I’ve been reading “Women who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype” by Clarissa Pinkola Estés for months. It’s a wonderful book but it is definitely a book that takes time to read and digest it. In working to identify and focus on my “wildish” nature I realized that someone, with more qualifications than I have, needs to make a parenting guide for raising children who run with the wolves because as Frederick Douglass said: “it’s easier to build strong children than fix broken men” (although I believe “fixing broken men” is also important it’s not the focus of this writing).
Reading Pinkola Estés’ work there has been one story that has really stuck with me: “Sealskin, Soulskin.” The essence of this story is a seal woman loses her transformative pelt and is forced to live in the world of men. Eventually the theft and loss of this pelt causes her to wither away until she can’t stand it any longer; she takes her pelt back and runs away from human life including the child she gave birth to on land. Losing the pelt to me symbolizes the lost wild nature in this connected, distracted, comparison trap of the 21st century. In my case the loss was directly related to my need to be viewed as a good, responsible, and productive adult.
I started this blog as a way of re-wilding myself even though I didn’t know it at the time; but what if I hadn’t lost this part of myself or tucked it away for so long in the name of good “adulting”? What if our children don’t give up their hobbies as they grow up? Sure, they may change but what if children are told it is important to keep doing the things they love as they grow older? What if they are able to just put their sealskin safely on a shelf when they have to “behave” but they could retrieve that sealskin at any time instead of completely locking it away in a box where it becomes dusty until it’s too painful to be away from it anymore?
What does raising my own wild child in the 21st century look like? In the age of comparison and social media? What is it to give my daughter a fighting chance to stave off the desire to be the “good girl” and allow her to “do no harm but take no shit”? How can I teach her that she might have to put her sealskin away for a little while but don’t forget to bring it back out regularly? How can I teach her that home, wherever she makes it as she grows older, is a place to be exactly who she is? I don’t want to quiet her voice, I don’t want to be the voice in her head when she’s an adult because I want her to listen to her own voice but how do I facilitate that? I’m not sure if I’m doing it right but so far I have found 4 things that I’m hoping will allow her to stay attached to her sealskin:
- Pick my battles AKA let her decide for herself even if I think it’s a terrible idea. I often warn the Munchkin about consequences to actions and let her make her own decisions. One day she fought me about wearing her bathing suit to school. It was October or November so I finally got her to agree to wear it over her clothes but warned her that she might have trouble going to the bathroom (she was only a couple months potty trained) but after I warned her and she still fought me tooth and nail I gave up. I had to get out of the house and get to work so I dropped her off at daycare, her teacher just gave me a look and shrugged. I told the teacher that I warned her. Come to find out that she only wore it for about 90 minutes or so (probably until she had to go to the bathroom the first time) and since then she has never asked me to wear something that crazy again. While I know it’s my job to guide her and give her help it is not my job to make every decision for her even at this young age. She needs to be given the power to listen to her own internal voice, so she can make her own choices and sometimes her own mistakes. In the case of the bathing suit, the outcome I needed was to get the hell out of the house and get to work, what she wore to make that happen didn’t matter.
- Let her take (appropriate) risks. There are times when I am not there, even now, to be with my little girl. I send her to daycare and trust the staff to take care and encourage her but I cannot be with her every second of every day. The amount of time I am with her will continue to go down as she gets older so I need to capitalize on the times I have with her now. When we are at the playground I often let her decide what equipment she wants to climb on even if she’s outside the age requirement for it. By letting her be the driving force behind what she climbs on I have watched her be proud of getting up something that was hard and change her mind when she realizes something might be too hard. I have watched my adventurous toddler turn into a discerning pre-schooler. She doesn’t climb on everything she wants to but she feels secure enough to climb on the things she does. Sometimes that causes me to try and look like the calm, cool, collected mom tapping my foot or picking at my nails when inside my mama bear is screaming “PROTECT THAT KID!” But then I remind myself that I’m her main influence for maybe 14-16 years, after that I’ll start taking a backseat and I have to trust that the lessons I taught her can carry her through. By supporting her, by letting her take risks, by helping her through them or being the soft place to land when they go wrong I am hoping to cultivate the inner voice she needs to make it into adulthood.
- Validate her choices AKA re-read, re-watch, or re-listen. The Munchkin goes through phases, as most children, where she wants to read the same books or watch the same shows or listen to the same music over and over again. While this makes me a little crazy she always grows out of it and moves on to something new….eventually. I think our house has now watched “Avatar” and “Dragons: Race to the Edge” on Netflix each about 3 or 4 times through the series. Yes, there was a point where I got tired of the “Hamilton” soundtrack but eventually she got over it and moved onto something else. Giving her some power over her entertainment shows her that she can turn it off or move on when it no longer interests her but also allowing her to fully investigate and become immersed in the things that she is interested in (for now). I am hoping this lesson will translate to when a social media account or person becomes toxic to her and she needs to take a break. This doesn’t mean I necessarily sit and watch it with her for the 5th time but she is allowed to follow that path until she finds another one to jump on.
- She needs to see me doing the things I need to or want to do. This has been one of the hardest things about the pandemic for me. I have to somehow carve out “me time” when I’m not leaving the house for social events where she can see me leave to do something. I have found however going to do something I want to do and shows her that I am a person with needs and interests of my own. It’s not perfect, nothing ever is, but it’s important that she sees her parents doing things for themselves and not constantly for her. While she is very important she’s not the ONLY important person in my world. I deserve as much for myself as she does both from me and for herself. We have been conditioned that the perfect parent is totally wrapped up in their children but taking time out for myself and letting the Munchkin explore on her own without directions from me gives her a stronger sense of self and shows her that a woman is allowed to step away and do the things she needs to do for herself.
Children are our future and if we can build stronger children we can make sure the future is in good hands. I have seen too many kids living in the throws of the perfection and comparison trap. I want to normalize the messy middle that we should be living in. My house is not always clean but the needs are met. I want the imperfection because it is in the spaces in between where we spend most of our time. We are not perfect beings and we deserve to focus on our values to use those as a guide but if we never are allowed to hone our values because we’re constantly worried about someone else’s then we are set adrift into adulthood having to find them all over again. I want to empower my daughter to listen to her own voice and continue to listen to it through all the noise that others make throughout her life. Of course I fully expect her to stray off the path, because she will, but if I cultivate her voice now hopefully it won’t take her long to come back to who she is and put her “sealskin, soulskin” back on faster and hopefully before she begins to wither. We have to put our sealskins’ away on occasion but I want my daughter to be able to put it back on early and often. What if they never lose their pelts in the first place?