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Parenting

We need to talk about that time

10 May, 2017

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

~

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

These are shame stories.

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

The feelings are real and they are traumatic.

How to heal our shame stories

~

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

We need to talk about shame

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

~

Deep breath.

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

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

~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Do:

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

All of Brené Brown’s books

Particularly on shaming around art and creativity:

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Artists Way by Julia Cameron

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

Parenting

The story that can change our life

4 May, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

“Everything that makes an impression must have expression”

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

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

Storytelling is important for all people

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

Storytelling is definitely important for parents

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

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


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

storytelling makes me a better parent

Storytelling is especially important for women

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

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

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

Storytelling is definitely important for children

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

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

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

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

Here is the original explanation:

Three practical ways to do some simple narrative work:

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

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

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

The ears of your heart

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

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

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

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

Keep radical, my friends x x

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

Nappyfree, Parenting

Potty training from birth?! Our nappy-free newborn

13 April, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PS Read all my posts on elimination communication:

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

Pin for later:
elimination communication with a newborn baby

Parenting

There’s no “cool mom” or “mean mom”

24 March, 2017

…there’s just parents who understand how the brain works, and those that don’t, yet.

Last week my husband made two cheese toasties and one of my daughters thought they were both for her- when they went on two different plates, one toastie for each kid, my daughter Lost Her Shit in the biggest way. Bigger than I’ve ever seen. An hour of violent, ear splitting shit losing. I think the trigger was the toastie, but that toastie unleashed four years of having to share every damn thing with the newest member of the family. The emotions were deep and dark and frightening for her.

For whatever reason that day, the surprise spare hour I’d found in between places I had to be or the little lie-in I’d had that morning, I was an ocean.

Immeasurably calm.

Encompassing.

Enough.

Her emotions were just one drop in the big sea of my empathy and solidarity. I held her, stopped her hurting someone, rocked her, repeated back to her the one phrase she couldn’t stop shouting.

It might feel funny to start a blog post like this, like “look, let me tell you about this one time I was amazing!” But you see, at the end of it all, I felt like I’d been through labour. (I’m sure she was just as wrecked.) I felt like I’d climbed a humongous mountain, and I’d smashed it. There was something required of me, and I’d rose to it. Honestly, without sounding like a dick, it was surprising and humbling. And I want to be able to do it more and more and more. Every. Single. Time.

I need to celebrate these moments, because littered around these mountain topping achievements are the times I snap, the times I’m grumpy all day, the times I exhaustedly reach out for a quick threat “if you call your sister baby one more time I will take away your internet!” and it is HARD work trying to change your mindset from the dominant one (parents must be in control! Children must obey! Children mustn’t steal a whole hour of your day with their meltdown!) to a more empathetic, power-sharing one (we are in this together! I am here to guide my children, to show them kindness so that they can thrive!) and we’ve got to give each other a high five when we rock it.

The truth is, it is only when I am able to keep in my head all the insights from neuroscience that I am able to rise to what is needed of me as a parent. This stuff is the gas in my tank, without this information I resort to a totally unjoyful, fearful, disconnected parenting.

(Story told with permission.)

***

This week I read the article “7 Reasons I’m a “mean mom” not a “cool mom” – all I had in my head after reading it was the phrase ‘There ARE no mean moms, or cool moms, or good moms, or bad moms (or mums!) there are simply those that have had the opportunity to learn about our children’s brains and those that haven’t.”

When I say there are parents that understand the brain and those that don’t, I’m not being patronising. I just absolutely believe that you can’t hold the information that neuroscience is bringing us and still proudly be the “mean mom.” And it’s no ones fault, so there is no judgement. I mean, it’s not as if you have a baby and someone hands you a little pamphlet about how to raise your baby according to the latest research and people are actively ignoring it. Nope. The opposite is true – you have a baby and the majority of people; health visitors, family members, mainstream media, actually give you advice that is the very OPPOSITE of what recent studies are telling us. I guess this is because society churns along smoothly if everyone just does what has always been done. So I want to speak kindly, empathetically; I truly believe 99.9% of parents make their choices because they want the very best for their child. But I also want to do what I can to highlight what people are discovering about the brain and how the different ways of raising children can impact them for the rest of their life.

Also, you can have all this information about the brain and still sometimes be the mean mom, ‘cos you are having a bad day and you can’t shake the blues or you’ve run out of time and you have Cocopops stuck to the soles of your feet constantly and it is Winding You Up. ARGH! Those days happen, but you still aim to do best by your child’s brain.

But to actively CHOOSE disconnection over connection with your children – that makes me think not enough parents know this shizzle.

(Sidenote- the article claims a bit of science itself, the “fact” that nagging works. I have spent alot of time looking into this in an attempt to find the source of this claim, I’ve even emailed the researcher, and only ever get ultimately directed to the Daily Mail. Not a single scientific journal has covered this piece of research and you can’t even find the original study, or even a reference to it, apart from in the world’s most crappy pop media. Plus the claim “nagging works” goes against everything neuroscience is telling us about relationships. So can we just chuck this claim out the window?)

So let’s get in to the good stuff.7 things about the brain that you can’t unknow…

I could choose ANY number of gamechanging brain things, but these are the seven that really struck me from an event I organised last week with Ruth Beaglehole, the founder of Nonviolent Parenting.

7 facts about the brain that could transform your parenting

 

1- Our brains can flip us from rational human to grunting ape in a couple of seconds.

The brain is a mega complicated thing. (Ha, that sentence – I can hear the squeak of the chair as my neuroscientist readers squirm!!) But let’s simplify it for a sec. Humans essentially have three brains that make up their brain. Our early brain, the first brain we got, is a bit of an animal – almost purely focused on survival. Then we evolved a bit, and on our way to our higher brain, get a midbrain, a bridge between our survival brain and our rational, analytical, poetic, artistic brain. This higher brain is also where all of our ability to empathise is located.

You know the phrase “fight, flight, or freeze” – that is what happens when all of our thought process sinks back down to our survival brain. When triggered into a big emotion, or when panicked by an emergency situation, we take a dive down to this lower brain and it is common for all rational thought to leave us.

This simplified brain picture is important for a couple of reasons:

When our kids experience big emotions, trying to bring them out of it with logic (Hey, don’t worry about it! I’ll make another cheese toasty!) will commonly not work, and will commonly only make the child feel more isolated, as though you don’t understand the bigness of what she is experiencing. When your child is in their lower brain, when they are little this is often, they need you to be present, to be with them, as their survival (all their brain is thinking about!) rests on you being close.  We can also help them make the transition back to their higher brain – see number two.

But the second reason this 3 brain image is important is for our ability to parent wisely. If we are panicked by something (in a rush or external pressures) or triggered by a big emotion (something that child has said or done has pushed a button and made you see red!) where do our thoughts come from? Yep, the lower brain. We sink there and, lemme tell you, nothing good comes from there when you are parenting! That’s when we blow our top, or say something to shame or threaten, or just act like a big ridiculous chimp.

Our job as a parent is to keep pulling ourselves up from our brain’s urge to take a dive!

2- Regulation is key.

At one point during the Nonviolent Parenting Workshop, Ruth said “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 this 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 they need from us. (What do they need from us?? See number 6!)

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

So actually we need to get real 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.

My warning signs are a fastly beating heart, short breath. This tells me I need to tap into my Regulation ToolBox. I am an auditory regulator. So I play music and say a mantra over and over under my breath.

We are also here to help our kids understand their warning signs. There is sometimes a clue in what people do when they are in a disregulated state.

If you fight and move your body when overwhelmed, you are possibly a movement regulator and doing something physical – punching something or having bath- will help.

If you swear and scream or sigh then you may be an oral regulator and singing or chewing gum might help.

Do you pull at things, your hair or your top? You may be a touch regulator and it might help to have a stress ball or pat your pet.

If you do a death stare or need people to look at you, you may be a visual regulator and it may help to have a favourite painting you can turn to, or a book of photos to look through.

Getting our heads around what is in our own, and our child’s regulation toolbox, and knowing when we need to turn to it, can save some really shameful crap happening.

3- Everything gets wired in.

Oh, gawd, this one. Our brains are amazing. And awful. They never forget. Every word, every action, every experience gets wired in somewhere in the brain. If things happen every now and then, it still goes in there. Obviously, it changes the brain less than when things happen often. When things happens often, say your child never knows when you are gonna erupt at them, their brain will be wiring itself up to protect itself from harm, to do what it needs to do around you, and possibly others, for the rest of life.

We all shed a few tears at this revelation. And even more at the next.

4-  It is never too late.

Even though everything gets wired in, it is never too late.

Because; neuroplasticity.

Whilst everything is in there, the brain continues to rewire until the very day we die. It is ABSOLUTELY possible to change the effect we have on our children and help them wire their brains in a healthy way. It is possible, as an adult, to observe that we are wired up for insecurity or anger or distrust, and to begin the work of rewiring. I’ve mentioned this book a few times, but the book 4 Ways to Click by Amy Banks is the most excellent and readable thing I have read on neuroplasticity and relationships.

The significance of neuroplasticity is that no matter our worst parenting moments, no matter what has gone down for our kids, no matter the shame and punishment that’s been dished out, kindness can always win.7 facts about the brain that could transform your parenting

5- What goes in, comes out.

A little task for you to do in the next 5 seconds – have a think about all the things you want your child to be when they grow up. Here’s mine. My honest list:

kind
empathetic
able to connect with people
to trust herself
to love herself

Guess what?

If I want those things out, I have to put them in!  It is literally how the brain wires itself!

Lists like “Reasons I’m the Mean Mom” completely ignore this fact about the brain. People think they are doing the tough love thing in order to make their child kind.

Oh!

It s the opposite of how it works. You simply CAN’T think that raising your child with severe consequences, with anger, with micro controlling, is going to result in a kind adult.

The only way a brain learns kindness is to experience it.

The only way my child will learn to trust herself is if I trust her.

It is that simple.

6- Empathy cells grow only by our brains receiving empathy

One of the characteristics that has been really delved into in recent neuroscience is empathy. I guess that’s because people realise that if humans could be raised with more empathy our world would be a far better place to live. There has been some incredible work on empathy to show that we have empathy centres in our brains, a little hub that is added to and built up every time we receive empathy. And knocked down a little every time empathy is not given, and shame and punishment given instead.

Read more about empathy and in particular empathy blockers here. 

7- Anger is an important state.

Firstly, anger is never just anger, but unmet needs.

Dan Sigels “H.A.L.T” is helpful – is your child hungry, angry, lonely or tired? It is a good one as it recognises that needs are not just physical, but that some of our BIGGEST reactions can come from emotional needs that aren’t met.

Anger is also a good thing. The impetus to ask ourselves what is really going on, what can we change.

Anger also gives children the chance to learn – to figure our problem solving. If we try and immediately quench all anger, what do they learn?

Anger also gives us the opportunity to let our child know that we love them unconditionally, that we accept them 100%. I love this quote from Gordon Neufeild, author of the incredible, highly recommended book Hold On To Your Kids. 

“Unconditional parental love is the indespensible nutrient for the child’s healthy emotional growth. The first task is to create space in the child’s heart for the certainty that she is precisely the person the parents want and love. She does not have to do anything or be any different to earn that love – in fact, she cannot do anything, since that love cannot be won or lost…The child can be ornery, unpleasant, whiny, uncooperative, and plain rude, and the parent still lets her feel loved. Ways have to be found to convey the unacceptability of certain behaviors without making the child herself feel unaccepted. She has to be able to bring her unrest, her least likable characteristics to the parent and still receive the parent’s absolutely satisfying, security-inducing unconditional love.”

Understanding where anger comes from, what role it can play can hugely impact our response to it.

***

Eep, I feel I could go on but I have actually been writing ALL DAY!!!!!!

Just quickly though, I do want to say that everything that applies to the child applies to us too. Our brains are the same. Human Brains, y’know? They require kindness and empathy. And the best person to deliver that is us!! We must be kind to ourselves. Give ourselves a break. Forgive ourselves if we’ve flipped our lid. Be compassionate about the fact that we haven’t had this insight about the brain so have been proudly parenting meanly. And encouraging to ourselves, remembering, It Is Never Too Late!

This is my latest video – it goes into all this brain stuff PLUS it includes another 4 letter word that can really help us with our desire to parent well.

Finally, I would love to hear from you. If you have had any mountain topping moments, I would love to give you a big juicy high five. And if you found this helpful, and want to help spread these insights, why not share this article somewhere?

Parenting

Rants in the Dark (Parenting; the dark side and the dawn of change!)

16 March, 2017

Here’s something I struggle with the most as an online parent-y person:

How to share the tougher parts of motherhood without either harming my children’s dignity, undermining my family’s privacy, or making people worry for us.

But sharing the tricky stuff is such an important thing to do. It’s why I love being with Channel Mum- a team of vloggers whose very tagline is “the honest face of motherhood”- and why I LOVE the groundswell of realness happening at the moment.

I was recently sent Rants in the Dark by Emily Writes and as I’ve been reading it, watched it smash into the Number One spot in the book charts. And I’m cheering for a bunch of reasons.

Rants in the dark Emily Writes

Rants in the dark Emily Writes

Firstly, it is hilarious and I love to laugh. There is a chapter, It Has Been A Day, where I fully oinked with laughing so hard. Secondly, Emily manages to share stories from her family life without pushing the boundaries of sharing. Do you know what I mean? All that stuff above, the stuff that is so hard to do, she manages. I didn’t wince once on behalf of her kids. Some of the other well known internet people sharing the real side of their life don’t quite pull this off, there’s stuff on the internet that is gonna make their kids cry once they can read, and I think that’s a problem. Emily manages to tell the funny or tough stories without compromising her children’s dignity. Thirdly, it normalises the intense feelings of motherhood – the epic highs and the I-absolutely-suck-at-this lows.

There’s another reason I think Rants in the Dark is an important book, and that’s to do with making the work of the parent a real, valid, legitimate thing. If we want stuff to change in society, if we want better parental leave and flexi working and funding for families – policies that give parents the support they need to be the best, kindest parents they can be, we need to be clear about how central a pillar parenthood is.

Society is a community building and one of the pillars that holds the whole thing up is the way that children are raised. If that pillar is strong and protected, the whole building stays standing. When it is used as a punching bag, it gets chipped and cracked. When the pillar is forgotten about, it begins to crumble. History shows that time and again we fail to remember how the whole of society rests on this post, then someone comes along with a spray can and scrawls KEVIN WOZ HERE on it and a few years later society isn’t being held up by that central pillar but by two new hastily erected walls built out of hate and fear.

If we want a fairer, more empathetic world, we need parents to understand that their work is the Important Work and we need governments to get that raising children with care and empathy is critical for a world without war and terror.

This is why I love books about parenting, why I eat up their pages, both advisory books about child development and also the records of life with young ones like Rants in the Dark – they validate the experience of parents, carve out space, they put yellow tape around the pillar to protect it. Rants in the Dark says “all the things you are feeling are okay, parenting is a big deal, a big messy deal, but its important, let’s support each other.” It is emotional and hilarious and inspiring all at once.

There is one bit in there that made me feel a bit uncomfortable, and it is the pop at Natural Parenting. It is so far off the wall that I’m sure Emily didn’t see it as a pop, just a funny play on the Gwenyth Paltrow brand of wellness, but as I read it I thought of all the mothers I know that are big into natural health, who do spend all their earthly treasures on whole foods and quite mystical remedies, and I wondered if Emily knew she might alienate them. This would be a huge enormous shame as Emily is CLEARLY a natural parent in my interpretation of the term, ha! Someone who trusts their gut, trusts their children, sees children as 100% human and worthy of dignity and respect, validates their child’s needs and priorities attachment and connection.

I had a bit of a chat with Emily about that chapter and she says “I would be devastated if it alienated anyone, it’s only meant to be a laugh at nobody’s expense. It’s completely off the wall for that reason!”

Buy Emily’s book here at a discount with my affiliate link and we are all winners!

***GIVEAWAY***

I’m doing a giveaway of Rants in the Dark (kiwis only, I am so sorry, I will be the first to do a worldwide giveaway when this book goes global!) over on Facebook. Click here to enter!
And, just before you go, here is my latest video!

Parenting

The great Night Weaning post

28 February, 2017

I’ve been planning this night weaning article in my head for about a week and the whole thing is basically hung on song lyrics:

    • “All night long, all night! ooh! All night Loo-oo-ong.” (Matter of factly, perhaps even brightly. Breastfeeding all night long is just the way it is for some of us. Thanks Lionel)
    • “Night Weaning! Deserve a quiet night” (sung with melancholy. For when you are fed up of the nightly milk bar. Thanks REM.)
    • “Night weaning, night wea-niiiing. We know how to do it!!!!” (Beejees. This is when you still believe in yourself and your ability of getting a complete nights sleep.
    • “BOOBY BOOBY BOOBY BOOBYYYYY!!! Aaaahaaahhaaaahaaahaaaaah.”  (Your kid, in the middle of the night. Louder than Kaiser Chiefs.)
    • “Morning has broken. My boobs are broken.  Everything’s broken. Like the first bird. Which is probably broken tooooo.” (This is a hymn. These aren’t even really a bit like the words but night weaning is hard and you are more tired than the person that first ever wrote “Morning has broken like the first morning” because really, that person was tired, to write morning twice like that.)

Let’s crack on!

I haven’t really written about night weaning before. The closest I got was Weaning a Breastfeeding devotee, last year, when Juno (3) and I made an agreement to cut down the breastfeeds. Our weaning journey began with Juno giving me an ultimatum – either I give her booboo or I go to Pak N Save (NZ’s budget supermarket); she didn’t like the idea of weaning any more than I like grocery shopping. She had leverage. We found a peace though, in good conversation, and Juno asked me to “write it down” – I scrawled our agreement down on a piece of paper and put it somewhere safe.

Writing about night weaning though, jeepers, it feels like a huge, very personal, subject! My peeps, Channel Mum, have pulled together such an array of sleep stories that show just how different each family is.  However recently lots of you have asked for our story. So first off here is Ramona and Juno’s story, in video form. And then I am going to share everything I have come to believe about night weaning!

1- Firstly, just so we are all on the same page, breastfeeding all night is pretty normal. The very moment I realised that I became SO MUCH more calm about my baby’s night wakings. I was a new mum, in a bit of a stew, trying to figure everything out and the first question from everyone’s lips was “Is she sleeping through the night?” I began to feel like there was a direct correlation between her night wakings and the quality of my parenting. Huh? Babies are meant to sleep all night? So, if she isn’t, does that mean I am doing it all wrong?

Nope! No, no, nononono. I don’t understand whhhhhy people ask that question when we are DESIGNED to wake up in the night! It is healthy for babies to wake in the night! In more ancient circumstances it would have keep babies alive. These days they wake in order to get their emotional and nutritional needs met.

Once I realised that I covered my clock so I couldn’t see and keep track of my baby’s night wakings. Soon enough I just fed her in my sleep and ended up getting a pretty good sleep.

So, let’s be clear:

Breastfeeding at night is healthy and normal. 

2- The point at which you night wean will be different for every family. Some babies are happy to night wean early. Ramona night weaned at around 2 years old (not exactly early but with hindsight it feels early!) possibly because I was pregnant and my milk wasn’t flowing so abundantly. Juno wouldn’t have a BAR of night weaning until she was three. (I continued to feed them both together for some time – see breastfeeding older children together and our experience of tandem breastfeeding here.)

But, on top of your baby’s readiness, there is your readiness as a mother to consider.

If breastfeeding all night is making you feel all out of sorts and impacting your ability to be kind and empathetic in the day time, I would say it is important to consider night weaning. When you are ready, firm in your mind, it will be easier for you to night wean.

Only you can figure out if night weaning should happen now or later.  If you are feeling pressure from society or a health visitor or extended family to night wean and that’s why you want to do it, it is probably not a good reason. Jump on Facebook and search “breastfeeding older children” in order to find a group of encouraging mothers who will help you be the mother you want to be, deep down.

If you know within yourself that it is a good time to night wean, say you have to head back to work or lack of sleep is making your struggle or whatever (it’s personal!), then there are a few things that can help:

3- Validate, even in the depths of night. I am so bad in the night. My night time brain is a monster. Until I come to the surface I am quite the punitive witch! “Will you JUST settle down and be quiet!” And then I wake up a little more and am like “Oh, I can see you are upset, did you have a bad dream?”

If I was awake enough I made sure to validate both children whilst night weaning; “You are sad as you wish you could have booboo. Booboo in the morning, okay?” I think it makes a huge difference for a child to have their upset feelings validated by us – it shows we understand how important breastfeeding is to them.

4- Breastfeeding at night is providing comfort and security and connection to your child. So when you head down the road of night weaning, be prepared for higher needs in their waking hours. No one really talks about this. But it is a big deal. Have a plan that takes this into consideration. Have a lot of connection time with your kid, call on extra support so you have the time and patience to meet their needs. Get someone to cook you meals for a few days. It is a huge change for your child, plan for it like it is.

5- Don’t leave them. There is no need to do a short, sharp shock of absence. You can absolutely still night wean and be present to them. I think this is a beautiful, modern progression in what we know about night weaning. It used to be felt that mothers had to go away, or hand over night time to someone else, or let a kid cry and cry without them, in order to night wean. It’s just not the case these days. We have hundreds of stories available to us of mothers who chose to night wean and stay present and connected to their child, even through the hardness of it. Although, of course, if you have another loving care giver on hand to offer presence, cuddlesm and support than that is a winner.

6- You can still breastfeed them off to sleep. Night weaning doesn’t have to involve stopping breastfeeding anywhere near the bed which is what some gentle night weaning advice involves. You can stop feeding all night long and STILL breastfeed them to sleep. With Juno I was just really clear about the boundary. At the going-to-sleep feed I’d say – this is your last breastfeed tonight okay darling? Booboo next in the morning. And she would go to sleep on the breast and then that would be it all night.

7- Talk it through with your child. Let your child know why you are doing it, see if they have any ideas for how to make it easier. For Juno, part of the puzzle for her was me writing it down. As if it helped her have closure or something. Your child is never too young to be communicated with respectfully. It might be a tricky conversation, but you never know where these conversation end up going, and how helpful they can be for your child.

8- You don’t have to night wean in order to have someone else take over the bedtime routine. Some people night wean as they want an evening off now and then. I am going to put it out there that your child can still breastfeed to sleep alongside lots of other ways of going to sleep. When I am home Juno has breastmilk. When I am not home she has cuddles and back tickles from Tim. When she is at Grandma’s she goes to sleep with a story. It isn’t confusing to her. She gets that she can’t drink milk from these peeps.

~

I would love to hear your stories of night weaning. It can feel so immense both for mama and child. I really believe that night weaning can be done in a gentle, respectful way. Sometimes parenting is hard and we have to make calls that feel upsetting for one or both of us, but it can still be done with empathy and connection at the very heart.

Lots of love x x