Why I’ve Stopped Telling My Children to “Be Nice”

“Be nice”.

“That’s not nice”.

“Speak nicely please”.

I tell my boys these things with the best of intentions.  It’s important to me that they treat others well. But I’ve been wondering recently whether telling them to “be nice” is what I really should be doing.

 

“Be nice” seems to imply that my boys should be sweet-as-pie to anyone and everyone all the time.

“Be nice” seems to suggest that they should censor what they say and do so that no one is upset by it.

“Be nice” seems to assume that what they think and feel doesn’t really matter as much as what the other person thinks and feels.

 

At the end of the day, “being nice” sometimes isn’t nice for them.  It requires them to ignore their own thoughts and feelings for the sake of someone else’s, which contradicts two ideas at the heart of my spiritual parenting approach.  They are that –

* our role as parents is to empower our children to be themselves.

* we are all equals, regardless of our age, gender, intelligence…regardless of anything.

These beliefs mean that everyone’s thoughts and feelings, needs and wants count.  As a parent, I feel a tension between teaching my children to be considerate of others and taking care of their own needs, which I wrote about in my blog post Walking the Tightrope of Parenting.  I wrote –

“There are times in life when, in order to be true to ourselves, to back ourselves, we need to do things we know others won’t like.” – Julie

When I wrote the post, I had no solutions as to how to teach my boys to find this balance between their needs and other people’s but, maybe if I stop telling my boys to “be nice”, it would be a good start.

 

WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?

So, if I’m not going to teach my boys to be “nice”, what am I going to teach them?  I think what I’m really trying to get at are kindness and respect.

Kindness and respect are sincere and honest.  They aren’t as sickly sweet as “nice”.  They feel more mutual.  Being kind because “I should” or “mummy told me to” isn’t kindness at all but obligation.  When I’m really being kind, it’s because I want to so I benefit from the act of kindness as well as the recipient.  Respect is only truly respectful when both parties are respected.  When I resentfully sacrifice myself for another, it is not respect and not a true gift to the other.

 

5 Ways to Teach Kindness & Respect Rather than “Niceness”

Here are some ways I’m trying to shift my behaviour to help my boys honour both themselves and the other person in a situation.

  1. Replace “nice” with “kind” or “respectful”. For example, if they’re shouting their disagreement with me or someone else, I’ll remind them that they can say what they need to but they must do so respectfully.
  2. Be an example of kindness & respect myself. For example, I personally shy away from expressing my disagreement with others, often opting to be nice rather than honest. Here’s my chance to learn to be brave and to find the words to be honest in a way that is also kind & respectful of the other person.
  3. Let them choose not to be nice if they can’t do so sincerely. For example, if they can’t willingly share a favourite toy with a visiting child, perhaps I shouldn’t make them. (Though I wouldn’t let them play with that toy in front the other child).
  4. Notice and affirm their acts of kindness & respect. For example, tell them, “it was kind of you to let her go down the slide first”.
  5. Talk with them about what feels “right” for them – For example, if I see that they did something nice for someone else but with resentment or, conversely, that they enjoyed a sense of satisfaction from being kind to another, I can talk with them about how they felt. This reflection will encourage them to honour themselves by using their internal sense of what’s right to make decisions.

It’s a complex thing, trying to teach our children to give only when it feels right for both themselves and the other person.  Sometimes we intentionally choose to do something kind for another because we want it for them while still not wanting it for ourselves.  It feels right, if not personally desirable.  At 6 years old, Jake’s pretty tuned-in so I could introduce this concept to him but I wouldn’t expect him to grasp it fully until he’s much older.

 

IN SUMMARY – ME, WE & YOU

I want my boys to grow up with a “we” mentality, not a “me” mentality.    We is that middle ground between You and Me.  But it’s not a stationary half-way spot where there’s a perfect, mutually-pleasing solution in each situation.  In life’s usual messy way, it’s probably more a case of sometimes leaning further towards me and sometimes leaning closer to you.

Judging what to do each time takes a certain amount of skill that niceness doesn’t require.  At 3 and 6 years of age, developmentally my boys are not yet able to judge it easily.  It would be easier just to tell them to “be nice” – and probably looks better to other parents too.  But I will be patient and persistent (as we parents are often called to be ) because we are being kinder and more respectful of our children if we teach them to be kind and respectful of others rather than nice.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – In what situations do you find yourself inadvertently encouraging your children to deny themselves by telling them to “be nice”?  Comment below.

 

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Childhood Is Not Just Preparation for Adulthood

When I was expecting baby Jake, I imagined giving him an idyllic, carefree childhood.  My visions were of bare feet and giggles, exploration and play. Once Jake was born, he and I began attending coffee groups for new mums and, as he got older, we also went along to baby activities, such as story sessions at the library and playgroup.

At these places, I often found myself surrounded by anxious parents, whose daily outing with their babies were not primarily for a bit of fun and to get out of the house but to fast-track their babies’ development.  I met parents at playgroup who were there to “socialise” their babies and I watched parents at the library earnestly trying to get their 4-month-olds to focus on the letters and words in books as if it would give them a head-start as readers.  At these young ages, our babies didn’t need any extra socialising or literacy instruction beyond what daily life with Mum and Dad provided – their young brains couldn’t even process some of the things we parents were keen for them to learn.

I realised that, already, many parents were caught in the hamster wheel of always trying to prepare their babies for the next stage of life.  By “socialising” their babies at playgroup, they assumed their toddlers would be more prepared for early childhood education.  When the time came, they looked for early childhood centres that would formally teach reading, writing and maths so that their children would be “ready for school”.  And so it continues – each stage being merely a stepping stone to the next.

In this way, for many people, childhood has been reduced to preparation for adulthood.  Parents fear that, if they don’t “start early”, their children will “fall behind” in some way, destined for unsuccessful, unhappy futures.  My opinion is that, if we continue to sacrifice their childhoods for the sake of their adulthoods, both their years as children and as adults will be unsuccessful and unhappy.

 

THE PROBLEM WITH REDUCING CHILDHOOD TO PREPARATION FOR ADULTHOOD

When we are too focussed on preparing our children for adulthood, we are not respecting who they are.  From a spiritual perspective, the real purpose of parenting is to honour and support our children in being the people they came here to be.  In trying to prepare them for adulthood too early, we inflict on them our own ideas about what kind of adult they should become whereas, if we’re present with who they are as children, we enable them to be themselves.

Further, without some perspective, we begin to hold our children up against the adult we hope they’ll become and, being children, they will almost always fall short.   We develop a deficit-approach to parenting in which we try to improve our children rather than value them as they are.  Our impossible measures become messages to them that they are not good enough.  I know I’m guilty of this myself.  Sometimes, I expect my boys to be able to manage their emotions in respectful, controlled ways like an adult would but, developmentally, they can’t always do this.  My disapproval of their outbursts gives the message that they are not acceptable when their emotions get the better of them.  They’re only 3 and 6  years old!

 

WHY WE NEED TO VALUE CHILDHOOD MORE

Here’s my case for why we are better to value and be present with our children as they are now rather than pushing them into their future.

Children contribute in so many ways.  When we take our children out and about with us, other people delight in them.  Many stop to fuss over our babies, engage our children in conversation or smile at their antics.  Just by being their childish selves, they are like little beacons of light scattered about the community. More personally, most parents feel that their children have contributed to their own lives in numerous ways – the tender moments between us, the memories we make together and the ways they make us laugh or help us to see things differently.  Then there are the little souls who never became adults for some reason but still touched our hearts.  The one I miscarried changed me forever and, on a more public scale, think of Matty Steponik.

Children have things they need to know now.  When I was a teacher, we had meetings in which we speculated about what kind of future we were preparing our students for.  Those discussions had a place but mostly I was thinking, “we don’t know what the future will be like but we know what the kids need now”.  Part of the discussion was always around technology – its growing prevalence in our lives and how it will have changed exponentially between the time a child starts school and when they leave. There was almost an obsession to use technology in the classroom as much as possible for these reasons but sometimes I felt that a lot of rich, relevant learning was lost in order to be seen as progressive & relevant by using technology.  My 7-year-old students needed to be able to read the books they loved, to count their pocket money and to negotiate with their friends more than they needed to know how to use the latest multi-media program.

Joy is found in the present.  The childhoods we dreamed of for our unborn babies were joyful ones.  Only available in the present, joy is lost for both ourselves and our children when we are mentally tied up in worries about the future and how our children aren’t yet meeting the expectations we have of them as adults.  As I said in my blog post about joy, I think joy is essential to a fully-lived life.  Do we want to teach our children to constantly be striving for the next thing or to find joy in every stage?

 

“We tend to think of childhood as preparation for adulthood and almost forget that childhood has its own value”. – Julie Louisson

 

BY TAKING CARE OF THE PRESENT, WE TAKE CARE OF THE FUTURE

All things in nature follow a natural progression.  In its own time, a seed becomes a beautiful, strong tree.  As a seed, it needed different things to what it needs as a tree.  Some seeds can’t grow in the presence of light but, once they are trees, they need the light for photosynthesis.  There is no doubt that we are sowing the seeds of our children’s futures through our parenting but we can trust the process, knowing that, by tending to our children’s current needs, their futures will take care of themselves. 

 

IN SUMMARY – A NEW QUESTION TO ASK

Let’s stop asking children “what are you going to be when you grow up?” and instead ask, “who are you?”  Our children arrive fully-formed, ready to enjoy an contribute to life nowLet’s love who they are and get excited, rather than fearful, about who they will become.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

 

PS – In what ways do you catch yourself nudging your child towards the next stage instead of honouring the one they are in?  Comment below.

 

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Why we Can’t (and Shouldn’t) Protect our Children from Pain

Thomas and I were at preschool Kindy Gym and the session had just started.  I patted my pocket and realised I had left my phone in my bag, on the other side of the room.  I wasn’t expecting any important calls or messages so decided to leave it there and give Thomas my full attention.  We had a great time playing together and I enjoyed being present, not distracted by the pings & buzzes of my phone.

When I eventually did look at my phone, once Kindy Gym had finished, I saw a series of missed calls from my older son’s school and my husband.  I looked at the times on the screen – they’d been trying to get hold of me for almost an hour.  My heart started racing – what was up?  I set Thomas up with his lunchbox and listened to the first message.  It was the school principal himself calling, asking me to phone him back “urgently regarding Jake”.  Feeling jittery, I tried calling the school – no answer.  I tried calling my husband – no answer.  There was nothing to do but keep making calls until I got through to someone.

Eventually I got hold of my husband.  “Don’t worry, Jake’s fine” was the first thing he said.  (Don’t those words always seem to imply that there is something to worry about?)  He told me Jake had hurt his head and they were in my husband’s van, driving to the hospital.  “His head!” I exclaimed in alarm, imagining copious blood, screaming pain and serious concussion.  I didn’t ask for details, I just wanted to get to the hospital and see Jake as quickly as I could.

Thomas, bless him, was in a particularly co-operative mood.  I hurriedly packed up his lunchbox and told him Jake had hurt himself so we needed to go to the hospital.  You can imagine the onslaught of questions that prompted.  I answered them patiently as we speed-walked to the car.  As I drove, we said a prayer for Jake & all the people looking after him.  I wondered what kind of state I would find him in but resolved to keep myself together, no matter what I found.  I searched for a place of steadiness within and focussed on it.

When we got to the waiting room at the hospital, I saw Jake sitting on my husband’s knee, a bandage around his head, a miserable expression on his face and his complexion an unnerving shade of greyish yellow.  I gave him a careful hug.  “You got a big fright, didn’t you?” I said and he nodded sadly.  “Are you ok, Dake?”, Thomas asked him.

Thomas was getting tired and we decided it was no use all of us being at the hospital.  I’ve got the stronger stomach for blood and medical procedures so my husband transferred Jake to my knee (when did he get so big?) and took Thomas home.  As we sat there in the waiting room, Jake’s colour started improving and he began chatting a little. He told me that he had been playing tag with his friends and had run into a wall, knocking his head.  I looked at the red sign the staff had put on the counter to save themselves numerous enquires – it said the wait was “more than 2 hours”.  “This is a child with a head injury, why are we still waiting?!” I wanted to shout.

Fortunately, a nurse appeared with an ice-block not too much later and asked us to follow her to an examination room.  It turned out that the school staff had done such a great job caring for Jake’s injury that there was nothing more to be done except to put a clean bandage on top.  I had been unsure how I was going to get Jake to co-operate if stitches were required and was very relieved he didn’t have to go through that too.  We were soon sent home for a quiet afternoon.

That evening, as I was drying Jake after his bath, he told me that, when his head was bleeding at school, it had felt like water coming out of his head and he had been scared because he didn’t know if he’d be okay.  I realised that he had genuinely believed he could die and I felt dreadful that I hadn’t been there for him in what must have been the most terrifying moment of his life so far.

Having had a significant blow to the head, I kept Jake home from school the following day.  In the morning, we had to pop out to drop Thomas off at kindergarten.  At kindy, the same one Jake had attended when he was younger, the teachers were pleased to see him again and fussed over him kindly.  After we settled Thomas in, we went to a bookshop to get Jake the next book in a series he’s been reading – I figured he needed something to do if he couldn’t run around and jump on the sofas like usual.  Once we found the book, he wanted to browse the shelves for a while and we pointed out interesting reads to each other.  As we wandered back to the car, he said “I like having time just you and me”.  He told me the same thing again later in the day.  “I do too”, I said, “Hanging out with you is one of my favourite things to do”.  Since he started school, we haven’t had much time for just the two of us and it was a reminder to make dates more often.

Before heading home to relax, I took Jake to a café for a fluffy.  (For those of you not in New Zealand, a fluffy is a child’s drink of warm, frothy milk, made with an espresso machine, usually served with chocolate sprinkled on top and marshmallows on the side).  As I watched him sip his drink, a chocolate moustache above his lip and the square of white bandage crooked on his head, my eyes filled with tears.  I felt just how deeply I love him.

I understood in that moment that pain (physical and emotional) is inevitable in life and I won’t always be able to protect Jake from it.  Not only is it impossible, it’s not my job to protect him from it all.  It’s through pain that our children will learn things and discover their own strength.  Sometimes the only thing I will be able to do is acknowledge Jake’s pain and sit with him through it.  There will be times, too, when I won’t be there (like when he was injured & panicing at school) and I can only hope that, at those times, he knows I am coming to him as fast as I possibly can.

Our children’s pain often feels worse than our own, doesn’t it?  As parents, we learn and discover strength through enduring their pain as much as we do our own.  If we didn’t let it grow us, our children’s pain would break us (or so it feels) and we would be no use to them then.   On this occassion, I learned that my place of steadiness within is always available to me and I was reminded to have more dates with Jake, “just us”.  I wonder what Jake feels he has learned through the experience – I’ll ask him tonight.

Unfortunately, there is likely bigger pain to come for Jake – a variety of diappointments, perhaps a more serious injury, a broken teenaged heart…  I can’t say I invite these times ahead but I won’t live in fear of them.   Whenever I see the scar on Jake’s forehead, I will be reminded that he and I, both, can survive, the pain ahead and, even, allow it grow us.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

 

PS – How do you find the strength to cope with your children’s pain?  Comment below.

 

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3 Common Fears That Parents Have

I go about my day carrying hundreds of little worries and fears for my children with me –
* did he remember to take his jacket to school with him?
* will he have more trouble with that mean kid today?
* how will his spelling test go?

Those are the kinds of mini-fears that regularly fire around in our parental brains. But I think there are bigger fears lurking underneath them all that we need to shine some light on and decide what to do with.   I’ve identified  3 common fears that I see in myself and my parent friends that you may relate to also.

1. The fear of making the same “mistakes” as our parents did.  I’m sure we can all think of  experiences we had as children that we are determined our own children won’t have.  Many of them we likely hold our parents responsible for.  Firstly, in defence of our own parents, I want to say that they were doing the best they could at the time (as we are) and no parent will do perfectly (more on that in my post You Will Probably Mess Your Children Up – But It’s OK). We can be mindful of doing things differently to the way our parents did but we don’t want to be fearful to the extent that we inflict too much of the opposite on our children. My own parents inadvertently taught me to be a people-pleaser rather than to listen to my own truth. I’m now determined that my boys know and follow their own hearts but I need to be careful that I don’t coach them into selfishness.

2. The fear that our children will struggle in some way. We fear both the ways our children may be struggling now and the ways they may struggle in future.  From worrying about whether they’re fitting in with classmates to how they will manage financially as adults, our hearts break when we think of our children struggling in any way. Yet struggle is part of the process of life. Personally, I know that it’s easy for me to try to over-control things in an effort to minimise my children’s struggles but this doesn’t allow them to learn or to build resilience.

3. The fear that our children won’t reflect well on us. Our children can humiliate us so effortlessly! Social skills in particular take a long time to learn and young children can be like bulls in a china shop when it comes to etiquette and appropriateness. If there is some way that our children are unlike others or deviate from social norms, our first instinct can be to feel that we have overlooked something in our parenting and we fear being judged for it.

But parenting from fear is no fun – it’s hard work trying to avoid all those things that could go wrong! And our fears ultimately become limits we put on our children.

 

HOW DO I STOP BEING FEARFUL?

I don’t know who first said it but there is an idea I often hear that –

“Our brains are wired to help us survive but not to thrive”.

Our brain uses fear to protect our body but, in doing so, it also “protects” us from doing things we might enjoy and learn from. Because of our design, we’re kind of stuck with our fears – but we can choose not to listen to them.

This relates to last week’s post about the mind-body-spirit connection. We need to align our thoughts with our intention to help our children thrive, rather than with our fears, which will keep them safely from living a full life. Sure, protection is part of our role as parents but we want our children to thrive as who they are and we want to thrive ourselves as parents.

As long as we are focussed on the fears we have as parents, we aren’t focused on Love.  A Course In Miracles says that every choice in life is one between fear and Love. A choice made in Love is far more empowering because, where fear limits us and our children, Love encourages & nourishes us all. In any parenting situation, fear will ask, “what can go wrong?” But love will ask, “what does my child need?” Our children certainly don’t need our baggage from the past, our anxiety that they will struggle or our delicate egos to contend with! We need to lead with our unconditional love for our children rather than our fears.

 

IN SUMMARY – BRAVE PARENTING

We don’t have to pretend our fears aren’t there but wouldn’t we rather spend our energy loving our children than avoiding ourselves? There is nothing like parenthood to develop our bravery and courage.  Each time we put our children’s needs before our fears, I think our fears will shrink a little smaller and our capacity to love will expand a little larger.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – What fears do you have as a parent?  Comment below.

 

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How the Mind Body Spirit Connection Works

I was enjoying a walk with a friend last week and we got talking about the relationship between our minds, bodies and souls.  Being a “spiritual parent” does not mean I undervalue the importance of our minds and bodies to our experience.  In fact, as time goes by, I see less and less distinction between the three aspects of ourselves, noticing more and more how they are interconnected and co-operative.

This is what I have come to understand about how these three parts of ourselves work together –

Our minds and bodies are in service to our souls.

Our minds and bodies are incredible tools, gifted to us to help us through our experience of life on Earth.  I believe that each soul is here with a distinct purpose – a combination of lessons to learn and ways to contribute.  It is upto us whether we choose to fulfil our purpose but we are given everything we need to do so, including complex minds and bodies that are useful for all sorts of things!  Like good girl/boy Scoutts, we come prepared!

 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR SPIRITUAL PARENTING?

I value all aspects of my children.  I have some knowledge of cognitive and physical development, learned mainly through my work as a school teacher, and I use it to help me as a parent.  What I do, which may be different from parents who don’t identify as “spiritual parents”, is I lead with Spirit.  I let my soul and my boys’ souls guide my parenting.

Once I have established what my boys really need through spiritual connection, I can utilise the capacities of our minds and bodies to meet those needs.

When faced with difficult behaviour from my boys, for example, leading with Spirit is very helpful (though I can forget to do it when I’m tied up with the frustration or stress of a situation!).  The usual approach in the face of challenge is to subject our children to a range of strategies, often recommended by psychologists and parenting experts.  The limitation of unquestioningly depending on parenting strategies, even good ones, is that we don’t stop to determine what each child’s soul really needs in that moment.  When we recognise what they need first, we recognise the strategy or response that would serve them best and we can use our minds and bodies to do this.

Being led by Spirit doesn’t only apply to parenting challenges.  It’s about seeing who our children really are, individually, and supporting & empowering them to be themselves.  When we recognise their passions and strengths, for instance, we can encourage our children to develop and follow them.

 

HOW, EXACTLY, DO WE LEAD WITH SPIRIT?

Here are the three things I try to do to help me recognise what’s really needed in a situation –

I listen to my soul – I begin each day by connecting & inviting Spirit into my day and I’m getting better at recognising & listening to it throughout the day.  It will give us messages that will help us parent, we just have to be listening.

I listen to my children’s souls – When I’m present with my boys, my parenting is at its best.  I seem to recognise what they’re really needing from me intuitively, without giving it much thought.

I encourage my boys to listen to their souls – I find this difficult to do because Spirit is subtle but I’m experimenting with different ways to help my boys connect.  I’ve been teaching Jake to take a moment to still his mind & body when he’s feeling overwhelmed by an emotion.  When he’s trying to make a decision, we talk about what “feels right” for him.  If my boys know themselves, I can follow their lead.

 

IN SUMMARY – TOOLS FOR OUR SOULS

Human beings are complex and, when we stop to think about all the mental and physical systems within us, we can’t help but marvel.  While my blog focuses on the spiritual aspect of parenting, because it is the starting point, I’m also fascinated to learn about the workings of our bodies and minds.  Being spiritual doesn’t at all require us to dismiss the science of being human – by understanding it, we can utilise it for our souls’ purpose.
Let’s end with this often-quoted phrase –

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience”. – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS – In what ways do you lead with spirit in your parenting?  Comment below.

 

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Nurturing Ourselves to Nurture Our Children

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,

 

PS – How do you nurture your soul?  Comment below.

 

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Children are Naturally Kind…Really

“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.

 

NATURAL KINDNESS

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.

 

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Love Songs & Chocolate

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

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.

 

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Over-Protection – “Protecting” our Children from Opportunities

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.

 

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Joy – Good Nutrition, Not a Guilty Pleasure

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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?”
  3. Teach our children joyful habits of mind. Gratitude is a powerful place to start.  Self-love is essential.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

 

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