Being absorbent, our children soak in all our inanities and insanities. For this reason, we must become aware of the emotions we experience and unduly thrust upon them. We can only teach our children those insights we have inculcated in our own life. If our children see us constantly displacing our feelings onto others and witness how we blame others for the lack we experience in our life, this is how they will live too. If they observe how we invite opportunities for introspection and are readily able to admit our faults, they will learn to be fearless where their flaws are concerned and be able to transcend them.
Conscious parenting means that in our interactions with our children, we ask, “Am I dealing with my child in an aware manner or am I being triggered by my past?” The focus is always on us as parents, requiring us to look within and ask, “What am I bringing to this relationship in this moment that is mine to own and not my child’s to receive?” Especially in the early years, parents function as mirrors for their children. Consequently, if you are unable to access your joy, you will be unable to be a mirror of your children’s joy. Thus they are barred from access to an essential aspect of their being. How sad for a child not to be able to enjoy their spontaneously joyous essence!
Our consciousness and unconsciousness are transmitted not only by our overt pain but also in the energy we exude just by our presence, even when we say and do nothing. Thus our children pick up a great deal from how we embrace them each morning, how we react when they break our favorite vase, how we handle ourselves in a traffic accident, how we sit and talk to them, whether we really look at what they show us, and whether we take an interest in what they say. They notice when we intrude on their life with unwarranted questions and demands, and they feel it when we withdraw from them or utter reprimands. They are moved by how we praise their success but wounded when we put them down for their failures. They are aware of how it feels to be in our presence when we sit in silence with them, and of the energy field of acceptance or rejection, they experience around us. Each of these moment-by-moment exchanges transmits either consciousness or unconsciousness.
How can you give to your children unless you first allow yourself to be filled from your own well? Unless you are fulfilled, you will use your children to complete you. You will teach them how to live with your unacknowledged fears, your rejected emptiness, your forgotten lies—all the while unaware you are doing so. Such is the power of unacknowledged lostness.
FACE UP TO YOUR REACTIVITY
Through our children, we get orchestra seats to the complex theatrics of our immaturity, as they evoke powerful emotions in us that can cause us to feel as though we aren’t in control—with all the frustration, insecurity, and angst that accompanies this sensation. Of course, our children don’t “make” us feel this way. They merely awaken our unresolved emotional issues from our childhood. Nevertheless, because our children are vulnerable and mostly powerless, we feel free to blame them for our reactivity. Only by facing up to the fact that it isn’t our children who are the problem, but our own unconsciousness, can transformation come about.
How did we become so reactive? Not only do we inherit certain egoic scripts and roles from our family of origin, but we also inherit an emotional signature. Beneath every role and script is a unique emotional imprint. This is the case because, as an infant, we are in a state of being, not ego, which means our defenses are unformed and we are susceptible to the emotional energy around us. We energetically interact with our parents’ emotional state, absorbing their emotional imprint, until this energy becomes our own emotional stamp. Unless at some point in our life we become conscious of the emotional energy we have absorbed from our parents, we will inevitably transfer this imprint to our own children. Because we weren’t taught by either our parents or society to access our inner stillness and find the roots of our pain and pleasure within ourselves, we are reactive to external circumstances. Since we didn’t learn to simply observe our emotions, honor them, sit with them, and grow from them, our response to external stimuli became increasingly emotionally toxic, which is the root of our cyclones of drama.
When we are raised to suppress our darker emotions, these emotions form a shadow from which we are cut off. When emotions are split from our consciousness, they lie dormant, ready to be activated at a moment’s notice, which is why so many of us erupt out of the blue. Whenever these emotions are triggered by another’s shadow, we find ourselves upset with the person who evoked these emotions in us. Again, let me emphasize that no one could evoke such emotions in us were they not already part of our shadow. Not realizing this, we seek to ease our discomfort at having to confront our shadow by projecting these emotions onto the other.
We then see them as the villain in the situation. So afraid are we to face our suppressed emotions that whenever we recognize such emotions in another, we experience hatred, which leads to defiance, victimizing, and in some cases the killing of the individual. Why do parents and children tend to clash once the teen years hit? Why do marriages fall apart? Why do people exhibit racism or commit hate crimes? These things occur when we are split off from our own shadow, our inner pain. For example, if we were bullied as a child, unless we have resolved our own pain, we will be unable to tolerate our children’s pain when they are bullied. In such a situation, we are likely to foster in our children either an inability to handle their emotions or a belief that under no circumstance must they ever portray themselves as vulnerable. Believing they must appear powerful and in control, they learn to be macho even if they don’t feel strong. In countless subtle ways, our own issues around power and control are imposed on our children.
When people and circumstances press our buttons, we can easily begin to believe that life is against us. We adopt a life script of martyrdom, imagining that life “has it in for us” or is “cheating” us in some way, even though life is simply neutral. We may begin to believe that life always deals us a cruel hand. The reality is that there is no enemy “out there.” The person who triggers a reaction in us is just being a person, the situation just a situation. We regard them as an enemy only because of our inability to understand and master our internal shadow, which we project onto them. The more helpful response to being triggered is to recognize your emotional charge as a signal that something is amiss within you. In other words, emotional reactivity is a reason to go inward, focusing on your own growth. Once you realize there are no enemies, only guides to inner growth, all who play a part in your life become mirrors of your forgotten self. Life’s challenges then become emotionally regenerative opportunities. When you encounter a roadblock in your life, whether a person or a situation, instead of seeing it as an enemy to be reacted against, you pause and ask yourself, “What do I perceive I’m lacking?” You recognize that the lack you perceive in your environment arose because of an internal sense of lack.
This realization invites you to appreciate the person or situation for their kindness in serving as a mirror of your sense of lack. The split between yourself and the other is then no longer present because it’s not so much about a separate “other,” even though the person is a separate individual, but is a mirror of your internal state. You realize you brought this spiritual lesson into your life because your essential being desires change in your everyday behavior. Since no other journey is able to evoke more emotional reactivity in us than parenting, to be a parent invites us to treat the reactions our children trigger in us as opportunities for spiritual growth. By bringing our emotional shadow into the spotlight as never before, parenting affords us a wonderful opportunity to tame our reactivity. Indeed, the parenting journey has the potential to be an especially regenerative experience for both parent and child, where every moment is a meeting of spirits, and both parent and child appreciate that each dances on a spiritual path that’s unique, holding hands yet alone. Coming from this realization, we respond to each other creatively instead of reacting destructively.