The Parent’s Question – But What about Me?
Words of wisdom and advice on parental self-care from an experienced parent and teacher
By Nancy Blanning
Parenting is one of the most rewarding journeys we can ever embark upon and also one of the hardest. It can be relentless. The needs of our children and providing protection for them take precedence. So we set aside what we may long to develop for ourselves. We can sustain this for a time with equanimity. But moments will come when we feel like we are being pushed over the edge—too little sleep; the family is all sick; or work pressures and deadlines pile up, for example. At these moments our lives get terribly out of rhythm, and everything feels lopsided and out of balance.
This is an honest description of how we can feel. It can be a melancholic lament where we assume the role of resentful victim and indulge our grumpy feelings for a while. Parents, too, are human beings after all; and sometimes we are entitled to a good grump. Yet this is a momentary release, and it usually doesn’t change the general situation. But if we can look at this objectively, we see a problem to be solved. What can we do about it?
We can go to the bookstore and choose from rows and rows of parenting advice books. Most of them offer techniques, some of which are valuable and help give us insight into how we are interacting nonproductively with our children. But more often these suggestions deal with superficial responses that do not get to the heart of our humanness. We, as parents, and our children (no matter what their age, from very young and dreamy to adolescent and challenging) long for relationship that is warm and respectful. We all carry within ourselves a conviction that it is possible to reach down into the depths of our being where joyful, positive connectedness lies. We are longing to experience in ourselves and others a deep, rich “something” that lies within us as our greater true self. But how do we open that door?
This something, this essence, which is greater than our everyday being, has been pictured for ages as an invisible reality that some call the realm of the angels, a realm of spiritual realities. We see messengers and protectors from this world in fairy tales and legends, such as in “Snow White and Rose Red,” with the angelic being that keeps the girls from stepping off a precipice in the dark; and in the legend of Tobias and the angel who serves as guide and companion for Tobias on a difficult journey.
We picture these entities around our children. We speak prayers for protection and well-being for our precious ones and also picture that these requests are being received and responded to.
But as we mature, the golden thread of connection thins, and it may seem to have disappeared in our adult lives. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, explained that this may feel like a sad loss; but it is necessary. We must find our footing in life through our own initiative and resources if we are to grow and develop beyond childhood. When we choose to find this thread again, we do so out of our own free will. This makes choice a deed instead of a given, which can too often be taken for granted. Now in our busy lives, we might say that we will get to this sometime later, when we are not so consumed with daily responsibilities. If opening a new door were just for our own curiosity and comfort, our motivation might not be very strong. But when we find ourselves close to a small edge, or a big precipice with our children, we have more courage to take a difficult step, because we love our precious ones so much and want them to have a good life. We want to be good parents and good human beings.
Dr. Helmut von Kugelgen, a long-time Waldorf educator in Germany, who is himself now in the spiritual world, gave very helpful advice to teachers and parents for opening ourselves again to this special connection. At the beginning of this article rhythm was mentioned. When we feel close to the edge, we have “lost our rhythm and life feels lopsided and out of balance.” Dr. von Kugelgen observed that the way to open this special door is to work with rhythm. He pointed out that the number seven has a special quality and rhythm. There are always seven days in a week. The length of months changes, but never the week. Seven occurs again in describing the seven archangels who rule over eons of time. So working in a rhythm of seven may also connect us to this angelic realm. Dr. von Kugelgen suggested that we can work in units of seven days, seven years*, or seven minutes.
Remembering myself as a distraught mother of young children, feeling myself approaching that edge, even seven minutes seemed too much of a stretch. So how about seven breaths?
When we get distressed and tense, we usually lose the rhythm in our breathing. We need something to reset ourselves. We need a way to step out of the frustrating situation we find ourselves in. We need to pause—take a mini-rest—and then approach the situation anew. This probably sounds like the old counting to ten. Surely there is a forgotten wisdom standing behind that advice, too. But this practice of restraining and refocusing in the rhythm of seven has a deeper intention to reach into that intuitive, deeper world of our best selves. We might even have a little conversation that we make up in the moment during our in-and-out breaths, which asks for the unseen to be interested in us and to help us find our way to one another in love.
There is physiological evidence that the eye needs to work in a rhythmic alternation between seeing and resting in order to keep seeing. The retina contains a light-sensitive substance called rhodopsin that enables seeing, in a biochemical reaction. Rhodopsin is activated by light, registers the visual image, and then is used up. The eye will no longer register an image on this spot in the retina until the eye has blinked. It is this blinking, this resting, which allows the seeing forces to regenerate. In a small way, through resting, the eye becomes capable of seeing again.
When we are in a stuck place where we lose our perspective, we need to withdraw for a rest so we can approach it again with new sensing. Pausing, re-establishing rhythm again through the breath, and working with a number that has archetypal significance through time can do no harm. If benefit comes, it will not be just for our children. We will be helping ourselves to answer our own, “What about me?” because a doorway to richer self-knowledge and insight into other human beings will open as well.
Dr. von Kugelgen was a man of great conviction that spiritual realities are available to our lives. If he were hearing this conversation, it is likely that his eyes would twinkle. And he would be sure that through the rhythmic practice of seven somethings, in time we would find a door opening to a wonderful surprise.
This column is offered in gratitude for Dr. von Kugelgen’s wisdom and encouragement shared with all the Waldorf community, especially early childhood education, to which he was a special friend. December, 2016 marked the one hundredth anniversary of his birth.