“God be with the mother.
As she carried her child may she carry her soul.
As her child was born, may she give birth and life and form to her own, higher truth.
As she nourished and protected her child may she nourish and protect her inner life and her independence.
For her soul shall be her most painful birth, her most difficult child and the dearest sister to her other children.”
Michael Leunig, from ‘When I Talk to You’
Introduction to Parenting Lightly
Before we begin to explore Parenting Lightly, I want to acknowledge just the fact that you are reading this. Granting permission to see something new is always the first, and most arduous, step and you’ve already taken it. It interests me that often, and paradoxically, we find it most difficult to learn, or receive help, in the areas that matter most to us. We don’t blink at enrolling for a cookery course or subscribing to an entertainment newsletter, but asking for help in being a spouse, or parent, or becoming spiritually mature feels much more exposed and risky, perhaps not only because they are traditionally more private spaces but also because the stakes seem so high. So, strangely, we tend to be more isolated, less receptive and less open to learning in precisely the areas where our highest values may be involved. That’s why I urge you not to take for granted that fact that you are willing to read this and to consider a fundamental re-questioning of the very personal and frighteningly important aspect of your parenting - particularly from someone who’s not holding herself up as having succeeded at it. I’m learning all the time - as we all do for the duration of our parenting journey – but, through the work I do, I have come across some wonderful understandings about the basic nature of parenting that I will offer here.
Who am I?
I am a writer, speaker and teacher on matters of personal and
spiritual growth. In particular, my work is focused on encouraging and
enabling people to choose Joy as a way of being, and my methods are
intuitive, challenging and intimate. I am a mother of two young boys –
Joshua is five and Daniel is three – so, like many like of you, I am
fitting in my passion (this book) between dressing and feeding, reading
stories and (in my case) playing pirate-pirate.
Over the last six years I’ve learnt from thousands of clients in workshops, growth clubs, coaching sessions and readings that the purpose of existence is Joy and that it requires a tremendous amount of courage to live that. I will raise the notion of Joy often in this book though in particular I will focus on how to parent with Joy (as opposed to heaviness, hope or even responsibility).
Where are you parenting from?
In this book I want to look not at how you parent, but at where you
parent from. I want to look at the baseline belief system that governs
your parenting, because all the choices that you make, from nutrition to
routine to discipline, will flow from your deepest beliefs about what it
means to be a parent and your relationship to yourself in that role.
It would be worthwhile to close this book for a few moments and answer these questions:
• What does it mean to me to be a parent?
• What am I expecting of myself in this role?
• What exactly am I responsible for, in relation to my children? Be specific.
• What will tell me I am getting it right?
• What will tell me I am getting it wrong?
For example, does being a parent of a child mean for you that you are responsible for that child? If so, what exactly are you responsible for – that your children live a long life, that they don’t hurt themselves, that they are moral, that they treat people well, that they are healthy, that they are happy? Do you feel that it is your job to produce a good citizen, a mentally well adult, a balanced, independent, intelligent individual? Do you think you can get that right?
It is these, most fundamental, questions, that I don’t see being asked very often. Techniques of parenting are offered to us ad nauseum but we don’t pay much attention to our underlying, often unconscious, philosophy of parenting. This is the level on which we need to focus and where we need to respect ourselves deeply in order to parent practically in a similar way. Simply trying to master disciplinary, teaching or communication techniques that you absorb from experts around you - whether they are friends, parents, or authors - without knowing very clearly your own deep approach to parenting is a considerable waste of effort not to mention a diversion from facing the truth of things.
Parenting Lightly is a book, and an approach, focused singularly on attending to your philosophy of parenting: where you parent from.
The ‘Being Good’ model
The dominant and acceptable parenting model when I was growing up,
and certainly before that, was of trying to raise ‘good’ children.
Father Christmas came to good boys and girls, mothers discussed whether
their children were good babies or not and, as a child, we got the
message loudly and clearly that we would be well-rewarded in every
sphere for being good (which largely meant doing what an adult told you
to do without questioning, and doing it well). The idea that the purpose
of life was to be good in general and to become especially good at
something in particular, was so rife that it wasn’t even noticed let
alone questioned (and sometimes still isn’t). Furthermore, being good
was largely considered our responsibility, not our parents’. In short,
most of the messaging we got was ‘you need to make our experience of you
When we did do that, we were heaped with praise and external reward. When we didn’t, we quickly got labelled as naughty or rebellious and - usually to our detriment, became strongly identified with those labels and presumed that they described our inherent personality
To put it simply: being raised to be good has produced rebellious, under-achieving adults (still trying to displease) or, the opposite and equally sad effect, producing A-type, over-giving adults (still trying to please). A number of therapists owe their livelihood to the fact that many of us were raised with the idea that the highest way to be was good and realised somewhere along the road that this was a limiting, inaccurate and inauthentic way to live. A huge part of my ongoing journey is letting go of trying to please or impress people and instead showing up truthfully, because I was just so well rewarded for being good as a child. On the other hand, other people I know got the message that they were never good enough as children, and they have displayed similar difficulty in setting themselves free into their passions.
The switch from trying to produce good children to trying to produce good parents
It’s less common these days for parents to hope above all else that
they produce good children. I’m relieved to hear people talking with
pride about the fact their kids are original or passionate or quirky.
But what I have also noticed is that it is now the parents who are
completely fraught with anxiety about how to be good, which is perhaps
not all that surprising considering this is how we were raised. There
must be thousands of how-to manuals on parenting that teach you how to
be a good parent from every perspective - stimulation, routine,
nutrition, emotional support, spiritual development and so on. We are no
longer focusing on how to raise good children, but we are obsessed with
trying to be good parents.
And the effect of that approach? As I observe myself and other parents around me I am seeing many of us feeling tired, stressed, worried or quietly (and guiltily) resentful of all we think we have to do to be good parents. In a nutshell, most modern-day parents seem to be heavy, which is the very predictable result of constantly trying to be good.
The Parenting Lightly approach
I would like to present a model that bypasses the notion of good
altogether and instead focuses on Joy. I would be delighted if we could
parent authentically and Joyfully, rather than under the pressure of
trying to be good providers, good listeners, good discipliners, good
cooks, good motivators, good role models – all at the same time! If the
approach of trying to be good didn’t work for raising children then it’s
also not going to work for being parents, and we can in fact expect a
backlash effect, evidence of which you may already see in your own life.
A lot of the parenting that we have become used to, and even what is taught to us, is parenting from ego. This means some or all of the following: parenting in order to produce a desired result in our children, parenting in order to be seen a certain way by our family and by our friends, or parenting from our pain. No matter how well-intentioned, hard-working or controlled we may be, it is the place from which we parent that becomes the result we experience.
If we are going to parent lightly, then it will need to be a version of parenting that is from as little ego as possible. And this focuses on, and certainly demands, a much bigger sort of parent, one who approaches parenting from a sense of their own wholeness and not from a sense of their own lack. To be that kind of parent you will need to be okay with developing high levels of self-trust, vulnerability and internally generated self-esteem.
For that reason, I also recognise that this approach will only be useful to people who are psychologically healthy as well as interested in their own personal growth.
If that sounds like you (ok, let’s make it somewhat psychologically healthy…) and if the idea of parenting with lightness rather than with heaviness sounds like your idea of heaven then let’s move on to the nitty gritty.
How do I parent lightly?
It is of no use to you to take a list of methodologies, activities or
suggestions and try to apply them without first truly giving permission
to orientate yourself towards being a Joyful parent rather than a good
parent. Unless you really want to parent lightly (and believe that that
is the best path for us all), you never will and it’s no use wasting
energy on trying recommended techniques thereof.
That’s why this book does not offer suggestions on discipline, routine, stimulation or any other facet of day-to-day parenting. Once you know and respect your own parenting philosophy (which you can determine by answering the five questions above) you will be more than equipped to negotiate that terrain yourself.
Instead, this book will share the Five Pillars of Parenting Lightly. These are five ideas to absorb, make peace with and allow into your life, if light parenting is the way you wish to follow.
The Five Pillars of Parenting Lightly are:
1. You cannot get parenting right
2. You are not in charge of your children and how they turn out
3. Children absorb you, not what you teach them or give them
4. The greatest gift you can give your child is your Joy
5. Your primary responsibility is to grow yourself, not your child
Each of the subsequent chapters will explore one of these pillars in greater depth and give you the chance to let go of any heaviness you are carrying in relation to being a parent. If you can feel good about your fundamental approach to parenting, that positive mood will necessarily spill over into the practical details of your life with your children.
If you are interested in purchasing the complete Parenting Lightly eBook please use this link.
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