My reflections after week 4 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 ongoing practice of how we can meet our children as fully as possible, supporting them to dance into their full potential. Through core practices we have been learning how to discover, know and support who our children are and who they are becoming – and acknowledging that whilst they are made up of aspects of ourselves (as their parents), they are their own being.
Parenting as a spiritual practice is an invitation to stand at the edge of the unknown. This unknown is a place of growth and development for both the child and the parents. As Miriam so eloquently says, it’s about: “learning to dance in the rain rather than waiting for the storm to pass.”
Shortly after we celebrated Noah’s first birthday, I began to become more aware of the ongoing, unfolding question of ‘who are you Noah?’ becoming more prominent in my day-to-day life. Our role as Noah’s parents is to ask, to listen, to care and to meet him with fresh curiosity, and to be open to discovering him every day as he grows in self-awareness.
My darling Noah, who are you? You may be little but you are complete with heart, mind, vulnerabilities and strengths. In this first year of motherhood, I have been cracked open to a degree that I would never have been able to imagine without you here, teaching me. Your arrival has been a call to grow up to help you grow up. You are increasing my wholeness, my consciousness, my being in the world. You arrived here full of spirit, and in this moment of soul to soul connection – between mama and baba – I have the unique opportunity to see and connect with your true self, whilst you begin to make sense of who you are in this world.
This week’s coursework has been a gentle reminder to continue with one of my favourite practices, of getting behind the eyes of my child: seeing the world through Noah’s eyes, feeling the world through Noah’s heart, hearing the world through Noah’s ears, experiencing the world through Noah’s body and understanding the world through Noah’s mind.
When I suspend my own subjective views and experiences of the world and tap into my intuition and imagination to walk in Noah’s shoes for a bit, I am able to more fully meet him. I continue to be inspired by the insight, compassion and depth that I am met with when I engage in this practice.
Noah was recently adventuring with me outside in the Lews Castle Grounds (on the Isle of Lewis, in Scotland) and it was time for us to go home. My husband Kevin had pulled up in the car to take us back but Noah was engrossed in communicating with a nearby crow and he wasn’t yet ready to leave. What I should have done was offer more time for him to say goodbye to the crow and get into the car in his own time. The situation didn’t unfold exactly like this unfortunately (we all get it wrong sometimes), however once Kevin took him out of the car again and met Noah on his level, taking his perspective and sourcing deep compassion and patience within him, Noah was much more willing to go into the car (once he was ready).
Many people don’t know that a child’s ability to process and integrate is 10 – 15 times slower than adults, therefore it’s no wonder that we all need to slow down and get to our child’s level and allow them to buy a bit of time to process and integrate.
When I follow my child’s invitation, I catch a glimpse of the world through his perspective, I experience a kind of magic and wonder that I’ve never experienced before. We were on another outdoor adventure recently and I was reminiscing with Kevin about my childhood when my brother, sister and I would go bramble picking and my mum would make the most delicious bramble and apple pie.
There were wild brambles all around us and so I began picking some, something quite familiar for me. Noah began delighting in these little edibles treats that could come off the brushes that were all around us; his eyes lit up and he began requesting handfuls and soon his face and hands were stained in their purple juice – simple, precious memories and for Noah, a truly fascinating discovery!
I really love catching a glimpse of the world through a child’s eyes. It still makes me giggle thinking back to my pregnancy when my nephew, Lewis was 4 and my niece, Mya was 2. They would ask me all sorts of things about my changing body and the growing baby. After Lewis asking why my breasts were getting so big, I explained that my body was preparing milk for the baby and he asked me if I had a bottle inside each of my breasts… he had been bottle fed and this was his understanding of milk and it still makes me laugh recalling this conversation. Mya also asked me if I made the baby out of playdough and put it in my tummy to grow. Seeing how things might look from a child’s perspective can make us more attentive to how we communicate and interact with children, as well as touching us and making us smile with their delightful imagination.
I loved the metaphor shared in this week’s practice of ‘making time to watch our garden grow,’ where we have been encouraged to take time to breathe in and fully appreciate the beauty of our children through observing them, seeing them, appreciating them and letting them be. This encouragement of consciously not interrupting children when they’re engrossed in self-regulated moments makes for opportunities to observe precious moments of self-development.
This week I have been watching, witnessing and wondering, then noticing things that I have never noticed before. I am then able to watch as Noah responds to seeing me delighting in him, and I experience his sense of being fully seen.
I have been really enjoying the development of Noah’s signs and communication skills recently and I am feeling proud of hearing what he is saying, before he has words. I had discovered the ‘Baby Signs’ book after being signposted from this course last year and have felt intuitively drawn to communicating with Noah in this way, feeling like I am able to meet him more fully by doing so.
This part of parenting comes easily to me, in terms of gathering knowledge and insight through studying. I’ve grown up in a system where ‘lifelong learning’ is acknowledged and encouraged and therefore I naturally read, research and make use of the insights available to me. There are other aspects of this week’s core practices that require more conscious investment from me though, presence for example.
So this week I’ve been proactively inviting more presence into my relationship with Noah. I have created specific time for watching, witnessing and wondering and other times for engaging and playing – all based on Noah’s invitations. I’ve invited myself to leave my phone in another room (as I often find myself delighting in taking his photo) and leaving all other distractions, just making the choice and taking the time to be present and allowing this presence to inform my interactions.
“Being fully with and seeing if any doing arises from this.” Miriam Mason Martineau
Presence is a rare gift in our busy world; putting away our ‘could’ and ‘should’ thoughts and just being is a real gift to our children. Having that beautiful ‘yes lets’ approach when your child is inviting you to do something and to listen with your whole body and being; listening through and around the communication, softening your gaze and looking for what emerges in the moment, what is spontaneously inspired and the truly precious moments of soul-to-soul connection that emerge as a result.
Through bringing more awareness to my parenting, I’ve actually been able to ease up on myself a bit too and notice things that I might not have previously. For example, it doesn’t matter what kind of night that I have had with Noah (because most of them are very sleep-deprived for me at the moment) but whenever Noah sits up beside me in bed in the morning and makes a noise (to tell me he is awake), I open my eyes, put on my best smile and say ‘good morning’ and give him a big kiss.
“It’s in the present moment that relationship happens.” Miriam Mason Martineau
Beginning my day as parent with presence, joy, connection and awareness, as well as gratitude for what I have is fundamentally shaping my relationship and interactions with Noah (and the rest of the world) for the rest of the day.
In this week’s course material, it included an interview with Michael Gurian who explores that if the nurture of a child happens in relation to the child’s core nature, there is quite a significant sense of self developing. I was particularly interested in his discussion of the ‘roles of father’ and the deep understanding of the values that each individual family member has and why this is absolutely necessary for our children.
In my own parenting experience, often I have found myself feeling stretched and in conflict with Kevin about ‘my way’ and ‘his way’ and this course has enabled me to understand that there is no right way, that both our roles and approaches are supportive for Noah’s growing sense of self (providing our core values are the same).
Michael Gurian spoke about fathers’ having a tendency to physically interact with children differently (usually through quicker bursts) whereas mothers’ tend to do more of the long-term holding. He spoke of this in the context of how children often build more independence through their fathers as they tend to do less for them, whereas the oxytoxin (the love hormone) present within a mother means that mothers can often be seen to be doing much more for their children.
Gurian’s point is that the maternal and paternal nurturance together, create this beautiful well nurtured core child and that the assets (and indeed differences) between the maternal and paternal are very much needed – the support and the challenge. This week I’ve been shown how Noah takes much more risks when Kevin is there and encouraging him to do so. I was shocked into this realisation watching a video of my 15 month old baby going down a very big slide on his own – and really enjoying it! Kevin encourages Noah to take greater risks, which I love!
Engaging consciously in supporting our child’s developing self-sense means we have to consider how we meet our child, hold our child, comfort our child and whether our child is offered opportunities to touch, taste, explore and absorb. Through our every interaction, through how we treat them, and what we model for them, we are informing their emerging self-sense hence why it is so important to be consistent, to model respect, integrity and let your child know what is happening – these all strengthen your child’s self-respect and support you to co-create his self-sense.
I feel like this week has been a real opportunity to ‘walk the talk’. I’ve really enjoyed reflecting on how I am putting my parenting as a spiritual practice into our everyday life. I also feel like I am stepping into a more conscious (and confident) place of parenting alongside Kevin, acknowledging our strengths and our differences and respecting our equally important roles in Noah’s life. Most importantly, I feel like Noah is really delighting in being offered more presence and the invitation to simply be.