the snow is up to my knees in some places, on the way to the compost or to get more wood. i’m a little nervous in this mysterious snow after my christmas fall, but every day i gain confidence as i continue not to fall again. during these chores i have time to reflect on how awestruck i am by the endeavor of parenting.
the two parents i have been observing up close for the past five years, my sister and her husband, are remarkable and inspiring parents. i think this is because they are both excellent humans whom i love and look up to. tho i don’t assume that all good people make good parents, these two practice some magical, wonderful and pragmatic parenting.
since my sister was about five months pregnant with their latest miracle, i have been visiting once a month for an average of a week. i try to help with things like cooking, laundry, general cleaning. but mostly i play with the kids from the predawn hours til they go to sleep.
each time i visit, the parents give me another piece of experiential learning. this trip it was taking two of the babies to the pool by myself. it was a glorious success in that everyone survived and no one actually pooped in the actual pool. from the moment we arrived til the moment we left i was in an advanced mindfulness practice, simultaneously holding the little one close to me while encouraging her to kick and be fearless while not taking my eyes off the independent four and a half year old as he dominated the 3-foot deep section of water and corresponding poolside while not cramping his style as he made friends.
i ran into other parents and kids in the pool. there was a poopie swimsuit and a whole process of getting the little one out of it without making a bigger mess. i forgot to ask for towels so we all ended up drying off on my long johns. we were laughing most of the time.
the level of attention and creativity it took increased my respect for their parents, and all parents, once again.
this proximity to actual parenting has made me more aware of the best practices of the amazing parents i know. this includes my own parents, my friends who are new parents, gifted aunties and uncles who slip into parenting when it’s needed, and my friends who have been doing it on their own for years.
so much about what it means to be human, the grand philosophical question, shows up in the work of parenting. i am watching and doing and learning, and wanted to share some of the things i am becoming aware of, things that i’ve been learning from the parents in my life:
– ‘children are celestial beings’ (from a zen teacher named fish). they have their own sacred character, their own instincts. don’t pressure them into acting ‘normal’, as their divinity, their unique gifts to this time and place, are embedded in these instincts.
– our job is to encourage children in their critical thinking and creativity – not to control them. i have to continually notice and practice releasing my socialization to control anything other than their safety.
– for safety, it helps to develop a no nonsense tone of voice. and then use it sparingly, so it matters.
– we never need to hurt children, ever. especially not as a way to teach them right and wrong. this only teaches violence as a solution. the world has abundant pain, that will surely come for them and it will be important and educational – but it doesn’t need to come from the people they are dependent on. in fact, children are so sensitive and intuitive that we must be mindful not to unintentionally hurt them, given our own limitations of attention and time.
– my life is always improved if i can be present to the constant learning state they are in. it feels so enlightening to be this open to learning, instead of so deeply committed to knowing. i am beginning to suspect not knowing, with ample curiosity, is more fun.
– if babies are interested in something we are doing as adults, we can explain it to them, engage them in it. in this way we invite them into a world full of interesting tasks to do, lives of usefulness, as opposed to a world of shadows, mysteries, fears, and off-limits adult things.
– their health and quality of life depend on what we encourage them to love. it is possible to cultivate love for natural sugars from fruit, love for snacks like yogurt, bananas, raisins, almonds, salad. let the things they love to do include being physical to the utmost of their abilities. it’s up to us to notice if we are accidentally encouraging a sedentary life, or a dependence on unhealthy foods.
– and let them feel good and powerful and capable in their actual bodies, however they choose to express themselves, without a judgment or a narrative.
– while we cannot make the whole world radical for the children we love, we can absolutely have faith in their resilience. my sister recently reminded me that people have found ways to live their radical truths against all odds throughout time. the best we can do by the babies is embody our own wholeness and encourage that wholeness in them for the majority of their young lives, whenever they are with us. support them in their own becoming.
– the ideas that are normalized in this world – like white supremacy and racism, love equaling marriage, ableism, boys are aggressive and girls are princesses, money is your life’s purpose, crying is weak, and so on – with our babies we get to practice a world beyond all of that. we can start from the miraculous sameness of existence: we are all equal in that we are given one lifetime of unknown length to experiment and learn.
we can’t make our kids believe anything, evil or righteous, for this whole unknown lifetime length. we can’t, no matter how hard we try – and thank goodness. the best part of history is the generational rejection of parental ideas in order to elevate the human condition. we can’t give them content, but we can give them process. we can give children time to formulate their own beliefs. we can give them time to try it all on, and encourage them to feel for their own emergent normal.
this is how i ended up as a radical nomadic pansexual futurist doula. i was born to southern christian folk and raised in the u.s. military. but my parents were open to me finding my way, and remain so.
– i am pretty sure that some of the process things that help in that beyond world are being able to feel, defaulting to kindness, cultivating love, having curiosity, and leaning into change.
– if there is more than one child, if there are siblings or close baby friends growing up in community, teach them to be gentle and respectful of each other. they are each other’s primary practice ground of how to be good to others, how to love with accountability.
– it has impact when we let babies see how much we love the natural world. this place is our only home, and it is changing so fast. it can induce terror to love babies in this world with so much climate crisis to come. but that terror won’t help them – letting them touch the earth, know the flowers, love the garden and just be passionately dirty will hopefully create more humans who feel responsible for home.
– it is possible to share with children the ways we communicate with the divine without making it a tiny room with closed doors and windows.
– one of the great privileges of the world is time alone, to enjoy one’s own company. children need this too, however it is carved out.
– give them plenty of time outside of tv and video games to draw, create, build and play. cultivate their imaginations.
– and then when it really does reach that moment where tv/video is needed, because that time does come for non-saint parents, pay attention to what goes in as if it is your own words. sesame street, wildkratts, dino dan, super y – there are some fantastic pieces of children’s media out there.
– of course they are physically beautiful. don’t let that be the only noticing they get. value the amazing things about them which are not surface level.
– everything they do is ‘an act of love or a call for love’ – as much as you can, don’t respond with frustration or pushing the babies away. hear the emotion, give the love.
– partnership and community matter, from sleep to discipline to food to just giving the babies adequate attention. cultivate transparent, accountable partnership and community that will last at least something like 18 years.
i think that is everything for now…i plan to keep observing and noticing and being awed. but for now, just a standing blogovation for the parents in my life, a bow in honor, and thank you all for the ways you allow me to be useful in these processes.