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Parenting

Stuck in a Parenting Rut? 40 Unconventional Tips for Finding Your Mojo

25 November, 2014

We woke up grumpy yesterday. Not just on the wrong side of the bed, but the wrong side of the stratosphere. Ramona was snapping at me, I couldn’t appease her. I was getting impatient, Juno was clinging to my knees like moss on a log.

I plonked on the sofa and looked at the clock. 8.05 A.M. EIGHT OH FIVE AM?!? Give me strength.

“Shiver my timbers, children o mine. We are grumpy. Can you think of anything we can do to shake these blues away?” Without even a moment’s pause Ramona said “Have a bath, put my pyjamas on and bake chocolate biscuits.”

So, that is what we did. (Well, we tried to make biscuits but we got all maverick, slopping in some milk, and then it turned into a cake which meant we then made butter icing and shook sprinkles all over and then we sat down and ate the whole thing ourselves. It was decadent and perfect.)

And that good mood has lasted us a solid 24 hours.

It was however, the first time Ramona has been able to identify and articulate her own fug remedy. And I’m definitely crap at soothing myself out of a mood. It made me want to make a list of all the potential mood lifters for families who encounter that stuck in a rut syndrome. (A list! Yes, a list will solve everything!)

It goes without saying, that the first steps for cranky kids and cross parents is validation. Everyone needs to know it is okay to be angry, grumpy, sad or to have rubbish days. Children need to hear that their big feelings are accepted and that there is room for their bad selves. That is unconditional parenting.

But when bad moods are due to disconnection, or getting in a cycle of bad communication, or simply feeling stuck in a rut as a parent, there are some things that we can do in order to get through it, to reconnect, to laugh our socks off and feel at peace again.

So, with the help of marvellous Lulastic readers on Facebook (come and say hello), here are FORTY ways to re-connect, shake the grumps, and start having fun.

Forty ways to find your parenting mojo again

Madness
We have always relied on a little bit of the ludicrous to break a bad mood.

1 Dance. We will stick on the loudest, bassiest, most fun music we can find (actually, we have a playlist for it- Grumps Begone) and then we just GET DOWN. Reader, Lorella says these mini discos always start with this favourite song.

2 Facepaint. A new face, a new mood. I have a whole bunch of face painted faces in an album on my iPad and we chose one of those and rock our animal selves for a while. It normally ends in Ramona painting my face in her signature style- red all over.

3 Fancy Dress. We all tumble into the dress ups and become flamboyant mermaid ninjas.

4 Pots and Pans. LOUD NOISES. We bang and crash them and and chant and shout a sing and let it all out in a rhythmic way.

5 Roar. A reader explains that they let it all out with a lion roar. I very much like that sense that our bodies can perfectly capture our feelings- if we are feeling fierce we can BE FIERCE.

6 Epic den. In your lounge, as big as you can make it. The perfect spot to sit out chicken pox. See Tinker Studio for diy teepee inspo.

forty ways to reconnect with your children

7 Pulling faces. Bex and Missie Lizzie both rely on face pulling contests. It is silly and fun and will end in giggles, but perhaps more importantly it involves eye contact- one of the fundamentals for reconnecting.

The great outdoors
The outdoors, isn’t it great? It is the one stop shop for the irascible. Readers share about the almost immediate impact of soaking in Vitamin D on moods.

8 Find a spot of grass, your lawn or a patch of park, throw down a thick rug and lie on your backs and watch the clouds. Spot the dragons and alligators and candy floss. (That last one is WELL EASY.)

9 Pack a picnic and eat outside. On your balcony, at the beach. A picnic, for us, involves no caramelised onion tarte- but a can of sweet corn and a can of tuna, and crisps with which to shovel them in.

10 Find a place to run and race and leap about. After running races we can usually be found collapsed in a heap of giggles. Mary says “Sometimes you just the grumps! And kids need to understand that people have mood changes, bad days, sad days etc and that its ok to feel that way. Love support and time and then an epic round of puddle jumping and tree climbing followed by lots of hugs.”

11 Follow My Leader is also a temper shifter- and particularly ideal if a child’s anger comes as a result of feeling powerless.

12 Teddy Bear’s Picnic… All the cuddly toys shoved in an ikea basket, plus a packet of hobnobs. A tree to sit under= winner.

13 Barefoot babies. Whatever the season, shake off those shoes and socks and connect with the earth beneath your feet. Sarah says “We go outside and walk barefoot on the grass – grab some of that great earth energy!”

14 Go to your local beach, woodland or river, whatever the weather. Victoria says “We did it a couple of weekends ago in the rain and sat on a grey pebble beach having hot soup out of a thermos & eating cheese & tomato sandwiches…”

Water
A wise old sage once said “Cranky kids need to get in the water”. Find a way…

15 Bath. You have to turn the taps on, and then help your child in the water and stuff. (Hehe. It is so easy, but it is our absolute first resort.) Crank the connection up by getting in yourself and washing each other’s hair.

16 A colourful bath. Depending on the depth of the bad mood, you may need more help. We stick a few drops of food colouring in to make it extra awesome. (Um, in case you are wondering, and you don’t have food colouring on hand, sliced up beetroot also works a treat…)

17 Bath paints. They are crazily simple but combine the pleasures of being in water with being messy and creating something. Recipe here.

18 Pool. If you aren’t the irritable one than consider a swim at the pool. If you ARE the irritable one STAY AWAY. Those tangled cossies, sweaty legs, pubes stuck to your feet will be way, waaaay too much.

19 Water play. Perhaps you need five minutes to hide in a room and east your secret stash of maltesers. Get out the pots and pans again, several towels, and let your kids have a riot on the lino. Thalia says “Outside water play. ‘Go and get drenched. Sure you can take your soft toys…’

Eat

Speaking of secret stashes… Kids need to know that comfort can be found in eating. Ha, I jest. Sort of. Hey, no disorder is going to come of pulling out the pizzas at times of immovable grizzliness. (Don’t quote me on that.)

Anyway, anyway…. LOOK, PIZZA!!!

20 We have saved the day with DIY pizza. I don’t know what it is about it, but my children absolutely love the awesomeness of designing their own dinner. (Which we have sometimes eaten at 3pm.) Ramona’s speciality is with sprinkles of popcorn.

21 Get an ice cream. This is probably our second resort… It involves a famous chain that prey on the whole word with their scary clown man and addictive sugary substances with extra msg…. One I avoided for TWO DECADES. Then I had kids and realised that their ice creams cost 30p and if you go through the drive thru YOU DONT EVEN HAVE TO GET OUT OF THE CAR. OR, THEREFORE, YOUR PYJAMAS. 60p buys both my children so much happiness- I actually feel like it is US exploiting THEM.

22 Chocolate cake! Or biscuits. (Whatever.) Eating something so rich, on the best china has an opulence that feels like a snatched magic moment. (*Maggggic moooooments….*)

23 A chocolate platter. Bring it all out man. Come on…Help the kids think that they have struck gold. You will love it too, and that is partly what the list is for. Finding things that will lift the mood of everyone. It’s legit, anyway. There is Valium in chocolate… I mean endorphins…. Or oxytocin…. Or something….

Make a plan

If you are lucky you might also have time to execute it….

24 We have planned lantern works for the evening…. We made lanterns and then went for the most basic little stroll carrying our lanterns as soon as dusk settled.

25 We have planned movie nights, with tickets and bags of popcorn.

26 We have planned, and done, treasure hunts. For preschoolers, they actually enjoy the planning as much as the hunt. Ruth says “Sometimes I’ll make up a treasure hunt and leave clues around the house.”

27 We have planned camping trips… Making lists (they fix everything) of what we will do and what we will need to take.

It is about dreaming… Of thinking of another day, a different day.

Get your needs met

If you, as the parent, are not coping, do something immediately that will give you hope.

28 Phone a friend. Share your sadness but move on to happiness. Discuss your real feelings, but take a moment to remember some things you have to be thankful for.

29 Dream of sea wind. Plan a trip for your own mental health. Perhaps you all need to get away for one night in order to feel the sea wind in your hair.

30 Book it an afternoon in. Email your other half and discuss an afternoon in the next week that you are going to book in in order to go solo to the cinema.

31 Swap your kids. Call your friend and organise a child swap for the very next day… You have two kids while the other rests and then swap.

32 Start a jar of awesome. My friend was telling me about her friend (it sounds like an urban legend, but I’m sure it’s true) who has a jar of awesome. Every single day she puts something in there, either a little note of something she is thankful for or a trinket to remind her of something special. And then whenever she feels blue she raids the jar, for something to give her the warm fuzzies.

Stop

33 Cancel. Can you cancel the appointment, quit any agenda? Swap the dentist for a trip to the beach. Sometimes these decisions feel irresponsible… But they can be the key to happiness.

34 Hands Free. Adele says “Recently what’s helped is me forcing myself not to look at the phone or computer for the whole day or at least most of it. I’ve realised that my being distracted makes us ALL grumpy.” THIS. SO MUCH!

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

36 Stop hanging out together. Ha. You know, as much as possible. Adrienne says “Making ‘cubbies’ out of overturned chairs, blankets, under beds or tables, wherever. Separate cubbies for each child (and even for mummy) if we’re all getting scratchy. I realised when my children were quite young that they are all introverted and time alone is really important for each of them. I tried to help them identify their feelings when they were overwhelmed by too much people – and I would ask them ‘do you need some time by yourself?’ NOT as a punishment but as an option for them to choose.”

Emergency Supplies

Sometimes, if we are on our way home and the girls and I are cranky pants I will pray that there is a package from my family awaiting us. Well… Better than God, or my family:

37 Secret Parcel. The next time you find something awesome in a charity shop, be it a box of fuzzy felts or a puzzle. Squirrel it away on top of the wardrobe for when you need a trick.

38 Unknown craft materials. A tiny packet of new modelling clay, a new stamp, some stickers. Something small and as yet destroyed turned into art will give you a breather and your children some fun.

39 Unseen fancy dress. Again, it is all about the stealth supply. The next time you see a flouncy dress in a charity shop, tuck it away and pull it out when you are down in the dumps.

40 ideas for reconnecting with your children

40 The parent’s stuff. Oh yes, I have been known to willingly hand down to my 18 month old an entire bits and bobs draw so that I can cook dinner. Some people call these “treasure baskets“… I call it “the things I don’t have a home for draw”- key rings, touristy fridge magnets (things usually sent in a parcel from my family), the camera case, a lighter… (Jokes.) You get the idea. Grown up stuff… They love it.

BONUS FEATURE!!!

The Four Healing Salves

I heard today of this ancient shamanic concept and feel it is a perfect one to remember, particularly for those of us for whom these bad days happen all too often. I hope it isn’t cultural appropriation to share it with you.

There are four activities that, if we can incorporate them into our weekly rhythm will keep us whole. I see that nearly all of them are present in the above list in some way, so they have a beautiful restorative impact too.

Singing. Be it listening to music, or belting out anthems on our way to work, singing releases all sorts of goodness for our soul.

Movement. Busting the moves, jiggling at the lights, yoga or sports.

Story. Being enthralled in the magic of a story, phoning our friends simply to share stories, catching up with people.

Silence. Sitting on the beach with the whisper of the wind, twenty minutes of meditation, stilling our minds as we cuddle our children to sleep.

How are you doing with those? I see these salves as an invitation to self care, to meet the needs of my own soul so that the next day I can get covered in facepaint whilst dancing to the Monkey song and stuffing cake in my gob at a Teddy Bear’s picnic on the beach.

I really believe that we don’t have to get stuck in a rut – that we all have the power to change things. I reckon these ideas could help break the cycle of disconnect, get you all laughing and rocking your awesome parenting mojo again.

Do any of these work a treat for your family? Do you have any other suggestions? As always,I looooove to hear from you…

Activism

A is for Activist (Raising Radicals)

17 October, 2014

“Hip hop hooray! Tom and Arthur are getting ready for their wedding!” A classic theme for our doll play; getting married. Everyone is getting married these days for Ramona. It is all about the marriage. (Even the biscuits tie the knot before she eats them.) I slip the gay dad’s union in without Ramona batting an eye lid. I figure it is our role to balance out any limiting and exclusive social conventions through our play, right? We tackle all sorts of progressive stuff with those dolls.

It’s a bit of a tightrope. As all of these parenting acts are. How do we guide children into open mindedness? How do we instill a status quo challenging inquisitiveness? Must we? Should we?

I have always thought my role was to raise radicals. We attend peace and environmental marches with gusto. I try and tackle any “isms” that dare cast their shadow upon our lives.

But I’m beginning to think that the biggest thing I can do is simply give our children the space to be who they are, to find what they are naturally drawn to. To allow them to question everything, to be authentic.  To trust themselves, to respect themselves. I think these things are perhaps the foundations that every radical stands upon. Less then what I do with them. Do you know what I mean?

I do think we can nurture a questioning environment. And I thank books for helping me do this. The girls were recently giving A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara. (Actually, they were given it by Thalia of Sacraparental.com, not Innosanto. Thalia wrote 6 Ways Children Can Change the World this week, which I found quite thought provoking!) A is for activism (Raising radicals)SAMSUNG CSCActivist Hands SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC  It is a brilliant little book – one that every kid should have upon their shelves.  Imagine a world where words like “feminist” and “grassroots” and “abolitionist” are a part of every child’s vocab.

(How is it that children manage to pick up swears so easily? Rather than classic human rights lingo, huh?)

We also hunt out the books recommended by a Mighty Girl…

We have an open door policy with books (although, you know I sometimes can’t help myself tweaking boy knights into girl knights) but I try really hard to bring in stories that nurture a perspective that includes and celebrates difference and diversity and action.

And I’m trying largely to trust that the way of being with our children is as much as important as what we do with our children, if we really care about raising radicals. It isn’t wholly necessary to represent the rights of homosexual people in every doll game, y’know?

And I’m also trying to come to terms with not raising a radical! To just love whomever they are, and whatever they love.

And mostly, I’m trying to put my own adult privilege under the microscope and attend to my own inner urges to control. Because our world will only ever become more equal if each child understands that power shouldn’t be used over another person.

As the ever challenging Teresa Brett puts it, in Parenting for Social Change:parenting for social change
Would love to hear from your radical family!

A is for Activist is available from here from the Book Depository - currently discounted on there and with free delivery, whoopville!- or ask your local independent to stock it!

This blog is for Blog Action Day 2014! Do check out all the blogs that have joined in today, and my previous year’s contributions:

Landgrabs- where roots and rights count for nothing

Occupy London- a glimpse of utopia

Parenting

Let’s talk about sex, baby

3 September, 2014

I was sitting in the bath this week discussing gender reassignment surgery with my almost four year old daughter, Ramona.

Crikey. What brought us to this point?

Is it this scourge of liberal parenting sweeping the nations that will eventually turn our young children into monstrous delinquents funding their crack habit by servicing the fetishes of immigrants (who stole their future jobs?)

Or just a sort of general sense that we should be open and truthful in conversation with our children, whatever the topic be?

(It could also be the young child’s attention to detail – the distinction between hormone replacement therapy and surgery isn’t on my “Topics To Cover Before Fourth Birthday” list but it is where you kind of end up when your older kids asks whether her female friend might become a boy one day…)

Sex Positive Parenting
When I first heard the term “Sex Positive Parenting” I had been tagged in a tweet directing me to become part of a Sex Positive blogging collective. They had read my blog and thought I’d be a good contributor. I was like “WaHAAT?” ME? I’m, like, a total prude! I was well confused. I come from a long heritage of Christian ministers and I am very much still on the side of the spectrum that thinks sex is best when accompanied with love and commitment. I absolutely love Caitlin Moran and her work, but her mission to help young girls have more sex is something I just can not get on board with.

But, actually, I think now it is possible to be on both ends of the sex-commitment spectrum and still be Sex Positive, because at its heart it is about being truthful – and non-manipulative. And this resonates massively with all my parenting. I have strong ideals about loads of things but the very last thing I am willing to do is manipulate things so that my daughters follow in my footsteps.

My role is to open doors, have truthful conversations and present sex with all its potential goodness and potential badness.
“…that’s what sex-positive parenting really is. Not telling my kids lies about sex to keep them from behaviours I don’t think are healthy. It’s telling them the truth, the whole truth, and letting it sink in so they can make their own good choices.”

Read more in this great intro by Becoming Super Mommy. (But not at the library because you will get a scary WARNING! RESTRICTED CONTENT! window pop up and you will peer around hoping no one has seen you trying to access nudity and adult sex stuff whilst sitting at a desk next to an elderly man innocently perusing the new Jamie Oliver recipe book *shameface*)

Empowering children against child sexual abuse
I have begun doing some work with the local Child Abuse Prevention Services and it has been incredible to see how much respectful parenting is part of the solution. As part of their work they show parents how to interact with their children in a way that acknowledges their rights, even from birth, because this is one of the building blocks for creating a world free from child abuse. (Which New Zealand has a crazily big problem with, by the way.)

Did you know that being upfront about the anatomical terms for genitalia is also part of this too? They say “Using the proper name for genitals (penis/ vulva/ vagina) from as young as possible gives a clear message to your child that it is ok to talk to you about anything concerning their body, even their private parts. Current thought is that children who use the correct names for their body parts are less likely to be targeted by sexual abusers (because they assume that you have open telling environment with your child) and are more likely to be believed if they tell about abuse (because they use specific language and can describe what has happened.)”
Using anatomical terms for genitalia with children

Head over to their new Facebook page to keep in touch with other ways we can empower our kids and change the culture of child abuse.

Shame and Pleasure
I was struck by the section in Robin Grille’s “Parenting for a peaceful world’ that covers the developmental stage a child goes through at around six where they are discovering the sexual element within themselves. Every child goes through it – an obsession with their genitals amongst other things- and how we respond to it will impact them for the rest of their lives.
“Shaming or moralistic responses to the child’s burgeoning sexual exploration can produce an uptight temperament or result in rebellious, sexual acting out later in life… Both direct injunctions against his sexuality and unspoken parental embarrassment or discomfort are experiences by the child as a heart-breaking rejection of his expanding self… Thus begins the separation of sex from love, genitals from the heart. The need for love and for pleasure is sublimated , and substituted by a need to over achieve, to prove the worth he feels he has lost. Hence he re-diverts his energies towards competitiveness and a high accomplishment drive.”

Reading this made me consider my own sort of Beavis and Butthead attitude (huhhuhuhuhuh) towards things of a sexual nature. Blimey- I don’t want my own inability to say the word “anus” without a smothered giggle to pass on embarrassment and shame as they grow into their sexual selves.

Being shown what a child is experiencing and learning through the genital-obsession stage will really help me respond without shame and only with understanding when the girls hit that specific developmental period.

Nurturing Openness
Which just brings me back to the bath and discussing how some boys are born with penises but inside know they are girls, and vice versa. It was a fairly long conversation covering Ruby Roses’s recent video and Fa’afafine, the third gender present in Samoan culture (and our own culture to some extent- there being such a strong Samoan diaspora community here in NZ…)and then it ended abruptly, Ramona’s attention captured by Juno’s abduction of the blue rubber duck.

I was left feeling ever so slightly discombobulated (how much is too much?!) but in hindsight, glad to be setting off on this path as I mean to continue. Because I want our children to know we can talk about anything and I want them to know they will get the truth from me.

I read an account last week of a guy taking his newly teenaged lad camping to have The Talk. It seemed like a nice idea, father and son chatting about how babies are made.

As I read the article I realised that I was probably not going to have The Talk with my daughters, because we have already had it- the first when Ramona was two and discovered I was pregnant and we have micro versions of The Talk almost weekly at the moment. These conversations are both specific and surreal in the way only children can make them. (“Where is the rooster’s penis?”)

Ramona hasn’t quite cracked the physiology of it but we will get there eventually and it will just be another bit added to all the other information she has on hand. A gradual accumulation of info that fits in with all her other knowledge about how the world works- rather than a sex education class.

So, despite my own innate prudishness I want to avoid shame having any foothold at all in our home, and I want my girls to come to see sex in all its potential wholeness. I want to halt embarrassment and allow the tangle of love, pleasure and sexual self to develop unheeded.

*does the Running Man in neon shell suit whilst rapping* Let’s talk about sex, baby… (and toddler… and six year old… and teenager… ) Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be…

Share you thoughts, my friends! Have you had The Talk yet?

Feminism, Parenting

Such a typical boy!

20 June, 2014

I have the child that people use to make a point about how boys and girls are just *so* different, even as babies. “I hate to stereotype but my child is SUCH a typical boy! Completely different to my daughters!”

ME TOO! Look:

My child is unstoppable, a thundering, prowling, into- everything child.

My child is a clambering climber, and has always attempted to mount every piece of furniture in a room, even before crawling.

My child is so, so brave- falling down without a peep and getting straight back up to tackle the challenge again. Two bruises gracing the forehead just now.

My child loves to throw. Balls, ornaments, shoes, knickers, everything must be tested against gravity. Often thrown with force at my head.

My child is immensely strong- an item grabbed will never, ever be recovered from those intense, grasping fists.

My child is physically aggressive. I was given a small black eye when my kid was only 9 months old. My elder daughter cowers before her fisticuffs loving young sibling.

My child loves anything with wheels- zooming toy cars and trains about as if on some kind of advert for toy cars and trains.

My child is passionate about construction- building up towers and knocking them down (and throwing the blocks at people’s heads.)

My child even hides for a poo, and you KNOW boys always hide when they’ve got to do their business.

But you know what? My child is a girl.

Juno is so, so different to her older sister, Ramona. She exhibits so many of the behaviours and character traits associated with boys. Instead of proving the rule, she disproves it.

You know what? Children are different! They show different personalities not because of their gender but because they are different people!

It’s a funny thing, but people communicate with Juno in a much more masculinised way. Ramona was always Sweetie or Honey where as Juno is nearly always called Buddy, Lil Fella, even Brute by one particularly nice stranger. It’s almost as if people can’t reconcile this quite physical disposition with a little girl.

How about, instead of ring fencing certain behaviours go specific genders, we give freedom and space for our children to become whomever they are? Where instead of a subtle rejection of our son’s love of dolls, we welcome it as entirely natural. Where instead of being shocked at our daughter’s physicality, we give her ways to express it fully. Where we let research debunk gender myths, rather than allow anecdotes to perpetuate them .

We will eventually create a world where all character traits belong to all children, where they can follow their passions with gusto, and where not one child feels oppressed by someone else’s inaccurate expectations.

Bring that on.

20140618-115543-42943795.jpg

Have you ever addressed “typical boy/ girl” remarks? How has that gone? Any tips?

PS- This book, How Gender Myths are hurting our relationships, our children and our jobs, looks FASCINATING! And I really enjoyed this blog post from a mother of farting, naked girls!

Attachment parenting, Parenting

Emotional Memory – explaining a child’s and a parent’s raw reactions

9 June, 2014

A few months ago, one of our last days in UK, the four of us rocked up to a park, eager to get some air after being stuck in a bit of gnarly traffic. It was a crazy windy day, perfect for kite flying. As we unfolded our kite our three year old daughter began to scream. She threw herself on the floor, thrashing about, her face purple, her arms and legs crashing onto the muddy grass. “PUT THE KITE AWAY” she screamed. “PUT IT AWAY AWAY AWAY AWAY” through heaving sobs.

We were astonished! We were at the park, one of her favourite places. And I was really excited about flying the kite. I’d been belting out Mary Poppins’ “Let’s go fly a kite! Up to the highest heights! LALALALALALALAAAAA!” all the way through the London traffic, to my whole family’s obvious delight.

We validated her rage and distress and then we, a bit reluctantly, folded the kite back up and put it away.

She calmed down, crying quietly. Once the kite was back in the van she cheered up and we got back to the important task of chasing each other around trees.

As I ran through the wild winds contemplating Ramona’s meltdown I was struck by the fact that the very last time the kite had been played with Tim had broken his ankle. It had gotten caught in a tree and as Tim leapt from the branch after untangling it, he fractured his bone. One of the kids in the garden had come to get me and as I ran out I just saw Tim flat on his back with pain – a rare, rare sight. Ramona was just standing there, flummoxed by her indestructible dad on the ground.

For Ramona, the kite holds a memory of her dad being hurt, disappearing into A and E for several hours and then hobbling about in a cast for a few weeks. Of course she didn’t want the kite out! Of course her way to communicate the trauma she felt was through an epic meltdown!

It is not often that our children’s big emotions can be so directly traced to a past memory, but over the last week I have become convinced that this possibly explains quite a few of the most random tantrums. Emotional Memory - explaining a parent's and a child's raw emotions
(Photos from before the kitegate!)

Emotional Memory in Children

Robin Grille is an author and psychologist with over 25 years experience and he spoke convincingly last week of the power of emotional memory. Our bodies and minds can hold on to trauma from many years ago and, without us even being able to recall the incident, we can have a huge reaction when something stirs that body memory within us. Cognitive neuroscientists have discovered that we have body memories even from birth, and it is possible that some of the intense emotions children experience could be linked to their entry into the world.

Sometimes it seems as if “tantrums” (that word seems quite disrespectful in light of all of this, eh?) are triggered by the most trivial, insignificant thing (i.e the Reasons my Son Is Crying meme) when there is a good chance the trivial thing has triggered a body memory of something big.

Of course, I also reckon some children are simply pissed off a lot of the time because they have so little say over their lives.

Emotional Memory for Parents
Traumatic memories of childhood also stay with us and inform our parenting. Do you ever find your self having a quite irrational, emotional response to your child’s behaviour? You find yourself triggered by their meltdowns, or mess, or their lack of appreciation? It is possible that that is because of memories of your own childhood are brought to the surface by your child.

During one seminar last week – “When Parent’s were children” – Robin had us all close our eyes and focus on the behaviour in our child that “triggers” us. We then imagined ourselves at that age and dwelt on what was going on for us at that time. It was incredible how, with a bit of help, we were able to see how much our own childhood impacts our parenting.

If we want to support our children through their own emotions, without our own baggage getting in the way, we need to take a look inside and find some healing for any childhood trauma we are carrying.

As Robin put it, we need to look out with one eye and in with the other.

There is also a possibility that we can’t cope with our child’s emotions because we are unsupported.
If I was unsupported as a parent I could easily have looked at Ramona’s kite-triggered meltdown in the park and taken a picture and sent it into Reasons My Son is Crying with the tag “We got the kite out at the park.”

We need to try and find a small tribe of parents who understand and can hold our hand through tricky spots. (Perhaps that it what the people involved in that meme are trying to do – but I’d argue it is very much at the expense of their children’s dignity.)Emotional Memory and a child's tantrums

Responding to a possible emotional memory

So, the next time your child goes for the nuclear reaction, welcome it (they are possibly working through past pain) and validate it (“You feel so angry, it is okay to feel angry.”) and give some space for your own feelings (“Is this bringing anything up?”) and find some support (be it a whisper in your friend’s ear “Eeek, this is a bit embarrassing but my child really needs me right now!” or a respectful recount of the incidence in a private Facebook forum – do you have one of these? I think they are very useful.)

I think awareness about the concept of “emotional memory” could be an incredible tool in enabling us to support our children through their emotional explosiveness and in stopping the baton of childhood trauma being passed from one generation to the next.

I’m fairly sure that experience with the kite in the park, as we held Ramona through her trauma, had a sort of healing effect on her. I hope so – we are going to a kite festival in a couple of weeks so we are going to find out! *nervous face*

(Mind you, me being unable to to refrain from skipping around the crowds singing Mary Poppins might set her up with another, altogether more traumatic, Emotional Memory.)

PS Come and connect with us on Facebook for more peaceful parenting and thrift blogging & discussion!

Parenting

Could the concept of “adultism” transform relationships between adults and children?

14 May, 2014

“Isms” are rare in my circle of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Nearly everyone I know is involved in a journey of eradicating any sexism, racism or other prejudice in their lives. We are all aware that NO ONE should be treated worse because they are different.

Apart from children.

They are different and they are treated poorly because of it.

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Consider how happily we humiliate children in public- forcing them to say “please” and “thank you” before giving them the item they want.

We treat their bodies like our property – taking stuff out of their hands without invitation, moving them aside without an “Excuse me”, forcing clothes on them.

We talk about children while they are right there “How old is she?” “Is she a good girl?”

We fail to take their conversation seriously – a toddler will be explaining something, or telling a story, and so often, instead of listening and responding sensibly, we chuckle, and interrupt with “Hehe, you are TOO CUTE!” And we catch other adult’s eyes to laugh at this funny little thing’s wild story of a broken leg and a horse called Shakira.

We don’t trust a child’s judgement- frequently over ruling their own ideas and solutions, often just with one word “No” or four words, “Because I said so!”

We question their feelings – “You’re not scared” and we tell them to stop feeling them “Don’t be sad!” in a way that I have never heard one adult say to another.

We give children no say in their activities and force them to tug along with out agenda “Right, time to go!” or “You don’t want that mobile phone, here have this maraca instead!”

We tell children not to listen to their own bodies, but to trust US because we ACTUALLY know what they’re bodies are saying “You haven’t eaten enough! You can’t possible be full!” Or “Come on, it is 8pm you must be tired.” Or “It is freezing! You must keep your jumper on!”

There are many more ways we oppress children because of their age- I could go on and on; they are tripping out of my typing fingers because I know them too well. I am guilty of at least a couple of these every single day.

And all of these examples, if we were to change “child” to “woman” or “disabled person” would be completely and utterly OUTRAGEOUS. But we feel free to treat children this way simply because they are young and often don’t have the words to protest. (Or they do protest and we call it a tantrum.)

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Adultism, as defined by Dr Checkoway is “…all of the behaviors and attitudes that flow from the assumption that adults are better than young people, and are entitled to act upon young people in many ways without their agreement.”

I believe that awareness is the first, crucial step towards change. It was reading Parenting for Social Change by Teresa Brett and Escape from Childhood by John Holt that opened my eyes to the way I was allowing a corrupt power relationship to perpetuate injustice in my own home. Despite being utterly committed to a fair world, free from any “isms” I was allowing this massive “ism” to happen under my own roof.

(I’m not sure how served we are by the term “adultism” as opposed to “ageism” which seems a more technically accurate term, and one that already has some traction due to older generation having their rights overlooked. It is possible that ageism, in relation to young people, might be a more palatable phrase.)

Gosh, this is all sounding a bit heavy, isn’t it? I have woken up all fired up about it this morning!

I also feel really positive though as awareness is happening, all over the world. Just as so many people in the world are challenging, and defeating, racism and sexism, I believe we are beginning the journey to challenging ageism against young people.

One day childhood will be experienced differently- we will treat children with respect and they will be free to enjoy their full plethora of rights.

What do YOU think? 

Read more about adultism in this amazing article by Teresa Brett.

Attachment parenting, Parenting, Uncategorized

Attachment Parenting A Toddler: Beyond Breastfeeding and Babywearing

4 March, 2014

Last night Tim was out late so I had two little people on my hands at bed time- this is pretty rare for us. I hunkered down with them both, one on each side, breastfeeding to sleep, their guzzling and gulping the only sound in the treacly silence of a countryside evening.

Their eyes began closing as if on command, and they held hands across my belly. “What a perfect picture of attachment parenting!” I thought, ever so slightly wryly.

Truth is, this is rarely what mothering looks like for me. I find tandem breastfeeding uncomfortable and over the last year I’ve encouraged Ramona, who is three, down from a billion breastfeeds a day to just this one breastfeed at bed time.

Even last night, a second after I had that thought, baby Juno decided sleep is for suckers and instead burrowed under the duvet, popped back up with a fork (you know) and climbed atop my tummy, yodelling and waving her weapon about. (It is testament to the power of the boob that Ramona carried on drifting off to sleep regardless.) This peaceful, tandem breastfeeding and tandem babywearing thing just doesn’t seem to fit us with grace and ease!

Ramona rarely rides about in a sling these days – she prefers to run, scoot or sit upon her dad’s shoulders – clinging to his head and stealing his specs. We do cosleep – but her with her daddy in one double and Juno and I in another.20140304-134021.jpg

It’s funny, because when our children are babies attachment parenting seems to mainly be about those three behaviours.

Of course, babywearing, breastfeeding, and cosleeping is how attachment parenting often LOOKS but no official AP sergeant has ever demanded these things in order to make it on the AP team. Because attachment- based on a quite unwooly psychological / mental well being- theory- really mostly comes down to nurturing connection and responding quickly to a child’s needs, with respect.

But when the baby has been weaned, when they want to sleep in their own bed, when they opt for the scooter over the sling, what does attachment parenting look like? As they grow, and these things become a little less a part of their lives, many parents feel a bit lost.

I for one began burying my head into books again, searching for ideas about child development, communication and nurturing connection with this wild and wonderful toddler in my life. 20140304-133829.jpg

There are five main ways that our attachment parenting philosophy has influenced our parenting an older child:

Validate
I reckon this is the Big One, the crucial part of our communication with toddlers. If attachment parenting is about connection, trust and responsiveness then our toddler need to feel understood and they need to feel that their emotions are valid, loved through their big feelings. We need to knock on the head “You’re okay, honey!” and ” Don’t worry!” – replacing them with an acknowledgment of how they are feeling; “You lost your toy? And I can see you are really upset” and “You are frustrated about that!”

Get into the habit of repeating back to them what you hear. Don’t add to their emotion “OOH, YOU ARE SUPER, SWEARINGLY FURIOUS!” (hehehe) but do give them words if they can’t find them- “upset” is a nice word that covers lots of emotions.

Start with your baby. Even when they cry as a tiny one, instead of “Shhhh” as them “Were you worried that I had walked away?” (Or whatever) – of course, while offering your boob because that IS what they want, a lot of the time.

This validation is a communication habit for a lifetime, for children, for friends, and colleagues.

Standing back
Strangely, it feels as if so at a loss are attachment parents when their kids hit the toddler years that they become “helicopter parents” – hovering over their child’s every move, as if worried of severing the attachment.

This isn’t the way, dudes.

Attachment parenting is about responding to a child’s needs and as they grow one of a child’s most demanding needs is that of autonomy. They need to know they are in charge of some stuff, they need to know they have a say on the things that impact their lives. (They also – importantly- have a right to this.)

Has your child, through tantrums, been asking for more space to exercise their will and their choices? What areas will you let go control of? Their clothes? Their food? Their play?

The attachment parents is the one that stands back when their child strikes out for independence, knowing that sometimes meeting the need of an older child can sometimes look like the EXACT OPPOSITE of meeting the needs of a baby.

Touch
And yet. Children still need touch. A parent’s hug can still fill the cup of an older child who has emptied themselves emotionally. A cuddle can change direction of an afternoon of play between kids that has become quite wrestle-based! Sometimes I wonder if a toddler’s physical (by physical I mean a lot of pushing) play is a plea for more touch.

Touch activates important chemicals in our bodies, and sometimes toddlers, and parents, can be so busy that we don’t activate them enough. It may be a cuddle, joining in with the wrestle, or even a massage that can restore a connection lost in mayhem.

The other day Ramona was struggling a bit and we kind of invented a game. She lies on her back and I just do the motions for different things over her body. So I say “spiders creeping up” and tap my fingers all over her from feet to head and “sun shining down” and whoosh my fingers back down from her head to her toes- like the whooshing sun, you know?!? I did different animals and weathers for about five minutes and it was almost like a meditation. There have a been a couple of times since when she has been really sad that she has asked me for the creepy spider game again.

It reminded me how substantial good healthy physical contact is with our busy toddlers and how it can meet needs that are hidden amongst rambunctiousness.

Empathy
The most helpful tool I have found in my parenting kit (what, you didn’t get a nice bumbag filled with gadgets? It comes out just before the placenta) has been an ability to empathise. And I don’t really know where it came from. I struggled for about a year feeling overwhelmed by the strength of a two year old’s feelings, almost annoyed and frustrated – primarily I imagine because I couldn’t FIX it. I felt almost redundant.

I wish I could remember what triggered the change. (It was quite possibly finding out about play urges- a child’s instinct to play/throw/climb/burrow is as strong for them as BREATHING!) But somehow I just began seeing things from our daughter’s perspective- and I got a bit of a glimpse into how annoying and frustrating HER day must get! Being so curious, but not being given the space to follow up discoveries. Being so excited but finding that shouts of glee aren’t welcome. Being so opinionated but not being heard.

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I’m no parenting saint AT ALL and I do feel infuriated sometimes but stepping back from my feelings and attempting to see things through her eyes REALLY helps.

Play
Play is a form of communication for children, so if we want to nurture a strong connection with them we need to play hard too! Play has also rescued many a moment for us that was spiralling into disconnection.

If Ramona is doing something that breaks our one rule (No harming people or people’s stuff) then I will often use play as a way of recovering any shaken connection. So a couple of days ago Ramona was enjoying pulling apart a friend’s house plant. I explained to her why house plants need to not have their leaves ripped, but she continued. I was picking up that Ramona was running on empty a bit so I firmly said “I’m not going to let you pull apart that plant” and then I began to cry big, ridiculous sobs and pretended to be the plant “Noooooo, don’t pull meeeeeeeee!!!” And we had a silly old game of plant chasing kid and kid pulling plant. (A classic.) Later on, when Ramona was full up and connected again, we had a conversation about keeping people’s stuff safe.

Attachment parenting is not about avoiding all tension and healthy boundaries/ guidelines, but IS about creating a good, receptive environment in which to discuss these things in a respectful way. Play is often a bridge between inappropriate behaviour and necessary discussion for us.

One of the best books I have read on the whole of childhood based on attachment theory is “Letting Go As Children Grow” by author of cosleeping bible, Three In A Bed, Deborah Jackson.

“The letting go process does not have to wait until the rebellious teenager explodes with anger and frustration. It does not even have to wait for a two yea old to become ‘terrible’. We can let our children go from the moment they are born by trusting in the process of nature and responding to their needs as they become apparent.”

How does attachment look in your family these days? I’d love to hear from families with different ages.

Bombaround

The pockets of others

26 February, 2014

I was remembering recently some of those days when Ramona was a baby and my husband would go off to work, how I would look despairingly at the long day ahead, how it seemed to yawn on and on. 6:30pm, that exhilarating moment when Tim would open the front door, was so completely in the distance that it wasn’t even a speck on the horizon. It had dropped off a far flung cliff, like a suicidal Woody Woodpecker, a mocking laugh, a wisp of smoke.

And I LOVED being a mum. But, sheesh, those days alone just. Stretched. On,

People with one baby quite often ask “How is it with two kids?” and I begin to say “Oh, AMAZING and SO EASY!!” and then I remember that the four of us have been on the road together, in each others pockets, since Juno was four months old and really I barely have a clue about juggling the needs of two little people at one time!

How fortunate are the girls, to have their dad around so very much? And how fortunate am I, that when I am feeling a bit clung to I can easily take a breather? And that the days are full, chockablock, bursting at the seems with stuff to do, too MUCH to do?

It couldn’t be more different, these days.

(We weren’t really made to do this parenting thing solo, eh? We need gaggles of friends and neighbours and sisters to thrive. One of my friends, Jenny blogged beautifully about this very thing this week.)

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We have slowly etched our way around the coastline of the North Island (of New Zealand, that is, NEW ZEALAND, a whole other STRATOSPHERE! *googles stratosphere* Oh, actually, no, I mean, WHOLE OTHER HEMISPHERE) catching up with friends. And there are new family members, children and babies, oh, so many bonny babies. It has been amazing just bustling about with them, living in each other’s pockets, doing our days all together. Charity shopping together. Pretty much mostly just charity shopping together.

We’ve been hunting through possibilities of dining tables for the bus. We had our hearts set on a formica table but in this land awash with ancient woods they KNOW the value of a nice formica table. Pfft. We have looked high and low, we’ve had every friend on the hunt with us and finally, last week we found one, HURRAH! There was much back slapping and hooting, as if Tim and I had really succeeded at something. Yep, folks, our ambition has shriveled to this.

We’ve been so inspired by the stuff our friends are up to – our friends who have an organic bulk buying co-op thing casually going on, those friends who do a great bit of co-housing, the family with the beautiful home who Know The Way Of The Vintage Tapestry.

I made new friends in Wellington, bloggers I knew from the Internet who were actual Real Life People. Thalia from Sacraparental and Tasha from Maybe Diaries. Two awesome new feminist, attachment parenty, social justice loving friends.

We went to the New Zealand Unschooling Camp and met a crowd of people who stunned us with the simple ways they were fully living their dreams, growing food and having adventures. (A whole other post about unschooling coming soon!) A family who are travelling in a bus and unschooling their FOUR BOYS for OVER A YEAR, one woman who unschools with a little tribe, a kindred-spirit mother unschooling with her awesome lad.

Gosh.

We’ve been busy.

So busy that I sometimes forget this little ache in my heart that just wishes my sister, Jo, and her family were close by. Her taunting me by blogging amazing recipes involving cream cheese and salted caramel doesn’t help. I want to have a cup of tea with her and eat her baking.

We are coming to the end of our nomadic stage… we are thinking of heading back to Thames this weekend, a cool little town at the start of the mightily majestic Coromandel. We might nuzzle down for a bit. Perhaps learn about growing stuff properly, search for a bit of land to call our own. (Bit more serious than a retro table, eh?) We have not at all been swayed towards Thames because they have some of the best charity shops in New Zealand. (We have.) (What, dad?! That is perfectly reasonable criteria to base a new land ownership on!)

Life might start to look slightly more normal. But we are going to cling to our sense of adventure, seek a tribe to live life with, pockets to dwell in.

And we will try as hard as we can to avoid anything that might leave one of us staring at the clock willing the minutes to pass.

This is a featured post – please see my disclosure for more on that.

Parenting

How to be a Vegetarian Parent

5 February, 2014

Now. You wouldn’t think I’d need a guest post on raising a vegetarian family, what with being a vegetarian since the tender age of 10 when my plate of sausages I’d ordered in the cafe came accompanied by a little plastic pig and I was traumatised into vegetarianism.

However. The second day of Baby Led Weaning with Ramona I came into the kitchen to see her having a little picnic with her older friends, who had dished out the sausage rolls they’d bought with them and Ramona was gleefully cramming them into her mouth! Ramona now opts for meat, meat and more meat whenever possible…. Although she happily tells everyone as she scoffs that “Mummy doesn’t eat animals!”

So. It is with great interest and delight that I have the wonderful Chris of Thinly Spread contributing to my How To Be A _____ Parent series today, all about her vegetarian family.

I’m delighted to be here on one of my very favourite blogs writing about one of my very favourite things! I have been vegetarian since I was 19 back in 1986 (eek!), my husband cast off his meat eating ways when he was 15 and our children have never eaten a morsel of anything dead. They are now 17, 16, 14 and 8 and are adept at resisting peer pressure, advertisers, well-meaning lunchtime supervisors, friends’ parents and teachers. So – how have we done it?

Thinly Spread’s Top Tips for Raising Vegetarian Children

  • Tell them why: We’ve always been open about why we don’t eat meat. Obviously when they were younger we spared them the gruesome details and just told them that we didn’t want anything to have to die to feed us, as they got older we talked more about the meat industry itself. Living behind a butcher’s has definitely helped with this one – seeing a whole dead pig being carried in on a bloodied man’s shoulder is far easier to connect with a life gone than a bit of meat, sanitised and wrapped up in cling film on the supermarket shelf.
  • Make it Easy: It isn’t hard to find veggie treats and sweets so they don’t need to feel they are ‘missing out’. The hardest bit for my youngest in particular is when sweets are handed out at school (on a fellow pupil’s birthday not just teachers chucking sweets at children) but he’s happy now he knows we will trot to the shop and get him a veggie alternative. They even make vegetarian marshmallows now which has made campfires and hot chocolate much easier!

Baking with Kids

  • Don’t be Too Worthy: Vegetarianism doesn’t have to be all hearty wholefoods and brown gloop neither does it have to be over complicated and time-consuming. Fill plates with colour and flavour and lots of variety think about texture, smell, flavour and appearance – vegetarian food looks so good!
  • Grow Your Own: It is so satisfying to pull a parsnip the size of a child out of the ground and then serve it up in a soup or roasted with sage for lunch. Picking sweetcorn cobs and then racing them to the ready boiling water to make the most of their sweet goodness is a memory maker. We have a very small patch but I’ve always made room for a few veg for the pot – it gives them ownership over their food when they’ve grown it from seed and is a fab way of introducing new vegetables to small children! Even a pot of parsley on a windowsill or some cress grown as a caterpillar to add to an egg sandwich delights small children.

cress caterpillar by thinlyspread.co.uk

  • Stick to ‘the Rules’ but…: This is the tricky one. Food rebellion is often a child’s first opportunity to flex his/her muscles and test the independence water. One of my children used to store all his food in his cheeks like a hamster and it took all my strength not to make a big issue out of it, another wouldn’t eat carrots for a year – the first is now in his late teens and wolfs down everything at phenomenal speed and the other eats carrots happily. I have tried to allow them freedom to manoeuvre telling them that it’s fine if they want to try meat at other people’s houses but that it won’t be cooked or eaten in ours – none of them have been tempted, so far!
  • Teach Them To Cook: I think this is important whether you are veggie or not. Giving children ownership over their food, allowing them to choose a recipe to cook and helping them acquire the skills to do so encourages them to explore and to discover new flavours. Mine take great pride in producing a family meal even if it’s just pasta and cheese. Cooking with love is one of life’s simplest pleasures and once they have the tools and techniques to drum up some dinner I can kick back and relax!

cooking with kids

I’ve tried to make vegetarianism just ‘what we do’ with no pressure, no drama, just quiet, calm normal every day life. As they’ve grown I’ve gradually introduced more information but made it clear that they can do with it as they wish. I’ve fed them with love with delicious cruelty free food and they are growing into caring, thoughtful adults before my very eyes. In the Autumn my eldest will spread his wings and fly and is contemplating veganism (mainly because he’s not keen on dairy – he used to projectile vomit after a yoghurt as a baby which was quite something to behold – he cleared a whole double bed with a stream of it once) and, at the moment, I can’t imagine any of them popping out for a burger. If they do, I’ll still love them but will bombard them with veggie lasagne, chilli, burgers, salads, soups and cake until they give in!

You can normally find Chris over at Thinly Spread where she blogs about family life and sometimes at her vegetarian food blog Life Is Delicious. She has written about vegetarian food and family life for various sites and publications and you can see some of her recipes on Great British Chefs.

Parenting

How to be A Mindful Parent

15 January, 2014

Today’s How To Be A Mindful Parent contribution could not have come at a better time! Mindful parenting is difficult at the best of times but moving to a new country and trying to figure out what we’re doing seems to have made this even harder. The wonderful Lisa Hassan Scott’s How To Be a Mindful Parent made me stop and reflect on what I need to do to become more present in these hectic moments.How to Be a Mindful Parent - 3 lifechanging yet simple practices

There are some days when it feels as though the world is against me. Today we’re ten minutes late for the dentist. We’re trying to leave the house when one child suddenly announces that he needs to use the loo (not a number one, you understand), the other two are bickering instead of putting their shoes on, the lunch still hasn’t been made for when we get home and I remember that I’ve missed a deadline and there won’t be time tonight to work on anything. My mind is busy, busy, busy and I’m wishing I could escape from this stressful situation.

Mindfulness is the opposite of having a busy mind: it is filling the mind with only one thing at a time. Sounds easy, right? Of course you know from experience that it’s not.

Try sitting down and staring at a candle flame or a pebble or a flower for five minutes or more. For most of us, within the first minute we’re thinking about our shopping list or the ridiculous thing we said yesterday or the work we’ve got to get done tonight. It’s not easy to fill the mind with a single thing.

Mindful parenting involves allowing the mind to focus solely on this present moment with our child(ren). It involves letting go of worries about the future or anxieties about the past. It involves letting go of labels, expectations, and our own personal baggage that can get in the way of a truly authentic experience with your child.

At the heart of Mindful Parenting is Connection
After all, this is the aim of mindful parenting: connection. A mindful parent seeks to establish a meaningful connection between the parent’s authentic self and the child’s authentic self. We let go of what we are expected to be, what we used to be, what we hope to become. We allow our child and ourselves to simply be who we really are.

It’s essential to first let go of thoughts about being ‘good at it’ because it is simply a practice. With mindful parenting we release judgements and criticism; we practice acceptance. We are all learning and growing every day. You wouldn’t expect to sit down and play a Chopin sonata after your first piano lesson, and similarly nobody’s going to be a totally mindful parent all the time. Give yourself a break.

So allow me to offer up some ideas for how our parenting could become more mindful, and as a consequence, more meaningful.

Check in with your thoughts
1. We can become aware of our thoughts. If you do only one thing to engender deeper connection with your child, this is it. Imagine your mind like a television screen, a canvas or a blank wall. Across the surface of the mind thousands of thoughts float each day. Some are fleeting, others draw us in and invite further consideration. When we are in the hothouse conditions of parenting, gentling a crying baby, supporting a toddler in a tantrum, dealing with older children who are arguing—in all of these situations myriad thoughts arise. When we are low, we might think:
“I can’t do this.”
“I’m not cut out for this.”
“Why is this happening to me?”
“I wish I were somewhere else!”
“I hate this.”

And when those thoughts take over and multiply, parenting is invariably harder and we feel more disconnected from ourselves and our children. We might end up behaving in ways that aren’t in keeping with our overall parenting philosophy. Then the critical thoughts arise (“I’m a bad mother”) and these sow the seeds for further disconnection and unhappiness.

When you become aware of your thoughts you find yourself in the driver’s seat. Instead of being at the mercy of your thoughts you are in charge and can choose to divert the mind or interrogate the veracity of those thoughts. You are not your thoughts. Practice checking in with yourself and watching what pops up on the canvas of your mind. You may start to notice patterns. The first step is awareness.

Get Grounded
2. We can ground ourselves. To bring ourselves smack dab into the present moment we can make ourselves completely physically present. Grounding usually has to do with our relationship with the Earth. So you might stand for a moment and sense your feet touching the floor. You might stop and become aware of your physical body and the space that it occupies (more often than not you may also become aware of where you’re holding on to tension—raised shoulders, clenched jaw, etc.).
But my favourite way to ground myself is completely child-centred and harnesses the power of human touch. I just touch my child. The sensation of his skin, the chubby dimples of his knuckles, the flyaway down of his hair—all of these feelings draw me away from unhelpful thoughts and straight toward my child. This is no absent-minded touch. It is a meaningful interaction that makes our connection real on the outside, so that we can connect deeply from the inside.

Breathe
3. We can breathe. Goodness, it sounds so simple, doesn’t it? From the moment we’re born, til the moment we leave this life we breathe. It’s automatic, totally involuntary. The rhythmic, pulsating, wave-like movement of the breath can become a cornerstone of calm in our lives. Focussing on the ebb and flow of the breath can drown out the unhelpful thoughts that lead us away from connection with our children. Instead of the din of thoughts (“What a mess!” “There’s too much to do!” “I can’t possibly meet everyone’s needs today!” “What a horrible day this is!”), we can let the mind hover over the calm tidal inhalation and exhalation.

When we’re stressed, we usually clench the tummy muscles, shoulders and face. We lock up the breathing mechanism and instead of filling the lungs, the breath only reaches the upper chest and ribs. Allowing the breath to move right down towards the tummy softens those muscles and calms the mind. When parenting is hard and you need connection with your child(ren), try the pursed lips breath: breathe in through the nose and when you exhale lightly purse your lips and gently but smoothly blow the breath out until you have released every little bit of breath. You may be surprised at the length of your exhalation and how quickly your tummy becomes involved. Repeat as many times as you need to calm yourself and let go of tension.How to be a mindful parent

Each of these three ideas is a practice. It’s something we try to do as much as possible during the day, but there are times when we might not feel as though we’re terribly good at being mindful. All of our responsibilities won’t go away, but mindfulness can help to bring a little more peace to pressured moments.

Self-care
One of the fruits of all of these practices is self-compassion. With time and practice you will become more aware of the way self-critical thoughts beat you down and prevent you from living authentically as a parent. Don’t let them win: persevere. Even better, if you can get to a Yoga class, a one-to-one teacher or a meditation class, then do. In my opinion, it’s the best investment you can make into your parenting.

Trips to the dentist only come round twice a year, but as a parent I face challenging situations every day. There’s no one recipe for being a “good” parent. With mindfulness we let go of those value judgements and we simply aim to be the parent our child needs. No parenting manuals, no how-to’s. Just real, satisfying, meaningful connection.

©Lisa Hassan Scott 2013.

Lisa Hassan Scott is a Yoga teacher, freelance writer, breastfeeding counsellor, home educator and mother of three children ages 4, 8 and 11. She blogs at lisahassanscott.co.uk.