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.
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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.
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?
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.
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.
A journey in the car with the kids in the back can go many ways. Sometimes, we feel harassed by incessant squabbling that we’re not able to get to the bottom of because we can’t see what ‘s really going on. Other times, we get to quietly listen in on the conversations between our children and feel our hearts flutter with what they say. This is a story about the latter.
It was a Friday afternoon. Thomas (almost 3 years old) had been to kindy and Jake had been to school. As I drove, they were exchanging notes on their days – sandpits, train sets, playground adventures and friends. Then, totally unprompted, Thomas said, “I’m grateful for kindy”. Fortunately, we were stopped at traffic lights, otherwise I might have driven off the road. Even Jake realised that this was a momentous moment for our family – “Mum, Thomas just said he’s grateful for kindy!” This was the first time we had heard Thomas spontaneously share his gratitude.
Gratitude is important in our family. We have a few simple habits – rituals – to help us keep gratitude active in our hearts and minds. When tucking the boys into bed at night, we each share something we’re grateful for. This year, we also began a gratitude jar. Every Sunday night, we each write something we’re especially grateful for from the past week on a piece of paper (we each have our own colour). We then fold the pieces of paper up and put them in the large jar that sits in the hall. The idea is that, on 31 December, we’ll each have 52 special moments to reflect on and appreciate. If it’s been a tough year, we’ll realised there has still been lots to be grateful for. If it’s been a “good” year, we’ll appreciate it even more. We also get to think about the things we have written on our pieces of paper every time we walk past the jar in the hall.
“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you’, it will be enough”. – Meister Eckhart
GRATITUDE AS AN ANTEDOTE TO ENTITLEMENT…AND SO MUCH MORE
Of course, there are plenty of times when it feels like the “attitude of gratitude” I’m trying to cultivate has disintegrated to dust. On that Friday afternoon, Thomas and I had picked up Jake from school and surprised him with the news that we were taking our scooters to the skate park. Currently one of Jake’s favourite hang-outs, he was thrilled. But there was no “thank you” on hearing the news. In fact, his first words were, “can we get ice-creams too?” *@?#! When our scootering was finished and it was time to go home, he kept whining, “why can’t we stay a bit longer?” I found myself recycling my mother’s sentiments – “I’m not going to take you for treats if you’re always going to ask for more. Why can’t you appreciate what you have?!” (In Jake’s defence, he did thank me afterwards and is often very appreciative of his own accord.) Then I grumbled to myself, “I don’t know why I bother doing nice things for them, it’s never enough. How did they become so entitled?” I want to be able to treat my boys sometimes without them expecting it all the time.
We can become a bit complacent about gratitude these days. It’s been a bit of a buzz word for a number of years now and every gift shop has items with sentiments of gratitude on them – mugs, prints, journals, ornaments, magnets… (I do like the quote “When I count my blessings, I count you twice”, though.) But gratitude is powerful – it cultivates real joy and empowerment. On one occasion when entitlement was in full swing, I said to Jake, “When you’re grateful, you’re too busy enjoying yourself to think about what else you want and it helps you to notice even more things to be grateful for”. Gratitude gives us a sense of our cup running over and, in turn, our capacity to be generous, creative and forgiving, for example, expands.
So, gratitude is not just a temporary pick-me-up technique. Gratitude helps us to tap into the abundance (in all senses of the word) that is available to us and our own capacity to serve. I imagine how I would have felt as a child to know that I had so much myself and so much to give. I would’ve been happier and felt more powerful.
BUILDING OUR CHILDREN’S ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
Here are some quick ideas we can use to start building our children’s gratitude.
Create regular opportunities to share something they’re grateful for. Get the whole family involved in quick, simple moments of gratitude.
Be a grateful example – when I’m grateful for something, I sometimes share it aloud, in the moment. I try to point out a variety of things I’m grateful for. My boys pretty much stick to toys, outings and unhealthy food at this stage, but I try to include acts of kindness, beauty in nature, health and other people, for example.
Encourage genuine appreciation instead of polite thanks when they receive something (eg. a gift or help). This is hard and I haven’t yet discovered the best way to do this. With young children, it can be difficult to get a genuine “thank you” from them of their own accord. When it comes to gifts, after each birthday party, I help Jake to write thank you notes. We discuss the effort each person has gone to to select the gift for him and include in the note one thing he likes about it.
When my boys are behaving in an entitled way, I’ve started saying, “Put on your gratitude glasses”. I think I’ve lectured enough for Jake to know what I mean. It’s a fun reminder rather than a disapproving instruction to choose gratitude.
Avoid calling our children “ungrateful”, as if they have done something wrong. This turns them off gratitude because it seems like something they should be rather than what it really is – a choice to live in fullness, joy and service.
IN SUMMARY: PLANTING THE SEED OF GRATITUDE
Entitlement seems to be a modern-day parenting issue that is difficult to navigate – ironically, a case of external abundance and internal lack. My hope is that a focus on gratitude can do something to offset it. We can’t make our children be grateful but we can demonstrate a life of gratitude and invite them to share in it with us. Hearing Thomas announce that he is grateful for kindy, is reassuring. Perhaps all those things we try to teach our children don’t just go in one ear and out the other. Even if we don’t currently see any evidence of our children taking it on board, they are absorbing it. We have planted the seed.
When Jake was a pre-schooler, I often noticed him hanging on to things after giving him a firm word or disciplining him in some way. He seemed uncertain how to interact with me, unsure whether I was still upset with him or not. So my husband and I started making a point of telling him that it was “finished” once any discipline had been dealt with. We would then continue as normal, ensuring our manner with Jack was back to usual, not angry or upset in any way. This was to show him that the incident was over and no hard feelings remained. Looking back, I can see that this was a precursor to teaching him about forgiveness.
Last week, the long school holidays were getting the better of us both. It felt to me that Jake wasn’t listening to much of what I said (unless the word “chocolate” featured) and I was tired of being patient & consistent. I ended up shouting in exasperation. Later, as we both sat at the table having morning tea, we exchanged apologies for our behaviour. Jake kept repeating his apology despite my acceptance and I realised that I had never spoken explicitly about forgiveness with him. So, I reminded him of how I used to say “finished” after a telling-off so that he knew it was over. “When we forgive someone, we decide that it is finished, we decide not to keep feeling upset with the other person”, I told him.
That was enough for one morning but our chat made me realise that there is so much for a person to learn about forgiveness. Many adults struggle with it. And perhaps it’s because we don’t truly understand what forgiveness is – a gift to ourselves.
4 CHARACTERISTICS OF FORGIVENESS
Having given it some thought, I’ve come up with four characteristics of true forgiveness that we can aim to pass on to our children. They may not grasp it all at first as forgiveness can look different on the outside than it is on the inside. From the outside, it sometimes looks like politeness or forgetting but it’s neither of these things.
1. We forgive for our own benefit. Forgiveness is not saying “it’s Ok” but, rather, “I’m OK”. Ultimately, it is a choice not to let whatever happened hurt us anymore. I have seen people who are almost defined by the event they refuse to forgive – often bitter, vengeful and hard, their non-forgiveness is apparent even when they don’t realise it. Yet the people they won’t forgive have likely moved on and are unaware of the resentment harboured towards them. Those who won’t forgive don’t see that their forgiveness is for themselves and that they suffer most for their decision not to allow it.
2. Forgiving is not pretending it never happened. When we forgive, we are forgiving the person, not their actions. We let go of our resentment towards them. What happened may still upset us when we think of it but we no longer see ourselves as the victim of a personal attack. With time, we may even recognise the gift hidden in the experience – something we needed to learn about ourselves. I think this is what is meant by the phrase, “forgiven, not forgotten”.
“Anger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were”. – Cherie Carter-Scott
3. We can’t force someone (or ourselves) to forgive. A list of reasons to forgive is not going to make someone forgive because forgiveness does not happen through logic – it happens through love. Taking a moment to see the humanness of the person whose actions hurt us can help open us up to forgiving them. When we recognise that the other’s hurtful behaviour was caused by their issues & misconceptions, we realise that whatever happened wasn’t about us at all. It then becomes easier to forgive because we know we can relate – we have issues & misconceptions of our own that affect our behaviour. Seeing that we are all ultimately the same enables us to be compassionate instead of judgemental and willing to forgive.
4. Forgiveness doesn’t require an apology. Just as whatever happened to hurt us wasn’t really about us, forgiving isn’t really about the other person. Because it’s not about them, we can choose to let forgiveness in at any time without an exchange of words. When we do receive an apology, it is an invitation to forgive, a reminder that the power to do so is in our hands. We simply decide that we are open to forgiving and allow Love to do the rest.
HOW TO TEACH OUR CHILDREN ABOUT FORGIVENESS
Having defined “forgiveness”, the big question is how to teach our children about it. We want them to really understand what it is so they don’t just go through the motions of forgiveness because it is expected of them, to appear polite. There are a number of things we can do towards giving them a full picture of forgiveness –
Forgive our children. Once our children have offered us an apology for something or been through the consequences of their inappropriate actions, it is over – I repeat, OVER! Often I have seen a child put through the consequences & offer an apology and still have to endure 10 more minutes of lecturing or suffer the cold shoulder for the rest of the day. What’s happening in these situations? – their parents haven’t forgiven them.
Let our children see us forgiving others around us. There are many small acts of forgiveness in a day for our children to witness. We forgive their siblings when they shout at us. We forgive our partners for being home late. We forgive the shop assistant who over-charged us and had to put us through the lengthy paperwork required to refund us. When someone offers an apology to us, our children should see us accept it with a “thank you”. (Accepting an apology is not forgiving them on the spot, just appreciating their acknowledgement that they have hurt us). We can also talk to our children about the compassion we have for those who have wronged us. Eg. “The shop assistant made a mistake when he was adding up our purchases, we all make mistakes sometimes”. This shows our children that forgiveness comes from Love, and that judgement has no place alongside forgiveness.
Notice and talk about it when we see that our child has or hasn’t forgiven someone. We can talk with our children about how they feel to have let go or to be holding on to their resentment. This will make them more aware of how their choice to forgive or not impacts themselves.
Don’t expect our children to forgive straightaway. Often they will need time to allow the emotions of the situation to pass before they’re able to forgive. (This is true for adults too.) If they’re not yet ready to forgive a playmate, suggest they play apart for a while. If they are offered an apology, they can receive it with a “thank you” and forgive when they are ready. (You may also be interested to read my post Should I Make My Children Apologise?)
Suggest your child pray for help to forgive if they’re finding it hard. Logic changes the mind, Love changes the heart. While we choose to allow forgiveness in, it is a matter for the heart. Prayer opens us up to receive the love we may need for the task. This suggestion is probably suitable for school-aged children but we can say a prayer to help our younger children along.
IN SUMMARY: THE GIFT OF FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness is, I think, one of the most important spiritual and life skills we need to learn. Yet, it is something easily overlooked by parents. It would be easy to teach our children to graciously accept an apology without addressing the inner process required to truly forgive.
Forgiveness is an act of self-love. When we refuse to forgive, we are really refusing ourselves freedom – the freedom to live with openness and joy. Like any skill, we get better at forgiving by practising it. When children forgive the child who called them a hurtful name, the parent who punished them unfairly, the teacher who overlooked them for an opportunity, they’ll more readily forgive the more painful experiences that are a part of life.
It is not weak to forgive. It makes us stronger. We can travel further if we’re not lugging our resentments around with us.
As time goes by, the distinctions between mind, body and spirit blur for me. I can see how interlinked these aspects of ourselves are, how one affects the other. Looking at current trends in psychology, such as mindfulness, growth mindset and positive psychology, as practices, they are very similar to those people might use for spiritual connection. Couldn’t we equate mindfulness with spiritual meditation, for example?
So I have found myself asking, is spirituality just good psychology?
FIRSTLY, SPIRITUALITY IS GOOD PSYCHOLOGY
We can turn to research on the brain to see the impact of psychological and spiritual practices on its development. Both mindfulness and spiritual meditation change the brain in similar ways. To give an example, they both increase the cortical thickness of the hippocampus, thereby reducing the incidence and severity of depression. This is just one small example but it illustrates my point.
Whether we approach our practices from a spiritual or purely psychological perspective, this science appears to reduce them to simply exercises we do to convince our brains to be happier. Our emotions are, essentially, our brain’s response to our thinking, after all. Is there more to them than that?
SPIRITUALITY MAKES IT MORE BENEFICIAL
In the midst of my wonderings, I watched a YouTube video. In it, an educational and spiritual researcher said that bringing a spiritual aspect to many of the psychological practices used today magnifies their benefit for people. Her comment was made in passing and I would have been interested to hear her elaborate but it got me thinking about why it might make a difference.
Here’s my conclusion – spirituality brings meaning to the practices. Thinking to myself, “I am going to watch my breath mindfully” feels different to “I am going to quiet my mind to sense my connection with Life”. One limits our experience to a specific task and the other opens us up to the limitless. One feels functional. The other feels meaningful.
Some who are skeptical of spirituality may argue that people are just creating meaning that doesn’t really exist when they bring spirituality to their practices. But, once a person has experienced their own spirituality, its truth is undeniable. I have experienced greater peace, faith, oneness and intuition when my intentions are spiritual rather than just to perform mental exercises for stress relief. It brings an extra dimension to my practice and provides the real reason for doing it.
BRINGING SPIRITUAL PRACTICES TO OUR CHILDREN
We are doing a great service to our children if we teach them mental practices from a psychological point-of-view. If we do it from a spiritual point of view, we are offering them even more.
I would argue that, even when going in without spiritual intention, there is the possibility of experiencing something spiritual because our spirituality is a part of us whether we acknowledge it or not.
Let’s look at some current psychological practices, how a spiritual intention can be enhance them and some simple ways we could share them with our children.
Mindfulness & Spiritual Mindfulness
The term “mindfulness” is used both as a psychological and a spiritual term. For the purposes of this post, I am using “mindfulness” as a purely psychological practice and “spiritual mindfulness” to speak of it as a spiritual practice. Mindfulness is bringing our attention fully to the present moment and noticing & accepting what is, including our own thoughts & feelings. This is exactly what spiritual mindfulness is too. But to do it as a spiritual practice is to do it knowing that our thoughts, feelings and experiences are not who we are. When we are mindful with this intention, we may sense our oneness with Life. We may even hear something that Life has to say to us now that we have turned down the volume of our mind’s chatter. After a mindfulness meditation, we may feel relaxed and calm. After a spiritual mediation, we may also feel connected and able to separate ourselves (our identity, our worth, our happiness…) from our thoughts, feelings and experiences.
What a liberation to realize that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that. – Eckhart Tolle
Practising Spiritual Mindfulness with Our Children: Both psychological and spiritual mindfulness can be practiced as a formal meditation or as we go through our day. A very simple introduction for our children is to have them lie down with their hand/s on their heart or tummy. As their chest/tummy rises and falls with their breath, they can imagine ocean waves going up and down. This is mindfulness. Once they are settled into this, ask them to watch themselves doing this. They could do this by imagining that they are looking down on themselves from above, like a seagull flying over the ocean. This adds the spiritual component of awareness – being aware of themselves as separate from their body and thoughts.
Growth Mindset & Faith
Essentially, a growth mindset is based on the belief that our abilities and attributes can be developed through hard work (rather than the belief that they are fixed and we can’t do much about them). A growth mindset is one that, among other things, is resilient in the face of failure because it understands that there is learning to be found in failure – learning that can be used to inform the next creative move. A growth mindset can be applied to many situations, many environments and to life in general. The way I see it, faith enables us to develop a growth mindset further than we might otherwise. When we have faith, we trust that we are supported by the Universe. Therefore, we are more willing to take a risk when it feels like the right thing to do but not necessarily the most logical thing to do. I see my own mindset shifting from a more fixed mindset to a growth mindset as I develop more faith.
Practising Faith with Our Children: One way to help our children develop a growth mindset is in the way we talk about risk and ‘failures’. If we teach that risk is to be avoided, that failure is embarrassing or deems our efforts wasted and to give up when it doesn’t first work out, we teach them to fear their logically unsafe ideas – those that are more creative or intuitive, for example. We want to hear ourselves instead telling our children, “try it out”, “that didn’t work but now you have narrowed down the options” or “wow, I never would’ve thought of that!” We can’t make our children have faith but we can remind them that God always wants the best for them and is supporting them all the way. We may recognise moments when our children are feeling inspired and encourage them to follow those ideas, even saying, “I can see you’re inspired, you have an idea your heart really wants to follow”.
Positive Psychology & Inherent Worth
Positive psychology came about as a response to the problem-focused approach of traditional psychology. Its main idea is that psychology should be concerned just as much with building people’s strengths and thriving as it is with healing their problems. The numerous studies on happiness we hear about have sprung from the positive psychology movement. From my spiritual perspective, building a person’s strengths and maximising their thriving begins with their belief in their own worth. (My very first blog post was entitled A Child’s Worth.) If we understand that we are each inherently worthy, a deliberate expression of God, we don’t question our deserving of a fulfilling, happy life. We understand that we are intended to be fulfilled and happy. We start to feel obliged, even, to develop our God-given strengths and to live fully as the unique person that we are. It can’t be more positive than that!
Practising Worth with Our Children: As parents, it is our job to continuously reflect our children’s worth back to them. They need to see it in the way that we interact with them – our unconditional love, our appreciation of their strengths, our acceptance of their “weaknesses”, our efforts to really see them and to tailor our parenting to them. I think that honouring their joy is an aspect of this – joy is an essential element of thriving. Currently, Jake is into climbing. So we have built a simple treehouse at home, we look out for climbable trees when we’re out-and-about and we regularly go to playgrounds. By prioritising opportunities for him to climb, I am letting Jake know that I see and value who he is and that he is worthy of joy. (Not to be confused with tending to every whim.)
IN SUMMARY: SPIRITUALITY IS MORE THAN PSYCHOLOGY
From the outside, many of the practices of psychology and spirituality look the same. It is the intention behind them that makes them different. And it is the intention that can make them even more meaningful and powerful in our lives. Spirituality is good psychology but it is a whole lot more as well.
With Christmas around the corner, perhaps you are bracing yourself for your children’s “holiday behaviour”. We know they will be excited and more tired than usual. They’ll likely test the boundaries to see if there’s any “holiday flex” in them too. Or it may be that, heading into the new year, you’re wanting to change the dynamic between yourself and your child so that it is more respectful and peaceful. This time of year can be particularly joyful and particularly testing for parents so it seems a good time to offer a few thoughts on discipline from a spiritual point-of-view. I try to appeal to the love in my children to encourage the best from them first but, there are times when discipline is needed.
DISCIPLINE: LOVE & FEAR
From teachers of A Course in Miracles, I have learned that, in life, we are constantly choosing between Love and fear. In a spiritually-led life, we aim to choose Love every time, though, of course, we don’t always manage to do so. We can bring our intention to Love to those moments when we need to discipline our children. To highlight the features of a love-based approach, let’s compare the two –
Fear-based Discipline: With a fear-based approach, we use discipline to control our children so that they behave in a way that we judge as acceptable. We don’t see our child in this approach, blinded by our own egoic fear – fear of being judged for our children’s behaviour, fear of losing control of our children, fear that our children won’t respect us… We go on to create fear in our children in an attempt to avoid the things we’re fearful of,making threats and dishing out punishments of various kinds. The punishments may be practical, such as removing screen time, or they may be emotional, such as humiliating our child or expressing our disapproval of them. Ultimately, we undermine their self worth when we discipline from fear. Sometimes their behaviour improves quickly, it may appear to “work”, but at the cost of our child’s belief in their own inherent value. We set our children up for a long-term struggle with fear and unworthiness.
Love-based Discipline: With a love-based approach, we use discipline is to teach our children. And what we are teaching them is to stay aligned with their own true nature. When disciplining from Love, we remember that our children are our spiritual equals, each a representation of God, just as we are. We know that they are essentially “good” and it is only their behaviour that needs correcting, not themselves. When disciplining them, we have unconditional Love for them in the form of non-judgement and respect, even when we feel differently about their behaviour. The discipline techniques we use when we are coming from Love can sometimes be slower to see effect but leave our child’s self-worth intact and empower them to be the marvellous person that they are.
PRINCIPLES OF LOVE-BASED PARENTING
S0, here are a few ideas to guide us in disciplining our children with Love.
Be Respectful We need to be asking ourselves when disciplining whether we are being respectful of our child or not. We can measure how respectful we are towards our children by the respect they have for us (this can be sobering at times). Our respect for our child can be shown in many different ways when disciplining them. For example, when possible, we should give our child a (one) reminder of the expectation and the consequences if they continue their inappropriate behaviour before we follow through. Suddenly springing a “punishment” on them when they’ve gotten carried away and forgotten to manage themselves is disrespectful and doesn’t give them the opportunity to self-correct (which is preferable for everyone). Another way that we unwittingly disrespect our children is to send them to their bedrooms as a punishment. I think we need to respect their bedrooms as their sanctuaries (see my post Home Sweet Home – A Place for Our Souls), a place they can retreat to when needed. Let’s not make it their jail.
Be Consistent By managing behaviour using a familiar set of expectations & consequences and applying them consistently, our children know exactly where the boundaries are and what will happen if they don’t stay within them. They can then deliberately choose for themselves how to behave (and sometimes they may decide the consequences for stepping outside of the boundaries are worth the excursion!). Consistency allows us to carry out any necessary consequences in an objective way – we can calmly follow our family’s process and detach our emotions from the situation to an extent.
Always Make Emotional Support Available To Love our children unconditionally is to do so regardless of their behaviour. When they are struggling with the emotions of a situation, we cannot withdraw our support without giving them the message that they are unworthy of our love in that moment. Sometimes, I offer a cuddle in the middle of a disciplining situation because I can see my son needs reassurance and help to manage his big emotions. A child’s emotions need to be allowed to settle before they are in a position to learn anything from the situation (see my post Helping Children to Manage Difficult Emotions).
Allow Life to be the Teacher Many situations are “self-disciplining”. By this, I mean that the natural consequences of a child’s actions are enough to teach them what they have to learn. In these situations, we need to step back a little and give our child the space to experience life’s lessons. I’ll explain this further in the section below.
I can think of three types of self-disciplining situation where the lesson naturally unfolds and we just need to allow it to.
A natural emotional response There have been times when Jake has done something he shouldn’t have and I have immediately seen the regret on his face. The point doesn’t need driving home any further. He has learned.
A natural consequence A simple example of this is when our child treats a playmate unkindly and the other child refuses to play with them anymore. Fair enough!
A natural opportunity to put things right For example, Thomas, like many two-year-olds, sometimes spits his food out if he doesn’t like it. I don’t mind (too much) if he spits in back onto his plate but sometimes he spits it on the floor. When he does, I simply get him to pick up the food and put it on his plate and remind him briefly of our rule. No fuss needed.
In any of these types of situation, there is no need to use an arbitrary punishment to make our point. ( What does his television-watching have to do with spitting food, for example?) There’s also no need to add heat to these situations with a telling-off or lecture. If we do need to explain things a little further to help our children grasp their lesson, we can do so in a calm, informative way. Fear-based parenting can see our egos wanting to have a bit of an authoritative rant at this stage, but it’s unnecessary and only serves to undermine our child and, in turn, our relationship with them.
IN SUMMARY: MANAGING OURSELVES
When disciplining our children, we are really managing ourselves! We are putting aside our fear and allowing Love to be the teacher. This can be hard to do when our buttons have been pushed and we are feeling tired & frazzled. If you see yourself in my description of fear-based discipline, as I do regularly, please forgive yourself. So much of our fear is unconscious and most of us are doing the very best that we can.
What we are wanting is for our children to come through the disciplinary experience a little wiser and with their self-worth intact. I’m sure I will come back to the topic of discipline many times, it’s complex and often highly emotional. I hope I’ve provided a good starting point today. Look out for my first post of 2017, “My Best Discipline Technique”.