Blog: Conscious Parenting Part 5: Interview with Joanna Adler, Psy.D.
Editors’ Note: We’re delighted to publish this interview with Joanna Adler instructor of the Conscious Parenting workshop that will be offered at The Bodhi Center, Bainbridge Island, WA on April 28 and 29. Joanna Adler is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified Depth Hypnosis Practitioner. She has studied extensively in the fields of Depth Hypnosis, Buddhist Psychology, Shamanism, and Energy Medicine at the Foundation of the Sacred Stream. We asked Joanna about how she helps people with the dizzying array of choices parents face on a regular basis, what the word “discipline” means to her, and what interests her most in her work with families.
Q. How do you work with parents that may be struggling with knowing how to best support their children when there are so many choices, so many potential ways to respond in a given situation?
A. First of all, I think that there’s not usually one right way. If I were working with someone who was in the middle of trying to make conscious parenting choices, I would remind them that there are going to be many right ways, and I would try to calm any fears about that a little bit. I would also really normalize their confusion! So often, parents are presented with situations where we don’t actually know what’s the right choice, and we do the best we can. I also will remind parents that what we know from the Western psychological research is that a well-adjusted child doesn’t come out of a perfect family where the parents always responded in the right way. A well-adjusted child comes out of a family where mistakes were discussed, and all parties, including the parents, take responsibility for any ways they each contributed to the problem. In these families, repairs were made when something problematic happened.
I think it’s really comforting to people to understand that in a good enough family environment, resilient and secure kids don’t grow from perfect parents, they come from parents who repair with their kids when a breach has occurred. This act of truly taking responsibility for one’s actions as a parent — for example to apologize and follow through with a commitment to change one’s own reactivity as a parent — makes all the difference. Within this context, it is the honoring of the truth of what happened in any given situation that creates the cohesive life story that is the basis of what we call “secure attachment.”
Then, within that, as we hold the intention to support the child’s best and highest good, we’re looking for what the child loves. What gets them up in the morning? What gets them excited? What are they most interested in? Those are the guiding lights of how we support our children. It’s the things that they find deep joy in that we want to support, even if it means being out on the soccer field every Saturday, or driving the child to dance every day of the week, or whatever it may be. We want to support what they love because that experience of joy is what is motivating and engaging. Joy creates curiosity and love of learning and helps a child get over the hump of the bumpy places, the places where they don’t know what to do, the places where they feel scared, or the places where they have difficult experiences. It becomes their North Star.
When, as parents, we are willing to hold that North Star, then the places where we don’t know how to respond become easier, because it creates a structure, it creates a guidepost. It’s a way to backlight any choice that needs to be made: How will this choice affect the child’s relationship to what they love?
Q. What does the word “discipline” mean to you in light of this and in light of what you said about love and finding what the child loves.
A. Discipline is such a triggering word, and yet it is so important. Discipline, to me, is the process of creating enough structure for our children that when they’re going off the rails in some direction there is a boundary there in place to help them get righted. The North Star of what they love is also incredibly helpful in getting a child oriented positively in the world, participating in the world in a way that brings them joy and is wholesome. But the discipline is there to create a structure, like a wide funnel or a scaffolding, so that a child is actually strongly encouraged to stay within a wide supportive and broad structure — but a structure — so that they are not causing themselves or others harm.
Q. What is most interesting to you about working with parents and families?
A. Each family is like a puzzle that all fits together in its own unique way. How the patterns of the mother and father relate to the patterns of the child, where they butt heads, where there’s disempowerment, where there’s irritation and anger, and the ways that each family member becomes a teacher for the other family members — all of these are important to understand. The places where parents are getting crossed wires with a child or where a child is getting crossed wires with the parents actually present opportunities for family members to look at “what is this triggering in me? What is going on here?” When we’re able to understand where the problems are being created there is an opportunity to open up enough space and enough understanding so that each family member, including the parents, can get what they need to be able to thrive.