The Tao of Parenting – or of Being in the World

02 March 2017

Dear Baby Liam,

as the first weeks with you are passing by, well-meant advice, nursing and parenting tools have already been shared with me by a wide variety of people:

•“You should control him, make him tired so that he can sleep well”

•“You should let him scream when he is hungry so that he eats only every 3 hours”,

•“It’s wrong to carry him so often”…

•“let him learn how to be alone”….

•“You should clean him with milk”…

•“Give him yoghurt for digestive problems”,

are just some of the examples I get to hear from experienced mothers, and some who wish to be one. It seems like everyone knows best what is good for you, and would like to see their methods applied, believing that what worked for them will work for you too. While these are just seemingly irrelevant little aspects of parenting, I started to reflect upon why I am so strongly resisting the idea that anyone knows better what is good for you than you and me.

During the last summer term in my studies, we were given a lecture on energetic interpretations of peace. For a Western mindset, these interpretations can be very difficult to grasp, let alone lived up to. We heard about a variety of philosophies, that have been and continue to be selectively applied in the Western world like a mosaic, as decorative items for lifestyle, living room and social media pages. Taoism was one of them, and one of the more difficult ones to grasp intellectually. We needed to differentiate between Taoism as a religious system and Taoist philosophy. What we were looking at specifically was Taoism as ancient Eastern philosophy, which emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao or the “Way”. The Tao can be understood as principle that is both the source, pattern and substance of everything that exists, the natural order of the universe.

Even if there was a possibility for some of us students to mentally understand the philosophy of Taoism, we were wondering about the practical feasibility of living up to such philosophical standard of absolute harmony and faith in this natural order. So questions were raised, such as “would Taoism allow crimes to happen?” and “how would Taoism inform child rearing in practice?”

The latter question was one that immediately caught my attention as you was underway and I wanted to learn all there was to education, parenting and child rearing. Our professor smiled and said “Oh, Taoism is a wonderful way to raise children”, explaining how a toddler in the defiant phase would be allowed to express her anger until she is calmed by the expression of the feeling itself.

I remained critical about it – so how could values and morals be transmitted to the children? A question in which I found the thinking mistake straight away: “morals” – in energetic peaces: it was not about teaching good and bad (=morals), about punishment and reward, but about the true unfolding of your nature, your calling.

In an attempt to go a little deeper into energetic approaches and parenting, I browsed the web, looking for a book that could initiate a reflection within me: after entering the keywords “Tao” and “parenting”, I found exactly what I was looking for.

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Subconsciously, I think I had hoped for a step-by-step-guide on “how to parent”, with rules and boundaries all mapped out for fresh parents just like me. Boy, I felt relief when it was not a collection of rules and suggestions, but rather an exploration of examples of how others did – without suggesting that it would be best for me and you.

When I grabbed this book, I quickly found that it followed the structure of the classical Tao Te Ching, a scripture by Lao Tzu (or Laozi) defining the main principles of the Tao. Following these kind of structures is helpful because it gives a framework for how to approach the subject in the first place. Yet, it is not about teaching (and teaching our children) scriptures or predefined religious dogmata, it is more about the action that we live and embody which may or may not be inspired by such teachings.

ACTION – REACTION

It also suggests accepting you for your nature, instead of trying to force who or how you should be. Teaching boundaries and respect by adhering to them myself is one thing, but forcing you into a shape that you are not is another, which won’t work anyway. Taoism knows that any attempt to control (people or things through action) results in a reaction – and even retaliation.

It means allowing the flower to bloom in its own way, in its own beauty, and its own time. I probably know not yet how difficult this might be as a parent, but I can begin by observing myself and look out for the impulses that sometimes appear in my mind of how things “should” be – or of how you, your life, your development and your future “should” be. Who defines the measure of should, the norm of perfect? By observing my own thoughts I may find that I am projecting my own fears, insecurities, desires and belief systems onto you, sweet Liam. Who am I to do so, and anyway – what else would happen if I pushed through with my understanding of ”good” than seeing you rebel against it?

It is the basic principle of Taoism, that order results from inaction. Attempting to control actually creates disorder, contrary to what control may be suggesting. We have all experienced this mechanism in one way or another – through parents, friends, relationships… Any coercion, any control – even if we believe it is in the best interest of the beloved – causes rebellion that is often painful for everyone.

DON’T JUST DO SOMETHING, STAND THERE!

In emergency scenarios, we often hear people say “Don’t just stand there, do something!” – as if doing anything will be better than doing nothing – or than doing no visible action but deeply and honestly observing the scenario. In the context of last semester’s lecture on energetic peaces, we found that Taoism turned this saying around:
Don’t just do something, stand there!
– not in the sense of just standing and watching conflicts unfold, but in the sense of being present. Being really present in the moment is a very rare skill – it is not being taught or fostered a lot nowadays.

BEZIEHUNG INSTEAD OF ERZIEHUNG

Another main principle that Taoism can inspire me to, is stepping into relation with you. This might sound the most natural thing within a family, but it is not. It refers to the mindset of parenting and relating. In German language, “parenting” in the sense of educating, forming and training your child by rules, rewards and punishment means “Erziehung”. The word for relationship is “Beziehung”. To me, it is about replacing the mindset of “parenting” with a new way or entering a relation with a child. It is replacing “Erziehung” with “Beziehung”.  You, with your one month here on Earth, already are a personality – and boy, what a strong one! I am not here to train you but to get to know you. I am here to learn from and with you, together as partners.

Without deeply knowing myself, I won’t understand nature, or the Tao. Just as I have thought and mentioned in another letter to you, I still think one of the crucial ways to foster good relationships with others –  with you especially – is to get to know myself, with all the shadows and lights that are hiding within me. How else would I know when I am projecting onto you and when not? How else can I differentiate between emotions and feelings in the context of a conflict?

The book I have been reading takes me on a journey through the “teachings” of Taoism, it is a journey reminding me of my own experiences, and possibilities of learning from them. Mirroring lessons in the examples of others, seeing how it could have been, and imagining, yet again being ready to let go of these imaginations of the future. The past is not anymore, and the future is not yet – this is what Taoism teaches – an awareness of the present, trust in the flow of life.

I feel blessed that you chose me to flow with me,

Your Mom

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