Better Late Than Never: Twelve Suggestions For Parents Seeking Enlightenment

[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.

11 thoughts on “Better Late Than Never: Twelve Suggestions For Parents Seeking Enlightenment

  1. Dear Daniel,

    Thank you for this and all other articles and videos, and also for the book which I am currently getting through. Your words hit hard, but I deeply appreciate and value your integrity, uncompromising stance and compassionate perspective. I have one child who is now 25 and I’ve raised him pretty much on my own, initially within a dismal marriage and then, from the age of 7, completely alone. Not a day goes by that I don’t reflect on or agonise over my parenting of him. In all his struggles and lows I see my own flaws and errors, my poor skills and the unresolved pain that lingers in my bones. To those who know me and my son, I may seem excessively hard on myself. But to me, all parents without exception have to be hard on themselves and self-critical.

    I was raised within a highly dysfunctional environment, with much toxicity, instability and emotional neglect. I’d go as far as saying that I owe my life largely to my late step-father; he raised me from a very young age and passed on to me everything good and solid inside of him. He too had broken from his parents and I remember with tremendous clarity his traumatic journey with them and with my mother.

    I believe that children don’t always need a highly sanitised view of the world, but an authentic one. They need us to be honest with ourselves and with them, loving, accepting, tolerant and compassionate. I remember my childhood and adolescence in fine detail. I suffered greatly and continue to pay the price, although I’ve been doing much self-healing and never intend to stop.

    Thank you for so generously sharing your thoughts, insight and experience, they are making me feel listened to and much less alone ‘out there’. Take care, Daniel.

  2. Hi again Daniel (Having a good mooch around today!)

    I agree with almost every suggestion. I just wish that I had been more ‘enlightened’ before I had children. The truth is that ‘self growth,’ or ‘self love,’ or ‘enlightened,’ are terms that would have been alien to me. ‘Boundaries,’ or ‘Self compassion’? – wouldn’t have known what they meant – was still bound in a toxic/abusive relationship with my own mother – and blindly did just what everybody else did. Who was it who said ‘when you know better – you do better’ ? or something like that!

    I don’t understand suggestion 8 though. Isn’t sex (making love) between a husband and a wife a in a marriage, healthy and natural? Doesn’t it help with bonding and intimacy?
    To be honest, I wish I had seen some affection and intimacy between my mother and father – the relationship modelled to me was cold and contemptuous! Obviously I don’t mean seeing them have sexual relations but knowing they were in separate bedrooms before I reached my teenage years made me think that Sex was just for procreation. My mother taught me that it was also for snaring your man! (just a temporary thing). Now I know that it can be a close, warm and wonderful part of a loving relationship. Just confused by that one. The rest are so true for me though.

    Jooly x


  3. Daniel, this essay is an “aha” experience for me – another helping hand from you in my
    writing about my work with parents and children. As I work to co-ordinate past and present experiences — helping raise younger bros and sisters, and then two sons, running an early childhood Montessori center in Europe for many years and studying all possible writings of educators and and therapists — and through it all, then and now, trying to learn and understand how to treat children NOT as I have witnessed — and experienced myself–them being treated. And of course I kept bumping into the necessity of working on my own self-healing, and even harder, trying to see the effects of my “unhealedness” on my two sons, now grown.
    I´ve been adventuring through your work – your books, films, videos, music, essays — in
    my view it is huge, both because of the sheer volume as well as because of the clear and uncomplicated way you present yourself and all that you say — may be it´s the connection you seem to be able to project, even in this media, so impersonal in many
    I have what you call allies – one for sure, maybe one or two more, somewhat, and a couple more sort of skirting the edges.
    I´ve had a hard time getting to the point of writing this — it´s somewhat “public” — and
    also because of what I said above about the media. But I am feeling glad now.
    My reason for writing the articles and book I am working on, and — I am realizing–also these words, is to share with anyone, especially parents, who might find it helpful.
    And in the process, it always hapens that I learn too. Would you be able, Daniel, to let me know, if you plan to be in Spain or another European country sometime in the future, and if so, could we meet? Thank you again for what you give and for these beautiful spaces for sharing.

  4. This article seems to state that only enlightened people should have kids??? I find that a bit harsh. Only a tiny percentage of the worlds population will ever reach enlightenment, what are you saying? And also from adversity can come great insight, sometimes having certain (non-enlightened) parents can catapult you into your destiny. Are you saying all children should have a struggle free childhood? Who has had that? I’m a little put out by this very black and white article.

    • well, mostly i think no one should have kids, and that the wisest people (“enlightened” of whatever you want to call them) should take the lead in role-modeling this for others. the world is so messed up. as for wishing parental problems/adversity on kids, no thanks!! the world is hard enough without having screwed up, or even partially screwed up parents… by the way, i probably wrote it at the beginning of the article, but this article came because some parents who were reading my bulletin board at the time asked me to write it….so i gave it a shot. all the best, daniel

    • Your comment was addressed to Daniel, but I want to reply to you too, sorry 🙂

      In my experience (although it’s only my interpretation that is very limited because I don’t know for sure and I’m not a therapist or anything) there are people that are more severly traumatized, people with ”average” mental health struggles and people that probably have some problems/traumas, but they’re not as severe and their mental health is even somewhat above average. As someone with (an) early childhood trauma(s) and therefore most primitive defense mechanisms and most deep and profound wounds I can say there’s nothing joyful for me in my life. And I would choose rather not to be born at all than to ”struggle” in childhood. Nobody asked me if I wanted to be born and I hate it because my parents wanted me to be born for delusioned reasons and their treatment of me and this very fact prove that I was perceivend as their property by them which feels incredibly dehumanizing and it had a profound effect on my whole personality. Maybe your childhood problems were minor and not so severe or early with a few ”struggles” and limitations here and there, but overall good. So that could be the reason why you have this point of view. But that’s a sheer luck you happened to have such childhood and you can’t possibly know how your own parenting will affect your children. Few to no parents even want to learn the skill of raising the kids before having them. I don’t even know how one can learn such skill. Parents are almost never fully conscious. You just can’t judge about your children’s or other children’s reality based on your own past experience if you were lucky enough.

      This is what my therapist’s like. She used to have some less severe problems but she was ok overall and this is why she can’t fully empathize with me or my views on that all that are pretty much like Daniel’s. She feels pretty calm because she didn’t and doesn’t have to face all those things I and some other people do. She has some solid base that came from good parts of her upbringing that allowed her to function quite good. Despite that, her reality is not ”more real” or more valid than mine. Yes, she is more adapted to the world/society and she feels mostly comfortable in it, but that’s because the world is like a lottery game. You can only accept this fact of the world’s randomness and people being unequal only if you won a sufficient amount of money in this lottery game by chance. (To be fair there are quite a few of different lottery games, not one). Besides, the world and society especially are not something objective that we have no ability to change. If we didn’t have this ability then there would be no civilization or anything like that.

    • Hi Dalniel
      You have high ideals with which I broadly agree. Although it can be self destructive to have these without the self care and self compassion on the other side. We are all just humans and not flawless. Especially not as parents… All of us are in a process, all life long. A process of self reflection, self compassion, in a dialogue with the outer and inner world. As long as we don’t become frozen and stiff and stay open and curious even to negative aspects of our behaviour and feelings we can move forward. Or go into a deeper understanding and then into a more conscious way of living. Become authentic and vulnerable or even humble. But it needs practice, self love, empathy and openness. The contrary to fear, anger, rumination, blind rebellion and depression. You inspired me. Especially my autonomous& critical rebellious part as a psychotherapist;) so thank you. It nurturs me to see other ways. Ad brings me into a state of more self acceptance.

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