- Erika Barr
Part 4: My Journey to Conscious Parenting
Updated: Nov 20, 2019
I left off in Part 3 when we had just discovered Dr. Shefali for the first time…
But, let’s back up a couple of months…
C started preschool a month before Allegra died. Right from the start there were issues. He loved to pull hair. There were biting incidents. I’d get a report everyday of either “he had a good day” or “he had a rough day today”…Usually it was the latter. He didn’t like to sit still EVER and was disruptive often. He liked to knock down other kids’ block towers and had a hard time taking turns with toys. I dreaded pickup time because I was always so worried about what the teachers were going to say. Although this is when the behaviors really started to stand out, we had already seen them before he started school.
In music class he had zero interest in the music or the instruments. He was either pulling a kids’ hair, flicking the lights on and off, or running into the bathroom to pull all of the toilet paper off of the roll. I never took him to parks because he was a runner. Even in a gated park he would spend his time trying to unlatch the fence and then take off. He was VERY LOUD. He would just scream. He would scream because he was happy. He would scream because he was mad. He would scream because a car drove by. He would scream because a teacher walked into the room. He just always made so much noise. I’m not talking normal kid noise, I’m talking 10 levels higher. I have had my hearing checked 3 times since he was born! *Earplugs have become one of my most cherished friends.* His impulse control was non-existent. He threw things the second he got mad. He loved to kick things just to watch them fall or hear them make a loud crashing noise.
From the ages of 1-4 I avoided playdates. It was just too hard. I felt like I had to be on top of C ALL THE TIME. I was so worried he was going to hurt the other child or have some crazy disproportionate reaction to something he didn’t like and I would have to deal with it in front of people.
I tried everything. Time-outs, consequences, taking toys away, reward systems, ignoring the behaviors, etc. And you know what? NONE of that stuff worked. I was at my wit’s end. Even though I had done so much work on myself, I still lost my cool with him all the time. I yelled and had my own fits and tantrums. I am not proud of some of my reactions in those early years. I was a total disaster.
And I felt judged all the time. I just knew people were thinking I was a horrible mother and that was why my kid was acting this way. I couldn’t understand why my child was so incredibly difficult. I constantly had the thought in my mind, “what is wrong with this child?”. Why can’t he sit still for one second like the other kids? Why is he so difficult? Why is he so defiant? Why does he enjoy hurting my ears, biting me, and pulling my hair? Why can’t he just let me hang out with my friends while he plays with their kids? Why does he have to embarrass me so much while all of the other mommies get to take credit for their “easy” kids? What is wrong with him? What is wrong with him? What is wrong with him? Why is he doing this to me?
I was afraid of him. I was afraid of how he would react to everything. I was afraid of what he would do at any place I would take him. I so was afraid of what kind of a person he would turn into if he was doing all of these things now. But what I was truly afraid of was how “he” made me feel…It wasn’t him of course, it was the mirror he was holding in front of my face—the mirror that was awakening more of my unresolved issues from childhood.
I was in the midst of all of these feelings when Dr. Shefali showed up on our tv. "Holy shit", I thought. Look at what I have done. I have made this entire parenting thing ALL ABOUT ME. I realized that I didn’t even truly know my child. I loved him with every fiber of my being, and would do anything in my power to protect him, but look at what I had done. No one could protect him from ME. He had an unconscious, controlling, brainwashed crazy person for a mom.
I thought I knew my child. I was a stay at home mom from the day he was born. I spent most of my days attached to him. We did almost everything together. But through all of that I was never truly attuned to him. I was more attuned to my needs than his. I didn’t make space for his needs because my mind was too clouded with my own. Remember how I wanted to have a girl so that I could dress her like a doll everyday? Well I didn’t get my girl, but I still dressed my kid like a doll! I made him pose for pictures every day of his life in those first couple of years. Do you know how much toddlers like to pose for photos!? This is just one examples of the many ridiculous things I spent time focusing on and forcing my child to do to feed my ego (without even realizing it was all to serve me).
Was I asking questions like, “What does HE need from me?” or “Is this activity working for him?”. NO. I was coming from a place of, “I know what you need, you’ll do this because it will be good for you in the future”…”This will set you up for ‘success’”… “Isn’t this fun? All the other kids think this is fun!”.
Once I saw Dr. Shefali being interviewed and then read her book, “The Conscious Parent”, everything I (and SOOOOO many other parents) had been doing wrong became all too clear. I began to deconstruct all of my parenting patterns. I realized how selfish the traditional hierarchical model of parenting was. I realized how even though I loved my kid with all of my heart, I wasn’t always sending him that message. My energy towards him was controlling and anxious. He could feel that energy and was rebelling against it. Once I had an awareness of these patterns and the energy I was bringing to our relationship, I could shift them. This took time, a TON of effort on my part, and a lot of failed attempts at not being triggered when C would do something that offended me. The path was not (and is still not) linear. But over time, I began to build a conscious connection with my child.
Once that connection and attunement was created, I was able to see his needs more clearly. We pulled him from the preschool he was at (originally it was because his baby brother was born with a hole in his heart and needed open heart surgery, therefore could not be exposed to all of the preschooler germs C was bringing home **this is a story for another day**). C was home with us for a few months before I realized that I could not send him back to that school. I knew that they were seeing him how I had previously seen him: as a difficult child who could never sit still and caused too many problems. But that was not my kid.
So this is where our story turns around…This is where we find the help we did not even realize we needed because we hadn’t been fully tuned in to our child.
C stayed home with us for 7 months before he started at his new school. In those 7 months we spent time really connecting with him. We got a nanny a few days a week because we had a medically fragile infant and a toddler who needed our full attention. Our nanny was calm and so, so gentle. Her energy was the opposite of mine. I used to watch her with envy when C would act out and she would never get triggered or lose her cool. She was (and is) such a blessing for our family.
Then I found the most wonderful, nurturing, and loving school. They followed the “Nurtured Heart” approach which was all based on positive reinforcement and seeing the best in everything and everyone. The teachers were patient, kind, and thoughtful. Right away they noticed some of the behaviors that I described before, and C’s main teacher also noticed that he couldn’t take stairs one at a time, which was not typical for a child his age. They scheduled a meeting with me to discuss how to best help C at school. They said that they would like to bring in a woman from a non-profit called We-Care, to help both the teachers and I in having a common language and support structure for C. Thank God for our new school and this woman, P, who they brought in. She was compassionate, extremely thoughtful, and brutally honest with me. She reminded me how much my anxiousness and intensity around his behaviors was affecting C. P also said that everything we were describing about his behavior and from what she had witnessed when she observed him were pointing to issues with sensory processing. C was sensory seeking and that was why he liked watching things crash, making loud noises, and hurting people/animals to get a reaction. She recommended an occupational therapist (OT) in our area who could work with C both privately, and in a social skills group.
I immediately looked up the OT and went through the checklist to “diagnose” sensory processing disorder on her website. We checked many of those boxes on that list. We spoke on the phone and she said it sounded very likely that C had issues with sensory processing. So this began the process of OT. OT was a game changer. And it wasn’t just for C, it was really for me too. We were lucky to get a good therapist. She loves Dr. Laura Markham and all of her teachings on peaceful parenting. I learned a lot of the language I use with my kids today from both mimicking our OT and from the courses I did with Dr. Laura Markham. At that point it had been about a year since I had discovered conscious parenting, but I still needed help managing my triggers and figuring out exactly what language to use with C when we were having a hard time. I took Dr. Laura Markham’s Peaceful Parent Happy Kids 12 week online course and that helped me a ton with managing my triggers, and it was an everyday reminder of how much my energy affected my child. Short little meditations were included each day and they kept me on track. Until recently, meditation never came easily to me (even as a practicing yogi!), but it is such an important part of this journey. Both Dr. Shefali, and Dr. Laura Markham’s online classes included meditations that were incredibly helpful.
The new school, finding OT, and our wonderful nanny were all amazing supports that we needed to get on the right path, but the real behavior changes didn’t come until I did the work on myself. There was a part of me that was originally taking C to occupational therapy to “fix” him. I know so many parents show up to OT and child therapy desperate for someone to fix their child, but that will never work if we don’t do the work on ourselves in tandem. Once C was in the right school and OT, we had another support person in our home a few days a week, and we got our baby through heart surgery, I was able to dive really deep into myself and look at where all of my triggers and anxieties in parenting were coming from. I started practicing yoga every single day and went on a week long retreat with Sean. I got a new therapist who I could talk to about the triggers my kids were bringing to the surface. I saw a Qi Gong practitioner who did really deep healing work with me. I went after healing from all angles! I wanted to leave no stones unturned.
Healing myself was, and continues to be, the single most important parenting move I will ever make.
It took time, but after another year and a half or so, our lives really started to shift, and they have only gotten better and better. Most of the behaviors I spoke about earlier have faded away. C’s teacher today would never know what we had gone through previously, behaviorally or medically. Our kiddo is still very spirited, energetic, and fiery, but I now have all the tools to stay calm with him and to set him up for success. Being triggered happens much less frequently, and when it does, I am able to take a pause and examine the real issue (for the most part. I am still here in this human body!). Life is not perfect, we still have all the usual trials of parenthood, but the way we view all of it has changed, so those very same trials have a completely different impact.
As Wayne Dyer says, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
*Ok, if you have made it this far on the journey with me, I am truly grateful! I’ll leave you with just a few of the many, many gems of conscious parenting in my life…*
Conscious parenting has taught me to revere the unparalleled gifts I have been given by way of my children. Through the mirrors they hold up for me I have learned to look at my imperfections as tools for change. Dr. Shefali calls having children “spiritual bootcamp”. Nothing in our lives can evoke more emotional reactivity than parenting. Am I right!? I take this as an invitation to treat the reactions my kids trigger in me as opportunities for spiritual growth and evolution! I mean really, it’s way more fun than berating myself for just being human over and over again.
Conscious parenting has taught me that reading every parenting book on the market means NOTHING if I am not willing to do the work on MYSELF. Trust me, I know this firsthand!
Conscious parenting has taught me to be present. There is no way to connect with our children if we are not present with them. When we are living in the future, we are embodying anxiety. When we are living in the past, we are embodying regret. When we are in the present moment, we can truly tune in to our children. We can tap into their endless well of leisurely energy. We can tap into their reverence for all of the little things that we take for granted when we are planning, rushing, and doing.
And more than anything else, conscious parenting has taught me how to find pure joy and wonder through my children. When all agendas and projections are taken out of the equation, our authentic spirits can connect in play, laughter, and love. We can be dramatic, we can be angry, we can be playful, we can be imperfect, we can be ridiculous, we can be LOUD, we can fail. It’s all real, and it’s all welcome. Ultimately, we are given the freedom to just unconditionally delight in each other.
Thank you for reading about my journey! My hope is that all parents can relate to some part of this story. There is just no way around it, parenting is exhausting. And examining the way we parent is even more challenging! But can't we all agree it's worth it?