14. Being a Parent
How do your spiritual ideals affect how you raise your children?
One thing my wife and I try to do is nurture a sense of love, respect and responsibility within the home.
I believe that our kids are quite confident that they are well-loved, and they know this to be true even when they are disciplined. They also know they are well-respected, as well as being valued as individuals.
Before either of our children were conceived, my wife and I studied and used for prayer a section from Kahlil Gibrans The Prophet dealing with children. It begins "Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of lifes longing for itself." I commend the passage to everyone who is a parent and anyone who may become a parent. Actually, I think its good reading for kids as well.
The essential idea I derive from that passage is that, if I may use some legal terminology, we are trustees for our children, not their owners. They are each unique souls whom we have a duty to nurture, teach and guide. But since they are not our property, we cannot tell them what they have to think or believe.
I remember when my first child was born, one of my companions in Cafh jokingly told me, "Get their respect before theyre bigger than you." I think by giving respect, weve gained their respect in return.
I love the ending of the Kahlil Gibran passage. It goes "The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the Archers hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable."
Its my job to be a stable support and foundation for my children, not just economically, but emotionally as well; helping them to understand how life works, so they can learn to think for themselves and ultimately become self-sufficient in a way that benefits humanity and those who surround them.
Do you try to transmit to your children any of what youve learned in Cafh in an explicit way?
I have never said to my children, "Cafh explains this in such-and-such a way." I dont like to preach or indoctrinate. Besides, Cafh doesnt have any kind of sacred book that I could quote from anyway.
Frankly, even if I were to say such things, I dont think it would be an effective method for transmitting anything. We all know the phrase, "Do as I say, not as I do." The reason that phrase was invented is that, for sure, children will learn more from what you do and how your are. Perhaps the phrase "actions speak louder than words" is what really applies to how kids learn from their parents.
So, whatever I may have learned in Cafh is transmittable only to the extent I actually live it. I dont have to try to teach, and they dont have to try to learn it, because without effort my way of being becomes part of their environment, and they absorb that environment automatically.
This is actually one of the reasons we had our kids attend The Seed, which is a nursery school / kindergarten run by members of Cafh who live in a community in Yorktown, New York. We knew that they would absorb the environment of love that the community members have been able to create there.
So theres no time that you try to inculcate spiritual ideas to them in words?
Well, we do talk to them about many things that deal with behaviors that would be consistent with spiritual ideals, like love, respect, fairness, and so forth.
Wait. There is one time I can recall that I tried to communicate more directly some of the ideas Ive learned through my association with Cafh, though still in a roundabout kind of way. I was putting my kids to bed and said I couldnt read to them because it was time for lights out. That didnt stop them. They virtually demanded that I make up a story for them. I asked them to pick a subject, and they picked Christmas.
I started making up a story about two kids who just accidentally happened to have the same names as my two boys who magically wound up visiting Santa Claus on the day before Christmas. An accident injured Santa to the extent that he had to ask the two boys to take his place that night to deliver all the presents. They learned, in substituting for him, how hes able to make his rounds the world over without ever being seen. In gratitude for their assistance, Santa told them he had a special present for them placed under their own tree.
The boys returned home to find a small, plain stone from Santa, which they learned is called the "Helping Stone." It allows them to bring about the same circumstances around them as allows Santa to deliver presents without being seen. They can use this power whenever they need it, but only in order to help others. Naturally, since they cant be seen, they can never be thanked for their help.
The story goes on from there (it basically created itself over several nights of story-telling) to detail the boys adventures in using the Helping Stone. I think most kids feel relatively powerless, and thats why superhero comics are so avidly read. Superheroes fix things and are loved and applauded for their efforts. Although my story was a little bit like turning kids into superheroes, they had to learn to use their powers because it was the thing that needed to be done, and not because they would be recognized or thanked.
My kids loved the story. They complained if any evenings episode was too short. I dont think they ever suspected that I was trying to teach them something at the same time I was trying to entertain them.