I’ve been a therapist for a long time, and for the length of my entire career, my focus has been working with families. When I became a mother myself, I applied what I had learned as a therapist to my role as a mom. Essentially, I was making sure that I was “walking the walk” and not just “talking the talk.” That was important to me. Not because I wanted to make sure my children were successful or because I knew these techniques worked, but because I firmly believed that whatever I asked of my clients, I had to be willing to do myself.
Over the years, I received fabulous mentorship from amazing marriage & family therapists, I worked closely with those who specialized in family dynamics and human connection, and I watched as what I learned transformed lives. Then, I used the same techniques for my own family, and I got to enjoy the fruits of that hard labor as my own children (though still small) received compliment after compliment, and acknowledgement after acknowledgement for their behavior. And not just for their behavior, for their kindness, their compassion towards others, and for their bright personalities and sunny dispositions. Of course, they make mistakes. By no means are they perfect… no one is! It’s about how they handle their errors and grow from them that really makes them shine.
So, what’s the secret? What is it that I learned from experts, taught to my clients, and practiced with my own children that made all the difference?
The reality is that it’s not magic (but you knew that already), and it’s not a special kind of disciplinary technique that you apply or specific way you talk to your kids, or anything like that. Don’t get me wrong, all of those things are useful and do help, but this is a bigger, broader thing we are going to talk about.
See, parenting is incredibly hard. Not just because it’s a 24/7 kind of gig, but because it’s incredibly complex. It’s like an onion in many ways, with layers after layers of things you have to keep in mind all the time. I liken it to spinning plates. Have you ever seen an image like that? A guy spinning a bunch of plates on sticks… parenting is just like that. And here’s why….
Each plate is a component to the parenting gig that you have to keep in mind. But you have to keep every single plate in mind 100% of the time. If you don’t, that’s how you accidentally drop one. And when one falls, another one is likely to drop too. That’s parenting in a nutshell!
This is why there are hundreds (even thousands) of parenting books out there and none of them solve every family’s problem. It’s not because those books aren’t helpful or because they’re wrong. In fact, many of those books are incredibly helpful and spot on! I recommend many of them in my work with families.
The reason why is because each of those books are only looking at one of those spinning plates, maybe even a few of those plates, but certainly not all of them. What’s more, those books aren’t helping parents learn what all of those spinning plates even are!
Think about it… how can you keep track of something when you aren’t even aware that it exists? How are you going to be held responsible for something when no one told you that was one of your responsibilities?
Parenting is more than just a slew of parenting techniques or knowing how to talk to your kids. Each one of those things is a layer to the onion or one of those spinning plates. And you can be a master at those things and still find your family struggling!
So, what do you do? How do you figure this out? You want to be a good parent, right? We all do! But where do you even start?
Well… you start by gaining awareness.
Awareness to Wholistic Parenting
The term “wholistic” (or “holistic”) shouldn’t be new to anyone. If you googled this term, you’d end up with the following definition from grammarist.com:
“Wholistic is the philosophy that all parts of a thing are interconnected. In medicine, wholistic treatment is the treatment of a person as a whole, mind, body and social factors.”
This is the missing link. This is the piece that I spent so many years observing, so many years teaching, and now practice in my own home. It’s this idea of being wholistic, of taking into account the mind, body, and social environment of my family and shaping my parenting to those factors. Those are the spinning plates, the multiple layers that impact your ability to be an effective parent. It’s what I’ve come to call Wholistic Parenting.
When you become a Wholistic Parent, you become knowledgeable of each one of those spinning plates. And because you have this knowledge, you are able to seek out and acquire parenting techniques that make sense for you and your family. You are able to adapt different techniques to make them fit your parenting needs, and you are able to take life’s curve balls with more grace and calm. This is the value of taking a Wholistic Parenting approach.
Today, I’m going to introduce you to Wholistic Parenting by mapping out all of those pieces that comprise of the mind, body, and environment for you and your family. Essentially, I’m going to help you see each of those layers on that onion, each of those spinning plates, so you have a greater awareness of what being a parent is really all about.
Breaking Down Wholistic Parenting
I would be lying if I were to say that Wholistic Parenting is easy- it isn’t. There are so many parts that it can feel a little overwhelming. To help us better capture what Wholistic Parenting is all about, I created a map to reference as we break down all the layers.
It’s a lot, right? You probably don’t even really get what you are looking at, and who could blame you? When I sat down and broke it all down myself, I went through many iterations of it. Eventually, I landed on this. I’m willing to accept that it’s not perfect by any means, but I think it’s the closest thing out there to truly mapping out all the pieces that go into parenting. Thus, this is a picture of Wholistic Parenting.
Now that we have an idea of what this encompasses, let’s take a closer look and break down.
The 3 Main Branches (Teal Layer)
To begin, we’ll start by looking at those 3 main branches that are depicted in the teal color on the map. Those are the 3 main components that everything else will stem from. They are:
1. Familial Environment- This is your home environment and all the parts that go with it.
2. Social Environment- This is the outside world that your family lives in. It consists of your neighborhood, social networks, country, and current events.
3. Child- This is your child and the unique parts about them that you’ll need to keep in mind as you work to parent this person.
These are the big heavy hitters, and when you are parenting, these are the 3 big pieces that are going to affect you and your effectiveness as a parent. You’ll need to keep these 3 spinning plates in mind in order to do this job to the best of your ability.
When we look at the Familial Environment, we can see that there are 3 broad parts (colored in red). They consist of:
> Family Narrative
Hopefully, it makes sense that the Family Environment would be further broken down into these 3 parts. You, as the parent, have many pieces that will affect your parenting, including your:
> Physical Health
> Emotional/Mental Health
> Spiritual Health (if applicable to you)
> Knowledge about Parenting
> Skills that you possess related to parenting
> Time (or lack thereof)
These are all layers that affect you as a person. And anything that affects you, is going to affect your family. As such, it’s a BIG part of the Familial Environment.
Next is Discipline. This one doesn’t have as many pieces, but it’s still an incredibly important factor to effective parenting. The 3 components that make up Discipline include:
> Rules & Healthy Boundaries
> Structure & Routine
> Rewards & Consequences
These 3 parts are very much interwoven. They must be considered individually but executed as a solid unit. Trust me, that’s incredibly hard to do!
Finally, you have the Family Narrative. This is a big concept but, essentially, it’s your family’s story. I have another article on the blog provides much more explanation on what a family narrative is. I recommend you check it out if you haven’t read it before.
The Family Narrative is further broken down into 2 parts that consist of:
> Ethnic Culture
> Parent-Child Relationship
Your ethnic culture is going to be a part of your family’s story. This impacts everything about you, from how you dress and speak, to the foods you eat, and even how you interact with others.
Your Parent-Child Relationship is essentially the bond you have with your child. I further break down this concept into 3 more pieces:
When we look at the Social Environment, we can see there are 3 parts (colored in yellow). They consist of:
> Social Culture
> Current Events
> Social Influence
Social Culture is similar to ethnic culture, but also different. Let’s say you are Cuban and this is your Ethnic Culture. If you live in Cuba, it will also be your Social Culture. If you live in the United States, however, this is no longer your Social Culture. Your Social Culture now becomes that of the area in which you live.
Current Events greatly impact your parenting, whether you like it or not. If you live in an active war zone, that will make you more protective, fearful, and anxious. That will certainly change what you allow your children to do on a daily basis. This is an extreme example, but effectively demonstrates how current events will contribute to your parenting. A recent event that has greatly impacted parenting is the current pandemic. Just think about how much your own parenting has changed over the past year because of COVID-19?
Social Influence consists of the people that might influence you or your child. Right now, I might be a social influence on you that might cause a shift in how you parent. Your child’s peers are a social influence on them, which may cause them to behave in ways you approve or disapprove of. Other social influences include neighbors, the media, and extended family, among other things.
Hopefully, it makes sense that your child would be further broken down into multiple parts (colored in green), just like you were as the parent. Those pieces include your child’s:
> Physical Health Emotional/Mental Health
> Spiritual Health (if applicable to them)
> Developmental Age
> Sibling Position
These are all layers that affect your child as a person. And anything that affects your child, is going to affect how he behaves, which will then affect how you respond to him. As such, it’s a BIG part of Wholistic Parenting.
Hopefully this post was helpful in helping you understand Wholistic Parenting. It can be overwhelming, I know, but awareness of all the parts helps you better understand how one thing impacts another.
Families are systems, with many moving parts. Focusing on only one part of the system does little in helping you understand how each piece connects and affects the other. Only after understanding the greater picture, can you begin to hone in on those smaller pieces that might be broken or need a tune-up.
So, let’s talk about a deeper dive into this knowledge. As you can imagine, the more you understand all these parts, the better you’ll be at spinning all those plates. And you are absolutely right! Knowledge is power!
But it’s a lot to learn and keep track of, more than one measly article can conquer. That’s why I took the time to pour my knowledge into an easy-to-read book. Something that you’ll be able to read multiple times, keep handy, highlight, and take notes in. Something that you can reference as often as you need. Even more, I went the extra step to create a companion workbook! With it, you’ll get additional exercises and family activities to help you apply the new knowledge you've gained.
Wholistic Parenting is the key to successful parenting and a happy, loving, and untied family. It’s time to evolve into the best parent you can be. Check out The Art of Parenting and The Art of Parenting Workbook, available on Amazon, Barnes &Noble, Apple Books, and more!