As we grow our children inside our wombs we naturally have moments of daydreaming about who they will be when they arrive into the world and into our arms. We think about how they will look, what things they will like, how they will speak & dress, and who they will become.
We write stories upon them before we even get to know who they are.
We write future chapters of our lives and their lives too, in which we snuggle together gently at night, splash together in the waves, teach our child the words to our favourite song, and hold hands as we skip down the street together.
We plan ahead, imagining sitting at their first dance recital, soccer match or swim carnival – you name it! It is a universal daydream we all have, and there is no harm in doing so, as long as we acknowledge that is all it is, a daydream, a fantasy. Because truth be told, the picture we write upon our unborn child tends to be one of idealisation and perfection, of cultural conditioning and unrealistic expectations, and more often than not, it isn’t the story our children are here to live out.
Rather, our babies enter the world as their own sovereign beings, and most of the time they blow the ideas of who we thought they would be out of the water. They don’t sleep the way we thought. They don’t behave the way we dreamed. And so society tells us it’s our job as parents to control them, to modify their behaviour, to pretzel them into some sort of perfect child; a child who causes the least amount of inconvenience as possible for adults.
As conscious parents though, we suddenly grasp the idea that our children are unique unto themselves with an innate temperament that is not ours to decide.
For years, the words of Dr Shefali Tsabary have echoed in my mind…
“My child is not my easel to paint on, nor my diamond to polish.
My child isn’t my trophy to share with the world, nor my badge of honour.
My child isn’t an idea, an expectation or a fantasy.”Dr. Shefali Tsabary
And now in her new book, The Parenting Map, Dr Shefali speaks again to this idea when she says “just as we ourselves once did, our kids arrive with their own unique essence.”
Although we live in a society that favours individualism, we fail constantly to understand the unique essence of every being. Society actually rewards those who slot neatly into predefined boxes; children who can be more easily compartmentalised as good, smart, obedient or otherwise.
It takes a conscious parent to surrender to the present moment, see who their child truly is and then preserve, protect, and advocate for their child’s spirit in this type of society. A task made harder when we ourselves were taught from a young age, consciously or not, to people please, to seek external validation, to follow the crowd. We learned to perform as we created a false self in order to survive in the world or within our families of origin – this false self is often referred to as the ego.
It is only through coming to understand our child’s unique essence as Dr Shefali describes it, or as it’s also known – temperament, that we can adapt our parenting style and our lives to help the person who has just joined our family flourish.
By removing the stories and ideas of who we want our child to be, we free ourselves to find our way into a deeper relationship with them. By considering their unique temperament we can speak our child’s language, we can see clearly their strengths and weaknesses and adapt how we care for them accordingly. We begin to understand this is the way they are wired, and this is the way they need us to honour who they are.
It goes both ways
In the western world so many parents are lost in their own ideals of a child made in their own image; praising them for the behaviour that aligns with this image and disciplining them when they divert from it, unconsciously judging, comparing, or shaming their child for who they are at their very core.
This way of thinking is not exclusive to more traditional ways of parenting, but can also be witnessed in more “gentle” parenting circles. The idea that a one size fits all approach to feeding, connection, or listening deeply negates the uniqueness of every different child’s temperament. Of course, these things are powerful tools and I advocate for them myself, but not at the cost of understanding the essence of the child in front of me.
Being a responsive parent means parenting the child in front of us. By getting to know our child’s unique essence we deepen our insight into who they are and learn to respond to them from this place instead of blindly following the advice of others.
Our children will be who they are until we condition them into being somebody else
The idea of who our children should be is often based on who we were ourselves or someone we know closely. As Dr. Shefali vulnerably admits in her new book when she began to see who her daughter was at her core she was shocked.
“I thought she’d be a mini-me, or, better still, a mini-buddha. She was anything but!”
Dr. Shefali realised she had entered into parenting wanting her child to be different, “easy to raise, moldable, and submissive. Where I was soft and pliable, she was bold and aggressive.” It was only when she witnessed the fire die in her daughter’s eyes while reprimanding her for not listening that she knew deep down she was off course in parenting the child in front of her.
Many parents find themselves in the exact same situation in the early years of parenting; trying to control the child to fit them to their image, to the books they read, to the “experts” they follow, to the grandparents idea of what a “well-behaved” child looks like.
But there is another option: we can confront our own egos and start to understand where our story begins and ends, and stop projecting our sense of self onto our children. This is the crux of becoming more conscious as a parent.
How do you work out your child’s temperament?
The very first step to understanding the essence of your child, Dr. Shefali advises, is to simply witness. This requires slowing down, becoming present and curious and dropping all and any judgement you may have of your child (and of yourself as a parent).
By stepping back, becoming aware of your ego and where you may be writing your own stories upon your child, you can begin to see your child for who they are rather than clashing with their true essence and trying to fit them to the agenda of who you (and society) thought they would (or should) be.
Then, we acknowledge that temperament exists on a continuum. Children are a collection of temperament traits which sit upon on a scale from high to low.
There are those children who are naturally fairly difficult or active, emotionally intense, demanding, and persistent while on the other end of the scale there are those who are calmer, turned inward, and almost too easy to raise.
Outspoken and fussy or reserved and obedient; there is no right or wrong, good or bad when it comes to temperament, there is only what is and there is no changing it.
Every essence of being has its own strengths and weaknesses, which always remain subjective, but as parents we have the wonderful opportunity and responsibility to nurture our child’s innate strengths and support their weaknesses.
“As parents, when we arrive at this powerful internal alignment – first with ourselves and then with our kids – our approach to our children fundamentally transforms. Instead of bringing them to our ways, we empower them to manifest their own.”Dr. Shefali Tsabary, The Parenting Map
So what are the different essences or temperament traits? In her book, Dr. Shefali describes them as follows:
- The Anxious Exploder – these are the children who notice and may be triggered by the slightest thing, the ones we label “high needs”, or “highly sensitive”. They pick up on the nuances of people’s energy and body language. They need a lot from their parents…and then some more.
- The Hyperactive Explorer – These children can’t sit still, they crave exploring their worlds. These are the children who may be given labels such as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder or Oppositional Defiance Disorder. The more these children are contained the more uncontrollable they become.
- The Overdoer, Overgiver & Over Pleaser – These are our empathic children. The abandonment by others is felt deeply in their worlds. They are moldable, and therefore pleasing to our adult egos that want to fit them into our image and so we have to journey with them gently or we risk crushing their spirit.
- The Dreamer- Recluse – These are our quieter and shyer children. They live their lives in their own imaginations, more concerned with their internal world than the external world. They may be forgetful, sometimes awkward and prefer time to themselves.
- The Rebel Nonconformist – These children are not afraid of our authority, they are bold and wild, they speak their mind and do not hold back. These are our leaders, the ones who do not follow the crowd and live only to the beat of their own drum.
- The Easy-Breezy, Happy-Go-Lucky – These children are relaxed and flow through life. They are fun, easy to be around and live in the present moment. They are often mistaken as passive by some as they don’t worry about a thing!
In her book, The Parenting Map, Dr Shefali gives beautiful descriptions of what each of these children need from us as they move through the world, and how to make a meaningful difference in their lives.
The examples that follow show how we, as parents, can understand our child’s temperament to make us less likely to be triggered by who they naturally are:
Take a relaxed and easy baby, the one happy to go anywhere, falling asleep wherever you take them. They will go along with your every word to the point of nonchalance. For a parent who is used to high achievement and dreams of the child who would follow in their footsteps these go with the flow, easy-breezy children can actually be confronting them. These parents can inadvertently push such a child into doing or being more and observe them as passive or lazy.
Or the child who is naturally quiet or shy – a well meaning parent wanting to help their child may push them into social situations beyond what their innate essence requires, believing that this is beneficial and good for their growth, when in fact it makes them shrink and develop an internal narrative of not being enough.
We can begin to see how important understanding essence is. It not only allows us to acknowledge the child in front of us, but also the child within us. Our child can BE who they ARE, and we can BE who we ARE and thrive together in all our differences and similarities without squashing one another’s spirits.
“Just as mangoes grow in the right season and under the right conditions, so it is with our own essence and our children’s essence. When you force a mango to grow out of its natural habitat it dies. So it is with our souls.”
Dr. Shefali Tsabary, The Parenting Map
Parenting the child in front of us
There is no magic bullet for understanding your child, but if there were, it begins with the daily practice of staying in the present moment and attuning to who it is they are. The beauty is that through this practice we evolve alongside our children.
As we evolve and become aware of our child’s unique essence we recalibrate our parenting course to become more conscious, which permeates into all areas of our lives. We find a flow and rhythm in our relationship with our child emanating from a place of authenticity.
Doing so, gives our more active children space to move, our quieter children space to breathe, and our dreamers the time to imagine.
Clearing the path of our own egos can be confronting. It can feel painful to let go of the ideas of the child you thought you’d have and to love and honour the child you do have. But, the truth is our children are more wild, curious, innocent, joyful, interesting, and funny than any child we could ever imagine.
Unconditional love, by definition, has no strings attached. To unconditionally love someone means that we don’t try to change or control them. We accept, embrace and celebrate who they are, not what they do. Becoming curious about your child’s unique essence is the key to unlocking a vision of who your child is, providing the gateway to the most magical relationship of your life.
About Dr. Shefali and The Parenting Map: When Dr. Shefali wrote her previous books, she gave us the reasons why the traditional parenting paradigm needs to change. In her new book, The Parenting Map, Step-by-Step Solutions to Consciously Create the Ultimate Parent-Child Relationship, Dr. Shefali eloquently lays out the HOW, sharing the steps we need to take to become conscious parents.
Identifying your child’s key essence is just the beginning. In The Parenting Map, you will learn how to:
- Identify your key parenting style
- Identify your child’s key essence
- Truly empathize and connect with your children
- Create meaningful boundaries with your children