What is Parenting?
The most basic definition of parent is to give birth or produce. No written or performance test, and no license, registration or insurance needed, all you need is to be fertile, so it's easier than driving a car. Maybe that's the problem, it's too easy, as many people become parents that aren't willing, prepared, or qualified. This is why so many of us received poor, if not awful parenting. It is easy to think that's just the way it is and play the cards you were dealt, but Cowboy Dharma is all about recognizing and accepting what is, and then doing the hard work to make things better.
Your Parenting Experience
To this end we will identify some of the things that make for good parenting so that you may see where these were fulfilled for you and where you were left lacking the skills to really flourish in life. We recommend you take mental, if not written notes of areas that resonate for you, either in positive or negative ways. The positive side is worth remembering and celebrating as few have had an upbringing that was all bad. Try to think of the things however few and far between you enjoyed growing up with your parents, family, and friends.
On the negative or lacking side, this is valuable information as you find where you have deficits in skills, knowledge, and experiences. In the Twelve Step program of Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families (ACA), this is known as "The Problem". The "Solution" is to become your own loving parent. It may seem a daunting task considering the neglect, abuse, and trauma you may have in your past, but there are many people (family, friends, counselors, etc.) and programs such as ACA and many others willing to help you.
Parental Roles and Responsibilities
The role of parents is to protect their children and make decisions affecting their care, welfare, and proper development. Good parents give children love, warmth, and acceptance, and take care of their physical, emotional, mental, social, and intellectual needs. They also give support, encouragement, and access to activities to help them master developmental tasks.
The moral responsibility of parents is to provide children care, education, shelter, food and clothing until they can take care of themselves. A few more good parental qualities are spending quality time with children, being a good listener and example, teaching discipline, supervising them, and acknowledging what they do right. These are just a few examples of the many things that parents can and should do to raise happy, competent, and confident children. Unfortunately, many parents lack the willingness, knowledge, or means to achieve these.
The passion and purpose of Cowboy Dharma is to acknowledge these deficits, embrace them, and work to fulfill them the rest of our lives. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. Our inner children are anxiously awaiting a helping hand to flourish in the here and now. There is a vast multitude of ways we can improve our situation and give ourselves love, humor, and respect at any stage in life. We can read books and articles, watch videos and seen speakers, join support groups, or just spend time with good parents to see how they do it.
We Can Do Much Better
We don't have to sit with the insufficient, poor, or bad parenting we received, but rather we can reach for and achieve much more. We can become a loving guide, mentor, and parent for our inner toddler, preschooler, elementary schooler, adolescent, and teen that we may have never had. It won't be fast easy or painless, but life and certainly parenting rarely is, yet you are worth it! And as you grow, mature, and thrive you will inspire others such as your family and friends, and perhaps even your own children to do the same.
What is Teaching?
Teaching is the practice of transmitting skills, competence, and comprehension of information or knowledge to improve one's capability, intellectual capacity, productivity, well-being, and performance. A teacher, coach, or guide helps students to acquire knowledge, competence, information, or virtue. The teaching method is determined partly on subject matter and partly by the nature of the learner.
For a particular method to be appropriate and efficient it has to take into account the learner, the nature of the subject matter, and the type of learning it is to bring about. A teacher-centered approach usually entails book learning or lectures. In student centered approach teachers and students play an equally active role in the learning process. These are all things to keep in mind as we influence others through intentional teaching and as we simply influence others as role models through our behavior and other examples.
Another aspect to seriously consider here is what do we want or need to yet learn in our own lives. What interests do we have that we can pursue to fuel our passions and enrich our lives and the subsequently the lives of those around us? Personally, I have taken to searching for content on amazing animals, amazing science, and incredible insects. These searches have led to other well, amazing videos and information on astronomy, biology, philosophy, and many others, and has made realize just how amazing this world and my life is. One example is Michael Levin and his colleagues engineering two headed flat worms - wow!
What is Leadership?
Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and discipline... Reliance on intelligence alone results in rebelliousness. Exercise of humaneness alone results in weakness. Fixation on trust results in folly. Dependence on the strength of courage results in violence. Excessive discipline and sternness in command result in cruelty. When one has all five virtues together, each appropriate to its function, then one can be a leader. (Jia Lin, in a commentary on Sun Tzu's Art of War)
The idea is to get excited, inspired, and motivated to learn even more about parenting, teaching, and leadership so that you can make a better life and world by creating your own Sanity Files, however that may look for you. Here it takes the form of files on favorite teachers and leaders in the Wise Masters Sanity File, and covering whole schools of thought in the Eastern Wisdom, Middle Eastern Wisdom, and Western Wisdom Sanity files. Eastern wisdom covers ancient sages and paths such as meditation, Buddhism, and Zen. At the far end, western wisdom looks at classical teachers and leaders Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, as well as modern thinkers like Brene Brown, Dr. Dean Ornish, and Eckhart Tolle.
The Inner Child
If you haven't gotten in touch with you inner child yet or want to learn more, please see the Inner Child Sanity File. It is actually best to have a strong and steady loving inner parent in place when accessing and exploring the inner child as it may be holding onto much sadness, confusion, and grief, so this is a good place to start.
Many adults received all the guidance and mentoring they needed to thrive and flourish as children and through-out their lives. They reached for the stars and got them. Others had decent childhoods, getting many important life skills and experiences they needed, but missed out on many as well. Even in the best of childhoods worthy skills may have been overlooked or we may become interested in them later in life. For a list of what we could have learned then, and can learn now see: Parental and Other Mentoring.
The Unfortunate Ones
Unfortunately many of us had condemning, critical, neglectful, or otherwise abusive parents or other authority figures that either neglected our needs, or based and berated our spirit. Growing up in a dysfunctional family environment required we develop survival skills that wounded us as children and in turn created a false self. This false self was carried into adulthood and perpetuated by an internalized "Critical Inner Parent" or voice. For an amazingly enlightening and accurate understanding of how this affects us please see "The Problem" or "Laundry List".
The Solution to Our Problems
We reclaim our True Self by re-parenting our Inner Child via our Loving Inner Parent with the help and guidance of our Higher Power. Becoming your own Loving Parent is "The Solution" and core of healing from a neglectful or abusive childhood, as well as the gateway to the child within. In fact it is recommended develop the Loving Parent prior to accessing our Inner Child as it may be holding onto intense rage, pain, and suffering and so can fuel addictive and destructive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without a loving inner parents help.
Our Higher Parent: Higher Power
As parents and other authority figures seemed to hold God-like power over our lives in our youth it is only natural that these experiences become overlaid on our concept of a Higher Power. Those with positive experiences tend to have a kind and helpful God, but those who were neglected, abused, or both may have a apathetic or cruel and condemning one. Children of alcoholics find that their parents may act in both ways at times, and flip back and forth in an instant. This makes for a very unstable home and experience that takes years to overcome.
By re-parenting ourselves with gentleness, humor, love, and respect, we find our child within and true connection to a Higher Power. This is the God who does not abandon. We come to understand that we can release our biological parents. We may also separate from our birth family in body and mind if needed to allow us to heal. This is an important step for us as we develop our own identity that is different than our dysfunctional family role.
Understanding Inner Family Dynamics
The Inner Child, Adult State, and Inner Parent triad was addressed very wisely and accurately in Transactional Analysis in the late 1950,s by Eric Berne. He identified how different parts of us tend to develop into separate psychic entities that can get stuck in unconscious, competing, and dysfunctional patterns within ourselves and others. As so often is the case, awareness can lead to understanding, wisdom, and transformation. For a quick look at this thought provoking dynamic, please click here.
Honoring Our Inner Child
As we learn to re-parent ourselves we acknowledge and honor the feelings of our Inner Child and affirm that we do have many good qualities. We replace the internalized critic with a Loving Parent, thereby reclaiming our True Self with unconditional love and compassion. Wholeness requires the acceptance and integration of our coping mechanisms and survival traits with our healthy and positive character strengths, so that we have a balanced personality.
Although we look like adults on the outside, we often still use the codependent survival tools of wounded children in daily life, not having been given the love and security to be emotionally and psychologically healthy functioning adults. The need to resolve our childhood creates a repetition compulsion; an unconscious recreation of the circumstances in which we grew up, and the patterns of behavior we used to survive. This is not the end of the story, only the beginning, The Solution is in sight.
Dysfunctional Subconscious Tendencies
Unfortunately we are attracted to relationships and situations that mirror our dysfunctional childhood environment because it is familiar and comfortable despite being neglectful or abusive. We may be harmed by or cause harm to people in our life by perpetuating the negativity, shame, anger, rage, resentment, avoidance, isolation, control, judgment, perfectionism or addictions we experienced growing up. Because we are terrified of abandonment, we may tolerate high levels of victimization or abuse and consider it normal, living in chaos and using denial to remain in a dysfunctional comfort zone.
Identifying the Inner Critic
Because we have internalized the negative voices or Critical Parent of our youth, we unconsciously perpetuate the abuse; believing the voice of our inner critic as it judges us harshly and unfairly; undermining our self-worth and leaving us feeling depressed, incompetent, insignificant, empty and alone. We are in fact doomed to repeat this cycle unless we find help and healing in wise teachers, teachings, and communities.
Erikson's Blueprint for Healthy Development
A great way to see what we may have missed out on in youth but can yet learn is Erik Erikson's Stages of Development This model shows how growing up we learned either trust or mistrust, autonomy or shame and doubt, initiative or shame and guilt, competence or inferiority, and identity or role confusion. As adults we move on to have either love and intimacy or isolation, care for others or stagnation, and integrity or despair. These stages, if achieved, can lead to a full and satisfying life, or much suffering and loss if not. Fortunately, it is never to late to fill in the missing pieces and move toward fully healthy and functioning lives at any age.
The Healthy Adult States
Childhood and parenthood are addressed at length here, but The Adult State is also worth looking at. The healthy adult is the rational, reasonable, and responsible part of us. One good example is an employee that can always be depended on to be responsible and do their job well. How is parenting different? Parenting can be imagined as the manager, boss, or leader. Here examples could be teachers, politicians, or kings. These people don't just take care of their own responsibilities, but are responsible for others, and work for the benefit of all.
Why bother to make these distinctions? Because "To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom" - Socrates. Life is somewhat of a puzzle, so it is good to know how things fit together. We need to be aware of the differences between these aspects of ourselves so we can understand them better and gain wisdom to make best use of our strengths and transform weaknesses where needed. Whenever we take inventory of our defects, we must also inventory our basic strengths and positive attributes.
If you were one of the less fortunate ones, accessing a Loving Inner Parent can also be the door way to a Loving Higher Power and Inner Child (and become a triple winner!) Then, with help from a Loving Higher Power we move out of denial through increased awareness of our early experiences. One way to access and create dialogue between our Higher Power, Loving Parent and Inner Child is prayer and meditation.
Another is writing and Journaling. We may use the dominant hand to express the Loving Parent and the non dominant hand to express the Inner Child. We may write out thoughts and feelings, write poetry, or simply allow our Inner Child to draw with markers, crayons, and colored pencils to bring to the surface their energies and experiences. Feel free to write out plans to paint, play, sing, dance, or have fun anyway you would like in your journal as well.
You may also find these practices will enhance your spiritual life and conscious contact with a Higher Power as many people use journaling as a way to speak with and listen to their Higher Power. Communing with God in this way on a regular basis can build an intimate relationship that goes beyond human relations, as God is all present, powerful, and knowing in our lives and all creation.
We are not alone in this journey, for safe space and healing for our Inner Child is found in Twelve Step Recovery meetings, fellowship, study groups, sponsorship, outreach calls, retreats, and conferences as well as supportive friends, family, and therapy. Here we find the strength and support necessary to heal our wounds, grieve our lost childhood years, and move forward with courage and confidence as we create a safe space to nurture our Inner Child.
In our new life as a whole and complete person (The True Self), the False Self is integrated, the Critical Parent is quieted, and the Loving Parent is manifested to become a constant guide to encourage and affirm us, negotiate wise and fair choices, and set and enforce reasonable and healthy boundaries. The True Self and Inner Child again express the wonder, joy, enthusiasm, spontaneity and zest for life that is our birthright. This is our homecoming, to that still, peaceful, holy place deep within us that never changes or is lost.
There are many ways we might view how we developed, and how we parent ourselves or others. These differing perspectives can serve to widen and deepen our understanding of ourselves and others and lead to wisdom and transformation. the following paragraphs highlight these differing aspects with links to full page and/or blog links for further illumination. Pick some that interest you and take a look!
We consider love the most important thing for humans in general and each of us personally. Many of us growing up in dysfunctional homes and families missed out on love, or had it quashed over time. We built up barriers to protect ourselves, but this also kept out true connection, intimacy, and love. See how we tore down the walls to at last find our true loving selves in "Love Broke Thru"
Next we explore the secrets and science of love in "Matters of the Heart". Here we see how science is verifying what we felt all along in our hearts, that love affects our health and happiness in many, many ways. Taking this to the extreme, we wonder if love might be the uniting "Theory of Everything" in "Love Force". It is perhaps a stretch of the imagination, but a fun one at that!
When Brene Brown, a top researcher professor at the University of Houston and author of five New York Times best selling books studied connection, love, and belonging, she found vulnerability, shame, and empathy at the core. She discovered what was troubling us at the most basic levels. Her work has brought great healing to many, many people, we couldn't recommend her more highly.
As connection, love, and belonging lie at the heart (literally) of all that is really important to us, relationships are where these are realized (or not). For this reason you may want to read the post on "Relationships - Love and Belonging", inspired by the work of Brene Brown and consider how these dynamics work (or don't) in your life.
Dr. Alan Watsons video entitled "Being Brilliant Every Single Day" is a very intriguing, informative, and entertaining expose of how stress creates, as he says, "A do it yourself frontal lobotomy". Really not what we want in our relationships, speaking in public, and other important but stressful situations. Here we learn how to keep our heads and hearts when the going gets tough. The TED Talk is nearly forty five minutes, but well worth it.
"The Circle of the Soul" explores how the conscious and unconscious, and positive and negative aspects of our psyche and soul affect us on a daily basis and through-out our lives. Plato first imagined this, then Joseph Campbell ran with it, now it's our turn. We find it helpful to see what dynamics are working through us consciously and behind the scenes.
Another way we can come to know ourselves better so that we can treat ourselves better is through personality states and traits. States are where we are in the moment, and traits are the habitual tendencies we commonly use to to process our world and function on a daily basis. While not very scientific they still can help us get to know ourselves and make changes where needed. See that post here.
Lastly, we would like to again reference one of favorite posts in the pursuit of the True Self; "True Happiness" and it's corresponding side by side comparison of True and False Happiness (and Self). The focus is happiness, but the fact is this concept of happiness being a deeply intrinsic and infinite resource applies to many things ("Super Powers") we hold most dear, such as love, peace, joy, beauty, and so on.
Resources and further reading:
“BRB” or “Big Red Book”: Chapter Eight, The Solution: Becoming Your Own Loving Parent
“Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child” by John Bradshaw
Recovery of Your Inner Child” by: Lucia Capacchione
“Healing the Child Within” by: Charles Whitefield
Victim Triangle: http://www.lynneforrest.com/html/the_faces_of_victim.html