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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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My 6-Year-Old Put Me In Time Out

I had sent Jake to sit on “the step” – essentially our version of a time out.  I’d warned him that his disrespectful behaviour would land him on the step if it continued.  It had continued so he’d spent 5 minutes sitting by himself on the step by our laundry, to “think about his behaviour” and give us all a break.

When Jake got off the step, he asked me tearfully, “How come you don’t have to sit on the step?”

“Well, no one has ever given me a warning”, I replied.

“I’m giving you a warning now,” he said with a scowl (probably the same scowl I use to give him warnings).

“What for?” I asked, thinking through my various parenting misdemeanours of the afternoon – there were a lot of them.

“Shouting”, Jake grumped at me.

“Fair enough.”

 

WHAT’S WRONG?

It was then that I realised I’d lost my way when it came to disciplining my boys.  I guess I’d sensed for a month or two that I was on a downward spiral, my discipline methods slowly slipping further away from my values, but I hadn’t stopped to rethink things. Sending my boys to “the step” was not a strategy I wanted to be using but it had turned into a habit and become my default approach to correcting my boys’ behaviour.

And that’s where the first problem was.  The step didn’t actually correct their behaviour at all.  The evidence lay in the fact that they were sitting on it more and more often.

The second problem with the step was that it didn’t reflect my parenting values, especially the way I was using it.  That we are all spiritual equals requires me to treat everyone with respect, regardless of their age or behaviour.  There are times when we parents have to position ourselves as an authority to guide our children but there is no power struggle in a relationship between equals.  The step had become a weapon in our power play, me using it to threaten, manipulate and, ultimately, control Jake and Thomas.

How had it got to this?!

 

LOSING MY WAY

I think the main factor that saw me resorting to the step was that my boys were, inevitably, throwing new challenges my way.  I was unprepared to deal with the backchat, defiance and attitude that was increasingly featuring in Jake’s interactions with me and I hadn’t taken the time to figure out how best to respond.

Additionally, the personal truth is that I saw red each time Jake used his new attitude with me, my insecurities about being disrespected instantly triggered.  I hadn’t consciously realised that he’d struck a nerve and I had immediately started trying to control Jake rather than taking my time to see what was really going on (for both him and I). I was trying to control him because my I felt out of control.

Being both challenged and triggered, I had slipped away from my own parenting values and my relationship with Jake was suffering.  I felt ashamed and disappointed in myself.  What was I going to do about it?

 

GOING INTO TIME OUT

I put myself in a self-imposed time out of sorts to reflect on what was going on and to find a new way of doing things.

The first thing I had to do was forgive myself.  In my blog post Self Love – Not Just Warm Fuzzies, I wrote –

“Forgiving ourselves is perhaps the truest act of self-compassion.  It allows us to move forward without the burden of our past.” 

Taking the time to consider what was going on within me when met with Jake’s emerging ‘tude helped me to understand and empathise with myself.  I realised that, when I’m tired, triggered and uncertain what to do, it is natural that I’m going to struggle and this made it easier for me to forgive myself.

Then, I put all my to-dos aside for one morning to figure out how I wanted to go forward.  I was prompted to read back over some earlier blog posts I had written about discipline and found that they were actually pretty helpful! I also flicked through some of the parenting books I keep on my desk and thought about what my boys are needing from me at the moment.  I devised respectful strategies for dealing with my current parenting challenges.

 

IN SUMMARY – FLOUNDERING, FORGIVENESS & MOVING FORWARD

As parents, we constantly need to re-evaluate what we are doing, whether it be around discipline or another area of life.  As our children grow older, they will bring new challenges our way which will require us to adjust our way of doing things.  Don’t we all bemoan the fact that, just as we feel we’re getting the hang of this parenting thing, something new comes our way?  It certainly keeps us on our toes -parenthood is about our own evolution as much as it is about our children’s.

We can’t expect ourselves to adjust seamlessly to every change in our children’s development.  The changes can surprise us, we’re not necessarily anticipating them.  It’s understandable that we will flounder around for a bit each time until we find our way.  I’m hoping that, having gone through this, I will recognise more quickly what’s going on when there is another significant change in my boys.  Instead of being overwhelmed and punishing myself for my  imperfect parenting, I will take a time out to forgive myself and to strategise with Love.  Having compassion for ourselves and moving forward deliberately are the only ways to keep up – more or less – with our children.

 

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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5 Things Children can Learn from the “Mean Kids”

My boys and I had driven to visit my parents, music turned up, singing along merrily – or so I thought.  When I parked the car and got out to undo my boys’ seatbelts, I saw that Jake had been crying.

“I miss you when I’m at school”, he sobbed.

I knew something was up.

I carefully probed around with a few questions and it came out that Jake has been having a few troubles with his friends recently.  His description of what’s been going on was sketchy and, not being at school to see for myself, it’s hard to know what exactly has been happening.

For any parent, the thought of our child being disrespected in some way and feeling alone during a long day at school is crushing.  We can probably all remember a time in our own childhood when we were the one in that position.  I certainly can – for a period of time when I was five, my poor parents had to prise me off their bodies when they took me to school each morning.  I’d cling on to them for dear life, not able to face the classmate who was bullying me.  While Jake is still going to school largely happily, I’m anxious that his situation may deteriorate to the point that he starts clinging to me.

On top of not knowing what’s really going on, all this emotion (his and mine) makes it incredibly hard to handle.  I’m a pretty reasonable and diplomatic person but my fear has its sleeves rolled up and is ready to get in there and fight for my son.

Fortunately, I wrote a blog post last week about parenting from Love instead of fear – must’ve been divine preparation for now because I can see that there is actually no fight to be had.  I have realised that the way I handle this situation with Jake and his friends will be an example to him and I have to ask myself, Do I want to model Love or Fear?

As painful as it is to see my son in tears, I also see the potential for him to learn so much through this experience, if I choose.

“In every situation you have two choices: Will you learn through fear or will you learn through love?” ― Gabrielle BernsteinThe Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith

 

CHOOSING LOVE: 5 LESSONS

  1. We are all worthy. This is an opportunity to remind Jake of his inherent worth. He is worthy of being treated with respect, as we all are.
  2. How to set boundaries. When sure of his worth, it will be easier for Jake to set boundaries. My husband and I have always encouraged him to respectfully tell children to stop when they’re doing something he doesn’t like. At the moment, his friends are testing his boundaries and it is my hope that Jake will learn to be insistent enough that others respect them.
  3. The nature of truly unconditional love. I will not speak unkindly about his friends, label them as bad or encourage Jake to be unkind to them in return. I want him to see that my respect for others does not change because of their behaviour – I think that this is what unconditional love does.
  4. How to go inward for his answers. In a situation such as this, it’s all too easy for worried parents to take over and try to manage the situation entirely ourselves – I am tempted to bombard Jake with my ideas about what he should do.  I will discuss possible solutions with him but I told him that he needs to do what feels right for him and that I will support him.  I asked if there was anything he wanted me to do and he asked me to talk with his teacher, which I have done.
  5. How to take responsibility for himself. If Jake chooses to keep spending time with children who don’t treat him well, he’s exposing himself to the risk of being hurt. I can see, though, that he is conflicted.  The children he has great fun with are the same ones who often end up being disrespectful and unkind.  I know it’s not easy.  Jake can also take responsibility by making sure he’s not participating in the same kind of behaviour that upsets him.

It would be easy to be too heavy-handed, letting my fearful fight-or-flight instinct kick in.  Naturally, I want to protect Jake and a part of me wants to give the other children a talking-to and demand that the school keep them away from Jake.  But that would not be a good example to Jake and all the bluster & controlling would be avoiding the real issues as well as the chance for Jake to learn.

Focussing on how “bad” the “mean kids” are is a waste of time – I can’t change them and the school staff are not at liberty to talk to me about other students for privacy reasons.  What I can do is help Jake to choose his response to what is going on.

I want him to see that he can handle whatever comes his way.

 

IN SUMMARY – WORKING TOGETHER

I am hoping that, through working together with Jake and his teacher, the difficult dynamic within his group of friends can be amended.  Jake is popular and his school is a friendly place – when I walk into his classroom in the mornings, lots of kids say “hi” to him and want him to join in with their play. Whatever’s going on may turn out to be a small blip in his friendships, it won’t necessarily decline into ongoing bullying.  As a parent, my role is to be proactive while also showing my son both his own worth & capability and what it really means to Love.  All situations we find ourselves in really are opportunities to fear or to love.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

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Joyful Kids – The Spiritual Value of Joy

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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?”
  3. Teach our children joyful habits of mind. Gratitude is a powerful place to start.  Self-love is essential.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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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Self Love – Not Just Warm Fuzzies

For Annie

As I take a moment to stop and watch my boys play or sleep, drinking them in in the way that mothers do, I sometimes wonder Do they love themselves?  They appear happy in their lives, they’re certainly proactive about standing up for themselves, they do the things they enjoy…it looks like they love themselves but I don’t know if I can really tell.

The sad truth is that, although we arrive in this world aligned with Spirit, knowing that we are loving and lovable, at some point, that changes for most of us.  Immersed in a society that is quicker to criticise than to encourage, we start questioning our own lovability.  As a parent, I often doubt my ability to prevent that shift from happening…but I have to try.

I recently found myself in a pattern of criticising more than encouraging my boys, especially my eldest, Jake.  I’d been a bit unwell so my tolerance level was low and my ability to hold my tongue had disappeared almost entirely.  After a few days I realised, Oh my goodness, I’ve been picking on my own son!  I had fallen into a pattern of regularly judging, prompting and correcting him.  Poor Jake couldn’t do anything right – “you didn’t say ‘thank you’”, “stop using your fingers, there’s a knife right there!”, “if you kept your room tidy, you wouldn’t lose your Lego in the first place!”  Given the way I was speaking to him, He must’ve thought that I considered him hopeless and, maybe, not loveable in some way. That thought horrified me.  The way we treat our children shows them how to treat themselves and I did not want him picking on himself like I had been.  I have to show him what it really means to love.

 

WHAT IS SELF-LOVE?

Self-love is not building up our egos with a c.v. of external “successes” to make it feel worthy of love.  It is connecting with our true essence which is love. Self-love is about the way we regard ourselves and the way we treat ourselves, knowing we are inherently loving and loveable.  A simple way to explain it to a child is to be your own best friend – appreciate yourself, care for yourself, extend kindness to yourself just as you would a friend.

I’m going to be my own best friend, stick with me till the end. –  Jewel

 

HOW TO LOVE OURSELVES

We love ourselves in the same ways we love other people.  If a person doesn’t have much self-love, they may find it grows by treating themselves lovingly anyway.  I doubt I’m the only parent on the road back to self-love after years of being unkind to myself so the ideas I offer below are for parents and children alike!

Speak nicely to ourselves  We need a cheerleading squad inside our heads, not a judge.  For parents, the way we talk to our children becomes the way they talk to themselves – so no picking!  We can also coach our children to speak kindly to themselves when we hear them talking negatively about themselves.  This doesn’t mean being dishonest, just compassionate.  For example, instead of “I stink at reading” we can teach them to say “I am learning to read” or “I’m finding reading difficult right now” or focus them on their effort and determination instead of the reading.

Forgive ourselves when we make mistakes  Forgiving ourselves is perhaps the truest act of self-compassion.  It allows us to move forward without the burden of our past.  Sometimes I can see that Jake is heavy with the regret of something he has done and I suggest to him that he can forgive himself.  My post about forgiveness explains more.

Give ourselves what we need  Perhaps we feel in need of help, rest or a good laugh over our favourite comedy show.  When we honour our needs, we honour ourselves.  We can help our children to be aware of their needs and encourage them to be proactive in meeting them.

Do what feels right for ourselves  This is about honouring what we know is true for us – from following our dreams (even when they don’t seem “realistic”) to listening to our intuition (even when it doesn’t match popular opinion).  We can steer our children inwards to help them make authentic decisions for themselves.  My post about intuition may give you ideas about how to do this.

Spend time with ourselves  Just as we invest time in our friendships, we need to invest time in ourselves.  Hanging out on our own gives us the quiet to hear our own voice instead of others’ for a while.  For our children, this means allowing them plenty of unstructured, unscheduled time to potter as they wish.

Do things that bring us joy  Our busy lives are often not set up for joy.  We tend to prioritise what we think we should do over what lights us up.  But it is in joy that we recognise ourselves and recharge.  I think it’s important that we prioritise time for our children to do what brings them joy.  For example, we can enrol them in the extra-curricular activities they want to go to – not the ones we think, for some reason, they should do.  We can use joy as a criteria for planning their time and ours.

Surround ourselves with people who treat us well  When we truly value ourselves, we expect other people to value us too.  We don’t submit ourselves to others who are disrespectful or hostile.  We care for ourselves by choosing kind company, people who lift us up.  Children make many new friendships throughout childhood and will likely need our help to become discerning and make positive choices.

 

WHY IS SELF-LOVE SO IMPORTANT?

Self-love is not simply giving ourselves warm fuzzies to cheer ourselves up.  It’s surely a happier life for those who love themselves – and that’s important but it’s not the only benefit.  By loving ourselves, we build our strength to truly love another.  We practise unconditional love for ourselves in order to be able to extend that love to others.  My observation is that it is often those who appear toughest who are actually the weakest – unable to love themselves, they have little to give to others.   The ways they are tough on themselves become the ways they are tough on others.  Children who love themselves become rich sources of love for the other people in their lives.

As I near the end of this post, perhaps I have stumbled upon the answer to my question of how we can really tell whether our children love themselves.  Maybe the depth of love they extend to others is reflective of the love they have for themselves?

 

IN SUMMARY – OUR ROLE AS PARENTS

In those moments when loving ourselves is hard, it may help us to remember that the Universe created us from Love, exactly the way it wanted us to be.  Self-Love is not about building up our egos by counting up our successes and wonderfulnesses.  It is about knowing we are successful and wonderful regardless of what we do because we were made that way.  Our role as parents is to reflect our children’s lovability back to them so they have no doubt of it.  It is also to model self-love so that they may see what it really means to love themselves through the various circumstances of life. 

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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

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

 

TWO EXTREMES OF PARENTING

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

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

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

“You can’t pour from an empty cup”.

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

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

 

THE MIDDLE GROUND 

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

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

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

 

IN SUMMARY: CHILD-LED IS NOT CHILD-CENTRED

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

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

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Teaching Children About Forgiveness

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

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

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

 

4 CHARACTERISTICS OF FORGIVENESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

HOW TO TEACH OUR CHILDREN ABOUT FORGIVENESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

IN SUMMARY: THE GIFT OF FORGIVENESS

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

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

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

Nothing is unforgivable.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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