I sent my son upstairs to get dressed for school. It was time to put his favourite shorts and t-shirt into the washing machine and I was wondering what he would find to wear instead. After a while, he turned up in the kitchen all dressed…in his Ninja Turtle onesie (yes, pyjamas).
“Have you seen what Jake’s wearing to school today?” my husband and I asked each other later on.
“Do you think we should let him wear it?”
We were concerned that Jake may get teased by some of the other children and we wanted to protect him from the potential humiliation and hurt. However, it’s important to us that our boys make authentic decisions, not decisions based on what other people might think. So we decided not to question Jake about his decision and, with some trepidation, I dropped him off at school in his outfit of choice.
With all the best intentions, it’s easy for us to over-protect our children and we do so in many different ways. We just want them to be happy and, mistakenly, we believe that smoothing the bumps on their road through childhood will make it a happier journey for them. Protecting them from negative possibilities may, in the short run, be easier but it doesn’t prepare them for adulthood, in which there is no-one smoothing out the road for us. Adults have to navigate all the potholes, hills and bad drivers themselves.
Ultimately, our children’s long-term happiness is compromised by our over-protection.
WE DON’T WANT TO PROTECT OUR CHILDREN FROM THE GOOD STUFF
Taking risks, making mistakes, getting up again – this is the stuff of life. It adds flavour to our experience and it’s “character-building”. If we protect our children from these ups-and-downs, we deny them valuable opportunities –
To learn lessons We learn our lessons best by making mistakes for ourselves, rather than being warned about them by someone else. How often do we watch our children ignore our advice only to end up thinking, if not saying, “You should have listened, I told you so?” – hundreds!
To strengthen their resilience Through stumbling, we learn how to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and keep going. If children don’t get the chance to trip over the stuff of childhood, they’ll struggle to recover from the inevitable challenges of adulthood. Resilience is a learned skill and, like any other, developed through practice.
To develop their judgement The only way to develop good judgement is by using it. Children need the space to practise making decisions for themselves without us coaching them and interrupting their process. Any decision that doesn’t turn out well teaches them something that will help them to make a better choice next time.
To have a sense of agency Our children’s lives are their own and it’s not for us to interfere any more than is necessary. In conjunction with The Universe, they each decided to live a life on Earth and we need to allow them the space to follow their instincts and have the experiences intended. I want my boys to feel empowered and to understand that their lives are ultimately their own to shape and, to do that, I need to get out of the way!
To deepen their trust in the world Over-protecting our children doesn’t communicate our faith in them or in The Universe. As a parent who understands that we are spiritual beings, part of a greater whole, I know that we each have all the wisdom that we need within us and that The Universe is helping us along. By controlling their lives, we give the messages to our children that they can’t handle it and The Universe won’t support them. This sets them up for living in fear, rather than faith, which is a stressful way to live.
To have fun The fun stuff can be risky! When we teach our children to be over-cautious, they can become risk-averse and miss out on lots of fun. We’ve probably all stood on the sidelines of a super-fun activity that our children have refused to participate in. We feel sorry to see them miss out on a good time. This happens sometimes for all children but, if it happens regularly, it’s worth considering whether we have been over-protective or if it’s just that our child is more tentative by nature (and, if they are, that’s ok).
IN SUMMARY – THE AMBULANCE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE CLIFF
Protection is a part of our parenting role but it is a smaller part than I first thought. I have slowly loosened my grip and am increasingly willing to let my boys take calculated risks. I would not let my 3-year-old cross the road by himself but I give him free reign at playgrounds. It’s not easy, my heart is in my throat as he navigates trickier equipment and higher heights each time but, if it’s not life-threatening, I let him do it. I’m sure, that I’m becoming more resilient as he is. And I can see that he’s actually really good at judging his own capability.
Our job is not to smooth the road for our children but to enable them to choose their own path and weather the bumps. We’re not so much the police who cordon-off dangerous areas to keep our children safe as much as we are the paramedics who arrive to help them recover from an accident. When I find myself wanting to tell my boys to “be careful”, I stop myself to decide if it’s really necessary. I often end up saying “that looks like fun” instead.
As for Jake – he wore his Ninja Turtle onesie to school three days in a row until it was time for it to go in the washing machine too. If anyone had been unkind to him, he obviously didn’t care because he didn’t tell me. I was so proud of him for being himself and so pleased I hadn’t tried to talk him out of doing what he wanted to.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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Our spirituality is ultimately about our relationship with Life. Any relationship requires communication. I want my boys to know they can tell the Universe whatever is on their mind so I am gently introducing them to prayer. The Universe is always on our side, even when we don’t pray, but prayer helps us to be bigger participants in the unfolding of our lives.
WHAT IS PRAYER & WHO ARE WE PRAYING TO?
For me, prayer is an invitation, an opening up to the Divine. The Divine will work in our lives as much as we allow it to.
A prayer can be offered through our words (written & spoken), actions or thoughts. They all count. Essentially, we pray with our spirit so it doesn’t matter which form a prayer takes. This blog post is more about prayer expressed in words as that is the variety most visable to our children so easiest to share with them.
In our house, we usually address our prayers to God, using the word in a non-traditional sense. Really, any word would do – the Universe, the Divine, Spirit, Source… My understanding of God changes constantly, getting less and less precise over time, but I don’t think that really matters. He/She/It/They know I’m talking to them when I pray, even if I can’t fully imagine all that they are. (You may be interested in my post Introducing my Children to God.)
TYPES OF PRAYER
I want Jake and Thomas to realise that they can talk to God in any situation, for any reason so I’m trying to offer them different types of prayer. Keeping it simple, these are the three we usually use –
Gratitude – Prayers of gratitude are an easy place to start. Sometimes, when I’m with my boys and I think of something I’m grateful for, I’ll just say thank you for it aloud eg. “Thank you for the beautiful sunshine today”. We also take turns saying grace before a meal, using the words my boys learned at their kindergarten. (To be honest, they fight over whose turn it is to say grace and it doesn’t always feel very sincere.) My post on Gratitude talks about the benefits of gratitude and other ways of expressing it.
Intention – In these prayers, we share our intentions – such as for dreams to be realised and problems solved. They may be for ourselves or for others. Of Course, God already knows what our intentions are but, through these prayers, we open ourselves up to receiving the help we need.
Chat – For me, prayer is an on-going conversation. Sometimes, I just find myself with something to say and I know God is listening so I start talking. When I’m in the car alone, I talk to God as if he were sitting in the passenger seat. I talk about anything, knowing that I am heard and that He is the best listener of all.
THE NATURE OF PRAYER
I don’t think the words we use in prayer are important but it is interesting to look at the meaning of Amen. It is a way of saying “Your will be done”. For me, that means trusting that God hears and cares about my desires & concerns. It also means that He sees the big picture that I can’t and will do what is best for everyone, for the highest good. Prayer is said in faith and we can let go once we’ve said what we have to say. When I was younger, I used to pray over the same things repeatedly. God heard the first time – it must have been so annoying! Once said, it’s said! We can trust that things will turn out for the greatest good.
When things we have prayed about don’t appear to go our way, it is not an answered prayer. When I was a teacher, I had to put the good of the whole class over the needs of an individual at times. God has the same task but with billions of people to look out for – what a job! There have been times when things haven’t gone the way I had planned but there have been unexpected gifts in the seemingly unwanted outcome. There have been times when, later, I have been able to see that it is a good thing I didn’t get what I prayed for! Sometimes, I can’t see why things didn’t go as I had asked and I have faith that it was still a good thing. And sometimes I just wake up the next day feeling differently, able to see the situation I’d prayed for with greater Love – my answer was simply a new way of seeing things.
WAYS TO PRAY WITH OUR CHILDREN
Here are some gentle ways I’ve been introducing prayer to my children.
Invite them to listen inon my prayers – This was my first step. For example, an ambulance would go whizzing by when we were in the car and I would say a short prayer aloud. When my husband was going into hospital for a small surgery, my boys listened while I said a prayer for my husband and the medical staff. Jake and Thomas always say an enthusiastic “Amen!” at the end.
Provide a script – Particularly for young children, it is hard to come up with the words for what they have to say. Some of our prayers use the same words each time to make them easier for my boys to say, such as our grace and our morning prayer. Both prayers are short with child-friendly language.
Offer for them to add bits – Usually I say our morning prayer aloud and my boys listen. Often, before beginning, I ask if there’s anything they’d like included, perhaps something they’re worried about or looking forward to. So far, I add these things in myself for them but, in time, I think they’ll want to say them themselves.
God Box – (It could be called anything. Use the language that works for your family). Currently, I initiate most of our prayers. When my boys are starting to suggest their own, this is an idea I’d like to try. They can write or draw their prayer on a piece of paper and post it into their box. The act of posting it is their “Amen”, their letting go and trusting. Every now-and-then, they may like to review the notes in their box to see what has happened since.
Remind them that they can talk to God anytime, about anything – If our children are aware that we do this, it will be normal for them. I say a lot of spontaneous prayers and will often say them aloud with my boys if I’m happy for them to hear what I have to say.
IN SUMMARY – WHY PRAY?
When I pray with Jake and Thomas, I invite them to participate but never insist. Interestingly, so far they have always chosen to join in. The words we use aren’t important, the only rule being it must be respectful – God has no interest in the toilet talk that litters their usual conversation when they think I’m out of ear shot.
I recently re-watched Rob Bell’s humorous and powerful talk on Oprah’s Super Soul Sessions. He said that most of his prayers go like this – “Here, you take it”. Knowing we don’t have to figure it all out or do it all on our own is so comforting and freeing. Our prayers are an acknowledgement of this. This is the main reason I want to share the practice of prayer with my boys.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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Thomas and I had a few items to pick up from the supermarket on our way home. Always eager to help, Thomas likes pulling the wheeled basket along behind him and eating the free fruit the shop puts out for kids. The two of us usually have fun together at the supermarket.
When we got to the supermarket, there were no wheeled baskets and the fruit box was empty. You can probably guess how the rest of this story goes.
Thomas, being 2, insisted on carrying the regular basket with only handles himself. It was awkward and heavy for him but I gave him a chance to try and to see for himself that he couldn’t manage it. Uncharacteristically, he was getting himself in knots over it and our shopping wasn’t getting done. In the end, I had to insist that I would carry the basket myself. I was ready for crying and complaints but not for what came next.
Tears, screaming, pulling at me and the basket. He had himself in hysterics. I am not exaggerating when I say the whole supermarket could hear Thomas – and I could sense their ears listening. I needed the few items on my shopping list and I knew it wouldn’t take long so I forged ahead.
But I had a choice to make about how I was going to forge ahead – with love or with fear. I chose love. And I mean self-love, not love for Thomas (bless him). He was in no state for reason or, even, comfort. He just needed his moment. So I mentally detached myself from Thomas. I detached myself from the shoppers and the staff. I detached from my embarrassment. “My child’s behaviour is not a reflection of me or my parenting,” I told myself as I charged down the aisles on my mission to get our essentials and get out of there. (Well, limped, really, as Thomas was semi-attached to me – but with the conviction of charging.)
I sensed the discomfort of the staff and shoppers at being witness to the scene I was responsible for. My strength was wavering as I was heading for the one last thing I needed when…a stranger came up to me and said, “Excuse me, can I give you a hug?”. She gave me a firm squeeze and said I was doing a good job. With her kindness and understanding, I was fortified enough to finish my job with composure both within and without. I am so appreciative of her support and, whoever you are – thank you, enormously.
I headed straight for the self-check-out as standing in queue wasn’t an option. Like the parting of the red seas, people made room for me and my red-faced child. A staff member pointed me to the next available check-out. The customer at the check-out next to me offered to scan my groceries through for me.
The whole ordeal felt like forever but was probably under five minutes, due to everyone’s effort. They and I both wanted us out of there!
By the time we got to the car, Thomas was hitting me in his frustration and overwhelm. I simply told him, “no hitting, hitting hurts”. He wasn’t in a place to receive any lessons. I figured I’d let him get it out and offer him comfort when he was ready to receive it. (see my post Helping Children to Manage Difficult Emotions)
So I had the joy of driving home with Thomas screaming in the back seat. By the time we pulled up outside our house, he had quietened somewhat but told me he wanted me to keep driving and to listen to “Yellow Submarine”, which we’ve been playing a lot of in the car recently. So I ended up reversing back down the driveway and cruising around the suburb with “Yellow Submarine” on repeat. I looked in my rear vision mirror and Thomas was happy in the back seat, pretending to play the trombone along with the music. He was reset.
That morning, I had listened to a podcast interview with Gabrielle Bernstein, author of The Universe Has Your Back as I was filling lunchboxes. The interviewer had asked her, “How do you know the Universe has your back?” This is how I know – the hugging stranger, the eager helpers at the self-checkout, Ringo Starr. My quick stop at the supermarket didn’t go the way I would have had it, but there was help for me everywhere I turned. I love the title of Gabby’s book and it is a truth I want my boys to know.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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