Chasing Success, Happiness For Your Children? Please Stop: Indian-American Psychologist Dr Shefali

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  • Published On: March 30, 2024
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Join Amrita Gandhi on a Coffee Break with Indian-American psychologist and author of 'The Parenting Map' Dr Shefali who tells us why she believes that celebrating our child's ordinariness and their every day, is key to building self-worth. According to Dr Shefali, focusing only on peak moments and being 'special' can 'paradoxically lead to a sense of not being good enough.'

Join Amrita Gandhi as she chats with Dr Shefali about what our 'triggers' say about us as parents and how our unhealed wounds and unmet desires unconsciously come up as baggage as we parent our children.

Dr. Shefali's books the parenting Map and The Conscious Parent have been discussed at length by Oprah Winfrey and her ethos is catching on.
 It is a big day for any parent to get an hour with Dr. Shefali so I went right in with my questions. Below, are edited excerpts from the interview.

I must tell you Dr. Shefali that a lot of what you said stood out to me but this one really made me stop.
You say I must stop chasing happiness and success for my kids. But in this goal driven world, I don't want my kids to be left out!'

Let's just take success first and most Indian parents will have to admit even in the privacy of heir own solitude that success is the main goal when raising kids. When we raise children with this goal in mind what we often do is we become blind to who our child really is. When we drive our children to success, we objectify them, and no parent will admit it but we pretend to ourselves that all our pushing is because we love our children but that is not the truth. We care about ourselves, we love ourselves. We feel good to have our children be successful.

But you also say don't push for happiness?

We want our children to be happy but what that means is that we want our children to be happy because it makes us feel like we are good parents. Our children are going to have lots of unhappy moments in life. Pain, fear and anxiety are part of the human experience. And that's how we grow. Our children will pay a price, they might not tell us right now but they will pay a price in their own life because they are unable to sit with their difficult emotions, they will drink too much and spend too much, socialize too much because they are too uncomfortable to sit with their pain because we have taught them to always be happy and that is unrealistic and toxic.

You say celebrate your child's ordinariness. Because once they are seen by you for who they that is going to create child with better self-worth. To celebrate the ordinary seems so radical and why is it so hard and why is it so important today?

It is the fact that we are all ordinary. And I think it is the human plague right nowis the refusal to accept that we are ordinary. We are all searching to be significant.  We are all screaming " See me, see me." Guess what- we are all ordinary. If we accept that then we can let go of the desire to control our children or ourselves to get external validation. We can learn to settle into our own inner world and settle into our inner sense of self and be okay in the enough- ness of who we are.
The moment we say we have to be very special we are creating a disfunction relation with ourself and the outside world because we are going to think that we are not good enough and use the outside world for validation. I tell parents you can tell your child they are unique, we are all unique but no one is more special. I think is harmful to say to a child that they are special because this leads to entitlement but mostly it leads to a sense of not good enough-ness in a paradoxical way it leads to lower self worth Vs telling a child I love you for who you are. Without being an athlete, without being a movie star, without being super amazing, I love you as you are.
Now the child is filled with unconditional love without feeling like they have to do something to get it.  

In your book, the parenting map you said we as parents are putting our baggage on our kids.
 I teach in my book, in moments of conflict with our kids, in moments when they trigger us, how we react has a lot to do with how we were raised, our inner wounds and more than what the child is doing. In fact, it has very little to do with what the child is doing.

There are no quick fixes but can you give us a few things we can keep in mind.

The main takeaway is that parents need to connect with their children, understand who their children are. Attune to who your child is. Attune to eac child's essence. The second take away is connect before you correct. Their behavior is on the surface. Underneath the behavious is a need that the child has that you have to solve. Three, every reaction you have is about you and not your child. Examine your own reactions and understand where they are coming from and four, the traditional way of disciplining our children only create more harm.

I had the chance to see you talking to Oprah Winfrey and your journey that brings you to where you are today and how you came to create this map of parenting.

I am a clinical psychologist by training. I came to notice that the same themes of childhood pain were repeating themselves across clients , across generations, across sessions. The core lies in the parent-child relationship.
I know how loving parents are, how well intentioned, I am a parent, but we can be blind to our own way of being because we look at children as our possession, our property, our puppet, a lot of harm gets done from parent to child. I began doing it to my own child. When I saw that I was doing it to my own child, I woke up. Most parents don't even realise they are doing it. And my work is to make the unconscious conscious.

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