Maybe We Should Argue In Front Of The Kids (Sometimes)

Earlier in the year, my husband and I were arguing at the family dinner table.  It wasn’t over anything particularly big, it wasn’t heated and there were no insults or raised voices – we were simply discussing the topic at hand and exchanging our different points of view.  Part-way through, I glanced at my son’s face and noticed that he was looking rather alarmed.  I asked him what was wrong and he said he was worried that my husband and I didn’t like each other anymore because we were arguing.  We assured him that we love each other very much and explained that it’s okay for people not to agree with each other all the time & good to be honest about how we feel, to talk things through.

This made me think that the old adage that parents should never argue in front of their children is, perhaps, not quite right.  If we never argue in front of them, they won’t learn how to argue well.  Without the skills to argue effectively and fairly, they’re more likely to become people who either avoid conflict altogether, leaving unresolved issues to fester, or who, like bulls in a china shop, end up hurting themselves and others when disagreements arise.  It seems to me that children run the risk of losing either their voice or their relationships if they don’t know how to argue kindly and respectfully. 

I don’t think it’s as much a case of we shouldn’t argue in front of the children as we need to make sure we argue well in front of them.  An argument doesn’t have to be a fight.  It doesn’t have to be shouting, stamping and insults.  This list below shows both what a good argument looks like and what our children can learn from it –

 

12 THINGS CHILDREN CAN LEARN FROM A GOOD ARGUMENT

  1. That people see things differently and some degree of arguing is inevitable, normal and okay.
  2. How to manage their own emotions in order to communicate well with another.
  3. How to really listen to and acknowledge another person’s point of view.
  4. How to truly care about the other person’s point of view and ask questions to understand it better.
  5. That their own point of view matters and how to express it with respect.
  6. How to explain their point of view clearly and give reasons for their position.
  7. How to express disagreement with the other respectfully, without insulting them.
  8. How to tolerate someone disagreeing with them or showing emotions such as anger and frustration without taking it personally.
  9. How to reach a solution – eg. compromise, negotiate, back down or “win” graciously.
  10. How to let go rather than carrying a grudge about an unsolved issue or something that doesn’t go their way.
  11. How to apologise sincerely.
  12. How to forgive honestly.

 

WHEN NOT TO ARGUE IN FRONT OF THE KIDS

Of course, if we’re going to argue in front of our children, we need to know that we can handle ourselves and be a good model of the things above.  If we’re feeling triggered and we’re really not sure that we can keep our cool, then, for me, that particular issue needs to be one dealt with in private.  To be the positive example to our kids that we want to be requires a tremendous amount of self-awareness and self-control on our part.

To make it clear, I am not suggesting we fight in front of our children.  I am also not suggesting that we argue about our kids, issues of an adult nature, or big decisions that may make our children feel insecure (such as whether to move house or not) in front of them.

 

CONCLUSION

We humans thrive in honest, caring relationships in which we can express what is within and feel heard by another.  In a good argument, we validate one another, even if our positions on the topic differ.  When we argue well in front of our children, they hear the language, see the attitudes, and absorb the subtleties of respectful arguing.  We give them a model of how to remain connected to another through disagreement.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Parenting is Yoga – Flexibility, Strength & Balance

Being a new mum was just like going to my first yoga class – I didn’t have a clue what to do and everyone else around me seemed to know what they were doing.  Unlike yoga class, though, I couldn’t just do my best for 90 minutes then roll up my mat and leave – the baby was always there!  Reflecting on those new mum days recently made me think about how similar parenting and a yoga class are.  There is no doubt that I have more internal flexibility, strength and balance as a result of being a parent.  So this post is perhaps a little self-indulgent, reflecting on how, like a good yoga class, parenting has developed me.

 

FLEXIBILITY

With any challenge that we face in life, we have two choices – to resist & refuse or to allow & adapt to it.  I began motherhood as a brittle, resisting refuser.  With my first son, I resisted the sleep deprivation of new parenthood, determined that there was something I could do to make my baby get to sleep more quickly and to sleep for longer.  Coming from the world of work where I had to achieve certain things to fulfill the expectations of my role, I felt it was up to me to find a “solution” to the sleep situation.  Of course, that’s a very difficult way to live, especially with babies and young children who have no clue of what their parents’ plans are.  Fortunately, by the time my second son arrived, I had realised this and parenthood had softened me enough that I was much more able to accept his newborn sleep patterns and adapt my day to fit in with them rather than trying to adapt him to fit in with me.

Parenthood has made me a lot more flexible.  I no longer hold tightly to beliefs, expectations & plans (of which mine tend to be very idealistic), instead meeting the reality of what is.  As a parent, I have let go of so many ideas I once had in order to embrace my boys just as they are and to follow their lead.  But this newly developed flexibility doesn’t extend only to them, it has reached into every corner of my life.  I’m much more able to take other people as they are and to work with situations rather than fretting about how they don’t match up to what I expected.  Parenthood has opened me up like a good hip flexor asana.

 

STRENGTH

When my second son, Thomas, was born, he wasn’t feeding well.  For his first 3 weeks, the only way to get milk into him was through a grueling routine of syringe feeding him, expressing for the next feed then cleaning & sterilising the equipment. The routine took 1 ½ hours and I had to do it every 3 hours.  I was lucky to get 1 hour of sleep between each cycle and also had a toddler needing my attention. Initially, I was doing this at the hospital, having to walk down the corridor back and forth to the equipment room, which was painfully slowly after having had a caesarean.  Thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.  I don’t think anything has challenged me as much in my life – worrying for my baby’s health and being so utterly exhausted.  I was physically and spiritually drained.  But, of course, I kept going – this is what was necessary for Thomas to thrive.  I still remember the evening when he finally feed from me normally for the first time and I knew my efforts had paid off.  And now I know I have the strength for anything, which helps me to live with less worry and fear.

Previously the type not to rock the boat, I found my voice to advocate for my son when he was being bullied.  I have taken up challenges I would have avoided, such as facilitating my first ever workshops this week.  And I have gone down the most terrifying water slide ever (virtually upright!) with my son.

 

BALANCE

Balance, I have learned, is an internal thing, not an external thing.  I don’t attend to every area of my life as I would like to, there are definitely parts that get neglected (especially the unfolded laundry).  But I do feel I have balance.

As a student school teacher, I once led a class of 7 year-olds for a short yoga session.  I tried to teach them the Eagle, an awkward balancing-on-one-leg-with-limbs-wrapped-around-each-other  position. The only hope of achieving it is by having focus.  To be balanced, we need to concentrate – on the important things.

Balance is feeling that our lives are organised by our priorities.  As a parent, we are constantly fielding demands on our time and efforts – come to the school fundraiser, vacuum under the dinner table, “play with me”…  The people-pleaser in me tried to keep up at first but I couldn’t and I eventually had to let go.  Now, I occasionally wag fundraising events and I build forts with my son under the table amongst all the crumbs.  As much as I would love not to have baskets of unfolded clothes around the house, they are there because I, instead, choose to play superheroes with Thomas, write my next blog post and give my parents a call.

 

CONCLUSION

I’m not familiar with all of the elements of yoga.  I understand that it is a lifestyle, it’s about what happens off the mat as much as on the mat.  While I’m not currently making it to the mat as much as I would like, there’s plenty going on for me off the mat.  For me, parenting is an exercise for the soul. Through it, I am learning how to give and receive peace, joy and love in new ways.  I have no doubt that other experiences in life can do the same for us but, for me, it took becoming a parent to discover all that I am.

 

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS:  The photo with this post is of my friend, Tanya Carr-Smith, a Wellington-based Yoga & Wellness Coach.   The beautiful photography is by Dreamality.

 

 

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Journal of an Overwhelmed Mum

An excerpt from my journal this week –

I’m thinking about how I can feel lighter in the world.   My first thought is to eliminate sources of stress. That seems logical.  But the thing is, many of those things are also the sources of joy, growth and contribution in my life.  Life would be a lot simpler if I wasn’t blogging and running workshops, for example.  But these things give me outlets for my passion and ways to expand & to contribute.  To withdraw from stress entirely is to withdraw from life.  And what would be the point of a stress-free life?  How is the soul to feel fulfilled, learn its lessons and make its impact if we play small?

So the answer may be to, instead, accept the discomfort and stress, rather than resisting it.  (I’m talking about those things that, while difficult, we know are also growing us in some way.)  In a mindful way, noticing it without losing ourselves to the anxiety of it.  I have realised recently that noticing our internal response to things is a great step forward, even if we do nothing more.

Ekhart Tolle tells us that the forms of our lives are “play”.  I don’t think that that means they’re not meaningful but that they aren’t me.  If something doesn’t go well, it doesn’t mean that I’m no good.  Equally, I’m no better when something I’ve turned my hand to does go well.

So, it comes down to our sense of wholeness and worth – really knowing that we are complete and valuable, regardless of what’s going on in our lives.  There’s nothing to prove or to avoid.  Who we are is perfect and indestructible.

I have written about self-worth a few times on my blog, each time going a little deeper, uncovering a new aspect of it. I guess that’s because it’s been a personal journey of my own to really believe that I am complete and valuable.  But I don’t think I’m the only one.  This may be the work of our lives – to get to that place where we know that we are whole and worthy at all times and through all things. And to know this about other people too.

I can see worthiness is at the heart of things – of inner peace, confidence and joy.  For me, it really is a spiritual matter.   If we don’t understand that we of a divine source, extensions of God (or whatever you choose to call it), perhaps our self-worth is always in question.  In that case, there’s no choice but to attach it to the outward achievements of this world which are plenty some day and in short supply on others.  Our self worth can only be shaky if it depends on things turning out the way we would have them, things we can never have full control over (although we may like to think we do).

 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR OUR CHILDREN?

Naturally, we praise our children for their successes to build them up and acknowledge their achievements.  And I’m not suggesting we stop doing that.  The question is, though, how do we give them a sense of their worth beyond their achievements?

Looking back at my post Giving Our Children A Resilient Sense of Self-Worth, I did write that one way to help our children be resilient when in doubt about their worth is to help them to know themselves as Spirit.  This means recognising that they are not their thoughts and feelings and circumstances, through developing their ability to observe themselves through such things a meditation.  I guess that’s where I feel a little stuck.  I can tell my boys that they are wonderful extensions of God.  I can do mindfulness activities with them like the ones I wrote about in my post on meditation.  And I do think these things count.  But, ultimately, they need to experience their divinity for themselves.

So this is as far as our parenting can reach.  Over time, I have come to understand that, as a parent, there is nothing I can make my children do or know.  Ultimately, they need to come to things themselves.  As they say, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”.  In a way, it’s an emotional challenge for me because there are things I really want for my boys that I cannot guarantee, and I especially want them to be strong in their own self-worth.

But it’s also a relief.  I am not as responsible for my children’s lives as I used to believe I was.  Letting go of this need to control things to try and guarantee an unguaranteeable outcome is a stress I can let go of.

 

CONCLUSION

Many of my personal inquiries become inquiries into my parenting, as this one did.  As I learn things for myself, I start wondering how it might be significant to my boys and how to bring it to them.  There are many ways to inquire into ourselves.  My favourite is to journal.  I imagine some of you thinking, “I don’t have time to inquire”.  I get that.  I did a lot less of it when my boys were younger and if the choice was between writing my journal and getting to bed a bit earlier, I chose sleep!  The more work we do, though, the more conscious we can be as parents.  The day that I wrote this, I sat down just to relieve myself of a little stress and it has lead me to all of the realisations I have made here (I have typed them in bold so you can scan back and pick them out).  It was worth the time both for myself and my children.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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7 Years Old – Have I Missed “The Window”?

My Jake turned seven last week.  We happened to be away on holiday with extended family on the day of his birthday so he had a particularly good day – an outing to our national aquarium, lots of play time with his cousins, plenty of adults to fuss over him and a large birthday cake to share with everyone (chocolate, of course).

As I celebrated Jake’s birthday with him, I marveled at him – how he has changed so dramatically  from a dependent newborn to the capable, unique boy that he is now.  But, at the same time, a sense of panic crept in – What if I haven’t made the most of that 7 year window all the developmental experts talk about?

Have you heard of this window?

I like to listen to parenting segments on the radio and on podcasts.  During my hours of listening, I have heard various experts describe the exponential development that takes place during the first seven years of a child’s life.  It often gets referred to as a seven-year “window” in which we can set our children up for life.  If their first seven years are rich in in the right kinds of experiences, it hard-wires a child’s brain for a positive future in so many ways.  Aristotle seemed to understand this instinctively –

“Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man”. – Aristotle

Jake is our eldest.  Every new stage in his development has been a new stage for my husband and I also.  Jake has essentially been the subject of our well-intended parenting experiments & mistakes and he will be all the way through.  What if I’ve accidentally hard-wired him in negative ways that will create struggle for him rather than empower him?

When Jake was a newborn, I felt totally out of my depth and, as is the case for many first-time parents, everything that was required of me as a mother had to be learned from scratch.  Looking back, I wonder, was I responsive enough to his newborn needs?  When he was four, did I handle that bullying situation at kindy in the best way?  I probably should be reading to him more than I have been recently…  Then, there’s this –

A few weeks ago, I was in a low spot myself- tired and anxious.  One morning, when Jake and Thomas were being particularly uncooperative, I unexpectedly exploded.  I thought I had my anger under control but it just burst out in a roaring, swearing rage.  It was a brief episode but it was ugly and probably quite terrifying for my boys.  The first thought I had immediately afterwards was, “I can’t take that back!  Nothing I say will delete the memory of that moment from their minds”.  I paniced.  Will they now always think of me as unpredictable and untrustworthy?

 

MOVING PAST THE 7 YEAR WINDOW

As a soulful parent, this 7-year window has me thinking particularly about how Jake sees himself and the world.  Have I hardwired him to value & trust himself, others and Life?  We are most at peace and powerful when our thinking is aligned with the truth that we are all valuable and in this together.  But I feel that there are many important ideas related to this that I haven’t addressed much in my parenting yet.  Take self-compassion, for example.  I’m only learning how to extend it to myself now, at 40, and have just started thinking recently about I can pass it on to my boys.

The deeper I get into parenting and really understanding what it’s all about, the more I realise that it is as much about my own development as it about my boys’.  And now, after my raging outburst and with all the mistakes and oversights of the past seven years behind me, I have the opportunity to learn more about how to forgive myself.  The other alternative is to stew over my errors and inadequacies – but what sort of parent will I be going forward if I do that?

I think it’s a rite of passage in the human experience – recognising patterns formed in childhood that are of no use or hold us back.  For myself, I can see the self-doubt and insignificance I felt as a child lurking in my thoughts now and am learning how to notice them without giving them power.  I don’t think I’ve met one person without some childhood pain to resolve.  We’re all messing our children up, while also doing lots of great things.

What about giving ourselves credit for all that we have done well?  I’m quite fond of the 80/20 rule – if we get things “right” for our kids 80% of the time, it’ll minimise the impact of the 20% when we’re tired, overwhelmed or haven’t a clue what to do.  And then there’s this…

This 7-year window has passed but I am not about to stop parenting!  Despite the particular significance of the early years to brain development, human brains are malleable.  Here’s the evidence – I  know a lot more now than I did at 7 – we never stop learning; when a person suffers damage to their brain, perhaps through a medical incident such as a stroke, other parts of the brain often take over some of the function of the damaged area; activities such as meditation change the working of our brains too.

So, what we do as parents after our children turn 7 makes a difference, we haven’t missed our chance to set them up for positive lives.  We can choose to change the way we’ve been doing things as a parent or to teach them something new, for example, and it will have an impact.  One thing I want to do differently is to ease up on trying to teach my boys so much and focus more on validating who they are & where they’re at now to help them to connect with their inherent worth & their natural abilities to learn.  I don’t believe my chance to do this for Jake is lost.

 

CONCLUSION

In our parenting, as with everything else, we cannot let our fear that we have done or are doing a bad job get the better of us.  Being present and loving through all things, even our own mistakes, is far better for our children.

I once wrote a blog post called You Will Probably Mess Your Children Up, But It’s OK.  I read back through it today and found it quite reassuring.  It reminded me that we are divinely matched with our children, taking one another along the paths our souls need for growth.  Our strengths and our weaknesses as parents both play a part in this.  I was reminded that it’s ok to be human and I was prompted to acknowledge that, in any moment, I have done the best I could.

And, if 7-year-old Jake is a reflection of the man he’ll become, he’ll be a good one – optimistic, enthusiastic, friendly and wise.  I have done some things right.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Science, Technology and Spirituality

I recently saw a YouTube video of someone giving a talk about the science behind spiritual practices which raise people’s awareness and, therefore, wellbeing.  In the second part of her talk, the speaker described technological developments, such as new apps, which are being developed to help people become more aware and spiritually connected.  It seems that technology for spiritual wellness is a burgeoning area of development and the speaker was very animated & enthusiastic about the progress being made.  Being a soulful parent in the modern world, perhaps I should’ve been too (“great, there will be technology to support my children’s spiritual wellbeing”).  But I wasn’t really…

 

SCIENCE AND SPIRITUALITY

For me, science and spirituality are two ways of knowing the same thing.  We do not have to choose whether to be rational or intuitive, for example – we can be both.  Some scientists think of their research as getting to know the workings of God/The Universe and, like me, see no conflict between their scientific work and their spirituality.  Albert Einstein is perhaps the most famous example of this (here’s a link to some of his quotes about the relationship between science and spirituality).

When it comes to our spiritual wellness, though, science seems to “prove” a lot of what we already know.  Recent research has shown that meditative practices improve focus & emotional regulation; that feeling we belong to our social circle reduces the incidence of depression; and that having a sense of agency in our work makes it fulfilling rather than depleting.   For me, these things all seem like common sense, we didn’t need expensive research projects to know them.  But those who lean purely on rational, material ways of knowing feel validated if they can site research that proves their choices in life are effective.

 

TECHNOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY

As for technologies that use this scientifically-proven knowledge to help people expand their awareness and nurture other aspects of their spiritual wellbeing, I’m a little dubious that they’re really necessary.  The billions of dollars that are set to be poured into them could probably be better spent.

I accept that we live in an increasingly online world and I appreciate the ways that technology makes life easier.  There are some great resources available online, too, to support the spiritual wellness of ourselves and our children.  My son, Jake, and I both use the Headspace guided meditation app.  I learn a lot through listening to my favourite spiritual teachers on podcasts while I’m exercising and have done some helpful online courses (such as this great one for soulful parents).  But I think it’s a problem if we think we need an app to become more aware or spiritually connected.

If we are feeling that we need help to become more aware, I don’t think it’s because our lives have been missing the technology to do so.  Catholic nuns and Buddhist monks around the world seem to have managed just fine without smartphones for centuries.  For me, the talk I watched on YouTube was a call to reconsider the way we’re living our lives.  We don’t have to live like nuns and monks but I think there’s a lot we might want to think about.

 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR SOULFUL PARENTS & OUR KIDS?

I think what science is showing us is that, when it comes to spiritual wellness for our families, we need to get back to ourselves, both as individuals and as a collective – kind of as we were doing before society made science & technology king & queen.  We only need to look a few generations back to be reminded of how to be aware and connected – build supportive, in-the-flesh communities; do the things that bring us joy and put us in flow; get into nature; move our bodies; take time for stillness…  These things just feel good and don’t actually need science to prove their value to us.  With a little intention, we can create lifestyles for our families that incorporate these elements, no technology needed.

At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, it seems to me that we need less technology when it comes to our awareness rather than more, given the state we’re in – over-extended and glued to our devices.  Most of the time, I feel depleted by devices like my smartphone, continuously calling for my attention.  I don’t want another app beeping at me to remind me to take a “mindful minute”, for example.  We think technology makes us more “connected” but I’m not sure what it is that are we actually connecting to when we spend all that time online.  It usually feels more like disconnecting to me.

I’m not saying science and technology have no role in our spirituality but unlikely a significant role, as was being suggested in the YouTube video.  Technology can be helpful, offering some short-term support on occasion but, if my boys grow up believing there is a technological solution to all things, I will have failed them.

 

CONCLUSION

Science and technology have a place and make valuable contributions in many spheres of life.  But our spirituality is inherent in us.  We really can recognise for ourselves what brings us a sense of wellbeing without an app.  Perhaps we have lost some faith in ourselves as we have gradually handed over more and more  of our lives to technology.  We need to stay in charge of our technology, not let it take charge of us.

So my point is, let’s not hand every facet of our lives over to technology, no matter how much scientific research is behind it.  Our spiritual wellbeing is nurtured by experiencing life with all of our senses, not by enlisting an app to do the work for us. Our children need to know that it is going inwards that really connects them, not going online.

 

Much love to you and your little souls.

 

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New Zealand’s Prime Minister is Pregnant!

About ten days ago, New Zealand received the news that our recently-appointed Prime Minister is expecting her first baby.  Gasps everywhere, the Facebook feeds of Kiwi women going crazy!  It has given us a lot to think about.

 

JACINDA’S STORY

Jacinda has been open about her struggle to conceive and New Zealand knew this before our general election in September, 2017.  Once she unexpectedly became leader of the New Zealand Labour Party, only weeks before the elections were held, she stopped trying for obvious reasons.  This pregnancy came as “a happy surprise” for Jacinda and her partner, Clarke, when she was in the middle of negotiations to form a coalition government after our elections.

Life has been full of surprises for Jacinda in the last few months, asking her to step up more and more.  Within the space of approximately 4 months, she became leader of the Labour Party, then Prime Minister of New Zealand and, now, Mother.

Imagine that moment when she first realised she was pregnant.  What was her first thought? “I can’t believe it, this is wonderful!” or “oh no, I’ve got to tell the whole country that their new Prime Minister is pregnant!”?  Were her tears those of joy or apprehension? Although she and is clearly thrilled to have become a mother, I have no doubt that, in private, she has experienced plenty of moments of panic and overwhelm.  What she’s good at, though, is meeting the challenges Life believes she is capable of.

Always realistic and positive, Jacinda has explained to the country her plans to have 6 weeks off work when the baby is born then for Clarke to take over as the stay-at-home parent.  Her deputy, Winston Peters, will act as Prime Minister while she’s away.  Speaking to the press, Jacinda said a number of times that she feels she is in a “privileged” position with lots of support around her to help make this juggle of two extraordinary roles possible.  She also said that, while she and Clarke have a plan, nothing is set in stone and they will be flexible, adjusting things as they need to.

 

“CAN SHE DO IT?”

This is the question on everyone’s minds.

There have been a few female politicians in New Zealand who have stepped down from their roles because, despite their best efforts, they just couldn’t find a way to make caring for their babies & young children and fulfilling their parliamentary roles work.  As you can imagine, the press were quick to remind Jacinda of these women’s stories and to ask her how she thought she was going to manage it with even more responsibility than these women had.

Jacinda made two points in response.  Firstly, that each woman’s situation is different in regard to the amount and type of support that they have available to them and that she has a “village” of helpers surrounding her.  Presumably, being Prime Minister, she has financial and other resources available to her that these other political mothers did not.  Secondly, she said that women all over the country have successfully found ways to juggle full-on jobs and mothering and she sees her position as no different. She knows it’s no mean feat to lead the country and mother a baby at the same time but Jacinda feels that the women who have done this in the past have “paved the way” for her.

Here is a video of her first interview with the press outside her home (it beings 9mins in).

 

GENDER ISSUES

But, here’s the question – would people be asking “can she do it?” if Jacinda were male?  When Tony Blair announced that he and his wife, Cherie, were unexpectedly pregnant during his term as Britain’s Prime Minister, the public response was only positive and no one asked if he could do it.  I don’t recall what the Blair’s specific childcare arrangements were but Clarke being the stay-at-home parent is no different to Cherie or any other parent staying home with their baby so that their partner can go to work.

Being young, female and Prime Minister, Jacinda was already a trailblazer and now she is even more-so.  I regard her as a role model.  My aspirations are different to hers, but here’s what I appreciate about Jacinda –

* her personal compassion & openness (rather than presenting a perfect picture of herself).

* her willingness to look for and receive the support around her (rather than insisting she will do it all herself, as many of us women mistakenly believe we must).

* her determination to make things work and her willingness to be flexible & creative in the face of unexpected challenge.

For me, it’s not so much that she shows me what can be done but how to go about it.  I believe our world leaders are here to teach us something.  Not all are role models, some serve to highlight for us what we don’t want to spur us into action (guess who?).  But Jacinda is a role model for women – baby or not.

 

IN SUMMARY – ALL EYES ON JACINDA

The New Zealand Labour Party did not get the highest number of votes in the general election.  They were able to get into power by creating a coalition government with the New Zealand First Party.  There are some New Zealanders with the attitude “I didn’t want Jacinda to be Prime Minister in the first place and now she’s pregnant!  What a mess!”.

So all eyes are on Jacinda.  But they were already on her, given her quick rise to Prime Minister and her youth especially.  Some will be looking on, unfortunately, in judgement.  Others will be willing her success and happiness all the way – and I will be one of those.

 

Much love to you and your little souls (yours too, Jacinda),

 

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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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Mixed Berry Jam & Making Decisions For Our Children

As parents, we have to make many decisions on our children’s behalf.  Some decisions come easily – it seems obvious what to do and we make them with confidence.  But there are also a lot of decisions we angst over.  As much as we try, we’re painfully aware that we can’t always anticipate what the ramifications of a decision might be for our children or how they might feel about it.  There are times when we think “I just don’t know what to do!” I find that I start spinning in circles of indecision, getting myself quite wound up & anxious.

Here are just a few of the decisions that I’ve struggled with since having children –

  • whether to accept pain relief in labour.
  • when to start trying for baby number 2.
  • whether my son should go up to Year 2 in school or have longer in Year 1 (having to make this decision is a quirk of the New Zealand school system).
  • whether to get my son minor surgery for appearance, not medical reasons.
  • and, every year, what to get my boys for Christmas (something they’ll love for more than 5 minutes that won’t just become more junk around the house).

 

WHEN WE DON’T KNOW WHICH DECISION TO MAKE

More recently, my husband and I have been talking about possibly moving house.  As you know, there are so many factors to take into consideration when deciding whether to move and where to move to, such as proximity of family and access to schools – it can be quite overwhelming.  For many weeks, I felt paralysed, unable to make a decision because I couldn’t figure out what would be best for my boys.

One evening in bed, I realised I hadn’t prayed over it, I’d been waiting for the answer to become clear without really asking for it.  So I briefly outlined my dilemma for God (He knew all the details anyway) and the answer came straight away – There’s no right or wrong, you just have to commit to whichever decision you make and make the most of it.

It hadn’t really occurred to me that there’s not always a right choice or a best choice.  But, when I heard The Universe’s reply, I was reminded of a time when I was going through a rough patch in my twenties and I had to decide what to do next. I would listen to Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway whenever I went anywhere in my car to give myself a boost of confidence (it was a cassette tape!).  Susan spoke of tasting all the “goodies” along the path we choose.  Along one path, there might be blueberries and, along the other, there might be strawberries – either way, we can pick and enjoy the berries that line our path.  Back then, I thought that sounded lovely but really there was a right decision in every case.  Fifteen years later, though, I understood what The Universe was telling me.

Still, when I first got my answer about moving house, I rolled my eyes at God and said, “very wise, but I still don’t know what to do!”  But I tried not to be frustrated and instead to trust & be open to all the possibilities before us, focussing on the joys (the berries) each option offered.

Then, shortly afterwards, some new information came to light and my husband & I realised that we need to sit tight for now and review the move in a year’s time.  There was our decision – for now.  And I feel good about it.

As my spiritual connection grows, it’s that feeling of peace that I look for when making a decision.  The pros and cons contribute to the process but, ultimately, I’m looking for what feels right.  And that requires me to put my fear aside so that I can sense Love’s wisdom.

 

THERE’S NOTHING TO BE AFRAID OF

I think it’s often fear that keeps us stuck when making decisions.  When it comes to my boys, I fear that they will miss out on something great or, conversely, suffer in some way if I make a poor decision.  When deciding what to do, I tend to catastrophise, looking for everything that could go wrong.

What if, instead, like Susan, we looked for everything that could go right?  Perhaps that would make our decisions easier to make and help us to trust that all paths have the potential to be great.  Making decisions from a place of joyful possibility seems more empowering than making decisions designed to avoid the worst.

And if we make a decision that, as the consequences reveal themselves, we discover isn’t right for our children, we can view that discovery as a particularly sweet, juicy berry along the path.  We haven’t made a “mistake” or taken the “wrong path”, because it led us to more knowledge. We can use that knowledge going forward and make another decision to take us somewhere else.  Most decisions aren’t as fixed & irreversible as fear would have us believe.  Sometimes we just have to get on, make a decision and feel it on for size, knowing we can course-correct if needed.

 

IN SUMMARY – EAT THE BERRIES

When we are feeling anxious over a decision we have to make for our children, perhaps it’s an indication that we need to let go of our fears. have a little faith and learn to feel our way.  I know now that I can trust that, when the answer isn’t clear, it’s probably a case of “can’t go wrong” and an opportunity to relax, let things unfold and eat some scones with mixed berry jam – yum!

We promised to love our children and do our best by them.  We never promised that their journey through childhood would be seamless, a paved-with-glitter direct route to a happy adulthood.  But we can all enjoy eating as many berries as possible on the way.

I have a treasured memory of a visit with friends in England many years ago.  We went blackberry picking along the meandering lanes of the English countryside.  I had no idea where we were but the company was great and the berries were good.  Now, I can imagine my family on that path, faces and fingers stained with various shades of red, purple and blue, grinning widely.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Empowering Our Autistic Children and Special Needs Children

Through a series of small events recently, I have felt The Universe tapping me on the shoulder, asking me to raise a few questions about the ways we “help” our autistic and other special needs children.  I’m in support of any intervention that benefits the child and that the child wants to receive.  But I’ve realised it’s easy to think we are doing something in their best interests when, in fact, it may not be.

 

SPECIAL NEEDS, SPECIAL GIFTS

Being a person of faith, I am certain that each person’s mind and body is designed to best serve their soul’s purpose.  I believe that we are individually shaped in a way that helps us to learn what we’re here to learn and to contribute what we’re here to contribute.

To someone whose child has a condition that causes them suffering of some sort, for me to say there is divine purpose to it may seem insensitive – I’m not the one watching my child struggle or dealing with the unrelenting challenges of caring for them.   As a teacher, meeting the special needs in my class required hours of extra work and added a further layer of stress & exhaustion, so I get it to some extent.

But, through our struggles – the special needs students’, their families’, their classmates’ and my own – I could see that these children’s differences were more special gifts than they were special needs.

Firstly, many of them generated a lot of compassion and caring from their classmates who, on the whole, were quick to accommodate and assist them.  In this way, there is no doubt that the special needs children facilitated an expansion of Love in the world, just by being themselves.

I noticed that many children with special needs had a special ability also.  The dyslexic children I worked with were often very articulate or had vivid imaginations.  Some of the children who struggled socially had extraordinary logic or mathematical computation skills.  I recently heard Martha Beck, whose son has down syndrome, speak of his tremendous capacity for presence and empathy.

These children also offered a different way of viewing the world.  This was particularly noticeable in the children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).  Their brains not filtering and processing their experiences in the same ways as most of ours do, they brought new perspective to things and noticed things I didn’t.  If I were to line up all of my students, like a row of crystals or prisms hanging in the window of a new-age shop, the autistic children would be those that are a different shape to most. The reflections they create would stand out for their uniqueness but all the children would be reflecting the same source of light.  If we take the time to look, we will see what they have to show us.

This week, I shared a BBC video on my Facebook page in which TV presenter Chris Packham talks about both how he has struggled with and benefited from his autistic characteristics.  Given the opportunity to be cured, he says he would decline.

“We need to understand autistic people better, not try to change who they are”. – Chris Packham.

 

HELPING, NOT CHANGING OUR CHILDREN

In a conversation with a friend recently, she told me about some research she had heard of.  Scans were taken of the brains of people with ASD.  They then received some kind of therapy which changed their brains so that, in follow-up scans, their brains looked “normal” or closer to normal after treatment than they did initially.   Some of these people had their ASD diagnosis removed as a result.  I was intrigued that this was even possible and, at first thought, this seems like a great result.  But I wondered wheather, in losing their autism, these people would also lose the gift of it and, maybe, a portal to their purpose?  Did having “normal” brains make the autistic people feel better or did it make others feel better about them?

Perhaps The Universe will now adjust to find other ways to help these people live their purpose and, for a person able to give their consent to treatment I don’t object. But it made me think about the way we approach special needs in general.  It’s great to accommodate people, teach and assist them to function more easily in our world.  But there’s a line which can be crossed. The goal is not to make them fit into our world – spiritually, they already fit. 

For all of our children, special needs or not, our ultimate goal is to empower them be their truest, most joyful selves.  For any person, receiving the help we need feels good but, when we sense that we are being moulded & shaped to suit others, the message we get is that we are not good enough as we are and that we should change.  Perhaps the placement of that line where supportive help becomes being changed is different for each person and we need to be sensitive to that.

For most of my teaching career, I had at least one child with ASD in my class.  What I noticed was the range of experiences that these children had.  Some were more happy, getting on as best as they could. Others were anxious and each day was a struggle.  I noticed some pattern in what I observed.  Those whose parents accepted their child as they were and put the time into accommodating and supporting their children were generally the happier ones.  Those whose parents resisted their child’s condition, focussing more on making them as “normal as possible” were generally the ones who struggled more.  The quality of our attitudes towards our special needs children impacts their experience, both energetically and behaviourally.

 

SUMMARY – EMPOWERING EVERYONE

For many years now, in educational and medical circles, the question of why there has been a steady increase in the incidence of certain special needs has been asked.  As expected, there is more professional awareness & knowledge of these conditions, making diagnosis easier.  For some, this is a good thing, resulting in children with special needs being identified and getting their needs met.  Others argue that raised awareness has led to over-diagnosis (and, as a result, over-medication).  Both of these perspectives may well have some truth to them.

But is it also because, at this time, our world needs more of what these children have to offer?  Do we need these children’s different perspectives to help us expand the reach of Love in the world?  If we understand our autistic and other special needs children more, I think we will learn things we need to know individually and for the positive development of humanity.  It’s important to help make their journey through this world a little easier but we need to do so in ways that empower them to be who they are meant to be – for their happiness and for our own empowerment too.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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I Left My Children on the Other Side of the World

This is my first blog post since returning from a 2-week holiday away from my family.  My twin sister and I turn 40 next month and we went to Barcelona together to celebrate – just us, no kids.

My sister and I saved a little money each week into a bank account opened specifically for the trip.  When we first opened it, my boys were much younger.  I was immersed in breastfeeding & nappy-changing and couldn’t really imagine being able to extract myself from my responsibilities or doing anything as interesting as travelling to a new country.  When the time came to start packing my suitcase and I realised the trip was finally & actually happening, it felt very surreal.

Before leaving, I hid love notes in my boys’ lunchboxes for them to find on the first morning I was away.  I instructed my husband to tell them that mummy loves them every night when he tucked them into bed.  At his request, I also left a long document of schedules, simple recipes and other critical Jake-and-Thomas-information on the kitchen bench to help him through his solo parenting fortnight.

To be honest, I had mixed feelings about the trip in the lead-up.  I was excited to be seeing for myself all the amazing architecture that I had only before glimpsed in other people’s travel photos.  I was looking forward to sleeping & eating in a more flexible way, not determined by my children’s routines & needs but my own. It was going to be great to hang out with my sister and give her uninterrupted attention, something I’ve done a lot less of since having children.  But I also felt selfish, leaving my husband to manage on his own for 2 weeks and using a decent chunk of our money to go to the other side of the world.  I was a little rattled by the terrorist attack that had occurred in August, just 500m from the apartment we had booked to stay in.  The anticipated unrest over the elections for Catalonian independence (scheduled to take place while we were to be in Barcelona) made me nervous also.

My anxiety melted away, though, once I was settled into my seat on the plane.  I had made my decision to go and I was committed to enjoying it.  I got my sister to take my photo to mark my turning point and the start of our adventure.

Enjoying Barcelona wasn’t difficult!  The apartment we were staying in was within walking distance of many of the sights we wanted to visit.  The winding narrow streets and old buildings had me enchanted and continually reaching for my camera.  It was a treat to browse the shops with no time-limit or restless children in-tow. Cafe windows were overflowing with sweet treats and the incredible La Boqueria food market was only a 5-minute stroll up the road from our apartment, handy for stopping into to pick up dinner after a busy day out.  Sitting on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea at Barceloneta Beach, just a short Metro ride away, made a great retreat when I needed a break from the bustle of the tourist district.  I made the most of my opportunity to be in Barcelona and the sacrifices my family were making for me.  It occurred to me that I have (willingly) made plenty of sacrifices for them over the years, it was okay to ask them to do the same for me sometimes.

The city’s rich collection of architectural beauties, which had been the main reason for choosing Barcelona as the destination to mark our birthday, didn’t disappoint.  I couldn’t have imagined how beautiful the buildings would be or how they would move me.  Architect Antonio Gaudi was a deeply spiritual man and learning about his designs helped me to understand in a new way how a person’s art (in whichever form it takes) is a form of prayer.  Standing in the light and magnificence of the Sagrada Familia, I realised the importance of my own writing as well as the need to recognise and encourage my boys’ modes of expression.  I also thought that I would love to visit it again one day with a teenaged Jake, who seems to have a sense for the sacred and I think would be inspired by its beauty and symbolism.

The trip opened me up.  Without responsibilities and stimulated by new experiences, I felt present, expanded and relaxed.  I am fortunate that, for me, the daily life of motherhood is not one I feel the need to escape from, although I understand that many mothers do feel that way.  But my trip showed me that new experiences keep me feeling vital and provide me with some contrast to the fairly repetitive nature of life with younger children.  I decided I would play tourist in my own city with my boys once I returned to Wellington, to keep us all inspired and invigorated.

Since returning from my trip, many people, mostly mothers, have asked me whether I missed my boys.  Some couldn’t bear the idea of being away from their own children for so long and others were envious of the fortnight of “freedom” I had.  Yes, I did miss my boys.  But it wasn’t a miserable longing for them or worrying about them.  Each day, I felt how much I was looking forward to seeing them again and how grateful I was to have them to return to once the trip was over.  We kept in touch daily using Whatsapp, waking up each morning to videos and photos we had sent each other overnight (being in opposite timezones).  At the airport, Jake and Thomas gave me an enthusiastic welcome, both of them refusing to let go of me and attached to me like limpets for the rest of the day.  We were making up for lost time.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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My Top 3 Barcelona Experiences:

* Touring the Sagrada Familia

* Sitting in the sand of the beach at Barceloneta

* Eating a waffle topped with Crema Catalana (like crème brulee) for breakfast on our first morning in Barcelona.

 

My Top 3 Dubai Experiences (we had a 3-day stopover on the way home):

* Camel riding in the desert

* Visiting the Grand Jumeirah Mosque

* Chillin’ by the pool at our hotel.

 

Sagrada Familia

Barceloneta Beach

Julie Louisson on a camel in the Dubai Desert

Camel ride in Dubai desert

Julie Louisson at the Grand Jumeirah Mosque, Dubai

Inside the Grand Jumeirah Mosque, Dubai