Parents rarely have time to sit and write about the depth and range of experiences they gather as they are swept up in the whirlwind of parenting. Parents’ voices are not usually the ones that make headlines. And yet, as you will see below, they are filled with hard-won wisdom, humor, and insights.
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I traded in my tetherless soar
For a peek at the early years
Of Becoming -
Those early years
Blocked from mind-sight.
I peek into my daughter’s view
Hungry to learn about me.
I am Spirit
As is she.
Granted, my wish,
Love, all up in my face,
Anger, seething in my bones,
Gratitude splashing over
In great waves.
And a thousand firsts -
Each one thousand astonishing kisses.
Barely arriving, you walk away.
You take your first solo step turning
your back to me, as if to insist:
“I tumbled into your life,
not to anchor you at last
in unflagging intimacy,
but to dare you
to give everything,
Another year, we’ll sketch
self-portraits. A Pink Pearl eraser
clutched in chubby fingers, you’ll blur
my penciled borders, fill me
with Dandelion, Cerise,
and Robin’s Egg crayon swirls
Not a chrysalis you
stretch, burst with glee,
Not a luna moth, mouthless
and finite, living only
to bear you.
Not a bottomless cup of milk,
not an ever-expanding
blanket, not an inextinguishable
night-light, or a steadfast
This mother, fragile
born with your conception,
is an invitation
to lean into this wind
unfurl in this ocean of light
open as this earth
I think that almost everyone desires to be a “good” parent and this can be accomplished in so many ways depending on what values form the base of that definition of “goodness”.
As a young mother I made every effort to learn what I could about how to best serve my child, to listen with my whole being and respond to her as a fully present individual from her birth forwards. However, I pursued some ideas about how to relate to children in her first years that I can see now were inappropriate and harmful to her. Fortunately, new insights, teachers and experiences kept coming along and I continue to grow, but not without some terrible regrets. Those early experiences shape the outer form of who we are and I can still see the indelible marks, especially in my oldest child. I feel that she can turn them from obstacles into gifts, but it takes a special effort that I wish we could have avoided.
The intention to do well can be a powerful force, but without accurate knowledge of ourselves, of the general curve of growth in children, and the personal maturity to sustain our efforts and manage our failings, high ideals and good intentions are not enough. I think it is so helpful to adopt parents of older children that we admire and to ask hundreds of questions about their experiences. They probably did not have everything figured out in their earlier years, but have at least had a chance to reflect and evaluate themselves; we can learn a lot without having to make the same mistakes.
Models are also very helpful–the developmental trends observed by Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner are great, but also reflect the era and setting in which they were described. I have found the Integral model and Spiral Dynamics to be especially useful because they not only orient my thinking about my children, but also about myself and the broader context in which we are enfolded.
We should require, effective yesterday, that all theorists and espousers of Nifty Ideas, from Indigo to Integral to Flow, step down from their podiums and go and raise a family.
Exactly fifteen years from yesterday, we would host a wonderful conference where these Deep Thinkers might share with us the bits of their schematics that survived that unflinching laboratory. We then would know for ourselves what was truly the Babe and what had been merely Bathwater.
Infants and teens care equally little for whether their parents are parenting from four quadrants, eight perspectives, or the thirty-one flavors of the spiral rainbow. Nor are they impressed by weighty, half finished tomes on the bedside table. Nor do they care whether we are on the epochal verge of a singularity, an Apocalypse, a Poleshift or the Rapture.
What children DO care about, and cherish deeply, are parents who love them Authentically and Effectively—parents who maintain that ineffable connection through the blessedly Thick and occasionally Thin of life in a human family. Regardless of what we read, how we talk, or what we dream online, children know us for who we ARE—Right NOW, in this moment, and the next and the one after that—all the way until the time when they too start to discern the generational threads of family that bind us together.
But, inspired by Great Ideas, we are sorely tempted to slash through the Gordian knot we know as our lives. In its place we envision a Blank Slate (neatly divided into four quadrants) where THIS GENERATION (or at least, with THIS child), we will get it exactly right—because, after all, we know better?
“Nowhere at any time in human history have we had available the collected wisdom traditions of East and West…” the pundits breathlessly proclaim.
…and it still doesn’t make any difference! Because when we wield that theoretical Sword of Truth above our heads, ready to cleave our messy knot in two, we suddenly realize that we and our children, and our parents and our grandchildren yet to be born are woven into its very fabric. This Knot must be worried and tugged gently. Thread by thread, with patient hands. That is the painstakingly sacred work of facing ourselves through those we bring into this world—and coming to know both, and perhaps something More, in the process.
Wisdom has its place in raising a family to be sure, but its anemic offspring, Theory, is of little use in a realm with so much at stake as Childhood.
“Love alone is healing and balm,” writes Pulitzer winning author Alice Walker, “Love alone is mother’s milk.”
So in the end, it is not the Love that we fake,picked up from seminars or chat rooms or bookstores, that matters, at least not to anyone we still tuck in at night. It’s the love we make,from this moment, to this one to the next, free of pretense, forethought, or abstraction—that alone is the milk our children drink, that alone is what makes them strong.
When our children were little, we largely separated ourselves from the world and focused on nurturing the bonds between ourselves as a family and especially the girls as siblings. This meant that we did not do play groups, daycare or little activities when they were toddlers and when we did start to come out, it was later than most of their peers and then always with our presence and companionship. We were not isolated socially; we had a lovely group of adult friends who were in sync with our behavioural standards in relation to the children and lots of farm, forest, river and earth experiences, books, music and play. We had few kid friends for them (well, none really), primarily because there were no parents in our area to whom we could really relate in our intention with the kids. There was a loneliness though, and I remember urging our friends to hurry up and have kids too.
Things evolved though to our current state of being very involved in music, dance, drama and gymnastics–in effect, busy with the many things that most middle class families create for their children. In that, I have seen my kids develop some good friendships with a range of kids and face some things that I would rather they could have avoided. The people that they interact with come from such a variety of backgrounds and levels of awareness, but I notice that the children they are most attracted to are similarly deeply bonded and held by their families.
I think now that those early years without separation were not essential to their quality of presence, although the young are so impressionable that it does make it easier to stay closer to what is real in them when other influences are controlled. Now I see other kids who also wear a lighter ego, whose Self is visible and less walled in, and many of them have been in daycare and formal education since the beginning. The reality is too that many parents can’t or won’t or would be ill-suited to do what we have done. What is essential in my opinion is that depth of realness and connection is the most important value in the family. This too can happen in different ways; some are completely natural and unconscious of this process, fewer are doomed to think all the time and evaluate such things (ahem).
Our children are pre-teens now, and our emergence was a gradual process over several years with careful attention paid to the adult mentors and social settings that we were placing them in. As our oldest child is about to take off in the teen trajectory, I am curious to see how she manages this unfolding. Again, having developmental models to work with are very useful to me as mother; I hope to be able to anticipate her changes, support all lines of development, and remain a foundation for her until her own foundation is secure.