living with children in peace, joy and freedom

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“Exude the state of being that you want your child to end up with and they will find their way to that.” Bentinho Massaro.

Being genuinely helpful to my children when they have problems is something that brings joy into my life. I want to give help that is calm, supportive and that increases my child’s confidence in their own ability to help themselves. This did not come naturally for me, at least not to the extent that I would have liked. It was a skill that required a lot of practice as well as a lot of unlearning of old, unhelpful habits. For example, I often fell into the trap of trying to fix a problem when my help was not requested. My child would react to my intrusion and I would become part of the problem. When my help was requested I often assumed that I knew best and waded in with advice or instructions. My advice was occasionally helpful in the short-term but it also got in the way of my child’s emerging ability to help themselves. There were also many times when my child’s expression of feelings triggered painful feelings in me. I would unwittingly join them in their suffering rather than remain peaceful and fully available to help. It was challenge for me to find a way to relate to my children in a respectful and non-reactive way.

Being genuinely helpful required a shift in my perception of my children’s behaviour and their expression of emotion. I came to realize that what I had been judging as tantrums, rude or aggressive words and unacceptable behaviour were actually cries for help. Young children often have difficulty in expressing their problems in a way that parents can easily understand. They may not have the skills to clearly express what they want or what is causing them distress. Their calls for help are sometimes communicated through intense emotional expression such as crying or screaming, in aggressive behaviour or even in hate-fuelled outbursts. Parents often find these expressions of distress challenging or unacceptable. I certainly found myself challenged in this way.

Out of these challenges emerged the skill of Listening in Presence. This is the skill of listening calmly and respectfully to my child without reacting to or getting hooked into their problem. I have the intention to give my child my attention and at the same time I have an awareness of what the situation is triggering within me. This isn’t as difficult as it may sound, but it does take some practice. The intention and awareness that come with this skill can transform something as ordinary as the application of a Band-Aid into a special moment. Read the rest of this entry »

image-1I think most parents would accept that it is important for children to have time to play. In fact, many of us think that it is great for children to have lots of time to play. Things get more complicated when we start to talk about different types of play. When I was a child I spent a lot of time playing outdoors. I climbed trees, mucked around in the backyard, played games of cricket in the street with neighbours and siblings, went exploring in the bush nearby and spent hours playing with friends in the local pool. When indoors I liked to build and to make things. All of these activities were encouraged by my parents and seen as good, healthy forms of play.

Flash forward to the lives of my own two children and things look a lot different. They certainly enjoy a lot of play time. They love our backyard trampoline and the swings in the park. They enjoy going swimming and on walks with family and friends and they love to play at friend’s homes. They don’t hang out on the street like I did and they don’t wander the neighbourhood and local bushland on their own. Not because I have told them not to or even discouraged these activities. They just don’t want to. That’s not the main difference though. The main difference between their experience of play and my own is that they love to play video games. Building with Lego had a strong run for many years but video games have triumphed. Playing games on a game console or on their laptops is the first choice of play activity for both of my boys. It is what they most love to do.

I am struggling to adjust to this difference. I have come to accept my children’s passion for gaming but I have not yet been able to embrace it fully. It is not yet something that I am able to celebrate. Read the rest of this entry »

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There is no doubt about it. Seeing our children be teased or criticised by others can be tricky. I so clearly remember my own reactions to my child being teased; the rush of pain and defense when I heard the comment made. The desperate wanting to protect my child from the pain I felt sure they must be experiencing. Feeling my own anger rising as my mind reached out to attack the person who did this. It is all so familiar and so unpleasant. And my reactions always led to more conflict and unpleasant feelings, not less.

I knew there had to be another way. I didn’t know what it was but I knew I wanted to find it. I set myself the goal of making peace with teasing.

This is what I now understand about teasing. It applies to people teasing me as well as to people teasing my child (or anyone else).

Teasing can only hurt me if

(1) I believe that what they said about me is true, when it isn’t,

OR

(2) What they said about me is true but I can’t own that aspect of myself.

The paradox is that just about everything can be seen both ways.

To take an example, if my son is called is called “girly” or “weak” then he will get upset if he believes that this is true; that he is feminine or weak and that in his mind these are bad things for him to be. On the other hand, it is true that he has feminine characteristics (as everyone does to some extent) and that he is “weak” in some ways, such as being physically or emotionally sensitive in some circumstances (which many people are too). If he is not fully comfortable with these aspects of himself then he will react to such comments.

As his parent, if I have ever judged my son as girly or weak then part of me believes that what the person said is true. I am sure to react in anger; “How could that person come right out and say what I have been secretly thinking all along!!” If I am not completly comfortable with my son’s sensitivity, feminine aspects or weakness or believe that any of these things are a problem I will also react; “I know that is true but I can’t bear him to be that way!!”

On top of this, if I have ever judged myself myself harshly as being “girly” or “weak” then I will react even more!!

When I am really comfortable about myself and am not concerned with what others think of me then I no longer react to what people think about my kids.

When my child has been teased I choose to focus on myself first. Am I reacting? Am I going on the defense or attack?

If I am reacting defensively I better keep my mouth shut and do nothing. If I leap in to try and help my child or to attempt to fix the situation while I am in reaction I will become part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Instead I choose to inquire within myself. Do I believe that what was said was true? What aspect of my child or myself am I not comfortable with? What judgements have I been making? Gently bringing these painful thoughts into my awareness can make a huge difference. I get to see where I have been unkind to my child and to myself. I have the opportunity to question these thoughts and to choose to see things differently. This can take time.

Once I feel clear and free of reaction I may be able to help my child.  I can be there as calm presence for my child as they get to work it all out for themselves. I can be the one who knows that they are fine just the way they are. I can understand their pain and distress without buying into it myself. I have been there and know what it feels like and I have come out the other side into peace.

I know this is a very unconventional view, but I aim to be the one who is immune to teasing. Not because I am tough in any way, but becasue I have questioned the stories about how I “should” be and I have discovered that I am OK. I can also see how I encompass and have (at some time) expressed all aspects of the human condition including violence, weakness, vulnerability, masculine and feminine and everything else. Can you get the paradox?

If I can model immunity to teasing then I can help to end the war for all of us.

My children are helping me along the way. They delight in teasing me. They try their very best to get a reaction. They delight in teasing each other. They play war games and test it all out. We all get a really good look at what is going on. We are unlearning war and reclaiming peace.

 

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“It is my responsibility to make sure that my son cleans his teeth every day,”
I used to believe this very firmly. So do many parents I know.

It seems like a reasonable belief until you have a child (or two!) that refuses to brush their teeth despite repeated requests. No amount of explanation as to why this is an important thing to do would change his mind. In these circumstances this belief can generate a lot of conflict, anxiety and stress – and it did.

I know that I could have held tight to my belief in daily tooth brushing but I was very, very tired of all the conflict and worry. I did not just give up on the issue or decide that it was all too hard. Neither did I did I give in to my child and then wallow in resentment and blame. Instead, I wanted an effective solution to an issue that had become a chronic problem in my relationship with my children. In order to find that solution I was willing to examine and question every aspect of this issue. In my experience, pulling something apart can be a powerful step in finding a way to move forward.

What does responsibility really mean?
I started with looking at the whole concept of parental responsibility. Beliefs about responsibility loomed large in my thinking about parenthood, as they do for most parents. Sure, we have a legal responsibility to ensure that our children are not at risk of significant harm. We must be willing to arrange necessary medical care. But my beliefs were much broader than any legal responsibilities. I am talking about my own piece of the general community vibe. My beliefs about responsibility penetrated into every aspect of my role as a parent. It felt as if this responsibility to ensure tooth brushing was a non-negotiable part of a contract that I had somehow unwittingly signed as soon as my first child was born. It weighed heavily on me.
Read the rest of this entry »

 

Do you ever feel exhausted, overwhelmed or resentful as a result of what you do as a parent? Do you find that there are times when it all gets too much and you start loosing your temper and yelling at your children? I used to experience this often. I understand, now, that these were symptoms of over-doing. I was pushing myself to do way too much and believing that I had no choice. It seemed as if parenting was such a bottomless pit of work that feeling overwhelmed was inevitable. Fortunately, I have discovered that over-doing is not inevitable or incurable. The solution is less doing and more Being.

For a while I fooled myself into thinking that the solution to over-doing was simply to try and do less; just slow down, take a rest, relax! However, my efforts to control my over-doing were never very successful. I couldn’t relax and slow down for very long before I was dragged back into over-doing again. Saying to myself that the solution was to do less is very much like saying that the solution to over-eating is to eat less. On a superficial level this is true, but it ignores the reasons underlying the push to over-eat. Going on a diet might work in the short term but unless I change my relationship with food at a deep level the long term result will probably be more over-eating. Over-doing is much the same. I could go on a holiday or take a day or two off but it would not bring a long-term solution. Finding the solution to over-doing required a deep understanding of what was driving my doing. It also required a willingness to cultivate Being.

So what is Being? It is not something that I can easily describe. I can only point to it. Being is not the same as doing nothing, although sometimes this can help me find it. Being is a state of calm, relaxed alertness. When I am Being I am fully present in the moment. I am fully conscious and yet not caught up in my thoughts. I allow everything to simply be as it is rather than trying to control it. My earliest experiences of Being occurred in nature; watching a waterfall, floating gently in a lake or walking through a rainforest. It felt peaceful and intensely joyful at the same time. It has taken a lot of practice, but I can now experience Being in my everyday life as a full-time parent. Being is not a belief. It is not something I needed to learn. It is something that I experience directly and that I know is always there waiting within me to be rediscovered again. Read the rest of this entry »

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Caramel milkshakes made with raw milk and lots of Vitamin Yum.

I love food and I love caring for my body with the best food that I can provide. Until I had children, I thought that I had no real issues around food. It wasn’t a big deal for me. Having children changed all that. Not straight away, of course, but over a couple of years I gradually felt myself descending into a nightmare of anxiety and conflict that I had never experienced before.

Like many parents, I wanted to make sure that my children ate a healthy diet. I had clear beliefs about what was healthy for children and what was not. I believed deeply that it was my responsibility to provide healthy food and restrict access to unhealthy food. I read books about nutrition and tried all sorts of new recipes. I read about all the foods that should be avoided and the list just kept getting longer and longer. I was keenly aware of the dangers of additives, preservatives, sugar, processed fats and highly refined foods. I talked to my friends about food and keenly watched what they were feeding their children. The more I worried about my children’s diet the more stressed I became. It grew as an issue for me as my children grew.

Apparently some parents feed their children with minimal stress and conflict. That was not my experience. Perhaps it would have been different if we lived on a farm or an island and my children weren’t exposed to the vast offerings of a modern supermarket. But it wasn’t like that for us. We live in suburbia. When my first child was very little it was not difficult to limit the foods that he was exposed to. If certain foods were not given to him then he did not miss them. As he got older his environment expanded. He noticed the food that people around him ate. He came to the supermarket and the local shops with me. He went to preschool, visited friend’s houses and went to birthday parties. He gradually discovered what was available out there. He also developed his own desire to explore, experiment with new foods and to work out what he liked.

What I didn’t realize at the time was how excited and determined children can be about exploring the world of food or how strongly they can be attracted to sugar and processed food. As my child grew into his own tastes and desires I experienced a dramatic surge of stress and conflict in my life. The most stressful issue for me was how much sugar he wanted, although I also worried about other “unhealthy” foods too. My anxieties built up even more momentum when I had two children to feed. Trips to the supermarket were very tense. My children asked for me to buy them lollies, ice-creams and chips. This wasn’t mild interest on their part. They were passionate about their exploration of food and their desire to eat all sorts of foods that I didn’t want them to eat. Read the rest of this entry »

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Photo by Carasdesign

I have chosen to have a relationship with my children that is free of punishment or rewards. We don’t have rules and I don’t force my children to do what I want. It might sound crazy to many people but it works wonderfully well for us. As I discussed in my last post, I don’t push my children to do things that I think will be good for them. So how do they learn to stick at things? Do they manage to master new skills that require a lot of effort? Amazingly enough, they do!

I recognize that many skills and disciplines require many years of dedicated practice to master and memory of a substantial body of facts. Learning can require substantial effort. Sometimes this process is not a huge amount of fun. Is it true that children will not have the motivation to learn, persist and master complex skills without either being coerced or rewarded to do so by their parents or teachers? How will they learn to stick at things that are difficult and get the satisfaction and benefit of mastery? Read the rest of this entry »

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