Self Development as a Parent

Steiner said there were three absolutes which every teacher must undertake as part of his essential task of being a teacher: to understand child development; to strive to understand the particular children one is working with; and to work on one’s own inner development. These exhortations are as relevant to us as parents and homeschoolers as they are to any teacher in a school. Perhaps they are even more relaxant to us as we are with our children all the time – and many of us are isolated, alone with the children day in and day out. Partners who work long hours can offer limited support – and they need support for the challenges they face outside the home. Homeschooling can seem a lonely and monumental task.
And now I am saying you have to do self development on top of all that – where to find the time?!
But that is not the kind of self development I am talking about. I am not talking about retreats  or long hours journaling or looking inward. I am not necessarily talking about set times to pray or meditate – though the rejuvenating effects of both these activities makes them not just a luxury – just one more thing to do – but a lifeline akin to breathing! The kind of inner work I am talking about is that which takes place everyday right in the midst of the busiest of busy families. What greater work than to do one’s own inner work while changing a diaper, washing the dishes or clearing the dinner room for the fourth time today?
I am reminded of a wonderful article I read in Mothering magazine – must have been a good 15 years ago. It was about breastfeeding as meditation, as a time to give oneself up to the needs of another human being and to the moment. To wake in the night and pick up a crying baby or turn to the baby in a family bed is to be in the moment and to surrender. To be able to just give to that baby and be there for her is to learn one of the greatest lessons any human being can learn – that of sacrifice.
Sacrifice is not popular these days. You don’t read articles in conventional women’s magazines about sacrifice – if it is mentioned, it is synonymous with being a doormat, a drudge, an old fashioned and unfulfilled woman. But to truly sacrifice not out of guilt or coercion but out of a free and considered choice is one of the greatest gifts we can give another human being and to ourselves. Only those who are truly standing in their own sense of “I” can sacrifice – anything less is indeed being a doormat. This is something that is so often poorly understood. But I think that most of us can tell the difference when we tune into what we truly feel inside – is this sacrifice given freely or is it done out of guilt? If it is the former, one is left with a feeling of satisfaction and ease. If it is the latter, one is left with a feeling of resentment.
There are so many opportunities to make sacrifices as mothers and homeschoolers – giving up a second income, living more frugally, being “on call” all the time – these are opportunities for sacrifice. But they are also opportunities to act not from our center, but from guilt and then resentment. How to cultivate the former and avoid the latter?
Many of you will seek answers to questions such as these through your spiritual/religious life. Connection to the Source is a powerful way to ensure one is able to, if not actually walk the desired path, to at least seek where it lies. Working with compassion and forgiveness (especially of oneself!!) and with empathy are powerful tools. Seeking balance – between family and the rest of the world; between one’s self and others; between rigidity and chaos; is a daily task, a daily practice. Working out what is one’s own stuff and what is one’s children’s – no further work can be achieved without beginning right there. Looking inside and trying to understand when one acts from fear or anger – and why? Where does it come from – what are the patterns, the ruts, the broken records?
And perhaps most importantly, as one warily steps forward on this journey, is to realize that it is the journey itself that is the most important thing of all. The goal is to live a life as well as one can – but it is the journey itself which becomes the goal. Never give up – forgive, forgive, forgive, forgive – and because I know I cannot say this too often – forgive yourself more than you think you possibly can. Be gentle – on yourself. Nothing cannot be forgiven and transformed or redeemed – only our own guilt and stubborn refusal to let go and breathe stands in the way.
Update 2021–please refer to our Self Study Course for in-depth guidance on self development as a parent.

Posted on May 29, 2007 in Family Life and Parenting, Religion and Spirituality

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