From One Imperfect Parent to Another

You know that thing where you look at the internals of your own life and see the things you’d like to change? You see your weak spots, the habits you’re having trouble shifting. Then you look at the externals of other people’s lives and think they have it all together, and are “better than you” somehow? And you feel inadequate.

You know that thing where you think, “Who am I to be blogging?”

This week I found out that someone has been feeling intimidated by me. After just about spitting out my coffee, I recovered enough to feel a mixture of incredulity, inadequacy, and surprise. I mean, seriously, does she know me at all? I am not even close to being a perfect parent (and such a thing doesn’t exist, anyway), nor am I the most incredible unschooling mum in the world! << Not that I was thinking she was thinking those things!

The reality is, when you write on a blog, or run Facebook groups, people can sometimes perceive something that is only part of the picture. They are looking at your outsides, and you are looking at your insides.

So here I am to tell you:

I sometimes lose my patience with my kids
I sometimes feel disappointed at their choices
I don’t always give them the attention they need
I am better at ideas than I am at results
I sometimes forget to act on my “yes”
I would like to spend more time with my kids and less time with my computer
I am not always fully present when one of my children is talking to me
Our life isn’t all “adventures” ; it is often “ordinary” days

But then, at the end of the day, I remember some of the things my kids have said to me that make everything okay, and remind me of the bigger picture. Things like:

I am so glad you’re my Mum

You would go to the ends of the earth for me

I’m SO glad I’m homeschooled

And I remember that we don’t have to be perfect. If my children feel loved, if they know that I’ve got their back, if they know that I am absolutely there for them no matter what, then all is well.

Thinking this through brings me back to the blogging question. I was honestly thinking, for no particular reason, that perhaps I should shut this site down. I mean, does anyone really care about what we do? Is it worth documenting it here? Shouldn’t I be “perfect” before I write anything that might be perceived as advice? Why do I even do this? I mean, I know I *like* writing, but I was wondering what the underlying purpose of it might be?

So I Googled “Why do people blog?” and I found a fantastically inspirational article that is totally helping me to get my mojo back. 🙂

And so I return to blogging, to sharing some of my thoughts and some of our adventures, not because I’m perfect, but because my heart is filled with passion to share what I love and what we do. Because I have too many thoughts and words for my head to contain, and writing here seems to be as good a place as any for those thoughts and words to spill over. Because it is a really excellent way for me to reflect on life and learning, to process my thoughts, and to – hopefully – inspire one or two other people along the way.

Are you ready? Let’s go!
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Coming Home

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WARNING: To those with serious housework phobias, the below post may cause permanent psychological trauma.

When I was a girl, I dreamed of being a mum. I used to draw pictures of what my house would look like, right down to the picket fence, the horse stables and paddocks, the pot plants in the house….. I was am a dreamer!

Eventually I grew up and my dream of being a mum came true. I was going to be the best mum EVER. Sorry to all you other wannabes, but this one is mine. I’ve got it nailed, okay?

Alright, maybe not, but I certainly had the passion for it. Surely no one else loved their children as much as ME.

When I first got married and my husband was studying part time as well as working (hmmmmm, some things never change!), I used to dust the architraves. Do you even know what they are? 🙂 I probably only do because my father was a builder, so for those who don’t know, they’re the little strips of wood that go across the tops of window and door frames. Whilst we’re at it, I used to dust the skirtings (the strips of wood that cover the join between the floor and the wall). And yes, the louvres on the wardrobe doors got a good go over, too. Every. single. week! These days I’m lucky to dust, well, anything!

All this to say that my heart was truly in my home. My home was my castle. And when children came along, I was going to be Mum of the Year. Every single year.

Sadly, I don’t think I’m worthy of the prize. Not because I’m not good enough, but because, somewhere along the journey, I started to lose my way. My focus. Life got hard, and I got distracted.

My move to unschooling, and then radical unschooling, has really helped me to find a much better way of being with my kids. But my focus on hearth and home was sorely lacking. I love to go out and about having adventures with the kids, but when it comes down to being a home maker, I was sorely lacking! I think it’s partly because I’m an extrovert and also an ideas person, so I tend to be either out and about …. or at home, with my head in a book or computer, reading, learning and discovering.

Years ago I read a book called The Myth of the Perfect Mother, which talks about four “Green Focus Areas” involved in mothering: Tasks, Relationships, Ideas and Strategies, and how understanding them can help free us from “mother guilt”. We are each strongest in one of these (our personal Green Focus area) and usually have another focus area that is somewhat strong (our Yellow Focus area). Together, they form our Green Light Profile. We obviously also have a Red Light Profile, but if we can find ways of adding a bit of green to our red area, it helps it not to be so… well, RED! For example, a mother whose green light is tasks and whose red light is relationships might choose to look for things they can DO while spending time with their children (eg. crocheting while watching a movie, or doing projects together etc).

I used to think I was purely a relationships focussed person, but after reading this book I realised I am also very strong in the “ideas” area; hence why I often had my head in a book for hours or days on end as a child, and still do today (although my “book” is often a computer now). So for me, my profile is:

GREEN FOCUS AREA: Relationships and Ideas (hence why I love spending time with family and friends, and also reading and learning online and in books)
RED LIGHT AREA: Tasks!

What is housework? Tasks! I seriously get bored with it! I cope better if I’m doing tasks with one of my kids, or if I can listen to an audio book or at least lose myself in my thoughts, whilst completing a task. Whenever we move house, my poor husband keeps finding me reading the newspapers I’m meant to be packing our crockery in!

I tend to live my life in a kerfuffle, busily doing anything and everything outside of the home, or having fun with my children, or visiting with friends, or reading and writing myself into a stupor.

All of that is WAY more exciting than housework, yes?

What I had forgotten was that putting effort into my house helps to create a home. Home isn’t just about having great conversations with the kids, taking them to cool events and activities, or researching better ways of living and doing things, although for me those things will always be WAY funner than housework! It is also about putting effort into creating a warm and welcome space for our family to relax, connect and enjoy ourselves. It is about creating food to enjoy together. It is about me being unhurried so that my children sense my availability. It is, sadly, also about housework. 🙁

There! I said it! I’ve finally admitted that when I don’t fold the washing until it is a momentous mountain we can’t see over, people feel a wee bit frustrated (alright, MASSIVELY frustrated) because they can’t find the missing t-shirt, or undies, or that sock down the crack of the lounge, and they waste a lot of time searching for the all-elusive article. And also, there are rapidly reducing options of somewhere to sit! Although unfolded washing does in a way add another layer of padding, albeit a bit bumpy! (And yes, I know they could fold the washing, but that is the subject for another post!). I’ve realised that when I don’t plan what we’re going to eat for dinner until, well, dinner time, dinner usually doesn’t happen, or it is so late that everyone’s given up and helped themselves to other food and eaten alone. (Yes, I know they could do the cooking, but you also know that’s the subject for another post!) When the house looks really uncared for, my children can feel uncared for, too. When I remember that caring for my house is another way of caring for my family (relationships), or listen to a podcast whilst cleaning and tidying (ideas), it adds a whole lot of “green” to my red light (tasks). And trust, me, tasks like housework need to be a LOT more interesting for me to find the momentum to do it, or at least do more than start it! 🙂

Home sweet homeI realised I need to “come home”. To regain my focus on hearth and home, as an act of love for my family, which also creates a space that welcomes friend and neighbour, because there is more likely to be a washing-free lounge to sit on (and trust me, it is VERY embarrassing to realise your male visitor is sitting on a pile of your undies!), space to make and enjoy a cup of tea, and a prepared meal ready to offer the unexpected visitor (or one’s own children).

There is obviously a balance here, and what we each need to learn is often different to our neighbour. One lady we lived next door to was SUCH an early bird with her housework and getting the washing on the line, that the only way I was ever able to beat her was to hang it out the night before and have a 12 hour headstart! So yes, some mums needs to lighten up on the housework, and simply play more with their kids. Others of us need to remember that we’re NOT kids (although we still REALLY like to play!) and we need to rise to the occasion, taking responsibility for creating the home that symbolises our heart for our family.

I recently heard the term “house blessing” in reference to house work. And that’s what I want to do: to start seeing that the practical aspects of being a full-time mum are important, too, not just the relational aspects. And in fact, by putting effort into running our home more efficiently and creating a more ordered, beautiful space, I am blessing my family. I am helping to create that warm and welcome space that invites them, too, to “come home”.

What about you? What is your green light? What is your red light, and how can you make it greener?

DISCLAIMER: It is quite possible that some of us may actually be allergic to housework, and if so, paying a house cleaner also adds LOTS of green to the red area of housework 🙂

How Are You Peeling?

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Our favourite book at my mother’s house would have to be How Are You Peeling? by Freymann and Elffers. It’s such a cute, funny book about feelings, and tends to inspire all sorts of creative fruit & vegetable chopping too!

I spent some time thinking about peelings, I mean FEELINGS, over the weekend, at my first NVC (Non Violent Communication, sometimes called Compassionate Communication) workshop, conducted by the lovely Kara Matheson. It was part 1 of a 4 part series called “Mindful Parenting with Mindful Communication”, and I’m really looking forward to the other three! I can certainly see the benefits of using NVC principles to help relationships be more positive, productive and peaceful. It’s also particularly useful within the context of an unschooling family, being a tool that can greatly help with negotiating the difficulties that arise in a shared daily life!

The 4 key components in NVC are Observations, Feelings, Needs and Requests. Since first learning about NVC, I’ve been amazed how often it has proven incredibly helpful to me in negotiating some challenging situations, and also learning to better understand myself. I love how it’s not just a one-way street. It’s not all about me. Or all about seeking to understand another. It’s about the feelings and needs of both people, and make respectful requests in response.

The location for the workshop was SO beautiful. My friend Kara and her family recently moved to a gorgeous part of the world, where they are currently grazing Llamas and a couple of horses, with plans to do much more! Here are two of their Llamas, Candice and Elvis.

We began the day with some mindfulness practices, which I really appreciated, as a stark contrast to the usual busy, chaotic nature of my life! I was again reminded that meditation is something I would like to do more regularly, and I believe the benefits will far exceed the time taken.

We also talked a lot about the importance of Self Compassion, and the helpful work being done by Kristin Neff (an Associate Professor in Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas). I love that her website has so much information (even videos) available for free, to provide easy access to the information without people even having to  purchase her book!

Here is one of her videos:

Then we did some NVC workshopping, using “needs” and “feelings” cards. One of my favourite activities was where we took turns to share a situation from our life, and talk about some of the feelings that arose for us. On the floor were a large number of “needs cards”, which were simply laminated cards with each one having one of the universal needs printed on it. The other group members would listen quietly to the speaker, and then silently select any of the needs cards that they assumed might be appropriate to the person’s situation. What was beautiful about this was that you felt heard, and the needs cards were like gifts of empathy and understanding. It was honestly quite a moving experience, and helped many people find clarity on the needs that their feelings were pointing to, and also some of the needs underneath the surface needs!

People often confuse basic human needs (such as “I need support”) with strategies for meeting that need (such as “I need you to help with the housework”), thinking that their desired strategy for meeting their need is the need itself and therefore the only solution, and so they hold tightly to their chosen strategy, not realising that there are a variety of other strategies available. Often, when there seems to be a clash of needs, it’s actually a clash of strategies! It can be quite tricky to discover the needs that underly those strategies, and I found that workshopping was a really helpful way of getting better at this. I’m looking forward to practising this in my family context now, and learning more about it at the next workshop. Based on how well I (didn’t) do at applying some of these principles today, I say, “Bring on the next fortnight’s session asap!” 🙂

Finally, we talked about how easy it is to stay stuck in our habitual ways of thinking, being and relating, and Kara shared with us a fantastic little poem called “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” that I surprisingly hadn’t heard before. Here’s an animated video of it. Enjoy! (And excuse the guy’s little promo at the end) 🙂