“When you are kind to others, it not only changes you, it changes the world.” – Harold Kushner
One morning, not long after dropping my son, Jake, off at school, I got a text message from my friend. Jake and her son, Sam, are friends also and go to school together. That morning, Sam had been feeling upset and was reluctant to be left at school. When Jake saw how his friend was feeling, he took care of him and tried to cheer him up. “Jake is such a lovely kid and you should’ve seen it”, the text said.
I really appreciated the text because I needed to be reminded of how kind Jake actually is. Lately, I feel that I’ve spent a lot of time refereeing arguments between my boys and I had forgotten how caring he can be. But, when I read my friend’s message, I could just imagine Jake’s manner – the gentle one he uses to comfort his little brother, Thomas, when he’s hurt or when he’s helping Thomas to put his shoes on.
Coming from Love, kindness is intrinsic in us all. We are born spiritually aligned, with a sense of oneness that wants to be expressed through kindness. In support of this, we are biologically wired to be kind – think of the natural high both the giver & the receiver feel when an act of kindness has been performed.
Although born ready for kindness, we quickly have experiences which can cause us to behave in less-than-kind ways. Contending with other children who want the toy we have or parental pressure to do well at school, for example, can create a threat to us. At these times, fear kicks in and survival of one sort or another becomes more important than kindness.
As parents, though, we can help our children to exercise their kindness muscle, to build its strength so that it is stronger than fear. And we’ve got a head start with this job because, really, we all want to be kind.
5 WAYS TO NURTURE OUR CHILDREN’S KINDNESS
Be an example of kindness. I know, I write that we should be an example a lot! But our example is our most powerful tool as parents. Firstly, we need to show kindness towards our children. As obvious as this may seem, it can be hard to do at times, especially when we’re feeling under-the-weather or pressured in some way. For me, the way I talk to my boys isn’t always kind. I can slip into a slightly ranty, instruction-giving machine at times and that is something I’m working on. Our children also need to see us being kind to others – even little kindnesses like stopping to let a car into the flow of traffic or holding the door open for the Mum with the buggy provide a great example to our children.
Acknowledge and appreciate our children’s kindness. By noticing and thanking our children for their kindness, they see that it makes a difference. I thank my boys for kindness they show to each other or other people, as well as to me. I try not to praise kindness as this encourages them to be caring for the wrong reasons – it becomes approval-seeking instead. (My post Overusing Good Job elaborates on this.)
Look for natural opportunities for our children to be kind. These arise all the time. At a birthday party, we may suggest our child invite the shy one to play with them. When they come home from a party with a goody bag of sweets, we may suggest they share some of the sweets with their brother or sister. I try to present these as opportunities to be kind, rather than as expectations so they can feel the joy of kindness, not a sense of obligation. By practising kindness, we make kindness a habit.
Be kind together as a family. We have some family Christmas traditions that help our boys to think about what they can give, not only what they might get. Leaving candy canes for people to find around the local shopping mall is a particularly fun one. But, kindness is great any time of year. When Thomas is a little older, I’d like our family to get involved in helping a particular cause on a regular basis and am on the look-out for one that we all feel passionate about.
Talk about kindness. In our home, we use the word “kindness” daily. It is one of our family’s highest values. When talking with my boys about their behaviour, I tend not to say it is “good” or “bad” but to discuss with them whether it was respectful and kind. We talk about kindness people have shown towards us and acts of kindness we witness that don’t involve us. We talk about how good it feels to be kind.
IN SUMMARY – KINDNESS IS WIN/WIN
Kindness comes easily to children and adults alike. I know it doesn’t always seem this way but, with a little faith and nurturing, our children will surprise us with their small acts and large gestures of caring. The form kindness takes is of less importance than the fact they cared enough to offer it.
Last weekend, Jake made me an “I love you” card, decorated with 18 hearts and declaring that, not only am I the best Mum ever, but my chocolate chip cookies are the best ever. It made my day to get it and I could tell by the way he presented it to me that it made Jake’s day to give it. Kindness is win-win.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – In what ways are your children kind? Comment below.
If you found this post helpful, subscribe to get new blog posts straight to your inbox.
I once saw a mother admonish her young son for telling his friend “I love you” as if he had said something inappropriate. But what is more appropriate than telling someone we love them? Loving others is what we are here to do!
We often associate the words “I love you” with romantic relationships so perhaps the mother in this situation thought of love in this way by default and felt that her 4 year-old was too young to be professing it. But her son wasn’t meaning that he was “in love” with his friend. He was just trying to tell his friend that he cared for him and appreciated the connection they had.
This got me thinking about all the confused messages we get about love. It made me think about what Love really is and what I want my boys to know about Love.
TWO TYPES OF LOVE – EMOTION & TRUTH
When we use the word “love”, we’re often filled with an emotion or feeling of caring, attachment, enjoyment or similar. All these are good things, but they are not true Love. Do I really love chocolate? – no, but I do especially enjoy eating it. In the past, when I’ve said I’m “in love” with someone, I’ve actually meant that I’ve felt strong caring for and attachment to them. When we use “love” in these situations, we probably really mean “BIG like”. Not to undermine two of the most thrilling experiences of life but, in both cases, it is the flowing of chemicals in our bodies that creates the feelings.
Although we may speak of it less often, there’s also the greater Love in our lives. It isn’t a feeling and it isn’t about something or someone being more special than another. Our children need to know about it because it is in the giving and receiving of this true Love that we thrive.
True Love is deep and wide, knowing no limits – it is unconditional and infinite. Depending on nothing, it is always there. My love for chocolate is not unconditional – I’ll admit to being a bit of a chocolate snob and, if it’s not high quality, I don’t love it. In past romantic relationships, I’ve stopped feeling “in love” with someone when I’ve been hurt. True Love is reverence for life – as it is, without judgement. When we sense it, it is not overwhelming like falling in love or eating the best chocolate we’ve ever tasted are. It is quiet and familiar.
Familiar because we are Love. Love (God/The Universe/Source) made each of us with her own energy. Love is not a chemical reaction but a recognition of our oneness. Love is our truth.
I want my boys to know that they have infinite Love inside them and that their purpose is to share it around indiscriminately. I want them to understand that it is universal, not something they offer only to people who are special to them in some way.
Our example to our children is the best way to help them understand this Love. When they see us extending friendliness, help and compassion to everyone we meet, they learn how to do the same. I also think it’s valuable to talk about Love directly with our children. When one of my boys shows kindness, I sometimes say “thanks for sharing your Love”, just to remind him that it’s there inside. If I’m centred enough when he’s bothering his brother, I’ll suggest “Use your Love”. (This does not usually stop the bickering – other intervention is generally required – but it brings Love to his awareness.)
I also want my boys to know that they are Loved. If they understand that everyone has this Love within to share, it makes the world a friendly, supportive place to be. In one of my early blog posts I wrote –
“As a mother, I am a representative of God’s love”.
I later read The Spiritual Child, a book by Dr Lisa Miller, based on her scientific research. In it, she said that a child’s understanding of divine Love is based on their experience of their parent’s Love (and that of other close family & friends).
IN SUMMARY – DON’T LEAVE IT TO FAIRYTALES & LOVE SONGS
If we leave it to fairytales and love songs to teach our children about Love, they won’t know its true power. To make my point, here are the lyrics of two songs I’ve heard recently – “Only love will break your heart” and “You’re nobody until somebody loves you”. What kind of expectations will they have if this these are the only kinds of messages our children get about Love? The feeling of love is represented everywhere in pop culture but true Love – the type that makes a real difference in our lives – is largely missing. We can intentionally create a culture of Love in our family to represent it.
The beauty is that, in many situations, we sense the presence of both types of Love – when I hug my boys and tell them I Love them, I actually mean both that I feel love and sense the exchange of true Love between us.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS- How do you help your children to recognise True Love? Comment below.
If you found this post thought-provoking, subscribe to get new posts straight to your inbox.
I sent my son upstairs to get dressed for school. It was time to put his favourite shorts and t-shirt into the washing machine and I was wondering what he would find to wear instead. After a while, he turned up in the kitchen all dressed…in his Ninja Turtle onesie (yes, pyjamas).
“Have you seen what Jake’s wearing to school today?” my husband and I asked each other later on.
“Do you think we should let him wear it?”
We were concerned that Jake may get teased by some of the other children and we wanted to protect him from the potential humiliation and hurt. However, it’s important to us that our boys make authentic decisions, not decisions based on what other people might think. So we decided not to question Jake about his decision and, with some trepidation, I dropped him off at school in his outfit of choice.
With all the best intentions, it’s easy for us to over-protect our children and we do so in many different ways. We just want them to be happy and, mistakenly, we believe that smoothing the bumps on their road through childhood will make it a happier journey for them. Protecting them from negative possibilities may, in the short run, be easier but it doesn’t prepare them for adulthood, in which there is no-one smoothing out the road for us. Adults have to navigate all the potholes, hills and bad drivers themselves.
Ultimately, our children’s long-term happiness is compromised by our over-protection.
WE DON’T WANT TO PROTECT OUR CHILDREN FROM THE GOOD STUFF
Taking risks, making mistakes, getting up again – this is the stuff of life. It adds flavour to our experience and it’s “character-building”. If we protect our children from these ups-and-downs, we deny them valuable opportunities –
To learn lessons We learn our lessons best by making mistakes for ourselves, rather than being warned about them by someone else. How often do we watch our children ignore our advice only to end up thinking, if not saying, “You should have listened, I told you so?” – hundreds!
To strengthen their resilience Through stumbling, we learn how to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and keep going. If children don’t get the chance to trip over the stuff of childhood, they’ll struggle to recover from the inevitable challenges of adulthood. Resilience is a learned skill and, like any other, developed through practice.
To develop their judgement The only way to develop good judgement is by using it. Children need the space to practise making decisions for themselves without us coaching them and interrupting their process. Any decision that doesn’t turn out well teaches them something that will help them to make a better choice next time.
To have a sense of agency Our children’s lives are their own and it’s not for us to interfere any more than is necessary. In conjunction with The Universe, they each decided to live a life on Earth and we need to allow them the space to follow their instincts and have the experiences intended. I want my boys to feel empowered and to understand that their lives are ultimately their own to shape and, to do that, I need to get out of the way!
To deepen their trust in the world Over-protecting our children doesn’t communicate our faith in them or in The Universe. As a parent who understands that we are spiritual beings, part of a greater whole, I know that we each have all the wisdom that we need within us and that The Universe is helping us along. By controlling their lives, we give the messages to our children that they can’t handle it and The Universe won’t support them. This sets them up for living in fear, rather than faith, which is a stressful way to live.
To have fun The fun stuff can be risky! When we teach our children to be over-cautious, they can become risk-averse and miss out on lots of fun. We’ve probably all stood on the sidelines of a super-fun activity that our children have refused to participate in. We feel sorry to see them miss out on a good time. This happens sometimes for all children but, if it happens regularly, it’s worth considering whether we have been over-protective or if it’s just that our child is more tentative by nature (and, if they are, that’s ok).
IN SUMMARY – THE AMBULANCE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE CLIFF
Protection is a part of our parenting role but it is a smaller part than I first thought. I have slowly loosened my grip and am increasingly willing to let my boys take calculated risks. I would not let my 3-year-old cross the road by himself but I give him free reign at playgrounds. It’s not easy, my heart is in my throat as he navigates trickier equipment and higher heights each time but, if it’s not life-threatening, I let him do it. I’m sure, that I’m becoming more resilient as he is. And I can see that he’s actually really good at judging his own capability.
Our job is not to smooth the road for our children but to enable them to choose their own path and weather the bumps. We’re not so much the police who cordon-off dangerous areas to keep our children safe as much as we are the paramedics who arrive to help them recover from an accident. When I find myself wanting to tell my boys to “be careful”, I stop myself to decide if it’s really necessary. I often end up saying “that looks like fun” instead.
As for Jake – he wore his Ninja Turtle onesie to school three days in a row until it was time for it to go in the washing machine too. If anyone had been unkind to him, he obviously didn’t care because he didn’t tell me. I was so proud of him for being himself and so pleased I hadn’t tried to talk him out of doing what he wanted to.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – In what ways are you going to try to step back a bit to allow your children more space? Comment below.
If you found this post thought-provoking, subscribe to get new posts straight to your inbox.
I’m aware of a book called Joy is My Compass – Taking the Risk to Follow Your Bliss by Alan Cohen. Despite declaring in January that joy will be my compass for 2017, I’ve not yet read the book but the phrase joy is my compass captivated me. It reminds me that we are intended to live joyfully – not in the fearful, grasping way we are socialised to. It can be hard to switch from believing that sacrifice & sheer hard work are required to live a good life to allowing ourselves joy and, even, prioritising our joy. But my intention is to raise my boys with a different world view – to value joy, to seek it and create it in every moment. I want joyful to be our normal. For such a life, joy is the perfect compass.
HOW ARE JOY & HAPPINESS DIFFERENT?
Happiness comes to us in moments. It is dependent on external circumstances – like getting a particular job, partner or fashion item. Therefore, just as easily as favourable circumstances can come and go, so, too, can happiness. Happiness is high GI, causing spikes in our emotions. Joy is something quieter yet deeper and more stable. There is a sense of meaning in joy that there isn’t in happiness. It is always available to us, we just have to choose it. And there are so many ways to let joy in.
“Happiness is like rising bubbles — delightful and inevitably fleeting. Joy is the oxygen — ever present” – Danielle La Porte
My son Jake, loves eating ice-cream and he also loves building Lego. I would argue that the ice-cream makes him happy but, once it’s eaten, the happiness it brought dissipates quickly. On the other hand, building Lego is a fun & engrossing activity for him and the satisfaction he gets from it is nourishing in a way that ice-cream just isn’t. I would call this joy. Danielle says that “joy is the fibre of your soul”. It is the fuel for our lives. Joy is low GI.
THE VALUE OF JOY
Joy Indicates Spiritual Alignment
Joy is our natural way of being. It indicates to us that we are in alignment. By this, I mean that our mind, body and spirit are working together for the greater purposes of our soul. I think the experience of flow is actually an experience of deep joy. I wrote the following about flow in my post How Our Children Raise Us –
At times, I have watched my boys play and have recognised their feeling of full absorption & joy from my own childhood. I used to get it when I was swimming in our pool, singing along to music and writing stories. Scientists call this state “flow” and I think of it as allowing God to flow through me. Do you remember the healing quality of that feeling? How content and internally energised it left you?
Now, I still experience flow when I write and have found a way to use my writing to encourage other parents. What brings our children joy in childhood may be the same things that bring them joy in adulthood. Those things may end up being connected with the contribution they make in the world.
Joy Attracts More Joy
Have you noticed how a day that begins with joy often continues that way? Perhaps it starts with a particularly heart-felt “good morning” hug from your child which you take a moment to appreciate fully, right down to your toes. Then, as you go about your day, people everywhere seem to be particularly friendly & helpful to you and, in the afternoon, you receive a piece of good news then your partner arrives home in the evening with your favourite wine/chocolate/desert for “no reason”. It just feels that life is going well for you and you feel joyful. This is the law of attraction at work. We attract the feeling we are putting out. So, by deliberately letting joy in where we find it (and it’s always there), we cultivate more joyful experiences. Choosing what we focus on is key to utilising the power of this law – so let’s focus on joy!
Joy Supports Emotional Resilience
When joyful is our normal, our capacity to weather difficult experiences is much greater. No matter how much joy we cultivate, life is intended to grow us and no one is exempt from its challenges. With a joyful way of being, though, we know we have that joyful place to return to once we are through the difficult experience. My son Jake is easily joyful, something I am so grateful for. As a result, he moves through difficult emotions quite quickly. It’s not that upsetting emotions should be avoided – they have something to tell us – but they don’t need to keep us down. We can even feel that life is ultimately joyful while at the same time going through a major experience that deeply saddens or angers us.
CULTIVATING JOY IN OUR CHILDREN
Notice the activities, places and people who bring our children joy and create opportunities for them to spend time with these people, places and activities. For example a place may be anywhere by water and a person may be a particular friend who is on the same wavelength. I don’t think having things brings joy but the actual using of things may bring joy – such as playing an instrument or, as in Thomas’ case, the process of lining up his toy cars.
Help our children to recognise for themselves the activities, places and people who bring them joy. For younger children, we might point out “you seem to feel really good when you’re playing outside with a ball”. For older children, we might ask, “which of your friends do you feel most like yourself and relaxed with?”
Teach our children joyful habits of mind. Gratitude is a powerful place to start. Self-love is essential.
When we notice our children are in a joyless state of mind, perhaps whining for things they want or hanging on to a grudge after a sibling argument, remind them that they will get more of how they feel and help them to choose a more joyful state of mind.
When things are deteriorating for the whole family, stop for a joy break. Having fun with people we love is a joyful experience and can act as the reset button for everyone. Our family loves playing indoor soccer together.
Find a way to do the boring/difficult things joyfully. When my boys were younger, I used to sing a tidying song as we put away the toys. I find interesting ways for my son to practise the spelling words he’s learning for school. This shows them that joy is always there, waiting for us to notice it and to take it.
Be the example of joyful living. Our example is our greatest teacher. Be joyful for your children’s sake…and your own.
IN SUMMARY – NUTRITION FOR OUR SOULS
Joy can feel like a guilty pleasure at first, especially for those of us who have been taught that using our own effort is the only way to build a satisfying life. But, if joy is our compass, pointing in the direction of our purpose and giving our lives richness & ease, it is, surely, nutrition for our souls. Actually, there’s also a book called The Joy Diet by Martha Beck (and also on my “books to read” list). I’m putting my family on the diet now.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – Where is your compass pointing? Comment below.
If you found this post valuable, subscribe to get new blog posts sent straight to your inbox.
When I realised that it is not for me to pass my spiritual beliefs and practices onto my children, I was disappointed. My understandings and ways of doing things work for me, helping me to be loving, strong and joyful, and I want my boys to feel loving, strong and happy. But I would not be doing my job if I presented my way as the only way.
One of our central roles as parents is to nurture our children’s natural spirituality so that they may experience guidance and support in their lives. To do this, we need to help our children to find what works for them, not to copy what works for us. This is, indeed, a divine assignment! If we try to “convert” our children to our own style of spirituality, they may follow us because they feel they should but possibly without ever truly connecting with Love/God/The Universe.
The nature of spirituality is that it is felt with our spirits, not intellectualised with our minds. We, therefore, cannot just present our children with a set of ideas to believe or practices to do. We need to provide our children with a range of view-points and ways to practise – opportunities for their spirits to find what helps them to connect.
MY TRUTH VS THE TRUTH
Here’s a distinction that I made recently in a moment of quiet while brushing my teeth one hectic morning. My truth is what works for me. My truth points me in the direction ofthe truth, though it could turn out to be less accurate than the truth.
If something resonates with our soul, it’s going to work for us. That resonation is Spirit leading us along our path. Each person is wired differently so our ways of understanding and connecting with Life will differ. Even beliefs that turn out to be “false” may serve our spiritual path. Being “right” is less important than connecting. The intention to love and be loved is enough.
When all’s said and done, all roads lead to the same end. So it’s not so much which road you take, as how you take it. – Charles de Lint
SO WHAT CAN I PASS ON, THEN?
What we can pass onto our children is a commitment to their own true path and an openness to others’. We can steer them inwards to help them recognise their truth. I have started guiding my son to use what “feels good/right” as his compass of sorts in life. It can be applied to so many things, including the way he treats others, the way he spends his time and the way he experiences his spirituality. I am directing him to look inward, rather than to me.
Our own point-of-view isn’t irrelevant, though. We can share it without insisting on it. We can invite our children to join in with us so that they may try our beliefs and practices on for size. My boys are only 3 and 6 years old so they take what I say as truth right now. But I know that won’t last forever! – and I look forward to exploring other ideas and being spiritual adventurers together. I’m willing to explore with them things that don’t personally work for me too. It is important for my boys to see that my heart is open, always ready to grow some more and always respectful of other people’s perspective.
IN SUMMARY – SHINE THE LIGHT ON THEIR PATH
Spirituality is a personal experience. It is guided by internal resonance, by Love. We need to respect our children’s unique life journey and support them by shining the light on their path, not our own. I am excited about my boys finding a spirituality that works for them and brings them love, strength and joy as mine does for me.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – How do you feel about not “passing on” your spirituality to your children? Comment below.
If you found this post thought-provoking, subscribe to get new blog posts sent straight to your inbox.
This is not a sponsored post (I’m sure Lego is doing very well without sponsored posts!)
When my son, Jake, was 4 years old, he discovered Lego. Now 6, Lego is one of his great passions and one that I’m happy about. The teacher in me loves it because Lego-building helps children to develop a variety of skills. As a parent, I love the way it brings Jake and I together as we both enjoy building with it. I’m also grateful for the life lessons I have learned through the presence of Lego in our home. Who knew these little bricks could be the vehicle for such wisdom? I wanted to share some of these nuggets with you today.
Make the Best of Things For a long time, Jake had his heart set on getting one of those enormous $300+ Star Wars Lego sets for Christmas or his birthday, despite my telling him that that wouldn’t be happening. I think he has now accepted that he won’t be getting one and instead contents himself with studying the large Star Wars Lego boxes when we go to department stores and pretending to be on EvanTube. (EvanTube is a popular YouTube channel in which a boy explains the features of different Lego sets and films himself building them in time-lapse, commentating all the way through.) Jake plays JakeTube with the Star Wars Lego sets while I browse the homewares department.
Dream Big One day, on our way home from a shopping trip for Jake to spend his pocket money (on Lego), he said “Wouldn’t it be great to be rich?” I asked him what he would spend his fortune on. He replied that he would buy one each of all the different Lego sets in the world and also build a house out of Lego for our family to live in. I made a comment that the house probably wouldn’t be watertight in the rain but that was, apparently, irrelevant.
Everything is Figure-out-able This is something Marie Forleo says and it’s something which is well demonstrated by Lego. When Jake and I are trying to rebuild a set together, there are inevitably a few pieces missing. I get somewhat frustrated and disappointed not to be able to make the set exactly as the instructions say and spend ages rummaging through all the pieces to find the missing one – to no avail. While I’m doing that, Jake uses his flexibility and creativity to find a substitute piece that will make it work and gets on with finishing the build. (It’s a lot like Grand Designs – the idealist architect and the practical builder.)
There is a gift in every challenge When Jake and I were building our own creation yesterday, he accidentally knocked over one of his containers of Lego, scattering tiny pieces over the floor of his bedroom. Having just helped him to sort and tidy his Lego, I groaned but then I spotted the perfect piece for our creation lying amongst those on the floor. In his wisdom, Jake said, “If I hadn’t knocked the container over, we wouldn’t have found the piece we needed. There’s always something good when something bad happens”. What a sage.
Leave your mark on the world The inevitable trail of Lego pieces around the house used to drive me nuts. “If you love your Lego so much”, I would ask Jake, “why don’t you look after it better?!” The truth is, there are so many pieces and some are so small, I don’t think even the most organised adult could avoid misplacing some occasionally. Then, one day, I found a piece of Lego…in the freezer. Jake’s younger brother must’ve helped with tidy-up. I couldn’t help but smile. Now, when I step on a piece of Lego, I think of Jake and all the fun he must’ve been having with it and I’m almost happy to find bricks in strange places to be reminded of how much joy it brings him…Which leads me to my last lesson –
Have joy marathons At times, Jake disappears into his room for hours to build Lego. For him, Lego building is almost a meditative activity – it puts him “in flow” and the rest of the world stops for a while. When he emerges, he’s calm and happy, filled with the joy of time spent Lego-ing. All that joy has got to be good for him. (And after a Lego marathon is the perfect time to ask him to set the table.) He got a lot of Lego for Christmas and his birthday recently. According to Jake, he can never have too much. And, really, we can’t have too much joy in our lives.
These are great lessons to be reminded of but, you know, I’ve realised that the wisdom hasn’t come from the Lego at all. It has come from my son. Lego has been a vehicle through which Jake has passed on his wisdom to me. This reminds me of a post I wrote in the early days of my blog called How Our Children Raise Us. That was a pretty hefty blog post but what I didn’t quite realise back then was that some of the most important lessons would arise in the small moments and idiosyncrasies of life with our children. This is the biggest Lego lesson of all.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – What have your children taught you recently? Comment below.
If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to get new blog posts sent straight to your inbox.
As I take a moment to stop and watch my boys play or sleep, drinking them in in the way that mothers do, I sometimes wonder Do they love themselves? They appear happy in their lives, they’re certainly proactive about standing up for themselves, they do the things they enjoy…it looks like they love themselves but I don’t know if I can really tell.
The sad truth is that, although we arrive in this world aligned with Spirit, knowing that we are loving and lovable, at some point, that changes for most of us. Immersed in a society that is quicker to criticise than to encourage, we start questioning our own lovability. As a parent, I often doubt my ability to prevent that shift from happening…but I have to try.
I recently found myself in a pattern of criticising more than encouraging my boys, especially my eldest, Jake. I’d been a bit unwell so my tolerance level was low and my ability to hold my tongue had disappeared almost entirely. After a few days I realised, Oh my goodness, I’ve been picking on my own son! I had fallen into a pattern of regularly judging, prompting and correcting him. Poor Jake couldn’t do anything right – “you didn’t say ‘thank you’”, “stop using your fingers, there’s a knife right there!”, “if you kept your room tidy, you wouldn’t lose your Lego in the first place!” Given the way I was speaking to him, He must’ve thought that I considered him hopeless and, maybe, not loveable in some way. That thought horrified me. The way we treat our children shows them how to treat themselves and I did not want him picking on himself like I had been. I have to show him what it really means to love.
WHAT IS SELF-LOVE?
Self-love is not building up our egos with a c.v. of external “successes” to make it feel worthy of love. It is connecting with our true essence which is love. Self-love is about the way we regard ourselves and the way we treat ourselves, knowing we are inherently loving and loveable. A simple way to explain it to a child is to be your own best friend – appreciate yourself, care for yourself, extend kindness to yourself just as you would a friend.
I’m going to be my own best friend, stick with me till the end. – Jewel
HOW TO LOVE OURSELVES
We love ourselves in the same ways we love other people. If a person doesn’t have much self-love, they may find it grows by treating themselves lovingly anyway. I doubt I’m the only parent on the road back to self-love after years of being unkind to myself so the ideas I offer below are for parents and children alike!
Speak nicely to ourselves We need a cheerleading squad inside our heads, not a judge. For parents, the way we talk to our children becomes the way they talk to themselves – so no picking! We can also coach our children to speak kindly to themselves when we hear them talking negatively about themselves. This doesn’t mean being dishonest, just compassionate. For example, instead of “I stink at reading” we can teach them to say “I am learning to read” or “I’m finding reading difficult right now” or focus them on their effort and determination instead of the reading.
Forgive ourselves when we make mistakes Forgiving ourselves is perhaps the truest act of self-compassion. It allows us to move forward without the burden of our past. Sometimes I can see that Jake is heavy with the regret of something he has done and I suggest to him that he can forgive himself. My post about forgiveness explains more.
Give ourselves what we need Perhaps we feel in need of help, rest or a good laugh over our favourite comedy show. When we honour our needs, we honour ourselves. We can help our children to be aware of their needs and encourage them to be proactive in meeting them.
Do what feels right for ourselves This is about honouring what we know is true for us – from following our dreams (even when they don’t seem “realistic”) to listening to our intuition (even when it doesn’t match popular opinion). We can steer our children inwards to help them make authentic decisions for themselves. My post about intuition may give you ideas about how to do this.
Spend time with ourselves Just as we invest time in our friendships, we need to invest time in ourselves. Hanging out on our own gives us the quiet to hear our own voice instead of others’ for a while. For our children, this means allowing them plenty of unstructured, unscheduled time to potter as they wish.
Do things that bring us joy Our busy lives are often not set up for joy. We tend to prioritise what we think we should do over what lights us up. But it is in joy that we recognise ourselves and recharge. I think it’s important that we prioritise time for our children to do what brings them joy. For example, we can enrol them in the extra-curricular activities they want to go to – not the ones we think, for some reason, they should do. We can use joy as a criteria for planning their time and ours.
Surround ourselves with people who treat us well When we truly value ourselves, we expect other people to value us too. We don’t submit ourselves to others who are disrespectful or hostile. We care for ourselves by choosing kind company, people who lift us up. Children make many new friendships throughout childhood and will likely need our help to become discerning and make positive choices.
WHY IS SELF-LOVE SO IMPORTANT?
Self-love is not simply giving ourselves warm fuzzies to cheer ourselves up. It’s surely a happier life for those who love themselves – and that’s important but it’s not the only benefit. By loving ourselves, we build our strength to truly love another. We practise unconditional love for ourselves in order to be able to extend that love to others. My observation is that it is often those who appear toughest who are actually the weakest – unable to love themselves, they have little to give to others. The ways they are tough on themselves become the ways they are tough on others. Children who love themselves become rich sources of love for the other people in their lives.
As I near the end of this post, perhaps I have stumbled upon the answer to my question of how we can really tell whether our children love themselves. Maybe the depth of love they extend to others is reflective of the love they have for themselves?
IN SUMMARY – OUR ROLE AS PARENTS
In those moments when loving ourselves is hard, it may help us to remember that the Universe created us from Love, exactly the way it wanted us to be. Self-Love is not about building up our egos by counting up our successes and wonderfulnesses. It is about knowing we are successful and wonderful regardless of what we do because we were made that way. Our role as parents is to reflect our children’s lovability back to them so they have no doubt of it. It is also to model self-love so that they may see what it really means to love themselves through the various circumstances of life.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – In what ways do you encourage your children to love themselves?
If you found this post helpful, subscribe to get new blog posts sent straight to your inbox.
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 a guest blog post, I was thrilled to be part of her great work.
Here’s the link to my guest post, Co-operation Instead of Control. There are times when we just need our children to do what we want them to. This post looks at how to get them to do those things in a way that is respectful and encourages them to think beyond themselves…and maybe even want to help.
Looking over what I have written so far in Nurturing Little Souls, I have said often that I believe spiritual parenting requires us to be led by our children. Our role is to empower them to be themselves and, to do this, we need to tune into them and follow the direction that they are going. I have also said a number of times that we are spiritual equals with our children to remind us not to be over-bearing or heavy-handed in our parenting. But, being equals with our children also means that we parents must be respected and have our needs and wants valued too. Our whole lives do not have to be child-centred to be good parents.
TWO EXTREMES OF PARENTING
There are as many parenting styles out there as there are parents. When it comes to the position our children have in our lives, everyone lies somewhere on the continuum between these two extremes.
Children as Accessories – Many expectant parents express an intention for their children to fit into their lives, believing their children will be flexible if, from the start, they are taken along to their parents’ social events and activities. Some baby capsules become accessories to the parents’ lives, while the occupants’ needs, especially for quality sleep, aren’t prioritised. We can’t fully understand until we’ve had children that, if we don’t want our lives to change, it’s not a good idea to have them.
Children as the Centre of Everything The other extreme is parents who sacrifice everything – losing social connections, time for their interests and rest to become slaves to their child’s every whim. I don’t think this is necessary. In fact, I think it’s a bad idea.
“You can’t pour from an empty cup”.
If we allow our lives to be entirely child-centred, we quickly become depleted, with nothing to give. Tending to our children’s needs & wants and rarely our own will see us become emotionally and physically exhausted. When this kind of imbalance continues for too long, we can’t help but grow resentful because our lives have been reduced to the drudgery of “serving” our children. When we are with them, we’re really far away, dreaming of that movie we’d love to see…or just sleep. Our hearts aren’t in it and our children can sense that.
For example, I am hopeless at dramatic play when I haven’t had enough time for myself. I have no energy, enthusiasm or creativity. Thomas loves playing firefighters and he saves our playroom from multiple fires a day. He often wants me to join in so we start by making a firetruck together with cushions. On an empty cup day, I’m grateful to be able to just sit in the truck while we journey to the emergency, joining in (half-heartedly) with the “nee-nah, nee-nah”. When we get to the fire, Firefighter Mummy sends Firefighter Thomas to put out the fires while I “look after the fire truck”. It’s a poor effort. Thomas must think I’m no fun and, on some level, probably realises that I don’t really want to be playing firefighters at these times. On other days, when I’ve felt adequately rested and full from doing something for myself, playing firefighters with Thomas has been fun and I’ve cherished my time with him.
THE MIDDLE GROUND
As my boys have gotten older and their physical needs less urgent, I have gradually reclaimed more of my own needs and wants. I’m writing this blog for starters! I nip out to see friends for coffee some evenings once the boys are tucked in. If I’m out shopping with my boys, we take turns choosing which shops to look at and try to wait patiently while each other has their turn (Thank you Max fashions for having a toy box!) I have also protected my coffee-drinking time in order to drink a whole cup, sitting down, before it goes cold. My husband and I have introduced a new rule that our boys can’t ask us to play if we still have coffee in our cups. They can chat with us, have a drink too if they wish, but we get to stay seated and enjoy our coffee. (If you have a baby and none of these things are possible for you yet, trust that the day will come when they will be and, in the meantime, take as many tiny moments for yourself as you can.)
I want my boys to feel equal, valued and loved unconditionally for the unique beings that they are but I don’t want them to expect everything in life to be organised around them, as if they are at the centre. From a broader perspective, I want them to see themselves as part of the whole of humanity. Almost all of the world’s spiritual traditions emphasise the oneness we share with others.
The dynamic we create in our homes sets an example to our children of what to expect out in the wider world. In our family, mutual respect and consideration of everyone’s needs and wants is important and I hope my boys will take this perspective with them wherever they go. At times, one of them will complain because I have made a decision that doesn’t go his way. I’ll say to him, “What you want is important but what everyone else wants is important too”. I enlist my boys’ help in many ways so that they feel part of the family team and realise they can contribute. For example, they help to carry bags in from the car and they do their bit in the mornings to get us out the door in time. Practicing co-operation and collaboration in small ways makes it a given when bigger things come up, within our family or in the wider world.
IN SUMMARY: CHILD-LED IS NOT CHILD-CENTRED
Life with children will always be a little lop-sided in their favour but we can still practise the give and take of community within our homes. We don’t want our children believing they are the centre of everything but we do want them to see their unique value – each piece of a jigsaw puzzle is important to the bigger picture. And, when we parents have our needs and wants met (at least to some extent), we have the resources to deal with the challenges – big and small – that parenthood throws at us and to enjoy the beautiful moments.
Much love to you and your little souls,
If you found this post helpful, subscribe to get new blog posts sent straight to your inbox.
Recently, I was invited to contribute a guest post to 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!
Here’s the link to my guest post called What is Spiritual Parenting? When I first started writing Nurturing Little Souls, I couldn’t have defined spiritual parenting but, now that I’ve been writing about it for a while, I have a fuller understanding of what it means. Essentially, it comes down to what our intentions are as parents. I hope this post helps clarify your intentions and that you will share it with others who might find it valuable.