FROM THE BEGINNING
If you’ve started reading this book, apparently you were born. And if you were born, this means you have parents. One or two. Living or dead.
You may choose not to be a mother. Maybe you’ve already chosen not to be a father. Maybe you’ll want to raise children in an unconventional way: alone, in a community, or as a single-sex couple. Maybe the abundance
of creativity and giving in your life doesn’t leave room for real flesh and blood children, and that’s also great, but parenting (this strange word), the relationship between a mother or father and their children, is relevant to
you because that’s what created you.
For the first thirty years of my life, I didn’t find the parenting issue interesting. Like many cleverer and more experienced people, I thought that parenting was a stage that should be skipped or passed through on the
way to the really important stuff.
But now, as I give my book to you with trembling hands (they are no longer as steady as they used to be), I’m convinced that not only is it fascinating, it’s the most important thing there is.
I write these words in a little room like a dusky womb, with mud-colored walls and a big window through which I can see red and white hibiscuses. This is where I meet, every day, with all kinds of people of all ages who want me, of all people, to accompany them as they grow.
Most of them come here after a great difficulty in their lives. They open themselves to renewal after having been deeply shattered. Together, over the past eighteen years, we have removed layer after layer of the mystery
In one short question, the mystery can be defined as how can such good intentions create such great destruction?
In this book I bring a fresh point of view to the relationship between children and their parents. It’s not a book on education or a book with clever suggestions on how to behave the right way with children.
In this book I want to enable both new and not-so-new parents to stand tall and proud, to understand and feel the wonder of human creation that has been entrusted to them and the magic and generosity that goes along with the choice to be a mother or a father.
Because when we talk about parenting, we are actually talking about the workshop where humanity is created.
It hurts to see that in most families, even after more than 120 years of Western psychology, parenting is still, at best, a casual sequence of actions and, at worst, a miserable and burdensome task. Keen observation and a willingness to see what’s really going on between children and their parents allows parenting to become what it was really intended to be: a wide gateway through which love flows from those who have been here somewhat longer (the parents) to the newcomers (the children). And I do not use the word “love” casually; in my eyes this simple word has a clear meaning that can be applied in every relationship.
As I see it, loving someone means giving them what they are really asking for.
Not what is correct.
Not what is convenient.
Not what is acceptable.
Not what will make them love you or need you…
What They Are Really Asking For
This cannot be taken for granted. In most families, it’s not understood at all. Even today, in a world of personal freedom, material abundance, and endless opportunities for self-expression, so many people are still searching obsessively for appreciation. They are lonely, estranged from themselves and their loved ones, constantly stressed, and afraid of the future. One of the main reasons is that, despite all the personal freedom and material abundance that we have gained in recent generations, most parents still do not hear what their children are really asking of them. For thousands of years, they have been giving their children—like a complicated key that doesn’t open any door—what’s “right.” Their fears that have turned into
ideologies, their unsatisfied needs, their habits, the social codes by which they were raised, or the spiritual doctrines they follow. Everything except what their children are really asking for.
Did your parents listen to you? Was the love I am talking about, the love that enables us to listen and hear exactly what our son or daughter is asking for, the love you received? Is this the kind of love you would like to give your children?
I needed many years of denial and many more years of acceptance and learning to understand that, for me, there is no other kind of love. That I don’t want to give my girls anything other than what they are really asking for. This book grew out of learning and listening to my daughters and the children of the people who asked for my help and to the child inside of
me who, at the age of fifty-one, is still tugging at my sleeve, demanding to show me that my choices often give him what seems to be good at that moment, not what he’s really asking for.
Saturday Morning, I’m sitting next to my youngest daughter’s bed. She is three and a half. It’s almost eight in the morning, and everyone is sleeping except me. Today there’s no rush. I watch her wake up. She murmurs, her eyes closed, and turns over. In another room, the two other girls turn over in bed.
I look at her and suddenly realize that nobody ever watched me like this. In the kibbutz where I was born and grew up, I awoke in the morning and went to sleep at night completely alone. If there was someone in charge, she went from bed to bed, checking and issuing instructions–there was no personal attention. When I was three and a half, no one in the world had
any idea what I looked like when I woke up or fell asleep.
No one knew how my mother or father woke up either. They were also raised in a kibbutz children’s house (an orphanage, as my daughters call it).
So tell me, how can we explain the fact that my parents cast me into exactly the same loneliness, the same emotional desert where they almost died of thirst?
How could they do this?
How is it that, again and again—despite many changes in the setting and all the progress and learning from one generation to the next—parents let their children experience the same suffering that they experienced with their parents? People who, as children, suffered from their parents’ constant judgment repeatedly judge their children, forcing them to experience the
same frustration and sense of worthlessness they experienced. People who, as children, never felt free to express their feelings grow up and turn into parents who teach their children that anger, despair, and hatred are “negative emotions” that have no place in their home. People whose parents abandoned them for the sake of their social or spiritual ideals abandon their children, every day, for the sake of “new” ideas.
A simple everyday example is the conventional educational system.
How can people who suffered, at school, from loneliness, deep and continuous boredom, systematic suppression of their creativity, and feelings of worthlessness and emotional suffocation send their beloved, cherished children to school each morning, knowing that—despite computers, the internet, and elective classes— schools are still run according to the same
basic beliefs as the schools of their own childhood?
How could this happen? Why do all kinds of parents insist on feeding their children the same emotional and mental nourishment their parents fed them which, in the best of cases, failed to sustain them and, in the worst of cases, actually poisoned them?
I believe answering this question is critical for anyone who wants their children to live only with love. It is essential for everyone who is willing to give themselves complete freedom to get beyond the fears and thought patterns with which they were raised. This is the question I want to answer in this book.
Another goal of the book is to suggest a new way of listening to our children and to ourselves, a way that unravels this cycle of destruction.
This enables us to give something completely different to our children:
a home where freedom of choice, honesty, and tangible love are the only
basis for relationships within the family.
I was born and raised in a culture where emotional abuse of children was the norm. There are, of course, many other cultures like this. What may have been unique about the abusive culture in kibbutz society fifty years ago is that this abuse was a source of pride and an ideological pillar of the kibbutz in those years. In this book I do not intend to discuss communal education beyond explaining the parenting philosophy with which I was
My parents, like all parents in the kibbutz, left me, at the age of three weeks, to sleep in a house a quarter of a mile from their “room,” with dozens of abandoned babies, under the supervision of the kibbutz member who was on duty that week. They called her “the night watcher.” Whenever I woke up crying in the middle of the night, as most babies do in their first years, I was met with an unfamiliar face that changed every week.
I was ill almost constantly during my first year of life. The asthma attacks began when I was about one year old. I know that, for my mother, I was very precious and my coming into her life was a great gift. I also know that the way my parents chose to live implanted in me a deep feeling of vulnerability and irreparable loneliness. This is reflected in my eyes in all my childhood photos.
To the experience of communal sleeping was added life in the children’s house—five toddlers, and later fifteen children, moved as one mass from place to place. In the children’s house, not a single toy was my own. There was also no opportunity for privacy. Just as siblings may have completely different experiences, despite having the same parents, everyone who spent their childhood in a kibbutz children’s house was damaged in a different way and to a different extent. What I remember
is a constant sense of loneliness. I felt nobody knew who I was and what I was feeling. I remember feeling ashamed of my body, having difficulty joining the power struggles among the other boys, and hiding a sense of inferiority under my confident, arrogant, and successful exterior.
My parents were very young people who had been born and had grown up on the kibbutz. When I was seven, my father, who had dreamed of being an artist in his youth, abandoned art and studied to be a film director. Even then—unlike most of the young people around him—he found opportunities to express his uniqueness. What was he thinking, letting me grow up in an environment that crushed independent thought?
At the age of eight, I began to wake at night with nightmares. My mother always had a special talent for taking care of children with emotional difficulties. What was she thinking when, instead of taking me to sleep with her, in her home, she agreed to cooperate with the education committee who, in order to support me through my nightmares, decided to organize a rotation of kibbutz members who would sleep in a field cot next to my bed? (This strategy was considered enlightened and revolutionary in the kibbutz in those days.)
Until I was about twenty-five, I kept telling myself and others about the green expanses and free and happy children who lived without adults and how wonderful it was to sneak out at night, in pajamas, walk single file through the bushes, and hide behind a wall so we could gaze at the giant screen on which adults watched movies on Tuesdays.
The story about the boy who did not want to sneak out to the adult movies, but left his bed for the cold so he would not be teased for cowardice, was one I did not even tell myself. And I did not recall the story of my loneliness within the mass of children, where no one was my friend and no one in the world knew that I had no friends, until my oldest daughter started school.
When I was twelve, I kept a diary for my thoughts. I hid it under my mattress in the children’s house. Then I thought death was the greatest enemy, and I wrote, in my diary, that when I grew up I’d become a scientist and discover the secret of life and death. This is the “humble” role I took upon myself: to save humanity. As a boy and later, as a young man, I truly thought that I could save people. In all my conversations with friends and strangers, I tried to help them see. Again and again I listened and devoted myself to saving them from despair, from lack of faith in themselves, from destructive relationships, from prison, from drugs, and from hospitalization.
I’m just fine. I compose and study music, teach classical music appreciation, and write music for the theater. It was only when I was almost thirty that I finally realized that the one who needed saving was me. I was living a stressful, joyless life, clinging to the misery of others to feel important and to give meaning to my life. In fact I was dragging myself from home to the university and back, sad and despairing. I felt I was a complete failure as a composer, that time was passing and I had not written a single meaningful creation, and that I hadn’t even managed to make an impression in class. When I agreed to acknowledge the truth, I also agreed to collapse, to be weak. I dared to ask for help. I received it generously from friends, teachers, and the excellent therapists I asked for assistance. In those years Orit, my wife, was my inspiration for freedom of thought through her daring and her accuracy. Tzela Piran Karni is a special teacher and therapist. It is thanks to her that I became a teacher and
later a therapist. The process I went through under her guidance gradually changed me from a victimized boy, hiding at home behind firm opinions and the illusory aura of a musician with potential, into a man who trusts his inner self and is willing to meet others and give himself, his entire self, to the world, even when it seems extremely dangerous. I was forced to learn new things about myself and let go of the total control and intellectual arrogance in which I was imprisoned. Quite some time passed, and there were many failed attempts and several years of confusion and helplessness.
I agreed to dare to meet others from a new place inside myself, a place of innocence, more humane and less critical. I quit being a musician and, with the support and inspiration of teachers and friends, I began to discover my own path to support, healing, and providing inspiration.
The picture started to become clear. More and more people chose to come learn with me in the workshops and courses I created, and later they also asked me to be their therapist. By the time our eldest daughter, Noam, was about to come into the world, I already felt I knew more or less “how things work.” I understood that one who saves does not heal. I also understood that when I thought I knew what was “right” for someone else I was, in fact, closed, self-absorbed, and unable, at that moment, to really love them. When I say, “I got it,” it may sound easy, but in fact these realizations shook me up completely, because they entirely contradicted who I had been until now and the worldview I had grown up with.
During that period, almost twenty years ago, I studied with Tzela, and she introduced me to the concept of the Seven Chakras, a concept that actually encompasses every sphere of human existence. I was fascinated by the idea that every stratum of human existence could be encompassed by such a simple, and, in my view, intuitive structure. Later this approach greatly influenced my attitude toward everything beyond the material realm (I try to avoid the word “spiritual”—nowadays most of its meanings are very far from me and my life.) and my attitude toward how people grow and take responsibility for their lives.
When I started, several years later, to focus on relationships between parents and their children, I called it “the seven requests.” In fact, I shifted the emphasis from the dialogue people have with themselves and with the world—through the seven chakras—to the hidden dialogue in which children ask their parents to respond to them—through the seven requests.