Is “Keeping Up” Keeping Our Children Down?

 

It’s nearly 3pm and, at schools around the country, parents stand outside classrooms in small groups, chatting as they wait for their children to come out of class.  I am one of the waiting parents and I have noticed that there’s topic of conversation that comes up repeatedly – our children’s after school schedules.  We list off swimming lessons, rugby practices, art classes, play dates… and commiserate over how busy our children are and the effort it is to ferry them around as well as getting dinner on the table and making sure homework gets done.  Many, parents and children alike, seem to spend their afternoons rushing around and, by the end of the week, are ragged.

Once the kids come out from class, I watch a number of them drag their feet as they dawdle behind their parent, who is making a beeline for the car and urging them to “hurry up, we need to get to ballet”.  The kids can’t keep up literally or spiritually.  The reality of going to ballet every Thursday afternoon isn’t as exciting as it had seemed when they were begging Mum to sign them up, especially after having soccer on Monday, piano lessons on Tuesday and a playdate with Rebecca on Wednesday.

Why do we put our kids (and ourselves) through this?  Here are some of the things I hear parents saying –

“He wants to do all these activities”.
“It’s good for her to learn new skills”.
“The afternoons are so long when the kids don’t have something to do”.

Are any of these really good reasons for exhausting ourselves and our kids?

I think the variety of after school activities available to our children is great but I also think our children need us to pace them, like a pacer might for a marathon runner.  It’s like when they order the enormous piece of chocolate cake at the cafe but only manage to eat half of it – they couldn’t judge in advance how much they could eat.  If we set up a lifestyle of constant doing and achieving for our kids, they will come to believe that they must always be “productive” in some way.  They will go into adulthood overstretching themselves and not really enjoying any of what they do because they’re too tired trying to keep up with the lifestyle and expectations that have been created for them.

Overscheduling is symptomatic of our attitudes and isn’t the only pressure that we, as a society, are putting our kids under.  There are many other ways that our children experience the expectation to keep doing, to achieve and to keep up too –  anxiety from their parents & teachers to do well at school, complex dynamics within their peer group to negotiate, time spent on devices playing addictive games & subject to the impossible standards of social media, bedrooms overcrowded with more toys & gadgets than they can use…  All these things have a place when well managed but, they also all take a child away from him or her self.  A day crowded with activities, expectations and material things doesn’t allow our children time to know who they truly are.

Because, it is knowing who we are without our schedules, our achievements, our things and, even, our relationships, that is our source of peace. 

I watched a very candid, thought-provoking documentary on Netflix this week called Not Alone in which a young woman who had lost her best friend to suicide as a teen interviewed other teens who had experienced depression and suicidal thoughts.  At the end of the documentary, the teens spoke about what they were doing to find peace and move forward.  They all mentioned things that were essentially about knowing and being their true selves – talk therapy, meditation and doing activities they deeply enjoyed, for example.  These things had been missing from their lives previously.

One thing I noticed about the teens who spoke so openly in Not Alone was that they had been tuning in to the wrong things for their sense of self.  Things that, in the end, sent them spiraling downwards – the expectations of their parents & teachers, trying to fit in with their peers, careless comments & dishonestly perfect images on social media feeds… It seemed that, if they had had a greater sense of themselves, they may have had more perspective and possibly avoided getting sucked into the black hole of comparison. It was in trying to “keep up” in some way that most of them had found themselves spiraling downwards.

 

WHAT WE CAN DO TO MANAGE THE PRESSURE ON OUR CHILDREN

I often hear reports that anxiety, depression and self-harm among teenagers is rising and showing up at an earlier age, even in children who are still single-digit by age.  This weighs heavily on my heart – we used to think of teenagers as vibrant, optimistic, carefree young people but, instead, they are crumbling because society has created for them a lifestyle that feels impossible to keep up with.  We’re all responsible.  I’m sure there are things we parents can do while our children are young to nurture a perspective and a lifestyle that supports a sense of self strong enough to withstand some of the inevitable pressure.  Here are some of the things I try to do for  my boys with that end in mind –

  • Pace their activities – I leave time in our schedule for doing nothing in particular.  My boys savour a day at home in the weekend – playing, pottering, doing whatever they feel like in the moment.  Every child will have a different appetite for stimulation & activity and we need to be tuned in enough to find the right balance for them.
  • Encourage them to do things simply for the fun of it, without evaluating or measuring their achievement.
  • Introduce them to meditative & mindful activities Here’s a post I wrote about how I’m doing that.
  • Have conversations that help them to know and express themselves eg. to explore and share what they really think and feel about things so that they can make good decisions for themselves, based on what they think, not what others think.
  • Provide an example – show my boys an example of how to live a well-paced life, in which I put my sense of who I am at the centre of my life rather than other people’s expectations.  (This is the most difficult one for me)

 

CONCLUSION

The message that our children have to be working all the time (to achieve a goal, improve a skill, appear positively to others and generally keep up) is setting them up not for the happiness we expect but a sense of constantly having to prove themselves.  Of, course, we are intending to give our children a “good start in life” but we’re often coming from a place of fear (eg. fear of our kids not fitting in or fear of them not being successful in life).  It’s fear which we end up passing on to them.

Reaching for goals needs to be tempered with stepping back to get perspective and to rest.  Being overscheduled during the primary years is a step onto the treadmill of always doing and never being.  Being themselves.  I’d rather my boys were happily themselves than unhappily keeping up.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Is What I Feed My Kids a Spiritual Issue?

Over the past month, I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of sugar in my family’s diet.  I don’t think our sugar consumption has been massive compared with what most people regard as “normal” but, compared with World Health Organisation guidelines, it was.  I’m not overhauling the way we eat entirely, just trying to increase our vegies and find healthy swaps for some of the foods we eat.

With my family’s health at stake, I have been doing a lot of research on healthy eating (listening to “experts” speak on YouTube video while preparing dinner).  Apparently, almost none of the food supplied to us is good to eat, putting some kind of strain on our bodies that they aren’t designed for.  There is someone to warn us of the health risks of almost everything we eat, including the polyunsaturated oils we’ve been told to use instead of saturated fats, inorganic plant & animal products, alternative sweeteners and, even, wholegrains.  Most of the health concerns around these foods boil down to the fact that almost all of our food is interfered with in some way.  I have concluded that just about everything I buy at the supermarket poses a health risk and, without the budget or time to source healthy alternatives, I don’t know what to feed my family anymore.  And then there are the ethical and sustainability issues!

I have been feeling exasperated and, even, angry that I can’t trust our food sources.  The quality of my family’s food feels largely out of my control unless I move the family to a farm and we grow all our food (organically) ourselves.  This is not an option for me as I struggled so much with our small home veggie patch that I pulled it out and turned it into a play garden– I’m better at nurturing children than plants.

To complicate things even further, because our minds, bodies and spirits are so closely connected, the way we eat also feels like a spiritual issue to me.

 

WHAT MY CHILDREN EAT IS A SPIRITUAL ISSUE BECAUSE…

…it affects their spiritual connection. When our bodies are struggling to cope in some way with what we’ve eaten, our minds aren’t clear enough to be able to tune in to Spirit.  To illustrate my point – imagine trying to meditate when your blood-sugars have plummeted and you need something to eat, when you’re feeling jittery from too much coffee or when your stomach feels sore because it’s struggling to digest something your body doesn’t like.  At these times, we’re too preoccupied by our bodies’ needs to be able to tune into our spiritual needs.  Our children’s natural spiritual connection can be compromised when their diets lack nutrition or their bodies are stressed.

…it impacts our environment and animals.  We are closely connected with the environment and all other beings in a spiritual way.  I know that the impacts of getting food to my table are far-reaching and often compromise the environment and animals.  All these issues came up for me again recently when my son, Jake, and I were discussing how  the meat we eat comes from animals.  He was asking me a lot about the process of how an animal becomes his favourite macaroni-and-mince dish, concerned about the animal getting hurt.  His final question was, “Do you think that’s right (to kill animals to eat)?”  I replied that animals in the wild have to hunt and eat other animals in order to survive but that I’m really not sure if it’s ok for us to do the same.  We’re sitting on this question… and many others.

…good health helps them to live full lives.  I want to see my children have the energy and wellness to enjoy their lives, to contribute to others’ and to live their spiritual purpose.  If the way they are eating compromises their health, they can’t do these things.  Simple as that.

 

WHAT MY CHILDREN EAT IS NOT A SPIRITUAL ISSUE BECAUSE…

…there are only so many hours in a day.  I don’t have time to grow, raise, harvest and butcher our food as well as cook it from scratch to make sure it is all perfectly healthy, sustainable and ethical.  I don’t even have time to trapse from shop to shop to source ingredients which have a clear conscience.  My weekly trip to the supermarket is already quite the label-reading mission – if I don’t take my boys with me, it can take 20 minutes just to get down the first aisle.

…healthy food often costs more.   Most healthy foods are not mass-produced like the food I get at the supermarket is and are, therefore, more expensive.  Economically, I understand the reasons for that and I sincerely want independent farmers etc to thrive – but my wallet does not.

…something is better than nothing, surely.  Here, I refer to the general fussiness of children when it comes to their food.  Did you know that young children are biologically wired to be sceptical of new foods and have strong sensory responses to food that often put them off, as well as a natural sweet-tooth? Food fussiness is a whole other post but my approach is to serve up a mixture of healthy foods and foods they will actually eat.  I don’t want them to go to bed hungry, unable to sleep because they wouldn’t eat anything on their plate.  To put some pasta with dinner gives us all a better sleep, despite it being deficient in nutrition and environmentally unsound.

 

A SOLUTION – 3 STEPS

I fret about my boys’ food for so many reasons.  To add the spiritual implications to the mix adds to the load of concerns to wade through. Before I had children, I couldn’t have imagined that feeding them would be so difficult. But, I tout my blog as practical spiritual parenting so let’s be realistic about this.  This is what I’m going to do to make it a little easier –

  1. Decide which concerns are the most important. For some, it might be reducing sugar. For others, it might be eating ethically-sourced food.  For many, it might be keeping the family afloat financially and stretching the grocery dollar as far as it goes.  Trying to tick every box would make feeding our families an enormous stress and a full-time job.
  2. Accept what we decide not to do. With acceptance, we don’t need to feel guilty about the less-than-ideal food choices we make for our children, knowing we have focussed on our priorities.  Remembering that it isn’t possible to tick every box helps too.
  3. Eat mindfully. In our family we begin meals by saying grace.  Enjoying our food is another way of appreciating it and valuing all the labour and sacrifice involved in getting it to our plates.

 

IN SUMMARY – MY LAST SUGGESTION

Feeding our children can become a source of stress for many parents.  There’s fussiness, meal-time battles and emotional eating behaviours to deal with.  Having bigger issues like health, sustainability, ethics and spirituality to also take into consideration can feel like too much at times.  My final piece of advice, based on my own efforts to reduce my family’s sugar intake, is this – once you’ve decided on your priorities, make small, incremental changes to keep things manageable and to keep your children on-board.  For example, the first changes I made to reduce my family’s sugar intake was to switch afternoon tea to savoury foods – raw veggies, cheese, nuts and crackers instead of fruit and baking – and to reduce the amount of sugar in recipes.  All the best!

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Joyful Kids – The Spiritual Value of Joy

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,

 

 

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Sleeping is a Spiritual Practice

One night last weekend, I had to get up to Thomas (3-years-old) so many times I lost count.  I just couldn’t figure out what he needed and he didn’t seem to know either.  When I heard him call out again at 3:34am, it was almost physically impossible for me to open my eyes, which only wanted to sleep.  Once I’d managed to rouse myself, I decided I was going to cover all possibilities to secure Thomas and I both at least a couple of hours of unbroken sleep before it was time to get up.  So, I fetched him a drink and a snack, added another blanket to his bed, gave him another cuddle and even measured out a dose of paracetamol thinking “this is so unlike him, he must be sick”.  It worked for him but all that activity had woken me up and I took another hour to get back to sleep.  The next day, I was hopeless.

I cried over a disagreement between my husband and I – we weren’t even arguing, we just had different points of view.  I couldn’t muster up any energy or enthusiasm to play with my boys.  My patience was paper-thin and I became that shouty parent I wrote about in my post “WHY AM I SHOUTING AT MY CHILDREN?!” All my respectful parenting strategies went out the window and I resorted to the path of least resistance to get my boys’ co-operation – bribery.  My brain felt mushy and my body felt like a heavy bag of bones.  My inner resources had leaked away along with my sleep.

 

A BRIEF LESSON ON THE PURPOSE OF SLEEP

We often think of sleep as largely a physical need but it is a lot more than that.  Sleep is for the renewal of all parts of ourselves – body, mind and spirit.  When sleeping, our bodies don’t have to move beyond their survival functions and natural rhythms.  When sleeping, our minds don’t have to perform conscious actions.  When we’re awake, the physical needs of our bodies and noise of our thoughts can interfere with our connection to Spirit because they are more obvious and hard to ignore.  But, when we are asleep, they are quieter so our souls can more easily connect with and receive spiritual energy and, therefore, be regenerated too. 

This is why “sleeping on” a problem can be so helpful.  Through sleeping, our soul gets a chance to be heard and offer its intuitive solution.  We are often also more creative after sleep.  I write these blog posts first thing in the morning because that’s when ideas and words come most easily to me.  It is also why there is a healing quality to sleep.  When I was depressed, I would take to my bed.  Not just to escape from the world but because the break from having to function gave my spirit some refreshment.

“The process of truly becoming yourself takes a lot of energy and this energy can be replenished during naps”. – SARK, Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed

 

GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP FOR ALL THE FAMILY

Generally, I fall apart if I don’t get at least 7 hours of good sleep.  As a result, I have always been very protective of my boys’ sleep, not wanting them to suffer from lack of it.  As babies, it was straight to bed as soon as I saw their tired signs (once I figured out which of all my baby’s peculiar little movements were actually “tired signs”).  I wasn’t willing to go out for a day and make do with letting them doze in their capsule or buggy because it compromised the quality of their sleep.  I have always tried to prioritise and optimise their day naps and night sleeps because it’s so essential to their well-being.  (And mine – every parent knows the suffering an overtired child can inflict!)  Experiencing true sleep deprivation for the first time as a parent, I also realised I need to prioritise my own sleep.

Fortunately, my long night of getting up with Thomas was during the weekend and my husband was home.  So, in the afternoon, when I could barely haul myself out of my chair, I plodded up the stairs to my bed and I had a nap.  In her book, Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed, SARK includes permission slips to take naps.  I was so grateful when I first saw these.  I always feel guilty about deserting my family for nap-land but I do it when I need to because it is essential.  When I got up after an hour of dozing that afternoon, I made a lemon pudding for desert and played Lego with Jake.  I was restored.

I doubt there is a parent out there who can’t relate to that overwhelmed, can’t-function feeling of sleep deprivation, at least from the newborn days.  But, if your exhaustion doesn’t come so much from lack of sleep as it does from being busy and over-committed, I implore you, too, to sleep-in or take a nap when you need it.  Sometimes we wear our busyness like badges of honour – we must be important if people are relying on us to do all these things – but we’re miserable and we make those around us miserable too when we’re under-slept.

 

IN SUMMARY – A PRESCRIPTION OF SLEEP-INS & AFTERNOON NAPS

The title of this post may have seemed tongue-in-cheek at first but it’s not.  When we’re tired, any energy we have (physical, mental and spiritual) is used up on simply surviving and there is none left to be our best selves.  We want to be patient and kind and wise and all those sorts of things as parents – and just as people – but these can be near-on impossible when we’re sleep deprived.  Our bodies, minds and spirits are all beautifully connected and they all need plenty of sleep.

Let’s teach our children to take care of themselves by having sleep-ins and naps through example.  We could even nap with our children on Saturday afternoons.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Is Screen Time Really Bad for My Kids?

Giving our children screen time is something we parents can feel uneasy about sometimes.  Seeing my boys staring at a screen in that zoned-out state makes me uncomfortable.  The media regularly reports on research that shows screen time can contribute to attention issues, obesity and violent behaviour, among other things.  I take all this on board but I am of the opinion that there is very little in life that is all bad or all good.  Most things have the potential to be both and it’s how we use them that is important.

The reality is that our children have been born into a screen-centric era.  Technology is used to communicate, entertain, do business and so many other things.  I think it is less important to raise our children screen-free than it is to raise them screen-savvy.  Use of technology is unavoidable and as parents, we need to teach them to use it thoughtfully.

My boys, aged 3 and 5, only watch children’s programs.  They don’t play games because they’ve never asked and I’ve never shown them.  Sometimes, I’ll search the internet with my eldest because there’s something he’s interested to find out, – such as, the answer to a question that arose at school, or how much pocket money he needs to save for the Lego set he has his eye on.  Since my boys are so young, I perhaps haven’t encountered yet some of the issues you may have if your children are older.  Even so, I hope today to offer food for thought to help you determine whether the attitudes and behaviour around screentime in your home are right for your family or need adjusting.

 

GOOD USE OF SCREEN TIME

So, here are some of the good reasons for children to have screen time, taking into account the needs of the whole family.

The child is at ‘breaking point’ in some way.  When I can see that one of my boys is exhausted and struggling to cope, I find a bit of screen time gives him a chance to rest physically and a break from coping with the day.

The parent is at ‘breaking point’ in some way.   When I’m feeling that my resources for coping with my boys have run out (perhaps because I’m underslept or they’ve been bickering all day), screentime can give me a break to make sure I don’t take my mood out on my children.  (This relates to a recent post, Why Am I Shouting At My Children?!)

For enjoyment.  Amongst all the motivations we have for our parenting decisions, we can at times forget that enjoyment is important too.  I love to cry over Long Lost Family and my boys love to join in with all the Paw Patrol songs and catchphrases.

For the parent to get stuff done.  This is a practical one, especially for those with younger children.  When I’m packing for our family to go away on holiday, for example, I find it almost impossible to get done with the boys around so they might get a bit more screentime than usual.

As a practical motivator.  In the mornings, my boys are allowed to watch tv once they are completely ready for school or kindy, including bags packed and shoes ready at the door.  It provides incentive to keep them moving so we can get out the door in time.  I think screen time should be used for mutual advantage when possible.

As a point of discussion.  Programs and movies especially provide good material for discussion and we can talk with our children about them just as we might when reading them a story.  The possibilities are endless.   For example, we can discuss characters’ motivations & emotions, ask our children what they would’ve done in the same situation or which character they would want to be friends with & why.  As they get older and are using the internet & social media there will be lots to discuss about how to determine if information is valid, what advertising is trying to do and how to use social media positively (but this is a whole other post!).

 

REASONS NOT TO USE SCREENTIME

Before I write this list, I put my hand up to doing every single one of them…more than once.

To avoid dealing with difficult behaviour.  Needing a break sometimes is one thing but avoiding dealing with real issues is another.  Sometimes getting to the bottom of our children’s difficult behaviour or sibling arguments can feel too hard and we know a bit of screen time would diffuse the situation for now.  But, for a long-term solution, we have to figure out what’s happening and provide the necessary guidance for our children.

To soothe an upset child.  Sometimes I find it hard to deal with my youngest’s emotions because he doesn’t have the language to explain all that’s going on for him.  It is tempting to turn the tv on to distract him and allow his emotions to settle.  But, by doing this, I teach him to avoid his emotions.  I don’t want to teach my boys to soothe or distract themselves with the screen (or other things like food).  Our emotions are important indicators of what’s going on for us and I want my boys to have the strength to face theirs.

Instead of play, physical activity and quiet time.  I’ve heard it said that play is the work of childhood.  It has so many benefits to all aspects of a child’s development – physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual.  No one can argue that screen time isn’t sedentary (that’s often part of the appeal!) so it needs to be balanced with activity.  I also think it is essential for children to have quiet time alone each day to connect with themselves for their spiritual well-being  (see my post Just Be: Presence and Stillness)  Screen time should be as well as these things, not instead of them.  If our children are bored, it is not the time to turn the tv on but to encourage one of these things.

 

TIPS FOR MANAGING SCREEN TIME

It’s all very well to be clear about when we’re happy for our children to have screen time and when we’re not but we parents are just one side of the equation.  Our children have their own intentions around screen time and they often don’t match ours.  This can result in some difficult behaviour.  This is what works in our house…for now.

Have clear guidelines for when and how long children can have screen time.  When the rules are clear, consistent and fair, there is less arguing over them, the children just accept them.  My boys are allowed screen time twice a day for 30 minutes at a time.  I expect this to change as they get older.

No fussing allowed when it’s time to turn the screen off.  We used to have loud whining, stamping and crying whenever it was time to turn the tv off and I dreaded having to announce that time was up.  So I explained to my son how unpleasant & disrespectful his behaviour was and asked him not to do it.  He kept doing it so I introduced a new rule – if you fuss when it’s time to turn the tv off, there’s no tv the next day.  He missed out once…no fussing since.

Monitor the content and how it impacts our children’s behaviour.  When my eldest discovered Star Wars, he started wanting to watch it.  I’ve never let him watch a real Star Wars movie but I figured the Lego Star Wars movies would be child-suitable.  Well, they weren’t suitable for him.  After watching them, every interaction with his poor little brother was a reinactment of what he had seen.  He made violent threats, rough and tumble got too rough and he wasn’t respecting his brother’s requests for him to stop.  We gave him the chance to improve his behaviour but he didn’t so he’s no longer allowed to watch Lego Star Wars.

Be the example of moderation.   Nothing speaks louder to our children than our example.  If they see us glued to our screens, unable to get out attention, they will consider that the norm.

 

IN SUMMARY: KEEPING SCREEN TIME IN PERSPECTIVE

I wrote this post because I don’t think we need to feel bad about screen time in our homes but we need to be intentional about it.  My intention is for my boys to be able to use technology as one of many tools for enjoyment and learning in their lives.  Because they are young right now, I mostly manage their screen time for them but, as they get older, I hope they will develop an attitude that helps them to manage it positively for themselves.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Home Sweet Home – A Place for Our Souls

My boys are always glad to be home.  Jake loves the prospect of a whole day at home, which we manage on the occasional weekend.  Even after a fun outing that they wished would never end, they are both happy to arrive home.  In fact, they argue over who gets to open the front door and be the first inside.  Our house does have a pleasant, homely feel but it’s nothing out-of-the-ordinary.  The kitchen needs updating and the carpet is threadbare in some places.  We’ve made little effort to decorate because it makes sense to wait until the boys are older and gentler on the house.  Watching Jake and Thomas squabble over opening the front door one afternoon, I wondered, “What makes our house their beloved home?”   And “could the way we organise and use our homes have any impact on our children’s spiritual well-being?”  The more I considered it, the more I realised there are lots of ways the physical environment of our house supports connection to love in our family.  Here are some of the aspects that can make a house a spiritual home of sorts –

 

Home allows for the mess of life and some order too  As a child, I observed how house-proud older generations of women in my family were.  If a visitor was expected, there would be a flurry of cleaning & tidying in the hours before they arrived.  When I moved into my first flat, I was the same way.  However, having children has put a lot of perspective on things for me, including housework, and it has been a happy slide down to an easier place of “clean and tidy enough”.  (Tip: I have found that if I leave housework long enough, I suddenly feel motivated to do it!)  When I get the odd spare moment, I’m now more likely to do something important like play with my boys or sit for 10 minutes with a coffee than to whip around with the vacuum cleaner.  As well as giving myself a break, I am showing my boys the importance of joy & rest – vital in a busy-bee world.  It is also one of the many small ways I try to provide an alternative to the strong social message that we should aim for perfection in all things.  I try not to refuse Jake and Thomas’ requests for messy activities because of the clean-up they’ll require.  The sensory nature of painting and water play make them great ways for children to be present and to have fun – important spiritual practices.  I want them to feel free to play as they wish at home.

The pendulum hasn’t swung entirely in the other direction, though.  We have our own sense of order about the house.  For example, there are certain spots for temporary dumping as an alternative to leaving things anywhere around the house.  We are fortunate to have a playroom and it is the designated space for building train tracks and tipping out the blocks. Shoes go away as soon as we arrive home.  Without order, life becomes more difficult – tripping over toys, standing on Lego (ouch!) and wasting time looking for lost items.  When life has some order and is physically easier, we feel more ease within ourselves.

 

Home contains spaces for connecting with others  For me, one aspect of spirituality is connecting with others.  We learn to truly love through our interactions with each other.   Much of the joy we experience in life is through time spent with others.  The first people children experience this connection with are those they share their home with, likely their family.  Having spaces that encourage spending time together is important.  In our home, the dining table is a sacred space for connecting at meal times.  All art supplies and toy trucks are cleared away.  We don’t say grace and begin eating until everyone is seated.  As much as is possible with a toddler at the table, we focus on being together.  My husband and I have also made a number of changes to our outdoor space to make it more inviting for hanging out together.  We’ve removed a deck to create more run-around space, built a simple treehouse and turned the vege patch into a play garden (we couldn’t give the poor veges the attention they needed).   My husband involved Jake & Thomas in the building of the treehouse and I loved watching them all working on it together.  We use the outside space in many ways to relax & play together.

 

Home contains spaces for connecting with ourselves  Ideally, each person in the house would have their own space.  Jake and Thomas are fortunate enough to each have their own bedroom.  I have noticed that, after a day at school, the first thing Jake does is go to his room by himself.  He puts his favourite hoody on and plays with his favourite toys, books and objects, which are kept in his room.  This down time has so many spiritual benefits (see my post Just Be – Presence and Stillness) and I respect my boy’s bedrooms as their own.  Jake was about 4 when he started spending time in his room other than just to sleep and I sensed it was becoming an important space to him.  At that point, I began knocking if the door was closed and waiting for his consent before going in.  I do not nag my boys to tidy their rooms, although I may ask them to do one quick job to keep on top of things (eg. put their clothes away before watching tv).  By seeing me respect their space, I hope they’ll learn to value time spent on their own and to allow others their own time & space.  They’re still learning – I often write this blog in bed in the mornings and they know not to interrupt me…but still come charging in, wanting my attention.  We’ll get there.

 

We share the work around our home  By each contributing to the care of our home and the routines of life within it, I am hoping Jake and Thomas will develop an attitude of collaboration.  In a world that often feels more competitive than co-operative, our children need a place to learn the value of their contribution to the bigger picture.  I believe humans are designed to collaborate in life & that everyone has a valuable part to play.   Our house is a perfect place to practise living according to these beliefs.  Jake has weeded between the paving stones.  Thomas has watered the garden.  They do chores around the house.  Two-year-olds seem wired to help and imitate adults at work so Thomas is always keen.  Jake can take a bit of coaxing but I can see a sense of satisfaction on his face when the job is done.

 

Our home can be a gallery of our values, memories and heart-treasures   As I’ve said, we’ve not yet decorated our home but I look forward to doing so.  I think the things we display around our homes can give messages to our children about what we value.  For us, we value other people for the exchanges of love and joy we have with them.  In our home, we have displayed photographs of my children and their extended family.   Their Great- Grandad’s clock sits on the bookshelf in the lounge, even though it doesn’t work.  Their Great-Nan’s wall plate with the dog painted on it is hung by the kitchen.  In my post A Better Way to Teach Values, I suggested my idea of displaying the words “The Golden Rule” in golden writing somewhere around our home.  It would be a bit of an eye-sore but I think it would be a great reminder of the importance of treating others with love, respect and compassion.  I figure that, when they’re teenagers and not listening to me so much anymore, the things around our home will remind Jake and Thomas of what’s important.

 

IN SUMMARY: HOME AS OUR SANCTUARY

I love the idea of our homes being our sanctuaries.   They may not look like sanctuaries – DIY half-finished, crumbs under the table, piles of unfolded washing… but they can still be places of spiritual learning and joy for ourselves and our children.  I don’t like to create a separation between “our home” and “the real world”, I hope there is cross-over, but perhaps our home can provide some vision for the kind of world my boys can hope to be part of creating.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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JUST BE – Presence and Stillness

BABIES: THE BEST LESSON IN JUST BEING

Before having Jake, I lived a tightly-scheduled life.  It was a fine balance trying to “keep all the balls in the air”.  At that point, I had a sense that life wasn’t meant to be lived with so much structure and so much to do but I didn’t dare drop a ball.  Then Jake came along.  As a baby, he didn’t nap for more than 40 minutes at a time and, when he wasn’t sleeping, he constantly wanted to be held – by someone who was standing up and not in a front pack or sling.  A day spent standing up with a baby over my shoulder was exhausting.  But worse than that was the incredible frustration of not being able to get anything done.  Sometimes he’d fall asleep on me while feeding.  I didn’t dare move him incase he woke but I’d feel stuck, angry even, that he wasn’t in his cot so I could use his nap time to do something.  (On retrospect, maybe God was trying to give me some rest!)  Many of the balls I had been juggling promptly fell to the ground and I felt that I was failing.

But, over time, I shifted gears.  It seemed to partly happen on its own, just by being in Jake’s presence.  He was never in a rush or concerned by the dishes stacked on the kitchen bench.   I realised I had to pick which balls to juggle and which to let go of.  Of course, I never dropped the love-and-care-for-my-baby ball but I learned to sometimes let someone else carry it for a while.  I did let go of the regular-contact-with-friends ball and the clean-and-tidy house ball and the keep-fit ball.  All of which I have picked up again as the boys have gotten older and it has seemed more manageable but with far fewer expectations.

Dropping all of these self-imposed obligations created the opportunity to sometimes JUST BE.  I am no longer attached to the madness of constantly doing.  It is an enormous relief and has added such depth to my life.  I enjoy doing puzzles with Thomas and building Lego with Jake without being distracted by things I feel I “should” be doing.  I’d be lying if I said I am always present with them but I am much less torn between BEING with my boys and tasks that need to be done.  I compartmentalise better, trying to give my full attention to whatever is at hand.  I measure my day by the quality of my time, not what I produced.

So, three years after Jake’s birth, I was able to enjoy Thomas’ babyhood a lot more.  It wasn’t easy-breezy, I especially found it hard to meet both of their very different needs at the same time.  But, if Thomas fell asleep on me and Jake was ok, instead of worrying about the housework, I enjoyed JUST BEING with Thomas or listening to an inspirational audio book.  Instead of surrounding Thomas in the anxious energy I had Jake (I’m so sorry Jake), I bathed him in my contentment & peace & joy in him.  It felt like time well-used.

 

WHY WE NEED TO JUST BE

Presence and stillness have so many benefits.  We’ve heard research sited showing that the health of people who regularly spend time in prayer or meditation is better than that of people who don’t.  We know the refreshed and alive feeling we have after taking time to do the thing that absorbs us so much that we loose track of time.   And have you noticed that your best ideas come to you when you’re not trying? Mine usually come to me in the shower or when I’m out on a walk – when I’m quiet enough within to hear the guidance I’m being given.

“Quiet the mind and the soul will speak.” – Eckhart Tolle

JUST BEING is, from my experience, a spiritual practice.  Without the busy noise of our minds, we can feel the energy of Life.  We can sense more easily what it has to say to us.  I want Jake and Thomas to be able to go about their day with presence and to be able to stop at times in order to fill their tanks, reflect & hear the voice of their own spirits.  If they are to be able to live their own truth, our children need to be able to connect with it first and, as their parents, we are the ones to teach them how to do it.
There’s a lot we can do.  There are two things I do at the moment that I think help my children to JUST BE at their young ages (2 and 5 years):
1) Show them, model for them, how to take time to be present and still.
2) Give them unstructured, quiet time to be present and still.

1) Show Them 

I think being a model is one of the most powerful tools we have as parents. If our children watch us constantly busy, not taking time to focus on this moment or to enjoy ourselves, rest and connect with God, they are going to believe that that is how life is lived.  Don’t we want more for them – both in adulthood and in their childhood years?  When they enjoy my undivided attention as we play together or see me take 5 minutes to play the piano or are asked not to disturb me because I’m having “quiet time” in my room, I’m showing them that these practices of JUST BEING have an important place in my day.  They may also notice that, when I don’t do these things, my patience is shorter and I become more preoccupied with my to-dos.  As Jake is getting older, I find myself naturally telling him a bit more about how these habits connect me with myself and God.  (I’ve only been discussing who God is relatively recently so it’s baby steps at the moment)

2) Give them unstructured, quiet time

I have always been very careful to preserve Jake and Thomas’ unstructured, at-home time.  Now in his first term at school, Jake has no after-school activities because my husband and I feel he needs time to rest and not be “on”.  When he’s in his room playing with his Lego, I consider it his spiritual quiet time.  He is present, following his own rhythm, resting his body and mind.  Once he has adjusted to his new life as a school-by, we’ll have more playdates and consider 1 or 2 extra-curricular activities.   If there’s an activity he’s keen to do or we think could be a match for him, we’ll sign him up to have a go.  But, most afternoons he needs to be at home.  From what I have seen, over-scheduling only exhausts children, gives the message that they must do, do, do & achieve, achieve, achieve in life and robs them of their time to connect with themselves & God.

 

CHILDREN WILL SHOW US HOW TO JUST BE

However, this task of teaching a way of life that embraces presence and stillness may not be as big as we think.  Because the best example I have of JUST BEING is my children themselves.  This is their natural state and perhaps our job is more to preserve it than teach it anew.  When I’m rushing to get Thomas to his Mainly Music session and he’s insisting on getting out of the car by himself (so slow!) then discovers the puddle in the gutter, begging to be splashed in, he’s enjoying what’s happening now, not thinking about the time on the clock.
One morning recently, when he was supposed to be getting dressed for school, Jake asked me to watch him “dive” off the sofa into the “sea” to go “scuba diving”.  I took the time to watch his enactment, made an affirming remark and went back to filling the lunchboxes in the kitchen.  A few minutes later, I realised it had gone very quiet out there in the lounge.  Suspicious, I went in to see what was going on.  Jake was still lying on the floor where I had left him.  Knowing he’s been feeling tired since starting school, I said “are you feeling OK, Jake?”  His reply was, “Yes, I’m just sinking”.  It took me a moment to realise that his role play hadn’t finished and he was imagining that he was sinking deeper & deeper into the ocean.  I had been intending to tell him to keep moving, we needed to get to school, but, instead, I left him to it.  For a few minutes, he had disconnected from the busyness of the morning to be present with his creativity & dreams.  My heart sang (and we still got to school on time).

 

STILL WONDERING…

  • Are there any spiritual practices for stillness that I could teach my boys now, suitable for their age?
  • How can I encourage presence in the moment as they get older and their minds are more likely to distract them?
  • How can I put more stillness and presence in my own day as an example to my children and for myself?

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

julie_signature

 

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