An Integral Approach to Parenting in the First Three Years of a Child’s Life


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This article provides an introduction to the possible span and depth considered when applying an Integral approach to parenting during early childhood. The relationship between Integral Theory and the practice of parenting is addressed, and key principles and concepts that underlie Integral Parenting are discussed. The task of parenting is placed within an evolutionary context and presented as a possible Integral practice. Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory serves as an inspiration and organizing matrix.

Introduction

This introductory article is not about giving answers to specifics, such as what to do when your baby does not sleep through the night, or when to introduce solid food, or how to respond to a whining child. Instead, imagine you are entering a house called “Integral Parenting.” This article aims to welcome you into the foyer, asks you to take your coat and boots off, then invites you in for that initial cup of tea. After that you may choose to venture on to discover and move around in any of the many rooms that are present in this house, but for now we are just laying the basic groundwork and requirements, the general parameters of an Integral approach to early childhood. Thus, in addition to briefly outlining what the Integral framework asks us to consider when applied to any area of life, and in this case making the bridge to parenting and early childhood, I discuss what I perceive as central underlying patterns, principles, and possibilities that emerge when we bring Integral consciousness to bear upon the parenting journey. This article is divided into the following six sections:

  1. The Why and What of Integral Parenting. This section provides a brief outline of what an Integral approach to parenting encompasses and how this approach enables us to use a fuller range of resources in any situation.

  2. Theory and Practice: The Map and the Journey. Whilst having a comprehensive map to navigate the parenting journey can be extremely helpful, this short section reminds us that even a great map cannot “do the journey” for us, and that it is important to differentiate between the map and the actual territory and trek. In other words, talking the talk is a useful, even illuminating step, but walking the talk is what will actually make a real difference.

  3. Parenting as an Integral Practice. Here we touch on the fact that Integral Parenting holds all the ingredients and requirements of a serious Integral practice, which includes spiritual and psychodynamic work, and how seeing it in this way will make a huge difference in how we approach the task. Who we are is ultimately what we bring to parenting, and thus our own evolution is intimately connected with how we parent.

  4. Support and Challenge. This section discusses and reflects on one of the distinguishing marks of an Integral approach to any field: the growing capacity to hold and live with paradoxes, to dance with seeming opposites rather than resorting to an either/or stance. In the context of raising a child, this ability is tested at times to an extreme degree in the simultaneous need for offering one’s child unconditional love and support and providing direction, guidance, and at times very clear boundaries and correction that a growing toddler may well resist, sometimes quite literally (with hands, feet, voice, and all!).

  5. Integral Discipline. In many ways, this section continues the discussion of the theme above (support and challenge). The topic of discipline is a hot one that generally comes up sooner rather than later whenever one speaks of parenting or education in general. So, here a taste of what some of the considerations of an Integral approach to this important aspect of parenting involves.

  6. Parenting within an Evolutionary Context. Parents often feel that they are not doing a good enough job. Becoming a parent can make us very vulnerable. We may easily feel overwhelmed and doubt our ability to navigate the complex task of helping another person grow. So, how can we both lift the bar of what parenting can be and not create more self-doubt and stress? This last section explores what it means to place our parenting efforts in an evolutionary context and simultaneously work with what is.