Something very strange is happening.
I’m sitting in a room with a pair of parents. They came to ask for my help.
She is an eloquent, very intelligent and open woman. He is a charming, enthusiastic, curious and very charismatic man. They are both people who have seen a lot and done a lot and learned a lot in their lives.
What is strange here is the sense of inferiority.
We are talking about their parenting, about their relationships with their lovely children—and the whole time there is an atmosphere of guilt, embarrassment, shrinking. An oppressive heaviness.
What’s going on here? Why is it that every time adults, even the creative and successful among them, deal with their difficulties in parenting, they shrink and close themselves? Why do people who are capable of dealing with challenges at work, in love, in personal development with great self-respect and vitality, turn into shadows of themselves when they discuss their parenting?
I believe that the source of this strange phenomenon is the way we relate to the role that “fell” on us. In some cases our parenting is a very important and difficult task at which we must succeed. In other cases it is a side project, a sort of constant distraction from the successful management of our lives, the main goals of which are to advance, to make money or to develop and actualize ourselves.
This way, the minute a difficulty arises, the minute something goes awry in our relationship with our children, our parenting becomes a sort of punishment. Engaging with these challenges makes us feel shameful, inferior and helpless. It seems that our time and money are being wasted on something that doesn’t even excite us. And if we overcome the difficulty, what will we get from it? The “grand prize” is simply returning to the normal routine. It is clear to us that no significant gain or exciting adventure is expected here, in this room, where we engage with our parenting.
And this word—parenting—in and of itself is a word that is heavy, gray, and far from exciting. Almost like the word mortgage.
In my eyes this is a big mix-up. A deadly mix-up.
Not only can our parenting be the most exciting and emotionally rewarding thing in our lives, not only is it the simplest and deepest way to express who we are and all our wisdom, creativity, inspiration and love of life, but as parents we can, with our own hands, reshape and redesign the world we live in. We can create a new world, just like discovering a new medication or saving the rainforests, only we don’t need great funds, or to go out and protest; in fact we almost don’t even need to leave our homes.
I’m not talking about common slogans like “Family first!” I’m talking about choosing to turn our parenting into our main mission, about the possibility of placing the questions and difficulties and discoveries that arise from our relationships with our children at the center of our consciousness, at the center of our lives. I’m talking about the willingness to relate differently to this field we call “the mother I am” or “the father I am”. To direct all the water there, all the sunlight there, to bring the most fertile soil there, as we always do, naturally, without even trying—when something really excites us.
For many generations men and women have been deceiving themselves that in order to improve our lives, to make them more exciting or safer or enjoyable, we must leave our homes. We have to go somewhere, to join someone, or fight something and then… things will be better. But in fact, right there in our homes, next to the television, or down by our feet, is someone who only wants to listen to us and who yearns to go on an adventure with us. And simply choosing to turn that relationship, everything that is happening between us and our children, into a precise and abundant expression of love—this turns reality upside down, and redirects humanity from its old path to a new one—all this without leaving our homes. All this by choosing to listen and to respond to our children’s deep requests.
During meetings with parents I discover again and again how the relationship between parents and children is inundated with fears. Fears that were reincarnated and amplified from generation to generation turn a relationship that was born out of deep intention and unparalleled devotion to a maze of rigid ideals, hidden interests and a lot of effort, struggle and frustration. That fear is what prevents so many wonderful mothers and fathers from listening to themselves and to what their child is asking of them.
So many times I met people who have already been through a long and difficult journey, who are already self-aware, already attentive to the deep voice within them; who have already dared to leave a job they did not really enjoy, or even left a relationship in which they felt trapped. But when we talk about parenting they still recite the tired old lines they inherited from their parents and teachers: “But what about boundaries?” or “What, give her everything she wants?” or “Listen, the world is a dangerous place, and the child must learn how to deal with it.”
This fear has many faces. Sometimes at first glance it doesn’t look like fear. For example, there is the common tendency to find “the right thing to do” when engaging in parenting or education. The need to know “the right thing to do” also arises from a deep fear of freedom, and from a deep and subconscious need for control. So it happens time and again that parents and educators ask themselves what to do with the children, and to find the right answer we look upward or outward instead of downward and inward. We look upward at the child development expert, or a method or a rabbi or a guru from whom we receive a deep answer, sometimes ancient and sometimes decisive, or we look outward at what is accepted in society and get a comfortable answer that allows us to feel that we belong, to feel that we are “normal”. We look upward and outward, search for “the right thing”, instead of looking downward at the very specific child who is just there, in our lives, with all the answers, and inward into ourselves, into our own intuitive knowledge. Our love for our children is a valuable possession and also a powerful compass. Love—not the worry nor the fear nor the habits of conduct and control. The love with which we began this journey is what allows us to trust ourselves as parents. From it also emerges and grows the possibility of trusting our children. When we allow this love to guide our every step, we achieve the capacity to listen differently—with vitality, creativity and concreteness. This new way of listening allows us to find the answers that heal all challenges, down there and inside us, within the relationship between us and our children. We can sharpen and strengthen this type of listening, to hear what our children are really asking of us, and respond to their deep requests.
And it becomes so simple to listen to their requests, when we are willing to admit that these are also our requests.