Tag Archives: nurturing

Perfection? Pfffffft!

I was talking to some friends online today, about parenthood, its quagmires, minefields and opportunities for guilt and self-doubt. We were discussing the fact that, however hard you try, however much you put into it, however you beat yourself up, you’ll never get it ‘right’. You can do it well. Or sometimes you’ll do it badly. You will have successes and failures. Some things will make your heart sing, others will feel like total defeats. And when it goes well, you will file that lesson away for future use in similar circumstances. And when it bellyflops and leaves you scrabbling in the dirt, you’ll file that away, too. And try not to do it that way ever again 😉 That’s not to even mention the decisions we make for ourselves that impact our children, and the hours, days and weeks of agonising over them… Being a parent is a part of our journey, of our learning experience through this life and it is as much about teaching us to be a more compassionate human being as it is about guiding them through their own pitfalls and giving them the tools to be independent and compassionate adults in their own rights. Where and if at all possible.

Because our children also have their own paths to follow. They will have issues they have to deal with when they are older, and we cannot avoid that. We cannot make it perfect for them. “Perfect” doesn’t exist! I had a long conversation with my eldest son a while ago, during which I explained that I would always do the best I could for him, but that I knew very well that some of the decisions I make during his childhood will translate into ‘issues’ when he’s an adult. Our issues come from our experience, and for the longest time our experience is our childhood, no matter how perfect our parents were or how hard they tried. And that isn’t their fault (I don’t find that especially easy to write, by the way, but I do know it’s true). It’s the nature of the beast.

Ah. “Perfect doesn’t exist. It didn’t feel right writing that. Because, actually, I don’t believe it. But not in the way I meant it. Not that I mean to tie you in knots.

What I mean is that you, and your child/ren are perfect. You are the perfect tools by which to learn… whatever it is you are here to learn. Each of you. Your combination is perfect. I know. I know this sounds controversial. But it isn’t really. It’s easy to get bogged down in horrific specifics but that would be to misunderstand the point. If, for example, you found yourself in an abusive situation, you would learn from it. Whether that situation had an ultimately positive or negative outcome, it would still be a learning experience. And the younger you are, the more helpless and dependent you are, which is why these ‘issues’ have to be tackled when we’re older. So, just because it’s a simple equation, that doesn’t mean it isn’t unbearably difficult sometimes. Does that make sense? I hope so.

In slightly other news, I found this today. I loved it. An extremely healthy lesson in empathy:

Walk a mile in my shoes

Walk a mile in my shoes

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Dietary requirements

I know I’ve mentioned before that Teddy’s ‘connectedness’ with his environment is directly linked to the healthy functioning of his little body. If Teddy’s system is happy, he is with us. If it is distressed, he is disconnected. It’s really terribly simple.

But as simple as it may be, we didn’t work it out for the best part of two and a half years. The pieces of the puzzle fell into place in a beautiful dance of awakening.  Last Easter we finally admitted to ourselves that something was ‘not right’ with Teddy’s development. His father was talking to his own mother about it and they discussed autism. She then mentioned an article she had read about diet, and… the rest is trial and error.

Through painstaking trial and error, in fact, we have discovered that Teddy’s tummy is happiest when he is on a wheat-free, dairy-free and salicylate-free diet. What are salicylates? I hear you ask in horror… I did too 🙂 (follow the link to Wikipedia for more) The unfortunate news is that they are a naturally occurring pesticide to be found in all those foods you are proud of yourself for persuading your babe to eat: broccoli, for example, which Teddy loved. Grrrrr. And so began a couple of months of being chained to the cooker whilst attempting to find foodstuffs and alternatives that our littl’un could eat and tolerate. One of the biggest problems with intolerances is that the ‘alternatives’ have so many additives, preservatives, and last but not least, substitutes that are also untolerated, not to mention the fact that they are ridiculously overpriced as they have a desperate captive market, that they are simply not viable as the alternatives they set themselves up to be.

Just as each child is different, just as each child with autism is different, so is each child’s digestive system and tolerance / intolerance makeup. And with Ted, we have discovered that while wheat is a big no-no (we also avoid it due to intolerances – check out Wheat Belly if you are remotely concerned you might struggle with its digestion, too), its ancient predecessor spelt is just fine. So home-baked spelt bread, biscuits and cakes baked using spelt instead etc are all fine, if a little labour intensive. We have tried a plethora of milk alternatives: oat milk (he was horrified), KOKO – coconut is no good, soya he can’t tolerate and almond milk contains, however trace it may be, cyanide, and the one he finally settled on is rice milk. While he won’t drink it, it can be substituted for any milk in any recipe. And PURE sunflower margarine, or Vitalite takes the place of butter. For a long while he had no cheese at all, but we have now worked out that goat’s cheese – the hard white variety – is okay.  The only fruit he is allowed is Golden Delicious apples, peeled and cored, or pears. Ditto. But a little imagination goes a long way. While shop-bought sausage rolls are no good, an allergy-happy alternative is mince with onions, grated pear, parsley, in a spelt and PURE pastry. And they’re delicious. But it is time consuming. It’s back to basics stuff. The simpler the better. All home-cooked. Motherhood at its most primal. The latest technologies, fast foods, easy meals… they may just as well not exist…

Can you hear the exhausting labyrinth of ‘cooked, rejected; cooked tolerated; cooked, loved’ through this monologue? 😉

There is a wealth of cookbooks out there, and a wealth of information. You can find recipes on Pinterest, on Mumsnet forums, oh everywhere. But the difficult truth is, all you can do is work it out for yourself.

But it is all worth it.

For those mornings after the days you got it right, when you open his bedroom door and, rather than a small person who barely notices your existence, who is locked away in his own little world, a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed toddler bounces up to you, looks you right in the eye and says “Hello Mummy.”

That’s when you remember what it’s all for. ❤

Teddy and Daddy.  Connected.

Teddy and Daddy.
Connected.

Note: I would dearly love for this, too, to be a place where we can share recipes. If you have any successful recipes you’d like to share, please do comment and we’ll get a page together where I can post them for everybody. Thank you. 🙂

Trying on a new hat for a good fit…

autism3I’m considering having this made into a t-shirt 😉

Generally speaking, in our daily lives, we are fortunate enough to have a wide circle of loving and understanding friends, who have made it their mission to investigate the situation we find ourselves in with Ted, and how best to interact with and understand him. Those who cannot understand it, or who expect us to ‘carry on as normal’, have naturally fallen by the wayside. Without rancour, but it is much too stressful to pretend to be something you are not, to have to keep apologising for something that should require no apology, to navigate places and people who have unrealistic expectations of what is possible. It is a much less stressful proposition, we have learned, to have a meal with friends at their house, or at ours, than to attempt to sit through a meal in a restaurant. Although we are learning those little tricks I have mentioned before (stocking up on little toys from pound shops etc) to get through such situations, should we have to.

We don’t encounter too many folks who clearly weren’t told not to stare as curious children, but the sad fact is that we tend to avoid areas and situations where there are too many people or too many expectations to conform to a standard mode of behaviour since, as I have mentioned before, judgment is never far behind when you are attempting to live a ‘normal’ life out in the big, wide world, with an autistic child in tow. And of course, as I have said before, part of the issue is that there is nothing obviously marking an autistic child as autistic. By and large, an autistic child looks like any other child. Which reminds me, I also love this:

met one

Because the fact is, while autism has many common traits, no two children display the exact same ones, and like every other child on the planet, each is different. So there is a very real danger of making assumptions or basing expectations for a child with autism on your experience of another, totally different child.

At the outset of Teddy’s investigations I, too, was guilty of the sentiment behind one of the most common exclamations I hear:

“Oh, I thought they weren’t supposed to be able to do that!”

It’s a difficult statement on many levels. First, your child is being lumped in with everyone else, which is never a comfortable situation, even without the challenges that autism brings. Secondly, it can engender a very uncomfortable desire to defend the diagnosis and, if you are not careful, you can find yourself listing all the ways in which he does conform to it. That brings with it a horribly dirty feeling of betraying your child, since you spend the vast majority of your life with this small beloved person focusing on the positive. On what he can and does do.

A simple example to demonstrate this point is that many autistic children cannot stand to be touched. Teddy, on the other hand, spends that small portion of his life that he is not running around his immediate environment, climbing furniture, or demanding food, snuggled into or onto either of his parents, usually with the command: “Big cuddle!”

You know what? It’s a minefield. You think one thing is positive and a sign of hope, and then someone in the field of paediatric care comes along and says “Ah yes, they often do that. It means…” something completely opposed to the hopeful spin you had given it.

But no matter what anyone else thinks, says, or has experienced, Teddy surprises and delights us every day. The moments in which we throw one another puzzled or dismayed glances at some particularly troubling new development or behaviour are regularly and completely eclipsed by the moments in which our hearts and souls soar with love, pride and joy at some tiny, tiny milestone we were never sure he’d reach. Speaking to his occupational therapist the other day, I said to her “It’s baby steps, really…” and she looked at me quizzically.

“Have you said that before, during this meeting?”

“No. That’s the first time.”

She paused.

“Then it was one of the mothers I saw this morning. The exact same words, in the exact same tone.”

There’s a reason for that.

As soon as the word autism has been heard (and you will never unhear it), the facts, experiences, and literature ingested and digested, the biggest and most helpful thing you can do is open your mind (your heart, of course, is already cracked wide open) to everything. And your eyes and ears. Because, if you are not careful, you can miss those baby steps.

Two years ago, when Teddy was progressing more or less as you would expect for an 18-month old child, he could tell you all the sounds the animals make. It was one of our favourite party tricks and I remember very clearly the pride we felt as we heard his beautiful responses.

As he became less and less verbal and responsive, he stopped doing that.

But with the acceptance of his challenges, investigations into changing his diet which produced immediate and dramatic results, we have watched him slowly coming back to us.

Driving to nursery the other morning, we passed a field of cows.

“Moo,” said a little voice from the back seat.

Baby step. Don’t miss it!

“Yes…! … Teddy? What does a sheep say?”

“Baa!”

“Yes! What does a dog say?”

“Woof woof!”

Once, such responses were taken for granted. Now, the smallest response can set you up for the rest of the day. Once, I was grateful for big things, and took the rest for granted. Now, the smallest things rock my world.

If you want your child to be understood, I have begun to learn, then you need to teach people how to understand him.

autism2


Peaks and Troughs

I don’t think my heart has ever been this heavy.

But, paradoxically, I don’t think it has been as light either.

Which, I suppose, brings a kind of balance to life, doesn’t it?

Yes, we’re on autism again 🙂

It’s all so relatively new, and we’re wading through it, learning more each day, struggling through the hard times: the unpredictable and sudden lashings out and meltdowns; rejoicing in the good: taking Linsey’s hand and walking into nursery without a backwards glance. Grateful, oh so grateful, for people like Linsey, who understand. And friends, too, with children on the spectrum, or with other challenges, who are not only mines of information, but incredible support. These are the ones (and you know who you are) to whom you can make confessions nobody else would really know how to respond to. You can say to them “I don’t know if I’m cut out for this” and they know what you mean. They know you don’t mean “I’m about to run away, this is too much”. They know you do mean “I’m struggling. This is tough. Sometimes I just can’t get my head around it”. They know you’re not feeling sorry for yourself, but that you are full of worries: how will he be accepted by the world, what will he struggle with, how much will he be capable of, will he ever have any independence, how much has he progressed already, what can I expect for him, I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know what’s normal…?!

And then they tell you you need an SEN. And you look at them blankly. “A Statement of Educational Needs” they explain. And you nod as if you suddenly and miraculously understand. But you don’t, really. So you own up. Why? What is it for? “It’s so he can get the help he’ll need.” Oh. It will tell you how severe he is. If he gets a level this or a level that will make all the difference. You find yourself hoping he gets a level that so he can get more care, even though a level that means he’s more challenged… And you chide yourself for wishing such a thing.

They ask you to fill in a form about him. They explain that they will, too, and that when you read theirs you mustn’t be dismayed by how negative it sounds. It’s just so he can get the help he needs.

It’s a strange in-between world you’re asked to inhabit at this point. You spend your life looking at the positives, noticing the tiniest yardsticks of progress: “He just said ‘Where ‘loon gone?’! That’s a whole question!” “Did you hear that? He just said ‘Door’! He wants you to open it!”
And then there’s the other place where they want you to look at all the challenges, all the difficulties he has, all the things you spend your daily life glossing over, ignoring, attempting to improve without actually saying them out loud. You find yourself on this strange rollercoaster of believing the best whilst being asked to prove the worst.

I don’t mind telling you it’s tough.

Then you have nights like tonight, where you’re plum tuckered out with it all, and he’s just dumped two pints of water out of the bath all over the floor, and your strength is waning.

And you get him out, onto your bed to get his jim-jams on, and his chubby little arms snake around your neck. He sticks his little lips out, as he’s seen the frog do in his favourite film, and he pulls you in for little hot kiss after little hot kiss. Then he just holds you, around the neck, your cheek on his cheek, and before you know it, his breathing has become deep and even and he’s fallen asleep.

His world is exhausting.

And you dress him through his sleep, and deposit him in the strange makeshift bed on the floor (because he refuses to sleep in a real bed) and you’re on a strange and wonderful high.

Those little arms are still around my neck.

And, believe me when I say this, because it’s from the heart, suddenly I remember: I’m grateful.

Addendum: I guess, what I’m really trying to say, is that it’s all too easy to lose sight of Teddy in the sea of ‘requirements’… And Teddy, put simply, is perfect. Just as he is. 🙂

What next…?

Bertie (a whopping 6 years old) is… well… I guess boisterous is the best word to describe him. A little like Bagpuss (do you remember that kids’ programme?), when Bertie’s awake, the rest of the house is awake. He wakes up hollering, goes to bed hollering and does a fair bit of hollering in between. There’s no volume switch, no brakes. Bertie hurtles, headlong, through life, stopping only when he meets resistance, and even then only if he has to. And his demeanour is almost invariably one of noisy cheerfulness.

But just of late, as so often happens at around this age, he’s pondering the bigger questions. I guess Easter throws this up a little for children – they’ve been talking about it at school – death and resurrection. And it got me thinking about how confusing, and a bit scary, these big questions can be for our smallfolk.

“Can you ask god to give you a new body, when you die, so I can see you again?”

You see, one of his favourite bedtime stories just now is “The Mountains of Tibet” which is a rather surprising choice for one so apparently oblivious to the deeper potentials of his surroundings. “Gumboot’s Chocolatey Day” is far more up his street, you’d think. But the Mountains has obviously struck a chord somewhere. Resurrection at school, reincarnation at home… It’s beautifully written and illustrated, and provokes rumination on all sorts of levels… for an adult at any rate, I’d thought.

After all, his previous command had been far more in keeping with one his age:

“Be a boy. Then you won’t have to lay babies.” 😉

I’m not afraid of death. I don’t want to die, you understand. But I’m not afraid of it. For myself. (My feelings around pain are much more ambiguous…) I have young children, so naturally I have concerns about their well-being were their mummy not around to look out for them. And I see and feel compassion for their fears when they talk about it themselves. I want to tell them not to be afraid. That it’s just a transition. That it’s all part of the design. But I know they’re a little young for all that, and that they’ll have to work it out for themselves a bit…

“I don’t want you to die, Mummy” said my 8 year-old at breakfast this morning. One introduces a theme, another runs with it…

“I don’t want to die either, darling.” I tried to explain that these days people tend to live a good long time, although we can’t rule out accidents or illness. We can’t know when we’re going to shuffle off. And I tried to tell him that if I did, I hoped he would be thankful for the time we had together, and would show me what a good job I’d done being his mummy by living as full and happy a life as he could. At that he nodded, and smiled again for the first time since the conversation had begun.

But by now I was worrying. I had this terrible vision of a young man slogging his guts out trying to be happy, to prove to his dead mother that he could be, that she had been a ‘good mummy’! 🙂

It’s a minefield, death, life, happiness, spirituality, purpose… And it’s a sticky wicket when it comes to sharing it, too. I don’t subscribe to the theory that I have the right to tell my children what to believe. I can tell them what I believe, but to my mind they have no obligation at all to feel the same way. What they do believe, they will work out in their own good time. When they are ready and the time is right. They will, most likely, embrace, reject, struggle, and make peace with all kinds of channels of thought.

And that, as it is for the rest of us, is simply their journey.


Self-Protection and Healthy Boundaries

I apologise for the radio silence on the meditation challenge. Life events have overtaken the priority to document. But it is ongoing and mostly very successful 😉

I have just had another very powerful lesson. Or wake-up call, if you will.

It always amazes (and, after the event, sometimes a long time after the event, amuses) me, the way the universe throws at you precisely the lesson you need.

The lesson today is healthy boundaries.

I have endured yet another  round of bullying by email. This one has been sustained for three days so far. Now, if this were someone with whom I had a mere passing acquaintance, I would not have allowed it to drag out for as long as it has or to affect me as emotionally as it has. I would simply have walked away. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, on any subject, including me. However, I do not have to endure those opinions being foisted upon me. As I have said before, and more than once, if the person next to you keeps punching you in the face… walk away! (Of course, there will then be plenty of conjecture and judgement about your motivations for walking away, but this, again, is opinion. It need affect you no more than the original attempt at  abuse).

Okay, that’s clear, then? Receive abuse – walk away.

Simple.

But what if the abuser is someone you love? Someone who for a long time was close to you, whose opinion you used to hold in high regard, whose love for you was an important part of your own life? This is where the real test lies. And this is not a coincidence either. In the same way that it is very easy to be a person of integrity if you never move from your armchair, it is easy to walk away from someone who holds no personal importance to you. An abusive acquaintance is easy to shake off. An abusive loved one can have you hanging on far longer than you should, allowing yourself to be subjected to far more than you should – it feels too much like giving up, and anyway, shouldn’t love conquer all? – with the ultimate danger of being emotionally, spiritually and physically exhausted and damaged. Your spirit requires protection, and your human being clings to an unreality. The human part of you finds it enormously difficult to detach from the dream. Because hoping that systematic abuse will change with words is pie-in-the-sky. An inability to accept reality can only bring suffering. We all know it deep down.

(And on top of that, as an important aside, where dehumanisation occurs, there can be no hope.)

There are several lessons I have been gifted over the past few years, and when I use the word gifted, I mean it sincerely. The process of learning has been inordinately difficult, and painful, but the lesson itself has set me free. Every time.

These are they (and regular readers of this blog will already be familiar with them):

1. What you think of me is none of my business.

Opinion.

It means nothing.

Nothing at all.

Whether the opinion is good or bad. After all, isn’t it a little ridiculous to attach importance to bad opinion and disbelieve good opinion? Or vice versa? It is not important what others think of you. What is important is what you know of yourself. If that is firmly rooted in truth and reality, then all other opinion is utterly irrelevant.

2. Nobody can protect you but yourself.

Your boundaries are important. They must be strong enough to keep the negativity out, but porous enough to let the love in. It is important to examine them carefully:

Are your boundaries so weak that you will let anyone who chooses walk all over you? Then you need to redraw them. And self-love is the only way. If you love and respect yourself enough, you will disallow the abuse. A useful exercise here is to ask yourself how you would feel if someone were behaving this way towards a child, perhaps your own child. You would not allow it to happen, would you? So why would you let it happen to you? You – your precious spirit, your gentle inner core – are just as in need of looking after as anyone else. Don’t just say it, believe it. Feel it.

Are your boundaries so strong that you will not let anyone or anything in? You do not let negativity into your life, but you do not let love in either? Then you need to tackle your fear. Why are you afraid to let anyone in? Only you can answer that, but until you do, you will continue to feel lonely, afraid and joyless.  It is not easy. It takes faith. And the first requirement is faith in yourself and your ability to protect yourself if the walls are more permeable.

Healthy boundaries can help end unhappiness and suffering.

Sometimes, asserting a healthy boundary can be terribly simple. It can take a conversation, during which you (calmly and without evaluation) explain that you are uncomfortable with a situation or behaviour. It is not acceptable to you. With luck, you will be heard, the relationship adjusted and the healthier for it.

“I don’t like it that you keep punching me in the face.”
“Oh god! Sorry! I didn’t think. I’ll stop.”

Everybody happy.

But sometimes, it isn’t that simple. You can put the puppy back on the mat a thousand times, but to no avail. This kind of exchange usually ends something like this:

“I don’t like it that you keep punching me in the face.”
*punch*
“But I’m doing it because I love you.”
*punch*

I have quoted Wayne Dyer before, and he is by no means the only person to have voiced this belief, to which I adhere strongly and with personal experience to support it. If you cannot say no *within* a relationship, you may have to say no *to* the relationship. It is not failure. It is putting yourself before the abuse. Put like that, it’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

Sometimes, with deep regret and sadness, the only option is to walk away.


Magic Pillow Potions…

I am excited to announce the launch of a new line. It was introduced on my RightMotherhood Facebook page yesterday, and today has become available for the first time.

Here follows yesterday’s introduction:

“I have long been an advocate of natural remedies and our house is a positive apothecary at times: essential oils, flower remedies, homeopathy… Our first question is “Can we treat this naturally?”

There are labelled dropper bottles all over our home, carefully marked with a name, a use and the contents, and we have fixed such problems as sleep-neurosis, inattention, inability to fall asleep, and ear infections (to name but a few), all with positive results.

The two stand-out concoctions for me have been the Pillow Drops, and the All-Natural Ear Drops. Each of these is a blend of essential oils, but both with very different uses and applications.

 The Pillow Drops were born when my middle child was having trouble sleeping at night. His life had been a little turbulent and he had begun to be afraid of going to sleep. He also woke regularly with nightmares and struggled to go back to sleep again. I did some research into useful oils for calming, for inducing sleep, and for protection (the part he loved the best) and made him a mixture I called his “Magic Pillow Potion”.

We sprinkled it on his pillow and his pyjamas every night and, after a couple of weeks, the cycle was broken and he stopped waking. We still use it regularly: it is a wonderful smell and his bedroom becomes a gloriously comforting place to be as we are enveloped by the perfumes.

It wasn’t long before his brothers became rather envious, and each of them has their own bottle now. My eldest son was struggling to fall asleep, but when he remembers to use his pillow drops, he soon gives up the battle. Nor are mine the only children they have helped. They have proven effective time and again.

And then there are the Ear Drops. My second son is prone to ear infections. He is particularly likely to be affected when he goes swimming, and suffers regularly with Otitis Externa (a middle ear infection). Again, a little research led me to create a combination of oils with antiseptic and healing properties. We used it initially as a cure for infection, and now use it as a preventative (straight after swimming). Like the Pillow Drops, the Ear Drops are 100% natural and can be used as often as needed. A couple of drops in the affected ear (for a cure) morning and night, or in each ear after swimming (as a preventative) – couldn’t be easier.

In the coming weeks, both of these mixtures will be available to buy. I’ll be announcing here and on my blog where they can be obtained.

Love and light to you all. x”

And today is the first unveiling of my Pillow Drops. To the right of the page you will find two links directing you to the two different sizes:

  • 10ml for £7.50 (with £1.00 P+P); and
  • 30ml for £16.50 (with £2.00 P+P).

You don’t need to be a maths genius (and I am certainly not!) to work out that the 30ml bottle is economically more beneficial if you find you like them and they work for you, too.

They will also be available from my Etsy shop “Weaver’s Hitch”, the link for which you will also find a little further down the page on the right.

The Ear Drops are in production and will be launched in the next week or so. I will announce it when I have finalised the preparations.

Much love – and health – to all.

Alice x


Your children are not your children

“Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves, without any insistence that they satisfy you”

~Wayne Dyer

There’s something that has been bouncing around my head over the past… oh, I don’t know… I’d like to say few weeks, but it’s probably been a few months, or possibly even decades… Anyway, it’s a concept that I’ve discussed in various forms in various entries in various ways. It is so simple, so obvious in some ways, and yet so overlooked, dismissed and denied that I think it bears a dedicated line or two. (That is, of course, just my opinion) 😉

It is simply this:

You cannot live your life for anybody but yourself.

First impressions?

Selfishness? Egocentricity?

I disagree. (But you knew I would, didn’t you?)

I would say that even such folk as Gandhi and Mother Teresa did just that.

Because what I am talking about isn’t accumulating for yourself, consuming, taking for yourself, pleasure-seeking. That isn’t remotely what I mean. In fact, that is so very far from the idea that it finds itself at its polar extreme.

No, what I mean is that you have to follow your own path, to dance to the beat of your own drum, to sing your own song – however you would like to put it. Gandhi and Mother Teresa both knew what they had to do and didn’t let anybody else’s pleas, opposition, nay-saying or negativity stop them. And of course, having chosen such extreme examples, we are all aware of the adversity and difficulties they both had to face in following those paths.

Let me be clear on this, too. I am not suggesting for a moment that each of us needs such a bold and obvious mission as these two aforementioned incredible souls. What we need to be able to understand is that our daily life is our mission. Simply conquering ourselves is our mission. From the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep we have the power to make a difference. Every moment of every day is an opportunity. Every interaction is a choice. We don’t need a spotlight on us to prove it. In fact, fame and acclaim can very often cause a serious kink in the road if those who experience it allow themselves to believe it.

Acclaim is no more to be paid attention to than criticism. Seriously – what does it matter what someone else thinks of you? Especially if, in your own heart, you know that your motivation is pure, your choices are authentic and your path is integrous? In other words: Don’t believe the hype! Nor should you let the bastards grind you down. Don’t let the positivity inflate or the negativity deflate you. Steer your own course with no heed to the opinions of others (which is not the same, of course, as not being considerate or compassionate towards others). Opinion is worth less than the paper (or in this case laptop) it’s written on.

But remember this also for your children. They, too, need to chart their own voyages. They, too need to live their lives for themselves. They can’t live them for you and be happy. They need your love and approval simply for being who they are, not for doing what they do. But they also need to grow up with the confidence to follow that path whether you like it or not. Every child has the right to make his or her own mistakes and to learn from them. You cannot protect them from life. Life happens. Life is. But you can be there with a cuddle, a sticking plaster, a shoulder, or an ear when it throws them a curveball. Children are not ours to fashion into who we want them to be. We cannot enforce our opinions onto them any more than we can know what is right for them. That is something only they can figure out for themselves. A parent is not a king, a dictator or a headmaster, but a custodian, charged with getting his or her children safely to the point where they can take their freedom and fly with it.

Let me leave you with Kahlil Gibran’s beautiful poem:

On Children
Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
    which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
    You may strive to be like them,
    but seek not to make them like you.
    For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

    You are the bows from which your children
    as living arrows are sent forth.
    The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
    and He bends you with His might
    that His arrows may go swift and far.
    Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
    For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
    so He loves also the bow that is stable.

 


Mining your own Soul

Have you ever noticed how things (situations, emotions, dysfunctions…) seem to get worse before they get better? It’s as though we are asked to really dig deep, excavate, explore its grubbiest, grimiest depths, face it head on, accept every last wart, reach breaking point, before we can truly know what we are dealing with and how to remedy it.

Take a simple and physical example: your home. It’s a mess. It has been piling up for days while you sit, at first oblivious, and eventually paralysed, looking at it, wondering where on earth to start. Until the day you can bear it no more, you roll up your sleeves, put on some music and attack.

It’s the same thing with our emotions, isn’t it? Or, better put, our emotional dysfunctions: reactions that have served us in good stead over many years are suddenly not only no longer helpful but downright damaging and inappropriate. But it isn’t, generally speaking, like a light-switch. We don’t spot it in a quiet moment, flick the switch and fix it there and then. Usually, like the house, it builds up, gets worse, begins to cause real, almost tangible, often desperate problems in our daily lives and relationships until we are forced to sit up, take notice, examine, accept responsibility and begin to implement change.

It isn’t always easy. In fact, generally it is enormously difficult. Because the very first thing we need to pack away as a blockage to our development is pride. Pride causes us to cast about for external causes, to try to blame anyone or anything rather than accept our own failings or weaknesses. And with pride’s departure, the next thing we must allow to take centre stage is vulnerability, coupled with humility, neither of which are served by pride. Or mistrust for that matter. We need to bite the bullet and accept our part in the drama, take responsibility for learned responses that once served us faithfully in the survival of our daily and difficult lives, but that we can now see and accept as inappropriate and unhealthy. From the earliest moment of childhood we are learning how to be with those around us. And for many years those people are just one small group, wherein our responses are fashioned to ensure our survival by meeting their needs, tastes, morals, rules and… sometimes… dysfunctions. The time comes in adulthood to bring those responses out into the light and examine them properly. They can be so compulsive, so deep-rooted, so hidden from our own view, that the hardest part of all is often admitting them to ourselves. But if we truly want to fix ourselves, to change, to learn to have healthy, equal, unconditionally loving adult relationships, it is vitally important that we do learn to examine the deepest parts of ourselves. The first step, therefore, is radical honesty with ourselves. It stands to reason that if you can pull the wool over your own eyes, pulling it over anyone else’s is a breeze!

And after this we need trust. We need to trust that those nearest and dearest to us will protect us in our vulnerability, love us through our transformation, and support us through the difficulties that change and evolution invariably throw up.

This, in turn, has its requisite conditions: we need to choose to surround ourselves with people worthy of our trust. It can only be a two-way street. If trust is one-way, it can only lead right out of the relationship and over the horizon.

So choose your fellow-travellers wisely. And don’t be afraid to say no. Look after yourself as you would one of your own children. Why would you be any less worthy of love or protection than they?

And that is a whole new line of thinking, isn’t it? Let me leave it with you:

Why would you be any less worthy of love or protection than your own children?

With love.

The art of listening

I know who I want to be. I can see her now:

She’s calm and loving. Her arms encircle her family with care and protection. She endows her little ones with the strength and confidence they need to try the world out for themselves. She has boundless patience, never loses her temper, is unbuffeted by external storms, speaks only after considering the import and effect of what she has to say…

And then I step outside of myself and look at me. This morning I shouted “Stop shouting!” at my four year-old. I also found myself uttering an oft-repeated directive of my mother’s from my youth: “If you haven’t got anything nice to say to each other, don’t say anything at all!” The bickering was getting out of hand and I was trying to finish getting breakfast whilst making packed lunches and shovel porridge into a rather unreceptive baby before it went cold and became impossible.

A deep breath or two later and I tried again. “We are a big family. We all have something to say and we all want to be heard. But if everybody is talking at once, you may get to say what you want to say, but you simply won’t be heard. And then what’s the point? We need to take it in turns, let others speak, listen to them…”

And for a while it worked. They waited patiently and let one another speak. I was very pleased… for a little while.

But something didn’t seem quite right… And then I realised what it was: they were waiting patiently to have their turn, but were so intent on their turn and what they wanted to say, that they weren’t listening to a word being uttered. And I realised that this was also one of my big frustrations. I stand and give directions (“Put your coat on, here’s your packed lunch, move your hands this is hot…” etc) or speak to them about something I consider to be important, and gradually become aware that even though I’m not being interrupted, they’re just waiting till I’ve finished in order to say what they want to say.

So we have a new challenge (and I should add that it applies to me, too – as a parent it is all too easy to understand that your child wants, no, needs to be heard and to let them speak, but if you just pitch in with your next instruction the second they finish speaking, what was the point of letting them speak?) and our new challenge is this: when someone has finished speaking, acknowledge that they have spoken. It doesn’t really matter how… the key is to make the person speaking understand that you were listening and have taken in what they were saying, whether or not you think it is important or even agree.

To feel heard is to feel valued, to feel valued is to feel loved, to feel loved is to grow, secure in your world.