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Before having children, I was a dedicated, passionate primary school teacher.  I felt an enormous sense of responsibility and commitment to my students.  Between my own conscientiousness and the demands of the job, though, I realised that teaching wasn’t a sustainable career for me.  I was constantly spread too thin, exhausted to my bones, without the energy to enjoy my students or the tiny pieces I had left of my personal life.  No number of productivity hacks made the job any more manageable, so, after nearly eight years, I threw my hands up in defeat.  I had to grieve the loss of what had been a dearly-held hope that teaching would be a meaningful contribution I would make throughout my life.

What helped me to let go was knowing that teaching was my Plan B.  Plan A had always been to be a mum and, not long after resigning from teaching, I happily learned that I was pregnant.  Having felt over-stretched and unable to meet many of the individual needs of my students, nothing filled my heart more than the prospect of having just one child (maybe, in future, two) to care for and of being in a position to meet many more of their needs so that they could thrive.  

THE DREADED QUESTION – “SO, WHAT DO YOU DO?”

While I still had a pre-schooler at home, I felt little tension between my choice to stay home with my boys and society’s expectations.  But, since my youngest started school in March this year, that has shifted.  The inevitable question upon meeting new people – “so, what do you do?” – fills me with dread.   I do loads.  But I don’t think anyone wants to hear about the miles of washing I hang, the numerous emails I send to administer our lives or the multiple trips I make to the supermarket (I always forget something!).  Sometimes I mention the volunteer teaching I do at my sons’ school or the work I do to help run my husband’s business or the essays like this one that I write about parenting.  But none of these things earn me money or power either so usually don’t get taken seriously by others.  Without a job title and an organisation of some sort to attach myself to, I am quickly written off and the focus of conversation soon returns to the person with an income and a position.

I usually find myself feeling embarrassed and inadequate in such situations and it shows in the way I speak about “what I do”.  I gloss over information about myself and say little that conveys the sense of contribution and growth I actually experience as a stay at home parent.  In an era in which people are expected to hustle & keep constantly busy and in which our value is measured by our wealth & influence, I feel decidedly insignificant.  The truth is, though, that I have never been ambitious.  My deepest satisfaction has always been in the intimacy of personal relationships and the experience of a spiritual connection with life – both of which I get through parenting.

I imagine I would be met with blank stares if I shared that with new acquaintances inquiring about what I do.

Feeling undervalued by others was a complication of choosing to be a stay-at-home mum that I expected but I find myself sensitive to other insecurities too.
I feel guilty that my family has the financial option for me to stay at home and focus on that which is most important to me while some other parents work two jobs just to feed, clothe and shelter their families, getting little time to spend together.
I hear the voices of women from the past who fought for me to have the freedom of options determinedly warning me “never depend on a man for your money” (which, let’s face it, I do).  Am I letting them down?
I wonder about the example I’m setting for my boys around women, roles and work.
And, one that caught me by surprise – the feeling that, with all this time on my hands, I should at least be keeping a pristine house, making meals from scratch and keeping myself in particularly good shape.  (For the record, none of these things happen).  

WHY I WANT TO BE A STAY-AT-HOME PARENT 

Recently, I had a day of chores and plans ahead of me but my son woke up sick and needed to stay home from school.  I felt so grateful that I had the flexibility to clear my day & care for him and that my husband & I didn’t have to negotiate over whose work day would be least affected by staying home.  I thought of the many families for whom having a sick child would place significant stress on everyone.

As a stay at home parent, I am a buffer for my family.  I absorb pressures that otherwise everyone would endure.  I pick up extras from the supermarket while my boys are at school so they don’t have be dragged along when they are tired at the end of the day.  I can be home for the electrician’s visit so my husband can focus on his business.  I can deliver my husband’s drill to him on the other side of town when he forgets to take it to a job with him (true story – and I’ll admit to being a bit grumpy about it.).  Because I am home, I have the capacity to deal with these unexpected things so that my family doesn’t have to.

As I’ve been writing this, I have also remembered making a bucket list of sorts in my early twenties.  The list is long gone and I don’t remember anything on it, except for one item – “Be a fully present mother”.  Being a stay at home parent has enabled me to reach closer and closer to this desire.  Having spent the day administering the family and our business, usually fitting in some exercise or meditation, I feel ready to give my full attention to my boys when I pick them up from school.  I’m not trying to juggle chores or self-care at the same time as parenting.  I don’t have a perfect division between these things but I feel increasingly able to “do one thing at a time”, as the Zen masters suggest we do, and, as a result, to show up more fully for everything, especially for my family.  

IN SUMMARY: LIFE BY DESIGN

It was only last week that I realised, “Oh, I’m living my dream, my Plan A!   Why am I squandering it by entertaining my ego’s concerns about being perceived as lazy and insignificant?”  Maybe I’m old-fashioned and uncool but I’m also sane and engaged with life in a way I never have been before, which is truly the greatest gift to myself and my family.  I am living in accordance with my highest priorities and desires.

I am not for a moment suggesting that staying at home is the best choice for everyone.  What I am advocating for is knowing what works for ourselves and our families and deliberately designing a life based on that, rather than restricting ourselves to convention and standard measures of success.  I know that, as my family and I inevitably change, the time may come when being a stay-at-home parent may no longer fit but I am finally going to give myself permission to enjoy it while I can.  


Much love,
 

 

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I’m fortunate that almost all the comments people leave on my essays and social media posts are positive and kind.  I don’t think I write anything particularly controversial but my ideas can be unconventional at times and, very occasionally, someone leaves a comment like “that won’t work!” as if I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

To give an example, one such comment was left about an essay I wrote called Why We Don’t Need To Teach Values To Our Children.  It was about encouraging our children to turn inwards to their innate sense of right-and-wrong when they’ve made a poor decision, rather than criticising them for their behaviour.  I wrote –

“…we don’t have to judge, punish and lecture them when they stray from their natural state of Love.  Because they already know, in the instant that they do the apparently unloving thing, that what they did wasn’t right”.

I could hear the commenter’s scoffs as I read their words.  And I get it – if the measure of “working” is that, after one or two applications of my suggested approach to direct our child inward, they would always make the “right” decision, then, no, it wasn’t going to work.

So, what does it mean to say that our parenting is “working”? 

 

CRITERIA FOR PARENTING THAT WORKS

When I was teaching primary school, we developed a set of criteria for each learning outcome by which to evaluate our students’ levels of success.  Essentially, we broke each goal down into smaller components so that we could say very specifically why a child had or hadn’t met the outcome and to what degree.  I decided to have a go at writing criteria for my parenting and this is what I came up with.

Parenting that works…

  1. BENEFITS MY CHILD IN THE LONG TERM, sometimes at the cost of short-term ease. If we simply want things to be easy (which, if we’re honest, usually means getting immediate compliance from our children so we can go about whatever it was we were doing), our tendency is to be over-controlling and to resort to strategies that don’t pass anything of value onto our children except, often, fear of our disapproval or punishment. But, if we repeatedly bypass the work of parenting in this way, we bypass the benefit for our children.  Each parenting moment is loaded with opportunities for them to learn valuable skills that they can take with them into life.  Examples of such skills are – how to manage emotions, how to have self-awareness, numerous practical skills and the ability to understand another’s perspective.   The list is endless.

Consider the example I opened with – criticising and punishing our children for making apparently poor decisions teaches them nothing new.  However, helping them to tune in to their intuitive knowing teaches them that they have an internal compass they can check in with at any moment to guide them towards the most loving action.

  1. NURTURES MY CHILD’S SELF-WORTH. I believe in everyone’s inherent worth but, unfortunately, most of us spend our lives questioning our worthiness. Apart from feeling low, when we feel unworthy, we hold ourselves back in our lives.  Keenly familiar with this experience myself, I try to consistently reflect my children’s worth back to them, even in the challenging moments.  Because, when our children see that we believe they are unquestionably worthy, they are more likely to believe it themselves.

Back to the example from the introduction – if we use the guise of “teaching them good values” to judge and lecture our children for making a poor decision, it takes them straight to a feeling of unworthiness.  When we, instead, teach them something useful (in this case, to turn inwards to their essential loving selves), they feel worthy because we have taken the time to guide them and we are showing them that we believe in them.

  1. FOSTERS CONNECTION BETWEEN MYSELF & MY CHILD. The quality of our relationship with our children is where our power as parents lies.  An authentic connection with our child provides them with things such as the safety to be themselves, the motivation to learn from our example and the willingness to allow us to coach them or to ask us for help.  Every interaction with our child is an opportunity to shape our relationship with them and it’s up to us whether we use it to strengthen or weaken that valuable connection.

In our example – when we barrage our children with disapproval & punishment for poor decisions, we separate ourselves from them and, for that time at least, we are no longer the safe place that they need us to be.  Their trust in us gets chipped away by our judgement.  However, when they see us, instead, putting in the effort to teach them the skills of turning inwards, they feel accepted and that we are interested in them, rather than preoccupied with their behaviour.  

 

BRIEF SUMMARY: GETTING HONEST WITH OURSELVES

I think we often conflate “parenting” with “discipline” when evaluating ourselves as parents.  We think that, if we have our kids “under control”,  we’re doing a decent job.  But you may have noticed that none of these criteria are about how our children behave.  They are all about the way we behave as their parents and, especially, our motivations.   For me, the extent to which our parenting is working is the extent to which we are prioritising our children’s wellbeing over everything else, including getting our kids to do what we want them to.  (Gulp)  

 

Much love,

 

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An excerpt from my journal this week –

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR OUR CHILDREN?

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

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

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

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

 

CONCLUSION

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

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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

I opened the post with the following quote –

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

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

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

 

IS UNSHAKEABLE SELF-WORTH EVEN POSSIBLE?

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

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

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

 

RESILIENCE

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

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

 

3 Ways to Teach Our Children Resilience When Doubting Their Worth

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

 

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

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

1. Reflecting our children’s worth to them.

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

 

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

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

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

 

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

I love the wisdom of this quote.

We are all worthy.  Worthy of love.  Worthy of respect.  Worthy of happiness…  We all have something valuable to offer.  God put each of us here and He doesn’t mess about, we’re each an important part of his plan, we’re each his child.

It has taken me years to understand and believe in my inherent worth.  As a child, I thought I had to earn worth by being a “good girl” and achieving high grades at school and being well-rounded (no amount of physical education was going to give me co-ordination or any interest in sports).  I was compliant to the detriment of my own voice, I was a stressed & exhausted teenager, spending too much time studying and I felt humiliated by my short-comings.  My sense of unworthiness left me quite powerless in my own life, both as a child and an adult.  But I’m not the only one who has felt that way.  I grew up in a culture that measures worth by external indicators – achievement, material success, fitting in…  But worth doesn’t need measuring, it just is.

So, without a model for it, how do I show my boys their own worth and help them to believe in it?   How do I do it while living in a world largely still using the same yard-stick used to measure me?  I think I am doing it in small ways already:

  • I light up when I greet them, I smother them with affection when I say goodnight or goodbye.
  •  My love and affection is unconditional.  I’ll tell them “I’m cross with what you did but I know you’re great and I love you”.  Cuddles are available even in the middle of a meltdown.  Their worth and their behaviour are two separate things.
  • I apologise. They are worthy of an apology.  My age doesn’t let me off the hook.
  • I stop and look and listen when they have something to say. It tells them that what they have to say is valuable.  Manners are still required – “excuse me” etc.  (I could be more consistent with this, it’s difficult to give my full attention when I’m in the middle of something.)
  • I spend time with them throughout the day.  Not always the long stretches I’d like to, but time spent together shows I consider them worthy of my time.  They are important enough to get a place on the day’s priorities.
  • I am responsive to their feelings.  I’ll say “I’m glad you’re looking forward to going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house” or “I know it’s frustrating that you haven’t finished your Lego building and we have to go”.  Validating how they feel shows that their feelings are important, even though the outcome doesn’t always change (eg. There’s not time to finish the Lego project if we’re to get to school on time).

These are small but consistent ways I show my boys their worth.  Every interaction I have with them  is an opportunity to show the reverence I have for them.  As a mother, I am a representative of God’s love.  As they get older, life will get more complicated and my boys will be able to think about things in increasing depth.  There will be opportunities to go much deeper with them and discuss worth more thoroughly.

Already, though, we have had an experience through which to teach Jake (5) his own worth and that of others.  At kindergarten, he had on-going issues with another child who would shout and strike out at him.  At first, Jake just took it, he’d never really had to stand up for himself before.  My husband and I had to teach him that it wasn’t ok for someone else to be mean to him.  We taught him to say “Stop it, I don’t like it” and to get a teacher’s help when he needed it.  We also explained that it wasn’t ok to return the boy’s unkind behaviour because then the boy would feel upset and it wasn’t respectful to him.  Jake got pretty good at standing up for himself firmly but respectfully.  After a while, he labelled the boy “naughty” and “bad”, something I had been avoiding.  I told Jake that no one is good all of the time or bad all of the time and that, although the boy did things he shouldn’t have, he wasn’t bad.  In time, the boy’s behaviour improved and he and Jake had many fun times together.  Jake, rather a wise soul, said to me, “I think I’ve taught him how to be nice”.  I was thrilled for him to have realised his own power.

I think I touched on concepts of worth when coaching Jake through that tricky relationship at kindy. Our sense of our own worth and the worth of others steers our behaviour.  I don’t think I’ve used the word “worthy” with Jake.  I have discussed “respect” often but I’ll try to introduce the word “worthy” when I see a place for it.

There is so much more to this idea of worth, which I hope will unfold as I live and write.

 

Much love to you and your little souls,

julie_signature

 

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