Saying Yes With Joy

For the most part, saying yes to my kids comes naturally to me. It hasn’t always been for the best reasons though. Whilst my natural default setting has usually tended to be “Yeah, sure, why not” (unless I’m tired or cranky!), there have been times when I have wanted to say no but have said yes because I did not like causing my child to feel disappointed or upset.

So my “Yes Mum” tendency was not so much a badge to wear with pride, but a badge that should have said, “Too afraid to say No.”

Is the solution, then, to say no more? I don’t think so.

Over time, as I changed my parenting and homeschooling style, I started to realise I needed more authenticity in my yes. I wanted to say it mindfully, not just as an automatic, unthinking response, or out of a fear of disappointing my child. If I truly wanted to say yes, I wanted to do it with real joy and choice, rather than stating a resigned “Yes” with a slight roll of the eye if they were asking for something I wished they didn’t want, like “junk food” etc. Once I would have verbalised the words “Fine then,” or “Sure, whatever,” with an undercurrent of “But I wish you wouldn’t!” Gradually, however, I moved towards a simple “Yes” with a smile. (Mostly!)

Kids are smart! They don’t just hear the words; they pick up on the undercurrent, even subtle ones. So if we fake a “Yes”, but think to ourselves, “No, I really wish you wouldn’t” in our minds, our kids will likely end up confused or insecure, not really sure which way is up. A fake Yes isn’t really a true Yes. (I do recognise, though, that there are some kids who are far more literal, missing the undercurrents and subtleties. This can thwart the intentions of passive aggressive parents, who hope to “send a message” through tone, subtle facial expressions or even sarcasm!)

What is behind a default setting of Yes or No?

Fear of a child’s big emotional reaction to “No” in the present moment can drive some parents (like me, in the past) to say yes, and it can lead to the parent micro-managing the child’s life, ensuring they always have everything they want, are always “happy” and never have to endure the trauma of being told No.

Fear of a child’s big emotional reaction to “No” in the future – fearing that the child will feel entitled to always being told “Yes” – can cause other parents to dig their heels in and hold tightly to a big loud “NO!” in the present, assuming that by saying No lots of times, the child will “get used to it” and realise “they can’t always get what they want”. They believe that their “No” response now will prevent the child developing a sense of entitlement, and help them survive better in the big, scary world.

Perhaps the parent’s own childhood was unpleasant and filled with “No”, so it feels familiar and comfortable to stay stuck in that negative place, to pass on the unpleasantness without realising how different life could be for both parent and child if a new way was forged. Perhaps it really is, simply, an unconscious, familiar, default response. Not thought through. Just a parent operating on auto-pilot, repeating the way they were parented.

A subconscious (or even conscious!) desire for control can be another cause behind a default setting of “No.”  “If I let him, he will…” or “If I always say yes, he will always….” The parent feels the need to say No to keep the upper hand, to show him who’s boss, to make sure the parent’s own values are being lived out, that the things important to the parent are being instilled in the child.

No, you can’t have another cookie

  • You will get fat (fear)
  • I don’t approve of sugar (control)

No, you can’t watch TV

  • You will lose the ability to play imaginatively (fear)
  • I want you to play outside in the dirt (control)

No, you can’t play on the computer

  • You will get addicted (fear)
  • I value a low-tech life (control)

No, you can’t stay up late

  • You will never go to bed early again (fear)
  • I expect kid-free time every evening, even if you’re not tired (control)

I believe our relationship with our children and their sense of value and self worth can be seriously damaged by a parent whose default setting is “No”. Too many times I have seen parents respond:

With a no, no here, and a no no there.
Here a no, there a no, everywhere a no no!

Too many times I have seen children shrivel up, in the face of no after no after no, as their self worth crumples like discarded paper.

What about you?

Are you naturally a “Yes” parent or a “No” parent? What is your default setting when your children ask you for an extra story, or to play in the rain on a cold day, or to eat ice cream for breakfast, or ….? What answer do you tend to give when you’re on auto-pilot?

What voices do you listen to in your head?
The voice of a neighbour, a family member, a friend?
The voice of fear, judgment and expectation?
Or will you listen to the voice of your child.

What sort of parent do you want to be?
What sort of parent do you want your kids to have?
What do you want your family life to be like?

Say Yes as often as you can! There is almost always one lurking in the shadows somewhere, beyond your fears and desire for control, beyond your ideas about societal expectations and judgments.

The secret is taking a moment for mindfulness.

Pause…… and think………..

  • Why not just say yes?
  • What is the worst that could happen? Is it likely to happen?
  • What is holding me back?
  • What would it be like if I said yes?
  • What would it be like if I said no?
  • Are there real, unchangeable reasons to say no?
  • How do I feel when people say no to me?
  • How will my child feel, what will they think, if I say yes, or no?
  • What is behind my child’s request?
  • What are my child’s needs and feelings?
  • What are my needs and feelings?
  • What wonderful things could happen if I say yes?
  • Am I willing to do my part to enable a joyful yes to be said?

And I think that’s the key: saying yes with JOY! Not resentment.

If the request and the mindfulness process trigger quite a lot of inner turmoil, put it on the shelf to deal with more fully later, and try to find a yes in the moment if possible. Or perhaps your child is old enough, or the situation serious enough, for you to let them know you need time to consider your answer.

If you decide to say yes, say it with joy and confidence, without attachment to your expectations, assumptions and judgments. What is most important: your personal values, or your child’s personal values? Delight in your child and trust in their ability to know what is good and right for themselves in that moment. There is nothing wrong with loving guidance, but there is something wrong with control, coercion and dominance.

If you are absolutely convinced that you must say no, say it with as much gentleness and kindness as you can muster, with utmost respect for their feelings at the time of the request and at the time of receiving your “No”. Say it with respect for their underlying needs, and with a willingness to find other ways to help meet those needs, even though you are saying no to their specific request. For instance, if they asked for a particular food item that they are allergic to, you could consider other foods that are similar, that they also like, and that are okay for them to have in that moment. Resist the temptation to say “No,” to the cookie, “But here, you can have this broccoli instead”. Try to offer an alternative that is equally as appealing as the requested item (it might even be broccoli!). A no said with empathy, and with validation of the feeling of disappointment and powerlessness in your child, is a whole lot better than a cold-hearted, unfeeling “No.” Imagine having to ask for everything and anything you wanted! And being subject to the answer.

If the request was for time spent doing something with you, take a moment to consider why you would want to say no, and what internal work you can do to help you get to a place of yes. Perhaps you could imagine the look of delight on their face when you respond with a joyful yes, and the aftermath of delight and contentment once their need for connection with you is fulfilled. Perhaps it might help to reframe the importance – or not – of what it is that you are thinking of doing instead. Do you really “need” to get those dishes washed or that carpet vacuumed right now, before playing with your child?  Do you really “need” to answer that email, or make that phone call, before reading the story with your child, or playing the video game, or jumping on the trampoline together?

At times when we feel like we really must say no, we can often say things like this instead:

In 10 minutes, I can …..
After I finish this, we could …..
I feel stressed, what could we do to make it safer?
Wow, that sounds like fun! Go for it!

It may seem easier to leave our auto-pilot response set to “No,” because it feels safe and familiar, and we feel like we are in control, but if we can instead develop a new habit of pausing to think, of granting ourselves a moment of mindfulness, it can result in a much better outcome, for both us and our children.

A genuine, mindful yes helps to create a solid platform of security and self-worth within the child, on which they can build a life of mindfulness, and freedom to choose rather than react. A child who grows up in an environment littered with frequent “No’s” is more likely to feel unheard, unseen, unimportant; is more likely to react by demanding their rights, or giving up and thinking they don’t have any rights at all.

A child who usually hears No, is more likely to say No
A child who isn’t listened to will find it harder to listen to others
A child who doesn’t feel heard will eventually stop talking
A child whose needs are not met will behave in more needy ways, or eventually give up

A child who usually hears Yes, is more likely to say Yes
A child who is listened to will find it easier to listen to others
A child who feels heard will keep sharing and talking
A child whose needs are met will be more likely to show respect for the needs of others

Sometimes it feels as though a yes will take too much energy. That it will ask too much of me or make me like a servant or doormat. But I think, in reality, that saying yes GIVES energy. It is a positive, affirmative word, and as such it gives a sense of positivity. Of well-being. Of  blessing. Of connection. Try it now. It’s fine to start off timidly with a tentative “Okaaaaay, I guess so”  but in the end you want to be shouting from the rooftops a joyous, generous YES!

It is saying no that often drains energy. It focuses our attention on why it’s “too hard” or we’re “too busy” or just on all the reasons NOT to do it. I may have to DO something if I say yes, but when I say no I often find it saps my energy. It drains me of positivity. It leaves me feeling……. negative. After all, no is a negative word, yes?

Everyone’s Needs Matter

Saying yes to our children does not have to equal saying no to our own needs. Both can live in harmony if we are creative with the strategies for meeting everyone’s needs. For more information on this idea, I highly recommend checking out the controversial, eye opening book, “Winning Parent, Winning Child” by Jan Fortune-Wood.

Just a random thought to finish off. This famous guy (Jesus) said once to treat others as you want to be treated. I wonder how many parents, with a default “No” answer to their children get upset when their children’s default answer to THEM is “No”?

Yes is a wonderful word! Try it out. 🙂

To whom will you say yes?

  • Your fear?
  • Your desire for control?
  • Someone else’s judgement or expectation?
  • Your child?

Here are some examples of “Yes” from my recent weeks, when I have been incredibly busy with a house move, and the children have been “entertaining themselves” much more than I normally feel comfortable with.

“Yes, you can play basketball – on the roof – in your pyjamas”
“Yes, you can play basketball – on the roof – in your pyjamas”
Untitled
“Yes, we can play the Doctor Who board game, even though we have been living in the house less than 24 hours and are literally surrounded by boxes!”
Untitled
“Yes, I will play Scrabble with you”
Untitled
“Yes, we will help you create an almost empty space in the garage, so you can park your bike and ride your skateboard in there.”
Untitled
“Yes, you can set up the gaming computer and your recording space before just about anything else gets done.”
Untitled
“Yes, you can decorate the christmas tree all by yourself, even though it might look different to how I would do it.”
a0ee26f2-fcea-46b0-ad3b-17333da0b8ad
“Yes, I will come to your dance party, even though I ‘should be’ unpacking and getting ready for a big extended family christmas lunch!”
Husbands matter, too. "Yes, we will have your extended family over for Christmas Lunch two weeks after moving in."
Husbands matter, too. “Yes, we will have your extended family over for Christmas Lunch two weeks after moving into a new house.” 🙂

What words will you write on your children’s hearts?

Rethinking Gold Stars

I am currently packing to move house, which includes sorting through a whole lot of homeschooling resources and parenting books that no longer reflect my unschooling, gentle parenting approach.

In the process, I found an old, half-completed workbook and was pulling it apart for recycling when I realised it had a sheet of gold stars in it.

rethinkinggoldstars_unshackledFeeling no attachment to them, and thinking that my ten year old daughter might enjoy using them for fun, I handed her the sheet, not realising the kind of fun that would ensue! She looked quizzically at the sticker sheet, having never received a gold star from me for anything, ever. Or anyone else, for that matter. She smiled, pulled one sticker off and put it on my forehead. I did the same to her, and it quickly became a fun-fueled battle to see who could pull the stickers off the quickest, and stick them all over each others’ faces! There were a lot of giggles and it was strangely bonding. We were quite a sight to be seen by the time our sticker sheets were empty! 🙂

As we laughed and fought for sticker supremacy, my heart filled with thanks that she only saw them as sticky shiny things to play with, not as measurements of her worth or accomplishments (unless you count the fact that she definitely beat me in the sticking-stickers-on-faces department!).

I feel sad that my older two children were initially raised with gold stars, praise and rewards, attempting to get them to do what their teachers or I wanted them to do, seeking to make them compliant, “nice” children who would make me look good by their behaviour, who would make my life easier.

I am so glad that my youngest two children have lived free from that kind of parenting!

I am so glad that I no longer dangle carrots on a stick before my children’s faces.

I am so glad that I no longer stick gold stars in their books or on their charts.

I am so glad that I no longer follow behaviourist principles, rewarding the good and punishing or ignoring the bad.

One of the most helpful books that I read in the early days of my transition was Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason (affiliate link)

His other classic book on this topic is Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes

Here are some snippets:

  • What’s most striking about a positive judgment is …. that it’s a judgment.  Why do we feel the need to keep evaluating our children’s actions, turning them into “jobs” that may, if they’re lucky, be deemed “good”?
  • As with punishments, the offer of rewards can elicit temporary compliance in many cases. Unfortunately, carrots turn out to be no more effective than sticks at helping children become caring, responsible people or lifelong, self-directed learners.
  • Studies over many years have found that behavior modification programs are rarely successful at producing lasting changes in attitudes or even behavior. When the rewards stop, people usually return to the way they acted before the program began. More disturbingly, researchers have recently discovered that children whose parents make frequent use of rewards tend to be less generous than their peers (Fabes et al., 1989; Grusec, 1991; Kohn 1990).
  • A child promised a treat for learning or acting responsibly has been given every reason to stop doing so when there is no longer a reward to be gained.
  • Research and logic suggest that punishment and rewards are not really opposites, but two sides of the same coin. Both strategies amount to ways of trying to manipulate someone’s behavior–in one case, prompting the question, “What do they want me to do, and what happens to me if I don’t do it?”, and in the other instance, leading a child to ask, “What do they want me to do, and what do I get for doing it?” Neither strategy helps children to grapple with the question, “What kind of person do I want to be?”
  • Rewards are no more helpful at enhancing achievement than they are at fostering good values. At least two dozen studies have shown that people expecting to receive a reward for completing a task (or for doing it successfully) simply do not perform as well as those who expect nothing (Kohn, 1993). This effect is robust for young children, older children, and adults; for males and females; for rewards of all kinds; and for tasks ranging from memorizing facts to designing collages to solving problems. In general, the more cognitive sophistication and open-ended thinking that is required for a task, the worse people tend to do when they have been led to perform that task for a reward.
  • The data suggests that the more we want children to want to do something, the more counterproductive it will be to reward them for doing it.

If you ask me, relationships have a FAR greater value than compliance. Gold stars may result in an initial increase in the desired behaviour, but the behaviour will often fade even quicker than the shiny star.

This reminds me of one of our treasured children’s picture books from when my kids were younger. It is called You Are Special (by Max Lucado). I even found a video of it!

I am much more interested in equipping my children with a feeling of intrinsic self-worth, irrespective of external recognition or reward. Sometimes this means that they will choose something I wish they wouldn’t; sometimes it means they will act in a way that can cause me embarrassment, but I love and accept them as they are, warts and all, and I choose to place more value on that, than on what other people think. If my children learn something new, the learning is its own reward. They don’t need a gold star to tell them they did a “good job” of learning it! If they choose to behave a certain way, or have a particular attitude, I want it to be because that is their personal choice, and they gain authentic value in making that choice because it is what they want to do, rather than doing something to get recognition or reward from me or someone else.

…… And regarding gold stars? Little does my daughter realise that I have lots and lots more gold stars she doesn’t know about, just ready and waiting to decorate her face with when she’s least expecting it! I mean, what else am I supposed to do with them? 🙂

moregoldstars

Glimpses of Hope

Yesterday was really crappy. I was on the verge of tears all day long. Alright I lie, not on the verge. Deep in a river of salty tears!

And in that river, I was either going to sink or swim as a mother……

I was sinking.

I didn’t yell at or abuse my kids. I just wasn’t present with them. I was terse in my responses, or simply monotone, non-smiling, and …. boring.

I was sick, and had been for a few days. It was my second bout of sickness since our decision to do an interstate move at short notice, and I was not at all happy about the wasted time! Throw in some huge hormones and it was a recipe for emotional melodrama!

I wasn’t just wallowing in my emotions, I was drowning in them; beating myself up for all my failures, both imagined, exaggerated and real. I was predicting the worst case scenario for our family and how all our children will “turn out”, interpreting everything through a lens so dark it is surprising I could see anything at all.

All of this was, naturally, happening while my husband was away on another business trip, which gave me yet another trophy for my woe-is-me shelf.

We tried conversing over Skype and he was valiant in his attempt at support and encouragement, but I was unable to receive it or shift my mood. So I lay down in my pile of self-pity, covered myself with its dark cloak, and let life go on around me.

I unpublished my post from the other day, feeling like such a fraud, and was on the verge of unpublishing this entire blog.

The funny thing is, these kids who were apparently doomed to “turn out” in the worst way possible seemed to somehow prove me wrong.

While I was focussing on how they “hadn’t helped clean up”, so therefore they were destined to live in squalor like hobos, they showed me that, like most kids, they just hadn’t noticed the mess and simply needed a request for help.

The trouble with my “request” was that it came out something (hopefully not exactly!) like this: “Just look at this place! I can’t possibly do it all! I’m sick and I’m so SICK of being sick! I just can’t cope. Nobody has done ANYTHING to help all day! And anyway, why can’t you guys look out for each other more? Play together or something? You are all doing your own thing, but it would be so nice to see you offering to play a game or something with someone who seems bored. I can’t be the one to do this all the time.”

Yeah, not my proudest moment as a mum.

What shocked me into starting to shift my mood was the response from my nineteen year old son, whose temperament is what some would term “choleric” and isn’t usually my most sensitive or obviously mindful child. He cut right to the chase with this comment: “Mum, you’re saying you want everyone to help more, and you’re also saying you want them to play more. What’s really going on? What’s the real story? What do you really want?”

And out gushed the torrent of truth: “I feel guilty that I’m not able to be the mum I want to be when I have been sick, and now that I have been sick I have missed so much packing time, that when I am better I will be even busier. I also feel really slack for not being able to help meet everyone’s needs for fun and nice food and stuff.” Whooshka!

The kids heard me; they heard the real message behind my earlier moaning. And I heard me, too.

The boys started to help with cleaning up and Molly (10) sweetly suggested that we sit and watch Doctor Who together “to help me clear my head”. I decided to first take myself shopping for some urgent supplies, did some more releasing of tears in the car, read an incredibly encouraging and beautifully supportive email from my husband, and came home in a slightly better place emotionally, ready to relax and enjoy our favourite shared show together.

But first, my daughter announced, she had prepared a surprise treat for me “and even cleaned up after herself”. I was, by now, fortunately able to be amused by her courage in using humour, having prepared something that looked very fancy but was definitely inedible! Having earlier been creating art with chalk and tissues (long story), she decided to use the chalky tissue and some other unknown substances to create what was thankfully a decoy from the real treat: corn thins with cheese, tomato and …. avocado. (The avocado was a huge surprise because Molly is quite sensitive and does not like avocado at all, but she knows that I do, and had managed to cut it open, remove the seed and scoop out the “squishy, sludgy stuff” to bless her sad mum.)

IMG_8763One thing I feel good about from my dark day is that the kids did not seem to feel a desperate need to placate me or “make me happy”, but they did show some insight into the situation, and they did choose to help out in their own ways.

Today I have republished my last post and decided to keep writing, because I want to encourage others by showing that

  • it isn’t about being constantly joyful or upbeat or having it all together
  • it isn’t about being perfect or always happy
  • it isn’t about having perfect kids
  • it isn’t about sticking our head in the sand and thinking everything is all bad.

Equally, it isn’t about putting on rose-coloured glasses and pretending everything is perfect.

It is about walking this path of life together,

being real and authentic,

being true to ourselves,

learning along the way,

caring for one another and holding on to glimpses of hope.

Help is on the Way

Life has been pretty stressful lately. We decided not very long ago to move interstate, because we need to move out of our house anyway, and because it would be nice to spend some time living closer to Geoff’s side of the family for a bit, particularly since his Dad had a major heart attack awhile back and hasn’t been all that well. It will also be nice to have a break from the draconian and onerous homeschooling laws in our State. Oh, there’s also the fact that my sister-in-law lives in the city we’ll be moving to, and she also homeschools her kids and, well, it would be pretty cool for unschooling cousins to live near each other I reckon. 🙂 We think they’re pretty great people, too, and have really missed them since they moved away.

All that to say, it’s been a bit wild, crazy and stressful around here, particularly since Geoff now has a job at the new location , and we therefore have a definite, locked-in moving date and he just so happens to be away on business quite a lot leading up to the move (including the last few days!). When he’s not away, he’s mostly working at his local job, so that leaves a lot of pressure on me.

Tasks and me?
Let’s just say we’re not great friends.
Decluttering and purging?
Yeah, not too great there either.

I find it hard focussing on tasks, to the detriment of time spent on relationships (being an attentive wife and unschooling mum, and spending time with friends and family before we move away) and ideas (reflecting on and writing about the many things swirling around in my head at any one time).

Nonetheless, it must be done!

Since making the decision to move, we have had:

A week of visitors staying with us (which was great fun!)
Day trips and activities that we were pre-committed to
The anniversary of our baby’s death (which always causes my world to stop spinning for a few days)
A week of sickness (me)
Geoff away on a business trip, which happened to coincide with
A vomiting child
And now a vomiting me!

I went to the health food shop and consulted with a naturopath the other day, regarding strategies for coping with the stress. Stress apparently ranks pretty high on the scale of most stressful things. Add to that the fact that one of my biggest personal stressors is time stress, and you have a recipe for…. yuck. I had been letting it get to me, but over the past 24 hours things have started to settle a bit. Perhaps it is coincidence? Perhaps it has something to do with the magnesium and herbs I have started taking? Perhaps it was a long conversation with my mum that stretched into the wee hours of the morning and helped me think differently about our search for a rental property. Perhaps it is to do with the fact that my husband decided to come home from his business trip two days earlier than expected, and worked his magic on the mess. 🙂

Perhaps it is the fact that my three teenage sons got up to some helpful things (without being asked) while I was out doing errands this morning. 🙂

I texted my son while I was out, asking if he would mind hanging my sheets on the line. He replied, "I did it hours ago". :) Later, when we got home and he had left for work, we discovered his wet washing in the machine, so we hung it out for him. Kindness begets kindness begets kindness....
I texted my son while I was out, asking if he would mind hanging my sheets on the line. He replied, “I did it hours ago”. 🙂 Later, when we got home and he had left for work, we discovered his wet washing in the machine, so we hung it out for him. Kindness begets kindness begets kindness….
Our dog Lucy should definitely have been called Houdini! After discovering that she had masterfully escaped yet again, my husband came up with an idea to hopefully foil her Houdini abilities forever. He was away on business, though, and couldn't do it. When I came home from my errands, I discovered that two of my teens (13 & 17) had done it! So far so good....
Our dog Lucy should definitely have been called Houdini! After discovering that she had masterfully escaped yet again, my husband came up with an idea to hopefully foil her Houdini abilities forever. He was away on business, though, and couldn’t do it. When I came home from my errands, I discovered that two of my teens (13 and 17) had found some sheet metal and a drill and done the job! So far so good….

There is something so sweet about a child/teen doing something helpful simply because they see it needs doing and choose to do it, rather than because they are complying with a request (or perhaps, more sadly, a demand).

This move will certainly be a team effort. Not a conscripted team, but a team of volunteers, who may be more helpful at some times than others, which is okay in my book. Not necessarily desirable, but okay. I would much rather occasional help from a willing helper, than more regular help from conscripted slaves, I mean, children. I know this means that there will be days and moments when I feel overwhelmed and need more support.

The trick, I am learning, is being kind and honest about my feelings and my needs, and also respecting theirs. And coming up with mutually agreeable strategies for “getting the job done”. Oh, and also this: genuine requests are better than manipulative demands.

Relationships are the most important thing.

Parents Are More Important Than Therapists :)

My husband sent me a link to a great TED Talk the other day, saying that he really liked it and asking what I thought. Before I get to it, I thought I’d share a shorter video by the same very interesting speaker/author, Dr Shefali Tsabary. If you don’t have time to watch the 10 minute video further down the page, just watch this one. It goes for only two and a half minutes. I’ve made it super easy for you, by typing out a transcript of this shorter video, so if you’re a speed reader, you can get through this little snippet of wisdom in probably not much more than one minute. In just one or two minutes you could transform your parenting.

So without further delay, here is the short video:

And because I’m such a nice person 😉 here is a transcript of her words:

Conscious parenting implies introducing the awareness that we as parents interact with our children based on our emotional legacies. We are unconscious, to a certain degree, and it is with this unconsciousness that we interact with our children.

The first step of conscious parenting is to become aware of this unconsciousness. When we are aware and mindful that when we react to our children, we are not only attempting to react to how it is they are in the moment, but we are also, albeit unconsciously, deeply entrenched by the conditioning with which we were raised. So we react to our children believing that we are reacting to them; however, we are unmindful of the fact that we are deeply reactive to our unconscious past, and unless we can illuminate ourselves and enlighten ourselves of the entrapments and enslavements of our own unconscious past, we will not engage in mindful parenting. In order to set our children free, we first need to revisit our past, and set ourselves free from the unconsciousness that exists within us.

Then we will be able to engage with our children

with reflection,
with wisdom,
with pause,
with hindsight,
with contemplation,
with a sense of stillness,

because we are not just blindly projecting and reacting to them anymore; we are aware of our issues, of our baggage. Once we are aware, and we understand that there is something going on within us at all times, we will become mindful of our reactions to our children.

So conscious parenting means to go back into our past, to become aware of the legacies we inherited from our childhoods, and then from this place of awareness, reflect and engage with our children.

I think that a lot of people write off the ideas of consciousness and mindfulness as “mumbo jumbo”, just for hippies. Perhaps some translation might be helpful? Try these on for size, and see if it helps to break it down better:

  • “What do you think you’re doing?”
  • “Hey you! Wake up to yourself!”
  • “Why do you always do that?”
  • “Think before you speak!”
  • “Why do I keep making the same mistake over and over again?”

Statements and questions like these are invitations to wake up. To become aware of what is going on underneath the surface, in us. To be more mindful. It is a matter of listening to those thoughts and questions, and stopping still long enough to contemplate what it is that is triggering us, to contemplate how our past is affecting our present and why we do things a certain way, to contemplate our child as a separate entity to ourselves, to realise that their reality and our reactions are two different things.

When we create a space to contemplate the answers to some of these questions,

  • We can be unshackled from the chains that bind us to our knee-jerk reactions, our impulsive responses, our defensiveness or fiery darts of attack.
  • We can get to a place where we use our past as a platform to stand on as we connect with our children, rather than as a weapon to wield as we seek to control them impulsively.
  • We can wake up and start afresh with these precious children, who stand before us looking for affirmation, support, encouragement……

We can either save our pennies for our children’s future therapy, or we can invest in preventative medicine now. It’s a lot “cheaper”, and a LOT more rewarding. Why put a dressing on a wound, hoping that it heals without infection or scarring, when we can just avoid the wound in the first place? It is far, far better for parents to parent in such a way that therapists are never necessary! It is incredibly difficult to try to erase unkind parental words and wounds from a grown child’s memory.

It is not that our parenting or family life need to be perfect (because it can’t!), but rather that we simply need to be wide awake, mindful, and alert to our unconscious thoughts so that we can operate on a more mindful level.

So after all that, here’s the longer video (still only about 10 minutes):

“Raising a child offers us an enormous opportunity to shed our old skin, let go of stale patterns, engage new ways of being, and evolve into a more conscious parent.” (Dr Shefali Tsabary)

If you’d like to pursue this idea a bit further, there is obviously a lot more information in her book: The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children

I am yet to read it fully, so I recommend it with caution, but based on her videos above, and the reviews I have read, it is likely to be a very thought provoking read.

And for unschooling parents, it’s really worthwhile checking out this webpage about Mindfulness in Unschooling and also a transcript and sound file of a great talk by Ren Allen and Sandra Dodd about Mindful Parenting.

I like an awful lot about what Dr Tsabary says in the videos, and I also love the information from Sandra Dodd’s site, linked to above. What do you think?

Respect my Disrespect?

One of my pet peeves is when an adult treats a child disrespectfully, yet expects the child to treat him with respect.

respect

Submission: the acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the power of one’s superior or superiors.

Respect: a positive feeling of esteem or deference for a person.

Do we want children who simply acknowledge that we are more powerful than them, and respond with respectful behaviour?

Or do we want children who know how it feels to be respected, and in response give that back to us?

Now admittedly, this means that there are going to be times when what our children show us is raw, yucky feelings, not respect. But if you’re anything like me, you would rather that than fakeness.

Respect your kids.
Too many adults DEMAND respect from kids
without showing any respect in return.
It doesn’t work.

– Lyle Perry

When parents demand that their children show respect, do they not stop to realise that the very act of demanding respect is, in itself, an act of disrespect? When someone feels disrespected, they are highly unlikely to feel respect for the one that has treated them so. They may go through the motions of showing respectful behaviour, but is that enough? Is that what we really want?

Surely, if the parent demanding respect was able to separate themselves from their emotions in the moment, and step back objectively, seeing the situation or relationship with new eyes, they would see a child either cowering in fear, or acting deceitfully, showing respect where none is felt.

Now I am not for a moment suggesting that it is okay for children to go around trashing property, or being rude and insulting to other people.

What I am suggesting is that we have the chicken and the egg mixed up.

A child who is treated with respect is more likely to show respect.
A child who is treated with kindness is more likely to show kindness.
A child who is treated with compassion is more likely to show compassion.
A child who is understood is more likely to be understanding.

So I guess, as parents, the choice is ours.

Do we want our children to live in an environment where they experience the feeling of being respected, treated with kindness, compassion and understanding?

Or do we want children who “know who is boss”, who give in, submit, show respect, regardless of how they are feeling, or what is going on for them?

If we decide on the latter, and someone comes along in our child’s life who demands respect, submission, compliance, and that person does not have our child’s best interests at heart, how do we want our child to respond? What will their instinctive reaction be, based on the environment they have grown up in?

Do we want children who are true to themselves, who give respect when respect is warranted, or who go through the motions of what we expect from them, who blindly submit to the power of another?

That other person may be a co-worker, a boss, a spouse, a friend.

It could be us.

Will You Play “Improv” With Me?

Tonight my daughter wanted to play “Improv” with me. It is a game where you work through the alphabet as you go around the circle, each person taking it in turns to make up a funny phrase on the spot, beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. It can be quite fun and definitely very silly!

What *I* wanted to do was to catch up on some computer work. It was 11.30pm, I was getting tired, and I was definitely ready to quieten down for the night.

Yet I looked at her hopeful face and my son’s enthusiasm to join in the game and I thought, stuff the computer! My kids want to play!

It was hard to get into the mood of it at first and in fact the initial round was played by my kids only, while I watched on. Buoyed by observing their dramatic fun, their humour and their happy faces, I gradually shifted from observation to participation, and before long I was laughing along with them and ready to join in the next round.

And I’m so very glad that I did.

Better than neglect is casual observation.
Better than casual observation is attentive observation.
Better than attentive observation is participation – with joy and enthusiasm!

It is when we actively engage with our children,
when we join in their games (yes, even the electronic variety),
when we sit and watch their favourite programs with them,
when we take up a new hobby together,
when we let go of our inhibitions and be silly with them,

that the connection grows, the relationship flourishes, and memories worth treasuring are forged.

Molly-with-Silly-Makeup_unshackled
No, she doesn’t normally look like this!

What are some ways that you have moved from observation to participation?
What are some of your favourite ways to connect with your kids?

Greenpeace and Peace in the Home

greenpeaceandpeaceinthehome

It is incredulous to think that the Great Barrier Reef, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is at risk due to the impact of coal mining. Recently we heard that the Greenpeace ship, “The Rainbow Warrior” was on its way to the Great Barrier Reef so the activists can do whatever possible to help halt the madness, and that it would be docking in Sydney and conducting free tours! My youngest child is passionate about the environment and when I told her about the Rainbow Warrior coming to Sydney, she jumped at the opportunity for a day trip to see it! The Rainbow Warrior is a very special ship, having been purpose built especially for Greenpeace, factoring in the specific needs of a ship that is used for environmental activism. It is also especially significant, given the history of the original Rainbow Warrior’s tragic bombing by the French secret service.

The biggest hurdle to our planned adventure was Mr 13, who was not keen at all. Leaving him at home wasn’t an easy option on the particular day we were going, so we spent quite a lot of time discussing potential solutions. I suggested a number of other activities that he might be interested in doing while we were Sydney, but none of them appealed to him to the degree that he was willing to “endure” the Rainbow Warrior tour and a long train trip as well. Finally I suggested something he jumped at: the aquarium! It turned out to be an absolutely perfect thing to do, because we could see the Great Barrier Reef exhibit, hot on the heels of touring the Greenpeace ship that was on its way to the Great Barrier Reef!

I strongly believe in finding win-win solutions, where everybody’s feelings and needs are taken into consideration. It is well worth the effort because it honours the individual within the family, and respects different people’s preferences. It is a beautiful way to show love. It might take a while, and a fair amount of discussion, but if the intent is to honour the preferences of both parties, eventually a solution will be found that both are happy about. One of the most helpful books I’ve discovered for understanding practical ways of doing this is Winning Parent, Winning Child: Parenting So Everybody Wins.

So we headed off on our train journey, finally arriving at the beautiful Sydney Harbour.

It was such a thrill to finally see the ship!
It was such a thrill to finally see the ship!
It's message and mission were hard to miss!
It’s message and mission were hard to miss!
It was great to get a behind-the-scenes look inside the ship
It was great to get a behind-the-scenes look inside the ship
We learned so many fascinating things, like how quickly they can get their action boats into the water!
We learned so many fascinating things, like how quickly they can get their action boats into the water!
It was also really interesting to learn about the crew, how highly skilled they are, and the reasons why they have such a variety of different nationalities represented.
It was also really interesting to learn about the crew, how highly skilled they are, and the reasons why they have such a variety of different nationalities represented.
Basically, it was just so fantastic to see such an iconic ship docked right in the middle of Sydney Harbour!
Basically, it was just so fantastic to see such an iconic ship docked right in the middle of Sydney Harbour!
Then it was off to the Aquarium to see some weird and wonderful things! (My son had "endured" the day up until this point!)
Then it was off to the Aquarium to see some weird and wonderful things! (My son had “endured” the day up until this point!)
Don't look up!
Don’t look up!
Well hello there!
Well hello there!
This was the creature at the top of my son's wish list of animals he most wanted to see. Do you know what it is?
This was the creature at the top of my son’s wish list of animals he most wanted to see. Do you know what it is?
A dugong!! There were two, actually. They are the only dugongs on display in Australia and two of only six - and the only pair - on display anywhere in the world! Cool, huh? It was so awesome watching them eat!
A dugong!! There were two, actually. They are the only dugongs on display in Australia and two of only six – and the only pair – on display anywhere in the world! Cool, huh? It was so awesome watching them eat!
We got up close and personal with some very strange creatures!
We got up close and personal with some very strange creatures!
And some scary ones that were pretending to be friendly!
And some scary ones that were pretending to be friendly!
Not so friendly when looked at from a different perspective!
Not so friendly when looked at from a different perspective!
I'm not quite sure what THIS creature from the deep is called but she seems quite friendly!
I’m not quite sure what THIS creature from the deep is called but she seems quite friendly!
I was surprised how much the kids enjoyed some of the interactive displays.
I was surprised how much the kids enjoyed some of the interactive displays.
Although some of them were understandably intriguing!
Although some of them were understandably intriguing!
This was a multiple choice quiz and the answer was surprising!
This was a multiple choice quiz and the answer was surprising!
Incredible, huh?
Incredible, huh?
The sand table in the "Take Action" display was a hit. The plastic bag of rubbish left on the ground by a previous visitor shows that some people really didn't get the message!
The sand table in the “Take Action” display was a hit. The plastic bag of rubbish left on the ground by a previous visitor shows that some people really didn’t get the message!
We found it hard to believe that some people could be surrounded by such a clear message about the damage of plastic litter to our oceans and wildlife and just not get it.
We found it hard to believe that some people could be surrounded by such a clear message about the damage of plastic litter to our oceans and wildlife and just not get it.
When we'd finished our visit at the aquarium, it was time for a trip on The Monorail, a light transport elevated rail system that is soon to be taken down after many years. My kids love riding on it and will be sad to see it go, so they decided to have a final trip on it to say goodbye.
When we’d finished our visit at the aquarium, it was time for a trip on The Monorail, a light transport elevated rail system that is soon to be taken down after only being constructed in 1988. Monorail travel was quite expensive compared to trains and buses (aimed at tourists, I suppose) so perhaps they never got the business they had expected. My kids love riding on it and will be sad to see it go, so they decided to have a final trip on it to say goodbye.
We might not have seen any monkeys at The Aquarium, but it seemed there was one on  The Monorail!
We might not have seen any monkeys at The Aquarium, but it seemed there was one on The Monorail!
Two monkeys, actually.
Two monkeys, actually.

All in all we had a fantastically awesome day! And it was really great to find a way to factor in something of interest to both kids, even though one initially hadn’t wanted to go.

Shy Shmy

shyshmy

Many people would consider my daughter to be shy. I simply consider her to be herself.

Yes, she tends to be rather quiet and reserved in a group setting or with new people. She will often speak quietly in an unfamiliar setting. She is not talkative with strangers. So I guess she qualifies as “shy”, yes?

According to the Miriam Webster dictionary, shy means:

1: easily frightened: timid
2: disposed to avoid a person or thing <publicity shy>
3: hesitant in committing oneself : circumspect
4: sensitively diffident or retiring : reserved; also : expressive of such a state or nature <a shy smile>

Basically, she is an introvert. And I’m cool with that.

Now.

Shyness is often a term often used by a parent to try to save face when a child isn’t confidently outgoing. But does the description serve them well, or perhaps, instead, lock them into an expectation or assumption that they will always be this way? And that it is less than desirable.

It took me awhile to work out that my daughter was an introvert, to be fully okay with that, and to learn to honour her need for down time after a large group gathering, or lots of people being around.

About six years ago we moved to a whole new city, leaving behind very dear friends. Every so often they would come to visit us, staying for about three days. By the third day, the meltdowns would start. I was surprised that it took me a few visits to realise that although she was absolutely loving having our friends visit, she was also overwhelmed by the intensity of it, and by having extra people constantly in her presence for that length of time. Once I realised what was happening, it was a simple matter to take practical steps to meet her need for little moments of solitude in the midst of all the fun. I learned to notice when she was beginning to feel overwhelmed, and to offer a moment for her to step aside from it all, thereby preventing the situation from deteriorating into big tears, which embarrassed her afterwards. Sometimes she would choose to simply rest on the lounge while the others were heading outside to play, or to have a little snuggle with me when the others were distracted. Sometimes all that was needed was a reassuring arm around her, or a hand on her shoulder, letting her know that I “saw her” and knew what was going on for her. A moment of connection and presence in the midst of a sea of happy faces. It was not a difficult thing to do, and she usually didn’t require hours and hours of alone time. It was just a case of noticing her needs and meeting them in one way or another.

I have never forced her to speak to strangers, or to anyone for that matter. It is important for her to know that she is absolutely wonderful just the way she is.

Others who are more vivacious in public or in new settings seem to naturally garner more attention from others. I think most people are uncomfortable with the more introverted, quieter personalities. Perhaps they interpret it as being unfriendly or disinterested, which isn’t true at all. Introverts are often the most attentive, people-loving souls you could ever meet. They usually just prefer them in small clusters and measured doses, rather than frequently and en masse.

Let’s face it, most of our society is aimed at extroverts! Sporting teams, churches, shopping centres, schools, they are all places where extroverts tend to feel more comfortable. People are often judged and responded to based on how friendly and outgoing they are and the more retiring, introverted types are often seen as unfriendly and less interesting. If only people could stop to listen, and wait for the gems that occasionally come from the mouth of one deemed shy.

Some people believe that refraining from sending your child to school will make shyness worse. I beg to differ! I have found that by allowing my daughter the freedom to be herself, and to interact with group activities and new situations when she is ready, with my support, she has thrived and flourished, in her own quiet way. I love that she is able to take life at her own pace and with the volume of people contact that suits her, rather than spending most of her energy trying to cope with constant large groups of children and lots of activity. I love that she is able to be true to herself, which is far more important than trying to act a certain way to please someone else.

Despite the belief of some people that keeping a child out of school will feed shyness and make them less capable socially, my introverted daughter has been taking me by surprise with her desire for more independence.

Riding her bike (with dog protection!) up the road to a friend's house, to feed their dog while they were away.
Riding her bike (with dog protection!) up the road to a friend’s house, to feed their dog while they were away.
Rain was no deterrent at all. They had their coins to spend on a milkshake and that was all that mattered!
Rain was no deterrent at all. They had their coins to spend on a milkshake and that was all that mattered!
And THIS! This is her big move towards independence! She loves to do the grocery shopping when I only need a few things. By herself! She makes me sit in the car lol. And goes in with her little list, some money, and a confident stride.
And THIS! This is her biggest move towards independence! She loves to do the grocery shopping when I only need a few things. By herself! She makes me sit in the car lol, while she goes in with her little list, some money, and a confident stride.
I watch the shop carefully, awaiting her return. When she gets back to the car it is with a big happy smile, having completed her solo mission. One time she even had to get help at the checkout for a sugar bag with a hole in it. She said she likes doing the shopping because one day when she moves out she’ll have to do it, so it would be good to practice and get used to it.
I watch the shop carefully, awaiting her return. When she gets back to the car it is with a big happy smile, having completed her solo mission. One time she even had to get help at the checkout for a sugar bag with a hole in it. She said she likes doing the shopping because one day when she moves out she’ll have to do it, so it would be good to practice and get used to it.

Let’s not box our kids in to being or acting a certain way.

Let’s allow them to truly be themselves, whether that means being the life of the party, or a beautiful “wall flower”.

Instead of feeling the need to explain or justify their “shyness”, let’s hold our heads high, delighting in who our children are, not who society thinks they should be.

And let’s grant our children the freedom to choose whether to participate or watch, to talk or listen, to reach out or draw within.

An Imperfect Unschooling Life

So, here’s the deal. I’ve been thinking of deleting this blog, or at least taking it offline. Why? Because, well, I’m not perfect. And neither is my family.

Bet you thought we were, huh? 🙂

freeimage-1876097
© Roza | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

I mean, don’t all bloggers have this amazing, perfect, ideal life? I guess you could be forgiven for thinking they do, but in reality, what you read on anyone’s blog is only ever a fraction of that person’s life. For the most part, people write about the good stuff. The “successes”. It can be scary to put yourself out into the public eye, opening yourself up to possible judgment and scrutiny, so it can be tempting to whitewash things a little bit, or shy away from writing about the challenges. Most people don’t want to have their weaknesses or bad days recorded forever on the world wide web, especially those who write about their children.

Like other writers, I don’t want my children to feel embarrassed by me sharing stories of them having a hard time, or struggling with something. (For the record, I do ask them for permission if I write about them, and they are old enough to have a preference. When people write about their very young children, I do wonder if those children, when they are older, may regret being a “household name”, but I guess it depends what is written. I know for sure that when parents write derogatory, insulting things about their children online, it is completely inappropriate. I’m sure you know the kind of posts I’m talking about. Shooting a hole in your child’s laptop, anyone? Making them stand in the street holding an embarrassing sign? No, thank you! I respect my children way too much to write about that kind of thing publicly. Or to do it in the first place.)

Just when I was thinking, our family isn’t “perfect” enough to have an unschooling blog, I received a super encouraging message about my writing, that caused me to think that maybe there is a reason to write after all (apart from the fact that I enjoy it, of course!). Then I remembered back to a time when a homeschooling mum came up to me at an event and thanked me for writing about unschooling. At first when she said, “I read your blog post!”, I was a wee bit worried, thinking she was upset with me, because she is a strict school-at-home parent. She surprised me by sharing that she had been challenged by my post, and her parenting and approach to homeschooling would never be the same. I was humbled, and encouraged, and I decided that if just one person is encouraged by my writing, it is worth it. If just one person is inspired to consider unschooling, it is worth it. If just one person is challenged to parent more respectfully and gently, it is worth it. If just one person is encouraged by knowing that a grieving mother can live a happy life even while carrying that love scar, it is worth it.

I hope to keep it real on this blog, to share a balance of both “successes” and challenges faced by this imperfect family. I think it is better for readers to see real and imperfect families living with hope, rather than elevated, seemingly “perfect” families presenting themselves on a pedestal behind a white picket fence.

According to the Miriam Webster dictionary, imperfect can mean a number of things, including defective, but the one that most fits what I am trying to say is: “a continuing state or an incomplete action”. In the words of Sonny in the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be alright in the end… if it’s not alright, then it’s not yet the end.”

We’re not finished yet!

We don’t need to wait for tomorrow to have a better day. There are plenty more moments left today. Right now. It’s what we do with each one that matters.

And for now, I will continue writing about it.

From one imperfect (unfinished) family to another, I send out love and encouragement to keep embracing each moment, living it to the full and forgiving yourself for the moments you regret and the weaknesses you perceive, remembering that the light still shines, and another moment is ready and waiting. Not tomorrow or next week or next year, but right here, right now.

Perhaps if all of us chose just one person to encourage each day, just as someone encouraged me, a multitude of people would be inspired to continue on with their passions, knowing that they really can make a difference and be an inspiration. Even if they’re not perfect.