[Written around 2007.]
It may seem that much of the message on this website is intended for non-parents, but this is not the case. In many regards, the information I present is ten times more relevant to parents, especially parents of young children, because you are the people who most directly mold and guide – and can squelch – the fate of others. Therapists are invested with some power; parents are invested with far more.
I address these suggestions to you.
1) Parent, heal thyself. It is easy to say “throw out your television” and “never buy soda” – both excellent pieces of advice, among the thousands I could give – but the most profoundly unhealthy variable in your child’s life is the unhealthy side of you. Where you carry unresolved childhood traumas you will replicate them on your child. Few people were destroyed by television in their childhood, and while soda rots many a baby tooth, as your family dentist will gladly attest, people destroyed by partially unconscious parents are the norm. You give your child the greatest gift by healing your own ancient wounds.
2) Don’t lean on your child. Your job is to be there for your child, not the other way around. Children are not there to help you, guide you, inspire you, comfort you, love you, teach you the meaning of love, make your decisions, be your cheerleader, be your confidant, be your rock, be your friend, be your ally, or remind you of your life’s purpose. Your job is to learn to provide these things for yourself – preferably, of course, before having children – and then pass them on to your child. When you love yourself you will love your child; when you don’t love yourself your child is in big trouble. Children learn respect by being respected. Children learn boundaries by having parents with boundaries.
3) Build a mature support network. Isolation is deadly. Surround yourself with inspired adults – friends and allies. Even the best therapist cannot do her job effectively unless she has others with whom she shares her travails, her confusions, and her successes. And she only guides her whole caseload of patients for twenty or thirty or forty hours a week. How much harder is your job! Therapists who lose hope and burn out crush their patients’ healing processes, forcing medications as just one option on their destructive palette. Parents who burn out do the same, except so much more easily and profoundly because their power is greater.
4) Respect your partner. Children need two parents who love and support each other. Divorce is a terrible burden for children to bear, and witnessing open or covert hostility between parents can be even worse. Where you do not support the growth process of your partner you participate in crippling your child. There is no excuse for hurting your child’s other beloved parent – even if you are divorced and he or she is abusive! Even if one partner looks like the monster, that is only part of the story, because it always takes two to tango. But it only takes one, the more mature parent, to take the first step toward healing, which is the basis of respect. Every step you take in this direction pays a dividend to your child.
5) Don’t use punishment. All forms of punishment against children are violent and inappropriate. They express parental hopelessness, immaturity, unconscious rage, and unresolved childhood trauma. Spanking and beating are only the overt tip of the iceberg, and a whole world of crafty, non-physical punishments exist below the surface. Manipulations, distortions of truth and logic, double binds, humiliations, and purposeful withholding of nurturance may cause your child to behave according to your expectations, but ultimately pervert and destroy spirit. If you feel your child requires punishment you need to take a serious look at your distorted thinking. You have the chance to be the ultimate teacher, because your lessons become sewn into the fabric not just of your child’s character but of his soul.
6) Lower your stress level. The path to enlightenment is highly stressful, and triply so when you have a child to guide. There are many ways to lower stress, a few of which I will mention: work a more relaxed job, exercise gently and regularly, keep more mature company, live according to a healthy and consistent routine, eat well, live below your means financially, take good care of your body, get as much of a good night’s sleep as possible every night, and keep your mind active and focused on creative pursuits – on learning and growth. In short, parent yourself as well as the best mother parents her child!
7) Work as little as possible. This allows you to maximize your time with your child, especially your very young child. This goes for both parents. If you need to work, work a job that lets you maximize time with your child, and with other like-minded, growth-focused people. Build the cohesion of your family, and of your community around your family. Attempt to keep your life and routine consistent not just from day to day, but from year to year. Create a balanced routine and life and then stick to it. Don’t move towns. Don’t force your child to break his relationships and his schools and his surroundings. There is no better stabilizing force in a child’s life than your consistent presence.
8) Be celibate. Focus on your healing path to enlightenment, not on sex. Sex is for procreation, and sex is simple. The complex one in the sexual equation is you, not your sex organs or sex hormones. Sex can seem to bring partners closer together, but where people are not yet enlightened it becomes a drug that fosters boundary crossing, intensifies projection, and nurtures ancient and immature fantasies of rescue. Sex before enlightenment dissipates the healing focus. And in the worst case scenario (sexually transmitted diseases aside), sex creates a whole new life – wanted for only more unconscious and unacknowledged reasons. This cheats the new life-to-be out of a healthy start, and cheats older siblings who are already not getting enough of their deep needs met.
9) Don’t have more children. Stick with what you already have. Your child already suffers because of your limitations – which is not his fault. Don’t be fooled by false ideas like the good-enough parent. Once you wake up and realize you have made the error of having had a child before you were ready to do an ideal, and thus non-abusive, job, don’t repeat the error! If you do you will only dig yourself in deeper. Yes, you might want to “give” siblings to your child, or to complete your ideal of a sizable family – or get the approval from your own parents or community – but instead you just end up muddying the waters further, and blocking everyone’s growth. Nurture those children you already have, both your biological offspring and the wounded inner child who lives in your breast. Most people can’t even come close to handling that!
10) Live in a place that offers your child freedom. Cities have some advantages for children, but they have so many disadvantages. Children belong living in nature, with freedom to seek, explore, grow, test, discover, and trust. City streets and city apartments, much as they might be convenient to you, are simply not that. Live in a place that lets the child within you live freely and safely, and introduce your child to that world.
11) Trust your child’s negative feelings. Don’t blame him for his rage, his sadness, his frustration, his testiness. Too few parents consider the healthiness of their child’s negative feelings, especially negative feelings toward them, and instead either rationalize them as a normal part of childhood, and therefore something to be ignored, or pathologize them as something mentally ill, and therefore something to be quelled. It is easy for you, with the power of authority invested in you, to neutralize your child’s anger. But this doesn’t make you right, and instead cruelly violates your child’s truth. If your child is angry at you, chances are it’s for an excellent reason! Study yourself. Look within. If you look hard enough you will find the answer.
12) When your child wants freedom, let him break away. Your child is not a pet – your child is a WILD ANIMAL! Don’t try to domesticate him. Your job is to raise your young tiger or deer or bear or butterfly to maturity, and then let him wander off free. If you do your job well, he will want to leave, and he may never come back. He starts this process when he is very young, and he stretches his wings and legs more and more as he matures. If your child becomes like the lap cat that is terrified to leave his carrying cage at the vet’s office then it’s a strong indication that you’re doing something very wrong. When your child leaves you in the dust he has given you the greatest compliment.