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Parenting, unschooling

How to start an Outdoor Play Group

12 June, 2015

I stuck my head out of our door to call the kids in for tea a few days ago. Ramona and Juno and our neighbours had been playing on the 6 foot high mud pile outside our house so I was expecting a bit of dirty wreckage…. I wasn’t expecting one of the boys to pop out of the sludgey mountain completely and utterly covered, from scalp to toe. The whites of his eyes shone out of this thick, black, magnificent dirt. They were playing mud ninjas, so, y’know… obviously. It was all I could do not to collapse in a hilarious heap. It was exhilarating to see someone so abandoned and wild and free.

And I was a weencey bit glad he was walking the 50 metres home to his own bath…

One of the things I have loved the most in our last 15 months living in New Zealand has been this sense of being nestled right amongst the mud and trees and birds. Whenever we are feeling a bit down we can just open the door and pick some fruit or climb a tree (time outdoors is one of the five best keys to happiness and we have really experienced that) and the girls are developing a whole education in the natural world. Ramona surprises me almost daily with little observations she has made about the animals that surround us, and then there’s Juno who mostly speaks Animal, with 3 or 4 perfect bird calls under her belt… amidst a tiny human vocab.

“‘Is the spring coming?’ he said. ‘What is it like?’ …
‘It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine, and things pushing up and working under the earth.’”

—Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Early last year a few of us got together and began an Outdoor Play Group – a group of parents and children that simply play in nature. It is pretty much the one thing in our week that we are committed to, every Tuesday we spend from 10-2 at our friends little slice of wilderness. It is a hugely important part of our lives, where the girls can play uninhibitedly and where I get the chance to be nurtured by time and conversation with other parents. I’ve written before about the many, many reasons to get outdoors and play in the wild. 

Here is a little video I made today about our own outdoor Play Group, Nature Space:

(It looks quite wholesome, I know, and it sort of was, with a lot of chatter about penises and poo muted out!)

I thought I’d put some ideas out there, that might help parents set up their own Outdoor Play Group. Here are 8 steps for setting up an Outdoor Play group – follow these and you could have your own group in a matter of weeks!How to set up an outdoor play group amongst nature

Check that an official Nature Play doesn’t already exist close by

Firstly check there isn’t an official Nature Play Group already in your area – you could be one of the lucky devils able to jump on board with one already rolling. Clare Caro (she is an inspiration) has developed an organisation that is leading a well supported movement of Outdoor Play groups in the UK, under the banner Nature Play. Double check this list to make sure you don’t already have one near you. If you do, find out how to get involved through Clare’s web site.

Find a team
Find two friends who are interested too. I watched a video a few years ago that has stuck with me ever since. It is about how the first guy that jumps up to dance will stay just a loner until a couple of other dancers join him – then a movement begins. (Watch it here. It’ll make you smile!) This goes for beginning pretty much anything and everything. You alone are FANTASTIC but you need two friends to build momentum. Once there are three of you, you are good to go!

  • Ask around your friendship group – you might be surprised who will commit to this with you. It is my experience that almost all parents are looking for ways to be more outdoors with their children.
  • Post on local Facebook groups or community forums- your two buddies might not be known to you yet! “Want to get outdoors with your children more? Let’s begin a regular meet up for parents and children! Looking for two team members, please call.”
  • Ask wider Facebook groups to help you with your search – the Attachment Parenting and like minded groups admins might be able to help, as an example.
  • Go offline- put little notices up in the library and at local Tots groups.

“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

—John Muir, Our National Parks

Have an open meeting
Draw on your whole community to give your Outdoor Play Group a good boost right at the start. Get people (parents, La Leche group organisers, wise people, elders, any stakeholders)  in a room to share your vision. Advertise this open meeting widely. This is a great way to pool resources, discover fresh ideas about location, and you could well end up with a list of contacts that might form your first attendees.

Location (public)
Scout for a location. The UK and New Zealand are fortunate to have lots of little woods and reserves dotted around the place, or failing that little pockets of “nature areas” within parks. Ideally you will have a little grove of trees, with a small clearing amongst it, enough space to really roam and feel a little isolated from the busyness of a city, enough peace to be able to spot birds. We are lucky to have a little stream running through our area which makes for a great amount of fun in winter and summer. A tiny pond would also be great – as would, even, a tree-less beach. Is it free from buildings and human-made structures? It’s a winner. Even if it’s a public place, being in touch with the council about your plans could be really valuable.

Location (private)
If you don’t have anywhere public try thinking about private spaces. There are privates gardens, or backyards of neighbours or stretches of land owned by trusts… get together with your team mates and start getting in touch with people.  I am sure you will be surprised how many private land owners would be delighted to step in and help provide a beautiful space for your group.

Get grounded in the principles of Outdoor Play
How hard can it be, right? Walk outside, play in the nature. Sort of. I like to think that there are some foundations for really free and beautiful parent-child time spent outdoors though. These include allowing play to be totally child – led. Giving space for children to work through challenges, and conflict. Clare has given a lot of thought to this and I massively recommend being inspired by these Nature Play Guidelines together. We introduced ukelele playing at our own Outdoor play group as a way for the adults to have fun, and to give the children more space to explore autonomously. We were finding that idle parents can spend too much time focusing on their children and almost interrupting their play.

Sort out the deets
Find a day and a time that suits your core team. We do Tuesday 10 – 2/3pm because we all make lunch and eat together. The official London South East Nature Play group do 10-12 on a Thursday. Figure out the slot that will suit you three, trying not to overlap with another local group that parents might attend,  and then let others arrange their timetable around you.

Promote it
Nothing’s really stopping you now, apart from other families joining you! Start a Facebook group and start inviting people to it, visit local tots groups and make an announcement at the end of each group, put flyers up around local venues. It can take 6 months to a year for a group like this to really build up. If there are three families committed to this you will be able to ride this bumpy first stage, as people come and go and get a feel for it. Soon enough you will be maxed out!

Hooray! Here’s to your own mud bath, river paddling, weed ripping, fire toasting Outdoor Play group!

“These people have learned not from books, but in the fields, in the wood, on the river bank. Their teachers have been the birds themselves, when they sang to them, the sun when it left a glow of crimson behind it at setting, the very trees, and wild herbs.”

―Anton Chekhov, “A Day in the Country”

Parenting, unschooling, writing, yurt life

What to do when the people you love don’t love what you do

8 June, 2015

A few months go we met up with an old family friend we hadn’t seen in yonks. We’d kept in touch, were really close and were excited about spending time together as we passed through her town. We only had her one hour lunch break so you can imagine our surprise, and sadness, that she spent almost the entire time letting us know in not-so-subtle ways that she was disappointed with what we had decided to do with our lives.

She questioned our decision to live in an unconventional dwelling, telling us our yurt wouldn’t stack up against health and safety regulations. She berated us for not using our good degrees, wondering why we had settled for such simple employment.

We knew some of our family and friends wondered about the same stuff, they’d let us know, respectfully, that they worried about our relaxed parenting style and lifestyle decisions. But we hadn’t ever been grilled for an hour, so upfront and disparagingly.

We were hurt.

But we got over it.

Because we are one hundred per cent convinced that we have made the right decisions, to give up our jobs, to move across the world, to start living in a yurt, to buy land with another family, to parent in a consensual, rights-respecting way. We have reflected hard and researched hard and then followed our hearts, and we think this is the only way to do life. We are pretty sure footed about this path we’ve settled on.

Most of the time.

Hehehe.

I had an email this week from a reader who is experiencing similar backlash about her and her partners desire to shake off the mortgage and hunker down for a more simple life. And it got me thinking about how common this is. People we care about letting us know that they don’t like our disregard for the status-quo. It got me jotting down a few thoughts.

Haters gonna hate?
When I am feeling defensive about all of this, it is easy to say “Haters gawn hate” in my most badass voice. But the truth, I know, is that these people aren’t haters. This isn’t a post about all the anonymous folk that comment on Daily Mail articles about hippies weaving a house out of the old uniforms of veterans. This post is about the lovers in our life who don’t like the way we live. Our siblings, and besties, and cousins, and parents.

They love us
And here is the thing. They love us. It is probably the main reason they tut or roll their eyes or outright berate us over lunch. It is easy to forget this when we are feeling got at. Sometimes it is hard to believe that love can ever look so reproachful. But it can. And we have to remember that.
They are scared
Why would people that love us want to criticize important decisions, especially ones that we have thought so hard about? They are scared for us. They haven’t ever seen people stray from the 9-5 working day. They worry that we will be left high and dry, age 93 without a bean to our name apart from dementia. If we come from well off families, it might look as if we are throwing off the responsibility that wealth can bring. If we come from hard – up families it might look as through we are chucking all their hard work spent raising us away.

And also sometimes they are worried because they think they have seen this before. I recently read a book that looked at the macro picture of The Sixties and it was pretty revealing about how older generations might see our lifestyle now and worry about where it is going to lead. It is easy to look back on the sixties and think, oof, all those hippies had it SUSSED! But in their shrugging off of social norms they really did shrug off a lot of good stuff, too. For example, it seems as though part of their dive into sexual freedom meant they leapt away from commitment, and even, sometimes, consent. I think the liberal, progressive days of the sixties paved the way for today- where we are able to take radical concepts and run with them- so ‘nuff respect for that- but our parent’s generation see this and think we are going to end up like the burnt out, drugged up, love crumpled hippies of the Sixties. And they are scared for us.

Reassure them
Are you able to pinpoint what people are afraid of, on your behalf? If so, you can reassure them, without having to change your decision making. This isn’t about having to explain yourselves, which can get tiresome in the extreme, but putting it out there, explicitly , that they do not have to be afraid.  Sometimes I think people are worried that we have simply “fallen” into this lifestyle, that our parenting is simply accidental laissez faire, as opposed to being a parenting style we have researched DEEPLY. They think our lack of proper jobs is to do with not asserting ourselves, of accepting something less than our full potential. Often, we don’t have to actually explain our position, we simply just need a few choice sentences that can address those deeper fears.

  • We have researched this extensively and believe this is exactly the right decision for us.
  • This is intentional, not accidental.
  • We have a plan.
  • We believe this is the way we can fulfill our full potential.
  • We are committed to our family’s safety.
  • This is the way we can achieve full mental and physical well being for all of us.
  • We have reflected upon the risks of this and are going into this with eyes wide open.

Let other people explain your thinking
We have a book that we sometimes call upon and give to people. It explains our parenting style from a philosophy which many of our family come from (Christianity.) Close family members can be very open to reading materials given to them, and this can be a much easier way of getting ideas across than through conversation. Having someone else explain something can validate it and articulate it better than our flustered, sometimes defensive, selves! This can lead to some quite open and honest conversation.
We can focus on connection
There are loads and loads of reasons Tim and I have opted to stray from the mainstream when it comes to our parenting, our children’s education, our jobs, our home and, well, you know, whole life. Some of them include “because we have given a lot of thought to the idea of schools and think that, for the most part, they stifle learning, stampede over human rights and crush a child’s spirit” also “we don’t have 9-5 jobs because the idea that you are what you earn or that we must find value in being busy, busy, busy is a load of crap” HOWEVER… we don’t tend to say this out loud to many people, y’know?

If it feels like a conversation is honestly and openly spirited, that people have authentic questions, then we are MORE than happy to have a deeper discussion about our reasons. But if it is just a quick talk, or we sense any hostility, than we try and focus on topics that are inarguable:

  • We want to spend this quality time with our children while they are young
  • We want to spend loads of time outdoors, enjoying nature
  • We want our children to experience as much love as humanly possible
  • We have plenty of time later on, if we want, to be more ambitious
  • Children are natural born learners and we want to provide as much chance for them to follow that up as possible

These are the kind of sentences that we think provide a way to connect. They are likely to get people thinking, ah, yeah, I can get on board with that idea. (For the most part, we just say the first one, over and over again, on a loop,  like a politician on the radio, exercising the media training they’ve been given.)

Your life fits you alone
And then, when all is said and done, you are the one living your life. Only you and your family know the right decisions for you. There very much comes a point when we need to stand tall, with our feet on the foundation of our good decision making! We have researched, reflected, looked inside our hearts and out, and we are living the life that fits us alone!

There is a beautiful quote, a slightly less street way of saying “Haters gonna hate” about how an entire sea of water can’t sink the ship, unless it is allowed in. Lulastic parenting lidestyle blog New Zealand

What is going to help you batten down the hatches? To seal up the portholes and fill in the cracks?

I feel at my least vulnerable, and least defensive, and least likely to let a dribble of water into our ship when I have these things:

  • A tribe. A group of people who think like us! Who make our parenting look normal, our yurt look awesome, and our lack of office jobs look ideal. At various times in our lives this has looked like online forums, regular attachment parenting meet ups, bi-annual unschooling camps, even moving to a place where questioning the status quo is a healthy normal. (Here in the Coromandel, New Zealand, living an eco, sustainable, progressive life is very common and it was a big reason we chose to move here.) Come on over and find a tribe at our Facebook page too..

  • This is our friend’s beautiful yurt. We actually know tons of people that live in buses or tents or handmade homes – life can be very good without enormous mortgages.

  • Lots of information. I am zealous about books and studies. I read and read. I keep up with neuroscience so that I can explain the importance of attachment, I keep up with the baby mortality stats so that I can counter any argument to cosleeping, I read everything I can about how children learn, I get my head around the unsustainability of our current housing situation and seek to understand what are the fundamentals for happiness and well being. I RARELY pull these out of my quiver and fire them – it might be tricky to do so uncombatatively! But for my own sake, this all helps me feel confident in the choices we are making.
  • Ongoing family discussion. Tim and I talk a lot about this stuff. It is important that we are together on this journey of understanding. We go over quick fire parenting decisions we have had to make, we discuss books we are reading about sustainability. We sometimes take a while to catch up to each other but we are in it together. A crew learning the ropes. (Oh lordy, I am completely unable to put my ship metaphor away!)

I want to just take a second to validate you. It’s going to be a slightly emosh second as I am feeling quite full of heart that you are here, reading this, one of us … You aren’t alone… we are all here and we can cheer each other on.

If you are questioning the mainstream and seeking to live a life that takes less of a toll on the earth, you are of a crowd that is going to go down in history, that will be thanked by our grandchildren’s grandchildren! They shall call you a legend.  If you are making presence and peace and love your ambition, and don’t really have two pennies to rub together, you are rich. If you are nurturing your child’ spirit, determined to let them spread their wings, to live as partners in this dance of life, if you choose empathy over control,  you are nourishing a generation that will take this love and build a new world with it. 
I am sure I have only scratched the surface of this topic! I would be absolutely stoked to hear some of your own thoughts on this hefty topic. 

Nappyfree, Parenting

The most gentle, stress-free potty-training ever

23 April, 2015

This week something momentous happened. I packed up our cloth nappies and gave them away. Oh, how I relished that. I was like LATER LOSERS! Actually, I hope never to clap mine eyes on them ever again. I don’t hate our cloth nappies, in fact they have been IDEAL for what we have done with our little ones…. but they seem to be everywhere I look at all times, in the laundry, on the line, in piles. And we barely use them at all! The reason is that we have opted for no nappies, most of the time.

I also experienced that special sigh of relief reserved for parents whose child has become toilet-independent. This realisation has come slowly over the last couple of months.Just last week my husband said “Hey, Juno’s pretty much potty trained now, eh?”  Ah. Yes, yes, she is. In fact, we were along time noticing properly (or wanting to say the words aloud) sine around 21 months she was getting her wees and poos on target the majority of the time.

See, we have been practicing the most gentle, stress-free, quiet way to potty train ever: Nappy Free – ness. Hmm. Nappy Free -dom. Or just… Nappy- Free babies.Nappy free is stress free potty training!

I don’t even really know what you mean by Nappy-Free. It sounds kinda dangerous
If you think “Nappy-free” sounds dangerous try “elimination communication” HA! That sounds like we are raising talkative assassins. The best term for this kind of potty-training is “Born Ready” – I love it as it captures the fundamental belief that no living thing wants to lay a cable on themselves.

We witnessed this first hand when we tried to save a baby bird, fallen from the tree. It was a tiny, weeny speck of a thing, but even so after it had munched on a quarter of a teaspoon’s glob of food it would shuffle over, put its butt over the edge of the nest we had made for it, and squirt out a Number Two. Our children are born communicating with us about all of their needs- their need for touch, food, and their need to release their bladder. They will shuffle and squirm and squark, and if we respond they continue to communicate about it long after you’ve packed up the cloth nappies- until they are grown ups! (If they are anything like me, that is, for I do love a good poo story.)

How is Nappy Free gentle potty training?
People who practice Nappy Free just accept that regular visits to the loo/ holds over the potty are a part of everyday life. There is no song or dance to be made of it. It is something as common as drinking or eating. There are no bribes or reward charts, no punishments for accidents or shaming. This shaming thing is something I see all the time (no judgement, I know it can be frustrating when our children pee their pants and you’ve run out of spares and it was in a neighbour’s house and it was already a rubbish day) – an almost accepted part of teaching our children that weeing in their pants isn’t acceptable. Mu understanding of the culture within Nappy Free families is an unconditional style of parenting – no shame allowed, ever. Nappy Free families just do trips to the loo when it seems needed and don’t make a fuss when the wires of communication are a bit tangled and a poo ends up in a shoe. Families take it at the child’s own pace, listening to them and helping them until they are ready to be entirely toilet-independant.

It could be more respectful
Having said all that… I think it could be even even more respectful. It is common practice with Nappy-Free world to simply feel “in tune” with a baby and whip off their pants and urge them on if we are sure they need to go. I don’t think this is right. I think we need to potty our children with the utmost care and respectful touch and we need to allow a lot more space for consent. I think Nappy Free families could aim to always ask their babies, even newborns, if we can help them go, and if they clearly show they don’t want to we should leave them be- even if that ends up as wet pants. We need to prioritise them receiving the knowledge that they, not us, are the boss’s of their own body.

Is Nappy Free for everyone?
I’m not in the business of telling people what to do. I like to share stories of what we do but I believe each family needs to weigh things up and consider their family’s own delicate dance of needs and then decide! I do think there are principles of nappy free that will make for a much, much less stressful potty training for everyone. Things such as acknowledging when a baby is clearly doing a number – keep up the communication, respectfully. Don’t let them forget what it feels like to relieve themselves.  (It seems to be the case that children can lose the sensation.)  Give children a go when it seems like they want to but need some help. Model toilet use. Be child led. Avoid forcing and coercive tactics.

Take it off
But how does one begin such a thing! You know what they say: a journey of a thousand poos begins with one poo. Begin that journey today! It can begin with Day 1 for a newborn or with toddlers even. Here are a few tips:

  • Give your baby a go on the loo whenever you go. You modelling toilet use is the number one way they’ll pick it up!
  • This also makes a bit of a regular rhythm, and you will soon pick up their rhythm.
  • Create little points in the day that they can become used to going – before meals, after meals, before the car, after the car, before the buggy/wrap one getting out of the buggy/wrap.
  • Create a little sign that you begin doing whenever you talk about the potty.
  • Have potties lying around the house – sometimes the sign is them patting or going to the potty.
  • Thumbs up for “tree wees” – it is my experience that it is very natural for kids to wee outside. It might feel like an accident, but they might have gone outside just to wee!
  • Don’t get too into it. Hehe. Just relax. You’ll have heaps of us and downs, really awesome in-sync days and them days where teething pain interrupts the brain-bladder signalling and, well, you know: wee. Spend loads of time outside where misses don’t count.
  • Put nappies on if it helps you relax in between. We always had nappies on hand for when we were at someone elses house as we dodn’t want to be super stressing about getting wee on someone elses carpet. You’d think this would make for mix messages but it didn’t seem to. Both our girls were fine with or without nappies.

Do check out my friend Jenn’s new online classes, of Born Ready. The Born Ready website was basically my homepage when I first got into this!  She is the absolute GURU of nappy free and offers loads and loads of advice.  She also sells flaparaps– the perfect nappy/pants inbetweener for babies.

Real Nappies and Nappy-Free are mates
It is Real Nappy week this week and I wanted to take a moment to encourage all the cloth-bummed baby mammas and pappas to consider this gentle form of potty training. I know you, you and your gorgeous stash of nappy covers in every crazy pattern, your ever-so-slight addiction to animal print cloth nappies. Real Nappy lovers and Nappy-free lovers are cut from the same cloth – we care for our babies bums and our earth. And we are not afraid of poo.

Go for it, go on. Take it off and liberate your baby’s butt! Nappy Free = Stress Free Potty Training.

PS Read more Nappy Free tales from me here. 

Parenting, yurt life

Things messy people say

20 April, 2015

This goes out to all the parents constantly feeling the stab of lego beneath their socks, those who let their kids unroll the toilet paper because they’ve done the quick parental equation and have decided the mess the loo roll creates is worth the 20 minute’s peace, and to all the parents who have ever found half a long-lost apple languishing in the sofa cushions.. (To all the very tidy parents, like my very best friend from whose sparkly toilet I’d happily eat my lunch, I love you but you don’t need a shout out, Mr Muscle’s got your back.) 

Things messy people say:

1- I’m not naturally messy- but since becoming a mother…. 

2- Besides, creativity THRIVES in chaos!!

3- No really, studies.

4- And, y’know, it was EINSTEIN that said if a cluttered desk is sign of a cluttered mind, what is an EMPTY desk sign of? Ha!

5- *ding dong* Oh hello! Ah yes, we are just having a sort out…

6- Yes, sadly, a bomb DID hit.

7- A KID BOMB 

  boom shake shake shake the room

8- It’ s not so much a mess issue as a storage issue.

9- In fact, if we had good storage that would be a game changer, I tell you. 

10- Ah, look, here’s that bag of manky feathers the girls collected…. I’ll pop them somewhere safe for that time in the future when I’m gonna have to make an owl mask. 

11- I’m actually going to have a massive tidy in the morning.

12- *in the morning*  Ooh a beautiful day! LET’S PLAY!

13- I’ll just totally BLITZ the whole house once the kids are in bed.

14- *later* This book is genuinely BEGGING to be finished tonight.

15- Anyway, Einstein and all those geniuses were WELL messy. Proper filthy. So.

16- Doodidodidoo. I’ll just stick this in the bits n bobs drawer.  

17-I’m just not the kind of mum that wants to be tidying toys away from the kids all day, y know?

18- Arghhh. MORE LAUNDRY. WHERE DOES IT COME FROM? Where does it go? Where does it come from, Cotton Eye Joe? 

19- I’m sure our laundry basket has a spawn function. I’ll have to tell the girls to stop pushing that button. 

20- A clean house is sign of a wasted life. A clean house is sign of a wasted life. A clean house is sign of a wasted life. A clean house is sign of a wasted life.

21- I’ll just pop this random Thing on that shelf with all the other random Things. 

22- Gah! We have too many clothes! I’ll put them all in bags and take them to the charity shop!

23- After a cup of tea, I’ll do that. I shall. 

24- (Self-care, that’s called. Timely cups of tea and chocolate for mothers. The foundation of a stable family life.)

25- Ooh, but I can’t really give all this away because some of this stuff will be IDEAL for the dress up box. 

26- Or cowboy boots might make a comeback.

27- Or I might be invited to a Ukrainian Pop Stars from the Seventies fancy dress party and I will rue the day I got rid of this PERFECT shirt. 

28-  Lalala, I’ll just shove this enormous box full of Stuff into our storage, I mean spare, room.

29- And jam the door shut. 

30- And put this “ENTER AT YOUR OWN PERIL” sign on the door. 

31- And hope no one ever, ever looks in it. 

32- I mean, yes, I’m messy but not WEIRDLY so. I’m not exactly going to be on the news burrowing a tunnel out of my own mess! ha! Hahahaha! *panicked laugh*

33 – But seriously, as I always say, it might be a bit untidy, but it’s not dirty, like, unsafe

34 –  *googles* “basic level of hygiene”

35 – Right. So we won’t be getting a certificate.

36 – But the kids ARE alive, so hey! 

37- And while they are still with us it is positively futile to keep on top of their mess. 

38 – Although tomorrow I am absolutely definitely TRULY going to tidy. Tomorrow. 

Parenting

Major ways I’m raising our second child differently to our first

7 April, 2015

We stayed up late the other night watching little videos we’d taken of our first daughter, Ramona, a few years ago. They were hidden deep in the caverns of our computer, buried under about 9 googleplex (the children’s current favourite number) of photos. We have so many photos that if we were to print them out I think we’d be able to stretch them to the moon and back, or we’d at least be able to bundle them into bricks and build ourselves a house.

Anyway, the films. Oh! How they made me BLUSH! I was absolutely criiiinging. It was so, SO obvious, in a way I hadn’t really processed, just how differently we are doing things with our second daughter, Juno. (There were also lots of really lovely ones – like this perfect example of that phantom breastfeeding thing babies do – once your nipple has left their mouth, they keep sucking. It is one of the loveliest things to look at in the world!)

I was trussing her about, waving her around, smooching her enormous cheeks, making her wave, making her stand, sitting her on my knee for Humpty Dumpty even though she was crying. I was having fun with her, almost like she was a prop or accessory to my–life-and-soul-of-the-party good time. And I wasn’t really treating her like a human at all.

It made me think of all the ways we have changed our parenting since having a second daughter. And the common theme to all of them is that we came to realise that even the tiniest babies are people – with unique feelings and important rights, with their own body to be respected and their own drive to be allowed to flourish.

It is so basic, but it took me such a long time to realise. I was a loving mum to Ramona, I ticked all the right attachment parenting boxes, but it wasn’t until she really showed me her bare face will, age 2, that I understood that she had had one all along. It was Ramona that paved the way for me to see Juno in the way that I did the second she was born. Juno turned up and her beautiful and glorious personhood was glowing out of her newborn folds of furry skin and baldness. I'm raising our second child differently to the first

Here are some examples of how differently this actually looks:

1- With Ramona we sat her up almost from the day she could hold her head up, we propped her and put her on her tummy and stood her on her big, rugby-player pins. Then I read about natural motor development and something clicked, so with Juno we tried to only ever put her in a position that she was able to get into by herself. So no tummy time, until she could roll, no sitting until she could pull herself to sitting. WHAT AN AMAZING JOURNEY!

The difference is that when they choose to do something, they are absolutely and utterly ready for it. It often means a different way round – crawling before sitting, for example- but they totally nail it. Juno crawled first and then sat a few days later and never, ever, ever tipped over.

This just fits in SO perfectly with the idea that children very often know what they are ready for, that they can be the lead on their own development and learning. It is awesome.

2- With Ramona I had quite strong senses of what she should and shouldn’t play with, where she should go, what she should be doing. Age six months for example, I had no worries about taking something straight out of her hands with no warning, or distracting her from something she was enjoying just so I could admire her cute face, or pulling her out of the way of something I didn’t want her going near. With Juno we hang back A LOT more. If we do need to take something away from her, mostly we simply ask for it, and she has tended to hand it over… but by and large we’ve just been able to let her go for it, and to REALLY let her get into it.

3- With Ramona, we had very little respect for the idea that her body was her own, we were convinced we were in charge of her body. We’d pick her up and plop her down and put a jumper on her and take a hat off her and wipe her nose and yank a nappy on. We have tried really hard to not do this with Juno. If ever we want to interact with Juno’s body, we ask permission first, even waiting for an invitation as a very small baby- such as the lift of a pelvis to change a nappy (Juno fully did this!) or extended, open arms from a 6 month old when we ask if we can pick her up.

4- We found Elimination Communication when Ramona was 3 months old and within a few days we saw it to be the way forward. With Juno it began on her very first day, when she was wriggling and distressed and Tim offered her the potty and she pooed and weed straight into it! Brilliant! However, with Juno we tried a lot harder to respect the fact that her body was her body, not insisting on her going if we felt she needed it (with Ramona we were like “C’mon, love, we can SEE you need to go!”) and we tried really hard not to interrupt bowl movements once they had begun, out of respect. We had no qualms about moving Ramona about mid-poo, to get her on the loo.I'm raising my second child differently to my first

I was introduced to a lot of this via Pennie Brownlee and Clare of the Pikler Collection – through the concept of Natural Gross Motor Development. It sounds a bit technical, but ooh look here is a simple introduction to exactly WHAT that is!!! *brand new vlog alert*

I was speaking to someone about all of this and they were like “WHAT! HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW ALL OF THIS STUFF?! EVERY ONE IN THE WORLD KNOWS THIS!” And I was kinda like… well… we can’t know everything, all at once! I really didn’t know many people doing this in London. All the connecting, attachment stuff just blossomed naturally but the standing back and giving full respect to babies didn’t happen instinctively or me at all.

We can only parent with the knowledge we have to hand right now, don’t you think?

Of course, parenting IS the most world-changing job ever so therefore we should take it seriously and take our open minds and find stuff out and make conscious decisions.

But still, even the President of the Post-Graduate School of Parenting doesn’t know every one of the good and beautiful ways we can be with our children at the exact perfect time.

C.S Lewis, in the final Narnia book, says that we can only act according to the light revealed to us.

I love it, I love it for life and I love it for parenting. You can’t believe that and have many regrets, or have much judgment.

Have you changed your parenting much, from one child to another?

Keep in touch through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Parenting

Do children need a daily bath? 8 reasons to stop washing so much

23 March, 2015

Ramona has a blue scalp at the moment. I mean, entirely blue. Bright, glowing ocean blue. It happened last week, when a friend and I looked out the window to see both of our children with rainbow heads – every hair shaft stiff with thick, vibrant paint they’d discovered in a drawer. It looked cool, really punky. I felt like I got an almost-complete polaroid of what she might be like as a teen.

Anyway, baking soda and honey managed to get almost all the paint out of her hair, just not her scalp.

It doesn’t really look cool anymore (there’s a reason coloured scalps have never taken off, turns out) – it just sort of looks feral. It’s like reptile skin, weirdly host to beautiful, blonde hair.

I guess, if we washed everyday, the blue scalp might have dissapeared by now. But the thing is, we really don’t wash every day… I’m developing a pretty strong stance against daily baths, actually.

There are so many reasons children don’t need to bathe daily. If a quick dunk in the bath is a chore in your family read on and let liberation soak you through…

8 reasons to stop giving your children a bath

Ramona must have a thing for blue hair (this is a wig, hehe, not the paint!)

1- Baths aren’t a necessary “should”.  

Family life is hindered, rather than helped, by having a list of Things You Must Do. Brushing hair, having a bath, eating five vegetables- chuck your list out the window and find yourself BLOOMING with liberation!! We have enough things we REALLY have to do as parents- so let’s let go of the things that have ended up on an arbitrary “should” list. As my friend and parenting guru, Sue, says “Parents need to stop shoulding on themselves!” Hold tightly to the truly important things, and watch everything else just falls naturally into a hierarchy.

2- Cleanliness is overrated.

A fascinating Washington Post article mentions the role a bit of dirtiness can play in our healthiness:  “overly clean living can be bad for our immune systems, which need certain microbes and gut bacteria to function properly and to keep us healthy from the more dangerous pathogens.” Having a good healthy, uninterrupted layer of skin-plus-extras can actually promote health. So many families report skin conditions such as eczema dissapearing once they switch to a weekly rather than daily bath. 

3- Baths, if not forced, can be therapeutic.

The result of making sure baths are only ever autonomously chosen is that children take great pleasure in them. For our four year old, the bath is the place she retreats to when she needs to find calm or have some space. She can spend an hour in their just floating and singing- once she even fell asleep. (We are lucky to live in a tiny winy shack that Tim built next to our yurt so the bath is only ever a couple of metres away… Somehow it still has a cocoon like feel.)

4- Pheronomes.

Furry gnomes (as Tim and I call them) are actually a really important part of our instinct and our understanding of people. There has been a bit of work done on the role of pheremones in sexuality, but they have a role in all part of our lives. There is growing evidence that suggests these chemicals we release impact mother-infant recognition and bonding. So definitely don’t wash your newborn!

5- Forcing our kids to do anything interrupts the development of their intrinsic motivation.

I see one of my roles as a parent to protect some of the precious things my child was born with in order to cultivate her happiness now and ever more! I see so many unhappy people who live their lives according to other people’s rules and wishes. How harmonious the world would be if we were all able to trust our internal desires, and to be self determined. I won’t (I should say, we TRY NOT TO) make our daughters do anything because I am preserving their internal motivation. They shall be the conductors of their own symphony! 

6- Baths can be an actual activity, y’know.

BATHS CAN BE SO MUCH FUN! They count as an official activity in our house. We put food colouring in, and glow sticks, and paints. (Consider these if for some reason you really must help your child to bathe more.)

7- Regular bathing is a modern, newfangled thing.

You know, back in the day they’d bathe ONCE A YEAR, in May. Then they used to get married in June because they were still clean. I’m not really a traditionalist, but for this point I am. Daily bathing is basically like SnapChat… in the history of the world, it’ll be barely a blink of an eye. (Although…. a year…. pheweeeee…. that is SOME TIME. Don’t go that extreme, eh, friends. Just meet in the middle with “Whenever your children fancy one”…)

8- Lastly, and most importantly, they are not “yours” to put in the bath!

Give your child an amazing gift: the awareness that his body is HIS alone. Show her, by never making her do something with her body, that no one can do something to her without her consent. Sometimes we let “the hygiene myth” get in the way,  we allow it  to interrupt this crucial, protecting message. Let your child yelling “I am the boss of my body!!!” fill you with hope and happiness.

8 reasons to stop giving your children daily baths

____

So, having a child with a glowing, colourful scalp, who looks so clearly like they need a good dunk in the bath, has, over this last week, in a funny sort of a way, made me become more sure, confident, that daily baths are one less SHOULD families need in their lives. And if people think Ramona is some kind of lizard child walking amongst us, so be it. We all need a little more magic in our lives, eh?!

PS- Any other reasons you can add? I’d love to hear if you’ve ditched any other parenting shoulds! 

Attachment parenting, Breastfeeding, Parenting

100 Names for Breastfeeding

18 March, 2015

100 Names for Breastmilk

I am so excited about this post, I am sitting in a cafe using their rubbish (but existent) wifi beaming my face off. It has been such a pleasure pulling together all the names toddler have for breastfeeding out there. They cover different languages, most of them have been generated by the children themselves and a few have been passed down through generations. Some of them clearly come from similar meanings and then some of them are just totally wild. Olivia and Donald? Finky and Dumper? Unbridled imagination – (don’t crush it!!)

A child’s word for breastmilk and the act of feeding is very often one of their first, and often introduced into the family dictionary. It must feel pretty special for a child to have their own word, for something that is so important to them, taken on and used. How perfect to feel so valued and trusted and a part of things. I feel like this list symbolises some of that trust, and the trust inherent in the intimate breastfeeding relationship.

We live in a society where it is common to hear people say “I don’t mind breastfeeding- but as soon as a child is old enough to ask for it, then they are TOO OLD.”

This is a rebel anthology- declaring this position to be an untruth. The moment babies are born they find ways to ask for it, and the moment they find WORDS to ask for it is the doorway to a whole new amazing experience. Societies distaste for breastfeeding older children is totally misplaced- in fact,  *breaking news*, massive, longitudinal study just published seem to show that the longer a child is breastfed, the more “successful” she is. Let’s celebrate the connection, the emotional and physical needs that are met in breastfeeding, by revelling in this joyous list. MILKY BOOBIES, THE OTHER ONE: ROCK ON BREASTFEEDING TALKERS! You yell your milk cry across the room, go right ahead- show the world that it is normal and right and magnificent to be a breastfeeding child. what toddlers call breastmilk!

Commonalities
There were one or two variations on “mummy milk” present but without a doubt the one that came up over and over and over (ten times!) was “Other side”. This is funny and astonishing! It just shows how much our children tune in to everything from a youngest age. Obviously, we don’t tend to say “Milkies” throughout a nursing session but we far more frequently offer, during the act, “Other side?!” Brilliant.

Different Languages
Susu – Samoan word for milk/ breast (I am interested in the fact that Susu could be milk or breast? This doesn’t seem common?)
Maka- from the word Malako in Russian.
Leche – Spainish for milk
Lait- French for milk and Bord is French for other side.
Dudth is how the Hindi word for milk sounds.
Nyonya is remembered as Swahili slang.
Teta – Catalonion, for milk.

Stories
Here are a few of the accompanying stories…
Olivia and Donald: Lindsey explains “When he was 4 he started calling my boobs Olivia and Donald. Not really sure why. He’s a bit off the wall that one. “Olivia” was sometimes called “Big fat booby” due to the size discrepancy. Poor Donald wasn’t very popular…”
Dips: Abigail says “Because I had to undo the clip on my bra”
Feeju: Marnie “As in “Feed You””
Nulky nulky noo: Hanabee, “Her own poem dedicated to the joys of extended/ never ending breastfeeing.”
Booble: Mo says “This caused confusion one Christmas when we were looking at the wreath on the next door neighbour’s house and I said “That ones made of baubles!”

Big thanks to our brilliant Facebook community and Twitter peeps who collaborated and shared their lovely stories.

ALSO EXCITING: I AM ON YOUTUBE! AND HERE IS ONE OF MY FIRST VIDEOS:
You definitely didn’t think you could hack watching five minutes of someone breastfeeding their toddler, did you? Well, let’s just see if you can! I wanted to try and capture the frantic fun and mayhem involved with breastfeeding older children. I hit record and got it in five minutes straight off. Pahahaha. Breaking for a book. Yelling. All the laughter. Animal sounds. Hands up nostrils. Chest pummelling. It’s all there. Come and find me and subscribe on Youtube as I hope to be giving it a good bash this year.

Hehe, all the fun, eh.

Thank you for taking part in this breastfeeding anthology. If you missed out it isn’t too late- add it in the comments 😀

PS – If you like this post share it all about – play a little part in normalising breastfeeding… !

Parenting, unschooling, yurt life

BIGGEST.NEWS.EVER.

26 February, 2015

I was making dinner yesterday and Ramona came in and was like “What you up to Mum?” and I said “Making a pie” and she took a good look inside my bowl and went “Worst. Pie. Ever.”

So… we do sort of, obviously, overuse that “Ever” thing rather a lot. But, truly, this is the

BIGGEST.NEWS.EVER.

You know how we moved to New Zealand for this sort of wild and free and outdoorsy life? And then we kept looking and looking for a bit of land to put our roots down? And then couldn’t find anywhere and it felt like things just weren’t really going to plan?

 Well, meanwhile, we were living in our yurt on an organic farm and learning an awful amount about farming and living sustainably, and how not to dye the chickens bright pink, and also making firm friends with the other families that live here. One of the families has a brood of children, and they unschool too, and we share many other values, and they have also been looking for a forever home. About halfway through last year we realised that we could, and should, do all of this together. 

 And then, exactly one year to the day that Tim and I moved here we looked at this piece of land on a river, in one of the North Island’s most spectacular spots, the Karangahake Gorge.



The local water feature

 And we were like; Woah. This is the one! It was ticking all the boxes we’d given up on – having a river to swim in, lots of forest, lots of flat, affordable. It is surrounded by Conservation Land, and a swing bridge from the corner of the property takes you over the river into some forest and small mountain ranges hundreds of miles big.

It's hard to capture - but here is a snap

It’s hard to capture – but here is a snap

So we bought it! Halfsies, with our friends. And today it goes unconditional! And we move there in the Spring! 

 It is funny though, this community living thing. It is like being heavily pregnant, when everyone wants to tell you their horrible – death defying birth stories, with all the gore and fears. And you are all “You are telling me this because ….. ?????” 

 When people hear we are going to be sharing this Dingly Dell they tell me about their best friends who bought together and then one of them chopped the other’s ear off, or that community that internally combusted due to communal mouldy potatoes. 

 I’m absolutely not denying it is hard, sharing life like this. We know so, so many people dream of it and it doesn’t work out. We realise it could well not last forever. But we are really committed to the idea, to bringing our children up in a tribe, to working together to live as sustainable life as possible, so we are going to really try and live this dream.

 (And at least we’ll never look back and wish we’d been more bold.)

 So YIKES AND YAY!!!!! We are planning now, and dreaming, and THIS SHIZZELMCNIZZEL JUST GOT REAL!

 (PS, I haven’t forgotten about the Social Justice and Parenting Series thingy it is just quite heavy and so I’ll be taking more frivolous breaks in between them…) 

Attachment parenting, Breastfeeding, Parenting

A Breastfeeding Poem (also- I need your help!)

19 February, 2015

Milk-cry

“BOOBOO!” You shout
Less crass than “BAPS!”
– the milk-cry of your sister.

Entangled elsewhere,
Hands dirty, arms full,
You dissolve;
“Booboobooboobooboobooooo.”

Sometimes, instead of “Mama!”
You try “Booboo?”
My sense, that milk is all I am to you,
manifest.

Then you call “Booboo!”
When you mean “Weewee!”
And I know it simply
Drips from your lips.

As natural as breathing;
Oxygen in/ “Booboo” out.
Sung through the day
Hummed in the night.

Our own home’s cuckoo;
Your heart-burst for Booboo.

breastfeeding poetry

(Despite having written poetry since being able to scrawl letters, I’ve only one other time shared a poem with others and that was moons ago. So yeah, yikes. There it was.

My Grandad Harry, who is ninety, is a prolific poet, writing several verses every single day. He has had books of his beautiful poetry published and each Monday he shares a new poem on Facebook. How cool is that?

I’m not imagining emulating my Grandad, but when poet Natalie Goldberg wrote that writing doesn’t exist until it’s been heard or read, I felt that if I was going to give in to the urge of writing poetry then I must give fully to it, and hit publish every now and then.)

And now, I’d love your help

As I finished this poem I wondered about all the other milk-crys out there and thought I might like to make an anthology of them.

Ramona loves to hear the story of her own word, BAPS! (Always yelled.) She asks how I knew she meant Mama Milk and I tell her how it was always accompanied by her extending her arms, pumping her hands like she was milking a cow, and then climbing on to my lap and stuffing her head down the neck of my jumper.

What have your little ones called breastfeeding? Is there a story about it? If you don’t mind me sharing it on this blog, please do leave a comment with your own kiddo’s milk-cry.

Thank you!

Activism, Featured, Parenting

Parenting for Social Justice: Non Violent Communication

16 February, 2015

This post goes out to a legend of our time who sadly passed away last week. Marshall Rosenberg dedicated his life to peace and created tools that resolved conflict in the most tricky of situations. I read his book, Non Violent Communication, and became sure that if everyone read it, and put it into practice, the world would be a much more harmonious, beautiful, just place.

I felt it had massive potential for use in the home, that the principles and methods of talking and listening could transform parent- child relationships, that it could restore connection where a disconnect had taken place.

So, I want to kick off a short blog series, Parenting for Social Justice, with Non Violent Communication. (NVC, because life’s too short.)

Who jake change begins at home- here's how

Not because I am amazing at it (I am pretty sure my beg, every early morning, “Let me sleeeeeeeeeep moooooooore because otherwise I will diiiiiieeeeeee” flouts all the NVC guidelines) but because I TRY to bring this kind of communication in my life, and I believe it is KEY in raising social justice loving children.

NVC is a strategy for communicating, but it can also be a lens through which we see life. The four components are observations, feelings, needs and requests.

First, we observe what is actually happening in a situation: what are we observing others saying or doing that is either enriching or not enriching our life? The trick is to be able to articulate this observation without introducing any judgment or evaluation—to simply say what people are doing that we either like or don’t like. Next, we state how we feel when we observe this action: are we hurt, scared, joyful, amused, irritated? And thirdly, we say what needs of ours are connected to the feelings we have identified. An awareness of these three components is present when we use NVC to clearly and honestly express how we are.

For example, a mother might express these three pieces to her teenage son by saying, “Felix, when I see two balls of soiled socks under the coffee table and another three next to the TV, I feel irritated because I am needing more order in the rooms that we share in common.” She would follow immediately with the fourth component—a very specific request: “Would you be willing to put your socks in your room or in the washing machine?”

This picture shows how we can phrase what is going on for us using the four components- it is from a really helpful slideshow on NVC here.

NVC FOR PARENTING You can possibly also see how with small children, this could be a bit heavy, and you will need to be sensitive to that, and never, ever use the revealing of your feelings as a tool for manipulation.

NVC holds an awful lot of insight that I think is especially helpful for parents (well, like, on top of The Whole Thing):

Connection is the key to peace

It is the reason, the how, the why, the everything. Rosenberg is adamant that human connection is the way to unlock violent or angry situations. As parents our number one goal for each day should be connecting with our children. NVC shows us how to keep those doors of connection open no matter what.

The world needs more Empathy

“Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing. We often have a strong urge to give advice or reassurance and to explain our own position or feeling. Empathy, however, calls upon us to empty our mind and listen to others with our whole being.”
NVC is a process that gets us into an empathetic place- it has been successfully used to nurture understanding in situations from warring street gangs to international conflict. When we parent with understanding and empathy we are likely to see our children showing understanding and empathy- things the world needs in order to prevent warring gangs and international conflict. The pathway to world peace begins in every home. (What’s good enough for the Gangs of New York is good enough for my Tribe in a Yurt.)

Our needs as parents are real

I love that NVC is about being real. Our feelings are valid and not to be hidden, and yet, yet, it asks us to take a breath and recognise what lies beneath our feelings and how we can actually get what we need. Sometimes I get the impression that attachment parenting relishes martyrdom…. The fact is, if the intense sacrifice of parenting a baby stretches into the toddler and older child years we are denying the importance of our own needs.

The world needs more Self Empathy

And therefore Rosenberg doesn’t just talk of giving empathy to others, but of receiving empathy. We can not keep being empathetic to our children if we aren’t getting dosed up ourselves. We need to find support people to top us up, but mostly we need to be empathetic to ourselves. Being kind to ourselves is one of the most important foundations for empathetic parenting. Funnily enough, I think it is the thing we struggle most with. We experience guilt piled upon guilt and give ourselves a break NEVER. Dive into self empathy, your children will love you for it!

Non violent communication for parents

Being a judgey judger doesn’t help us connect

Importantly, it asks us to not judge our children when they do things we find difficult. We asked constantly to put judgements on our kids- are they good, bad, naughty? And it is hard sometimes to take our judgemental specs off.

We have actually been working with an NVC trained mediator recently and she inspired me with the idea that there is very little “good” or “bad” in day to day situations…. What there IS are people with basic needs trying to get them met in a way that we don’t really like! Never is this more apparent with children. Most of the time children are just expressing a need – for connection or belonging or security- with a strategy that really grates! “MUM I DO NOT WANT YOUR DISGUSTING PASTA FOR TEA!!”

Non Violent Communication in Parenting

What a change of perspective when we can see that our children are just working out the best ways of getting their needs met- and that we are able to have a sincere, kind discussion with them about this.

Non Violent communication in parenting

We need to find alternatives to R ewards and punishments

If there is anyone I going to listen to about how to avoid big, global conflict it is a dude who has dedicated his life to resolving it. Rosenberg says “Punishment is the root of all violence on the planet”and he isn’t referring just to institutional punishment but punitive measures taken in the home- smacking and shaming and bribing. He advocates more connection based, more empathetic ways of communicating with our children- only when children experience empathy will they be able to give it. When children act out of fear of punishment, or in order to receive a reward, they are not acting from the heart, which lessens the good will and peace in the world.

Here is Rosenberg with his dad hat on, using NVC in one of those really tricky situations (that I know too well) when your child hits another:
In such situations, I recommend first empathizing with the child who is behaving violently. For example, if I saw a child hit someone after being called a name, I might empathize, “I’m sensing that you’re feeling angry because you’d like to be treated with more respect.” If I guessed correctly, and the child acknowledges this to be true, I would then continue by expressing my own feelings, needs, and requests in the situation without insinuating blame: “I’m feeling sad because I want us to find ways to get respect that don’t turn people into enemies. I’d like you to tell me if you’d be willing to explore with me some other ways to get the respect you’re wanting.

Take a deep breath

And then, to finish, I think NVC holds one very practical tip that I reckon could be the big change from a volatile parent-child relationship to a peaceful one, and that is: taking a big deep, reflective breath before we react or reply.

Parenting can trigger an emotional response in us- sometimes my child’s behaviour unleashes a small, angry dragon in my belly. If I react from that dragon place out come the bribes and warnings and manipulation. But if I take a moment to understand my feelings, to empathise, to listen, then my fiery breath is much less fierce, and stinky.

NVC conversations are slow and quiet, they involve silent space, reflection and observation. Have a look at this Youtube video to get a sense of how softly, softly these parenting chats can go.

Non violent communication for parents

So there we have it, boom shack, a little overview of how NVC can work in the home. NVC has bought about so much peace worldwide- I believe if it is implemented between adults and children the impact will be multiplied a google times.

Parenting for Social Justice series

You know, I have an undergrad and post grad degree in social policy, and spent the majority of my career in policy and campaigns- determined that this was the way to a fair world.

Then I had children. I began to see that social justice begins in the home; that peaceful adult- child interaction has just as much a role as the UN, the NGOs, all the Nobel Peace Prize nominees. I will raise warring tyrants or peacemakers (or somewhere in between!) depending on how I treat my children.

This series has been on my mind for a year- I want to take a look at how common themes and concepts within the global social justice movement apply to childhood.

I’d love to explore this with you, if you have any ideas we can look at, it’d be awesome to hear from you.

A just and beautiful world is nurtured every time a child is loved and respected….