It Takes a Village

Parenting, as I see it, is the art and skill of raising a child to adulthood, in which they arrive well-adjusted, healthy, with a strong sense of self and the ability to connect with others in a way which is meaningful for them.  Perhaps this is the mission statement of parenthood.

The work of actually realizing this mission, like all missions, is complex, lengthy, and messy.  There’s no manual for doing this correctly.  How could there be when every child is a unique blessing with their own gifts and challenges? It’s not an easy job. It may well be the most difficult thing one does with their life.  It is also touted as one of the most rewarding.

I’m always internally a little cautious when people starting talking about the rewards of parenthood.  Words like “pride” and “legacy” don’t leave me feeling centered in the mission described above.  When I hear people talk about the joys of parenthood there is often a list of milestones and accomplishments of their child or pictures demonstrating the family their now adult child is creating.  I get this.  These are markers of being well-adjusted, healthy, and so on.  We point to the small things which say, the mission is being realized.

These are all things to feel good about, but I don’t think these are the real rewards we can reap from parenting. I think in our fast paced and often competitive daily grind we can miss the rewards altogether.  The moments of self-discovery, of transformation, of exceeding the limit of what we thought we could handle/do/take/endure/produce/create…

The true reward in parenting is the ever evolving self has another teacher: your child.

Children have their own view of the world and help us learn when to shift focus, to let go, eyesand when to stand firm.  They also give us the opportunity to play.  As I mentioned in a previous post, play is an important spiritual practice.  It’s a necessary part of being well-adjusted.

We miss it, the full presence with it, when we get so caught up in surviving the harshness of our world we forget to look for the magic in a stuffed animal tea party, the spiritual evolution in learning to communicate with a willful three year-old, the transformation of going from attachment parenting to empty nester.  Our world demands so much from us.

We juggle jobs and children, relationships and family, managing a house, trying to create a better world by staying involved in current events, politics, and social justice.  Is it any wonder we aren’t fully present with our families?  For me, there are days when it feels like a miracle just to get dinner made.  I feel my reserves are depleted and I don’t have enough left for full attention to what is going on in science class, though last night I noted my daughter’s textbook is severely lacking, not even including proper terminology for the heart and lungs.  This reminded me of the importance of that presence and vigilance in accomplishing the mission of parenthood. I thought about all the other single moms who might be too tired to look in the text book, the reasonable statement they might utter to their child that of course the answer is in the textbook, read it again, when in fact it isn’t.

It takes a village.

A group of religious educators.

Religious educators after a long weekend of learning how to better be the village.

Really, it takes a village.  We need others intimately involved in helping us raise our children.  I have recently started building a new village. After nearly 3 years of being a single parent, I am realizing the village doesn’t have to be blood relatives or people who have children of their own. My village is coming together through collective living.  I am blessed with roommates who all love my daughter and see the importance of succeeding in the mission.  They know the mission isn’t just mine because I gave birth to her.  The mission of raising well-adjusted, healthy, independent, capable children into adulthood belongs to all of us.

Beyond the relief of just not having to go it alone, having others to help with our children gives us yet another way to engage in the spiritual component of parenting.  We learn to share, grow, extend trust to another, and we learn.  We learn about ourselves and our friends who are helping us.  We learn about our child and watch the various ways they interact with other adults.  We can be parents who are present and intentional.  We can be the parents we wanted to be.

Afterall, it’s the most important thing we will do.

My daughter

My daughter

Play is Serious Soul Stuff

Spiritual growth requires much of us.  It takes effort, presence, practice, and time.  It’s work.  Lately I’ve come to appreciate another layer required for this growth – play.  For the spirit to truly grow we must learn to play, to entertain wonder.  Many of us lost that ability as we became adults.  We think of play as something children do.  Even then, we don’t take it seriously.  There is societal pressure to grow up quickly and put away childish things.  Somewhere along the way we can begin to confuse wonder and merriment with something too juvenile for our engagement.  This is an error.  Play is actually serious work.

“Play Is The Work of the Child”   – Maria Montessori

I am learning to take play seriously due to my position as the Director of Religious Education.  Earlier this year I enrolled in a class on Spirit Play, a method of teaching RE which is based in ritual, story, and individual choice in response to the story.  As the training began I could feel my own resistance.  I stared at the felt being smoothed out in the center of the circle and had to remind myself to look at this from a child’s perspective. Quickly I was lost in the story.  A part of me had opened to the magic of story as teacher.  The simple objects moved across the felt bringing the story to life.  Still, I could feel a nagging in the back of my mind telling me I should be doing something more serious, more important.

I returned to Florida and busied myself with increasing the quality of the Spirit Play class we offer and adding another class for a slightly older group of children.  My days soon filled with reviewing and selecting stories, putting together story baskets, shopping for art supplies, and putting together stations for exploring prayer, reading, and creative play.

Play showed up again as a piece of my work when I attended a workshop at General Assembly to learn about a worship component for all ages called The Wonder Box.  It was the best of Spirit Play combined with the best of sermon delivery and direct ministry.  You can view a video of the workshop here.

I returned to my congregation with a new mission; to invite the congregation into a space where wonder was central to the worship service and their lives.  Through doing the Wonder Box each week I continue to open myself up to merriment and joy.  Wonder has become a source of inspiration as well as a goal in the kind of ministry I provide.  I find as I am learning to simply wonder about the world again, something within me is softening and opening to life’s gifts.  I find myself more present with my surroundings, more willing to encounter the Mystery, which some choose to call God.

With willingness, often comes growth.  The spirit longs to sing.  There is a fundamental need for us to allow ourselves to be wowed by life. Let’s all go do the work of children and find ways to play and wonder.