Watch for the Spark

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERANote: As always, if you’re not a parent please apply these concepts to your own childhood and also how you attend to your own inner self/child today.

Because of my passion for and writing on the topic of transitions, my readers often ask me for parenting advice. While I feel competent sharing ideas and guidance about the transition into parenting – i.e. bearing and birthing a baby in preparation for the first year of life as a new mother – I hesitate in the realm of advice centered on the actual job of parenting for several reasons.

For one thing, I firmly believe that parents are their own best resource and experts. Nobody knows you, your child, and your family configuration as well as you do, so the most supportive “advice” I can offer is often to trust your own deepest knowing about how to move forward in a particular situation. Similarly, what works for me and my family or a certain client’s family may or not work for you and your family, and may even bring about a negative result. The definitive parenting manual hasn’t been written because it’s impossible to write. Just like there are millions of marriage configurations which defy many of the rules that marriage experts dole out, so there are billions of permutations of parent-child relationships. To think that we can devise a one-size-fits-all approach to all things parenting is unrealistic and possibly even damaging. As I tell my clients in intimate relationships, as long as it’s loving, there are no right or wrong ways to love each other; there’s only what works for you.

That said, there are some basic premises which, when followed, can offer a roadmap when you’re at the starting gates of parenting. There are some general guidelines that can offer a light when the road of parenting feels dark and can help you guide your child to grow into the fullest nature of themselves. For I think we know that what we want most for our children – above any superficial achievement – is to be fulfilled. And even if we can’t articulate it clearly, we sense that one of the ways we find fulfillment is by actively connecting to and offering our gifts to this world. When we’re living from our gifts and passions, we feel a deep sense of meaning that transcends even the quest for the transitory feeling of happiness. It’s the meaning that brings fulfillment.

Yet so many adults have no idea what brings them joy. I can’t tell you the number of clients I’ve worked with that stare at me blankly when I ask them what they love doing. I’ve heard several clients say to me, “You know, I really hate that question. I feel so inadequate that I don’t know what my passion is.”

It’s not their fault that they’ve lost touch with their passion. In my opinion, one of the primary tasks of parenting is to mirror back and support your child’s interests, to notice what lights them up and then pour energy into supporting that spark, whatever it is. When I’m working with new parents I encourage them to “watch for the spark”, meaning to pay close attention to those activities that capture your child’s attention and imagination. And I have no doubt that every single child has places or activities or books or people or subjects that light them up.

For example, I’m amazed when I look at pictures of my older son in his first two years of life and see him doing things like opening and shutting the zipper on our suitcase to figure out how it works. His engineering mind appeared by age one, and was fully apparent at eighteen months old. And I’m fascinated by how different our second son’s interests are that also showed themselves early in life.

If you watch closely, you will see your child’s spark. The key is to get your own agenda out of the way so that you can clearly see what’s before you. In other words, if you have a desire for your daughter to be a dancer but she clearly shows interest in science, you may miss the science clues altogether because your vision is clouded by your own desires. It’s a powerful psychological truth that children live out the unlived lives of their parents on many levels, which means we must do our best to carefully attend to our own latent desires so that we don’t impose those on our kids. Sometimes just naming it helps move it from the unconscious realm to the conscious, so by saying aloud, “You know, I feel so sad that I didn’t pursue my passion for dance,” you can own it and, by doing so, free your child up to live their own life.

And if you’re reading this thinking, “But what about my own spark?” I assure you that it still lives inside of you, waiting for you to remember it, to notice it, and breathe the breath of your attention onto it so that it can fan into full flame – the flame of a life fully lived. Listen for the whispers of “yes”. Watch for the places that light you up. And to be clear: I’m not talking about a profession or a calling. Those words have become spike-terms in the realm of work the same way that “soulmate” and “the One” create inordinate pressure in the realm of intimate relationships. What I’m talking about is connecting or re-connecting to the places that you love: the subjects you love learning about, the activities that make you hum, the types of people that bring you comfort, the music that sings the language of your soul. We live on an extraordinary planet with an infinite number of songs, activities, subjects, languages, people, religions, experiences to learn about, dwell in, swim inside their seas. Which ones call to you like mermaids from the rocks? Listen, and you will hear.

16 comments to Watch for the Spark

  • Amy

    After years of doing theatre and even majoring in it in college, I ultimately opted not to pursue it as a career. I love it and find immense joy in doing it, but it wasn’t calling me once I graduated. I chose other career paths and have found fulfillment there. Yet recently I decided to take a beginning class in improv comedy. I can’t tell you how much fun this is and how much it does bring me that spark! My boyfriend says I am smiling whenever I come out of the class. I have such a blast playing and using my imagination and laughing. It’s very childlike and freeing. What I realized however is that this is the first time I’ve pursued any sort of art or performance where I wasn’t taking the class or practicing with the end goal of “doing it professionally.” All my theatre training and musicals felt like rehearsal for my future career. This class simply feels like a release, and like something I might eventually so in performance, but there is no pressure. I can’t tell you how meaningful that is to do something just to do it. For no other purpose than pure delight. I think that’s something missing on our lives…that we normally assume that any activity we do must serve some greater purpose like career training or a big goal. I think it is vital to find something that can be a passion, but doesn’t have to be THE passion. It makes it so much easier to just play. 🙂

  • Chrissy

    I absolutely needed this. I’m three hours away from my boyfriend on spring break and tonight I did not get to talk to him because he was going to bed early for finales tomorrow. My day has actually been the best it’s been in a long time. I bought two new dresses that make ME feel sexy and have been keeping a positive attitude up all day until I was not able to talk to him. I’ve been reading “the road less traveled” and working on my self worth. By not being able to talk to my boyfriend tonight it brought sadness in my heart. So my first thought was to turn to your blog and see if you posted anything yet. You did! By reading this it makes me realize that something is missing right now. Communication with myself. I haven’t really ever talked to myself in a long time. I’ve learned that it’s not crazy to talk to yourself, it gets you to reconnect with yourself and this might be what I need. I need my comfort, and I need me to be there for me, not my boyfriend or anyone else. When I feel lonely it’s because I’m not paying attention and talking with the inner me. Thanks so much!! You are a big help to creating the better, bigger, and newer me.

    • I’m so happy to read this from you, Chrissy, especially this: “I haven’t really ever talked to myself in a long time. I’ve learned that it’s not crazy to talk to yourself, it gets you to reconnect with yourself and this might be what I need. I need my comfort, and I need me to be there for me, not my boyfriend or anyone else. When I feel lonely it’s because I’m not paying attention and talking with the inner me.” Brava!

  • K

    This is actually something I’ve always been good at, despite my own severely dysfunctional upbringing. I desperately want to put it into practice with kids but we are still waiting for kids to happen.

    I wish you would do some posts about infertility, or as it has been for us, the world’s most interminable liminal phase.

    • How long have you been trying?

      • K

        Well, it’s been a year for us, but we’ve had a diagnosed problem for half of it and are currently waiting to begin IVF after simpler treatments failed. I’m not just thinking of myself, though — there are people on infertility boards who have been there for years, going through treatments and weighing their options and debating whether to keep going or take their lives in a different direction. It’s a really crappy waiting room to be in, which some folks never get to leave, and everyone in there (me) is scared that will be them (we hope it won’t but what if it is?), but everyone in there just has to be patient and stay with the feelings and keep on waiting.

        I know the themes are pretty identifiable: Dealing with the unknown. Lack of control. An issue that is very poorly handled by society, with people handing out platitudes that don’t address the underlying anxiety. We just feel very stuck in the “OK, we have formed the intention to become parents” transition while we wait to find out if any of the treatments are going to work. Sitting with the anxiety of not knowing if I *can* ever be someone’s mother, which is something I need to get past before I’ll allow myself to process the anxiety about *actually* being someone’s mother, well, it all just blows my mind sometimes.

  • Angela

    Sheryl,
    Thank you for such a wonderful article. My son just turned 7 months and already I
    see such strong will and determination spilling over from the inside out. I am not sure what his “spark” is yet, but I am thankful for this article – as a reminder to keep and eye out for it and foster it as much as possible. I will also try and remember what my own spark is as well 🙂

  • Josephine

    Lovely article.

    I am finally living my own spark after years of doing something else. It’s incredible what a difference encouragement (and, conversely, steering away) can make to a child’s future. You are right, receptiveness is key. Being aware in ourselves, as adults, when we are projecting/hoping and then getting our own desires out of the child’s path (which, quite wonderfully, has already been lit).

  • A parent’s voice is the most powerful sound in a child’s life. I feel sure that being steered away from writing as a career was not an act of malice but one of blindness, to the self’s own struggles, to the essence of ‘otherness’ in the child, me.

    I write full time now; working on a mystery/thriller novel which has psychotherapy at its heart. It is not an exaggeration to say that psychotherapists (like you) changed my life. I will always be grateful that I was born into this century which has mainstreamed the possibility of healing.

    So now I blog and I write my novel, I connect with other writers, I review fiction and non-fiction and, best of all, reading is at the centre of my daily work. It’s wonderful.

    Before I changed path, I did enjoy my job and I knew that it was meaningful (I was a Secondary English Teacher) but this work, that of writing, is mine. And that is what makes the difference.

    Thank you for your articles which I read with great pleasure and from which I learn a lot.

  • Ryn

    I struggle from thoughts like “Hes not the right one for you” or “You need to leave him”
    I am so bad that everyday is a massive panic attack. these thoughts are usually when hes not around or im alone does it sound like anxiety and what articles do you have that can help….please

    • Naomi

      Hi Ryn. I recommend that you take Sheryl’s Relationship Anxiety e-Course and the Open Your Heart program. I have done both and they are wonderful.