28 Sep Parenting means responsibility
The foundation of spiritual knowledge is the truth that we are not these material bodies but spirit souls, parts, and parcels of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. How does a spiritual perspective affect our parenting? Above all, we should be able to realize that our children are not our property but they are unique and separate individuals with their own life purpose and their own relationship with God. However, this does not diminish the importance of our parental role, nor the responsibility entrusted to us.
The child comes into the world with his unique identity and potential, the desires he wants to fulfill, the duties he must perform, and the lessons he needs to learn, which are all the legacy of his previous lives. According to the Vedas, we are spiritual beings who pass through the material plane and are constantly learning and evolving (or degrading!), and who are responsible for all the deeds they do. However, when it is born, the living entity has no awareness of this but is covered with oblivion and ignorance. From the moment a child is born, he embarks on his life journey from this point of ignorance, towards consciousness and development at all levels of his being. Consciousness already exists in a child, but in the form of a seed that should bear, its fruits when they are ripe enough. We, as parents, are here to assist the child and serve him on that path of development, as gardeners who carefully water the plants and provide them with the conditions to bloom to their full beauty. Although we as parents are not the source of that beauty, it already exists in the child himself, during our parental duty we can contribute a lot to its manifestation, or in preventing it from manifesting.
According to the Vedas, the parents are the representatives of God for the child. This sentence reveals two very important truths: how huge is the influence of the parents on the child and how huge is the responsibility that the parental task carries. Why is it so?
A child in his state of innocence is fully dependent on his parents, at all levels of existence – for eating, sleeping, walking, talking, thinking, feeling, and communicating. If we just try to put ourselves in the shoes of a small child who knows nothing but what he experiences from those beings who look huge to him and who give him a hug and touch when he is bitten, who feed him when he is hungry, who carry him and bring him where he needs to be, who explain to him what is what and how to cope in this world, who help him relax when he is tense, who are there to give him comfort and protection after a frightening experience … maybe we can guess what that feeling is and what is the importance of these huge beings for the child’s instinct for survival. Until the age of six, the influence of the parents or guardians who directly care for the child is the most important – everything that the parents or guardians do, and everything that they allow to become part of the child’s immediate experience. They represent God for the child because they convey to him the image of life that the child receives “as it is”, still unable to question it. Ideally, as devotees of Krishna, we want to imprint the image of devotional life on the child`s consciousness and to direct him to the path of liberation from the bondage of material existence.
Here are some questions that can help you become more aware of the impact your presence, your activities, and your decisions have on your child’s development as a whole and on the development of his Krishna consciousness:
Does my child feel safe in the environment in which he lives?
Is the relationship between me and my child close and comfortable enough that we both have trust in each other?
How much time a day/week do I dedicate to unhindered socializing with my child and exchanging love with him/her?
What kind of atmosphere reigns in our home, what mood gives the main tone?
What example do my behavior and the behavior of other adult household members give to my child?
How I resolve conflicting and stressful situations in everyday life and what message it gives to my child?
Most of us are not on the level of pure devotees, we are not perfect and sometimes we make mistakes. It is not something that we should feel guilty for, but we can keep trying to improve ourselves. If our child sees that we admit our mistakes and honestly try to improve, it gives a better example than to imitate a sinless pure devotee if we truly are not (because what we truly are is louder than how we present ourselves – a pearl of wisdom I heard a long time ago from HH Sacinanadana Swami).
I think that the period of parenthood is a wonderful opportunity for learning and growth, not only for the child but also for me as a parent. One of my favorite realizations of parenting is that with the birth of a child, a mother is born as well. Living with a child and taking care of him awakens a strength in us, mothers and fathers, that we did not even know we had, needed to fight challenges that we did not even know existed. There aren’t many opportunities in life where we can play God, but this is one of those! While the child is quite small, we are practically the source of life for him, and as the child grows, we are still mostly the creators of his environment and the filters through which he experiences the world. As the child continues to grow, our influence gradually diminishes, but the imprints we imprint during early childhood will remain almost indelible. It is up to us whether these stamps for the child will represent a stable basis or an obstacle for the experience of life in all its beauty of Krishna consciousness.