For as long as I have known this boy, he has stood at the oceans edge and taunted it to come get him. With a hint of glee in his voice he has called her out over and over again. The ocean has answered with more than her share of soaked pant legs. This has never stopped him from returning again to the shores to call those waves out to come and get him. To try their best to wrap around his ankles, pull up to his knees and fill his soul. He has posed as a ninja pulling his power from the ocean itself. It’s not within his ability to stand at the ocean’s edge and not see the temptress before him. He disappears in those moments. To a place I can’t necessarily see. It belongs to him and to the ocean. As time marches forward and much about him changes, I am filled to see these old ways emerging. And also to notice, quite possibly for the first time, he walked away with dry pant legs. I am not sure what this means for the future. But I know he noticed to. In his swagger of confidence as he strolled back to the car announcing he would not need to ride home in his underwear this time.
It’s so quiet this morning. A light fog hanging over the trees as the entire house sleeps. I am up wrestling with words again. Lately, they have fallen to the sidelines in a world I can’t quite recognize. It’s like that saying you don’t know until you do and then once you know you can’t not know. I’ve found myself immersed in the sort of learning that makes it hard to go back to writing about being a peaceful parent. Not that I don’t think I have something to say but I know my words haven’t always considered the very real struggle many people face when simply trying to keep their children alive. I wrote at times like I had it figured out, this one right way to raise up a child. I am here today to admit I don’t.
I have an idea about ways to stay connected with your child. To be respectful, to be kind, to be willing to listen more than you talk. But I have not damn clue how to send a child out into a world that sees them less than simple for the color of their skin. I have no damn idea how to raise a child in a violent situation where staying alive truly is the goal. I also have no idea how to raise a child when you are solely responsible for providing financial support for that child and yourself. I have no damn idea how to raise a child when you are chronically ill. I truly, have no damn idea how to raise a child outside of the priveledge areas I have existed as a parent.
I do have a commitment to the rights of children. I do have a passion for learning alongside others to raise up our children to be all that they arrived here ready for. I do have an undying love for the opportunity to witness young people in all the phases and stages of living in this world. I do have a desire to live in a world where each and every child is cared for, loved and respected.
So as I step down from what feels like my high horse to put my boots on the ground, I am not certain what this space I have held here on the internet wiill look like. I am hopeful it will grow, as I have in it’s understanding of how to be a better ally to those outside the little bubble I have until now existed in.
I’ve never really understood a world that treats children with less respect and dignity then their adult counterparts. It’s never quite made sense in my brain. And for the most part I am grateful for this as it has allowed me access in to the magical world of children over and over again.
I want to pull this back to my most favorite bumper sticker that I purchased from Kelly Lovejoy. It read “world peace begins at home be nicer to your kids.” Ironically it was stolen off my car and I have to believe it was because someone needed it so badly they took it as a reminder to make the world a better place. There is so much truth in that one sentence. Children who are loved up fully don’t go out in to the world looking to hurt other people. Children who are treated with respect, don’t go about disrespecting others. This idea that a child needs to be trained up right is lost on me. The idea that raising a well adjusted, thoughtful human being can only be done through restrictions, deprivation and punishment, is illogical.
I am going to use some examples here to hammer my point home. If my adult friend turns to me in tears, with heart break all over her face, because something that to her is terrible has just happened, I hug her and I listen with my full heart. Because that is what I would want for myself in the very same moment. This is the principle I also apply to my child. I don’t ask my friend to make sure her reaction happens at an appropriate moment or that she make sure it is an issue I agree holds the merit required for such an out burst. And I most certainly don’t ask her to go stand in the corner for two minutes until she can calm down. Why then would I expect this of a child who has less experience in the world? Knowing my child is newer to the idea of working through big feelings it is logical that I would apply an extra dose of compassion and patience, to support them in being able to apply the very same thing to themselves and others moving forward. Compassion, empathy, respect are things one can only fully understand through witnessing and experiencing them. They are not something that can be taught through lectures and punishment.
Another big idea that this world of adults often works to put upon children is the idea of holding their needs. That some how there is a great value in being able to hold ones needs for long periods of time. I think another term for this is delay of gratification. The idea is that making a child wait to express or have their needs met will set them up well for the real world, where this is what happens. My gut response to this overall idea is, why would one choose this as a way to prepare the child for their future? Hey guess what life is gonna suck when you grow up cause you are always going to have to wait to be gratified. Dismal! Who wants to excitedly grow up in to that world? And it is in direct contradiction to what many children will witness. I am going to use my loving husband as an example in this situation. I remember one time when he was frustrated that one of our boys desperately needed a new toy. In a way that he just could not imagine it was possible to wait for the time we imposed on him (it is worth mentioning that what he wanted would not break the bank at all). I said to my husband “but when you want something you just go out and buy it,” (sometimes even when it breaks the bank), “why should he have to wait?” Bless my husband that he is the man he is, cause he took a moment and realized, just how right I was. It just doesn’t make sense to me to expect children, who again are much newer at being in the world, to do things we don’t expect of ourselves. If I am driving on a long road trip and I really really really have to pee, I pull over at the next rest stop. So why would I say to my child “you’re gonna have to hold it it’s not time to stop yet.” Children who continually have support in meeting their needs, know they can meet their own needs and with in that comes a patience and understanding that can never be born out of deprivation.
There is also this way, where some folks raising a child think that you can raise a good listener by making a child be quiet and listen to you. I am going to invite my imaginary friend back in to the conversation. When I am out in the world as a grown up looking for new connections and I bump in to someone who wants to talk at me all day long, we won’t be staying friends. This I am sure of. In fact, I am more likely to befriend the person who is willing to toss a conversation respectfully back and forth with me in to my circle of friends. So in my brain if I want to raise up a human being who is good a listening to others I need to be the one to sit down and shut my mouth. To listen, with my full attention to what my child has to say, so they feel heard. The gift of listening, is something I can freely give to my children so they have the reserves to give it to others.
And for my last example I am going talk about ditching any conditions on the one thing we ALL have tons of extra to go around, LOVE. Love is free. It is in fact one of the truly free things in this world we live in. It never needs to be earned. Nope it is always right there for the giving. So it should make sense that we give it in spades to our children. No matter how messy, snotty, loud, dirty they may be. Or how many times they interrupt, erupt, melt down or cry. In fact I might go as far as to say, the dirtier, louder, messier the more love they need. People who are all filled up on love, know they have extra to give away. They go out in to the world whole, with their needs met, looking to connect with others, in healthy ways. This is the foundation of the statement “world peace begins at home be nicer to your kids.” If we are raising children from a place of respect and unconditional love we are sending whole, complete adults out in to the world. Children who are shown respect from the beginning of their lives know they are worthy of respect and seek it out in others. Children who are given buckets full of compassion and empathy have it to give to those who need it the most. Children who know how to meet their own needs will do so over and over again, in the time line that resonates with them and without infringing on others to do so. Children who are listened to, will know how to listen, with their full attention. And children who are raised on unconditional love, will make our world a more peaceful place. I promise.
We all know what a time out is. It’s recommended all over the place. Isolate a child when they have done something wrong. Make them feel bad in hopes that they never do that again. Train that bad behavior clear out of them.
What if, in the goal to stay connected and LOVE your children just that little bit more we turn that around and do a TIME IN. Children who are making big loud noises, whether literally or figuratively through their behaviors actually need more love. They are asking for our attention. And I know there are a whole host of people and theories in the world who think we should ignore this so it goes away. But if someone needs more love and you don’t give them the love they need all you are doing is creating distance. Which leads to an even emptier love tank,, building up steam of the next cry for attention. If your gas tank is empty and you decide to ignore that red glaring light on the dash and just keep driving, things aren’t about to get better for you. Think of a child’s love tank in the same way. The behavior in front of us is like that blinking light on the dash, a reminder to fill something up not to keep draining it.
Creating space for a Time In flips the whole thing around. We can hold a hand, create a space or simply sit in witness of what is unfolding. Put on our detective hat and consider what might be the best possible way to add more love and connection to the child in distress in front of us. How can we see the child outside of the behavior and look for clues to what the under lying need might be? It is true that sometimes the need will never expose itself. The behavior with pass with out any insight or handy tools on how to avoid that from happening again. But if each time we choose time in with a child instead of time out, we are filling up that bank, and ensuring we stay connected in our relationship.
The how of all of this is going to depend on the individual child. I have a child who needs me to make some sort of physical contact to bring him back to where he could see the world around him. I have another who needs me physically near by but not at all touching him. Both of which I only learned from trial and terrible error that involved the whole apologizing piece that I have shared before. Sometimes all I can do was sit outside a locked bedroom door and say “I’m here if you need me” and hold the space. Other times, I can hold a hand, sit silently side by side, or hold a hand and walk in the opposite direction. I have been known to apply humor liberally in an attempt to shift an energy. Each time though I was tuning into my child, turning off the noise around us and finding a way to bring in love and connection to help us both in managing the overwhelm that had tossed things off corse. I was noticing my child having trouble coping with the world and instead of withdrawing myself or my love, giving it. Handing over an abundance of love to my child no matter what their behavior looked like cause when the love tank gets filled up we can find our way back to calm and connection.
Next time the storm starts a brewing and those messages of withdrawing affection surge and go to your room dances on the tip of your tongue, maybe, just maybe, take an extra long deep breath. Ask is there a way I can turn this into a time in? I suspect it will feel awkward from time to time, as changing any behavior can, I also suspect you will see a connection, a strong fuller love tank bubbling up to help handle the next tricky behavior that comes your way.
I just found this little nugget tucked away in some of my writing.
The world around us does not regularly offer support to meeting our children’s needs on a regular and immediate basis. Honestly, it might stretch in the opposite direction, to some how convince us that interacting with our child over and over again in a way that meets there needs is some how spoiling them. But for something to spoil, to turn truly rotten, it needs to be neglected. Just think of that piece of fruit rolled under the backseat of the car, unattended to for days on end and you’ll understand what I am getting at. Things that are showered with love and affection do not become spoiled they grow, in both strength and understanding of love and compassion. Which is why your relationship with your child matters most. It matters more than math, unpaid bills, dinner and that text that just came in.
So today, I hope you can find a way, to build up that love bank by taking an extra breath to meet your child eye to eye, heart to heart to take on whatever the world has placed in front of you.
A few years ago I got the beautiful opportunity to meet this fabulous woman Sherry, who is making all sorts of magic in the world. One of the spectacular things she brought into my life was the creation of love lists. You can check her and her work out at simplycelebrate.net (and really you should go there).
I am here today to encourage you today to bring some love list making and gifting into your everyday being with the sweet humans you are living alongside. Who doesn’t want to wake up to breakfast with a short list of the top five things you are loving about them in that moment? Or tucking into bed for the night to find a slip of paper under the pillow that lists three reasons for loving them.
Here is one thing my family gets up to. When we are finished visiting friends or family we take sticky notes and hide them throughout the house exclaiming the things we will love and miss most about the folks we have been visiting. This idea can be turned around to do at home as well. Your child goes to their computer screen and their is a tiny love note from you to them. A sticky note on the toilet seat with a good morning wake up love message.
And I will tell you this stuff spreads. Because I woke up one morning to find my entire computer covered in heart shaped sticky notes. Wanting to persevere the awesome I opened up my laptop to see my little love bomber had thought of my next move and also decorated that space. The awesome of spreading love is contagious.
In our busy life of doing it’s easy to forget love can be an action item and not just a feeling. Of course you know you are carrying that crazy big LOVE inside of you a love list lets some of that out into the world so those you love most can get in on the action of feeling all that fabulousness.
Not a single one of us is perfect. Not a single one of us knows everything. And not a single one of us is getting through this lifetime without making a whole lot of mistakes. Admitting you are wrong to your children when you make a mistake or get a fact wrong, goes a long way to sharing the power with as opposed to holding power over.
I don’t know about you but I really like to be right. I was raised in a house where you were laughed at and made fun of when you got things wrong. So I hold tight to my sense of rightness. However, this journey of parenting has really humbled me. The world of the internet means my children often come across facts, tidbits and information that counters what I know to be true. And sometimes I am dead wrong about the things I thought to be true. Engaging from the place of “Wow, I had no idea. How did you figure that out?“ opens the doors to conversations that can expand on knowledge, redirect understanding and open minds. Shutting it down with, “That’s wrong” only does that SHUTS IT DOWN, for both of you. ‘
As well, our children are going to go out into a world of opinions and ideas without us. And I want my child to be able to hold down a healthy debate, stand up for what they believe to be true and consider new information. This here is my chance to model that for them. In doing so I am also saying to them nonverbally you matter and I love you.
Pulling this off for me means paying attention, listen a little bit more than a speak and having the sort of open heart that’s okay with being wrong and owning that. What might you be wrong about today and how will it open up a conversation with your child?
Want to add a little extra love to your day why not add whipped cream it! It’s my favorite way to add a little extra magic to the day. Who doesn’t love an extra dollop of whipped cream on their hot chocolate, strawberries or ice cream. Use your imagination here, whipped cream tops many things.
Another fun addition is to turn the whipped cream your child’s favorite color. Or the color of a special celebration, pink for Valentine’s, green for St. Patrick’s. One super secret fun way is to invite you child to make the whipped cream with you and hide that food coloring. Dip it in the bowl before the cream, or a few drops on the beaters and watch with delight as your child is amazed by the magic color changing whip cream.
I use whipped cream here as an example. The goals really is to simple turn the ordinary into EXTRA ordinary to up the love that is spilling out between you and your child.
I could write a short novel on the troubles we have had with shoes in this house. They took a long time to feel good and when they did we wore them until they fell apart, dreading the moment when they felt too small and a transition was required. For my oldest son his usual was crocs for the summer months and rubber boots (a specific brand) for the winter. Both styles were worn into the opposite season for longer than other folks because shoe transitions were hard.
So as you can imagine there was not a lot of time, practice or opportunity for the learning to tie laces. When they got older we did try some shoes that had the dreaded laces. And I always tied them without complaint (okay, I tried to always tie them without complaint I am human after all). When you are in a rush to get to playing with your friends the last thing on your mind is learning how to tie your laces. It’s not what one could or would call a teachable moment. This is a moment to show up with a dose of love and tie those laces. With the years and years of experience you have doing it you are going to be way faster and it’s truly hard to focus on learning something new when you have a burning need on the other side, to get going somewhere else. The loving thing to do to facilitate your child’s need in the moment is to willingly bend down and tie their laces.
This idea can be extended to include a lot of the little things we can do for our children throughout their growing up. It can be easy to buy into the idea that children are being lazy by asking for our help. Or that at some magic age decided by someone outside of your child they should be able to do these things on their own, without hesitation. I am here to assure you that your twenty-five year old son or daughter will not be driving across town to ask you to tie their shoelaces.
When our children turn to us and ask for help it is because they need help. That’s it. They are not trying to manipulate us. They are not spoiled. Truly, when our children turn to us and ask us to help them with something they can do for themselves, they are not being lazy, they are asking for a little extra love for reasons we probably can not see on the outside. I would much rather be that mom bending over and saying through my actions “I love you” than the one pushing her children away from her side with shaming comments about their age and ability.
I, even now with a teenaged son just shy of six feet tall, willingly and happily bend down and ties his laces. Cause no matter how many times he ties them I am going to always have a few more years of experience on him.