I often feel that parenting is like a walk across a tightrope. For each aspect of parenting, there seems to be a continuum between two opposite ways of doing things. Since last week’s post was about diet, take spoon-feeding and its opposite, baby-led weaning, for example. There are pros and cons for both and my approach when introducing my boys to solids was to do a bit of each.
To keep my balance on this parenting tightrope, I need to find the mid-point between the two extremes of each matter, skilfully judging whether to lean a little more this way or that, taking each step with intention. If I lean one way too much, I’ll fall off. These are the matters I’ve been struggling to find my balance on of late –
Giving My Children Space to Learn for Themselves vs Being a Teacher/Guide
When my boys are facing something new or challenging, I try to allow them the space to discover what they need to know for themselves. Through asking questions, trying things out and learning from their own mistakes, there is a lot children can work out on their own. I think it’s easy for us to interfere with their self-teaching processes and to undermine them by taking over. It pains me to watch parents coach their children on how to play on a playground. But, on the other hand, there are many other situations when I have wisdom born of experience that could help my boys. For example, friendships can be difficult for children to navigate on their own and there are times I find myself coaching my son through challenges with friends, brainstorming with him possible solutions to difficult situations.
How do I judge when to step in with a bit of guidance and when to leave my children to learn for themselves?
Teaching My Children to be Considerate of Others vs Becoming a People-Pleaser
I think it’s important for people to be able to see beyond themselves and to be aware of how their actions impact others, either positively or negatively. In our home, we talk with our boys about how their behaviour affects others, calling it the “ripple effect”. A typical scenario – one of them hits the other, the other cries and I get stressed trying to deal with two emotional boys. I point out (afterwards) the flow-on effects of the hitting as an example. Equally, when one of them shares a toy, making the other one smile broadly and they go on to enjoy an hour of playing happily together, I use that as an example too. But 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. I worry I could over-emphasise consideration & kindness as I raise my boys, to the point that they may believe, as I did for many years, that other people are more important than they are and that it’s mean & selfish to do what’s best for themselves if it might upset others. I want my boys to know that they are equals with everyone and there are times when it’s appropriate – good, even – to act in self-interested ways.
How do I teach my children to judge whether to prioritise themselves or others in a situation?
Giving My Children Treats vs Creating a Sense of Entitlement
I like to treat my boys sometimes, just because it’s fun and I love them. It might be a surprise outing after school, a new book for the school holidays or something yummy in their lunchboxes. The catch, I find, is that, often, when I give a treat, they expect it again next time. “Are we going anywhere after school today?” “Can you buy me this book?” “I don’t like these crackers, can I have a cupcake like yesterday?” It’s a give-an-inch-they’ll-take-a-mile. Unfortunately, I always think twice about giving my boys treats because I’ll likely have to face pestering tomorrow.
How do I give my children treats in a way that doesn’t become entitlement or “spoiling”?
HOW TO KEEP BALANCE
There is a time to stand back and let our children discover for themselves. And a time to use what we know to teach and guide them.
There is a time for our children to be considerate of others. And a time to prioritise their own interests.
There is a time to treat our children. And a time not to.
I’m sure you have your own tightropes to walk as a parent.
You may have noticed that, as a tightrope walker eases themself along the rope, their weight is not perfectly centred for the entire walk – it’s not physically possible. So they do a lot of correcting as they go.
But a tightrope walker doesn’t have the time to do the maths and figure out precisely how far to lean, as they begin to wobble. They make these decisions in the moment, based on the feel. With concentration and full presence, when things feel wobbly, they know instinctively how to correct their balance. As parents, we can feel our way along the rope also. To notice the wobbles and know how to stabalise, we need to concentrate and be fully present, both with ourselves and our children.
When I have been maintaining my personal spiritual practice and I’m present with my boys, I am tuned-in and I find that I know what to say or do much more easily. It usually comes to me in the moment that I need it. If I am teaching one of them something new, I sense what I need to say and I know when I’ve said enough & should leave the rest to them. If I am talking with them about how their behaviour negatively impacted others, I find a way to validate their needs and wants as well. If I’m deciding whether or not to give them a specific treat, I can feel whether this treat is a good idea or not.
I also want to add that every family’s centre is in a slightly different place, which is why being tuned in with ourselves and our children is so important. Centre is not exactly half-way between two opposite ways of doing things, it’s actually the place that feels right. To give an example, I would say that, for my family, there is more standing back and allowing my boys to learn for themselves than explicit teaching.
IN SUMMARY – THE CIRCUS IS COMING TO TOWN!
Actually, parenthood can feel like a full-blown circus at times, with a sense of anything-could-happen. But that’s not all bad – there’s a lot of fun and spontaneity in life with children, the performers have well-developed skill and creativity. As parents, our greatest skill and creativity comes from parenting not only with our bodies and minds, but with our spirits too.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – What tightrope are you walking at the moment? Comment below
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Our spirituality is ultimately about our relationship with Life. Any relationship requires communication. I want my boys to know they can tell the Universe whatever is on their mind so I am gently introducing them to prayer. The Universe is always on our side, even when we don’t pray, but prayer helps us to be bigger participants in the unfolding of our lives.
WHAT IS PRAYER & WHO ARE WE PRAYING TO?
For me, prayer is an invitation, an opening up to the Divine. The Divine will work in our lives as much as we allow it to.
A prayer can be offered through our words (written & spoken), actions or thoughts. They all count. Essentially, we pray with our spirit so it doesn’t matter which form a prayer takes. This blog post is more about prayer expressed in words as that is the variety most visable to our children so easiest to share with them.
In our house, we usually address our prayers to God, using the word in a non-traditional sense. Really, any word would do – the Universe, the Divine, Spirit, Source… My understanding of God changes constantly, getting less and less precise over time, but I don’t think that really matters. He/She/It/They know I’m talking to them when I pray, even if I can’t fully imagine all that they are. (You may be interested in my post Introducing my Children to God.)
TYPES OF PRAYER
I want Jake and Thomas to realise that they can talk to God in any situation, for any reason so I’m trying to offer them different types of prayer. Keeping it simple, these are the three we usually use –
Gratitude – Prayers of gratitude are an easy place to start. Sometimes, when I’m with my boys and I think of something I’m grateful for, I’ll just say thank you for it aloud eg. “Thank you for the beautiful sunshine today”. We also take turns saying grace before a meal, using the words my boys learned at their kindergarten. (To be honest, they fight over whose turn it is to say grace and it doesn’t always feel very sincere.) My post on Gratitude talks about the benefits of gratitude and other ways of expressing it.
Intention – In these prayers, we share our intentions – such as for dreams to be realised and problems solved. They may be for ourselves or for others. Of Course, God already knows what our intentions are but, through these prayers, we open ourselves up to receiving the help we need.
Chat – For me, prayer is an on-going conversation. Sometimes, I just find myself with something to say and I know God is listening so I start talking. When I’m in the car alone, I talk to God as if he were sitting in the passenger seat. I talk about anything, knowing that I am heard and that He is the best listener of all.
THE NATURE OF PRAYER
I don’t think the words we use in prayer are important but it is interesting to look at the meaning of Amen. It is a way of saying “Your will be done”. For me, that means trusting that God hears and cares about my desires & concerns. It also means that He sees the big picture that I can’t and will do what is best for everyone, for the highest good. Prayer is said in faith and we can let go once we’ve said what we have to say. When I was younger, I used to pray over the same things repeatedly. God heard the first time – it must have been so annoying! Once said, it’s said! We can trust that things will turn out for the greatest good.
When things we have prayed about don’t appear to go our way, it is not an answered prayer. When I was a teacher, I had to put the good of the whole class over the needs of an individual at times. God has the same task but with billions of people to look out for – what a job! There have been times when things haven’t gone the way I had planned but there have been unexpected gifts in the seemingly unwanted outcome. There have been times when, later, I have been able to see that it is a good thing I didn’t get what I prayed for! Sometimes, I can’t see why things didn’t go as I had asked and I have faith that it was still a good thing. And sometimes I just wake up the next day feeling differently, able to see the situation I’d prayed for with greater Love – my answer was simply a new way of seeing things.
WAYS TO PRAY WITH OUR CHILDREN
Here are some gentle ways I’ve been introducing prayer to my children.
Invite them to listen inon my prayers – This was my first step. For example, an ambulance would go whizzing by when we were in the car and I would say a short prayer aloud. When my husband was going into hospital for a small surgery, my boys listened while I said a prayer for my husband and the medical staff. Jake and Thomas always say an enthusiastic “Amen!” at the end.
Provide a script – Particularly for young children, it is hard to come up with the words for what they have to say. Some of our prayers use the same words each time to make them easier for my boys to say, such as our grace and our morning prayer. Both prayers are short with child-friendly language.
Offer for them to add bits – Usually I say our morning prayer aloud and my boys listen. Often, before beginning, I ask if there’s anything they’d like included, perhaps something they’re worried about or looking forward to. So far, I add these things in myself for them but, in time, I think they’ll want to say them themselves.
God Box – (It could be called anything. Use the language that works for your family). Currently, I initiate most of our prayers. When my boys are starting to suggest their own, this is an idea I’d like to try. They can write or draw their prayer on a piece of paper and post it into their box. The act of posting it is their “Amen”, their letting go and trusting. Every now-and-then, they may like to review the notes in their box to see what has happened since.
Remind them that they can talk to God anytime, about anything – If our children are aware that we do this, it will be normal for them. I say a lot of spontaneous prayers and will often say them aloud with my boys if I’m happy for them to hear what I have to say.
IN SUMMARY – WHY PRAY?
When I pray with Jake and Thomas, I invite them to participate but never insist. Interestingly, so far they have always chosen to join in. The words we use aren’t important, the only rule being it must be respectful – God has no interest in the toilet talk that litters their usual conversation when they think I’m out of ear shot.
I recently re-watched Rob Bell’s humorous and powerful talk on Oprah’s Super Soul Sessions. He said that most of his prayers go like this – “Here, you take it”. Knowing we don’t have to figure it all out or do it all on our own is so comforting and freeing. Our prayers are an acknowledgement of this. This is the main reason I want to share the practice of prayer with my boys.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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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.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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