by Katherine Johnson Martinko
“When our children feel like they are safe to make mistakes to fail, then they will blossom like a flower. But if they’re going to feel scared that you’re going to critique them, then they’re going to shut down and withdraw.”
The latter summarizes Dr. Shefali’s parenting philosophy in a nutshell—that of the “conscious parent,” someone who strives for mindfulness in raising children. Shefali is a clinical psychologist based in New York City and the author of four books, the latest of which is “The Parenting Map: Step-by-Step Solutions to Consciously Create the Ultimate Parent-Child Relationship.”
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Welcome to where parents talk. My name is Lianne Castelino. Our guest today is a best selling author, a clinical psychologist and a mother. Dr. Shefali is also a global thought leader in the conscious parenting space. She has been endorsed for that work. Hailed as a revolutionary by Oprah. Dr. Shefali runs a private practice for couples and families. And she also coaches others in her philosophy. Her latest book is called the parenting map, step by step solutions to consciously create the ultimate parent child relationship. Dr. Shefali joins us today from New York City. Thank you so much for being here.
Thanks for having me.
I’d like to start with your view on when you look at the parenting landscape today, with all the unique challenges and complexities that parents are dealing with what strikes you most.
I think that we are more than ever, in a crisis of connection, because of not just the pandemic isolating us, but also because of our intense reliance and addiction to technology, which decreases interpersonal connection, increases distraction, ADHD, and creates this virtual world of intense comparison, which then impacts our anxiety levels, our self loathing. And all of this is in one big volcano that is now erupting. And we see its effects on our children, especially our teenagers. So we are in a in a crisis situation. And I see it in my practice where parents are constantly feeling bombarded by this media. And they themselves are taken hostage. So you know, the impact on psychological health is tremendous. And it’s worrisome. And one of the key ingredients of, of really positive. Parenting is deep interpersonal present connection. So that’s now eroding. And I think it’s causing and is going to keep causing a tremendous health crisis.
Central to what you’re talking about is nurturing and growing healthy relationships with our children, so fundamental to a parent child bond that lasts across the lifespan, what are some of the factors in your view, impeding or derailing this relationship? As we see it now?
What are the factors impeding or derailing the relationship, the parent child relationship, you know,
Historically, and in present day as well, It’s the same factors the parents, distractibility the parents, lack of presence, parent, high control, imposition of their own expectations, their own fantasies, without truly attuning to who the child is. These are the things that have always been prevalent in unconscious parenting, punishment, shaming, yelling, screaming, you know, all these things are always never good. So besides those historical factors, what is now more in view are what I talked about the factors having to do with this distraction and high comparison due to technology. So that’s just now adding to the already unconscious ways we were parenting our children, making it now extremely difficult for children to have a healthy childhood, because parents are so distracted and high achieving and putting pressure and feeling stressed out. And then we have technology on top of that.
Your book the conscious parent was published in 2010. Hailed novel in many ways for it’s focused on mindfulness in raising children. What was the impetus for the parenting map?
Well, so I wrote the conscious parent in 2010, and then created this movement, so to speak of conscious parenting until then people we’re not really talking about conscious parenting. And then over the past 13 years, I’ve written many other books. But the parenting map is my latest book because it speaks to the How to Become a conscious parent. The others were more the what and the why, and this is the how. So if any parent listening right now who wants to become a conscious parent, this is the book to pick up. It’s called the parenting map I give 20 steps on how to create the ultimate parent child connection, which is something we all want, but we just don’t know how to do it. And this one really breaks down in very simple bite sized pieces. So any parent out there can pick it up and do the work.
We’re going to unpack a little bit more about the strategies that you unveil in the parenting mat. But I want to ask you, the book is largely rooted rooted in parents parenting themselves. How does a parent know that they need to parent themselves? And why is that realization important?
Every human being needs to repair it. No one was raised in a conscious way for for the most part. Now, yes, we were most of us may have been raised with love and warmth. But there was unconsciousness. So every parent and non parent needs to be parent themselves, period. But when we’re becoming a parent, or when we’re in an intimate partnership, more than ever, we need to reparent ourselves. And sometimes we bypass the we parenting for intellectual knowledge. So people can conceptually understand things, but they don’t see how their wounds keep showing up. And how they keep sabotaging and, you know, obstructing their own happiness, their own well being, because it’s old patterns, but they don’t see it. So all of us need to reparent ourselves constantly.
The Parenting map looks at 20 Evidence Based guide steps, divided into stages. The first stage looks at moving from frustration to clarity. Can you take us through what you mean by that? And what is involved in that stage?
So yes, stage one is about changing mindset. So the first step is to understand how traditional parenting how we were always as screwed things up. If we don’t understand how we were raised, what would the guideposts of traditional parenting, which is perfectionism control, high expectations, munition shame, guilt, fear, can you know a lot of fear, if that is not understood, we will not see how it shows up in our lives. And then we will not understand why it was detrimental for us, and therefore, why we shouldn’t do it for our children. conscious parenting is all about interpersonal connection is not about correction and control. It’s about connection. And that stage talks about how to leave the traditional parenting model behind because that will keep creating frustration, and how to move towards the conscious parenting model, which will create connection and clarity in a very beautiful way.
The second stage really focuses on the parents and some of the baggage and dysfunctions that perhaps they bring to the equation, what does this stage involve?
So the second stage is from dysfunctional patterns to conscious choice, because we are all living patterns. And we don’t know how to break out of them. Because we, you know, keep thinking that the outcome will be different. The next time we try something different, but it’s not about trying different strategies. It’s about healing, something deep, that’s been broken. And until we do the deep work, we won’t be able to change things on the surface level. So that whole stage is about understanding your egoic patterns, your reactive patterns, and then going deeper within to see where those patterns are coming from. And until we do that work, we won’t be able to break out of the cycle.
Equally as important is the third stage, which really talks about going from conflict to connection. Can you take us through what that means for the parent reading this book?
So the third, the third stage is about really building connection with our children, and how to do it. So it’s one thing to know that we have to do it, but then how do we do it? So I teach you how to do it? So I talked about recognizing the different kinds of children that there are in the world for the most part, right? We don’t want to box anybody in, but I talked about the different essences of the kid. And do you have a hyperactive explorer? Do you have an exploding kind of kid? Do you have a perfectionist? You know, overdue or over pleaser kind of kid? Do you have a dreamy recluse? Do you have an easy breezy kid? What kind of kid do you have? Just beginning to tune into who your child is, will allow you to be more sensitive and attuned to what you may need to do differently with your children. And then I talk about how do we have empathy? How do we build connection? What kind of questions can we ask? How do we take a pause? How do we not react? Very difficult things to do in the heat of the moment, but if we can Start practicing, then we can become better.
In the course of researching the parenting map, Dr. Shefali, is there any research evidence that you came across that really gave you pause?
Well, you know, things that I have known for a while or that punishment, shame based strategies, controlling fearmongering our children, actually leads to a great sense of apathy, disconnection and low sense of worth, there’s always a better way to teach our children and using heavy handed techniques is never the way to go. So I think if anyone listening, it has been doing heavy handed techniques of control and discipline, I urge you to read my books, especially the parenting map. Because I give such a roadmap for a whole different way of approaching our children, it all is all it’s all about the approach, and how to enter the dialogue. If you’re entering the dialogue, with with the need to micromanage what the person says, to keep correcting what the person says to give your opinion to dominate the conversation, then you’re not going to be able to understand what the other person is suffering, and especially our children, and deeply bond with them. When our children feel like they are safe to make mistakes to fail, then they will blossom like a flower. But if they’re going to feel scared that you’re going to critique them, then they’re going to shut down and withdraw. And that will have long lasting impacts when they grow up and have their own relationships.
When you talk about different strategies and styles of parenting, one of the ones that comes to mind, and I’m interested to get your thoughts on it is something that many of us use and have used and continue to use, because we feel it works. And that is the if you do this, then this will happen. So imposing conditions, can you paint a picture for why that kind of approach may not be beneficial, both in the short term and the long term.
Well none of us like to have these if if you’re better than I love you more, if you are smarter than I will praise you more. If you do what I say then I will call you a good child or a brave child, and no one wants to feel like they’re constantly being judged on their performance. We all want to feel accepted for who we are with our limitations. No one wants to be told constantly that you need to do better, right? We are doing the best we can. So even when parents say, Oh, just do your best. I always laugh because what do you think we’re doing, we are doing our best given the consciousness we have. And we all want to feel loved and celebrated and honored for that. Not constantly be told that you need to be something else be better, until it comes from us organically. And I think we do that to our children a lot. And when we do it to our children, and we do it to others. And if it was done to us for sure, we’re going to do it with others. And that causes such a low sense of worth. And we don’t realize it and then we blame our children even more for having no sense of worth.
Now, the structure of the family is decidedly different today than at any other point in human history. We’re talking about single parent families, blended families, same same sex families, etc, etc. However, the strategies that you outline in the parenting map, take into consideration the diversity of the family today.
I always say it takes just one conscious parent to be a game changer. So what I mean by that is that it doesn’t matter. You’re married, you’re divorced, you’re in a blended family, you’re straight, you’re gay, it doesn’t matter. It’s your your healing. Are you are you healed from inside? Are you coming from a sense of brokenness, because if you come from brokenness, you are going to over expect from others, what actually they cannot give, and you’re going to create in them this sense of and you’re going to create in them the sense of unworthiness. That is not their responsibility. It wasn’t theirs to have, but you give it to them because you’re coming from brokenness. So the more we heal, and what I do what I teach in the parenting map, the more we will approach our children with the sense of wholeness and abundance and acceptance, which will immediately create a sense of ease connection and blossoming in them. So it doesn’t matter what kind of family structure you have. It’s about who you are and how you come to the to the process with wholeness with abundance or do you come with fear and lack?
One of the interesting aspects of your perspective is the lens that you bring with respect to fusing II Eastern philosophies with Western psychology it’s at the very heart of your work, can you give us an example of how you go about doing that in your professional work, and also in your own role as a mother.
So it’s ultimately all about understanding that we obstruct our capacity to be in reality, because of our past pain, our past patterns of conditioning. So that premise stops us from being mindful, right? That that pattern stops us from being mindful. So that premise is what we carry on to our relationships. So I try to hold that constantly, in my view, when I’m working with clients writing my books, or in my role as a mother, that my past patterns are constantly obstructing my capacity to be present in the moment, and understanding how will lead me to evolve and become more conscious. So it’s a daily practice, it’s very difficult to be so aware. But the more we do it, the more quicker, we will spot our patterns and stop them. It’s not about not having unconsciousness, it’s about becoming quicker just to spot it.
Now, along those lines, you mentioned, being a mom yourself, I’m curious as to how you go about living as a conscious parent practicing what you’ve learned and what you you know, what you advise people in your own home, and what the impact of that has been on you and your daughter.
Oh, it’s changed my whole relationship with my daughter, I began practicing it more and more, you know, since I began being exposed to it myself, right, I had to practice on her, she was my guinea pig. And I saw myself becoming better and better and better. And it took me a long time to become better. Because I had to work through all my unconsciousness all by myself, right, while I was writing the books to help others. So it took me a while, but I became better and better and better. And it’s not about perfection. It’s just about becoming better. And, you know, we have to do this with compassion, without self loathing, without other loathing, because we all go into myself, because we were so unconsciously raised, it’s embedded in our, in our fabric of our psyche. So we have to have great compassion. But I’ve seen the effects and now my daughter’s 20. And I can see how much a better parent I am because I practice these principles rather than if I had not practice. And I’m still not perfect, but I’m way better today than I would have been if I had never launched on this journey.
As you are well aware, we are in the midst of an epidemic globally, where it concerns Youth Mental Health. Are we at a key tipping point, in your estimation, in terms of how kids are being raised today?
Yes, I think we are maybe past it, we are in trouble. And we need to we will always raising our children unconsciously. And now it’s hit a crisis, I think, and our children are suffering. And you know, Instagram, social media, YouTube, all these, whether they were intention to be used in this way or not have ended up being platforms for shouting out, you know, to be seen, to be heard. And instead of quelling our need to be seen and heard and taking us inward. These platforms have taken us outward, to getting that validation and praise and approval from the outside world. And it’s created this domino effect of great self loathing. Because if you base your value and identity and worth on outside influences, you are in trouble. And that’s what we’re seeing today. Our children are constantly comparing themselves to others, but not just that, we’re also reducing our interpersonal connection and our capacity and tolerance for imperfection. So all these things put together right we are not having we we cannot even tolerate the Instacart coming late or the Uber Eats coming late, we are taking away the mechanisms through which we can mature and grow by providing everything instantly, providing feedback instantly, and then basing our worth on these factors. These are all detrimental to the processes we need to develop resilience and grid. We need to learn to wait and be bored and be undistracted and be still and be quiet and be connected and what comes with that it’s not okay to just delete someone and block someone canceled someone know we have to work it through. But we have such a low tolerance for these things because we cannot tolerate imperfection anymore. And this technology has bred this intolerance for imperfection.
You talk about conscious parenting being a practice, and it never really ends. It’s something that you have to be intentional about every single day. Is there something that you’ve learned about yourself as a parent, through this journey that you’re on, both professionally and personally, and as an educator, and as a clinical psychologist, that really has struck you on your own personal journey?
With everything I teach that, you know, I saw my own ego in action. And it appalled me and I wanted to do better. And I realized that the work had nothing to do with my child, it had all to do with me. So I spent the next decade assiduously delving deep into my own shadows, my own wounds, and began to heal them one by one, and that has had an exponential effect on my teachings. And in my relationship with my daughter, and to myself.
Dr. Shefali, what do you want readers of the parenting map to leave with?
The Parenting map is designed to give parents the tools to become more conscious. And I wrote it with the belief that every one of us has it in us, we have the capacity to do better. And we owe it to our children to not pass down legacies of unworthiness and pain that we grew up with. And we can start that work right now. And this book will give you the tools and the empowerment to do that.
She spoke to Lianne Castelino, host of Where Parents Talk, about why conscious parenting is crucial in today’s world.
“We are, more than ever, in a crisis of connection, because of not just the pandemic isolating us, but also because of our intense reliance and addiction to technology, which decreases interpersonal connection, increases distraction, ADHD, and creates this virtual world of intense comparison, which then impacts our anxiety levels, our self-loathing,” Shefali says in the video and podcast interview.
These modern-day factors are piling on to historical factors that have always made it hard for parents to be truly present for their kids, such as distractibility, lack of presence, imposition of their own expectations, and high levels of control. Now, Shefali says, it is “extremely difficult for children to have a healthy childhood, because parents are so distracted … and feeling stressed out.”
Conscious parenting offers an alternative to those feelings of overwhelm and disconnect. It allows a parent to tune in to the type of child they have and their individual emotional needs, to forge a solid lasting connection. It also guides the parent to consider their own emotional baggage and to move away from heavy-handed techniques like punishment and shaming.
Being a conscious parent, Shefali tells Castelino, is “not about perfection. It’s just about becoming better.” This can take a long time, but our kids need it more than ever now. “Our children are suffering,” Shefali says. Social media has driven many teens to seek validation externally and to constantly compare themselves to others, which reduces interpersonal connection and the capacity to tolerate imperfection.
“These are all detrimental to the processes we need to develop resilience and grid. We need to learn to wait and be bored and be undistracted and be still and be quiet.”
Shefali’s advice is important in a fast-paced, noisy world where parents and kids often feel out of sync with each other. Her book provides tools that anyone can implement at home.
- How a parent knows when to parent themselves—and why that’s important
- An overview of the three stages described in “The Parenting Map”
- Which parenting strategies do not work
- How her approach works for diverse families
The Conscious Parenting Approach (Katherine Winter Sellery)