Feminism

Bleeding like a mofo

19 July, 2017

I was a full 33 years old before I began recording my moon cycle. I didn’t come to it from even a vague sense of what was going on. I started with an almost total dearth of knowledge. I was 14 when I first went on the Pill for acne. I stayed on it for five years, took a small break (long enough to feel like I was doing the hard yards with painful, angry bleeds) then went on the mini pill for a further three years. I would munch my pills every day, gleefully skipping bleeds, sticking my finger up at the rage and pain that used to blaze each month, and not associating my general malaise or low libido with the pill.

Then we decided to get pregnant. Mid twenties and I discovered a thing called ovulation. I remember calling a friend and being like “Do you know you can actually only get pregnant for a few days a month?!” I’m embarrassed now by how much of a revelation it was. It didn’t really help with getting pregnant though; it was either my Polycystic Ovaries Syndrome or the years on the Pill that stretched our trying-to-conceive phase to a tearful, shame filled three years.

So, pregnant, then breastfeeding, then pregnant and breastfeeding again and I was 32 before I had another full cycle. This time I was more in to my body; curious about it, especially about the mysterious and ridiculously awesome parts of it. I began applying the same understanding to menstruation as I had to other parts of my body. This understanding being that the body is, by and large, quite good at doing what it does. If it does something, it is probably for a reason, I should find out what the reason is! This logic has ended up making me a big advocate of the shampoo-free movement– I’d set out to discover why our bodies produce so much sebum, and why we get locked into shampooing everyday. And I’d learnt that our bodies can thrive without shampoo if we are willing to work with our body’s natural processes.

I began to wonder about periods, about hormones. About my moods and body aches. My periods had come back with a vengeance and they propelled me into the herbalist for a tincture to soften the blows of PMS and into the library to read everything I could about women and bleeding!

Eventually this bought me to the work of The Red School in the UK, set up by Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer and Alexandra Pope and in particular their recent book Wild Power.

Wild Power is an invitation to every woman to look anew at menstruation. To record their cycle, to observe their feelings and to begin to work with the menstruation seasons. Reading Wild Power was like the culmination of this last year’s menstruation journey and I am now I am able to embrace each element of my cycle, I find myself looking forward to the parts that used to be hard, because actually I know that when impatience and intolerance gurgles in my belly, my mind is at its most lucid and my soul is getting ready to enter this state of weird, visionary power.

I used to hate my menstrual cycle. I know hate is a strong word, but I mean it. I really mean it. And now I feel sad that I might only have ten to fifteen years left of it.

These days I plot my own cycle to the cycles of the moon, as women for hundreds of centuries have. When the moon disappears and then comes as a sliver I know I’m about to bleed hard, or enter a state where I am getting great insight from daydreams. This sense of living under the moonbeams is a cool glass of water to me; I never really knew I needed it until I realise how refreshed I am through it.Wild Power Book Giveaway  Lulastic

Wild Power is a mystical book, and I hope that that isn’t a barrier for people. Alongside the expansive, spiritual descriptions of the two vias of the menstrual cycle, and the four seasons, and the five chambers, it also has heaps of frank disclosures from women about their cycles. It is a beautiful thing to read about another woman’s insomnia fuelled by worrying about injustice, war, the Jungle in Calais; I have a similarly themed sleepless night that visits me every month at the same time.

I wish every young girl could get a copy of Wild Power. It’s an antidote to the bloodhate and a lifeline in a patriarchy.

GET YOUR HANDS ON THIS BOOK!
You can get it here at the Book Depository (affiliate link) but I also have a copy to giveaway to someone- come on over to this Facebook post to see how to enter.

Would love to hear your own stories of menstruation. We need to talk about it more, to take all the shame away and bring us more understanding. xxx

writing

Good things come in threes… (SO MUCH EXCITEMENT)

6 July, 2017

Four days ago we left our yurt in the wonderful hands of a little family that came to dog, duck and cow sit. We endured a 26 hour plane journey that included a full belly vomit on my lap. But now we are here in sunny Blighty and it feels SO GOOD.

I have three incredibly exciting things to share with you:

PARENT ALLIES IS LIVE

One of the dreams of my heart is live and kicking TODAY (undisputedly thanks to the support of my patrons that gave me the room to make this happen) and I am utterly full of hope and ambition for it. You can find the Parent Allies website here and the Facebook page here and hopefully you are reading this i time to catch me live on Facebook at 9:30AM British time, 8:30 pm NZ time Thursday July 6th. If not you can always catch up with it later.

I would love you to join the network of parents committed to being allies to their children. Please like and share the posts and do all that wonderful stuff that builds a movement.

WILD AND HOPEFUL UK TOUR

Oooof! A tour! So glam! Says she, who hasn’t brushed her teeth for 24 hours.

I am coming to a town near you and I would love, love, love to see your face:

Wild & Hopeful – Bishop’s Stortford
Wild and Hopeful – Bristol
Wild and Hopeful – London

They are going to be super fun events, with lots of laughs and deep, meaningful conversation with some incredible local mamas. You can also catch me in the Guardian Literary tent at Camp Bestival or in Manchester on August 17th (more details to come ASAP.)

 

PATREON

Here are four reasons right now is the best time ever to support my work through Patreon:
1- We have a whole mini-series coming up on how to journal your way to a better you. A more YOU kind of you. If you get me. How to be more intuitive, less triggered, happier and more the you you really are. So many yous. It is all about you. Please join us!
2- Some incredible discount codes for Patreons for the Attachment Parenting UK Positive Discipline Course. One of the best courses I have ever seen with so many wonderful, respectful ways to have a harmonious relationship with your child. Plus other discounts codes for all sorts of things in the pipeline!
3- Free entry to all the Wild and Hopeful events for Supremes and above.
4- Access to all the posts of the last three months worth of rewards including never-seen-before poetry, parenting mini-series and e-book downloads.

lulastic

I feel so full of thanks to all of you, patrons, readers, passionate parents. I love that we are ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. Just making the world a sh*t tonne more beautiful.

PS – Speaking of beautiful things, here is my latest video, all about an amazing idea Ramona had…

Parenting

Meet your regulation tool box! (Or 19 things you can do right now to back it up when angry)

29 June, 2017

This morning four year old Juno was circling one of the chairs in our lounge. She’d been doing it for a few minutes, muttering to herself, with the slightest manic touch.  Curious, I asked, “whatchyou up to Juno?” She answered “Practicing being a mummy… walking around and around, picking up dishes.”

Ohhhh. How I laughed. (On the inside, outwardly I simply left her to her circling, and got on with picking up dishes manically.)

She had plucked out one of the things I do and was, you know, practicing it. Of course, the thing she chose could have been better- I mean, imagine if her answer had been “practicing being a mummy…mindfully tending herbs” or “practicing being a mummy…actively listening to my babies” or “practicing being a mummy…building a chair out of old planks”  I would have been like YEOW I AM A KICKASS MINDFUL EMPATHETIC FEMINIST ICON OF A MUMMY! but it could have been worse too, it could have been “practicing being a mummy… shouting at everyone and then crying under the duvet”

‘cos the honest truth is I have done all those things in as a mama.

These days, I reckon I do less angry rampaging, and I have a lot of things to thank for that, but one of them is DEFINITELY because I have recently gotten real up close and personal with my regulation tool box.

This is something I touched on in my post “There are no “cool moms” or “mean moms” but I wanted to expand on it a bit more.

In that post I was discussing a recent workshop I went to with Ruth Beaglehole, founder of Nonviolent Parenting. At one point Ruth began; “And this, THIS, is the work of the parent” – we all shuffled to the edge of our seats, desperate to hear the silver bullet. “The work of the parent is REGULATION.”

If we focus on one thing, if we can only focus on one thing, our job is to keep ourselves regulated – in our higher brain. Because if in the face of our children’s emotions, actions and words, we can keep our empathy neurons firing (and they are ONLY in our higher brain) we will be able to provide what our children (and the world!) need from us.

Once we have entered a disregulated state, it is hard to come back from.

So actually we need to get really good at listening to our bodies and trusting the signals we are getting, the warning signs that tell us we are about to sink into disregulation.

The tricky thing is that we all have different warning signs and different ways to regulate ourselves. There is sometimes a clue in what people do when they are in a disregulated state.

My own warning signs are a fastly beating heart, short breath. This tells me I need to tap into my Regulation Tool Box pronto. I tend to head straight to Spotify and a carefully curated playlist! Your regulation Tool Box

Auditory regulator

I am an auditory regulator. My warning signs tend to come from my mouth – gritted teach, short breath.

Your regulation tool box includes:
Making a “regulation playlist” – music that lifts your spirits
Having a mantra that you say or listen to
Listening to affirmations.

Movement regulator

If you want to fight and move your body when overwhelmed, you are possibly a movement regulator.

Your regulation tool box includes:
Going for a run
Doing some yoga stretches
Punching a pillow
Having a bath
Swinging or rocking

Oral regulator

If you swear and scream or sigh then you may be an oral regulator.

Your regulation tool box includes:
Taking a deep breath in, holding for a few seconds and then breathing out through a mouth pursed, as if through a straw.
Singing
Roaring
Repeating a mantra

Touch regulator
Do you pull at things, your hair or your top? You may be a touch regulator.

Your regulation tool box includes:
Stroking your pet
Getting under a soft/ weighted blanket
Having a bath/ shower
Using a stress ball or ones of those new fidget spinners.

Visual regulator
If you do a death stare or need people to look at you, “LOOK AT ME you may be a visual regulator.

Your regulation tool box includes:
Looking at your favourite painting on the wall
Looking at photos of your children when they were tiny
Looking at photos of your favourite people or places

***

Getting our heads around what is in our own and knowing when we need to turn to it, can save some really hurtful parenting from happening. Understanding the importance of those early warning signs and recognising the power of something as simple as having a shower can be a game changer in our families. For we can turn our anger into something useful, and we can show our children how to as well.

Imagine a generation growing up able to get the creativity and wisdom from their anger, rather than letting it be a source of shame or hurt.

I would love to hear from you, about what kind of regulator you think you are and what you have discovered works for you in bringing you back from the brink. (That should be called “brinking” don’t you think? Like, I’m getting real good at brinking these days…”

***

I have a new video up today – one about parenting in the tough times.

writing

I’m sad today

15 June, 2017

My chest is fizzing and my tooth is throbbing. I hack out a cough and drop my head to ease the worry my shoulders are holding.

I push my nails around this rash I’ve got. It’s a political rash. It arrived last week when I heard mining operations had begun on our mountain. And then it ebbed when Corbyn did so well in the UK. (YAY CORBYN AND YOUNG PEOPLE!) Like it disappeared for the whole day. Then the DUP turned up and my rash came back. Someone tell me you’ve had a political rash before? It’s real itchy. And symmetrical.

There’s an ache in my throat because I shot a lot of footage on Sunday and then deleted it all accidentally as I left the house before dawn this morning.  I’m holding back my tears because it seems pathetic to be so sad about that.

I am sad about that.

It was exciting to be up on the mountain with Protect Karangahake and a hundred other people protesting the mine. And I’d captured the feel of it and was so ready to share it with people.  And then on the way out this morning, heading up the mountain again, this time to try and stop the miners from going to work,  a blur of sleepiness made me hit Erase All On Card.

But I guess, underneath it all, if I admit it, which I’m not wont to do because I am trying to see our mountain activism as privilege and an honour, rather than a drag, perhaps I’m sad about the mining. karangahake conservation land from mining

I’m wracked about living in one of the countries most well known for being clean and green, and they can’t even keep their exploitative hands out of Conservation land.  The only parts of the country we have marked off as being out of bounds from destructive capitalism. Being destroyed.

I’m wracked about the disconnection between humankind and the earth.  That there are millions of people who feel fine about ravaging mountains. Mountains! The jewelled crowns of earth.

And in amongst this grief is this fidgeting sense of having too much to do (the mining, my writing, the parenting stuff – ohhhh, the parenting stuff! People are supporting me on Patreon to do parenting stuff and my whole brain and body is in earth warrior mode and there is guilt around that. For sure.) There’s not enough time to do it and I can’t focus and I’m useless but I’m really not hello I got up before the larks but it still feels like all my energy is dust and I feel like saying sorry to everyone. Sorry for being rubbish.

Ohhhh.

So maybe I’m just sad today.

Someone told me last week that they would never have guessed I had bad, loose-my-shiz days from the internet. I was gutted to hear that as I try REALLY hard to kick out any pedestals set up for me and other mamas on the internet. I only ever want to be completely real and honest.

But thinking about it, I NEVER type when I’m really feeling all the emotions. My writing then comes out in illegible Biro on journal pages my children have already felt tip penned all over. Black scratchings of mind monsters that can’t be read, least of all understood.

So. Here you go. Pedestal builders.

Today I’m sad.

(Sorry for not meeting your expectations.)

It may be because of my video footage, or maybe because of the mountain, or my uselessness. Maybe it’s because every so often sadness swells up in us like the squalls of wind that toss up the burnt leaves in autumn and it’s a seasonal thing. And we welcome it as an honoured guest, a guide. And all that. Yeah.
~

“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
 
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

(Thanks Rumi.)

(Not sarcastic thanks. Real thanks. Honest. Several times a day I remind myself being human is a guest house…)

~

And, well. HAhahaha. After all that. Here’s my video about the protest. My friend took some great video on the day and I have used it in here. It’s not the same but still captures it. And I still feel sad. So there you go.

writing

When Facebook meets Non Violent Communication (Seven tips for being kind online!)

7 June, 2017

I try not to get into debates on the internet. Because I make my living online I need it to be as safe a place as possible. Not a day passes without someone saying something cruel on my Youtube Channel so I try hard to keep the other corners of my internet safe. Most of the time this means me biting my tongue, even when it comes to things I am *really* passionate about.

Sometimes it’s too hard though, just the other day on my Facebook page I was urging people to vote in a progressive government in the UK election this week and couldn’t help rebutting someone who shared an alternative opinion. I was feeling so much in that moment, all the weight of the people who are going hungry, dying because of the stripping away of health services, the rising poverty. Since that interaction I’ve been thinking about how our interactions online must reflect how we live in real life. I mean for most of us, most of the time, they do, right? We use the internet to connect with friends, to laugh and feel joy, to take action on things we care about.

But when a polarising topic comes up it seems all of our values disappear.

And at the moment the polarising topics are in abundance. We have the British election, a huge vaccine debate here in NZ, intense opinions on the terrorist attacks. Over the last week alone I have seen my friends in interactions on all of these topics that have bought out intensely disconnecting behaviour, engagement that pushes each other further and further away.

So a few days ago I met up with my friend Rosalie. Rosalie is trained in Non Violent Communication and works in a community organisation delivering programmes that helps families live without violence. Her business is restoring relationships and helping people keep their connections alive. I wanted to know how she manages polarising debate on social media. I wanted a vision of Non Violent Communication meets Facebook.

Firstly, Rosalie said…

if you do ANYTHING different let it be this: 

Do two minutes of deep breathing. 

When someone says something COMPLETELY IDIOTIC (lol) on Facebook the first thing you must do is turn your back to your laptop and take a deep breath. It’s legit, my friends, take a big breath in, fill your belly, your lungs, right to the top of your chest, hold it in and breath out as though through a straw. For good measure, imagine you are floating on the ocean.

(For even better measure, imagine you are floating in the ocean and the person who said something stupid on Facebook is swimming towards you with cocktails and chocolate and is singing a song- they have a surprisingly nice voice!!-  with lyrics that go like “I think you are truly great and I’m so sorry that I’m such an idiot on Facebook”)

People being cruel or idiotic on Facebook can actually trigger our bodies fight or flight reaction – a biological response that bypasses our the parts of the brain where empathy and reasoning is centred. This flush of anger can set in motion a response that aims to maim someone. Causing emotional pain rather than physical doesn’t make it any better.

If we take just two minutes to breathe and consider that the person receiving your comment is a human being, possibly with a mum in hospital and a child being bullied by her best friend, and job cuts at work and a dog that just did a vomit on the rug, we are SO much more likely to flick the switch on our Kindness function. (All humans have that function, some have just forgotten where the switch is, or the knobs fallen off.)

Last night I watched a bit of David Attenborough’s LIFE on Netflix with my daughters. We watched a bug, the Stalk Eyed Fly, blow bubbles of air into its eyeballs until they were sticking way out on stalks on either side of it’s head, getting a good look around.

I’m going to be like the Stalk Eyed Fly. Taking those big, deep breaths in order to get a better perspective. Keep it kind online

Next, we spoke about activating the empathy centres in our brain. We do this by taking a minute to understand the needs the other person is trying to get met.

Identify their needs

A few years ago my family went through a heart wrenching Non Violent Communication process. The main thing I took from it was that even these people, the people we were in conflict with, were simply trying to get their needs met. We felt deeply betrayed by what they had done, and still now can’t fathom their actions, but I can understand why they did it. I can see that they were trying to meet a need that they had – and every human need is valid.  Understanding this is our first step towards empathy.

It can be really helpful to take a few moments to consider what of their basic needs the person on social media is trying to get met. A good starting place for our basic needs is provded by the Centre for Non Violent Communication:

Connection
Physical Well Being
Autonomy
Play
Peace
Meaning

The person arguing against raised taxes is feeling their need for autonomy is undermined. The person arguing about vaccines is trying to meet their child’s needs to stay healthy or even alive.

Thinking this through can really help us move into a more empathetic conversation.

Make observations rather than judgements

Beginning a conversation with an observational statement without our own values placed on it allows room for engagement. 

“You told me to shut up” (an observation)
vs
“You told me to shut up, wtf, that’s bullying!” (evaluation)

“You shared a post that claims that Islam should be banned” (observation)
vs
“You shared a racist post that claims that Islam should be banned” (evaluation)

Share your feelings

We need to be able to be more free with our feelings, to be vulnerable and honest. This helps the conversation open up into connection but it also can remind them that YOU are human too! I read an article by a marriage counsellor lately that said that the word “OUCH” can help keep a marriage on the right tracks (or some grand claim like that) because instead of revving back at your partner when they say something hurtful, you take a second to tell them that that really hurt you, even though you kinda wanna just barge in and get them back with something more hurtful – which obviously then gets you on a ferris wheel of hurtful comments. Stating our feelings can do the same thing on social media.

“You told me I was stupid and it made me feel angry.”

“You shared a post that claims that Islam should be banned. I felt sad because my best friend is Muslim and she walks my children home from school every afternoon and gives them juice and biscuits while they wait for me to get back from work.”

Share your needs

It is, as mentioned above, your own basic human needs that are at the root of the feeling. So share that too. This adds to the picture you are giving the other person. It adds the context needed for that conversation, it gives them more of you and keep connection firing.

“You told me I was stupid and it made me feel angry. I need to be able to share my opinions on my page without being insulted.”

“You shared a post that claims that Islam should be banned. I felt scared because my best friend is Muslim and she walks my children home from school every afternoon and gives them juice and biscuits while they wait for me to get back from work. I need everyone in my community to be safe.”

Make a clear and do-able request

Making requests rather than demands recognises that we are all free and autonomous humans, simply with the job of being kind to each other. It gives you a chance to get your needs met and gives them an example of how to get their needs met. This is a slowly, slowly thing on Facebook, but, hey, they might read or do this one thing and even that would be a step towards progress in someway!

“You told me I was stupid and it made me feel angry. I need to be able to share my opinions on my page without being insulted. Would you consider engaging in this conversation without insults?”

“You shared a post that claims that Islam should be banned. I felt scared because my best friend is Muslim and she walks my children home from school every afternoon and gives them juice and biscuits while they wait for me to get back from work. I need everyone in my community to be safe. Would you consider reading her article about the attacks?”

Go long

I notice on Facebook threads that people just try and swoop in with one excellent paragraph. We try and squeeze into that paragraph all our braininess and wit and then we swoop away. We come back, of course, because *PING* someone replied to your comment with all of THEIR BRAININESS AND WIT! How very dare they! And we. just.can’t.resist. letting our righteousness shine again.

But the thing is, these huge remarks back and forth are not a conversation! Conversations go: question, answer, comment, comment, question, answer. They are engaged and open. They often build a context to work within. Not fired off in a burst of anger.

To help me see this in action I stalked Rosalie on a thread with a very, very, very angry person. Someone who had a deep unmet need and was taking it out on everyone who had a different opinion. I watched her gently asking questions, being polite, asking someone to read something. It looked SO different to normal Facebook debates.

In a way, it mimicked real life conversation. Gentle questioning and observations and feelings. The best conversations hardly ever look like even the above NVC examples, they are usually spread out with gentle back and forthing. And lots of thank yous. “Thanks for sharing your feelings about that.”

We need this kind of conversation on social media.

***

Before we left Rosalie told me the story of how First Nations people view emotional well being and community.  A Yankton Sioux elder,  Phil Lane Sr., was talking to a large gathering of tribal people. He took a stick and drew a circle in the dirt. “Our people used the circle to explain many things,” he said. “For instance, the circle represents the hoop of the people. All of the people are a part. No one is excluded. The hurt of one is the hurt of all. The honour of one is the honour of all.”

Even though the internet feels like a different world sometimes, it IS our world and the people we interact with on there are our community.

When we hurt each other on social media, in order to make an excellent point, we break the hoop and we all suffer. Every time we put connection at the heart of our interactions we keep the hoop whole and we honour our community, and ourselves.

 

***

 

PS – Thank you for reading this! I’ve had such an urge to write it after failing so hard earlier in the week. If you find my blog helpful, please do consider supporting my work on Patreon through this link!

PPS- I am joining in with the awesome Keep It Kind Online campaign today. You can find their website here and their twitter here. 

PPPS – It is Kindness Week over on my Youtube Channel – see our first bit of kindness in my latest video:

Parenting

Five ways to honour your child’s body autonomy

25 May, 2017

I’ve sat down to type some thoughts out. My kids won’t notice –  they are deep within their collective imagination, pulling suitcases and sleeping bags along the floor. I hear Juno call out “I’m just going to America to have a sword fight!” Ramona calls back “Your body, your choice!”

“My body, my choice” is a bit of a mantra around here. My daughters are figuring out the power and the practicalities of this phrase. Sometimes they need reminding that “My body, my choice” doesn’t mean they get to hurt people, or sword fight Americans, or damage things around them. But they absolutely understand that when it comes to things that impact their body, they are the ones that get to decide. That’s called:

Body Autonomy

It’s the idea that we are each the boss of our own bodies. We get to set our own body’s boundaries. We get to say who touches it and when, what happens to it, what we put on it and in it.

Why is body autonomy important for children?

There are lots of reasons why developing a healthy sense of body autonomy is important for children. One of the key reasons is the preventative role that body autonomy can play when it comes to child sexual abuse; one of the first steps in changing our culture (a culture where one in three girls and one in six boys will experience child sexual abuse by age sixteen) involves teaching children and families about the importance of not forcing children to kiss and hug friends and family. Innocently coercing children into physical greetings can create an environment where far more sinister touch is forced upon them. This is widely accepted amongst child abuse prevention strategies and I am excited to see the beginning of a normalising of opt-in physical greetings for children. It’s radical and world changing. And we have a growing sense of body autonomy to thank for it.

However, this isn’t the primary reason for making body autonomy a priority for raising kids. The first reason, the foundation, if you like, is that it is a basic human right to get to say what happens to our own bodies. As adults, we take this right for granted. We are rightly outraged when people touch us without consent. It is hard to even  imagine being force fed or forcibly moved about. If, as a society, we could shift our perspective on children to one that is “My child is a human being! Free and equal in dignity and rights” a lot of the following becomes quite straightforward.

Talking about body autonomy can be hard

Talking about human rights, particularly when it comes to children, can be confronting.

It’s important to remember that the fulfilment of another person’s rights doesn’t impede your own fulfilment of rights. We don’t need to have a scarcity mindset when it comes to human rights. Indeed, the opposite is true! The more we honour different people’s rights, the more we fully experience our own personhood. All of our human rights are bound up in each others.

children and body autonomy

The same goes for our children’s development of body autonomy. We needn’t be afraid that making room for our children’s full expression and ownership of their bodies undermines our own freedom and comfort. We do, however, have to be prepared to be triggered as we go on this journey.  Most of us grew up with a limited sense of our body autonomy – there has been a systematic control of children’s bodies for generations.

An invitation

This might be a challenging read. Without being patronising, I invite you to take some deep breaths, imagine your mind as a big ship with billowing sails – all sorts of ideas and perceptions can come on board and you’ll keep floating, you’ll keep moving on this ocean of life! Once you sit with things on your boat for a while, you can toss ‘em overboard if they don’t fit with your crew!

I also invite you, with each example, to picture it being you, not your children. Imagine your partner pinning you down to brush your hair, your partner making you eat something before you are given permission to leave the table, your partner taking you by the shoulders and steering you away from the friend you were talking with or the job you were doing.

I also invite you to be part of this discussion. I recognise that all of my writing comes from a privileged place; I am white, physically able, establishment educated. I want to open this discussion right up. I believe that the first bolded statement in each section is a truth about our children’s human right, but that following that is my opinion and perspective. I end each section with my own observations about where this gets tricky and some of my own ideas for creative solutions. But what this discussion needs, REALLY needs, is the views and perspectives of parents from a wide range of situations and family make up, orientation, socioeconomic status, race, identity, and abilities. Discussions like this move the statements about child rights, truths that can be hard for families to honour, into reality.

The importance of children and body autonomy

5 areas we can support healthy body autonomy in our children

It is our child’s right to choose their clothing.

We went to an unschooling camp last weekend. There are many things I love about this camp and one of them is the complete disregard for clothing norms! You actually can’t tell the boys from the girls, which is how the world should be! There were toddlers in giant hoodies and nothing else, and, like my own kids, onesies that weren’t change for three days. Kid’s should get to chose what they put on their bodies. If it is pyjamas at a museum – so be it. Bring on the day when parent’s don’t feel bad or ashamed about their child’s Nutella covered top or their boy that insists on wearing a ballgown.

How:

  • Examine your ideas about “appropriate clothing”
  • Make it easy for them to access their clothing.
  • Make enough time in the mornings for them to pick their outfits.
  • Remove limits on clothing, both day and night.
  • Let them chose their own clothes at the shop (we only shop at second hand stores to make this affordable)
  • If you are worried about them getting cold/ too hot – raise it with them. If they decide to keep wearing what they are wearing, pack them an extra jumper for later, just in case. They don’t need to “feel the consequences”  – they need to see an ally in their parent!

Tricky when:

  • Kids have to wear uniform. I believe that parents need to be allies to their children when it comes to uniform – for example, when gendered uniform doesn’t support a child’s identity.
  • This can also be tricky when clothing is used as an indicator of neglect. As an example, last year my daughter had what the internet told me was a “slum sickness” – when I went to the Dr I had a fear that they would “look into us” because of it, coupled with our unschooling. It was possibly unfounded, but it did make me dress us all up in squeaky clean clothes and gave me an insight into how unrealistic it might be to ask families already on the radar to to forgo societal expectations about their children and clothing. For example, my Maori friend who is unschooling her children who has the authorities drop by every now and then, completely uninvited, who has come to understand that letting her children go barefoot around town would be almost dangerous for her.

Creative solutions:

  • Lots of discussion about uniforms, figuring out what could help your child feel comfortable with the uniform, working with your child to try and change the school’s uniform policy.
  • Keeping on trying to figure out what it is our children LOVE or HATE about a certain item of clothing, and finding ways to provide it. When my child was a toddler she didn’t want to wear underpants or trousers, only free flowing skirts. I didn’t feel this was safe outside of the home. I finally realised that she hated the feel of seams on her legs – she is highly sensory and simply couldn’t handle it. After months of agonising and trying and trying different things, we discovered that loose-ish shorts were a winner for her. So everytime I passed a second hand store I would duck in and buy an extra pair of loose shorts.
  • A live and ongoing discussion about why they have to conform this time (trusting you have examined well your thoughts and biases)  and your discomfort about how it doesn’t allow them full body autonomy.

It is our child’s right to chose what they eat and when they eat.

Food was an easy one for me to release control over. I suffered with a pretty awful eating disorder for many years and it convinced me that I would never mix emotion and food. Food is simply food. It can nourish us, it can be delicious. But there is no “good” food or “bad” food and there was definitely no forcing of food into a child. I wanted eating to be associated with community, sharing, happiness, conversation, fun. Not guilt or shame or lack of control or power.

And it’s a mixed bag. We’ve gone weeks without ticking all the “food pyramid” layers. And then my kids will go on a raw cabbage bender. Some nights their plates are wiped clean, other nights they’ve eaten apples and chocolate before dinner and they don’t feel like sausages so they don’t eat them and then they make themselves a sandwich a couple of hours later.

I trust that they will get SO much more from watching me choose huge varieties of food, exploring different flavours and trying different cuisines, of favouring vegetables over sweets, compared to watching my mouth move saying words like “the food pyramid.”

How:

  • Sit down and write the shopping list together with their input and favourites
  • Make a shelf in the cupboard/ fridge that they can access when they are hungry
  • Make platters of snacks that are available to them through the day or create for them a lunch box (if you are worried about food wastage)
  • Coming up with meals that your children like, together. Even if it means eating the same 5 meals for a year.
  • Cook together (Ramona will eat almost anything as long as she helped cook it.)
  • Make dinnertime fun and conversational (we often do Momastery’s questions over dinner, we love it!) Sometimes the girls don’t want to come to the table – Tim and I take it as a chance to have a romantical Dinner For Two
  • If your child doesn’t want to eat at dinner, try not to worry. Trust they will meet their needs, with your support. It can get easier and easier to let go control of this area, once you begin.
  • Model a happy and healthy attitude towards food.

Tricky when:

  • Finances don’t allow kids to tap into food sources whenever they want.
  • Children have health problems or special circumstances.
  • There is sugar everywhere. We went to the library last week and they were giving away lollipops – really, seriously, WHY?

Creative solutions:

  • Being honest with our kids can really help; “nuts can be expensive so we can only get one bag a week. Feel free to tuck into the carrots / bread though.”
  • Xylitol lollies in bulk from the internet.
  • A discussion with your children about the parameters around sugar or other food you have to limit for health reasons. We have a couple of health problems that have made us recently limit sugar. We came up with a plan together. When our children can’t handle sticking to the plan, we remind them about it and the reasons why, and sometimes they still chose to eat the lolly and suffer the consequences. Often they are good with sticking to it.
  • I loved this article from Sacraparental about phrases that can help foster body autonomy, healthiness and respect around the dinner table.

It is our child’s right to choose when to sleep

We can’t force another human to sleep. It is not our job and it is an extreme violation of their body autonomy! Using bribery or fear or punishment to make someone sleep undermines our relationship to that person and tells them that they are far from the boss of their body.

I do understand, though, that this can be a hard one to figure out. Or to release our fears over. We are afraid that if we let our children chose when to sleep that they will not get enough sleep, and that the whole family will pay for it.

It might also be a practical thing. At the moment we all live in a one room home. Our lounge, kitchen, dining room, and bedroom are all one metre away from each other. This means that when one family member is sleeping the others all try to be quiet. So rather than giving our eldest daughter complete free reign, we stage the evening (in a loose way) from rambunctious play to reading to sleeping, if she wants. If she doesn’t want to we still ask that she allows others to.

Simply remembering the role of seasons can help me feel a freedom around this. Sometimes in the middle of summer when my daughter is still awake at 11pm I think “ARGGGH OUR LIVES ARE BONKERS” and then in the winter when we are all in bed asleep at 8:30pm I remember that summer is for wild nights and winter is for catching up on sleep.

Also, remembering that some people literally don’t need the sleep that others do can help a lot. We are all so different and holding this firmly in our mind can help us relax about forcing children to sleep. I have one daughter that is a solid eleven hours each night sleeper and another that seems to survive on eight.

How:

  • Observe your child for a while – what is their natural sleep rhythm?
  • Allow yourself to loosen control to reflect these patterns.
  • If you do decide to slowly release control over this area – expect that their might be a little while where your child revels in this new found freedom and goes beyond their comfort levels. Keep the conversation alive!
  • Model healthy sleep behaviour!
  • Spend some time examining what fears you have around sleep/ lack of sleep.
  • Have a brainstorm about how you can help all the different members of your family find a bedtime rhythm

Tricky when:

  • Our children seem like they are not getting enough sleep.
  • Parents are not getting enough sleep because there children are awake.
  • You have to be up consistently every morning, for school etc.
  • You have a number of differently aged children.

Creative solutions:

  • Giving a chance for your child to download form the day – often sleep is hard because they still have so much to process. Lying in bed and talking together before bed can be great for this.
  • Making it easy for bed – having great novels you read together makes bedtime a BEAUTIFUL thing for children.
  • Having nightly rituals that can increase melatonin – dimming lights, quietening down, eating bananas! (I advocate this melatonin stuff for AFTER a big family wrestle because actually, contrary to instinct, laughter and letting go of tension is key to an easier sleep time.)
  • Discussing with our children what might work for the whole family. Could they have some audio stories they listen to in bed when the rest of the family sleeps? Could they play in their room, if you are worried about their wakefulness disturbing you or siblings?
  • Discussing with your child their own needs and coming up with solutions that work for them – i.e., you do have to be up for school, how can we make it easier for you to quieten down for the night?

It is our child’s right to say no to touch

Cutting our kids hair, picking up a baby, hugging a nephew, ear piercing. All of these things need to be done with explicit permission. Studies have shown that even a three month old baby moves its body to anticipate being picked up – we can begin signalling, and receiving signals about their consent very early on.

Last week I was holding a one year old. After a few minutes a ten year old girls came up behind her, put her hands under her armspits to pull her up – immediately a look of fear spread across the one year old’s face. How frightening and disempowering it must feel to be picked up and set down with no warning! I said “Ooops, would you like to come around and ask her if she wants to be held by you? It’s important to ask permission if you want to pick a baby up.” The girl came round and said “Can I hold you?” and the little one year old clung to me with a stormy expression. I said “Perhaps not this time!” About twenty minutes later the young girl came back. She came straight to the baby’s front and held out her arms towards her, said “Can I have a cuddle?” The one year old threw open her arms and bounced on my lap, fully ready to go to her new friend.

It gave me great hope. The young girl got such a clear message from the baby and it made me feel as if all of her interactions with babies from then on would be coloured by this experience of the one year old consenting to touch. I feel like humans can be so quick to learn and feel evidence suggests that when we try we really can change these ingrained habits.

We don’t get to cuddle, kiss, tickle, cut the hair of, pierce ears of children. They are not our bodies and they are not our possessions. We must always ask.

How:

  • Talk to family members and let them know that you are trying to help your child develop a healthy sense of body autonomy, ask them to create space for your child to consent to hugs or kisses on greetings. Sometimes this is an explicit “Can Nan have a hug?” but as family gets more used to the idea it can sometimes be as simple as opening up your arms and seeing if your child will hug them.
  • Come up with a phrase you say to take the edge of the awkwardness out of it “High fives or hugs for Aunty Lyn? Nope? Can I get one, Aunty?” You get braver and braver, promise!
  • Get into the habit of speaking to your baby about when you are going to do something to them. “Are you ready to be picked up?” “Are you ready for me to take down your nappy?” “I’m going to put cream on your vulva now” – before long this kind of open communication with the tiniest of babies becomes utterly natural. I even found myself speaking this way to our newborn calf last night as I gave her a bottle!!!!!
  • If you find yourself thinking about doing something to your child (ear piercing/ hair cut) ask how you can work in a consensual process into it. If they are too young to consent to something, particularly something painful for aesthetic reasons, please consider postponing until they can consent.

    Tricky when:
  • There are safety/ hygiene issues at stake. Needing to take medicine, needing a medical procedure. These can be so tricky if the child isn’t consenting.
  • There is a cultural context to consider- in some cultures greeting with cuddles and kisses has always been done and is felt to be a precious part of their identity.

Creative solutions:

  • I have begun a new Facebook group “Parent Allies” – it is an idea I am trying to build. This sense that children need allies in their parents. More than friends, better than an advocate. They need people to stand by them, to see things from their perspective, to effect change where possible.If you see yourself as an ally to children, please join.  It is a great group for coming up with creative solutions to issues. Recently in this group there was a great example of body autonomy and medical care. A child needed to take antibiotics. He refused. He said they tasted so awful he couldn’t take them. The parent was worried for his health but also didn’t want to force him. She went back to the hospital. They gave her a different kind of antibiotic. Her boy refused again. She went back, this time the hospital said “Yeah, those two are actually disgusting! Try this one” She took home the third lot of antibiotics and her child swallowed them.It’s easy to say “Well, not everything works out like this!” but actually, I believe that a large majority of parents would have pinned the boy down and forced him to take the medicine. It was only because the mother saw herself as her child’s ally that she kept checking all the options, kept looking for a creative solution. With this frame of mind she was able to find one. This sort of thing happens time and time and time again with child rights. If we start with a position of “It is my child’s right to have a say over their body” we open the door to more ideas and opportunities. If we begin with “I am the parent. I make the calls no matter what” we get absolutely stuck on “My kid is sick. He has got to take this medicine. I must force it down his throat.”
  • Of course though, there will be times when a medical procedure needs to be done without consent. Here we must keep our child informed, asked Drs to respect our child and let them know when they are going to be touched, what is happening. We can validate their fears and big feelings. We can still be an ally to our children throughout this. Some great info here about blood tests and children and consent. 
  • It is our child’s right to do what they want to their bodies

    If our children want to cut their hair, draw on themselves, get their ears pierced, touch themselves, pick their nose,  dance in a certain way, we are given a great opportunity to send them the message “Of course, you are the boss of your body!”

    There are lots of micro-actions that we do to try and inhibit our child’s body autonomy starting from when they are small – we move things out of their hands, we pick them up when they are crawling somewhere we don’t want them to go and we face them in a new direction. If, when our babies are tiny, we come to this understanding that they are free beings and can do what they want with their bodies, we will find the beautiful expression of the foot stomping, face-scribbling toddler years far less challenging. And if we find ourselves growing and expanding to this information, my child is a free and autonomous human being,  in those childhood years how beautifully prepared we will be when they are 14 and want to pierce their lip?!

    My children both have parts of their hair that looks as though it have been shaved. And long, ragged mullets. They just enjoy getting up close and personal with the scissors. What can I say? It looks kinda special. But I don’t really have much more of an opinion on it. Why would I? It’s only hair. Plus, it’s THEIR hair.

    I went to a friend’s party recently, a friend whose own children love to freestyle with their own hair. All our kids were playing together, sitting there with their pixie cuts. Another friend arrived and when she saw our daughters all playing together she said “I honestly wouldn’t have even thought of letting my daughter cut her hair! She’s been asking, but I just thought that’s not something that is DONE.” I saw her a few weeks later and her daughter’s hair was all gone. She said “The next time she asked I just gave her the scissors. She had so much fun doing it and it seems to me as though she has come into her own since doing it. It was a bit of a shock, at first, but now I don’t even think of it.”

    It’s one of those things where we are making a big deal out of the wrong thing. The hair isn’t the big deal. The message about their body autonomy is the big deal.

    My daughter recently made a big call about her body – please watch my latest video to hear some of my thoughts on this:

    How:

  • Don’t just do something, stand there! This phrase, from Marshall Rosenberg’s “Non Violent Communication” is such a great one to remember for parents! We can be so quick to jump in with a “Noooo!” or a “CAREFUL” or something we haven’t really examined. The next time you see your child using felt tip pens on her body (or whatever) just pause and ask yourself what could go wrong, why you want to stop her. If there is a good reason (pen on Grandma’s furniture?) help her move to somewhere more appropriate (the garden) but if there is no practical reason to stop her, simply observe and stand back.
  • If your child wants to do something more drastic to their body (haircuts or piercings) do the same thing – sit with your feelings for a while, and if you still feel it necessary to talk them over with your child (ie – piercings can hurt/ hair takes a while to grow back, raise them with your child, but in a way that is you sharing information rather than trying to convince them one way or another. It is far better for our children to see us as helpful, trustworthy sources of information rather than people who try and control their thoughts or thwart their plans.Tricky when:
  • Traditional cultural practice is that ears get pierced/ hair doesn’t get cutCreative solutions:
  • Even when there are deeply held cultural or religious practices that dictate what a child should/ shouldn’t do with their bodies we can still develop a conversation around our children’s rights. There are some awesome brave indigenous folk raising awareness around the rights and healthiness of body autonomy in children in the face of cultural traditions that can undermine it.
  • If we are unable to be a part of that progressive front (for whatever reason, much love to you) we can still be discussing it with our children “Our people think you should do this, huh? How do you feel about it? I’m finding it hard as I want to embrace tradition but I also believe it is your right to have self-chosen boundaries with your body. Is there anything we can do together to make this work for you?”

Their body, their choice

I’m not perfect on all of this. On a weekly basis I mess up, apologise to my children and remind myself that I’m learning! I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who has this all wrapped up. Upholding our children’s rights is such an extremely counter-cultural way of living. It is a huge learning curve and can be full of triggers, particularly when many of our own childhood’s were tightly controlled and our sense of body autonomy undermined. We must be kind to ourselves, and supportive to each other.

Hearing my children tell each other “Your body, your choice” is music to my ears, balm on the wounds I carry from two decades of not being quite sure that my body is my business alone. It is a slogan borrowed from the brave and beautiful feminist movement, but one that looses no power from it being spoken by children.

When a generation of children understand that their body and their rights will be respected, we can expect that the whole world will change; that humankind will be defined by the dignity and equality between all people.

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Further Reading:

Ten habits that infringe on the rights of children- and how to change them
“Child rights” or just “Don’t be an arse”?
Adultism – a concept that could transform the realtionship between adults and children?
A day in the life of a family tackling adultism