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From Caterpillar to Butterfly Parenting

My journey into my knowing

In order to cocoon, a  caterpillar literally has to allow itself to dissolve into GOO. Only then, when she completely relinquishes control to the universe, can she turn into a butterfly.

Before that, the caterpillar thinks there is only one way of life where many little legs move from leaf to leaf that is also its food. For how can it know any better?

In our parenthood, we also cling to leaves. We make ourselves believe that perfection is the only way to survive. We share stories of sweet moments and compare our children's milestones at the playground while silently crying in our closets at night. We sacrifice our own passions and desires in order to give our children all they deserve while privately resenting them for it. We struggle to be enough for everyone and everything around us, losing our time, our sanity, ourselves in the process.

And then we demand. Our children must be happy-balanced-impressive-smart-tidy-organized-calm-polite and enviable on social media.

But our infants and toddlers know better. They are closer to the light of the egg and they remember that this isn't how the beauty of life shines through. So they rebel through screaming and throwing themselves on the ground because of the wrong color shoe and a diagonal instead of a horizontal sandwich cut.

We believe there is no other way. So we persist and struggle and burn out, all the while believing we have failed.

I call this caterpillar parenting. This type of parenting is where we let the stories that society has fed us get in the way of our truth. We have learned to forget to notice the glorious and winding network of twisting branches, trunk and solid root that spring beneath the leaf. We have learned to ignore the blue sky above and the sun the peaks out from the clouds.

Caterpillar parenting is where our fear/anxiety/shame tapes lead the way towards anxiety about physical development to milestones to sleeping to eating to learning our abcs and later about grades and college admissions and balanced resumes so much so that we push our children so far out from what they were meant to become that the chrysalis has gone out of site. Instead of allowing ourselves to move towards our beautiful (sometimes really difficult and scary!) butterfly truths.

When I became pregnant, I was a caterpillar parent. I had already painstakingly built a whole perfect life based on what everyone should of course most highly value:

The overpriced garden apartment brownstone with an amazing kitchen to boot.

The bike ride to my ideal progressive classroom past charming treelined streets and parking lots turned hipster markets on the weekends.

An overworked, pressured biophysicist husband working in a cutting edge lab at NYU.

Weekends at the park and live classical music pop ups surrounded by many friends and no friends.

Getting pregnant perfectly as planned. Comparing my bump to all the other bumps.

We were the golden ones. Young, successful, building a life with perfectly folded linen napkins with boho frays.

So I read the books and watched the moms on the playground, carefully planning out my child-to-be's perfect life. I was a teacher after all, a childhood expert, a regular progressive guru! Of course I knew everything there was to know about the world and how I wanted to parent. So I wrote a precise and elaborate birthing plan. I set up my baby's things just so. I planned ahead for my first 100 days and practiced yoga all the way up to my first contraction... and then, my baby was born.

Sore nipples.

Scratch that. Excruciatingly crusting nipples and a difficult latch.

Hormones driving me into the wildest peaks and valleys I had experienced.

Isolation. Boredom. Anxiety. Defeat. Terrified of how LIFE was going to ruin my precious little perfect one.

So I did what mothers have won trophies for through the ages: I controlled.

I insisted on doing the dishes, grocery shopping while babywearing nursing, pumping while folding laundry and fell into the trap of pretend Supermom. You know--that mom who has her perfectly lined lipgloss and impeccably packed diaper bag who is secretly one more cry before letting her banshee out?

And then returning to work. Controlling everything again. Agonizing for days about my pumping schedule and childcare. Enter building, enter foggy head, forgetfulness, completely frazzled off the cuff failing.

But I kept at it because "that's life," right? There weren't any other options, no? On the outside, I was the perfect wife with the sweetest little baby and the amazing job at my dream school. And in some ways, this was true. But to keep it up, it took every ounce of control I had to not let my insides ooze out and spill onto the sidewalk.

Of course, I didn't realize any of this then. I was still a caterpillar.

I kept at it for two more wacky years. And then, when my daughter self-weaned, and it felt like my hormones had decided to finally go on ultimate strike and that is when I hit the bottom. I fell into a dark hole of isolation and fear under a mountain of deep, deep shame.

Suddenly everyone was criticizing me and I was lashing out at everyone. I suddenly found myself caught in petty fights and blaming everyone around me and almost quitting it all. I contemplated running away and all I wanted, every minute of every day, all that my head was shouting was RELIEF! RELIEF! RELIEF!

My ooze wouldn't stay inside anymore. It was fighting to come out. And so I submitted.

I was so deeply terrified of the shame of my inner state that I almost didn't. But in the end, I had to and it transformed my life. It pushed me to sprout my wings.

Here's what I thought was going to happen:

I would admit my failures and inadequacy and lose my job.

I would share my sorrow and isolation and lose my friends.

I would name that I actually in fact have realized that I do NOT want the overpriced garden apartment in the chic Brooklyn neighborhood that was bleeding me of my savings. And I would be warned of my eventual demise.

I would say that I there has to be another way other than this rat-race, proving, constantly comparing, stressed out of my mind existence and my family would pressure me right back into the gilded cage.

Here's what actually happened:

I named my postpartum depression and sought out help. I became vocal about my experience and shared it with others. I realized that I wanted a completely different life than I'd ever thought possible. A slow-living, in intentional community, global connection and non 9-5ing with financial and social freedom to be the artist, songwriter, activist, message trumpeter I was meant to be.

So I told my principal and my co-teacher and classroom family my truth that I couldn't go on the way I had been. And do you know what they did? They SUPPORTED me! They wrapped me up in warmth and nestled me in a nest of a four day work week and self-care Fridays. It was in this way that I regained a big piece of my soul that had gone under wraps and I relearned who I am again. It was in this way that I ended up ending the school year on the highest of highs and then leaving NYC for an adventure in the mountains towards the intentional living I had dreamed up in the dark of my despair.

You see, that was my cocoon.

Butterfly parenting is also allowing your child to spread their own wings, even if it's in a different direction than you would have hoped for them. They are the explorers. We are the guides.

By letting my ooze spill over and naming my truth, I was finally reunited with my inner knowing. And what I discovered baffled and delighted me. I realized that the Brooklyn full time teaching brownstones and bicycles lifestyle that I had so impeccably built was not what I wanted at all! It was the caterpillar who believed these were the only leaves for me. But inside my very own cocooning back to my truth, I was able to learn a few things. From the ooze and goo.

Here's what they were:

Success does not mean sacrifice.

Success means aligning with truth.

What we want is not what we're told to want.

What we want is what our knowing knows. This too is what we need.

Our children might have a different path from our knowing. This is scary. It is also OK.

What our truth discovers will always be right. Even if everyone is saying it is wrong.

There is no such thing as failure, there is only learning and growing. But we must allow ourselves the ability of dissolving.

When I learned these things, I was shaken. At first, I fought and battled and my feet searched for the leafy ground. But with time, as I settled into my new upside-down existence, I realized there really was no other way than this. When I allowed myself to unabashedly state my truth and move step by step towards actualizing my dream, it attainable.

I named my desire for intentional community and discovered cohousing.

I knew I was ready to step out of the classroom and came into my own as a parenthood coach.

I understood that my day to day was to be more of a spiral of creating and am working on building towards the freedom to have that too.

The moment I dissolved, I found myself surrounded by an abundance of friendship, warmth, and connection. There was empathy and compassion too. I dug deep and bravely identified what I needed and began to lean on others to allow those needs to be met, even if it meant that someone else was giving a bit or doing the hard lifting for me. I accepted these tiny gifts as a revelation and became giddy with gratitude.

It is only until we allow ourselves to dissolve into the truth and give up the stories we tell believe from society, our friends and family, and ourselves that we truly begin to transform.

When we are able to settle into a new way of being which I call our butterly parenthood - an approach that allows for our inner wisdom to shine through - our truth to come out. One that aligns our family values with our outside world. This is how we return home. This is how we allow for our parenting to be graceful, peaceful, gentle and full of beauty: like the butterfly.

Now, allowing yourself a caterpillar to butterfly transformation doesn't have to be that dramatic or as life-shifting as my story. When you yourself cocoon you might discover that you really love the life you've built and just need a few shifts and creaks to snap it into truth. But you will have to dissolve first. And it will be messy. It will be scary and possibly very hard. But then you will be a butterfly parent. You will be running the show from a values-based perspective. You will be leading the trek from a place of inner knowing and truth. And you will model this way of living for your children and THIS will dramatically shift the earth beneath their feet. They will witness you following and standing by your knowing and they will learn to follow their knowing too. And this is how we raise changemakers who believe the change is possible and aren't afraid to dissolve in order to get it. This is how we liberate the next generation from simply crunching on leaf after leaf.

So, my friends, here is are my questions to you:

Are you still munching on leaves?

Have you allowed yourself to dissolve?

What is your butterfly truth telling you to do?

If you're not sure, take some time to cocoon.

Because we must lift ourselves up and fill our own cups so that we can be the people we hope for our children to experience and learn to be. And these shifts can be large or small. But the shifts are not society's or other's ideas or philosophies: they are OURS. Purely and singularly ours.

So breath that in and spread your wings.


I would to hear your butterfly coming-into-your-own parenthood stories! Share them with me on instagram or facebook @thejoyousparent and I would love to highlight you and your truth.

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