The only thing that can ever make anything complicated is the way we think about it, approach it, dream it. We make meaning of everything, and in doing so, we create the world around us. It looks like it is the other way around, but indeed, we are authors of our own lives, and no one can take that power away from us.
It is all a matter of choice.
Simple parenting is a choice.
Like any writer, we borrow from convention, trying on other people’s stories to see how they feel on our own skin, but we bring each pen stroke to life all by ourselves in our own authentic way. By choosing to live it.
One need look no further than the practice of parenting across cultures to see how invented our family life is. If you are Balinese, Brazilian, or British, the chances are you have grown up around certain notions of childhood and family, which differ to those held elsewhere in the world.
If you were a member of the Beng, living on the Ivory Coast of Africa, then you would likely believe your child to be a reincarnation of an ancestor. Your baby would have been drawn direct from Wrugbe, the Beng land of the dead, into a new life. You would wash your newborn with special black soap, reserved only for use on babies and dead bodies, the two groups inherently connected in your mind. You would need to persuade your little one into this new life of theirs and prevent them from returning to Wrugbe, which, after all, would be a more natural environment for them.You might prioritise buying them a cowry shell bracelet to protect them from illness and bad spirits.
For more about the Beng, and childrearing practices in different societies, see ‘A World Of Babies’ by DeLoache and Gottlieb, Cambridge Uni Press.
Common beliefs about parenting from our own stomping grounds cover the accepted practices for responsible care-giving and child-rearing. Some examples that come to mind are:
- Parenting is the hardest and most rewarding activity you will ever do,
- Struggle is bad for you and therefore should be eliminated from parenting,
- Children’s upbringings need to be carefully managed according to what scientific evidence indicates,
- Parent and child relationships are very complicated,
- We must prevent our children from becoming vulnerable to the world,
- We must protect the world from our children and their chaos,
- Having a child means you should stop doing a lot of other stuff, like sleeping, working, going out in the evening, and travelling,
- Experts are better qualified than us in the field of childrearing, and therefore are the best people to decide how our child needs to be raised,
- The best way to promote rest is that children should go to bed early, at which point their parents have free time as a couple or as individuals,
- Parenting is not relaxing. EVER.
Do you find yourself nodding along at all? Do you recognise these notions? In my personal and subjective experience, they are often presented as the real truth about bringing up children.
Hang on though, because THIS IS ALL MADE UP CULTURE STUFF.
We can do better than the cultural equivalent of Dan Brown.
We are not the victims of circumstance. We are the authors of our lives.
Even when you feel like Lord of the Flies has nothing on one of your average family outings, and you wonder if you are The Heart of Darkness to everyone else’s Swiss Family Robinson…..
No, no, no.
I cannot speak for you, but this is what looks real to me right now:
- Parenting is a social construct which suggests an active role on the part of mum and dad when engaging in a relationship with their offspring. It neither MUST be hard nor rewarding.
- Struggle is a natural part of growth, and indicates that either a) growth is about to happen or b) consciousness is low and self-care is needed. Struggle need not be synonymous with chronic stress and anxiety. It only becomes so when people fall victim to the idea that no form of discomfort is OK in life, and/or people are not able to access appropriate support, and/or high levels of stress and anxiety become accepted as normal in that culture.
- Scientific evidence provides a patchy, yet valuable, resource of information for parents to make use of in their decision making, should they wish it, including the level of involvement parents should expect to have in their child’s development. However, any given piece of research informs practice best where it has been well-evaluated with a particular context in mind.
- Parent and child relationships are extremely simple. There is a mother or father and a child who interact with one another. Complications arise through the layers of thought that they create about one another. In this, adults are at a disadvantage due to their well-developed egos, inner autobiographers, and long, long memories. Not to mention, whatever beliefs and personal stories they have picked up from their own childhood.
- Like it or not, we inhabit a vulnerable physical place in the natural order of things, and we are not bullet proof, disease proof, shatter proof, or shock proof. There is only so much we can do about this. However, we are also resilient, with many innate gifts and abilities. The best way to access these inner resources is to try them out in a variety of contexts and manners of our choosing. Though children need to be kept from running into speeding traffic or launching themselves lemming style over balconies, they also need to experience failure, loss, mistakes, and difficulty.
- Children may be noisy, vigorous, curious, honest, and insatiable, which goes against social convention at times. It seems fair to expect that people should try to respect one another, as far as they are able, whether they are teeny weeny or big and grown up. However, we are built for social flexibility and negotiation which helps us figure out lots and lots of ways to interact. Therefore, we are quite capable of flexing those cultural muscles if caught off guard by an enterprising youngling. The best teacher of respectful behaviour is demonstrating by example, rather than getting all bent out of shape for fear of breaching decorum.
- Having a small person in tow does indicate that lifestyle will not be the same as without one. However, there are many, many forms that the lifestyle can take. Though change is an inevitable fact of life, there is no foregone conclusion that specific limits apply to families in terms of whether, when, and where people work, sleep, play, travel. Many parents do feel exhausted and limited, but it is more to do with being in modern Western society, plus having children, rather than a natural consequence of parenthood. Rigid beliefs about how family life should look which do not take into account everyone else’s view in that family can also lead to self-imposed limitations.
- Every person on this earth is unique, with their own physical form and their own version of reality. This means that understanding how to raise your child relies more on ability to understand your child than anything else. There can be no one size fits all techniques or tricks, and no formula which comes close to simply listening with great care and respect to a) your child and b) your common sense.
- In our packaged and managed, time-obsessed society, it is natural to want to package and manage chunks of time. However, experience is often much, much too messy for this. When attempting to manage how a group of people spend all their time, there are bound to be clashes, disagreements of expectation, misunderstandings, and differing needs. Also, people’s needs for solitude, company, leisure, play, or work, are not uniform, and do not conform to a set timetable. Too often people are not encouraged to respond to their actual needs, but rather to a clock or schedule. Though rhythm and routine are shown to have a calming effect on our physiology, whatever convention dictates in terms of when and how life happens can be totally off the mark. That is before you even introduce the question of what is practical, which can further influence who does what, how, and when.
- Parenting does not need to be hectic all the time, and there is such a thing as downtime with children, as well as without them. Everyone needs a bit of R and R during the day, especially small, growing, beings. What prevents parents from relaxing, much of the time, are minds which are too switched on and overstimulated to be present during these moments, or to recognise that quietude is an option. Most of all, looms a never-ending list of tasks that must be done before relaxation is permissible, which is the real rest-killer. Finding little, quiet windows is trickier when caring for multiple children, or a single child who is especially lively for whatever reason, but even so, half the battle is slowing down to a mellow mental pace, as and when an opportunity for respite occurs (however brief it may be).
The bedrock of our society is CHOICE, and yet all too often we forget that we have the power to write our own lives like never before. Instead we say, ‘Ah yes, we were once young, carefree souls, but now we have kids so’………
…..and then we tail off in despondent resignation.
INSERT HEAVY PAUSE
(Because, having spawned, and brought tiny humans into the world our own desires, our own needs, our own happiness is somehow shelved)
And we look back on nostalgic visions of childhood where the celebrations and wonderments, the big and small experiences, were always NOW and there was a magical sense of CONNECTION. A time when there were no details to worry about, and no forms to fill in, and no need to feel weighed down. We were so free.
Then we say ‘but that is what CHILDHOOD is like, and that reminds me, we have to provide this incredible, rich, textured experience to our own little ones, and gosh, what hard work it is’.
But we also have to make sure they do well in school. They have to learn to do calculus, or speak Mandarin, or score goals, or play the oboe. And we have to make sure they have a successful career and that they get to be happy because they can get all the material goods they could ever require, plus spiritual fulfilment, emotional health, and whole-brain heartfulness.
At some point we might start looking for a set of magic techniques to take care of all this.
Then we see that we need to do all these things for ourselves too, in order to be enough, and to be happy, and that now we have to do it ON TOP OF parenting. If we don’t then we are setting a terrible example, and our children are doomed.
You see now, what a complicated burden parenting is.
However, this reasoning ignores the glaring fact that IT IS ALL 100% FABRICATED.
The only thing that parenting needs to be is a connection between you and your child that is grounded in the present moment. A connection through which you attempt to understand them and to do what is best to help them grow. It is that simple. All good decisions and feelings and experiences will flow, natural as rainfall, from that connection.
There are so many choices. Bold choices, timid choices, creative choices, wise, foolish, and wacky choices.
The rest is just generic, made up, dime-a-dozen culture stuff.
What are you making up today? Is it necessary? Is it beautiful?
Treat your obligations like furnishing your dream house. Does it make sense to you? Does to bring you pleasure?
Then choose, choose, choose. And remember that you chose, so that you can unchoose it should you so wish.
What do you choose, you Mamajestic lovelies? Tell me what matters most to you.
What would you choose over and again?
What could you unchoose to make your parenting more simple?
Come share your thoughts in the Mamajestic Facebook Group.
With lots and lots of squishy love,
PS You can read more about parenting and connection at the Three Principles For Families Centre Site