When I realised that it is not for me to pass my spiritual beliefs and practices onto my children, I was disappointed. My understandings and ways of doing things work for me, helping me to be loving, strong and joyful, and I want my boys to feel loving, strong and happy. But I would not be doing my job if I presented my way as the only way.
One of our central roles as parents is to nurture our children’s natural spirituality so that they may experience guidance and support in their lives. To do this, we need to help our children to find what works for them, not to copy what works for us. This is, indeed, a divine assignment! If we try to “convert” our children to our own style of spirituality, they may follow us because they feel they should but possibly without ever truly connecting with Love/God/The Universe.
The nature of spirituality is that it is felt with our spirits, not intellectualised with our minds. We, therefore, cannot just present our children with a set of ideas to believe or practices to do. We need to provide our children with a range of view-points and ways to practise – opportunities for their spirits to find what helps them to connect.
MY TRUTH VS THE TRUTH
Here’s a distinction that I made recently in a moment of quiet while brushing my teeth one hectic morning. My truth is what works for me. My truth points me in the direction ofthe truth, though it could turn out to be less accurate than the truth.
If something resonates with our soul, it’s going to work for us. That resonation is Spirit leading us along our path. Each person is wired differently so our ways of understanding and connecting with Life will differ. Even beliefs that turn out to be “false” may serve our spiritual path. Being “right” is less important than connecting. The intention to love and be loved is enough.
When all’s said and done, all roads lead to the same end. So it’s not so much which road you take, as how you take it. – Charles de Lint
SO WHAT CAN I PASS ON, THEN?
What we can pass onto our children is a commitment to their own true path and an openness to others’. We can steer them inwards to help them recognise their truth. I have started guiding my son to use what “feels good/right” as his compass of sorts in life. It can be applied to so many things, including the way he treats others, the way he spends his time and the way he experiences his spirituality. I am directing him to look inward, rather than to me.
Our own point-of-view isn’t irrelevant, though. We can share it without insisting on it. We can invite our children to join in with us so that they may try our beliefs and practices on for size. My boys are only 3 and 6 years old so they take what I say as truth right now. But I know that won’t last forever! – and I look forward to exploring other ideas and being spiritual adventurers together. I’m willing to explore with them things that don’t personally work for me too. It is important for my boys to see that my heart is open, always ready to grow some more and always respectful of other people’s perspective.
IN SUMMARY – SHINE THE LIGHT ON THEIR PATH
Spirituality is a personal experience. It is guided by internal resonance, by Love. We need to respect our children’s unique life journey and support them by shining the light on their path, not our own. I am excited about my boys finding a spirituality that works for them and brings them love, strength and joy as mine does for me.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – How do you feel about not “passing on” your spirituality to your children? Comment below.
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I came across Christina Fletcher of Spiritually Aware Parenting online, through our shared passion for seeing children thrive mind, body and spirit. Her website is full of great resources for parents wanting to honour and nurture their children’s spirituality. When Christina invited me to contribute this guest blog post, I was thrilled to be part of her great work.
Here in New Zealand, teachers at early childhood centres and schools encourage children to use the phrase “stop it, I don’t like” as a clear and respectful way to stand up for themselves when needed. So, I have taught my boys (aged 2 and 5) to use this phrase with one another at home. One morning, I heard my eldest saying “stop it, I don’t like it”, repeatedly. His brother obviously wasn’t listening to him so I went over to investigate what was going on. It turned out my son was talking to me!
“What am I doing that you don’t like?” I asked, incredulously.
“You’re being bossy”. I was told.
And I was. It was a humbling reminder that I had strayed from my intentions to collaborate with my boys rather than insist on unquestioned compliance. When we demand compliance from our children, we silence their voice and teach them to bow to the expectations others have of them. On the other hand, when we recruit our children’s co-operation, we teach them to value the needs and wants of themselves and others equally. They develop a sense of their power to impact their own lives and others’ in positive ways.
I believe we are spiritual equals with our children. I don’t think we have the right to thoughtlessly dish out instructions and expect them to do everything we say. Sure, there are occasions when our children just have to do as they are told, perhaps for safety or practical reasons, but we have to respect their needs and wants as much as our own. As a parent, I also want to teach my boys to regard everybody’s needs and wants equally themselves.
The way I parent, including the way I get my boys to do what I need them to do, is an important part of teaching them to value everybody equally and to approach life with a collaborative spirit. Being bossy is not a part of this! Here are some of the things I do to enlist their co-operation rather than enforce compliance –
I ask my children for help rather than instruct and demand. For example, our Wednesday mornings are particularly busy as my husband leaves home early for a breakfast meeting. Things need to go smoothly in order for my boys and I to get out the door in time. So, over breakfast, I tell them that I find it hard doing everything without Daddy’s help and ask them to please help me by being especially quick with their morning tasks. It’s a team effort and, lately, we’ve been running early on Wednesday mornings.
I thank more than I praise. When one of my boys has done something that is helpful to me, instead of praising (eg. “Good boy”), I offer a sincere thank you (eg. “I really appreciate you getting the mail, I already had my hands full”). Showing appreciation acknowledges their giving heart. Praise only affirms that they did what I wanted them to.
I acknowledge spontaneous co-operation. Doesn’t it make your heart swell to see your children thinking of and serving others of their own accord? My youngest often finds my things around the house and brings them to me in case I might need them. I give him a big hug of thanks for his thoughtfulness.
I get my children to do chores. In our house, chores are unpaid. They are an opportunity for my boys to co-operate and help with the smooth-running of the house. If my son doesn’t set the table, for example, we can’t eat. The natural consequences of co-operation are far more enjoyable than the natural consequences of not helping. My boys see and experience the fruits of their labour.
I co-operate with my children too. Co-operation is a two-way street and my example is one of my best parenting tools. I help my eldest to find the missing Lego piece he needs. Sometimes, I change my plans around to accommodate a playdate he has requested.
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent. – John Donne
Apart from being a respectful way to get our children to do what we need them to, a spirit of co-operation in the family helps them to see the big picture – they are a part of humanity and everyone’s behaviour impacts on the other people around them. They learn that, when people co-operate, it makes a positive difference for everyone involved. Co-operating also helps our children to see that they have something to contribute, giving them a sense of their own worth and everybody else’s.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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Looking over what I have written so far in Nurturing Little Souls, I have said often that I believe spiritual parenting requires us to be led by our children. Our role is to empower them to be themselves and, to do this, we need to tune into them and follow the direction that they are going. I have also said a number of times that we are spiritual equals with our children to remind us not to be over-bearing or heavy-handed in our parenting. But, being equals with our children also means that we parents must be respected and have our needs and wants valued too. Our whole lives do not have to be child-centred to be good parents.
TWO EXTREMES OF PARENTING
There are as many parenting styles out there as there are parents. When it comes to the position our children have in our lives, everyone lies somewhere on the continuum between these two extremes.
Children as Accessories – Many expectant parents express an intention for their children to fit into their lives, believing their children will be flexible if, from the start, they are taken along to their parents’ social events and activities. Some baby capsules become accessories to the parents’ lives, while the occupants’ needs, especially for quality sleep, aren’t prioritised. We can’t fully understand until we’ve had children that, if we don’t want our lives to change, it’s not a good idea to have them.
Children as the Centre of Everything The other extreme is parents who sacrifice everything – losing social connections, time for their interests and rest to become slaves to their child’s every whim. I don’t think this is necessary. In fact, I think it’s a bad idea.
“You can’t pour from an empty cup”.
If we allow our lives to be entirely child-centred, we quickly become depleted, with nothing to give. Tending to our children’s needs & wants and rarely our own will see us become emotionally and physically exhausted. When this kind of imbalance continues for too long, we can’t help but grow resentful because our lives have been reduced to the drudgery of “serving” our children. When we are with them, we’re really far away, dreaming of that movie we’d love to see…or just sleep. Our hearts aren’t in it and our children can sense that.
For example, I am hopeless at dramatic play when I haven’t had enough time for myself. I have no energy, enthusiasm or creativity. Thomas loves playing firefighters and he saves our playroom from multiple fires a day. He often wants me to join in so we start by making a firetruck together with cushions. On an empty cup day, I’m grateful to be able to just sit in the truck while we journey to the emergency, joining in (half-heartedly) with the “nee-nah, nee-nah”. When we get to the fire, Firefighter Mummy sends Firefighter Thomas to put out the fires while I “look after the fire truck”. It’s a poor effort. Thomas must think I’m no fun and, on some level, probably realises that I don’t really want to be playing firefighters at these times. On other days, when I’ve felt adequately rested and full from doing something for myself, playing firefighters with Thomas has been fun and I’ve cherished my time with him.
THE MIDDLE GROUND
As my boys have gotten older and their physical needs less urgent, I have gradually reclaimed more of my own needs and wants. I’m writing this blog for starters! I nip out to see friends for coffee some evenings once the boys are tucked in. If I’m out shopping with my boys, we take turns choosing which shops to look at and try to wait patiently while each other has their turn (Thank you Max fashions for having a toy box!) I have also protected my coffee-drinking time in order to drink a whole cup, sitting down, before it goes cold. My husband and I have introduced a new rule that our boys can’t ask us to play if we still have coffee in our cups. They can chat with us, have a drink too if they wish, but we get to stay seated and enjoy our coffee. (If you have a baby and none of these things are possible for you yet, trust that the day will come when they will be and, in the meantime, take as many tiny moments for yourself as you can.)
I want my boys to feel equal, valued and loved unconditionally for the unique beings that they are but I don’t want them to expect everything in life to be organised around them, as if they are at the centre. From a broader perspective, I want them to see themselves as part of the whole of humanity. Almost all of the world’s spiritual traditions emphasise the oneness we share with others.
The dynamic we create in our homes sets an example to our children of what to expect out in the wider world. In our family, mutual respect and consideration of everyone’s needs and wants is important and I hope my boys will take this perspective with them wherever they go. At times, one of them will complain because I have made a decision that doesn’t go his way. I’ll say to him, “What you want is important but what everyone else wants is important too”. I enlist my boys’ help in many ways so that they feel part of the family team and realise they can contribute. For example, they help to carry bags in from the car and they do their bit in the mornings to get us out the door in time. Practicing co-operation and collaboration in small ways makes it a given when bigger things come up, within our family or in the wider world.
IN SUMMARY: CHILD-LED IS NOT CHILD-CENTRED
Life with children will always be a little lop-sided in their favour but we can still practise the give and take of community within our homes. We don’t want our children believing they are the centre of everything but we do want them to see their unique value – each piece of a jigsaw puzzle is important to the bigger picture. And, when we parents have our needs and wants met (at least to some extent), we have the resources to deal with the challenges – big and small – that parenthood throws at us and to enjoy the beautiful moments.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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