The process of parenting and especially disciplining can be characterised as being a Saturnine activity. Parenting can be described as a process of taking responsibility for our children, from birth to helping, protecting and guiding them in their growing process. Naturally, there is more to parenting than just setting the rules and enforcing them. In a broader context, the development of a child into a mature individual is a combination of the qualities of all the planets. We as parents are helping our children to nurture themselves (Moon), to communicate effectively with others (Mercury), to develop adequate interpersonal skills (Venus), to be able to stand up for themselves and take initiative (Mars), and to function adequately in their community (Jupiter) and live by the rules (Saturn).

This essay is particularly concerned with the role a parent has as boundary setter, authority figure and educator of responsibility. These are all Saturn functions. They are the activities which cause problems for many people confronted with adolescents who wish to break the rules, buck authority and create boundaries of life for themselves. Many parents and teachers react to adolescent rebellion by putting on stricter rules, attempting to enforce greater control and a more dominating attitude towards their teens.

Saturn can be characterised as being the male parent; The form setter, the authority figure, the law maker, the boundary maker of material life that cannot be transgressed. When internalised Saturn becomes the degree of personal authority and personal responsibility one exercises in one’s life and dealings with others, and the force of persistence and determination brought to bear to make our goals a concrete reality.

In 1986 or so I was contemplating solo parenting my three children aged 3, 6, 9 when I started to consider the many different qualities of Saturn. In Astrology and Anthroposophy where we are describing the whole of creation by seven basic archetypes, one can appreciate that each planet has many different aspects to its ‘personality’.

The models of parenting I had either experienced or witnessed in my own life, placed the 'father' as the unquestioned authority figure who sets the rules of his castle. This is characterised by the phrase: "While you live under my roof you will live by my rules". This model is extended to our society in which the government sets rules enforced by laws and the police force. It is our fear of these law keepers which forms our boundaries of personal responsibility. These boundaries, then, are motivated and formed from outside us rather than internally.

I had recreated this authoritarian model in my own parenting up to this point. Looking at my relationship with my children I realised that we were not having a great deal of fun. There were 'discipline' problems and an 'us' and 'them' division between parent and children had developed. I asked myself, would I have to live with this division from my children for ever? I could see this basic alienation continuing in the same way that the adolescent 'problems' I experienced with my own parents continued into my relationship with my children. There had to be a better way.

It was at this cross roads that I began to reflect upon the aspect of Saturn that represents personal responsibility. I replaced the picture of myself as the parent who is a fully responsible authority over my children till they left my castle, to an image of parenting as the process of handing back to my children their own responsibility for themselves at a rate they chose.

Saturn has a 28 year cycle around the Sun. As it moves around the Sun after birth it forms both positive and negative relationships back to the birth position. The classic seven year cycles often quoted in psychological literature arises from tense relationships of Saturn back to the birth position. Mathematically, Saturn forms a tense 90 degree angle to the birth Saturn at 7 years old, a 180 degree angle at 14, another 90 degree angle at 21 and returns to its birth placement at 28 years old. These are classical crisis points when an individual has to work harder or fight against perceived physical limitations and authority figures in the attempt to be responsible for themselves. Due to Saturn’s retrograde motion (when the planet appears to go backwards), and due to the Earth moving faster than Saturn, these dates can be variable; so an individual can easily experience these personal crisis points at 8-9, 15-16, 22-23, 29-30. It is during these times that an individual will fight hardest for their own personal growth.

These crises are not always played out in the same way. Rudolf Steiner suggests that these seven year cycles are accompanied by the incarnation of our spiritual bodies. Between 0-7 we gain control of our physical body and work to overcome our inherited body and traits. At the first seven year crisis children want to take more responsibility for themselves in the immediate family life and environment, and often rebel against family rules. I find it intriguing that at seven a child is no longer able to be easily carried by the parents. They must now walk on their own two feet. Between the ages of 7-14, the Etheric body incarnates. Although they are experiencing intense physical growth, children seem to be living within a soft ball of protection. Their personalities, while present, are softened, rounded, and still easily moulded by the parent. It is at 14 when the next cycle begins with the Astral body becoming more incarnated, leading to the personality breaking through this ‘etheric membrane’, that puberty begins and adolescence starts. At this time the child rebels even further against parental control of their relationships with their friends in an effort to establish themselves as responsible beings in their social lives. They wish to choose their own friends and to decide where and how they spend their leisure and community time. At 21, the Ego incarnates more strongly. This is the time when the individual meets the broader community and discovers the boundaries and privileges society has to offer. At 28 when the Ego has fully incarnated, the common experience is one of the individual alone in the world at large, this being the end of the first Saturn cycle and the beginning of the next. These questions often arise; “What are the skills, personal traits and understandings I have developed in the past which can support and sustain me in the future as I meet the challenges I must now embark upon as a fully responsible adult?”

Reflecting on the cycles of Saturn and my own experience, I could see that at birth I was 100% responsible for my children’s protection and well being. However, I began to consider parenting as a process of primarily returning responsibility to my children until they could carry it for themselves. From a very early age all a child is asking is to take their own responsible role, first in the family, then the community. Children want to take part just like everyone else. At times they may want more responsibility than they can handle, so they need to feel comfortable to return an certain amount back to their parents to carry a while longer.

A significant breakthrough that I made in my own growth at this time was to become aware that generally children want to do their best to help make the situation that they are in as harmonious and functional as possible. In essence, children are pure souls wanting to do good.

I began to explore this Saturnine approach to parenting with my own children, accepting that they wanted to do their best at all times, and that they wanted to be as fully responsible for themselves as possible, given their limited experiences and skills.

Fortunately, about this time I met an older man and his twenty something daughter who had employed this same model for their passage through adolescence and they confirmed it as a positive approach. The main comment the young woman made was that during her adolescence she had nothing to rebel against. She said that this, in itself was a pain because when all of her friends had things to dramatise in their relationships with their parents, she had none.

I have come to see that this Saturnine approach can be employed successfully from a very early age, in fact the earlier the better. I started when my youngest child was three. One of the first real struggles of authority comes with the hot fire experience. No matter how much I would tell all my children the stove or fire was hot they would eventually have to touch something to prove to themselves that it was indeed hot. They needed to experience the heat for themselves. The more I held them back or threatened them, the more they needed to touch it. Ultimately, the easiest way through this trial was to give them the best advice and leave them to their experience.

One other experience stands out. My three year old, wanted to go and buy the milk just as he had seen his 9 year old brother do. So, I explained to him that I believed that buying the milk could be scary, dangerous, and beyond his present skills; however, if he wanted to do it I would respect his decision. I gave him the correct money, and followed him to the shop, about 100 yards away. Upon his return he was shaking and said he never wanted to do that again. I said OK, and took back the responsibility he had tried on for size. From this experience I saw several important lessons were established. I did not stand in Sol’s path to growth. He learned that there were boundaries for his personal safety. My advice was real and could be trusted. Sol was not punished for taking a risk to be who he believed he was, and to be responsible for himself as he believed he could be. He was not chastised or punished, and he learned that if he did take on too much, I would take back the responsibility until he was ready to try it on for size again.

In allowing my children to make the final decision about what is right for them, I believe it is also important for them to fully experience the karma of their actions, and be fully responsible for them, whatever those actions may be. Each child will take different lengths of time to learn their personal boundaries; however, the earlier they start this expression of Saturn, the earlier they learn their boundaries. It may only take a few experiences at two or three years old such as the fire and milk experiences for a child to learn that their choices come with effects that they may not want to experience, and that any choice they make is their responsibility and that they alone are responsible for the outcome. It is important for the child to know that their parent is supportive of them being a responsible person, so that they can experience their parent as a beneficent mentor with a vast pool of experience rather than a limitation to their individual experiences of life. It seems better that they learn these lessons at three years old than at sixteen or even twenty years old when they become rebellious teenagers, or when they leave home. At these points, instead of supervised controlled burns or scraped knees from falling off a tricycle, or being scared by the neighbourhood rottweiller, they have alcohol, drugs and motor-cars to learn their lessons of personal responsibility and boundaries.

My children have made their mistakes. They have pushed the limits and fallen over the boundaries. I am pleased that as they are now meeting new and more dangerous experiences in life, they are finding their measure, developing their own boundaries and we have a partnership in this process. We are friends who share the experience and rejoice in the process of their adolescent explorations. This at least gives me the opportunity to share my experience and concerns, impart what advice I may have and offer ways they might approach an experience in a safer manner. At least they have the opportunity to hear these things from me, instead of shutting me out as their jailer or a limiting force in their lives that they have to rebel against and prove to me they are indeed adults able to make their own decisions.

All life processes, I have come to see, are created from an interplay between two forces working in polarity in what can be characterised as a lemniscate form - the infinity symbol.

In the case of psychological processes, this polarity is seen both through aspects of ourselves we have internalised, personalised and made conscious; and aspects of ourselves we have not yet brought to consciousness. Anything remaining outside (not yet conscious) acts as an electromagnetic hook which will attract to us experiences which manifest this unconscious aspect for us, as external physical realities. Hence we are presented with yet another opportunity to learn the lesson, consciously internalise our 'hook' and move forward a little more awake.

This brings up an important point regarding discipline: the stronger the external form of discipline applied to an individual the harder they have to work to find and internalise what is real for them. They are forced into defining their inner responsibilities and disciplines based on the fear they experience if they do not follow the external rules. The external force, rather than a sense of personal responsibility, becomes the defining factor. When an external force determines boundaries for a child, there is little individual choice, and therefore, very little inner personal responsibility can be developed. At the 'crisis' ages of 7, 14, 21, and 28, individuals willingly internalise their personal responsibility. However, if they are met with a strong external force wishing to hold them in its form and power, the opportunity for internalisation will be lost. There will be a corresponding soul trauma created which will need to be addressed at another time. The study of astrological birth charts make it possible to see how much fight an individual will put up at any given time to take back and internalise their responsibilities. Sadly, many people have already struggled in past lives with this issue and have soul states which hold them in a submissive position longer than is good for them.

As an individual grows in personal strength they begin to fight the external power for their own right to self determination. Hence adolescent rebellion. Each time an opportunity to take on more responsibility is lost the ‘soul pressure’ increases. At some point the individual will have to gain their independence and determine their personal boundaries. Sadly, a boundary that could have been crossed at seven years old may not be reached until 21 or even thirty years old. Whenever one threshold is not crossed its lesson builds up and waits for the next chance. Soul choices cannot be ignored, at the first available opportunity, past lessons will come rushing through the doorway. The Saturn return at 28 is a classical time when all the childhood traumas associated with domineering parents come to the forefront. Hence giving this time a reputation for being a heavy period associated with people needing to make drastic changes to their lives. However, if growth is accepted at the appropriate times, pressure need not build up, and passage through doorways to awakening can be achieved with grace and joy.

As parents it is possible we can encourage our children to continue being the pure souled, responsible beings they wish to be.

Just as each child is an individual so the parenting required for them is unique. The most appropriate question we as parents may be left with is “What is the appropriate process and speed by which our necessary external authority is handed back to our child to internalise?”