In PARENTING WITH PRESENCE, marriage and family therapist Susan Stiffelman says that even though most parents subscribe to the belief that inner growth happens as a result of daily meditation, mindfulness retreats, and/or inspiration from wise luminaries, it is actually their children who can be their greatest teachers.
“When it comes to parenting, it seems that although we may not have knowingly signed up for the ‘course’ our children offer, we nonetheless find ourselves forced to profoundly grow, and grow up,” writes Stiffelman. “In this respect, I believe our children can become our greatest teachers. While we may not deliberately choose to have a baby so that we can heal wounds from our childhood or become a better version of ourselves, in fact, those opportunities — and thousands more — are birthed right along with our children.”
PARENTING WITH PRESENCE invites parents to embark on a journey of bringing greater peace, joy, and personal transformation into their day-to-day parenting. Stiffelman offers proven strategies to help parents navigate the ups and downs of real-life child rearing with more consciousness, and to learn how to subdue the triggers that make them lose (or temporarily misplace) their equanimity.
About the Author:
SUSAN STIFFELMAN, MFT is the bestselling author of Parenting with Presence and Parenting without Power Struggles. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a credentialed teacher, and the Huffington Post’s weekly “Parent Coach” advice columnist. She lives in Malibu, California where she is an aspiring banjo player, a determined tap-dancer, and an optimistic gardener.
Visit her online at ParentingWithoutPowerStruggles.com.
Q and A with Susan Shiffelman
Author of Parenting with Presence
In Parenting with Presence you say, “You’re living with your best teacher.” What do you mean by that? Aren’t parents supposed to be teachers for their children?
Yes, parents are certainly teachers or guides for our children, but if you step back and see everything in your life—including child-rearing—as opportunities to learn more about yourself and grow as a person, then hardly anyone is as valuable a teacher as your child. Our love for our kids can motivate us to stretch and transform in ways nothing else might.
For example, you might have a rather impatient nature. Before children, you go to the grocery store, load the cart with the things you need, pay, come home and unpack the groceries.
But if you’re a parent that is not how the trip is going to go. There are negotiations over the car seat, battles over candy, long pauses to examine a dead bug, and so on. Highly inefficient! You can either try to make things happen as you’d like, or breath, slow down, and learn a little patience.
On the flip side, our children can teach us about love in ways that expand our hearts in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Their loving is so pure that it helps us become softer and more generous with our love.
In your book you talk about your own journey, starting to meditate at just seventeen. Is this book only for people who share your commitment for meditation and that sort of thing?
Absolutely not! I offered a look at my personal story to help emphasize the possibilities for deep, personal growth that parenting provides. I also wanted those parents who are calm and centered by nature to see that it’s normal for even the most seasoned yogini or meditator to fall apart under the Eckhart Tolle personally selected your book for publication under his new Eckhart Tolle Editions imprint with New World Library. He also wrote the foreword and I understand he helped with editing.
What was it like to work with him?
It was an incredible honor to work with Eckhart; he was so encouraging, and so very kind. And funny! After our calls I would often just sit and smile…feeling quiet and still and so grateful. On a practical note, he is an astute editor; he caught little things that I would have missed, and made a real point of wanting to ensure that the reader never got confused by something expressed unclearly. It was a true gift You’ve got a lot of very practical strategies in the book for helping kids and parents manage stress, discover their passions, have more fun, be more present, improve communication, develop closer connection and be happier.
Could you share one or two of your favorites?
One of the strategies that readers will discover in the book has to do with helping parents and children develop healthy and respectful ways of communicating. I have one exercise called the Three Yeses that allows both parent and child to really feel heard, even when they have very different views about an issue. I illustrate this by actually sharing a word for word dialogue in the book between a mother and I also introduce a number of stress-reducing activities—in fact the final chapter is filled with exercises and activities that parents can do with or without their children to foster more connection, calm, mindfulness and enjoyment. One simple exercise for bringing agitated or worried children back to the present moment is to have them rub their hands together for ten seconds, and then tune in to the heat and the tingling sensations. This is a way of moving out of stressful mental activity and back into the body. You say that it isn’t a child’s job to behave in a way that makes us look good or feel better about ourselves as parents.
What do you mean?
Many of us make our children at least partially responsible for our happiness by projecting our need for approval or respect onto them. This is a formula for all kinds of trouble, because our children intuitively know that it isn’t their job to behave in a way that makes us look good. But more importantly, it makes us needy and whenever we need something from our children, we cannot be truly in charge as what I call the calm, confident Captain of the ship.
You say that we shouldn’t take our child’s behavior personally, but isn’t that easier said than done? When a child rolls her eyes or ignores her parent’s requests, isn’t it personal?
Yes, it’s much easier said than done! But it’s incredibly liberating when we stop taking our children’s upsetting behavior personally, and see it as either age-appropriate behavior, an expression of an underlying worry, frustration or resentment, or a convoluted way of getting our attention or turning on You have said that often hear privately from kids who they wish their parents were less wishy- washy, even though those same kids often give their parents a hard time and refuse to cooperate with a parent’s restrictions.
Why is that?
Children are highly dependent on their parents—and for longer than almost any other species. When we fail to create structure or set limits, it is actually quite anxiety-producing for them. Kids relax when they know where the ground and the ceiling are; when they feel a sense of containment that comes from us.
You talk about helping kids feel sad. Isn’t that the opposite of what most parents want to do? It seems we bend over backwards to help our kids feel happy!
When we try to fix our children’s problems or talk them out of their upsets—sometimes so that we can feel better-- we are in effect depriving them of the opportunity to develop resilience. For a child to become a sturdy adult capable of handling life’s ups and downs, they need to live through sadness, with our loving support and understanding, of course.
In the book there are some pretty emotional scenes in which you describe parents who end up facing old feelings around being ignored or having been told they shouldn’t express anger. Can Yes, I think readers are going to find this aspect of the book quite unique—and powerful. I have learned that when something our child does triggers us emotionally, it is often reactivating painful feelings from our own childhoods. One mother was forbidden from expressing anger as a little girl. Although she was committed to letting her own daughter express anger and upset, she found that it generated tremendous rage inside of her. We moved through those feelings so that she could allow her child to be mad without.
Another parent felt terribly disrespected when her daughter ignored her requests, leading to fairly ineffective lectures and punishments. I describe in the book how her voice had been muted growing up, and also in her marriage, with no one caring about what she wanted, making her highly sensitive to having her wishes dismissed by her kids. The work we did moved her from being passive or aggressive with her daughter, instead assertively making requests that weren’t saturated with her hurt or neediness—leading to much more cooperation!
You talk a lot about the difficulties that parents face with digital devices and their kids desire to use them as much as possible. What advice do you give parents about this hot topic?
The first has to do with owning that Captain of the ship role so that we can take responsibility for setting limits. When we are afraid of our kids’ reactions, or when we need them to like us, we cannot parent effectively. I also encourage parents to practice what they preach; it’s really hard for most of us to limit our use, but it’s essential that we model our own commitment to staying engaged with the 3D world rather than getting lost in the digital one.
You make a point of encouraging parents to walk the talk; to be kind to themselves and take care of themselves instead of running on fumes or being hard on themselves for mistakes. Why is that Parenting is more or less impossible, and yet…we wake up each morning to do our best by our children. We need to have a tribe to support us along the way. We need to eat and rest and take good care of ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally, so that we can show up for our kids and so they see us modeling healthy and loving self-care. And the guilt and shame we subject ourselves to has to stop! I urge parents to acknowledge five things that went well at the end of each day, instead of reviewing the times they yelled or threatened. We are so terribly hard on ourselves.
I hope this book helps parents kick that mean, critical voice out of their heads and treat themselves with great love and compassion. Parenting is so much better—and so much more fun—when we approach each day with an open-heart, rather than from fear, guilt or shame.
~*Disclaimer: This post was written by Genuine Jenn. All opinions are honest and my own.*~