God be with the mother. As she carried her child may she carry her soul. As her child was born, may she give birth and life and form to her own higher truth. As she nourished and protected her child, may she nourish and protect her inner life and her independence. For her soul shall be her most painful birth, her most difficult child, and the dearest sister to her other children.
Australian artist and cartoonist Michael Luenig beautifully expressed the notion that we need to be responsible for doing our own ‘soul work’ – to birth our own souls – as we birth our children.
Psychologist and mother, Angela Hough-Maxwell, will discuss the notion of parenting today as a path of evolution at SACAP’s Psychology Festival of Learning, which takes place in both Cape Town and Johannesburg from 2 to 4 September.
Angela’s talk discusses the challenges of parenting in this time, and the call of these challenges to those of us living and parenting right now. ‘Parenting skills will challenge each of us in ways we need to grow personally, as well as a society,’ she says, adding that she will also explore some tools to assist parents today in this role.
We speak to her about how parenting today is unlike parenting at any other time in history – both because of its unique challenges and, also, crucially, its power to transform…
In years past, parents were more concerned with raising non-self-centered, obedient children, whereas today, there’s a stronger emphasis on building a child’s autonomy, self-esteem and individuality. To what do you attribute this shift in parenting philosophy?
Angela: I believe that the West has become very individual-autonomous focused. While this is an important part of the evolution of consciousness and our individual awakening, I also believe that the world (the earth and humanity as a whole) needs us to become aware of our individuality and creativity within the whole and the contribution we make to the whole.
What effect has the changing structure of and roles within families (such as the rise of the dual-income family) had on parenting skills?
Angela: Families have become more nuclear, and because there is often a need for dual income, it means more pressure on the parenting ‘couple’ – a case less of the village raising the child and more one in which parenting roles are outsourced.
Gone seem to be the days when kids left the house early in the morning, played with children from around the neighborhood and returned when the streetlights came on. Compared to 25 years ago, children growing up today have far more scheduled activities and play dates than they used to. What psychological impact has this heightened culture of fear around what’s going to happen to our kids had on both parents and children?
Angela: Yes, I think that a lot of this is unavoidable, and comes with the territory of a greater population, which means a heightened awareness of health and safety. However, at the same time, children have lost a sense of courage and independence and have been over-scheduled, over-supervised (think of the phenomenon of so-called ‘helicopter parenting’). This limits the child’s ability to develop an inner resourcefulness, creativity, independence and courage. Children have become passive receivers of entertainment, stimulation and education with the result that they rely less on their ability to create from within. So, wherever possible, parents should enable opportunities for encouraging independence, courage, adventure, creativity – in other words, for dealing with boredom.
Perhaps the most obvious change between today and the last generation is the technological advances that have been made, particularly in fields of communication. When it comes to parenting, do you see technology as a pro or a con?
Angela: A bit of both. If we learn to think and use technology in our service it is great. However, too often we are in the service of technology and its powers of distraction. TV, the Internet, computers, computer games… all encourage a passivity; they are passive forms of information and entertainment or edutainment. So, while I think technology is a wonderful advancement and vital to our lives, we need to limit the amount children are exposed to it – mediate it and help develop the ability to think and feel and will. We need to teach centering and connection to nature and self and others.
Parenting challenges each of us in ways we need to grow personally, but also as a society. Please explain.
Angela: None of us can be perfect. So often our strength is also our weakness in parenting – those who are very good at scheduling and routine may provide structure and rhythm to their children’s lives but might lack spontaneity. Those good at being present and accepting may lack firm boundaries. Each of us as parents is called to express our strengths and develop in areas that are challenging to us. In terms of society, we are called to see our generational ‘blind spots’, and to respond to the call of a world we want for our children and not out of fear of the one we live in.
The Psychology Festival of Learning is a series of thought-provoking interactive presentations organised by the South African College of Applied Psychology with the aim of exploring the many facets of psychology and its application in all areas of life. The Festival takes place on 2nd and 3rd September at SACAP’s Cape Town Campus and on 4th September at SACAP’s Johannesburg Campus. Find out more information on speakers, programmes, and booking details for the festival.