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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
Sometimes it seems that there’s an opinion out there that a person can’t be truly spiritual if they don’t meditate. Now, I know it’s not true – there are many paths for increased awareness and the expansion of Love – but, there is an undeniable mountain of scientific and anecdotal evidence that those who do meditate experience numerous benefits. From what I’ve heard, Deepak Chopra sits in meditation for at least a couple of hours early every morning and look how prolific and profound his work is. There’s definitely something in it and meditation could prove to be a practice that really suits my boys. So I recently decided to start introducing them to it.
The thing is, I don’t meditate regularly myself. I’m not even sure what meditation is exactly or why we do it. My working definition is “watching the mind & body to become aware of my true self as the observer”. But then, some meditations use a lot of imagination or deep contemplation around an idea, which is more than just “watching”. And some people do it purely for physical relaxation. Perhaps the purpose of a meditation session is simply the intention we bring to it.
Anyway, my big question was, how was I going to lead Jake and Thomas in meditation when I really had no idea what I was doing myself? I thought back to one of my early posts on introducing my boys to God/TheUniverse/Spirit and I remembered that I didn’t need to have all the answers. What I did need to do was let go of my ego’s desire to feel more knowledgeable about meditation than my boys and to join them as a learner. If they see me as a fellow explorer on the spiritual path, it shows them that no one of us is an expert – we can become experts for ourselves.
HOW WE GOT STARTED WITH MEDITATION
After accepting that I really didn’t know what I was doing, I figured I’d do the modern thing and use an app to get myself started. I’d heard of Headspace from a number of different people so downloaded it before going away on my trip to Barcelona & Dubai. Meditating poolside on the roof of a beautiful hotel was easy. I managed to do it every day while on holiday and my mind focussed pretty easily. It has proven harder since returning to the busyness of normal life as a Mum and the accompanying busyness of mind. But I’m approaching this with a light heart, I don’t beat myself up about missing sessions or spending the whole time thinking about what’s next on my to-do list.
I had done the occasional super-simple meditation with Jake (aged 6) previously, talking him through them myself so he had some familiarity with being still and focussed. One evening, I showed him the Headspace app and let him choose one of the kids’ meditations for us to try together. He chose the sleep one, since he was off to bed, and we did it together, Jake lying on his bed and me on the floor of his room. My plan was to creep out of the room once the meditation had finished and leave Jake to doze off but the novelty was too exciting for him and he wanted to do another one after it finished. I left his room that night pleasantly surprised by Jake’s receptivity and eagerness. I’m sure being allowed to use my phone (usually off-limits) had something to do with it. Now, when I’m tucking him into bed at night, he’ll sometimes ask to do a Headspace meditation together.
So far, Jake hasn’t asked me much about what meditation is, he’s just keen to do it. Presumably, as we meditate more, questions will arise but, also, more “answers” will reveal themselves to us. Right now, we’re playing and exploring. I’m meditating both on my own and with Jake. As time goes by, I think we’ll each better understand what kind of meditation we like (if at all) and what it means to us personally.
I haven’t yet started meditation with 3-year-old Thomas. I might try him out with the Headspace app but I suspect some of the language will be a little hard for him follow. He might be happy just to join in with Jake and I anyway, to be a part of our exploration. I can probably make up my own super-short meditations for him too, based on the ones I’ve heard.
MEDITATION AND “REAL LIFE”
Helping them to finding their own repertoire and routine of spiritual practices is only one of the ways we can nurture our children’s spirituality. Our spirituality is not just about specific practices that we do in a quiet space, removed from the rest of life. It’s also in the way that we go about all that we do. The usual activities of our day can offer us “meditative moments” if we look for them (just as it can spontaneously inspire prayer or gratitude, for example). Here are some meditative moments my boys and I have shared together recently –
eating the first mouthful of our meal with our eyes closed, noticing the smell, taste, texture and other feelings the food gives us. (Dessert is a yummy one to start with 😊)
watching a drip of rain or shower-water roll down the glass, all the way to the bottom.
colouring in (I like to join in with my boys using my own adult’s colouring book – it’s more inspiring for me than Bob the Builder).
sensory play eg. playdough, water play, painting, sand.
taking 3-5 belly breaths together to savour the moment.
stroking the family pet (have you noticed how easily we give them our full attention?)
IN SUMMARY – MEDITATION AS A SUGGESTION
I want to introduce my boys to many spiritual practices. I want them to have the chance to explore different ones, looking for what resonates, what feels good and useful to them. Meditation may or may not suit them and what works for them may be very different to what works for me. I wrote more about our children finding their own ways of connecting in my blog post Why We Can’t Pass Our Spirituality Onto Our Children.
I sometimes feel inspired to suggest to Jake and Thomas that we say a prayer or share something we’re each grateful for or, now, meditate together. But, if they’re not keen, they’re never made to join in. I simply give them the opportunity to experience the practices for themselves. I’ll let you know how we are going with our exploration of meditation in a few months.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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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 now. Let’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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I’m aware of a book called Joy is My Compass – Taking the Risk to Follow Your Bliss by Alan Cohen. Despite declaring in January that joy will be my compass for 2017, I’ve not yet read the book but the phrase joy is my compass captivated me. It reminds me that we are intended to live joyfully – not in the fearful, grasping way we are socialised to. It can be hard to switch from believing that sacrifice & sheer hard work are required to live a good life to allowing ourselves joy and, even, prioritising our joy. But my intention is to raise my boys with a different world view – to value joy, to seek it and create it in every moment. I want joyful to be our normal. For such a life, joy is the perfect compass.
HOW ARE JOY & HAPPINESS DIFFERENT?
Happiness comes to us in moments. It is dependent on external circumstances – like getting a particular job, partner or fashion item. Therefore, just as easily as favourable circumstances can come and go, so, too, can happiness. Happiness is high GI, causing spikes in our emotions. Joy is something quieter yet deeper and more stable. There is a sense of meaning in joy that there isn’t in happiness. It is always available to us, we just have to choose it. And there are so many ways to let joy in.
“Happiness is like rising bubbles — delightful and inevitably fleeting. Joy is the oxygen — ever present” – Danielle La Porte
My son Jake, loves eating ice-cream and he also loves building Lego. I would argue that the ice-cream makes him happy but, once it’s eaten, the happiness it brought dissipates quickly. On the other hand, building Lego is a fun & engrossing activity for him and the satisfaction he gets from it is nourishing in a way that ice-cream just isn’t. I would call this joy. Danielle says that “joy is the fibre of your soul”. It is the fuel for our lives. Joy is low GI.
THE VALUE OF JOY
Joy Indicates Spiritual Alignment
Joy is our natural way of being. It indicates to us that we are in alignment. By this, I mean that our mind, body and spirit are working together for the greater purposes of our soul. I think the experience of flow is actually an experience of deep joy. I wrote the following about flow in my post How Our Children Raise Us –
At times, I have watched my boys play and have recognised their feeling of full absorption & joy from my own childhood. I used to get it when I was swimming in our pool, singing along to music and writing stories. Scientists call this state “flow” and I think of it as allowing God to flow through me. Do you remember the healing quality of that feeling? How content and internally energised it left you?
Now, I still experience flow when I write and have found a way to use my writing to encourage other parents. What brings our children joy in childhood may be the same things that bring them joy in adulthood. Those things may end up being connected with the contribution they make in the world.
Joy Attracts More Joy
Have you noticed how a day that begins with joy often continues that way? Perhaps it starts with a particularly heart-felt “good morning” hug from your child which you take a moment to appreciate fully, right down to your toes. Then, as you go about your day, people everywhere seem to be particularly friendly & helpful to you and, in the afternoon, you receive a piece of good news then your partner arrives home in the evening with your favourite wine/chocolate/desert for “no reason”. It just feels that life is going well for you and you feel joyful. This is the law of attraction at work. We attract the feeling we are putting out. So, by deliberately letting joy in where we find it (and it’s always there), we cultivate more joyful experiences. Choosing what we focus on is key to utilising the power of this law – so let’s focus on joy!
Joy Supports Emotional Resilience
When joyful is our normal, our capacity to weather difficult experiences is much greater. No matter how much joy we cultivate, life is intended to grow us and no one is exempt from its challenges. With a joyful way of being, though, we know we have that joyful place to return to once we are through the difficult experience. My son Jake is easily joyful, something I am so grateful for. As a result, he moves through difficult emotions quite quickly. It’s not that upsetting emotions should be avoided – they have something to tell us – but they don’t need to keep us down. We can even feel that life is ultimately joyful while at the same time going through a major experience that deeply saddens or angers us.
CULTIVATING JOY IN OUR CHILDREN
Notice the activities, places and people who bring our children joy and create opportunities for them to spend time with these people, places and activities. For example a place may be anywhere by water and a person may be a particular friend who is on the same wavelength. I don’t think having things brings joy but the actual using of things may bring joy – such as playing an instrument or, as in Thomas’ case, the process of lining up his toy cars.
Help our children to recognise for themselves the activities, places and people who bring them joy. For younger children, we might point out “you seem to feel really good when you’re playing outside with a ball”. For older children, we might ask, “which of your friends do you feel most like yourself and relaxed with?”
Teach our children joyful habits of mind. Gratitude is a powerful place to start. Self-love is essential.
When we notice our children are in a joyless state of mind, perhaps whining for things they want or hanging on to a grudge after a sibling argument, remind them that they will get more of how they feel and help them to choose a more joyful state of mind.
When things are deteriorating for the whole family, stop for a joy break. Having fun with people we love is a joyful experience and can act as the reset button for everyone. Our family loves playing indoor soccer together.
Find a way to do the boring/difficult things joyfully. When my boys were younger, I used to sing a tidying song as we put away the toys. I find interesting ways for my son to practise the spelling words he’s learning for school. This shows them that joy is always there, waiting for us to notice it and to take it.
Be the example of joyful living. Our example is our greatest teacher. Be joyful for your children’s sake…and your own.
IN SUMMARY – NUTRITION FOR OUR SOULS
Joy can feel like a guilty pleasure at first, especially for those of us who have been taught that using our own effort is the only way to build a satisfying life. But, if joy is our compass, pointing in the direction of our purpose and giving our lives richness & ease, it is, surely, nutrition for our souls. Actually, there’s also a book called The Joy Diet by Martha Beck (and also on my “books to read” list). I’m putting my family on the diet now.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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I wonder how many times a day my sons ask me this. Actually, Thomas (3 years-old) just commands, “Play with me!” And why shouldn’t he? That’s what mums (and dads) are meant to do. But we’re also meant to provide nutritious meals & clean clothes to wear, get everyone where they need to go and earn a living…(I won’t continue in case I overwhelm you!)
Before I became a parent, I imagined playing carefree with my children for long stretches of time each day. I didn’t realise that I would feel anxious as I built Duplo towers with my son because I needed to get dinner in the oven. Or struggle to engage fully in re-enactments of emergency/superhero scenarios because I had a couple of phone calls to make before heading out for school pick-up. Before I became a parent, I also didn’t realise that I would refuse my children’s requests to play with them several times on any given day because I had other things to do.
So, I have a love-hate relationship with this question, Mummy, will you play with me? It fills me with both tenderness and guilt. When he asks, my son is inviting me into his world and wants to spend time with me – which I love. But sometimes I feel almost angry at him for asking me to play when I can’t say “yes” – can’t you see I’m busy making school lunches? Don’t you know how much I have to do?! – which I hate. It is a constant jostle for my attention that I haven’t yet got right. And perhaps I won’t.
REMEMBERING THE VALUE OF PLAY
When we play with our children, we affirm them. We show them that they are important to us and that the things they care about matter. Having fun together is also a natural way for people (of any age) to connect. When we don’t take time to play, our interactions with our children can be reduced to organising and instructing them – “go and put your shoes on”, “where is your reading book?”. We find out lots about our children when we play with them too. We discover new vocabulary they have picked up, get insights into their world view and become privy to their dreams. When I commit to our play, my son and I are both present, in a state of spiritual alignment which feels nourishing for us both.
There have been times when I’ve noticed my boys’ behaviour has gradually become more difficult for no obvious reason. Then, thinking about it further, I’ve realised that I’ve been preoccupied and, among other things, haven’t played much with them recently. When I go back to prioritising play time together, their behaviour often becomes easier. They needed us to connect.
Here are some of the steps I’m taking to help me fit some quality play time into each day –
5 WAYS FOR BUSY PARENTS TO PLAY MORE WITH THEIR CHILDREN
Remember that every little bit counts A short time spent playing together is better than none. When one of my sons asks me to play, I’m trying to say “yes” if I possibly can, even if it’s just for 5 minutes.
Play something you & your child both enjoy Our children can sense when we don’t really want to be playing with them and are doing so out of a sense of should. It’s likely they take it personally at times. The other morning, I was meant to be playing Star Wars with Jake but struggled to get enthused and I wasn’t really doing much. He looked at me as if to say, “Well go on – play!” On the other hand, he and I bond over Lego, I even wrote a blog post called 6 Life Lessons Lego Taught Me. I know I can be present and good company when we play Lego.
Build playtime into the daily routine When something is built into our routine, we don’t question it or have to make time for it – it’s just what we do. In our family, we have a few parts of the day dedicated to playing together so that, if the day does get away on us, we have had some play time to connect. When it’s my turn to get up with our boys at 6am, we play for nearly an hour until it’s time to make breakfast. After dinner every night, we have “5 minutes play time” for the whole family to play together, no matter how late it is.
Plan an extended play time togetheroccasionally For me, this works best in the weekends. I mentally put aside a specific stretch of time for playing with my boys at least once each weekend and commit to an hour or more of playing and hanging out with my them.
Initiate play on your own terms If I have ten minutes to wait until the washing machine has finished it’s cycle, instead of doing another job or checking my phone, I try to join in with whatever my boys are playing while it suits me. If they’re not engrossed in something, I suggest an activity I think we’ll all enjoy to do together. So far, they’ve never declined my invitation to play.
IN SUMMARY – TIME WELL SPENT
Playing with our children is obviously not unique to soulful parenting styles. But it is a great way to practise some of our spiritual parenting values and beliefs, such as demonstrating our child’s worth to them, being present and building loving relationships. I don’t think parents should be their children’s main playmates – playing with friends, siblings and on their own is really important – but it is a special part of our role and worth making time for. I’ll be honest, there are times when playing feels like another thing I should do, but often I end up having fun. And I never regret spending time with my boys, it always feels like time well spent.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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At the end of my last post, Discipline 101, I promised I’d share my best discipline technique with you so I’ll jump right in.
Here it is –
Maybe you were hoping for something a bit more “practical”- 3 steps to take when your child’s behaviour goes askew, perhaps. We all want a magical, quick-fix strategy to manage our children’s difficult behaviour and the discomfort it can cause. But, when they require guidance, it’s our presence, not strategies that is needed.
By “presence” I mean having our attention focussed fully on our child and the moment we are experiencing with them (not on the phone call we just finished or where we have to be in ten minutes’ time). Our total presence with our children enables us to tune into them and to see what is really going on. Without presence, our ego gets loud – “he’s blatantly disrespecting me!” it shouts in our heads. “He’s not getting away with it!” With presence, our Love asks, “what is he needing from me right now?”
Two very different responses will come from these different kinds of thoughts. The ego will likely make a declaration of our authority and perhaps an arbitrary removal of a ‘privilege’. Love might acknowledge how our child is feeling, offer a comforting cuddle and, when they’re ready, an appropriate follow-up. (See my post, No Such Thing as a Naughty Child)
I’m not a fan of using strategies thoughtlessly, but some good ones have come to me in moments of presence that I’ve been able to reuse selectively in the future. One such technique is my “try that again” strategy for when my boys speak disrespectfully to myself or someone else. Jake went through a phase of putting up big resistance when it came time to set the table for dinner. I started feeling a sense of dread when I needed to ask him to do it because of the roaring, stomping and whining that would ensue. One evening, my simple request for Jake to set the table had evoked a shout of “No!” and an exaggerated stamp of the foot. He had struck me in a moment of presence and I realised it was upto me how things would go – whether I escalated the situation by arguing with him both about the way he had addressed me and the setting of the table or whether he accepted his job and did it, albeit grudgingly. I recognised that all he was needing was a bit of understanding that he didn’t want to set the table – he knew the expectation wouldn’t change. So I said to him, “try that again”. He looked at me, puzzled. “Tell me what you have to say respectfully”, I said. He hesitated for a moment then mumbled, “I don’t want to set the table”. “I know it can be annoying to be interrupted from your play to set the table”, I commiserated then continued, “ it still needs to be done so we can eat our dinner”. He went ahead and set the table. Through presence, I had reminded him to speak respectfully to others, given him a chance to say what he had to say and got him to set the table. Now, I just say, “try that again” when he speaks disrespectfully and usually the situation is diffused because he’s being polite and I’m listening to how he’s feeling. So simple, yet I don’t think I would’ve thought of it had I been trying to “figure out” what I should do when he refused to set the table.
I regard presence as an essential personal and parenting skill (see my post Just Be: Presence and Stillness). It helps us to discipline effectively and with Love. In any moment, disciplinary or otherwise, it allows us to really see our children and recognise what is required of us.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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Before having Jake, I lived a tightly-scheduled life. It was a fine balance trying to “keep all the balls in the air”. At that point, I had a sense that life wasn’t meant to be lived with so much structure and so much to do but I didn’t dare drop a ball. Then Jake came along. As a baby, he didn’t nap for more than 40 minutes at a time and, when he wasn’t sleeping, he constantly wanted to be held – by someone who was standing up and not in a front pack or sling. A day spent standing up with a baby over my shoulder was exhausting. But worse than that was the incredible frustration of not being able to get anything done. Sometimes he’d fall asleep on me while feeding. I didn’t dare move him incase he woke but I’d feel stuck, angry even, that he wasn’t in his cot so I could use his nap time to do something. (On retrospect, maybe God was trying to give me some rest!) Many of the balls I had been juggling promptly fell to the ground and I felt that I was failing.
But, over time, I shifted gears. It seemed to partly happen on its own, just by being in Jake’s presence. He was never in a rush or concerned by the dishes stacked on the kitchen bench. I realised I had to pick which balls to juggle and which to let go of. Of course, I never dropped the love-and-care-for-my-baby ball but I learned to sometimes let someone else carry it for a while. I did let go of the regular-contact-with-friends ball and the clean-and-tidy house ball and the keep-fit ball. All of which I have picked up again as the boys have gotten older and it has seemed more manageable but with far fewer expectations.
Dropping all of these self-imposed obligations created the opportunity to sometimes JUST BE. I am no longer attached to the madness of constantly doing. It is an enormous relief and has added such depth to my life. I enjoy doing puzzles with Thomas and building Lego with Jake without being distracted by things I feel I “should” be doing. I’d be lying if I said I am always present with them but I am much less torn between BEING with my boys and tasks that need to be done. I compartmentalise better, trying to give my full attention to whatever is at hand. I measure my day by the quality of my time, not what I produced.
So, three years after Jake’s birth, I was able to enjoy Thomas’ babyhood a lot more. It wasn’t easy-breezy, I especially found it hard to meet both of their very different needs at the same time. But, if Thomas fell asleep on me and Jake was ok, instead of worrying about the housework, I enjoyed JUST BEING with Thomas or listening to an inspirational audio book. Instead of surrounding Thomas in the anxious energy I had Jake (I’m so sorry Jake), I bathed him in my contentment & peace & joy in him. It felt like time well-used.
WHY WE NEED TO JUST BE
Presence and stillness have so many benefits. We’ve heard research sited showing that the health of people who regularly spend time in prayer or meditation is better than that of people who don’t. We know the refreshed and alive feeling we have after taking time to do the thing that absorbs us so much that we loose track of time. And have you noticed that your best ideas come to you when you’re not trying? Mine usually come to me in the shower or when I’m out on a walk – when I’m quiet enough within to hear the guidance I’m being given.
“Quiet the mind and the soul will speak.” – Eckhart Tolle
JUST BEING is, from my experience, a spiritual practice. Without the busy noise of our minds, we can feel the energy of Life. We can sense more easily what it has to say to us. I want Jake and Thomas to be able to go about their day with presence and to be able to stop at times in order to fill their tanks, reflect & hear the voice of their own spirits. If they are to be able to live their own truth, our children need to be able to connect with it first and, as their parents, we are the ones to teach them how to do it.
There’s a lot we can do. There are two things I do at the moment that I think help my children to JUST BE at their young ages (2 and 5 years):
1) Show them, model for them, how to take time to be present and still.
2) Give them unstructured, quiet time to be present and still.
1) Show Them
I think being a model is one of the most powerful tools we have as parents. If our children watch us constantly busy, not taking time to focus on this moment or to enjoy ourselves, rest and connect with God, they are going to believe that that is how life is lived. Don’t we want more for them – both in adulthood and in their childhood years? When they enjoy my undivided attention as we play together or see me take 5 minutes to play the piano or are asked not to disturb me because I’m having “quiet time” in my room, I’m showing them that these practices of JUST BEING have an important place in my day. They may also notice that, when I don’t do these things, my patience is shorter and I become more preoccupied with my to-dos. As Jake is getting older, I find myself naturally telling him a bit more about how these habits connect me with myself and God. (I’ve only been discussing who God is relatively recently so it’s baby steps at the moment)
2) Give them unstructured, quiet time
I have always been very careful to preserve Jake and Thomas’ unstructured, at-home time. Now in his first term at school, Jake has no after-school activities because my husband and I feel he needs time to rest and not be “on”. When he’s in his room playing with his Lego, I consider it his spiritual quiet time. He is present, following his own rhythm, resting his body and mind. Once he has adjusted to his new life as a school-by, we’ll have more playdates and consider 1 or 2 extra-curricular activities. If there’s an activity he’s keen to do or we think could be a match for him, we’ll sign him up to have a go. But, most afternoons he needs to be at home. From what I have seen, over-scheduling only exhausts children, gives the message that they must do, do, do & achieve, achieve, achieve in life and robs them of their time to connect with themselves & God.
CHILDREN WILL SHOW US HOW TO JUST BE
However, this task of teaching a way of life that embraces presence and stillness may not be as big as we think. Because the best example I have of JUST BEING is my children themselves. This is their natural state and perhaps our job is more to preserve it than teach it anew. When I’m rushing to get Thomas to his Mainly Music session and he’s insisting on getting out of the car by himself (so slow!) then discovers the puddle in the gutter, begging to be splashed in, he’s enjoying what’s happening now, not thinking about the time on the clock.
One morning recently, when he was supposed to be getting dressed for school, Jake asked me to watch him “dive” off the sofa into the “sea” to go “scuba diving”. I took the time to watch his enactment, made an affirming remark and went back to filling the lunchboxes in the kitchen. A few minutes later, I realised it had gone very quiet out there in the lounge. Suspicious, I went in to see what was going on. Jake was still lying on the floor where I had left him. Knowing he’s been feeling tired since starting school, I said “are you feeling OK, Jake?” His reply was, “Yes, I’m just sinking”. It took me a moment to realise that his role play hadn’t finished and he was imagining that he was sinking deeper & deeper into the ocean. I had been intending to tell him to keep moving, we needed to get to school, but, instead, I left him to it. For a few minutes, he had disconnected from the busyness of the morning to be present with his creativity & dreams. My heart sang (and we still got to school on time).
Are there any spiritual practices for stillness that I could teach my boys now, suitable for their age?
How can I encourage presence in the moment as they get older and their minds are more likely to distract them?
How can I put more stillness and presence in my own day as an example to my children and for myself?
Much love to you and your little souls,
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