How to Approach your Child’s Teacher with a Concern

Before having children, I was a primary school teacher.  For me, it was an enormous privilege to have such a significant role in the lives of the children in my class and I took the responsibility seriously.  I wanted my pupils to enjoy their year with me and to see them thrive.  It broke my heart if any one of them was struggling in some way – academically, socially, emotionally…  And if a parent had any concerns about their child, I wanted them to raise it with me so we could deal with it quickly, together.

Now I am a parent, my heart breaks over my own children’s struggles (broken hearts everywhere!)  At one point, my son was being bullied by another child at kindergarten.  Sometimes he would cry in the car on the way home from kindy and he lost some of his natural spark for a while.  But my husband and I raised it with the teachers and kept in regular contact with them over the situation and gradually things settled.  But, until they did, I was torn.  As a parent, I just wanted the other child kept away from my son.  As a teacher, I knew the other child was entitled to be there too and had social skills to learn that he couldn’t if the two boys were simply separated.

As a spiritually-led parent, my commitment to Love applies to everything.  I want my boys to see me treating everyone with respect, including their teachers, other children (even those they may be having trouble with) and themselves.  Bearing that in mind and with the benefit of having been in both positions (teacher and parent), here are some principles I use to help me approach a teacher with a concern –

 

Build a relationship with your child’s teacher.  When I was teaching, I worked hard to build open relationship with parents.  I nurtured those relationships in various ways but it was easier when parents made an effort too (I had about 28 sets of parents to connect with, they each only had one teacher).  Some parents just came into the classroom occasionally before school for a brief chat with me about nothing in particular and that helped.  We built a respectful, trusting relationship which made it easier for either of us to raise issues about their child.

Remember that most teachers are hard-working but none are super-human.  As a teacher, I worked hard to meet as many of my pupils’ needs as I could.  I had my finger on the pulse but I couldn’t see everything that was going on in the playground or read my pupil’s minds.  And there just weren’t enough hours in the day to attend to every need I saw so I was constantly prioritising (and feeling guilty).  So, before approaching our child’s teacher, let’s make sure we have perspective.  It’s easy to be judgmental about what a teacher “should” be doing but, as parents, we have to be realistic and fair too.

Avoid gossiping with other parents.  It’s one thing to run our concerns by another trusted parent to get a sense of whether we have things in perspective or not but it’s another to gossip and analyse the teacher together behind their back.  And to do this in front of our children can undermine their relationship with their teacher.

Make an appointment when bringing up a new issue.   Although teachers are usually around for parents to talk to before and after school, it is better to make an appointment to see the teacher for anything that is more than a little niggle.  An appointment will allow you more time and privacy to discuss what’s on your mind.  Giving the teacher an idea of what you want to discuss in advance allows them to prepare themselves for a thorough discussion.  For example, they may have assessment information or notes they’ve kept about social issues to review and bring to the meeting.  Giving the teacher time to prepare will result in better outcomes for your child.

Ask the teacher for help, rather than make a complaint.  When something’s not going well for our child, our emotions can be high but it’s important to go into the meeting with an attitude of “let’s work on this together” rather than “this isn’t good enough – what’s going on?!” etc   A teacher who feels attacked may, understandably, become defensive which won’t help to resolve the situation.  What we really want, is for the teacher to understand where we’re coming from then to collaborate on improving the situation.

Have patience and keep in touch with the teacher.  When I was teaching, I didn’t always have a solution to offer on the spot of the first meeting.  Sometimes I wanted to mull it over for a while and get back to the parents.  Sometimes, I had to try out different things to find what would work to solve the issue.  But I always wanted to resolve the situation.  The parents and I would regularly check in with each other to review how things were going.

Try twice before going higher.  If you feel that the issue you have raised with the teacher is either being ignored or the teacher can’t manage it on their own, you may need to consider getting a more senior staff member involved.  I think it’s fair to discuss the issue twice with the teacher before asking to bring in someone higher.  If we feel the need to involve more senior staff members, it should be with the teacher’s knowledge.  Best practice is for the teacher and the senior staff member to both attend that meeting.

 

IN SUMMARY: IT’S ALL IN THE RELATIONSHIP

Parents are the experts on their child.  Teachers are the experts on the dynamics of their class and the skills & knowledge of teaching.  When we have a concern for our child, we want to bring together all our expertise to solve the situation quickly.

The quality of our relationship with the teacher will impact how well things go when we raise an issue.  If we go storming into the school or centre like dissatisfied customers, throwing our weight around, we are not being advocates for our children but for our own egos.  At the other end of the spectrum, I know that some parents avoid talking to teachers due to negative experiences they had as a child at school.   As I often say, we are all spiritual equals, regardless of the position we have within any social structure or institution, and, bearing that in mind, we parents are entitled to raise issues and bound to do so respectfully.  I hope, firstly, that you never have to use these guidelines but, if you do, that they provide a starting point to help you begin.

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Co-Operation Instead of Control

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Is Screen Time Really Bad for My Kids?

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

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

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

 

GOOD USE OF SCREEN TIME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

REASONS NOT TO USE SCREENTIME

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

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

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

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

 

TIPS FOR MANAGING SCREEN TIME

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

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

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

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

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

 

IN SUMMARY: KEEPING SCREEN TIME IN PERSPECTIVE

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

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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

Looking over what I have written so far in Nurturing Little Souls, I have said often that I believe spiritual parenting requires us to be led by our children.  Our role is to empower them to be themselves and, to do this, we need to tune into them and follow the direction that they are going.  I have also said a number of times that we are spiritual equals with our children to remind us not to be over-bearing or heavy-handed in our parenting.  But, being equals with our children also means that we parents must be respected and have our needs and wants valued too.  Our whole lives do not have to be child-centred to be good parents.

 

TWO EXTREMES OF PARENTING

There are as many parenting styles out there as there are parents.  When it comes to the position our children have in our lives, everyone lies somewhere on the continuum between these two extremes.

Children as Accessories – Many expectant parents express an intention for their children to fit into their lives, believing their children will be flexible if, from the start, they are taken along to their parents’ social events and activities.  Some baby capsules become accessories to the parents’ lives, while the occupants’ needs, especially for quality sleep, aren’t prioritised.  We can’t fully understand until we’ve had children that, if we don’t want our lives to change, it’s not a good idea to have them.

Children as the Centre of Everything  The other extreme is parents who sacrifice everything – losing social connections, time for their interests and rest to become slaves to their child’s every whim.  I don’t think this is necessary.  In fact, I think it’s a bad idea.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup”.

If we allow our lives to be entirely child-centred, we quickly become depleted, with nothing to give.  Tending to our children’s needs & wants and rarely our own will see us become emotionally and physically exhausted.  When this kind of imbalance continues for too long, we can’t help but grow resentful because our lives have been reduced to the drudgery of “serving” our children.  When we are with them, we’re really far away, dreaming of that movie we’d love to see…or just sleep.  Our hearts aren’t in it and our children can sense that.

For example, I am hopeless at dramatic play when I haven’t had enough time for myself.  I have no energy, enthusiasm or creativity.  Thomas loves playing firefighters and he saves our playroom from multiple fires a day.  He often wants me to join in so we start by making a firetruck together with cushions.  On an empty cup day, I’m grateful to be able to just sit in the truck while we journey to the emergency, joining in (half-heartedly) with the “nee-nah, nee-nah”.  When we get to the fire, Firefighter Mummy sends Firefighter Thomas to put out the fires while I “look after the fire truck”.   It’s a poor effort.  Thomas must think I’m no fun and, on some level, probably realises that I don’t really want to be playing firefighters at these times.  On other days, when I’ve felt adequately rested and full from doing something for myself, playing firefighters with Thomas has been fun and I’ve cherished my time with him.

 

THE MIDDLE GROUND 

As my boys have gotten older and their physical needs less urgent, I have gradually reclaimed more of my own needs and wants.  I’m writing this blog for starters!  I nip out to see friends for coffee some evenings once the boys are tucked in.  If I’m out shopping with my boys, we take turns choosing which shops to look at and try to wait patiently while each other has their turn (Thank you Max fashions for having a toy box!)  I have also protected my coffee-drinking time in order to drink a whole cup, sitting down, before it goes cold.  My husband and I have introduced a new rule that our boys can’t ask us to play if we still have coffee in our cups.  They can chat with us, have a drink too if they wish, but we get to stay seated and enjoy our coffee.  (If you have a baby and none of these things are possible for you yet, trust that the day will come when they will be and, in the meantime, take as many tiny moments for yourself as you can.)

I want my boys to feel equal, valued and loved unconditionally for the unique beings that they are but I don’t want them to expect everything in life to be organised around them, as if they are at the centre.  From a broader perspective, I want them to see themselves as part of the whole of humanity.  Almost all of the world’s spiritual traditions emphasise the oneness we share with others.

The dynamic we create in our homes sets an example to our children of what to expect out in the wider world.  In our family, mutual respect and consideration of everyone’s needs and wants is important and I hope my boys will take this perspective with them wherever they go.   At times, one of them will complain because I have made a decision that doesn’t go his way.  I’ll say to him, “What you want is important but what everyone else wants is important too”.   I enlist my boys’ help in many ways so that they feel part of the family team and realise they can contribute.  For example, they help to carry bags in from the car and they do their bit in the mornings to get us out the door in time.  Practicing co-operation and collaboration in small ways makes it a given when bigger things come up, within our family or in the wider world.

 

IN SUMMARY: CHILD-LED IS NOT CHILD-CENTRED

Life with children will always be a little lop-sided in their favour but we can still practise the give and take of community within our homes.  We don’t want our children believing they are the centre of everything but we do want them to see their unique value – each piece of a jigsaw puzzle is important to the bigger picture.  And, when we parents have our needs and wants met (at least to some extent), we have the resources to deal with the challenges – big and small – that parenthood throws at us and to enjoy the beautiful moments.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

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What is Spiritual Parenting?

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

 

THE PURPOSE OF SPIRITUAL PARENTING

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

Letting Go of Other Intentions

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

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

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

 

HOW TO DO SPIRITUAL PARENTING

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

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

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

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

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

 

IN SUMMARY: HIGH INTENTIONS & ORDINARY MOMENTS

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

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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This post was first published as a guest post on the blog at kidsmindbodyspirit.com.  Kids Mind Body Spirit is an online directory of holistic services and resources for children, parents and educators. 

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“WHY AM I SHOUTING AT MY CHILDREN?!”

It was early in the morning. I hadn’t been up for more than ten minutes but I had already shouted at my boys three times.  Having been a teacher, I’m usually pretty good at what I call “professional calm” – the ability to avoid getting wound up in the emotions of the moment and respond calmly to a situation.  Normally, I’m a minimal shouter but there was no sign of that woman on this particular morning.  “Why am I shouting at my children?” I wondered.

When I find myself shouting, it is a signal to go inwards, not to blame my children – even when they’ve trailed mud over the newly-cleaned floor.  My shouting is a prompt to ask myself what’s going on with me that I can’t muster up my professional calm in this moment?  Often just knowing why I’m really shouting, seeing that it’s not really about my boys at all, helps me to regain perspective and stop taking whatever it is out on them.

 

REASONS WE MIGHT SHOUT AT OUR CHILDREN

Here are some of the main reasons I shout.  What makes you shouty?

  1. I’m tired. This is the main reason I shout. When I’m tired, I become hypersensitive and my tolerance level plummets.  Something that would’ve been irritating on a normal day, like Thomas pouring my drink into his cup ‘til overflowing while I’m not looking, becomes infuriating when I’m tired.
  2. I’m overwhelmed. When I’m overwhelmed by all I need to do, any added demand, such as being asked for another snack, feels like harassment.
  3. I’m triggered. Sometimes, my boys hit a sensitive spot and my ego comes out roaring. Eg.“How dare he disrespect me!” Being disrespected hits a tender place for me.  I question my worth and I spiral downwards within – and loudly without.   (See my post How Our Children Raise Us for more on being triggered by our children.)
  4. My children are doing just the thing that winds me up. Thomas has a squeal perfectly-pitched to grate on my nerves. My reaction is almost a biological response rather than a mental/emotional one.  He usually squeals when being provoked by Jake.  Thomas’ squeal and Jake’s aggravation are a lethal combination that sends me bananas.
  5. I’m in a rush. You don’t need to be told that children have a completely different sense of timing to adults. (The joys of not being able to read a clock.)  I hate being late and lose patience when my boys are slowing us down.
  6. I’m preoccupied. Sometimes, there’s an issue with my boys that I haven’t taken the time to get to the bottom of because I’m in the middle of something. Perhaps I’ve called out to them to stop arguing over a toy but they actually need some help to come up with a fair way to share it.  Without my guidance, the arguing gets louder and more aggressive…and so do I.  Sometimes, I’ve just got to put my plans on pause, get present, and deal with the issue properly.

 

HIT THE RESET BUTTON

The magic is that, in any situation, we can choose again. We can hit the reset button and respond differently, without shouting.  When time is short, I simply take a breath.  With that breath, I imagine shedding my upset self  like a snake sheds its skin, leaving only the Loving part of myself remaining.  I return to the situation with her instead.  Just the intention to approach the situation with Love makes a difference. (We can teach our children to do this too.)  When I need more than a moment to make the switch to Love, I turn on the kettle for me and the tv for my boys, giving us all a 10-minute break to diffuse the situation.  My professional calm returns and I continue – without shouting.

Yesterday, the boys and I were in the car and it was a case #1 and of #4 in combination.  Having been working on this post, I was determined not to shout.  Being in the car, there was no kettle or tv in sight.  So, I stopped the car, told my boys I would drive again when Thomas had stopped squealing & Jake had stopped bothering him and got out.  I stood quietly on the pavement until I felt calmer and was sure the kafuffle between my boys was over.  It was a quiet drive home.

 

RECOVERING FROM OUR SHOUTING EPISODES

When I have shouted at my boys, I always apologise.  When they shout, I tell them that they can express whatever they have to say but must do so respectfully.  Same goes for me.  Whatever the reason I’m shouting, my spiritual beliefs insist that I always treat others with love, knowing everyone is worthy of kindness and respect at all times.  I only apologise when I’m ready, though, able to be sincere.  (See my post Should I Make My Children Apologise?)

It doesn’t feel good to have been the shouting mum, it’s not how I want to be.  So I also have to forgive myself. I don’t want to carry my guilt around with me, it will only sour the next moment.  Having a shouty moment – or a shouty day, even – doesn’t mean we’re bad people or bad parents.  It just means there’s something going on for us.  It shows us that we need a little TLC of some sort – we all do sometimes.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Gratitude for Kids – Turning Entitlement into Abundance & Service

A journey in the car with the kids in the back can go many ways.  Sometimes, we feel harassed by incessant squabbling that we’re not able to get to the bottom of because we can’t see what ‘s really going on.  Other times, we get to quietly listen in on the conversations between our children and feel our hearts flutter with what they say.  This is a story about the latter.

It was a Friday afternoon.  Thomas (almost 3 years old) had been to kindy and Jake had been to school.  As I drove, they were exchanging notes on their days – sandpits, train sets, playground adventures and friends. Then, totally unprompted, Thomas said, “I’m grateful for kindy”.  Fortunately, we were stopped at traffic lights, otherwise I might have driven off the road.  Even Jake realised that this was a momentous moment for our family – “Mum, Thomas just said he’s grateful for kindy!”  This was the first time we had heard Thomas spontaneously share his gratitude.

Gratitude is important in our family.  We have a few simple habits – rituals – to help us keep gratitude active in our hearts and minds.  When tucking the boys into bed at night, we each share something we’re grateful for.   This year, we also began a gratitude jar.  Every Sunday night, we each write something we’re especially grateful for from the past week on a piece of paper (we each have our own colour).  We then fold the pieces of paper up and put them in the large jar that sits in the hall.  The idea is that, on 31 December, we’ll each have 52 special moments to reflect on and appreciate.  If it’s been a tough year, we’ll realised there has still been lots to be grateful for.  If it’s been a “good” year, we’ll appreciate it even more.  We also get to think about the things we have written on our pieces of paper every time we walk past the jar in the hall.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you’, it will be enough”. – Meister Eckhart

 

GRATITUDE AS AN ANTEDOTE TO ENTITLEMENT…AND SO MUCH MORE

Of course, there are plenty of times when it feels like the “attitude of gratitude” I’m trying to cultivate has disintegrated to dust.  On that Friday afternoon, Thomas and I had picked up Jake from school and surprised him with the news that we were taking our scooters to the skate park.  Currently one of Jake’s favourite hang-outs, he was thrilled.  But there was no “thank you” on hearing the news.  In fact, his first words were, “can we get ice-creams too?”  *@?#! When our scootering was finished and it was time to go home, he kept whining, “why can’t we stay a bit longer?”  I found myself recycling my mother’s sentiments – “I’m not going to take you for treats if you’re always going to ask for more.  Why can’t you appreciate what you have?!”  (In Jake’s defence, he did thank me afterwards and is often very appreciative of his own accord.)  Then I grumbled to myself, “I don’t know why I bother doing nice things for them, it’s never enough.  How did they become so entitled?”  I want to be able to treat my boys sometimes without them expecting it all the time.

We can become a bit complacent about gratitude these days.  It’s been a bit of a buzz word for a number of years now and every gift shop has items with sentiments of gratitude on them – mugs, prints, journals, ornaments, magnets…  (I do like the quote “When I count my blessings, I count you twice”, though.)  But gratitude is powerful – it cultivates real joy and empowerment.  On one occasion when entitlement was in full swing, I said to Jake, “When you’re grateful, you’re too busy enjoying yourself to think about what else you want and it helps you to notice even more things to be grateful for”.  Gratitude gives us a sense of our cup running over and, in turn, our capacity to be generous, creative and forgiving, for example, expands.

So, gratitude is not just a temporary pick-me-up technique.  Gratitude helps us to tap into the abundance (in all senses of the word) that is available to us and our own capacity to serve.  I imagine how I would have felt as a child to know that I had so much myself and so much to give.  I would’ve been happier and felt more powerful.

 

BUILDING OUR CHILDREN’S ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE

Here are some quick ideas we can use to start building our children’s gratitude.

Create regular opportunities to share something they’re grateful for.  Get the whole family involved in quick, simple moments of gratitude.

Be a grateful example – when I’m grateful for something, I sometimes share it aloud, in the moment.  I try to point out a variety of things I’m grateful for.  My boys pretty much stick to toys, outings and unhealthy food at this stage, but I try to include acts of kindness, beauty in nature, health and other people, for example.

Encourage genuine appreciation instead of polite thanks when they receive something (eg. a gift or help).  This is hard and I haven’t yet discovered the best way to do this.  With young children, it can be difficult to get a genuine “thank you” from them of their own accord.  When it comes to gifts, after each birthday party, I help Jake to write thank you notes.  We discuss the effort each person has gone to to select the gift for him and include in the note one thing he likes about it.

When my boys are behaving in an entitled way, I’ve started saying, “Put on your gratitude glasses”.  I think I’ve lectured enough for Jake to know what I mean.  It’s a fun reminder rather than a disapproving instruction to choose gratitude.

Avoid calling our children “ungrateful”, as if they have done something wrong.  This turns them off gratitude because it seems like something they should be rather than what it really is – a choice to live in fullness, joy and service.

 

IN SUMMARY: PLANTING THE SEED OF GRATITUDE

Entitlement seems to be a modern-day parenting issue that is difficult to navigate – ironically, a case of external abundance and internal lack.  My hope is that a focus on gratitude can do something to offset it.  We can’t make our children be grateful but we can demonstrate a life of gratitude and invite them to share in it with us.  Hearing Thomas announce that he is grateful for kindy, is reassuring.  Perhaps all those things we try to teach our children don’t just go in one ear and out the other.  Even if we don’t currently see any evidence of our children taking it on board, they are absorbing it.  We have planted the seed.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Teaching Children About Forgiveness

When Jake was a pre-schooler, I often noticed him hanging on to things after giving him a firm word or disciplining him in some way.  He seemed uncertain how to interact with me, unsure whether I was still upset with him or not.  So my husband and I started making a point of telling him that it was “finished” once any discipline had been dealt with.  We would then continue as normal, ensuring our manner with Jack was back to usual, not angry or upset in any way.  This was to show him that the incident was over and no hard feelings remained.  Looking back, I can see that this was a precursor to teaching him about forgiveness.

Last week, the long school holidays were getting the better of us both.  It felt to me that Jake wasn’t listening to much of what I said (unless the word “chocolate” featured) and I was tired of being patient & consistent.  I ended up shouting in exasperation.  Later, as we both sat at the table having morning tea, we exchanged apologies for our behaviour.  Jake kept repeating his apology despite my acceptance and I realised that I had never spoken explicitly about forgiveness with him.  So, I reminded him of how I used to say “finished” after a telling-off so that he knew it was over.  “When we forgive someone, we decide that it is finished, we decide not to keep feeling upset with the other person”, I told him.

That was enough for one morning but our chat made me realise that there is so much for a person to learn about forgiveness.  Many adults struggle with it.  And perhaps it’s because we don’t truly understand what forgiveness is – a gift to ourselves.

 

4 CHARACTERISTICS OF FORGIVENESS

Having given it some thought, I’ve come up with four characteristics of true forgiveness that we can aim to pass on to our children.  They may not grasp it all at first as forgiveness can look different on the outside than it is on the inside.  From the outside, it sometimes looks like politeness or forgetting but it’s neither of these things.

1. We forgive for our own benefit.   Forgiveness is not saying “it’s Ok” but, rather, “I’m OK”.  Ultimately, it is a choice not to let whatever happened hurt us anymore.  I have seen people who are almost defined by the event they refuse to forgive – often bitter, vengeful and hard, their non-forgiveness is apparent even when they don’t realise it.  Yet the people they won’t forgive have likely moved on and are unaware of the resentment harboured towards them.  Those who won’t forgive don’t see that their forgiveness is for themselves and that they suffer most for their decision not to allow it.

2. Forgiving is not pretending it never happened. When we forgive, we are forgiving the person, not their actions. We let go of our resentment towards them.  What happened may still upset us when we think of it but we no longer see ourselves as the victim of a personal attack.  With time, we may even recognise the gift hidden in the experience – something we needed to learn about ourselves.  I think this is what is meant by the phrase, “forgiven, not forgotten”.

“Anger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were”. – Cherie Carter-Scott

3. We can’t force someone (or ourselves) to forgive. A list of reasons to forgive is not going to make someone forgive because forgiveness does not happen through logic – it happens through love. Taking a moment to see the humanness of the person whose actions hurt us can help open us up to forgiving them.  When we recognise that the other’s hurtful behaviour was caused by their issues & misconceptions, we realise that whatever happened wasn’t about us at all.  It then becomes easier to forgive because we know we can relate – we have issues & misconceptions of our own that affect our behaviour.  Seeing that we are all ultimately the same enables us to be compassionate instead of judgemental and willing to forgive.

4. Forgiveness doesn’t require an apology. Just as whatever happened to hurt us wasn’t really about us, forgiving isn’t really about the other person. Because it’s not about them, we can choose to let forgiveness in at any time without an exchange of words.  When we do receive an apology, it is an invitation to forgive, a reminder that the power to do so is in our hands.  We simply decide that we are open to forgiving and allow Love to do the rest.

 

HOW TO TEACH OUR CHILDREN ABOUT FORGIVENESS

Having defined “forgiveness”, the big question is how to teach our children about it.  We want them to really understand what it is so they don’t just go through the motions of forgiveness because it is expected of them, to appear polite.  There are a number of things we can do towards giving them a full picture of forgiveness –

Forgive our children.  Once our children have offered us an apology for something or been through the consequences of their inappropriate actions, it is over – I repeat, OVER!  Often I have seen a child put through the consequences & offer an apology and still have to endure 10 more minutes of lecturing or suffer the cold shoulder for the rest of the day.  What’s happening in these situations? – their parents haven’t forgiven them.

Let our children see us forgiving others around us.  There are many small acts of forgiveness in a day for our children to witness.  We forgive their siblings when they shout at us.  We forgive our partners for being home late.  We forgive the shop assistant who over-charged us and had to put us through the lengthy paperwork required to refund us.  When someone offers an apology to us, our children should see us accept it with a “thank you”.  (Accepting an apology is not forgiving them on the spot, just appreciating their acknowledgement that they have hurt us).  We can also talk to our children about the compassion we have for those who have wronged us.  Eg. “The shop assistant made a mistake when he was adding up our purchases, we all make mistakes sometimes”.  This shows our children that forgiveness comes from Love, and that judgement has no place alongside forgiveness.

Notice and talk about it when we see that our child has or hasn’t forgiven someone.  We can talk with our children about how they feel to have let go or to be holding on to their resentment.  This will make them more aware of how their choice to forgive or not impacts themselves.

Don’t expect our children to forgive straightaway.  Often they will need time to allow the emotions of the situation to pass before they’re able to forgive.  (This is true for adults too.)  If they’re not yet ready to forgive a playmate, suggest they play apart for a while.  If they are offered an apology, they can receive it with a “thank you” and forgive when they are ready.  (You may also be interested to read my post Should I Make My Children Apologise?)

Suggest your child pray for help to forgive if they’re finding it hard.  Logic changes the mind, Love changes the heart.  While we choose to allow forgiveness in, it is a matter for the heart.  Prayer opens us up to receive the love we may need for the task.    This suggestion is probably suitable for school-aged children but we can say a prayer to help our younger children along.

 

IN SUMMARY: THE GIFT OF FORGIVENESS

Forgiveness is, I think, one of the most important spiritual and life skills we need to learn.  Yet, it is something easily overlooked by parents.  It would be easy to teach our children to graciously accept an apology without addressing the inner process required to truly forgive.

Forgiveness is an act of self-love.  When we refuse to forgive, we are really refusing ourselves freedom – the freedom to live with openness and joy. Like any skill, we get better at forgiving by practising it. When children forgive the child who called them a hurtful name, the parent who punished them unfairly, the teacher who overlooked them for an opportunity, they’ll more readily forgive the more painful experiences that are a part of life.

It is not weak to forgive.  It makes us stronger.  We can travel further if we’re not lugging our resentments around with us.

Nothing is unforgivable.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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10 Tips for Settling Your Child Into School or Kindergarten

If you’re not in New Zealand, children here begin school when they turn 5.  The Summer school holidays are ending and it’s back-to-school this week.  Children under 5 can go to an early childhood education (ECE) centre.  Kindergarten is one type of ECE centre.

Jake (5 years) goes back to school this week and Thomas (almost 3 years) has just had his first days at Kindergarten (kindy).  For some children, these transitions are smooth-sailing.  For others, they are very stressful.  Jake amazed me with his effortless start to school last year.  Thomas has been sticking close to me while we’ve been at kindy and has been upset while I’ve been gone.   Having been a teacher myself, I have the benefit of understanding these transition stages from both sides so wanted to make a list of my best tips to help parents.  Most of them are common sense, really, but it’s helpful to be reminded of them.

 

  1. Be sure of your decision. As a parent, check that you are feeling good about your choice of school or ECE centre. When choosing a school or centre, remember that none will be perfect but, if it generally feels right, trust that feeling.  When deciding on the right time for your under-5 to begin ECE, remember that there also may be no ideal time – you’re weighing up so many factors which may not coincide perfectly.  So, again, trust your feeling about the timing.  This is my first tip because settling in can be a difficult process for some families and it is much easier for you to be strong for your child when you are confident in your decisions.
  2. Build familiarity before school/kindy starts. Most schools and ECE centres offer the opportunity for you to visit with your child before they officially begin. During his kindy visits, Thomas had a chance to connect with the teachers and discover some of the activities that he would be able to do when started kindy.  While Jake is returning to the same school, over the last few weeks of holiday, I have organised a few playdates for him to reconnect with school friends.  There are also little ways to add familiarity to your child’s day once school/kindy starts.  For example, pack lunches with food your child has had before and likes.
  3. Address the practicalities. Depending on your child’s age, this means different things. It includes giving them clothing and equipment they can manage independently.  For example, a school-aged child needs to be able to take their shoes, coats and hats on and off themselves.  Make sure your child knows what happens for toileting.  At school, do they know where their classroom’s closest toilet is and what they have to do to let the teacher know they need to go (teachers have a variety of systems around this)?  At kindy, I showed Thomas where the change table was and explained that a teacher would change his nappy when he was at kindy.  By addressing these kinds of practicalities, we can eliminate them as stressors, which is particularly helpful for a child who is anxious about their new beginning.
  4. Acknowledge and allow any anxious feelings your child has. If they are old-enough, give them an opportunity to tell you how they are feeling about starting or returning to school/kindy. One question to ask is, “Is there anything you’re worried about?”  This question is better not asked just before going to bed, incase they lie awake worrying.  Choose a time when they are relaxed and calm.  Without dishing out a list of instructions, it may be appropriate to discuss simple strategies for dealing with some of their concerns.  But, most importantly, show your understanding.  Life is full of new beginnings which can create anxiety in all of us.  Your child’s anxious feelings are normal and they need assurance of this.  Also, allow your child their tears when it comes time to leave them at school or kindy.  Telling them off for crying or offering rewards for not crying when you leave adds the pressure of holding themselves together in an already stressful situation.  As a parent, their tears and hysterics can feel embarrassing and over-the-top but we need to tuck our egos away and be their support.
  5. Talk positively about school or kindy. If your child sees that you feel positively about school or kindy, they will feel assured that it’s a good place to go. Talk with them about what they are looking forward to.  It may be learning to read, playing on the playground or seeing a friend.  Talk about teachers and children you met while on your visit – their friendliness, kindness, sense of humour.
  6. Pray with and for your children. If you’re a praying family, this is a great tool for both parents and children. As Thomas has been settling into Kindy, I have prayed each morning that he feels safe and enjoys himself.  I ask that the teachers are tuned in to his needs.  On Jake’s first day back to school, we will say a prayer together.    We have a 12-minute drive to school and often pray together on the way.  I have a motto which I apply to many things, including prayer – “begin with thank you”.  In this case, Jake may be grateful to see his friends or to play on the playground at lunchtimes.  We will pray for support over anything that’s worrying him about returning to school and just for a great school year generally.  Praying with our children, shows that we have faith that The Universe is with them, supporting them.  I hope my boys will develop a sense of God being everywhere they go, including the classrooms and playgrounds of school.
  7. Remind your children of techniques they can use to manage their feelings while at school. This tip may be more for older children. Which techniques they use don’t matter and will depend on what you have taught them.  For example, you can suggest that, when they are feeling anxious or lonely, they could take a few mindful breaths to calm down or say a prayer to remember that God is with them.  These little things can help prevent them from descending into overwhelm or panic.
  8. Create predictability around drop-off and pick-up times. As I write this, Thomas is into his third day at kindy. I have ducked out to give him an hour without me as part of the transition process.  Before kindy this morning, I told him exactly when I would be leaving and when I’d be returning.  I left exactly when I said I would and will be back at kindy in exactly 29 minutes.  This builds his trust in me so that he knows I will always return when I say I will, making him happier to be left at kindy.  Another way to create predictability for your child is to develop a drop-off routine over the first days/weeks.  It may be that you stay with them while they put their things away, read a story together in the classroom/centre, hug and kiss, then go.  If your child has trouble at drop-off time, enlist their teacher’s help.  When I was teaching, I gave anxious children a job to do once they had said their goodbyes to keep them busy and give them a sense of belonging.
  9. No long goodbyes. If you say you’re going to go after reading one story – go! It is heart-wrenching when we see our child worried and upset but it is more confusing for them and prolongs their anxiety if we don’t leave after saying “goodbye”.  They may also learn that, if they’re dramatic enough, you’ll stay longer – using your empathy against you!  Remember, your child is in good hands – teachers are used to managing separation and want your child to be settled and happy at school just like you do.  If you’re anticipating “a scene” when it comes time to go, let the teacher know so they can be on-hand to comfort your child while you leave and settle them in.
  10. Make and take time to settle your child in. I can see that Thomas needs a gradual easing into kindy. He hasn’t been left with people other than close family before and is finding the separation from me difficult.  Currently, I’m leaving only for an hour each time and staying with him for the rest of the session because he has been upset without me. I have cleared my calendar so I can do this.  Once Thomas is more settled during his hour without me, I will gradually lengthen the time I stay away until he can be dropped-off at the start of session and picked-up at the end like usual.  While he needs to learn how to be at kindy without me, I also want to avoid him associating kindy with feeling distraught because I’m not there.  He’s very happy when I am there, playing and building positive associations with kindy.  We’re aiming for more happy, settled moments than, upset, anxious ones.  For most school-aged children, this slower settling-in process won’t be necessary because they’ll be older and likely to have attended an ECE centre where they’ve adjusted to staying without their parents.

 

I hope there’s something useful here for you and that your children’s transition into school or kindy is a happy one.

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Supermarket Meltdowns, Hugs & Ringo Starr

Thomas and I had a few items to pick up from the supermarket on our way home.  Always eager to help, Thomas likes pulling the wheeled basket along behind him and eating the free fruit the shop puts out for kids.  The two of us usually have fun together at the supermarket.

When we got to the supermarket, there were no wheeled baskets and the fruit box was empty.  You can probably guess how the rest of this story goes.

Thomas, being 2, insisted on carrying the regular basket with only handles himself.  It was awkward and heavy for him but I gave him a chance to try and to see for himself that he couldn’t manage it.  Uncharacteristically, he was getting himself in knots over it and our shopping wasn’t getting done.  In the end, I had to insist that I would carry the basket myself.  I was ready for crying and complaints but not for what came next.

Tears, screaming, pulling at me and the basket.  He had himself in hysterics.  I am not exaggerating when I say the whole supermarket could hear Thomas – and I could sense their ears listening.  I needed the few items on my shopping list and I knew it wouldn’t take long so I forged ahead.

But I had a choice to make about how I was going to forge ahead – with love or with fear.  I chose love.  And I mean self-love, not love for Thomas (bless him).  He was in no state for reason or, even, comfort.  He just needed his moment.  So I mentally detached myself from Thomas.  I detached myself from the shoppers and the staff.  I detached from my embarrassment.  “My child’s behaviour is not a reflection of me or my parenting,” I told myself as I charged down the aisles on my mission to get our essentials and get out of there. (Well, limped, really, as Thomas was semi-attached to me – but with the conviction of charging.)

I sensed the discomfort of the staff and shoppers at being witness to the scene I was responsible for.  My strength was wavering as I was heading for the one last thing I needed when…a stranger came up to me and said, “Excuse me, can I give you a hug?”.  She gave me a firm squeeze and said I was doing a good job.  With her kindness and understanding, I was fortified enough to finish my job with composure both within and without.  I am so appreciative of her support and, whoever you are – thank you, enormously.

I headed straight for the self-check-out as standing in queue wasn’t an option.  Like the parting of the red seas, people made room for me and my red-faced child.  A staff member pointed me to the next available check-out.  The customer at the check-out next to me offered to scan my groceries through for me.

The whole ordeal felt like forever but was probably under five minutes, due to everyone’s effort.  They and I both wanted us out of there!

By the time we got to the car, Thomas was hitting me in his frustration and overwhelm.  I simply told him, “no hitting, hitting hurts”.  He wasn’t in a place to receive any lessons. I figured I’d let him get it out and offer him comfort when he was ready to receive it. (see my post Helping Children to Manage Difficult Emotions)

So I had the joy of driving home with Thomas screaming in the back seat.  By the time we pulled up outside our house, he had quietened somewhat but told me he wanted me to keep driving and to listen to “Yellow Submarine”, which we’ve been playing a lot of in the car recently.  So I ended up reversing back down the driveway and cruising around the suburb with “Yellow Submarine” on repeat.  I looked in my rear vision mirror and Thomas was happy in the back seat, pretending to play the trombone along with the music.  He was reset.

That morning, I had listened to a podcast interview with Gabrielle Bernstein, author of The Universe Has Your Back as I was filling lunchboxes.  The interviewer had asked her, “How do you know the Universe has your back?”  This is how I know – the hugging stranger, the eager helpers at the self-checkout, Ringo Starr.  My quick stop at the supermarket didn’t go the way I would have had it, but there was help for me everywhere I turned.  I love the title of Gabby’s book and it is a truth I want my boys to know.

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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