Parenting: Confronting Our Shadow

Author: Susan R. Johnson MD, F.A.A.P.

Published: Jan. 6th, 2001

Updated: Sept. 15, 2017

Parenting is one of the most awe-inspiring, noble, and challenging professions. Yet, being a parent gets so little support and appreciation from our society. It was much easier for me to go through medical school, a pediatric residency, a fellowship, and work as a pediatrician, then to be a parent. I can't remember ever being so depleted and exhausted, as I was during those first 7 years of parenting a child. I think some of this exhaustion, when faced with this bright-eyed, intuitive, energetic, and developing boy, came from the developmental, inner work that I still needed to finish on myself (and am still doing)! Raising a child provided me with the opportunity to re-live my own childhood, and also the, sometimes confusing, relationships with my own parents. I discovered by being a parent, that all the unresolved feelings and thoughts, that I had long ago repressed, now come bursting forth to the surface.

A few months ago, I spent a weekend participating in a workshop for parents, called Natural Learning Rhythms. This workshop was organized by a group in Nevada city called Encompass. Many of the thoughts and ideas about childhood were similar to what I had recently learned in the Waldorf Teacher Training program and the Anthroposophical Medical Training in Switzerland. During the Encompass workshop, I learned that growing children in specific age groups, for example 0 to 7 years of age, were connected to certain types of wisdoms, needed certain types of nourishing experiences, and also needed to avoid certain types of threats to their development. For example, I was taught in all of these trainings, that children, during the first 7 years of their life, live in their physical bodies and experience their world through their senses. They are sponges to all that they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. They are doers, that are trying to integrate their senses of hearing, vision, touch, balance, movement, life sense, and many other subtler senses that Rudolf Steiner discusses.

Children in this 0 to 7-year- old age group, also have an incredible capacity to perceive our soul moods. It's not the words we say that teach children of this age group, rather it is who we are on the inside, that really seems to matter! It is the tone of our voice, our attitudes, our gestures, our own mood of soul, and our ability to love, unconditionally, and remain fully present in the moment (i.e. and not become overwhelmed and scattered in our thoughts and feelings or overly focused on past failures or future worries). Children absorb who we really are and their surroundings, and they take these soul impressions into the deepest core of their being. Therefore, we must constantly remind ourselves to be worthy of their imitation, and to pay attention to the environment around them (i.e. what they see, touch, hear, smell, and taste), to make sure it is worthy of being imitated.

I learned that the specific wisdom or tasks for 0 to 7-year-old children, involved: discovering their own strengths, experiencing their own boundaries, as well as inhabiting their own bodies. Nurturing experiences for this age group included: loving touch, a sense of security, warmth (physical and heart-centered), flexibility, and overall nourishment of their body, soul, and spirit. Children in this age group also needed clear rules and boundaries, predictable routines and daily rhythms, harmonious and rhythmic movements, nourishing nutrition, lots of sleep, restricted media (especially limiting screens), and they especially needed not to be given so many choices (which would keep them in their intellect and not in the present moment). I also was reminded that my actions always spoke louder than my words, for any age! Finally, I learned that to threaten children, either physically or verbally, acted as a poison to their development, because it caused them to withdraw physically and contract etherically (i.e. in their life forces), as well as, soul-wise and spiritually. These poisons, undermined their abilities to discover their strengths, explore their boundaries, and fully enter into their bodies.

An important idea that I specifically learned from the Encompass workshop was that all children, and especially teenagers, act as mirrors of their environment and of our culture. Young children show us our shadow, while teenager show us both our shadow and the shadow of our culture. In other words, sometimes the characteristics that we, as parents, refused to acknowledge in ourselves or in our society, can be shown to us by our children. For example, if we were not allowed to show anger in our childhood, then often our children show us lots of anger, which in-turn ignites our anger. If we were taught to be afraid of anger in our childhood, then our children can often control us with their outbursts of anger, especially when they don't get their way. Our relationships with our children, just like our other intimate relationships with our spouse, family members, friends, and colleagues, continually reveal our own shadow, and therefore provide each of us the opportunity to first face our shadow, and then transform and heal our souls.