Monday, June 15, 2015

How to Become a Better Spiritual Parent

spiritual parenting, spiritual parent, spiritual children, spiritual kids, spirituality and parenting
These two cuties are my long-time student, Brandy's sons.
The spiritual path is often misunderstood in many ways, and one of the misunderstandings that I commonly hear is a confusion that somehow parenting and the spiritual path are in conflict with each other. Many people believe that living a domestic lifestyle full of diapers, paying for college, and helping on homework assignments can't coincide with walking a spiritual path. This immediately shows some important misconceptions.

The spiritual path is always here and now. It is about engaging with whatever is going on in the moment with all of your attention and doing your best to remain open-hearted. These spiritual truths are so simple, and that's why anyone and everyone can walk a spiritual path, including parents.

Furthermore, in no other vocation is so much on the line as being a parent. If you're a parent reading this, I want to emphasize that you are shaping the world. If you are helping your children to stay open-hearted, present, and engaged with this moment, then they'll likely grow up into more loving, well-adjusted, and kind-hearted people. If you are ignoring, neglecting, abusing, or doing something else unkind to them, then they will likely grow up to be fearful, hateful, ashamed, and/or depressed people. Those types of people spread even more pain in the world. Happy, whole-hearted people typically spread kindness. That is the nature of our human behavioral patterning for 90% of people in my experience. They act out what they see and learn from childhood. Just as you are doing unless you've done a lot of self-work.

In this post, I'll offer my thoughts about spiritual parenting, but I've also included additional perspectives from some of my students who are parents. I hope you take the time to read through this longer than usual blog post, and if what I say may not resonate for you, hopefully some of the spiritual parents' thoughts below will help you to see how spirituality and parenting are a natural fit, how vital it is to be a spiritual parent, and how you can become a better spiritual parent.

Being a Spiritual Parent in the Here and Now: You Can't Be Anywhere Else

Let's start with the misunderstanding that parenting and the spiritual path are separate. This typically arises from ideas people have that being a spiritual person requires you to go it alone, meditate for hours on end while fasting, and possibly even levitate atop a mountain. But the spiritual path is not inherently a solitary one. If you are called to a solitary spiritual path or to a celibate monastic lifestyle (another common spiritual path), that is fine. But I encourage anyone who is a parent to not jump to that conclusion. Some people also run to the spiritual path as a refuge from difficult issues, including parenting and family life. But the true spiritual path does not insulate you from pain. The true path takes you into your darkness and pain so that you can heal it.

As such, anywhere you are in life is where your spiritual path is. It doesn't mean that there aren't changes to be made, but before booking a trip to Tibet, Sedona, or some other seemingly more "spiritual" place, work on seeing what is in your life right now. What lessons and opportunities are around you? If you don't like what is in your life, a lot of that has to do with you, and sinking deeper into your current reality and engaging with it is important.

Certainly, there are extreme examples that need immediate remedy such as not having enough to eat, living in an active war zone, or being in a physically abusive situation. In those situations, leaving is typically the right thing to do. Especially for a parent, physically abusive situations must be left. If you stay with an abusive partner "for the kids," the lesson you are teaching them is how to be abused and to be a victim. They will very likely act out that role later on in life or emulate the role of the abuser. Either way, it is unhealthy, and you should get yourself and your kids out of there!

Bringing Mindful Awareness to Parenting

Now that we've established that the spiritual path is here and now, you may still wonder what to do as a spiritual parent. As a parent, your kids are already a part of your spiritual path. They will offer you so many lessons about selfless service, unconditional love, mindfully dealing with disagreements, learning to let go, and more. I encourage you to notice these lessons and actively engage with your children.

Additionally, embracing the spiritual path means seeing what issues your children reflect back to you. Later on in this post, Will talks about how his kids show him his issues, so I won't say too much. But quite simply, children are mimics. They mimic what they see. They say what they hear. It a basic part of the instinctual programming humans have to copy the external word because if someone is doing it, it must in some way be a "successful" survival skill (this is how the body thinks). And consider how much we continue to do the same type of copycatting later in life. We generally look to others to see how we should act or think. That's what many of you are doing with my blog. You're looking for other ways to think and act, which you can copy and apply in your life. The difference here is that you should be learning to feel what is true for you rather than just doing everything I say or do.

Children, however, do not have that level of discernment. Which means--especially for the little ones--just about any positive or negative habit you see in them is coming from you or someone else who is close to them (typically other family members). Pay attention to these reflections. They'll help you notice unconscious behaviors in yourself, and then you can go more into your own self-work (in your five minutes alone) to figure out what issues or belief are linked to that behavior. If you are sincere, you can process the issue and develop new behavior patterns that your kids will soon copy. In this way, you become a healthier spiritual person and spiritual parent all at the same time.

Creating Fun Spiritual Games for Your Kids

But it is not all about churning through hard issues on the spiritual path. As I've said before, the spiritual path embraces everything, and that includes fun. For those of you spiritual parents who want to give your kids a jumpstart on being aware and conscious (which is TOTALLY awesome), consider the importance of making the spiritual path fun. See if you can take some of the lessons you've learned and turn them into games. Singing spiritual songs together is lovely gift to offer your kids. Whether the songs are hymns or vedic chants, it's all good fun to your kids, especially when they're young. The activities also give your children a chance to express their voices and let their true voices naturally develop.

For spiritual parents with extraordinarily intuitive children, you can play "who is calling or texting on the phone." If you hear the ring of your phone, ask your children who they feel it is. This is a great game for any children, but the intuitive ones may surprise you how quickly they can tell you who it is before you look at the phone.

In general, too, raising highly sensitive children and intuitive children is a whole other topic. There are additional issues to learn such as helping your children identify the energetic sensations they're feeling and learning to let go of the energies they do sense. Learning this at an early age will help the sensitive ones to not withdraw from groups and more easily socialize even though at times they may still need to step away from intense situations until they've gotten older. And you can make this all into fun games that teach and help them develop spiritually.

Spiritual Breathing With Upset Kids

Even in the most loving and healthy environment, you're still going to have bad days with your children. Whether something is coming up for you or they're just cranky/rebellious/sad/or something else, difficulty is part of the human experience. Just as I talk about in many other spiritual awakening blog posts, we learn to embrace difficulty as part of the spiritual path, and this is immensely important to do with your children to help them learn to cope with challenge rather than fight or avoid it.

One way to do this is to invite your children into breathing mindfully when they're hurt or upset. Sure. Some days, you're just going to get a worse tantrum, but you are the adult. And you're a spiritual person. Which means you are responsible for holding space and setting the tone for your kids. I encourage you to breathe in deeply and mindfully when your children are upset. Since children learn more from seeing something done rather than being told to do something, seeing you breathe deeply lends added weight to your suggestion to them

And of course, give this time. Not all lessons are immediately embraced.

Understanding How to Hold Space

Allowing Your Children to Support You in a Healthy Way

If a situation involves you being upset (say, you just had a rough call with your mother-in-law) and your children are around, then invite your children to breathe with you. This reinforces the above point and shows that you practice what you preach. Additionally, many times parents brush off their children's attempts to help, and in other scenarios, children get forced into adult roles to support an emotionally out-of-control parent. However, mindfully breathing together is a great way to involve your children without burdening and relying upon them. You can say, "Mommy/daddy/mom/dad/ (or however you reference yourself) is having a rough moment. You can breathe with me if you want to help."

Since healthy kids love their parents, most will want to help. This simple little practice of breathing during difficult moments lets your children stay in their autonomy and you stay in yours (So you're not developing a co-dependent fixer in response to your issues). It teaches your children three very simple, but powerful lessons. It says that to handle difficult situations involves:
  • slowing down, 
  • breathing, and 
  • relaxing. 
It also shows your children how to reach out for support in a way that maintains both individual's independence. These are a lot of extremely important lessons all rolled up in a simple action, and they can offer your children powerful coping skills for the rest of their lives.

Spiritual Ideas Put to the Test

Whenever you have some new realization, your children will offer you a chance to put the spiritual ideas to the test. If you just realized where your anger comes from, then when your children get upset, you get a chance to notice that reflection and act differently than the unconscious ways you used to act out. As your children grow up, you'll get to see how well you've done in shifting unhealthy patterns inside of yourself.

Certainly, children are their own people, but so much comes from the people who are around them, especially early on. If you are getting into spirituality later, your teens and young adults probably already have different skills and mechanisms that they've learned. For them, the silent example is still powerful, and even if they're going through an argumentative phase, how you learn to be present to them and allow them to have their voices is important. Always remember that what you do will typically have a greater impact than what you say. When what you think, say, and do are integrated, that is a powerful example for your children. Since human beings tend to mimic others as I mentioned, certain good traits and healthy beliefs are bound to sink in, although never quite the ones you'd expect.

Setting a Shared Spiritual Vision for Child Rearing

A lot of times people as parents, co-parents, or in other family situations think that everyone is on the same page for spiritual principles to live by and to teach their kids. That's often not the case. If you're planning to become a parent or even later on, taking time to journal out your thoughts and then comparing with your partner about how you want to raise your children is a great starting point to cooperatively guide your children. Notice that I said "starting point." Invariably, people have disagreements no matter how many similarities they have, and parenting is always a "work in progress." So even agreed upon ideas will often be amended or dropped based on the reality of parenting and raising a child.

Thus, while creating a shared vision for raising your children is important, it should be considered an evolving vision that can grow and re-shape itself as your children grow up.

Freeing Your Children from Cycles of Pain

Now, here is where it gets gritty. Here is why being a spiritual parent is so important. If you don't, you are just passing on all the same unconsciousness and pain that you've absorbed. Many parents have no idea just how mired they are in pain and lies, and as such, they unwittingly send all that along to their kids through their actions, words, and general energy. When parents who have had a traumatic experience in life haven't fully healed it, that pain is still passed on to the children. There are no secrets in our energetic world, and children are wide open to their parents. Whatever is going on with their parents is felt by them, and while different children hold onto different issues, let's just focus on cleaning up your parental mess first to give your kids the best chance for a happy, healthy, and loving life.

For example, if you had some traumatic experiences growing up as a child but didn't fully heal, you probably don't speak your voice with integrity. You may shout and yell when you get upset because that pain is still inside. As such, you are teaching your children to shout and yell, or they'll swallow their voices because they're scared of you. It can go the other way where trauma taught you to hide your voice, and so your kids are learning about not speaking their truth. This is how it generally goes. The end result is that your woundedness becomes theirs in many regards even though they were not hurt like you.

I know. It's not fair. But fairness is an ego idea, and this world does not operate by ego ideas. That's why healing is so critical to helping raise happy children and breaking the cycles of pain and suffering. So if you can't be inspired to heal yourself for your own sake, perhaps this reminder can inspire you to heal for the sake of your children.

For more posts to help you get started and go further in any healing you need, you can check out this link:

Spirituality Blogs About Healing

More Spiritual Parenting Thoughts

These are my main thoughts on the topic of becoming a better spiritual parent. Simply working on breathing into the moment, being loving, and being open-hearted are core elements of spiritual parenting in my eyes. It's not complicated to be a spiritual parent. Parenting can be complicated, yes. But being a spiritual parent is not. It's like I said at the beginning:
  1. Be here now for your kids
  2. Practice remaining open-hearted through easy and challenging moments
  3. Engage with whatever arises in that situation and learn from it.

From here on, you'll get to hear wise words from other spiritual parents. I hope they can inspire you as well and offer you some more ways to become a better spiritual parent so that we all can shape the next generation and the future of this world towards a space of greater kindness and love.

Awakening, Unconditional Love, and How Children Mirror Our Issues

In the context of a spiritual awakening, being a parent can be super overwhelming (if it wasn't already). In Will's comments below, he offers some thoughts about how his spiritual awakening has been supported by being a father.


"When one initially goes through awakening, parenting can seem like the most inconvenient thing in the world (especially if you have low energy). You simply can't see how sleepless nights, tantrums, and a tired partner can help you in this process of shifting consciousness.

The truth about parenting is that it makes you selfless in the end, and it offers you the chance to offer compassion to others close to you like your partner but also to other parents and people in general. This compassion includes being able to deeply sympathize with parents who lose children or have very ill children (sometimes I get crippled by watching the news!).

The most important thing for me, though, is that my kids are my mirrors. They usually reflect my mood, especially if my energy is strong. If I am in resistance or unconscious, then they will let me know by throwing a tantrum or fighting with each other. In contrast if I am open, in the moment, and conscious, then they respond with calmer behavior, having fun, and giving me lots of cuddles! They are the blank canvasses who have zero issues. It's the adults who are the ones who have learnt not to be present. I encourage other parents to embrace their children's ability to not to be in the future or past.

Having mayhem going on around you can also be a spiritual practice, and it teaches me to let go over and over again. Since the moment is ever-changing, things can come and go quickly with kids, and you can learn not to get to caught up in it, which is a great spiritual skill.

It's not all roses, but my kids are my most valuable teachers who offer me unconditional love, no matter what. "

Will H.
Father of two
England
United Kingdom

Bringing Spiritual Truths into Everyday Parenting

In this perspective on spiritual parenting, Mary shares some of her journey of self-discovery and how she is embracing the continued changes going on within her while caring for two little ones. These comments about spiritual parenting are reminders that we are never perfectly free of flaws. Instead, it is encouragement that we best serve our children when we embrace who we are right now with whatever we currently know and continue to grow to live the spiritual truths and realizations we discover.


"The last two and a half years have been a period of deep healing and profound change in the way I perceive and understand myself and my relationship to the world. In fact, my life is changing in ways I could never have imagined. This is happening entirely in the context of ordinary family life that includes two pre-school children, a small two bedroom apartment, mess, disorganization, and lack of sleep. Essentially, it’s all the struggles and challenges of Western early motherhood with initially no connections to a local spiritual community or regular meditation or other spiritual practice. All I really have is a willingness and desire to be honest with myself and keep looking for the truth of the moment.

Believing myself to be fundamentally flawed as a person, becoming a parent opened up a whole new world of guilt and failure as my personal despair became something I was acutely aware of influencing and potentially damaging my children. Questions I’ve grappled with included:

How can I truly love my children if I cannot love myself?

How can I honor them as the expression of infinite peace and love that I know they are when I can’t honor and recognize it in myself?

Like a mud covered swamp monster entrusted with two shining pearls, how can I live with the stress of trying to keep them clean?

It’s no wonder I spent so much time scrambling around frantically and earnestly looking for the right way to parent, the right nutritional advice, the right behavioral tools, and the right spiritual answers. It’s no wonder I would fantasize about solitude where I was responsible only for myself, or better yet, I might fantasize about being somewhere where someone else was responsible for me.

But the beauty of being a parent is that it’s one of life’s ways of making it harder to run away from the truth. The truth is that what sees the light in them is the light in me. The truth is that I am responsible for me, for my children, and for my whole ever-changing and flowing world. And the truth is that I am infinitely and wonderfully capable of responding to whatever is needed of me because I am THAT, life, alpha to omega, diapers to Disneyland, the love that creates it and the stillness that holds it all.

You don’t need to be someone or somewhere ‘special’ to realize who you really are. But that’s not the point. The point is living it. It’s easy for me to escape into spiritual realizations, but however hard I might try and avoid it at times, being a parent keeps me focused on bringing these spiritual realizations to bear on the way I live and especially the way I interact with my children. At the moment, it’s about making small shifts and changes in everyday life that let a little more loving presence shine through. That’s something I find challenging and maybe always will, but on my spiritual path I am also finding that the humility, love, and courage that embodying my truth requires is always available to me if I choose to recognize it--right here, right now.

So yes, I have often found parenting extremely hard, and there have been plenty of times when I thought I wanted out. But I have had to accept that what brings me closer to realizing and living from wholeness is not finding the right conditions or situation; it’s going deeper into what Is and finding that whatever my preconceptions and however mundane or difficult or painful a situation may seem, these are exactly the conditions I need (and in fact I have created) to grow right now. Every time I accept that, my heart opens in gratitude to the amazing wisdom and loving generosity of life that expresses itself so perfectly through the grubby, yelling, sweetly beautiful packages I call my kids--as well as their frazzled mum. And I find my heart opens wider and deeper--and things get a little easier--each time.

I’ll never forget the look
From a one year old
That shared me in infinite knowing
Though we will both get lost and come apart
He knew me then, and I knew Him."

Mary S.
Mother of two
Scotland
United Kingdom

Letting Go and Spiritual Parenting

What better way to end this spiritual post and all the wonderful perspectives on spirituality and parenting with some thoughts about letting go from Veronica. Enjoy!


"Letting go; that's what comes to mind for me this morning as I think about what it means to parent. It's a constant process of letting go.

We want to hold on tightly to our children and protect them from the big, bad world. We want to surround them with all that will make them happy and keep them safe. And yes, we can and must do this because this is our charge as guardians of young lives.

But the process also constantly involves a letting go, and that is where the spiritual development lies. When my youngest child doesn't want to go to bed, I am challenged to learn to let go. I don't let go of the fact that my child needs to get some rest. I let go of the expectation that it will be easy.

When my teenager wants to stay out past what I consider a reasonable hour, I let go, not of the curfew, but of the expectation that my child will like me at all times.

And the ultimate letting go in the journey of parenting is the acceptance that our children are their own selves, separate from us. They learn from us; we learn from them. But ultimately, they are their own person, and they get to choose their own path.

Lastly, the greatest gift I feel that I have given my children is the letting go of any expectation that they will be anything other than what they were born to be. Just yesterday my daughter texted me from college and asked me to wish her luck because she was about to audition to become a performance major within the theater department at her university. I wished her luck and told her how proud I am that she is going after what she wants in life. She texted back, 'It makes me happy that you're supportive of me doing my art.'"

Veronica J.
Mother of two
California
USA


Thanks to everyone who has shared their thoughts, and I hope you have found a few tips to help you become a better spiritual parent and help your children grow into their own light and love.
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