When the Horse Dies, Get Off…
and Stop Dragging It Around!
How we define something determines what we do with it. If we define it as ‘good’, we’ll want to draw it to us and push it away if we define it as ‘bad’. What allows us to come to these conclusions is an underlying framework, often invisible to us, that forms the context within which our definitions are forged. That underlying, invisible context forms the crucible within which we fire our beliefs, values and attitudes about ourselves and all that we come in contact with. It is a simple fact that all meaning is context dependent. There are no exceptions. Change the context and we change the meaning we ascribe to a person, place, event or set of behaviors.
Consider, for a moment, the notion of ‘parenting’. How do we determine, or define, what constitutes ‘good’ parenting or ‘bad’ parenting? What is the context that we have created within which we make decisions about the way that we engage with our developing children? And more importantly, how many of us are parenting from a context that has been shaped outside our awareness and yet continues to drive the way that we engage in this process – mindlessly, repetitively – running not from intelligence and choice but from habit and history?
Consider how we ‘parent’ our children. For this moment, put aside the notions of loving our children and allow your thoughts to focus on parenting as a global process and one that is predictable. Consider the possibility that the process of parenting – long grounded in the command and control model of rules and discipline, reward and punishment, and a constraint that is driven by the notion of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ – has evolved from a long-held belief that our children are problems to be dealt with; forces to be tamed, molded and shaped to meet cultural requirements.
Consider what parenting might become were we to develop a new belief; one that says that our children arrive as small, bright smoldering embers – sparks of potential and of the Life Force that moves through us all – to be protected and nurtured, with parenting as the process of creating the space around them to allow air to move and them to breathe. Consider parenting as a process of oxygenation that allows these small embers to burst into full flame, becoming bigger, brighter, stronger, hotter…becoming the Light that fills the dark places and eliminates the shadows of ignorance and scarcity from the worlds that we create.
Parenting is our first introduction not only to ‘mom and dad’ but to all that they represent in the broader world. Power. Authority. Leverage. How they engage with us and how they allow us to engage with them becomes the template from which we now consider how we move through the world with others that we perceive to be the same. People like our bosses; experts and authority figures in our lives like doctors, priests/ministers/rabbi’s, teachers – in other words, people that are positioned as knowing more and knowing better than we do. We are taught and encouraged to trust blindly and without question.
There is a powerful connection between the sanctity of the process of parenting – and all the attending rights and privileges for the parents – and that same process which we’ve used to create all of our larger living systems. Our organizations – corporate, educational, political, religious, medical, etc. – are built on the parent-child model. Our notions of management and leadership are modeled on the parent-child relationship. If we begin to question the parenting process; if we begin to scrutinize and closely examine the parenting process, we put at risk the validity, stability and credibility of all these other parallel processes.
Dogma. Rules. Control. Power. As a small, helpless child, you are at the mercy of your physical and behavioral environment. Then, you grow up and become a parent yourself. Now, you’re the one in charge of this small unit called ‘family’ and it’s your turn to dish it out! You now get to pass it on to your kids. Unfortunately, even in this so-called ‘enlightened’ time, far too many of us do just that – mindlessly, blindly and without ever stopping to consider the consequences of our actions and the havoc that we wreak in the name of discipline and ‘good’ behaviour, waving the flag of righteousness and good intentions. For some of us, it comes to look like “payback time”.
Far too many of us simply pass on what we received because to do otherwise would require that we question how we were treated. To question that process presupposes that we must also, by extension, question those who were engaging in the process. And that, my friends, is a no-no.
Like it or not – claim it or not – we are a people who cannibalize our young. We strip them of their ability to trust in their own experience; we spend their early lives choosing for them rather than teaching them how to choose wisely for themselves; and then we fault them mercilessly for having become the very beings we have shaped them to be. We take their souls and spit them out – all in the name of convention, good breeding and the making of a ‘responsible’ citizen. And you know what? It’s starting to show.
An Alternative to ‘Pavlovian Parenting’
We have been parented (shaped, molded, buffed and polished) by people who were themselves victims of the best intentions (much of the time) of others who had leverage and not necessarily insight. The scary part about this is that parenting, because it’s a process, is mindlessly, invisibly and often seamlessly passed on from one generation to the next.
It’s also contagious. We look around and, as we do with so many other things in life, we watch to see what others ‘like us’ are doing and we do what they do . It’s like that 100th monkey thing…only instead of potatoes we’re working on little, miniature human beings. So consider this for a moment: if how we parent our children is driven by how we were parented (and how expansive was that?) and how the folks around us are parenting, what kind of world do you think we’re creating for our children – and teaching/modeling to them how to create for theirs? That one could keep you awake nights…
So, if we want to consider an alternative to all of that, consider the notion of ‘enlightened’ parenting and ponder the following thought: Enlightened parenting requires – you guessed it – enlightened people! That means that before you can ‘parent’ differently, you have to discover (cast ‘light’ on) who you are.
That means all the things that you’ve been trying to ignore for decades and have been tucking behind your accomplishments/achievements in the hope that they’ll just fade away and you’ll forget, now get pulled under the bright light of your scrutiny. Why is this important? Because I can promise you that if you turn your back on this information – on what you might call ‘baggage’ or ‘crap’ from your childhood and what I might call a reservoir of brilliance and resourcefulness – when you least expect it, when you are at your most stressed and stretched, it will bite you in the ass! The problem is, when it does, you may well turn around and bite someone else and it just might be your kids. After all, they will likely have the smallest teeth with which to bite back – if they have any at all – and we’re stressed not stupid. Not likely we’d pick a fight with someone whose muster matches our own!
Here are a few things to ponder as you turn the light on yourself:
- Take a look at your life: how’s it working for you? How happy are you? How good do you feel about yourself? How much fun are you having? How big is your life? How good are you willing to have it be? These are important things to pay attention to when you consider that you can’t give what you haven’t got. If you can’t BE it, you can’t help anyone else become it. Think about it… The way you engage with your children will shape the context within which they engage the world. That can be a huge responsibility or it can be great fun and a hell of a ride!
- Are you a living expression of what you demand from others? How often have we grown up with Bob and Betty saying to us: ‘do as I say, not as I do’. And we already know how useless that was. Are you a living expression of the very things that you expect/desire/demand from your children? Do you live by your own rules? Does your dogma enrich your life or make it smaller (you know what dogma is…it’s the stuff that everyone tells you is real and true so that you’ll do what they want you to do). How vulnerable are you to a command- and- control model of the world? How easy is it for you to question authority? How safe is it for your children to question yours? Are your children people – individuals – or are they branches on the tree that you are?
- Teach your children how to think! Don’t just teach them what to think about, teach them HOW to think about the things they think about. Help them explore and challenge their own thinking. Encourage them to ponder authority and not just blindly succumb to it. Encourage them to question and wonder; to poke at things and tug at the loose ends. Help them discover the way their truth moves inside them and to trust it. Help them to be willing and able to say ‘NO’ to people, regardless of rank or stature in their lives, and to say it like they mean it and they’ll stand behind it. And remember, that will also include saying ‘no’ to you. Help them learn how to trust themselves when everyone else will be telling them to trust anything but!
What we call ‘parenting’ is the process that shapes the next generation. (In other contexts, this same process is called ‘mind control’ or ‘brain washing’.) It is from this process that our world evolves or not, potentially resigned to repeating the sins of the father. Parenting is a process of ‘mind share’ – a process that allows us to shape the minds and models of the world of our children before there is a recognition of their ability to shape one for themselves. Parenting is a process of mind control – it is a process that shapes the context within which a child will unfold.
Parenting and having been parented are the back and the front of the same hand. And it is this hand that will reach out and shape the future that we all will have to enjoy – or endure.
To find out more on Parenting and the book,
When the Horse Dies, Get Off… and Stop Dragging It Around!
visit the Louise LeBrun web site at: