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)

Amongst all the advice given to me when I was pregnant, the best was this – listen to your intuition, you know what’s best for your baby.   I was quite looking forward to experiencing this thing called “Mother’s Intuition”.  To be able to instinctively know what to do would be very handy, especially when it came to caring for a tiny human being who couldn’t speak.  I imagined being blissfully in-tune with my baby, able to know and meet its every need.  We would be happy and content together.

Then I had Jake – and the picture was very different.  I was tired, overwhelmed and confused from the beginning.  Jake seemed to cry constantly as a newborn.  I found the sound of his cry distressing – he was depending on me to meet his needs but I didn’t know what, of all the possible things, he  needed.  When I breastfed, it didn’t look at all like the peaceful scenes of bonding on the pamphlets the hospital gave me – I was awkward & stressed, unsure if my technique was right or Jake was getting enough milk.   Every tiny baby care task seemed enormous because I’d never had to change a nappy, get a burp out or strap a baby safely into its carseat before.  And how could I help him get to sleep?!  Nothing seemed to come naturally to me.

Where was this mother’s intuition when I needed it?

I concluded that mother’s intuition must be a myth.   Or maybe I just wasn’t a “natural” mother.

So I approached caring for my baby in the same way I did everything else – with lots of mental work.  I followed my midwife’s advice to write down the details of Jake’s feeds, sleeps and nappies to try and find a pattern (there wasn’t one).  I read copious books on baby care, trying to follow them to the letter.  I’m good at following a plan…but my baby wasn’t.  I watched a dvd on “tired signs” to learn how to tell which stage of tiredness/alertness Jake was in so I could put him to bed at exactly the right moment that he would drift straight off to sleep.  But the signals were so subtle I couldn’t even spot some of them on the close-up dvd footage, let alone in my own baby.

Looking back, I can see now that it wasn’t a case of mother’s intuition not being real.   It was just that Id’ never learned to value my intuition, let alone how to use it.  Like most people, I was taught to approach tasks with determination and plenty of brain work – planning, organising, analysing…  That’s how I had done everything in my life.  My thinking skills had earned me a degree and helped me to plan for and assess my students in my work as a teacher.  They were valuable but…

our souls speak in feelings.  The few times I had experienced intuition before motherhood was when a deep, still knowing had unexpectedly come over me about big, difficult decisions I had to make, such as to leave teaching.  Our souls also speak with physical feelings, such as goosebumps and gut feelings.

As I’ve become more familiar with the ways of the soul and, when I’m living in that intuitive, feeling space, I get spontaneous, seemingly-from-no-where ideas quite regularly.  They help me in many ways, giving me little nudges in the right direction, including in my parenting.  My intuition will tell me the question my son needs me to ask him or tell me to give him a hug for no apparent reason.  There is no doubt that my intuition is a valuable parenting tool.

So, I know now that intuition is real – and powerful.  I do, though, question whether it’s “Mother’s intuition”.  I believe this intuition is available to Dads, children and everyone else also.  A mother may use it to help her in her parenting role but it’s there to help anyone in any situation.

So, how to use their intuition is one of the life skills we need to encourage and teach our children.  In some ways, it’s smarter than our brains.  Up close to our circumstances, our brains see the confusion of pixels that make up our lives.  Our intuition sees the bigger picture, it has clarity.  I want my boys to have a connection to their intuition that they can use just as effectively as their cognitive skills.  Here are some simple ideas for nurturing intuition in our children (and ourselves).

 

3 WAYS TO NURTURE INTUITION IN CHILDREN

  1. Value their intuition and ask them to use it. By default, we tend to ask our children what they think about something. But we can also ask them to feel a response. eg. “what feels right to you?”, “how does that feel?”
  2. Get them involved in mindful and non-productive activities. Sensory activities, like playdough and painting are good examples. These activities give our children a chance to stop thinking so much and be present so they can sense their intuition.
  3. Encourage them to notice their body’s signals. If we share our own experiences of intuition eg. “That gave me shivers”, they will start noticing and sharing their own.

 

IN SUMMARY – BETTER THAN INSTRUCTION MANUALS

While we complain that babies don’t come with instructional manuals, The Universe has given us something even better – our intuition.   It will answer any question we have – but we must be willing to ask and ready to listen.  My essay 3 Questions Every Parent Needs to Ask Themselves shows how I am learning to communicate with my intuition to know how best to respond to my children in any given moment.

It takes discipline not to allow my thoughts to carry me away from my intuition.  Typically, I get stuck in my head and can become too overwhelmed by my thoughts to hear my intuition.  But, the more I still my mind and feel my way through life, the more relaxed and trusting I become, knowing I can depend on myself to be the mother my boys need.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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I love walking long the beach admiring the shape of the driftwood.  I love the irregularity of each piece.  I love that no two pieces are the same.

I wish we would appreciate our children the way we do driftwood on the shore.

You see, there seems to be a gold standard for human beings that we call well-rounded.  At sports and school prize-givings, there’s usually even an award for “best all-rounder” or something of similar effect.  Well-rounded is a vague kind of a term, suggesting that the person to whom we can attribute this quality is fully developed in every desirable trait and ability.  They are complete in some way that those of us with pieces/qualities missing are not.  From childhood, we are given the mistaken impression that being well-rounded is favourable and actually possible.

 

DEFICIT-BASED PARENTING

Believing our children should be well-rounded leads us to a deficit-based approach to parenting.  The aim of this approach is to fill in the perceived gaps of our child.  They’re a little behind in maths, so they get sent to private tutoring in the evenings, even though they’ve just spent 6 hours at school.  They’re not very socially confident so they are bombarded with playdates and social activities as if over-exposure will make them feel differently.  Yes, we need to support our children where they struggle but we don’t need to change them.

With a deficit-based approach, it’s almost as if we’re trying to protect our children from the pain of being themselves.  We justify our choices to our children and to ourselves by declaring that what we’re doing is “for their own good”.  I remember being sent to netball and tennis lessons despite my lack of co-ordination and complete disinterest in sports because it was apparently going to make me fit in better socially (New Zealand is a very sports-based culture).

Our children can sense when we’re treating them like a project, tinkering away to improve them.  And the message it gives them is this: You’re not good enough as you are.

 

STRENGTHS-BASED PARENTING

Imagine if, instead, we took a strengths-based approach to parenting.  We would use those hours after school and in the weekends to encourage our children to do the things they love and are good at.  We would use that time to fill our children up, not to fill in their gaps.  When doing what they love, children experience joy, they see all that they’re capable of and they catch a glimpse of their own potential.  In this way, their self-confidence grows.

It is my understanding that the spiritual role of parenting is to help our children to be themselves (you can read more about that here).  We do not get to shape and mould them into who we think they should be.  Instead, I see it as my job to honour and empower my boys to be authentic so that they can be the people they are intended to be.  We’re all purpose-built, perfectly-shaped for the lives ahead of us, including our children.

Imagine each of us is a piece of wood.  No piece is the same.  There are rough bits and smooth bits on all of us.  If we equate being well-rounded with being the spherical shape of a ball, the wood (the person) must be sculpted from their irregular form into a perfect sphere.  Chunks need to be taken off, gaps need to be filled and everything sanded down to make it regular and smooth.   At the end, their original shape is nowhere to be seen.  The person becomes unrecognisable and no longer themselves, difficult to pick out because they are so similar to everyone else.  This is what trying to make our children well-rounded does to them.

We are all most happy when we feel able to be ourselves.  If we raise our children to be themselves, they won’t need to well-rounded I’m not saying we shouldn’t equip them with the essential skills they need in life, just that we need to stop expecting them to be all things and to be all things well.

Besides, I haven’t met anyone who is truly well-rounded.  Are you?  I sure as heck am not!   Yet so many people are miserable trying to become so by carrying on the gap-filling habits that their parents (and society in general)  started in early life.

 

CONCLUSION

If we raise our children to be themselves, they’re going to be well-equipped for their particular futures.  They’re going to go into occupations that use their natural strengths.  If they struggle with maths, it’s unlikely they’re going to choose to be a statistician or engineer and it’s not going to matter that they only just scraped through their high school maths assessments.  Let’s just appreciate our kids as they are and stop burdening them and ourselves with the mythical notion of well-roundedness.  Instead let’s support our beautiful, oddly-shaped children in being authentic, passionate and confident.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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THE BOY I COULDN’T FIGURE OUT

I distinctly remember the moment when I used my intuition intentionally for the first time with a child.  I was a primary school teacher and I had a boy in my class – we’ll call him Ryan – who was a complex child.  He was exceptionally bright, very friendly and had a good sense of humour yet every day he poked, niggled at and generally annoyed his classmates.  It was virtually impossible to get a straight answer out of him about why he was treating his classmates this way.  Whenever I asked him about what was going on, his clever mind would try to formulate the responses to my questions that would land him in the least amount of trouble.  I just couldn’t figure him out.

One morning, Ryan had just upset another classmate and we were going round in circles (again), trying to determine what had happened when I felt my mind almost stop.  Normally when I was teaching, my mind was in 28 places, trying to keep an eye on what each student was upto.  But, in this moment, the other children in the room faded away and my attention zoomed in on Ryan.  It became peaceful inside me and I let my resistance to his behaviour go.  I asked myself, “What does he need in this moment to be able to tell me why he’s upsetting the other children?”  And it came to me in an instant – give him the start of a sentence to finish.  Suddenly I understood that he had so much happening in his mind that he needed help to zero in on the information I was asking him about.  If I started a sentence for him, it would take his thoughts to the place where the answer was and all he had to do was finish the sentence.  To give an example, a sentence starter might be something like I poked Ben because… or I wanted Ben to… Each time, I could adjust the sentence I gave him to the situation.

Somehow, finishing the sentence was easier for Ryan than answering a question.  It didn’t allow him to go off on tangents or hide what was really going on with words. From then on, if I couldn’t get a straight answer from him, I carefully spoke or wrote the start of a sentence or two for him and he finished them off.  Being able to get the information I needed about his behaviour helped me to understand where he was coming from and how I could help him.  The rest of the school year was a lot easier.  That one moment of asking my intuition for what I needed transformed the dynamic between Ryan, me and the rest of our class.

I now use getting present and inviting my intuition in (like I learned to do in my classroom that day) in my parenting.  It especially helps me to respond appropriately to difficult situations with my boys.  Although I sometimes share with you strategies for approaching specific situations in a respectful way (eg. to discipline or to respond to an angry child), I prefer to use my intuition than to lean on a process or strategy by default.  Over the years, my best responses to situations have come to me in the moment when I’ve had no plan for how to approach them but my heart and mind have been open to really seeing what’s going on.  The trick is to ask ourselves the right questions.

 

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

The questions we ask ourselves have a lot of power, they reflect our intentions.  Imagine, for instance, you have asked your child to help with the housework and they are flat-out refusing – rather loudly and aggressively.  If we ask ourselves “how can I get them to do what I want them to?” (just quieten down and pick up the vacuum cleaner, for goodness’ sake!) we are not approaching things with a spirit of respect and co-operation so we’re probably not going to hear much from our intuition.  It doesn’t want to be complicit in controlling our children.

As I’ve used my intuition more and more, I’ve found that there are 3 questions I tend to ask most when in a difficult situation with one of my boys. These questions help me to understand what’s really happening and what is needed from me in the moment –

 

“What is my child needing right now?”

Our intuition is likely to reply to this question with something like – acknowledgement of their point of view;  help to manage a big emotion; to learn where a boundary is; to tune into their values…  In the case of the child refusing to vacuum, they may need acknowledgement that they don’t like vacuuming and help to manage their anger about having to do it, for example. When I ask this question, I can see that that the child is not being naughty but has developmentally appropriate needs.

 

“What can I do to meet that need?”

Our intuition is super-creative, shiny with brilliance we probably wouldn’t tap into using our rational minds on their own.  It’s able to synthesise the various aspects of a situation to offer simple and effective solutions – like giving Ryan a sentence to finish.  It wants to help us empower our children.

 

“What belief about myself, my child or the situation has triggered me so much?”

Yes, we have to turn the questions on ourselves too, especially if we notice that we’re having a strong internal response to the situation at hand.  Infact, this question should probably be asked first as a way of clearing the air before responding to our child.   It might be that we believe children should always do as they’re asked and should never speak back – because that’s exactly what our parents used to say to us.  If we have that belief, we’re not able to see our child’s need, only our own sense of being disrespected or out of control.  But, once we are aware of our trigger, it no longer has control over us because we can choose not to let that limiting belief parent the child but our Love to parent them instead.

 

CONCLUSION

See how differently we respond to our children when we get present and ask our intuition the real questions, rather than simply trying to figure out how to get our child to do what we want them to?  Suddenly the situation is transformed from one of confrontation and competition, our child and ourselves each trying to get our own way, to one of compassion, co-operation and truth.  In this way, we can recruit both our brains and our souls for our higher purpose as parents – to love our children as they are and to lift them up.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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