these words, an evolving parent, a thinker of my thoughts, a creator of my reality and one who thrives on knowing my Self more intimately so I can know others as more deeply, I’m going to biasedly assert … it was a great conversation.

If you’re a parent who recognizes that the old energy of “my way or the high way” control is over and the new energy of connected, conscious parent and empowered child is in, you’ll appreciate this converation.

If you’re a parent who struggles in your relationship with your child but know, intuitively, there’s got to be a better way, you’ll learn from this conversation.

If you’re a parent who recognizes the fear in your own words, and actions, as you project your wants, needs and ideals on to your child, you’re going to love the sensation of healing you get from this leading-edge exchange of ideas.

Without further ado, I present the transcript of my conversation with Dr. Shefali.

For those who prefer to listen instead of read, click here.

AS: What is conscious parenting?

ST: Conscious parenting is a new paradign shift in the way we look at our roles as parents. It’s turning the spot light away from fixing the child and managing the child, obsession with all things that have to do with the child and the child centric approach and really focusing on the evolution of the parent. It about fully understanding that unless the parent has raised themselves to a certain level of emotional integration and maturity, they will really not be able to do true service to the child’s spirit. Yes, they may make a Wall Street Broker out of the kid or a concert pianist but they won’t be able to fully attune to the needs of the child and meet the temperament before them. They may just be operating out of the fantasy they have of the child in front of them. The traditional paradigm of parenting has been very hierarchical, the parent knows best and very top down. Conscious parenting topples {this paradigm} on its head and creates this mutuality, this circularity where both parent and child serve each other and where in fact, perhaps, the child could be even more of a guru for the parent …. teaching the parent how the parent needs to grow, teaching the parent how to enter the present moment like only children know how to do.

AS: It’s almost like … in the dictionary …. we need to define “parent” differently, if we looked if up parenting and what it said today … we’d have to refine that (word) contextually to mean something totally new and different.

ST: And I think we’re seeing that the way we’ve done parenting cannot be sustainable in this generation, for sure. You know … children are way more articulate, way more connected to their rights, and they want to be fully participating, empowered members of society but we have to release and we have to let go. We have to allow children to enter their self-governance and their state of empowered presence. You know … we have to allow it. When we do that with trust, not with fear but with trust, I do believe children can rise up to their potential. Now … that doesn’t mean that we don’t have boundries or we don’t create limits or we don’t hold our children accountable but we do it in a very different way than the traditional paradigm suggests. We stay away from discipline, from unnatural consequences, from threats, from punishment and we really focus on how it is we can teach children about natural consequences and cause and effect of their relationships which is really a mirror of what happens in nature.

AS: If someone was coming to the conversation of conscious parenting and they were really new to it and you almost had to start with a …. you know when you have a movie that takes the last scene, the ending first, and shows you (the results of all the stuff that happened BEFORE the end) that first … [let’s pretend] that ending is showing the new parent the “benefits” of adopting this kind of parenting style, what would you say those would be [for the child]?

ST: I think you have children who are more connected to who it is they are authentically and they haven’t lived a version of their parents fantasies. You have children who are more grounded in their sense of self. And most importantly grounded and planted in a very firm and durable parent-child relationship. Parents who engage in this kind of parenting understand the power of being present … being mindful to take the time to build connection … understanding that this foundation is the bedrock of all later self-worth, self-esteem and self-actualization.

AS: So they [the parents] themselves, notice what this is [to be truly connected and say to themselves], “I hear you. This is what I want for my child.”  It sounds like you’re saying that … the articulation of the idea has to start with the parent, first. 

ST: Yes!

AS: If [the] parents look at this [blog].. they hear us and they read this and they say, “I want that for my child but I also ….” because there’s a selfishness in us … what are the “benefits” for the parent?

ST: For the parent?

AS: Uh-huh. So they adopt this parenting perspective and they’re doing it from the likelihood … I would say … they come into the converation because they notice the struggle between parent [them] and child or they notice the discomfort in their child and they want something different. But also … you can’t change the dynamic for your child without changing yourself. So … I’m saying that when I [or a parent] do this [there will be benefits for us]. I say this because I’m actually a consious parent. I didn’t know I was, but now I do. When I found out about this [parenting style] I noticed I already do many of the practiced listed in the book. I’ve noticed that when we adopt this practice …. we think we’re doing it for our children … which leads to one of my questions because I want other people to know that you can’t just do it for your child. You can’t just change one aspect of your life, one dimension of your relationship without it altering everything.

ST: Absolutely.

AS: I’m trying to get at this converation from the aspect of a lot of people who go into most things selfishly and ask, “What’s the benefit for me?”

SR: Right, right.

AS: What have you seen the parents actualize, as well, from this parenting style? They think they’re doing for their child. They’re actually doing for themselves.

ST: Well, I think the main benefit is that much of the traditional parenting that’s being carried out today is so fear based and while the parent thinks they’re in control they’re really being ruled by fear. Everything is connected to fear. You know … it’s always slanted in the future version of who you’re child is going to be. The pressure we put on ourselves to produce this perfect … operatic … version of ourselves really puts an inordinate amount of stress and tension on us. Now when you transfer into the conscious parenting paradigm, you have to release those pressures and those fears… you actually think into the very ordinary but profound moment to moment connection to your children and you do away with those extraneous attachments to achievement or beauty or wealth or success. And while those things have their place, they don’t overwhelm or override the life of the parent and child. Your life is actually suddenly liberated. You’re actually free. You’re not working according to mainstream norms and you have to pay the price perhaps for that … but there’s great liberation that comes from that.

AS: So, it’s almost like if you visually … is someone says, “I want to do this [conscious parenting].” you imagine that you’re standing on one side of a wall and the wall has three doors in it. While it looks like you’re going through the conscious parent door (as opposed to some other kind of enlighted behavior) to get to freedom … all the doors leads to the same enlightened place … you know they’re all leading to the same expanded awareness on the other side. While the person chooses to get to (their better place) by choosing a new parenting style … while other could choose a being the door for “enlightened business leader” or another enlightened thinking/acting door … it all leads to the state of  …. it’s not fearlessness …. you know … it’s  … it’s …

ST: Freedom. Freedom to really prioritize and really zone into what really matters which is the parent-child connection. And if that is not steady and in place, everything else can just falls by the wayside. When we prioritize and focus … and that becomes the anchor … the relationship becomes the anchor … and it trumphs everything else … than it’s at once freeing and anxiety relieving … because the connection itself feeds empowerment and self-worth and self-esteem so it takes away the anxiety of raising a child. Then just by creating that strong connection you are creating this underbelly of great worth and attunement to the child’s authentic self. So, the child is free to live out their own destiny. So, it’s just this inherent … it’s a self built … fullfilling prophecy that happens because the more you focus on connection the more free you are … on one hand … and the more free you can be because the child does feel authentically connected to their destiny … to their spirit … to their voice and to their worth. So .. you are free because you’re not bound to this child through control or micromanaging or through enmeshment as the traditional [parenting] paradigm would have you be.

AS: Right. Part of what I also want to do articulate in the [blog post] … like I said … part of what I was doing for myself was going through an evolution and a release of fear and in that … I sort of felt [freedom].. I didn’t know I was a consious parent … but there are other people doing that [being a conscious parent] … I’m not the only one. So … if they want to self-identify, if they want to find their tribe, if they want to come see you in Chicago … [how would you complete this sentence] “I’m a conscious parent when/if I ….” if you had to fill in a couple of sentences starters… what would that be?

ST: [I’m a conscious parent when I] …. believe that my child matters more than their relationship to academics or success. [I’m a conscious parent when I] … believe that my child is here to teach me as much about myself and how I need to grow, as I am here to teach them. [I’m a conscious parent when I believe] … a parent’s presence in their child’s life is of paramount value and provides the foundation for their sense of worth. [I’m a conscious parent] when I stay away from fear-based control tactics—punishment, yelling and threats and I’m seeking more enlightened ways to create boundries with my child.

AS: Yes. Those are great. Part of my own mission is to help people find others who they can expand this conversation with … as opposed to other [negative kinds of conversation] where it’s just bi*#@ing and moaning and doing other [negative, fear based] stuff. I want to share more of this [kind of conversation].

ST: That’s so great.

AS: The other thing is if … because in my own study and development and practice … I noticed people like to have … because it’s such a linear train of thought but it works for most people because we’re living in [linear] time and space but if there was some kind of equation that had pieces to it [or a linear step by step process] … of course it’s more simple—the equation—than the answer or the process which is complex, it’s hard to simplify the process. But our brains tend to like that as a starting point … Are there pieces you could articulate that would create an equation [for become more aware of what we’re actually doing with our kids]?

ST: I think the first one is trigger. You know … when you get triggered. Which leads to some sort of activation of an underlying fear … which leads you to want to control it in some way … hich leads you have a reaction to your kid … which leads to disconnection. So now to change this would be to have a trigger … to have the fear and then to become aware of [that].

So then we pause here. We become aware and then instead of taking that reaction outward we put the arrow back inward and we start the process of reflection and deconstruction to ask, “What about me is being triggered. Why am I triggered? What about my past is coming up to the surface? How can I heal what’s coming up? How can I transform it? To then go back out and have an  enlightened response.

AS: Also too, I think it’s … it’s hard to say anything’s typical [a “standard” process]…. because nothing is ever typical. Nothing is ever standard [for everyone]. Nothing is ever the same in every person. However, for me personally … timewise … it took me a couple years to figure this out …

ST: Yes! Are you kidding? It takes forever!

AS: For most people I would imagine that it .. they have to …

ST: It won’t even happen for most people. It happens to only the very lucky. You know … suddenly something shakes up in them and they see the generational pattern being repeated or they begin to say, “Hey, I think this more me … than my kid.” Or … you know .. they watch a program like something like I’ve done, they hear somebody … and it just connects but it only connects to the very blessed (MY WORDS INSERTED HERE FOR CLARIFICATION: the blessed is YOU, dear Chicagonow reader, precisely because you are reading this and getting it!) … because it takes a lot of courage to turn that mirror inward and then it’s agony because now you know it’s you but you don’t know how to change you. And your kid keeps triggering you. So … it’s like a vicious cycle and you don’t know how to get out of it and start anew.

AS: Right! And even with paradigm changes it takes [a long time]… I mean… with desire you can overpower [a belief] but it takes [an incredible level of effort]. It’s easier just to change the paradigm. It’s just easier to change the paradigm and then everything else seems to just fall into place but my encouragment and what I want to encourage people to do both when they interact with my writing and when I talk to them is to [be patient]….. because we live in such an instantaneous society, we think everything is supposed to happen so fast but this [conscious parenting] takes time. So, you’re agreeing with me that it may take years … some people may not get it, other may … but it’s a process which needs to be devoted to moment by moment … almost unrelentingly. Would you agree with that?

ST: YES! Absolutely. So … you know … it’s such an idiocyncratic process. There is no universal template that can be applied to everybody. So everyone kind of enter the process in their own way, on their own time. Everyone enters it at whatever point they can and most likely they’re going to enter it when they see their relationship suffering. Or something like … they’re in conflict all the time or there’s a disconnect. And typically they take the kid to the therapist for the kid to get fixed but hopefully they take them to a conscious parenting expert and then the eyes turn inward and the spotlight goes on the inner world and the inner landscape of the parent and then they begin to unearth and dig out whatever their triggers were.

AS: Have you had an adoptors [of conscious parenting] who are older parents dealing with adult kids? I realize this is almost a generational awareness [so perhaps older parents over 70 might not enjoy thinking this way]

ST: Typically you have a lot of teenage parents and their parents … you know … of younger kids but many times actually with the adults I have them struggling with their parents, right …  then I have the kids with their parents.

AS: I see that. Also … with the BringIt Summit in Chicago on Saturday, October 17, 2015, can you just say a few words about the general theme or topic you’re going to be delivering on as one of the keynote speakers at the Summit?

ST: It will be an introduction to the core principles of conscious parenting and how we need to move out of fear and control and into attunement and connection. Then, there’s a breakout section where we talk more discipline and alternative to traditional discipline.

AS: Okay. Cool. Awesome.

P.S. If you have ever have any questions about this material or you just want to continue this conversation, please join me on my Facebook page for this blog at Facebook: Live. Love. Matter

P.P.S. Please excuse any grammatical or spelling errors. I read through my posts many times but since I wrote them, it’s challenging to edit them perfectly. If you’d like to report errors, please hop on over to the Live. Love. Matter. FB blog page and let me know!! I’m so glad you noticed and I’ll fix them asap!!


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