What is Spiritual Parenting?
Taking a break from the series I’ve been working on, to muse a bit about this phrase ‘spiritual parenting’. This has been triggered by some posts I’ve read lately on blogs I like, including Freedom from Success is Freedom from Failure at Holistic Mama, Living Outside Our Labels at Mermaid, Idealism, Motherhood and Being a Rooster at The Awakened Heart, Giving Yourself a Timeout: Lessons in Mindful Parenting by Jan at Awake is Good and many more which I’ll try and organize into a list sometime (I REALLY need to update my blogroll.)
It’s also been triggered by changes in my 2 3/4 year-old twins, who have hit a developmental milestone I’ll call The Ability (or Curse) of Worrying About the Future and Thinking About the Past. To sum it up, they don’t live 100% in the present anymore, the way babies and toddlers do. Of course they are still in the present much of the time, but not always, and that’s a change. They weigh things now, comparing them to their past experiences, and drawing conclusions based on that. They judge. And they enter more and more experiences with expectations born of those judgments. As Ekchart Tolle would put it, they aren’t naturally in ‘The Now’ all the time anymore.
To me, it’s the birth of The Ego. I almost hate to use that term, because it gets bandied about so much these days, especially in spiritual writing, and it means different things depending on who is using it. But I don’t know what other term to use for the body of habits and patterns that develop as we grow up, and that separate us from The Now, from source, from our natural enlightenment, from God, from Goddess, from nirvana, or whatever term you prefer. Spiritual practice is largely the tools we use to try and see past these barriers, to reconnect, to live at a level of our awareness not bound by them. This is simplifying of course, and makes it seem like babies and toddlers are spiritually awakened (whatever that means), and that’s not what I’m trying to say, but I think you get my drift.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, this new phase the twins have entered (and remembering it in my 4 1/2 year old), partly because we’ve had out of town family visiting the area this month, and thus have attended several extended family gatherings, and so I’ve seen how every parent can’t help but project what they value onto their kids. A creative-minded parent beams when their child uses a toy in an unconventional way, seeing it as a sign of creativity, while a parent that values obedience beams when complimented on their children’s table manners (but frowns at the unusual toy use, viewing it as disorderly.) The sports fan can’t help but light up when their two-year old throws a ball across the room – even if it knocks over a glass – exclaiming ‘look at that arm’, while the parent who places a big emphasis on helpfulness heaps on the praise when her own child helps clean up the mess.
We send hundreds of tiny messages a day to our children, some explicit and some subconsciously, about what we value and what we don’t, and they respond in kind. Their Egos start to form around these judgments, and the process of separation is begun (or if you believe in reincarnation, restarted, because some patterns have been brought into the incarnation as well.) And of course many of these are positive – it’s not that the Ego is an evil thing – we develop resources within ourselves as well. But experiencing divinity, the sacred, the Now, requires seeing past it all, learning how to drop it all (or unlearning). It’s about how to be right here without that intermediary mind.
So what I’ve been contemplating is, is the Ego separation avoidable? Does spiritual parenting, mindful parenting, intuitive parenting – whatever phrase you want to use (although I know to many they are not all the same) – prevent or lessen that separation, or provide our children with a different type of Ego? What’s the real purpose behind trying to meet our children as they are, accepting them for who they are, attempting to minimize the judgments we project? Is it really possible to do so, and if so, what does it provide them with?
I wonder because often in spiritual parenting literature the whole idea seems to me to get romanticized (it’s not romanticized in the posts I selected above – which is why I selected them). To me too often it ends up sounding like somehow there is a way to parent a child into enlightenment (and I don’t mean to cheapen the word enlightenment by using it here, but had to use something for what I mean.) It’s like the authors see their own spiritual journey, and the personal work they’ve had to do to break through certain Ego patterns to find peace, and think that we all can somehow prevent all that work for our own kids. And I’m not sure it works that way. It seems to me that experiencing separation is part of the essence of being human – that we have to ‘lose ourselves to find ourselves’, so to speak.
I do think my own view is largely shaped by the Mahayana Buddhist idea of the Boddhisattva – a being who attains enlightenment, and could thus choose not to incarnate again, to simply dissolve into the universe, but chooses to come back, in order to help all other beings to attain liberation also. The kicker is, each time a Boddhisattva reincarnates, he or she has to regain enlightenment. It’s never guaranteed – although it is said to get easier each time, and certain Boddhisattvas are said to eventually become so strong they can incarnate into Hell realms, regain their enlightenment there, and help the darkest beings – the demons – find freedom. But there is no such thing as being born enlightened.
And what’s even more interesting to me is that in this same system, being born human is actually considered a fabulous gift, because it is the perfect realm to pursue liberation. Unlike the bliss/pleasure realms, there is enough suffering to assure that we each keep striving towards freedom, and unlike the hell realms, there is enough love and light available for us to see a way out. The entire process of being human – of starting over each time as a child dependent upon its parents, and of not remembering what we’ve known before, facilitates the spiritual process.
What this all has to do with parenting for me, is that it allows me to realize I can only do so much. My goal is to provide my kids with the tools – empathy, humor, self-awareness, mindfulness – that I have found personally useful in walking my spiritual path. But I am inevitably also going to ‘damage’ them – I am going to be part of what separates them from themselves, in spite of myself, and that is OK. They will eventually have to see past whatever judgments I have projected on to them, see through the boundaries of their own ego. And no one, including me, can do that for them.
Of course that’s not an excuse not to try and parent better, and in fact I expend quite a bit of time searching out new parenting views and approaches, mostly in the spiritual/mindful vein (including all those blogs!) That’s part of my own spiritual practice now too. But realizing that every sign in my children of Ego, especially ‘negative’ behaviors like aggression, selfishness, anxiety, etc. is not a sign of failure, helps me relax. I can only do so much. They’ve got their own shadows to discover and work through. And that’s all in the natural course of things. (Not that that knowledge necessarily makes the related suffering any easier to watch, as I’ve often discussed with friends of teen or adult children.)
As always, I appreciate your own thoughts and comments…