Psychologist Dr. Shefali Tsabary has received rave reviews for her new book, “The Awakened Family: A Revolution in Parenting.” The New York Times best-selling author of “The Conscious Parent” blends Western psychology and Eastern philosophy to give uptight parents a serious reality check.
Consider her the anti-helicopter parent: According to Tsabary, over-anxious parents need to back off and let kids be kids. We need to stop enrolling our progeny in countless classes, hyper-programming them to succeed at every cost, because they’ll never be able to function as adults in the real world without connecting with their authentic selves (and maybe even experiencing failure—yes, failure!). It’s time to stop projecting our hopes and fears onto our children. It’s time to let them live in the moment and connect with their own spirits instead of our dreams.
JewishBoston talked with this anti-tiger-mom about the book and her philosophy, which she calls “conscious parenting.” Sound appealing? She’ll be in the Boston area on June 23.
What sets conscious parenting apart from the oodles of parenting philosophies out there?
I am trying to create a new mainstream for the parenting culture. The traditional one is rife with the belief that it’s the child who needs to be fixed. Parents in my office would drop their kids off and go get a mani/pedi! I’d say, “Hey, where are you going?” They wanted me to fix their kid. That’s what I’m turning the tide against. We need parental evolution. Parents need to [look at] their own expectations and inadequacies. They put it on their kids. They are burdening them with their own emotional legacies, and the poor kids start being dislocated from their authentic selves. They spend their lives recovering. As adults, they wonder, “What happened?” Your parents happened. The culture happened. Essentially, this book is a road map so that parents hold true to who they are raising. Raise your own self first. It’s not about producing, managing or fixing your child. This is a whole new paradigm.
What inspired you to write the book now?
Look at what is happening in places like New York or San Francisco: cosmopolitan cities of excellence and achievement and striving and perfection. There is no simplicity in childhood left. I met a mother with a 17-month-old baby. She told me that she’s already feeling this pressure to get into the right tumble class or the right pre-K. She has been made to feel that if she doesn’t set it up, the kid will have a miserable future and be homeless. We are plaguing modern parenting with this anxiety about the future, and in turn we think it’s building resilience. It cripples us. It makes kids afraid of failure, instead of teaching them that failure is inevitable and they will be able to deal with it. This isn’t how to create joy.
Why are parents so anxious?
I think fear has always ruled parenting. We want kids to thrive and succeed. We love them. But in doing so we have over-controlled them. Even the parent who used to spank said, “I do it out of love.”
But there is no need to control our kids. Fast-forward: Let’s take a parent who doesn’t spank but is over-scheduling and over-managing. They justify it as love, but it’s out of fear, fear for the kids’ future. They are afraid their child will fail. I want to help parents recalibrate their own relationship with failure.
How can parents change this pattern?
Ask: What movie are you playing in your head? Do not give your kid your script—the great artist or swimmer. Don’t use your kid as a medal or trophy to feel better. Be willing to let your kid’s spirit unfold rather than overlaying them with constant expectations. Be calmer. If you can’t be calmer, ask: “Why was I triggered? What about this is mine?”
Practice mindfulness. So your kid leaves a jacket at school. Instead of sermonizing, make a plan for them so next time they’re more aware. It’s quite simple but quite profound. Kids are human. When we forget our keys, we go get them. When kids do it, we yell. We’re anxious they will become failures. Let’s not shame and belittle them.
Where did this micro-management begin?
We are overzealous and hyper-anxious. No one person started it. It catches on. We are rapidly developing at such enormous, gargantuan rates and proportions that we cannot keep up. Materialism and consumerism has become the way of life. My approach is, “Hey, let’s stop this manic fast-paced life. Let’s stop looking for gold at the end of the rainbow. The gold exists right now.”
What’s the biggest takeaway?
Our mandate should be to allow kids to be themselves, even if it’s not who we want them to be, as long as it’s within the container of respect and safety. Why shouldn’t they be who they need to be? Honor who you are.
How does spirituality play into this philosophy?
Spirituality is a deep inquiry to our actions and behaviors and how they affect our daily interactions. How can I deeply connect from a place of love, acceptance, open-heartedness and non-judgment? We can only do that by working on ourselves and being present in the moment. That is spirituality to me.