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.

****
If you find this blog or my videos helpful please consider supporting my work on Patreon. All details here!

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

 

Parenting

We need to talk about that time

10 May, 2017

your teacher pulled you up in front of the class and told you you were stupid. That time you were told you were told off for attention seeking in front of everyone at the big family gathering. That time at music camp when you were used as an example of how not to play an instrument. That time your first boss yelled in your face. That time recently on Facebook when a whole bunch of strangers made you feel like the worst mum in the world. And that time you made a mistake, an honest mistake, and were made to feel as if there was something deeply wrong with you.

~

Do any of those stories ring a bell for you? Perhaps you have your own version? Can you recall it?

These are shame stories.

They somehow effect us deep down. They stay with us. They make us believe something about ourselves.

The feelings are real and they are traumatic.

How to heal our shame stories

~

Recently on Facebook Art Therapy Spot shared a photo they’d created, spotted via Happiness is Here‘s feed. I then shared it (see my facebook post here) describing a story that happened to me when I was a kid.

We need to talk about shame

My story was about being made to stand up in a whole school assembly, shouted at for stealing a coin I didn’t steal. Almost immediately people began sharing their own shame stories. Because, holy macaroni friends, 87% is nearly all of us. So many of us are sitting on these shame stories. And so many of us are still, to this day, living a small part of ourselves under the shadow of that shame.

~

Deep breath.

Jeez, I’m feeling a bit emotional. Can you tell?

I’ve been thinking about another shame story recently. Not one from childhood, but from my first proper job. When my boss, someone close to me, screamed in my face for being 15 minutes late to a 7:30 AM meeting. He called me a narcissist. I didn’t even know what it meant. I had to look it up. And to this day his words bring a deep blush to my face. I can feel my skin tightening even as I type. I double guess myself because of the one minute I spent in his office. He shamed me, made me believe something about myself. It was born of his own problems, his own childhood, his own shaming, but yet I carry it around with me.

~

Have you read any Brené Brown? She is doing important, important work around shame. The quote on the photo above comes from a podcast between her and Elizabeth Gilbert. (Also my favourite!) She says;

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”

The experience of shame goes deep, friends. Really deep. It can effect our self belief and our confidence forever. And it very much effects our creativity.

Our shame stories are dead ends. They are blockers. Plugs. They are tourniquets. They stop the flow of blood to areas that were previously pulsing with life.

On last night’s Facebook thread people said over and over: I’ve never drawn/ sewn/ spoken a different language since.

Our shame stories block us but you know what else they do? They can also block our empathy. Unless we heal those shame stories we are endanger of shaming others. Shame begets shame and we must, must, must end the cycle.

Shame has too much of a role in childhood. We use it as a way to correct a child’s behaviour, to make them learn a lesson from a mistake, we use it in public, on the internet to make people laugh or think we are hardcore parents, but we use it mindlessly too when we tut and shake our heads when we use our words and actions to make a child hang their head. We make them believe they are deep down disappointing.

I did a little video today about a big decision we had to make and how it made me think about how differently we treat our children’s mistakes to those that other adults make. If Tim makes an error of judgement I try and stand by him, offer him grace because for me our relationship is the most important thing. I feel like this should be the norm with the smaller people in our lives too.

To Do:

On a recent reading of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron I scribbled “I didn’t tell myself it didn’t hurt, but I did tell myself I would heal” in my journal. I can’t find it in the book now, but the message is in there. All of this shame is traumatic. It hurts. And alongside recognising this pain we can hold on to the hope that we will heal.
Healing our shame stories
Brené Brown says: “As a shame researcher, I know that the very best thing to do in the midst of a shame attack is totally counterintuitive: Practice courage and reach out!” She also says “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”

So here is what we are going to do. We are going to start the process of healing. Together.

We are going to do an empathy storm on Facebook. Click here to get to the Empathy Storm post on my Facebook page and share an incident that happened to you (something you don’t mind being open about) and then everyone else is going to shower you with love and kindness and empathy. We are going to say things like “This should never have happened to you” “You are NOT stupid” “Your art is NOT bad” “You are infinitely creative” “You are full of love” etc etc. It’s an experiment. An empathy experiment. I believe it could be healing for us AND I believe this kind of showering of empathy can end the passing on of shame stories from one generation to the next.

We are going to bring those shame stories out from the depths and we are going to open ourselves up to receiving the empathy that could heal us. (You might not be on Facebook, or you might not like the idea of this, which is fine. Do it with three friends in your living room instead.)

And then we are going to do sums, for fun. Or pick up a pencil and doodle. Or just paint the whole world with the brightness of our kindness so there’s no dark corners for shame to drop its spores.

Further reading:

All of Brené Brown’s books

Particularly on shaming around art and creativity:

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Artists Way by Julia Cameron

PS If you found this post helpful come and visit my Patreon Page to see if you would like to support my work.

Parenting

The story that can change our life

4 May, 2017

The summer that Juno was one we visited an island with my parents. The whole family went for a walk to visit some weird volcanic sculptures (NZ = another day, another site of geological significance) but Juno was sleepy and I was feeling lazy so we pushed back the passenger seat and lay down for a boobysnooze. I’d flung all the doors open to let a breeze pass through and as we were both coming to the surface after our nap we heard some scuffling in the back. We looked behind and there was a large, curious bird standing on the middle seat. It was a weka, one of New Zealand’s rare, flightless birds. We all stared at each other for one still minute and then it hopped out.

The best thing about this story is not that it happened, but that it became Juno’s first story. She still only really spoke using sounds and actions but she began to relay this story to anyone who would listen. What was even better was that she embellished it – she began telling people, with hand gestures and expressive noises, that the weka did a POO before it hopped out!

A must read for mothersTelling stories is one of the things that makes us human. Storytelling is about our brains finding patterns in our experience, and within those patterns, discovering meaning. The weka story was Juno’s first attempt at making sense of the world and attempting to share that understanding with others.

Over the last few months I’ve been thinking about what role telling my own story has on my ability to be a kinder, more loving, more content human. Turns out, it is imperative!

Early in March we had a pretty scary experience getting evacuated out of a festival that flooded along the road from our farm. Forgive me if it feels like I’ve gone on about this alot, but it made a huge impression on me. There were a few moments that night where I believed we’d witnessed serious (fatal) tragedy. A few days later one of the friends we’d been in this experience with tagged me in a post that said

“Everything that makes an impression must have expression”

I really like things that rhyme ‘cos they stick in my head and that one went over and over in my mind and it pushed me to give myself the time I needed to process all the feelings I was having about the festival. Because if we don’t give voice, somehow, to things that have bruised us, we are less able to heal. They just get pushed down, under all the layers of life that continue to be piled on top.

I tend to process using my journal. All the ins and outs of that, and some of the weird things that happen to me when I do it, are in my new video:

Storytelling is important for all people

As you know, I am a big fan of Non Violent Parenting, and a few months ago Ruth Beaglehole, the found of the Centre for Non Violent Parenting in LA, came out to do some workshops in my local community. One of the things she spoke about was the research that shows how narrative work can help us form more secure attachments. A whole therapy has arisen out of it – narrative therapy – a way of dealing with trauma by telling our stories, because until we take hold of our experiences and try and make sense of them, we struggle to find our place with another human. For people to be able to establish and maintain healthy, meaningful relationships with the people around them, we have to be able to know and understand who we are, it is apart of placing ourselves on this map of human connections.

Storytelling is definitely important for parents

I love connecting the dots between gurus. Another peaceful parenting person, a psychologist, Robin Grille, came out one year and did an exercise with us. He asked us to think about a challenging issue we have with our child, and then to imagine ourselves at the same age. What were we doing at that age? What was our experience? We were asked to recall in detail what we would have been going through. After a while we got back together in a group and shared our stories – turns out in several examples, imagining ourselves as kids, enlightened something about the current challenge. One mum, for example, was struggling with her four year old kid watching tv, when she went back to her own story, she realised that when she was four she had two busy working parents, and she was shifted around from babysitter to babysitter who would park her in front of the tv. For her, her child wanting to watch tv bought up feelings of neglect that she’d felt, and she was anxious that when her kid watched tv, even though he was in a loving, secure home, she was neglecting him.

If we take the time to explore what is confronting us, what triggers emotions or explosions, we get the chance to process some deep down stuff and, after a little work telling our stories, we find we are far less explosive or triggered or confronted.


Since being committed to this inner work, this narrative stuff, I have found myself far calmer and far better able to hold space for my children’s emotions.

storytelling makes me a better parent

Storytelling is especially important for women

We’ve been systematically and institutionally silenced for centuries and centuries. We’ve been told our stories are worthless, stupid, told our mouths mustn’t open in sacred places, without permission. We’ve been forced to just listen constantly, to the stories of the men around us. I’m thankful for the generations of women that have changed things, who have painfully elbowed their way to a place where they could tell their stories.  We need to keep telling our stories. Today we need to make room for ourselves and each other. We need to share our experiences as mothers in a world that values people for the money they make, we need to share our experiences as women without children in a world that says the best place for a woman to be is at home raising children. We need to share the stories of all the masks we wear, all the violence we endure, the squeezing out, the judgement, the discomfort of living in a world that puts the golden crown on a sexist man’s head a thousand times a day in every single country.

We need to get together in gangs of women and tell our stories to each other. To weave together a narrative of anger and strength and grief and joy and this narrative will be a net that catches the golden slivers of truth and lets all the flotsam float through.

We need to create places where women lock eyes with other women and say “I see you. I hear you.”

Storytelling is definitely important for children

Some children are able to quickly and openly tell the stories they need to tell about what has impacted them. I have one daughter this way; she almost immediately begins processing “I was here and you were there and then this happened and I was angry and she shouted and I was scared and then…”

Another daughter seems to hold it all inside and needs the stars to align to process in a way that would help her. Sometimes a full week passes before she shares something with me that happened and a light goes off – the last week has been FULL of the fall out from that incident!

Since hearing about “Empathy Books” we have begun a small library of them! They only take a couple of minutes to make and can be incredible for honouring a child’s experience, however small – anything that has impacted them- and they have returned time and again to the ones we made about the festival evacuation and all our seven puppies going to new homes.

An empathy book is just a few pages with a sentence on each about what the child experienced. It is a chance for the child to take hold of the narrative and process their feelings, give empathy to themselves and, in time, give empathy to others.

Here is the original explanation:

Three practical ways to do some simple narrative work:

1- Figure out the way you best like to give expression to things that make an impression. Mine is certainly writing. Yours might be dancing or talking to a friend or writing a song or whatever. Find a few minutes each day where you can express, process, tell your story.

2- If you are facing a particular trigger, how about trying something along the lines of Robin Grille’s method? I’ve come across it in a few places and have used it for several different things. I have a version of it about self-love and body image in my book Freedom Face. Find a quit, comfortable place. Imagine yourself at the place you think a trigger may have begun. Perhaps a shaming incident or a certain time in childhood. Imagine everything you can about it – invoke all your senses, picture yourself there. Now speak to the little you. Tell the little you some important things you wish her to hear. That she is seen. That she is heard. That she is loved. Imagine warmth and love flooding your body. Allow those feelings to stay with you as you bring yourself back into the present. If you feel it might be too much for you, ask a friend to do it with you. If even the thought of it seems overwhelming, I reeeeeally recommend finding someone (a pro) to speak to. It’s a good insight that you have some stuff you are holding onto that needs a bit more serious, supported work.

3- Make an empathy book with your child. It could be about a fight they had at kindy, or moving to another country, or how they hate their car seat. See how making the empathy book feels for you both.

The ears of your heart

I’ve been thinking about the ears of my heart lately. About how they are stuffed up – plugged with those really effective ear plugs they give people in first class on the aeroplane. (I know about them ‘cos I pinched a packet once when we were getting off the plane for a 12 hour stopover and I was so desperate for sleep I stole and washed that first class wax off and had the best sleep of my life on a cold bench in a teeming but silent airport.) Our heart ears are plugged up, unable to listen to each other.  Often when we are listening we have our To Do list going through our head, or we are thinking about what we are going to say in response. I don’t want to do that. I want to listen to people with my whole, open heart.

But I’ve also been thinking about how the ears of my heart should be the first ears to hear my story. When I do this well, when I take time to listen to myself, to be kind and give empathy to myself, I find I am so much more able to live authentically, in tune with my feelings and hopes and dreams.

So, here’s an invitation. To tell your story, hear your story and guide your children in the telling of their own stories.

The story that can change your life, that can make you a better version of yourself, that can bring you deep connection with others, is your own story. Start telling it.

Keep radical, my friends x x

PS Just checking you heard about my Patreon? Just launched and am MEGA stoked by your support. There is stuff on there for patrons only, discussions and videos and a parenting mini-series.

earth loving

Lovers

27 April, 2017

Ramona’s best friend has a middle name the same as one of New Zealand’s native trees, Rimu. A rimu is tall and sprawling with weeping leaves and ladder like branches that are amazing for climbing. The three of us hiked to the top of the hill together to check our cows in the top field. They scaled the rimu next to the fence and as they sat there, swinging their legs, her best friend told her how this tree was his brother.

Ramona accepted it, a fact, and now speaks of all the forest as our family, as if she’d always known we were related, underneath this skin and bark.

Whatever you believe, there is truth in the idea that we are in a relationship with the earth. (It’s up to each of us to decide how far we wanna take it!) I’ve found myself thinking about the fundamentals of healthy human relationships… imagine if we were to apply them to our human-earth thing? I feel like it could be beautiful.4 ways we can help our kids fall in love with nature

1- identity

Since coming back to New Zealand we’ve been on a bit of a journey with Tim and the girl’s Māori whakapapa- how to acknowledge and breathe life into a part of their identity that was shut down generations ago? We hope to begin speaking more Te Reo in our everyday and we also want to live by some of the beliefs that have been lost. Traditional Māori perspectives on the land are that humans and all living things are all connected, interwoven. Land doesn’t belong to people but people belong to the land – but even more than that; people are as much as the land as a mountain is.

It’s important for people to consider where they stand in relationship to the land. All healthy relationships are based on individuals understanding themselves, their identity and how they relate to the person in front of them.

Are people here just to make the most of the land, to profit from it? To look after it? Protect it? I think we are all turning back to more ancient views of the land – we are not just here to be stewards, but we are inherently connected. Our wellbeing is caught up with nature. When the earth is sick, we are sick. When our relationship with the earth is strong, we are healthy.

2- time

We had a new friend come and stay recently and she told me about how she read Gladwell’s book, you know, the one about how all the experts have spent 10,000 hours on their “thing”- the Beatles, the Olympic gold medalists; 10,000 hours is the magic number for greatness. My friend’s brain began whirring. She homeschools her twin girls and she realised she could give them the opportunity to be at one with something by the time they were 16! She racked her brain and settled on the thing she thought mattered most:

nature.

For the last four years her aim has been to provide as much opportunity for her kids to be in the outdoors and she’s documented each hour on her way to 10,000. She’s not militant about it – some days they don’t even step outside. But to make up for that she’ll plan a three week hiking trip across the Sierras, notching up 504 hours in the tally.

Whilst I’m not ever likely to do it, I LOVE that she is saying being outdoors is crucial to childhood, so crucial that she will prioritise it and document it and make nature an ambition.

Anyone in a long term relationship will have a story about a period in their lives when they and their partner passed like ships in the night. We were a bit like this in London for a while. How quickly the tension rose. When we didn’t spend time together, we forgot how much we enjoyed each other. All the communication became practical – and fraught.

It doesn’t have to be 10,000 hours, of course, but the simple fact that we have to spend time in nature to value it, is fundamental.mud kitchen lulastic

3- gratitude

We have some grizzly wild goats in the forest behind our yurt at the moment. They are so close and they are so wild that their yeasty smell wafts into the yurt in the mornings. The next door neighbour’s kids found them first during an early morning forest adventure, they rushed straight over, powered by their hoots, and all the kids donned hats and gloves and found shields and made swords out of antlers and they went off to find them again. One of them yelled ” When we find it, we shall have a feast of thanks! A royal banquet where we will eat in its honour! Meaning, we will eat it!!”

It was so Monty Python as to be unreal.

Research seems to point to the fact that the more gratitude showing in relationships, the better the health and longevity of that relationship. I have begun shooting off little breath prayers at the sight of the night sky or a huge tree or a waddling duck or the sound of the river. As a family we try and remember to light a candle before we eat and think of all the things we are grateful for. Every night we are thankful for the sun and the rain the amazing ability of the soil to nourish the plants we eat.

These little rituals of thanks could be one of the easiest ways to re-form our connection to the earth.
Help your children fall in love with nature

4- playfulness

So we made a thing, for Juno’s birthday (a toyless birthday) which you can see us making in my new video:

And we’ve only had it for 24 hours but it is such an amazing invitation to play. We all keep finding ourselves caught up in flow as we feel the earth under our feet and in our hands.

And don’t you think adults need play as much as kids? To just intentionally enjoy themselves outdoors?

I’ve always hoped that our kids will get into surfing, as amazing things happen when you surf. You just find yourself absolutely revelling in the ocean. Delight so quickly turns to awe. And awe is the trigger for respectful actions.

I feel like the more playful we can be in nature the more our collective actions might change. Creating opportunities for ourselves and our children to laugh and delight in the outdoors makes it so, so, so much more likely that they will care for it and grow to live in a way that nourishes the earth rather than exploits it.
 

~

There’s a big rhetoric at the moment that laments the role of nature in childhood. Outcries about how they can identify a dalek but not a blackbird, and how we can get them to KNOW THIS STUFF. But, like all the stuff that we see as problematic in childhood- it’s really about us. Because if we can restore our relationship with nature, our children will find it a breeze.

PS My second ebook, 30 Days of Rewilding, aims to help parents become the thing they want their children to be – earth lovers.I’d love you to read it and I’d love to hear how you help your family find a connection with the earth. x x x

PPS Did you hear about my Patreon? Just launched it last week and am soooooo excited by all your support! There is already heaps on there for patrons only, discussions and videos and a parenting mini-series.

writing

I am awesome

18 April, 2017

I’ve got some big news and some honesty coming up, but first I want to share some numbers.

Next month will mark seven years of Lulastic. It’s funny to read my first ever post and see that I write in exactly the same way! I was quite experimental in those first posts – they were often just one sentence long and included a picture made on the Paint App:

This from the Ominous Silence of Babies and Toddlers

the ominous silence of babies and toddlers

and this from The Day Ramona Discovers Ears Age 9 Months

The day ramona discovered ears

Four hundred and sixty six posts later and I’ve dropped the phone-created artwork and made the writing bits quite a lot longer!! I’ve also become more focused on sharing information, raising awareness about things I think are important, rather than the little tidbits of life as a mother.

It was around four years ago Tim and I quit our London jobs and went travelling. We were confident that I could be the main breadwinner through my blog. I’d begun a little bit of advertising to pay for the costs of hosting and spam prevention and it was an exciting time for blogging- there was money being dished out everywhere! I began to get my first bits of paid writing elsewhere and we were excited about the freedom going freelance could give us.

Over these recent years the community around Lulastic has grown ten fold. Each month around 75,000 people visit and a social media community of 40,000 has grown up around it.  I’m the fourth highest ranking blog (with public records) in New Zealand and the eighth highest in the British parenting charts. WHAT THE HECK? I don’t share that to toot my horn, I promise, I’m embarrassed by even saying it. The truth is,  it completely astonishes me that this many people want to hang out here and read about this alternative living and progressive parenting. I’d always imagined Lulastic to be niche, so niche. (Hello, it’s called Lulastic and the Hippyshake, what sort of nonsense blog name is that?!)

Weirdly, though, despite the wonderful shock of having this many readers and a beautiful, wise, growing community, making money online is harder than when we first made the decision to go freelance. Contracts yo-yo and advertising is gross. I have a couple of solid gigs with the awesome folk of Green Parent and Channel Mum and my ebooks are an awesome source of income but they rely on me spending a full third of my time on admin (I’m so bad at it) and self-promotion (soul destroying!)

One of the hardest parts about creating stuff for the internet is needing things to “take off”, the waiting to see if the thing you’ve spent three days making will reach people, or if it will just languish. Increasingly I feel that my work is at the mercy of savage algorithms and the ungraciousness of timezones. It’s like financial success in this line of work needs me to be more capitalist, less artist.

And have a much more calloused heart.

~

I long to fully prioritise the two dreams in my heart. (I must use this phrase a lot, hopeless romantic I am; Juno recently said “Mum! Mum! Look at this! It was born in my heart!” as she did a roly poly crossed with a cartwheel.)

The first is to really grow the movement of respectful parenting. I want to create free resources and a website and a book and in-person workshops that help parents be true allies to their children. I am desperate to do this and I want to reach millions with these resources. I also want to concentrate on making beautiful films about treading lightly on the earth, to document our off grid life and tell stories that help people connect deeply with nature.

Weirdly (again!) these are the two things that generate the most energy (both in me and readers) but the least money!! I’ve always simply accepted that I can only really launch myself into these two things once I have “established”; once we have enough money coming in to free me up.

In a beautiful moment of syncronicity, this weekend I decided that nope, the time HAD to be now. I don’t have everything I need to do this (I lack the wisdom, the experience AND the money!) but still; the time is always now!!

And then, that night, I decided to support a creator on a thing called Patreon. I’d seen Patreon all about the place for a few months but on Friday night I made a pledge and put my money in to support a podcast for $5 a month. I immediately made Tim sit on the sofa with me and listen to the free meditations and music I got as my reward for being a patron. I spent the day feeling great about being able to support a creator I love and getting access to some awesome resources.

It wasn’t until 24 hours later that I had the realisation that I need to get myself on Patreon!!!! It was like Timmy Mallet bonked me on the head.  I actually laughed out loud that it hadn’t occurred to me earlier. I now think that on some deep level I was struggling with feelings about not being deserving enough to have patrons, despite the emails I get where mamas tell me my posts have transformed their lives with their children.

I am learning to put more faith in the fact that every so often things come out of my keyboard that change peoples lives. And I want to have the freedom to listen and be available for when those golden things arrive, to get them out in front of the eyes that need them!!

Recently, at a workshop with Non-Violent Parenting founder, Ruth Beaglehole, she asked us to list all the values we want our children to have when they grow up. Top of my list was “To love themselves, believe in themselves.” Then Ruth said “If you want your children to have these qualities than YOU need to have them, you need to work on them for you, first.” I’ve known for yonks that if I want my children to be kind, I must treat them with kindness, but I’d never applied the same thinking to all the other qualities I want them to have.

This morning as I was journalling, lying on my bed with three year old Juno journalling next to me (lots of OOOOOOOs) she asked me to write something down so she could copy it. I said “Sure, what do you want me to write?” I thought she might say “buttkiss” as that is her favourite word at the moment, but without hesitation she said “I am awesome!”

Sparks of happiness exploded in my chest. Juno won’t get away with saying that kind of audacious thing when she’s an adult. Women in particular, we get along by making ourselves small, downplaying the treasures inside. Even the idea of saying out loud, as a grown woman, “I AM AWESOME” makes me blush a bit. Especially ‘cos I’m not awesome; I’m messy and blunt and too focused and too unpindownable and too excitable and too damn angry.

But you know what? I want my daughters to be surrounded by people who go for their dreams, by women, especially, who have the faith in themselves to chase their hopes and to make them happen. Who keep that child-like sense of their own awesomeness.

So here we are. My last number.
Lulastic Patreon

Five Hundred.

My first goal is $500 a month from patrons. This will allow me to immediately take advertising off Lulastic and to begin building my new parenting website.

You can pledge as little as $1 a month and get access to my patron-only posts including behind the scenes videos and work in progress ebooks. For more $$ a month you get access to mini series and extra videos. I’ve just begin a mini series on there, Seven Deeds for a Happier Home, that includes reflections and activities to bring more joy into your life as a parent over the course of one week.

Please come and check out my Patreon page and consider supporting my work. As a little incentive to get in quick, the first 10 patrons (even on the $1 tier) will get social media shout outs for their blog/ videos/ business/ projects.

Thank you SO much for the role you have played in growing Lulastic. Never in my most raucous dreams did I imagine being able to write this kind of post. Just be warned though, if Patreon gives me the creative freedom I long for I might feel an urge to make more pictures on the Paint App…

My latest Youtube video:

Nappyfree, Parenting

Potty training from birth?! Our nappy-free newborn

13 April, 2017

Updated! Here is a video all about why we chose the Nappy-Free Newborn route.

And here is my original post – written two weeks after Juno was born.

Our little Juno has been on the outside for almost two weeks and what a magnificent little poppet she is. She stoically snoozes through Ramona’s loving cuddles and smooches and gives us smiles (WHATEVER! NEWBORNS DO SMILE!) and makes the cutest little sleep growls.

Breastfeeding has been a breeze until the last couple of days – suddenly I am dealing with MASSIVE oversupply meaning Juno veers from being like a deliriously happy drunk to acting like she has dined on razor blades- until that huge burp makes an appearance. It has actually made for a few stressful nursing times, which has knocked me for six a bit. Being more diligent with positioning and just waiting for my milk to regulate should fix it.

Ramona meanwhile, is being a total star about the big change, continuing to be a complete hoot (she has taken to using my languishing breastpads like a mobile phone, chattering away to her friends. I mean, really, how much more comfy for your ear? Mobile phone creators could take some inspiration from this, I tell you) and taking it all in her stride.

One thing we are doing quite differently with Juno compared to Ramona’s early days is Elimination Communication- this is the idea that babies are born ready to communicate about when they need to go to the toilet. We did do this with Ramona (read all about that here) but began when she was around 12 weeks old. Doing it with a newborn is BONKERS!Potty training from birth?! Nappyfree newborn

Nappy-free newborn: the first addictive catch
Juno had only been out of the womb for a few hours, we were all tucked up in bed, but she was a little unsettled and wouldn’t latch on properly. I suggested we might hold her over the potty and Tim duly did so. Out burst a joyous wee, glowing with freedom, and Juno instantly shut her eyes and nodded off. Tim and I just looked at each other in flabbergastedment and cracked the heck up.

We are by no means catching everything, maybe only 60% of poos and wees, but it is an incredibly helpful parenting tool for newborns. So, SO, often – even more pronounced at night- Juno will be grunting and squiriming and complaining, a little hold over the pot soon sees her releasing all that caramelly poop and she will immediately be happier. It really seems as if at least a third of her cries are to do with the sensation of needing to go. The experience is convincing me that newborns come out with the ability to tell us about three needs- tiredness, hunger, and elimination. I think “The Hold” (see pictures!) is really comfortable for them- often Juno will just begin a nap inbetween her poo and wee- and allows them to really empty their system.

Nappy-free Newborn Practicalities
We tend to sit her on a cloth nappy, tucked in the sling, or on my lap, and then we chuck them in the wash if she does her business on there. We still get alot of stealthy wees and poos so are easily going through the same amount of washes (10 nappies a dayish) compared to normal cloth nappying, so we are yet to see any laundry benefits from EC (that comes a bit later.) We have cartons and bowls and potties tucked around the house so that we can whip one under Juno if we sense a Number coming on. It doesn’t feel like more work than normal nappy changing, and I feel it is really helping Juno’s comfort levels.elimination communication with a newborn baby

Ramona is a big help- when Juno is wriggling she’ll ask her “Ooh, do you need to do a Number, Juno?” and while we hold her over the potty Ramona will sing the “Come on poo” song (What, you don’t have a poo song?!) and will even empty it down the toilet for us.

So, there you go – elimination communication with a new born baby! In some ways a typical two weeks in the life of a newborn; milk, sleep, poos and wees, and in other ways, well, just a little bit mindboggling!

PS Read all my posts on elimination communication:

Elimination Communication is stress free potty training!
Beginning Elimination Communication
Ten signs your baby needs to go to the toilet
Elimination Communication with a newborn baby
Elimination communication at three months old
Elimination Communication at one – the highs and lows
Elimination communication at one –  (a poo in a shoe!)
Elimination Communication at 17 months old plus seven elimination communication tips

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elimination communication with a newborn baby