The community where I live with my family, Palo Alto, CA, has experienced a crisis of high school student suicides in the past few years. The Atlantic
ran a front page story called Silicon Valley Suicides in November, a few days after the one year anniversary
date of the suicide of one of our community’s rising stars, Cameron Lee, who was a junior at Gunn High School when he took his life.
Of course, as a parent of two young girls who are living in the Gunn High School area, my personal interest in addressing the crisis of pressurized parenting in Silicon Valley and beyond is real and important.
I, too, was raised with pressurized parenting. My father was an immigrant from India, an engineer and Ph.D. in Materials Science, who imposed a very strong external ideal of success onto myself and my siblings from a young age. When I reflect on several interactions with my father over my lifetime, I realize how different it would have been to have been parented with presence rather than pressure.
When I was 11 and brought home the sub-par grade in my father’s eyes of 88% on a math test, I was scolded and told I had better not bring home anything less than a 98% if I wanted to get into the Ivy League. Had my father chosen to parent with presence and connection, he would have responded with questions like: “How do you feel about your math score? Did you do your best? What did you do well? What can you do better on the next one? What did you learn? What’s your goal for your next exam? Do you need any support from me to reach your goal?”
At 14, when I began asking my father about college majors and careers, instead of insistently telling me to become an engineer because of job security, he could have been present with my curiosity, interests, strengths and passions. He could have asked me what I loved, what I was good at, what I thought a career’s purpose was — and gotten a full picture of the kind of life I wanted to lead and the kind of person I wanted to be and how a career fits in to facilitate one’s larger life goals.
Parenting with presence asks parents to let go of the pressures and realities they faced as children, and perhaps even ones they left behind in order to seek new opportunities for the next generation.
Parenting with presence asks parents to engage with their child and see the exam scores and college choices through the child’s eyes rather than through parents’ eyes — fearful of the unknown or from a parent’s egoic need for a certain type of children’s success.
Most of us haven’t been parented this more attuned and authentic way.
Living in Palo Alto and/or any affluent community with a teen suicide problem, we parents are compelled to offer this type of attunement, collaboration, presence and empathy to our kids.
I’ve learned to parent from presence rather than pressure, though the internal conditioning of my own upbringing takes mindfulness to undo and re-wire on a daily basis. I emphasize asking good questions, listening, attuning to emotional states, spending special time, offering curiosity and exploration of my child’s true desires, empathy with challenging emotions, playing physically and being present in all that I do with my kids.
No parent is perfect, but I know that these moments and interactions based in presence, curiosity, connection, compassion and mindfulness are what make the parent-child relationship strong, build trust and rudder authentic selves’ most satisfying lives.
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Kiran Gaind of The Connected Family works with parents who are overwhelmed by their responsibilities and exhausted by the demands of parenting to feel overjoyed by their lives and being parents again.