Perennial Wisdom to help us Parent more Consciously

I am a parent of 2 children, and I have been counseling and teaching families and individuals for more than 20 years. Over the course of the last 10 years, I have seen many of the central issues around parenting shift drastically – mainly due to the more central role that technology now plays in the family.

The challenges that parents face today in raising children are very different from the challenges their parents faced.  Not only do parents have to figure out how to function on less sleep, but also they have to determine the role they want technology to play in their children’s lives. If parents find themselves with less time than they would like to be able to devote to parenting, they have to come up with clear strategies for enrichment, discipline and many other important issues. This is difficult when people find themselves trying to navigate the issues around work-life balance, and face down issues such as self doubt and guilt about the choices they must make.

One of the first steps that parents must take toward meeting these challenges and parenting more consciously is to develop a good understanding of their own values. If parents want to be able to raise children who can meet the challenges of the future with an open heart and a focused mind they must not only understand but clearly communicate their values to their children in what they do and what they say.

In order to be able to communicate their values clearly and apply them in a consistent way, parents must spend some time learning what their values are. This may sound simple, but it is surprising how many people struggle to articulate their values for themselves – much less for their children. The effort to engage in this articulation is very important – perhaps one of the most important steps parents who want to parent more consciously must take.

Because parents are parenting in such a different environment today, role models and standards that may have applied in the past do not serve as well. This compounds an already age old problem that many of us have been parented by people who were not parented well. Many parents just don’t have the role models they need readily at hand when they are trying to make decisions about screen time, toilet training, Internet privacy issues and curfews. It is important, therefore, to seek out role models who hold values that are important to you.

In order to do this, you have to define your own values. What is important to you? Do you know how to begin to answer this? Do you have a clear idea of what values you want your children to bring into the world as they mature and take their place in confronting the complexities of the modern environment?  Let’s start at a fairly high level here in looking at values. Take a moment and write down 2 spiritual values that are important to you. And, if you are co parenting, write down 2 spiritual values you believe to be important to your co parent. What are the similarities between your set of values here and your co-parent’s? If there are differences, what is your strategy for bridging those differences so you can present a unified message to your children? If your values are similar, what kinds of activities and interactions do you create on a regular basis to communicate those values to your children? Given the importance of these values, whom do you have to turn to help you continue to address these values in parenting your children?

You can see how much goes into the development and articulation of just one set of values. But there are many other values to look at in order to parent with as much awareness and consciousness as we can.

As I was putting my thoughts together for this article, I thought I might touch on issues that we explore in the Conscious Parenting classes at the Foundation of the Sacred Stream in Berkeley, CA. These classes focus on helping parents locate inner resources and learning how to draw on them in order to parent better. They focus on helping parents articulate their needs and values, help parents learn how to work with willfulness and discipline more effectively, and offer parents strategies for parenting a child who is challenged. The reason for examining these issues in the context of conscious parenting is simple: When these issues are addressed, the protection and cultivation of the child’s authentic expression in the world is assured. And if you were to ask me to define one goal that we, as parents, must do our best to attain, I would say it is this: the protection and cultivation of our children’s authentic expression in the world. So that is the topic I would like to focus on here today.

Whenever I am working with families – especially the parents of young children, I always try to carefully walk the line that runs between offering advice or counsel and offering opinion to help parents parent more effectively. Generally, I think it is more important to create a forum to help people understand themselves better so they can recognize how much they already know rather than offer opinions, but I must confess, at the outset, that I may wander into the realm of opinion from time to time as I address this issue which is so important to my heart. Many great educators, including Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner, spoke to this issue of the child’s potential. Each, in their own way, offered structures that support children in having the freedom to discover their own unique talents, gifts and capacities. And they also offer structures to address areas of weakness or obstacles children may have which affect their ability to move fully into the world with those native gifts.

The reason that the discussion around values is so important is that values become the structures we offer our children within which they learn to express themselves. If we do not have clarity around our own values, we cannot offer effective structures to them. And worse, if we have no values, or values that actually inhibit the authentic expression of the child, children spend important developmental time trying to adapt themselves to values that have nothing to do with their authentic expression and which, in fact, may impede it. How many of you spent time trying to navigate around a parent who had anger issues, or issues with addiction?  What did that do to your ability to know what called to you from your own heart?

It is, I believe, important to consider that our most important task as parents, is to try to develop a family system whose structures support the authentic expression of the highest potential of our children – to help them learn how to listen to what is calling them in their hearts. This sounds easy, but it is not. When some people hear this, they may think, “Okay, then! Anything goes! Let the kids do whatever they want! As long as they are expressing everything is ok!” Other parents may hear this and think,” Okay, I have to figure out exactly what my child’s highest potential is and steer him towards it at every turn!” Other parents may respond, “They are my kids and they will do what I want – not what they want.”

But the task at hand is more nuanced than any of these approaches. First of all, we need to define what we mean by ‘a child’s highest potential,’ which I am using interchangeably here, with ‘a child’s deepest calling,’ and ‘the child’s most authentic expression’ and “the child’s gifts”. I am using these terms interchangeably because they each offer a different view and definition that point to the complexity of the deepest aspects of our children.

Naturally, every child’s highest potential has its own expression. Every child has a set of gifts that she brings into the world that resonate with the child’s deepest calling. We must at once try to tune ourselves to this deepest aspect of our children, understand its requirements, and get out of the way of impeding its expression while at the same time creating structures that support it. This may sound like rubbing your belly and tapping your head at the same time – and, indeed, it is. But it is something that we can learn to do.

So I would like to identify some of these tasks that will help you with this process individually and then show you how to put them all together so that the tapping and rubbing seems intuitive and easy. These tasks center around a set of questions I would like to offer you:

How do I recognize my child’s deepest calling?

How do I recognize my child’s gifts?

Why do I have to get out of the way of the expression my child’s potential?

How do I get out of the way?

What does it mean to create structures that support the expression of my child’s potential?

How do I recognize my child’s deepest calling?

This is actually surprisingly easy to do. It is really just a matter of watching what your child is drawn to. Your children will naturally be drawn to their highest calling if they are not interrupted.


How do I recognize my child’s gifts?

The answer is the same. Watch what your child is drawn to. But recognizing the child’s gifts goes one step further. This involves watching what games the child creates, what stories the child tells, and the way the child seeks to express herself. There is an important part of cultivating a child’s gifts that has to do with filtering the kind of information the child uses as raw material to contain these expressions that I will speak to shortly.


Why do I have to get out of the way of the expression of my child’s potential?

We tend to think of our children as ours. But they actually belong to themselves. If they are lucky, their path through life is a long one – that extends beyond the few years we care for them. It is important to consider that your ideas about what you want for your child beyond wanting them to be safe and happy might become interrupting to their natural expression. How many of you wanted to study music but were told by your parents you had to go to business school? What message did this give you about he possibility of being supported in the world by your deepest calling? How does this affect you on a daily basis today?

With this information, consider how important it is give your child the message that he can trust his deepest calling and that he will be able to find a way to let the expression of that calling whatever that expression may be – support him. Give him practice in letting all the potential in that calling express itself by supporting what he loves. And step out of the way.


How do I get out of the way?

I have a longer answer to this question. One of the best ways to get out of the way is to look at your attachments to having your child be a particular way. Those attachments are probably a function of something that did not work in your own childhood. For instance, let’s say you grew up without a mother present in your household and you feel keenly the absence of your mother. You grow, and you marry a woman and you have children – and then realize this woman is not really the person you thought she was. But now you have children, and because you know how hard it was for you not to have a mother, you put up with all kinds of bad behavior from the child’s mother rather than take the child and leave the situation and take the risk that the child may grow up without a fulltime mother figure. If you were not so attached to your child having a mother because of the pain you experienced at not having a mother, you might have more clarity in responding to your spouse’s bad behavior. Who knows? Not having this problematic woman in your child’s life on such a consistent basis might be the best thing for your child. But you cannot see or even consider this because of the unaddressed issues you carry from your own wounding from being motherless.

In many ways, when we talk about conscious parenting, we are talking about becoming more conscious of ourselves. We are talking about understanding what motivates us before we think about how we approach our children. The examination of our motivation and the way it drives decision-making is a good example of one of the steps in the process of becoming a more conscious parent.

Again, one of the best ways to get out of the way and stop risking interrupting your child’s authentic expression is to look deeply at your own experience of being parented. Seek to understand the aspects of your upbringing that worked best for you and your own self-expression – and ask how you can apply that understanding to serving your child’s expression.  In this way, you can tap into your own resources and become your own mentor. You can also look at the aspects of your upbringing that did not work for you. And get help in changing the way in which these aspects of your childhood affect you today. I remember when I realized I as pregnant with my first child, I ran to the phone with the pregnancy test indicator still in my hand and called a therapist. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to meet the challenges of mothering with the experience of my own childhood informing me in an unexamined way.

Not only do you have to get out of the way by addressing your own unexamined experience in order to be as clear as possible about how to support your child’s potential, but it is also important to examine the experience the child is exposed to in the larger cultural context. With the newfound clarity gained in looking at your personal issues, you can determine if the experience of the larger cultural environment is supporting the child’s potential or not.

This is where the issue of that raw material that the child uses to formulate her expression comes in that I just spoke about. And it is also where the issue of values comes into play in a very powerful way. You have to understand what you value and what you don’t value in the larger cultural context. How do you feel about screen time v. interpersonal engagement? What role should technology play in early childhood development? What level of violence in computer games is acceptable to you? How do you feel about allowing children to play with toy guns?

The answers to these questions will determine the answer to the last question:

What does it mean to create structures that support the expression of my child’s potential?

The choices that you make around values create the structures that support the child’s development. If you have no defined value system, the values of the larger cultural context will likely become the structure that supports – or impedes – the expression of your child’s potential. If your values are based in an unexamined response to the way you were parented, they will become the structure that supports – or impedes – the expression of your child’s potential. Is this what you want for your child?

If the answer is no, you already understand why conscious parenting is so important. If you enter into parenting without being aware of the values that are driving your decisions around parenting, you will not know how to define and articulate your values. If you don’t have clear values, you cannot know how to create structures to support you in skillfully guiding the manifestation of your child’s highest potential.

So, as you get ready to practice rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time as you step into more conscious parenting, just remember, all you have to do is observe carefully what your child is drawn to. What stories is she telling you? How does he express himself? Invest time in looking at your experience of being parented and see what worked for you and what did not. Take time to understand to what extent the way you were parented is informing your values and decisions in parenting. Understand what you value in the larger cultural context and what you do not. If you follow these steps, you will know how to create experiences for your child that offer enough structure to nurture her potential but not so much structure that it stifles the expression of her heart’s deepest calling.

In these times where we are facing societal upheaval, environmental destruction, and so much uncertainty about the prospects that technology has for delivering us from an increasingly unstable future, I believe it is our responsibility as parents to do our best to raise children who, as adults, meet the challenges of the future with an open heart and a focused mind. It will be much easier for them to attain this level of clarity if they can listen to their heart’s calling – and if they know what their gifts are – and if they can trust the expression of their highest potential and know it will support not only themselves but also those around them.

Isa Gucciardi is the Founding Director at Sacred Stream,