BRINDA CALLAHAN, American living in France, has two grown-up daughters and a grandchild. She has been teaching children and counseling parents for the past 30 years. After extensive travel in the South Pacific and South-East Asia she became involved in the natural birthing, breast-feeding and homeschooling movement in California.
Becoming a mother brought her into the deep consideration of how our children are educated and prepared to go into their lives. In this time she was involved with Montessori, Steiner and other alternative schools. Eventually she co-created Sonoma County Homeschoolers, a group of families dedicated to educating their children at home and supporting families in the public schools system.
For the past 25 years she has been living in community, has been in charge of community school and continues to be directly involved in various educational projects. She brings her creative approach into her work with children, through seminars and in life. Her intention is to inspire educational practices that will result in happy, healthy, confident and successful human beings.
She's coming to Romania for the first time between 2 and 4 of November, 2012 for the seminar "Conscious Parenting - Responsible and Healthy Bounderies", that will take place at Seeds for Happiness Center in Bucharest.
For more details about the seminar, please click here.
We interviewed Brinda Callahan on the topic of conscious parenting, about what are the most common mistakes parents do and the steps to follow to have a harmonious family:
1) What does it mean to be a conscious parent? Define conscious parenting, what does it mean to you?
To be conscious is to be aware and present. To be a conscious parent, I feel, is to be in touch with the needs of our children and the responsibility we have as caretakers and role models for our children, to understand deeply how crucial it is to nurture the fire of the human spirit and the innocence of children. Consciousness is a BIG topic! It unfolds and deepens as our awareness, feelings and hearts open. In consciously parenting our children, it is vital that we give up selfish habits and joyfully engage a lifestyle of service and sacrifice.
2) What is the difference between being a traditional parent and being a conscious parent?
In a traditional way of raising children I would say that we are less likely to question what has been set in place by the society and family structure we are surrounded by. We may be acting without questioning or feeling. To become conscious we investigate into the value systems, rules and beliefs which were part of our upbringing, questioning the authority of the cultural, educational, medical and religious establishments. It is possible to shift the context from raising children by controlling and forming them to our standards and comforts to preserving the innocence and wonder of a child so that he or she may blossom into their own potential as a whole, free human being. Finding trust in ourselves is very important. Often this was buried or destroyed in us as children. We have a difficult task on our hands, to steer the ship in a direction that has the power to heal generations, past, present and future. Once we have some feeling and experience of what it is to be parenting in a healthy, whole way, then we can make the proper distinctions about what traditional values are still fitting for us in this new context and which are not useful, appropriate or abusive
3) What to do when only one parent wants to learn how to be a conscious parent and the other thinks the traditional way is more suitable?
Patience is going to be a key ingredient here. We cannot force others to change. The best first step is to honestly step onto our own path to consciousness. In many cases, our partner will notice the changes beginning to happen in the family. Being an example is a very powerful way to communicate. Righteousness and criticism will only create defensiveness.
It’s very important to not disempower the other parent in front of the child, creating division in the family. Have your discussions and disagreements when the children are not in hearing range. Dad may have his limits with a situation where Mom may have a very different tolerance. In a good situation we will be able to talk to our partner and express what we see in our child as a result of certain behaviors coming from us. Timing is very important so that we may hear each other.
The topics that are usually hot on this question concern discipline, breastfeeding, eating, bedtimes, family bed and boundaries for all ages of children. If we are in a situation where we have to make compromises because of our partner, keep the child in your regard, and be what is called an “enlightened witness.” For example, we may become aware of the suffering that an arbitrary boundary by our partner creates in our child. By being witness in a conscious and connected way to the child, the child is not alone and we help to bear this pain. You may have had a person in your life who provided that, a teacher, a grandparent, etc. and know the value of such a witness first hand.
PLEASE NOTE: If there is violence (physical, sexual or mental abuse), it is very important that action is taken to protect the child. If you are tolerating a situation like this, please seek professional help for yourself and the child.
4) What would be a 10 step plan you could recommend to start be a conscious parent?
There’s a wonderful book titled "PARENTING.A Sacred Task. 10 Basics of Conscious Childraising" by Karuna Fedorschak.She gives a very good outline of what it is that children need. It is only available at this time in English but is worth the effort to read and apply! Here are the 10 basics she lists:
10 Holding On/ Letting Go
5) I was not preparing myself for being a parent and now that I have a child it is difficult to find the time to learn, to read or go to seminars. What can I do?
My suggestion is to set your education as a parent as a priority. It’s amazing what the power of intention can do. Take one book on parenting that could be a good one for you and commit to a certain number of pages a day. Read those pages, digest them and see what could fit for you. Take baby steps. Talk to other parents who you can share new ideas with and get support. In seeking education, we can meet other parents, be inspired, come through some rough periods and have the opportunity to form a “tribal culture” in which to raise our children. In today’s world we are faced with the nuclear family and many single parent households. Coping is often a very big challenge. We need each other! (Some seminars offer a childcare program or space for moms with nursing babies which may help.)
On a very organic level, accept the fact that you are a parent, baby has arrived at the perfect time for his / her incarnation and you are in a sense, “God” to this child. Your body and being actually holds the information you need to be a conscious parent. Access that and act on it!!!!! If there is no time for education, take the moments, hours, days that you have to be as present as possible for this child, bonding through the eyes, touch, voice. Realize and appreciate the miracle of this life with deep gratitude. Look into your day and ask yourself what all your time is being spent on and what can be left behind in order to focus now on this “sacred task.” Take on this new lifestyle as a parent with passion!
6) What are the most common mistakes parents do and how can I overcome them?
First, it is not the mistake of the parent but of western society, that we are not educated on the topic of the most important and common job, to be a parent. As young people with raging hormones, we have romantic illusions of what it is to be a parent, of the beautiful baby we can make, of everlasting love. Either that or we neglect the idea of family planning and let the moment take us away! Conception!!!! After conception….app 9 months!...comes the birth…..something else that gets little attention in our education. How a child is received into this world is very important. Prepare! Be informed on home birth, hospital birth, what your options are, what you want to demand, what are the best conditions for the woman in labor to be best relaxed and supported. Who can be with you as a coach, what is normal in labor and what does the medical staff do to be over cautious or to have the dr. off for golf on time? (c-sections )Be informed of the incredible benefits of breastfeeding and bonding. So many mothers let hospital staffs put their babies on formula in bottles…..as if this really was better for baby and mother. Know your stuff!
Parents are often not prepared for the incredible amount of responsibility,tiredness and overwhelm they experience once this little person has arrived and cries, needs to be fed, needs diapers changed, hhas a developing system that is sometimes in pain, etc. as well as the incredible blast of Love that we feel. A couple may suffer at the realization that things have changed so radically and all the attention that was for each other is now for the baby. It’s great if the intentions to selflessly serve this child are matched in each parent. We do eventually get parts of our own lives back in place in one way or another, but at this point, we can’t even imagine it…or how fast babies do grow up!
Then there is the mistake in not listening. Train yourself to listen to the other! It has incredible power to receive the other and to create a space of vulnerability.
(See the 12 Road Blocks to Communication in Parent Effectiveness Training P.E.T. by Thomas Gordon )
Setting arbitrary boundaries: We can ask ourselves why we are setting the boundaries. Are we doing it for safety reasons? Are we just bothered by the child, annoyed at noise and movement because we’re exhausted? Children ask for boundaries so they can learn the ropes of the world;“How does one live here with others?” This is the question rather than “what’s wrong with me?” Explain to a child why a boundary is set. A good place to look regarding boundaries is first at ourselves. Often we are not disciplining ourselves (money , food and sex topics being big ones as well as being on time, honoring agreements, use of cell phones, internet, getting enough sleep, etc.) Again, be an example.
Another common mistake today is that many parents are not really interested or involved in what their children are doing. We are running after the means to support ourselves, keep the bills paid, get ahead and the nurseries, schools and television are babysitting our children, basically raising them because parents don’t have the time. I am an advocate for homeschooling and/or being involved in the children’s school, classes and teachers. Can we simplify our lifestyle so that we are able to be more at home and involved in our children’s lives? Do we care what their interests are?. Who are their friends?, What their dreams are? Can we support what they are passionate about and not push them in areas that have no interest to them?
An American writer and advocate for homeschooling was John Holt. Two excellent books by him are "How Children Learn and How Children Fail".
Today the home is lacking the mood of sanctuary and ritual. We can create this sanctuary for our children so that the home is a safe place to return to, where they are loved and accepted as they are. Listening happens in this sanctuary, loving boundaries, touch, and affection. Ritual could be meal times that are consistent and shared, making craft things together, taking care of spaces in the home, bedtime with stories and candlelight, etc. Child learn quickly to appreciate rhythm and this can allow for a saner life for the parents too! Having a bit of time after the children are sleeping at night to relax can make a very big difference in our level of patience.
And there are more!...
7) I have my own concepts and ideas about how to relate to the world and I teach my child the same. Is that a bad thing?
Some of that is addressed in answer number 2.
In addition, I would just encourage a tremendous amount of self-examination and questioning of what you are up to. The support of other likeminded parents is helpful because they can help us see if we’re kidding ourselves. We pass on all sorts of attitudes to our children about how to relate to the world. It starts in the womb! As they get older we start to see the results of our attitudes and behaviors……both in the positive and negative. It’s inevitable and we will suffer that and also rejoice. If they are being raised in the way of Conscious Parenting, they will be a step, a generation, closer to being free of old (ancestral) patterns. Children who are raised in this way tend to be able to let us know when we are falling short because they are free to have free minds and are encouraged to have their own voices in life. Raising children in a community, or a “tribe “provides the opportunity to intimately be with the concepts and ideas of others and therefore they are not just molded by Mom and Dad’s programs.
8) Is a child hearing only when I yell?
No. They are most likely hearing less when you yell than if you spoke to them in a normal voice. Yelling has its place…like when a child is running into danger and we need to get his / her attention very, very quickly. Otherwise we are usually yelling because we are having an emotional reaction ourselves. If a child is trying to test limits, the yelling response can be just what has been ordered! Try listening to what the child is really asking for. Children are often acting out because they have become frustrated at not having enough quality attention. They do something we don’t approve of, we yell, they run, we yell more, they screech, we cuss, they fall down while running away, then the tears for an hour, we’re dragging them to bedtime and are exhausted. Ouufff! Now there’s a big dose of negative attention!!!
I have recently heard a mother yell at her child almost every time he made loud noise or did something she doesn’t approve of. Her yelling more than doubled the noise and chaos. He’s the child….not her. We have to focus on growing up ourselves and learning better ways to handle communications with our children.
Note: If you suspect a hearing problem, please see an ear doctor to be sure your child is hearing properly. Sometimes hearing problems have been left undiagnosed for years.