4 Things Nobody Told Me About Conscious Parenting as a Black Mother

I knew I wanted to end the toxic parenting cycles I witnessed as a child. But I wasn’t prepared for the healing required to show up for my son as a conscious parent.

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As a child, I often flinched because the slightest things would startle me. It could be because in the household I grew up in, yelling, threats, flying shoes, and my father’s thick brown belt were the order of the day. I secretly wished I had grown up with white parents because they seemed to have a more gentle and loving approach to parenting. Looking back, I know my parents were parenting my siblings and me as they were parented as first-generation Nigerians. My generation is beginning to understand that many of these harmful parenting practices in the Black community are rooted in fear, colonialism, slavery, and racism.

For the first two years of my son’s life, I parented him the same way my first-generation Nigerian parents parented me. That included yelling out of frustration and sometimes spanking him when he was being ‘rebellious.’ The day I saw him flinch, a siren went off in my head, and I realized I was about to repeat a toxic cycle. I decided to explore conscious parenting at that moment. I’ve been on a challenging but rewarding journey since. For those unfamiliar with conscious parenting, sometimes known as gentle parenting, it is a parenting approach that requires leading with empathy and giving kids room to show up as their authentic selves, free of judgment and shaming. 

A ‘woke’ parenting approach, I know. While conscious parenting seemed simple initially, i wasn’t prepared for the challenges that come with it. I realized that I had to look inward to see how my upbringing influenced my parenting. I also realized I had to address my unmet childhood before I could parent the way I wanted to.

Read on for a few things I wish someone told be before I started my conscious parenting journey. 

You’ll Become More Aware of Your Childhood Trauma 

Over two-thirds of children say they’ve experienced at least one traumatic event before sixteen, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration tells us. Thanks to three years of therapy, I have become more aware of my childhood traumas, and nothing triggers them like my son. 

For instance, his tantrums would make me angry, and I’d struggle to show him empathy. I realized my son’s screaming and defiance triggered me because I wasn’t allowed to express big emotions as a child through reflection. One way I’ve learned to deal with this is by pausing when triggered. It’s still a work in progress for me! Domonique Robinson, a licensed clinical social worker, and therapist in New York, suggests at strategy to help parents manage this process. 

 “When the child is having [a] crisis, take a second to pause and assess the situation,” says Robinson. She recommends asking yourself what the child needs and also being cognisant of your needs. Parents working to be more mindful of their needs may need to take a break or let someone else step in while they regather themself if that’s an option. She also says reflecting on your feelings afterward and exploring them is crucial.

You Won’t Always Get It Right

When I started conscious parenting, I thought I’d never lose my temper with my son again and do everything perfectly. That wasn’t the reality. When I lost my temper, my unrealistic expectations left me feeling crappy and worried I was creating trauma for him. The truth is, I needed to be patient and empathetic with myself. 

“Conscious parenting is about teaching your children empathy as much about demonstrating empathy towards them,” says Melissa Ifill, a therapist, and coach in Brooklyn, New York. “We’re trying to rear children who have emotional capacity, and we can’t give them that if we don’t give ourselves that.”.

Ifill says parents who want to be effective on their conscious parenting journey must understand themselves before they can understand their kids and give them grace. As I continue on this eternal road of self-discovery, I’m learning to accept my imperfections. I also practice apologizing to my son when I mess up and remembering it’s important he sees my imperfections. 

“I always like to tell everybody engaged in relationships, even relationships with yourself, that repair is just as important, maybe even more so, than response,” Ifill says. 

She says when you mess up, consider asking your child how you can repair the wrong and what they need to feel comfortable and safe. She also says it’s helpful to give kids and yourself time to process and learn from the experience. 

Not Everyone Will Be On Board

One of the first things I noticed when I started conscious parenting was how my friends and family reacted to my new parenting approach. They felt an occasional spanking wasn’t a big deal, and I was letting my child ‘act out.’ I have had to respect that not everyone believes in conscious parenting and set boundaries with family regarding spanking and shouting, but it hasn’t been easy. 

I also have to accept that my son will be in environments where he won’t receive as much empathy as he does at home, especially as a Black child. To help him navigate those spaces, I’m working on teaching him to see things from other people’s perspectives, which is a huge component of emotional intelligence

“We’re teaching them empathy for themselves, and as we’re showing them empathy, we also want to be teaching them empathy for others and the realities of the world that exist outside of us,” says Ifill. 

Being in strict environments where people don’t practice conscious parenting is also a teachable moment for kids in boundaries and how to set them when you’re not around. Give them space to discuss these interactions and the feelings they bring up for them. You may also teach them coping mechanisms to use in the moment, like using a sweater to self-soothe or venting to a friend or school counselor, says Ifill. 

You Need A Strong Support System 

Something that can keep you going when the people in your life aren’t supportive of your conscious parenting approach is building a community. 

“There’s a lot of virtual groups these days where you can find other parents on very similar journeys,” says Robinson. “Follow like-minded people on a similar journey where you can see their stories, you can hear yourself in their stories, you can share your stories, [and] can then share strategies.” 

 I joined a Facebook group for Black conscious parents, and it’s been a safe and supportive space for me. But other parents may also want to try other resources like therapy or books to guide them along the journey. Ifill recommends parents read Childhood Disrupted by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. I found The Conscious Parent by Shefali Tsabary insightful. Thankfully Black gentle and conscious parents experts, like Destini Ann Davis, author of Very Intentional Parenting, are creating books and resources on the topic as well. 

Ultimately, conscious parenting is a lifelong journey that requires you to address your traumas and prioritize your healing before you can truly show up for your child. This approach doesn’t guarantee you’ll raise perfect kids. But it has hope they will be confident in who they are, emotionally intelligent, and self-aware. 

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