There is no shortage of information on pregnancy, birth, baby feeding, and childrearing in books, online, and from anecdotal accounts. Sometimes appearing in public while pregnant or caring for child(ren) can be taken as an invitation for unsolicited stories and advice. It’s a lot for modern parents to wade through!
Some parents will choose to maintain family traditions in childbirth and parenting…sometimes intentionally, oftentimes subconsciously. Others will throw out their ancestor’s ways of doing things in order to blaze their own path, or, more frequently, join up with the most popular or “evidence based” path at the moment.
These two extremes leave a lot left unexamined in the middle. Preparing soulfully to raise a child doesn’t simply mean looking to others for the answers, but rather examining your own values and ideas about what feels best for your growing family.
There is much experiential learning that comes from growing up from child to adult. Watching the way our parents and guardians demonstrate raising children can teach us a lot. Sometimes we learn a lot about what not to do. We may even store those ideas away as rules and unwittingly use them against ourselves later as parents when we open our mouths and the voice of one of our parents comes out in a way we didn’t imagine it would.
Like any other major undertaking, birth and parenting involve a lot of on the job learning…trial and error. We can’t possibly know until we find ourselves with our feet held to the fire how we will respond to the intensity of labor, or toddler tantrums, or a teenager taking the car out for a joyride without permission. You are learning by doing…usually imperfectly…just as your parent(s) were. Be gentle with yourself and know that there are no black and white rules for how to do this. (Oftentimes that gentleness with yourself can lead to increased compassion for your parents’ imperfections as well.)
In other scenarios, the way our parents and grandparents brought up children seemed to work out well enough and we copy/paste those methods without much thought. When we are acting from habit we are also acting outside of free will. That doesn’t mean that every single parenting decisions requires intense scrutiny. However, it does mean that there’s value in asking, “Did this work for me as a young person? Is this relevant and useful for my child’s unique personality and the circumstances in which they are growing up? Is there something else that makes more sense than this old way of doing things, or is this well-worn path serving my family best right now?”
At the other end of the spectrum are parents who pour over the latest blogs, book, and documentaries, trying to keep up with the most modern version of how to get birth and parenting “right.” They make scoff at the way their own parents labored, birthed, fed, and cared for children, brushing off family traditions and history as being uninformed. When you forsake the wisdom gained through your family’s experience and trade it in for the latest scientific article on google or popular opinion on a parenting blog, you miss out on soulfully preparing for your role as a parent.
Your own parents are part of generations and generations of people who have managed to raise children. While your older family members might not be up on the current recommendations on delaying solid foods for infants, they know a whole lot more than you do about meeting the challenges of parenting, however imperfectly. They know things about facing fears around birth and parenting and moving through them in whatever way made sense for them at the time. They know about taking on a new identity as a new parent and have insight into the personal struggles of leaving their old self behind. They know about having an idea about how to raise a child and having to change plans because of the unexpected surprises life brought their way.
They know these things because they have wisdom, which can only be gleaned from experience and struggle. Rather than pushing their ideas away, I recommend asking them about how they navigated the soul journey of no longer being independent, but rather beholden to their family and children. Ask them about how they built resilience to deal with challenges and found self-compassion when life brought the unexpected.
So how are we to sort through all of these sources of information as we figure out who we are and who we would like to be as parents? Take the gifts from each of these sources that work best for you. Seek out wisdom on the soul transition of parenting from wise elders. Decide what makes sense for your family from the stories and data that you hear, and hold on to it with a loose grip, knowing that life can render those rules and ideas a poor fit for your family. Hold on to meaningful family traditions like beautiful heirlooms, and let others go that don’t serve you or your children well. Stay present and solution focused, always inquiring within, “What’s working?” and “What does this moment call for?”
Nikki Shaheed CCE(BFW) CD(DONA)