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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As time goes by, the distinctions between mind, body and spirit blur for me. I can see how interlinked these aspects of ourselves are, how one affects the other. Looking at current trends in psychology, such as mindfulness, growth mindset and positive psychology, as practices, they are very similar to those people might use for spiritual connection. Couldn’t we equate mindfulness with spiritual meditation, for example?
So I have found myself asking, is spirituality just good psychology?
FIRSTLY, SPIRITUALITY IS GOOD PSYCHOLOGY
We can turn to research on the brain to see the impact of psychological and spiritual practices on its development. Both mindfulness and spiritual meditation change the brain in similar ways. To give an example, they both increase the cortical thickness of the hippocampus, thereby reducing the incidence and severity of depression. This is just one small example but it illustrates my point.
Whether we approach our practices from a spiritual or purely psychological perspective, this science appears to reduce them to simply exercises we do to convince our brains to be happier. Our emotions are, essentially, our brain’s response to our thinking, after all. Is there more to them than that?
SPIRITUALITY MAKES IT MORE BENEFICIAL
In the midst of my wonderings, I watched a YouTube video. In it, an educational and spiritual researcher said that bringing a spiritual aspect to many of the psychological practices used today magnifies their benefit for people. Her comment was made in passing and I would have been interested to hear her elaborate but it got me thinking about why it might make a difference.
Here’s my conclusion – spirituality brings meaning to the practices. Thinking to myself, “I am going to watch my breath mindfully” feels different to “I am going to quiet my mind to sense my connection with Life”. One limits our experience to a specific task and the other opens us up to the limitless. One feels functional. The other feels meaningful.
Some who are skeptical of spirituality may argue that people are just creating meaning that doesn’t really exist when they bring spirituality to their practices. But, once a person has experienced their own spirituality, its truth is undeniable. I have experienced greater peace, faith, oneness and intuition when my intentions are spiritual rather than just to perform mental exercises for stress relief. It brings an extra dimension to my practice and provides the real reason for doing it.
BRINGING SPIRITUAL PRACTICES TO OUR CHILDREN
We are doing a great service to our children if we teach them mental practices from a psychological point-of-view. If we do it from a spiritual point of view, we are offering them even more.
I would argue that, even when going in without spiritual intention, there is the possibility of experiencing something spiritual because our spirituality is a part of us whether we acknowledge it or not.
Let’s look at some current psychological practices, how a spiritual intention can be enhance them and some simple ways we could share them with our children.
Mindfulness & Spiritual Mindfulness
The term “mindfulness” is used both as a psychological and a spiritual term. For the purposes of this post, I am using “mindfulness” as a purely psychological practice and “spiritual mindfulness” to speak of it as a spiritual practice. Mindfulness is bringing our attention fully to the present moment and noticing & accepting what is, including our own thoughts & feelings. This is exactly what spiritual mindfulness is too. But to do it as a spiritual practice is to do it knowing that our thoughts, feelings and experiences are not who we are. When we are mindful with this intention, we may sense our oneness with Life. We may even hear something that Life has to say to us now that we have turned down the volume of our mind’s chatter. After a mindfulness meditation, we may feel relaxed and calm. After a spiritual mediation, we may also feel connected and able to separate ourselves (our identity, our worth, our happiness…) from our thoughts, feelings and experiences.
What a liberation to realize that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that. – Eckhart Tolle
Practising Spiritual Mindfulness with Our Children: Both psychological and spiritual mindfulness can be practiced as a formal meditation or as we go through our day. A very simple introduction for our children is to have them lie down with their hand/s on their heart or tummy. As their chest/tummy rises and falls with their breath, they can imagine ocean waves going up and down. This is mindfulness. Once they are settled into this, ask them to watch themselves doing this. They could do this by imagining that they are looking down on themselves from above, like a seagull flying over the ocean. This adds the spiritual component of awareness – being aware of themselves as separate from their body and thoughts.
Growth Mindset & Faith
Essentially, a growth mindset is based on the belief that our abilities and attributes can be developed through hard work (rather than the belief that they are fixed and we can’t do much about them). A growth mindset is one that, among other things, is resilient in the face of failure because it understands that there is learning to be found in failure – learning that can be used to inform the next creative move. A growth mindset can be applied to many situations, many environments and to life in general. The way I see it, faith enables us to develop a growth mindset further than we might otherwise. When we have faith, we trust that we are supported by the Universe. Therefore, we are more willing to take a risk when it feels like the right thing to do but not necessarily the most logical thing to do. I see my own mindset shifting from a more fixed mindset to a growth mindset as I develop more faith.
Practising Faith with Our Children: One way to help our children develop a growth mindset is in the way we talk about risk and ‘failures’. If we teach that risk is to be avoided, that failure is embarrassing or deems our efforts wasted and to give up when it doesn’t first work out, we teach them to fear their logically unsafe ideas – those that are more creative or intuitive, for example. We want to hear ourselves instead telling our children, “try it out”, “that didn’t work but now you have narrowed down the options” or “wow, I never would’ve thought of that!” We can’t make our children have faith but we can remind them that God always wants the best for them and is supporting them all the way. We may recognise moments when our children are feeling inspired and encourage them to follow those ideas, even saying, “I can see you’re inspired, you have an idea your heart really wants to follow”.
Positive Psychology & Inherent Worth
Positive psychology came about as a response to the problem-focused approach of traditional psychology. Its main idea is that psychology should be concerned just as much with building people’s strengths and thriving as it is with healing their problems. The numerous studies on happiness we hear about have sprung from the positive psychology movement. From my spiritual perspective, building a person’s strengths and maximising their thriving begins with their belief in their own worth. (My very first blog post was entitled A Child’s Worth.) If we understand that we are each inherently worthy, a deliberate expression of God, we don’t question our deserving of a fulfilling, happy life. We understand that we are intended to be fulfilled and happy. We start to feel obliged, even, to develop our God-given strengths and to live fully as the unique person that we are. It can’t be more positive than that!
Practising Worth with Our Children: As parents, it is our job to continuously reflect our children’s worth back to them. They need to see it in the way that we interact with them – our unconditional love, our appreciation of their strengths, our acceptance of their “weaknesses”, our efforts to really see them and to tailor our parenting to them. I think that honouring their joy is an aspect of this – joy is an essential element of thriving. Currently, Jake is into climbing. So we have built a simple treehouse at home, we look out for climbable trees when we’re out-and-about and we regularly go to playgrounds. By prioritising opportunities for him to climb, I am letting Jake know that I see and value who he is and that he is worthy of joy. (Not to be confused with tending to every whim.)
IN SUMMARY: SPIRITUALITY IS MORE THAN PSYCHOLOGY
From the outside, many of the practices of psychology and spirituality look the same. It is the intention behind them that makes them different. And it is the intention that can make them even more meaningful and powerful in our lives. Spirituality is good psychology but it is a whole lot more as well.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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“What’s the relationship between spirituality and depression?” This is a question that I have had swirling around inside for a number of years. When I look back on my own experience of depression, more than anything, I think of it as at time of spiritual crisis. I didn’t have faith in myself. I didn’t have faith in the world. Without faith, I didn’t have the strength to manage the challenges in my life or the hope of better days. Everything felt black.
It was a slow, gradual journey back to health. My circumstances changed and I found myself drawn toward spiritual content (books, tv, magazines…) which altered my way of thinking and being in the world. My faith has grown and my fear has reduced. Now, I am well – thriving, actually.
I am even grateful for the contrast between the period I was depressed and my life now. It reminds me not to take my joy for granted. It highlights what works for me and what doesn’t. As I write this, I realise that I no longer even worry about getting depressed again in the future. I had presumed that would be a concern of mine for the rest of my life, but it’s not there now!
This blog post has been brewing for a while. My hypothesis that active spirituality could be a significant factor in protecting a person against depression made sense to me, based on my own experience, but I had no evidence. When writing about the darkest times of a person’s life, I didn’t want to simply be “playing with ideas”. Then, this past week, through a series of synchronistic events, I got my hands on a copy of “The Spiritual Child”, by Lisa Miller, PhD (Picador, 2015). In it, Lisa shares the research on children’s spirituality in easy-to-read, often poetic, language. On the back cover of the book it says that children who have a “positive, active relationship to spirituality are…60% less likely to be depressed as teenagers”. When I read that, I felt I was being given the go-ahead to write this post.
I love the word “thriving” – that’s exactly what I want for my boys (for everyone). Lisa seems to love the word too. I’m less than a quarter of the way through the book but she has said this many times and in various ways:
The only thing that science has shown to reliably predict fulfillment, success and thriving: a child’s spiritual development. – The Spiritual Child, Lisa Miller, p24.
To give you a piece of the evidence sited in her book: brain scans of those whose lives are led by spirituality show a number of distinct features. One is the thickening of sections of the right brain where, in depressed people, it would be thinner. If spirituality and depression have opposite effects on some areas of the brain, it suggests that it’s much harder for them to co-exist.
I don’t know all the ins-and-outs of the science but I’m wondering if there are specific aspects of spiritual thinking that particularly aid the prevention of depression. I’ve often heard, for example, that the brain can’t be in a state of appreciation and fear at the same time because of the way the brain operates. A person in a depressed state can alternate between grateful and fearful thinking many times in a day but it would presumably be the proportion spent in each that determines their overall experience?
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR OUR CHILDREN
Given the genetic component of depression, I was nervous about having children burdened with a higher likelihood of experiencing it. Fortunately, I made the choice to go ahead and my beautiful boys have played a big part in the deepening of my own spirituality and sense of thriving. I don’t often worry about whether or not they will experience depression in the future. By attending to their spirituality, I am comforted that I am doing what I can to support their mental health.
I am showing them how to connect with Love and how to put it into action. From a scientific perspective, I am strengthening the loving functions of their brains, building the neural pathways of loving thought. What is spirituality if not Loving (ourselves, others, the world)? What is depression if not fear (in a multitude of forms)?
I think that building my boys’ Love begins with offering them a loving world view. After all, it is our beliefs that shape our thoughts and, therefore, our emotions & actions. To show you what I mean, I’ll contrast a fearful world view with a loving world view –
These are a few examples of the fearful beliefs I had when I was depressed:
I don’t trust the world to be kind or for things to work out well for me (so I have to work super-hard to control everything and make life work myself).
I can’t do all that is expected of me. I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy of happiness and other good things
Everyone else is better than me. Things come more easily to other people.
These are some of the loving beliefs I have now and wish to pass onto my boys:
I have faith in myself and in the universe. The universe is working for me, in my best interests. I have everything I need.
I belong here. I have value. I am worthy of happiness and other good things. (See my post – “A Child’s Worth”).
Everyone is equal and has equal access to support from God.
If we compare the fearful and loving beliefs, we can see that they encourage entirely different ways of being. Depression is a complicated condition with so many contributing factors, but I think that, through showing them a spiritually-led life, I can steer my boys’ thought, biological/neural and lifestyle patterns so that they will have a head start in a joy-filled life and an understanding they can draw on if they ever do find themselves on the downward spiral.
IN SUMMARY: SPIRITUALITY, DEPRESSION & THRIVING
Just to be clear – I am not staying that actively spiritual people cannot have depression or that a person is not “spiritual enough” if they do experience it. I know it is a very complex condition with multiple aspects to it. In both of my boys’ early days, I experienced sustained anxiety which I attribute to insufficient sleep, biological (hormonal) factors and the stress I felt from the demands of a newborn. I was worried at times that I was on my way to depression again (fortunately, not).
I’m also not saying we “should” grow our children’s spiritual strength in order to reduce the likelihood of them experiencing depression. I wanted to share my scientific findings because they have confirmed what I felt I already knew – that the spiritual life I’m building for myself and modelling for Jake & Thomas is an advantage when it comes to reducing their chances of experiencing depression and increasing their chances of thriving.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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When I began this blog, only a few months ago, it seemed like quite an overwhelming question – how can I show my children how to live a spiritually-led life? While it’s an important question, as I’ve written more posts, I’ve realised that the answers are possibly not as complex as I first thought.
My question came from growing up without any guidance on how to tune into my spirit. While I attended Sunday school at times, my particular experience was of memorising Bible verses and stories, not to gain meaning but to gain brownie points just for remembering them. I learned that God’s attention had to be earned, rather than the truth – that it was always on me. So, I have no childhood model to get me started in raising my boys’ spiritual awareness and this is what made it feel so confusing.
But, here are some of the reasons I’m beginning to think the job is not quite so overwhelming as I first thought –
SPIRITUALITY IS NOT SO MYSTERIOUS
For most of my life, God seemed elusive to me. I had no idea how to access Him. As a child, He never seemed to respond to my prayers. I’d heard my Sunday school teachers and older relatives talk about having a “relationship with God” and assumed it meant He would one day appear in my bedroom and literally talk to me, holding my hand in comfort as he spoke. I’d pray earnestly, often just asking to meet Him, but, after a while, I figured I wasn’t on His radar – either I was sinful beyond even His forgiveness (He knew all my thoughts!) or He had more important things to do. So I stopped expecting a big “spiritual experience” that might reassure me. While I never stopped believing in His existence, God seemed an unsolvable mystery and I figured all I could do was “be good” & manage life on my own as best as I could. But what I know now is that this is the spiritual experience. It’s all right here, right now.
Without any drastic measures, such as hours spent in meditation or long stretches of fasting, I have begun to notice God at work in my everyday life. While long meditations and fasts are legitimate spiritual practices, they don’t fit into my current lifestyle as a stay-at-home mum. God invites all of us to experience His power in our lives, it’s not only for those with plenty of “free” time. Having read, watched and listened to current-day spiritual thinkers (as I do the dishes and squeeze in some exercise), I’ve been introduced to new understandings of God and ways to connect (other than desperate prayer). Slowly, I’ve opened up to the possibility of knowing God again in some way.
We can tune into and experience the Divine in very simple ways – taking a moment of stillness, offering a short prayer of gratitude, just holding our children while they cry. We can let God into each moment of a seemingly ordinary day. Reviewing what I have written in my blog posts so far, I have suggested no unusual or time-consuming practices. Spirituality can be “everyday” and, even, “practical”.
There is still so much that I don’t understand about God and I don’t expect I’ll have all the answers in this lifetime. But spirituality doesn’t seem so mysterious anymore and I trust I’ll know what I need to know as long as I continue to live with openness. Is there anything we actually know everything about, anyway? I only have limited knowledge about how electricity works yet I’ll happily use it to bake a cake or charge my phone. And, importantly, not having all the answers doesn’t mean I have nothing to offer to my children’s spiritual journey. I can admit to them when I don’t know and we can look out for answers together.
TEACHING SPIRITUALITY IS LIKE TEACHING OTHER SKILLS
If there’s a particular aspect of spirituality that we’d like to share with our children, we can approach it the same way as we would other skills. Currently, I’m trying to teach Jake to use a knife and fork (he’s been using the fork-and-fingers technique). Until now, I have been a model – he has been able to watch how I use my knife and fork. When I began to think it might be time to teach him how to use them, I started discussing it with him, for example, by commentating on what I was doing to focus him on particulars such as using the fork to hold the food still for cutting. Then, I started supporting him in his first attempts to have a go. Actually, my husband was best at this part. He would hold the fork while Jake used the knife “like a bulldozer” to push the food onto it. Jake has been pretty persistent and is going well. When he has struggled, I’ve shared mini-stories about when I was a child learning to use cutlery, such as chasing peas around my plate, only to have them roll onto the floor.
Just as I modelled, discussed, shared and supported Jake in learning to use a knife and fork, I can use the same approaches in teaching spirituality. Essentially, it’s just being involved in each other’s everyday experiences so that I can provide examples and my boys get whatever degree of support they need in giving it a go. In the past, I’ve usually kept my spirituality to myself so I intend to be more forthcoming with sharing my own everyday practices and experiences with my boys.
We recently found out that a child at Jake’s school was sick. We didn’t know which child it was but, as we were driving home, I told Jake that, often when I hear news that somebody is going through something difficult, I say a prayer for them. I suggested he could join me in saying a prayer once we got home. Jake said, “Let’s say it now” and proceeded to offer a short, thoughtful prayer for the child. I don’t think he has ever said a prayer in his own words before. Just suggesting it and having spoken in briefly about prayer on a few occasions previously was enough for him to do it himself.
THE POWER OF PRESENCE
In considering many of my spiritual parenting questions, I often come to presence. When we are present with children, our interactions with them aren’t tainted with hurrying (I need to get dinner in the oven) or distraction (I’ll just see what that email was about) or ego (you shouldn’t do that) …. We interact soul to soul. Our presence with children, validates them and helps us to really tune into them. I remember times when I was teaching and struggling to really understand what was going on with a child. For a moment, I would pretend there weren’t 27 other children in the room, it was just them and me. By being fully present with them, I was then able to sense what they needed or what they were really trying to tell me. It was a vital tool to my teaching.
Presence also rids us of the need for parenting “strategies”, many of which are more manipulative than nurturing. Because, with presence, we leave our ego aside and respond to the wisdom that comes naturally to us in the moment. Jake currently needs to have eyedrops administered 3 times a day. When the time comes for the next round of eyedrops, he puts up enormous resistance. The anger boils up inside me each time because I resent the drama he creates and just want to “get on with it”. But, when, I take a breath to bring myself into the moment with Jake, I see that it’s fear making him unco-operative, not defiance. My anger doesn’t disappear entirely but I’m able to choose not to let it determine my behaviour and instead respond to him with love & patience.
Often, presence shows me that all that is required is for me to show compassion for my boys’ feelings and to offer a cuddle – not a rational explanation or to change the circumstances that are upsetting them in some way, as we may expect.
THE REAL PARENTING CHALLENGE: OUR OWN AWARENESS
The biggest challenge of parenting may not be in dealing directly with our children but in developing our own awareness. I am still figuring out what it really means to become self-aware but it seems to be the stripping away of thoughts and emotions that block us from our spirit, our divine selves. I can’t quite define spirit yet but I’m sure that it is the wisest place from which to live.
Becoming aware of our blocks is the work of reflection. As we reflect on our experiences (both those with our children & others) and our internal reactions to them, we can identify our thought patterns and their resulting emotions. We might do this through writing a journal, meditation or mulling things over while out on a walk, for example. It can be spiritual hard work. We may remember difficult experiences from the past that trigger our blocks. We may realise we’re not as “strong” or “authentic” as we thought we were. We may want to hang onto certain thoughts and emotions, because we feel justified in doing so, yet we know they don’t serve.
When we are aware of the thoughts and emotions we have that prevent us from living wisely, we can then consciously let them go and remove their power. (This is different from ‘forgetting’ them, it’s just removing our attachment to them while allowing them to be.) When interacting with our children, we can notice when a thought is blocking us from truly connecting with them and choose to respond to them with Love instead of the fear generated by the thought. This is our greatest gift to them.
IN SUMMARY: SIMPLE…BUT NOT EASY
Having reached the end of this post, I feel reasonably reassured that nurturing little souls doesn’t require an advanced degree. Spirituality isn’t so mysterious, it’s an everyday experience. We don’t have to have spirituality all figured out or do anything extreme/unusual to experience it in our daily lives. Our children will learn about it alongside us, just as they learn to brush their teeth by watching us and with a bit of discussion, sharing & support. There are not bagfuls of spiritual parenting strategies to learn and implement – we can sense what our children need from us by being truly present with them. Once we are aware of blocks we have that may interfere with the way we interact with our children, we can choose not to let them get in the way. Simple, eh?
But it’s not all easy. ”Relax, It’s Simple” is overstating things a bit. Presence takes mental discipline when we are living busy lives that require our brains to multitask. Our blocks are often cleverly disguised in our minds as “the truth” and can be hard to find, let alone make peace with. Nurturing the little souls in our lives takes commitment and hard work. Boot camp would be better preparation than a degree. But it’s great to know that, when we think ours is running out, the strength and wisdom of the Divine Parent is available to us in every parenting moment.
Once we have recognised our own blocks to consciousness and purposefully choose not to react from them, will they lose power on their own over time or is there more we need to do?
Much love to you and your little souls,
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HYPOTHESIS: THERE’S A BETTER WAY TO NURTURE VALUES IN OUR CHILDREN
My values have always been important to me. When I first had children, I intended to instil “good values” into them so that they could be positive citizens of the world. Our family would be honest, hard-working, kind… But I’ve been thinking lately about how to respond to my boys’ behaviour when it feels in opposition to my values. It occurred to me that, more important and effective than teaching them specific values, would be to grow my boys’ spiritual strength. I know that when I’m feeling tuned into God, my behaviour is naturally more loving. With spiritual strength, I have the wisdom, power and confidence to make good choices. Ultimately, spiritual strength gives us the ability to really Love.
Following this line of thought, I concluded that Love is the over-arching value, perhaps the only universal value. Other values are subjective. Take determination and hard work, for instance. They are valuable in the service of Love (eg. creating a support group for people in need) but destructive in the service of fear (eg. weapon-building). Applying other values depends on the people and the circumstances of a situation. The wisdom of Love is required to know how to apply them. THE DIFFICULTY WITH TEACHING VALUES
Teaching values without nurturing spiritual strength is teaching judgement – judgement of self and judgement of others. It requires the mind to divide behaviour into “good” and “bad”. From there, we fall into the trap of fear-based parenting. (See The Real Purpose of Parenting) Our fears, for example, that our children will not become positive adult citizens of the world or that their behaviour won’t reflect well on us creates judgement within us. Before we know it, we’re lecturing our children with lines like “where is your respect?” and “in this house we tell the truth” and “you don’t know what hard work is!” I imagine most parents have said these kinds of things to their children at times, I’ve said them too. On hearing such reprimands as a child, I believed that I was a terrible person and there was no hope for me. Reduced to my smallest, most fearful self, I was powerless to truly consider whatever I had done “wrong” from Love. The opportunity to grow was lost. In my childhood, I was actually more often told that I was a “good girl” but that shrinking feeling was vivid in my memory. By being a good girl, I was trying to gain approval and, more so, avoid disapproval. My behaviour wasn’t guided by my own compass, my own wisdom (Love). I didn’t even know I had any.
I’m not saying values aren’t important. I’m saying that there may be a better way to encourage them in our children than to constantly judge their behaviour by our particular values. A way that respects them and makes them more likely to live “morally”. We can point them towards the Love that has always been there inside them instead of towards mind-made judgement.
WHAT IS SPIRITUAL STRENGTH?
I have been asking myself “what helps me to extend the reach of God’s Love in the world?” For me, all loving thought & action seems to come from one of three practices – gratitude, compassion and faith. These words are verbs, not just ideas. If I can focus on deepening my boys’ understanding of gratitude, compassion & faith and show them how to put them into action, I think they will know how to live with “good values” and have the courage to do so. Each of these three components needs a blog post of its own but I will briefly share how I think they might enable us to live with Love.
Gratitude – Gratitude has so many facets beyond it’s obvious (and wonderful) ability to lift us when struggling in some way. When gratitude becomes a spiritual practice, we realise the abundance available to us. With a heart full of gratitude, we have more to give and we honour what we have, including the people we encounter in our lives. Our capacity, for example, to be generous, creative and humorous – to live in accordance with many of our values – expands.
Compassion – Compassion combines understanding, non-judgement and desire to serve. To practice it is embodied in The Golden Rule: treat others the way we would like to be treated. I introduced The Golden Rule to Jake a number of months ago and have started using it as a point of reference. For example, when his behaviour isn’t kind or respectful. We talk specifically about how he would feel if he were the other person and he usually suggest himself how he’s going to show the other person that he cares and, if possible, fix the situation. I try not to lecture, put my hands on my hips or raise my voice. I just ask Jake questions that encourage him to draw on his compassion. Compassion goes far deeper than “would you like it if he did that to you?” but this is a starting point upon which we can build. (I’ve been thinking of displaying the words “The Golden Rule” in golden lettering somewhere in our home as a reminder to us all.) Growing our compassion grows our commitment to values such as justice, peace and responsibility.
Faith – Faith is trust that, when we allow God to be our guide, the best will happen. It doesn’t mean we will always get what we want, it means we will allow God to get what He wants and it’ll be even better than we imagined for ourselves. As my faith grows, it has become a source of strength, especially in the face of fear. I am slowly becoming more adventurous and willing to take on a challenge, including the challenge of being authentic. I have enough trust to step out and live by values that haven’t previously been expressed in my life because of fear.
This summary of practices to develop spiritual strength (gratitude, compassion and faith) is a very personal one, based on what resonates with me. Perhaps your experiences point to a different set of practices that grow your spiritual strength. And it’s likely that, as we come to really know our children, we will realise that they have different spiritual practices than we do. Every soul practices and grows its spirituality differently but it all enables us to Love.
CHILDREN NATURALLY HAVE GOOD VALUES
I’d like to add a short but important point. We need to trust and our children need to know that they have infinite Love inside them, ready to be put to work at any and every moment. Essentially, growing their spiritual strength is nurturing who they really are, servants of Love.
“Service will come naturally, as part of who we are, when we allow ourselves to truly express our authenticity from the centre of our being” – Anita Moorjani, “What if This is Heaven”.
I said recently to Jake, “I know you have lots of kindness in you but you’re not using it right now”. I was trying to show him that I have no doubt in his ability to be kind but that he has to choose to exercise it. When he’s older, I might just be able to say, “Choose compassion”, not as an instruction, just a simple reminder to use it.
IN SUMMARY: LOVE & VALUES
I’ve struggled a little to write this post, to make my meanings clear and bring it to life. This idea of focussing more on spiritual strength than explicit teaching of values is new for me. While I felt compelled to write about it, I have a lot more wondering and wandering to do. But, to reduce this post to one idea that you might be able to work with, I leave you with this: Nurturing our children’s spiritual strength is nurturing their ability to Love.
As I shift away from judgement in my parenting, my hope is that my boys will live with “good values” because they care, not because they fear.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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The other day, it occurred to me that, if I want Jake and Thomas to know how tune into their higher selves, to hear God’s wisdom within them, I’d have to be the one to teach them how. Presumably it’s easier to do this while they’re young and still somewhat tuned-in, before they are taught to let rationality and logic be their chief decision-makers. I thought that teaching our children how to use their intuition would be a good topic for a Nurturing Little Souls post but that I would have to write it later because I’m only just beginning to learn how to listen myself. So I made a few notes on the topic and slipped the page into my notebook “for later”.
The next morning, while I was preparing lunchboxes, Jake came to me and asked “How does God talk to you?”. “I don’t know! I haven’t written that post yet!” my mind paniced. But I wanted to seize the synchronistic moment so tried to just allow my responses to come to me, to let my intuition do the work. I told Jack that, when God talks to me, I get a feeling that I really want or should do something. Jake considered this for a moment, skipping around the kitchen, then asked whether God is in the air, gesturing at the space in front of him. He seemed to be wondering how could he hear God if he can’t see Him, if it doesn’t look like He’s there to talk with? We talked about God being everywhere, including in the air around us. It was a rather scattered conversation but Jake wrapped it up with his beautiful wisdom by saying, “God speaks to your heart”. I replied, “Yes, you listen with your heart, instead of your ears”. So it turned out that I didn’t need to know the answers about how God talks to us – Jake knew already. Our conversation was simply to help him process what he knew, to bring it to light.
SO, WHAT IS INTUITION?
I experience intuition as a sense of knowing that can’t be explained. When intuiting, we are knowing not through logic, but through God. We are using our higher intelligence, not our brains. When we sense something through our intuition, we don’t give a reason for it, we “just know”, it “feels right”, we “just have to”. Intuition is the voice of God within us, although we sense it rather than hear it.
HOW CAN WE HELP OUR CHILDREN ACCESS THEIR INTUITION?
If we are to explore spiritual ideas, such as intuition, with our children, they need to have words to access the ideas we are discussing. I think it is helpful to try and use the language our children use, at least initially. With Jack, I could ask “what is God telling your heart?” when helping him to listen to God’s guidance because these are the words he has given me. Over time, I can build his vocabulary by tacking on a rephrasing eg. “What is God telling your heart? What does your intuition tell you?”
People access their intuitive abilities in different ways. I can’t address all of the possibilities here, only what I am familiar with at this early point in my intuitive journey. As time goes by, I hope to recognise which ways come easiest to me and which ways come easiest to Jake and Thomas so that we can use our intuition for guidance. In the following paragraphs, I will share some ideas for first steps in helping our children to connect with their intuition during their everyday experiences.
Value their Intuition To have the confidence to use their intuition, children need to feel that it is valued and that they’re encouraged to use it. Myself, I have almost always made decisions based on thorough rational examination. I grew up in a world that seemed to demand that any move I make be explainable to others with good reasons. I know better now and am beginning to make decisions more intuitively because I know it’s a wise way to make them. I want Jake and Thomas to know that intuition is a valid tool for guiding their lives.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do to value our children’s intuition is to allow them to use it. If we jump into their day with constant messages to be careful, responsible, realistic…we are interfering with their ability to tune into their guidance system with all of our noise. We are encouraging them to use rationality over intuition. As you call out “be careful of the…”, think how necessary it really is. If you’re about to say “muddy puddle”, stop yourself. If you’re about to say “4-lane motorway”, go ahead. When we let our children make lots of their own decisions in their own way, they get the opportunity to test out different decision-making processes, including following their intuition. They will get to know which processes have lead to outcomes that work well for them.
We won’t usually be able to see for ourselves how our children have reached a decision but we may sometimes be able to reflect with them on how they made it in order to bring them to greater awareness of their processes (depending on their age). We may ask, “Did you think about it with your brain or did you feel it with your heart?” As they get older, we may find that they are able to give us more detail about their decision-making process, including any conflict they experienced between, say, intuition and rationality. By doing this, we help them to recognise which approach they used and to consider how well it worked as a decision-making strategy.
I am not anti-rationality. I think it’s a God-given function of our brain, useful for dealing with many of the practicalities of life. For many decisions we make in a day, we have no particular intuitive reading and a rational decision is a good one. But, for me, when I do get a message from God, I’m listening to Him, not my brain. If our children have made a brain-based decision despite having a sense within that it wasn’t right, I think it’s important to be gentle with them. They have not made a mistake. They have not upset God (He’s never upset with us). They are not bad decision-makers. It is simply a learning experience.
Ask Questions When a child has an issue or decision to work through that they wish to involve us in, the questions we use to help them are important. They need to direct the child inward, to their sense of what feels right and the questions also need to be open to allow any answer. “What does your heart tell you?” or “what do you feel?”, for example. Here, we are not asking them to “think” about the situation, a conversation about pros and cons etc, for example, would only put their thoughts at the forefront and likely drown out their intuitive knowing. If a head-led discussion is required, it would probably be better had at a separate time.
Presence & Stillness I’m starting to sound like a broken record on the topic of presence and stillness. But I really do think we all need quiet time to hear our intuition. As the primary organisers of our children’s day, I think it is essential to organise some unstructured time they can spend by themselves if they choose to. In a day, there will be a lot of decisions they are making and issues they are sorting through that we are not aware of. Providing them with regular down time allows them the calm they may need to do this.
It is currently the school holidays and, as much as possible, I have tried to make sure we have half of each day at home for Jake and Thomas to do as they please. We even had a whole day at home on Wednesday. I’d planned for us to go to the library to get a stash of books but they were so happy and absorbed in their creativity that it seemed better to allow them to continue with their play. When we play, we are fully present and operate purely from our natural inclination. I believe that, in this mode, we can receive God’s messages more easily.
I haven’t coached my boys through much decision-making given their young ages (2 & 5 years) and that I’m only just beginning to think about how to help them to live intuitively as I learn to do so myself. But, when they are working through something with me and they are feeling confused or emotional, play might be the answer. It could help their thoughts and emotions to settle so they can sense what feels right. As they get older, Jake and Thomas are likely to develop a few favourite activities for taking a break and, when they’re needing clarity, I could encourage them to do those things.
I also hope to discover and share with my boys a few simple techniques for clearing their heads and becoming present. Perhaps just going to a quiet place to slow down and watch their breath for a few minutes. Or, even, just to take a some focussed breaths wherever they are to return to the moment if they’re not able to withdraw at the time. I’m not a meditator myself (yet, it may happen) but I have started to try and spend some time “sitting with God” each day. I stop for ten minutes of quiet solitude and sit, knowing God is with me. Sometimes we have a cup of tea together, sometimes I close my eyes to focus inward. When needing clarity or reassurance, I might ask a question. Sometimes, I sense an answer almost right away. Sometimes, it comes to me a little later. Sometimes, I feel reassured that there is nothing to do right now but to wait and trust. I commit to not making my decision or taking action until I have heard God’s answer. I wait in faith that it will come. I could introduce Jake and Thomas, when the right moment presents itself (as it seems to do), to sitting with God and suggest they do so at times when they are in need of clarity.
Our Bodies send us Signals
I’ve heard it said that many of our body’s responses to situations are the movement of Spirit within us. Most people are familiar with that “gut feeling” we sometimes get that something is wrong or that we should do something in particular (then later regret ignoring!)
I have had a few experiences recently which have had me wondering about how God uses our body to communicate with us. When I got the inspiration to write this blog, I felt an energy flowing through my body, filling me up. When I attended Jack’s first school assembly recently, I felt the prick of tears in my eyes followed by a remembering of how much it meant to me to be a teacher. And whenever I hear the first few notes of the song “Ellis Island” by The Corrs, I get a shiver down my back and goosebumpy arms and I did so even before I listened to the lyrics for the first time (about people’s experience of immigrating to the USA in the hope of a better life).
In all of these experiences, I couldn’t name an emotion, I just felt a resonating within me. An emotion is a response to a thought but I wasn’t aware of having thoughts in these moments. Yet, many emotions have physical responses too, such as the restlessness of anxiety and the heaviness of sadness. So, is there a difference between intuitive physical responses and emotional physical responses? Do our emotions play any role in intuition? I’d really like to figure these things out. If I could help Jake and Thomas to recognise that their bodies can indicate that something is of significance, it could be very helpful to them. “Do you feel anything in your body that might be showing you something?”
Sharing our own experiences is a helpful way to introduce spiritual ideas and open up conversation about them with our children. Our sharing gives the language, gives examples and shows it’s important. We can describe how we have recognised intuition, intuitive decisions we have made, steps we have taken to invite and connect with God’s guidance. We might also want to share stories of times we haven’t followed intuition.
This is, I know, rather a speculative blog post. Most of the ideas I’ve suggested for encouraging our children to use their intuition I haven’t started using yet. But intuition told me to write the post – probably to get me started! And perhaps to get you started too.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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How do I explain God to my children when I’m not even sure who/what exactly He is myself?
The word “God” has always been around my children, though only sprinkled about, not liberally poured. They’ve heard prayers occasionally, I took them to Mainly Music in their preschool years (music sessions in which some of the songs are Christian) and I’ve told Jake simple versions of the Christmas story each December. For a while, it seemed that trying to explain God in detail could be more confusing than helpful to their young minds. Especially since my own definition of God is pretty vague.
Then, one night as I was tucking him in, Jake asked, “Who is God?” I had been thinking of initiating this conversation myself as I was feeling he was ready, but he’d beaten me to it. It felt important to give a good answer – this could be a defining moment in his spiritual development and I wanted my explanation to be positive & helpful for him. I wanted to tell the truth but I didn’t know exactly what it was.
I did not want Jake envisioning the rather scary bearded man I had as a child. I felt by explaining God as a being was more understandable for Jack than the loving, organising energy/force I think of. But I also wanted to differentiate Him from humans. And using the name “God” seemed most practical for when he is listening to or having conversation with others.
So, the Who is God? conversation started when Jake asked how the air we breathe is made. I knew I was opening up a big discussion when I replied that I didn’t know exactly, God made it. Then, of course, he asked who God was. I was rather haphazardly & inadequately explaining that God made the world and that He is alive but has no body when Jake said, “maybe she’s a spirip”. I said “Do you mean spirit?” and asked where he’d heard that word, but he didn’t know. Then he said “maybe God is electricity because you can’t see it”. What insight! (“God must be helping me out here”, I thought.) Then we were able to talk about how you can’t see God or electricity but you can see what they do. This electrical analogy might be one I can refer back to every now and then. I don’t know that our talk clarified much for Jake – “How does God make things with no hands?!” he asked – but it has got him thinking and opened him up to the idea of God.
Since discussing who God is, I have started talking about Him more in daily life. In our home, we had not been saying grace aloud at mealtimes partly because my boys had no idea who we were talking to. But, now, Jake likes to say grace for the family. When he’s silly about it (as 5-year-olds often are), it’s an opportunity to discuss grace as a way of expressing thanks to God and that it needs to be said with respect & gratitude. At night, we each share one thing that we’re grateful for before saying ‘goodnight’ and have done so since Jake was 3. Now I have told him about how I say “Thank you” to God for 5 things before going to sleep each night.
So my role now is to share my own experiences of God, according to my boys’ readiness. I have experienced a number of “coincidences” recently which I regard as divine planning but the significance of them would be lost on 5-year-old Jack. I can, though, share with him prayers I’ve said, inspirations I’ve experienced and gifts I’ve received. By sharing, I hope to familiarise Jake & Thomas with the nature of God and it will expand my own awareness. When they get older and are not thinking so much in the black-and-white terms that younger children do, I intend to talk about my unformed definition of God and the ability to have faith regardless of how clear God is in our rational minds. I also hope that we will explore together other people’s concepts of God. As I discuss my experiences more and we inquire together, Jake & Thomas might want to start to discussing their own experiences. I look forward to those conversations.
On retrospect, I may have been a bit too cautious about introducing God. Perhaps I should’ve been more open with Jake from the start, saying grace and using “God” in conversation as I am starting to now. Just as I don’t completely understand God but still want to be led by Him, Jake may not have understood but could still have taken something from what was happening and being discussed around him. It will naturally be more of an immersion than an unfolding for Thomas (2 years old) since I’m already talking with Jake and he’ll be privy to our conversations etc. It will be interesting to look back and see if either approach seems better. I held off with Jake because I wasn’t sure enough of my own definition to be able to explain God. When I accepted that I may never be able to define Him, I realised this was no reason to wait. It’s also important to me that my boys grow up feeling that my approach to spirituality has been shared with them but not forced on them and that seems a hard balance to strike which can stop me from being so open about things of a spiritual nature at times.
Eckhart Tolle calls words “pointers” and reminds us that they are not the truth itself. As I’ve been writing, it has occurred to me that it is Jake and Thomas’ personal experience of God that really counts. I have pointed to the idea of God but I don’t have to define Him for them (what a relief!). They will do it for themselves.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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We tend to think of childhood as preparation for adulthood and almost forget that childhood has its own value. Our lives start from the moment we are conceived, not on our 18th birthday. Why not aim for happy, confident, spiritually-connected children who can continue that way into adulthood? I believe we are born aligned with Life but we are quickly socialised to align ourselves instead with such fleeting things as achievement, ownership and social popularity. Then, consciously or not, we spend the rest of our lives trying to return to the connected state we arrived in! As our spirituality is often ignored by the adults in our young lives, we may not know how to reconnect. If we think of parenting as helping our children to stay in the spiritually-aligned state in which they arrive, we will see that there is no need to control and micro-manage them as we often do.
So, it is not our job to make our children into who they are. God has already done that and who are we to interfere with Her divine plan?! Our children are not here to:
live the life we wanted.
be who we wish we could be.
mini versions of ourselves (1 is plenty!).
be socially acceptable.
be our trophies.
SO WHAT IS OUR JOB AS PARENTS?
To nurture their souls.
“We want what we consider to be “best” for our children, but in seeking to bring this about, we can easily forget that the most important issue is their right to be their own person and lead their own life in accord with their unique spirit”. – Dr Shefali Tsabary, “The Conscious Parent”.
And how do we nurture them, spiritually? I have had to start a blog to figure this out! Everything I write will ultimately be part of the answer to this question. Having barely begun, I can only speak (write) generally for now and hope that more clarity comes over time. Spiritual nurturing seems to require that we begin with our awareness of our children’s truth and their awareness of themselves:
1. Be present with our children so that we can see who they truly are – eg. what absorbs them? what are their strengths? what’s important to them? how do they respond to different situations & people?… Our children can show us who they are and what they need. We can then make parenting decisions based on what we know is true for them.
2. Help our children to be self-aware through conversation – eg. their thoughts & feelings, what you notice about them, reflections on their behaviour… These discussions would sound very different with a 3-year-old than a 16-year-old. Sometimes, they’ll be a 30-second exchange, sometimes they’ll exceed an hour.
THE NEXT STEP: PARENTING FROM LOVE VS FEAR
Having made a commitment to really know our children and help them to know themselves, we must then parent them according to what we have discovered. This is unconditional love.
As parents, I think we can fall into the trap of focusing on what we perceive as our children’s shortcomings, a deficit-based approach. We concentrate too much on filling in the gaps but don’t always succeed because this wasn’t how they were meant to be. Filling in the gaps of a sieve changes what it is and doesn’t allow it to perform it’s function anymore. Often we do this gap-filling in a well-intended effort to protect our children from failure (academic, social, physical…). Sometimes it’s because we believe our children reflect upon ourselves and we wish to stand proudly in front of others, not embarrassed. But this is fear-based parenting.
Wouldn’t we rather parent from love? With a child-led approach, we put our resources into growing our children’s God-given uniqueness. We give love to all aspects of them – love that grows their strengths and supports them through struggles without judgment. When parenting from love, rather than fear, the results are so much more satisfying – our relationship with our children deepens, they thrive.
IN SUMMARY: PERFECT AS THEY ARE
I see the thoughtfulness & kindness my son shows towards his best friend & his brother and I know that his sense for other people’s needs is one of his gifts. He is wonderful as he is, already making a difference in this world, even though he is only 5, writes half the letters of the alphabet backwards and leaves his Lego scattered over his bedroom floor. Think of how watching a newborn baby stirs our souls, reminding us of our own innocence & potential – people have an impact from birth, doing nothing but being themselves! From the womb, even, we affect those around us – just knowing her baby is cuddled up inside changes a woman and creates anticipation in those around her. Souls arrive, as babies, already contributing. When we, as their parents, have faith in our children, we encourage and allow them to be the perfect souls that they already are.
From the moment I knew I was pregnant with each of my sons, I was so excited to see who God had blessed me with. I love getting to know the complexities of their personalities. I love seeing how naturally connected with Spirit they are. God has put my boys in my care but they do not belong to me. I am honoured to be entrusted with the task of nurturing their little souls.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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