I’m planning my son’s birthday party. It’s such a cute thing to do.
We like to keep parties simple in my family. We don’t hire in and we try to keep the list short. I’ve noticed children have more fun that way. When there are too many people the birthday child is either overwhelmed or plays with one or two friends while the others do their own thing. I don’t see how that is a birthday party for a specific someone. In my view a birthday party is a chance to celebrate the person who was born into our lives. I guess, as in discipline and life choices, my preference is connect first, everything else second. I see a birthday party as an opportunity to deepen connection.
Anyway so the friends have been invited and each one means something to my little guy. As each friend informs us he or she can make it my boy grins and settles a little more into the joyful anticipation of having them there at his special day.
Now it’s time to decide what games and activities we play. He knows what he wants and my job is to organize it into a workable format. Big brother wants to help manage the party so he is My Helper. This should be interesting – we both like to be in control. I’m reminding myself now as I write that I need to settle into working WITH him rather than be his boss. I hope I remember that otherwise he will just get frustrated and sulk. As would anybody who understands they are a partner in a project only to find they are merely a powerless lackey.
Anyway back to the planning. Someone spoke to me about how the game Pass The Parcel has changed. “In the Old Days”, they said (ie the hardcore 80s), “there was a parcel with layers which was passed around a circle. When the music stopped whoever was holding the parcel ripped off one layer. Slowly the parcel became smaller and smaller and the anticipation built to see who would be holding the parcel for the final layer because that person could keep the prize in the center”.
I remember this as fun. I don’t remember times I won or lost, I just remember the excitement. “Nowadays”, this person continued, “we are so afraid of our children’s disappointment that we put a prize in each layer and make sure everyone has had a turn.” Maybe our parents also sneaked a peek to make sure the music stopped on the child who hadn’t yet had a turn, but I don’t remember tantrums and tears and screams of “It’s not fair!” I know I have seen that nowadays.
I also know that last year I found myself packing a parcel chockablock with little surprises in every layer and feeling concerned that it would work out unfairly. I wondered about the idea that we don’t give our children practice in dealing with disappointment.
By the way, my solution worked really well. I only put gifts in some layers and each surprise that was uncovered was put by the children into a bowl that sat in the center. They were informed the contents would be shared out fairly at the end so they sat there and were excited by each thing that was added to the bowl for them as a group. It was fun. No fears of unfairness and disappointment for them or me.
This year my boy wants to play The Chocolate Game. It’s a super fun game for those who may not know it. A large bar of chocolate sits on a bread board in the center of the circle along with a fork, knife and some articles of clothing – a hat, scarf, large jacket. It’s great fun if the clothing is large or floppy or interferes with dexterity in some way. The children pass a die around and when someone rolls a six he or she jumps up, puts on the clothing and sits down to eat the chocolate with a knife and fork only. No fingers allowed. They sit there eating chocolate until someone else throws a six at which point they must immediately stop and pass the clothing onto the next person. Sometimes it takes time before the next six is thrown and sometimes it is immediate… There is a lot of fun and hilarity.
So my two boys were discussing this and said, “We must leave some chocolate aside so that if someone doesn’t get a chance at all then at the end they get given some chocolate.”
I found myself having an old-school reaction to this. “What? Toughen up, life isn’t fair, que sera sera, you need to learn to cope…” Luckily I shut up. I simply observed myself. It’s true that life can seem very unfair and they’ll learn this, but is a children’s party really the moment to force them to engage with this? Anyway, where did this tough attitude get us? Maybe it’s this very attitude that has caused the problems in our world today? Who is to say a softer approach won’t create a kinder world? If we aren’t all hardening ourselves against the ‘harsh reality’ and ‘unfairness’ we could concentrate more on connecting and having fun.
Back when children were seen and not heard young folk didn’t get much of a say in how games went: parents said and we did. Nowadays children get to say so much and we – having not enjoyed the experience of being silenced – listen to them.
It was a small but meaningful moment for me as I relinquished the decision making to the children. They wanted to make the game fair. A socially trained part of me wanted to stop them. For what? To maintain the skewed power dynamics in our world that we have been taught are ‘right’? The very same power dynamics populations around the world are rising up in great masses to rebel against? Funny how our children reveal our imbalances and indoctrinations in the oddest places – we’re talking about the Chocolate Game fer goodness sake!
So, to help make the world right again in little and big ways, I will keep some chocolate aside so if there are some who don’t get during the game, they will get after the game is done.
World peace and fairness will prevail in our Chocolate Game.
A while ago in a play park I witnessed a seemingly mild incident that left me feeling deeply disturbed. A little girl of around two or three years old was being ‘walked’ by her father on one of those harness things, like a dog’s leash for children. The girl was screaming and clearly didn’t want to leave the park and her father was pulling her and saying “Come, come!” as one would to a dog. She was determined, literally digging her heels into the ground and was putting all her weight into staying put.
(This is not going to be a rant against those contraptions. In my opinion a tool is a tool and its use or misuse depends on the user. While I personally prefer the method of talking and holding a child, there might be a place for them with those magnificent children who have the most remarkable ability to disappear in seconds and scare their parents to death on a regular basis. Such a harness could maybe be used lovingly to help a child understand the concept of staying close. It would be discussed and explained to the child without frightening them or forcing the experience onto them. And it would be ended as soon as possible once the understanding has been gained. That is my opinion.)
I was left wondering why this incident disturbed me so much. Like all of us, I’ve often seen uncomfortable examples of parents in play parks urging or forcing children to do things they don’t want to do. And what was so bad really? Children often don’t want to leave the park and have to be cajoled or dragged away by their caretakers. I checked in with myself about what parts of this incident were triggering my personal wounding and cleared them. But even after this, my discomfort remained and I began to have rescue fantasies of how I would educate these parents who, other than this incident, actually seemed quite obviously loving and caring. They just didn’t seem to realize the effect of the incident on their beloved daughter. I knew they would want to know and desperately wished to help them see this. Of course I shut up and stayed put. They were not asking for help or advice and I’m not suicidal.
(Again I feel I must add, that if I witnessed parental behaviour that made me fear for the child’s safety I would put on my bomb vest and head in there!)
In this case I merely
At a certain point in my therapeutic journey I was confronted with numerous self-beliefs that were stopping me from allowing myself to live fully, experience fully and achieve to my full potential (real or imagined). Often, I was surprised to uncover these ‘road block’ beliefs – such as not being good enough or feeling guilty for having life when others have death (I include these because they are such common hidden beliefs). Some were not that surprising, like things you know you have but haven’t ever looked at them closely. But others were shocking. There were a few things I uncovered that not only was I not aware I believed, but also were things that felt contrary to who I knew myself to be. “What’s that doing there?” I wondered, “I don’t believe that! I believe the other thing.”
It’s very disconcerting to find beliefs lurking around in your psyche that you feel aren’t really yours, yet there they are activated and causing havoc in there. Like random meteors. I had to accept that they were there and that they were mine, because there they were, yet these discoveries really rocked my self-understanding. I remember thinking, “They feel like mine and yet foreign at the same time – as though they were superimposed onto me”. It was a bit weird and I didn’t know what to do with it.
In hypnotherapy the therapist might ask the client whether the feelings or thoughts in a situation are coming from the inside or the outside. In other words, are they actually yours or are you as a child perceiving the emotions of those around you and understanding those perceived feelings to be your own. Disturbingly often, on exploration the client can distinguish that the feelings that led to detrimental self-beliefs are in fact emanating from those around them.
Likewise with my own process, many of the negative understandings I had of myself were not mine to begin with. That’s why they felt both mine and foreign. I had taken them on, assuming that what I could feel at the time were my own feelings. Confusing? Let me put it another way. As a child, if you can feel something, you assume it’s yours. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Except that it’s not always true. Children are perceptive beings, especially when it comes to strong feelings their parents are having, so sometimes, even though they can feel something, it is not theirs.
What finally brought it home for me was a conversation with my mother. I had been trying to process some very painful feelings about being alive and it was hard to get my head around them because one of the things I think I know about myself is that I love being alive and this stuff felt so different. Unnatural to who I am in essence. I tentatively disclosed to her some elements of what I was struggling with because it had to do with the time of my birth – I was nervous raising it with her but hoping to gain some clarity. The conversation took an amazing turn when my mother took up the topic and shared that around my birth and early infancy times she had been feeling all of the things I was describing.
That in itself is interesting but the jawdropper for me was that, as she described how she had been feeling at the time, I got a very weird feeling of déjà vu because she was saying all the things I had been saying in therapy. She was using the exact same words! As I sat quietly, listening in wonder and she told me her story it all made so much more sense to me. All those feelings and thoughts were hers, not mine. I had just absorbed it all like a sponge. That was why it had seemed like mine yet contrary to how I know my inner nature to be.
A deep sense of relief came over me when I understood these feelings were hers all along. After that things shifted for me on those issues. She hadn’t known I had taken the feelings on and built my self around them – and she wouldn’t have wanted me to carry that stuff. I too didn’t know it had happened or why. All I knew was that I felt that stuff so it must be me.
This experience also validated again for me the relief that happens when a parent owns and takes responsibility for their own stuff. It left me free to live my own life – with excitement – the way I know I innately do. Owning your own feelings is the most powerful thing you can do for your child and for yourself – from pregnancy onwards.
Precious readers, I am working on a writing project at the moment which I look forward to telling you about but for now, writing the blog weekly is taking writing time that I need for that. So I will be posting once a month instead of weekly for the next little while and hopefully I will soon have a completed project under my belt. For now here is a reminder in the form of a longer than usual post to tide you over.
You can also pop by the blog every Monday (or anytime) and read some previous posts. There are a lots to choose from. Browse away.
A while ago I woke up grumpy and looked in the mirror and said, “I do not like waking up to being in service first thing in the morning.” Right from the get-go as I wake up I need to cater, referee, feed, clothe, brush, chase, cajole without regard for what I might prefer to be doing right now.
This reluctance is familiar to many of us – at work, or in our family, or with ourselves. “Oh I don’t FEEL like doing this. Why do I have to do all this stuff? Where is the freedom of which I dream…” If you whine about it though, most people will tell you to just grow up and get on with it; life’s hard and all that. And yet I have never really accepted that “Life is hard” crap we get fed if we question why there is so much suffering in the world. I have always flinched when I hear the sects of religions that begin with, “You are a sinner and you must suffer for your sins”. I just don’t believe that we are inherently bad in any way. I may be an idiot but I really believe in people. Seeing as I find myself regularly surrounded by humans, this belief makes me, more or less, a happy idiot. I think humans are a quirky species and their spirits are jaw-droppingly, magnificently, miraculously amazing and beautiful. I am astounded and awed daily by the human spirit.
So that morning I said to
When he was four my child had a phase where he would feel deep hurt and frustration if anyone questioned his opinion or knowledge or authority. If someone asked him, “Are you allowed to do that?” or “Go ask your mother if that’s ok” he would get very hurt. Not upset, hurt.
If anyone even misrepresented him in someway he would be quick to correct them. I was chatting to someone once and laughingly told her how he had dropped a whole lot of glitter on the floor. He was standing nearby listening to my story and he angrily interrupted me and tearfully stated, ‘NO Mama! I didn’t drop it or let it fall when I opened it. I shook it while it was open and that’s how it fell out!” It was very important to him that his exact experience of his world was validated.
It happened quite a bit for a while so, wondering what this was about and wanting to best help him through this I
I don’t know about you but I have at times felt trapped by the demands of parenting. There is so much to do and just because you were woken up and called out of bed four times last night to tend to your child doesn’t mean you can end your busy day by flopping onto the couch with a glass of wine and your favourite TV show followed by an early night and full night’s rest. There is supper to be made, children to bath and take to bed, the nighttime routine of being called back to the room for “Just one more thing I want to tell you…”, preparations for the next day… and you haven’t even showered yet. Then there’s another interrupted night’s sleep potentially waiting for you before it all starts again. It is easy to feel ‘owned’ by it all. Even if you are one of the lucky ones who got to choose to be a parent, it can make you feel quite sorry for yourself. Maybe you don’t know what I’m talking about. For your sake I hope you don’t. But if you do then forge on fair reader, for there may be more empowered times ahead.
Here’s the empowering part. When you feel like a victim of something, as we tend to do at those moments, it means you are making the other person or situation bigger or more important than you. You are letting them supercede you. Even if you don’t know what I mean yet, just take careful note of the ‘you are making’ bit. That’s the empowering part. Its empowering because if you are making it, then you can unmake it too. Here’s an exercise to help explain:
When you find yourself feeling, “Oh poor me. I have to do all these things that I don’t feel like doing”, try saying to the situation or person instead, “I see your need and I have my need too. Let’s work this out.” Kim Payne calls it Your World, My World, Our World.
Yes, I know it might be a startling thought, and we are not often told this as parents, but you are allowed to have needs too. This exercise is something you can do even with your child.
Yes really, you are allowed to have needs even around your children. How can you not? You don’t have to do the exercise out loud, just in your head. At the very least acknowledge your need and give it importance because, if you have ‘poor me’ moments as many of us do, then it’s something you are probably not doing now.
You see the thing is that the ‘Poor Me’ experience is not often really about their need versus yours, even though it really, really feels that way in the moment. It usually boils down to a conflict between your own needs, in other words a decision you must make between two opposing desires you have.
On the one hand you desire to just rest and watch tv with a glass of wine because it’s been a hell of a day and you don’t feel like putting any more energy into anything. On the other hand you also desire to be a kind, caring parent who makes sure the children are cleaned and fed and feel safe in their beds.
Listen to both desires you have and then make your choice to satisfy one of your desires now. Maybe you will get to satisfy the other one later, maybe you won’t. But what has changed is that it has now become a choice. Your choice between two things you want. You are no longer in Poor Me mode. The important thing is that you don’t disrespect either desire by minimizing or ignoring it because that is what really creates that Poor Me feeling.
Acknowledging the other desire you have allows for conversation and compromise and real moments of feeling satisfied and cared for rather than the opposite of all that. All with yourself I mean.
“Oooooh I don’t want to get in the car and drive him to piano now and rush to do the shopping in one hour. I just want to read my book!” So there are the two desires. Look at them honestly and kindly and then make your choice, with a compromise if possible, “Ok then. We’ve already paid for the piano lesson and he loves it so I don’t feel good to just cancel it. Ok here’s what I’ll do. I’ll take him now but I am going to just sit in the car in a shady / warm spot and read my book for the hour and afterwards he and I will go shop together even if it puts a rush on supper. In fact I will make sure to get something for supper that’s very quick to make. That will feel better for me and then I will be nicer to everyone else this evening because I took the time for myself. Good, that’s decided. Oooh I’m excited to go read my book for an hour! Jaaaammes! Let’s go! We’re going to be laaaaate”.
Have you ever heard of a sport called Curling? In it one player throws a heavy, polished granite stone along ice towards a goal and two others skate alongside the moving stone to help it get as close to the goal as possible.
The Wikepedia, or as my colleague likes to call it, Ask-Your-Auntie, has this to say, “…The path of the rock may be further influenced by two sweepers with brooms who accompany it as it slides down the sheet, using the brooms to alter the state of the ice in front of the stone. A great deal of strategy and teamwork goes into choosing the ideal path and placement for each situation, and the skills of the curlers determine how close to the desired result the stone will achieve”.
I feel my job as a parent is that of a sweeper. The universe consented to release these beings through me. I need to travel alongside them as best I can and smooth or guide their paths as much as possible so that they can go as far as they are able in their lives, as close as possible to the goal of their becoming the best possible version of themselves.
Their path is their own though.
Yes, even if we don’t like that idea, it’s the truth. We all know that no matter how much pressure and guidance and effort parents put in, a child will eventually make her own choices whether their parent likes it or not. As parents we can’t protect children from their choices or from their life traumas. So in reality I know I have little or no say on where my child’s life path goes or how it looks. Just like my parents – despite their attempts to influence it – had no real say over mine.
The real impact I can have is by clearing their path as they travel their journey. In my opinion, the best way to clear children’s paths and help them along is by being self-aware as a parent. If I take r