In life, there are very few roles that we are called upon to play for which we are quite so unqualified to carry out as that of child-rearing.
For the most part, parents bluff their way through the job—usually learning along the way and hoping that they do not leave too much carnage in their wake.
Raising a child or children is undeniably the most challenging job that we ever have to undertake and most of us do so with love and a deep commitment to providing the best for our children.
But what do you do when you lose that all-important sense of focus on the task in hand or at those times when, no matter how dearly you love your child, you feel a sense of disconnect with them?
In her book Parenting with Presence parenting expert Susan Stiffelman offers help and guidance to parents who feel lost and confused or who are experiencing a decline of confidence in their parenting skills.
As the author points out, today’s parents require a unique set of skills to cope with the problems and issues that confront this current generation of technologically-orientated youngsters.
At the heart of parenting today, those same principles of love, compassion and support remain essential components in a parents armory but, as the author points out, not even these are sufficient in this increasingly challenging and isolationist society that we live in.
The author freely admits that, for her, being a parent proved to be
…the greatest transformational experience if my life.
She states that she came to realize that for her the key to raising a harmonious and emotionally well-balanced family was through the application of her own spiritual perspective on life.
It is this concept of child-rearing as a spiritual endeavor rather than simply as a mundane chore that underpins the advice that she offers throughout this book.
Stiffelman offers the opinion that
…each of our children offers us opportunities to confront the dark and dusty corners of our minds and hearts, creating just the right conditions to call forth the kind of learning that can liberate us from old paradigms, allowing us to lead more expansive and fulfilling lives.
The challenge, as Stiffelman sees it, is to raise children not only in an atmosphere of love in which children can thrive but also to ensure that those same children fully appreciate that they are loved. This is not always an easy thing to do but the author suggests that the key to achieving this is to be found in helping a child value his or her own capacity to love themselves as well as to value themselves for who they truly are.
Mistakes are made during the parenting process. It is an inevitable consequence of the demanding role that parents have to take on. However, in Parenting with Presence, the author is keen to point out the importance of forgiving oneself for any errors made just as readily and freely as you would forgive the mistakes made by your children. Very often, a parent needs to extend their contrition to their children, most of whom are invariably more forgiving than one might assume.
In her book, Siffelman not only deals with problems that are of immediate concern to the famly but also considers issues such as community volunteering and the need to live charitably. Other external influences that a child is impacted by, such as stress and anxiety, are also considered in the book—with direct advice on how stress hormones in particular impact upon a young persons’ thoughts and emotional responses. In some cases during her consultation work, the author has found that mindfullness work can help to reduce their impact upon a young person.
In the concluding section of her book, Stiffelman combines specific tools, tips and strategies aimed at strengthening the emotional and spiritual basis of parenting.
Here, she enters into practical ways in which a parent can teach a child mindfullness and emotional integration as well as advanced techniques that are geared toward breaking down the barriers that separate ourselves as parents from the issues that parenting presents.
The book closes with an epilogue, additional notes, resources section and an index.
Lets face it, no one is going to be interested in picking up this book out of idle curiosity. Those few parents who find parenting a breeze, or without deep challenges, are hardly likely to be bothered to consult this book to check out how well they are doing!
This book lends itself to a different audience for it is, in fact, an emergency manual offering help and support to the majority of adults out there who feel close to tearing their hair out as a result of their children’s seemingly irrational behavior.
Throughout its pages, it offers an important lifeline to those who find connecting to their children problematic and who feel unable to consult professional advice on their issues.
The book is written with great sympathy for its reader. There is little escaping the fact that the majority of problems that emerge within a family are simply due to poor parenting but what the hell, no one handed out a users manual with our new infant child.
Throughout her guidance, the author does a good job at not laying blame for parenting problems at anyones particular door. Instead, the advice that she offers is non-judgemental and very grounded.
Above all else, this is a book of dialogues—a process that helps to draw the essense of a problem and create a deeper sense of understanding between parent and child as well as between a parent and previous generations of parenters.
This is an important process that so often gets left out due to the busy schedules of our daily lives.
Throughout her book, Stiffelman is keen to involve the reader as much as possible with multiple questions and answers sessions. These are very effective in helping a parent understand all aspects of a parenting problem. The inclusion of case histories also serves to help you feel less alone or isolated in your own particular parenting challenges.
This is a book that is full of practical advice and has also been written with a pretty loose structure, meaning that dipping in and out of it to extract its guidance does not result in a loss of its core teachings.
However, to my mind, it is not a perfect manual on parenting. It does an excellent job in helping parents to steer their children towards a greater set of personal values but it is predominantly written from a maternal perspective. There is nothing wrong with this; it is just that in some circumstances, fathers will parent their children somewhat differently.
My other concern is that the book does not deal with truly problematic or anti-social children—those who have to deal with intense social pressures on a daily basis and possibly as a result of social depravation, crime, violence or physical disability.
Nevertheless, as its stands Parenting with Presence is the sort of manual that one aught to be given along with the birth of every new child for its guidance regarding morals, ethics and personal responsibility are even more important today than they were a generation ago.
Parenting with Presence seeks to guide its reader toward making those important, life-changing decisions that will impact positively and compassionately upon future generations of kids everywhere. The practical advice, insightful guidance and deep compassion being offered here to challenged parents—as well as to their confused offspring—is priceless.