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Afraid of the Dark – Praying with Children

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 Thought “Mother’s Intuition” Wasn’t Real…

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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Raising Well-Rounded Kids

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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10 Tips for Talking About Spirituality with Our Kids

It’s easy to go through the day without talking about things of a spiritual nature with our children.  We’re busy dealing with what’s obviously in front of us, not always tuned in to the non-physical ourselves.  But, for me, everything that happens within our physical experience  is part of our spiritual experience also.  If we only talk about spirituality within limited contexts, such as for morning prayers, an evening gratitude practice and on special occasions, it feels more like something that is on the periphery of our lives than at the heart of it.  Spirituality is kept alive for our children by talking about it.  By making it a normal topic of conversation, we also show our children that they can share their experiences with us and ask us questions, which is so valuable for helping them to develop and connect with their own spirituality.

So, today I want to share with you 10 ways that I make talking about spirituality with my boys easy and a usual part of our conversations –

 

1.What do you mean by talking about “spiritual things”? – that’s kind of vague. And it is vague because, if everything’s spiritual, it’s a very wide category of conversation!  It will depend on your own experiences, culture and understandings what exactly you talk about with your children and how you frame ideas.  It includes such things as concepts of The Universe and how it works, love-based values (rather than fear-based), and spiritual practices such as gratitude & forgiveness.

 

2. Look out for opportunities in everyday life to talk about spirituality. Our daily lives provide plenty of natural content for juicy conversation. Watching the Football World Cup with my son gave us a lot to talk about when we saw players praying before games and pointing to the heavens when scoring goals!

 

3. Children’s literature is rich in both characters and stories (fiction and non-fiction) to talk about. There are numerous children’s books available on spiritual topics but, without looking for them, I find lots of great opportunity for valuable conversation in the pile of books we get from our local library each fortnight.

 

4. Use your child’s own language. For example, we talk about “God” in our house partly because, when he was 4, Jake asked who “God” is and the name has stuck. (You can read about that conversation here).  I personally have a very non-traditional view of God and would probably choose a different name but the idea is to help our children access their own spirituality, and I don’t think we need to get too hung up on the vocabulary used.  As Shakespeare said “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

 

5. Offer explanations appropriate to your child’s age and readiness, even if you feel it doesn’t give the full picture. As they get older, you’ll be able to discuss ideas in more detail. I keep things simple by asking myself, “what’s helpful for them now, in this situation?”  And, actually, giving my boys simple explanations makes me wonder if I perhaps over-complicate things in my head.  Maybe they are more simple than I think.

 

6. Get present and follow your intuition. Perhaps I should’ve written this first because, I find that, when I get fully present with my boys, the best thing to say seems to just come to me.

 

7. Let your children do most of the talking. As you know, I firmly believe that it is not up to us to shape our children’s spirituality but to help them explore it and discover the shape of their own (more on this here). Allowing them to talk helps them to come round to what’s true for them.

 

8. There are lots of great resources available for children and families that might provide topics or a structure for conversation, such as card decks or journals. I wrote a blog post for Kids Mind Body Spirit last year and they have an online shop which shows some of the resources available called Earth + Stars (not an affiliate).

 

9. Our conversations are to open our children’s minds rather than to tell them what to think, so we don’t need to be concerned about getting all the details “right”.  Our spirituality is actually something we feel and experience more than it is something we believe and think.  Talking requires us to create mental constructs to hang our understandings on but those mental constructs are not necessarily the truth itself, rather a way for our brains to access it.

 

10. “I don’t know” is a great answer. Our children are curious and want to understand the way life works but part of having faith is being at ease with not knowing it all.

 

We can talk about spirituality with our kids in the same way as we would any other topic.  If you’ve been hesitant to talk more openly with your children about it, I hope these tips will help.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Science, Technology and Spirituality

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

 

SCIENCE AND SPIRITUALITY

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

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

 

TECHNOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY

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

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

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

 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR SOULFUL PARENTS & OUR KIDS?

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

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

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

 

CONCLUSION

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

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

 

Much love to you and your little souls.

 

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But I’m Not “Spiritual Enough” to Teach My Children about Spirituality

When I first decided that I wanted to get intentional about nurturing my boys’ spirituality, one of my greatest concerns was that I wasn’t up to the job because I wasn’t “spiritual enough” myself.  What would I teach them?  How would I go about it?  I had a lot of questions and not many answers.  Perhaps you’ve felt this way yourself about spiritual parenting, either now or in the past?

 

WHY I THOUGHT I WASN’T SPIRITUAL ENOUGH

When people hear the word spirituality, I think one of two stereotypes typically spring to mind – either religion or a more “new age” spirituality, characterised by such things as energy healing, crystals and meditation.  But neither of these approaches were a part of my own spirituality when I first started thinking about spiritual parenting.

As a young girl, I had been quite fascinated by religion, wanting to find comfort in it as my grandmothers seemed to find in their Christianity.  But I didn’t have positive experiences with religion and, as an adult, I concluded that it separated me from my spirituality more than it connected me to it.

I also had no special intuitive abilities and was quite sceptical about whether crystals, as beautiful as they were, could have any kind of power.  I hadn’t tried meditation even once before my boys were born.

I knew better than to reduce spirituality to two stereotypes but, as a mother, I kind of wished I had found a tradition to follow because it would’ve provided me a curriculum of sorts to help me when it came to teaching my boys.   Also, I would likely have been involved in a community of like-minded people who could help me in the task.  Without these things, I didn’t know where to start.

I also felt that my life up until parenthood wasn’t a great example of faith and love.  Who was I to teach someone else about spirit-centred living?   My spirituality had been little more than a background niggle for most of my life and I’d spent the majority of my 30-something years floundering in fear. My past was full of messy bits which certainly did not provide the kind of model I wanted to give my boys.

 

FINDING MY WAY

I’ve kept a journal since I was an earnest, anxious 14 year-old.  Writing has always been my way of making sense of things.  So to figure out how to nurture my boys’ spirituality, I started writing this blog.  Taking the time to write regularly on the subject of spiritual parenting helped me to become deliberate about my own spirituality as well as my boys’.  As I wrote, I realised that the essence of my spirituality and the power of my parenting wasn’t in the shape of my particular beliefs & practices, or in a perfect past, but in my willingness to be on the journey alongside my boys.

Having set the intention to give my boys spiritual guidance, my heart began to expand towards all things of a spiritual nature.  The Universe replied by gifting me some beautiful experiences which have helped me to see that anything and everything has spiritual significance if we’re willing to see it.  I was deeply moved when a friend shared the aliveness of her Christian faith with me and I saw that religion can be a path to sincere connection.   Another supportive friend gave me crystals to help me in my spiritual parenting work – they’re here on my desk as I write.  I have received deep encouragement through my first experiences of intuitive readings, given by my hairdresser who has the ability to see things I don’t.  I’m feeling the pull of meditation more and more these days, too.  There are opportunities everywhere to experience my own spirituality and to help my boys tune into theirs’ – Life is our curriculum.

And, as for my past, the messy bits have become pointers towards the truth.  Looking back on them without judgement, I can see that they were the lessons I needed to learn.  Those difficult experiences have provided contrast, showing me what I don’t want so I can focus on what I do want to create in my life instead – essentially, more Love.  Rather than avoiding the messy bits in my history, I can use all that I have learned to help me in life and in parenting.

So it seems my spirituality is in my open heart – my sense of connection to that magnificence that is both within & beyond me, my willingness to let Life teach me, my growing capacity to truly love another, and my ability to have faith where logic does not reach.  These are the things I think we all have the capacity to pass on to our children and whether we do so in the context of a religion, a “new age” practice or something else, is not important.

“Being spiritual has nothing to do with what you believe and everything to do with your state of consciousness.” ― Eckhart Tolle

 

CONCLUSION

I share my journey here to encourage you that you are up to the job.

The truth is that we are all spiritual beings so it goes without saying that we’re all “spiritual enough” to provide our children with spiritual guidance.  Just the decision to connect with that Divine part of ourselves and of our children is enough.  Once I committed to my boys’ spirituality and used the tool that came naturally to me (writing), I saw the opportunities all around me to “nurture their souls”.  It didn’t matter that I didn’t have a tradition to follow or a history of solid connection myself.

We don’t need to tell our children what to believe or what to do.   We just need to show them that they can choose to connect and encourage them to find their own ways of doing so.  My blog post Why We Can’t Pass Our Spirituality Onto Our Children may be a useful read from here.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Mopping the Grass (and My Latest Lessons in Spiritual Parenting)

The weather has been unseasonably hot and dry here in Wellington.  Our lawns are parched and our laundry is finally up-to-date (well, not folded and neatly put away in the cupboard, but clean, at least).

One afternoon last week, I was preparing a smoothie for my boys and I when 3-year-old Thomas came into the kitchen wielding my floor mop.  Too long for him to manage, he knocked just about every wall and cabinet on his way through.

“I’m just going outside to clean the grass.  The sun has made it dirty”, he explained to me.

It took me a moment to understand what he meant.  He had figured out that the sun was responsible for changing our lawn from fresh & green to dry & brown, but he thought that the brown colour could simply be wiped off like dirt to make the grass green again.

“Good idea”, I said, trying not to think about the fact that my mop was brand new, unused, and that, after this, I’d likely never be able to use it on my floors.

I let Thomas take the mop with him to clean the grass and find out for himself that mopping wouldn’t restore its colour.  I wanted him to explore and discover for himself.  Besides, if he was busy outside mopping the grass, that would give me a few more minute’s peace on this stinking hot day.  I might even get to sit down with my smoothie and book for five minutes.

Later, as I stood at the window, watching Thomas clean the lawn, I realised that this is how he will learn about things of a spiritual nature also – through the experiences Life naturally gives him and his own curiosity.

There’s so much I want my boys to know about the way Life works.  As I’ve understood more myself, I have had a lot more peace, joy and love in my life and I want the same for them.  My brain thinks that I have to be especially explicit when it comes to teaching them about spirituality because it’s intangible, not obvious enough.  Sometimes I kind of panic that I’ll forget to tell my boys something important or run out of time to teach them everything they need to know (the years really do fly).

But spirituality is to be experienced, not explained.  Our children will learn a lot about it on their own.  Even by allowing them to hold on to their misunderstandings until they discover truth for themselves, we support their learning.

Perhaps one of the most helpful things we can do as parents is to reflect with our children on their experiences after allowing them the space to learn in their own way.  Just as we do for other kinds of  learning – like why the grass changes colour in the sun.

When I found my mop discarded on the front lawn, I asked Thomas about his cleaning efforts.

“The sun has burned-id the grass so it’s still brown. But it’s clean!” he said with satisfaction.

He had figured it out. Or perhaps his brother put him right when he went outside to kick his ball around to find the intriguing sight of Thomas mopping the grass.  I can just imagine how that conversation might’ve gone.

If, when he’d come into the kitchen with my (clean) mop, I had told Thomas he was wasting his time and mopping the grass wouldn’t make it green again, his learning would’ve been far less memorable – and he wouldn’t have had so much fun.

Thinking about it, I don’t think it’s even our job as parents to teach our children everything there is to know about spirituality.  Is it even possible for just one or two people to do that?  Aren’t we still learning so much for ourselves?  Perhaps our main responsibility is to make our children aware that life is essentially a spiritual experience and then to give them the space to know it for themselves.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Meditation for Children – We’re Just Getting Started

Sometimes it seems that there’s an opinion out there that a person can’t be truly spiritual if they don’t meditate.   Now, I know it’s not true – there are many paths for increased awareness and the expansion of Love – but, there is an undeniable mountain of scientific and anecdotal evidence that those who do meditate experience numerous benefits.  From what I’ve heard, Deepak Chopra sits in meditation for at least a couple of hours early every morning and look how prolific and profound his work is. There’s definitely something in it and meditation could prove to be a practice that really suits my boys.  So I recently decided to start introducing them to it.

The thing is, I don’t meditate regularly myself.  I’m not even sure what meditation is exactly or why we do it.  My working definition is “watching the mind & body to become aware of my true self as the observer”.  But then, some meditations use a lot of imagination or deep contemplation around an idea, which is more than just “watching”.  And some people do it purely for physical relaxation.  Perhaps the purpose of a meditation session is simply the intention we bring to it.

Anyway, my big question was, how was I going to lead Jake and Thomas in meditation when I really had no idea what I was doing myself?  I thought back to one of my early posts on introducing my boys to God/TheUniverse/Spirit and I remembered that I didn’t need to have all the answers.   What I did need to do was let go of my ego’s desire to feel more knowledgeable about meditation than my boys and to join them as a learner.  If they see me as a fellow explorer on the spiritual path, it shows them that no one of us is an expert – we can become experts for ourselves.

 

HOW WE GOT STARTED WITH MEDITATION

After accepting that I really didn’t know what I was doing, I figured I’d do the modern thing and use an app to get myself started.  I’d heard of Headspace from a number of different people so downloaded it before going away on my trip to Barcelona & Dubai.  Meditating poolside on the roof of a beautiful hotel was easy.  I managed to do it every day while on holiday and my mind focussed pretty easily. It has proven harder since returning to the busyness of normal life as a Mum and the accompanying busyness of mind.  But I’m approaching this with a light heart, I don’t beat myself up about missing sessions or spending the whole time thinking about what’s next on my to-do list.

I had done the occasional super-simple meditation with Jake (aged 6) previously, talking him through them myself so he had some familiarity with being still and focussed.  One evening, I showed him the Headspace app and let him choose one of the kids’ meditations for us to try together.  He chose the sleep one, since he was off to bed, and we did it together, Jake lying on his bed and me on the floor of his room.  My plan was to creep out of the room once the meditation had finished and leave Jake to doze off but the novelty was too exciting for him and he wanted to do another one after it finished.  I left his room that night pleasantly surprised by Jake’s receptivity and eagerness.  I’m sure being allowed to use my phone (usually off-limits) had something to do with it.  Now, when I’m tucking him into bed at night, he’ll sometimes ask to do a Headspace meditation together.

So far, Jake hasn’t asked me much about what meditation is, he’s just keen to do it.  Presumably, as we meditate more, questions will arise but, also, more “answers” will reveal themselves to us.  Right now, we’re playing and exploring.  I’m meditating both on my own and with Jake.  As time goes by, I think we’ll each better understand what kind of meditation we like (if at all) and what it means to us personally.

I haven’t yet started meditation with 3-year-old Thomas.  I might try him out with the Headspace app but I suspect some of the language will be a little hard for him follow.  He might be happy just to join in with Jake and I anyway, to be a part of our exploration.  I can probably make up my own super-short meditations for him too, based on the ones I’ve heard.

 

MEDITATION AND “REAL LIFE”

Helping them to finding their own repertoire and routine of spiritual practices is only one of the ways we can nurture our children’s spirituality.  Our spirituality is not just about specific practices that we do in a quiet space, removed from the rest of life.  It’s also in the way that we go about all that we do.  The usual activities of our day can offer us “meditative moments” if we look for them (just as it can spontaneously inspire prayer or gratitude, for example).  Here are some meditative moments my boys and I have shared together recently –

  • eating the first mouthful of our meal with our eyes closed, noticing the smell, taste, texture and other feelings the food gives us.  (Dessert is a yummy one to start with 😊)
  • watching a drip of rain or shower-water roll down the glass, all the way to the bottom.
  • colouring in (I like to join in with my boys using my own adult’s colouring book – it’s more inspiring for me than Bob the Builder).
  • sensory play eg. playdough, water play, painting, sand.
  • taking 3-5 belly breaths together to savour the moment.
  • stroking the family pet (have you noticed how easily we give them our full attention?)

 

IN SUMMARY – MEDITATION AS A SUGGESTION

I want to introduce my boys to many spiritual practices.  I want them to have the chance to explore different ones, looking for what resonates, what feels good and useful to them.  Meditation may or may not suit them and what works for them may be very different to what works for me.  I wrote more about our children finding their own ways of connecting in my blog post Why We Can’t Pass Our Spirituality Onto Our Children.

I sometimes feel inspired to suggest to Jake and Thomas that we say a prayer or share something we’re each grateful for or, now, meditate together.  But, if they’re not keen, they’re never made to join in.  I simply give them the opportunity to experience the practices for themselves.  I’ll let you know how we are going with our exploration of meditation in a few months.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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I am in no way affiliated with the Headspace app.  In this blog post, I have simply shared my personal experience.

How the Mind Body Soul Connection Works

I was enjoying a walk with a friend last week and we got talking about the relationship between our minds, bodies and souls.  Being a “soulful parent” does not mean I undervalue the importance of our minds and bodies to our experience.  In fact, as time goes by, I see less and less distinction between the three aspects of ourselves, noticing more and more how they are interconnected and co-operative.

This is what I have come to understand about how these three parts of ourselves work together –

Our minds and bodies are in service to our souls.

Our minds and bodies are incredible tools, gifted to us to help us through our experience of life on Earth.  I believe that each soul is here with a distinct purpose – a combination of lessons to learn and ways to contribute.  It is upto us whether we choose to fulfil our purpose but we are given everything we need to do so, including complex minds and bodies that are useful for all sorts of things!  Like good girl/boy Scoutts, we come prepared!

 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR SOULFUL PARENTING?

I value all aspects of my children.  I have some knowledge of cognitive and physical development, learned mainly through my work as a school teacher, and I use it to help me as a parent.  What I do, which may be different from parents who don’t identify as “soulful parents”, is I lead with Spirit.  I let my soul and my boys’ souls guide my parenting.

Once I have established what my boys really need through spiritual connection, I can utilise the capacities of our minds and bodies to meet those needs.

When faced with difficult behaviour from my boys, for example, leading with Spirit is very helpful (though I can forget to do it when I’m tied up with the frustration or stress of a situation!).  The usual approach in the face of challenge is to subject our children to a range of strategies, often recommended by psychologists and parenting experts.  The limitation of unquestioningly depending on parenting strategies, even good ones, is that we don’t stop to determine what each child’s soul really needs in that moment.  When we recognise what they need first, we recognise the strategy or response that would serve them best and we can use our minds and bodies to do this.

Being led by Spirit doesn’t only apply to parenting challenges.  It’s about seeing who our children really are, individually, and supporting & empowering them to be themselves.  When we recognise their passions and strengths, for instance, we can encourage our children to develop and follow them.

 

HOW, EXACTLY, DO WE LEAD WITH SPIRIT?

Here are the three things I try to do to help me recognise what’s really needed in a situation –

I listen to my soul – I begin each day by connecting & inviting Spirit into my day and I’m getting better at recognising & listening to it throughout the day.  It will give us messages that will help us parent, we just have to be listening.

I listen to my children’s souls – When I’m present with my boys, my parenting is at its best.  I seem to recognise what they’re really needing from me intuitively, without giving it much thought.

I encourage my boys to listen to their souls – I find this difficult to do because Spirit is subtle but I’m experimenting with different ways to help my boys connect.  I’ve been teaching Jake to take a moment to still his mind & body when he’s feeling overwhelmed by an emotion.  When he’s trying to make a decision, we talk about what “feels right” for him.  If my boys know themselves, I can follow their lead.

 

IN SUMMARY – TOOLS FOR OUR SOULS

Human beings are complex and, when we stop to think about all the mental and physical systems within us, we can’t help but marvel.  While my blog focuses on the spiritual aspect of parenting, because it is the starting point, I’m also fascinated to learn about the workings of our bodies and minds.  Being spiritual doesn’t at all require us to dismiss the science of being human – by understanding it, we can utilise it for our souls’ purpose.
Let’s end with this often-quoted phrase –

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience”. – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

 

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Is What I Feed My Kids a Spiritual Issue?

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

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

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

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

 

WHAT MY CHILDREN EAT IS A SPIRITUAL ISSUE BECAUSE…

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

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

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

 

WHAT MY CHILDREN EAT IS NOT A SPIRITUAL ISSUE BECAUSE…

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

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

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

 

A SOLUTION – 3 STEPS

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

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

 

IN SUMMARY – MY LAST SUGGESTION

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

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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