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The best thing any parent can do for their child.

Just one best thing, I hear you wonder. Can it really be that simple?

Parenting feels infinitely complex. So many different elements and seemingly competing demands. An endless juggling act with too many balls in the air rapidly falling to the floor. Just the practical stuff – the keeping clean and fed, and clothed and healthy – it’s a full-time job in and of itself.

But perhaps it really is much simpler than we might sometimes believe…

The best thing we can do as parents is nurture our relationships with our children.

Grow and develop those loving connections that were likely established at birth and even before.

Make those relationships a priority.

It’s a cliche, but a classic – the days are long, but the years are short.  One day that relationship may be all we have left.

While pondering our educational philosophy for the umpteenth time, contemplating our big picture goals and musing over the job of parenting, this really struck me. Everything just keeps coming back to the nature of our relationships.

Valuing connection rather than compliance, respecting rights rather than enforcing rules, and listening rather than lecturing – these can radically transform our family dynamics and improve our relationships. But this is all dependent on our choices, how we choose to invest our time and resources, the effort we make in nurturing and supporting these relationships to thrive.

We are all busy, we are all tired and we are all bombarded with images of perfect homes and perfect lives, often leaving us feeling swamped and overwhelmed. But there is hope. If we can stop to catch our breath, pause, slow down and be more intentional. If we make the time to ensure that our actions, our words and our mindset are strengthening our relationships rather than undermining and damaging them, then all the other tasks of parenting inevitably get easier.

If we can put the relationship first, all the other stuff will follow. So much of what we do and who we have become has been influenced by fear. Fear that doesn’t serve us, that leads us to fret and to worry, a self-fulfilling prophecy that damages our relationships. Let’s try to worry less.

When we become too concerned with the societal expectations of children at a particular age, or the stereotyped difficulties supposedly inherent in parenting certain stages – think terrible twos and rebellious teens – maybe, sometimes, we get what we expect. We may be inviting challenges based on expectations without effectively communicating with, or respecting the reality of our children’s actual individual experiences.

If we really want to nourish our relationships, strengthen our bonds and really get to know our children better, then it can help to release ourselves and our children from the ‘shoulds’, the ‘always’ and the ‘never’. Thinking of our children, or ourselves, or indeed anyone, as fixed entities – ‘they always forget stuff’, ‘they’re always late’. ’they never learn’ – damages our relationships and disregards the reality that we are all growing, learning and developing as people throughout our lives.

Seeing our children free from the baggage of labels, maybe we or others have previously given them, can allow us to consider a greater range of possibilities when issues do arise. We can think in terms of opportunities for growth, and ways to be helpful, supporting them as they develop skills, knowledge and tools to deal with different situations. We can model useful strategies and positive responses to life in general. We can give them the chance to see themselves in different ways and embrace their whole humanity. If we can do this both metaphorically and literally then so much the better- go on, get hugging!

Avoiding judgement and resisting the temptation to disregard our children’s activities or interests can provide possibilities for increased connection. Nurture those opportunities to deepen attachments. Listen and be curious, remain open to the idea that our children have much that we can learn from.

Trust may have been lost if we have neglected our relationships. As we rebuild those relationships then we encourage that trust to return. As we learn more about each other as real people, rather than being confined to the roles that society attempts to assign us, we will gain more respect for each other and trust will become easier.

By setting the tone for our relationships with kindness, peace and mutual respect, by trusting and being trustworthy, and acting in ways that support what we seek, we invite what we wish to receive. It’s also worth remembering here, that sometimes it’s the actions we choose not to take – the comments we refrain from making, the complaints we resist sharing, and the demands we decide not to make – that can have the most impact on our relationships.

As our relationships improve, we may see changes in the way we respond to everyday situations. We may stop acting from a place of desperation, impulsively and in fear. We can move from being reactive to becoming more reflective. And as we begin to relax and enjoy the benefits of better relationships, then so too will our children. The potential for conflict is reduced and our relationships improve yet further. Isn’t that really what we all want?

(If you’re worried that this all seems too much like being a friend rather than a parent, and you think that might be a bad idea, see what I have to say on that here)

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The job of parenting.

Not because we have to, but because we want to.

Not because we get paid to, but because the rewards are infinitely more than money.

There is much work in parenting – the routine, practical, daily living tasks, the being together time, the not being together time, the time in our heads. The list could go on and on.

When we began home educating our children seven years ago, one of the first things we did, was to write an educational philosophy. This was our attempt to summarise how and why we had chosen to home educate. In reality, it became much more than just about education, it was an exercise in defining what kind of parents we wanted to be.

Taking the time to really think about our big picture goals (you can see those here) helped us to sort out our priorities and reflect on what was really important for us and for our children. It was a useful process in so many ways and, certainly, helped to confirm that we had made the right decision. It became obvious that the school system was not the ideal environment to support and promote what we had deemed most important.

The use of the word ‘goals’ sounds so future- focussed, like we were working towards a specific target. That there would be an end, a point at which success could be quantified and measured, confirmed or denied. Maybe we thought that then. Of course we still had much deschooling to do.

In reality, of course, there is no moment when our children will be done, no end point at which we can sit back and revel in our success, or despair in our failure. Children are not simply grown-ups in waiting, future citizens in need of shaping and moulding.

Our children are complete and whole and messy and glorious people right now, whatever age or stage they currently inhabit. Children are people, people who are deserving of our respect and appreciation right now, in every moment, not merely in some unknown future.

Maybe the term ‘big picture’ is also, a little misleading. It might be off-putting, seem too massive to contemplate, too broad and overwhelming. Like there are too many possibilities for failure and disappointment, frustration and regret.

Yet defining our ‘big picture goals’– (yep, here I go, still using that term, even with it’s problems. At this point I shall stubbornly soldier on, awaiting a better alternative – feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments). It’s not meant to be an attempt to control the future, or to create the perfect children.

They were, and are, perfect.

Maybe this process isn’t even really about the children at all.

Except of course, it is. Those children that we love, that inspire us to be better every day, that delight and challenge us in so many ways. Those children, they are our responsibility, and they are our reason.

So it is about them. But really, it’s much more about us.

The actions that we take in those every-day, ordinary moments, the environment we provide, the example we set and the people we are. This is all about us.

Taking the time to consider how our actions affect those around us, how we conduct our relationships and the ways we respond to others. These can actually offer simplicity, allow us to reach some clarity of purpose and highlight our priorities.

There is no single ideal way to parent. There is no one model child, no universal rules, no job list, no person spec, and no ideal candidate for parenting. But there are real consequences and real people to nurture and love, real people that can be damaged and hurt.

So we sat down again, and we thought. About what kind of parents we want to be, about our vision, our purpose and what principles we want to guide us.

It turned out to be another long list.

For our children, we want to –

• be kind and gentle, appreciative and respectful

• be trusting and trustworthy

• be patient and calm, present and attentive

• be a safe space, supportive, approachable and dependable

• offer a guiding light and a welcoming beacon

• be quick to help and slow to judge

• make a home they can always return to

• recognise their competence and respect and trust them as whole and capable people

• nurture and encourage their innate curiosity and wonder about the world

• support them to explore the rich diversity of the world’s natural, social, political, historical and cultural heritage

• support them in following their passions and interests

• recognise that their personal learning journey is unique and special and individual

• offer opportunities to develop new passions and interests

• open up new possibilities and options to explore

• use our experience and power to support and guide, rather than to control and manipulate

• provide time, space, resources and our committed presence to support them in fulfilling their ambitions, today, tomorrow and as long as they need us

• do our best, be aware that we can always do better, that there is always more to learn and that we will make mistakes and mess up over and over again

• be willing to apologise, be able to pick ourselves up and move on from our mistakes, try harder and…

• model patience, forgiveness and grace for ourselves, and for them, as we learn and grow together.

 

Like any job, there are better days and worse days. There is always more to learn and there is always more to give. We don’t always get it right but we keep on trying and doing the best that we can, because this, surely, is the best job there is.

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What do we really want for our children? Big picture goals.

I don’t believe in controlling children, or forcing them to do things they don’t want, or making them do things for their own good, or trying to fashion them in our own image.

But I do believe in parenting intentionally – with purpose and with kindness.

It can be so easy to get bogged down in our to-do lists, frantically trying to get stuff done and pay the bills, again and again… and earn the money for those pesky bills, again and again!

Of course, these are important. But sometimes it’s good to step back and consider the bigger picture.

Alfie Kohn, in his book Unconditional Parenting, sets the scene –

“Picture yourself standing at a birthday party or in the hall of your child’s school. Around the corner are two other parents who don’t know you’re there. You overhear them talking about…your child! Of all the things they might be saying, what would give you the most pleasure? … My guess- and my hope- is that it wouldn’t be, ‘Boy, that child does everything he’s told and you never hear a peep out of him.’ “

Alfie asks us to consider “whether we sometimes act as though this is what we care about most.”

Writing an educational philosophy for our family’s home education journey prompted us to dig deep around this issue.

What kind of education do we want our children to have?

What kind of people do we want them to be?

This is not about trying to create the perfect child, they are all perfect.

It’s certainly not about creating rules and routines and rewards and rotas.

It’s about considering what our actions and our interactions with our children say about our priorities, what is important to us and what we want to nurture.

Our list got quite long.

We want our children –

• to feel comfortable in their own skin

• to feel safe and secure at home and in the world

• to have confidence in us and feel able to come to us whenever they need and want to, and feel sure that we will support them

• to have close, loving, mutually supportive and respectful relationships with us, their siblings, wider family and friends

• to recognise and place appropriate boundaries when relationships are not wholly positive

• to be curious, kind, generous and compassionate individuals

• to be kind and patient and calm when they can be and be forgiving and kind to themselves and others when they struggle with these things

• to love learning, to want to grow and develop themselves

• to follow their joy, passion and interest

• to have a healthy respect for, and a deep sense of caring about, themselves, others and the world

• to be able to say no and have an appreciation for the possible consequences of doing so in different contexts

• to be able to listen to their own bodies, explore what feels good and bad to them and use this knowledge to nurture their own sense of well-being and good health

• to develop resilience that will enable them to manage difficult times and emotions and respond to challenging times with as much positivity as they can muster

• to recognise the value of time as a healer and recognise, that sometimes, in some moments, survival is the best we can do (and that it always beats the alternative)

• to assume responsibility for their own actions and recognise that not everything is their responsibility

• to recognise that sometimes it is someone else’s problem and that we cannot fix or change everything

• to be able to let some stuff go and move on

• to be self-reliant and yet also be comfortable in asking for and accepting help

• to be gracious in accepting help that is wanted and in refusing help that isn’t

• to be willing to help others and be gracious if that help is refused

• to look for the positives and to recognise the value of re-framing

• to have a sense of connection to and appreciation for the natural world

• to be open to and considerate of new ideas

• to have a sense of their own competence and ability to tackle whatever life throws at them

• to recognise that learning never ends and that mistakes do happen

• to appreciate that mistakes and difficulties can be opportunities for growth (and usually are!)

• to place their relationships with others above any social expectations that don’t serve them well

• to question assumptions and challenge injustice

• to feel confident in their own judgement and decision-making skills

• to view the world with a sense of awe and fascination

• to let go of measuring and comparison, to give freely and without expectation of return

• to expect miracles and to recognise the gifts in the every day

• to wonder and be wonderful (tick!)

Of course, we can’t make these things happen. We can’t know the future and neither would we want to. But considering what is important to us and what kinds of qualities we value, can guide us in our everyday moments. Allow us to think more clearly and more creatively, be more reflective and less reactive, and be intentional in our relationships.

What do you want for your children? I would love to know your thoughts.

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My morning routine.

Most of my life I’ve considered myself a night owl. But since having children my perception and reality have shifted. I have learnt to love mornings and value the time and space that waking early can offer –

  • waking before the family to get a head-start on the day
  • getting work done without depriving anyone of my presence and attention
  • getting ahead with some of the household tasks that help the house to run more smoothly

My ideal waking time is 5.30am and there have been times where this was possible. Right now, with some night-owl leaning tendencies present in other members of the family, 6.30 is a more reasonable waking time.

Even then, I am struggling to fit in seven hours sleep each night. I know that seasons come and go and that change is never far away. So at the moment I am trying to accept the current situation with grace and know that soon enough things will have moved on again and I will, once again, be waking before the sun.

Whatever time I wake, I try to follow a basic morning routine.

Following routines comes more naturally to some than others. For me, I need it written down… and then I need reminders on my phone to look at it… and then I need a hand-written note to remind me to look on my phone… and – enough already! I’m sure you get the picture, I am easily distracted. But I am working on this and now much of this morning routine feels like second-nature-ish!

So the morning routine –

  • Water – I usually drink a pint of water as soon as I wake up and another one pretty soon after.

 

  • Animals – let the doggie in the garden. Feed him and the rabbit. Somewhere around here I turn the kettle on for that first glorious mug of Earl Grey. Some point soon I might wander out in the garden to clear up any business my four-legged friend has left behind (it’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it – yes, I was singing as I wrote that bit!)

 

  • Re-boots – the washing and the washing up, hopefully while the dog and the kettle are doing their stuff. Re-booting is just a cool way (thanks, Flylady) to say ‘taking the next step to move these jobs along’; unfortunately completion isn’t really an option or reality here.

The actual task will depend on my efficiency the previous evening. Some mornings a load of washing will be ready to hang out, other times I’ll need to get a load on. For the washing up, it could be as simple as clearing the draining board and washing up any straggler items from last night – maybe a mug and cereal bowl left over from a late night snacker (you know who you are!) On some mornings, it could be a complete tidy up of last night’s dinner things – not my favourite or proudest moments.

 

  • Write and walk – These are the two big tasks I want to complete before anyone else is awake. My intention is to work on a writing project for 30 minutes to an hour each morning. I’m also trying to make sure I walk 10,000 steps every day, so aim for about 2000 before breakfast.

 

  • Check the to-do list – reminding myself of the plan and most important tasks for the day ahead. I usually check the calendar and weekly plan as part of my evening routine so I can prepare any launch-pad items that might be needed in the morning and pinpoint the most important tasks that will need to be done.

 

  • Breakfast time – once my little one wakes up, it’s breakfast time. And so the day begins!

 

Some days I manage to complete all the tasks of my morning routine, and others, not so much. But I do love the reminders and rough plan it provides.

Do you have a morning routine? If you have any tips for getting the day off to the best start, I would love to hear them, please comment below.

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Starting the week with a clean slate : the Sunday Surface Run.

Yesterday was a difficult day. I spent much of it feeling overwhelmed and ‘out of sorts’.

It was a day of rushing around trying to give my family what they needed – some time and attention here, some food and drink there, a past paper for this week’s impending Chemistry exam – you get the picture. But somehow I still felt like I wasn’t really meeting anyone’s needs.

Half way through the afternoon it dawned on me – a big part of the problem was my scattered mind. I really was trying to be present and attentive but kept being distracted by my internal dialogue ‘this place is a mess’, ‘I really need to be tidying up’, ‘I should be able to keep on top of things more’.

My sense of failure was made worse by the fact that I had slept later than usual. After feeling ill the day before I had turned off my alarm and so hadn’t got my usual head-start on the day, missing out much of my usual morning routine.

As the nature of the problem revealed itself so an opportunity arose, as my littlest lovely headed upstairs to ‘talk teddies’ with her big sister.

I set the timer for 15 minutes and embarked upon a Sunday surface run. A big fan of alliteration, I came up with this name a few weeks ago while I was rushing around on a Sunday afternoon trying to get the house in some state of order for the week ahead.

A surface run is just what the name implies –

clearing all surfaces (including the floor)
returning stray items to their proper home
straightening up the items that do live on those surfaces
wiping down said surfaces
preparing the floors for hoovering and sweeping
collecting any washing up to be done and depositing it tidily by the sink (don’t interrupt the run to do any washing up, it’s time will come!).
focusing energy and effort on the communal/family areas only (everywhere that isn’t someone’s bedroom), and…
it’s all about the run. Well, maybe don’t actually run, but do work fast. This is a quick tidy up, not a deep clean – we are aiming to get as much done as possible before the timer goes off, we are not aiming for perfection.

Once my 15 minutes was up I listened out for sounds of fun upstairs, and sensing all was well, headed into the kitchen to tackle that pile of washing up. Setting the timer for 5 minutes this time I worked flat out, super-speedy, trying not to break anything, of course.

After a little break to help set up various fun projects (new Star Wars computer game, an exercise class in the newly tidied lounge…)  I managed to get in 15 minutes of hoovering – the lounge first (couldn’t hold up the exercise class), the stairs and hallway – and a quick sweep of the kitchen floor – a job well done!

Suddenly I noticed it – the sense of calm and peace that had settled over the house, and then the lovely comments.. ‘the front room looks great Mum’, ‘it’s lovely in here, thanks for tidying up’.

Such a lovely feeling, refreshing the house and my mood, all in just over half an hour.

Then back to the really important stuff, spending time with the ones I love.

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To do, or not to do.

As a parent we can feel the pressure to be doing something all the time. There are so many things to get done that it can feel overwhelming.

But lately it has struck me how important what we don’t do, can be for our relationships. Maybe there are some things we should stop doing. Sometimes less really is more.

Let’s stop assuming the worst.

Give up on judging ourselves and others.

Ditch the criticism and the sarcasm.

Resist the urge to complain.

Quieten those angry yells.

Stop trying to control everything.

Overcome the temptation to have the last word.

Drop the defensive position.

And don’t despair.

Sometimes what you don’t do can be extremely powerful, it can strengthen relationships and make your home a happier place.

Sometimes it’s the things that we don’t do that can really make a difference.

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The power of words.

Words can be beautiful. Words can lift us up, brighten our day and inspire our lives.

But words can also be cruel. Words can limit and torment us, degrade and debilitate us.

Words can help and they can harm, but they do not have to define us forever.

We can change our words and our minds. We can change the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we choose to listen to from others.

Just because someone says something, does not make it true and that includes me and you.

There is the small matter of what exactly is truth? Many things are actually a matter of perspective, and if you change your perspective then that may alter the way that you perceive the events and environment around you. Even scientific truth evolves and changes as what was once deemed fact is proven wrong and our understanding of the universe expands.

What we choose to focus our attention on in any given moment is intensely personal and unique to us. We may feel that everyone else is surely thinking the same as us, that it must be obvious, irrefutable, undeniable fact but this is often not the case.

The stories we choose to tell and re-tell can help us make sense of particular moments but seen from a different angle, another’s viewpoint or with the benefit of hindsight and space for reflection, these same stories can be overturned and re-written.

There is power in the words that we use to describe our own situation and that of others. The words that we choose to describe our feelings, our relationships and the events of our lives will influence how we, and others, see them.

Our words can shape our beliefs and our actions. They can be a force for good, kindness and compassion or they can restrict us, separate us and limit our capacity for change and for understanding.

Increasing our awareness of how the words that we use may be shaping our experience can open up opportunities, remove what we once viewed as obstacles and allow for shifts to occur, for alternative ideas to flow and for changes of heart.

If we can catch ourselves when we realise that the words we are using, the stories we are telling, are not helping us to move forward, to find peace and joy, to be kinder to ourselves and others, then we may be able to stop, to pause, reflect and re-frame. Recognising the many different ways this moment might be perceived may reveal many different choices and possibilities for our response.

There is an element of choice in the stories we tell ourselves and other people.

Make your story a good one.