On a gentle Wednesday morning, my five-year-old made his way into the parental bed. He curled up quietly beside me under the mounded duvet. As he sipped his morning kefir (a drinkable yogurt, basically) and I sipped my morning coffee, I decided to take another shot at encouraging him on his spiritual path by using the seventh “spiritual law” for parents.
“How are you going to share your gift today?” I asked.
“MAAAAAWP!” he responded, as is his way when he’d rather not engage in a conversation.
“C’mon,” I pled. “What will you do today to share your light and give someone joy?”
“I’ll share my bottom,” he said, giggling. “I’ll share my poop.”
And that’s where the conversation ended.
This exchange was pretty typical of how a week of “spiritual” parenting had been progressing. I’d decided to embark on this particular journey after a foray into the staunchly anti-discipline tactics of “peaceful parenting.” The parenting style had been particularly fruitful for the relationship between me, my wife and my children. If being peaceful worked so well, I thought, surely spiritual parenting would be even better. After all, the guy behind spiritual parenting was none other than the much loved new age guru Dr. Deepak Chopra, whose advice had fueled a million inward journeys in the late 70s.
So, I’d taken up his mantle and started to parent my children based on Chopras’ Seven Spiritual Laws of Parenting. I’d been leaning on the seventh law, also known as the Law of “Dharma,” because I felt it had the best chance of yielding results. The law states: “When we blend our unique talent with service to others, we experience the ecstasy & exultation of our own spirit, which is the ultimate goal of all goals.”
Of course, this is pretty heady for a five-year-old, and being a smart guy, Dr. Chopra offers a kid-friendly version: “You’re here for a reason.” He also offers ways to convey the law in everyday life, by asking questions like the one I posed in the quiet of a morning cuddle.
None of the laws, from the law of pure potentiality to the law of karma and the law of intention, seemed to be doing much for the kids. And I wondered if I was leaning too heavily on language. I felt like I was turning my home into an ashram that none of the residents particularly wanted to inhabit. And I was the annoying sage walking around dropping spiritual lessons in the form of quasi-Buddhist koans.
“Remember,” I’d say with a voice dripping with wisdom. “When you make a choice, you change the future.”
“What does that even mean?” my seven-year-old would respond. And I, honestly, didn’t really know.
Perhaps the only law that was proving useful in any way was the law of least effort: “Nature’s intelligence functions with effortless ease… with carefreeness, harmony, and love. When we harness these forces, we create success with the same effortless ease.”
Or, as my children became deeply tired of hearing: “Don’t say no — go with the flow.”
For as much as would have rather had my children going with my flow, it was far easier to go with theirs. I did my best to strive for that harmony and love and shut down my gut reflex to say no. This meant being much more responsive to my family’s requests. I built more legos. I wrestled more. I watched more crappy cartoons that I didn’t like and I helped with more chores than usual.
And to be honest, things were much easier. There were fewer blow-up and tears than usual. I enjoyed my kids more and they enjoyed me. But it would be ridiculous to presume the outcome was due to any particular spiritual magic in Dr. Chopra’s benign esoteric rhyme. I had just become compliant, essentially giving up much of my agency in order to be the guy my kids and wife wanted.
In most circumstances, I would have found that deeply annoying. But in couching my actions as a form of spiritual parenting, meant to nurture my kids on some deeper level, my mindset had shifted. By giving up my own wants and needs I was doing something monastic and holy. One might even say heroic.
And I guess, this kind of brain hacking is what’s at the core of the new age movement and modern spiritualism. It is all about changing perspective. I just don’t know that my shift in perspective, as helpful as it was, will stand the test of time. Because the fact is that I sometimes I want to be the dad I want to be: dismissively scrolling social media for a hit of dopamine while I growl at my children to shut the hell up. Because it’s easier than saying yes all the time. Because it allows me to feel like have some semblance of control.
That said, I’m not trashing Chopra’s spiritual laws. And in fairness, he notes that they are not particularly meant to be hard and fast rules. “As a parent, you will teach much more effectively by who you are, not what you say,” he writes.
I get that. And in fact, I hear the same thing all the time from pediatricians and child psychologists. And clearly, I need to work on who am. Because the week proved that what I said did, in fact, mean very little.
On the last day of the experiment, my the five-year-old was back in the parental bed. It was night this time and we were watching how it’s made. I decided to give the seventh law one more shot.
“Did you share your light with anyone today?” I asked.
“What light?” my angel child replied, before saying. “I’m going to fart in your face.”