One beautiful aspect of parenting is that it requires us to think about things we avoided for many years. It places front and center topics that could be blissfully dodged. That is, without a small, wide-eyed face looking back at us, asking about the ways of the world. If you are lucky enough to hold the trust of a child, as parent or not, resulting in somewhat difficult inquiries directed your way, there is an opportunity for illumination and enlightenment… for you.
In America, there is a myriad of methods to tackle child-rearing, brought to us by a sturdy publishing industry – providing big promises and innovative techniques, promoting the instinctive, but also convincing readers of their need for professional expertise. Birth and parenting books line my shelves (though, admittedly, on a somewhat smaller scale, in comparison to some.) Unless one has a very strong inner compass – or is notably stubborn in their perspective – the amount of information provided to caregivers is immensely overwhelming. How do we know what is right? Which expert holds to golden key to a perfect parent-child relationship? Of course, this is impossible to answer. Most often, we respond with the generic “whatever works best.” (A completely unhelpful statement and usually a waste of breath.)
This is because we really do not know what to do about the parent-child relationship. I am not a therapist and am not peddling a particular methodology, but I have a suggestion that might shift the perspective and approach to this consequential relationship.
Essentially, what arises out of parent-child interaction can be transformative for both individuals.
No, I do not mean, “Parenting will change your life!” Of course, Captain Obvious, the routine will change, priorities will shift, and hard-earned money will be spent on other things besides Sunday brunch at the cute farm-to-table bistro around the corner or a splurge at J. Crew. Clearly, you will see friends less and most of your television schedule will revolve around what time Daniel Tiger airs on PBS. Did you catch the latest Solange album drop? No?? Let me present you with the Laurie Berkner Band – the U2 of toddler tunes.
What I am talking about is a deep, spiritually metamorphic alteration that caring for a child can stimulate – but only if the adult is willing to step into it.
A few nights ago, my nearly three-year-old son popped The Question. I was not ready for it in the least, but it turned out to be the moment when I realized this transformative experience is real, dynamic, and can bring our lives into spiritual awakening/union with the Divine at any given moment.
“Mommy, where is God?”
We were finishing our nightly routine. Books were read. The bunny-lovie was in hand and he was snuggled under the sheets. The lights were off and we were sitting together in a dark room. I was just about to leave to find my own reprieve after a long day (feeling verypregnant at nine months!) I was tired. He was tired. We prayed our little poem to God and he asked, “Mommy, where is God?”
The few seconds between his question and my answer found me tossing through a whirlwind of possible scenarios. Since this was the first time he asked the question, I wanted to answer “correctly.” Though he is small, I did not want to sow a seed of misrepresentation for the God that I know. It is my desire that he sees the freedom of searching for and exploring all aspects of Divine Love.
What I said to my child is less important than what I am trying to emphasize here: that adults should open to these small moments as instigators for profound self-development. What if I answered him with a stock assertion often given to children when we believe them to be too young to grasp big concepts? What if I rushed away to read the book on my bedside table I waited for all day? He would certainly get an answer, but I would miss this opportune moment filled with mysterious love.
I settled with short statements and small words that essentially told him that I believed God is everywhere – inside us and outside us, God is in everything. God is here because God is in the love that we feel and give to others – even ourselves. Honestly, my biggest fear at this moment was that I would totally freak him out and that he would not want to go to sleep – afraid that some unknown being that he could not see was lurking in his room. Instead, he quietly said back to me, “God is here,” snuggled his bunny and rolled over to go to sleep.
It was one of the easiest “go to sleep” moments we had in weeks in this house.
As I closed the door to his room and started to reflect over what happened, the profound realization of this miraculous exchange washed over me. The significance of my words to him were twofold: first, that I felt like I explained God well enough, at this time, to my child and second, that God really waseverywhere – and very much in that exchange between mother and son.
When we say, “God is love,” we are giving a description of who we believe God to be. However, because of the abstract and basically confusing examples of what human love is compared to Divine Love, the words end up packaged in watered-down catch phrases. In this moment, God was revealed through the communication between mother and child: the vulnerability of the child’s question, the parental pause and patience to stay, the revelation of truth, and peace that settled in the space between us.
I was transformed.
Opening to these bits of time is not easy. Parenting is hard. We get tired, emotional, stressed, and sometimes feel like we are carrying the burdens of the world on our shoulders. However, it is exactly because of this that we need to live with hearts open. God is offering sustenance. We can experience reprieve. The burdens are not only ours to hold. We may not catch every single opportunity (we are human), but we can make the decision to live unguarded – to the benefit of our children and our own hearts.