The plane dips and dives in the turbulence, hovering over miles of flat patches of perfectly square properties and fields, divided by tiny roads that are barely visible. I am on my way to Orlando for a synchronization workshop we are putting on there. This time, I’ve brought half of the members of my intentional community with me on this trip, including my son. Among many other key experiences that Florida has to offer a child, I want him to experience the Florida ocean. After Orlando, I am taking everyone on a spiritual pilgrimage up to Lido and Siesta Key.
On this plane, I have been meditating on perspectives. When you step outside the paradigm of right and wrong or true and false, the world seems so much less concrete. The blogs that I have written and that my ‘haters’ have written and that people who love me have written, have shown me just how different two people’s perspectives (and therefore opinions) on one circumstance can be. It makes the quest for agreement or settlement on truth, seem impossible. I teach that it is impossible to want something that is in fact impossible to achieve. If the human race wants agreement upon what is right and agreement upon truth, then the human race must be able to achieve it. But then, is that what the human race wants? Or is it something deeper that is experienced when we reach agreement that we are after? In my line of work, where my career rests on the platform of asserting my opinion, I get to experience the extreme reactivity people have to their beliefs and opinions and perspectives being invalidated by my own. I also get to experience the reactivity in myself when people disagree with me. It seems I too want something out of being agreed with. Perhaps there is a sense of unity and security we experience emotionally when people agree with us instead of disagree with us. To disagree is to diverge. Divergence or separation (from oneness) was the primary wound within source consciousness that led to expansion.
You can clearly see the attachment people have to their version of what is right and good and justified. You can clearly see the judgments people make as a result of being completely identified with their idea of what should and shouldn’t be done. It does not matter whether everyone is entitled to their own opinion because regardless of whether they are entitled or not, they have their own opinion. That opinion is based on all kids of things such as life experience, beliefs, cultural programming and even sometimes deep questioning. But all too often, we have so much emotional attachment to our opinions that we do not (and even refuse to) question them deeply. We also do not question our emotional attachment to them enough.
Conflicting opinions and the inability to allow for difference in opinion, leads to all the horrors that conflict can cause in the world. I really don’t like conflict. Like so many people, it triggers my feelings of insecurity and lack of safety. It makes the world feel hostile. And yet it seems, I have chosen a position in the world where conflict is inevitable and unavoidable. All the growth then is about how to deal with conflict when it arises instead of avoiding conflict, as so many people try to do for the sake of their own emotional and physical safety. In my last blog, which was all about misunderstanding, I said that as your awareness (and therefore perspective) changes, your values change. When your values change, your priorities change. They change to reflect your true self more accurately. But this is often an affront to the values our society tells us we should have. Then, when we act in congruence with our true values and true priorities, people who have bought into the values and priorities society approves of, flip out.
I said that so many of the major conflicts we have with others, especially in intimate relationships, are about priorities. And priorities are chosen subconsciously according to one’s values. Watching arguments from this perspective, it is easy to see that we are mostly arguing about our values. We are arguing to get the other person to adopt ours. We are looking to be agreed with. We want the other person to have the same values we have in the same order of importance. Conflicting values are so often at the heart of the incompatibility that separates people from one another. I asserted that the time has come to try to understand each other’s true values instead of to oppose our values upon them. Having said all that, the subject up for discussion this week was the relationship we, as adults have with our children. And WOW did this subject ever trigger the hell out of people. As a spiritual teacher, I feel like this issue provides a juicy potential for expansion.
In society, we have a deeply held belief that “The children should always come first”. Just think about how many times you have heard this belief being stated growing up or over the course of your adult life. Now, first of all, even if we accept this societal belief to be true, we hit our first roadblock when we realize that we may have different opinions about what putting them first looks like. You could say it means doing what is in their best interests, but we could argue until the end of the world about what is actually in the best interests of the children. Often what we find is that something we once thought was an unshakable truth about what is in the ‘best interests of the child’ is in fact in the worst interests of the child. The best example of this is that for years, experts taught that letting your child “cry it out” instead of comforting them was in the best interests of the child. It was believed that this approach taught the child not to manipulate the parents by crying and thus led to the creation of independent, self sufficient and responsible adults. So millions of people did this worldwide. The problem is that babies cry for a reason, they have a need. And because we were letting them cry it out, we weren’t meeting those needs. And now, years later, we find that in letting the kids ‘cry it out’ we created a generation of adults with attachment disorders and personality disorders who could not form healthy relationships. This means the “sacred cows” of parenting that you have grown up with or encountered, must be deeply, deeply questioned. Now that we can see that even if we agree that we should always put the children first, we will not necessarily agree upon what it looks like or means to put them first. This is the case because we will not necessarily agree upon what actually is in their best interests. So lets set that aside for now and jump into a discussion that is even juicer. We begin this conversation by questioning the sacred belief “you must always put the kids first”. We begin by asking, is it in fact true that you should always put the kids first?
We are going to examine this belief from the understanding that when people say that line in the midst of a conflict, it means they are really saying “you must put the kids best interests before your own best interests.” When we are identified with something, we see the best interests of that thing as being the same as our own best interests. This opens the door wide for us to project our own best interests onto them, when in fact our best interests may be different than theirs. On the other hand, when we love something, we take that thing as ourself. From that point forward, doing what is in the best interests of that thing or that person is doing what is in our own best interests. So, doing so is in fact a selfish, instead of a selfless act. There is no such thing as a selfless action in our universe. This is fine because ultimately, separation is an illusion and we are all one. But the only reason someone does something for someone else is because doing so, does something for them. Even in the most benign situation, you may be doing something for someone else because seeing them happy makes you feel good. But even in this case, you’re doing it because at the root, it makes you feel good. We need to ask ourselves, what am I actually getting out of putting someone else before myself? One thing I see often is that doing so, gives us the feeling that we are a good person or when it comes to a child, a “good parent”. So what we have to become present to is that we are doing it for self centered reasons anyway and therefore only appear at face value to be putting them first.
Children cannot meet their own needs in the world, especially when they are young. And one of those needs is to have connection with their parents. So, having a child is a deep commitment to another life. IF we love our children, we will naturally feel like we want to meet their needs. We will naturally want to connect with them. When we run into problems is when we are put in a position to meet their needs in situations where to do so, we have to sacrifice ourselves. Sacrifice is the giving up of one's own interests or wishes in order to help others or to advance a cause. The only time doing this ever works is when doing so actually gives you something you value more in return than the original interest or wish that you held would have given you. But then it isn’t a genuine sacrifice is it? In this case, instead of sacrificing, it is a matter of prioritizing. If a person genuinely gave up their own interests or wishes for someone else’s interests and wishes, in a way where what they got out of doing so was less valuable than their original wish or intention was, the only possible outcome is… Resentment.
Many of us who had parents that “put us first” saw first hand that our parents got to feel like good parents for doing it. But because the short term feeling of being a good parent for doing so, held less value over time than having followed through on their original wishes or interests, what we experienced growing up was… resentment. Resentment with a heavy side dish of guilt. They held the fact that they put us first over our heads as leverage to ensure our loyalty and connection to them. This felt like nothing more than chains of indebtedness. They then demanded our gratitude in exchange for their sacrifice. This turns the relationship into a transactional one… The opposite of love. This is really what we have to look at when it comes to putting our children first or self-sacrificing. What value is it that we really hold and are demonstrating by self-sacrificing? That value is what we are prioritizing. Many people value a connection with their children. This causes them to put their children first. But is it wrong to value other things more than connecting with your children? Should you only ever have children if your number one value and therefore priority in life is connecting with and being present for your child?
Perhaps your number one value is to give your children the best life experience they can have on a physical level. You may then think that to do so, you have to make enough money to enable them to have the best quality life possible. This is after all, a financial world. But this often means you will work all the time so as to provide them with that quality of life and they will be deprived of your presence and therefore connection as a result. Should you only ever have children if your number one value is to give children the best quality life experience possible? Many people say they prioritize their children above all else, but their actions do not reflect that. I’ll be the first to put myself on public display relative to this discussion. You could say that because I work like I do, I’m able to provide my son with the best quality life physically. He wants for absolutely nothing. He will have every opportunity; opportunities that many kids around the world will never have. Just look at the trip he is taking with me today. According to society’s standards, this makes me a good mom. I am also not as identified with my son as most mothers are. I do not see him as an extension of me. So he is free to grow up as whatever he wants to be with no pressure to conform to a standard I set for his personality or success. I have provided him with an intentional community, so he never wants for someone to be present with him and all of his multiple attachment figures are permanent instead of transient. Connecting with my son and being present for him is a priority of mine. But what if I told you that being a mom is not my number one priority? How do you know that it isn’t my number one priority? Because I haven’t quit my job to be a stay at home mom. I also haven’t taken a job close to home so I can be there when he wakes up in the morning and comes home from school at night. If my number one priority was to be present with my son, that is exactly what I would have done. It would have been a choice that is perfectly in alignment with my values and thus priorities.
As it stands today, my mission and purpose often calls me away from my own son. This is why you see me flying around the world and writing books and filming videos. It may be a double standard, but this order of prioritization has traditionally been one that men are permitted to have, but not women. But I can tell you, if I went with society’s beliefs about what moms “should do”, I would end up feeling tied down by my son instead of enriched by his presence in my life and I would treat him accordingly. I end up therefore being a better parent by “not putting my son first” in this scenario. I can spend time with him in unconditional love and freedom because I did not have to choose between him and my career. So, to flip this whole idea upside down, I could say that by putting my own best interests first, I am in fact putting his best interests first. Because his best interest is to have a mom who is present and able to connect with him and I can only fully do that when I feel fulfilled through my purpose and mission instead of prevented from it. Looking around our world, it is easy to see that there have been a great many terrible parents who did not value their connection with their kids above other values in their life. But there have also been a great many wonderful parents who did not value their connection with their kids above all other values in their life.
This is an interesting question to ask yourself. How is putting myself first, actually in my child’s best interests? If you self sacrifice for the sake of your children, you will raise a child to be an adult that self sacrifices. Is that truly what you want for your child’s future life? We learn by virtue of example. Kids need parents who can demonstrate what it looks like to ‘follow your joy’. Kids need parents who feel good in their own life. Kids need parents who can demonstrate what it looks like to put effort into finding a way to meet other people’s needs without sacrificing their own needs. A parent who has self sacrificed not only runs the risk of feeling resentful towards their child, they also run the risk of being preoccupied by an internal sense of sadness or emptiness. They will have a kind of heaviness or deadness to them. They could be genuinely connecting with their child, but because of their sense of loss, they cannot. A happy parent is in fact the parent that can give the most to their child. So often, we expect a parent to give up the things that give them their personal sense of happiness in order to be there for their child. But if they give up the things that give them their personal sense of happiness, they cannot be there for their child.
In a perfect world, we would never be forced to choose between our values related to our children and our values related to other aspects of our life. Therefore we would never have to make the kind of choice to prioritize one value over the other to the degree that by doing so, we must lose one of them. This is the position parents are often put in when they are involved in contentious divorces when kids are involved. But it is completely unnecessary. When we find ourselves in a situation where our values cause us to prioritize in a way that other people find unacceptable (which usually means that our own best interests are seen as a contradiction to the best interests of others), we must do everything we can to try to find a “third way” that does not involve self sacrifice. We need to look for a way that is satisfying to us both, a way that we can meet both our own needs and theirs. This way, we do not have to choose between them and us. I am in no way making the case that we need to abandon our children's needs in favor of our own. What I am saying is that we need to find creative ways to meet our children’s needs in tandem with our own. And we need to support each other to do just this. But if you choose to put someone else (even your own children) first by sacrificing yourself, you will lose yourself. And so, your children don’t get to have you anyway.
The bottom line is, the happier and healthier you are, the better off your kids will be; because the happier and healthier you are, the better parent you will be.