What is conscious parenting?
Conscious parenting, or mindful parenting, is not so much a parenting “technique” as it is a way of life for you and your children.
I didn’t even know that conscious parenting was a thing. It sounds so lofty. But it’s not supernatural—anyone can succeed at conscious parenting if you cultivate the right mindset.
First, you need to start by being mindful as an adult. Then you can apply the same concepts to parenting, and in fact, to all areas of your life.
In this article, I am going to give you an overview of conscious parenting and some easy ways you can implement this method in your daily life.
Get your coffee now, mamas, cause you’re gonna need it for this post!
What it means to be mindful as an adult
I suggest that before you try to become a conscious parent, try to simply become a conscious person. When we talk about consciousness or mindfulness in this context, we are referring to awareness. Now, in this post, I am going to use these words pretty much interchangeably. If you want to get more into the nitty gritty, check out the individual definitions here.
Awareness in its simplest form is our ability to think and reason in any situation, even if it means challenging our own beliefs. I read a very comprehensive book on this subject by the psychologist Dr. Nathaniel Branden called The Art of Living Consciously: The Power of Awareness to Transform Everyday Life. I want to share with you his explanation of what it means to live consciously:
Living consciously is a state of being mentally active rather than passive. It is the ability to look at the world through fresh eyes. It is intelligence taking joy in its own function. Living consciously is seeking to be aware of everything that bears on our interests, actions, values, purposes, and goals. It is the willingness to confront facts, pleasant or unpleasant. It is the desire to discover our mistakes and correct them. Within the range of our interests and concerns, it is the quest to keep expanding our awareness and understanding, both of the world external to self and of the world within. It is respect for reality and respect for the distinction between the real and the unreal […] the commitment to see what we see and know what we know [and the] recognition that the act of dismissing reality is the root of all evil.Branden, Nathaniel. The Art of Living Consciously: The Power of Awareness to Transform Everyday Life. Fireside ed., Simon & Schuster, 1999, pp. 11.
The commitment to see
Let that passage sink in. What do these words evoke for you? It’s hard to absorb them on the first reading, isn’t it? Read the passage again and think about what Dr. Branden is saying. When you take each sentence on its own, the concept is really very simple. It just takes some mental legwork to put it into practice. You are already practicing awareness by actively thinking about his words and whether or not you understand or agree with them.
(Side note: I did a separate mini review of this book over on my other blog, if you’re interested!)
Before we go any further.
I would like to add my two cents now and explain to my readers what conscious parenting means to me, as I understand it so far, and as I am currently trying to practice it.
To me, conscious parenting means:
- Not parenting on autopilot.
- Seeking to understand my child, not just listening to her.
- Being open to learn from my child.
- Living my life as authentically as possible as a model for her to do the same.
- Responding instead of reacting.
- Seeking opportunities in every situation to be patient and compassionate.
- Considering C as a person in her own right, not just my daughter.
- It’s enjoying each stage she is in without mourning the previous one or yearning for the next one.
- It means accepting that I get to “have her” for only a short while before she becomes an independent woman capable of leading her own conscious life.
Now, that’s a tall order. Do I screw up? ALL.THE.TIME. But I just have to persevere when I fall off the wagon. And remember, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.
There is a lot of great information about conscious/mindful parenting out there. The truth is, conscious parenting will look a little different in practice for each family. In the rest of this article, I am going to give you advice on conscious parenting based on my own interpretation of it.
Take another sip of coffee, and let’s dive in!
How to be mindful as a parent
As I mentioned above, being mindful as a parent will come a lot more easily to you if you already practice mindfulness as a general rule.
Being mindful as a parent doesn’t require any special training. Here are a few examples of how you can use conscious parenting in your daily life:
Think about your responsibilities as a parent
On the outside, parenting looks like an endless parade of getting your kids up in the morning, feeding them, helping them dress, and out the door, on an on until the struggle of bedtime. But your responsibilities as a parent don’t stop there. Think about how you are going to teach independence to your children, who will one day leave the nest. Since you’re already a conscious person, you also need to consider how to transmit your practice of mindfulness to your children. I’ll get more into that below!
Your child’s education
A scholarly education is important. At the time of this writing, my daughter isn’t even 2 yet, but I have been thinking about her upcoming formal education for at least the past six months. If I wasn’t practicing consciousness, I would simply send her to the district school without another thought.
But the law in France that kids must be in a school program starting at age 3 gives me some pause, and after all, there’s bilingualism to consider, which C wouldn’t be exposed to in a normal school setting before age 6. So I am considering other options. Would a private school that offers English classes be best, or could I try homeschooling? I don’t yet have the answer, but I know it’s my responsibility and no one else’s to decide how my child is educated.
There is still much to be learned outside of a traditional school setting. It is our responsibility as parents to instill in our children the values that we hold dear. For me, those are self-esteem, self-reliance, and independence. I may not be in a classroom, but I am always C’s teacher. Being a conscious parent means taking advantage of those “teachable moments” in life to show our kids what really matters to us.
I’ll be honest, I don’t know too much about gender neutral parenting. One day I hope to do an entire blog post about this concept once I learn more about it. Let me just say here that as I have become more conscious as an adult, the more obvious to me are the gender stereotypes that are marketed to us.
I kept the sex of my baby a surprise from everyone, including myself, until C’s birth. People asked me endlessly, “Are you having a boy or a girl?” I kept wondering why it mattered so much, because it doesn’t! They wanted to know what kind of clothes to gift me. I said, whatever you want. I will put pink on a boy, and I will put blue on a girl.
Obviously this is a simplistic example. You might fight gender stereotypes with toys as well. My daughter can play with tools and trucks all she wants, thanks very much.
As you select clothes and toys for your children, think about the messages you are sending to them. Allow your son to feel emotions. Allow your daughter to be tough. Don’t treat your son one way, and your daughter another. If it’s important to you, think outside the gender stereotype box!
Another thing I’ve begun to consider is our consumption of films. For the moment, I don’t allow C to watch any shows or movies. But when the day comes when I sit her in front of a TV screen, I will be very careful about what she watches. As an adult, I’ve become all too aware of the gender stereotypes I received since childhood from watching certain animated features. I want to make sure that C feels empowered as a woman. She should be a distressing damsel, not a damsel in distress.
There will be doubtless times when content you feel uncomfortable about reaches your children. That’s a time to discuss the message they are receiving and to teach them to think critically and formulate their own opinions instead of blindly (unconsciously) absorbing the information and internalizing it.
What do you consider moral behavior? What is right and wrong, and how will you teach that to your children? It’s hard to say you could achieve this with a specific plan. Look for opportunities throughout your day to comment on a particular situation and to talk about your feelings and point of view. The easiest way to teach moral behavior is by modeling it for your kids, and this comes back to practicing awareness as an adult before practicing it as a parent.
No one is perfect, but watch out for moments when you might be hypocritical. Why does my 1-year-old scream “No!” at me when I ask her to do something? Because she learned it from me. I said no to her approximately 895 times per day when she was in the crawling stage because she kept discovering new and increasingly dangerous things to play with. I wasn’t wrong to say no to her, but I cannot expect her to never say no to me. Similarly, I can’t force her to eat with a plate and sit correctly at the table if I don’t use a plate myself or if I slouch or sit sideways on my chair. Don’t just talk the talk—you gotta walk the walk.
The value of our children’s opinions
Let me put the example of hypocrisy another way. If I want my daughter to learn that her “no” means something (I’m thinking in particular when she will be a young adult!), I need to be the first person to respect her “no.” Of course, she needs to respect me as a general rule, but that respect should go both ways. When I ask if she wants to go on the potty and she says no, I won’t force her to the potty just because I know she needs to go and just doesn’t want to. This is a simple example which will change according to the developmental age of your child.
How to teach your kids about mindfulness
If you want to practice awareness with your kids, the possibilities here are endless! I would just warn you of 2 pitfalls beforehand:
It needs to feel natural.
If you’ve been practicing awareness as an adult, you’ll get better and better at doing it as a parent, too. Don’t force your kids to do a designated “mindfulness activity” just because you want to get a quick result. Prepare them for it. Talk to them beforehand: “This afternoon, we’ll go to the beach.” Then, while you’re in the car on your way to the beach, don’t sit in silence the entire time. “I’m looking forward to putting my toes in the water. And you?” Seek opportunities for your child to give their opinion. BUT see point number 2.
You can give context to the activity, but you don’t need to comment endlessly.
Saying “Aren’t we having such a great time!” every ten minutes while your child is rubbing their eyes and looking tired is not bringing awareness to the situation.
Mindful activities versus mindless activities
So, how do you replace mindless activities with more mindful ones?
Here are some ideas for mindful activities to get you started.
For younger kids
- Sound: Have your child close their eyes in a quiet place and just listen for a minute. Ask them to name the sounds they pick out, however distant.
- Memory: A game I used to play with my grandmother at bedtime was I Spy. The room would already be dark, and we’d play the game from memory. I’d have to think about the objects in the room without seeing them. Calmed me right down for sleep, let me tell you!
- Touch: Get an opaque fabric bag and place objects with different textures inside. Your child will put their hand inside the bag and try to guess what each object is before pulling it out.
- Taste: Along the same lines, you can do a blind taste test. Use a scarf or bandana to make sure they don’t peek! Then feed them one tiny mouthful at a time and have them guess what it is. You can even turn it into a little competition between siblings.
For older kids
- TV. Watching the commercial break in your favorite show can become a mindful activity when you examine with your kids the messaging behind the advertising.
- Shopping. When it’s time for new clothes, include your children. Look at the tags to show them where the clothing is made. Talk about that process. Is it ethical?
- Nutrition. It’s hard enough for us as adults to make sense of what’s healthy to eat. We can’t expect our kids to fare any better unless we explain about our food options. Have a conversation when you’re in the supermarket (or farmers’ market). Where are these fruits and veggies grown? How are these animals raised and butchered? What even are whole foods, anyway? What are processed foods? Pesticides? GMOs? Obviously start simple and then get into more complex issues as your kids grow.
- Budgeting. It’s never too early to talk about money. Let’s say you have $100 to spend. Explain to your kids the different possibilities of using that money: “You could get 2 low-quality pairs of shoes, but they won’t last long and will soon need replacing. But if you get 1 high-quality pair of shoes, they will last longer, saving you money in the long run.” Talk about the pros and cons of each situation.
It’s important to note that no matter the age of your kids, any activity can become mindful with the right approach. It’s just a question of mindset.
What are the benefits of conscious parenting?
Actively striving to bring more awareness to your parenting, and therefore to your children, will improve the psychological development of your children in many ways, since consciousness builds pathways in the brain and is very similar to other psychological processes, almost like you are exercising a muscle.
Mental health for children
Teaching kids about mindfulness promotes attention and calm. Focusing on tasks becomes easier and temper tantrums are abated. Amen to that!
When you talk to your children about your values and moral behavior, you will inevitably put names on some strong emotions, positive and negative. When kids learn about emotions, they will not only manage their own more effectively, but they will become more compassionate as adults.
Better relationships with our children
The most obvious benefit! Living consciously is mutually beneficial and will serve you in your relationship to your children as they become self-sufficient adults. The information we are transmitting to our children is far beyond genetic. How we relate to them will dictate how they relate to us throughout their lives.
Conscious parenting is not a technique. It’s a way of life.
Raising children is a financial responsibility, but if you never consider the intellectual responsibility, you’re only doing half the work as a parent. Conscious parenting requires us first to become conscious adults, examining our own thoughts and actions critically, and practicing awareness, before we can apply the concept of mindfulness as parents. It’s a never-ending journey toward awareness, but the more we practice it, the easier it becomes.
I could have written an entire book about conscious parenting, but my purpose here was just to give you an overview if you are new to the subject. Hopefully this article helped you understand a little bit about conscious parenting and cultivating awareness.
So, mamas, what do you think? Are there any big examples I am missing? How are you choosing to parent consciously?-Jessica