Bringing Light to the Dark Side of “Natural” Parenting
Photo by Keith Reagan
Read part two of this column on Kindred. Part two features an audio interview with Marilyn Schlitz, PhD, of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, IONS. The articles also appeared in the fall issue of Pathways to Family Wellness magazine. These two columns were presented as a part of IONS’ Worldview Literacy Project’s facilitator training on their Earthrise campus in August 2011. See photos of the Worldview Literacy Project week here.
The Greek goddess Athena’s companion is a little owl that perches on her shoulder. The owl’s natural night vision peers into her owner’s darkness, illuminating the hidden side of her psyche. Because Athena is able, with the owl’s help, to see the whole truth about herself, she is able to act wisely… and that is why she is the goddess of wisdom.
Bringing Light to the Dark Side of Parenting… with Worldview Literacy
Part 1 of 2
What if there is a dark side to our natural/holistic parenting efforts – meaning, a side we are unaware of and could use a little light? What if the lens we perceive the world through shifted enough, even for a moment, to expose and illuminate this dark side? What would we find?
A little over a decade ago, awash in the glow of baby-smitten motherhood, a nagging suspicion that I was missing something crucial in all of my considerable efforts to “be a good mom” formed at the periphery of my awareness. I would take out my mental checklist and run over it carefully to make sure I wasn’t, and then talk with other parents about this checklist, which seemed to be growing. As my son grew, so did the checklist, until one day I found myself feeling like an errant knight on a quest – except that I was a new mother on a wellness quest with a hefty mental yardstick to tell me if I was “doing it right.” As a new set of issues appeared with every new phase of my son’s growth, the hash marks on the yardstick increased until it grew into an unwieldy weapon that, unwittingly, I would take out to evaluate and judge myself on my motherhood “performance”. Breastfeeding, check, organic food, check, no TV, check, attachment parenting, check, yoga/meditation practice, check… you get the idea.
As a professional journalist, I had “investigated” motherhood options and decided I wanted to be a “natural” mother, and what Paul H. Ray, PhD and Sherry Ruth Anderson, PhD, coined in their 2000 book by the same name, a “cultural creative”. I knew my lifestyle choices ran against the grain of mainstream culture. I also knew I desperately needed my parenting community to talk about issues like, “What the heck is high fructose corn syrup and why is it in everything?” The parents who joined me on my quest were the best companions in the world. Bursting with love for our children, our hearts easily found the courage to question the status quo. Natural parenting came naturally… at first.
After a few years of floating on the pink cloud of early motherhood, it began to dawn on me just how endless the issues were, and how complicated. The initially comforting mental yardstick, with its ability to give me a sense of accomplishment, now stretched into the abyss as I became angrier and angrier pondering questions like, “Who the hell thought growing spermicide in genetically-engineered corn was a good idea? Who are these people and what gave them the right to wreck the planet without our knowledge or consent?” With no warning, an overwhelming sense of helplessness crushed me flat and I squeaked out a defeated admission, “It’s not one thing that I need to question and change, it’s everything, and I can’t possibly make a difference.” In hindsight, I understand this version of reality was the Tale of the World According to the Yardstick.
When my son turned four, my family packed up our suburban belongings and moved to a small farm on the outskirts of our county. I spent the next few years playing in the dirt, growing food, witnessing the cycles of life, and becoming immersed in a new awareness. I wrote about this experience in an essay entitled Spiritual Composting in 2007. On the other side of this shift in my perception of the world, I found my former yardstick mentality transformed to the Tale of the World According to the Earth.
Instead of, “it’s not one thing, it’s everything and I don’t matter and can’t make a difference,” the Tale According to the Earth was “everything IS one thing, and as a part of this wholeness, I always make a difference.” The revelation was not an intellectual thought. I experienced this awareness in a way that left certainty in my bones and clarity in my vision that my smallest efforts – even thoughts – were connected to a conscious universe and therefore, inevitably mattered.
By sitting compassionately with myself and peering into my own habits of thought for clues on their origins, I noticed how, from the beginning of my parenting path, I brought a lifetime of achievement ideals to motherhood. My unexamined, unconscious programming of performance, evaluation, and production was a value system straight from my formal education and work world – which was now the dominant, unsustainable industrial paradigm I sought to undermine with my “natural” parenting efforts. Yikes! Echoes of Einstein’s famous quote rang like tolling bells through this new thought, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Oh. Right.
With gratitude for its teaching, the yardstick was ceremoniously tossed into the compost heap and all self-loving gestures (like naps!) were rolled out with glee. Hmm, I thought… what kind of impact would a group of well-rested parents have on the world? (Maybe we would find the energy to carry the Non-GMO Shopping Guide with us to the grocery store? See interview with Jeffrey Smith.)
In my natural parenting workshops, I struggled to find the words for the insight experience. Many parents intuited my attempts and shared their own moments of perceiving a vaster context for our lives. Knowing the story so well myself, I could now spot parents who were chanting their version of the Tale of the World According to the Yardstick. Witnessing this phenomenon through a new lens, I realized with sadness the beatings we gave ourselves with those disconnected, industrial values were brutal, not to mention the insidious moments of blindly brandishing our yardsticks on one another… Is that a Happy Meal toy?
I shuddered when the thought appeared from the blind side of my own psyche… what if, even with the best of intentions, deciding to become a “cultural creative” or earth-saving “natural” parent while unaware of our industrially programmed lenses onto the world meant creating the cruelest yardstick imaginable for ourselves? On the days I gave up on reaching the high ground of natural parenting, I wondered, did all of the energy bound up in this blind spot ever serve me or just drain me? Were these mechanical values capable of serving humans, much less the caregivers of small children?
In a seemingly encapsulated response, the July 2010, New York magazine’s cover featured a frazzled young mother with a dazed infant on her hip plastered with her declaration, “I Love My Kids, I Hate My Life.” The article states, “Most people assume that having children will make them happier. Yet a wide variety of academic research shows that parents are not happier than their childless peers, and in many cases are less so. This finding is surprisingly consistent, showing up across a range of disciplines… parents are more depressed than nonparents no matter what their circumstances—whether they’re single or married, whether they have one child or four.”
While the article was not about worldviews, when the author asks the question, “So what, precisely, is going on here?” she stumbles upon this unstated conclusion when she notes, “…middle- and upper-income families… see their children as projects to be perfected.” The author cites influences on parent’s unhappiness, including waiting later in life to have children. “When people wait to have children, they’re also bringing different sensibilities to the enterprise. They’ve spent their adult lives as professionals, believing there’s a right way and a wrong way of doing things; now they’re applying the same logic to the family-expansion business, and they’re surrounded by a marketplace that only affirms and reinforces this idea,” the article states.
And there it was, probably gripped behind her back on that cover shot, the New York mother whacking herself with an industrial value yardstick. The language of the article chanted perfectly the Tale of the World According to the Yardstick with its revealing prose of “children as projects to be perfected,” a family as an “enterprise” and a “family-expansion business” started by parents who were “professionals” with ideas of “right and wrong” surrounded by a “marketplace” that reinforces these ideals.
On the heels of the New York article, in December 2010, the married couple of the popular online parenting site, Babble.com, debuted a TED video where they shared a high-tech stage and the revelation that they too were surprised by the academic studies that said parents would not be happy again until their children left for college. With light-hearted humor, Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman pointed out that their original business endeavor, a website called Nerve.com which focused on sex and dating, would eventually lead the reader to Babble.com. Started in 2006, this site was inspired by the shock of Rufus and Alisa’s first year of parenting.
Not without bitterness, in the TED video, the couple reveals four parenting taboos they believe prevented them from discovering the truth about parenting until it was too late and they were knee deep in diapers. Their Babble.com mission statement expands on this belief, “Every publication we encounter presents procreation as a cute and cuddly experience, all pink and powder blue, at best an interior decorating opportunity, at worst a housekeeping challenge. None of it is true to the experience we are having, and that we see around us.”
In the video, the parents of three boys say they have traded happiness for a few moments of transcendence, like the first steps of a child, “which are sometimes pretty quick”. They wish seasoned parents would tell the truth about their experiences so others will be warned (hopefully in stories on their website), and conclude with their recommendation to new parents to practice “right expectation management” — meaning, as they explain, if you lower your parenting expectations from “a trip to Europe” to a grueling “trek in Tibet” you won’t be as disappointed when you get there.
Rufus and Alisa’s wishes for parents to tell the truth about their experiences is well taken… but they, and the academic studies, seem to fail to shine the light far enough into the closet to see something foundational, unconscious, and lurking in the depths of our individual and collective programming: that damnable yardstick. Is it possible for parents to “tell the truth” about our blind spots when we don’t see them for ourselves? From a certain vantage point, Babble’s wish for truthfulness among parents sounds like a call for laying down the yardstick the keeps us competitive with one another. From another view, the advice for “right expectation management” feels vaguely like a recommendation to hold your breath and white-knuckle it through the ancient rite of parenthood.
With five million followers, clearly Babble.com’s message is appealing to a large section of the parenting population. However, instead of suggesting new parents lower their expectations and muddle through life for eighteen years, what if we could change the one thing we fully possess and control that can also change the world – our personal lenses? What if, by somehow becoming aware of our lenses, and learning tools to explore the framework of our inner consciousness, we could shift conception, childbirth and parenting to a greater context that would open an endless field of possibilities for enjoying the time – a fraction of our total lives, really – we have as caregivers of the world’s next generation?
What if muddling through was just one option of many? What if you didn’t need to buy a farm in Virginia where you would play in the dirt and wait for your brain cells to reorganize themselves into an altered awareness of this fact? What if a group of dedicated scientists spent forty years researching the components of human conscious, and ten years specifically researching the process of transforming our perceptions, our worldviews, in order to change our daily, lived reality as well as our collective world? What if someone created a short cut that would give us language for this process as well as a road map for the journey?
The Worldview Literacy Project
During the decade I spent as an activist for natural/holistic parenting, speaking to parents and compiling investigative field notes that pointed to a need for paradigm awareness as a foundation for natural parenting and informed choice making, two of the coolest moms I have ever met were compiling their own research data into paradigm shifting, or, Worldview Literacy. Marilyn Schlitz, PhD, a cultural anthropologist, clinical research scientist and president of the Institute for Noetic Sciences, IONS, and Cassandra Vieten, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist, and the director of research for IONS, released the results of their decade-long study of the most “powerful force of change” known, in their book, Living Deeply: The Art and Science of Transformation in Everyday Life in 2007. (Read Dr. Vieten’s blog on Kindred Community.)
In part two of this column (coming in December 2011 and now appearing in the fall issue of Pathways to Family Wellness magazine), we will talk with IONS’ consciousness pioneers about their work in frontier science and the ever evolving field of human consciousness research.
“This most essential change, the one from which all other changes spring, is a change in your worldview and your perception of what’s possible. Transforming your consciousness may be the most important thing you can do for yourself and the world,” writes Dr. Schlitz in Living Deeply.
Can we, by shaking off self-imposed obstacles like inattentional blindness, the inability to see what is right in front of us, discover that our inner resources and capacities for creating the family life we want were always greater than our perceived outer fears and disappointments? As we become aware of our worldviews, can we act with compassion toward ourselves and each other, while embracing our ability to create a new worldview, tell a new story?
Of course we can, and many parents, activists and nonprofits are doing just that, right now. For inspiration from the new and emerging story of the human family, take some time to read through and connect with our growing Kindred Community!