I came across Christina Fletcher of Spiritually Aware Parenting online, through our shared passion for seeing children thrive mind, body and spirit. Her website is full of great resources for parents wanting to honour and nurture their children’s spirituality. When Christina invited me to contribute this guest blog post, I was thrilled to be part of her great work.
Here in New Zealand, teachers at early childhood centres and schools encourage children to use the phrase “stop it, I don’t like” as a clear and respectful way to stand up for themselves when needed. So, I have taught my boys (aged 2 and 5) to use this phrase with one another at home. One morning, I heard my eldest saying “stop it, I don’t like it”, repeatedly. His brother obviously wasn’t listening to him so I went over to investigate what was going on. It turned out my son was talking to me!
“What am I doing that you don’t like?” I asked, incredulously.
“You’re being bossy”. I was told.
And I was. It was a humbling reminder that I had strayed from my intentions to collaborate with my boys rather than insist on unquestioned compliance. When we demand compliance from our children, we silence their voice and teach them to bow to the expectations others have of them. On the other hand, when we recruit our children’s co-operation, we teach them to value the needs and wants of themselves and others equally. They develop a sense of their power to impact their own lives and others’ in positive ways.
I believe we are spiritual equals with our children. I don’t think we have the right to thoughtlessly dish out instructions and expect them to do everything we say. Sure, there are occasions when our children just have to do as they are told, perhaps for safety or practical reasons, but we have to respect their needs and wants as much as our own. As a parent, I also want to teach my boys to regard everybody’s needs and wants equally themselves.
The way I parent, including the way I get my boys to do what I need them to do, is an important part of teaching them to value everybody equally and to approach life with a collaborative spirit. Being bossy is not a part of this! Here are some of the things I do to enlist their co-operation rather than enforce compliance –
I ask my children for help rather than instruct and demand. For example, our Wednesday mornings are particularly busy as my husband leaves home early for a breakfast meeting. Things need to go smoothly in order for my boys and I to get out the door in time. So, over breakfast, I tell them that I find it hard doing everything without Daddy’s help and ask them to please help me by being especially quick with their morning tasks. It’s a team effort and, lately, we’ve been running early on Wednesday mornings.
I thank more than I praise. When one of my boys has done something that is helpful to me, instead of praising (eg. “Good boy”), I offer a sincere thank you (eg. “I really appreciate you getting the mail, I already had my hands full”). Showing appreciation acknowledges their giving heart. Praise only affirms that they did what I wanted them to.
I acknowledge spontaneous co-operation. Doesn’t it make your heart swell to see your children thinking of and serving others of their own accord? My youngest often finds my things around the house and brings them to me in case I might need them. I give him a big hug of thanks for his thoughtfulness.
I get my children to do chores. In our house, chores are unpaid. They are an opportunity for my boys to co-operate and help with the smooth-running of the house. If my son doesn’t set the table, for example, we can’t eat. The natural consequences of co-operation are far more enjoyable than the natural consequences of not helping. My boys see and experience the fruits of their labour.
I co-operate with my children too. Co-operation is a two-way street and my example is one of my best parenting tools. I help my eldest to find the missing Lego piece he needs. Sometimes, I change my plans around to accommodate a playdate he has requested.
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent. – John Donne
Apart from being a respectful way to get our children to do what we need them to, a spirit of co-operation in the family helps them to see the big picture – they are a part of humanity and everyone’s behaviour impacts on the other people around them. They learn that, when people co-operate, it makes a positive difference for everyone involved. Co-operating also helps our children to see that they have something to contribute, giving them a sense of their own worth and everybody else’s.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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This post was first published as a guest post on the blog at kidsmindbodyspirit.com. Kids Mind Body Spirit is an online directory of holistic services and resources for children, parents and educators. It is based in Australia and there are hopes of expanding into other regions of the world too, including New Zealand!
“What is spiritual parenting?” – Well, that’s a big question?! Ultimately, we must each answer it for ourselves but I’d like to share my definition with you in the hope that it might help you to clarify yours.
THE PURPOSE OF SPIRITUAL PARENTING
For me, spiritual parenting is parenting with the intention to empower our children to be the unique individuals they are intended to be. This definition rests on my belief that we are all spiritual beings who come here to Earth with a purpose – a contribution to make and lessons to learn. It is when we are aligned with our purpose that we truly thrive. I want my boys to fulfil their souls’ purpose and I want them to thrive so spiritual parenting is an obvious choice for me.
Letting Go of Other Intentions
The first step of spiritual parenting may be the hardest. It is to put aside our own agendas to allow the divine agendas for our children to unfold. These are some of the intentions we may need to let go of –
for our children to be who we wish we could be eg. “I want him to be more confident than I am”.
for our children to be mini versions of ourselves eg. “She’s going to be a piano player like I am”.
for our children to be socially-acceptable eg. “If he doesn’t play sport, he’ll never fit in with the other boys”.
for our children to be our trophies eg. “Everyone will think I’m a great parent because she has perfect manners”.
Once we have released these kinds of motives, we quickly realise that our intention to support our children in being the people they were divinely intended to be affects almost everything! This morning, I took my youngest to kindy dressed in his Paw Patrol pyjamas and my eldest to school in the same clothes he wore yesterday…and the day before. I had to leave my ego (which fears judgement and craves approval) at home. This appears to be a relatively inconsequential example but these everyday choices to allow our children to be who they really are show them that we value and encourage their truth.
HOW TO DO SPIRITUAL PARENTING
Having prioritised our children’s authenticity, we can turn our attention towards how to help them be themselves. The biggest part of this is to honour and nurture their spirituality. Our spiritual connection with Life helps us to make the best choices for ourselves. Faith gives us the courage and strength to live out the guidance we receive. If our children know how to receive spiritual guidance and support, they will more easily find and follow their own unique paths.
At first, I wasn’t confident I was up to this task as I felt I was still early on my own spiritual path. But one thing that made it less daunting was to remember this – children arrive spiritually aligned. So it’s not that we need to teach them to “be spiritual” but to find ways to maintain their natural spirituality.
There is no fixed way to do this. My approach is to explore together and follow my children’s lead. I believe they will show me what they need and what resonates with them if I am paying attention.
We can invite our children to join in with our own spiritual practices & beliefs but must remember that the real goal is to help them to find what works for them.
For example, I like to begin my day with prayer. Sometimes I don’t get to pray first thing so I invite my son to join me in prayer as we drive to school. We call it our “morning prayer”. I use the same words each time I say it, perhaps adding in details relevant to the day ahead. My son likes to listen and join in with the “Amen”. One day, he might choose to say the prayer himself, using the simple script I’ve created or his own words.
IN SUMMARY: HIGH INTENTIONS & ORDINARY MOMENTS
The phrase “spiritual parenting” can sound a bit lofty but it is not perfect parenting. There are plenty of times when my family’s behaviour (including my own) is decidedly “unspiritual”. Spiritual parenting is everyday and practical – we’re all dealing with dirty nappies, squabbling siblings, hectic mornings and poor table manners, no matter what our intentions! Spiritual parenting is deciding to use the ordinary moments to find out more about our children and show them how to bring forthwho they truly are each time. Begin with a big, open heart and you’ve made a great start!
Much love to you and your little souls,
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