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Ilene Val-Essen - Parenting from the Higher Self
Preface to the book (forthcoming)

Some jobs hold big responsibilities. They touch the lives of many people, involve huge risks and rewards, and generate important results. Imagine you perform highly specialized surgery, or fly a jumbo jet, or direct a large financial institution. You did not get there by chance. You underwent a long and difficult training, and you painstakingly developed a number of very specific capacities. You tackle unbelievably complex situations, and have to make controversial decisions. One choice can lead to either catastrophe or safety for the lives of many people. Their destiny is in your hands. Compare to that the job of a parent. Day after day, you must make up your mind: Should we go to the park or to a movie? Will it be chocolate dessert or fruit tonight? Should I intervene when my children fight or should I let them settle it between the two of them? Do I have any idea of what their sex life is like? Should they get a new smartphone? These seem relatively banal issues if compared to those I mentioned before, and you may even feel you have no say in them. The training you have undergone for these tasks is perhaps nil. Being a parent is not a career. And you get paid nothing. However, the whole picture is utterly deceiving. Just a few moments' reflection (which you have already amply done or you would not be holding this book) will show you that the work of a parent is possibly the most important of all. It is the job of accompanying a human being during the formative years - when he or she grows to become a full human being. It is the job of conveying values, awakening your children's potential, assisting them in their growth, nourishing what they can become. How you accomplish this job will touch the lives of many people over a very long time. Transmit ill will, fear and dejection to your children, and that's what they may in turn show to others in future years (This is not necessarily so, just more probable). Transmit to them warmth, intelligence and beauty, and that is what they are likely to communicate and create in their own lives and the lives of others, and also pass on to their own children. The fact that this process occurs in daily life's banalities, makes it look banal. But it definitely is not. Parenting is a complex job: this much we know. The world is full of advice for parents. Years ago I wrote a book called What Our Children Teach Us. It was about how having children transforms us. It was definitely not a book of advice on how to parent. However, everybody thought it was. It was read as a book of parenting techniques, and even reviewed as such! I was asked to participate in TV shows, and also criticized or praised for my ideas in child-raising, while all I did was describe what was going on in myself while parenting. I had been made an authority precisely in the domain where I felt most unsure. I have often wondered why that was so. My answer is that we are all so desperately in need for advice on how to raise children that we will look for it everywhere, even in the most unlikely places. We will look for ideas and support in conversations with people we have never met, even in phrases overheard at an airport, articles in cheap magazines read in the doctor's waiting room, celebrities' examples, quiz shows, movies, horoscopes. And of course, in the books of experts. The number of books on how to raise children is outnumbered only by cookbooks. And they all give you tons of contrasting advice starting from conception: monitor pregnancy in the light of medical knowledge vs. pregnancy is a natural process; breastfeed at planned intervals vs. breastfeed on demand; sleep in the same bed with your babies vs. leave them alone at night; heed their every cry vs. let them learn to face frustration; be strict vs laissez faire; play first vs. homework first; teach them step by step vs. encourage spontaneous learning. And so on. Sometimes the books are authoritative, convincing and brilliant. At other times less so. Some are boring, and some are downright intimidating. Why are there so many books of advice for parents? There are two simple reasons. We do not live in a village, where responsibility for bringing up children is shared by the community. It is instead the nuclear family that holds the process. This is unprecedented in the history of human evolution. Suddenly a previously shared process becomes a task of great responsibility which only two individuals - sometimes only one - must hold. Grandparents, formerly a great source of wisdom and support, often are just not there. They live in another city, or are not regarded as sufficiently up to date. Or they are just too busy going to the gym. The other reason why parents are in an unprecedented situation is of course our ongoing, terrifyingly splendid, and magnificently disconcerting cultural transformation. The speeding up of just about everything, the digitalization of relationships, the crumbling of old established values and habits, the rich and at times overwhelming contact with other cultures and lifestyles, all make raising children an impossibly hard job. That is why advice has become an industry. Ilene Val-Essen goes at it another way: A simpler, and, I would say, more elegant way. She focuses on what happens inside you, the parent. She points out some inner attitudes which may get in your way. She helps you track your harmful mental habits. Instead of giving one more piece of advice, she puts you in touch with your own wisdom. She helps you become self-reliant and trust that inner wisdom which, in the midst of the information explosion, you may have lost. It is a wisdom which does not belong to this or that culture, this or that time, and therefore never dies. I am talking here about what has been called "ageless wisdom" or "perennial philosophy". It is the result of insights that have been transmitted to us in various forms - the precious essence of all the wisdom enlightened people in various times and places have realized and found their duty to transmit to us. They are ways for widening our perspective, stimulating dormant capacities, and awakening to timeless values that can truly nourish and guide us. And they are explained in such a way that you can apply to the most unlikely circumstances and difficult situations - those into which life with kids throws us. That was a demanding task. It is one thing to illustrate timeless spiritual principles and techniques. It is another to apply them to the ups and downs of everyday life with children: When your child is crying unconsolably, when she has problems with her friends, or does not recognize your authority, or faces a seemingly unsolvable problem, or deals with matters you feel are way beyond your comprehension - or when she just seems to be lost. It is no easy job, but Ilene has done it, and we should all be grateful for her gift.

Fiesole, may 2014