What does it mean to parent “spiritually?”
Parenting on the spiritual plane exists whether we know it or not. If one chooses to ignore, or does not know of, this aspect of parenting, it does not mean spiritual parenting does not exist. It is not an “opt in” experience, but rather, is always there. The spiritual lives of our children exist in forms that are both evident and opaque to us. The first step is to recognize the reality of our child’s spiritual self, know that it is already in its full form. In other words, while we may take care of our child’s body and emotions – guiding her, feeding, clothing, protecting – her spiritual being is exactly like ours, in its full form. We are on the same level of spiritual existence. The child spirit is not half-formed. The adult spirit and the child spirit are the same. The only difference is the level of emotional weight a person takes on over years of living. Eckhart Tolle calls this the “pain body:” an invisible part of ourselves where the history of our existence is layered around our spirit, affecting mental, emotional, and physical health. [cite Tolle]
What does this have to do with spiritual parenting? When we start to view our children as fully formed spiritual beings, the way we interact with them changes.
There is often a manner of engaging children that is influenced by our physical or emotional state. We are tired. The toddler is “pushing our buttons.” The teenager stayed out past curfew. We may respond in exasperation, and at the center of our response is the idea that the adult is ranked higher on the proverbial ladder. This is not to say we should stop instructing our children! Oh no. An understanding of his fully-formed spiritual body gives even more reason to do so. Rather, this changes the way we welcome and love the person reliant on us for guidance. Physically, we are stronger than our children (until they grow, of course.) Intellectually, we are superior because of our educational experience. We are not spiritually superior, though, and this is an important distinction to make.
When we recognize that the child’s spirit is just as capable as our spirit to understand metaphysical depths, the behaviors of interaction change. We can look into his eyes and know that we have a similar spirit, even if the child’s emotional capacities are not matured. This recognition brings generosity from our spirit to the child’s spirit – no longer treating him as a second-rate, less developed person.
We may not think we do this, but it is often true. Some relish over the “sweetness” apparent in the church children’s choir, the memorized passage from a holy text, or the gosh-darn cute thing the child rattled off in line at the grocery store that was “well beyond her years.” Each of these situations have to do with physical or emotional restrictions, but not spiritual. The difficulty is that the full spirit is not easily evident to us on the physical plane because of the limitations of the childhood body and mind. We must trust that it is true.
The result of identifying a child’s full spirit is real unity with the child. We can connect with our babies and children on a level that may not require much “action” at all. A mother can sing a spiritual song while holding the baby in her arms. A father can recite a meaningful poem to the child. The grandparent could talk to the child about kindness and ways to love the world. Or, put more simply, one can recognize the existence of Divine Love in the relationship that connects us to each other – and see if first in our children. This kind of relationship is drastically different than familial connection. It is the relationship that changes the world.
Children have the capacity to understand the spiritual in a deep way, just like adults. Fortunately, they are often less self-conscious than we are and can engage it easily. This is what Jesus mean when he told us to “become like little children.” It is not ignorance – that is engaging mentally with the spirit. It is not weakness – that is attempting to grasp the spirit with our physical strength. Jesus means that we must find the central part of our spirit under the layers of history and memory.
One small aspect of spiritual parenting – if not the first step – is to recognize the existence of the child’s fully formed spirit. When we chose to engage it, we can have a positive influence on the child’s spiritual identity. If we ignore it we still have an impact, but with much less spiritual intelligence.