In another post, I talked about a movie that portrayed a dysfunctional family that included two well-intended but – as I described them – “unconscious” parents.
I put my own parents in that category. I knew that my mom and dad loved me. They were doing their best to provide for me and my seven brothers and sisters. As the oldest, this meant that my mom was so busy with the younger ones that I had an awful lot of freedom.
My mother was an intelligent woman, but she hadn’t graduated from high school. Mothering young children was her joy and purpose in life. Her own mother had 16 children. With a house full of kids, this was quite a job for my mother! She focused on one necessity at a time, one crisis at a time. She had a lot to do just to keep us safe and under control. When I left home at 18, I had a two-year-old brother who today has no memory of me at home with the rest of the kids.
My dad had a career as a personnel manager in the Army. He would come at night, eat dinner with us, and then watch TV. On weekends we would sometimes do things as a family. There were times when he was deployed overseas.
“Parenting” wasn’t a concept my parents were familiar with. They never once thought that there was anything to be learned about being parents or raising kids. You had kids, you took care of them, they were your responsibility, they went through “phases,” and after a while they grew up. My parents assumed that when we were finished with high school we would move out and make our own way in life. Neither mom nor dad were college graduates, and they didn’t plan for any of us to go to college. Only two of us did. One of my sisters got a music degree and became a high school music teacher. I got an appointment to West Point, served a career in the Army, and along the way earned a Ph.D. from a prestigious university.
Two of my brothers dropped out of high school. They struggled to keep jobs and never found careers. Another brother became a substance abuser and was murdered in Miami.
“Unconscious” parents aren’t trying to avoid common parenting mistakes. They aren’t aware that there are parent-child communication skills and that you can learn them and improve them. They aren’t aware that the goal of parenting is to help prepare their child to become a happy, successful adult, and they aren’t making a point of passing on life skills and life wisdom.
This doesn’t mean they’re bad people, although there are an astonishing number of neglectful or abusive parents. In my experience, most parents are “unconscious parents.”
So what is a “conscious” parent?
They know that unconditional love is vital, but not enough. They know they’re responsible for providing food, shelter, safety and other basic needs, but they appreciate that this isn’t enough, either.
They understand that the goal of parenting is to help a child grow up to become a happy, successful adult, and they’re consciously trying to make this happen by teaching life skills and passing on life wisdom. They’re working to help their child think for himself and stand on his own two feet. They’re trying to instill responsibility and a work ethic, rather than a sense of privilege and entitlement. And they’re not leaving any of this to chance. They’re doing what they can to arrange for teachers, coaches, and other adult mentors to help them.
They want to know more about what’s happening during child development. They seek to improve their parenting and communication skills. They’re looking for resources to help them become even better parents.
Are you a conscious parent?
You could say that my work and my passion these days is to encourage parents to be conscious about their calling, and to help them in their personal development journey to become the best parents they can be.