Breathing In and Out: planning a family rhythm

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I first experienced “Rhythm” through my work in kindergarten.  I LOVED this term when I first heard it, and more so once I experienced it and began to incorporate it into my teaching, my own life, and later in my parenting. As an early childhood teacher I had been using rhythm for a long time, without naming it as such. I am referring to the flow of the day where one thing comes after another in a predictable manner. I had been calling it “Routine” but rhythm is a natural flow rather than one that is scheduled (you can read more about it HERE and HERE – this is part 3 of a series of articles on rhythm). After living a scheduled life, and teaching to a schedule I felt the freedom that rhythm offered as a cool, relaxing breeze through my day.

My favourite moment was when I noticed how the two kindergartens worked together in their rhythm. Without even checking clocks our two kindy rooms, side by side, breathed in and out through the day together. One class would be playing outside on an out breath, while the other would be inside, and then a natural swap would occur and the energy and breathing would be exchanged. After lunch both kindy rooms breathed quietly in their own rhythm as they rested and pursued gentle and calming activities before the out-breath that occurred at home time. And within each kindy room our children would move through the day without even asking what comes next: they would always know. Indeed, some days children would often start singing the pack-up song just at the same time we sensed it was time to draw playtime to an end. Our days were simple, uncomplicated, predictable and safe.

Do you know why it worked? It was because our rhythms were purposefully designed to meet ALL of our needs, our activities were timed for the part of the day when we had the right energy for it: highly creative, thoughtful and active moments at the start of the day, flowing through to quiet, reflective and more individual experiences in the afternoon. We were not trying to fight against the children’s natural interests, energies or capabilities, and our rhythm changed subtly as the children grew older. Presenting our daily activities in the same way each day offered predictability, which children find incredibly soothing, which in turn meant that they felt safe and relaxed. Held gently in this predictable space they could find the freedom to follow their interests, develop their skills and grow with each other.

Because the children felt so safe, every now and then we could mix it up and offer a surprise, a challenge, or a new adventure. A change to the rhythm! Rather than causing anxiety, our secure children rose to greet their challenges with enthusiasm. Our weekly rhythm would also offer a bit of variety, still maintaining that predictability .. and our seasonal rhythm would move us through the transformations of the year (and our own developmental transformations) with respect and reverence.

Once I became a parent it was a natural thing for me to bring rhythm into our family life, and every now and then we review it because while there is safety in predictability, we can also stagnate if we don’t find flexibility with our changing needs.

How do you breathe through your days? Being aware of breath, to me, is the essential part of creating a rhythm that works. There is no point planning activities or jobs at a time that I or my children would naturally be resting, or scheduling a barrage of activities without considering time for quiet moments and reflection. Being aware of my needs, and the needs of my family are key.

Our Daily Rhythm flows like this:

Morning: Get dressed, breakfast, make beds/tidy rooms, make lunches, go to school

Mid-Morning: daily task / errands (little one is with me)

Lunch

Afternoon: quiet activities such as craft, reading, cooking or gardening. School pick-up

After School: hang up bags, lunch boxes in the kitchen, afternoon tea, play, tidy up, wash hands/bath

Evening: dinner, wash up, teeth, pyjamas, books, bed

It just happens the way it happens.  For us, at this time of writing, this tends to be a typical 6am – 7pm daily rhythm for the children. We try not to schedule too much.  As the children grow older there are a few afternoon activities to consider, but kept to a manageable minimum so that MY needs are met as well as the children’s.

Our Weekly rhythm flows in much the same way, but is designed to get things done! Again, I keep mine as simple as I can. I tend to get interested in a lot of things so my week needs to be fairly flexible. As I still have a little one at home with me, I try to do only ONE big thing a day, and do that in the morning, so that we have the afternoon free to flow as it will. Throughout the week I am also careful to schedule as much home time as I can, because afternoon activities and morning jobs can mount up and keep us busy. It is important to me, and to my children (especially on school holidays!) to have a full day at home after a busy day out. My weekly rhythm looks something like this:

MONDAY –  Morning: house cleaning and exercising. Afternoon: baking

TUESDAY – Morning: playgroup. Afternoon: craft / reading.

WEDNESDAY – Morning: laundry, errands. Afternoon: writing/work tasks

THURSDAY – All day:  work day (little one at family day care)

FRIDAY – Morning: exercise, groceries / errands. Afternoon: writing / study / work. (little one at family day care)

WEEKEND – family cleaning, gardening and tidying tasks. Family activities.

There are other ways of celebrating a weekly rhythm: with colours, food, activities, awareness of planetary influences … I’ve written about them HERE. They are just other ways. There are many ways, and as we have discussed, the way meets your family’s needs is the way that is right for you. YOUR rhythm is unique and it is up to you to arrange it the way you need to.

A Seasonal rhythm honours the passing of time, growth and transformation. In our family we honour a seasonal rhythm by celebrating significant seasonal days and festivals, keeping a reverent space in our home to acknowledge our current season, enjoying the gifts our season through gardening, walking/exploring, song, craft and story. We enjoy coming together with community – and of course enjoy celebrating anniversaries such as birthdays.

Seasonal rhythms keep us connected to our immediate environment and our community and lifts us from the limitations of our daily predictability. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut. Seasonal rhythms remind us that all things must transform and grow, give us the opportunity to review our needs at this moment, and give us something to look forward to, and wonderful lasting memories.

Breathing in and out, through the day, through the week and through the year …

… happy breathing …

 

Stories of Motherhood: Soulful Mama

I love stories of Motherhood. Every mother has a story – and you know every child would love to hear their mama’s story. I love seeing how wide my children’s eyes become when I tell them bits of my “other life” before they joined me here. My journey into motherhood has been interesting too and  one day I’ll share it with my children but now is not the time. I’ll tell you about it sometime though. Here is a letter from a mama that I adore. She is passionate about women living a life that is beauty-full and truth-full and soul-full, and I believe she will never stop working to connect women and their spirits. This mama does a pretty thorough job of introducing herself to you and so I will just let you read on.
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Dear Soulful Mamas,
This is a letter from my heart, to share with You who I am, and why I’ve started this page.  I am Hollie B. and I come from a long story of Women’s Magick and Circling. I hold Space for Women’s Ceremony, Red Tent and other such awesomes in the Canberra region, which is the capital city of Australia. You can look me up via Lunation on Google or Facebook.
I am Mama to 2 children aged 9 & 7. I also have 3 children of my heart, aged 16, 17 & 19, my step-children, the children of my husband Bolj. We live a very happy, carefree life on our bush forest property where we are building a small homestead and spiritual retreat centre. We wake up to the sounds of kookaburras and cockatoos everyday, we watch wombats meandering and kangaroos chewing. My children are Out of School – home educated – and they spend more of their day riding bikes and exploring the forest than they do sitting at a desk. We eat organic food, make as much as we can by hand, drive a HOT car, love to exercise and are known to drop everything in the moment in order to do something more fun.
As a Soulful Mama my life really is Perfect. But it hasn’t always been like this.
My 2 babes have different fathers, neither of whom are my husband, and I’m telling You this because I want You to know, that I have known what it is to feel unsupported and unsure and fearful and to ask yourSelf ‘how the fuck did I get here?’ Their fathers do stupid shit all the time, like drop them home when there’s nobody here, or leave them in front of a TV screen for hours at a time, or feed them food they are sensitive to. When my children return home after a weekend at dads there is invariably a meltdown within 24 hours – from the over stimulation and stress and exhaustion. It has happened like this since both of my children were one year old – that is when I left each father, and when I had to let my child go away at night. You see, dear Soulful Mama, I know all about that.
There are times when I’ve made decisions that didn’t  honour me into the future, for whatever reason, and I’ve had to learn to forgive mySelf, in order to find a Space for love. That’s how I found my True Love, my Divine Twin Flame, my Sacred Beloved and I married him and we live happily in a bush forest with the People we lovely nearby. We are living our dreams and being Soulful parents and we are showing our kids how to dream big, face our fears and Be everything  we came here to Be.
But it wasn’t easy. It was painful and scary and I had to face many parts of my Self and my old stories  in order to make this all happen. I had to get vulnerable and raw and open mySelf. I had to surrender all the unconscious parts of my Self that played out over and over, and step up to Be the Real, authentic me.
I had to learn to accept what is and lean into the things that hurt the most, to allow mySelf to be curious about my feeling, and to eventually surrender it in order to heal. There have been so many times I thought ‘I cannot do this again’ but somehow I do, every time. I want to be All the Mama I can Be, so my children are my inspiration, again and again.
My children have seen me at my best and my worst. I’ve sat on the bed of my two year old, with my newborn in my arms and cried for their forgiveness for us being where we are. They’ve loved me when I’ve hated myself most.
All the while I circled with Women. I held Sacred Spaces and went into other Sacred Spaces. I’ve actively studied and Worked in frameworks of the Goddess, on feminist spirituality, Magick and SpellCraft, in natural healing and conscious, alternative living and all of it has helped me step into my Infinite, Whole, Cosmic Self.
Through my own deep stirrings and in working in the Circle where Women find empowerment within, I’ve identified something important missing from our connections and communications. As Mamas, I believe that it is our responsibility to heal the ‘missing’ within ourSelf and give to our children a world where they can live as Wholehearted individuals. I believe in generational wounding and healing, and I know that what I heal in mySelf heals down my line, through my sons and daughters and their sons and daughters… It also heals up the line, through my mother and her mother. I’ve done so much of this Work and I know it is Real. When we do this our relationships change. We learn to forgive in its ultimate meaning of giving over and surrendering to the essence of vulnerability rather than the story we have carried. It’s hard work but its worth it.
My own research has reminded me that Being the ‘housewife’ – the ‘Woman who belongs to the house’ and therefore the Woman to who the house belongs, was once an incredibly Sacred position. While men were out hunting and protecting the land physically, Women were in the house, literally weaving the Space with Magick and energy to ensure that the family was nurtured, nourished and protected. The housewife was a power-full weaver of magick and healing. It was Women of Power who could do this, not the weak subservient woman we have been led to think of with that term ‘housewife’. She was a Space Holder, a Woman of power-full Magick and knowledge and she was a She-bear Mama raising babes to continue this same Work as they grew into adults. Along the way the Woman of Power has been battled down. She has been judged, abused, wounded and hated out of the system. But now we are bringing her back. We are healing her wounds. We are repositioning her in her rightful place as Woman of Power. As my friend Jane Hardwicke Collings says, WE HAVE BEEN DISBANDED FOR TOO LONG.
I believe it is time for Women to re-empower the Work of Being Mama and Housewife. There is nothing more important, no greater contribution in my eyes than holding the Space for a family while they grow into the unlimited Cosmic Beings they are here to Be. And to do this means learning just how power-full we are as Women.
It is time for Women to reclaim the Magick. It is time for Mamas to trust their instincts and grow the unlimited children they want to raise. It is time to question EVERYTHING because so much of what we’ve been told and what we do is not ours! We’ve picked up stories from the past, from our own parents and teachers and everyone who told us ‘that’s just how it’s done’. It’s time for us to respond ‘that’s not how I do it’ and to reshape the foundations of the way we want to Mother – from our Soul. It is time reshape what it means to be a housewife – a Woman of Power who commands the energy and feeling in her house, who leads with compassion and beauty and who is an example to all those she meets.
That’s why I started this page, the Soulful Mamas. It’s an invitation to Women to Be the Mamas they really want to Be. No more excuses or stories about the past. We are standing for what we believe in right now! We are making it happen right now. And we’re not waiting for anyone else to give us permission.
I want You to know Soulful Mama that You are exactly who and what You are meant to Be. There’s no text book for Soulful Mama-ing. The only way to go about it is to trust the voice inside that says ‘this is the world I want for my children’ and then follow your feeling to make it happen.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Mama of adult kids, whether you’re a single Mama, whether You co-parent, whether your beloved is male or female, whether You are still waiting to get pregnant, whether You have a shitty relationship with your own mother, whether You’ve never held a baby in your arms, whether You have 10 kids…. Your journey to Soulful Mama-ing  is about opening your heart, listening to where the vulnerable is and expressing it in a way that sets You free!
If you’re reading this and you’re thinking ‘I wish I was one of those Mamas’ don’t wish anymore. Give birth to the Mama You want to Be by stepping up, stepping in and expressing the True You inside. That’s all You have to do! You are powerful beyond all measure! Now is the time.
It is the time of the Soulful Mama. Our world is calling us! But we don’t need to venture out to the great abyss to prove a point. We just need to focus our most Sacred commodity : our Attention, on the one thing that we already have the most impact on – our Self. Be the Mama You wish You had. Be the Mama You wish the world had! And then our children won’t have to try so hard. Because for them, parenting from the heart will not be something they have to work at, it will simply be what they do. What a gift Soulful Mama-ing is to everyone it touches!
They, our children, learn from us. You can go out and protest all You want to the big companies about the way they are destroying the world. Or You can make Real choices at home, and teach your children the right way to live and honour the Self and the Earth. You can treat them as You want the world to be treated. Let us raise ethical consumers and wholehearted individuals who know no limits – then they will change the world, just by who they are.
If this is the world You wish to live in, I invite You to join me on the new Facebook page Soulful Mamas. Tell your Mama friends. We are building a community of like minds. There are many possibilities in the pipeline for this Soulful Mama Vision but it all starts with the coming together of many hearts. The Wholeheart. Will You open yours?

Parenting: The Dark Passage of Grace

I wrote this three years ago and shared it on the Kindred Community, as part of a series of posts celebrating the Sacred Family. I was looking for some of my writing on parenting and found this, realising I hadn’t put it on my blog. Three years later, here it is! Here are the thoughts on birthing and pain that I had before my third child was born.  And interestingly … about that comment I made about labour being a predictable pattern? Well it looks like you can’t even count on that … this child did not even allow me the time to indulge in labour. Hers was a cold birth.  …. I tell you she really did lead me down the dark passage of grace – and what a shining light she has become!

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I am preparing for the birth of our third baby … soon. Thoughts about preparing for this birth are never far from my mind at the moment. Reflections on my past two births are also coming up and thoughts about the pain of birthing are surfacing too. I was writing an email to a friend a while ago, who was asking for some resources that will help her prepare for the birth of her first child. After listing a few of the resources that helped me greatly in my previous two births, and in the recovery from my miscarriage in between – I then found myself writing on to address the issue of fear of pain in birth. I think I may have garbled on a bit as I tend to do, but one remark I made in my email brought tears to my own eyes: I said that although I will always have certain concerns and worries about birth they are nothing in comparison to my experiences as a parent. Labour is a breeze.

I don’t think anything really prepares you for parenting – and indeed it can be a shock for first time parents. But I think that is part of what birth IS – the process of birthing is preparation for what is yet to come … it is the birth of a new phase in your life, a new role, a new you. I would take labour over waiting in a hospital emergency room with a sick child any day. At least with labour you know what will happen, well, kind of, as labour almost always progresses to a certain pattern. With a child’s illness you do not have this certainty. There is nothing quite like the tension and anxiety of waiting to find out if your child is going to be ok – or if they will make it through the night without further complications. We had that frightening experience as new parents when we waited to find out if our baby would survive the night without severe brain damage, at the beginning of a sudden and very serious childhood illness. It wasn’t fair. Labour was a relaxing meditation in comparison to the pain of that experience.

The times I cried when learning to breastfeed, the times when I’ve stayed awake all night nursing my children through fevers, vomiting, asthma or nightmares, the times we’ve visited hospital for accidents and illnesses, the times I’ve been ill and have STILL had to be a responsible parent, the times when our children’s behaviour is just too intense and challenging and confusing, the time when we found out our son is deaf … each time we experienced something like this I distinctly remember this thought popping into my mind: I’d rather be in labour! Labour is easy compared to the torture of on-going sleep deprivation, the agony of listening to your child’s struggle for oxygen during an asthma attack!! It is easier than knowing that parenting goes on and keeps presenting you with new challenges and you just have to learn how to move through the moments of uncertainty so that you can get back to loving and savouring every second of the joyful ones, which are far more common, even if the effects of the painful ones are long-lasting and bitter-tasting. Bitter foods awaken and enliven our digestive system. Bitter experiences awaken our ability to digest our life experiences.

I am painting a grim picture of the experiences of parenting! Like labour, these things pass into memory and labour prepares us for this. I love being a parent. I love my family and the colourful life they present me with. They’ve taught me that downhill runs and plateaus are so much more enjoyable and satisfying because you’ve had to slog it up the steep hill in the first place. I am grateful that my experiences of birth and parenting have allowed me to know what it is like to confront the scary face of the unknown, and move through it, maybe not always with confidence, but with the idea that if you just keep moving forward one step at a time embracing the unknown, then whatever happens next is much easier to accept. You’ve done what you could to prepare. You’ve done what you can to heal the situation – and the rest you hand over to trust and faith. THAT is the hard bit.

To be honest, pain in childbirth is never what you think it will be; certainly not if you are prepared to accept that it is going to hurt, knowing WHY it hurts. It is different every time, and for different reasons. Pain in labour happens because your body is changing shape in a matter of hours to let your baby out – it is a GOOD thing! It is a great skill to know how to then transform that experience into a power you can use, and recall how pain teaches us something new about ourselves. I am much stronger for the experiences I have had, through labour and beyond, and it has opened up parts of me that I couldn’t have accessed before.

I posted a quote on my personal blog from Rumi a few weeks ago, on the topic of pain. He wasn’t referring specifically to childbirth I think, even though he uses it as a metaphor, but all the same I think it applies.

Every midwife knows that not until a mother’s womb softens from the pain of labour will a way unfold and the infant find that opening to be born. Oh friend! There is a treasure in your heart, it is heavy with child. Listen. All the awakened ones, like trusted midwives, are saying, ‘Welcome this pain! It opens the dark passage of Grace’.” – Rumi

I am looking forward to the growth I’ll surely experience after this coming labour. That isn’t to say I’m not wary of the pain!! Of course I am, that is human nature, but I know it will pass and I’ll be ok. I am looking forward to opening the dark passage of Grace.

Copyright Jennifer McCormack, May 2010

Lavendilly House: Celebrating sacredness and beauty in everyday life.

Sacred Moments, Sacred Families

20121231_144825I have to tell you about this awesome course – yes it is one of my mine 🙂 At least, I am one half of this course. Melissa and I have been writing this and living this for well over a year together. We made it come alive last year at Silkwood and now offer it in bite-sized chunks, because we know every family has different needs.

Sacred Moments is a parenting course offered on the Gold Coast as a monthly playgroup at Nerang, a monthly evening discussion group at Finger Prints Children’s Centre, and as the Effective Parenting Weekend at Silkwood School, on the Gold Coast. We are currently working on offering it as an e-course for those who live further away. What will you gain from the Sacred Moments Parenting Journey?

This course offers a framework and skills to support your decision-making as parents. Parenthood is a unique experience for each of us.  Sometimes we experience parenthood as a gift, while other times (even on the same morning), we can feel totally swamped and want to escape all our responsibilities.  This course is designed to help you equip yourself, as an individual, for the occasionally wild ride of parenting, to help you feel more prepared as a parent, better nourished, and a whole lot more inspired to be creative about your parenting so that you can enjoy the journey.

You will gain the skills to discover, honour and support your own pathway as a family. This course presents family life as a shared experience between parents and children, based on the understanding that there is no ‘right way’ to be a parent or a family unit, and no magic answer that will fix each and every family dilemma. The process of parenting is a rich, deep and dynamic process that allows us to be present with, honour and ENJOY all that life with children has to teach us.

You will gain a framework to support and ease your everyday family experiences. The framework we are presenting may even help to dissolve those tricky and exasperating moments before they become a big problem, negating the need to find that ‘quick fix’ solution. It will allow you to plan ahead, creating wonderful memories together and smoothing the ruffles in family life as you go.

You will learn techniques to review and reflect upon your parenting experiences while you are parenting on-the-go. You learn how to be present to your parenting and monitor your own effectiveness in the present moment. The ability to reflect with clarity is key to the process we are presenting. It will assist your own personal learning and help you in knowing when it is time to seek more information, more support or use other professional services. These techniques will also help you work through experiences of guilt and anger in a manner that honours your experience and your learning.www.

You will gain a support network of parents. For those attending Sacred Moments Parent Child Group it is anticipated that as we work through this course together and share our experiences that we will emerge as a group of parents able to support one another positively through the processes of family life when needed.

To find out more, email us at mj@liveyoursacredessence.com

Parenting: The Celebration of Transformation

060I was an early childhood teacher before I became a parent. It now seems like a previous existence! I entered family life with a background of theory about small children, years of classroom experience, and just a little knowledge about babies … and was to quickly find out that theory is all very well, classroom experience is only useful in the classroom, and the little I did know about babies still equated to knowing nothing at all. I will never forget the day our midwife made her last post-natal visit: I was gripped with fear and overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for this little tiny person my body had produced (what do you mean this is your last visit?) I just couldn’t fathom the idea that she thought we’d be fine. She smiled, and gave me a kiss … and left. I looked at our brand new son and thought that being a mummy is easier with the baby on the inside!

I was stunned at how much I had to learn – from scratch. Breastfeeding was harder than I thought it would be. Sleeping was a mystery. Teething was distressing. Fevers were frightening.  Food and decisions about health care were whole other issues!  I felt overwhelmed by all the advice that people shared with me, out of the goodness of their heart, and a little confused at the vast array of parenting styles and methods to choose from.

Despite feeling so unprepared, my husband and I still must have had some form of composure about us: our little guy was a ‘good’ baby who didn’t cry too much, a cute little thing who smiled at everyone and an inquisitive chap who was interested in everything (and therefore got up to quite a bit of mischief). The first year of his life was full of life lessons for all of us. It was wonderful and exhausting all at once. In reality we were as fine as any other new parents – stumbling along and finding our way in our re-defined relationship as a family of three. We had a go at every idea in the book (and devoured every book in the library), and then threw it all out the window and just went with what ‘worked’. We breastfed, didn’t use a dummy, co-slept, wore him in a sling. We used NVC and baby sign language. We used natural cloth nappies, and had a go at Elimination Communication. We did baby-led weaning and fed him only home-cooked meals.

Some of it worked, some of it didn’t. Our son knew what he wanted, we knew what we wanted, and it took some experimentation and some occasional compromising from each of us, to find a happy medium.

I have often marvelled at the bravery of the first child for being the ‘guinea pig’. They open wide the doors of parenthood and thrust us through them, willing or not! They are the trailblazers who will grow up and move on to the next developmental challenge before we feel that we have really mastered the last one. They test our patience, our creativity, our energy levels, our values and our relationships. They make us wake up to ourselves! I have found that parenting has been the single most effective way to learn how to listen to my own ‘truth’. I have learned more about myself on this journey than any amount of personal development I may have done before my first birth!

I have my favourite parenting books, and my favourite parenting ‘experts’ but I do not rely on them for all the answers. Since becoming a parent, I now interact with families socially through playgroups, mothers groups and women’s groups. I have shared my experiences and learned from my friends as they travel their own parenting journeys beside me. I have learned enough to believe that nobody can claim to have all the answers, because we only know for sure about our own experience with our own families, and all the rest is theory until it ‘clicks’ with you. I am inspired and interested in finding out more about what will enhance my understanding of my children, and thus our family life. It is exciting when we become our own teachers, and are forgiving of our mistakes.

Parenting has empowered me as a woman, a mother, a wife and a teacher, and I have learned that:

– parenting involves acknowledgement of the value of pain as a teacher (frustration, tiredness, disappointment and worry!),

– whichever way we parent it needs to come from the place of our own truth and intuition,

– parenting is a journey of discovery and learning, but is most inspiring when we keep looking and keep learning, rather than searching for THE answer, and

– for parenting to ‘improve’, it should be regarded as a sacred celebration of transformation.

We can get bogged down in the day-to-day elements of parenting and family life. I have found in my journey that the thing that keeps me going is to celebrate (daily) the sacred, the beautiful, the funny, the quirky, and the clever, but also to not overlook the ugly, the scary, the annoying, the angry and the frustrating. All these moments cycle in and out of focus but are ever-present in our parenting.

Written by and Copyright to Jennifer McCormack, May 2010

First published by Kindred at www.kindredcommunity.com

Please do not reproduce without my permission

Parenting: Being Kind To Ourselves

Being Kind to Ourselves

written by Jennifer McCormack, Copyright June 2011.

152For most parents, on first learning of their pregnancy, the first reaction they have is to read and talk to as many people as possible to learn about all the things that they can do to understand pregnancy and to become wonderful parents. Armed with our research into gentle birthing, nutrition, breastfeeding, sleep and behaviour, we think we are ready. Ah … little did we realise that all we have learned, and many of the values we held prized, will constantly be re-assessed, even dropped completely as time goes by.

Parenting is not a set of skills that can be learned and ticked off a list. It is not something you can become accomplished at by reading a book. Parenting is a living process of constant learning and re-learning. It is something you can be wonderful at one moment, and then be really bad at the next. Becoming a parent means we have to learn a LOT more about ourselves (and our partners) than we would otherwise have explored.

I don’t think that parenting has ever been an easy thing for anyone. If we listen to the stories of our generations of parents before us, parenting certainly appears to have been simpler than it is today, but I believe that it challenges each and every one of us regardless of what circumstances we are in when we become parents.

When I first became a parent I had read a lot, and as an early childhood teacher I had already begun to form a pretty clear philosophy of my own about how this parenting caper was to be approached and managed. I had enjoyed a wonderful career as a teacher of young children, and had proven myself as someone who could work intuitive with little people. When I became pregnant it was expected by many that parenting would be a breeze for me!

Tired ... but still smiling

Tired … but still smiling

I guess to some extent I had that expectation too, but I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy road all the time.  I just never knew how often I would end up dropping my parenting ideals, and everything else, because I just didn’t have the time, the energy or the opportunity to make them work. I never knew how often I would kneel at the altar of motherhood and beg for some inspiration or at the very least some energy to continue the task.

I would be really very surprised (and delighted) to meet a parent who hasn’t, at some point, been in the depths of parenting where dinner every night has been baked beans on toast (or just straight out of the tin), where arguments, shouting and sarcasm has replaced laughter, conversation and storytelling. When you’ve all been so tired and worn out that simple solutions to even the simplest of problems just don’t present themselves immediately and the only solution you can think of is to pray for a moment’s peace. I knew there would be some rough bits to navigate as a parent, but I had no idea how often they would come up, how rough they’d be, or how just how helpless those experiences can leave you feeling.

Early in my parenting, one of my friends introduced me to the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Principle. This principle is an observation of nature, and notes that, basically, life is not fair.  We cannot expect 100% perfection when we are more likely to achieve 80% of our goals only 20% of the time (as an example). Please try an internet search on this term – it is very interesting! The Pareto Principle has often come back to me in the years since as a comforting little thought, that none of us are meant, nor are statistically ABLE, to be the people we want to be ALL of the time. What a relief it is to have something like this to explain that we cannot live up to our ideals of perfection – that we are meant to be imperfect and must give ourselves permission to drop things from time to time.

It is what we do, isn’t it? We know what we WANT to achieve in our parenting – but actually achieving it is something else. I would honestly have never guessed at just how many obstacles could arise in one day to prevent me from achieving one simple thing, such as mailing a letter, or getting the clothes off the line (or even INTO the washing machine!).

So –

  • we don’t talk to our children in sweet voices all the time (Get over here NOW!),
  • we don’t always model such wonderful problem solving skills of our own (who taught my child THAT word?? Oh .. it was me),
  • we aren’t as organised as we’d like to be (Six trips between the car and the house and I still haven’t found my keys and I’m 20 minutes late ..)

So you aren’t perfect? Are you happy at least 80% of the time? Then you are doing well. Remember that it is our imperfections that give us the opportunity to learn and (eventually) laugh. If nature was 100% perfect then it would be pretty boring. That random imperfection makes our world a pretty interesting place to be.

Be kind to yourself.

Me and Rosella

My Book: A Mother Blessed

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I’ve been wanting to do this for years and years! Ever since my first baby turned one, and I wrote a poem for him that my friends turned into a song – and my good friend Deirdrie Cullen took such touching and breathtaking photographs – I’ve been wanting to combine my writing and the photos into a book that celebrates birth.

I’ve had some fun playing with Blurb.com to put the book together. There are a few photo-book programs available now and I have found it MUCH better than scrapbooking! All the photos of my family are going in to photo-books now. You receive a professionally bound book and it feels so awesome to hold this in your hands and know that you created this wonderful thing. I took photos of a book that my son and his school friend made together and turned that into a book for them too. Published authors at 8 years of age! He was so proud of himself.

This book, “A Mother Blessed” contains a collection of my poetry about birth, put together with some amazing photos and images of my fibre art. You’ll have seen some of it here on this blog over the years. I think my favourite one so far is “The Wise One”. There is also (of course) “A Mother Blessed”, a poem about a birth that didn’t go the way I thought it would. The whole experience of birth, mothering and watching my children grow has been very humbling and this book is an expression of that experience.

I am so grateful to everyone who gave me information and support along the way, to help me birth well – no matter how the birth evolved in the end. So grateful that I will donate 100% of the sales from this book to Homebirth Queensland until Christmas time. It is truly a lovely gift for any mother, and if you know someone who is birthing soon, or who is still in the midst of wonder in this experience (as I am still -eight years later!) you may like to share this book with them. You can view a preview of the book, and purchase it here at this link: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/3719062. The book is available for sale as a pdf, softcover and hardcover so there are a few available options there. Please share, and help an organisation that supports so many women to birth with wisdom and support.

The Essence of the Simple Doll

This is Lavender Baby. Lavender Baby was lovingly created by the staff at my daughters’ kindergarten, intended to be a friend who journeys between home and kindy with each of the children in the group. This week it was my daughter’s turn to bring Lavender Baby home, and Rosella received her with the pure joy and delight that one can only express in childhood, and has cared for her as tenderly as a mother can. It did get a bit tricky in the beginning – having Lavender Baby at Lavendilly House. It was very easy to get mixed up and start calling her Lavendilly Baby 🙂

She has been shown all around our house, has been hugged, sung to (all new, original lullabies by Rosella!), tucked in and put to sleep many times a day. She’s been to playgroup, soccer practice, school and the supermarket – tucked into the sling – and she has been safely buckled into the car many times. She has listened with enraptured silence to an endless stream of stories and succumbed to an overwhelming amount of attentive mothering. I am so glad to have had Lavender visit this week, her arrival has been perfect timing. Rosella had been feeling a little low recently, but Lavender, a most special friend, has really brought her cheerful, playful spirit back.

Lavender Baby LOVED jumping upside down on the trampoline

Lavender Baby has been made in the style of traditional Waldorf dolls: simple and uncomplicated. She sparked my thoughts again regarding the destiny and purpose of a doll. I’ve written a little about it before, however for some time I’ve wanted to write about the essence of the simple doll. Rosella’s thoughtful kindy teachers intentionally created her to be neutral. Her expression doesn’t betray her own feelings, but reflects those of the one she is with. We are referring to Lavender as ‘she’, because that is how Rosella has identified with her, however Lavender doesn’t mind being a ‘he’ either. That’s the beauty of the simple doll. They are so agreeable, so ready to be whoever you need them to be. Always there to be a mirror to your soul to help you experience your feelings from outside of you. How many toys these days are created to be a part of that flexible and responsive process of growth and learning?

Every child needs at least one uncomplicated, neutral friend. This was the original intention behind the Waldorf doll-making movement.  Dolls were made to be available to a child without making a statement about what that child’s hair or clothing should look like, what they should say, or what they should do. Lavender Baby is dressed head to toe in soft purple velour (comfort is important!) and she doesn’t have to worry about fashion or how her hair is arranged. She’s just there as she is for whoever needs her. Now, I’m not making a comment on whether it is right to have waldorf dolls with fashionable hair and clothes – I’ve made a few of those for sale myself – but I also do not believe that such dolls are as readily open and available to the child’s spirit in the same way as the simple doll.

The waldorf doll market can be an expensive, competitive and consumer-based place, but at the same time it is still one worth a visit just to admire the exquisite work, from an adult perspective, put into many of these dolls. There are many beautiful dolls looking for a child to befriend. I just invite you to be conscious of your reason for purchasing. Of course you could make one yourself (it ISN’T hard!) Any time you want to buy or make a toy for your child I encourage you to ask: What is the essence of this toy? What need does this toy fulfill for my child? Will it serve my child’s inner world (growth, feelings, thoughts) or my child’s outer world (image, fashion)? Will it grow with my child as my child grows?

We made Lavender Baby a pair of overalls to keep her clean when she played outside.

Of course I know that it is fun just to buy stuff just because you want it, and I think this is less of a problem in terms of consumerism when our real needs (for example, our basic needs for health, acceptance, creativity, expression etc) are already fulfilled.  This place of security allows us to then make good (and fun!) choices based on what we want, without being consumed by the need to have more. My good friend, parenting writer Amber Greene, recently drew my attention to this article: The Boy With No Toys. It is a great illustration of how simple playthings empower our children.

The fresh abundance of joy, freedom, love and imagination that our unassuming Lavender Baby has released in Rosella has made me very aware of how much the simple things fulfill our needs faster than the fancy things can fulfill our wants. Lavender Baby, thank you for bringing us all some simple joy!

All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

I was rummaging through my “filed” papers (read papers that were put in a file – about a year ago – to be further sorted and filed!) for some bits and pieces to read up on as I prepare for the Storytelling For Young Children Workshop, coming up on the 8th October – and of course I got a bit lost in all the other wonderful things I found in there … including this gem, which I can almost recite by heart, I love it that much. It is written by Robert Fulghum, and I would cite the source if only I knew it. I recommend reading Robert Fulghum’s writing, particularly if you are a dad. Parenting from a dad’s perspective is so important.

 

All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Robert Fulghum

Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school. These are the things I have learned:

 Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back that aren’t yours. Say sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.

 Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

 Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup – they all die. So do we.

 And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and sane living.

 Think of what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and cleaned up our own messes. And it is true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

Waiting is a Gift

When I came to the Gold Coast to teach, 10 years ago, I was very fortunate to have a number of mentors who guided me in my teaching and my ability to work with parents. These people also opened my eyes to the practical rather than theoretical applications of early childhood training. It was so exciting to find a new way of actually using all the ideas that I’d learned about at uni, and experimented with in my first 2 tentative years of teaching.

I think the single greatest concept presented to me in this time was one particular phrase, which has stuck in my mind ever since, and completely influenced the way I have since begun parenting my own children. It was a phrase offered as a summary of an activity presented in a parenting class at the school, run by one of my mentors. In answer to a question about appropriate times of life to introduce adult and abstract topics and behaviours, her reply was: “Waiting is a gift.”

When is the right time for girls to wear makeup and dress like women? Waiting is a gift

When is the right time to begin teaching focussed literacy? Waiting is a gift

How do I work with my young child’s impulses? Waiting is a gift

It seemed like the answer for everything and it totally transformed the way I approached my teaching. At the time I was working with 4 – 6 year olds, and there were quite a few children in the class who were used to having their own way … NOW! This was a behaviour that I detested, to be honest, although now I realise that this is partly part of a child’s development and partly due to social and environmental learning. I began applying my new motto in my classroom, and stopped responding to every request, every question, and every demand from the children.

Sounds rude doesn’t it? I didn’t do it rudely though, I would just wait for a while before responding to questions, pause for a moment before I would go to attend to a child, finish my current task before turning my attention to the child tugging on my clothes. Even I would not respond immediately if a child had tripped over, dropped something or accidentally hurt someone else (emergencies and serious accidents not included – you should see me move then!), definitely I would not respond straight away to tale-telling and complaining about others. It was challenging and confusing for the children at first but after a couple of weeks the children would begin answering their own questions … or asking a friend. They began to either wait quietly for me to come to them, or try to solve their own problem in their own creative ways.

There were of course many children of temperaments not suited to this treatment – those who were naturally impulsive, spontaneous, excitable, demanding, or not used to being ‘ignored’. These children were about to embark on a long journey exploring the ‘practice of patience’ with their teacher – and it ended up being one that bonded us very closely together over the two years I was their teacher.

When our baby son arrived, I continued to encourage him to wait. By not responding straight away to his cries or his falls, he developed a relationship of trust with my husband and I: of course we are here for you, we know when you need us and we will keep you safe, will not let you become distressed, hurt or afraid, but at the same time it is important for you to learn about the world yourself. This is not to say we ignored him, but as I described earlier, I would pause before responding and not rush to console him. Both our children pick themselves up when they fall over, they cry when they need to, and know we are always watching out for them, but also have become prepared to take a risk in their play. A few scratches, a trip over, a bump, these are everyday things.

Over the years, the phrase ‘Waiting is a gift’ has popped into my head when in the supermarket I see my own children walk past the sweets and lollies without asking for something (But instead longingly suggesting that it would be nice to have a special treat today!!). I saw it when they stopped asking me constantly if they could watch a dvd (we watch one once a week), and when I heard my son tell my daughter: “Mummy will come in a moment, she just wants to finish her job first” and “I could help you instead!”, and “after you have had lunch, then you can have a cookie”. I have by no means cured my children of impatience though!! But I am so pleased when I notice these little developments.

My son wanted a play sword, but I didn’t feel that his level of play was ready for a sword yet. I told him that he had to be five years old before he could be knighted and earn his sword: knights have to learn how to use swords properly after all! While he waited to turn five, every now and then he would ask about knights and we would talk about what they would do: good deeds, go on quests, help others, and fight dragons. We talked about how knights behaved: with courteous ‘golden’ manners, beautiful speech and caring for their appearance and their possessions (you can’t use a rusty sword!). He turned five, his Dad made him a wooden sword, we painted it silver, talked about how it could be used, and then knighted him with it. I have no issues about sword play now, because in the waiting he learned that the privilege of having a sword comes with responsible use. At all times when he uses his sword he must remember how knights behave. His knighthood has been withdrawn a couple of times, but never without the opportunity for it to be bestowed once more! In this case, the gift was worth waiting for.

More than that though, the whole idea of waiting implies that there is a time for everything. We are used, as a society, to having our needs met NOW. All advertising is designed around this idea. Why wait, when you can have it faster/cheaper/brighter/better … NOW! Advertising has really zoned in on what children like: colourful, cheerful images with lots of colour and movement. This grabs children’s attention, then it suggests that there is something that they NEED to have, and so, due to the nature of young children, needs become physical desires. They HAVE to have, and children have begun to get used to having their parents jump to it and supply their wants: food, toys, clothing, entertainment, social activities … and this has had its impact on childhood in so many ways!

In the 12 years or so that I have been working with children and families I have noticed a distinct lack of boundaries in children, and also a lack of manners. Yes, I am generalising here – I have noticed it as a trend amongst my own community, and noticed it as a common topic of discussion among my colleagues. Children are so used to having things, that it is nothing for them to accept things without the need for thanks, or to throw things away without any thought except that it will be replaced. Children are also losing the ability to play with their own imagination. Many a child came through our classrooms that we had to teach how to play, because they were so used to watching tv, playing electronic games, going to the movies, and being shuffled to three or four different types of after school activities each week. When could they possibly have the TIME to use their imagination or exercise their own stagnating creativity?

Little children dress like adults now. Mini-me outfits for kids are cute – occasionally – but I don’t want my daughter wearing a pair of knee-high boots with a mini skirt when she is two years old. I want her in overalls and gumboots! Make-up parties for 6 year olds? Sure, if it is a bit of fun at home with mum and some friends, but a full-on make-over at a salon, driven to and from in a limousine? I kid you not, these parties exist! Kids acting like grown-ups because grown-ups think it is cute.

I’m not suggesting these activities are not ok – I’m saying there is a TIME to do them. Teenage activities and concepts are for teenagers. Adult activities and concepts are for adults. Childhood is a time that is too precious to rush away by responding to our children’s desires for better / faster / older / more … they are only children for at the most a tenth of their life! And these are the years that we are the major focus in their lives. Why hand these years over to adulthood?

I think it is time to re-instate rites of passage in our communities. Knighting our five year old son was a rite of passage, it was a beautiful way for him to feel good about having to wait, about having to show us that he had learned and therefore earned something. Little moments like this should not be wasted! The things we gain for ourselves through time and patience and our own effort are not taken for granted. Waiting is a gift not to be wasted.

Thank you, Nansi, for teaching me this wisdom.