An entirely different picture of “family” is emerging;
most of the paradigms we have developed over the last millennium
are no longer viable.
Because our family structures, our values, and our experience of family will continue to change, it is particularly important for us to understand that being a good parent and raising healthy, responsible children requires us to be grounded in the deeper meaning of the role of parent. We must be able to change beyond what may now seem possible to us, and the only way to achieve that is to develop a firm rooting in the spiritual dimension of parenthood.
Parenting as a Mission
What I know without any doubt is that bringing every gift I came here with, every iota of strength and wisdom, every droopy love and loyalty, everything I have, to the task, the mission, and the gift of bringing up two souls to live their own lives and fulfill their destinies is the most important thing I have ever done, or ever will do. I don’t expect this singularity of purpose from others, but because of it I have been able to pay close attention to the dynamics, the secrets, and the lessons of real parenthood — much more closely, I believe, than many academic experts who observe interactions in made-up environments and offer theories on what is healthy or correct and formulas that rarely “work.” What I attempt to do, rather, is to go deeper into the idea that parenting is a mission, however large or small a part it plays in your life. From that perspective, everything you think about parenting changes. It is no longer a series of problems to solve; it is, instead, an important part of your personal growth, and even your spiritual path.
We Rarely Look Very Far Ahead
The biological urge and the psychological need to bear children rarely help us look beyond pregnancy and birth. We may fantasize about what our child will be like. We may form some opinions about home or hospital birth, breast or bottle feeding, and about if or when we will put our children in day care. But few parents take the time to discover and define how being a parent fits into their lifelong mission. Few of us look ahead to how this new person will change our lives.
Our Children Arrive with Agendas of their Own
Sooner or later our children let us know they arrived in the world with agendas of their own. While we have a tremendous influence over the way they express and live out their agendas, we cannot mold and control them. They have as much to teach us as we want to teach them, and the wise parent realizes this early on. Because of this give-and-take dance, we sometimes feel out of step with our children and conflict arises. We may try to teach at a moment when we should be receptive. Our children may not listen to us because they have not been heard. Therefore, the dynamic of opposition is always arising in these relationships. We can learn how to dance with this flow of energy.
Using the Principles of the Martial Art Tai Chi
For example, in the ancient Chinese martial art practice of Tai Chi, the goal is not to defeat an opponent. Rather, we learn to flow with the energy of opposition, assisting its movement toward its natural conclusion, which is exhaustion. We defeat the “opponent,” then, by his own momentum rather than by stiff resistance. Ultimately our goal — peace and harmony — is reached without overt violence or force.
The principles of Tai Chi are based upon eternal truths: Tao (pronounced dow) is the immutable Being, the oneness toward which all beings are moving. Harmony prevails when we find harmony with the eternal flow of Tao. Strength is found in the persistent, gentle flow of the life-force. Water is often used as a symbol of the kind of strength we wish to develop; the gentle drip of water on rock eventually carves that rock as no brute force can. A river made the Grand Canyon; no bulldozer could create such a phenomenon.
I use Tai Chi principles to communicate what I believe is good parenting — right parenting. In Tai Chi, you learn how to flow with the life force of the universe. You do not oppose an attacker’s force, you step aside and permit the attacker’s life energy to pass. As he is flying by, you give him a nudge to assist him to get where his momentum is taking him more quickly. You learn to ground your energy into the earth is such a way as to have all the strength of the earth within your body. When you master this practice, you are unshakeable.
A wise parent learns to discover the life force within and move with it to guide her children. When met with opposition, she grounds herself in the eternal and allows the opposition to exhaust itself naturally. She remains calm, providing an immutable base for her children’s growth. In this way, she teaches them how the universe works, provides a model of healthy parenting, and gains their trust and respect in the process.
The experience of parenting is as instructive and productive for you as it is for your child. Children help us define and refine our character. They give us many opportunities, challenges, and tests along the way. If we look ahead to the coming years with, as Buddhists say, “beginner’s mind,” we are excited about everything we will learn. There is no guru or mentor that can give us greater or deeper teaching than our children.