Swan Mothers

Discovering Ourselves through Parenting

Parenting from the Gut, Heart, and Soul

“How high is an Olympic diving board?” Daniel asked one day as we were jumping off the dock into the lake. “Let me check,” said my friend, pulling out her i-Phone. A quick click and a few taps later, we had the answer: three meter spring boards and ten meter platforms.

“What do swans eat?” Jonathon asked a few minutes later, watching a pair swimming toward us with their cygnets. I opened the browser on my phone. “Seaweed, insects, and snails,” I replied.

With the internet in our pockets, or at least easily accessible, most of us have instant access to much of the knowledge of the world. We can answer almost any questions accurately by peering into our magic screens.

Parenting by the Book

Because many of us do not have experience with children, we approach parenting by researching and reading. Soon, we are armed with statistics and historical facts that validate our choices. It feels good to be doing things our way.

This type of information-gathering can help us uncover new ideas and remedy old hurts. At the same time, all this knowing can disconnect us from what we really Know.

I Know!  (So why don’t I believe myself?)

Growing up tends to silence our inner voice. We are shushed and learn that it is not right to be overly boisterous when we are joyful. Our tears are wiped away with gentle assurances that “It’s okay,” or a curt, “Big girls don’t cry.” When we are afraid, we are told there’s nothing to be afraid of.

By the time we reach adulthood, most of us understand the proper ways to behave. And most of these correct behaviors require silencing the small still voice inside of us that Knows.

Learning to Trust Ourselves

What if, when we want to know something, we spent time observing and considering what we see and hear before looking up the “right” answer? (We could have enjoyed watching the swans and guessing what they were doing when their heads dunked underwater.)

What if, when our children are distressed we checked in with ourselves and asked, “How can I help my child?” before asking our friends on Facebook for advice? (I suspect that we often Know what our children need and are actually led astray by listing symptoms and asking for solutions.)

Here is a simple and effective way to access your Knowing.

1.       Place your hand on your heart.

2.       Breathe into your heart for a count of six.

3.       Breathe out of your heart for a count of six.

4.       Continue until you feel centered and congruent with your heart.

5.       Ask your heart a question, such as, “How can I help my child now?” If you want to know something but aren’t sure how to phrase it, ask, “What do I need to know right now?”

6.       Listen.

I am not abandoning my smart-phone, library, or friends. I do intend to listen to my own wisdom, first, more often.

Where do you find information for the parenting journey? How do you determine if it is right for your family? Tell me in the comments.

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Valentine’s Day? Bah, Humbug!

It is February 13, and, yet again, I have not bought those silly, pre-printed Valentines. When my children were in elementary school, I did buy them. It was required.

I’d watch other children walk to school clutching red-heart-decorated shoe and boot boxes to collect the cards and treats. I  supervised reluctant card-signing.

Phony Baloney

Saint Valentine’s Day is a holiday observed on February 14 honoring one or more early Christian martyrs (none of whom are known for love or romance). It was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD, and was deleted from the General Roman Calendar in 1969 by Pope Paul VI.

The roots of St. Valentine’s Day may lie in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated February 13 – 15. Priests of the festival whipped bystanders.  Being touched by the whip was supposed to increase fertility in women.

What exactly are we celebrating?

I understand that contemporary Valentine’s celebrations in school are not about Christian saints or Roman holidays.  I understand (sort-of) that they are supposed to be fun. But what are we teaching? How do children who are socially inept, bullied, or shy experience this holiday?

Same, Same!  Cards for Everybody!

Children are required to give a card to each child in their class, so that no one feels left out. But kids know who likes them and who doesn’t. They know whom they like. They know when they are giving cards because they have to, versus giving cards they want to.

Teaching children to be kind and considerate to all of their classmates is a valuable lesson.  Teaching them to treat everyone the same, is not.

All children do not all wish to be treated the same. When sad, one child might like a hug, another to talk it out, a third would prefer to be left alone. Some children show their excitement with high-fives and shouts, others flick their fingers or flap their hands.

And a Little Red Dye #40

Almost half of my children’s classrooms have been peanut free. One was latex free. Our homeschool group avoided eggs because one family had life-threatening allergies. But artificial colors and flavors have been allowed in all classrooms. (Except at the Waldorf school. But that’s a separate, otherwise awful story.)

The UK banned artificial food dyes in 2008 after a study suggested they are related to hyperactive behavior in children. The UK demands that manufacturers use natural colors and flavors and US companies use natural products in the UK — while continuing to use artificial dyes in the products sold in the US.  (Learn more from Deborah Merlin, author of Victory over ADHD.)

My daughter was severely affected by red food coloring as a child.  Now, she avoids fake-red foods saying, “It makes me crazy.”

Bah, Humbug!

hum·bug

[huhm-buhg] interjection, noun
1.  something intended to delude or deceive.
4.   something devoid of sense or meaning; nonsense
  • I wonder what would happen if, in lieu of pre-printed, generic cards, we asked each child to think of one thing they admire about each classmate.
  • I wonder if the children would be surprised to discover that there really is something good about every person in the room, even in those children they don’t like.
  • I wonder how it would feel to receive 20-some pieces of paper that showed us the wonderfulness our classmates found in us.

What would you have the schools do in place of the humbug that is Valentine’s Day?

Note: 

I am now homeschooling my only remaining elementary school-aged child and am thrilled to announce that I did not buy cards or candy for Valentine’s Day this year.

 

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My Kind of Presence

“Children need us to be present.” I’ve read it in a hundred books and articles. I’ve probably written it myself.

When my children urgently, intensely need me, I can be present. When they are hurt physically or emotionally, I am 100% there. When they hug me, I’m there. During choir concerts, band performances, and karate tests, I watch and feel my heart swell with joy.

But when it comes to helping with homework or playing a game, watching karate practice or swimming lessons, my attention wanes.  No matter how actively I try to give the activity my full attention, half of my brain disengages.

Noticing What Works for Me

When I am talking on the phone, I iron or fold laundry.  If I am listening to a lecture, I take notes or scribble something unrelated.  When I drive, I listen to books on tape. My best ideas often show up when I’m not thinking.

For a long time, I tried to make myself pay attention to just one thing: smell and taste the food when I’m eating; focus on clothing while I iron; listen when people talk.

I was certain that was the right way to do things.  Everyone said so.

But that kind of presence didn’t work for me.  I gobbled food to finish eating as quickly as possible.  I left baskets of clothes unfolded.  My attention wandered when people talked.

One day, I acknowledged what I had known for years: I listen better when I’m doing something else.

Allowing My Children to Determine What Works for Them

An  article in the Wall Street Journal by Amy Chua titled Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior stirred up an avalanche of responses.  The most egregious aspect of the article was that Chua’s daughters had to do what she demanded, when and how she required.

I do not believe in parenting by total non-interference.  Parents are parents because children need guidance. When parents teach and support in a gentle, loving manner, children may benefit from our accumulated wisdom.  We show them how to navigate life on Earth.

Children also benefit from figuring out how to do things their own way. We can help our children to notice things about themselves by telling them what we observe.

  • “I see that your eyes are starting to close.”
  • “Sometimes you get cranky when you’re hungry. Have you noticed any signs that you need to eat soon?”
  • “You seem so excited about drama!”
  • “Tying your shoes is frustrating. Would you like me to show you a different way to tie?”

Let’s encourage our children to discover what works for them.

Let them discover their own how. Allow them to trust their own experience and knowing.

We can learn from our children how to support them and how to honor our own needs.

Need helping shifting your ideas about how things should be?  Consider shifting your beliefs with Matrix Reimprinting.

Does your child do something his or her own way? Do you? Please share in the comments below.

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Work in Progress

Thirteen years ago, my mother-hero’s journey began. My almost-three-year old’s teacher stopped me at the door. “We’d like to have someone from special ed come in and observe Ellana. She’s not like the other children.” My heart raced. My world whirled. Hours passed and I began to assemble the teacher’s words into meaning. She thought something was wrong with Ellana. I wept. I raged. I decided that Mrs. Francis was wrong. I refused the call to adventure. I rejected the labels the teacher and observer wanted to associate with my beautiful, brilliant girl.

Twelve years ago, I acknowledged that my child was very different from the other preschoolers and accepted the challenge to be the kind of parent (I thought) she needed. I decided to overcome the autism spectrumy thing. I donned my battle gear. I read, researched, and planned. I drove my daughter to therapy appointments and sampled treatments and therapies of many flavors. I had a goal. I would help her to modulate odd behaviors and acclimate to the ordinary world. I would fix the glitches in her system. I would make my child normal.

Eleven years ago, when my second child was two, he was evaluated and given an autism diagnosis. While Ellana’s way of being defied labeling, Daniel had never spoken a word. He pressed the buttons on his toys repeatedly. He flicked his hands in front of his face. He was happy, affectionate, intelligent, and obviously autistic.

Nine years ago, my first grader was in her fifth school in five years, and we were asked to withdraw midyear.  I plunged into the abyss. Amidst deep, dark despair, I experienced moment of insight: I would teach my daughter at home.

After five years of homeschooling, after much yelling, crying, and foot stomping from mother and child, revelation dawned: I did not need to fix my daughter or her brothers. They were not, and never had been, broken. None of them resembled the children I had envisioned, but they were perfectly themselves, and I loved them, no changing required.

Four years ago, my three children went to school. For the first time in eleven years, I was home alone during the day, so I decided to write a book. I interviewed mothers of autistic children and wrote about the transformative power of our parenting journeys. I was healed and enlightened. I recognized my children’s inherent awesomeness. Life was easy and good. And we lived happily ever after.

~ The End ~

Cue the laugh track. While the above is an accurate, though drastically abbreviated, telling of my parenting experience (the whole is here), and though I did feel as if my mother-hero’s journey had come to a natural conclusion, I relaxed on my (virtual) lounge chair on the beach, margarita in hand, rather briefly. The end was not The End, but a curve in the spiral of life, circling into another loop of The Journey. I had arrived . . . somewhere, yet felt more unmoored than ever.

 

Mother,
      a small BIG word, 
       gave my life purpose and meaning.

It was I,
         who knew what my children required.
It was I,
         who fed and healed.
It was I,
         who soothed and strengthened.

I was
     needed,
     heeded,
     indispensable.

Until I was not,
             not needed to fix, for they were not broken,
             not heeded, for they invoked their own wisdom,
             not indispensable, for they were competent and complete.

Mother,
      a BIG small role,
      forged the woman I am today.

It is I,
       who practice non-interference.
It is I,
       who aim to advise less and listen more.
It is I,
       who teach and support.

I was
     heated,
      hammered,
        beaten into shape.

Until I became,
               cool and unrestricted, flowing like water,
               expansive and pliable, open to constant change,
               sovereign and free.

Thirteen years into the journey, I am trying to not try to figure out a new purpose for being, striving to adjust to the flow of life’s currents, and learning to thrive in this uncertain space. I do not remember what I know every day. I relearn lessons I previously mastered. I slip, stumble, and fall. I notice twists, hills, and valleys on own journey honor the journeys of those around me.

I know that in every moment, we are all flawed, and we are all stunningly beautiful. All is perfect, even when it does not seem that way. Everything is in creation. I am a work in progress.

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