Nurturing children is no easy task. How do we guide them without harm and without losing our integrity? Vimala McClure addresses these questions with poetic wisdom in The Tao of Motherhood, which we recently republished in a twentieth anniversary edition.
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But poetry can raise as many questions as it answers. When family-management blogger Katina Ferguson interviewed Vimala, we found the discussion fascinating, and we’re reprinting part of it here to share more of Vimala’s unique perspective on mothering. Enjoy!
KF: Your book discourages telling a child what not to be, because it draws resistance, and it discourages telling children what they should be, because this fosters self-hatred. What alternative responses would you suggest to parents who are trying to keep their children from traveling a less desirable (or dangerous) path?
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VM: What I’m getting at is that each child has his own path to follow. There is a difference between forcefully imposing a way of being and allowing your child to find his own way.
A parent can certainly encourage her child when she sees him leaning toward ways that she likes. It is a way of observing and positively giving feedback to her child in whatever path he grows toward. I don’t mean not to discipline — of course it is important to help your child know what is acceptable and healthy.
That passage from the book simply speaks to the tendency to overpower a child’s inner wisdom with your own wishes. In parenting in the way I am referring to, you use a lot of questions and help your child come to his own conclusions about what is a healthy way to be. I believe in empowering our children to find their own answers, their own paths. If you believe in Love, you will trust that your child will always lean toward Love.
KF: Trust is addressed in the book. Many mothers get nervous and fearful when their children (regardless of age) wander off into the unknown. As a mother, how were you able to let go and trust in your children, specifically their ability to stay safe and succeed in their endeavors?
VM: It can be very scary when a child gains the ability to wander off into potential danger. After reading several books and studies by anthropologists who observed parenting in tribal settings, I found myself beginning to loosen up — not to allow my child to wander into the street or brandish a knife, but to follow him, as if I was an anthropologist observing how he handled things.
Often the things that would scare me, I found, had no basis in truth at all; my child had an inner compass that seemed to keep him safe. Each time he conquered a situation safely I’d give him good feedback and reinforce the part of him that guided him safely around his world. This called for more time and attention, but to me it was worth it, to see the looks of triumph on his face.
Now my kids are in their early thirties with children of their own. Still there are times when I see them going toward the unknown, making me anxious. I have learned to keep quiet and continue mirroring back to them how proud I am, how much I love them, how I trust them to make good decisions. It has always brought good results for me — my kids thank me for not being a “meddling” mom, and for trusting them. They have said it makes them want all the more to do the right thing and to follow my example.
KF: On the topic of conflict and discipline, can you share how you have successfully used the principles of your book with your children?
VM: Using force, physical punishment, lectures, and tirades does not empower; it means you are stuck in the yang side of the yin/yang balance of a healthy world — the Tao. Your children will then inherently try to balance you by either yielding too passively and losing their own power or by fighting you to maintain their power. The predominant style of our grandparents’ generation — “you had better … or else!” — is outmoded. It will not only block you from using the principle of respect, but it will disempower you, for eventually your children will laugh at you, knowing they were born with more internal power than you will probably ever have in your life.
This is the secret to raising children today: understanding that these children are coming in with more knowledge, greater power, more intensity, and more ability to keep pace with the speed of the new age than you have. They will be dependent on you to walk your talk — to model, not just tell them — what to do. They depend on you to be honest, for they have even better radar for hypocrisy than we did when we were their age.
If and when you must take a stand, you must do so with great deliberation, grounding yourself in principles so the result is your children’s respect for you as an elder.
KF: You speak a lot about “power.” Why is it so important?
VM: You need power to function. It is the part of your being that enables your soul to shine. Power is your inner fire that runs your personality and your relationships with others. It is all-important to understand and work with if you want to be a force for good in the world, in your community, in your family, within yourself. Sometimes power comes from a very quiet, compassionate, weak-looking place, but when called upon it is all-knowing, fueling your actions with what is right and good.
To find your own sense of power it is important to learn to listen to your inner voice and to follow it, regardless of what others tell you. You may seek out the input and advice of others with more experience, but ultimately the only way to increase your access to your own power is by relying on it and respecting it, regardless of how it looks.
For some people, it looks like a big, muscular warrior spirit. For others, it looks like a small, serene, compassionate, redemptive heart. Look at Mother Teresa — how much power she had! When your power comes from the infinite source of power — the Tao, or God — it is right, good, clean, and clear. Do whatever it takes to stay connected with this aspect of your being. You will need it over and over again throughout your life.
Vimala McClure is the author of The Tao of Motherhood. She’s also the founder of the International Association of Infant Massage Instructors and author of Infant Massage. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.
If you’ve enjoyed this discussion, learn more by previewing The Tao of Motherhood — simply click the Google Preview button on the book’s page. For more Q&A with Vimala, you can read the complete version of the interview above at Katina Ferguson’s blog, Fergyville.