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On Belonging: How to Parent Ourselves


Welcome to my blog, where you'll find substantive, well-researched articles that blend neuroscience, philosophy, poetry, personal reflection, and the latest life coaching tools in service of helping people engage their full potential. 


On Belonging: How to Parent Ourselves

Kirstin Hotelling Zona

Hello, Lovelies!

Whether you are celebrating today, or grieving, or aching... Wether you have children, have lost children, chose not to have children, wanted children and could not birth or otherwise raise children of your own... Whether you are with your children, or estranged from them ... You are, yourself, born of a mother, and you are, yourself, called every day into the profound life's work of learning to parent yourself. 

What does this mean, to (re)parent oneself? 

Well, I think it means, first and foremost, remembering that we are embodied creatures. It means learning to feel ourselves from the inside out: our breath, our pulse, the rumbles in our bellies, the tides of energy waning and waxing. 

When we connect to our bodies, we connect to the earth. When we connect to the earth, we connect with our bodies.

We are reminded in these connections of our inherent belonging.

Sometimes we have learned to mistrust or dislike our bodies. We have been physically harmed or violated. We have bodies that are rendered invisible or un-beautiful or sick or damaged in the commercialization of "beauty." We have an illness or are otherwise in physical pain. 

For some of us, connecting with our bodies is not easy. For some of us, connecting with our bodies means contending with shame and fear--that is, with feelings of rejection, exile, and not-belonging. 

Others of us might have been taught that the body is a merely a way-station, at best an experience we must tolerate en route to enlightenment, or at worst an actual impediment to spiritual liberation. 

When we have disconnected from our bodies, whether as a means of survival or because we believe spirituality and matter are at odds, we often suffer disconnection from the earth, from other animals, and and in so doing experience a deep yet inexplicable sense of gnawing emptiness. 

How, then, can we come home to our bodies, to our connection with the earth, to our essential belonging through the act of self-parenting, if doing so stirs pain, shame, and fear?  

First, we must remember that to parent ourselves is not to disown the care of others, or to believe that we don't need care or love from other people. On the contrary, to parent ourselves is to create routines, ways of thinking, inner talk, rituals, ceremonies, and celebrations through which we practice the ongoing art of non-judgmental presence, of having our own backs. 

Second, we are served by the knowing that to parent ourselves is to dial into our own aliveness, in all of its truth-- the glory, the mess, the pain, the pleasure, the stuff we're proud of and the stuff we're ashamed of--and stay. Stay. Stay with ourselves. 

Parenting ourselves means bestowing upon ourselves the utmost gesture of love-- that which we yearned for as kids, that which we longed for from our own parents, that which we are, if lucky, grateful for having received: attention. Caring attention. 

Our kids, or those we care for, don't need us to rescue them (well, sometimes they do, but in general, they don't), or to fix them, or to take away their pain, or to take responsibility for their pain, and nor, of course, are they comforted when we resist, play down, dismiss, or otherwise flee from their pain, or from them, while they are in it.

Same for us: to parent ourselves with love and healing attention means to assure ourselves that we belong. That at any given moment, whatever we are feeling belongs. We don't have to react to those feelings (which is usually a way of resisting them), and nor do we have to repress them. We can say," Hey, you too. You are allowed, you're okay. Come here, sit down. What's going on." 

What we all need is presence. Our ability to let others know, by bestowing kind attention, that their feelings are safe to feel is a gift: if someone who loves us can stay present to us when we are in our messiest and most afraid places, we dare to believe that maybe we can stay with ourselves too. Maybe we can have our own backs after all. Maybe our feelings won't consume and overwhelm and annihilate us. 

When we cultivate this practice of presence with ourselves, this act of self-parenting, we also instinctually find ourselves drawn to the networks of life beyond our own bodies of which we are always a part: our communities, chosen or otherwise; our families, chosen or otherwise; the earth and its expressions of change and growth. Seasonal transitions become more luminous, our sense of smell grows more acute, our need for touch becomes more apparent; we become, as Walt Whitman once put it, hungry for contact. 

When we learn to parent ourselves, we inhabit our existence more fully as daughters and sons, as creatures who always already belong and who are constantly being re-birthed. As we do, we become far more capable of not only loving, but of being loved. Not because of what we do--not because we are "lovable"'--but because we simply are

A dear friend recently shared a poem with me by D.H. Lawrence that speaks to the importance of our being-ness, and how estranged from our essential belonging we can become when we confuse right living with the effort of being lovable instead of awareness of our being itself. Here it is: 


Why don't people leave off being lovable
Or thinking they are lovable, or wanting to be lovable,
And be a bit elemental instead?

Since man is made up of the elements
Fire, and rain, and air, and live loam
And none of these is lovable
But elemental,
Man is lop-sided on the side of the angels.

I wish men would get back their balance among the elements
And be a bit more firey, as incapable of telling lies
As fire is.
I wish they'd be true to their own variation, as water is,
Which goes through all the stages of steam and stream and ice
Without losing its head.

I am sick of lovable people,
Somehow they are a lie.

(D.H. Lawrence, 1929)

I love this poem for so many reasons, but on this Mother's Day, I love this poem because it helps me remember that my most important job in this life is to notice. To notice and attune. And to act in alignment with and through that attunement, that noticing. 

Self-parenting, which is really self-love, is, as Lawrence reminds us, not some ineffable, mysterious process. It's about waking up to who we are right now, at our most elemental. Because the more attentive we are to this knowing, this being-ness, the more comprehensive and effortless is our compulsion to care for, to extend care, to feel and tend to the vast interplay of interconnections that we can always sense, even if we can't always account for them. 

To be elemental is not about building up and performing or achieving. It's about being--about giving ourselves permission to practice awareness of our aliveness, which is always a portal to belonging, which in turn compels (and allows) us to nurture well--ourselves, others, the earth.

Today, I am going for a walk with my kids in the woods, where the bluebells are in bloom. I'm going to walk in bare feet, over last year's leaves and tiny sticks, atop crunchy and soft things alike. I used to do this as a kid all the time; I even tried to attend high-school shoeless, and presented the principal with a legal-sounding waiver regarding insurance and such (to no avail). This afternoon, we're going to plant flowers in the garden, and in pots to put on the porch. 

How can you commit to your own belonging by feeling your body more fully? How can you practice being elemental instead of lovable? How can you wake up and connect with the child inside who knew instinctively her connection to all that is, her essential belonging, and was empowered by that knowing? 

This is my wish for you. To revel in your elemental-ness, your enoughness, your here-ness, your alrightness. Your aliveness. 

And to birth yourself anew in so doing. 

Lots of love,

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