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Parenting, yurt life

The Endorphin Experiment (Week 2) – My Body is A Wonderland

30 June, 2016

Harrhahahaha. John Mayer, aye? I’m pretty sure he wasn’t singing that song to someone in order to celebrate their radical self love, but hey!

It’s the theme of this week’s Endorphin Experiment.

My body is AWESOME. Every single cell is capable of producing endorphins. My body is not in battle with my heart/soul/mind. I think I’ve spent so much of my life carrying around this subtle belief in the sinfulness of flesh and pleasure. Over the last few years I guess I have been exploring this idea that if my body is so capable of dishing up delights like babies and endorphins and laughter and orgasms and sneezes, perhaps it is not a bad, rascal of a thing? Perhaps my body is absolutely awesome.

Visceral

The older I get the more at home in my body I become. The more I am able to see the beauty in all its visceral twinges and desires and rustlings. My body produces feelgood chemicals. That is a window on God, right there.

There is a bit in The Endorphin Effect (William Bloom) where he speaks about being in a room full of meditative gurus. They are all up to their necks in Eastern spirituality and meditation and mindfulness, and he had just finished leading them in an intense session full of almost ecstatic body-mind connection. He asks them where they most feel that same sense of flow or bliss in their everyday lives. He was fully expecting them to say “in my daily yoga practice” and other intense spiritual practices, but instead they listed things like “stroking my cat” “riding my bike” “gardening”… It shocked him. And ended up being the thing that led him on a journey towards the biochemical experience of endorphins.

His work in life now is to help people access that experience of endorphins whenever they need it, not when they happen to be relaxed enough to feel it.

I feel like we can be so detached from these visceral pleasures. We are ashamed of them perhaps.But if we can tune into them, obey our senses, there is something really powerful there…. it reminded me of the start of Wild Geese by Mary Oliver.

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”

Focusing our lives on being good does sometimes lead to more goodness in the world (Exhibit A – my Mama), and then sometimes it leads to piousness and burntoutness… I wonder if Mary Oliver and William Bloom are getting at the same thing – inner well being is a better key for unlocking the health and happiness of the world. (Or maybe I am putting a very bland interpretation on it, because of my need to put everything into my “we can build a fairer, kinder world!” narrative!!)

Bloom says “Real pleasure and happiness possess a relaxed flow that is generous to life and the surrounding community.”
Endorphin Experiment
Tension

We all have the endorphin maker! We are like giant Soda Stream Machines, fully able to inject that fizz at the touch of a button.

But the reason it comes upon us so stealthily and leaves so abruptly, (you know; you walk up a mountain at dawn and it’s like WHAM ENDORPHIN CENTRAL and then that feeling slips away and we are left with just a bleary eyed selfie of a foggy morning) and why it isn’t a common part of every day life (hands up who has experience bliss in the last 48 hours?) is because we carry around so much tension in our bodies that, biochemically, the endorphins get stuck. They can’t proceed on their buzz-giving sojourn. The physical pleasure of gardening or stroking the cat relaxes the body enough that the endorphins can be sent out. But we need to get rid of the body’s constant tension in order to let them really flow.

This week I am attempting to, whenever I gather that I am holding myself tensely, to just breath, to let my body relax in to itself. I have found myself constantly, body-rigidly returning to the state of the world… I wrote myself a Mindful post-Brexit Strategy to help with that. And it has really helped.

Week Two’s Exercise
I wrote lists last week of things I love, things that naturally release endorphins within me. Over the last week I have been shoehorning them into my life.

One of them was “dancing” – especially having a rinse out to some heavy, ear popping, bassy beats.

My dancing is kinda like… if you can imagine Napolean Dynamite, with both a little bit more emphasis on “interpretive dance” and also a great, unfounded, belief in my ability to “pop”…

So in no way does the release of endorphins have to do with skill level.

In order to go out dancing I had my first night away from the children, while Tim took them up to visit family. They had a great time, and we all know I did. But the whole day I was carrying this quiet, deep down sense of “this isn’t what good mothers do”… I felt kinda selfish, even though I had comprehensively justified the importance of this in my mind. Perhaps that is wholly natural for the first night away from your kids ever.

I had a great time, but I’ve been figuring out how I can get more of my List into my life WITH children. The list of things I want to do more of, things that flood my body with endorphins – sing, skate, dance.

They are all so bodily.

I feel like I’m just realising now how much a puritanical spirituality has made me reject these urges over the years.

I keep seeing skate parks and think this is totally something me and the girls could do together. I must order new bearings for my board. DONE. Just did it! See how this experiment is just SO WORKING. The Endorphin Experiment
I have been on a skateboard once in the last ten years…. WISH ME LUCK

Although… the “letting the feelgoods flood my system” when feeling stressed isn’t getting easier with practice… if anything it is losing its novel effect and I am carrying on without trying to get any better at the whole kinsthetic experience of endorphins. (This was Week 1’s endorphin exercise)

My mind is just a busy, busy, busy bee. I close my eyes to think about that peaceful, uninhibited memory on the mountain and WHOOOOSH I get “Must change the milk in the kefir/when is Brook’s birthday/must google how hard it is to own a horse/it’s so cute how Juno still says Yipstick instead of Lipstick I should write that down/why are my toes numb/is it bad that the girls never really eat breakfast?”

Really need to get better at that. Really hoping this experiment will help me with it.

So yep, there is week two. Some of you mentioned you might be getting on this endorphin boosting life too – tell me, how are you finding it?

Parenting, yurt life

The Endorphin Experiment (Week 1)

23 June, 2016

Yesterday morning after a night of insomnia, Ramona woke me up by stroking her finger from my forehead to the tip of my nose. I growled and turned my back on her. And then, coming to my senses more, awoken perhaps by the silence of her woundedness, but still with my eyes closed, I rolled back and whispered “Do it again, Ramona.” She did it again and this time I smiled and opened my eyes. She was smiling too and we stared into each others eyes until our smiles became laughs and we began to laugh so hard that we crunched our knees into our bellies and fell in towards each other, noses touching, breath swapping.

Our bodies were flooded with endorphins. We got out of bed, high as kites. Like, physiologically, truly high. Experiencing an effect similar to teens smoking in the bushes. It was the optimal way to wake. So much better than my grumpy normal.

That was the first day of my Endorphin Experiment.

I have been totally pulled in by William Bloom’s book The Endorphin Effect. It puts words (and science, and spirituality) to feelings that I’ve held to for a couple of years. It provides answers to why I think certain parenting practices are important, and to why certain things lead to well being, and it gives real grunt to the idea of mindfulness.

I feel like I have discovered something immensely simple that could have a huge impact on my family well being. 

I have become a bit of an endorphin evangelical over the last couple of weeks. So I thought I would make a bit of a experiment out of it! The whole give up shampoo thing began as a super casual experiment for this blog, and since became something really significant about my life, so (y’know, no pressure) I’ve decided to try it again. This time, instead of going for 100% natural hair care, I am going to practice flooding my body with 100% natural feelgood; endorphins.

I know that it sounds quite self indulgent. But I completely believe that if every person was happier, the whole world would be more peaceful. If we could tap more frequently into the contentment that our endorphins bring us, our decisions will be kinder, more generous, wiser even.

I am particularly interested in this idea as a parent. I am on a mission to not impact my kids with my stress and anger and inner turmoil. I am considering the possibility that our endorphins are intrinsically linked to our ability to parent well.

Eeep, I am beginning to sound a bit scary. A bit TOO into it.  Well look, it might all end up being a load of crap. That’s an experiment for you though isn’t it?

Week One Task

This week’s task was to make a list of all the things that make me happy. People, memories, activities, whatever. And then I had to find a way to bring them more into my life.

One of the ways of using this list is to tap into those things when feeling stressed. It suggests putting photos of events and people around and then turning to them to help you through a bad mood. Or feeling the negativity and then deciding to delve into a memory of when I was super calm and happy, and then try and hold onto that feeling and let it move through my body in a physical way.

I wrote out a few memories but the one I have found most powerful is one from a few years ago. Tim and I went snowboarding in France and would get up the mountain early and enjoy the slopes by ourselves, the sun yet to take its fierce position in the sky. My memory is of gliding free as a bird across untouched snow, a completely uninhibited whoop roaring unbidden from my mouth.

I am working on really letting that mountain memory flood my body, I think it takes some practice! 

I tried using a memory of Juno meeting me at the library after a day away from each other, what it felt like her to shower my face with delicate kisses, my eyelids, my hairline, my nose. At the time is was the most beautiful feeling but that memory didn’t serve the purpose for this task, it is too hard for me to seperate that feeling of happiness with the priviledge/ weight of responsibility as a mother. 

A few times this week I have felt a bubble of anxiety in my chest as I contemplate all the things I have to do, workwise, and around the home/farm. It is such a physical feeling, my heart thumping against my chest wall. Taking a few moments and remembering that feeling of freedom on the mountain has definitely prevented that bubble from taking over and becoming as big as it usually does. But I haven’t quite yet managed to physically feel the endorphins move around my body as Bloom suggests I might.
Over the next few weeks I am going to be trying out a few of the activities in the book, including this one, something I’ve always felt to be true, but am now dedicating myself to:

DO MORE OF WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY! Will keep you posted!Do more of what makes you happy.

 

Parenting

Parenting: All behaviour is communication

16 June, 2016

We went round to our friend’s house for dinner on Saturday. I had baked a chocolate cake using sweet potato instead of flour and it was looking SO AMAZING! I had decorated it with tiny delicate mandarin slices. I am not a baker in anyway, everything I’ve ever tried to bake has come out as kind of pancake. I was feeling sublimely chuffed.

So, get this.

When I hopped out of the car at the gate, our neighbours were there moving their bull into a paddock. (Hehe. Our friends these days.) I was out of the car for about three minutes.

When I got back in again Ramona, 5, had hopped in the front seat and WAS EATING THE CAKE!

SHE. WAS. EATING. THE. CAKE.

EATING IT! MY CHOCOLATE CAKE! WITH HER HANDS! PUTTING IN HER MOUTH!

ARGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, let’s cut a long story short.

I went apeshit.

Inside and out.

And I stewed for about 12 hours.

I was feeling like super UGH about it. About her eating it (are we bringing up a child with no respect??!!!) and about my reaction (I had a right to let her know I was upset, but I didn’t have to say I’M NOT SPEAKING TO YOU! In a sulk. I actually said that. ugh.) 

 I had a chat with a friend. And reflected for a day.

And then we took a course of action.

And do you know what it was?

 It was to seek out a way for Ramona to make more friends.

Because, deep down, I was aware that for a few weeks Ramona has been expressing a need to me. A need to connect with people her age, in the way she loves, in an equal manner (we have plenty of friends but not many that Ramona finds a sort of equilibrium with, do you know what I mean?)

And I honestly think that eating my chocolate cake was the culmination of her expressing that need.

Every behaviour, every misbehaviour, is communication from our children.

We get a chance to meet the need they are expressing, or punish them for expressing that need in a way that we didn’t like.

What is especially funny (erm, or not) is that the VERY DAY of CakeGate I had just published a brand new post all about not exploding and being empathetic with our kids over on Parent.co and had recorded a vlog about why we don’t punish, and why we aim for peaceful communicaiton with our kids.

UGH.

It didn’t occur to me that Ramona would eat that cake. We do generally have a fairly mutually respectful relationship. My mettle was tested and I failed initially. My meltdown wasn’t helped by Ramona piping up “You are mad now mummy but tomorrow morning you will say you are sorry!”

But then I didn’t fail! Ramona asked something of us with that behaviour, we took some time instead of acting punitively and then we stepped up.

We went along to an unschooling meet up in another town the next day, and another the next day, where there were no less than FIVE FEISTY FEMALE FIVE YEAR OLDS!!! And Ramona has been a ball of wonder and non-cake-eating delight since.

Argh. So there you go. Learning. ALWAYS LEARNING.

We went ahead and ate the cake. I didn’t mention it to my friends, I just recalled the story my mum told me of when my Nana was hosting a party and the cat got on the table moments before the guests arrived and ate half the cake. My Nana just picked out the worst bits and put a bit more cream on top. I did a Nana and budged my choccy cake all into the centre a bit. (*waves to friends* sorry guys, it was yum though aye?!)

Featured, Parenting

5 Tips to Boost the Connection in Your Parent Child Relationship

9 May, 2016

If I’ve learnt anything about a good parent child relationship I’ve learnt it all, every miniscule morsel, from my children.

Take this, from yesterday.

I was nursing Juno, while Ramona, her older sister, was sat next to me reading. I murmured “I love you” into Juno’s hair, she looked up and, for the first time in her life, said it back. Except that it sounded like “By Bub Bu” because she still had the whole of my nipple in her mouth. Hearing her say by Bub Bu felt so lovely, and I was so overcome and curious about her understanding of this phrase that I said “Do you know what I love you means, Juno?” I was hoping for something enlightening, something upon which I might write a poem, something that might ping into my mind for the rest of my life, even. She thought for a moment and answered; “Redbush!”, our favourite kind of tea.

Fortunately Ramona piped up, right into my bafflement. “I love you means when you feel really, really, really, really, really connected to someone.”

Wowzers.

She is five and a half and with that explanation nails one of the discrepancies that can haunt a potentially magnificent parent child relationship. 

As Gabor Mate in all his brilliance puts it:

“Love felt by the parent does not automatically translate into love experienced by the child.”

We love our children with every bit of ourselves yet can spend so much of the day disconnected from them.

Surely the love that swells our heart as we gaze at their sleeping bodies before we head to bed is enough? I want to say it is, but it sort of isn’t.

(When I say “we” here I very much mean “I”- the pauper “we”!) 

We need to take the time and put the effort into making sure this love we feel is experienced by our kids as connection.5 tips to restore and maintain your parent child relationship

But you want to know something awesome? I totally believe we can make connection a habit.

Here are five things that will restore the connection in a parent child relationship:

1- Make loo time me and you time

This is my best tip. BEST TIP. I know it sounds weird, especially if you like to take a dump solo (but it is good to start lists with low expectations.) This isn’t about your dump, but the dump of your kids. Hold on, it’s actually not about anyone’s dump. Let’s start again:

What do you do when you have to accompany your children to the toilet? Do you squeeze blackheads in the mirror? Check your phone? That’s exactly what I used to do!

But now I do this instead:

Squat in front of them (good for your thighs! See it as a micro multifunctional Aerobics class) and ask how their day is going. Keep tuned in, keep the conversation flowing. Even if they are only 18 months and can only babble. Soon they will be done, you can wipe their bum, and move along.

Your kid goes to the toilet a few times a day, right? So this is instantly a few minutes everyday spent just hearing from your kid, looking into their eyes and connecting.

This is totally inspired by the incredible Emmi Pikler and her emphasis on doing Nappy Changes with total care and attention. Doing nappy changes with love and respect can be a foundation for a parent child relationship, and I reckon the same principle can carry you right through until they go to the toilet on their own. (Herald the day.)

We did Elimination Communication – more on doing that with respect here.

And more on loving nappy changes here.

2- Turn tension into play

Play is our children’s language, the way they connect, the thing they understand. When they poke your bum while you make the tea – that is them telling you they love you and they want to connect with you! (You used to do that too, you know.) Dig deep and turn tense moments into a play moment. It might feel like more effort than you have but I genuinely believe that putting the effort in here actually takes way less time and energy then yelling I’M GONNA COUNT TO THREE AND IF YOU HAVEN’T DONE IT I’M GOING TO PUT ALL YOUR TOYS ON EBAY and the huge fall out from that. 

What are the areas in your parent child relationship that are always a bit tense?

Teeth cleaning? Put a teddy bear glove on and get the teddy bear to clean their teeth.

Getting dressed? Put all their clothes on you first, they will literally be rolling around on the floor in giggles as you try and put their legging over your head.

Juno needed to put some cream on her face this week and really didn’t like it – until I drew a face on my fingers and put on a funny accent. HELLO! She was like WOO CREAM ON MY FACE!

This principle, of speaking a child’s language of play can start early – read more here, playful parenting with a baby. 

3- Love what they love

Oh, this is SO HUGE. Take an interest in the things they love, ask them about it, play it, dress up as it, open the doors to their interest, blow them away with the wonders of their interest.

Do they love tutus? YOU KNOW YOU NEED ONE. Spend the whole day wearing a tutu and you will feel the connection with your child palpably. And you know you will rock it like Darcey Bussel.

Do they love playing on the ipad? Sit down with them and try and make the cakes for each other or build the town or secret machines for each other.

Do they love dinosaurs? Bury bones in the garden and spend the afternoon at your dig, draw a massive dinosaur on the pavement, east meat off the bone for dinner.

Even if it is stuff you fear (I’m thinking princesses for the feminist parent!) use it as a platform for connection.

4- Say it with your eyeballs

Eye contact is the first point of connection, an ancient, powerful, subconscious method of building a relationship with someone. In all our busyness it is easy to just chat to them while we drive/ cook/ clean/ walk and go a whole day without having eyeballed each other.

“Eye contact produces a powerful, subconscious sense of connection that extends even to drawn or photographed eyes.”

It is pretty well documented that eye contact is one of the pillars of good healthy connection.

There is a well known Zulu greeting; I see you. As with many indigenous phrases it hard to capture the full depth of its meaning. But it is something about being fully present with your being, shown through your eyes.

We see you is

“an invitation to a deep witnessing and presence. This greeting forms an agreement to affirm and investigate the mutual potential and obligation that is present in a given moment.”

When you speak to your child take that one step further to get on her level and look at her with your loving gawpers.

5- Don’t let a bad day take over

AH! How easy it is to relinquish a day into the gloomy depths of unrecoverablity! Some days are just really freaking bad, aye? And you just think “F*ck this Sh*t.” (Sorry Grandad.)

Somehow, SOMEHOW, we have to press reset. It is up to us to do that. I’m sorry. It’s called adulting and sometimes it just totally sucks. So. Chuck back an espresso. Scream into your armpit. Eat a bar of chocolate and then FIND YOUR MOJO! You can do it.

Here is my favourite post on this blog ever, a list created by Lulastic readers that I turn to constantly on days like this.

My absolute favourite for getting out of a horrible rut and restoring that parent child relationship is number 35, it is insanely simple but works a treat:

Quit the now, for a few moments. Becca says “Looking at baby photos with them. Remembering that innocence and vulnerability – that we are the caretakers of (hard to remember at times of extremis.)”

Children LOVE looking at their baby photos and as well as entertainment for them it helps you remember that they are truly small, and you are responsible for their happiness and it is hard for them too. (Such a great blog post in that link.)

Also, more great, honest reading on pare child relationship stuff: things to remember on hard days with kids and tips for tired parents.Restore your Parent Child Relationship with these five tips

The most important thing we can do for our children isn’t in the DOING. It is in the BEING.

It is prioritising connection with our children over all the other things we “should” be busying ourselves with for the sake of our children.

It is in the simple sitting with, the joining in, the loving gaze shared from eye to eye.

It is strewing a fully present “I see you” throughout each day.

Take the time to make sure the love you feel for your children is experienced by them, and you, in turn will have all the joy of a fully restored connection.

And maybe even all the joy of an adult sized tutu to wear anytime you feel like it.

Cosleeping, Featured, Parenting

The Family Bed gets you more sleep (and other benefits)

27 April, 2016

Our family bed has grown alongside our children and our views on sleep. We began tentatively with just a king sized mattress, unsure of cosleeping but feeling in our gut we wanted to do it.

By the time our second child came along we had read Three in a Bed and quelled the myths of bed sharing danger and moved onto two doubles – we were in a campervan and me and the newborn took the upstairs and husband and Ramona took the bottom.

These days, with a three year old and a five year old and knowing we are partaking in a healthy, ancient sleep tradition, we all bunk together in a loft, with a super king and a single pushed together to make one enormous sleeping platform.

I’ve written much on our family bed – from the benefits of cosleeping to the practicalities of cosleeping but am only just now really coming round to the idea that cosleeping began as a Thing We Did, a thing I thought would last for a period, whereas the Family Bed is more of a concept that cosleeping has lead to. Are you with me?

Here are a few benefits of embracing the Family Bed as part of your parenting philosophy…The Family bed! Cosleeping and its many benefits

The Family Bed promotes sleep

Juno was poorly last night and woke a lot. At one point I came to and she was walking two fingers across the bridge of my nose and I heard her murmuring “Mummy wolf walks over the mountain… Baby wolf walks over the mountain…” Cuteness. But my point is that I was actually sleeping while she got comfort from my presence! Since sleep sharing I have had this idea that I’m getting more sleep than others,  that if I were to be getting up and down all night going to a cot, I would be far more exhausted than I currently am. And turns out, it’s not just a feeling. When cosleeping, although mother and baby wake more, they wake together, in rhythm, so that it ends up that the pair of them get more sleep. (Read more on this at Dr Momma.)

The Family Bed is a continuation of connection-focused daytime parenting

My primary aim as a mother is connection. I feel that if my children can trust me, communicate with me, feel secure in our relationship, then I know they can get through anything. They will have a resilience for life. This parenting philosophy carries on after sundown. They will feel my breathing as they stir from a bad dream, they will hear my validation as they murmur their upsets, all until they are ready not to. When I went back to work cosleeping was a way I could reconnect with toddler Ramona, even when I was away for long hours during the day. At that time I wrote:

“Ramona sleeps in the middle of the two of us, so if she wakes one of us can cuddle her back into dreamland. This time she woke up instantly, and gleefully, and she shouted “LEEEG! Where ARE YOUUUU? There you are! Other leg?! Where aaare youuuu?? FOUND you!”

Yes, YES, my friends. She was playing hide and seek with her limbs.

After stifling my giggles I stroked her head and she snuggled back down into a deep sleep.”

Such a minor thing, a 30 second interaction, but it was part of a bigger feeling. Despite being away all day I was still getting to know my toddler and all her beautiful. hilarious parts of her personality.

The Family Bed fosters a more trusting, less controlling attitude towards sleep

Until Ramona was a few months old, despite cosleeping, I still had a lot of anxiety about sleep. I had seen charts that said she ought to sleep from 7pm to 7am and had been told she shouldn’t nurse to sleep or stir in the night. Then I spent some time reading and reflecting and came to feel that I am not the boss of her sleep! I can create the conditions for sleep, but it is up to her if she wants to and for how long. In short, I came to trust her and it was the key to feeling about a billion time happier with bedtime and nighttime. (Read more on these approaches that led to happier sleep here.)

We get so hung up on “independent sleeping” that we coerce and manipulate and bribe and even threaten. We forget to say “We trust you to know when you are ready.”

For me the Family Bed seems to stand for that trust. It says “When you are ready for independence you’ll get your own bed- until then there is a space on this mattress with your name on it!”

The Family Bed is intentional, safe cosleeping

The Family Bed is a solid, practical thing. You have deliberately organised enough room for all of you to sleep safely together. There is no slumping on the sofa with your newborn because there isn’t enough room for you in her crib. There is no danger of suffocation or squashing, SIDS and the Family Bed are completely unrelated. (Please read my research packed post here about the safety of cosleeping and SIDS.)

If we can normalise the image of all the family hunkering down together it is far less likely that people will cobble together something unsafe, or collapse in exhaustion.

Read more from an “accidental attachment parenting” family – including a Dr daddy who came to believe in cosleeping as best. *not just for hippies*The benefits of the Family bed - cosleeping for five years!

Sometimes the girls find each other’s warmth in the middle of the night…

The Family Bed reasserts sleep as a collective activity

Our kids shouldn’t have to face their nightmares alone. In most of history they haven’t had to do that, yet modernity seems to think it is a good idea! It has been normal for the longest time to sleep together in one room, not just families, but sometimes whole communities (don’t worry husband, I’m not suggesting that…)

Historically, nighttime has been a vulnerable situation for humans, so doing it together meant more protection. This emotional/ DNA memory is still within us on some level, making us feel stressed or fearful in the dark or scared of shadows. It’s totally natural. It’s understandable that kids feel terror at night, and entirely sensible that being together makes for a far less stressful night. (And, y’know, science etc – Babies that cosleep produce less cortisol – the stress hormone- than their isolated buddies.)

Last week I heard about the term the Japanese use for cosleeping, where the Family Bed is the norm until kids are quite old; it is “Kawa”. Kawa is the same character used for a river cascading between between two banks; they see parents as the strong, supportive edges, the life-giving river child flowing through them.

So, the truth it, hand on heart, I didn’t think that half a decade into parenting I’d be crashed out in bed with my husband, two tiny bodies between us. But here we are, and I’d have it no other way.

PS Little video on cosleeping – including EXCLUSIVE footage of our own massive, messy Family Bed… (Yeah, I am TOTALLY wishing I had made it properly right now. But. Y’know. Just keeping it real.)

Featured, Parenting

The one word that will turn you into a positive parenting wizz

12 April, 2016

Now, I’m not talking about the kind of positive parenting that makes the parent feel good and the child bad (I’m looking at you, reward charts!) I’m talking about the positive parenting that is wholly based in joy, in mutual respect and the idea that both parent and child can be very, very happy! And there is one simple word that will get you well on the way to being this positive parenting wizz.

And yes! I know that probably sounds implausible- a title intended to make you click through when really it’s something far more complicated, like, the one word is Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and what will make you a positive parenting guru is:
S- Sublime natural parenting skills passed down to you from generations of intuitive parenting
U- Unlimited Nanas, Grandads, Aunties, Brothers who will come and give you a break
P- Piles of chocolate
E- Exercising mindfulness for thirty minutes every hour
R- Reading everything ever written by Naomi Aldort, Robin Grille, Alfie Kohn, Sarah Ockwell-Smith
and so on.

But no! That’s not this post! I really mean it! ONE WORD.

It will make you a happier, more positive parent in two ways – practically, life will feel happier for you and your kids. And mentally, you will experience a shift that will help you feel far, far, far more content.

Okay, let’s go.For real - one word that will make you a positive parenting guru!

The word? (Are you as excited as I am?! Yes?!) YES! The word is Yes! Oh jeepers, this is confusing.

Yes

Before I became pregnant I thought a parent’s main job was the No-er. The person to just say no a lot, to help that child be safe/ not get too spoiled/ to know boundaries.

When my first child was born I began to say “yes” intuitively. Oh, you wanted breastmilk now? Just 35 minutes after your last breastfeed? This pamphlet tells me to say No. But I shall say yes! Oh, you only want to sleep close to me? My health visitor said NO WAY, but I say YES WAY!

I didn’t go all the way though. I still held tightly to my role as no-er. It took some reading to help me realise that my role as a parent is that of a Yes-er! Her partner in this dance of life.

My daughter took me on a journey of yeses. Some were easier than others. (Here’s an example of a time I said a big yes to something and it turned out to be exactly what we all needed – also lots of ideas in there for getting your parenting mojo back!)

Sometimes I had to do a lot of research before I said yes. (For example, saying yes to risk taking! Letting a child play on whatever they want on the playground, without calling Be Careful.)

And as my children have grown, and I’ve grown as a mother, my YES has become bigger and more confident and I feel it is one of THE things that leads us to have a happy home. (N.B we have really freaking bad, grumpy days too. Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t reached positive parenting nirvana yet, my friends.) I would say we have a large amount of happy time primarily because the word YES abounds in our house.

I believe that this yes-loving parenting takes the benefits of love bombing and injects them into every day life. Love bombing is a practice made famous by psychologist Oliver James involving taking your traumatised/ disconnected/ struggling child off for some one to one time where you do whatever they want.

After love bombing, many report that it has been the first time for months, or years, they have remembered how much they love their child.

James has seen HUGE results from this method. He believes that love bombing restores connection and resets a child’s emotional thermostat. I believe that we can lovebomb every day by saying yes more!

Yes or some form of yes

I believe adults have fallen into a trap of saying no. In fact, some of the websites dedicated to positive parenting are chockablock with advice about how to say No kindly and with compassion, and then giving a star on their chart when they accept our no without a tantrum. No is often our default, often before we have even registered the question. Perhaps we believe that children are always kind of messy or chaotic and their requests are never sensible or fitting. I’m not sure. But I know I hear a lot of Nos.

I beleive that positive parenting needs to be based on saying yes.

Sandra Dodd says

Don’t say no. Always say yes. Or some form of yes. See your role as helping her get what she needs rather than negotiating for what’s most convenient for you.

Yes can come in all sorts of forms:

“Yes, we can do that in 15 minutes when I’m done with this. If you’d like to help, I can be done even sooner.”

“Yes, you can buy that. Let’s think up ways you could save up or earn the money.”

“Yes, we can do that tomorrow morning because right now I’m about to drop from exhaustion.”

Our role as parents isn’t to say no or “put in the boundaries” rather it is to open the gates! Our children are often quite unable to set about getting what they need without our cooperation (on a practical level, for example, our fridges are too heavy to open, our taps too tall, our packets of crisps too tricky) – we are the ones who can support them to get their needs met. It simply isn’t fair to disallow them this opportunity purely because of their size and how long they’ve lived on the planet. (In fact, it’s prejudiced.) Saying yes creates a bit more of a level playing field.

Equal = happy

Saying yes acknowledges the thing that is important to your child. It says that their wishes are important to the family. Saying yes to your children let’s them know that they are valued, equal members of this unit. And, we all know that the happiest groups of people are those with the most equality amongst them. See more on this or read The Spirit Level.

Is it a stretch to apply this research, albeit tentatively, to the family? The Spirit Level concluded that equal societies = happier societies because there is more trust, less anxiety and mental health problems, and less health problems. I absolutely believe the same applies to the family. More equality in the home leaves more room for trust and connection and general well being. I reckon family is a microcosm of society and therefore equality amongst the family is vital and meaningful and a means to happiness. (Although I would LOVE to see some research on the relationship between hierarchy in the home and wellbeing of family members.)

YES is money in the bank (I don’t really mean “money”. Or “bank”)

You see, our children, when they come to us asking for something are putting in a bid. And the answer we give them either builds them up or not.

World-renowned relationship researcher and co-founder of The Gottman Institute, Dr. John Gottman, has conducted 40 years of research with thousands of people. From his research has emerged a practice that is important to the emotional connection between two people – the act of “turning toward” your loved one when a bid is made.

Take for example a simple bid for attention. “Will you play with me?” A positive response would either be “Yes, let’s play” or something like “Oh, I would LOVE to play with you. You are my favorite person in the whole world to play with. At 6:00, I’ll be finished with my work and ready to play. Let’s make it a date!” This helps the child feel acknowledged and important. Each time you turn toward your child in this way, Gottman says you are making a deposit in their Emotional Bank Account.

Read more on that here.

On a very practical level, when you answer your child’s bid this way you will feel enormously more connected to them, and therefore happier. They, likewise, will feel much more connected and steady in their relationship with you.

Less distraught child moments definitely add to your happiness as a parent, don’t you reckon?

Positive parenting is about connecting, filling up cups and putting joy/money in the emotional bank!

Positive parenting dismantles a culture of control

We aren’t meant to live coercively. Forcing or manipulating people to do things. It’s the old military industrial complex making us that way. I believe humans are meant to choose freely, in joy. Letting go of being controlled and a need to control circumstances or people is so, so, SO LIBERATING! We can absolutely choose this freedom in our role as parents.

Saying YES to our children frees us up from the awfulness of feeling like we can or should make other people do things. It releases us from thinking we can make our child a happy/successful/safe adult. All we can do is help them know happiness right here, today, when they ask for something they’ve identified as being important. Positive parenting is saying yes to this moment.

This being present, answering this request, right now is mindfulness in practice. Mindfulness shrugs off that culture of control. Mindfulness says “I can’t control everything. So I am just going to BE. Right here, right now, in this moment.”

The radical in me loves mindfulness because it disrupts the training we’ve received in our culture that leads us to use power and control unconsciously (with ourselves and with others). We perpetuate systems that we internalized from childhood because we remain unaware of how they operate within us and through us. Mindfulness is a game changer because it allows us to create awareness of what we’ve internalized and it shifts us toward greater consciousness of ourselves.

Read more from Teresa Brett here. And more on mindful parenting here – three GREAT tips.

So mentally, cultivating a culture of freedom in your home will make you all more positive. Saying yes will give your heart wings.

(Although, having said that, my first endeavour of truly applying the culture of freedom principle in my own home led, in a very practical way to happier sleep situation for Ramona and I.)

Positive parenting is based on a principle of YES

Saying yes isn’t a rule. In fact, we should be in the business of dismantling rules and nurturing principles. Saying yes more is a principle! The principle is that we are open minded and we value our children’s requests and ideas! And we meet their request and ideas in turn, with principles! So instead of the answer to a request being “No! Because our rule is Dinner Is Eaten At the Table!” the answer might be “Ah, you feel like having a picnic dinner on the rug! Well, we do value family time together, so how about we join you there?” (Read more eloquent stuff on Rules vs principles here.) The less arbitrary rules we have in our household, the more children trust us when we guide them with principles. They know we are not just pulling the wool over their eyes with a pointless NO or rule.

Don’t think of “say yes” as a rule. In fact, use the better phrasing of “Say yes more.” Ask yourself, “Why not? Who’s going to die?” If you’re unsure of yes say, “Let me think about it.” And then do think. (You can also get on line to ask for perspective.) Don’t use it as a delaying tactic, hoping they’ll forget. Be trustworthy.

See these as tools to move toward being your child’s partner. Rather than shutting down a child’s request that may be inconvenient, see them as requests to explore, to try out their ideas. Help them find safe, respectful of others, practical ways to do what has piqued their curiosity.

Who’s going to die? hahaha. Love the low standards! But for real, we do tend to build things up into big things when they need’t be, don’t you think? Read more on the excellent blog, Living Joyfully.

Positive parenting starts with a little yes here and there

The YES philosophy is one held dear to the unschooling community. One of the very wise things about these folk is that they/we always recommended starting a radical new way of parenting gradually. Don’t all of a sudden throw your rules out of the bath or your baby out the window. Your children will not know what is going on and you might go a little bit cuckoo.

Just say yes one time where you might have said no. Perhaps you might want to ease into it with these alternative phrases to No and other commands.

As you make space in your life for this yes, you will find more room there and you will be able to say yes one more time. (You are decluttering the nos! They don’t bring you joy!) Increasingly you will find yourself saying yes, and yes, and yes. And you will be able to cope and your life will have the perfect amount of room for all the yeses. Your lives may well become big, wild and free YES!

Will you give it a little try? Can you see if this one word, and the principle behind it, will make you a happier parent?

A little note on privilege: A comment on this blog often springs to mind, when I write about this positive parenting lark. It was “Yeah, but that’s all well and good when you live in a yurt!” And I just want to acknowledge my privilege, as a white, physically able, middle class woman with access to all the resources. Please read more about my thoughts on privilege and how I believe this kind of parenting – respectful/ gentle/ principle focused/ consensual/ unschooling / positive parenting (whatever you want to call it!!!) is available to everyone. Including lots of links to people doing it hard in many different situations.