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Parenting

To the radical mama who wants to save her marriage

14 June, 2018

Oh, sister. You give and you give and you are so tired even your eyebrows seem to ache. You are juggling but instead of china plates it is your relationships in the air. The people you love and care for. You catch each one, give them another boost but it’s relentless and before you can shake your arms out, there’s another one to catch. A relentless cycle of breathing life into the friendship with your sensitive first born, your wild-spirited second born, and this grown person you vowed to love and cherish.

And on the truly exhausted days, the one you can’t catch is the one who needs you least.

You cast your eyes across the horizon and see that the other couples you began with are getting sparser and sparser. Each year another separation, a relationship laid to rest.

Some partnerships are forever, and some for a moment in time. Wherever there has been true love, there has been life. And, also, sometimes partnerships are begun with someone who is toxic. Some mothers move on as an act of honouring themselves.

But if you are reading this, you know your journey isn’t in the leaving, but in the staying.

You want to save this.

I have a theory about motherhood. It’s our vision quest. A soul-wrenching journey of growth and healing that moulds us into a wholly different person.

I’ve heard that every cell in our body regenerates on a regular basis, so that purely on a visceral level, each 7 years we are made entirely new. I can remember telling someone when I was pregnant with my first child, age 27, “I haven’t changed a DOT since I turned 20. I became ME then and here I still am.” My daughter is seven now. And I laugh because I am 100% a different person to that pregnant woman telling a friend she never changes.

Our vision quest turns us inside out. Gives us a pair of Truth Spectacles to peer into our childhood, our experiences, our belief systems. We are broken by sleep deprivation and self doubt, and then we are put back together by the love our children give us. And, oh, the healing love we have for them. A love so intense at times it has felt like every regenerated cell is vibrating. Only to then be stripped empty by surprise rage or grief or the dull, repetitive mundanity of every day life with kids. We have questioned everything, dismantled the status quo. We have read all the books and listened to all the podcasts. We have wrestled with our old patterns. And we are slowly, slowly – some days failing completely – changing EVERYTHING for our children, we are building a new world for them by our kindness and empathy.

We are monks of the highest most saintly order! We are legends to rival King Arthur and his sword! Every one of us should go down in history as the woman who did what was required of her. Who accepted the quest and lived.

Yet here we are, opening the curtains, brushing oats off the sofa and looking for a pair of tiny matching socks. And all around the home is a fizz of tension, abrupt words, rolled eyes, barbed comments and more nagging requests, and only a small number of these directed at the children.

Some mothers end up at the top of a mountain, looking back down the path at a partner that doesn’t seem to have changed at all. He’s still back there, doing the thing he does, the way he always has done, being the person you first got with. While you, you are unrecognisable. Even to yourself.

I was talking to a friend about this, a husband and dad to a family living this cutting edge respectful parenting life, about how few fathers really step up to the game. How they become passive supporters, or outright naysayers, of the progressive journey the mother wants to take them on. He suggested it’s because the quest the fathers go on is totally different. Society, for the most part, raises men to believe their quest is a material one. So when the babies are born, instead of diving inward, our menfolk dive outward into work, into providing safe shelter, enough food for the table. They become single-minded about being the provider. And don’t leave enough room to do the inner work required to be an empathetic parent. I see this pattern all around me too. How many men become locked into this role. Even though this is not what 2018 requires of them.

(A boring note: I can be deeply honest and real here, cos we’re friends right?  Just kidding. That’s not why I am being this direct. It’s because I am writing from a good place, having been in a tough place. I have sat on this post for a long time, not wanting to hit post in case I jinx things. But I believe the opposite is true, by posting something honest and compassionate I am putting more honesty and compassion out in the world, rather than inviting pain and tragedy.Tim and I have been on our unique quests. And we had a hard year last year. The hardest yet. It really bit us on the bum. But we did a lot of things, which I’m gonna raise, and ultimately we decided that we are going to rest in each other. To involve each other, share our insights, to quest together

So I hope this post is helpful. Also, forgive my use of gendered pronouns. I realise this is exclusionary of me, but I wanted to reflect the many conversations I have had specifically with heterosexual mothers about this, and I don’t want to presume that any of this is the truth for same-sex partnerships. And by “marriage” I mean “long term partnerships.”)
to the radical mama who wants to save her marriage

5 Ideas

1- Often we tell ourselves we’ve got nothing in common any more when the reality is we’ve probably got more in common now than we did at the start- it’s just we don’t have all those lusty hormones floating round our bodies anymore, the lack of which makes things feel very stark. The kids are an enormous shared interest, but also the things you once loved to do together are possibly still there, it’s just you have no chance or will to do them together. Acknowledging the shared interest and all the reasons you do want to invest wholeheartedly into this relationship is an important first step. But alas… the chemistry….

2 – Sometimes the chemistry can be raised from the dead. I think 1) sex and 2) gratitude can go along way in bringing back the chemistry that once danced between you. So book sex in, if you can. Get it on Wall Calendar. But also I think there’s another kind of magic that can happen in a later phase of long term relationship that’s even better than that lusty magic of the beginning. And this is the magic of being truly known by someone and it’s the magic of knowing someone will stick with you through anything.

In my experience of sitting in circle with other women, the real powerful stuff is not around “getting” each other’s story, it’s not cos we all hear each other and go “oh yeah I agree” the power is simply that we are hearing each other. We are sharing from the heart and someone is hearing us. I feel like that’s the epitome of humanhood. That authentic connection. It doesn’t need agreement, just honesty and the ability to hear. Is there a way you can begin a practice with your partner where you sit and hear each other? Where you share feelings with non judgement, where you tell your stories to each other? You might use a talking stick even and set a boundary “let’s have a circle, we just share and listen, no feedback, no solutions, just stories” Solutions will come later.

3- Obviously for you to tell stories you need time together. I think this is what makes it SO HARD for families with radical mamas. It’s not actually about the dad being against it, it’s about him being left behind. His inner child is hurting, feeling all the rejection he’s ever felt in his life but at the hands of his wife – the person he moved earth to be with.  He feels jealous that the kids get so much energy from you, that they take up all your time, that you find so much meaning in relationship with them and not with him. He can’t help these feelings, but he can’t even articulate them because they sound so awful and pathetic. So instead he makes barbed comments about the way you are doing things with them. Or he is rude to you. Perhaps there is a meanness there. A quick pointed finger.

The healing for all of this is time together. He needs to know you prioritise him, that you actually want to hang out with him. And us mamas need to keep reminding ourselves about the meaning of this long term relationship, instead of thinking “gosh it’s like having an extra child” we need to remind ourselves of the honour of deep, life-long sacred union. I believe marriage (or long term partnership) can be utterly world changing because it demands such an incredible amount of vulnerability and deep, committed knowing of another human.

I have spent some time with this idea lately. It has re-energised my passion for our sacred union. Our marriage is a place we can face our full selves, shadow and all, and know we belong. It can go deeper than Moon Circles and therapy, because it involves connection on every level: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual. By nature of being together for so many hours we are asked to go deep in a way no relationship can even touch on.

Brene Brown says

People are hard to hate close up. Move in.

Do this in full knowledge of your reason why: your union is a sacred expression of your self.

4- Ah, but the time thing.  How can you get this time? We need to sail the seven seas to find it. Put on our thigh high boots and pirate hat and – wait, this is not what you think. Do what you must do:  Call on family members. Organise child care swaps with friends. Take a night a week. A day every month. Put a film or audiobook on for the kids so you can do something you love to do together in the evening. Ask questions of each other. Get new knickers and delight in sex. Get some stuff from the Gottman Institute . Our last date together was an Airbnb voucher and doing the Gottman lovemaking course it was great! So nerdy. Super basic. But it provoked heaps of conversation about sex which we hadn’t had for a while.

5- Lastly, your job isn’t to enlighten your partner. That is not a burden for your shoulders. Your job is to heal and grow and to love your partner as they are. It is a strange thing, but the more healing you do, the less you will need to try and force your partner onto their healing journey. The more you grow, the more able you will be to see that the things that frustrate you in him, are probably the things you find frustrating about yourself, or at the least, somehow shining a light on an insight you need to grasp. So keep questing, but alongside your quest keep offering the most unconditional love you can give. Keep yourself warm and open to your partner, invite him into your journey, tell him your awkward realisations, but do it without judgement or expectation of him. Trust him, trust the idea that his enlightenment is alive, if invisible, and trust that your relationship can thrive even when one of you lags behind.

***

8 extra resources that could be helpful

The work of Byron Katie – one of the most powerful free resources I have found about self-inquiry, belief systems, hard relationship, frustrating situations. If there is something constantly driving you to frustration about your partner, this process can be life changing. A path to personal and couple joy, if ever I’ve known one.

There is an entire course by Marshall Rosenberg available on Youtube. Marshall Rosenberg is the founder of Non Violent Communication – an incredible communication process to bring healing and peace to situations of conflict. This is the most useful tool for when you have strong feelings about a partner’s behaviour or belief system, how you can begin to raise these issues with true understanding.

The Gottman Institute is a great source of inspiration and resources

100 questions to work through on Date Nights

A book – The New Rules of Marriage

A collection of thoughts on avoiding divorce from unschoolers, via Sandra Dodd

Video – The Sacred Art of Listening by Tara Brach

The Marriage Restoration Project – free seminar

***

I will always remember my divorced friend saying that if she knew the amount of labour – emotional work, logistical organising, constant constant effort- it took to both divorce and then raise kids together, she would go back and put the effort in to stick together. Even 10% of the effort of being divorced would have saved her marriage.

I’m breathing out a prayer for you as I type.  It is that you might be able to set down one of those china plate relationships you are juggling. That you might instead feel your partner rise, that you might feel him stand alongside you, a juggling duo bringing life into the relationships with your children. Know that your union is worth saving, that time might be the only thing it needs. It’s not unattainable. It’s there in front of you, if you reach. Particularly now you’ve set down the heaviest one of those plates. I see you guys, resting together in self-compassion, taking anew these steps along this path of sacred partnership.

~

PS Thank you for reading. If this is helpful please do share it.
PPS I have a Patreon page for people who want to come more on board with my writing and video making.
PPPS I talk a bit about my own quest here

Parenting

Why we are a “no secrets” family

23 January, 2018

Ramona had a friend over last week and they were hanging out on the big bed listening to Spotify (seven year olds these days!) when I overheard her friend say “Let’s tell each other our secrets!” With a swell of pride I heard Ramona say  “Yes! Let’s tell each other, and then we can tell our mums.” Her friend said “Erm, no, it’s a SECRET.” Ramona carried on “Yeah, I know, but with secrets you get to tell you mum, and it’s still a secret.” Her friend said “Oh, okay!” And the whispering began.

For a few years now we have been a “no secrets” family. This means we talk about “surprises” rather than “secrets.” We correct each other “Do you mean “surprise” instead of secret?” and we talk about the difference “Secrets always stay hidden but surprises are always meant to be revealed.”

The importance of having "surprises" and not "secrets"

The problem with secrets

Over the last few years I’ve been working for a small sexual abuse prevention charity. It’s been hugely enlightening for me and has impacted lots of areas of my parenting. One of the patterns that comes up in the stories of victims of childhood sexual abuse is the presence of the word “secret” – it’s too common to overlook. Perpetrators use this language often to create a dynamic where children feel unable to tell someone what is happening to them. If you think about it, there is a cultural pride in being able to keep secrets, to not snitch, to not break alliance and loyalty. People use this culture to keep kids in unsafe situations.

We have tried to make sure that the word “secret’ raises alarm bells in our children’s minds. That it stirs up in them questions about who is asking them to keep a secret, that it prompts them to come and check in with us, their safe people.

An evolving “no secrets” policy

For a few years it was easy to have a “no secrets’ policy. Our children were young, and if a friend or family member or random stranger in the street even said the word “secret” our children would gleefully yell “We don’t have secrets! We have surprises! There’s an important difference!”

But as Ramona has grown older it’s become trickier. There’s almost a childhood rite in having secrets with friends. The way we bridged this was by coming up with a solution together – that she would tell me her secrets. So that they were never completely hidden. Since coming up with this, there’s been around 3 times that she has told me things she was asked to keep secret. One of the times was pretty intense, a situation that was unsafe,  and I am SO, SO glad she knew that it was wrong to be asked to keep this a secret and that she came straight to me.

An other version of “No Secrets” 

And, because life isn’t ever straightforward and simple, I wanted to tell you about the time she didn’t want to tell me a secret! I’d love to be able to say “yes, we are a no secrets family and it works perfectly!” but life’s messy, isn’t it?

A couple of months ago Ramona was told a secret by a friend her age. She REALLY doesn’t want to tell me that secret. We talked about how we don’t have secrets, about how it’s still a secret if mum knows. All of that. And still, she didn’t want to tell me.

I sat with it for a while. And I began to feel that my job as her parent, as her guide and safe person, wasn’t to make her tell me her secrets. In fact, I could NEVER make her tell me something that she didn’t want to. Just as you can’t make a child sleep. They own their own bodies and minds, it is their right to do with them what they will. I didn’t want her to feel forced to tell me her secret, as, in a way, that goes against the culture of consent we are trying to develop here in our corner of the universe!

So, instead, I explained clearly the reasons we ask her to share her secrets with me; in order to keep her safe; because people sometimes use secrets to make others unsafe; to make them do things they don’t want to do. I explained that if anyone tells her anything, speaks to her in any way or does something to her that makes her feel unsafe it will really help if she tells me about it.

Once we had this talk Ramona thought a lot about it. She thought alot about the nature of her secret and she came back to me and said “This is Ellie’s secret, but it’s only a little thing. It’s something we want to share between us. It’s not to do with anyone making her do things. I feel totally comfortable. This secret isn’t going to make either of us unsafe.”

While I would rather she was able to just stick to our “no secrets” policy, I think it’s pretty incredible that she has the tools to think about the nature of the secret and to assess her and her friend’s safety.

I feel like by not pushing the “no secrets” thing on to her, beyond what she feels able to engage with, leads to MORE trust and respect between us, makes it more likely that if something unsafe was to be put on her, she would come to me with it.

She’s able to engage with the whole “secrets are unsafe” dynamic whilst holding on to one that she really wants to keep.

~

We have a big problem with child sexual abuse here in NZ – the statistics tell us that one in three girls will be abused by the age of 16.  It’s an awful figure, far worse than most other developed countries. But what that figure does is remind us, and it should remind parents in every country no matter what the stats are like, that sexual abuse isn’t something that happens out there, to other people. It crosses all boundaries, can happen to anyone.

We need a HUGE, widespread  societal change, we need perpetrators to STOP and we need rape culture to END. But there are small things we can do in our own homes to shift the likelihood that our own children will be victims. Talking about secrets, using the anatomical terms for body parts and nurturing your child’s sense of body autonomy are some of them.

I invite you to consider being a “no secrets” family too.

Much love and stay radical! x x

Featured, Parenting

Sixty Great Gift Ideas for Kids (that aren’t toys) 2017 – 2018

2 December, 2017

**This list of Gift Ideas for Kids has been Updated for 2016 – 2017**

We spent six months travelling around Europe in a campervan. We had a tiny stash of playthings and our three year old toddler Ramona thrived. She was a case study for how kids play in nature. She had a twig that would be a wand one minute, a baby the next, a spade in the morning and a guitar in the afternoon.

During that time I came to believe that too many toys can push a child’s imagination right under the bed and will eventually wreck the planet our children have got to enjoy for the rest of their lives. (Read my thoughts on that here.)

These days I think that rather than having such a negative view of toys we can just view them as one part of the big picture of childhood. As parents (or caring adults in a child’s life) we need to provide a nurturing environment that values fun, communal games, imagination play, art, creating, music, nature. Toys aren’t evil. They bring kids a whole heap of enjoyment, so let’s not be too harsh on them!

However, we all want to be that awesome adult that opens the doors a little more on a child’s imagination. We want to give a kid a gift that they will remember forever!BEST LIST EVER! Sixty Great gift Ideas for Kids- that aren't toys

Pin for later: Sixty Great Gift Ideas for Kids

This list of gift ideas for kids is for you. Whether it is for Christmas or a special birthday, this list has a unique and awesome non-toy gift for every child.

This is a crowd sourced list of gift ideas for kids. Using Twitter and Facebook I asked 6000 people: What is the best non-toy present you ever received as a kid?

Here are sixty ways to show you care, and for the most part they fire a child’s imagination and cause less havoc for the environment. Many of them are free, or cheap and plenty of them can be found in charity shops or secondhand stores. There is a common theme of taking children seriously- of trusting them and their abilities, of giving them tools to create.

(When a celebration is coming up and it’s a pressie-giving kind of time, I reckon a good, frank chat is the best starting point. The child/ parents have a better idea about what the child would enjoy/ needs like a hole in the head. But the second port of call should be this list, for sure. Bookmark it and share it with your family members!)

**New video** Here I share my favourite things from this list and add a few extra ones to the list – including the present we had handmade for Ramona’s sixth birthday! 

Here we go….

Gift Ideas for Kids – Tools & Equipment

I am reading “Escape from Childhood” by John Holt at the moment and the thing he is really convincing me of is how much kids NEED to be useful. Exactly like adults! They love to be taken seriously, to have serious implements and to be able to truly, genuinely help and build and be busy working. When considering gift ideas for kids we should think about great it must feel for them to open up proper tools and equipment.

1-A small fruit tree to grow and nurture.

2- Same goes with a proper hammer and nails. Throw in some wheels and planks and they’ll be set for days. or perhaps a toolbox filled with things were a massive hit; rope, screws, pulleys etc.

3- Sew them a baby sling for their dolls. Here is a tutorial for an easy sling for your toddler’s doll – it has never failed to please a tot in my experience!

4- Gardening equipment- a proper trowel, some organic slug killer and some seeds.

5- A greenhouse. A reader says “When I was 9 I got a greenhouse. To this day it is still my best Christmas present ever as I spent hours with my Grandad learning how to grow food.”

6- A pocket knife. Every kid age 4+ needs a good simple pocket knife, a lesson in using it safely (sitting down, striking away from you, with an adult in range) and a bit of wood to carve.Sixty Great Gift Ideas for kids - that aren't toys

7 – Cress seeds were specified for very young children- imagine helping to feed your family at only age 2?! Plus they pop up all year round and don’t take as much patience. You can also make them a head to grow them in so it looks like hair! Classic!

8- My sister put together a survival kit for her six year old son- a good rope, pegs and a tarpaulin for den making, camo paint, a good torch. Flipping heck, that was a hit.

9 – A wind up torch. Sustainable and fascinating for children. They especially love head torches.

10 – A good baking bowl, a whisk, some scales. Show them you have faith in their ability to make something yummy.

11- The ingredients to make something yummy! One reader explains about the special thing she did for Christmas “I once gave my daughter’s friend a bag filled with the ingredients, Christmas cutters and the recipe to make their own Christmas gingerbread. They loved it.”

12 – Kitchen implements- one tweeter is getting her 2.5 year old son a peeler with a big handle as he genuinely loves helping in the kitchen. One reader received a sieve when she was young and it was her favourite present ever. I think I might get my three year old a good grater- they are so fulfilled when they are doing something worthwhile. A garlic press was another great suggestion. And every kid needs an apron.

13- Their own cookery book. Several times a week Ramona picks something out of her cookery book and bakes it. She is five.

14 – Something to pull apart- give them a screw driver and an old type writer and the afternoon to take it to bits and explore its inners.

15- A rock tumbler. A reader explains “I loved collecting rocks when I was about 9- it was so cool being able to polish them!”

16 – A magnifying glass and a book of native Insects.

17 – A microscope “I spent months finding things to look at and getting family members to guess what it was- the best was tiny slivers of onion skin.”

18 – Binoculars – plus a guide to bird and wildlife. We just bought a pair for our eight year old neighbour and you have pretty much never seen a kid more excited!!!!

19 – A calligraphy pen, nibs and ink. “I was given these age ten, and shown how to use it. I still have it!”

20 – A DIY science kit. Or DIY anything kit really!

Gift Ideas for Kids – Art and creating

The emphasis here is on good quality stuff. Just like adults, children deserve to work with good quality materials. It is frustrating scrawling on crap paper with crayons that barely make a mark. Seeing the vivid colours of acrylic paint on canvas is much more likely to stoke a child’s passion for creating art, no? These gift ideas for kids might just stoke your own memories of receiving creative crafty pressies.

21- A ball of bright coloured, good wool and instructions for finger knitting will open up a whole new meditative world.

22- Ingredients for DIY porcelain clay- a little box with corn flour and bicarb and instructions. They’ll love the making and the shaping.

23- Proper non toxic acrylic paint, high quality watercolours, and proper paintbrushes.

24 – A good quality sketch book. These are unbeatable in terms of art – acrylic and watercolours just feel and look magical with beautiful thick absorbent paper.

25- A selection of blank canvases and an easel.

26- A candle making kit. (I have made candles since I was 11 when I got my first kit and loved it. And the only fire I caused was when I was 22 and being VERY experimental. Just a shame the fire happened on my future in laws dining table.)

27 – More kits: A perfume making kit – what a cool way to learn about chemicals and stuff.

28 – A sewing machine. I got my first when I was 12 and after a fairly quick lesson from my Aunty have seen ever since. Or even just a hand sewing kit with fabric, needles and threads.

29 – How about these wonderful chalkboard puppets? Handmake some chalkboard blocks and give them along with some chalk and then, the best bit, PLAY TOGETHER!

30 -A box of craft materials that is all their own- ribbon, pipe cleaners, beads, buttons, fimo etc. Red Ted Art has a lot of gift ideas for kids in the form of arts and craft gift boxes.

31 – Jars of homemade playdough and a box of cutters and tools (found in secondhand shops.)

32 – A box. It was the third best gift, suggested by over thirty people! The best explanation comes from reader, Clare “The best ‘present’ I ever got was a great big cardboard box. I made it into a house and played in it for YEARS. The best thing about it was that my parents got really involved in it- my mum made curtains for it and they never complained about having a tatty old hoc in the living room and let me keep it as long as I wanted.”

Sixty Great Gift Ideas for Kids

Gift Ideas for Kids – Music and Culture

33- A mixtape – burn a cd with a selection of fun songs. Ramona has been given some of these and they are her favourite gift by a mile. I have gone on to make them for other children and my kids have helped select the tunes. So cool.

34 – Audiobooks- Roald Dahl stories are fantastic and tantalise imaginative minds.

35- A subscription to a magazine such as National Geographic. A reader explains how she felt about her subscription given to her by her neighbour age six, “At first, we just looked at the pictures but I read more each year as I grew. In our sleepy village,nit was a very welcome window into different cultures. And I always felt very grown up and acknowledged when I read them.”

36- Instruments! A good drum, maracas, a ukelele. A good xylophone. The brain patterns used in music are the same as those used in maths so giving kids the tools to create music is important. And fun. But make sure they are GOOD- in tune etc or children will lose interest.

37 – A song. Rope people in to help you, friends to strum chords on the guitar. Record it on YouTube and send it to them! We have done this a few times, it’s weird and fun. Write your own or just change a few lyrics to an existing one.

38 – Investment in a creative venture- for example Hadar Manor is crowd funding her new album and in return for contributing you can get anything from a shout out on the album to a personalised song, written sung and recorded for you.

39 – A poem. No, really, really! How special, for a kid to have their own poem. Written on beautiful paper. For them to treasure.

40 – A story. Ramona and Juno’s Grandad has written them both a story, printing it out into a book and gluing in photos.  It was about cats. They LOVE their personalised stories! How about writing a story about them? Or drawing a comic featuring them? It doesn’t need to be about them.

41- Lost My Name team sent Ramona and Juno personalised books featuring their name. The stories are totally unique, funny and the illustration is cracking without any rubbish gender stereotypes.

42- Books, books and more books. This was the most popular response by miles. The child especially enjoys receiving a book with meaning- one mum explains “her eyes light up when I say “this is something I loved when I was little, and I thought you’d like me to read it to you.”

43- Last Christmas we were living on the other side of the world to my husbands family. They sent over a book that they had recorded the story into- Ramona loves hearing the voices of her Grandparents, Aunties and Uncles reading to her.

44- A photo album or scrap book. Reader Sally explains that her three year old loves these.

Sixty Great Gift Ideas For Kids - that aren't toys!

Gift Ideas for Kids- Experiences

Days out were probably the second top answer after “box!” Kids love hanging out doing stuff with people who love them, and memories last WAY longer than toys. If giving an experience that doesn’t already come in the form of a card or voucher, draw them up a personalised one that they can open. It feels so much more exciting! These are gift ideas for kids that keep on giving WAY after they have been cashed in.

45 – A season pass or vouchers to something- an outdoor play area, a private woods such as Westonburt or a wildlife lark or donkey sanctuary.

46- A micro love bomb- let them have a whole evening hanging out with you, doing WHATEVER they want. Like, really, anything. (Based on Oliver James’ miraculous Love Bomb idea- a whole weekend to reset connection and attachment.)

47- A micro adventure- grab a tent, pack a little gas cooker and have a night in the local woods. Even London has accessible woods you can do this in.

48 – A visit to stables to ride on a horse- Ramona adored this for her third birthday. A reader adds that when she was seven she was given a Shetland pony-owning day “7 year old heaven!”

49 – Sew them something magnificent for their fancy dress box –  a mermaid outfit or a pair of wings- see a tutorial for easy toddler wings here, you could make them any size.Sixty Great Gift Ideas for Kids

50 – A tent and sleeping bags to camp out in the garden.

51 – A day out in a big city- the museums, a picnic, feeding the skanky pigeons, climbing the towers.

52- A voucher for a den building afternoon. Take wood, hammers and nails and build a fort together in the local woods.

53- A course. Six weeks of a children’s photography or pottery or dance classes.

54- Adopt a whale/ dog/ monkey. This is a delightful idea, the child has a sense of investment with an animal and they can make a real difference for a charity.

55- A box of second hand clothes and costume jewellery for a fancy dress department. One Tweeter said the stash she was given included a WEDDING DRESS. Brilliant.

56- An experience for a baby- a jar of threaded beads, jewels and shells for them to shake and look at.

57- And another idea for a baby- a box of tissues entirely theirs to pull out. (This is probably my favourite of them all- even at seven months old Juno has worked out how to undo the lid of the baby wipes and delights in pulling them out.)

58 – Organise a visit with a local craftsperson or skilled person.Imagine spending an hour with a beekeeper or on a tractor or hammering nails with a builder or watching an artist blowing glass or making cheese or something more specific the child loves! You could give a box of beers to the tradesperson in exchange! One reader had a day of work experience at a farm when she was a child and she cherishes that memory.

59- Car booting/ junk store shopping. Write a voucher and include ten smackeroonies and set a date and go and find the most obscure antiques you can! We bought tap shoes at a junk store for both our kids- unbelievable amounts of entertainment!!!

60- Fruit picking. One of my most treasured childhood memories is of going strawberry picking with my Nana and Grandad when I was small. I remember my Nana stuffing her face, the red juice dribbling down her chin. She was an upright, honest citizen but I think she thought eating them as you go was part of the deal! Traditional activities like this are magical – I could almost make a list of gift ideas for kids based entirely on old skool chores. Ha!

Sixty Great Gift Ideas for Kids

***

What an epic, epic list of gift ideas for kids. Thanks to everyone for sharing your ideas and stories. I am inspired and have my kid’s Christmas gifts sorted: a grater for Ramona and a box for Juno.

May your Christmas and birthday celebrations be ever imaginative and may you become a gift rockstar in the eyes of the children in your life!!!

PS We are blogging from a yurt in a forest in NZ these days – follow through Facebook or Instagram and keep up with our Youtube updates:

PPS If you are looking for creative gifts for mums and dad please check out my book 30 Days of Rewilding – designed to help families find their place amongst nature.

PPPS Check out the comments below for more gift ideas for kids – this is an organic, evolving list with people adding to it constantly via the comments!

Pin for Later:Sixty Gifts for kids that aren't toys. Amazing ideas for non toy gifts.

Sixty Great Gift ideas for Kids - that aren't toys!

Featured, Parenting

A home with no rules (we have these six things instead)

26 October, 2017

Every so often I look about me and think does this happen in other homes?  Six year old Ramona will be dipping her scalp in some mud out the window and four year old Juno will be picking through the pantry popping special ingredients into the smoothie maker, or it’ll be past 10pm and we’ll all be in bed and Juno will be in the lounge painting a magnificent, meticulous rainbow on her teddy’s tummy.

And I’ll remind myself it’s not like there’s a rulebook, is there? HA. (Is there???)

But there is, some are written down and some are just contained within our minds – rules about propriety and appropriate bedtimes and when and where exactly the fun should be had.

And it’s strange because humans thrive without rules. The dignity of a rule-less environment helps us step our game up, allows our natural respect and watchfulness come to the fore.

There have been experiments in various settings around the world – the school playground that threw out the rules and saw a steep drop in bullying or the town that gave up road rulebook and saw the death toll drop to zero.

One of the reasons we have chosen a rule-free home is because we want our children to bring their hearts and minds to each situation, to discover a trust in themselves, rather than leaning on whatever random authority is looming over them that day. We want them to engage deeply with their environment, to connect authentically with the people around them and all of that is made trickier if they are required to live under a set of (often quite arbitrary) rules.

We also deeply believe that our role as parents isn’t to control our children, it is to create an environment where they can blossom into the people they are. Humans are at their very worst when we try and coerce, manipulate and control the actions of others. It shouldn’t be a part of parenting! A home without rules gives us room to flourish and to focus on the most important thing – our relationship with one another.

After posting this Youtube video yesterday about whether we were a”feral family” and then watching a few clips of the same named TV show in the UK I was lying in bed trying to have a full on analysis of our family life. Did we truly have no rules?  I scanned our day from waking to sleeping and concluded that yeah, indeed, we are a family with no rules.

But in my thinking it became apparent that there is not a gaping cavern where the rules should be. Instead there is a bunch of stuff that helps us all be our best selves.

Here’s what we have instead of rules. They can’t really be a pik n mix – they all relate to each other. You can’t have “honest conversation” without “connection” or “a healthy view about mistakes” without “good self-care”…
a home with no rules

1-  Connection. If I have *one* word that sums up my parenting it is connection. I feel it almost as a tangible thread between myself and my daughters and I can feel when it wears thin, I can sense when it is strong.  I take every opportunity I can to build this love-filled relationship with my daughters – including toilet time. I cannot imagine having no rules in a home where this connection is not there. I imagine all members to fizzing around, with no orientation or grounding, grazing each other’s elbows and knees. Our connectedness – our play and laughter and cuddles and random conversation- is the foundation for our whole family life.

2-A healthy view of mistakes. Rules, and the punitive measures taken when they are broken, are a stupid way to view mistakes. Jeez. Failing, and failing well, is an important part of being human! It makes me feel sick that there are kids growing up out there who are punished for failing – they will spend their whole life unable to take beautiful risks, in creative jail simply for being raised in a home that can’t handle mistakes. We aim to be chill when messes are made, stuff gets broken, people get hurt because we all make mistakes and we can ONLY learn from them when were are given the chance to, shame free.

3- Good self-care. You know when I find it hard to have a healthy view of mistakes? When I am strung out, tired, overtouched. Me-time is not selfish, it is the key to good parenting!  Audre Lorde says  “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” and it’s true! We can’t raise authentic, empathetic humans if we aren’t kind to ourselves. This whole no-rules thing requires us to be our most patient and joyful selves.  Just yesterday I wrote about how self-care is the second step towards becoming a Parent Ally and here are 60 acts of self-care for busy parents. 

4- A family culture. I loved this article about the main thing that builds resilience in children. Apparently it is the presence of a family narrative, the children having a sense of the family history and values and it being a story that ebbs and flows in success and failure. We talk alot. We tell the stories of mine and Tim’s lives, the girls birth stories, stories about our grandparents. We have rituals – we have a pot of questions that we pull out and ask each other at dinner, we light candles and say things we are thankful for, we go on family walks each evening. All of this is opt-in, and sometimes the girls opt out – although for many of the things they came up with the idea so they are keen beans! All of this builds our family culture, a safe place, a unit of values that we are all co-creating.

5- Honest conversation in an environment of trust and respect. Oh, how we talk! We talk and talk! Ohhh, boy, we talk. And this, perhaps more than anything, takes the place of rules.

ME “Oh hey, girls, I see there’s a sign about no throwing balls on this lawn. Hmmm.”
RAMONA “what, why, why is that there?”
ME “Maybe they are worried about windows?”
RAMONA “Or maybe they don’t like balls?
JUNO “Or kids?”
ME “They might have a bunch of reasons its a good idea to put a sign up saying “NO BALLS. What should we do.”
JUNO “Play over there?”
RAMONA “I wanna play here.”
ME “Hmm, you really wanna play here.”
RAMONA “Yeah. How about we play until we get told off?”
ME “That could work. Or we could play that ball game where we sit on the ground and roll it?”
(and on for another ten minutes…)

Whenever there are rules, I raise them and we talk about them. We have agreed strategies when there are rule-based places we go to regularly. They are engaged in this idea that we have a very rule-based society and it’s pretty awesome to see them developing their own wisdom and consciousness about it all.

Here in New Zealand we try and observe Maori protocol, a common one of which is not to sit on tables that serve food. We could make it “a rule” or we could just remind them every time, and have a big conversation about it, and usually it goes down okay because the conversation is taking place in an environment of trust and respect. I trust that their hearts and intentions are good. I respect them as people. I respect their choices. And (not all of the time, but most!) it’s mutual.

6- A guiding principle. We’ve no rules but we have a guiding principle and that is “We don’t hurt each other or things around us” and it’s a principle we have come to together, through discussion. It’s something we all raise with each other when needed and it can be helpful for the sibling relationship and when friends come over to play, it also relates to how we all try and be in the world more generally – kind to our community and the earth around us.  I’ve been enjoying Gretchen Rubin’s podcast lately and she’s been speaking about the 4 different temperaments and there are a whole load of people out there who seem to enjoy having some stiffer parameters for life.  Perhaps you are one of them, or your children are – this still doesn’t mean you get to impose rules on your family. It means you are invited to cocreate a healthy framework, some bottomlines or guiding principles.

So there we go. No rules… but our kids don’t fling all the libraries books off the shelves or strip naked and paint themselves blue at the museum kid’s area (only in the comfort of their own home!)

I’d love to hear from you.

Do you have things instead of rules? Have you discovered a co-creation of guiding principles?

Parenting

60 Everyday Acts of Self-Care for Busy Parents

4 August, 2017

We’ve been on a couple of planes lately and I’m always struck when they remind passengers to put their own oxygen masks on before attending to their children. Jeez. How would that feel? My mind drifts to the chaos of that possible moment, the sizzling cortisol in the air, the lights tracking the way to the exit, the fumbling with the mouth piece. (Is it just me that does this?! This morbid run of the imagination?)  And then I whizz off the stats in my brain, more likely to die by a falling ladder, household furniture, waaay more likely to die in the car. A bit of deep breathing… Aaaand we’re good again; oh look they’re showing Wonder Woman! I can’t wait for the meal! It will be so gross but I’m so excited about what it is!

There’s not really a better picture of parental self-care than there is the oxygen mask. Self-care is the life-giving magic in the family home. It is the thing we need to dedicate ourselves to if we want our relationships to be  joyous and sustainable.  And, just like putting the mask on our own face first, we must meet our own needs in order to meet our children’s needs.

The wonderful Racheous just wrote a post about overcoming barriers to self-care and she made a perfect point. “Imagine your child or friend telling you how they feel guilty about self care or don’t have time. What would you ask them? What would you tell them? What would you want them to know?

Be your own friend. Listen.”

I’ve just had a self-care day, so I’m feeling full up, waiting for Nana and Grandad to bring Ramona and Juno and all the cuzzies home from the zoo. I try and get a self-care day once a month, I spend it solo and I nearly always spend it at a library somewhere with absolutely no agenda but to wander around and read any book that I’m drawn to. I’ve found my very best reads this way, it always feels kinda spooky.

Today I read the whole of Martha Beck’s Finding Your Way.  I’d never heard of her before, but I slid it from the shelf and spent the next two hours in this beautiful vortex of flow. (By “beautiful vortex of flow” I mean “sitting on a hard chair at a desk snotty crying in public”) I kind of don’t even want to recommend it as I sort of feel like she only wrote it for me? Haaahaha. Like, you might read it and be all whathehell? I’ve put an affiliate link there *just* in case you are game. Ha.

But one of the things she suggests doing, that I’m going to do, is checking in with your energy levels throughout the day and then doing something according to that energy. That’s the way to find a restfulness in your busy day. So if your energy is fun, share a funny story with someone, or if your energy is low, have a sit. Woah, as I’m typing this out it feels *quite* obvious that we should do this. But I actually don’t do it as much as I’d like! Do you? I just kinda go through the day, doing a bit of good breathing every now and then, but more or less responding to all the things outside of me, rather than that inside me. I don’t want to overthink this too much – surely if we are feeling crazy, we let that crazy out by pulling funny faces at our kids or whatever… but I’m just not sure we do the checking in as often as we should…. and that leads to frustration and impatience and the buzzing feeling of unfulfilment and dissatisfaction.

So, I’ve written a list. It is a mundane sort of list. Because this isn’t juicy secret sauce. It’s just everyday things we can do to breath oxygen into our lives and our relationships. It’s everyday self care. And I suggest you read the list and then do the Martha Beck thing. Feel into your energy and provide self care for where you are right then and there. Some days your self-care might be reading a bit of your novel. Other days it might be having a dance or watching some Youtube.

A note about social media
Everyday Self-care *doesn’t* include scrolling on your smartphone. it might include your smartphone, for sure, for an activity you have selected as being self-care. IE – participating in a group, having a chat with someone, catching up with an old friend’s photo album. All of that *can* be self care but the difference is you are intentionally choosing it, you recognise the way it lifts your spirits in a way that the common, mindless browsing more often than not depress your spirits. Imo. (Would love to hear your thoughts on that possibly controversial note!)

And here we go….everyday selfcare for busy parents

1 minute self-care

1 – A sit down with a cup of tea
2 – A whole body breath (imagine filling your belly, upper chest and your shoulders with air) – this releases pressure on your adrenal glands, it is a preventative stress management technique!
3 – Stare at your beautiful thing (this might be a print of a painting you’ve hung, a collection of photos, a vase of flowers)
4 – Make a green smoothie

Media

5 – Watch a Ted Talk
6 – Listen to a podcast (I love these by Liz Gilbert)
7 – Listen to your self-care playlist (I’m listening to Heavy by Birdtalkers everyday at the moment. So lush)
8 – Read some of your novel
9 – Flick through an inspirational non-fiction

Environment

10 – Light a beautiful candle and have a minute’s worth of stillness
11 – Burn your calming essential oils
12 – Waft some sage around
13 – Sort a messy surface out (don’t do this is you feel like all you ever do is tidy! Do it if you want to sort a tiny corner of chaos)

Spiritual

14 – A 15 minute yoga sesh (Yoga Studio is a great app for this)
I felt guilty for two years because I coudn’t do a whole yoga sesh. The stars never aligned. Then I released that. Said F*&k It and now I don’t do any yoga and I feel so free! One day I might but in the meantime I journal as my spiritual practice and I love it.
15 – A short meditation
16 – Creating and repeating your own mantra
17 – A prayer of thanks
18 – A journal entry

Friends

19 – Call a friend
20 – Interact with your bezzies snapchat group
21 – Try and make a playdate with friends that work for you and your child

Food
Like the tidying one, food doesn’t work as selfcare if you feel like you are always cooking. But sometimes making a badass nourishing soup is JUST the ticket.
22- Make some raw chocolate shizzle and keep it in the freezer for treats (I use a simplified version of this)
23- Sit down and eat something and enjoy each mouthful
24 – Eat some almonds and love all that brain nourishing, calming serotonin

Arts

25 – Put your favourite singalong playlist on and sing your heart out
26 – Play your favourite song on the ukulele
27 – Get out some watercolours and do a quick splash of colour
28 – Write a haiku
29 – Knitting
30 – Crocheting
31 – Papercuts
32 – Colouring
33 – Dance to your favourite dance tracks

Body
34 – Have a bath
35 – Have a foot spa
36 – Do some power poses
37 – Do one or two of your favourite yoga stretches (mine are cat and python… they might not be the right names… I feel like I just made them up)
38 – Go for a walk (I think this kept me well when I was a new mum – just going for huge long walks.)
39 – Teach your children how to give you a hand massage

Sites of Mutual Fulfilment

This is the ULTIMATE self-care for parents. It is the Holy Grail of parenting! Finding places that are mutually fulfilling for both you and your child. I list some of our in this piece on Sites of Mutual Fulfilment  but here are some too:
40 – The library where you can both read/ play/ watch
41 – A gated park where you can read and they can play
42 – A cafe with a play area so you can drink coffee and they can play
43 – Watching funny videos on Youtube (most underrated self-care practice EVER)
44 – A friend’s home where you can chat long and deep with the parent and child can play contentedly with the other child (these are trickier to find than you think, so if you have one NEVER LET IT GO!)

And then, if you can swing it, give yourself a self care date once a month/ once a quarter, whenever you can. Try and get them in the diary so you can get partners/ grandparents/ friends to look after your kinder:

45 – Go to a gig
46 – Go dancing
47 – Go to a craft workshop
48 – Art galleries
49 – Go to a coffee shop and read magazines on your favourite topic
50 – Go to the library and read all the books
51 – Go for a hike
52 – Go for a swim
53 – Have a huuuuge nap
54- Buy some flower and plant them in boxes so you can see them everyday!

Nature

55 – Climb a tree
56 – Walk around on grass/ beach/ forest barefoot
57 – Sit under a tree with your back leaning on the trunk and breath it in
58 – Watch the clouds
59 – Swing on a rope swing
60 – Play hide and seek with your children/ friends (we forget to play as adults and it is so important) (you can also play hide and seek with strangers, without them even knowing and that’s quite fun haaaahahaha *laughter that says “that might sound weird but I’m not really honest I’ve only done it once it’s not a regular thing*)

***

My friend, you are worth this. You are SO GOOD inside. And you are SUCH A LOVING PARENT. You love so hard and give so much and it’s time for you to replenish yourself. To remember what you love to do. In these small minutes each day and in your self-care dates, you will find yourself, and nurture yourself and learn to love yourself.

And you show your children how to love themselves.

xx

PS – If you find my blog helpful please do consider supporting my work through Patreon from as little as $1 a month. I create mini-series and behind-the-scenes posts for patrons so do take a look here  in case you can 😀 

PPS – New video in case you missed it xxx

Parenting

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

29 June, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auditory regulator

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

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

Movement regulator

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

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

Oral regulator

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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