The following is the full transcript of clinical psychologist Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s TEDx Talk titled “Conscious Parenting” at TEDxSF Conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Conscious Parenting by Shefali Tsabary at TEDxSF (7 Billion Well)
Announcer: Please welcome to the TEDxSF stage, Dr. Dr. Shefali Tsabary.
Dr. Shefali Tsabary – Clinical psychologist
As a clinical psychologist, it is my privilege to help people explore their inner worlds, their psychological terrain. Hour after hour, I hear thoughts, emotions, feelings. This is my data. This data helps me to better understand what is it that emotionally paralyzes us. How is it that we may thrive at this thing called life?
In voices that are awash with need and ablaze with yearning, my clients invite me into their history. They tell me stories of love, loss, hidden fears and deepest desires. And let me tell you, inevitably these stories turn to childhood. They speak of a common theme, a similar rhythm. They speak of a hunger that only a parent can appease, of a thirst that only a parent can quench.
The other day, this tall strapping man in his mid forties, he came to explore his particularly difficult relationship with his father. Yes, we grapple with problems of our childhood long into adulthood. And he said to me, in a voice that turned plaintive, that of an eight-year-old, he said, “Will I ever meet my father’s expectations? Will he ever accept the man I’ve become today? Or will I always be a no-good loser?” He was seeking, searching, yearning for an approval that may never come.
And what about the woman in her thirties, so beautiful, talented, successful, she screamed, “What is wrong with me? Why am I this messed up? You tell me it’s because my father overdosed when I was 4, but when will this pain fade?”
And the woman who picks on her skin constantly, a lifetime habit, you see. She said, “These,” pointing to the rageful scars on her body, “These began the day after my mom said I was the reason daddy left us.”
“Help me!”, each one of them silently shouts at me, “Who am I? Am I my whole, am I worthy, do I matter?” Life’s essential questions. But no matter what I say to them, my words do not seep in. Because they’ve internalized another voice, you see, that of their parents, an early voice. Now try erasing that first blueprint. It runs wild, rampant, chaotic, unpredictable. It comes to be the way we define ourselves. It becomes the air we breathe.
Parents, few hold a greater power or more immense responsibility. And this is why I’m here today, to propose that we occupy the role of parenthood in an entirely different way, with a renewed curiosity, a heightened awareness, a transformed commitment. Because nothing like parenthood that needs to be at the forefront of our global consciousness. It is the call, the linchpin that affects how our children will thrive. Everything: how they take care of themselves, each other, the earth, show compassion, tolerate differences, handle their emotions, create, invent, innovate. This is where global transformation begins. We cannot expect our children to embody an enlightened consciousness if we parents haven’t dared to model this ourselves. It all starts with us and how we parent.
Our children are facing challenges today that we couldn’t have dreamed of. And evidence suggests that they are buckling under the pressure. One in five children in America shows signs or symptoms of a psychological disorder. Now that is a hair-raising statistic.
Two years ago, there were over 662,000 children in America that were in foster care. The use of ADHD drugs is on an exponential high. 274% global increase. UNICEF did a study a few years ago and found that American children ranked the second unhappiest. There was a study done in the UK of 30,000 children, and it was reported that one in ten, over the age of 8, reported being unhappy on a consistent basis. Something is amiss. We need to sit up, pay attention and raise our children differently.
Now, of course, parental influence isn’t the only factor at play. There are confusing and colliding and chaotic influences in our children’s life that shape them indeterminably. We aren’t the only ones, of course. There’s neurobiology, there’s temperament, there’s social pressures, there’s poverty. We could blame psychiatry, education, big pharma and the government, and chances are we may be right, but our influence in these spheres is relatively limited.
But let me tell you where we hold indubitable power. That is in the relationship we nurture with our children. Our children and us, moment after moment after moment. Nothing glamorous here. Early in the morning, as they brush their teeth, as we take off their backpack, as we soothe away their tears, brush away their fears, put them to sleep at night. This is where each one of us holds transformative power. There is no excuse.
Now this isn’t just some clinical psychologist here speaking of her convictions. There’s real science behind this to show how the parental relationship impacts not only our emotionality and our psychology, but also our neurobiology. Here, take a look at this, two brains of 3-year-olds. A great difference in size. You may wonder why? An illness perhaps? A genetic mutation? No. They differ in the quality of the relationship they shared with their mother. The one on the left suffered abuse and neglect, and the one on the right enjoyed the thriving connected relationship. Chances are, the one on the left will grow into an adult at greater risk for drugs, crime, a lower IQ, and most tragically, a diminished capacity for empathy and relatedness.
Now, the mother of the child on the left certainly wasn’t evil. She was probably a mother who loved her child. You know, we don’t hurt our children because we are evil or ill-intentioned, certainly not out of a lack of love. We hurt our children for one reason only: it’s because we are hurting ourselves and we barely know it. It’s because we are unconscious, because we have inherited legacies of emotional baggage from our own parents. We’re sitting on emotional baggage that lies dormant unconscious, waiting to be triggered at a moment’s notice. And who better to trigger us than our children? They just know the buttons to push.
Through our children we get theater seats, orchestra seats to the theatrics of our emotional immaturity. You know when we lose our temper with our children and believe that they’re devils and monsters, chances are it isn’t because they’re that, but because they’ve triggered an old wound within us. They’ve made us feel feelings that we don’t care to feel. They’ve made us feel powerless and out-of-control, helpless, and in order to regain a sense of supremacy, we lash out at them in reactivity.
You know when we pick on our children nonstop, we nitpick at them, “Why aren’t you like this? Why don’t you do that? Why couldn’t you be more like her?” Chances are it’s not because they are inadequate, but because we come from a place of inner lack, and we ourselves live under the tyranny of a severe inner critic.
You know when our children are disrespectful to us and cross our boundaries and we fret and fume, and commiserate with our friends about our evil children? Chances are it’s not because they’re wild and chaotic, but because we ourselves have a problem with our leadership, with consistency, with order, with handling conflict, with saying no.
You know, our children come to us whole, complete and worthy. They’re happy with two sticks, a stone and a feather. But because we’ve been conditioned so deeply in an unconscious manner, so severed from our own sense of presence, wholeness, attunement, and sense of self and whole and abundance that we project a sense of lack onto them, and we teach them, Do not depend on your sense of self for worth and value, but look outward. Look to the Ferrari, the corporate corner office, to the casino, to the pill, to the bottle, to the needle, to spouse number one, two and three, to where you live, to where you graduated from. Because we are severed from a sense of being, we are consumed by doing. This is how we know self value. We teach our children, “You can’t simply play, you must achieve. You can’t have a hobby, you must excel at it. You cannot dream, you must dream big and why really dream if you can’t succeed?” It is time for us to change the spotlight, to turn it inward, and change it from being the child who needs to be fixed, the child as the one with the problem, and parental evolution as the solution.