A simple question: What is the mission statement of parenting?
Every child is a unique soul sent down to this world to fulfill a particular mission. As parents we have a sacred duty to raise our children to be their unique self in order to fulfill their particular mission.
It seems simple enough; why then does it often seem so very complicated?
While I am sure there are many answers to this question, I would like to focus in this article on one challenge in particular. Have you ever noticed how deeply our children trigger us? Our spouses may trigger us but the stuff that comes up somehow feels different than the stuff that comes up with our children. Why is that? Because parenting, more than any other relationship, calls out our own ego.
There is a part of us that wants our children to represent us. To be the best of ourselves. No, to be better than ourselves. We want them to become the thing we were never able to become. We want them to be seen the way we were never seen. To be attuned and in self the way we were never able to be. In some way this is a beautiful desire. It is an expression of the love that we have for our children.
It is also unfair. Children should not have to carry the burden of their parents longing for wholeness. It is just too heavy. Furthermore, it is not a great place to parent from. When parenting from a place of ego we are bound to mold our children into miniaturized versions of ourselves. It is almost as if we have some deep seated belief that if our children will be enough then maybe we will be enough. And what happens when our children, in the messy and imperfect process of discovering their own being, make mistakes? If we are parenting from our own ego we will naturally gravitate towards parenting strategies that involve authority, control and domination. Our ego tells us that the child is broken and it is our responsibility to fix them. While some of those strategies may work some of the time, in the long run, especially as our children enter into their teenage years, there is only a certain amount of control that parents are able to exert. Once we have entered into a power struggle with our children, while we may win the battle, we have already lost the war.
As parents we have a responsibility to aid our children in discovering their own unique contours. We want our children to fully realize their own purpose in this world. This obligates us to take a long, hard look at ourselves. Parenting is a window into our own inner world. It tells us a ton about our undeveloped self. Notice what triggers you. Notice which behaviors you laud and applaud. Notice which behaviors you punish. Ask yourself, how much of this because I think these behaviors are objectively good or objectively bad for my child? How much of this is because I am uncomfortable with the way my child is behaving? What stuff comes up for me?
Our sacred duty as parents obligates us to look at our issues. Our children are incredible mirrors; they have a way of reflecting our own childhood right back at us. Every eye roll, every conflict becomes an opportunity to ask ourselves, what’s coming up for me here? When we notice our own ego and how it plays out in our parenting strategies we have the choice to change course and parent from a deep place of self. In doing so, we free our children from the burden of fixing ourselves. They no longer have to carry the ten thousand pound knapsack of becoming the idealized (and unrealized) version of their parents.
If we want our children to be in self then we need to be in self. If we want our children to be attuned then we need to be attuned. In other words, parenting is when the self of the parent meets the self of the child. If we are not in self then we are not reaching the self of the child. Children will naturally attach themselves to their parents but attachment occurs best when self is present. As long as our ego is dominant, it inhibits meaningful attachment from occurring. Which brings us to the challenge of doing vs. being. As parents we have responsibilities to care for our children and that means providing them with their needs. We feed them, house them, educate them etc.. all of which are in the realm of doing. Supporting our family’s physical needs can take up massive amounts of our time and energy. But we cannot forget how important being is to our children. We cannot communicate to our children their intrinsic value if we are not present in our homes and in their lives. And when we say presence we do not mean physically present (though we should not underestimate the value of physical presence) we mean the presence of the self. The more we are in self, the more the environment in our homes is one that gives our children permission to find their own self. So as we live at the nexus of doing and being we must remember that while we have responsibilities to take care of the physical needs of our children, doing cannot come at the expense of being.
Beyond the environment in our homes, self led parenting is the ideal place to parent from. Parents who lead from the self have an abundance mentality. They understand that their child will make mistakes and allow their children to go through the process of becoming. If we want our children to have the space to explore their own becoming then we need to detach from our ego as they go through the process. Our ego tells us to fix, control and produce so that our own unrealized greatness will be fulfilled in the form of our children. Our self tells us that children will naturally thrive and that our responsibility is to create conditions in which our children can do so. Our ego will only see the child’s actions, our self will naturally look deeper to understand what is driving that behavior. The behavior is no longer labeled as good or bad. The child is not trying to make you look bad, their behavior is not personal. The child is not broken, they are in the process of striving for wholeness as we all are. Our children deserve to grow up in a home unencumbered by our need to be pleased. As long as we are parenting from our ego we are communicating to our children that they exist to fulfill our needs. Parenting from self frees our children to discover their own essence in their own unique fashion.
Parenting is not a perfect process. It can’t be. We are all still in process and our ego is a very real part of our lives. Being in self (or at the very least becoming in self) takes a lifetime. What we can do is take on the perspective of being a growth oriented parent. Our children’s behavior is grist for the mill. Every day is an opportunity to move closer to our truest self. As long as we stay in process we will be good enough for our children.
Rav Mordechai Burg is the Menahel of Mevaseret, Mashpia of NCSY Summer, Mashpia of Nitzotzos, author of Nitzotzos on Chumash and a senior Rebbe at Tomer Devorah and Bnot Torah Institute. His shiurim can be found on Nitzotzos.com.
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