A Great Way to Use Our Hearts and Minds

Seventeen years ago, before I was a parent myself, I decided to back1 a young person for life2. My best friend, Lisa, was pregnant with a girl, Raina. I asked her if I could be at the birth and if she would let me be this young person’s ally for the rest of my life. My best friend knew some Co-Counseling and was eager to have another adult back her second child.

I was there for Raina’s birth. It remains a highlight of my life. And immediately after she was born I started giving her weekly sessions. Nothing formal. When she was really little and her mom was gone, I would let her wail in my arms.

Later when she was two and couldn’t get her trike up the stair and begged me to do it for her, I watched and waited and let her cry as she pushed the trike up the stair herself. As the years passed by, we did many things together. We made messes. We did art. We played games. But mostly I was there for her and put my mind in her direction. Today that little girl is a high school senior who will be off3 to college soon.

The whole time Raina was a young person, I would attend RC family workshops as an ally and get huge sessions about how much I loved her and what hanging out4 with her did for me. Hanging out with a little girl and deciding to back her also hauled up huge places where I’d gotten stopped as a female. So the relationship I had with her was moving my own re-emergence forward.

She also provoked material for my art. By backing a young person, I started to want more—more for myself, more for everyone, and more for the world. This transferred directly into what I wrote and created. I really wanted the future to be right. I also started caring more about the natural world.

So often people feel that when they are with a little person, they are doing it for the young person or his or her family. As Co-Counselors we often think that we should do it because it is the right thing to do. However, backing a young person will also high-speed our own re-emergence. As we grow up, we bury our childhood hurts. We try to bring them up in Co-Counseling sessions, but when we are around a little one this happens automatically. It is also different than being a parent, because we don’t have the parents’ oppression.

I couldn’t be consistent weekly with Raina for all of her first seventeen years. Life happened. I had to tour and move around for my work. She started to have soccer practice. I had twins and was suddenly in charge of backing my two little children as Mom.

But I was always there at least once a season and took her out for her birthday every year. What I realized as we both aged was that it wasn’t the quantity of time I spent with her, it was the quality of it. I also realized that even if she didn’t see me for a month or two, she still had the expectation that I would be there, that I was thinking about her, that I would back her. So she could truly be herself around me, even when the male domination started to come at her. And again, when I saw some of the places she struggled as a teen, I got to have huge sessions myself.

During our time together I also created a book. I wrote about her development—the day of her birth, her first-grade performance, the times we went to get burgers and hung out in the backyard—and about her mom and dad. I filled it with poems, photos, and her finger paintings. Later I included liberation poems.

Before I gave her the book, on the night of her Catholic confirmation5, I started to cry. I had thought that the gift was for her. And it was. But as I looked over the pages and pages of our time together, I realized that this project was mostly for me. I thought about the sessions I got to have, the closeness I got to feel, and the joy of knowing someone over time who wasn’t a child of my own.

I also don’t think I could be as good of a mom right now if I hadn’t had that experience of being an ally to Raina. Because I was an ally, I knew how to give sessions to young folks and not take things so personally. Being an ally before being a mom also made me realize that yes, I did want the job of a parent.

I think that if we fall in love with a child and decide to back family work and young people, something happens with our own life much faster and more fiercely. How could we not want all newly born humans to see the same beaches that we did? How could we not want to eliminate sexism? How could we not want everything for their future and for ourselves? We don’t all want the job of a parent. That’s fine. But backing a young person and seeing it through is a great way to use our hearts and minds.

Jennifer Berry
Glendale, California, USA


1“Back” means support.
2 “For life” means for my whole life.
3“Off” means going.
4“Hanging out” means spending relaxed, unstructured time.
5Confirmation is a rite in which a baptized person’s Christian faith is confirmed.


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00