The first step in understanding nature's child-rearing process involves humility. We need to respect what nature asks from us as a parent. As Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet:
Your Children are Not Your Children.
They are the sons and daughters of life longing for itself.
They come through you, but not from you,
And though they are with you they belong not to you...
Gibran reminds us we parents were meant to be assistants to a power greater than ourselves. We must resist raising children in our own image, for the purpose of their lives is beyond our comprehension. As well as we may know our children, we are not meant to understand their larger purpose.
For roughly the first 19 years, nature has turned over the primary responsibility for the child's growth to us, the parents, a responsibility which is then returned to our child. During those first 19 years, our job is to understand the growth process, guide it and add to it only when it needs our help.
If this deflates our ego -- and for dedicated parents it might -- consider that this can actually be liberating: We are not ultimately responsible for our children's destinies. All that is required from us is our best, so we can let go of the outcome and focus on parenting excellence.
Note that even at 3 years old, our son Malcolm corrected my attitude. As I explained in my last blog, the two times my children saw me lose my cool in life, they laughed! (Probably paying me back for the times I pretended to play a violin when I felt they were feeling sorry for themselves.)
I mostly credit my wife for this. Blanche grew up on a farm, an experience that made her very sensitive to nature's leadership and helped keep our parenting in that powerful flow. Our children felt very secure in that flow and wanted us to know when we got out of line -- as Mal did with me at age 3.
Nature may seem to require parents to essential sacrifice our own lives for our children. Actually, nature is providing us with the opportunity to transcend our lesser self-centered selves and begin to develop the nobility of our spiritual selves.
Like the time I went to climb the 80-foot cliff at Hurricane Island to confront my fear of heights, taking my son along to reinforce my commitment.
The climb increasingly exposed my fear, exhausting me emotionally and physically. At the most dangerous ledge, where failure would probably mean death, I found myself unable to make the difficult moves (for me) to follow my son up. My moment of truth had come.
In panic, I considered faking an injury, but found I could not give my son such lifelong doubts. I thought of simply telling him I didn't have the guts, but that was like admitting every man has his price. How could I live knowing this sin would visit my son?
I sickenly realized the only option left was to climb the ridge.
But was my problem fear or physical ability? What if I was injured or worse? With my responsibilities, did I have the right to gamble my life? In a panic-stricken voice, I asked my Outward Bound guide, "Look, I'm not one of your kids. I'm 41 years old; my muscles are dead tired; are you sure I can make those moves? Are you sure it's only my fear?
He was sure. I found I trusted him and succeeded (Only later did I find out they normally require safety ropes!)
Parenting right is truly a challenge, worthy of the hero's journey, which develops character and potentials you never knew you had.
Next week: Part 2: Parent beyond "love."