When our children are little, there is a sort of magic to our love for them. They depend on us for everything and look at us with pure adoration. When they grow older, though, the relationship between parent and child changes as the child gains independence. Over the years, the parent-child relationship can become strained and uncomfortable — or just not as close as it once was. Dream Tending tools can help you recapture the closeness you once shared with your child and help you navigate the inevitable changes in the parent-child relationship.
When the Parent-Child Relationship Is Strained
Laurie Markham, author of Happy Parents, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, notes that both children and parents crave a connection with each other. In a blog post for Psychology Today, she laid out 10 habits to help strengthen and maintain that vital connection with your children. Hug your child at least 12 times a day, she says, and make time to play and talk one-on-one. But what if your relationship with your child—of any age—is already strained and you’re feeling helpless to heal it? Many of the “habits” that Markham suggests fit naturally with the principles of dream tending as a shared practice.
In his book Dream Tending: Awakening to the Healing Power of Dreams, Dr. Stephen Aizenstat talks about tending the Sacred Marriage and repairing relationships between couples, but much of what he says can be applied to the other important relationships in your life—and which relationships in your life are more important than the one between parent and child?
Reconnecting With Your Children Through Sharing Dreams
Remember when your children were little and they’d wake from a nightmare? Think about how you interacted with your child in those moments. Most parents instinctively follow the advice offered by experts on child development: be there in the moment, offer comfort, explain what happened and help your child go back to sleep. One of the most important steps, suggested by Dr. Elana Ben-Joseph, occurs in the morning: listen to your children’s dreams without judgment, let them talk it through, encourage them to draw or write about the dream and even to imagine a new ending for their nightmare.
Those are, in a nutshell, the precise steps you’d use in dream tending to connect with your dreaming self and the living images in dreams. When children tell you about their dreams, they’re not looking for an analysis. They don’t want to know what their dream means. They are simply sharing their experience with you, and the best thing you can do is to simply listen and reciprocate. When you invite another person into your dreams by sharing them, you are giving them a key to your inner emotions, to your authentic self. Is there any greater gift to offer your children?
How to Start Sharing Dreams With Your Children
Aizenstat suggests using dream sharing as a ritual reconnection with your partner, a way to find the sacred relationship that has become lost in the world of the everyday mundane. It’s easy to adapt his exercise to the parent-child relationship while keeping the key elements in mind.
- Set aside a special time for your conversation. Choose a time when you won’t be interrupted and when you can focus completely on your child.
- Suggest that you both keep a dream journal, writing down your dreams and then sharing them with each other.
- Ask your child to tell you about a dream—and just listen attentively. If you find yourself starting to analyze the dream, notice what you’re doing and let the thought go. Your job as the listener is to be a witness to the dream, no more and no less. Your child is trusting you to enter an inner world. Honor that trust by accepting the world as it is and appreciating what you are shown.
- Ask real questions — not “what do you think that means?” but “what is happening now?” and “what are you feeling when this happens?” and “what do you see around you?” Your questions can help kindle curiosity and lead your child to explore his or her own inner landscape, while taking you along on the adventure.
- When your child has finished the story, let it end. Thank your child for sharing it, and thank the dream images for opening to you.
Sharing Dreams Takes Two
Remember that sharing is a two-way process. It may be easier to get started by sharing one of your own dreams, modeling active language and being in the dream. Invite children into your dream by asking them questions about the people and images you encounter in your dream and giving them details that you notice. You’ll find that the very act of describing your dreams out loud makes them more real, more alive and more detailed.
Do Your Own Dream Work
Keep in mind that you can also use dream tending tools to seek out what is damaged in your relationship with your child and find ways to heal it. Call up a dream that resonates with your own child energy — both you as a child and you as a parent. Walk into it and find the living images in it. What do you notice? What calls your attention? When you find an image in your dream that calls you, stay with it. Ask yourself “who is visiting me now?” Is it your own parent? Your own child self? Think about what the image needs—perhaps it’s hungry and needs to be fed. Maybe it’s scared and needs comfort or rescuing from danger. As you tend the dream image, notice what you feel and see around you, and then find ways to honor those feelings in the waking world.
Your dreams can help you find the rifts in your relationship with your children and start healing them. Whether you practice dream tending on your own to help you find the missing pieces and work on them, or spend time sharing dreams with your child as a way to strengthen your relationship, the tools you learn in dream tending hold a key to bring you closer to your children.
By Deb Powers
Deb Powers is a freelance writer living and working on Massachusetts. She writes frequently about health, wellness and lifestyle topics.
Dr. Stephen Aizenstat
Stephen Aizenstat, Ph.D., is the Founder of Dream Tending, Pacifica Graduate Institute, and The Academy of Imaginal Arts and Sciences. He is a world renowned Professor of Depth Psychology, an imagination specialist and innovator. He has served as an organizational consultant to major companies, institutions, Hollywood films, and has lectured extensively in the U.S., Asia and Europe.
He is affiliated with the Earth Charter International project through the United Nations where he has spoken. Professor Aizenstat is the Chancellor Emeritus and Founding President of Pacifica Graduate Institute. He has collaborated with many notable masters in the field including Joseph Campbell, James Hillman, Marion Woodman and Robert Johnson.