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Rethinking Dependence

by Gordon Neufeld, April 4th, 2023


As I have been immersing myself into the material in preparation for my 2023 conference address on the Wisdom of Dependence, I once again find myself in awe regarding Nature’s blueprint for the unfolding of human potential. At the same time, I am acutely aware of how much we are still being governed by the tired doctrine of self-sufficiency, especially when it comes to raising children. We are still preoccupied with pushing independence upon them, succumbing to one variation after another with some of the newest obsessions including self-soothing, self-regulation, and self-care. So many adults are still living by the adage that we must not do anything for a child that they could or should do for themselves, and so strive towards their independence and self-sufficiency while dangerously sacrificing their dependency needs for togetherness in the process. We are still operating in our society as if a spontaneous life force does not exist, never mind that it is ready and eager to do its work once we show some promise of doing ours.

For generations now – at least in the dominant English-speaking society – we have thrown dependence under the bus, sacrificing it in our efforts to train independence. When our efforts fail as they inevitably do, we foolishly double down. We should not be surprised to have given rise to the most insecure and troubled children ever.

What is required to wrench ourselves free of this infected mindset? To realize how incongruent this approach is to developmental science? How can we get the confidence to swim against the stream of prevailing practice?

It strikes me that even though we may have had a glimpse of the true nature of Nature, we may still need to be reminded, perhaps time and time again, of how Nature works and that the instinct to depend is there for good reason – in fact for several good reasons. Perhaps we need to be refreshed on the wisdom of Nature to permit ourselves to lean into it, to depend upon it, especially when encountering dependence that seems overdue.

I have gathered enough material now to write a book about the wisdom of dependence, but knowing me, this is not going to happen, at least not any time soon. My challenge now is to distill the material to its essence in such a way that would instill the confidence required to take the leap of faith of inviting our dependants to depend upon us, trusting that, if we can get our caring through to them, Nature will do what only it can do: grow them up to be their own persons.

I am convinced that unless we can DEPEND upon Nature, we will not be inclined to invite our children to DEPEND upon us. And unless we can invite them to DEPEND upon us, Nature will not be able to raise them to their potential, including their full potential as separate beings. Relying upon Nature makes parenting so much easier than carrying the whole load ourselves. It doesn’t need to be this hard!

I am also convinced that this is the most important and pivotal issue in parenting and teaching today, bar none. I tried to speak to it ten years ago in a two-minute segment, “Kids and Independence”, for Kids in the House. I will try again, this time with more time, in the opening address for this year’s annual conference.

Editor’s note: Gordon will present of Wisdom of Dependence at Neufeld Institute Conference 2023 on Saturday, April 22, 2023. Registration includes access to all recordings for 90 days.

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