Waldorf Dads: Stereotype Versus Archetype
American society has come a long way in a relatively short time, just the past half century really, toward breaking down many of the destructive social stereotypes that have curtailed individual freedom for centuries. Many hard and even fatal battles have been fought to free society from racial and sexual prejudice and stereotype. At a certain crossroads of civilization, we have chosen the path to respect for the individual regardless of race, sex, belief system or culture of origin. We haven’t completed this journey but we are certainly on our way. Therefore, I would like to stress that what I am about to discuss relates to the world of the Archetype as opposed to the caricature world of the Stereotype.
An Archetype is, according to Plato, an ideal form that has its reality in the world of Thought. For Rudolf Steiner, this is a world that is as concrete and objective as the material world of Earth. It is the realm from which physical reality is manifested. For example – think of a triangle. If we were in a room with 100 people who just now drew a triangle on a piece of paper we would find many variations on what a triangle looks like. Nevertheless, we would be able to say about each one, “Yes, that is a triangle.” According to Plato, there is such a thing as the Archetype of Triangle. It is a living thing that is not static but constantly in motion. All representations of a triangle in the material world relate back to this Archetype in their commonality.
A Stereotype on the other hand, is a form that hardens out of life. As any particular human society evolves and then decays many of its characteristics which were once noble, cherished and instrumental in its development become fixed and mandated by society and imposed on the individuals. Individual freedom of movement and expression is dictated by worn out values and restrictions. The definitions of what is appropriate behavior for a man or a woman may be important and appropriate for one era, then degenerate into a kind of bondage when the old conditions change to new ones. There was once upon a time a general Matriarchy in social structure remnants of which can still be found in a few remote areas on earth. The general social structure has been Patriarchal, especially in Jewish, Christian and Islamic cultures for the past three or four thousand years. Of course, there have always been women who have been “elevated” due to their wisdom, courage or general force of personality. And many men have taken a “back seat” to their wives behind closed doors. Nevertheless, each century has seen men and women assigned to definite roles and behaviors and individuals who stepped outside of those restrictions took the very real risk of being ostracized and rejected by others.
The twentieth century dawned with a new impulse toward individual freedom. The struggles of the century have led to the breakdown of many of these stereotypes. Women have “climbed the ladder” of economic and political success and men have found more fulfillment in more nurturing relationships with their families.
The newfound freedom and value of the individual is a wonderful thing and the following is in no way intended to harken back to the old days of social restrictions.
Mother and Father Archetypes
In today’s economic and social reality, mothers have the freedom to choose to work outside the home and pursue fulfilling careers. On the other hand, there are many mothers who would prefer to stay at home with their children full time and who value mothering and homemaking but who are forced to bring in a second (or primary) income.
Fathers, too have found their traditional roles changed. Many fathers cherish the opportunity to take a more nurturing and developmental role in the lives of their young children. But there are many men who feel that their role of provider and guide has been devalued and undermined. Most men still worry about their child’s relationship with the wider world and are concerned for their children’s social and economic success.
So much has changed and is still changing in today’s society. So many of these changes are highly influenced by media which in some ways dictates social behaviors as powerfully as anything that has gone before. “Father Knows Best” gave way to “The Cosby Show” which has given way to various shows that portray the father as little more than a bumbling idiot. “The Donna Reed Show” also was transformed by Claire Huxtable’s example on “The Cosby Show” of an independent and successful wife and mother. Unfortunately, this became something of a caricature on shows like “Roseanne.”
So the question still remains – is there such a thing as a natural or fundamental expression of motherhood and fatherhood? I would answer “Yes” but with the caveat that it lies in the realm of Archetype rather than Stereotype.
No Such Thing
I like to make it very clear to parents that there is no such thing as Perfection! There are no perfect parents, no perfect teachers, no perfect schools and no perfect children. Reaching for an Archetype is not reaching for Perfection! As described above, an Archetype is a living, moving, flexible thing which expresses itself in countless ways. It is a guiding inner picture that inspires us to make it our own work of art.
“Trailing Clouds of Glory”
The baby comes from the world of living Archetypes. Their entry into earthly life is still supported by impulses related to these beneficial spiritual impulses. Without a mother and father who are capable of reaching up to the spiritual stream of love and care the infant would not thrive and possibly not survive. One of the first things most pregnant parents either receive as a gift or buy for themselves is a “How To” book on Parenting (or several dozen of them.) Most parents want to do the best job they possibly can and before the child arrives (at least the first one) they engage in many hours of discussion and even argument about what that entails. They have to balance their desires with their economic and social realities. But most parents plan to do the best they possibly can to give their child a positive, healthy start on life, however they ultimately define it.
Even with the mighty and mostly positive changes of the past century, the young child still needs a stable loving home involving two parents. A child can be raised very well by a single parent but it is generally a much greater struggle and truthfully there is often something that seems “missing”. Whether a child has one parent, two parents of the same sex or two parents of “opposite” sexes, every child needs to experience the Mother and Father Archetypes in order to develop psychologically and spiritually toward adulthood.
The Mother Archetype
The Mother Archetype is expressed through the primal caregiver from birth through early childhood. This is usually the birthmother but it can be successfully carried by an adoptive mother, a truly loving caregiver or the father when necessity dictates. But anyone who has the primary responsibility for an infant must reach up to the Mother Archetype to help them provide the warmth and sense of security the infant needs. Physical mothers who fail to access this archetype are neglectful and even abusive. Just being female has been proven not to guarantee being a “good” mother. The Mother Archetype nurtures, feeds, cleans and soothes the infant. She watches over its health and moods, its cycle of sleeping and waking and its day to day development. She watches for and celebrates its stepping stones such as first words, first solid food, sitting, standing and walking and all of the other delightful moments in the baby’s life. She loves selflessly and fearlessly when necessary. She does everything within her means to make her child feel loved and cherished regardless of the family’s economic circumstances. She makes hundreds of sacrifices, large and small to give her child whatever it needs to thrive. She tries to protect her child from danger and injury while at the same time allowing the child to take age appropriate risks that strengthen his body and sense of accomplishment.
The time of the Mother Archetype’s greatest influence is between birth and when they start full time schooling. Kindergarten has traditionally been a transitional year most often carried by a female teacher or very nurturing male teacher. The Kindergarten year has been in the past less “academically” oriented and more concerned with social development and a gradually increasing independence from the mother-person in the child’s life. With the advent of First Grade the child is deemed to be ready to “leave the nest” so to speak and to gradually add other influences to their development.
The Father Archetype
So, what does the Father Archetype inspire in the new father? Traditionally, the father has had much less of an actively nurturing role in a baby’s first years. Feeding, changing and nurturing the infant is a relatively new social experience for fathers. Even being present in the delivery room used to be prohibited whereas now it is encouraged. The past few generations of fathers have often been a rather confused bunch. They have almost been forced to transition from hands-off to hands-on parenting in a few short decades. There are certainly positive aspects to these changes, allowing men to access more of their “feminine side” to bond more deeply with their children and to take a greater interest in their development than may have been so in the past. Nevertheless, from the moment a father is born, he is called upon to reach up to the Father Archetype for inspiration. The Father Archetype contains the Provider, the Protector and the Guide.
The Provider is of course, crucial to the mother and newborn infant’s survival. Someone has to maintain the home and daily needs of the family. Even working mothers require “maternity leave” to have a minimum of a month or two to establish their bond and care for their newborn. Most fathers begin to try to prepare for this as soon as they learn of the child’s conception, many even before. Many fathers have a burning desire to give their children a “better life” – economically, educationally and socially – than they feel they had growing up. Taken to the extreme this may mean abandoning their child emotionally in the pursuit of financial “success”. This can be an unfortunate result to an impulse which started off to the good.
The Protector is that impulse that happens to many new fathers like a bolt of lightning when they hold their child for the first time and silently vow that they will NEVER let anything bad happen to him or her and that they would literally DIE for this child. Again, this is a very organic directive whether natural or spiritual and a very human one. Few animal species rely on the father to protect the young. In the Human Being it is such a vital force that it really extends to the “patri-otic” impulse of protecting the entire country.
The Guide is something that may take hold a little more gradually. The Father Archetype looks forward to the child’s success in adult life – economically, socially, spiritually. For many fathers who have a good relationship with their own father it is enough to want to be like him in terms of guidance and direction. For other men who feel that their own fathers did not provide enough (or too much) guidance a new way is needed. This can lead to some unfortunate pendulum swinging from too severe to too permissive or vice versa. But many fathers spend a lot of time and energy thinking through their parenting dilemmas for themselves. There is so much tightrope walking to be done. We want our children to be smart and successful academically but not to be a “brainy geek” or “nerd.” We want our child to be athletic but not necessarily to be ultra-competitive and un-sporting. We want our child to take steps toward independence, but still need our help from time to time. In the role of Guide, the father is his most personally unique. And in many cases he may never really know the ways he “got it right” or possibly failed.
An additional element that makes The Guide’s job much harder is that he has to be able to predict the future (almost)! He needs to try to look ahead about twenty to thirty yeas to figure out what kind of education, training and values his child will need to succeed in the world of the future. A thinking father may need to sort out and define his own internal system of values and ethics and to look for the universals that he feels must prevail no matter what social changes occur. He must also try to figure out what kinds of disciplines are effective and appropriate at each stage of his child’s development to enforce those values and ethics. A really conscious father may realize very early on that each of his children have widely different personalities and there is no “one size fits all” to good disciplinary practices.
The Mother Archetype is predominant in the first seven years of the child’s life (approximately). Of course, the child needs a loving and present father, too but many of the decisions and directions of daily life will be made by the mother.
With the change of teeth and entry into full time schooling, the Father Archetype may be called upon more and more as social interactions give rise to more of those pesky ethical questions the child brings home. The father may feel more comfortable participating in the older child’s life through sports, homework, skills and crafts that the child is now able to begin to learn. Scouting, camping and other life skill experiences can be especially fulfilling for the father. The Mother Archetype is still very much needed to soothe wounds – inner and outer and to nourish and protect the imaginative and creative life of her child. The Father Archetype tends to be more concerned with academic development and achievement.
With the advent of puberty and high school, the Father Archetype of protector may switch into high gear, especially with daughters. The father must find a way along the rocky precipice trying to lead his son or daughter to safety without using disciplinary methods that alienate them and encourage greater rebellion and risky behavior. He may mourn the oncoming loss of “daddy’s little girl” or his “chip off the old block” but he is proud to see them go off to college and to begin to become independent (of everything except his checkbook)!
All of the above has been outlined to lead into the most common reactions of young moms and dads to the “discovery” of Waldorf Education. I will allow myself to speak in generalities hopefully with the good will of the reader who is now aware that I am addressing these issues more in relation to the archetype than the stereotype.
The search for the “right” educational approach can consume a lot of new parents’ time, even before the first child arrives! Generally speaking, the mother is on the look out for the promotion of creativity, self-esteem and social success. The father tends to value intellectual and academic achievement a bit more highly. Some parents come into their new family with deeply entrenched values related to their own educational backgrounds. Some are determined that their child attend Harvard or Yale. Some would be happy with graduating from any college. Some parents value technical and professional skills very highly, others don’t. Most parents hope that their child will be able to establish himself or herself in whatever career field they do choose before taking on the responsibilities of marriage and family themselves.
Creative parents, athletic parents, intellectual parents all hope that their children will value and emulate their achievements. And most parents desire their child’s personal fulfillment above all else.
What is Waldorf?
Unless a set of parents already involve themselves with education as their own career or the study of child development and educational psychology they probably won’t come into contact with “alternative” educational methods like Montessori and Waldorf until they have a young child and need to make some kind of decision. Of course, the first contact with any educational system is through the Preschool or Nursery experience. The parents may tour several different schools in their area and consider the price of tuition as well as the “educational” offerings. For working parents who have to choose a day care situation all of this can begin practically when the baby is born.
It is nice when both parents’ preferences dovetail but it is very common that they don’t. It is most often a clash of creative vs. intellectual – socially cooperative vs. competitive – child directed vs. demanding. Remember what I said before “There is no such thing as perfection!” Nevertheless, especially when paying for “private” education most parents look for a school that comes as close as possible.
Waldorf education carries through from Early Childhood (Nursery/ Kindergarten) through High School wherever possible. Unfortunately, many Waldorf schools, especially in the United States struggle to achieve the economic and social foundation to build to a full school. Most young parents meet Waldorf the first time at a small school of Kindergarten plus the first three or four grades. Many are only a Kindergarten working towards getting a First Grade off the ground. So the first impression young parents get is usually of the Kindergarten.
This may explain why the world of the young Waldorf school is so heavily populated on the female side. The Mother Archetype is most often quite “at home” and comfortable with the gentle colors, imaginative play and homely rhythms and activities. The lack of emphasis on letters and numbers in the Kindergarten doesn’t bother them so much. Mothers and female teachers tend to respond to the gentleness, beauty and care more or less instinctively. Yes, they certainly read lots of books and can easily come to understand the developmental basis for our early childhood practices but the heart tends to come first.
On the other hand, I have seen fathers almost cringe walking into a Waldorf Kindergarten for the first time. It is all so airy-fairy and seems so disconnected from the “real world”. Where are the ABC cards and computers? Where and how does the “head start” learning take place? Will choosing a school like this put my child way behind in academic development when he or she reaches the upper grades and high school? And many Kindergarten and early Grades teachers often don’t have the time and/ or inner resources to fully explain Waldorf methodology and its long term effects. To address this, I have written an extensive article called “The Waldorf Approach to Reading” which can be accessed here:
This article was written very much with our Protector/ Guide Fathers in mind.
But the very best “way in” for a potential Waldorf Dad is to be able to visit a fully developed Waldorf school and to be able to sit in on some upper grades classes and if possible, high school. To be able to really experience the high level of academic achievement that really does rest on the creative and imaginative basis of the early grades is a great gift. A father that does this and then visits a public school upper grades classroom will probably not need much further explanation. However, there are lots of books and seminars available for any father who does want to delve deeper into the Waldorf curriculum and its application.
Waldorf Moms (and Teachers) need to be sensitive to the valid requests of the Dads for being able to ascertain levels of achievement and to validate “Dad domain” activities like athletic and intellectual competitions that are age appropriate. Above all, Waldorf Dads need to feel included in their child’s experience in ways that go beyond their bank accounts. The Waldorf Kindergarten is supposed to represent the Father Archetype also, especially in having men around working with the children on a regular basis with gardening, carpentry, animal care and really, everything else! It would be wonderful to see more Waldorf Kindergartens with both a man and woman teacher on a daily basis. If not enough men are available, the woman teacher tries to still give her children these experiences but it is not necessarily ideal. Dads who have the time to really pitch in say, once a month or to have “work days” with the children on the weekends doing more gardening, games, carpentry and other crafts work with them would add a great deal of enrichment to the program. Often they are simply not asked to participate and may feel elbowed out and unwanted. This is unfortunate and actually a bit “unnatural”. The young child especially benefits from the “village life” experience of playing around adults who do real, meaningful work. We use songs, poems and stories about farmers, cobblers, fishermen, builders, hunters, etc. but most contemporary children never actually experience adults doing these things. Our technological age involves “work” with computers and mass production. The kinds of skills needed in the agricultural and even early industrial ages are almost never experienced any more.
This is where Waldorf Dads could and should come into their own – in the early child hood years through real physical and creative work around and with the children; in the Grades years continuing the same and expanding it with active participation in the Farming and Building Main Lessons of the Third Grade and many more; and with bringing knowledge and expertise from the scientific, mathematical and technological work they do on a regular basis to the upper grades and high school classes.
Also, having more great Dads at the school on a daily basis may be the best bridge for helping the newbie parents to make meaningful connections.
Waldorf Education is truly Education for the Real World and it needs Waldorf Dads to be as full and rich as it was always meant to be. Hurrah for Waldorf Dads!!!
Christine Natale discovered Rudolf Steiner and his work at age 16 through a summer job in the Biodynamic Gardens at the Threefold Community in New York. After two years of community college in the area, Christine embarked upon a two year journey with her mentor, Rene Querido. Lucky enough to be in a small training class, Christine was able to intern at the Sacramento Waldorf School from the first of December through June with full block training experience in almost every grade and Kindergarten. Christine taught for about ten years, primarily in the Kindergarten, with one year taking a combined Fourth and Fifth Grade. During this time, she has given many lectures to the public, produced puppet theater and festival productions, co-directed young schools and been an active resource for Waldorf parents and their children.
More recently Christine has been focused on her writing. She has produced an extensive collection of children’s stories and articles on Waldorf Education and is in the process of self-publishing them. Christine brings a variety of skills in all of the arts, such as Waldorf Watercolor Painting, Crayon Drawing (and its interpretation), Handwork, Music, Drama, Puppetry, Storytelling and much more. She has a broad and deep base of knowledge of Anthroposophy and Waldorf Education, as well as a good familiarity with other educational systems and methods and an ability to draw connections and to build bridges of understanding for people who come from a wide variety of backgrounds.