After my last blog on directing teenagers, I picked up Tolle's A New Earth, an Oprah book club pick. In fact, Oprah is having a series of online lessons with Tolle. You can catch them on her website, if you missed signing up for the lessons.
Well, I will tell you up front, I am not a big Tolle fan. I found one sentence in The Power of Now that was useful, so I was very skeptical when I picked up A New Earth. I was even more skeptical when I got to the part about parenthood.
As it turns out, Tolle had a few good things to consider about parenthood. First, the obvious: many people use parenthood as part of their identity. "This is MY daughter," "I am a good mother," "Don't I have a beautiful family," "I am (fill in child's name)'s mother," "Yes, my son is president of the senior class..." These are how we all identify ourselves once we become parents. Since parenthood is so all-consuming, it is difficult to avoid the identification. It's also why it hurts so badly once the separation of parent and child comes with college or marriage. Our children have been our identity for 20+ years and now we are on our own, left to once again figure out who we are and what our role is.
Tolle says the we should fulfill our duties as parents without becoming attached to the role. He also says if we cling to the role-playing of parent and child, we keep a real relationship with our adult children from developing. If we play the role of "I know what's best for you" even when our child is 40, we can cause feelings of inferiority or helplessness in our children. When they don't do what we tell them to as adults, they can also feel guilty. I'm not sure I completely agree with him - I will always be older than my child, for example, and will have more wisdom about some things, things I experience before he/she does.. His assertion is based on the assumption that parents hold "do what I say" over their child's head with "or I won't love you anymore." I don't think they always go hand-in-hand. It is always possible to give one's child suggestions, knowing they probably won't listen, but love them unconditionally anyway, always.
Tolle also gives advice for children suffering from their parents always treating them like children. Realize that your parent(s) have not evolved from an ego-driven to a conscious state of being. If we are aware, we can release negative energy. Good advice. Everyone should use it - children and parents alike - it could release alot of suffering.
Tolle also says children have to suffer. Parents can't save their children from all suffering and to do so is to keep them from growing. This is sound advice, too. I have seen so many kids ruined by their rescuing parents, but it is inherent in the nature of Western civilization to try to alleviate all suffering - that is what science and knowledge are for, to keep us from pain. The most extreme and damaging form of this behavior is parents who constantly side with the child and refuse to admit that he/she could possibly be wrong at school or in community actions. These parents claim this teacher or that kid has it in for their child, curse at teachers, the police are profiling their child, or whatever - it is never the child's fault, much to his detriment he/she is rescued from ever facing the consequences of their behavior. These kids often become dismal failures or land in prison, once behavior has escalated to the point that mom or dad can't rescue them anymore.
But, the soundest advice Tolle gives for an authentic relationship with one's child is simply to be present with the child. Be there as a human being, not a role. Be there beyond instructions like "brush your teeth," "do your homework," or "come home on time." He also says the only thing that makes sense - give your child your attention. Many people think driving to soccer, sitting through the game, and getting the mandatory fast food afterwards is giving a child attention. Tolle says this is only doing, form-based attention. Children need to see the being behind the doing and they need our undivided attention in stillness. Going to the soccer game or football game will get you together, and that's great, but it doesn't mean you are focused on your child. If you are having a meaningful discussion in the car on the way there, fine. If you are watching a DVD all the way there, and talking about your new Coach bag all the way through the game, not fine. For obvious reasons, no one can be there 100% of the time. But being conscious of your doing/being roles is a start.
And finally, I unquestionably agree with this statement - this is the one sentence form A New Earth that will stick with me and I hope with you:
The longing for love that is in every child is the longing to be recognized, not on the level of form, but on the level of Being.
From what I have observed in 33 years of working with young people, this is the crux of many people's angst - they are never honored or loved solely for who they are. Many parents hold "I will love you if" over their children's heads, and I think consciousness of this trait in parents is the substance of Tolle's thought on parenthood. His advice is give up the pathological egoism of parental role-playing and develop an authentic relationship with our children.
In the long run we will also be developing an authentic relationship with ourselves. That seems to make sense from both parent and child perspective..