Over the years I’ve read and listened to my fair share of material about “calling.”  The late James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling is the only book I’ve ever read that has helped me making sense of  it (Hillman was a famous Jungian analyst and died a few weeks ago).

Hillman eloquently describes how calling  is separate from our vocation and our talents and is present at our birth. He uses the ancient word “daimon,” – religious traditions would call this a “guardian angel.”   Hillman describes the daimon as a soul-companion that never leaves your side, has your best interest at heart and helps you carry out your destiny (for more on daimons see author Elizabeth Gilbert’s popular TED talk).

Although this isn’t a parenting book, and he only touches on the topic, what he says about childhood and parenting is very compelling. Especially this:

Our lives may be determined less by our childhoods than by the way we have learned to imagine our childhoods. We are less damaged by the traumas of childhood than by the traumatic way we remember childhood as a time of unnecessary and externally caused calamities that wrongly shaped us.

In regards to children and their psychology he says:

I want us to imagine that what children go through has to do with finding a place in the world for their specific calling. They are trying to live two lives at once, the one they were born with and the one of the place and among the people they were born into.

The entire image of a destiny is packed into a tiny acorn, the seed of a huge oak on small shoulders. And its call rings loud and persistent and is as demanding as any scolding voice from the surroundings. The call shows in the tantrums and obstinacies, in the shyness and retreats, that seem to set the child against our world but that may be protections of the world it comes with and comes from.

And on how a children’s dysfunctions are part of his or her gift:

This book champions children… It seeks to make sense of children’s dysfunctions before taking these disorders by their literal labels and sending the child off for therapy… Psychopathologies are as authentic as the child itself, not secondary, contingent. Given with the child, even given to the child, the clinical data are part of its gift. This means that each child is a gifted child, filled with data of all sorts, gifts peculiar to that child which show themselves in peculiar ways, often maladaptive and causing pain. So this book is about children, offering a way to regard them differently, to enter their imaginations, and to discover in their pathologies what their daimon might be indicating and what their destiny might want.

As a parent, I often find it tedious to be a parent in an era where parent is no longer simply a noun but is now a verb (parenting). So I appreciate how Hillman disses the modern notion that a child’s fate is largely determined by his or her parents.

The worst thing a parent can do is neglect her own calling and focus solely on the child:

If we do not differentiate her daimon from her child’s, then mother must also be declared a monster maker, whose daimon or demon lives out its life in her physical child.

I also like how he lets parents off the hook here:

To expect parents to see through the child into the acorn, to know who is there in nuce, and to tend to its concerns – is far too much. That is why teachers and mentors come into the world…

As caretakers, parents cannot also be mentors. The roles and duties differ. It is enough for a parent to keep a roof over your head and food on the table, and to get you up and off to school. Providing a cave of security, a place for regressions is no small job.

One of the most painful errors we make is to expect from a parent a mentor’s vision and blessing and strict teaching, or expecting from a mentor shelter and concern for our human life.

The best thing a parent has to offer his or her children is imagination – having a fantasy about the child:

For it is not ultimately parental control or parental chaos that children run away from; they run from the void of living in a family without any fantasy beyond shopping, keeping up the car, and routines of niceness. The value of the parental fantasy for the child is that it does force it into opposition and into a beginning recognition that its heart is odd, different, and unsatisfied by the shadow cast upon it by the family’s view.

Far better for parents to wish the new baby were a boy, call her Harry, Sidney, or Clark, and cut her hair short, than for them not to have any wish at all. At least the acorn is challenged and has a reality to contend with, the reality of the parental fantasy, which can result in seeing through the parental fallacy itself – seeing that I am not conditioned by and the result of my parents.

Again, parenting is not the focus of this book, but I just wanted to highlight the parenting parts in this post. The overall theme of the book is that we should learn to exchange the term “abnormal” for “extraordinary” and discover how to correctly imagine our lives.

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