How often have you heard that raising children today is much more difficult than in the past? For as long as I can remember I’ve heard this proclaimed from parents especially while their kids are teens. What I call conscious parenting is the intentional focusing on one’s own growth as the first priority while participating in the unscripted play in which you and your kids are live performers. It’s about being centered and balanced as best you can and from there, listening, sharing and being present with your children. It’s an evolving relationship where you are constantly learning from each other and it never ends.
Looking back as a parent of teenagers, I now recognize two powerful forces that directly influenced me as a father: My childhood experiences witnessing my own parents (unwanted) and my desire to do the opposite (wanted).
I was raised in a household where there was little real communication. My parents were well intentioned and followed the patterns of their upbringing. Feelings were kept beneath the surface because no one knew how to express them unless there was an emotional blow up. Although they were affectionate to a point, outbursts of frustration and anger combined with alcohol were commonplace and we were expected to figure the facts of life out on our own. I had nowhere to turn. At fifteen I remember how much I wanted to talk to my dad but felt helpless and alone. Afterwards I clearly recall making the inner commitment to one day having open and honest communication with my own kids.
I’ll be sharing my insights of parenting teenagers in this article although what I’ve learned applies to younger children as well.
I especially want to acknowledge the unique challenges of raising children with special needs. I have dear friends who have kids with various conditions and disabilities and I honor them and all parents who walk this road hand in hand with their children.
The underlying principle in conscious parenting is communication. All good relationships require open and flowing exchange of love, emotion, ideas and opinions. Younger kids are naturally wide open and joyful, but as they enter their teens the communication channel becomes clogged with childhood programming, pain, fear, and guilt picked up along their path. Combine this with their parents preexisting communication issues and the stage is set for the struggle so many families experience. For instance, as a child I was very musical and at 13 years old I remember detesting my father standing behind me when I practiced the piano. During evening practice he would stand there with a martini in his hand watching every note I played, correcting my mistakes and trying to live vicariously through me. I desperately wanted to tell him to stop but I had no way of sharing this with him. He was simply acting out his own father’s pattern, unaware of my feelings. We both had no idea how to communicate effectively. Now I understand that it’s very possible to have turned this same experience into an opportunity for deeper love and growth.
Listening to our kids is about giving them our undivided attention with a quiet mind and an open heart and receiving what they’re trying to share. This may not involve words. It might mean listening to their body language or sensing their vibration. One of my many lessons came when my oldest daughter in 10th grade told me angrily that I wasn’t listening to her. I ignored her signal more than once and soon she announced in tears of desperation that she was quitting high school. I finally heard her. We resolved the issue and I developed the habit of intentionally saying to myself as I began a conversation with them “No one’s in trouble and there are no mistakes, just opportunities.” My ability to respond (responsibility) took on new meaning in and the connection to my teens thrived.
Help them discover their passion
Everyone without exception is born with a unique gift or passion designed to inspire an amazing journey through life. Imagine the planet if we all followed our passion in some form. I’ve found that some parents reject this notion out of the belief that their child will be “unsuccessful” and beneath the surface fearing “What will our friends think!?” Your children are hard wired to live their passion. All we have to do is help them discover it and trust in the universe that they will be provided for. You’ve heard the saying, “do what you love and the money will come”.
Teens are very intelligent and know intuitively that you’ve had a challenging path. They may even know some of the facts of your teen experiences. Rules, based on the fear of what your kid might do based on your past teen behavior will fail. The choice at some point along the way goes something like this:
Option 1 – “Oh God, if my kids EVER do what I did as a teenager I’ll die! There’s no way I’m going to allow them to get away with things that I did!”
Option 2 – “Because of what I went through as a teenager, I’m going to stay in touch with my kids lives and I intend to be there for them no matter what happens. Anyway there’s nothing they could do that’s crazier than I did”
From my experience, the vast majority of parents choose option 1. Do you remember seeing the ghost of your mother or father coming out of you while parenting? It’s amazing how old voices and behaviors are triggered when we have our own kids. But we be can conscious enough to recognize our parents past energy, and then choose a higher road of communication and listening. Follow your inner guidance (what feels good) and trust that you’re doing the right thing.
My wife and I had a few straightforward, reasonable but unchallenged rules. We explained to our teens that as a family all living in the same house, we each had an individual part to play in making the whole family function smoothly. We were all in it together.
- Schoolwork – When it came to our various responsibilities as household members, one of mine was to go to work every day and contribute financially to the family. A responsibility of theirs was to be a student and to take ownership of their focus to maintain reasonable grades. I never required them to get an A or to be competitive with other students. I told them the secret to successful learning is to listen and participate in class and then homework would be a snap. This little advice really worked and I didn’t grasp it until I went to college.
- Meals – Our family ate together as many nights as possible. We liked being together and this was a time we shared whatever was on our minds and in our hearts as a family. No TV, no cell phones no iPads etc. during mealtimes. A technology free zone where lots can be shared and felt. It’s challenging to make the family meal a priority in today’s fast paced culture, but how about reworking everyone’s schedule to sit down at least twice a week for dinner? We all have to eat, so let’s eat together.
- TV – There were no Televisions in the bedrooms. We had a TV/entertainment room in our basement. Watching TV is a part of American life, but as parents we can control the dose of this drug. Kids are born ready for technology and it’s expanding so quickly in our world. I love technology myself and I’m fully equipped. But I’m also completely in charge of where I put my attention and I love creating space where free of information overload.
- No enforced bedtimes –After a long day of school, sports, playing with friends, dinner and homework, everyone in our house was exhausted and loved to climb into bed. My kids went to bed when they were tired which was usually between 9 and 10pm on school nights.
- I need a phone call – Here was an agreed upon rule that had definite consequences if broken. When our kids were out on the weekends as teenagers I insisted that they call me before 11:00 pm (10 pm on week nights). There was no curfew, but I had to get that phone call. I could easily tell if they were out of control by listening to them over the phone. On several occasions I heard my teen in distress or intoxicated. (Yes, it does happen). I would say, “I’m on my way to pick you up, be waiting outside”. There were no questions asked because they knew my help was needed and I was often thanked for the rescue. When establishing the rule I explained that it was perfectly reasonable and not an infringement on their social life. I reserved the right to bring them home if I felt it was necessary. We had a close relationship and we trusted each other. I made it very clear that by not making that call, they elected to stay home for one week. No technology or going out to see friends. I wouldn’t be angry at all. It was their choice and the consequences were agreed upon in advance. I can remember only a very few times in their teenage years that they did not call me.
- Your room is your space – Having a room to call our own is essential to healthy living. Kids are no exception. If possible, let them create a personal world of their own in their bedroom. Some of my kid’s rooms were disaster zones at times and I would surely comment on it. But I let them live in their own mess if they chose. The key though was not to invade their space unannounced. We would knock on their door and ask to come in, honoring them as individuals and creating mutual respect.
- Choosing a college – I recently read that high school seniors are applying to as many as 30 colleges and paying up to $3,000 for assistance with the applications. The truth is that your kid is going to ONE college and that institution is already there waiting for him or her. Help your child discover within themselves where they really want to go. It’s similar to finding their passion. The perfect school is already aligned with their path and the key is to find it. Yes, it’s important to begin the search in the eleventh grade, but encouraging them to connect to the college that feels right first and then using to mind to analyze what’s right about it will simplify the process. My kids applied to 1 or 2 colleges and were accepted at all of them. Later in life, no one asks you where you went to college. It’s what you know and who you are as a person that drives the car towards the destination of your choosing.
Conscious parenting is natural to us. We can make choices that come from our intuitive higher self in order to embrace a new parenting model; parenting that’s rooted in communication through the renewed ability to listen with stillness. Cultivate the awareness to transcend the behavior patterns passed down to us by our fathers and mothers that come to life when we begin the parenting journey. It’s a co-creative experience where no one’s wrong or right. We can see our children as gifts from Life itself to nurture into loving contributors to humanity. They will naturally be drawn to their unique passion and when we honor them as individuals with rules that are reasonable but effective and we will experience their presence in our lives as a joy.
I’ve written a song called Father and Friend and you may listen and download it at www.hhanson.com
Also please send me an email! firstname.lastname@example.org
H Hanson is a singer songwriter and CPA practicing both in Weaverville, NC