Tag Archives: parenting

Small Days – a storehouse of memories.

When you bring that brand new baby home for the first time, no one tells you that time will fly.  No one tells you that you will blink and they will be 10, that you will sigh and they will be teenagers, that you will wake up one day and they will be adults. Our baby is turning ten soon and I’m learning to treasure every small day because I know that sooner than I would like, he will be grown. Here is my letter to him…

Dear Joel,

One day the Lego boats will disappear from the side of the tub. One day I won’t hear the sound of your small feet running to my arms in the night. One day my face won’t be the one you look for first. One day you will tend your own bumps and wash your own clothes and I will stand to the side, proud of the man you’ve become.

One day I will close my eyes and smile because right there, in my heart, I have stored up all your small days. I will close my eyes and remember when you fit in the crook of my arm so well and I’ll let the smell of newborn you fill my senses. I will close my eyes and laugh about the days you were small enough to stand under the table with your little fists clenched and face purple, wanting your own way. I will close my eyes and wave you off to school again and sigh that even then the days seemed to pass like lightning. I will swell with love for the little boy who came home broken-hearted about the cruelty of others. I will hug that little boy again and feel the jab of that day. I will be proud that you didn’t let the opinion of others define you. I will close my eyes and draw on a thousand memories, a thousand moments of joy, love, laughter, tears, overcoming, and growth. A thousand memories that are mine alone.

And between now and then, I will tell myself to savour every moment (even the ones that make me pull my hair out). I will tell myself to really listen when you tell me your stories, because this is the only time that your voice will sound this way. I will tell myself to laugh at your silliness and love the way that you don’t know how to behave “properly” yet (and pray that you hold on to some of that silliness forever). I will remind myself never to be the first to end your hugs, because one day I will be wishing for just one more small moment with you. I will build memories that are full of you. I will tell myself to linger in these small days because one day, the Lego boats will disappear from the side of the tub.

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Not What We Shall Be

Martin Luther once  wrote We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road.”

We are not yet what we shall be… 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, partly because we now have a teenager at home and life is interesting (insert challenging, hormone drenched, funny, frustrating, and occasionally infuriating). The thing is that I keep looking at him, especially when his behaviour reminds me of an episode from the Twilight Zone, and it’s so clear that he is not yet the finished product.  This beautiful boy, who is driving me slightly crazy, is not yet who he shall be.  He is a work in progress and because of this I have patience.  He is a work in progress and because of this, when his behaviour is challenging, I can still find him fascinating, because of this, I find his mistakes easier to forgive, because of this, I find his victories so exciting. 

 
Driving him to school yesterday something struck me. I am so comfortable about giving him space to allow him to grow at his own pace but I wonder, have I ever acknowledged that I am still growing too? Have I ever realised that my family and my friends are not yet who they will be either? Or do I expect perfection from them? Do I expect both myself and others to be the finished project for no other reason than that we are adults? I think I do. I think I have bought into the myth of the grown up – the person who has done their learning, who has answered life’s questions, and who is therefore “done”.  

But are we ever done?

Every day we learn more about ourselves (some of it good and some of it disappointing), about the world and about people. Everyday we experience new things and make new choices and feel new ways – we are never finished, we are never grown up.  So maybe we need to change the term, perhaps we should all be growing ups instead of grown ups. And I’m not just saying this in order to play with words.
If we recognize that we are in a process of growth, then our expectations of ourselves are more realistic. A growing person is allowed to make mistakes, a grown one should know better. A growing person can be shown patience and forgiveness, a grown one shouldn’t need either. A growing person can change the course of their life because they are still becoming who they will be. A grown person is done and they are stuck with who they are.  It is kinder to ourselves if we see ourselves as growing ups and it’s kinder to others too. 
What’s more, it’s not just kinder, it is transformational. My father was in the army when he was young and I remember him telling me that his commanding officer had an interesting way of dealing with larrikins – he would promote them. When I asked why, my father answered me that people will usually live up to our expectation. If we expect them to do poorly, that’s what they will do, if we expect them to rise to the challenge they may just do that too.  What would others do if we expected them to be on a journey of growth? What would they become if we cheered them on along the way and championed them when they were weary or falling down?  They might just see that they are not yet finished and run on along the road to greatness. They might just cheer unfinished us on too.  

Not Drowning… Discovering the Introvert.

source:http://www.rgbstock.comI had a dream last night. I dreamt that we were at the beach (Dave, the boys and I) and a huge wave came. It was okay, though, because Dave, Elijah and I were on top of the rocks and safe from the wave. In my dream it took me a couple of minutes to realise that Joel wasn’t there. He was on the sand…under the water.

I discovered last night that my parental instincts are the same waking or sleeping. In the dream, I jumped straight in the water, knowing that if I didn’t get to him, Joel would drown. So, without a second thought I just did what I had to do to reach him and because it was a dream, I did reach him. He was just standing there, on the sand, under the water, holding his breath – not struggling, not drowning… just standing there. In my dream I grabbed him and pulled him from the water and yelled at him saying; “Why didn’t you swim? Why didn’t you tell me that you needed help?” He just shrugged and smiled and said; “I’m okay mummy” and then he extracted himself from my hands and jumped back into the water. I woke up, heart pounding and wanting to go and shake him awake. I didn’t of course, but only because by the time my feet hit the floor, logic was screaming at  me “just a dream, just a dream”.

I know why I had this dream though…

I had this dream because I’ve been on a journey with Joel and it’s a journey that has at times left me feeling like I was in over my head, but it’s a journey I am so thankful for. It took me seven and a half years to realise that our little family of extroverts was actually a little family of extroverts with one introvert. I spent a lot of time worrying about Joel’s quietness, his tendency to spend large amounts of time alone in his room, his stress in loud and busy environments, his inability to make more than one or two friends at school and his dislike of big social events. I got it wrong with Joel (a lot) and by the time he was almost 8 it was taking a toll on him. Joel was often stressed and teary and I just kept coming up with ways to deal with it that appealed to my personality type. Not adjusting at school – I’ll throw a BIG birthday party to help him make friends (he spent the whole time ignoring the other kids and asking when we could go home from this “too loud” place). Joel shuts himself in his room with screams of “I just need some space” and I interpreted it as him needing to talk about it- so I would go in and invade his space to solve the problem. Nothing I tried worked, in fact it seemed to make things worse.

In so many ways, I felt like we were all standing on the rocks and Joel was somewhere else on the beach – alone. Then about a year or so ago I stumbled across this article and all of a sudden the lights came on (we extroverts are not always the sharpest tools in the emotional shed). There was nothing wrong with Joel, he’s just not the extrovert I had assumed he was.

I’m wired differently to Joel and so it took me a long time to realise that he wasn’t drowning in the silence – he was drinking it in (in fact, if he was drowning at all, it was in the constant noise that we surrounded him with). When we realised that Joel’s personality type was introverted, we set out on the best journey Dave and I have taken since we became parents. We set out to discover Joel. We took time to learn what makes Joel tick and how we can make our home a place that he can enjoy as much as we do. We read lots (particularly Susan Cain) and we found adult introverts and picked their brains but the best thing we did was to sit down with Joel and ask him what he needed from his family.

Here are some of the keys we have learnt so far…

  1. “Let me finish my sentences” – This is the first thing that Joel told us. There’s lots of banter in our home and it usually involves a fair bit of interrupting. Introverts aren’t always quick to speak up – they like to really think about a topic deeply, so it can take them a while to talk. It can be tempting to interrupt or just not wait for them to speak at all but when we do that, we end up shutting introverts down.  In our home, we are learning patience and respect, there’s still banter but there’s also a rule that Joel is allowed to finish his sentences and the results have been amazing. I’ve discovered that my youngest son has a rich inner life and now he invites me to be a part of it – what an honour.
  1. Alone is okay. – In the case of introverts being alone is actually good (I’m not talking about sudden changes in personality and isolation or withdrawal that is out of character for your child). Alone in a safe, quiet, calm place of his choosing is how Joel (and most other introverts) recharges his batteries. Alone time for an introvert is crucial (just like social time for an extrovert is crucial). In the quiet place they gather the emotional resource and energy to deal with an often too noisy world. A few weeks ago, Joel and I had a quiet day (a day where we are home together but just do our own thing – no noise, no requirement to interact) at the end of the day Joel looked at me and said “You really love me mummy, I know because you gave me a quiet day with you”. If you want to give a gift to an introvert, give them the quiet.
  1. Introverted children need tools – There was a cycle in our home where we’d be busy socially for long periods. We would rush out and be social, rush home and be loud, rush around and get ready then rush out and be busy. We didn’t have down time and ¾ of our family liked it this way, but to Joel it was torture and he didn’t know how to tell us when he’d had enough (so usually he would scream at us when he got to snapping point). We realised that we needed to help him find tools to express his needs and to cope when we couldn’t avoid a stressful situation. We asked Joel how he felt when he’d had enough and he answered “overwhelmed” so we taught him to say “I feel overwhelmed” and we taught ourselves that hearing those words meant we needed to start thinking about leaving. When Joel says that he feels overwhelmed now, we make sure we communicate with him on the timeframe we are working to and we acknowledge his need for space. We also learned to take headphones with us when we are out so that if Joel needs calm and space, he can plug in, play music and cut down on the draining ambient noise in his environment. Joel now knows how to create an inner space for himself.

There are so many other things we are learning and if you have tips for us, we would love to hear them. Changing the way we do family has been great for us all and Joel is thriving at last (when home is a haven, everything else falls into place too). The last year and a half has been an amazing time for us. We have discovered Joel – this funny, intelligent, compassionate, connected little soul who is definitely, no longer, drowning.

Puberty?… Oh No!

Photo Credit: Jon Stone, Mike Smollin

Kids have this terrible habit don’t they? They just insist on growing, whether we are ready for them to get bigger or not.  It’s exhausting and unstoppable and right now, in our house, it’s terrifying because the growing is pushing us closer to the edge of that cliff…puberty! 

I feel like Grover in “There’s A Monster At The End Of This Book” – I want so badly to chain the pages of our life together, or nail them shut, or brick them up just so that we don’t have to get to the part with the dreaded monster.  The thing with that book though is that the kids just insist on turning the pages.  Nothing this Grover-mum will do is going to put off getting to the back page!  Adolescence is coming to my son (and there’s nowhere I can hide). 

So, because there really is nowhere to hide, I’ve decided that it’s time to grab my flippers and my snorkel and dive right in.  I’ve spent the last few weeks talking to SOTY’s (survivors of teenage years) about how to make it through my son’s adolescence without the need for Prozac or military school and the funny thing is that they are all saying pretty much the same things. 

1.  Be the immoveable object

Picture your child as a small yacht in a beautiful bay.  Up until now, the waters have been fairly calm, the sky pretty clear, and they have had a lot of years to practice sailing around in the safety of your family’s harbour, but now it’s time for them to learn to do what yachts are built to do – it’s time to sail some bigger seas.  As parents, the thought of pushing that small yacht from the slipway and turning our back on it is unconscionable so what is our role in this? 

We have to become the rock in the ocean. The one that he can navigate around, the one that appears on his map, the one that he can anchor himself to in a storm, and cast off from when he is ready.  We have to learn to be the immoveable object in our child’s life.  Loving him bravely – letting him know that it’s good to want to explore the world around him.  Loving him with stability – letting him see that home will always be a place of acceptance, grace, forgiveness, warmth and consistency (a place he can anchor himself to when storms rage around him).  We have to let him see, that no matter what changes around him, we will not change – we will stand firm in our dedication to him.

It may take a great deal of courage to love this way, to love like the immoveable object, but parenting is about making courageous and uncomfortable decisions from its very first moments, so why would this be any different?

Photo Credit: Kevin Tuck

2.  Remember that the person you love is still in there (somewhere).

Every parent I have spoken to has said this to me (after they stopped laughing about the fact that we are just approaching this season and they have already made it to the other side).  They all said, that adolescence is not easy but that it’s really important to keep reminding yourself of your child as a person.  As parents, we need to work on setting the behaviours aside and reaching out to the individual inside.  When we remember that there is a person who we love behind the behaviours that we find frustrating, it’s helps us to focus on maintaining relationship with them.  Adolescence, like all seasons, is not without its end and once it’s over, they assure me, we will get to see and enjoy the beautiful people our kids have become.

Is that all that there is to it? I don’t think so – it’s never that simple, is it? Will this work in getting our son through those scary teenage years?  I think it (and a lot of prayer) will help, and I think we will learn other things along the way too.  At the end of the day, there’s one thing I know for sure, love has been the answer in every other stage of our children’s lives. Not the flimsy, wishy-washy, passive love that watches the world fall apart around it as though it was powerless to do anything.  No, not that kind of love.  The gutsy type of love, the love that is a verb – active and powerful.  The love that is strong enough to say I will not give up on you.  The love that is immoveable. 

Candy Canes, Christmas Cards & Little White Envelopes.

It’s that time of the year again. The time where we bake and wrap gifts for the beautiful people who taught our boys. Where we give out candy canes and cards and promises of holiday play dates as we stare down the barrel of Christmas insanity.
It’s also the time of the year when a small white envelope sits almost ominously in our sons bags telling us how our children performed throughout the year. I dread that envelope, not because there is any surprising or particularly terrible news in it – we know our sons well, their strengths and the areas they are yet to develop in. I dread it because I don’t value what it stands for. 

All over social media we see parents proclaiming how awesome their children’s reports are (and they are right to be proud of their kids) but I’ve also noticed what I like to call a lot of “white space”. The gaps around these joyful pronouncements of genius where other parents are saying nothing and feeling like they have somehow failed to do well for their “average” (or perhaps a little less) children. 
I know that reports can be a good indicator of how many learning outcomes a child has attained in a set number of subjects but when we, as a culture, hold a report up as proof of “smartness” or otherwise, we are narrowing our view of giftedness to a ridiculous level and teaching our kids that only some skills matter, that only some learning, some character development has value.
So I don’t like their reports and I’ve come to wonder how useful it is to know how well my sons perform in relation to 24 other kids.  I want them to grow into successful adults, so I know academics are important, but then I look around me and I ask myself; who are the people that I consider successful in life? And here’s the thing, good at maths, English, science, PDHPE, history and HSIE don’t appear anywhere on that list.

My list looks more like this;

  • Has integrity.
  • Is compassionate towards others.
  • Is resilient and optimistic.
  • Willing to work hard at the things that don’t come naturally.
  • Reliable.
  • Can laugh at life.
  • Faithful.
  • Courageous.

I could go on adding traits to the list. These are things that I look for in my children – these are the things that I want to see them develop and excel in. What’s more; I don’t want to know how they perform those things in relation to 24 others I want to know how they perform them in relation to the demands of their conscience.
So this year we did something that no good parent would even consider. We took the little white envelope and put it in a drawer and when our son (the perfectionist) asked us why, we answered like this…
“You told us that this year you did your best and we are so proud of you. The truth is son, that your report will only ever tell us who you were at one or two very distinct points in one or two very distinct areas and we already know you better than that. Your report will never tell us all that you had to overcome to perform the way you did. It will never tell us how many good and right choices you made daily. It will never tell us what greatness is growing inside you and thankfully it doesn’t have to because you let us see these things every day, so this year we have put your report away.”
Don’t get me wrong, I want my children to do well in all areas of life and I know that assessment is part of work life too but until their report actually measures all areas of life I refuse to hold it up as an indication of any human beings value so in the drawer it will stay.