Category Archives: free range parenting

Too Much on Your Plate

My boyfriend wanted a finger foods dinner so baby could enjoy everything with us. We had sundried tomato/rosemary ham and cheese roll ups with avocado, cucumber tomato salad, stuffed mushrooms and zucchini, and apple slices with peanut butter. Plus lobster tail because it was on sale. Tasty.

We gave Zander (9 months old today) a bit of everything. He was having a wonderful time, then he started losing it all of the sudden. What was going on?

I took everything off his table and wiped it down. He calmed down. From there, I placed one thing on his table at a time and he enjoyed everything.

This was another ringing endorsement of simplicity for little ones. Of course, one could argue he is used to simplicity so he responds better to it, but I think he is a calm, content baby at least in part because there is never anything crazy going on around him.

There is a good deal of research indicating that clutter and busyness lead to stress. If research found otherwise, we would all be suspect of it. Intuitively, we get that too much outside feels like too much inside.

Simplicity for our children is not where the trend should end, though. All of us need to simplify, and not just for our children’s sake. Simpler environments, simpler schedules, and simpler relationships help our core remain steady.

For children, this means limiting their options, not taking choice away. We have four books for Zander. I give him two to choose from each day. I want to give him choices and responsibility where ever I can. To truly do that, I have to respect where he is developmentally.

SAVERS and CHARMS

Each morning for several months now, I perform my SAVERS.

This is an acronym created by Hal Elrod that spells out things you need to do in your routine each morning to be at your best—to have your Best Day Ever. I have spoken about Hal Elrod on this blog before. I really enjoy his energy, and find his podcasts interesting. He has guests on to discuss family and business life.

I am a strong believer that a lot of work that applies to business and leadership also applies to the family.

SAVERS Stands For:

S- Silence: Sitting in prayer or meditation

A – Affirmations: Stating your goals and knowing you can accomplish them

V- Visualization: Visualizing the path to success

E- Exercise: This one is pretty self-explanatory

R – Reading: Take a glance at some kind of self-help or self-development book or article

S- Scribing: A word used for writing, because SAVERW didn’t look as good. This usually means journaling.

I think the way that visualizations and affirmations are done in this routine are far better than any I have heard of before. Visualization should not just be the end goal, but the process of getting there. Affirmations should not be passive–”Money flow to me”–and they should not lie–”I am rich.” Instead, they should be goals, with details on how to reach them, and the confidence that you can.

My TMM

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For instance, one of my morning affirmations is:

“I am worthy and capable of creating the life that I want. I have all the tools that I need to be an excellent mother. I will respond sensitively to my son’s cues. I will raise him to have balance, resistance, insight, and compassion. I will do this by helping him to identify his emotions in his body, helping him see them in others. I will be an emotional coach. I will create a secure attachment. I will be the calm in his storm.”

I have others for being an excellent partner, making friends, being a blogger, being fit, creating a warm home environment, etc.

On an ideal day, I do 20 minutes of yoga each day, followed by visualizations and affirmations. Then I do 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation. I do a bit of gratitude journaling, and then write my daily goals and evaluate the previous day’s successes and shortcomings. a few minutes of gratitude journaling. I usually read a parenting, self-development, or entrepreneurship book.

Some days are less perfect. I wake up tired and feeling lousy. I put my son on my chest and do 5 minutes of loving-kindness meditation so I can forgive myself. I get up and stretch. I close my eyes while I picture my future, and say my most important affirmation—the one about being a mother. I read one page of a book, write down 3 things I’m grateful for, and get started with my day.

Some days are completely wonky and it takes me all day to finish my mourning routine.

Difficulties and Energy

It is hard for me to overstate how much better my life feels since I began doing this. I love having made a habit of it, and I have more energy each day. I started while I was 38 weeks pregnant because my energy levels were quickly declining, and I was so pleased with the results that.

Since then, I started my blog, have lost all of my pregnancy weight and more (four-month postpartum), made friends with new people—which I had avoided doing for the year previous in my new location—and began freelance writing.

I have remained calm and energized through all of the struggles of new parenting. My son is on his four-month sleep regression, so I haven’t slept for more than two hours straight for over three weeks. But I feel fine.

Right after I finished doing the laundry, he pooped on the bed when I was changing him. I could breathe.

He wants mom and mom alone, all of the time right now. I can appreciate this short season of his life—even if it is sometimes a bit exhausting!

This is everything I wanted out of parenting, and I give partial credit to The Miracle Morning.

CHARMS

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TMM has many spin-offs to help different people in different areas of their lives, whether it is writers, entrepreneurs, or millionaires. Lindsay McCarthy created The Miracle Morning For Parents and Families

In it, she details a miracle morning routine more suited to children. Her daughter was three and her son was seven when they started the routines. Some people say that they have started with their two-year-olds.

Instead of the SAVERS, though, children perform CHARMS.

CHARMS stands for:

C – Creativity: Let your children engage each morning in some kind of creative activity. Whether that is drawing, painting, or playing instruments.

H – Health: This includes exercise, with an emphasis on diet. I think this HIIT workout for children is a great way to teach them exercise. Exercise and diet both contribute to our well being and ability to regulate emotions.

A – Affirmations: A child doesn’t have to be as specific in their goals. Help them think of ways that they like to be. “I am going to be helpful today by cleaning toys up with my sister,” or “I am going to be brave today by trying a new thing.”

R – Reading: Reading as a family is an amazing experience and one that is highly correlated with academic success. Try to carve out some time to read as a family. Older children may enjoy reading by themselves.

M – Meditation: This combines visualizations and silence. Some children might enjoy sitting and meditation. But many will not. Consider telling your children a calming story while they keep their eyes closed and picture it. Listen to the Peace Out podcast if you aren’t much of a storyteller yourself.

S – Service: Be of service to others. This could be doing chores (which Lindsay calls Family Contributions) or any other way your children or you can come up with that involves meeting the needs and desires of others.

You need to make this fun for your children, not a chore. Playfulness keeps children interested. It is also their primary way of learning, especially under seven-years-old. It can’t be something that mom and dad force on their kids.

The SAVERS and CHARMS will set you and your children up for The Best Day Ever so that you can have The Best Lives Ever.

Expectations

 

Your biggest problem is your expectations.

When you go out and you discover a flat tire on your car so you can’t go to see grandma and AAA won’t make it there for two hours and your husband isn’t answering his phone and the kids are crying, it feels miserable. And it is definitely not your optimal outcome for any particular day, but there is nothing wrong or inherently bad about the situation.

Your husband shouldn’t have had the phone on.

You shouldn’t always have access to help.

Your kids shouldn’t be happy about the situation.

Your tire shouldn’t be full of air.

All of these things can be in any state without anything being wrong, even all at once.

You’ve just drawn a line in the sand about how your day should go, and when it wasn’t that way, you decided that there was something wrong with the world.

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

This isn’t about being a boyscout. You’ll be fine if you run out of a good. You can run to the store, call to someone to get it, or order it on Prime if you have a day or two. Some situations are of course far more inconvenient if you don’t have a particular thing on hand—but this isn’t our real problem.

Very few of our real our problems, our big problems, our Pareto principle problems, actually come from whether or not we have immediate access to a piece of fruit or even a diaper. It may suck to clean up poopy pants or a poopy car seat, but it isn’t going to kill you.

What is going to make today worse, and all of your days worse, is if you expect to not have to deal with problems like this, and you end up having to.

The Real Enemy

Expectations are the real enemy.

Not just in every day nuisances like lacking an ingredient you thought you had, but in your relationship with your child.

And your partner.

And yourself.

In believing that you or your son or your daughter or your partner should be something other than they are, you create an unwinnable.

If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, you lose the chance to the admire the beauty in its swim.

“Age-Appropriate” Expectations

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There was a popular infographic going around talking about the cognitive capacities of children, when it becomes appropriate to expect things from them. I think that the effort of this infographic was noble—reducing the frustration that parents feel with their children when they have unreasonable expectations. But I feel that it also had two implicit messages that I have a harder time supporting:

  1. Expecting it: If you have an idea that someone “should” be able to do something, you will get annoyed with the fact that they aren’t doing it. If it is backed by “science”, the backlash is even worse. Parents feel not only put out by their child’s behavior, but might begin to believe there is something wrong with them.

    Milestone-mania is already rampant, and there is no need to double down on that sneaking sense of paranoia in an attempt to allay anger.

  2. Reducing Agency: One thing that happens when we decide what people “should” and “shouldn’t” be able to do is stop attempting to get them to grasp concepts or build the tools to head in that direction. This is called the tyranny of low expectations. It is essentially writing someone off and letting them pay the consequences.

More useful than developing suitable expectations is having none, but to give your children the support and skills that they need to develop and strengthen their capacities.

It’s not as if, on their fourth birthday, all or even more kids have impulse control. It’s not as if most adults have even worked that muscle particularly hard.

What is happening is a slow progression to have more emotional control—a completely unpredictable path that will move backwards and forwards more time than anyone could possibly count. A path that your child will continue to walk through toddlerhood, teenagerdom, and well into adulthood. Skills and abilities that you thought they had will seemingly fade overnight, and that they should be able to do these things—according to science!–isn’t going to help you or your child get anywhere.

Try This Instead

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Let’s go back to that day in the car.

You have a lot of other options, outside of disappointment. Give yourself five minutes to feel those feelings, then move on.

Check what your options are to carry out your original plan: Consider an Uber, see if grandma can come over, or someone can pick you up.

Or just go inside, tell grandma sorry, and have a different day from the one you were planning.

If you didn’t have that plan, how would the day have gone? How would you feel if those things didn’t happen on a day you didn’t mean for them to happen?

We can’t always have such peace and clarity, but working on lassoing in our expectations bit by bit, we can stop trying to handle disappointment, and instead just go about with our days.

Family Board Meeting

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There’s a well-known rule in the business world and in economics called the Pareto Principle—the 80/20 rule. It means that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort.

This is something that is hard to integrate into our daily lives. It is easy to believe that all of our marginal decisions and extra efforts are making a difference.

But this is a lie.

Too Close To Call

In fact, there are only a few things that we do in any arena of life that are getting us results.

We stress and strain over minor decisions and actions that don’t matter much. We spend time trying to figure out whether this or that is the best. It’s so close–too close to call. What if you make the wrong decision?

It won’t be the wrong decision.

Most of the time, it will be an inconsequential decision.

Get clear, in each part of your life, on the 20% of things that you are getting the most of your results from. Think about this in terms of your relationships, as well as your work life. Think of it in terms of your exercise. Think of it in terms of you diet. Think of it in terms of your routines.

With our children, there is an effective strategy to employ that will get us big results.

It will matter much more than which gift you get them, how many mortgages you pay, or the time spent lounging together.

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Family Board Meeting

That is the family board meeting strategy. It’s a concept in the book of the same name by Jim Sheils.

Here’s the main idea:

In the business world, there are board meetings that are conducted quarterly—once every three months. Everyone connects with each other, often face to face, to see where all lines are leading and to make sure they’re going in the same direction.

Have a board meeting with each member of your family, every three months.

Here are a few guidelines:

1) One-on-one: Every three months. This is possible, no matter the size of your family. Being paid attention to, without any distractions, creates a different kind of bond—one that allows each person to feel seen.

2) No technology: No distracting people, no distracting things. Playing video games and watching TV together may have its place, but this is about paying attention to each other.

That is impossible if mom, dad, daughter, or son are checking their phone every few minutes.

3) Four-Hours: Once a quarter, for each family member.

As the author of this book often reminds people, you only have eighteen summers with your children.

When we get together, we need to decompress before we can do things shoulder-to-shoulder in a truly connected way.

4) Freedom: Try to give as much freedom as possible to your children in deciding what to do. There are limits to what is possible, but take their preferences into heavy consideration.

Eighteen Summers

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Eighteen summers. Then they’re adults, and they can decide how much they want to see you.

How are you going to use that time?

What sorts of things do you think will build a loving, trusting relationship that keeps them interested and engaged with you now, and long into the future? Are you doing those things? Or are you hoping that all the tiny things that you do, the unseen things, the lower 80% things, will add up to the big results you’re hoping for?

Having routines and rhythms in our lives is one of the best things that we can do for ourselves. It allows us to be more mindful. It allows us to schedule our priorities, rather than bumble through and hope we get to them.

Keeping the Pareto principle in mind will help you be a productive, focused person, rather than a busy one. It will allow you to stop worrying if you make the right, tiny decisions, because you’re making big, intentional ones with results.

Consistency is NOT Key

children-817365_960_720.jpgConsistency is not key.

It is a common refrain among parenting coaches and educators that one of the most important things that you can do for your children is being consistent.

Which forces us to ask what the benefits of consistency are.

Consistently responding sensitively to your child’s needs creates a secure attachment.

For children and adults, there is a real upside to having routines and schedules. It allows us to be centered and mindful.

But consistency for the sake of consistency is garbage. Things for the sake of themselves often are.

What if you told your kid no ice cream, then thought about it, and you realized it really wasn’t an issue with you? What if you were angry in a moment, and disciplined your child—and then realized that it was disproportionate or useless?

There are many times when not being consistent is extremely important. Saying, “I’m sorry” means that you’ve changed your mind, or your behavior, or your attitude towards something. You in the present and you in the past do not agree on how to handle something.

Change isn’t always a good thing; but we have to be willing to change our minds. With new information comes new possibilities. With new energy comes new alleyways to discover. With new surroundings comes new structures.

What we create constantly gets knocked down, and that includes ourselves. The principle of non-self (anatta) tells us not to hold onto an idea of a solid, unchanging self because it is a lie. If anatta truly does reflect reality—and I very strongly believe it does—then to be totally consistent overtime is impossible.

One reason people think consistency is so important is because they think children are less intelligent and flexible then they are.

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When I was a kindergarten teacher, I would let my students jump up and down on my stomach. It was very fun for the all of us, and I like to make kids feel big and powerful. The owner of the kindergarten asked me not to do it because she was afraid that they would think it is okay to do with other teachers.

I talked to her about all of the different ways that the different teachers run their classrooms. About how I teach letters this way, but Teacher Ryan taught his this way. About how I played these games and Teacher Claire played those games. About how I let my kids scream, and Teacher Sean always liked his classrooms quiet.

We shared students, and of course, the children had no problem switching from one situation to another. They didn’t get confused with the different English speaking accents.

I asked the students: Who it was okay to jump on? They screamed, “Teacher Amelia.”

As excited as I could, I said, “Can we jump on Teacher Ryan?” and the kids laughed and laughed and said “No!”

“Can we teach on Teacher Claire?”

“Hahaha, no!”

These were 3 and 4 year olds, and we were talking in their second language. They were not confused at all that different people want different things, and that even different times required different behaviors.

If I came in feeling unwell one day, the kids did not feel uneasy when I said, “We have to be quiet today because Teacher is feeling sick. We won’t play many games.” Did they require a reminder or two?

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Sure, of course.

But it didn’t make them fundamentally distrust me, or feel confused about our relationship, or feel that the rug had been pulled out under their feet.

There are ways in which consistency benefits children. Again: responding sensitively to their cues, and having some semblance of a schedule so that they aren’t all over the place. Having an attachment figure, of course.

But children are very smart and adaptable. They start gaining the ability to empathize very young, and they live in an ever changing world. They are humans. Human are excellent generalists. We are amazing at building tools and finding ways to adapt to a variety of situations. We know how to reorient ourselves to new people, new rules, and new cultures.

The concept of consistency is important in a few domains. But in most, it is not. Not only do our moods change over time, but so do our values. What our children are capable of is constantly changing, and if you’re sensitive to their development, you will open up new doors for them at every opportunity. Today’s “No, it is too dangerous,” often can and should be Tomorrow’s “Yes, please give it a try.”

How To Get Your Partner to Parent the Same

I can’t get my husband to stop barking at the children.”

“My partner won’t listen to me or read any of the books I have asked him to.”

“My boyfriend keeps telling my son that he’s a ‘big boy now’ and I think it is hurting his confidence. How can I stop him?”

Frequently on parenting groups, we see these sorts of complaints and questions. A mother has decided on principles of interaction with her children, and the father is unwilling to follow the same path. The mother is distraught. Very often, distraught enough to be considering leaving her partner.

So, the question is, how do you get your partner on board with your parenting style?

My gut reaction—everyone’s gut reaction—is to say model the appropriate behavior. We learn better as children with modeling, and we learn better as adults with modeling. But in saying this, we leave out an important element of why people follow modeled behavior so well. They see the exact steps to take, and they see that it works.

If I wanted to learn how to make a cake, and someone modeled for me how to make a pie, I might be grateful for their effort, but I would not then follow their instructions. It was not what I wanted, so using their guidance for my ends is useless.

This is why mother’s will often say they already model and it doesn’t seem to be working. Why, oh why does he not see what I’m doing? How is he not compelled to do the same?

One option is that you have different values about what you want for your children.

More likely, you have different values about how you want to feel about how you treat your children.

I believe both parents, in most relationships, have their children’s best interest at heart. But I believe mother’s often want their relationship to be like a friendship. They want their relationship to be sweet and caring and empathetic. They are often liable to ignore the results that they are getting out of their interactions with their children, and how they are effecting their behavior. They are dedicated to certain principles and feelings, sometimes at the cost of what is actually best for the child in the long run.

If your partner sees you being a “gentle parent” towards your child, but your child is often out-of-control—both his own and yours—he is extremely unlikely to be convinced that this gentle parenting approach is for him, or really even for his child. He will not want to parent that way, and he may even begin to try to act as a counterbalance to permissiveness and lack of leadership, being harsher than he would otherwise.

And, perhaps, you seeing his harshness in response to your gentleness makes you double down and be even softer.

If I want to bake a cake and you hand me a book on how to make a pie, I am not going to read that book. It isn’t useful to me.

Feeling that we have the answers, feeling morally upright and indignant, is very appealing. Especially when you know that you’re on the right track. A half truth can sometimes be worse than a whole lie because reality will confirm that you’re doing something right.

I wholly agree that anyone who is interested in gentle parenting is gleaning some very important truths about the best way to raise children; with secure attachment, with emotional coaching, with loving care and openness. But they’re often missing leadership, another big part of the equation.

Before you try to model harder that your method is right, have a discussion about what values it is you are trying to raise your children with. From there, you can discuss why it is that he feels that your approach is lacking in accomplishing those goals.

Chances are, you will find that you both have the same values around what you want for your children. This is for two reasons. One if affiliative mating; we tend to date and breed with those who are like us.

But even more than this, it is because we generally all want the same things for our children. We want them to be emotionally healthy, able to pursue the things they want in life, for them to value their relationship with us, to be resilient, healthy. While which things you value most may differ, it is likely that the fundamental desires you have are the same.

A discussion can lead to gaining mutual respect for each other’s positions. You may even find that you give up your efforts to convert him to your ways, because you can see that there is a balance between the two of you. Perhaps being a great leader and setting boundaries isn’t your strong suit, and you can learn something from your partner. He is likely bringing something of value to the table. Maybe be will better be able to see where you’re coming from, too. Don’t go into the discussion hoping to “win” it, though.

Another possibility is that you guys can talk about what kinds of things would make a more gentle approach more appealing to him. Once you understand that you’re valuing the same things—that you don’t want to raise an impulsive, inconsiderate, unproductive person, but instead think that these ideas will lead to a strong, confident, cooperative adult—you can begin to talk about how to get where you’re both going.

It might be that your child doesn’t take directions well, and until your partner starts to see results in this area, he is not that interested. Realize that this is fair. Children aren’t meant to be slaves who simply follow orders, but they are meant to cooperate, to be led, and at a certain point, start to gain emotional control. When they can’t have emotional control, you are that calm for them.

Once you start to build the skills necessary to lead your child, maybe your husband will ask more questions about how to be authoritative. Then you modeling will be instructive for him.

But until then, until you show him how to bake a cake when what he wants is a cake, your modeling will do no good.

Bids for Attention

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We took our evening walk at the park next to my house. There had just been a storm, so there were worms all over the ground. They were laying on the walkways, almost all of them dead from being stepped on. There was one survivor.

The boy was about 9 years old. He saw the one worm wiggling there, and it stirred some kind of emotion in him. He did not want to touch the worm, but he absolutely had to save it. He used his hands like two scoops and tried to quickly flick it back into the grass, hoping that the briefer the contact, the more limited was your exposure to worm germs.

It was a sweet. I’m not sure that it was helpful, but it came from a good enough place. After completing his mission, the boy ran up to his family to tell him the story of his heroic effort and success.

First, he tried his older sister. “Sarah,” he said, “I just saved a worm! He was on the street and I got him in the grass.”

She doesn’t even look at him.

He jogs up a bit further to tell his parents. He has added texture to the story in that short time. “Hey, guys,” he said, “I just tried to tell Sarah that there was a worm in the street. He was going to die, and I saved him.”

They don’t even look at him.

I hear him try for a third time. They nod in his direction.

Our paths diverged at this point, but I could see a flash of the future. All four of them get in the minivan. David—I’ve now named him—is trying to get people to acknowledge his story. To listen to a cool thing he accomplished today. Something he maybe was only interested in doing because he wanted his parents to be proud of him.

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He says (again!), ”When we were at the park, I saved a worm! I took my hands and…”

“Enough, David! We’ve heard enough about the worm, okay? Just be quiet!” his Mom snaps.

This is a common story. Parents refuse to acknowledge that their kids are speaking, and then they get annoyed that their children say the same things over and over again.

This is the exact opposite of mindfulness. You are not paying attention to where you are and being with who you’re with. Unsurprisingly, your child is disappointed that his bed for connection is ignored.

With a younger child, this won’t be just repeating the story. It will be ever-escalating attempts to get your attention. A good example of this is babies and breastfeeding. One of the ways you can have a baby that cries less is by acknowledging the early signs of hunger. This includes rooting and sucking on their hands. If you are mindful of these more subtle cues, then your baby will, not cry out of hunger, because you will feed him before he gets too hungry.

If you do not pay attention to the clues baby is sending though, you should not be surprised that after he has asked several times, he feels the need to scream and cry to get what he wants.

What would you do if you asked your partner several times to pass the mustard and he just looked at you, and then looked away? Never passing you the mustard.

Maybe you wouldn’t scream and cry. But what if it was a problem you couldn’t solve yourself? What if you kept asking your partner to help you by putting laundry in the basket instead of on the floor when they get undressed, and they never do it? This might turn into screaming.

When our early attempts at getting understanding and acknowledgment fail, we escalate until we are heard. Not just babies, not just children—all of us!

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Bids for connection are extremely important in maintaining a healthy relationship. It is useful to reflect on this as an important tool not just in romantic relationships, but all of them. This may be a joke, a touch, a story, or any other gesture designed to communicate the desire for connection.

Poor David just wanted someone to look at him and tell him it was a nice thing he did. If they disagreed with him touching the worm, they could have said they appreciate his effort to be a caring person but that there are other considerations. They just have to acknowledge it.

I’m not saying your kid won’t tell you the same story three times. I just mean it won’t be five times. In a row.

If you get down and face them, listen, and acknowledge what they’re saying, you’re less likely to have a situation that is escalated to the point of a tantrum. But you have to truly listen, not just say the words as if you’re listening.

You’ll maybe hear the same story later that night instead of two minutes later. You will be building a stronger relationship with your child because they trust you to respond sensitively to them. You’ll be practicing your mindfulness.

As a parent, it is difficult to acknowledge but important to remember that your kids will grow up and decide whether or not they want to visit you and talk to you regularly. Build a strong, good relationship so that when that time comes, you’re a person whose bids for attention they turn towards.