I’m thinking about how I can feel lighter in the world. My first thought is to eliminate sources of stress. That seems logical. But the thing is, many of those things are also the sources of joy, growth and contribution in my life. Life would be a lot simpler if I wasn’t blogging and running workshops, for example. But these things give me outlets for my passion and ways to expand & to contribute. To withdraw from stress entirely is to withdraw from life. And what would be the point of a stress-free life? How is the soul to feel fulfilled, learn its lessons and make its impact if we play small?
So the answer may be to, instead, accept the discomfort and stress, rather than resisting it. (I’m talking about those things that, while difficult, we know are also growing us in some way.) In a mindful way, noticing it without losing ourselves to the anxiety of it. I have realised recently that noticing our internal response to things is a great step forward, even if we do nothing more.
Ekhart Tolle tells us that the forms of our lives are “play”. I don’t think that that means they’re not meaningful but that they aren’t me. If something doesn’t go well, it doesn’t mean that I’m no good. Equally, I’m no better when something I’ve turned my hand to does go well.
So, it comes down to our sense of wholeness and worth – really knowing that we are complete and valuable, regardless of what’s going on in our lives. There’s nothing to prove or to avoid. Who we are is perfect and indestructible.
I have written about self-worth a few times on my blog, each time going a little deeper, uncovering a new aspect of it. I guess that’s because it’s been a personal journey of my own to really believe that I am complete and valuable. But I don’t think I’m the only one. This may be the work of our lives – to get to that place where we know that we are whole and worthy at all times and through all things. And to know this about other people too.
I can see worthiness is at the heart of things – of inner peace, confidence and joy. For me, it really is a spiritual matter. If we don’t understand that we of a divine source, extensions of God (or whatever you choose to call it), perhaps our self-worth is always in question. In that case, there’s no choice but to attach it to the outward achievements of this world which are plenty some day and in short supply on others. Our self worth can only be shaky if it depends on things turning out the way we would have them, things we can never have full control over (although we may like to think we do).
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR OUR CHILDREN?
Naturally, we praise our children for their successes to build them up and acknowledge their achievements. And I’m not suggesting we stop doing that. The question is, though, how do we give them a sense of their worth beyond their achievements?
Looking back at my post Giving Our Children A Resilient Sense of Self-Worth, I did write that one way to help our children be resilient when in doubt about their worth is to help them to know themselves as Spirit. This means recognising that they are not their thoughts and feelings and circumstances, through developing their ability to observe themselves through such things a meditation. I guess that’s where I feel a little stuck. I can tell my boys that they are wonderful extensions of God. I can do mindfulness activities with them like the ones I wrote about in my post on meditation. And I do think these things count. But, ultimately, they need to experience their divinity for themselves.
So this is as far as our parenting can reach. Over time, I have come to understand that, as a parent, there is nothing I can make my children do or know. Ultimately, they need to come to things themselves. As they say, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”. In a way, it’s an emotional challenge for me because there are things I really want for my boys that I cannot guarantee, and I especially want them to be strong in their own self-worth.
But it’s also a relief. I am not as responsible for my children’s lives as I used to believe I was. Letting go of this need to control things to try and guarantee an unguaranteeable outcome is a stress I can let go of.
Many of my personal inquiries become inquiries into my parenting, as this one did. As I learn things for myself, I start wondering how it might be significant to my boys and how to bring it to them. There are many ways to inquire into ourselves. My favourite is to journal. I imagine some of you thinking, “I don’t have time to inquire”. I get that. I did a lot less of it when my boys were younger and if the choice was between writing my journal and getting to bed a bit earlier, I chose sleep! The more work we do, though, the more conscious we can be as parents. The day that I wrote this, I sat down just to relieve myself of a little stress and it has lead me to all of the realisations I have made here (I have typed them in bold so you can scan back and pick them out). It was worth the time both for myself and my children.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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My Jake turned seven last week. We happened to be away on holiday with extended family on the day of his birthday so he had a particularly good day – an outing to our national aquarium, lots of play time with his cousins, plenty of adults to fuss over him and a large birthday cake to share with everyone (chocolate, of course).
As I celebrated Jake’s birthday with him, I marveled at him – how he has changed so dramatically from a dependent newborn to the capable, unique boy that he is now. But, at the same time, a sense of panic crept in – What if I haven’t made the most of that 7 year window all the developmental experts talk about?
Have you heard of this window?
I like to listen to parenting segments on the radio and on podcasts. During my hours of listening, I have heard various experts describe the exponential development that takes place during the first seven years of a child’s life. It often gets referred to as a seven-year “window” in which we can set our children up for life. If their first seven years are rich in in the right kinds of experiences, it hard-wires a child’s brain for a positive future in so many ways. Aristotle seemed to understand this instinctively –
“Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man”. – Aristotle
Jake is our eldest. Every new stage in his development has been a new stage for my husband and I also. Jake has essentially been the subject of our well-intended parenting experiments & mistakes and he will be all the way through. What if I’ve accidentally hard-wired him in negative ways that will create struggle for him rather than empower him?
When Jake was a newborn, I felt totally out of my depth and, as is the case for many first-time parents, everything that was required of me as a mother had to be learned from scratch. Looking back, I wonder, was I responsive enough to his newborn needs? When he was four, did I handle that bullying situation at kindy in the best way? I probably should be reading to him more than I have been recently… Then, there’s this –
A few weeks ago, I was in a low spot myself- tired and anxious. One morning, when Jake and Thomas were being particularly uncooperative, I unexpectedly exploded. I thought I had my anger under control but it just burst out in a roaring, swearing rage. It was a brief episode but it was ugly and probably quite terrifying for my boys. The first thought I had immediately afterwards was, “I can’t take that back! Nothing I say will delete the memory of that moment from their minds”. I paniced. Will they now always think of me as unpredictable and untrustworthy?
MOVING PAST THE 7 YEAR WINDOW
As a soulful parent, this 7-year window has me thinking particularly about how Jake sees himself and the world. Have I hardwired him to value & trust himself, others and Life? We are most at peace and powerful when our thinking is aligned with the truth that we are all valuable and in this together. But I feel that there are many important ideas related to this that I haven’t addressed much in my parenting yet. Take self-compassion, for example. I’m only learning how to extend it to myself now, at 40, and have just started thinking recently about I can pass it on to my boys.
The deeper I get into parenting and really understanding what it’s all about, the more I realise that it is as much about my own development as it about my boys’. And now, after my raging outburst and with all the mistakes and oversights of the past seven years behind me, I have the opportunity to learn more about how to forgive myself. The other alternative is to stew over my errors and inadequacies – but what sort of parent will I be going forward if I do that?
I think it’s a rite of passage in the human experience – recognising patterns formed in childhood that are of no use or hold us back. For myself, I can see the self-doubt and insignificance I felt as a child lurking in my thoughts now and am learning how to notice them without giving them power. I don’t think I’ve met one person without some childhood pain to resolve. We’re all messing our children up, while also doing lots of great things.
What about giving ourselves credit for all that we have done well? I’m quite fond of the 80/20 rule – if we get things “right” for our kids 80% of the time, it’ll minimise the impact of the 20% when we’re tired, overwhelmed or haven’t a clue what to do. And then there’s this…
This 7-year window has passed but I am not about to stop parenting! Despite the particular significance of the early years to brain development, human brains are malleable. Here’s the evidence – I know a lot more now than I did at 7 – we never stop learning; when a person suffers damage to their brain, perhaps through a medical incident such as a stroke, other parts of the brain often take over some of the function of the damaged area; activities such as meditation change the working of our brains too.
So, what we do as parents after our children turn 7 makes a difference, we haven’t missed our chance to set them up for positive lives. We can choose to change the way we’ve been doing things as a parent or to teach them something new, for example, and it will have an impact. One thing I want to do differently is to ease up on trying to teach my boys so much and focus more on validating who they are & where they’re at now to help them to connect with their inherent worth & their natural abilities to learn. I don’t believe my chance to do this for Jake is lost.
In our parenting, as with everything else, we cannot let our fear that we have done or are doing a bad job get the better of us. Being present and loving through all things, even our own mistakes, is far better for our children.
I once wrote a blog post called You Will Probably Mess Your Children Up, But It’s OK. I read back through it today and found it quite reassuring. It reminded me that we are divinely matched with our children, taking one another along the paths our souls need for growth. Our strengths and our weaknesses as parents both play a part in this. I was reminded that it’s ok to be human and I was prompted to acknowledge that, in any moment, I have done the best I could.
And, if 7-year-old Jake is a reflection of the man he’ll become, he’ll be a good one – optimistic, enthusiastic, friendly and wise. I have done some things right.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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As you know, the name of my blog is Nurturing Little Souls. An important part of nurturing our “little souls” is nurturing their natural spirituality. Helping them to recognise and develop their spiritual connection is a gift we can give our children that will enable them to live fully, with authenticity and peace. The idea of being able to give this to my boys is exciting but, I used to feel very unsure how to go about it – so I started writing my blog to figure out the “hows”. A few months into writing, I realised that it’s not as complicated or mysterious as I first thought and I actually wrote a post called Relax, It’s Simple.
Deeper into my spiritual parenting journey now, I’ve realised how important it is to nurture my own soul in order to nurture my children’s. During the recent school holidays, I struggled to find quiet time for myself to connect. I usually spend time alone each day either before my family wakes in the mornings or during Thomas’ afternoon naps. But I was tired, needing to sleep in a little longer, and I didn’t have Thomas’ nap time to myself because Jake was home off school. My parenting suffered in various ways from not taking time for my spirit. I don’t say this to judge myself, I accept that my usual routines can’t all stay in place during the holidays, but it has helped me to understand more fully that nurturing my own soul is essential to my parenting. Here are 3 reasons why –
1. TO BE AN EXAMPLE TO MY CHILDREN
I know I sound like a broken record when I say that our example is our most powerful tool as parents – but, it’s the truth.
“Children learn more from what you are than what you teach”. – W.E.B. DuBois
When I have spent time attending to my own spirituality, I am a much better example of Love for my boys. Having connected with Love/The Universe/God, I invite its power into my days and find myself recognising and taking more opportunities to be compassionate, trusting and grateful, for example.
I am also giving my children an example of a spiritually-led way of life. Jake, the next to rise in the mornings after me, comes downstairs to where I am in the lounge and he knows I’ve spent time praying and writing – two of my main spiritual practices. During the day, I sometimes share a spontaneous moment of gratitude with my boys or invite them to say a short prayer with me when we hear bad news. It’s not that I want them to live my way, they must find their own, but to know that they can include Spirit in the way they live their lives.
2. TO HAVE PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE & EXPERIENCE TO SHARE
Life is full of big questions and children are great at asking the tricky ones! Having had a recent death in the family, Jake has had a lot of interesting questions for me. Over the past few years, we’ve also had great conversations about the nature of God/Love/Source and intuition, for example. If I had not had some experience of these things myself, I wouldn’t have anything meaningful to offer Jake.
I’m interested in introducing my boys to meditation as I know it can be a great tool for letting go, relaxing and tuning into Spirit. The thing is, I don’t do much of it myself. I know I don’t need to be an expert to be able to offer it to my boys, but I’m fumbling to explain it or to suggest practices that are accessable for their ages because I don’t know it well enough myself. So, first step, commit to regular mediation myself.
Having said this, I think it is absolutely okay to reply “I don’t know” to some of our children’s questions or to frame our answer as a hypothesis. We can’t possibly know it all. With older children, we could even write down our questions and endeavour to find some enlightenment together.
3. TO FILL OURSELVES UP SO WE HAVE SOMETHING TO GIVE OUR CHILDREN
It’s the old “you can’t give what you don’t have” scenario. Nurturing my spirit fills me up and my capacity to be patient, non-judgemental, present and creative with my boys expands. I also find I get more information intuitively about what they need from me when I’ve taken time to connect. Another benefit of taking time to journey inwards is that it helps me to be more aware of my pain points, fears etc so I don’t take them out my boys.
IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW WE NURTURE OUR SOULS
How we fill ourselves up really doesn’t matter, as long as it works for us. Praying and writing are my first choices and, as I’ve said, I am going to meditate more often. I also sing to my favourite songs as I cook, do my nails or sort the plastics cupboard in the kitchen – sometimes, I just need to do something fun and frivilous which takes me out of my head and brings me to the present. I do lots of different things and my style is to follow what I feel I need, rather than have a set-in-stone routine.
From my experience, it seems that consistently taking time alone is more important than how long we actually spend. So I’m learning, also, to take the short moments available to me in a busy day to quiet my mind and sense Spirit within and around me. When a spare minute arises, I’ve stopped reaching for my phone and instead take the opportunity to just be. When I’m taking my morning shower, I use the time to chat to God, instead of to plan the day ahead. When I’m stuck in traffic, I notice my surroundings and what it feels like just to be where I am in that moment. When I haven’t been able to begin my day connecting in the ways that I like to, I can at least find small moments to remember my Spirit.
IN SUMMARY – YOU’RE WORTH IT!
I think it’s fair to say that our lives are often not well set up for taking quiet time and it is really something we have to intentionally carve out for ourselves or, at least, grab for ourselves when an opportunity arises. Taking care of ourselves is really taking care of our families. I think many of us can be resistant to taking Spirit time because it feels luxurious and, sometimes, selfish when there’s a family to look after. Let’s do it anyway. I’m finding that the more I do it and the more I see the benefits, the less guilty I feel. Also, we’re worth it.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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One night last weekend, I had to get up to Thomas (3-years-old) so many times I lost count. I just couldn’t figure out what he needed and he didn’t seem to know either. When I heard him call out again at 3:34am, it was almost physically impossible for me to open my eyes, which only wanted to sleep. Once I’d managed to rouse myself, I decided I was going to cover all possibilities to secure Thomas and I both at least a couple of hours of unbroken sleep before it was time to get up. So, I fetched him a drink and a snack, added another blanket to his bed, gave him another cuddle and even measured out a dose of paracetamol thinking “this is so unlike him, he must be sick”. It worked for him but all that activity had woken me up and I took another hour to get back to sleep. The next day, I was hopeless.
I cried over a disagreement between my husband and I – we weren’t even arguing, we just had different points of view. I couldn’t muster up any energy or enthusiasm to play with my boys. My patience was paper-thin and I became that shouty parent I wrote about in my post “WHY AM I SHOUTING AT MY CHILDREN?!” All my respectful parenting strategies went out the window and I resorted to the path of least resistance to get my boys’ co-operation – bribery. My brain felt mushy and my body felt like a heavy bag of bones. My inner resources had leaked away along with my sleep.
A BRIEF LESSON ON THE PURPOSE OF SLEEP
We often think of sleep as largely a physical need but it is a lot more than that. Sleep is for the renewal of all parts of ourselves – body, mind and spirit. When sleeping, our bodies don’t have to move beyond their survival functions and natural rhythms. When sleeping, our minds don’t have to perform conscious actions. When we’re awake, the physical needs of our bodies and noise of our thoughts can interfere with our connection to Spirit because they are more obvious and hard to ignore. But, when we are asleep, they are quieter so our souls can more easily connect with and receive spiritual energy and, therefore, be regenerated too.
This is why “sleeping on” a problem can be so helpful. Through sleeping, our soul gets a chance to be heard and offer its intuitive solution. We are often also more creative after sleep. I write these blog posts first thing in the morning because that’s when ideas and words come most easily to me. It is also why there is a healing quality to sleep. When I was depressed, I would take to my bed. Not just to escape from the world but because the break from having to function gave my spirit some refreshment.
“The process of truly becoming yourself takes a lot of energy and this energy can be replenished during naps”. – SARK, Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed
GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP FOR ALL THE FAMILY
Generally, I fall apart if I don’t get at least 7 hours of good sleep. As a result, I have always been very protective of my boys’ sleep, not wanting them to suffer from lack of it. As babies, it was straight to bed as soon as I saw their tired signs (once I figured out which of all my baby’s peculiar little movements were actually “tired signs”). I wasn’t willing to go out for a day and make do with letting them doze in their capsule or buggy because it compromised the quality of their sleep. I have always tried to prioritise and optimise their day naps and night sleeps because it’s so essential to their well-being. (And mine – every parent knows the suffering an overtired child can inflict!) Experiencing true sleep deprivation for the first time as a parent, I also realised I need to prioritise my own sleep.
Fortunately, my long night of getting up with Thomas was during the weekend and my husband was home. So, in the afternoon, when I could barely haul myself out of my chair, I plodded up the stairs to my bed and I had a nap. In her book, Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed, SARK includes permission slips to take naps. I was so grateful when I first saw these. I always feel guilty about deserting my family for nap-land but I do it when I need to because it is essential. When I got up after an hour of dozing that afternoon, I made a lemon pudding for desert and played Lego with Jake. I was restored.
I doubt there is a parent out there who can’t relate to that overwhelmed, can’t-function feeling of sleep deprivation, at least from the newborn days. But, if your exhaustion doesn’t come so much from lack of sleep as it does from being busy and over-committed, I implore you, too, to sleep-in or take a nap when you need it. Sometimes we wear our busyness like badges of honour – we must be important if people are relying on us to do all these things – but we’re miserable and we make those around us miserable too when we’re under-slept.
IN SUMMARY – A PRESCRIPTION OF SLEEP-INS & AFTERNOON NAPS
The title of this post may have seemed tongue-in-cheek at first but it’s not. When we’re tired, any energy we have (physical, mental and spiritual) is used up on simply surviving and there is none left to be our best selves. We want to be patient and kind and wise and all those sorts of things as parents – and just as people – but these can be near-on impossible when we’re sleep deprived. Our bodies, minds and spirits are all beautifully connected and they all need plenty of sleep.
Let’s teach our children to take care of themselves by having sleep-ins and naps through example. We could even nap with our children on Saturday afternoons.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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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,
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