Silhouette, group of happy children playing on meadow, sunset, summertime

Even Ground: Why It’s a Better Place to Be

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From where are, and where we’ve come, we are all connected, here, on level ground.

I read an article today on Elephant Journal, of which I’ve linked below. The author is a mum of a young girl, who while endeavoring to support fellow parents and children, came into her own moment of awakening recently. This gained insight not only opened her eyes, but reaffirmed much of her intention to parent gently, with respect, and in reverence of the little person in her care.

It’s not too often I come across a truly kindred spirit in the world of parenting, living with children, nonviolence, empathic connection, etc., but when I do, the smile doesn’t leave my face for days. Today, Shonnie Lavender has brought me such a smile, and my gratitude is spilling out.

Recently, with my pregnancy, the continued work on the house renovations, travel, holiday events and activities, and the general sense of such “a lot”, we’ve had more of a challenge remaining connected than is the usual flow. Life is about change, movement, growth, expansion, and experiencing. Sometimes we get caught up in the whirlwind of all of it and forget to choose our actions and reactions thoughtfully and with intent to benefit. This article speaks to this for me, as well as reaffirms the beauty and value of revering our little ones, and their incredible journey of childhood.


 

Shonnie writes –

“Mentally, it’s much easier to parent by merely replicating what we experienced as children. It’s what we know and it comes “naturally” to us. But I’m not content to do things because they’re easy. I intend to build a relationship that is mutually-respectful, no matter what. A year after I first discovered my habit of usurping my daughter’s power, my belief in my own superiority still shows up on occasion. Whenever I notice that I’ve treated my daughter’s authoritative voice as less valid than my own, I look for ways to restore the balance of power in our relationship.

 

When I wrote vows to my daughter a few weeks after she was born, I promised to take a conscious path as her mother. I committed to do what I could to allow her to stay in touch with her true self, to trust herself and to live as she was meant to live, not just the way I thought she should live.”

The rest of the article can be read here: The Surprising Parenting Insight I Gained

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Relevance & Regret

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When we know better, we can do better….

We educate our daughter independently, in a manner that is driven by her curiosity and interests. This method works beautifully because it inspires, encourages, and ignites her (and us), it also requires relevance be at the root of our activities, which means her mind is ready to receive and expand.

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This is what learning looks like in our home

Yesterday, for whatever reason, instead of flowing with her, I screwed up everything. Instead of observing, I became utterly blind and unaware. Instead of listening, I only heard my voice. Instead of noticing and being, I demanded and shoved. Instead of a joy filled opportunity with her, where her intellect is ablaze, her inexperience a delight, her growth a wonder, and her little Self is safe, I came down like a wrecking ball and smashed her-in the name of accomplishing an agenda I apparently had, which I went on about through force (forcing). Something in me was very off yesterday….

I’m not afraid of her progress being insufficient, not worried by external judgment, and not unimpressed in the least with what she can and cannot do, does and does not yet know. On the contrary, I’m continually impressed, continually in awe, and consistently filled with joy at the wonder of how her mind and body develop. How she directs this development, how she flows and determines her fluidity, is something I revel at observing and having the privilege of being a part. None of that was at play yesterday, and the real trouble here is that I am uncertain what was at play within me – it was a reckless reaction, and one that I regret deeply. The entire experience was a mess, a distorted and negative malformation of what is usually a beautiful, complex, intriguing, and fluid expansion that she and I share together.

My daughter is 8 and academically, with few exceptions, functions at about a year/grade 6 (11-12 years of age). She carries conversations with educated adults, at her initiation, that leave them (and us) with an obvious reverence in their smile, along with an expression of captivation and satisfaction. She resolves things for other kids, invents her own solutions, and is a confident and capable, peaceful little spirit. She does not struggle to keep up with her peers, does not find academic growth challenging, does not have issues with self esteem, and does generally interact positively with all of us, except when her mama flattens all that. I don’t know why I was so intent on her cooperation and delivering of results yesterday, as we worked through a new mathematical concept that was clearly not one her natural development has so far opened a door. I thought it was a simple concept, and in one sense, she did too, but the connection wasn’t an organic one for her, and my pushing of it was the worst possible thing I could have done to support her.

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So, today as I write this lament, I am re-awakening; I remember now my purpose, my intent, my work. I am reminded of the value of non-violence, of gentleness, of empathic connection, of listening. I know all too well how awful it feels to have someone force learning upon a little soul – which never results in learning; I experienced it over and over as a child. Yesterday, my little one, broken in spirit, had tears dripping from her eyes because of my recklessness. Instead of flowing with her, I snapped and threw TNT into her stream. I suppose I can find an explanation or two for my behavior, but doing so would harm even more than I have already succeeded at damaging. So, I will leave all justifications where they lie, and instead pick up today with eyes and ears open, and hope that she will grant me grace and forgiveness.

And when she is ready, the concept we tried to sort through yesterday will come, without force or expectation, but instead a natural clarity, in gentleness.

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This is my baby, thriving in her accomplishment, learning with every single step and breath

 


 

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Educated by Preschoolers

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The image shown below is floating around FB.  The obvious topic is gender based behavioral conditioning imposed by society’s stereotypes, and I imagine that is what the majority of the conversations surrounding the image/message will be about.

When I saw this, and read through the captions, I was able to simply go through the first three paragraphs, with what might be considered appropriate acknowledgement and compassion, but then when I reached the final paragraph, my perspective shifted greatly.

The final statement reads as follows: “What does it say about society when a group of adults could stand to take a lesson in humanity from a class of preschoolers?”

 

It says, if they listen with humility and are open to growth, that they are wise.

There is great value and worth in adults paying attention and restoring the gentleness and wisdom in acceptance and equal value in one another that children are often inherently given to (before they are conditioned by adults to think otherwise).  Young children are no less intelligent or inferior in any way to an adult. We can, if we open our eyes and our minds, learn great things from one another. Universally.

A significant aspect of the concept of truly admiring and acknowledging our children, while in their childhood, is to inherently and intuitively know that children are wise, and able to offer perspective that often reaches far beyond and is much more thorough than adults often find themselves capable of.  Why is this?  I think it comes from simplicity found within a child’s mind, untainted, unconditioned, unscarred.  My ultimate aspiration is to raise my daughter without conditioning her, tainting her, or influencing her to associate anything negative with that which is neutral.  I hope to help her develop her discernment. Her ability to see clearly and discern what is beneficial from what isn’t is already very apparent and is demonstrated in her actions, words, and body language.

A child who has not yet been influenced to think otherwise, will see every creature as valuable, equal of worth, and worthy of acknowledgement and consideration.  Children see differences because their minds are attuned to seeking out patterns.  However, those differences are simply differences, that serve to assist the mind in categorization and recognition, not bigotry.

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Punishment is Retaliation

Such a simple sentence, yet so profound, it has permanently changed me.

Punishment is retaliation.

Discipline is a choice from within, rooted in integrity, awareness, and purpose.

Management of self and one’s emotions is necessary to provide a stable, reliable, harmonic environment for relationship and the beneficial growth of children’s minds.

Sometimes we just need to look at our world through their viewing portal… What a generation of empathic, aware, and respected humans we could grow.

I will begin a series on the value of guidance vs consequence delivering/punishing (what our society so often labels, “discipline), including punishment vs simple result over the coming weeks.  I have not had the ability to devote the amount of time and focus here that I have hoped this past year, but with a bit of luck, our conversations will inspire and much thought will follow.

Welcoming a year of blessing, benefit, and reverence.

 

 

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When Your 4 Year Old Happily Cleans Her Room

At 10pm, no less…

Yes, you heard me right.  Last night, my little one came to me with all the sincerity and gentleness she could muster (I’ve been sick, she knew I was exhausted), and asked if I would be willing to get her “princesses” (Polly Pocket collection) out for her.  She wanted to play with them with her Papa before she went to sleep.

I collected this, um, collection about two months ago and put them up because there are so many pieces that she was having an impossible time managing them. Everything was consistently strewn, which just caused her and me frustration.  (Not to mention the pairs of shoes that were no longer pairs.)

I think Polly Pockets are intended for kids about 6 and up.  My Bugz inherited these about a year ago and she seemed to dig them, even if they drove her nuts not being able to dress the dolls and such without assistance.  But eventually, it just got overwhelming, so I put them away for a while.

Last night, she presented this request, and instead of heaving a big sigh (which, I try not to do because well, it doesn’t feel good to have someone sigh or roll their eyes in exasperation at me… so why do it to my little person), I smiled.  I looked at her for a moment, to determine if she was serious or just grasping for something to stall the sleep sequence (she’s recently become reluctant to go to sleep – something I’ll address in another post).

She was serious.  She’d already spoken to her Papa to get his agreement to play the activity with her, and she a scenario going in her head for the princesses to play out. Though I knew she was tired, I saw a chance to honor her choice to genuinely request (instead of whine), and respect and grant her desires. Even though I thought there might be better uses of time, it didn’t matter, she is her own person and this is what she felt  was valuable at that moment… I had the pleasure of saying “yes”. 

There was one caveat, however.  Her room was rather untidy (like, the floor had gone missing) and I knew that if we tried to add anything to it, it would just frustrate and ruin the experience.  I have been meaning to get to her room for a week or two now, but with all the traveling and randomness of our present life, and my excellent ability to selectively procrastinate, I hadn’t worked with her on it.  So, what a great opportunity (I hoped) to give her exactly her little heart’s desire, AND get her room cleaned… at 10pm, while hacking up a lung.  – This is when I laugh, the kind of laugh that warms the entire room.

I told her, and I quote, “I would be happy to get your princesses out for you, however I think your room has to be clean first, or you won’t be able to find a place to play with them.  Would you be willing to work with me (note: “work with me”, not, “help me”) to pick things up to make room for the princesses?”

“Sure.”

And she did.  She found it tough at the beginning, not knowing what to do and quickly becoming overwhelmed. (How many times have you told your older kids to clean their room, a power struggle ensues, and nothing gets cleaned?  There is likely a really good reason…)  Rather than run her out, tell her to just keep trying (which is defeating in a situation like this), or enter a battle, I have found it very successful to simply give her a task.  In our case, I asked her to start by rounding up all the shoes and putting them in her closet.  Later, I asked her to organize them in the closet by shoving them to one side, but initially just getting them in there was a step she could manage with confidence and success.

As I worked on the various miscellaneous stuff that would overwhelm any kid, I continued to make little piles and ask her to do certain actions with each.  She continued to help, then yawned a bit and sat down.  I asked her if she was tired.  Yes.  Did she still want to play princesses tonight?  Yes.

Now, here is where some parents would respond with, “Well then, you have to keep cleaning.”  In our home, bribery and coercion are tactics that are avoided as much as possible.  So, instead of saying something like this, I simply acknowledged her fatigue, and I continued cleaning and organizing while she relaxed.  No expectation of her, no shame imposed on her need for rest, and no resentment coming from me.

Within a few moments, she happily resumed working with me; she saw something that sparked her interest, that she knew she could succeed at, and she jumped right in.  Within 10 minutes we had completed the task together, one that would have taken her hours alone, one that she would not have succeeded at because of her current neurological development.  And one that, had I insisted she do alone (after all, she did make the mess alone), would have diminished her and left her feeling a failure (sometimes parents force the issue believing they are teaching responsibility… that’s not the lesson that is received however, and the child does not come out the other side with more self esteem or confidence).

Her room was spectacular!  She was beaming with pride, accomplishment, and self satisfaction.  She was also exhibiting gratitude, as was I.

Papa came, princesses were unearthed, and I went to relax with my lungs.

I don’t know when they finally drifted off to sleep, but I don’t care either; thankfully our schedule allows for this. More importantly, I trust that she will now forever have the memory of being safe enough to ask Mama for something that really mattered to her, being valued enough by Mama to be granted her request, being capable enough to work with Mama to complete an important task, being cherished enough by Papa to be played with (even when we’re all tired), and being unconditionally loved so much, that her sleep could come gently.  

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That Doesn’t Smell Good. Yes it does.

I invalidated my kiddo today.  I didn’t mean to.  And I tried to remedy and repair, as I managed to catch myself, three times (in one day, yes.. I know).
Nonetheless, I did precisely what I try to encourage others not to do.

The incidents were simple, each time my daughter voiced her opinion that something annoyed her (didn’t smell good, didn’t look good, she didn’t like it), and each time I countered that it was fine (did smell good, did look good, no reason to not like it).  Stupid.  Stupid.

The rub is the reason I responded as I did, because normally, I would simply acknowledge her opinion, acknowledge her for voicing it, ask questions perhaps, and let her have her thoughts and feelings (just like I want to be allowed my thoughts and feelings, and the validation of them and me).  But today, for whatever reason, each time she expressed a negative opinion (stated above), it happened to be in public, and in the presence of adults within hearing (and being offended) distance.

Today I decided, in a rather knee-jerk fashion, to allow my need for social acceptance from other adults to supersede my respect and value of my daughter. To me, this is unacceptable.

Each time I countered, I caught myself and was able to restate with something along the lines of, “You don’t think this smells good?  Well, I actually think it smells good, but you don’t. Ok.”  Mind you, this only after my immediate response of, “It does smell good”.

I might as well have told her, “Don’t say it doesn’t smell good, and it’s not ok for you think that.  Stop saying things that others will look at me funny out of assumed insult, where I might end up being embarrassed.”

Pathetic. I know.

What’s worse is… I know. I know better. I know how important it is to validate her, even if I disagree. I know how crucial it is to care more about her than what others might think (especially the general public).  SERIOUSLY.  I am not typically even remotely affected by what others think, why it got to me today, I don’t know. And it did get to me – at the expense of my little one – the one I’m to protect and uphold.

Lesson: Take my own advice and pay more attention.

Thankfully, my daughter allowed me to restate and try to repair each time (but really, I “caught” my error after the first time, why oh why did I repeat it twice more!!).  Yet, I know it is there now, and I can’t take it back… I can only improve.

How many times a day do we, as adults, invalidate our little ones without even realizing it? I would encourage you today to intentionally become aware and if you catch yourself (or hear others) simply countering your little ones, think before you open your mouth next time.  Remember, they are their own person. We have the responsibility to acknowledge their feelings and opinions as valid and worthy of existing – even if we don’t agree with them.

I wonder how many parents of teens would see a complete 180 in their relationships if they decided to zero in on this aspect of interaction with their teens, and make changes in their behaviors toward their teens.

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Driving the Point Home

Yesterday we took our daughter to an egg, er, scramble.  The group that put it together was thoughtful and split up the field into three age categories.  She ran with the 1-4 year olds, their parents..and older siblings.  She came out ok, but next year I suspect she will be a bit more aggressive…. oh, what we teach our children from the very beginning.

After the hunt, we went over to the playground for a while.  There is a feature on this playground built for wheelchair fun; there is a long incline ramp, a bridge, and then a very gentle slide.  Needless to say, the kids on two feet and wheels really seem to dig it, including my daughter.  She spent quite a few moments on this particular piece of equipment, until one time instead of going down the slide, she decided to go up.  She did so at the peril of another girl about her age.

The mother of the other child, my daughter, and my daughter’s father were all within arm’s reach, so the girls didn’t end up with any serious injury physically, but the interplay between my kiddo and her Papa that followed is something I want to talk about.

My daughter has a very solid sense of self, she is articulate and opinionated and we encourage this. She tends to see things for what they are, doesn’t follow the crowd too much, and generally just sort of blissfully fits wherever/whatever she’s doing.  She spends most of her days with me, but often Papa is around, and when he is, she is happiest.  Her desire for his attention, approval, interest in her, and general involvement with her seems to exceed her desire for the same from me.  Consequently, she is much more sensitive to his responses toward her.

She listens to his ideas, to his guidance and suggestion, and to his heart, and most of the time, she does so silently. You can see the acknowledgment on her face, if you’re looking for it, and sometimes in her body language and movements, but her acknowledgement of his communications is almost never verbalized (at least not until later).

Russ tends to be very gentle with her, he gets down physically so he is face to face, he plays, he teaches, he leads by example, he shares himself.  Sometimes, however, he reprimands, and it flattens her. He can be too firm, too rough… this is when the impatience sets in. (Can any of you relate?? I know I can.)  But he can also be direct and loving, yet if he reprimands even in this calm and connected state, she just crumbles. And crumbling can look like falling apart emotionally, but it can also look like defensiveness and anger.

The range of emotional response from her toward him is greater and more intense than it is with me.  There are reasons for this, unique to the personalities of all three of us, which I won’t go into in this post, but understanding this is important to understanding why I notice some of their interactions more than others, and why I’m writing about the one yesterday.

After my daughter decided to assume the position to climb UP the slide, and once her Papa realized that it was going to cause a collision, I think he attempted to verbally intervene. I don’t think she responded however, which agitated all involved, and the girls collided. The mom of the girl helped her daughter, who was upset because of the physical “bump” she’d received, and Russ took our daughter aside.  He knelt down, holding her (or trying to), and I assume began to tell her something along the lines of why he thought it was not a good idea for her to climb up a slide with other children concurrently sliding down the same slide.

I watched from a distance, and saw only the body language between the two… He was irritated but seemed to be providing her “Papa kindness” (which means he was not shouting or diminishing her in some way).  He was talking to her face to face, at her height, but she was pulling away from him and wouldn’t look at him.  He persisted, physically trying to get her to stay near enough to him that they could talk by taking her hand, holding her arm and waist, and attempting to have the conversation. She pushed him off, was defensive, and eventually decided she was done and ran off to play on the opposite part of the playground from him.

This is when I walked over to him and asked what had happened.

I got the run down, followed by a papa expressing his dismay that his daughter just won’t listen to him.

I thought about what I’d seen for a moment and concluded that my husband and my daughter need to spend a lot more time together.  He is intuitive and sensitive, and given the necessary amount of opportunity to discover and experience one another (Papa and daughter), together, he would have been able to see exactly what I was seeing. He would have become aware, would have realized his daughter’s plight and need, would have seen the development that had actually occurred (that was masked and hiding from him in that moment), and he would have been able to diffuse the situation immediately in a way that left both Papa and kiddo with positive feelings about self and environment.

He didn’t see however, not this time. He didn’t realize it in the moment, but our daughter was embarrassed. She was embarrassed by him not realizing that she got the lesson in the very first sentence, the first three-five words, or perhaps even in the physical action of either him helping to prevent a major collision (if he did, I didn’t see), or in the collision itself. I don’t think she’s ever climbed up a slide with a kid coming down before… 

I know the signs of not ‘seeing’ soon enough. I have experienced it plenty of times myself when I don’t see – until later – and then I have to repair. Humility is something I seem to be gaining more and more of, as she gets older… And while I suppose this is a good thing, it doesn’t exactly feel so great.

What her Papa and I don’t sometimes realize is just exactly how little can be so much.. He felt he needed to reiterate to her the lesson he knew she needed to get from the experience, not realizing all the while, she had already gotten it.

When he insisted she give him her attention so he could explain and teach (what amounted to her as reprimand), she rejected him. She fought back to hold on to her dignity and he held on because of his reasons.  I suspect those reasons consisted (at least in part) of him genuinely wanting to encourage her social development, increase her knowledge base for the purpose of future self-safety (just a week ago, she was the kid coming down when another was coming up, and she got hurt), as well as perhaps a sense within him of needing to do something because of the other adults around. (I don’t know what his motivations were, I didn’t ask specifically.) The result of the two, each struggling to be heard, to hold on to their own sense of self and need, was a battle that divided them.

They reconnected an hour or so later, but the rift was there and one of them will consciously remember it (the adult), while the other will subconsciously file it away. It will shape future interactions and perceptions, for both of them.

Wisdom comes from screwing things up, and realizing it.  

What if we, as parents, had the wisdom, awareness, and made the choice to step back from the interplay, while remaining engaged, for the purpose of gaining highly valuable perspective?  Doing so would allow our maturity to prevail, our intuition to be heard, and our awareness could do its job. Imagine what might happen in moments of struggle, where we think we are connected and moving toward each other, when in reality each is standing his/her ground defensively for their own reasons and the distance is actually mounting every second that goes by, if we as the parent/adult stepped back far enough to see. 

~  What would we see?

We might see our inner selves shouting, “Hear me! Hear me! I need to be acknowledged and know my thoughts, my feelings, and my perspective is important and valued. I am significant.”

We might see our children silently shouting, “Hear me! Hear me! I need to be acknowledged and know my thoughts, my feelings, and my perspective is important and valued. I am significant.”


Our children are not emotionally mature. Many of us parents aren’t either. It’s our responsibility to give our children an environment safe for them to be emotionally immature, so they can develop at their own pace.  We can give them this environment because of our own maturity. When we, the adults, are aware of ourselves in such a way that we recognize what is motivating behaviors, what is lying underneath our responses and thought patterns, our perspectives change, as do our reactions. When we, the adults, have accepted ourselves fully, and confidently value ourselves, we have nothing to prove… especially to our children (or the other adults standing by, watching).  We also have nothing to have approved, because we know within us that we are ok. We know that we are beneficial and needed.  We don’t seek out that assurance, it is within us.

Our children seek that assurance until their emotional foundation is solid and developed to the point where they have the ability to provide themselves with this assurance, and regenerate it when it is temporarily not able to be found. How many adults do you know who are still functioning somewhere within this same realm of underdeveloped emotional security?

Power struggles with children are completely unnecessary.  And when they do occur, it is the responsibility of the adult to cause them to cease, and not by winning either. Let’s use this metaphor: Adult and child, each has a water gun and they’re playing a game with each other. The game is going well, until their guns run out of water.  They both need more water, there is only one hose, both need the water before the other one in order to “win”.  Where some adults/parents will demand the water first, others will give the water to their kid first, but then double up efforts in drenching (or let the kid win, which does the same for that child’s sense of self that doubled up drenching efforts does).

What if the adult had the wisdom and awareness to cause the hose to “run out” of water?  The game would have served its purpose, it would have been fun, and the battle that might have ensued, where each (adult and child) have a need to get met for themselves, would simply not have existed. The concluding moments would have been a “truce”, where each side respected the efforts of the other, and they had fun.

Perhaps you think this story is simplistic and unrealistic, maybe even childish… But I challenge you to reflect with an open mind on either the last, or the next time you and your child engage in being heard, and getting your own needs met.. You might just discover a SuperSoaker in your hands.


I’d love to have you share some of your own experiences where you were able to “see” what else was going on inside a battle or power struggle between you and your kid.