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Nature, Nurture, and the Perils of Parenting

Parenting. In one way or another, pretty much everyone has an opinion on parenting. Even those who do not have children. Even those for whom the very idea of swooning over teeny tiny toesy-wosies or the cherished mentoring of an adult-challenged homunculus is alien, if not curiously repugnant. For some strange reason, the thought of adding to an already overpopulated planet, the growing strain upon natural resources, years of sleepless nights, a hemorrhaging bank account, and kissing goodbye to any semblance of a social life is really unappealing for some folks, yet even they will harbor opinions.

On the other hand, some parents actually love children and may even want to do a good job of raising them. Many will inevitably look to any of the plethora of books that innumerable authors have skillfully penned from their fields of expertise. The latest psychology-inspired insights will surely be a bestseller, not least because, like death and taxes, the onslaught of wave after exponential tsunami wave of new human life is one guarantee we appear to have as a species.

Is this article going to be yet more expert advice to add to this Tower of Babel-sized soapbox? Maybe . . . having created some mini-humans of my own, naturally I, too, am now an expert!

My homunculi are basically all taller than me now, and I’m 5’ 7” (170 centimeters). Of course, I’m not actually an expert, nor am I anywhere near a perfect parent. I can only go on the success of my children as they are now all embarked on grownup-ing. No one’s perfect and naturally I am suitably biased, but the feedback from the outside world has been pretty good. They are bright, self-reflecting, compassionate people who all work smart and bring love, kindness, and humor into their respective societies. You, my dear reader, will inevitably read the words of the last sentence and interpret them through your own filters. After all, “happiness” realizes differently for us all. And it is to this point that my parenting opinion will return. As they are only that: my opinions.

I never experienced a real “terrible twos” from any of my children, nor did any of them become horrible humanoids during their teenage years. Maybe I was really lucky and hit the “easy” jackpot. As I’ve said many times over the years, maybe I have been lucky as I’m sure one can be the best parent in the world and still have goblin offspring. Or is it because right from the beginning I made a conscious decision to listen to these little beings as they discovered autonomy, and worked with them rather than trying to get them to fit my expectations. Or society’s for that matter. OK, OK, I’ll admit, I didn’t always listen. Parenting skills learned fast—maaaaybe sometimes I only gave the impression of listening and instead opted for grunting an appropriate sounding response . . . and maybe occasionally bribing them with rewards . . . parenting 101.

Photo by Humphrey Muleba

But generally, I worked on the ju-no-ri principle of judo. Not to bring them down of course, but the skillful, gentle means of using their energetic inertia rather than becoming an immovable wall. Oh, and I explained everything with them. Everything! Young insatiable minds know when they are being disregarded or kept in the dark. This trend of generational dissonance also sets an example to children to divide, but more fundamentally, to not feel safe in communicating who they really are, or the things that they may be going through. Children are not our dressed up lapdogs to be paraded about in the fashion most desired by their parents. Fathers will so often have a stereotypical expectation of his son and how they will spend their weekends together, while feeling overprotective toward his princess daughter. Or mothers will frequently live vicariously through her daughter and over-mother her son. Or those parents for whom the children impede their freedom, so leave the parenting to a technological nanny, or worse. 

Naturally, I’m making sweeping statements and horrible generalizations to underline extreme points. I am more than aware of the subjective complexities and nuances of each situation and the characters involved.

But we often forget that a child has its own expression to realize in the few decades afforded to us in this experience we call life. We can become so preoccupied with our own expectations that we forget that little souls have their own journeys to make, with their own individuation to unfold. Some say we choose our families, some say we can be so desperate to return, we dive into the first available opportunity to reincarnate. Some don’t buy into rebirth at all. Regardless, as parents we have a responsibility to nurture the next generation. Our job is to help equip them for emotional health, compassion, and foster their natural radiance in this life, and not to enforce piano lessons on a kid who wants to be a bushcrafter. I’m not saying we give in to and pursue every child’s passing whims, but when we learn to listen, to both the spoken and unspoken words of our young, magic starts to happen. What is happiness to me, is different from your specifics of happiness, and yours are different from your children’s. Like many, my son’s idea of happiness was on a computer. He wasn’t banned though and he’s now a programmer. My daughter is magnetic and has an exceptional way with folks. Where her social life was a main focus, she now works with people. My other daughter was consumed by making things, nail art, her hair, and she’s now excelling in both her media hair and makeup course and working in a hairdressing salon. A wonderful TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson is really worth a watch:* 

See the rock that you hold onto
Is it gonna save you
When the earth begins to crumble?
Why do you feel you have to hold on?
Imagine if you let go . . .
 (Katie Melua, The Flood)

I adore this lyric, based very much on Hopi words of wisdom. I adore it as a lesson in life, but also of the rigidity with which we can parent.

We once lived in a road where cars drove too fast. It was a ubiquitous complaint that nothing was being done to calm the late-night, lead-footed drivers and we were concerned that nothing would be done until it was too late. One night, it was too late for our cat. One day, too late for a human. Why did they wait? We know why they waited of course—it’s all theory until something happens, and theory is easy to sweep under the carpet. It takes effort and belief to address a theory that we’ll never know the results of if we didn’t act to change it.

But we mustn’t wait until we are addressing the results of inaction or band-aiding the wound or symptoms. Start simple. Don’t spoil children, but remind them that we love them. That we are here for them. Ask them how they are, how their day has been. Help them feel acknowledged. Feed ourselves with real food and make that a life habit! So many behavioral issues can stem from diet. Issues that may well decrease, if not abate entirely, lest they become issues that are treated with prescription medications; issues that as a society we now accept as normal. From ADHD as youngsters to dementia in later life; blood sugar imbalances; hormonal roller coasters; brain inflation; chronically high cortisol levels; and so on. Stem the symptoms by returning to the foods that our bodies are designed to eat and watch behavior change.

It’s monkey see, monkey do. Our children are unconsciously wiring their brains with all they witness in their world until the patterns are so embedded that they don’t even question what’s theirs and what’s learned. What we eat, how we react, how we evolve. How many times may a parent shout at their child, for shouting? How many parents may smack their child because their child is so violent? How many parents may take their child’s toys or sweets (and maybe even eat the sweets in front of the child) and complain that they are always taking from their sibling? How often does it become an issue when many children don’t listen, answer, or really talk with a parent when the parent is preoccupied with work? How often does a parent sound more like a training officer rather than being interested, nonjudgmental, and loving so that the child feels safe to communicate, and then wonder why the child becomes emotionally distant from the parent.

Don’t wait until the “wounds” are handed over to others to try to heal. It starts with our own mindfulness. Sure, we’ll slip; let them know that. We, too, are human and figuring stuff out. And that’s the point.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

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