Life and love are like self-rising dough. They contain within them the germ of what they can become, yet whether they can become that depends on the containers that hold them.
Little children are preeminent embodiments of life and love, so the same can be said of them: children come into this world already possessing the seed of what they can become, yet whether they can become that depends in large part on the familial and cultural containers they grow up in. To use another metaphor, the seed of a tree and the soil in which it grows are both indispensable partners in the making of a tree. Seed and soil. Nature and nurture. Likewise, the child and the family/culture are both indispensable partners in making the child into an adult fulfilling their greatest innate potential. And it goes both ways: the seed is affected by the soil, and the soil is affected by the seed; the child is affected by the family/culture, and the family/culture is affected by the child. In optimal conditions, both seed and soil, child and family, are transformed by their interaction.
The trouble is, much of the time, children are not treated as self-rising dough. Instead, they are treated as inert clay. Sure, most parents start out acknowledging the self-rising nature of their child: the child grows and learns and grows and learns. But soon, the child’s desires and drives start to annoy us and worry us. There is too much spirit, too much desire, too much curiosity, too much energy, too much potential, too much possibility, too much power, too much divinity, too much bigness, too much simplicity, too much joy, too much fun, too much connection, too much love, etc! Too much yeast in the dough! It rises too quickly and starts to overflow our containers! We don’t have a bigger container because the one we have for our own lives is the biggest one we got, and it’s too small! It’s only as big as it is because we too live too small lives! Our lives are as small as the small containers in which our own self-rising dough was crammed and jammed. We feel like we can’t give our children a bigger container than what we’re comfortable with. We don’t know how to give our children a bigger container than we ever had. It’s makes us fearful. We don’t know how big it could get! How high will this dough rise after all? Will it overwhelm me? Will it dwarf me and make me look puny? Will it show my smallness for what it is? What will people think?
All this induces a low-grade panic in parents, often subconscious. We know it’s our sacred duty to contain this out-of-control self-rising dough, but we overreact. Instead of flexing our boundaries and expanding our containers, we go into lock-down mode. We strengthen the walls of the already-in-place container and try to slap a heavy lid on it. We have to contain this dough before it runs amok and makes us look like bad parents! I mean, how big can dough get anyway? Nobody really knows. If given the right combination of yeast, sugar, water, and warmth, perhaps there is no limit to the size of loaf we could bake. That is scary. That is grotesque. We can’t have little humans running around that look so different from all the others. That would attract unwanted attention. And what if we’re wrong? It’s best we keep our dough-containers like everyone else’s and just go with the flow (or lack thereof).
Once we grow rigid about our parenting containers, two things happens: first, by forcing the self-rising dough into a conformist container, we limit its growth potential and put it under tremendous internal strain; second, we deprive ourselves of the joy and awe of taking part in a self-creating entity unfolding to its highest intrinsic beauty and glory. This is a kind of violence done to our children, to ourselves, and to humanity. We violate our children’s ability to self-direct and self-expand to heretofore unknown degrees; we violate our role of facilitating that process rather than crippling it; and we violate our species and our global and cosmic community by depriving them of their very own inheritance – sovereign humans conscious of their power to create better worlds for all living beings.
Self-rising dough in a closed container comes under greater and greater internal pressure. This is harmful, even traumatic to the young spirit of a child. Yet, since it’s rarely the intention of parents to completely close off their young, the lid on the container is carefully lifted to let the dough pour out in certain limited directions. These directions, too, are often chosen by the parents rather than the child. Picture yourself taking a handful of dough. Squeeze it. What happens? It oozes out from between the fingers and at both ends of your closed fist. The harder you squeeze, the faster it comes and the farther it goes. That’s how many parents parent: they squeeze their kids tightly and let them excel and expand through the avenues the parent themselves have chosen. The problem is, while being squeezed this way, the child experiences inner turmoil and disintegration: the unapproved expressions of the child’s full doughhood are repressed, shamed, punished, or ignored, while the approved parts of given full vent and encouragement. This is not self-rising dough rising to its innate potential within a flexible and supportive container that grows with it. Rather, it is self-rising dough being constricted and constrained, contorted and controlled, until what it ends up becoming is a loaf of bread made in the image of the family, culture, religion, nation, etc. This is treating our children like a near-lifeless lump of clay that is expected to just lie there while we sculpt it to our liking.
No, children are not merely clay to be shaped by a Creator whose hands are their families and cultures. They are self-rising dough! They are creators – first only in potential but as they grow, in actuality! They are co-self-creators with their families and cultures. The creativity is innate in all things and in all people. The creativity is a ubiquitous, latent potential that operates subconsciously until we become conscious of it. Together, children and parents are the Creator and can work together to fulfill the potential of both.
Let us hold the dough of our children with open hands, lovingly containing them and gently guiding them, all the while carefully observing the innate wisdom of their doughhood, following it curiously wherever it wants to go, scooping it up when it falls, patching it together when it breaks, and expanding our hold until it’s no longer needed.