Uplift cofounder Drew Hansen sat down with Jana Spangler to discuss ways to reclaim your inner authority while parenting.
Jana is an alumna of Richard Rohr’s The Living School — a wisdom school run by the Center for Action & Contemplation. During this two-year program, Jana studied how the world’s wisdom traditions support inner transformation.
Jana is also a highly sought-after coach who guides individuals through this transformative work. As a married mother of three, Jana has practical insights about how to reclaim your inner authority as a parent.
Here are seven insights from the conversation, as well as the embedded video.
1. Our approach to authority shifts as we grow up, and that’s okay.
“When we’re young we tend to rely on other people — our parents, our teachers, or our religious leaders,” Jana says. By contrast, as we get older we start to rely more on “our own intuition, our own wisdom, and our own experience.” This shift doesn’t necessarily mean we discover over time that our inner authority is always right and all external authority is always wrong. Rather, it usually means that we start to trust our inner authority to discern which messages from which external authorities resonate for our lives in our current circumstances.
2. Reclaiming our authority helps us feel alive.
In the process of reclaiming our inner authority, we inevitably clash with the inner authority of other people. It might be a clash between spouses, between parent and child, or between an individual and an authority figure. In each case, individuation and disagreement can lead to growth. Jana shares that it can also be exciting. “It can actually make us feel some of those feelings we had when we were very first meeting someone and were not sure if they were going to find us interesting,” Jana says. “When we found out they were, we felt like we were chosen.” In other words, one sign that we’re reclaiming our inner authority is that we feel alive.
3. We don’t have to share our inner authority with everyone.
Sometimes when we start to reclaim our inner authority, we find that people don’t respond particularly well. “I might find that I’m loving these parts of myself that have been tucked away and are now coming forward,” Jana says. “I’m vulnerable and revealing things to someone important in my life and then maybe they’re not as accepting as I had hoped they would be.” Citing research from Brené Brown, Jana says that there’s no requirement to share your story with people who don’t have the right to hear it or who would threaten your wellness if they rejected you for sharing. This is one of the biggest things Jana helps people navigate in her coaching work.
4. Emotional intelligence plays a central role in reclaiming our inner authority.
“Emotions are everything,” Jana says. “Research has shown us that when the emotional processing centers of the brain are damaged we make terrible decisions, even when the cognitive centers are all on line.” Because of this, we have to learn emotional intelligence if we’re going to truly reclaim our inner authority. It starts with doing regular body scans, recognizing sensations, naming emotions, and moving into appropriate regulation. “We start to discover our own emotional landscape,” Jana adds, “which is a skill and gift because when we are willing to do that ourselves we will naturally help our children learn a new skill as well.”
5. Parenting after reclaiming your inner authority is like gardening.
Jana mentions the book The Gardener and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik, which shows that many parenting models are unfortunately like carpentry. The parents have an exact plan for who their children should be and then they work to make sure their children fit that exact plan. Gopnik argues that parents should instead treat the process like gardening — recognizing that it’s a living system and you don’t know exactly who each child will grow up to be, just as a gardener doesn’t know exactly how their garden will turn out. “You’re working with an ecosystem, you’re working with uncertainty — and who knows how this particular plan is going to do,” Jana says. “In parenting, the outcomes are not always known. Sometimes it’s worse than we imagined, and sometimes it’s better.”
6. Spiritual growth requires ongoing curiosity.
Citing an insight from Richard Rohr, Jana says, “If you want your child to remain spiritually curious, don’t answer all their questions before they ask.” She then cites a study where young children were given a complicated toy with lots of parts to explore. The researchers found that when a grownup stepped in to show the child what the toy could do, the child spent less time exploring the toy on their own. The takeaway is that parents should do all they can to nurture their child’s natural curiosity along the spiritual journey.
7. Establishing shared values gives you a foundation.
Even though it can be disorienting to reclaim your inner authority while parenting, it helps to establish shared values. “One of the things you can do is create a family identity,” Jana says. This process might consist of having each person separately write down what they value. What Jana finds is that families who do this generally discover just how much they have in common, even if each person may hold different beliefs. It’s a practice of finding order after the disorder that can come with claiming your inner authority.
Of course, the conversation covered so much more than we’ve captured in this writeup. See the full thing below.