"Spiritual Parenting?"

"Spiritual Parenting?"

Dear Theo,

I keep hearing about "spiritual parenting" but I am just trying to survive and enjoy what I can of these early days of being a new parent. I don't want to feel that I am failing my children by not being as spiritually grounded as I once was.

Please help!

Signed,

Hoping to be a better than average parent

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Dear Hoping,

Oh, honey. You are doing really well. You are doing so much better than you know. When Anne Lamott (who is my choice for the next Pope) gave birth, she expected to feel So. Much. Love come pouring into her being for her child. Instead, she talked about her infant son's "reptilian gaze" and how she couldn't comprehend that there were people who would throw themselves in front of a speeding train for their kid—she could barely imagine throwing herself in front of a speeding bicycle.

Let's dial down the expectations here:  you're exhausted! And every day is a new poop-storm, probably quite literally.

First: burn your copy of Meditations for New Mothers or whatever other claptrap your childless great-aunt mailed you that is making you feel so badly about whatever you're doing (or not doing) to be a spiritually grounded parent.

Second: repeat after me, while looking into the mirror, "I am a pretty darn good parent today. I fed my child (or made sure someone else did). I kept their body clean and safe (ditto someone else). I may have even spent time cuddling or singing or tickling my child. I am a rock star!"

Third: repeat #2 daily.

The fact of the matter is:  spiritual parenting is not something extra we do. There are not "ordinary parents" and "spiritual parents." If God is love, then any loving act (like feeding or changing your baby, like bathing or tickling), is a form of worship—not worship of your Miracle-Baby, but the One behind the Miracle.

If you are worried that your habits have changed—that you don't do an hour of centering prayer every day anymore since becoming a parent—let me ask you, how much of your "spiritual grounding" before was really grounding, and how much was spiritual smugness? Singing to your child on the changing table is as much a spiritual practice as sitting zazen.

And if you are feeling bad because you are so tired and overwhelmed and cranky and prone to crying, well. Don't confuse equilibrium with strength. Having children changes things. A lot of things. As a friend said, children ruin your life—for the better. Any good spiritual learning hurts a little (or a lot), and will knock you off your keister.

As far as the "what am I teaching my kids?" spiritual parenting meme as your children get older: kids learn, primarily, by watching and copying. Maybe you think that to be a good Christian parent you need to making hand-blown Ukrainian Easter eggs with your three-year-old, or doing other complicated rituals involving an entire army of Waldorf-educated professionals.

But the most important thing is: what do your kids see you doing on an ordinary day? That is what they will think is important. Yours is the first face of God that our children see. Do your children see you:

• Sitting and resting (without the TV on) versus being always busy and "necessary"
• Eating a real meal, mindfully, versus snacking
• Praying before a meal: as simple as lifting your face, or bowing your head, and hovering blessing-hands palm down over God's gift of food
• Singing
• Bathing your own body
• Taking it slow
• Treating people with gentleness (if you've gotten more than 45 minutes of sleep in a row the night before, that is)

These are all sacraments and rites and holy acts.

We might think religious observance is supposed to hurt and be hard. Sometimes it is (like being up with a crying baby in the middle of the night...or even a laughing baby in the middle of the night!). But mostly religious observance is, as Barbara Brown Taylor said, just being who you already are and doing what you already do, but as God's person in and for the world.

One last thing: children are naturally the center of their own universes (and can become the center of ours as well—our "little masterpieces"). Part of our job, as they grow into toddlers and beyond, is to help them know their place in Creation, a Creation of which God is the center. This teaching from Hassidic Judaism, our spiritual siblings, might help:

The rabbis advise that each of us should keep two pieces of paper in our pockets at all times. On one we write "I am nothing but dust and ashes," on the other, "The world was created for me."

Bless you, and may you be a blessing,

Theo

Bibliography of excellent, non-judgmental spiritual parenting or child development books with short, easy chapters!

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, Wendy Mogel
Operating Instructions, Anne Lamott
Some Assembly Required, Anne Lamott
Gently Lead, Polly Berrien Berends
How To Talk So Kids Will Listen, Adele Farber and Elaine Mazlish
Louise Bates Ames books on child development: Your One-Year-Old, Your Two-Year-Old, etc.

Who is Theo?

"Dear Theo" is written anonymously by three UCC ministers of different ages and backgrounds - one main writer and two respite writers. We're hoping the questions will span all kinds of topics: from sexuality and relationships to church culture and conflict to mental health, family drama, ethical and moral dilemmas, and everything in between.

Every week will feature a new letter and a new answer. Please write Dear Theo with your questions and problems by sending to deartheo@ucc.org. Letter writers identities will also ALWAYS remain anonymous.

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