One Conscious Path In Parenting
As I opened the doors to the grand ballroom, I felt the spirited energy of the current presenter, Howard Moody.
He was engaging the audience in an activity that allowed them to discover their playfulness. I scanned the room. It was packed to capacity; the back wall was lined with standing participants. I gratefully sighed after the months of preparation leading to this weekend. Yes, the ICPA’s second summit, Freedom for Family Wellness, was a huge success.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Peter, our emcee, quickly approaching me. Peter ran the show with perfection. He stayed attuned to the timing, the energy in the room and, most importantly, the flow of both the presenters and the attendees. There was a bit of concern on his face.
“Where’s Joe?” He asked. Joe was our keynote speaker. “Has he arrived yet?” Just three days prior, as I was speaking with Joe on the phone, he expressed that he was feeling a bit off and might not be able to attend.
“Yes, about an hour ago,” I told Peter. “We brought him up to his room so he could catch a bite to eat and relax after his drive. Corrie is getting him now.”
“Well, he’s due to go on in one minute.”
We had planned not to have any break at this time. The seminar schedule was packed, and timing was of the essence. “Signal Howard and tell him he has another five minutes to play,” I said. “I’ll find Joe.”
I walked back out into the hallway as the elevator doors opened. I breathed a sigh of relief. “Joe, you’re right on time.”
He was still wearing his driving cap and sporty type of jacket. “Can I take your hat and jacket before you go up?” He reluctantly handed me the cap, but firmly insisted, “I’ll keep the jacket.”
I walked through the ballroom doors, arm-in-arm with this esteemed elder. Peter glanced gratefully in my direction and headed toward the stage to introduce Joe. We made our way toward the stage as Peter was listing some of Joe’s literary works. We reached the stage steps as Peter announced, “…and it is my pleasure to introduce Joseph Chilton Pearce.”
As the exuberant applause simmered, Joe carefully positioned himself on a tall stool. He took a breath and looked out at the packed house. It was standing room only. There was a moment of anticipation, could he do this? As he began to speak, I thought back to the steps that led me here.
My upbringing, having been born in the ’50s, was typical of the times. The rod was not spared either at home or in school. My parents chose to send me to Catholic school, and having more of a spirited nature than an obedient one, my experiences were challenging, to say the least. I learned early enough that restricted parenting/education/society would either make you or break you. Exuberant expression would either be fired up, or squelched with heavy discipline.
The best part of my grammar school experience was meeting my life partner, Tom. It wasn’t until our final year there that we actually hung together in the same “crowd,” and our friendship got stronger as we transferred to the public junior high. Because I spent quite a few days in the principal’s office as well, I got familiar with his administrative experience with rebellious kids. “Yes,” he once confided in me, “our worst kids are those who transfer to us from Catholic school. They have been restricted for so long, and they seem to have a period of unusually stronger expressed rebellion than most other kids at this age.” At the time, I did not realize how profound his insight was.
Tom and I continued to stay in the “Catholic-school transferee crowd” throughout high school. We were expressive, to say the least. We questioned all authority and fit right in with the socially rebellious philosophy of the ’60s and ’70s. I am sure we were affected by our strict upbringing and its many restrictions. Both of us had rigid German fathers and religiously obedient mothers. I am also sure we were greatly influenced by the radically changing times we were living in. The music was inspirationally challenging all fundamentals of authority. In 1971, John Lennon released his song “Imagine” and rocked the world with his radical proposal of “living life in peace,” and “sharing all the world.”
One very sunny March morning in 1972, Tom and I arrived at school, met in the parking lot and decided to skip classes for the day. We chose a friend’s house to go to. For the next six hours Tom and I sat in deep conversation—covering such profound philosophical topics relevant to the times and our own personal discoveries of life thus far. Our exploration led to the topic of raising kids, and, still being kids ourselves, the direction of our conversation covered freedom and respect for uninhibited expression.
We emphasized our insight that kids were born innately virtuous. We discussed the importance of exuberant play, freedom to express and the necessity to trust this childhood process rather than suppress it. Given support and love, we concluded, children will find their way. We delved into the limitations of formal education and its void of practical living and relationship skills.
Around that same time, true to the phenomena of synchronicity, I came across a book—Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing, written by schoolmaster A.S. Neill, who was running what was referred to as a “free school” in England. Summerhill articulated so much of what Tom and I had discussed. This preface embraces the essence: “This is the world’s greatest experiment in bestowing unstinted love and approval on children. This is the place, where one courageous man, backed by courageous parents, has had the fortitude to actually apply—without reservation—the principles of freedom and non-repression…. Reading this book is an exceptionally gratifying experience, for it puts into words the deepest feelings of all who care about children, and wish to help them lead happy, fruitful lives.” Many years later in life, Tom and I coined a phrase to describe our gleaned parenting philosophy: “Don’t leash the puppy.”
“My view is that a child is innately wise and realistic. If left to himself without adult suggestion of any kind, he will develop as far as he is capable of developing. Logically, Summerhill is a place in which people who have the innate ability and wish to be scholars will be scholars; while those who are only fit to sweep the streets will sweep the streets. But we have not produced a street cleaner so far. Nor do I write this snobbishly, for I would rather see a school produce a happy street cleaner than a neurotic scholar.”–A.S. NEILL
But before we were to marry and have six children, Tom and I had yet another profound experience to encounter. When we were just 19, I joined his brothers in a day of hang gliding…and I fractured my spine in two places. After finding worse than no relief in the hands of the medical establishment (yes, I was told, I was destined to a life of debilitating back pain and suffering), I wound up in a chiropractor’s office. Little did we know the huge shift in direction our lives would take.
Fortunately for us, the chiropractor we chose to go to was as strong in his philosophy as in his ability to adjust. He explained the principles of chiropractic and how the adjustment of the spine would remove interference to our nervous systems, reconnecting our brains to our bodies and restoring whole body function— whatever that meant for each person. He discussed an inherent healing intelligence in all living matter, responsible for the expression of life. My allopathic background hoped for mere back-pain relief. I was clueless that I was not functioning…I was alive, right? After three short months of care, my back pain was gone, my allergies to animals had been alleviated, my asthmatic attacks were nonexistent, my regular headaches had subsided and my previously irregular menstrual cycle had found its regular rhythm.
I asked our chiropractor what was happening. He simply replied, “Yes, like I mentioned on the first visit, chiropractic is not the treatment of conditions, it is the restoration of function. The adjustment, when reducing interference to the nervous system, maximizes your body’s innate intelligence to communicate with all systems and functions.”
He then turned to Tom and me and, reflective of the times, he asked, “What are you two doing with your lives anyway? Tom, why don’t you go to school to be a chiropractor? Jeanne, you could be his receptionist.” Ha!