My reflections after week 5 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/
In week 5 we have been reflecting on the dynamic art of parenting and the many roles we play as parents. We have explored how we introduce, orient and ready our children for the world and how we introduce in the ever-widening circles of exposure, adventure and nurturing. And in particular, how we do this consciously, supporting their whole self to grow and taking into consideration what they are ready for and supporting integration within this complex world.
The week 5 course material also included a brilliant interview with Dan Siegel, who spoke about the neurological underpinnings of attentive parenting to help our children grow up whole. He touched upon the meaning of ‘spirituality’, concluding that it is about a sense of ‘connectedness’ and ‘deeper meaning’. This exploration arrived at a beautiful time, as I have just arrived home after a beautiful weekend in Lendrick Lodge (http://lendricklodge.com) – my spiritual home – where I trained as a Reiki Practitioner.
I felt deeply emotional introducing Noah to my spiritual home – a sacred place, surrounded by heart, love and healing – and I felt proud to be introducing my son to a place of growth, connectedness and deeper meaning. And I really enjoyed introducing him to other people that understand the choices I am making in how I parent, how I live, my being in the world. This was serendipitous timing, the universe conspired and I feel deep gratitude for this alignment.
“We are our child’s world in their primary years.” Miriam Mason Martineau
I was shocked to be reminded that 90% of children’s learning is through imitation. From birth, babies are like sponges, absorbing and imitating that which they are attached to. Recently people have been telling me how expressive Noah is and as I watch him, I can catch a glimpse of myself, Kevin and others in his ‘village’. He is now imitating more obviously too, reenacting things I say, positions I hold, gentling reminding me that he is always paying attention to how I am in the world.
In our journey of parenting as a spiritual practice, our role is to co-create with our children, a way of being in the world that has an awakened and authentic perspective.
Through exploring the various roles that we step in and out of, and embody as parents, the beautiful and somewhat daunting reality that I have come to understand, is that we teach and pass on to our children, who we are.
This week I have been imagining that everything I say and do might be copied (by Noah) and I have been bringing this into conscious awareness and engaging in the practice of reflecting on what I expose Noah to and who I am as his gatekeeper, guide and model, considering what I would like to continue doing and what I would like to do differently before making conscious choices to enact these.
Conscious parenting involves conscious consideration for what I let in to Noah’s world. I am the gatekeeper. I stand at the front of the (metaphoric) gate and make conscious choices for what gets into Noah’s life – I am proactively protecting him from things he is not yet ready for and allowing in healthy stimulation, growth and learning.
I loved the questions Miriam suggested, of asking ourselves: “Is this healthy food for his mind? Is this nourishing his spirit? Will this help him grow or will it shut him down?” It is our responsibility, as parents and those in our children’s ‘village’ to be attentive to this.
I am Noah’s welcome to the world, his nourishment, stimulation and support. It’s my responsibility to wonder whether things will nourish him and to choose to close the gate to the ‘junk food’ that won’t.
Being the gatekeeper is also about helping our children to gather skills and tools to navigate and discern for themselves as they grow. This involves helping them to integrate experiences as they happen so that they don’t get stuck and can keep growing on and up, and ‘feel the feels’ as I say – connecting with them emotionally first and then integrating experiences through storytelling or roleplay.
For example, taking time to help Noah understand and integrate when he becomes startled after falling over the edge of a rug and landing on the floor; firstly, showing him compassion then pointing out the different surface levels and reenacting the scene for him so that his feelings can be felt and that he is not alone in making sense and integrating what has happened. It’s really that simple. You hear, connect, repair, and integrate.
Conscious parenting also involves introducing my child to the world. I am the guide. I am Noah’s compass – guiding him and orientating him – I am consciously pointing out both the dangers and the beauties of the world and providing him with information, tools and skills (including authenticity, presence, integration, learning, choice).
I have been reflecting more deeply on how we as parents’ are responsible for these initial imprints in our children’s hearts, minds and bodies, and how this is simultaneously presenting opportunity and responsibility.
Week 5 was also focused around the conscious use of language, asking us to be attentive to how language shapes us and for us to make conscious choices to reshape and empower language that may have been passed on to us, ensuring the words we use with our children are useful and accurate, as well as using language that is positive, empowered, constructive, and presents a conscious outlook and experience of life.
One of the practical examples Miriam gave for this was in editing books. Whether that’s editing as I am shopping so that I am choiceful in the stories that I buy or whether I edit as I read, taking out language or concepts that don’t feel right for Noah and I and making it more personal with more empowering language. Miriam also asked us to become more conscious of the language that we speak so that the words we use are informed by our higher self, something I am familiar with in my own Reiki practice.
In a child’s world, the words are the ‘doorways’ to the concepts, experiences, and interpretations of life. The language that we use both expresses and shapes how we think and therefore how our children think.
I am Noah’s first example of being in the world. I am the model. I am his first example of being in relationship with himself and with others. When reflecting on what I currently provide Noah as a model, I had many strengths and many growing edges. The three main things I identified that I want to give more energy to modelling better are: 1) my sense of self-worth 2) being responsive (rather than reactive) with Kevin and 3) letting go of the need for perfection and being ok with ‘good enough’.
Recently I was speaking with a wonderful group of women on my experience of feeling cracked open and in excruciating vulnerability through motherhood. Through this conversation, I discovered that one of my most significant growing edges has been about reaffirming my sense of self-worth and letting go of my previous strive for perfection, acknowledging that ‘done is better than perfect’ and that Noah is my priority. It also reminded me of the recent choices that I have made, the risks that I have taken and the strengths in my conscious choices.
Do what it takes to become who you would like your child to be.
Imagine who you would envision and like your children to become and be that person. Part of this practice is about modeling that we as parents are on a journey and owning up to our imperfections, acknowledging (to ourselves and our children) that this is all practice, that we make mistakes too. We need to teach our children that we learn from mistakes and to look at themselves with compassion, forgiveness and how important it is to keep going is.
In this sense, parenting as a spiritual practice, is an invitation to practice greater self-respect; to model an inspired, open-minded, positive and proactive relationship to life; and to listen to the future potential of me and my child, making conscious choices and enacting these.
Kevin and I explored some of the other roles that we play in Noah’s life. It was lovely to reflect on this as a couple and see how we are encouraging Noah’s wholeness through our different roles. Even though we are both gatekeeper, guide and model on an ongoing basis, it was lovely to see the unique qualities that we are each bringing to this journey. We agreed that my primary roles are nurturer, learner and teacher, and that Kevin’s roles are provider, playmate and encourager.
“Parenting is probably the hardest job in the world, that’s for sure” Dan Siegal
If you haven’t yet stumbled upon Dan Siegal in the world of parenting, I encourage you to stumble upon him. He explores the neurological underpinnings of attentive parenting to help our children grow up as whole and has a term he uses called ‘mindsight’ which reflects our capacity for insights and empathy, increasing wholeness, care and compassion based on research and understanding from neurological science that proves that what we do actually can change the physical structure of our child’s brain. Yes, what WE do as parents can change the physical structure of our child’s brain – no pressure!
He also explains in fascinating depth that is isn’t actually what has happened to you, but that the importance lies in the integration, of how you make sense of what has happened. It about linking the left and right brain and integrating your life experiences. Our mind is relational and embodied and we can use our minds to change our brains.
“Integration made visible is kindness and compassion” Dan Siegal
I particularly loved the idea of turning the sense of burden within challenging situations into a sense of privilege and the process of healing and renewal that this presents for the parent. Siegal spoke of a practice called ‘connect and redirect’ where we are encouraged to pay attention to how our child is, to connect emotionally first and then to make sense of and integrate alongside our child, allowing our child to ‘feel felt’ and for us as parents to view challenges as opportunities to create more integration in our child’s life. I really love this!
When we as parents ask questions and dig deeper, our approach is really a proactive co-creation of resilience and creativity as well as social and emotional intelligence. It’s transforming the perspective from me to we – differentiating and integrating – and finding our own identity within our connectedness.
Last week I was in Edinburgh with Noah and as we were waiting at the traffic lights, I noticed a homeless man sitting on the ground. He had a sign saying he was homeless and hungry and trying to make £16 for a bed in a shelter. I handed the man a £5 note. He barely looked at me. Noah however, began pointing at the man and so I spoke to Noah softly about him (as I would about anyone else he was engaging with). Suddenly, the man’s face lit up, I could see that he felt met, that he felt cared for, acknowledged. I wish I could have captured that presence between a 15 month old baby and a homeless man (with a story), but trust me, it was pure magic! And beyond the magic, during my reflection, I felt really proud to be Noah’s mother and to be modeling care and compassion for another human being.
Never before have I wanted to be my best self with such consciousness as I dance on the edge of great opportunity and responsibility as Noah’s mother – as his gatekeeper, guide, model and much more.