Printed in the Fall 2016 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Abbasova, Pyarvin, "Parenting in the Twenty-First Century" Quest 104.4 (Fall 2016): pg. 98-101
By Pyarvin Abbasova
Parenthood has become redefined in twenty-first-century America, and the process is continuing. Families now come in all shapes and sizes. Single parenthood is now relatively free from social stigma. It is common for gay couples to be raising children. People who even fifty years ago would never have had biological children now are able to have them through in vitro technology and surrogate mothers. Thousands of women try over and over again to get pregnant with the help of doctors and the latest fertility drugs, while thousands more are marching to abortion clinics or giving their children up for an adoption. It is a world full of paradoxes.
There is an old saying, “When the baby is born, the mother is born.” Maybe it was true when that proverb was thought of. Maybe women then were more in touch with their bodies, with their wild side, with animal instincts that were evolutionarily refined in order to bear, deliver, and protect the new generation. This is probably still the case in some tribes and small ethnic groups in remote areas of the world. People in these cultures live with their extended families. There is no privacy; having a room for a child, especially a baby, is unheard of. Children are born at home. Families sleep together. Women breastfeed. And if they have trouble, other women will nurse their babies. In fact, back in my native Russia, most of my married peers still live either with their parents or in very close proximity to them, so the family visits a lot. That is an enormous help during the first year of the baby’s life.
But for a Western woman, these customs can seem unusual and unappealing. We live in a different reality. When I became a mother in May 2015, the advantages and disadvantages of this new world became obvious to me. In the U.S., people rarely live together with their parents or grandparents, which I am, quite frankly, not used to.
Here is another curious fact. In Russia, as in many Eastern countries, there is a tradition of not showing a mother or a baby for forty days after birth. The only people who can visit are close family members. In ancient India, even the husband was not allowed to see or touch his wife for forty days after she gave birth in order to allow her to complete the process of renewal and healing. People in the East are also very hesitant about allowing others to hold their infants, and they never post their pictures on social media. One will almost never see a family that goes shopping or to the restaurant with a two-week-old, as is so common in the U.S.
What seems to be an old superstition has a deep esoteric meaning behind it. A newborn baby is so pure and defenseless against the outer world that any coarse emotion or negative thought form can damage its field. Moreover, because of its intensity, childbirth has been seen in many cultures as a kind of purifying fire for the woman’s body and soul. It was even seen as a way for her to work through some accumulated karma. So customs and traditions were formed to protect a mother and child during this special time. Unfortunately, here in the West we seem to brush them off as old and irrelevant.
As a Theosophist I can’t ignore the subtle side of life. After my baby was born, intuitively I allowed only close friends or relatives to hold our son. I would gently refuse others, even though they often were all too eager to hold him.
A friend told me how he witnessed Dora Kunz, past president of the Theosophical Society in America, talking to a new mother who was doing everything imaginable to calm her crying baby. Dora, who was clairvoyant, said that the child had been passed around a number of people earlier in the day, so he was in other people’s auras a lot. This was overwhelming for him and made him very irritable. Dora’s advice was to keep others from touching or directly communicating with an infant without necessity.
Most of my American friends don’t seem to know about subtle energy or how it works. Many post pictures of their babies minutes after birth and continue to show them to the entire world throughout infancy and childhood. I can’t help feeling sad about this early exposure of the little ones to the outer world, because I know of the probable negative effects of such actions.
Studying Theosophical literature has definitely shaped my worldview as well as my approach to motherhood as a sacred stage in a woman’s life. Yes, the world we live in is indeed crazy; it is the Kali Yuga, after all. But there is still a place for order and harmony. With mindfulness, compassion, critical thinking, common sense, and a sense of humor it is possible to navigate even in the Dark Age.
Only two years ago my husband and I were completely unaware of the multitude of problems and decisions parents have to face in today’s world. Sometimes I wish our respected clairvoyants of the early days of Theosophy had written about these issues, but of course many things today did not exist back then. In the twenty-first century, protecting a child’s physical health is no easy undertaking. It all starts seconds after birth. There are big, life-changing decisions that you have to make for a little person. Vaccinate or not? Circumcise or not? Breast or bottle? Buy only organic food? How do I avoid BPA, phthalates, and melamine in plastic toys and bottles? Is there lead in my water? Public school or private school, or maybe home schooling? What about day care? How do I keep children away from TV and Internet devices? The list can go on and on.
Help came from ashtanga yoga (the eight limbs of yoga, as taught by the ancient Indian sage Patanjali). I have been a student of hatha yoga for twelve years, and naturally, the main principle that I decided to apply to our parenting was the first principle of ashtanga: ahimsa or nonviolence. Ahimsa is no simple thing, though. Because human life does not consist only of the material plane, nonviolence should be applied to different levels: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Every time I hear or read about cruelty towards children, it leaves me heartbroken. In an age that is so advanced in science and technology, there is little advance in morality and spirituality, to judge from the statistics of child abuse in the U.S. Sri Krishna said that the advancement of a society can be judged by the way it treats children, women, elders, and cows. He also said that in the Kali Yuga they will have no protection.
In ancient Indian society, married women were entitled to five types of protection: physical, emotional, mental, financial, and sexual. It was a husband’s duty to protect his wife from physical harm; to listen to her problems and concerns; to calm and reassure her, so her thoughts would be clear; to guide her towards God; to support her financially; and to allow her to decide when to have sex.
How many married women in today’s world live like this? It would even be optimistic to say that 90 percent of women live in a state of constant stress. The same stress that is, in healthy doses, beneficial for men, making them stronger and more energetic, is ruining the hormonal and nervous systems of women. And then there are single moms, who can barely keep their heads above water. How can they avoid being depressed and anxious if there is no one to protect them from everyday stress? Neither the government nor society in general sees it as a priority. How, in turn, can women protect their children, who are the future of both society and government? How can they educate young ones spiritually if all their energy goes to making money to support a family? It is truly a miracle that we still have people who are interested in spirituality, occultism, and Theosophy. I sometimes think that these are very determined souls who have decided to incarnate and try to progress in this Iron Age.
I do consider myself a feminist, which is why it is important to explain something: in my view, true feminism is not about making women equal to men. We are not equals and we never will be. We even have a different anatomy and physiology; therefore we should be treated with these differences in mind. Somewhere in history the equal rights movement made a wrong turn. True feminism is about having the right to have a choice—to be able to decide whether to be a stay-at-home mother, a president, or a nun, and actually to have means to fulfill one’s dream.
Many women don’t have that choice. What we are facing in the U.S. hardly has any parallel in the history of the human race. Pregnant women are expected to work up until they go to labor and come back to their jobs within six weeks, leaving their infants with strangers in day care centers, because only rarely do older family members have the time or the desire to help. Yes, their babies will be fed and have their diapers changed, but no caregiver will provide the love and energy of the mother that are essential for the development of any live creature.
In most states it is illegal to sell puppies under eight weeks old, because they need time with the mother for healthy physical and psychological development, but it’s OK to separate human babies from their moms for eight to ten hours a day. Keep in mind that a baby always lives in the now. It doesn’t know that the separation from the mother is not permanent. The way that separation affects children, especially sensitive types, has not been thoroughly researched. All we see is that ADHD, ADD, depression, OCD, and other disorders are on the rise among American children. In his book Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Pane writes that it is almost as if our kids experience posttraumatic stress disorder of the kind found in children who have gone through war or natural disasters. How in the world did we get here?
I hear many complaints about the mindlessness of the current generation, about its addiction to Internet and video games. But who educates parents on how to communicate with their children mindfully? Very few parents realize that when children are bombarded by early exposure to TV and Internet, news, and commercials, they are being robbed of their childhood. It is not uncommon to see an eleven-month-old playing games on a smartphone or a three-year-old refusing to go to bed without his iPad. Multiple cartoons, games, and shows are created to keep a child “busy.” In fact a young child is always busy, because he or she is constantly exploring the world. But this is not too convenient for parents. So TV and gadgets take the place of education, attention, and communication. Adult life storms full speed into the little ones’ world, and it is overwhelming. Just as after eating junk food, plain, healthy food seems tasteless, so after bright, screaming, moving pictures, playing outdoors seems boring. The nerves and receptors are irritated by strong stimuli and a lack of downtime. Because who has time for downtime? Even kindergarten no longer lives up to the meaning of its name: “garden for children.” The crazy, demanding rhythm of modern life means that kindergarten is less about play and the outdoors and more about performance—learning how to read and count. Again, the beauty of childhood is being taken away. Our little people are facing big problems, and they are trying to put defenses up against them. These in turn produce various psychological and behavioral issues.
On the bright side, supposedly we are at the beginning of the Golden Age of the Kali Yuga, when great souls incarnate and help humanity to progress so that many as possible could be liberated. I surely hope there will be more guidance on upbringing and educating our children. The work of people like Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner needs to be continued. But no educator can take the parents’ place. Parents should not see their children like personal possessions, blank sheets of paper on which anything can be written, but as sons and daughters of God who came here with a certain karma and dharma and who have been entrusted to their care. Only then will change begin.
Dhanudhara Swami, who gives talks on bhakti (devotion) and the Bhagavad Gita at the Pumpkin Hollow Retreat Center, said that if one wants to understand the path of bhakti, one should take a closer look at family life. That is why family is called grihastha ashram, the householder stage of life: it is a sacred spiritual path just like renunciation. If you observe the devotion, love, and selfless service of any good parent, it will give you an idea of a direct experience of bhakti. It doesn’t matter if the child is adopted or if the family is nontraditional—it’s all the same. Pure love between a parent and a child is as close as human beings can come to understanding the love between Creator and creation. It is a tool for spiritual growth. Just as the taste of something sweet has to be experienced, parental love for a child has to be experienced. Then it can be transformed into love for the family, the society, the nation, and even the whole of humanity.
Pyarvin Abbasova, M.D., was born and raised in Siberia. She is a psychiatrist and yoga teacher, and has been a member of the Theosophical Society since 2009. She is a longtime resident volunteer at Pumpkin Hollow Retreat Center in Craryville, New York. Her most recent Quest article was “Women in the Shadows: Reflections on a Muslim Girlhood” in the spring 2016 issue.