I will never forget the advice my midwife gave my husband and me as she sat on the edge of the bed preparing to send us home with our first newborn child.
“Don’t read too many parenting books,” she proclaimed.
I am glad she does not know where I live now, because she would see my overflowing library of those very types of books filling the shelves, piled on counters and coffee and bedside tables, sitting on the passenger seat of my car, and sticking out of my purse.
I would argue, though, that I actually have heeded her counsel. Or what I see as the spirit of it.
I love to learn about different perspectives and theories in child-rearing. I happily spend hours contemplating and discussing how others’ ideas jive (or not) with my own intuition and inner wisdom as a mom. I use what I discover as fuel to formulate my own unique and authentic parenting philosophies.
One of my go-tos for inspiration is the classic, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, which offers parents a plethora of advice for how to be effective with their children.
This book has given me many nuggets of wisdom—wisdom like listening with full attention, offering choices, and encouraging my kids to seek answers from sources outside of home.
Right now, though, I find myself trying to make sense of the authors’ teaching to “free your children from playing roles.”
The teaching suggests that self-fulfilling prophecies (like, “she always wants to be in charge,” or, “he is all thumbs”), even if proposed innocently, can be dangerous. Faber and Mazlish explain that labeling our children—either verbally or in underlying attitude—should be avoided at all costs as it can profoundly and negatively reinforce patterns and behaviors.
I am in wholehearted agreement that we should not pigeonhole our children, ourselves, or anyone for that matter. My entire spiritual base is grounded in the belief that we human beings are eternal possibility—we exist in the field of pure potentiality, a silent realm from which all things flow and where anything is possible.
My way of being in the world is influenced and informed by the ancient, wise traditions of yoga and Ayurveda. While yoga has become a household name over the past 20 or so years, Ayurveda is still in its infancy here in the United States.
Ayurveda, known as the “wisdom of life,” is the 5,000-year-old sister to yoga. It is one of the world’s oldest healing systems, and offers an individualized approach to health and well-being. It proposes that we are all made up of a unique combination of three different mind/body types, or energies, known as the doshas. Our individual blueprint, or prakriti, is determined at the moment of conception, and includes physical characteristics as well as general patterns of personality, thinking, and behavior.
In Ayurveda, it is important to know our unique constitution so that we can spot imbalances and take steps to bring ourselves back into balance in an effort to prevent disease. Further, the wisdom of Ayurveda posits that in order to find happiness and well-being in life, it is important to understand not only our own, true nature, but also the true nature of others if we are to increase harmony in your relationships.
And therein lies the conflict:
If we rigidly follow the teaching to free our children from playing roles, we lose out on the wisdom offered by Ayurveda to explore and teach our children to know their own essential and inherent nature.
As parents and guides of these humans we are raising, it is our duty to help them understand themselves and their constitutional tendencies (whether worry, creativity, competitiveness, inquisitiveness, lethargy, or steadiness) so that they may be empowered with knowledge to create balance in their life.
As with so many things, it is not black or white; it is not either-or. Sure, there is a shadow side that needs to be recognized. Self-fulfilling prophecies do exist and can be detrimental. And there is also incredible power and insight to be gained from knowing our true nature and what inner balance looks and feels like for each of us.
I propose that we reframe the philosophy, “free your children from playing roles,” to, “teach your children about their unique nature” so that:
>> They can begin to understand how they operate in the world, without self-judgment or criticism.
>> They are empowered to make choices to maintain and bring themselves back into balance.
>> They can look at themselves and others through a lens of compassion and curiosity.
>> They can find more joy, ease, and flow in their relationship with themselves and others.
Ayurveda has been around for 5,000 years for a reason. I know firsthand that it offers immense benefits for helping us live and parent with more skill and ease even in these modern times.
Get curious. Experiment. See how this might support you and your family.