Sally Collings

"Parenting With Soul"

(Harpercollins Publishers)

By Nicola Silva

In Parenting with Soul Sally Collings joins a small, but growing, group of modern authors who are willing to explore the myth of perfect motherhood through the clear and unsentimental lens of reality.

The truth is that parenting is tiring work and you're always on call. Ask any sleep-deprived-to-the-point-of-exhaustion new mum or dad. It's a dirty business; the little darlings are infinitely curious and will find creative ways of covering themselves with mud and muck the second you take your eyes off them. If you live far away from your extended family, as many young couples do, raising young children can often be a lonely task.

Until about 30 or so years ago, as part of their education, girls were taught unexciting domestic subjects that were intended to prepare them to become mothers of the future. Today's mothers were taught to excel academically and artistically, be socially confident and have successful careers. Many of them will relate to Collings who describes herself as a "self taught parent".

An intrinsically spiritual person, Collings realised soon after having children that she was missing the richness of an inner life. She had unaccountably lost track of the divine in day-to-day living. As any parent knows, the early years of childhood are so heavily driven by having to do innumerable tasks that there's very little opportunity to simply be by yourself. As a result, the daily routine starts to feel mundane and lacking in purpose; even soul-less, one could say.

How do you add soul to your life and what is it anyway? Collings enjoys Christian roots but she is not constrained by them and often dips into other spiritual and wisdom traditions. Her concept of "soul" encompasses a wider meaning than any narrow religious definition. Jung likened the soul to the rootstock of a plant: "What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains." Collings describes soul as the true essence of one's being regardless of the circumstances - how does a parent respond when their toddler wakes up at 3am having wet the bed?

Parenting with Soul suggests we plunge more deeply into the chaos and wonder of family life, rather than seeking to escape its unpalatable aspects. Some of the ways to add soul to your day are spending 60 seconds of mindfulness before you get out of bed in the morning, having a good laugh, or cry, depending on the circumstances, or saying a quick prayer while you're doing the dishes.

I like the concept of honouring the perfect, but flawed, beauty around us. This worldview is known as wabi-sabi and derives from the Zen Buddhist and Taoist traditions. Picture the wrinkle-wreathed face of an old woman or your child's battered, but beloved, teddy bear. The secret is to be on the lookout for richness in everything.

Einstein said, "There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle."

We take great care to feed the body; however, rarely do we remember to feed the spirit. Would our lives change if we took the time to nurture our soul in the same way?

Parenting with Soul is about savouring life in all its guises, something, funnily enough, small children are especially good at! This doesn't escape the author, who suggests children be allowed to be the guru now and again.

Sally Collings writes with humour and refreshing clarity. Best of all, this book is designed to be dipped in at random, perhaps during some rare quiet time when the children are napping. Just the thing for time poor parents.

Nicola Silva

Nicola Silva is a journalist and writer based in Sydney