Parenting as a Spiritual Practice – Week 3
My reflections after week 3 of an incredible 8-week online course titled: ‘Parenting as a Spiritual Practice – an Integral Evolutionary Approach to Parenting’. For more details of the course, please visit: http://integralparenting.com/ref/heather/
This week we have been exploring the ‘we’ space between ourselves as the parents, and our child, learning how healthy attachment orchestrates healthy instincts in both child and parent and exploring this through the idea of nurturing the soil in which our relationship is planted in order for it to blossom.
Gordon Neufeld, a developmental psychologist and author of the book ‘Hold on to Your Kids,’ speaks of the natural spontaneous unfolding of a child’s potential if the conditions are conducive. I loved Neufeld’s analogy that we are not meant to work at the fruit, but rather we must tend to the soil, to the roots of the attachment, in order for our relationship to blossom.
With my mum as a coach and therapist, I have heard a lot about ‘secure attachment’ throughout my life, but I’ve only become interested in what this actually means throughout my pregnancy and now, in the context of Noah’s life.
This course deepens my understanding of the humble and powerful thread that underlies every single connection and interaction that I share with Noah. I am continuing to consciously nurture the soil of our relationship in order for him to be seen, heard, loved and connected, and I watch in wonder when I witness other people in his ‘village’ meet him relationally.
“Relationship is the underlying vessel for all our parenting.”
Miriam Mason Martineau
Sometimes we become so busy focusing on the destination that we don’t notice if there is an underlying sense of unease as our relationship is going off balance. This can be said for our relationship with our children as much as it can for our relationship with our partners. It’s important that we pause and ask, ‘how is our we doing these days?’
When we step into this inquiry together, we can see what is going on and refocus our priorities, co-creating our relationship through the practice of connecting and listening deeply, fully expanding our awareness and allowing us to connect authentically.
Building trust and sustaining integrity are relationship essentials. This is no different with our children. Meeting Noah in an integral evolutionary context, encourages me to appreciate that he is simultaneously a ‘human being’ and a ‘human becoming’ – he is evolving as a whole.
This approach to parenting as a spiritual practice fully respects that there is no such thing as ‘just a child’ – we should not mock or disrespect children just because they are little, they deserve as much respect as an adult.
As parents, it is our responsibility to step into our role as our child’s guide, their teacher. We are responsible for their wellbeing and their growth. We are in charge but we are not in control; we are in an alpha position to care for our child but never in order to be dominant over them.
Treating Noah consistently with respect, dignity and integrity means ensuring that there is connection before direction. This entails making a conscious effort to meet him on his level: kneeling down, making eye contact, smiling and getting a nod from him, before letting him know that I’m going to put his jumper on, for example.
When I am parenting from a place of consciousness and I check-in with Noah, ask his permission and watch carefully for his preverbal communication, I notice that the more I listen and respect him, the clearer his communications become.
If Noah knows (through practice) that he is consistently listened to, then he knows that his signals and communications will be heard and respected.
I watched a man in the airport recently baffled by me asking Noah (‘a baby’) whether he would prefer the bean and avocado wrap or the prawn wrap (knowing fine well the boy loves avocado). This simple example demonstrates my conscious efforts in offering (developmental appropriate) choices for my child; inviting Noah to engage in life with me rather than over his head.
“When we adults think of children there is a simple truth which we ignore: childhood is not preparation for life, childhood is life. A child isn’t getting ready to live, a child is living. The child is constantly confronted with the question, “What are you going to be?” Courageous would be the youngster who, looking the adult squarely in the face, would say, I’m not going to be anything; I already am.”
Professor T. Ripaldi
Gordon Neufeld explores the need for two essential ingredients to be given conjointly for attachment and connection: the invitation to exist in one’s presence and invitation for our child to become his own person.
From the time our children are born, they should be seen as an active, respected and contributing part of our world. The invitation to exist in one’s presence (through collecting the eyes, the smile, and the nod) gives the context of connection. Activating this context to greet each other lifts a collective and creates that respected sense of community, both in your family and in the wider community.
“You can’t spoil your child by responding to his authentic needs.”
Miriam Mason Martineau
From an attachment perspective, Noah is moving from the stage of ‘being with’ where his attachment has formed via the reflexes through his senses, to entering a stage of ‘being like’ – where we are beginning to notice that he really is being sculpted from the inside out, based on the values, beliefs and demeanours of those that he is attached to.
I loved reflecting on Gordon Neufeld’s 6 stages of attachment as it allowed me to reflect in more depth on my own childhood. I have always said that age 5 was my favourite age to be; I remember having a real sense of feeling loved and knowing my own place in our family. At this stage, the child gives his/her heart to whoever they are attached to. At the age of 5, I have vivid recollections of falling in love, professing my love and feeling the emotional connection with those who I was attached to.
I continue to be inspired by one of my closest friend’s approaches to parenting as a spiritual practice, as I watch the secure attachment she is building with her two magic children (who are with me in the photo above). Amongst many things, she has an inspiring ‘yes lets!’ approach.
This mother nurtures the individual being and allows her children to be who they are authentically and feel how they feel – whatever that emotion – there is always space for it. She continues to guide them whilst being genuinely curious as to who they are and what they’ve got to teach her as a mother.
One of my fondest memories of her parenting, was from a few months ago when we were in a busy coffee shop and she gave her 4 year old boy a skin to skin tummy cuddle to comfort him. I watched intently as she done a whole roleplay, including going out and re-entering the coffee shop with her son and pretending to be in a time machine, all because he really wanted to start the day all over.
This story is a gentle reminder to me, that each moment is an opportunity to start over, for us as parents and for our children. In this example, the mother is going that extra step when it comes to integrity and surprising her child with her follow-through; literally re-enacting the start of their day (through an imaginary time machine).
This unexpected extra gesture, undoubtedly strengthens the ‘we’ bond of integrity – a surplus gift of showing up for her child in that moment, what a delight for their relationship and for me to witness.
Parenting as a spiritual practice is inviting me to step into awareness, to undo old patterns and shake loose from that which doesn’t belong to our family; it’s inviting me to take deep breaths, to pause, and to ask ‘what would love do?’ and bring a whole new level of consciousness and integrity to our parenting journey with Noah.
Through this course I am learning to ask more and to listen deeper. When I sincerely seek to understand and look closer, I often discover that behind Noah’s eyes, there’s a real and valid reason behind his behaviour. The ongoing practice is around getting behind Noah’s eyes (and all of his other senses) and embodying the mindfulness that requires us to step into our child’s shoes.
The reality is that most of the parenting we do happens when no-one is watching. Kevin and I are still fully embracing Noah’s welcome to the world party. It’s a time of nurturing a strong, secure attachment and nurturing Noah’s deep sense of belonging, through responding to his signals and providing sensitive, consistent and predictable care.
I am practising embodying and enacting integrity with Noah. I am consciously making an effort to model what integrity and reliability look like in action and being attentive to what I promise, no matter how small. Our sacred contract with our children relies on honesty, reliability and trustworthiness. I am choosing to be honest when I say simple things like, “I’ll be one minute.”
In week 3, I am mindfully holding the intention of sprinkling more joy, playfulness, connection, laughter, presence and adventure to the soil in which the roots of the attachment between Noah and I are planted, and I look forward to enjoying the everyday magic that continues to blossom as a result of this.