I’m fortunate that almost all the comments people leave on my essays and social media posts are positive and kind.  I don’t think I write anything particularly controversial but my ideas can be unconventional at times and, very occasionally, someone leaves a comment like “that won’t work!” as if I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

To give an example, one such comment was left about an essay I wrote called Why We Don’t Need To Teach Values To Our Children.  It was about encouraging our children to turn inwards to their innate sense of right-and-wrong when they’ve made a poor decision, rather than criticising them for their behaviour.  I wrote –

“…we don’t have to judge, punish and lecture them when they stray from their natural state of Love.  Because they already know, in the instant that they do the apparently unloving thing, that what they did wasn’t right”.

I could hear the commenter’s scoffs as I read their words.  And I get it – if the measure of “working” is that, after one or two applications of my suggested approach to direct our child inward, they would always make the “right” decision, then, no, it wasn’t going to work.

So, what does it mean to say that our parenting is “working”? 

 

CRITERIA FOR PARENTING THAT WORKS

When I was teaching primary school, we developed a set of criteria for each learning outcome by which to evaluate our students’ levels of success.  Essentially, we broke each goal down into smaller components so that we could say very specifically why a child had or hadn’t met the outcome and to what degree.  I decided to have a go at writing criteria for my parenting and this is what I came up with.

Parenting that works…

  1. BENEFITS MY CHILD IN THE LONG TERM, sometimes at the cost of short-term ease. If we simply want things to be easy (which, if we’re honest, usually means getting immediate compliance from our children so we can go about whatever it was we were doing), our tendency is to be over-controlling and to resort to strategies that don’t pass anything of value onto our children except, often, fear of our disapproval or punishment. But, if we repeatedly bypass the work of parenting in this way, we bypass the benefit for our children.  Each parenting moment is loaded with opportunities for them to learn valuable skills that they can take with them into life.  Examples of such skills are – how to manage emotions, how to have self-awareness, numerous practical skills and the ability to understand another’s perspective.   The list is endless.

Consider the example I opened with – criticising and punishing our children for making apparently poor decisions teaches them nothing new.  However, helping them to tune in to their intuitive knowing teaches them that they have an internal compass they can check in with at any moment to guide them towards the most loving action.

  1. NURTURES MY CHILD’S SELF-WORTH. I believe in everyone’s inherent worth but, unfortunately, most of us spend our lives questioning our worthiness. Apart from feeling low, when we feel unworthy, we hold ourselves back in our lives.  Keenly familiar with this experience myself, I try to consistently reflect my children’s worth back to them, even in the challenging moments.  Because, when our children see that we believe they are unquestionably worthy, they are more likely to believe it themselves.

Back to the example from the introduction – if we use the guise of “teaching them good values” to judge and lecture our children for making a poor decision, it takes them straight to a feeling of unworthiness.  When we, instead, teach them something useful (in this case, to turn inwards to their essential loving selves), they feel worthy because we have taken the time to guide them and we are showing them that we believe in them.

  1. FOSTERS CONNECTION BETWEEN MYSELF & MY CHILD. The quality of our relationship with our children is where our power as parents lies.  An authentic connection with our child provides them with things such as the safety to be themselves, the motivation to learn from our example and the willingness to allow us to coach them or to ask us for help.  Every interaction with our child is an opportunity to shape our relationship with them and it’s up to us whether we use it to strengthen or weaken that valuable connection.

In our example – when we barrage our children with disapproval & punishment for poor decisions, we separate ourselves from them and, for that time at least, we are no longer the safe place that they need us to be.  Their trust in us gets chipped away by our judgement.  However, when they see us, instead, putting in the effort to teach them the skills of turning inwards, they feel accepted and that we are interested in them, rather than preoccupied with their behaviour.  

 

BRIEF SUMMARY: GETTING HONEST WITH OURSELVES

I think we often conflate “parenting” with “discipline” when evaluating ourselves as parents.  We think that, if we have our kids “under control”,  we’re doing a decent job.  But you may have noticed that none of these criteria are about how our children behave.  They are all about the way we behave as their parents and, especially, our motivations.   For me, the extent to which our parenting is working is the extent to which we are prioritising our children’s wellbeing over everything else, including getting our kids to do what we want them to.  (Gulp)  

 

Much love,

 

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When I was expecting my first baby, I devoured baby care books.  I used my library card to borrow almost every book that had been written about newborn babies and, from there, chose the best ones to actually purchase.  I packed the chosen few along with my birth plan in my hospital suitcase.  I was going to do this parenting thing right from the very beginning.

Well, the birth plan proved to be irrelevant and the books were too.  But I didn’t realise this about the books until they’d already put my baby and myself through the wringer.  My baby did not behave in the ways the books told me he would and very little the well-loved experts had written helped to make parenting him any easier.  I became very stressed – angry at myself and my baby for not “doing it properly”.

Some of you may be asking why did I cling to these books so tightly if they were stressing me out?  Others of you may already know the answer – because you relate.  

WHY WE READ SO MANY PARENTING BOOKS

I read the books because I didn’t think I could do it.  I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to keep this baby alive, let alone ensure he thrived in every way.  My insides were a tangle of self-doubt and, with a sense of the importance of the task before me, my confidence was at an all-time low.

These days, our society has us believing that there’s not much we can do without expert guidance.  It wants almost everything we do to be “research-based”, validated as “best practice” by someone with letters after their name.  It jams everyone and everything into important-sounding theories, including babies and their parents, measuring our actions against scientifically-proven ideals.

Well, I didn’t have a PhD in parenting so I put my trust in the experts who did.  I was a good student, too.  I read their books thoroughly, marking them with post-it notes and diligently following their guidelines.  The books had me doing all sorts of crazy things and making myself (and probably my poor baby) crazy in the process.  But I didn’t question them because they were written by the experts.  They couldn’t be wrong – I was doing something wrong.  My sense of failure was tangible.  

WHY WE DON’T NEED ALL THOSE PARENTING BOOKS

It took me a long time to come to the realisation that, as a parent, I was the expert.  It was my job to be the expert – not in baby care and parenting in general, but an expert in my own child in particular.

To become the expert, I had to carry out the research myself, observing my child and using what I learned to inform myself going forward.  Of course, I didn’t have the pure objectivity that a scientific researcher does because I was connected to my child biologically, emotionally and spiritually.  But I did have the ability to be present.

Getting present when we’re tired, stressed and anxious takes discipline but it helps us to connect with our children so that we really see them.  And, when we open ourselves to really seeing them, our intuition kicks in.  It shows us what’s going on beneath their behaviour and how to respond with what our child really needs.  (I have written more about how to use our intuition in our parenting in this essay).

Our power as parents is in the quality of our relationship with our children, not in our ability to implement a plan laid out for us by an expert.  In fact, our children can feel us applying strategies to them and it doesn’t feel good, often undermining that connection that tells us so much of what we need to know.  

HOW TO READ A PARENTING BOOK

Of course, there are lots of great parenting books out there and I have a number of them on my own bookshelf.  But I have sifted through them and kept only the ones that offer wise perspective, leaving room for my own judgement and the messiness that is childhood, parenting and family life. So keep your favourites on the shelf, but here is the rule: As you read, look for what resonates. 

If you read with an open heart, rather than with the fear of “doing it wrong” or desperation to find a “solution” to whatever parenting challenge you are facing, you will get a feeling for how well the ideas fit with your child and the circumstances before you.  Take what feels true and leave the rest.  (That’s true for my essays also.)  

IN SUMMARY: FOLLOW THE REAL EXPERTS

Those of us who are inclined to over-research parenting do so because we don’t trust ourselves.  But, if we’re willing to put aside our fear and its desire to control, we will find that we have access to intuitive wisdom we can trust.  The ideas in the books that we read offer us suggestions from which to choose the most suitable actions, they are not to be treated as the instruction manuals we often find ourselves looking for in the midst of challenge and self-doubt. My experience is that, once we trust ourselves more, we will also begin to trust our children.  We will realise that they  are the experts on themselves and we simply have to follow their lead.  

 

 

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Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Mahatma Ghandi

I didn’t really get this well-known quote until relatively recently.  I used to think it was an inspiring thought but, really, what difference could little old me make in the world?  I thought Ghandi’s words were for other people – the type of exceptional people who achieve extraordinary things that go down in history – like he did. 

Then my husband and I had children, creating our own little “world” of sorts.  Within this little world, everything felt magnified and I saw for the first time how the behaviour and attitudes of those around me (my boys) often mirrored my own.  Having felt relatively inconsequential within the larger settings I’d lived in as a child-free adult, such as university and work, it surprised me to see the power of who I was in a situation. 

Let me offer an example you may relate to.  I noticed that, when I am feeling tired & overwhelmed, my shouty self appears (you can read about her here).    My ability to tolerate small annoyances or to respond consciously to challenging behaviour vanishes and I seem unable to be constructive.  I resort to raising my voice because I just want my boys to stop making so much noise/getting out of bed after they’ve been tucked in/fighting with each other…!

Next thing I know, my boys’ own shouty outbursts have shot up in frequency.  Their fuses seem to have suddenly shortened and every irritation has them roaring either at each other or at me.  When I’m not respectful and kind in my interactions with them, their interactions become less respectful and kind also.

Fortunately, what this points to is the fact that the opposite is also true.  When I am peaceful and intentional with my boys, they are more peaceful themselves (well, as much as can be expected of two energetic brothers).

HOW OUR BEHAVIOUR IMAPCTS OUR CHILDREN’S

As parents, our behaviour has a two-fold impact on our families.  One is energetic – if we bring the energy of impatience and irritation into our day, for example, our children can’t help but absorb some of that feeling.  One is obvious – our kids learn by watching us.

So, in many respects, parenting is more about us than our children.  We set the tone for our family life and we get to decide whether it will be light and uplifting or heavy and difficult.

Since realising this, when I feel that the dynamic in my family needs shifting, I have become more inclined to look at myself than at my children.  Instead of “fixing” them, I try to lift myself. 

HOW TO BE THE CHANGE IN ANY SITUATION

One of the times for us to be particularly aware of our ability to be the change is when our children aren’t being very co-operative.  Perhaps they’re refusing to help when they’re asked to do a chore.  Perhaps they’re winding their sibling up, just because they know exactly where the buttons are.  Perhaps their frame of reference seems only to include themselves, as if no one else in the family is important.  

When getting co-operation from my boys feels elusive, I ask myself, am I co-operating with them?  I try to think of the range of the opportunities I’ve had recently to co-operate for their purposes.  Did I wait until they had finished their game before asking them to set the table, rather than insisting they do it when it best suited me?  Did I help Thomas to get ready for school because I could see he was feeling tired this morning?  Did I adjust my plans for the day to accommodate Jake’s request to stay after school and play football with his friends?  Often I notice that the times when my boys are less co-operative with me and each other are the times when I have been busy, mentally preoccupied with my own affairs and less considerate of theirs.

To give a couple of other examples:  When the family is becoming bored and mopey, I’m usually feeling in need of invigoration myself so I think about what might invigorate me first – a visit to an art gallery or a brisk walk, perhaps.   When my boys are becoming complainy and demanding, I notice the state of my own gratitude practice and make an effort to stop & for appreciative moments throughout the day.  Making an effort to show up as my best self helps my family to do the same.

IN SUMMARY: CHANGING OUR FAMILIES, CHANGING THE WORLD

We can be quick to imply that our children aren’t good enough in some way.  I know I am guilty of complaining to my husband at times that one son or the other is being particularly lazy or moody or self-centred.  But complaining about our children does not help them to be their best selves and putting pressure on them to be different will not lift them up.  Raising the energy of the situation and quietly showing them how it is done is far more empowering.  

And, if this is true for our families, imagine the change we can effect in the world.

Whether we’re thinking about parenting or some other aspect of life, we all know that, really, the only thing we can control is ourselves.  (I admit that I often forget this.  But, when I remember it, I always feel kindda relieved).

It turns out that Ghandi’s words are not about grand achievements, remarkable talent or, even, magnetic charisma.  It’s about who we are in each little moment because who we are seeps into every person, event and thing that is part of that moment.

Is there something you would like more of in your family – consideration, laughter or communication perhaps? How can you be these things?

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For the victims of the Mosque shootings in Christchurch

Just as my sons’ school assembly was closing on Friday (two weeks ago now), the Principal told the student leaders he would like to address the children.  He looked somberly at the rows of parents sitting at the back of the hall saying, “I don’t know if you’ve heard about the events in Christchurch…”, as a brief explanation of what was to come.  We hadn’t heard and resisted the temptation to get our phones out there and then to find out what it was that he was referring to.  He didn’t announce what had happened but briefly spoke to the children about diversity, pointing out the range of nationalities and races represented in our own school hall, and how, as a school, we value inclusion and kindness.  It was a short and heart-felt moment but I wondered what on earth had happened to prompt it.

Once I found out the news that a man had open-fired in two Christchurch mosques in the name of white supremacy, killing 50 people, I was in horrified shock.  And my heart ached. Firstly for the victims and the community of people the attacks were aimed at.  Secondly for New Zealanders – all New Zealanders – who, until then, had felt safe in the knowledge that “that kind of thing doesn’t happen here”.  This essay, is about how I approached talking to my children about what had happened.

SHOULD I TELL MY KIDS?

You may know from my previous essays that I think it’s important not to over-protect our children. Not letting them experiences the realities of life as children, steals from them the opportunity to learn attitudes and skills that will help them to navigate future challenges.  I consider it my job to equip my boys as best I can to deal with whatever may happen – practically, mentally and spiritually – but to do so according to their readiness.

I didn’t want to tell them about the Christchurch shootings.  I worried that I would be pulling their sense of safety and their ability to trust others from underneath them.  I didn’t want to leave them feeling vulnerable and insecure.  I admit I was tempted not to say anything – they’re so young, they don’t need to know, I thought – but I knew they’d hear about the events from somewhere else.  By being the first to tell them, I had a little more control over how they received the news and could help them to process it before hearing other people’s take on the events.

TELLING THEM

I spoke to Jake and Thomas separately, to give them each the chance to have the conversation they needed to have without the other interrupting.  I began by telling them the basic information about what happened in Christchurch then, from there, allowed their questions to shape the conversation. 

Thomas (who has just turned 5) questioned me mostly about the police’s role in catching the gunman and where he is, seeking reassurance that everyone is safe now.  He didn’t seem to want to talk at length about it and I sensed it didn’t feel particularly real to him.

Jake (7 years old) was more concerned with why the gunman did what he did. We discussed race, nationality and religion – topics we’ve spoken little about in the past.  There hasn’t often been a need in our conversations until now to differentiate between groups of people.   Our differences had never seemed particularly relevant until we needed to talk about the shootings in Christchurch.  But I have found myself questioning this – was my not talking much about race, nationality and religion until now an oversight born of Love for everyone… or from the privilege of being a white person in New Zealand? (There is nothing like parenthood to make us reflect on ourselves.)

As you can see, talking about events such as these can open a can of worms – there are so many topics that could be explored. When parenting, this can make us shy away because we feel that we don’t have all the answers (and we don’t).  But, although it was an opportunity to talk about these issues, our conversations had to be first about helping my boys to process what had happened. It was about them learning how to work through pain, confusion, vulnerability and injustice. Letting them lead the conversation helped me to both pitch the discussion according to their readiness and to see where their main concerns were. It gave them the chance to ask questions and to share their thoughts on the events.

THE LANGUAGE WE USE

Having to talk about the shootings with my young boys made me very conscious of the language we tend to use around such events. While New Zealanders have come together and on the whole seem determined to support one another, there is a lot of fearful, judgmental language around at the moment too. This is understandable but I wondered how useful the kinds of phrases I was hearing everywhere were. I chose different words when talking about it, including with Thomas and Jake. 

To start with, a lot of people talk about religious and racial “tolerance” but I realised what an inadequate word “tolerance” is.  It implies putting up with something.  For me, difference is not something to put up with, but to value, appreciate, respect and honour. 

I also avoided labeling the gunman as “a bad man” because no person is all good or all bad, although their actions may be clearly one way or the other.

I didn’t talk with my boys about “fighting against terrorism” or the “war on terrorism” as these words lead us into the kind of violent mindset that the gunman himself had. 

Jake and I talked a lot more about how similar all people are and our inherent equality with one another.  We prayed for the victims, their families, the gunman and his.  Apart from being more constructive, I think this will help my boys not to spiral downward in the way I have watched some people do as they repeatedly speak about this from a place of judgement, hatred and fear.  We can’t always choose what happens but we always get to choose the slant we put on things.

IN SUMMARY: FACING THE MESS

My conversations with my boys were messy, jumping around from point to point.  But these events are messy too.  I tried not to necessarily tidy it all up but to let my boys sit with their responses and questions.    The events of our lives don’t come in neat little packages and being able to accept that is an important life skill. 

I hope that, by following my boys’ lead, they were able to bite off what they could chew and address the issues that were of most concern to them.  I feel sad that their sense of security has likely been compromised to some degree but I hope I have shown them that that they can face difficult events, difficult thoughts and difficult feelings.


Much love to you and your little souls,



PS  This essay was written from the fortunate position of not living in the city of Christchurch myself.  My family and I have been able to discuss these events from a safer-feeling distance and I want to acknowledge that it will have been a very different experience for families living in Christchurch and, indeed, in other parts of the world where people live with both the threats and realities of various forms of violence and tragedy.

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“It’s not fair!  His piece of cake is bigger than mine!”

“It’s not fair!  He has the ball but I want to play with it!”

“It’s not fair!  He got to go to a birthday party and I didn’t!”

For a while there, it seemed that “It’s not fair” had become the soundtrack to my life.  The almost obsessive way my boys measured how the details of their lives stacked up when compared with one another was driving me crazy. I knew it was a normal stage of cognitive development but all that complaining sounded, frankly, entitled & ungrateful and dealing with it was exhausting me.

From my observations, we parents usually have one of two responses to our children’s whines that “it’s not fair”-

1) We scramble to make things as equal as possible in order to quell the protests.

2) We snap back, “Well, life’s not fair – get used to it!” in a fed up, sarcastic tone of voice.

I have done both.

But, recently, exhausted by a million “it’s not fair”s, I did something altogether more productive.  I banned those three little words from our family conversations.

LIFE ISN’T FAIR & THAT’S OK

As adults, we know that life isn’t fair in the usual sense of the word – we don’t all get exactly the same amount of each thing.  Every person can compare their lives in both directions – My family doesn’t get about in a stylish car and chic clothes like some families I see.  But, we live in a spacious, weathertight home while others rely on a makeshift cardboard shack or a communal tent at a refugee camp for their shelter.  If our children are raised to believe that they should get the same as everybody else, they will constantly be trying to make sense of a reality that doesn’t fit their belief, swinging wildly between feelings of victimhood and privilege.

Another understanding of fair is getting what we deserve.  This, too, does not hold true.  We all know stories of bad things happening to good people.  We can think of times in our own lives when we worked really hard or did all the “right” things and didn’t enjoy the pay-off we wanted. Often effort and good values do pay-off (and they’re still worth doing) – but they’re not a guarantee.

But life is fair in that we all get opportunities to experience heartache, worry, peace and joy, if in different forms.  My understanding is that our experiences in life are in some way individualised to meet the purposes of our souls (not our egos).  That’s not to say that, in the midst of it all, we feel like we’re getting a good deal but I guess that’s what faith is – trusting that things are unfolding for the greatest good, even when it doesn’t appear that way.  This is the understanding of “fair” that I hope my boys will have.

HOW I RESPOND WHEN MY CHILDREN COMPLAIN “IT’S NOT FAIR!”

My boys know that they are always welcome to express their point of view but I’m teaching them to talk about themselves, not in comparison to others.  “What your brother has/does isn’t relevant, just tell me about yourself”, I’ll say.  And this is something that I do in many different parenting situations – I keep their focus on what they can control.  Themselves.  So, instead of saying, “It’s not fair, he has the car and I wanted to play with it”, they can say, “I’d like a turn with that car” and we work through it from there.

Recently, Jake needed new shoes so I took him shopping for a pair.  When we got home, Thomas asserted that it wasn’t fair, he wanted a new pair of shoes too.  I explained that his shoes fit him well and are not yet worn out so he doesn’t need new shoes right now.  “When you need new shoes, I will get you new shoes”, I told him.  I wanted him to see that people need different things at different times and that my “fairness” lies not in giving my boys the same but in treating them the same by providing them each with what they need when they need it. Thomas was very accepting of my response.

Most importantly, I’m trying not to use the word “fair” myself (which is harder than I expected!). Fairness is not one of our family values – but kindness, for instance, is.  So, if one of my boys is using a toy that the other wants, I encourage kindness and consideration from both parties – “Jake, please leave Thomas to enjoy his turn with the ball, then you can have it.  And, Thomas, when you’ve finished, please give the ball to Jake so that he can have a turn”.  Or I might encourage them to work things out together in a way that satisfies them both, “how can you sort this out so that you both get to have fun with the ball?”  Here, I’m focussing on the small kindness of allowing the other to enjoy playing with the ball.  It’s a subtle shift, easily made by not using the word “fair”.

But, if it’s a cake that has been cut into uneven slices, I just spare us the fuss and make sure they are evened up before my boys even have a chance to whine that it’s not fair.  Let’s just be practical about that one!

IN SUMMARY: NO MORE KEEPING SCORE

I hope you feel somewhat relieved of the burden of trying to keep everything equal between your children.  It was always an impossible task, even for the most clever and cunning of parents.  When our children whine that “It’s not fair!”, we have a chance to teach them that life is not a comparison game.  We have all experienced that downward spiral comparison with others creates for our own sense of wellbeing – let’s not pass that onto our kids.

One benefit of banning the phrase “It’s not fair” is that my boys seem to find it affirming to be treated as individuals, to know that I’m tuning into them and  their unique needs, rather than treating situations as an administrative exercise – keeping tally, taking stock, balancing the books.  Their complaints that “It’s not fair!” are s-l-o-w-l-y reducing as we all learn to keep our eyes on ourselves, not others.

Much love to you and your little souls,

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I don’t know how long it has been since my son Jake had a haircut – long enough to lose track.  At the moment, he looks like a strawberry blonde version of the  mischievous children’s book character Dirty Bertie.  His refusal to get a trim seems to be less about the way his hair looks and more about the process of getting it cut.  He has always found having his hair cut uncomfortable, wincing and grimacing with each tug of his hair, snip of the scissors or buzz of the clippers.

For a while there, I was desperate to get his hair cut.  Between his favourite clothes, covered in stains (because he wears them all the time) and his overgrown hair, I thought he looked a bit of a mess.  My mother’s heart longed to see his handsome good looks.  My mother’s ego felt embarrassed that his appearance may make others think he’s not very well cared for – what kind of mother is she?

I started making comments to Jake like, “Don’t you want to look smart for the birthday party/school disco/family meal out?”  I gently teased him, calling him “Scruff” and “Shaggy Bear”.  As his hair grew longer, I started putting pressure on him to get it cut, pointing out photos in which his hair was freshly cut and saying, “Look how handsome you are in this picture.  I can see your lovely eyes”.  One day, I even bribed him – if he’d get his hair cut, I’d take him out for morning tea at a café afterwards.  He refused!  Jake, who NEVER turns down the opportunity for a piece of cake!  I realised then just how serious he was about not getting his hair cut.

Then, I caught myself.  I caught myself niggling at, criticising and harassing my son. I immediately felt regretful and ashamed of the way I’d been treating him.  I hadn’t been living by one of my essential soulful parenting principles – to accept my children as they are, scraggly hair and all.

To feel unconditionally loved is the greatest gift we can give our children and accepting every part of them is essential to this.  Our resistance to any part of our child causes us to behave in ways that separate us from them (such as my name-calling and pressuring).  I had been creating a wedge between Jake and I over something as inconsequential as his hair.

And, I asked myself, if I couldn’t find a way to accept his hair, what might I struggle to accept about him in future? He was bound to do many other more significant things I wouldn’t agree with.  I wouldn’t be able to respond helpful to any of these things if I resisted them.

Let’s briefly step away from the story to clarify an important point – to accept something is not to do nothing about it.  When we accept our children as they are, we are able to see what’s really going on in a situation and work with them to solve the real issues together.   And we can do this in a way that empowers them to make good choices.  It doesn’t have to be all judgement, disapproval and control.

After accepting the state of Jake’s hair, I realised that, this time, there is no issue to solve.  It’s just hair.  As parents, we don’t get to project our personal preferences (for short hair) or our insecurities (that we may be perceived as a neglectful parent) onto our children.  I can’t name one valid reason why Jake’s hair is a real problem.

For me, acceptance turned out to be just a decision away. I only had to remind myself of my commitment to loving my children unconditionally and to make a better choice.  I’ve stopped commenting on Jake’s hair.  The tension between us has eased.  I still look forward to the day when something motivates him to get a haircut but I can wait until he’s ready.


Much love to you and your little souls,



Update: Since writing this essay, Jake decided it was time to get a haircut – because he couldn’t see the ball while playing cricket.


RESOURCES

To go deeper into what acceptance is and how to accept anything, I highly recommend the book “Loving What Is” by Byron Katie.    (Not an affiliate link)


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For some reason, Christmas time seems to elicit controversial essays from me.  Take my one from a couple of years back, pitching Jesus against Santa – yikes!    I’m not one to deliberately stir things up but I’m also not the type to be insincere or to go along with things I don’t believe in.  So, before I proceed with this one, I just want to reiterate that my essays are personal and I endeavour only to offer a perspective on the topics I write about.   I don’t claim to know all that is right or true about parenting or life…or Santa.

Disclaimer made, I’ll admit right now that there is a lot about the way we celebrate Christmas in these current times that doesn’t sit right with me and Santa has always been one of them.  Here are just some of the reasons I’m not so fond of him from a soulful parenting perspective –

* When people talk about Christmas with children, it usually gets reduced to the question “what do you want Santa to bring you?”  Christmas can be so much more than that but it’s upto us adults to show the children in our lives where the meaning of the season lies.

* The comments children get from adults about Santa not coming if they don’t behave themselves.  I have intentionally avoided saying these things but other adults take the liberty of saying them to my boys.  Christmas is not a time for manipulating our kids into behaving in a way that suits us or causing them to question their worth and deserving.

* The older our children are when they realise Santa isn’t real, the more of a fool they will feel, the greater their sense of having been betrayed by us, their supposedly trustworthy parents.

* The potential for ridicule of believing children by peers who don’t believe.  At some point, our kids unfortunately become targets of those who are in-the-know if they believe in Santa.

My perspective is skewed by the fact that my parents never led me to believe that Santa was real.  Our family played the game enthusiastically, putting out milk, cookies & stockings on Christmas Eve and the story of it felt just as magical to me as it would have if I’d believed in it.  We let our imaginations go there.  My husband, on the other hand, remembers the wonder of having believed throughout childhood and didn’t want to rob our boys of that feeling.  So I have been going along with the whole Santa palaver while also working on changing my husband’s mind, trying to help (make) him see that Santa gets in the way of a more meaningful Christmas.  This year, I appreciate that he agreed to telling Jake (7 years old) the truth about Santa since it obviously meant so much to me.

Strangely enough, once he said that, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to tell Jake anymore.  What if I was robbing him of the excitement of Christmas?  Having been so certain for so long, I wavered.  But a moment came up this week when I was alone with Jake and I felt myself being pushed to fess up.  I even got nervous like I do when I have big news to deliver to someone, such as when I handed in my resignation from teaching.

I began by swearing Jake to secrecy before telling him – he couldn’t tell anyone, not even his brother, Thomas (4 years old), or his friends.  Which may have been pointless since, only a month ago, he shared the secret we had planned for my husband’s birthday with his whole class for morning news.

His first question on hearing the revelation was, “So it’s like a legend?”  I thought “legend” was a bit grandiose, but ok.  Then, predictably, “So where do the presents come from?”

I gave him an abbreviated history of Saint Nicholas.  I said that parents carry on the kindness of Saint Nick by filling stockings for their children.  I assured him we would still fill his stocking for him but I also offered him this – “Would you like to continue the kindness by helping Dad and I to choose presents for Thomas’ stocking, now that you know?”  Jake nodded enthusiastically and wanted to know when we could go shopping.  He had a new reason to look forward to Santa coming.

Something that didn’t occur to me before telling him the truth was that I would be roping Jake into lying for others.  “Remember, don’t tell Thomas.  Don’t tell your friends – it’s up to their parents to tell them when the time is right.  Just go along as if you believe”.  I hadn’t thought that the truth could turn out to be a burden of sorts for him.  The following day, we spoke about this further and I told him he didn’t have to lie when someone directly asked him if he believed in Santa but not to announce it to other kids.

After telling him the truth, I asked Jake, “So, how do you feel about the news?”  During our discussion, I thought I had detected some disappointment.  But his response surprised me.  He told me he was grateful that his Dad and I had filled his stocking up for “7 whole years” and thanked me very much.  I don’t think I’ve ever been thanked very much by him before.

Now that the “legend” of Santa has been corrected, my conscience is clear (at least in regards to Jake) and I’m relieved of having to come up with convincing explanations for the unexplainable (eg. “how does Santa get down the chimneys when he’s so fat?”).  And, most importantly, I have made room for more gratitude and generosity in Jake’s experience of Christmas.  I think it will be a little more soulful for him this year.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Did I just hear one of my boys call my name?

I look at my clock with blurry vision.  3:54am.

“Mummy”, I hear Jake call in a shaky voice.

I get out of bed and pad down the hallway to his bedroom.

“I’m scared”, he murmurs when I reach him.

I crawl into bed with Jake and asked him about his fears.

 

Bad dreams, fires and intruders have been his main concerns lately.  One evening, as we were putting our boys to bed, my husband had to take him downstairs to show him that the front door was securely locked and there was no way for someone to get into the house.  Last week, I had to reassure him that our smoke alarms are loud enough to wake us if they go off while we’re asleep.  But I know that, when we’re in a state of fear, we are unable to be reasoned with.  Our brains have been hijacked by our fear, unable to gauge the unlikeliness of the possibilities that terrify us.

As I held Jake, I remembered the terror I used to feel as a child, lying in my bed, listening to the sounds of the house, convinced that someone had found a way inside.  In the dark, my imagination was my worst enemy.

Even at forty years old, the dark still has a way of bringing out my fears.

I listened to Jake until he felt he’d told me enough about his scary dream then I just lay with him, chatting a little.

After ten minutes, it was time to extract myself.  Remembering my own childhood middle-of-the-night anxiety, I wanted to hold Jake ‘til morning so he could relax and fall asleep in a sense of safety.  But I knew that this wasn’t going to be the first time he’d need me to comfort him in the dark and I didn’t want to set a precedence for sleeping night after night squeezed into his single bed together.  I told him he could leave his lamp on for the rest of the night if he liked and suggested he read for a while to make his eyes tired.  I also reminded him that, at any time, he can choose his thoughts and that maybe he’d like to have a happy memory or wish ready to think about whenever scary thoughts come to mind.

But I felt helpless.  I couldn’t make his fear go away.  I couldn’t tell him for certain that, if he fell back to sleep, the bad dream wouldn’t come back.  Or that we will never have a fire in our house.  Or that someone unwanted won’t ever find their way in.

So I offered to do for Jake what I do for myself when my fears are running amok.

“Would you like me to say a prayer with you?” I asked.

Jake nodded.

I began my prayer by asking that Jake be protected from bad dreams, fires and intruders.  But I realised that this prayer would not be enough to settle Jake’s mind.  For, while we can tell God/The Universe what we’d like, we cannot tell It what to do.  So I continued my prayer by asking for Jake to know that God is always with him and for his scary thoughts to leave him alone, replaced by happier ones.  Essentially, it was a prayer for him to see things differently – without fear – one I’ve learned from A Course in Miracles.

“Does that help?” I asked, uncertainly.

Jake smiled and nodded.

I didn’t know if Jake experiences relief through handing things over in prayer like I do but, the next morning he said to me, “can I call you in the middle of the night whenever I get scared and we can say a prayer together?”

“Of course”, I said.  “Anytime”.

 

CONCLUSION – PRAYING WITH CHILDREN

Spirituality without a Higher Power of some sort is kind of in-vogue at the moment.  The power of the Self is revered – inner strength and manifesting etc.  And, yes, we are magnificent, powerful beings.  But that magnificence is God-given, an extension of Himself within us and, when our humanity is not enough to get us through the situation before us, we can call on that magnificence for help.  Not necessarily to rearrange the chess pieces of our lives to our liking but to rearrange our thoughts for Love and peace.  Time and time again, I have found this prayer – to see things differently – to be the most powerful one I say, easing fears of every variety.

Turning to prayer for support is a relatively new idea for my boys.  Our prayers are normally of thanks and for guidance.  (You may find this essay about introducing our children to prayer helpful)  But I want my boys to know that The Universe is a friendly place, unfailingly supportive of them, even when they are feeling most confused and vulnerable.  Praying is an act of faith, an acknowledgement that, while I don’t see the big picture right now, I trust that the intentions of The Universe are wise and loving.  If my boys know that I am willing to lean on that understanding, maybe they will know that they can lean on it also.  This is the gift that I hope to have given Jake that dark night.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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I met a group of friends for coffee last week.  Our gang of 7 year-old boys go to school together and, after dropping them off one morning, we met at a local cafe.  Conversation turned to the dreaded teenage years.
“Isn’t there a part of their brain that kind of shuts down and renovates itself in adolescence?” I asked.  “Reasoning or impulse control or something?  If that part of their brain isn’t really functioning, what hope do we have?” I said, only half joking.
We all exchanged despairing looks, imagining the trouble our teens might get themselves into, remembering some of the trouble we got ourselves into as teens.  After a while, another mum suggested that perhaps the best thing we could do to help our future teens stay “on track” was to teach values to our children.

Our theory was that, if our children are raised to have kindness, respect and value for life, for example, these things will be ingrained in their way of thinking and making decisions for life.  Brainwashing – for the good!

And the interesting thing I’ve realised is that we don’t even have to teach these values to our children.

 

THE REASON WE DON’T NEED TO TEACH VALUES TO OUR CHILDREN

If we look at the values listed above, they are all expressions of Love.  Since we have each been created by a loving Universe, Love is already in us, it doesn’t need to be taught to us – including our mischievous 7 year-old boys and impulsive teens.  Good news, right?!

This, of course, does not mean that our children will always behave in loving ways!  But what it does mean is that we don’t have to judge, punish and lecture them when they stray from their natural state of Love.  Because they already know, in the instant that they do the apparently unloving thing, that what they did wasn’t right.  As much as they may argue with us or justify their actions, there’s a part of them that immediately feels the discomfort of having strayed from their true nature.  I suspect that the more extensive their efforts to defend their behaviour, the louder that voice inside of them is crying, “I wish I hadn’t done that”.

My experience is that our children have an internal sense of right and wrong (or Love and fear, as A Course in Miracles would say).  They don’t need to be told that what they did was wrong, they already know.  If this is the case, how should we respond when they do cross over to the dark side?  Here’s what I’m practising…

Without judgement, I direct them inwards to that uneasy feeling of having strayed from Love.  For example, instead of saying, “It’s not right to hit your brother”, I might say, “How do you feel after hitting your brother?” or “How does hitting your brother make you feel?”  In these moments, I often get a silent thumbs down in response, but that’s enough.  He gets it. I don’t need to launch into a sermon, punish him or force him to apologise (you can read more on not making our children apologise here).

As Jake is getting older (he’s 7 now), I’ve also started talking to him about how he felt in the moment before he hits.  For example, “when you knew you were going to hit him, how did you feel about what you were about to do?”  Here I’m helping him to recognise that he always has that voice inside him that knows what he should do, telling him quietly how best to respond to a situation.

 

OTHER WAYS WE CAN EMPHASIZE VALUES TO OUR CHILDREN WITHOUT TEACHING THEM

There are things we can do to create a Love-based culture in our homes, to marinade our children in Love so that it seeps into their being from the outside as well as nurturing it from the inside.

As always, we can be examples of Love ourselves, exhibiting it in our own behaviour.  Our children’s eyes are on us all the time and there will inevitably be times when our example is far less than exemplary but there will also be many times when we are able to show our children what Love looks like in powerful ways.  Most powerfully is how well we show love to our children, including when their behaviour rubs up against our own sense of right and wrong.

We can talk about Love-based values, keeping them explicit and alive in our homes through conversation.  In our house, we often refer to The Golden Rule and talk about the “ripple effect” of our behaviour on those around us.  “What kind of ripple effect do you want to have?” I asked Jake the other day.  We rarely use words like right/wrong or good/bad in these conversations.  We talk more about making decisions that help everyone involved to feel good.

 

IN SUMMARY – A NEW METHOD FOR VALUES EDUCATION

So, instead of teaching values like we might capital cities of the world, trying to drum into our children “knowledge” of right from wrong,  we can trust that our children already know.  The most helpful response we can have to their behaviour is to help them tune into that knowing.  But doing this is not simply a strategy to make the teenage years easier for us or to put our minds at ease.  Ultimately it is to empower our children to be a force for Love in the world.  Our children and teens will still make decisions we wish they hadn’t but they will feel that pull of Love within and learn through their decisions.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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I hear shrieks, followed by two sets of footsteps racing up the stairs to get to me first.  My boys burst into the room, words falling out of their mouths before they even reach me.  I had been happily minding my own business, making my bed as I listened to a podcast, but now I felt myself quickly fill with dread.  I knew they were coming to ask me to resolve a dispute that I didn’t even see and that I already knew would be impossible to get to the bottom of…

 

School holidays have just finished here in New Zealand.  As we were saying goodbye to our friends at the end of last term, I noticed an almost universal parental response to the impending break – they were looking forward to having more time with their kids but they were dreading the sibling conflict, which seems to escalate to new heights when our children have so much time together.

Last year, I wrote an essay called Snatching Squabbling & Slamming Doors – Siblings!  In it, I exposed the parental desperation around sibling conflict.  A lot of people related to the examples I gave –

…next minute…there’s shouting – no, roaring – and Jake has evicted Thomas from his bedroom.  Thomas is banging on the door, crying that he wants to be let back in.

Or…Thomas has decided he wants the toy car that Jake’s got (even though his fists are already full with 3 others) and the snatching and squealing begins.

Or…Jake begins to slowly wind Thomas up, taking advantage of his 3 years senior.  He argues, manipulates and competes with Thomas, who just can’t keep up and ends up hitting Jake in frustration.  And, of course, Jake comes running to report to me, very indignantly, that Thomas hit him.

Or…(and this one takes the cake)…we’re in the car and Thomas starts wailing “I don’t want Jake to look at me!”

In my essay, I admitted that I didn’t know what to do and concluded that I just had to ride it out and trust that, as they got older, they’d better be able to manage themselves.

 

MY SECRET TO MANAGING SIBLING CONFLICT

Well, I’m pleased to report that, now that my boys are a year older (4 and 7 years old), things are improving – considerably.  I put it down partly to their maturity and partly to my consistent message that we treat one another with respect & kindness.

But I have also discovered a secret that helps me to lead my boys more easily to a resolution.  It prevents the situation from spiraling downward into an impossible confusion of interjections and tears, as it once seemed to do inevitably.  Want know what my secret is?  It’s this –

Don’t take sides.

Have you noticed how sibling conflict quickly turns into a jostle for Mum or Dad’s attention and affirmation?  Our children come racing to us, wanting to be the first to have their story of mistreatment heard.  They want to be told that they are the one who is “right”.  Well, if one of them is “right”, then the other is “wrong”.  If we play the role our children want us to, someone is always judged.

But, as a soulful parent, I stand by my boys through all things without judgement (well, ideally, anyway).    My job in any situation is to be there for both of them, supporting them each in the way that they need to be supported.  Doing this takes enormous intention and patience on my part because often my brain insists that there is one boy who “is clearly in the wrong”.  It wants to pick up a wig and gavel, make an authoritative ruling and get onto the next thing (usually the next item on my to-do list).

But, if I don’t intervene by declaring who is victim and who is perpetrator, if I don’t order a “fair” solution to the situation, what do I do?

I upskill them.  I take my boys through a process which gives them the skills to express themselves, manage their emotions, problem-solve and work with others.

This process is less a step-by-step how-to and more of a conversation that is adjusted for the individuals and the situation at hand.  You could say I have found some rules for these conversations that help me to shape the discussion so that it is constructive (instead of becoming a cauldron of complaints, blaming and frustration).  Here are the rules I have set for myself when managing sibling conflict –

 

Managing Sibling Conflict: Rules of Engagement (for Parents)

* Take no sides (already explained).

* Give each child a chance to explain their feelings and have them acknowledged by me.  Usually, I do this with each of them separately because their sibling can’t help but interject if they disagree.  Feeling heard helps them to calm down too.

* Get each child to focus on their own behaviour and what they can do in the situation, not what their sibling did or should do.  For example, we discuss the impact of their behaviour on the other and prepare what they want to say to their sibling.

* Help the siblings to come together to problem-solve.  Having coached them each already, I get them together and become the mediator for their conversation.  I don’t usually put any ideas forth myself, I say as little as possible.   I just help them to take turns to tell each other what they have to say and to listen to each other.  The goal is for them to learn how to communicate well and to come to a resolution together.

After months of this kind of coaching and mediating, we’re beginning to see the reward.  These holidays, I have heard both of my boys try to use the skills I’ve been teaching them on their own, without stepping into my courtroom.  Having practiced the skills so many times, they’re getting the hang of how to express themselves, listen to each other and problem-solve together.  I am freed of my judge’s wig and gavel.

 

IN SUMMARY – SIBLING CONFLICT COURT ADJOURNED

Of course, this is not the secret to eliminating sibling conflict altogether – arguments are normal!  But, when I don’t take sides, my boys learn the many skills of managing conflict themselves.  I intend to eventually be made redundant.

Personally, it is an enormous relief to realise that I do not have to get to the bottom of every argument, to determine who’s right or wrong and what the “fair” resolution is.  Instead of wading through all the details, trying to excavate the “truth”, all I have to do is to help them find a way forward.

This makes each situation more positive for my boys too because, regardless of their role in it, they can both rely on my affirmation and support.  They don’t have to compete for my allegiance as they once did because I no longer take up the role of judge.  I give them the power in the situation instead of wielding it myself.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Check out this great book, Siblings without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (not an affiliate link)