Friday, June 24, 2005

The Universe of Parenting

Recently a young friend who has been enjoying the past 9 months immensely since the birth of her first child, was upset because she’s not so happy anymore. Her friends don’t have babies and are talking about the advances they’re making in their careers and she’s just looking after her toddler. She’s wondering about her own career and her ability to earn money. Her partner is now returning to work because their funds are running low and she feels that she should be moving ‘out there’ into the workforce with him. She’s not so comfortable with just sitting back and letting someone else earn money on her behalf. She’s worked all her life to support herself.

There are so many issues to consider here and I don’t plan to cover all of them today. Perhaps you could follow up with your own response? . Let’s see if we come up with a similar list: What is a career? What’s so hard about being supported financially by a partner? Isn’t she also supporting her partner by caring for their child? What could be more important than effective, intelligent, parenting when there’s a child in the house? This is only one phase in the rest of her life.

My first response is to look closely at the role of parenting. This to me is the most important job in the world. It is up to me as a parent to sculpt the attitudes and habits of our children so that as adults they will live a life that has respect for themselves and all things. ‘Respect for themselves and all things’ - is putting it very simply yet is the underlying fact that will shape their thoughts and actions. I know how I want this world to be ideally and I live it within my own family and community as close to my beliefs as I can. I’m not going to leave this sculpting job to someone I don’t know so well!

The success of a sculpture comes from knowing the raw materials one is working with and having a vested interest in the end result. [ The analogy falls apart here because I believe that there is no end result with the shaping of a human being. If we choose to live with awareness then we are constantly evolving.] Who better than the conscious parent has access to and will use their intimate knowledge of the nature of themselves and their child to bring out the very best in themselves and their child?

Parenting does not have to be a thankless job that deadens the brain, robs us of our youth and drains the finances. If parenting can be done with intelligence and awareness, then it presents opportunities to study anything you choose but maybe not in the way you imagined. Effective parenting requires the blend of the use of the head and the heart. It can be done in isolation or in company, it can be done with a tight budget or with extravagance. The work place is anywhere the parent and child choose. For me, parenting has expanded my horizons beyond my dreams. There are some dreams that have been fulfilled in a way different from what I expected; there are some dreams that are still in the making and some dreams that I hadn’t even been aware of.

Parenting requires a stamina and fitness beyond no other job. It’s 24/7 for very close to forever. Everything about it is challenging and in the grand scheme of things it’s requirements change. To coin Barry Long¹, “Most adults have deep personal doubts, fears and insecurities arising from their own childhood. Very few know what life’s about. Ignorance abounds. Moodiness and worry are accepted as natural. Emotional manipulation of each other is the normal practice and the selfish right to be resentful, angry and unpleasant is exercised regularly, even with loved ones. No one can be joyous for long. The sorrows and hurts of the past soon rise up again; anxiety, self-doubt, guilt or depression quickly follow. Yet most of this emotional pain and suffering is unnecessary. It is self –made, the habit of it originating and persisting from the childhood years, mainly through lack of parental guidance and instruction.” ¹Raising Children in Love, Justice and Truth.

If one has the luxury to take on parenting as their main job, then there are many degrees of learning to be explored. Apart from the opportunity to explore the emotional, feeling world more closely, there’s the study of nutrition, time management, budgeting and any other subject that comes through the family members’ interests. The home is a universe. If one can juggle and perform at their highest standard with matters that come up through parenting, then one can handle anything in the wider world. Home is the platform.

My friend’s time at home with her child will not be wasted. When she comes out of this phase of her life, provided she lives it with intelligence and awareness*¹, she will have refined and developed numerous new and old skills that will see her well placed in anything she chooses to do in the wider world. [*¹ Such as continually assessing the needs of herself, her child and family, thinking and questioning lifestyles and roles such as that of mothers, fathers, children, work and play.]

Still, having passed through the period of parenting toddlers, I do acknowledge that there are many frustrations to be felt and worked through. There were many times when I wanted to be doing something other than playing in the sandpit with the two year old after having spent an hour of reading storybooks together, eating, cleaning up and singing beautiful nursery rhymes. Surely, after three hours of dedicated play and service to the toddler I could be allowed to be distracted by an interest that didn’t involve the toddler? But no … there were many days when I felt bound by the monotony, frustration and then the guilt. However, many older women often told me that it wouldn’t always be like that. Nothing stays the same and then you find yourself wishing you’d spent more time enjoying the moments. See the cycle in life, the bigger picture, the golden opportunities that are often hidden by our preconceptions and preoccupations. If I could have my time again, I would definitely make more space for myself and for my partner and myself together.

© Grace Chapman.