Parenting with Presence – Book review


Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition)

Rarely has parenting been associated with spirituality but Susan Stiffelman does just that in her book Parenting with Presence – practices for raising conscious, confident, caring kids.

This book is for both new and seasoned parents. It is for parents, regardless of whether they are encountering difficulties with their kids or not. It is for parents raising young children and those raising adolescents.

Susan worked with the internationally acclaimed author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle in writing this book. This perhaps explains why Parenting with Presence considers parenting as a spiritual journey.

Parenting with Presence is, first and foremost, a book about positive parenting. It features a wealth of knowledge for parents who would like to practise mindfulness. It is a how-to manual that provides a spiritual toolbox that parents can use to raise conscious, confident and caring kids.

Stiffelman has a lot of experience from her role as an educator and therapist and this easily comes across in her book. The book is experience-based and is filled with many interesting examples of the issues she has dealt with over the years. There are also personal examples which make for interesting reading.

Many parenting books fail to give practical examples of how parents might implement the suggestions given. Parenting with Presence does just the opposite. It is a book that gives parents much food for thought. The book provides many practical insights and applicable suggestions.

Every chapter has a “Now It’s Your Turn” section that helps parents reflect and meditate on their parenting. At the end of the book are additional tools and tips for different scenarios that the whole family can apply. If I were to sum up Stiffelman’s book in a few words, I would suggest “the art of being an authentic parent.”

Among other things, Stiffelman shows just how much stress and anxiety today’s children endure, and she advocates a relaxed approach to child-rearing. She argues that, even amidst the chaos associated with raising children, parenting can still provide moments of peace and tranquillity.

Stiffelman shows the extent to which parents’ past and the wounds they carry from childhood influence their parenting styles. She highlights the importance of recognising that children’s behaviour is rarely a personal attack and that parents should stop taking it personally. The parent-child relationship should not be a constant power struggle.

Parenting with Presence is not an extraordinary book. As is often the case with parenting advice, much of what Stiffelman points out has been said before, albeit in different words. It does, however, make for interesting reading. It reminds parents of the things they may have learnt but have since forgotten over time.

Stiffelman emphasises the extent to which parents can learn about themselves from parenting. I couldn’t agree more. She argues that children are parents’ greatest teachers and the moments one spends with one’s child are genuine moments of spirituality.

The book covers a wide variety of issues (accountability, respect, empathy, compassion, anger) and focuses on how children’s behaviour provides an opportunity for parents to learn about themselves and about their own childhood.

One of her greatest lessons is that your children will push you to the limits and provide you with an opportunity to know more about yourself. In other words, children, if you let them, can be your greatest teachers. Stiffelman shows that parenting styles stem from the past and guides parents to explore how their past childhood experiences influence how they parent.

She shifts away from the idea that parents should attempt to change their children’s behaviour. Instead she advocates parent-child relationships in which parents understand and nurture the best in their children.

Parenting with Presence argues that parents can and must be the Captains of the Ship but they must do so by being gentle yet firm and confident, rather than authoritarian.

Stiffelman shows that many parents are so afraid of others’ judgement that they let this fear affect the way they parent. Parents’ backgrounds and the societies in which they live also lead them to condemn perfectly normal behaviour in children.

Parenting with Presence is about creating authentic relationships with one’s children. It’s about connecting with them and being fully present during the moments one spends with them.

Some criticism of Parenting with Presence

Much as I found the book insightful, I would have liked Stiffelman to provide more evidence-based facts. Most of the suggestions are based on her personal experience rather than on hard evidence of scientific reasoning. Then again, the book is not intended for a research milieu.

Eckhart Tolle’s books are often an easy read but I found myself drifting away when reading some sections of the book. Although the book is well-written and gives a good overview of parenting, I found some parts easier (more interesting?) to follow than others.

Disclaimer: This book review is not an endorsement. I was happy to get the French version of the book (L’art d’être un parent présent: Meilleures pratiques pour élever des enfants conscients, confiants et attentionnés) from my local library. No fee was paid for this review.
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