Thoughts on Egoless Parenting
Years ago, my 12-year-old daughter and I were travelling to the West Coast for a family event. In Vancouver, we were on a bus, with her sitting by the window. I was pointing things out, showing her things about the city. As I looked past her head to the outside, I suddenly noticed that she had cut deep sideburns into her long hair! I was totally surprised because I hadn’t seen them before. “You cut part of your hair!” I exclaimed. She looked scared, and blushing asked “Do you mind? Is it OK with you? Are you mad?” What was my answer?
However you approach this question, your answer will be defined from within your own reality. It will be determined by an unimaginably complex set of beliefs and experiences and unquestioned assumptions you have about life. It may have to do with parental authority, about being a watchful mom, about children and scissors, or rebellious teenagers. You could bring any possible interpretation to that moment, but whatever you bring, it will be a reflection of your own life.
Some people think it’s a parent’s job to tell their kids what to do and not do, and to react if a child does the unacceptable thing. The ‘right’ thing could be related to homework or what to wear or eat, or when to come home, or what religion to follow; it could be related to anything. The parent decides what is right for the child and enforces that standard.
This model of parental authority implies that one person, the adult, can know what is right for another person, the child, and can impose his or her will on the kid. The problem is though that the adult has very little actual awareness of the conditions of the child’s real world. He isn’t privy to the child’s experiences or thoughts or feelings. Most parents don’t even have a very good idea of what it feels like to be in their child’s classroom, let alone the associated social dynamics, or their child's inner learning process. The adult is looking at the child’s life through the adult's own unique perspective, not the child’s.
So my question is, how can one person ever know what is right for another person when we are each utterly unique? How can we ever really ‘know’ anybody else’s reality, or what is right for them? In truth, we can only ever know what is right for ourselves. The adult can only know what they think is right for the child, but it may well not be right for the child at all.
I think it’s the parents’ job to teach their kids how to tell what’s right from the inside, then let the kids figure it out for themselves. We can encourage children to pay attention to how they feel after making a choice, to learn well from their experiences, both good and bad. We can teach them inner technologies of self-awareness, emotional understanding and learning from feedback, so they can develop their own ability to know themselves. We can teach them to know if something is right for them by how it makes them feel; by whether the universe responds with positive reinforcement or not; and by whether they have a passion for it or not. We can give them the responsibility to know themselves well from the inside out so they can tell what feels right and good for them. Then we can honour their intelligence and respect their own unique place in the universe by supporting them in doing what’s right for them.
We must each learn for ourselves, from the inside out. I remember the solemn decision one of my sons made to cut his ponytail off, and his lack of regret at his good decision. I also remember another teenaged son’s discovery that a significant amount of alcohol drunk over a short period of time is a sure way to drunkenness, ill-feeling and embarrassment. I learned that lesson in first-year university when I drank three glasses of bourbon in a half hour, then thought I’d left for a party only to discover myself waking up the next morning sicker than a dog! My body needed to learn how much alcohol could be drunk without bad effects. No one else could have learned that for me. And no amount of rules and recriminations from my parents could have replaced that single lesson.
And so I replied lovingly to my daughter “Actually, it doesn't matter to me if you cut your hair. It’s your hair, and you can cut it off or die it purple if you want to. It’s your hair so it's your choice. Your life is your own, so whatever choices you make, you will be the one to experience the results. I can give you my opinion on it for feedback if you like, and I think your hair looks cool. But it’s entirely up to you. It’s your hair and your life.” She grinned and happily told me the story of how she and her friend had cut it that week. She was surprised that I didn’t mind, since she and her friend had thought the adults would freak out.
We went on to discuss what I would mind her doing and I said, “I don’t want you, or anyone else, to get hurt physically, emotionally, psychologically or spiritually. So I don’t want you to do anything that would hurt you or anyone else in those ways. Exactly what those hurtful things might be, I don’t know. It would depend on the moment. But those are the outcomes I want you to stay away from."
“So if you want to try something, go ahead. Try a little and see if it rings true for you. Follow the feelings that call you forward, and avoid the bleaker, more dumpy moments. Do more of the things you like and less of the things you don’t like. Follow your yes’s and your passions. Follow the path of good experiences and stimulating responses from life. And avoid the things that make you feel bad in any way. You will be rewarded by the web of life for doing things that are in right alignment with your unique place in the universe. I can’t tell you what it is. No one can. It’s up to you to find your way.”