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Mopping the Grass (and My Latest Lessons in Spiritual Parenting)

The weather has been unseasonably hot and dry here in Wellington.  Our lawns are parched and our laundry is finally up-to-date (well, not folded and neatly put away in the cupboard, but clean, at least).

One afternoon last week, I was preparing a smoothie for my boys and I when 3-year-old Thomas came into the kitchen wielding my floor mop.  Too long for him to manage, he knocked just about every wall and cabinet on his way through.

“I’m just going outside to clean the grass.  The sun has made it dirty”, he explained to me.

It took me a moment to understand what he meant.  He had figured out that the sun was responsible for changing our lawn from fresh & green to dry & brown, but he thought that the brown colour could simply be wiped off like dirt to make the grass green again.

“Good idea”, I said, trying not to think about the fact that my mop was brand new, unused, and that, after this, I’d likely never be able to use it on my floors.

I let Thomas take the mop with him to clean the grass and find out for himself that mopping wouldn’t restore its colour.  I wanted him to explore and discover for himself.  Besides, if he was busy outside mopping the grass, that would give me a few more minute’s peace on this stinking hot day.  I might even get to sit down with my smoothie and book for five minutes.

Later, as I stood at the window, watching Thomas clean the lawn, I realised that this is how he will learn about things of a spiritual nature also – through the experiences Life naturally gives him and his own curiosity.

There’s so much I want my boys to know about the way Life works.  As I’ve understood more myself, I have had a lot more peace, joy and love in my life and I want the same for them.  My brain thinks that I have to be especially explicit when it comes to teaching them about spirituality because it’s intangible, not obvious enough.  Sometimes I kind of panic that I’ll forget to tell my boys something important or run out of time to teach them everything they need to know (the years really do fly).

But spirituality is to be experienced, not explained.  Our children will learn a lot about it on their own.  Even by allowing them to hold on to their misunderstandings until they discover truth for themselves, we support their learning.

Perhaps one of the most helpful things we can do as parents is to reflect with our children on their experiences after allowing them the space to learn in their own way.  Just as we do for other kinds of  learning – like why the grass changes colour in the sun.

When I found my mop discarded on the front lawn, I asked Thomas about his cleaning efforts.

“The sun has burned-id the grass so it’s still brown. But it’s clean!” he said with satisfaction.

He had figured it out. Or perhaps his brother put him right when he went outside to kick his ball around to find the intriguing sight of Thomas mopping the grass.  I can just imagine how that conversation might’ve gone.

If, when he’d come into the kitchen with my (clean) mop, I had told Thomas he was wasting his time and mopping the grass wouldn’t make it green again, his learning would’ve been far less memorable – and he wouldn’t have had so much fun.

Thinking about it, I don’t think it’s even our job as parents to teach our children everything there is to know about spirituality.  Is it even possible for just one or two people to do that?  Aren’t we still learning so much for ourselves?  Perhaps our main responsibility is to make our children aware that life is essentially a spiritual experience and then to give them the space to know it for themselves.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Why We Can’t Pass Our Spirituality Onto Our Children

When I realised that it is not for me to pass my spiritual beliefs and practices onto my children, I was disappointed.  My understandings and ways of doing things work for me, helping me to be loving, strong and joyful, and I want my boys to feel loving, strong and happy.  But I would not be doing my job if I presented my way as the only way.

 

WHY NOT?!

One of our central roles as parents is to nurture our children’s natural spirituality so that they may experience guidance and support in their lives.  To do this, we need to help our children to find what works for them, not to copy what works for us.  This is, indeed, a divine assignment!  If we try to “convert” our children to our own style of spirituality, they may follow us because they feel they should but possibly without ever truly connecting with Love/God/The Universe.

The nature of spirituality is that it is felt with our spirits, not intellectualised with our minds.  We, therefore, cannot just present our children with a set of ideas to believe or practices to do.  We need to provide our children with a range of view-points and ways to practise – opportunities for their spirits to find what helps them to connect.

 

MY TRUTH VS THE TRUTH

Here’s a distinction that I made recently in a moment of quiet while brushing my teeth one hectic morning.  My truth is what works for me.  My truth points me in the direction of the truth, though it could turn out to be less accurate than the truth.

Truth resonates.

If something resonates with our soul, it’s going to work for us.  That resonation is Spirit leading us along our path.  Each person is wired differently so our ways of understanding and connecting with Life will differ.  Even beliefs that turn out to be “false” may serve our spiritual path. Being “right” is less important than connecting.  The intention to love and be loved is enough.

When all’s said and done, all roads lead to the same end. So it’s not so much which road you take, as how you take it. – Charles de Lint

 

SO WHAT CAN I PASS ON, THEN?

What we can pass onto our children is a commitment to their own true path and an openness to others’.  We can steer them inwards to help them recognise their truth.  I have started guiding my son to use what “feels good/right” as his compass of sorts in life.  It can be applied to so many things, including the way he treats others, the way he spends his time and the way he experiences his spirituality.  I am directing him to look inward, rather than to me.

Our own point-of-view isn’t irrelevant, though.  We can share it without insisting on it.  We can invite our children to join in with us so that they may try our beliefs and practices on for size.  My boys are only 3 and 6 years old so they take what I say as truth right now.  But I know that won’t last forever! – and I look forward to exploring other ideas and being spiritual adventurers together.  I’m willing to explore with them things that don’t personally work for me too.  It is important for my boys to see that my heart is open, always ready to grow some more and always respectful of other people’s perspective.

 

IN SUMMARY – SHINE THE LIGHT ON THEIR PATH

Spirituality is a personal experience.  It is guided by internal resonance, by Love.  We need to respect our children’s unique life journey and support them by shining the light on their path, not our own.  I am excited about my boys finding a spirituality that works for them and brings them love, strength and joy as mine does for me.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

PS – How do you feel about not “passing on” your spirituality to your children?  Comment below.

 

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Co-Operation Instead of Control

I came across Christina Fletcher of Spiritually Aware Parenting online, through our shared passion for seeing children thrive mind, body and spirit.  Her website is full of great resources for parents wanting to honour and nurture their children’s spirituality.  When Christina invited me to contribute this guest blog post, I was thrilled to be part of her great work.

 

Here in New Zealand, teachers at early childhood centres and schools encourage children to use the phrase “stop it, I don’t like” as a clear and respectful way to stand up for themselves when needed.  So, I have taught my boys (aged 2 and 5) to use this phrase with one another at home.  One morning, I heard my eldest saying “stop it, I don’t like it”, repeatedly.  His brother obviously wasn’t listening to him so I went over to investigate what was going on.  It turned out my son was talking to me!
“What am I doing that you don’t like?” I asked, incredulously.
“You’re being bossy”. I was told.

And I was.  It was a humbling reminder that I had strayed from my intentions to collaborate with my boys rather than insist on unquestioned compliance.  When we demand compliance from our children, we silence their voice and teach them to bow to the expectations others have of them.  On the other hand, when we recruit our children’s co-operation, we teach them to value the needs and wants of themselves and others equally.  They develop a sense of their power to impact their own lives and others’ in positive ways.

I believe we are spiritual equals with our children.  I don’t think we have the right to thoughtlessly dish out instructions and expect them to do everything we say.  Sure, there are occasions when our children just have to do as they are told, perhaps for safety or practical reasons, but we have to respect their needs and wants as much as our own.  As a parent, I also want to teach my boys to regard everybody’s needs and wants equally themselves.

The way I parent, including the way I get my boys to do what I need them to do, is an important part of teaching them to value everybody equally and to approach life with a collaborative spirit.  Being bossy is not a part of this!  Here are some of the things I do to enlist their co-operation rather than enforce compliance –

I ask my children for help rather than instruct and demand.  For example, our Wednesday mornings are particularly busy as my husband leaves home early for a breakfast meeting. Things need to go smoothly in order for my boys and I to get out the door in time.  So, over breakfast, I tell them that I find it hard doing everything without Daddy’s help and ask them to please help me by being especially quick with their morning tasks.  It’s a team effort and, lately, we’ve been running early on Wednesday mornings.

I thank more than I praise.  When one of my boys has done something that is helpful to me, instead of praising (eg. “Good boy”), I offer a sincere thank you (eg. “I really appreciate you getting the mail, I already had my hands full”).  Showing appreciation acknowledges their giving heart.  Praise only affirms that they did what I wanted them to.

I acknowledge spontaneous co-operation.  Doesn’t it make your heart swell to see your children thinking of and serving others of their own accord?  My youngest often finds my things around the house and brings them to me in case I might need them.  I give him a big hug of thanks for his thoughtfulness.

I get my children to do chores.  In our house, chores are unpaid.  They are an opportunity for my boys to co-operate and help with the smooth-running of the house.  If my son doesn’t set the table, for example, we can’t eat. The natural consequences of co-operation are far more enjoyable than the natural consequences of not helping.  My boys see and experience the fruits of their labour.

I co-operate with my children too.  Co-operation is a two-way street and my example is one of my best parenting tools.  I help my eldest to find the missing Lego piece he needs.  Sometimes, I change my plans around to accommodate a playdate he has requested.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent. – John Donne

Apart from being a respectful way to get our children to do what we need them to, a spirit of co-operation in the family helps them to see the big picture – they are a part of humanity and everyone’s behaviour impacts on the other people around them.  They learn that, when people co-operate, it makes a positive difference for everyone involved.  Co-operating also helps our children to see that they have something to contribute, giving them a sense of their own worth and everybody else’s.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Good Parents Have a Life Too! (Child-Led is Not Child-Centred)

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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What is Spiritual Parenting?

This post was first published as a guest post on the blog at kidsmindbodyspirit.com.  Kids Mind Body Spirit is an online directory of holistic services and resources for children, parents and educators.  It is based in Australia and there are hopes of expanding into other regions of the world too, including New Zealand!

 

“What is spiritual parenting?” – Well, that’s a big question?! Ultimately, we must each answer it for ourselves but I’d like to share my definition with you in the hope that it might help you to clarify yours.

 

THE PURPOSE OF SPIRITUAL PARENTING

For me, spiritual parenting is parenting with the intention to empower our children to be the unique individuals they are intended to be. This definition rests on my belief that we are all spiritual beings who come here to Earth with a purpose – a contribution to make and lessons to learn. It is when we are aligned with our purpose that we truly thrive. I want my boys to fulfil their souls’ purpose and I want them to thrive so spiritual parenting is an obvious choice for me.

Letting Go of Other Intentions

The first step of spiritual parenting may be the hardest. It is to put aside our own agendas to allow the divine agendas for our children to unfold. These are some of the intentions we may need to let go of –

  • for our children to be who we wish we could be eg. “I want him to be more confident than I am”.
  • for our children to be mini versions of ourselves eg. “She’s going to be a piano player like I am”.
  • for our children to be socially-acceptable eg. “If he doesn’t play sport, he’ll never fit in with the other boys”.
  • for our children to be our trophies eg. “Everyone will think I’m a great parent because she has perfect manners”.

Once we have released these kinds of motives, we quickly realise that our intention to support our children in being the people they were divinely intended to be affects almost everything! This morning, I took my youngest to kindy dressed in his Paw Patrol pyjamas and my eldest to school in the same clothes he wore yesterday…and the day before. I had to leave my ego (which fears judgement and craves approval) at home. This appears to be a relatively inconsequential example but these everyday choices to allow our children to be who they really are show them that we value and encourage their truth.

 

HOW TO DO SPIRITUAL PARENTING

Having prioritised our children’s authenticity, we can turn our attention towards how to help them be themselves. The biggest part of this is to honour and nurture their spirituality. Our spiritual connection with Life helps us to make the best choices for ourselves. Faith gives us the courage and strength to live out the guidance we receive. If our  children know how to receive spiritual guidance and support, they will more easily find and follow their own unique paths.

At first, I wasn’t confident I was up to this task as I felt I was still early on my own spiritual path. But one thing that made it less daunting was to remember this – children arrive spiritually aligned. So it’s not that we need to teach them to “be spiritual” but to find ways to maintain their natural spirituality.

There is no fixed way to do this. My approach is to explore together and follow my children’s lead. I believe they will show me what they need and what resonates with them if I am paying attention.

We can invite our children to join in with our own spiritual practices & beliefs but must remember that the real goal is to help them to find what works for them.

For example, I like to begin my day with prayer. Sometimes I don’t get to pray first thing so I invite my son to join me in prayer as we drive to school. We call it our “morning prayer”. I use the same words each time I say it, perhaps adding in details relevant to the day ahead. My son likes to listen and join in with the “Amen”. One day, he might choose to say the prayer himself, using the simple script I’ve created or his own words.

 

IN SUMMARY: HIGH INTENTIONS & ORDINARY MOMENTS

The phrase “spiritual parenting” can sound a bit lofty but it is not perfect parenting. There are plenty of times when my family’s behaviour (including my own) is decidedly “unspiritual”. Spiritual parenting is everyday and practical – we’re all dealing with dirty nappies, squabbling siblings, hectic mornings and poor table manners, no matter what our intentions! Spiritual parenting is deciding to use the ordinary moments to find out more about our children and show them how to bring forthwho they truly are each time. Begin with a big, open heart and you’ve made a great start!

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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