Note: 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.