Conscious Parenting


I’ve just spent two weeks with my five grandchildren and their parents. I am so proud of my children: how they turned out, who they married, how well they are raising their children.  Their parenting styles are different in many ways, yet both sets of children are delightful: sweet, funny, bright, good-natured, well mannered….(I could go on, of course, but I’ll spare you more grandparental gushing!) Our time together reminds me that no matter how well-prepared we may be for the role of parenting, much of how we approach this most difficult of all jobs is the result of unconscious factors over which we have no control.
Many of these factors result from the way our parents raised us. For example, I thought of my mother as an intelligent, well-meaning, independent kind of person with an unemotional and trusting parenting style. Having a full-time job, she was never involved with our education or social lives, trusting us to get along fine without her participation or advice. I took this for granted as a child, but as an adult I realized how much I had longed for her to attend my plays and concerts, how good it would have felt if she had been a room mother or a member of the PTA, how nice it would have been to come home to a warm, clean house and find her always waiting for me, perhaps with a tray of cookies or freshly baked bread. So these were things I vowed to do for my children. As it happened, my conscious choices, combined with a lot of good luck, an education in child development, help from a good husband, and a strong desire to be a good parent made me a good-enough mother.
But beneath the conscious aspects of my upbringing was an emotional undercurrent of which I was utterly unaware. For instance, I never heard or saw my parents argue or fight. (Of course, that could have had something to do with the fact that Daddy was rarely home!)  Moreover, I can think of only two instances in which my mother and I ever exchanged heated words. And when she used the word “damn,” I was shocked into silence. Intuiting her deeply repressed anxiety and emotional fragility and wanting to spare her more pain after my parents’ divorce, I by-passed the normal adolescent period of rebellion and unconsciously developed a deep-seated fear of anger and conflict.
When I became a parent, these factors had a powerful influence on the way I treated my children.  I had no idea I had inherited my mother’s anxiety and emotional fragility. But the reality was that agitation and conflict made me so anxious that too often when my children argued with me or each other my intervention was based more on appeasing my anxiety than on patiently seeking the most fair and just resolution.  It took years of inner work before I could see my anxiety and  understand the part it played in the unhealthy aspects of our family interactions.
The unresolved issues of our parents are handed down to us through underground passageways that connect their emotional flow to ours, and we pass them on to our children the same way. With every step forward I’ve made toward seeing and resolving my anxiety, my attitudes and behavior have changed for the better. Best of all, my family no longer has to bear the burden of my unconscious “stuff” of which I’ve become aware. I’ll never be a perfect wife, mother, or grandmother, whatever these elusive creatures might be, but sparing my family the worst of myself has been more than enough reward.

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0 Responses

  1. Hi Jean,
    Thank you for sharing such an intimate portrait of you, your mother, and your children (and their children!). Your description of your mother actually paints my experience with my dad…
    My mother was a wonderfully Italian, smothering mother (she died this past Feb.) who, I think, would have been perfectly happy to have her dear Joey turn out to be a priest…But alas, I got married and moved 600 miles away…Something she never forgave me for…It was my dad who rarely involved…almost always working.
    One of the fondest memories I have of my mother was that she taught me to bake bread, something I have passed on to my kids. And up until baseball practices entered our lives my three boys and I would bake bread and make homemade pizza every Saturday…It is one of the greatest gifts my mom gave—her recipe, her time, the smell of fresh bread…the butter melting into the warm slices…
    My father’s being gone a lot also parented me in many ways. While I know I can tend towards working too much, I am consciously involved in the lives of my kids and do my best to be there and support their dreams and interests. I am also aware that I never lacked for food, shelter, clothes, toys, and other things as a kid that my dad worked so hard to provide us with.
    And one important memory I have of my father was when I would help him build rabbit cages in our garage. My dad loved raising rabbits and I got to help him hammer, saw, and so on. At one point we had nearly 200 rabbits in homemade cages in our garage…The carpentry skills were not handed down, however, but the importance of making things with kids and getting them involved with fixing things around the house and so on have been very rewarding for my kids.
    Some of the unconscious parenting things I picked up however and placed in my bag of shadows were an anxiety-based impulse to control and to keep my kids from all harm…And I know I have colored their attitude towards the world with fear…and for this they have suffered.
    But they also know there is a solution. And so when I am racked with my own inner demons, when the memories and effects of the abuse run riot within and I go through what I need to in order to move through and with the pain, I know I have broken chains that my kids will never have to be shackled with—I stopped the bleeding of soul wounds that are generations old, that they will never have to feel. And for that I am eternally grateful.
    I am grateful also that as I have learned to trust, I have allowed myself to be mothered and fathered by the world—the trees, the stars, the moon, other people—the angels that have appeared…I am repeatedly born again into new lives I could have never imagined—my writing, my music…And my own kids get to see their daddy growing, goofing up, and living his dreams—they get to see, in short, that there will always be angels there to help guide and parent them—that asking for help and surrendering into the arms of those offering the help is not only OK, but necessary.
    Thank you again. Cheers. Joseph

    1. Thank you, Joseph. I love your term “bag of shadows!” As I grow more conscious of carrying mine, I notice how much lighter I feel when I let one out into the light and befriend it. It’s always so freeing and self-affirming!
      Breaking the chains that have shackled us is also a wonderful and very apt image that speaks especially to the growing sense of freedom one feels as a result of learning to trust and be receptive to the benevolence of the universe and the blessings in our lives. It’s such a pleasure to meet a fellow traveler on this miraculous journey!
      My very best,

    1. You are so kind, Charlie. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I guess this is one of those posts most of us can relate to; especially if we’re parents. My children have been, and continue to be, wonderful teachers as I make my way through Earth School! They show me myself!
      My very best,

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