Decolonizing Parenting

As a parent, has your mind and spirit been “colonized?” Has your ability to think and act independently and from your heart and soul sense been thwarted or dimmed? What would it mean to “decolonize” our parenting practices, to free ourselves from the conquering forces of conformity, productivity, and linear thinking? Parenting is completely unlike building a car or a house, where there are plans, rules, do this first and that second. Parenting is creating our own roadmap as we go. It is facing the unknown, unhealed parts of ourselves, which is a humbling, confusing, and breathtaking process. We carry the spoken and unspoken messages from our lineage and of society of how to be or not be as a parent. We hold the unreleased tensions and unconscious hopes from our own childhood in our bodies that often are affecting us in ways of which we are not aware.

When a baby is imagined – not yet even conceived or born – we often start from a colonized mindset. Will my baby be ideally formed, able-bodied, book smart, meet all their milestones at the “right” time? Will I know what to do and how to be a “good” parent?” What will my child achieve? How can I be better than my parents? These questions are not wrong, but they imply a narrow definition of success and joy.

When a baby is born, we ask immediately, “is it a boy or a girl?” as if that is the top identifier of who that baby will be. “Is the baby okay?, wanting to know the baby is not deformed, which is understandable, especially given the emphasis on the ideal. At two minutes after birth in a hospital, the baby is given an APGAR test and given a score (Apgar stands for Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration.” In the test, five things are used to check a baby’s health. Each is scored on a scale of 0 to 2, with 2 being the best score.) What is the score? Is my baby nursing properly? Is five pounds “too small?” Is 9 pounds “too big?”

Although health metrics are important for understanding what a baby might need as they grow, what energy does this communicate to a baby? If the first messages are “what have you accomplished?” “How have you measured up to the ideal?” “Am I happy with you or disappointed?” what does that do to a baby’s nervous system? What does it to do a parent’s nervous system as well? How do the tensions, expectations, and judgments effect the relationship between parent(s) and child(ren)?

What would happen to our minds and bodies if we asked different questions before a child joins our family or immediately after birth? Here are some possibilities:

Who are you?

What is your path/purpose?

What shall I learn from this relationship?

How will I change from parenting you?

How does my body feel when I hold you?

What does my body need to take care of you?

What can I be aware of and do to not cause harm and to add to healing in the world?

What if we were allowed the time to feel, to be, to connect? What messages would a baby receive then? What would it feel like to be met with curiosity instead of judgment? What if nothing was “right” or “wrong?” What if we remembered parenting as a verb: to accompany, to nurture, to protect, to trust, to let go, to listen, to take responsibility for harm, to relate, to grieve, to celebrate, instead of an accomplishment or a “good or “bad” outcome? A product?

What happens in our bodies when we consider this? What softens? What clutches on to the desire for the “right” choice, the “best” path? We have our own unhealed, painful spots within, having been fed the idea that there should be a right or best choice. Can we be gentle with ourselves, love ourselves as we are in order to more deeply love our children?

This path of parenting is long and has many junctures where we can choose to get off the well-worn path and try something different. Support is often needed to make this choice – the support of nature, a loving friend, a spiritual companion, the divine, or your own awakened heart. Forgive yourself, dear human; we are not meant to live in perfection. Look at the clouds passing by; feel the sun on your face, sense the breeze, put your feet on the earth and breathe.

What questions arise that resonate for you?