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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3 Questions Every Parent Needs To Ask Themselves

THE BOY I COULDN’T FIGURE OUT

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

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

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

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

 

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

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

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

 

“What is my child needing right now?”

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

 

“What can I do to meet that need?”

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

 

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

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

 

CONCLUSION

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

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Parenting is Yoga – Flexibility, Strength & Balance

Being a new mum was just like going to my first yoga class – I didn’t have a clue what to do and everyone else around me seemed to know what they were doing.  Unlike yoga class, though, I couldn’t just do my best for 90 minutes then roll up my mat and leave – the baby was always there!  Reflecting on those new mum days recently made me think about how similar parenting and a yoga class are.  There is no doubt that I have more internal flexibility, strength and balance as a result of being a parent.  So this post is perhaps a little self-indulgent, reflecting on how, like a good yoga class, parenting has developed me.

 

FLEXIBILITY

With any challenge that we face in life, we have two choices – to resist & refuse or to allow & adapt to it.  I began motherhood as a brittle, resisting refuser.  With my first son, I resisted the sleep deprivation of new parenthood, determined that there was something I could do to make my baby get to sleep more quickly and to sleep for longer.  Coming from the world of work where I had to achieve certain things to fulfill the expectations of my role, I felt it was up to me to find a “solution” to the sleep situation.  Of course, that’s a very difficult way to live, especially with babies and young children who have no clue of what their parents’ plans are.  Fortunately, by the time my second son arrived, I had realised this and parenthood had softened me enough that I was much more able to accept his newborn sleep patterns and adapt my day to fit in with them rather than trying to adapt him to fit in with me.

Parenthood has made me a lot more flexible.  I no longer hold tightly to beliefs, expectations & plans (of which mine tend to be very idealistic), instead meeting the reality of what is.  As a parent, I have let go of so many ideas I once had in order to embrace my boys just as they are and to follow their lead.  But this newly developed flexibility doesn’t extend only to them, it has reached into every corner of my life.  I’m much more able to take other people as they are and to work with situations rather than fretting about how they don’t match up to what I expected.  Parenthood has opened me up like a good hip flexor asana.

 

STRENGTH

When my second son, Thomas, was born, he wasn’t feeding well.  For his first 3 weeks, the only way to get milk into him was through a grueling routine of syringe feeding him, expressing for the next feed then cleaning & sterilising the equipment. The routine took 1 ½ hours and I had to do it every 3 hours.  I was lucky to get 1 hour of sleep between each cycle and also had a toddler needing my attention. Initially, I was doing this at the hospital, having to walk down the corridor back and forth to the equipment room, which was painfully slowly after having had a caesarean.  Thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.  I don’t think anything has challenged me as much in my life – worrying for my baby’s health and being so utterly exhausted.  I was physically and spiritually drained.  But, of course, I kept going – this is what was necessary for Thomas to thrive.  I still remember the evening when he finally feed from me normally for the first time and I knew my efforts had paid off.  And now I know I have the strength for anything, which helps me to live with less worry and fear.

Previously the type not to rock the boat, I found my voice to advocate for my son when he was being bullied.  I have taken up challenges I would have avoided, such as facilitating my first ever workshops this week.  And I have gone down the most terrifying water slide ever (virtually upright!) with my son.

 

BALANCE

Balance, I have learned, is an internal thing, not an external thing.  I don’t attend to every area of my life as I would like to, there are definitely parts that get neglected (especially the unfolded laundry).  But I do feel I have balance.

As a student school teacher, I once led a class of 7 year-olds for a short yoga session.  I tried to teach them the Eagle, an awkward balancing-on-one-leg-with-limbs-wrapped-around-each-other  position. The only hope of achieving it is by having focus.  To be balanced, we need to concentrate – on the important things.

Balance is feeling that our lives are organised by our priorities.  As a parent, we are constantly fielding demands on our time and efforts – come to the school fundraiser, vacuum under the dinner table, “play with me”…  The people-pleaser in me tried to keep up at first but I couldn’t and I eventually had to let go.  Now, I occasionally wag fundraising events and I build forts with my son under the table amongst all the crumbs.  As much as I would love not to have baskets of unfolded clothes around the house, they are there because I, instead, choose to play superheroes with Thomas, write my next blog post and give my parents a call.

 

CONCLUSION

I’m not familiar with all of the elements of yoga.  I understand that it is a lifestyle, it’s about what happens off the mat as much as on the mat.  While I’m not currently making it to the mat as much as I would like, there’s plenty going on for me off the mat.  For me, parenting is an exercise for the soul. Through it, I am learning how to give and receive peace, joy and love in new ways.  I have no doubt that other experiences in life can do the same for us but, for me, it took becoming a parent to discover all that I am.

 

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

PS:  The photo with this post is of my friend, Tanya Carr-Smith, a Wellington-based Yoga & Wellness Coach.   The beautiful photography is by Dreamality.

 

 

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Is “Keeping Up” Keeping Our Children Down?

 

It’s nearly 3pm and, at schools around the country, parents stand outside classrooms in small groups, chatting as they wait for their children to come out of class.  I am one of the waiting parents and I have noticed that there’s topic of conversation that comes up repeatedly – our children’s after school schedules.  We list off swimming lessons, rugby practices, art classes, play dates… and commiserate over how busy our children are and the effort it is to ferry them around as well as getting dinner on the table and making sure homework gets done.  Many, parents and children alike, seem to spend their afternoons rushing around and, by the end of the week, are ragged.

Once the kids come out from class, I watch a number of them drag their feet as they dawdle behind their parent, who is making a beeline for the car and urging them to “hurry up, we need to get to ballet”.  The kids can’t keep up literally or spiritually.  The reality of going to ballet every Thursday afternoon isn’t as exciting as it had seemed when they were begging Mum to sign them up, especially after having soccer on Monday, piano lessons on Tuesday and a playdate with Rebecca on Wednesday.

Why do we put our kids (and ourselves) through this?  Here are some of the things I hear parents saying –

“He wants to do all these activities”.
“It’s good for her to learn new skills”.
“The afternoons are so long when the kids don’t have something to do”.

Are any of these really good reasons for exhausting ourselves and our kids?

I think the variety of after school activities available to our children is great but I also think our children need us to pace them, like a pacer might for a marathon runner.  It’s like when they order the enormous piece of chocolate cake at the cafe but only manage to eat half of it – they couldn’t judge in advance how much they could eat.  If we set up a lifestyle of constant doing and achieving for our kids, they will come to believe that they must always be “productive” in some way.  They will go into adulthood overstretching themselves and not really enjoying any of what they do because they’re too tired trying to keep up with the lifestyle and expectations that have been created for them.

Overscheduling is symptomatic of our attitudes and isn’t the only pressure that we, as a society, are putting our kids under.  There are many other ways that our children experience the expectation to keep doing, to achieve and to keep up too –  anxiety from their parents & teachers to do well at school, complex dynamics within their peer group to negotiate, time spent on devices playing addictive games & subject to the impossible standards of social media, bedrooms overcrowded with more toys & gadgets than they can use…  All these things have a place when well managed but, they also all take a child away from him or her self.  A day crowded with activities, expectations and material things doesn’t allow our children time to know who they truly are.

Because, it is knowing who we are without our schedules, our achievements, our things and, even, our relationships, that is our source of peace. 

I watched a very candid, thought-provoking documentary on Netflix this week called Not Alone in which a young woman who had lost her best friend to suicide as a teen interviewed other teens who had experienced depression and suicidal thoughts.  At the end of the documentary, the teens spoke about what they were doing to find peace and move forward.  They all mentioned things that were essentially about knowing and being their true selves – talk therapy, meditation and doing activities they deeply enjoyed, for example.  These things had been missing from their lives previously.

One thing I noticed about the teens who spoke so openly in Not Alone was that they had been tuning in to the wrong things for their sense of self.  Things that, in the end, sent them spiraling downwards – the expectations of their parents & teachers, trying to fit in with their peers, careless comments & dishonestly perfect images on social media feeds… It seemed that, if they had had a greater sense of themselves, they may have had more perspective and possibly avoided getting sucked into the black hole of comparison. It was in trying to “keep up” in some way that most of them had found themselves spiraling downwards.

 

WHAT WE CAN DO TO MANAGE THE PRESSURE ON OUR CHILDREN

I often hear reports that anxiety, depression and self-harm among teenagers is rising and showing up at an earlier age, even in children who are still single-digit by age.  This weighs heavily on my heart – we used to think of teenagers as vibrant, optimistic, carefree young people but, instead, they are crumbling because society has created for them a lifestyle that feels impossible to keep up with.  We’re all responsible.  I’m sure there are things we parents can do while our children are young to nurture a perspective and a lifestyle that supports a sense of self strong enough to withstand some of the inevitable pressure.  Here are some of the things I try to do for  my boys with that end in mind –

  • Pace their activities – I leave time in our schedule for doing nothing in particular.  My boys savour a day at home in the weekend – playing, pottering, doing whatever they feel like in the moment.  Every child will have a different appetite for stimulation & activity and we need to be tuned in enough to find the right balance for them.
  • Encourage them to do things simply for the fun of it, without evaluating or measuring their achievement.
  • Introduce them to meditative & mindful activities Here’s a post I wrote about how I’m doing that.
  • Have conversations that help them to know and express themselves eg. to explore and share what they really think and feel about things so that they can make good decisions for themselves, based on what they think, not what others think.
  • Provide an example – show my boys an example of how to live a well-paced life, in which I put my sense of who I am at the centre of my life rather than other people’s expectations.  (This is the most difficult one for me)

 

CONCLUSION

The message that our children have to be working all the time (to achieve a goal, improve a skill, appear positively to others and generally keep up) is setting them up not for the happiness we expect but a sense of constantly having to prove themselves.  Of, course, we are intending to give our children a “good start in life” but we’re often coming from a place of fear (eg. fear of our kids not fitting in or fear of them not being successful in life).  It’s fear which we end up passing on to them.

Reaching for goals needs to be tempered with stepping back to get perspective and to rest.  Being overscheduled during the primary years is a step onto the treadmill of always doing and never being.  Being themselves.  I’d rather my boys were happily themselves than unhappily keeping up.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Journal of an Overwhelmed Mum

An excerpt from my journal this week –

I’m thinking about how I can feel lighter in the world.   My first thought is to eliminate sources of stress. That seems logical.  But the thing is, many of those things are also the sources of joy, growth and contribution in my life.  Life would be a lot simpler if I wasn’t blogging and running workshops, for example.  But these things give me outlets for my passion and ways to expand & to contribute.  To withdraw from stress entirely is to withdraw from life.  And what would be the point of a stress-free life?  How is the soul to feel fulfilled, learn its lessons and make its impact if we play small?

So the answer may be to, instead, accept the discomfort and stress, rather than resisting it.  (I’m talking about those things that, while difficult, we know are also growing us in some way.)  In a mindful way, noticing it without losing ourselves to the anxiety of it.  I have realised recently that noticing our internal response to things is a great step forward, even if we do nothing more.

Ekhart Tolle tells us that the forms of our lives are “play”.  I don’t think that that means they’re not meaningful but that they aren’t me.  If something doesn’t go well, it doesn’t mean that I’m no good.  Equally, I’m no better when something I’ve turned my hand to does go well.

So, it comes down to our sense of wholeness and worth – really knowing that we are complete and valuable, regardless of what’s going on in our lives.  There’s nothing to prove or to avoid.  Who we are is perfect and indestructible.

I have written about self-worth a few times on my blog, each time going a little deeper, uncovering a new aspect of it. I guess that’s because it’s been a personal journey of my own to really believe that I am complete and valuable.  But I don’t think I’m the only one.  This may be the work of our lives – to get to that place where we know that we are whole and worthy at all times and through all things. And to know this about other people too.

I can see worthiness is at the heart of things – of inner peace, confidence and joy.  For me, it really is a spiritual matter.   If we don’t understand that we of a divine source, extensions of God (or whatever you choose to call it), perhaps our self-worth is always in question.  In that case, there’s no choice but to attach it to the outward achievements of this world which are plenty some day and in short supply on others.  Our self worth can only be shaky if it depends on things turning out the way we would have them, things we can never have full control over (although we may like to think we do).

 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR OUR CHILDREN?

Naturally, we praise our children for their successes to build them up and acknowledge their achievements.  And I’m not suggesting we stop doing that.  The question is, though, how do we give them a sense of their worth beyond their achievements?

Looking back at my post Giving Our Children A Resilient Sense of Self-Worth, I did write that one way to help our children be resilient when in doubt about their worth is to help them to know themselves as Spirit.  This means recognising that they are not their thoughts and feelings and circumstances, through developing their ability to observe themselves through such things a meditation.  I guess that’s where I feel a little stuck.  I can tell my boys that they are wonderful extensions of God.  I can do mindfulness activities with them like the ones I wrote about in my post on meditation.  And I do think these things count.  But, ultimately, they need to experience their divinity for themselves.

So this is as far as our parenting can reach.  Over time, I have come to understand that, as a parent, there is nothing I can make my children do or know.  Ultimately, they need to come to things themselves.  As they say, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”.  In a way, it’s an emotional challenge for me because there are things I really want for my boys that I cannot guarantee, and I especially want them to be strong in their own self-worth.

But it’s also a relief.  I am not as responsible for my children’s lives as I used to believe I was.  Letting go of this need to control things to try and guarantee an unguaranteeable outcome is a stress I can let go of.

 

CONCLUSION

Many of my personal inquiries become inquiries into my parenting, as this one did.  As I learn things for myself, I start wondering how it might be significant to my boys and how to bring it to them.  There are many ways to inquire into ourselves.  My favourite is to journal.  I imagine some of you thinking, “I don’t have time to inquire”.  I get that.  I did a lot less of it when my boys were younger and if the choice was between writing my journal and getting to bed a bit earlier, I chose sleep!  The more work we do, though, the more conscious we can be as parents.  The day that I wrote this, I sat down just to relieve myself of a little stress and it has lead me to all of the realisations I have made here (I have typed them in bold so you can scan back and pick them out).  It was worth the time both for myself and my children.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

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7 Years Old – Have I Missed “The Window”?

My Jake turned seven last week.  We happened to be away on holiday with extended family on the day of his birthday so he had a particularly good day – an outing to our national aquarium, lots of play time with his cousins, plenty of adults to fuss over him and a large birthday cake to share with everyone (chocolate, of course).

As I celebrated Jake’s birthday with him, I marveled at him – how he has changed so dramatically  from a dependent newborn to the capable, unique boy that he is now.  But, at the same time, a sense of panic crept in – What if I haven’t made the most of that 7 year window all the developmental experts talk about?

Have you heard of this window?

I like to listen to parenting segments on the radio and on podcasts.  During my hours of listening, I have heard various experts describe the exponential development that takes place during the first seven years of a child’s life.  It often gets referred to as a seven-year “window” in which we can set our children up for life.  If their first seven years are rich in in the right kinds of experiences, it hard-wires a child’s brain for a positive future in so many ways.  Aristotle seemed to understand this instinctively –

“Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man”. – Aristotle

Jake is our eldest.  Every new stage in his development has been a new stage for my husband and I also.  Jake has essentially been the subject of our well-intended parenting experiments & mistakes and he will be all the way through.  What if I’ve accidentally hard-wired him in negative ways that will create struggle for him rather than empower him?

When Jake was a newborn, I felt totally out of my depth and, as is the case for many first-time parents, everything that was required of me as a mother had to be learned from scratch.  Looking back, I wonder, was I responsive enough to his newborn needs?  When he was four, did I handle that bullying situation at kindy in the best way?  I probably should be reading to him more than I have been recently…  Then, there’s this –

A few weeks ago, I was in a low spot myself- tired and anxious.  One morning, when Jake and Thomas were being particularly uncooperative, I unexpectedly exploded.  I thought I had my anger under control but it just burst out in a roaring, swearing rage.  It was a brief episode but it was ugly and probably quite terrifying for my boys.  The first thought I had immediately afterwards was, “I can’t take that back!  Nothing I say will delete the memory of that moment from their minds”.  I paniced.  Will they now always think of me as unpredictable and untrustworthy?

 

MOVING PAST THE 7 YEAR WINDOW

As a soulful parent, this 7-year window has me thinking particularly about how Jake sees himself and the world.  Have I hardwired him to value & trust himself, others and Life?  We are most at peace and powerful when our thinking is aligned with the truth that we are all valuable and in this together.  But I feel that there are many important ideas related to this that I haven’t addressed much in my parenting yet.  Take self-compassion, for example.  I’m only learning how to extend it to myself now, at 40, and have just started thinking recently about I can pass it on to my boys.

The deeper I get into parenting and really understanding what it’s all about, the more I realise that it is as much about my own development as it about my boys’.  And now, after my raging outburst and with all the mistakes and oversights of the past seven years behind me, I have the opportunity to learn more about how to forgive myself.  The other alternative is to stew over my errors and inadequacies – but what sort of parent will I be going forward if I do that?

I think it’s a rite of passage in the human experience – recognising patterns formed in childhood that are of no use or hold us back.  For myself, I can see the self-doubt and insignificance I felt as a child lurking in my thoughts now and am learning how to notice them without giving them power.  I don’t think I’ve met one person without some childhood pain to resolve.  We’re all messing our children up, while also doing lots of great things.

What about giving ourselves credit for all that we have done well?  I’m quite fond of the 80/20 rule – if we get things “right” for our kids 80% of the time, it’ll minimise the impact of the 20% when we’re tired, overwhelmed or haven’t a clue what to do.  And then there’s this…

This 7-year window has passed but I am not about to stop parenting!  Despite the particular significance of the early years to brain development, human brains are malleable.  Here’s the evidence – I  know a lot more now than I did at 7 – we never stop learning; when a person suffers damage to their brain, perhaps through a medical incident such as a stroke, other parts of the brain often take over some of the function of the damaged area; activities such as meditation change the working of our brains too.

So, what we do as parents after our children turn 7 makes a difference, we haven’t missed our chance to set them up for positive lives.  We can choose to change the way we’ve been doing things as a parent or to teach them something new, for example, and it will have an impact.  One thing I want to do differently is to ease up on trying to teach my boys so much and focus more on validating who they are & where they’re at now to help them to connect with their inherent worth & their natural abilities to learn.  I don’t believe my chance to do this for Jake is lost.

 

CONCLUSION

In our parenting, as with everything else, we cannot let our fear that we have done or are doing a bad job get the better of us.  Being present and loving through all things, even our own mistakes, is far better for our children.

I once wrote a blog post called You Will Probably Mess Your Children Up, But It’s OK.  I read back through it today and found it quite reassuring.  It reminded me that we are divinely matched with our children, taking one another along the paths our souls need for growth.  Our strengths and our weaknesses as parents both play a part in this.  I was reminded that it’s ok to be human and I was prompted to acknowledge that, in any moment, I have done the best I could.

And, if 7-year-old Jake is a reflection of the man he’ll become, he’ll be a good one – optimistic, enthusiastic, friendly and wise.  I have done some things right.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Giving Our Children a Resilient Sense of Self-Worth

My first ever blog post was called A Child’s Worth.  I still remember writing it, pouring over each word and struggling for hours to create a (rather ugly) website to publish it on.

I opened the post with the following quote –

“When we realise we are worthy, simply because we were born, we no longer look outside of ourselves for validation and approval.” – Emmanuel.

The point I wanted to empasise was that we’re here, so we’re worthy, no question, and my intention since publishing the post has been to pass the knowing of this spiritual truth onto my boys.  To give them a sense of worth that they would never have to doubt became the first purpose of Nurturing Little Souls.

Admittedly, my purpose was born of my own pain, the weighty sense of unworthiness I don’t remember not having.  As my spiritual journey continues, I am gradually believing more in my own worth but it’s possible that I won’t have fully “got there” in this lifetime.  When I wrote that first blog post,  I had hoped that I could somehow ensure that my boys would never feel unworthy like I have.  That was the gift I wanted to give them.

 

IS UNSHAKEABLE SELF-WORTH EVEN POSSIBLE?

But now I am starting to wonder if we can give our children an unshakeable sense of worth.  Don’t most of us live, to some degree or other, in a constant to-and-fro between fear (ego) and Love (spirit) – perhaps not Jesus, Buddha and Ekhart Tolle, but the majority of us for the majority of our lives?  I’m disappointed.  I wanted to spare my boys the pain of self-doubt.

I guess that, as I’ve written my blog, I have become far less idealistic.  Writing has helped me to get practical about spirituality, parenting and kids.  And I do see a beauty in the “mess”.  Abraham Hicks points out that, in any situation, the learning is in the contrast.  Through experiencing what we don’t want, we become clearer about what we do want.  Without the night, we wouldn’t know what daytime was.  Without the fear that we might be unloveable and unworthy, perhaps we can’t discover the true depth of our inherent worth?  We have to know both to know either – and so do our children.

Not to mention the times have been the one undermining my children’s worth.  I told my son once he was “annoying”.  When disciplining them, I have judged them in anger.  I have ignored their opinions and wants when it hasn’t been convenient.  I’ve done my share of parental ranting.  I have provided them with plenty of contrast!

 

RESILIENCE

I think I was right when I said in that first blog post that every interaction we have with our children is an opportunity to show them their inherent worth and I listed some ways that parents can do that.  Ultimately, my message was that our unconditional love reflects to them their unconditional worth.

However we each go about reflecting our children’s worth to them, though, the component I didn’t address was how to teach our children to cope in those inevitable times of self-doubt.  Perhaps they have disappointed themselves or been humiliated in some way.  Perhaps a parent has said something regretful to them in the guise of “teaching them a lesson”.  At these times, how can we help our children to return to themselves as an inherently worthy soul?

 

3 Ways to Teach Our Children Resilience When Doubting Their Worth

  1. Be there, loving them, despite their behaviour.
  2. Get their self-talk on-board! Help them to choose thoughts about the situation that support their picture of themselves as inherently worthy.
    Eg. Instead of “I missed the goal and let my team down”, “I gave the kick my best shot and tried hard for my team”.
  3. Help them to know themselves as Spirit and that they are not their thoughts & feelings. In this way, their sense of self isn’t tied up in these forms. The key to this is developing our children’s ability to observe themselves.  By watching themselves having a thought or feeling, they realise that their real self is the watcher, not the thoughts and feelings themselves.  We can teach them to watch through discussion and through teaching them practices such as meditation.

 

IN SUMMARY – A 2-PRONGED APPROACH TO SELF-WORTH

Trying to give our children pure, unshakeable self-worth is maybe impossible but it is not pointless.  I am not giving up, it is a high priority for me and a driving factor in both my parenting and my writing.  But I have realised that we need a 2-pronged approach when raising our children, involving these 2 things –

1. Reflecting our children’s worth to them.

2 Enabling our children to return to their sense of self-worth when it has been undermined in some way (resilience).

 

To finish, I’d like to share my favourite quote of my own from that first blog post

a person's worth doesn't need measuring, it just is

 

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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Why I’ve Stopped Telling My Children to “Be Nice”

“Be nice”.

“That’s not nice”.

“Speak nicely please”.

I tell my boys these things with the best of intentions.  It’s important to me that they treat others well. But I’ve been wondering recently whether telling them to “be nice” is what I really should be doing.

 

“Be nice” seems to imply that my boys should be sweet-as-pie to anyone and everyone all the time.

“Be nice” seems to suggest that they should censor what they say and do so that no one is upset by it.

“Be nice” seems to assume that what they think and feel doesn’t really matter as much as what the other person thinks and feels.

 

At the end of the day, “being nice” sometimes isn’t nice for them.  It requires them to ignore their own thoughts and feelings for the sake of someone else’s, which contradicts two ideas at the heart of my soulful parenting approach.  They are that –

* our role as parents is to empower our children to be themselves.

* we are all equals, regardless of our age, gender, intelligence…regardless of anything.

These beliefs mean that everyone’s thoughts and feelings, needs and wants count.  As a parent, I feel a tension between teaching my children to be considerate of others and taking care of their own needs, which I wrote about in my blog post Walking the Tightrope of Parenting.  I wrote –

“There are times in life when, in order to be true to ourselves, to back ourselves, we need to do things we know others won’t like.” – Julie

When I wrote the post, I had no solutions as to how to teach my boys to find this balance between their needs and other people’s but, maybe if I stop telling my boys to “be nice”, it would be a good start.

 

WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?

So, if I’m not going to teach my boys to be “nice”, what am I going to teach them?  I think what I’m really trying to get at are kindness and respect.

Kindness and respect are sincere and honest.  They aren’t as sickly sweet as “nice”.  They feel more mutual.  Being kind because “I should” or “mummy told me to” isn’t kindness at all but obligation.  When I’m really being kind, it’s because I want to so I benefit from the act of kindness as well as the recipient.  Respect is only truly respectful when both parties are respected.  When I resentfully sacrifice myself for another, it is not respect and not a true gift to the other.

 

5 Ways to Teach Kindness & Respect Rather than “Niceness”

Here are some ways I’m trying to shift my behaviour to help my boys honour both themselves and the other person in a situation.

  1. Replace “nice” with “kind” or “respectful”. For example, if they’re shouting their disagreement with me or someone else, I’ll remind them that they can say what they need to but they must do so respectfully.
  2. Be an example of kindness & respect myself. For example, I personally shy away from expressing my disagreement with others, often opting to be nice rather than honest. Here’s my chance to learn to be brave and to find the words to be honest in a way that is also kind & respectful of the other person.
  3. Let them choose not to be nice if they can’t do so sincerely. For example, if they can’t willingly share a favourite toy with a visiting child, perhaps I shouldn’t make them. (Though I wouldn’t let them play with that toy in front the other child).
  4. Notice and affirm their acts of kindness & respect. For example, tell them, “it was kind of you to let her go down the slide first”.
  5. Talk with them about what feels “right” for them – For example, if I see that they did something nice for someone else but with resentment or, conversely, that they enjoyed a sense of satisfaction from being kind to another, I can talk with them about how they felt. This reflection will encourage them to honour themselves by using their internal sense of what’s right to make decisions.

It’s a complex thing, trying to teach our children to give only when it feels right for both themselves and the other person.  Sometimes we intentionally choose to do something kind for another because we want it for them while still not wanting it for ourselves.  It feels right, if not personally desirable.  At 6 years old, Jake’s pretty tuned-in so I could introduce this concept to him but I wouldn’t expect him to grasp it fully until he’s much older.

 

IN SUMMARY – ME, WE & YOU

I want my boys to grow up with a “we” mentality, not a “me” mentality.    We is that middle ground between You and Me.  But it’s not a stationary half-way spot where there’s a perfect, mutually-pleasing solution in each situation.  In life’s usual messy way, it’s probably more a case of sometimes leaning further towards me and sometimes leaning closer to you.

Judging what to do each time takes a certain amount of skill that niceness doesn’t require.  At 3 and 6 years of age, developmentally my boys are not yet able to judge it easily.  It would be easier just to tell them to “be nice” – and probably looks better to other parents too.  But I will be patient and persistent (as we parents are often called to be ) because we are being kinder and more respectful of our children if we teach them to be kind and respectful of others rather than nice.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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Childhood Is Not Just Preparation for Adulthood

When I was expecting baby Jake, I imagined giving him an idyllic, carefree childhood.  My visions were of bare feet and giggles, exploration and play. Once Jake was born, he and I began attending coffee groups for new mums and, as he got older, we also went along to baby activities, such as story sessions at the library and playgroup.

At these places, I often found myself surrounded by anxious parents, whose daily outing with their babies were not primarily for a bit of fun and to get out of the house but to fast-track their babies’ development.  I met parents at playgroup who were there to “socialise” their babies and I watched parents at the library earnestly trying to get their 4-month-olds to focus on the letters and words in books as if it would give them a head-start as readers.  At these young ages, our babies didn’t need any extra socialising or literacy instruction beyond what daily life with Mum and Dad provided – their young brains couldn’t even process some of the things we parents were keen for them to learn.

I realised that, already, many parents were caught in the hamster wheel of always trying to prepare their babies for the next stage of life.  By “socialising” their babies at playgroup, they assumed their toddlers would be more prepared for early childhood education.  When the time came, they looked for early childhood centres that would formally teach reading, writing and maths so that their children would be “ready for school”.  And so it continues – each stage being merely a stepping stone to the next.

In this way, for many people, childhood has been reduced to preparation for adulthood.  Parents fear that, if they don’t “start early”, their children will “fall behind” in some way, destined for unsuccessful, unhappy futures.  My opinion is that, if we continue to sacrifice their childhoods for the sake of their adulthoods, both their years as children and as adults will be unsuccessful and unhappy.

 

THE PROBLEM WITH REDUCING CHILDHOOD TO PREPARATION FOR ADULTHOOD

When we are too focussed on preparing our children for adulthood, we are not respecting who they are.  From a spiritual perspective, the real purpose of parenting is to honour and support our children in being the people they came here to be.  In trying to prepare them for adulthood too early, we inflict on them our own ideas about what kind of adult they should become whereas, if we’re present with who they are as children, we enable them to be themselves.

Further, without some perspective, we begin to hold our children up against the adult we hope they’ll become and, being children, they will almost always fall short.   We develop a deficit-approach to parenting in which we try to improve our children rather than value them as they are.  Our impossible measures become messages to them that they are not good enough.  I know I’m guilty of this myself.  Sometimes, I expect my boys to be able to manage their emotions in respectful, controlled ways like an adult would but, developmentally, they can’t always do this.  My disapproval of their outbursts gives the message that they are not acceptable when their emotions get the better of them.  They’re only 3 and 6  years old!

 

WHY WE NEED TO VALUE CHILDHOOD MORE

Here’s my case for why we are better to value and be present with our children as they are now rather than pushing them into their future.

Children contribute in so many ways.  When we take our children out and about with us, other people delight in them.  Many stop to fuss over our babies, engage our children in conversation or smile at their antics.  Just by being their childish selves, they are like little beacons of light scattered about the community. More personally, most parents feel that their children have contributed to their own lives in numerous ways – the tender moments between us, the memories we make together and the ways they make us laugh or help us to see things differently.  Then there are the little souls who never became adults for some reason but still touched our hearts.  The one I miscarried changed me forever and, on a more public scale, think of Matty Steponik.

Children have things they need to know now.  When I was a teacher, we had meetings in which we speculated about what kind of future we were preparing our students for.  Those discussions had a place but mostly I was thinking, “we don’t know what the future will be like but we know what the kids need now”.  Part of the discussion was always around technology – its growing prevalence in our lives and how it will have changed exponentially between the time a child starts school and when they leave. There was almost an obsession to use technology in the classroom as much as possible for these reasons but sometimes I felt that a lot of rich, relevant learning was lost in order to be seen as progressive & relevant by using technology.  My 7-year-old students needed to be able to read the books they loved, to count their pocket money and to negotiate with their friends more than they needed to know how to use the latest multi-media program.

Joy is found in the present.  The childhoods we dreamed of for our unborn babies were joyful ones.  Only available in the present, joy is lost for both ourselves and our children when we are mentally tied up in worries about the future and how our children aren’t yet meeting the expectations we have of them as adults.  As I said in my blog post about joy, I think joy is essential to a fully-lived life.  Do we want to teach our children to constantly be striving for the next thing or to find joy in every stage?

 

“We tend to think of childhood as preparation for adulthood and almost forget that childhood has its own value”. – Julie Louisson

 

BY TAKING CARE OF THE PRESENT, WE TAKE CARE OF THE FUTURE

All things in nature follow a natural progression.  In its own time, a seed becomes a beautiful, strong tree.  As a seed, it needed different things to what it needs as a tree.  Some seeds can’t grow in the presence of light but, once they are trees, they need the light for photosynthesis.  There is no doubt that we are sowing the seeds of our children’s futures through our parenting but we can trust the process, knowing that, by tending to our children’s current needs, their futures will take care of themselves. 

 

IN SUMMARY – A NEW QUESTION TO ASK

Let’s stop asking children “what are you going to be when you grow up?” and instead ask, “who are you?”  Our children arrive fully-formed, ready to enjoy an contribute to life nowLet’s love who they are and get excited, rather than fearful, about who they will become.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

 

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