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Riding the Big Waves of Parenting by Brenden Newton

When my wife and I found out she was pregnant, I instantly adored my kid. I’m an “all-in” kind of parent with a deep-felt love for both of my kids. As an adventure seeker, I have also lived a very extreme life, full of risk and joy.
I hated watching parents fumble clunky strollers into the trunk of the car on hot days – I vowed to never be one of them. I wanted to ‘freestyle’ my parenting. No clunkiness. You know, be free with my kids. So I found this plastic car and dragged my 1-year old around in it for a few years. We even had my board tied to the back as we went to and from the beach.

Bit silly, isn’t it?

I’ve always loved taking risks. It’s not an attempt to be irresponsible. I believe that our worth and destiny carry far more value than our finite mind’s fleeting decisions. My perspective is that if we trust in our innate value as miraculous and connected human beings, we have very little to fear. Our behavior becomes merely a way of playing with the concepts and circumstances of life. I view parenting through the same lens. Not a hair falls from our head without God knowing such is what ancient scripture says, and I tend to agree. When we are liberated of the heavy burden of moral parenting or the fear of making the right decisions for our kids, I think we actually make better decisions on behalf of our family.
My dad recalls a time when I charged down the hallway as a one-year-old, launching myself headfirst off the steps. At the age of 11, I was knocked off my bicycle by a 4wd. I hitchhiked to the beach at the age of 15 and lost my passport when I was alone in Hawaii at age 16. I almost drowned a few times, and I have terrible OCD, for which I still seek treatment. I may not be the perfect case study for safe parenting or the risk-averse romantic partner; however, I have learned that life is beautiful. Life always has a way of restoring hope, joy, and goodness every single day.
Waves paint a similar story. That’s why I like the beach. So dangerous, yet so forgiving and poetic. The beach is where I took my daughter before and after work for the first few years of her life. It is a place to play and discover ourselves, our limitations, and learn through failure, accidents, and exposure. I think it’s worked well. I’m also blessed to have a wife who beautifully complements these quirks. She often provides an alternative perspective and a more measured response to our kids’ needs and our lives in general. Like all good relationships and families, there’s a synergy of personal characteristics, for which I am genuinely grateful.

These differences and often contrasting parenting styles are not without their challenges. Arguments and disagreements are inevitable. No matter how you grow personally or as a family, conflicts never cease to sting. I have been married to my gorgeous wife now for 13 years. I find it painful whenever we argue, mostly since I derive much of my personal value from her opinion of me. I am certainly aware that is one of the more precarious nuances of my marriage. I feel acknowledging the extra pressure and complexity children add to our love relationships is not only smart but imperative. Parenting is the single most significant shift I’ve experienced in my marriage. I think it’s worth acknowledging so we can make space for preventative relational techniques. If we don’t explore such, we really do expose the family ecosystem to more drama. By extension, the kids start to experience this heat, which is ok, but not always a good thing. I believe there is one technique I’ve learned worth sharing. It emerged when I was on work travel for 3 months. When I returned home, I was met with a declaration from my wife, who stated she felt “emotionally ignored.” This scared me, and I took it very seriously. Over a series of serendipitous discussions and a desire to address the issue, we landed on what is probably the most useful technique we’ve adopted throughout our 15 years together. We call it our ‘how are you’s?’ and it goes like this:
Each night, when the kids are in bed, regardless of our independent moods or levels of fatigue, we simply ask each other, one at a time, ‘How are you?’And the rules are that the other is to simply ask the question, actively listen to the response, and NOT provide answers or suggestions. They simply give a reassuring nod letting the other know that their current mental state and personal circumstances are acknowledged. Then we switch. It’s that simple. It takes 10 minutes maximum and has provided a spaciousness in our family life that I don’t believe we’ve ever experienced before. With 2 kids under 5, that spaciousness is like oxygen.

My professional journey is one of alienation and then of deep belonging.  Progressing with admirable academic and athletic achievements in high school led me to a Bachelor of Medical Science in the hope of becoming a doctor or a physiotherapist by the age of 25. However, it seems destiny, or whatever you may call it, had different outcomes in mind. I was glued to VHS bodyboard movies throughout my teenage years, watching my heroes riding monster barrels in Tahiti. This prospect excited me as a natural risk-taker and having spent years competing as a bodyboarder. At 19, I decided to book a mid-year trip to Tahiti on my own to ride the same waves I was mesmerized by on TV. My impulse to jump on a plane to Tahiti was probably fuelled by restlessness provoked by long, boring medical science lectures. I rode a miraculous 12-foot swell cork-screwing down a famous point about a mile out to sea while I was there. This point break was deemed the most dangerous and outrageously exciting surf break on earth, making this experience feel so much richer. Sometimes 5 tons of water would sharply pitch over your body and land on 1 meter of depth as you positioned your board and gripped the wave-face.
On the last day of my trip, I was surfing alone before returning to “normal” life. I had plans to jump into a taxi, making my way to the airport to return home to Australia. Back to 2-hour chemistry lectures. I was in the middle of the ocean, about to go back to shore when three people paddled up to me. They took a moment to pray with me after asking permission, of course. They then told me I would be a professional surfer and would do radical things. Unbeknownst to me, I went on to make three internationally recognized bodyboarding documentaries. I paddled into the most dangerous wave ever ridden in human history. My drive and focus soon warped into a debilitating mental condition known as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Stifled by the structure and risk-averse nature of the tertiary system, I was breaking every rule I could get away with. I found reprieve sitting with Aboriginal kids, spending time on their land, and feeling their unconditional acceptance. Through a chain of unexpected events, I was invited to tell my story of surfing, mental illness, and techniques for dealing with fear, to a room full of Indigenous Australian kids, with a program called AIME. What I experienced in that room was probably the richest ‘educational experience’ I’d ever had, including my 12 years at primary and high school and 4 years of training as a teacher. At that point, I decided I was going to work for AIME. AIME is the most cutting edge example of giving marginalized kids a prominent global voice. AIME, a modern-day Robin Hood of sorts, has hustled 100 million AUS (73 million USD) over the last decade to rip 20,000 kids out of educational inequality.
Eventually, I quit surfing and obtained a 4-year degree, a definite career-ender in many people’s eyes. I didn’t even attend my interview to become a teacher. However, as soon as I did graduate, I went straight to AIME.
Over the last 7 years with AIME as a local New South Wales Centre Manager initially and now as the Recruiter, I’ve immersed myself in some of the deepest interpersonal connections imaginable to me. Along with a determined team, we’ve recruited, trained, and mobilized 10,000 volunteer mentors and mentored 25,000 marginalized kids across 6 countries. With imagination, mentoring, and a few core principles of organizing change, we provided 1.17 billion dollars of net economic benefit to society annually (KPMG). ◙


About Brenden

Having ridden the most dangerous waves in human history in 2006, Brenden Newton has since trained as a high school health education teacher, yet traditional classrooms didn’t quite light his fire like death-defying ocean adventures. With the empathy and grit resulting from years of wrestling diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder Brenden has spent the last 7 years leading AIME Mentoring’s global mentor recruitment campaign, mobilizing minority citizens to lead dramatic global change via mentoring and forming strong, unlikely alliances.

Having mentored 25 000 marginalized young people into educational parity, AIME is now in 6 different countries and recently launched IMAGI-NATION{university} to build a fairer world. Brenden’s 14 years married to his beautiful wife and has 2 gorgeous kids that keep him on his toes.
Brenden believes anything is possible, especially global equality.

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