Often parents get very frustrated (yes, me too) when their children are messy and show no interest in tidying or cleaning up. How can we as parents respond? Bribes, threats or blackmailing are one way … are there any other options? Watch my statement by following the link to my YouTube channel:
A Guest Post by Tyler Jacobson
I was going through Pinterest one day, and I noticed something. The website, which is traditionally most popular with women, was full of photos depicting other women who fit the average supermodel physique. Glancing down at the titles of the pin boards they were placed in, I saw titles like ‘Thinspiration’, ‘Fitspo’, and ‘Goals <3<3’.
What first hit me hard was thinking of my wife. I wondered if on her Pinterest account, or perhaps any other, she might have similar boards. If she filled galleries with photomanipulated images of alleged perfection, pitting her own image against those of what we have been pushed to believe is the ideal. The very idea that she may have fallen victim to such thoughts, this beautiful, perfect woman I loved, broke my heart.
But then, a much darker thought occurred to me: little girls are seeing these same messages. Looking at a couple of the boards confirmed that at least some of them were no more than teenagers. And in the descriptions of each image were phrases like, “How I want to look by next summer”, or “I need to stop being so fat.”
What are we teaching our young girls? How many of our daughters are suffering under the same negative sense of self, and how many will grow up to be women facing the same self-hatred?
Being Proactive: Teaching Our Daughter’s Balance
The solution, I truly believe, begins at home. It is too easy as a father to take a backseat with daughters, leaving the majority of lessons to come from their mother. While not a conscious decision for many of us, it just feels more natural to split the parenting between genders. Who would know better what a young girl goes through than their mother?
But this is a view to be overcome. Fathers have just as much responsibility as mothers to help teach their children (all of their children) to love and respect themselves. On the topic of finding balance between health and beauty, that effort is all the more crucial.
Our girls are living in a time where everything from their phones to their computer screens are bombarding them with messages about what is normal, beautiful, and a goal to achieve. We have to be there to teach them the reality, and to foster a sense of acceptance and self-love based around who they are.
These are four lessons that I feel are our responsibility as fathers to help teach our daughters about health and beauty.
Lesson #1: The Media Lies
Looking through those images on Pinterest, it is plain to see that they are unrealistic. It isn’t a problem isolated to social media, either. Just typing ‘Photoshop in magazines’ into Google will show you the ridiculous ways the media will manipulate photos into fitting an ideal that no one is capable of reaching in real life.
That picture of Taylor Swift that your daughter is staring at, wishing she matched up? Everything from the clearness to her skin to the size of her thighs have been altered with software. And that is after all of the makeup, corsets, careful posing, and lights have been added to hide “imperfections” spotted by the photographer.
Lessons #2: There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Body Type
There is no “right size” for a human being. Some women are tall or short, heavy or slender, stocky or petite. The world is full of all types, and all types are beautiful in their own right. What it doesn’t show is what is inside that person, the things they are capable of doing, the strength or limits of their bodies.
We have to get away from this concept of an ideal. It is individuality that makes someone stand out, not conformity to a clothing size. If we teach our daughters that their worth isn’t related to their frame, and that they are worthy of respect no matter their type of build, we can steer the conversation to more productive avenues, such as their interests, talents, and achievements.
Lesson #3: Health Is a Holistic Process
Health isn’t all about weight. It isn’t even all about the body. Health is a holistic issue, which means it is the combination of all factors that make up a whole person.
You are truly healthy when your body is nourished and cared for, your mind is calm and strong, and your emotions and stable and happy. At least when they are those things most of the time…we all have bad days.
Lesson #4: Self Image Is The Most Important Image
It is impossible to ignore what people think of us all the time. But that doesn’t mean we can’t begin to show our girls that the real opinion that matters is their own. Sure, someone might say they are too fat, too skinny, not tall enough, not have clear enough skin. Who cares?
As long as they can look at themselves and see that they are healthy, happy people with their own skills, talents, personality and qualities (both good and bad), we have done well as parents. A measured and largely positive sense of self is one of the greatest gifts that they can carry with them throughout their lives.
Our Mission Is To Save Our Daughters
Girls face constant examination, ridicule, and an unfair standard that is hard to understand as men. We are rarely confronted with the same standards, and so it is easy to forget the stress being put on their self-esteem.
As fathers, it is our job to help put a buffer between our children and these false images of perfection. We have to teach them to be happy with themselves, and to see the beauty in their individuality. To show them that it is health that matters, not waist size, or how thick their eyelashes are.
If we can show our girls that they are smart, strong, fun, and healthy, we can change a culture that is designed to hurt them. That sees well worth the effort.
Tyler Jacobson is a father, husband, and freelancer, with experience in writing and outreach for organizations that help troubled teens and parents. Tyler has offered personal, humorous and research backed advice to readers on parenting tactics, problems in education, issues with social media, various disorders, addiction, and troublesome issues raising teenage boys.
I love it when my children get creative using various media and stuff. An empty container turns into a house or rocket or market stall. Stones, pebbles and sticks make beautiful mandala pictures. And with clay they basically can build anything: castles, bowls, trains, hedgehogs…
Often I join my children’s creative play (well, sometimes it’s not about my choice, it works like this: ‘Papa, you have to come over here and see this!’ – and suddenly I hold the paintbrush or gluestick or whatever in my hands 😉 )
From working with families I oberserved many times the positive, healing and nurturing aspect of doing art together as a family. Sometimes we adults can get shy or feel embarrassed when it comes to creating stuff. For some of us it might bring back childhood memories when we actually loved being creative but were told that we aren’t good at it. For some parents/adults making art is like making peace with their inner child. It’s is also a great tool when it comes to reflecting on your own parenting and on how we communicate.
OhArt! is a place based in South-London (and soon in Madrid too) for children and families to (re)connect with art. Kiki Atias and her team offer a space where children can enjoy self-directed learning through the exploration of Art & Design. In this post Kiki will tell you more about her great project and how you can get involved. Enjoy:
Oh Art! is born from the idea and conviction that we need a change, we need to make a profound social change. The more I spend time with children, the more I am drawn to believe that childhood is about developing social and emotional skills, the most important thing in our lives.
Play provides it all for the child. It is their way to learn, their way to heal, their way of making connections with others and their way of understanding the world around them.
Art is simply self-expression and it is also a medium to connect with one-self, with others, a chance to share ideas, a chance to innovate, a platform to address important issues in our communities and our world.
I believe we have more than enough evidence about why play matters and why creativity matters. There has been so many effective approaches to cultivating creativity in children, and it saddens me deeply, that none of these approaches are put into practise effectively in schools. The arts curriculum in the majority of mainstream schools is limited. On the other hand, I feel the majority of schooled children that come to Oh Art! develop a sense of belonging within the group and they feel amazed by the freedom they have to explore what they want to explore, in their terms and at their pace, giving them a sense of autonomy.
The way I provide this for the children is first working in smaller groups. This way I am able to model positive social behaviour, positive communication skills, nurture their own creativity, help them develop their own methodologies, help them understand their creative process and their needs, guide them how to work collaboratively in groups, meet all their emotional needs, encourage risk, facilitate critical thinking and problem-solving skills. All this side of the learning experience goes “under the radar” for them, as I focus on delivering all this through kindness, playfulness, empathy, compassion, active listening, asking them questions about their explorations and having fun with them.
Non-Violent Communication and my training as a Positive Discipline Parent Educator have given me the most effective practical tools to establish healthy relationships with all my children (I call them “my children”, even though they are not, but I believe that a horizontal relationship between teacher and student is very necessary for the learning to unfold both ways -I learn a great deal from them too). I am convinced, as Rita Pierson (bless her soul!), puts it: “Kids won’t learn from people they don’t like”. They will learn when they feel loved, cared for, listened to and when they emotionally contained. The love I feel for these wonderful children, as well as my own child, fulfils my heart to many levels I can’t described. I feel like I’m part of their lives as well they are part of mine.
Another important point, apart from all I mentioned above, is offering high quality materials to explore and access to useful resources such as books and the internet -we need to use all the tools we have! I want the children to learn how to pursue their dreams, feel proud of who they are and live a good and successful life (successful doesn’t mean earning tons money!, but being happy and content).
In the world we live in, I feel the responsibility for educating children for their future. We need more young people who can make a positive change in our society, contribute to their own lives as well as others, be satisfied with what they do, embrace their uniqueness, share that uniqueness with others, have the tools to make this world a better place. I feel very strongly that we need to invest in our children.
Parents are also part of this learning process. What I love most about this experience is the bridge we, both me and the parents, build together with a profound respect for each other’s role in their children’s lives and a profound trust that their children are in a safe, loving environment. We (parents and I) have an open communication channel. Parents feel free to talk to me about their concerns, specific issues, problems at home, problems at school, and I truly appreciate their honesty because it gives me a better sense on how to meet their emotional needs while in the sessions. If I sense something is “wrong” I also communicate with the parents, so we can find the best strategy to support the child. We are a team, working together to educate their children.
Parents also learn ways to nurture their children’s creativity, learn to support their interests, learn useful tools to communicate with them, learn how to encourage them and the most delightful thing I’ve witnessed is that they reconnect with their playful self. At the end, we are a bunch of “kids” having fun, learning from each other, laughing and celebrating each other’s achievements in the making. During the sessions, we are open to talk about feelings, about situations, about ideas, about problems. ALL OF US make the space a unique space for each other, a special place where we can play, express, share and love, without anyone judging and telling us what and how to do what we love to do.
This is for me the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had.
Kiki trained as a Graphic Designer in Florence, Italy before coming to England to study BA (Hons) Fine Arts at Byam Shaw Art School at Central St. Martins, London. She was a founding member of small democratic primary school in SE London. She has been featured as a homepreneur in Sainsbury’s Magazine March 2015 edition. She has contributed to a number of events and workshops such as STEAM Co/Curious Minds, West Dulwich Spring Fair, and EscueLab (Madrid). Teaching Art, Visual Design and Emotional Intelligence to kids is her passion. She’s been running successful workshops for children of all ages focusing on facilitating and mentoring her students. She has done a introductory course on Positive Psychology and has a foundation level in NVC (Non-Violent Communication).
Connect with OhArt!:
About ten years ago, we – the then childless couple – were thinking about how we would like to live our lives. We believe many couples and families have such evening-on-the-sofa-rituals. What is important to us? How do we want to raise our children? Where shall we live? What can we work or do to create an income? Which decisions do we need to make to succeed? To some questions we quite easily found the answers: we always wanted to spend as much time as possible with our children. Work as much as needed in order to pay the bills. Live within a community in which people look after and support each other. With lots of green, trees to climb, healthy local food to eat. A place where art and music are being celebrated, where people treat each other with respect and kindness, that’s respect for children too.
We were looking for a life where our family is the centre. To put our family in the centre to us means being able to make our own choices, rather than being dictated by society how we should live. We’re not buying into the current ideologies out there, which are meant to strengthen the patriarchal and capitalist systems. However, it is shocking to think that every day we, who despise these systems, are strengthening them, just because through our upbringing, as well as everyday exposure to this lifestyle it is so ingrained in us that it takes effort to see through them.
In this article we’re going to expose some of the lifestyles and thoughts we have taken on, because they have been presented to us as being the “norm”. Mostly, we want to be normal…
Let’s take a look where it all starts: for most of us it’s in our childhood. From the early days in our parents’ home and in school we get trained and conditioned on so called values about how we should, even on how we must live our lives. A good, meaning valued, citizen is one who has a good job (to get there you must be good in school, so you must get good grades, ideally be better than others), who has a (small) family, a nice house (in a “good” neighbourhood), a rather expensive car, pays into a pension scheme, has an insurance for everything, and asks no stupid questions. Sounds familiar to you?
That spiral continues when working for a company. Your boss carries on telling you how to behave: A good citizen works hard for 45 or so years, does unpaid overtime (you really want that promotion, don’t you?!), lives a short life as a pensioner, then dies of cancer or any other disease.
When the ‘good citizen’ becomes a parent there are certain expectations to fulfil to fit into our society: send the child to nursery, then school while you continue working hard for your employer, see your family for an hour or two in the evening, pay taxes, do as you’re told. This mantra gets repeated in the media day after day. Media controlled and managed by big corporations (who don’t even pay taxes).
Why are we so susceptible to observing this ‘one size fits all’ ruling model? Is it really possible that so many of us, very individual people, all want the same thing? We believe that many are struggling to escape this life because of fear.
Fear As The Disabling Factor In Facilitating Change
This fear, where is it coming from and why do we feel it so extremely present? Fear is the anchor of our consumer society. Economy and politics go hand in hand to project fears on us. The cycle of work, earning money, spending money, needing more money, buying more (bigger) objects are all related to our fear of not being part of the game (you’re unhappy with your job? Buy something and you ‘feel better’).
Our fear lets us to believe we need others (like the government or military) to ‘protect’ us. Have you ever noticed that ALL news programmes are fully loaded with negative news? Stop becoming depressed by watching how horrible some of our fellow humans are. Again, your fear is being fed. Get rid of it. Look at what you can do to support those who struggle in your community, by helping them in practical ways but also by empowering them to know what they really need in their life.
Parenting In A Capitalist Society
Many people we know are getting more and more unhappy, even frustrated with the cycle of obedience, permanent competition and dependence. They’re simply fed up with being the hamster in the wheel, running every day mile after mile in order to just pay off bills, the house, the car… or to save a few bucks to get the next holiday. In this whole mess our parenting job is included.
The UK government throws a lot of money at so called back-to-work-programmes for parents . Parents are getting financially rewarded when they find a job/go back to their job as soon as possible. The baby/toddler goes off to nursery. The earlier the better. Early prevention, that’s what the government calls it. By doing this it throws all attachment theories out of the window at the same time. Well, who really needs a strong bond to his baby or child? Why on earth should you be around when your child does his first step or says her first word?
No, we’re all needed in our shiny offices, factories, schools, departments, supermarkets. For the common good – to produce more, to consume more, to make the rich even richer. No time or energy for fancy ideas of breaking out of this system. Once in it, once a slave to the system how can you break free? How can you live without earning money, we all need it, right?
How Can We Break Out Of This Cycle?
But, as said, people – or let’s stick to our good citizens – are getting fed up with that kind of life. They realise that money doesn’t buy you happiness. They know that the first five years in your child’s life are the most important ones. That your big corporation can go bankrupt tomorrow and suddenly you’re out of work (or that if you make demands/bring in your own thoughts, they’ll drop you, just like that). That two weeks summer holidays (at outrageous costs) doesn’t replace proper quality time and a good relationship with your children.
Many realise that. But then the same people look at us, shrug their shoulders and we see that uneasy feeling on their faces , saying: ‘Well, what can you do? That’s how life is, isn’t it?’. For years we would have sighed and said ‘yes, you’re right. Nothing we can do’. Bonkers. Because our parents, our teachers, our bosses, our prime ministers, our neighbours, our friends have told us so? What is it that holds us back? Why don’t we say to our boss tomorrow ‘look, I’ve got family and I love them to pieces, I need to work less’? Why don’t we say to doctors ‘hey, thank you for your advice (on vaccinations or on your child’s development etc.) but I’m getting a second opinion/listen to my intuition before I decide what’s best for my child’? Why don’t we break out of our over-expensive, damp houses and change our world now? How can we overcome the fear that’s holding us back living our dreams, living life on our own terms?
Our family has made the first (and yes, maybe small) steps – out of our comfort zone. We started with talking, reflecting, researching, dreaming. Then we went a little further. We let go ideas of big careers or 9-to-5 jobs. So, over the last years we always negotiated with our employers about working part time, in order to have enough time for our children. Yes, Torsten even left a job some years ago when he was denied the right of working part time. They pushed him as far as they could. His answer was still simple and straight forward: My family is more important than your business. If one parent or both, work long hours, the bond is compromised and one or both might not even see the benefit of working less and spending more time with your child. (Often women then compromise and backing their partner’s career aims, by working less and taking on the bigger part of childcare and domestic tasks…). And, yes, that’s doable to all of us, as Sweden demonstrates it with a 30-hour-working-week. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.
Digital nomads are finding a new way to escape the hour after hour spent in an office – working remotely, using their laptops only. Nowadays it’s possible for more types of jobs than you think – to talk (even face to face), hold conferences, work on the same documents etc. with modern technology. It’s time more companies think again and offer this style of working to their employees. Companies need to reshape and reorganise themselves. We don’t want hierarchical structures any more – they don’t work. Well, at least not if you like something else than the current systems. We aim for company bosses who are able to talk to their employees on the same level, rather than look down on them and play out their power. All people have the right to be treated respectfully and as individuals, as subjects. The result would be more efficient companies and happier and healthier people and families.
Raising Our Kids To Become Autonomous And Fearless
Before our eldest son was born we decided to unschool. Nearly eight years later all our children enjoy being unschooled. For us, this lifestyle choice is part of a life without fear for all of us. Our kids learn, thrive, explore, question and discover. They learn in their own way and at their pace with our support and respect for their innate development. We create opportunities for them to meet many different people, form relationships, get to know different places, try out a variety of activities and discover their passions so that they have time to develop their potential and be happy.
From baby onwards our children were allowed to be autonomous beings, they decide what they eat (from a range of healthy options), play, who to talk to and what to say. No pressure, no tests, no fears. Instead respect, kindness and unconditional love. This way we get to spend lots of time together as a family, we bond with the kids, siblings bond with each other, we as couple have more of time together. Most people whose children go to school fear the responsibility. Paying others to raise their children for a (often big) chunk of the day, they suddenly feel it’s others who know better what their kids need. They don’t think they can provide what their children require. We don’t blame them, it’s only natural to feel that way, it’s part of the ruling ideology. You are supposed to feel like that. But who decides what’s important for your child to learn? How do they know what your child will need to know in life, in their life? (We can’t even predict where modern advancements will lead us in five, ten, twenty years’ time).
School is a very recent social experiment. For most of human history children would learn from their parents and their wider community. Children used to live and learn in their community what’s important to know to survive within their social structure. Schools can only provide one style of education, it is impossible to individualise the curriculum, which means that it will suit some, by chance, but others it won’t. But, we’re not here to blame teachers. They’re facing the impossible task to nurture and support at least thirty individual children with thirty individual needs in one class.
On the other hand we appreciate and support ideas and practical ways to restructure school. Exciting projects like ‘democratic schools’ are popping up all over the globe.
Another fear factor we eliminated: TV. We haven’t owned a TV for more than 12 years. Because we don’t want our children to get brainwashed by big money making corporations telling us what to buy and what to believe. We don’t want our children to see ads, movies and programmes where gender stereotypes are reinforced.
Our Kids Know They Can Achieve Anything – Regardless Of Their Sex
Gender roles and stereotypes (like in toys, advertisement, consumer products from beauty articles to clothes, sports…) are constantly reinforced within our society. That’s the easiest way to keep the male dominated world of business and politics going.
We raise our children gender-neutrally. Why do kids choose to wear certain clothes? It’s the fear to be different. Gender equality can only be achieved if we let our children choose out of their preference not their sex. They understand they can do/be what and who they want to be. We don’t tell our children that there are clothes and colours for boys and those for girls (who gets to decide that anyway?), we let them choose their toys, whether it’s a dolly or car. We want our sons and daughter to grow up knowing they are just perfect as they are, instead of buying into society’s beauty images. We parent our children equally, responding to them based on their personalities not their gender.
So, yes, our 7-year-old son has long hair, his favourite toy is a doll called Anne, and he wears dresses most days. He loves them. He knows many other boys and men (like his friends) don’t wear them. That’s fine for him, or as he told us: ‘everybody should just wear what they like’. Whenever other adults (it’s mostly them and not other kids) make assumptions on our children’s preferences according to their sex, we challenge them. How else can we change the current inequalities in the workplace (in terms of pay, career paths and progressions)? We, families, need to start demanding for change and be the change ourselves. That means take equal responsibility for childcare and domestic tasks. Women are being held small by how they are portrayed in media, society and treated by our ruling bodies and men are pushed into roles they don’t wish to fulfil.
Fear is one of society’s biggest issue. Fear disables us to try out challenging things and to go for what we really want – regardless of other’s opinions. Fear takes away all the countless possibilities we have. Fear is the heavy chain with a padlock around our neck. But we hold the keys in our hands.
Our fears are not disappearing overnight. Your fears might be very different from ours. You might enjoy life as it is and want to tackle completely different issues. That’s fine. Make it so.
The big steps are not always easy to be made. We know that. If we want a different kind of society, it’s us parents who can change things, by how we live and how we raise our kids. We started small. And we’re not there where we want to be. Not yet. But we’re on our way.
They can grow up, shaping their personalities without the deliberating factor of having to fulfil the artificial gender roles – as much as possible. At least within our family and among our friends. This will, hopefully, prepare them in standing up for themselves in a gendered society.
Nedua and Torsten
Whether it’s shaming, shouting, bribing, ignoring, threatening, over-powering, punishing, hitting, or spanking. The list of disrespectful behaviour towards our children is long and miserable. Easily parents and other adults find a good reason why a child deserves a little smack, some time-out on the naughty step to get him thinking, or the taking-away of treats and rights. Because the child misbehaved, didn’t co-operate or just didn’t listen – to cut it short: ‘the child was naughty’.
As a parent of three young children I can relate to stressful situations. This afternoon we wanted to go to a playgroup, the car was in the garage and we had to take the bus, which only goes every hour. My children took ages to find their shoes, coats, a favourite cuddly toy, a snack, and so on. For twenty minutes I had been running around, calling and reminding them. With rolling eyes, increased pulse rate and mumbling under my breath, I tried to help them. Then, finally, when I thought we really could make a move the youngest shouted ‘I need a wee’. In less than a minute we solved that problem (yes, we skipped washing hands due to time shortage), ran to the bus stop, arrived with our tongues hanging out, just to see the red rear lights of our bus driving off. The knock-on effect felt big: we missed the bus, the playgroup, seeing our friends and, of course, the post office, where a parcel is waiting for us, would be closed later on.
My children wailed, complained and moaned. To make my situation worse it started raining. I could feel that big wave of annoyance and irritation rising inside me. Just an eye blink and I could explode. A tirade of shouting and swearing was about to be poured onto my kids: “Because you didn’t hurry up when I told you. Because you couldn’t find your shoes (and didn’t put them by the door in the first place after you used them last time). Because you needed a wee. Because… because, damn, it’s just your fault. That’s why we missed the bus, the playgroup, seeing our friends, the post office. And, on top of that, we’re dripping wet. I’m not taking you on the bus again. When we get home you can go to your bedroom and stay there for the rest of the day. Serves you right!” People passing by and seeing the scene would probably turn away feeling embarrassed or nod their heads in agreement with me.
I did say, I could explode. And here’s my choice: I, the parent, can choose to control myself and respond differently than just described. Or I can blow.
You see, situations like those do happen every day thousands of times – in our family homes, on playgrounds, in public places, yes, even in schools, kindergartens or playgroups. Adults’ overreactions towards children is a culturally accepted concept. Unfortunately. Would I shout, threaten or hit my neighbour, colleague or partner, I could end up – rightly – in court for assault. Doing the same stuff to my kid would come under the term ‘disciplining’. I’m showing him what’s right and wrong, I’m setting boundaries, I’m teaching her a lesson. Right? Bonkers.
I’m not teaching, I’m not setting a boundary, I’m not changing any behaviour. Instead I’m threatening, over-powering, shaming and punishing. The lesson my child will learn here? Not to trust me. To be afraid of me and my responses. He will learn to supress certain feelings and try to manipulate himself and situations to avoid my hurting reactions. He will feel disconnected, unloved, unworthy, a bad person. Next time my child might shout back at me or (if that’s yet too scary) let it out on his sibling or a younger, equally helpless child.
What we need to understand is the simple fact that our children are not naughty. Their plan is not to annoy or irritate us. They are doing the best they can, with their current ability. We need to understand that we are their models. They will copy us and our behaviour. If we show disrespect towards them, then we shouldn’t be surprised at all if this disrespect comes back like a boomerang. But if we choose to show understanding, empathy and unconditional love, then we will see co-operation, reassurance and trust. Not in every situation, but overall.
The most important thing one can hope for in parenting is to establish a loving relationship with one’s child – this goes above everything else. In every moment of the day ask yourself: is this actually connecting us further or disconnecting us? If you think, e.g. table manners is a must, then ask yourself: at what price am I trying to force my ideas on my child here? (Doesn’t mean that your ideas are wrong, just that your way of achieving your goal might not be right at this moment in time).
Deeply rooted in our culture and society is an understanding that we can treat our children as we wish. Often this behaviour is just a response from our own upbringing. If we were hit or otherwise mistreated by our parents, then – even if we made that promise to try better than our parents – we are likely to repeat similar patterns. Because that’s what we’ve learned and copied many times. So, you misbehaved as a kid and your Mum took your ice cream away? There is a good chance that you punish your own child for not tidying his bedroom with a similar threat. We are repeating our stories, past wounds are still hurting our inner child. Often we watch ourselves act helplessly wondering why on earth we are behaving as we never wanted to.
Pretty grim eh? The good news is you can change that. It is hard, as it is so ingrained in us, often we unconsciously choose to repeat this learned behaviour. Be patient and kind to yourself while in the process of ‘re-programing’ yourself. Take time to reflect on your thoughts and actions and rather than beating yourself up for failing to change your behaviour today, think about what will help you to avoid that stressful situation (in which you might overreact) next time. Any behaviour can be learned and un-learned.
The second major problem of today’s society is TIME. Most of us feel under permanent pressure: family, work, children, household, money, bills, friends – and in between, dozens of digital gadgets to distract us. Our lives have become like a 24/7 non-stop show. Being ‘on call’ all the time shift priorities from the really important things – like our children and how we treat them – to less important gossip, comments or feedback on social media and the like.
Take a look around you and observe parents and their children. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the playground, the bus stop or in a café: the grown-ups are glued to their screens while the kids entertain themselves.
We need to change our life styles. We need to change the way we treat our children. We need to show respect, empathy and love. Now.
Let’s go back to my example where the kids and I run to catch the bus. What could I, the parent, have done differently to avoid the whole situation in its first place? To put it simply, it’s all about time again. I could have started preparing for the outing earlier. I know my children need longer putting their shoes and clothes on. They can’t find their stuff? Well, I can help. My 8-year-old normally does his shoe laces by himself but he has days where he wants me to do it. Not because he’s lazy, because he’s looking for connection. It doesn’t hurt me to do it for him once in a while. OK, but even though we could still have missed the bus, right? Yes. And the news is, it has happened to me. Not only once. Still, I can decide whether to lose the plot and shout and blame – or to pause, breathe in and out, reflect and to offer a plan B. Missed the bus? I wonder what else we can do today as we won’t be able to meet with our friends? Shall we call some other friends and invite them to us for games? And, yes, the parcel at the post office can wait until tomorrow. It’s not the end of the world. – I appreciate that this needs training and practise. For me as well.
And now, let’s go further. Saying that we need a cultural change is good and easy. But we need to make the right steps. All of us – you and I. To challenge mainstream patterns, we need some ideas to help us changing the current climate of disrespect:
- Awareness starts with myself. I need to reflect on my own childhood and find out how my parents treated me. I’m not doing this to judge them. I’m doing this to learn and to see whether my responses are similar. I can write down my emotions and thoughts and discuss them with my partner, a friend or a specialist to overcome past issues.
- How do I talk to children? Am I polite? Do I sound threatening or too loud? Would I choose the same language with my partner, friends, colleagues, a stranger in the street? My kids deserve the same respect I am expecting from everyone else.
- I feel helpless, confused and angry in a tense moment. I acknowledge my feelings, take some deep breaths, if possible I leave the situation for a moment, or I communicate to my children that I need a short break. I take that time to reflect what other options are available.
- I sit down with my partner or a good friend and talk about my parenting and the challenges I face. I don’t expect anyone to fix my problems but someone who can listen to me and reflect with me.
- I am taking time for my children without any distractions. Phones, laptops and gadgets are turned off or not in the same room when I spend time with them.
- I apologise to my and other children. Yes, I make mistakes and I acknowledge that. Apologies are a good way to reconnect and to show authenticity.
- When I plan for an activity, outing, holiday etc. I’ll include my children’s thoughts. I’ll invite them so they can voice their needs and wishes.
- When I set a boundary, I’ll explain to my child why. E.g. to your 3-year-old: I need to hold your hand right now because it’s a busy road and we can’t run around.
- I can always make a quick assessment in my head: how much harm would be done if I ask x, y or z? E.g. the room is untidy but my child is absorbed by playing. Do I really need a tidy room now or could it wait for the moment?
- No bribes, threats, punishments, violence, shaming, ignoring – ever!
Finally, I’m asking for one big thing. This one sounds very easy to be done but I know we as society have still a long way to go. We need to start treating children with equal respect and empathy as all other human beings. Let’s start today.
It’s a long corridor, cold fluorescent light, constant beep-noises from invisible machines, and that smell. A strong disinfectant, like a heavy layer on everything and everywhere: on my hands, on my clothes, on people – even the water I drink tastes of it. In the distance two nurses and a doctor exchange encrypted messages – fast, emotionless, I had forgotten how harsh the German language can sound.
I sit in a small visitor area at the Berlin-Buch hospital. Intensive care unit. My father is here. My father, who I haven’t seen in 4 ½ years.
…48 hours earlier I had received a short email from my sister, who I hadn’t seen in 4 ½ years either. She had written that our father had major bleedings and had been taken to hospital for an emergency operation. Could I come? Of course, I can. I did. In less than six hours I had booked a flight, emailed my employer, packed a bag. A friend picked me up in the middle of the night to drive me to the airport. On my journey to Berlin a huge wave of anxiety, fear, tiredness and confusion flooded my body. What should I expect to see when I’m there? What can or should I say? Will he be alive? What will happen?
With sweaty but cold hands I boarded the plane. A beautiful purple-orange sunrise at take-off did let me forget everything for a moment. I just wondered who else might witness this little piece of magic and peace? Would my Dad see it? Or my children? No, they were probably still asleep. At 6am they didn’t know yet that their Dad left for Berlin to see Grandad. I left a note for them on the table.
In the early afternoon my mother, sister and I arrived at the hospital. With heavy steps we climbed up to the first floor. I held my mother and felt her shaking hand. The room seemed small. Behind a white curtain I saw the silhouette of a human body. Screens, tubes, cables, more tubes, beeps, noises. His face white and bloated. His eyes colourless and empty. I hardly recognised him…
When the Borders between Life and Death become Blurred
Now I’m sitting here. I try to figure out what’s going on. What am I doing here? What am I supposed to do? The doctors say it doesn’t look good for him. He’s got cancer. For months he had been receiving therapy and for a while he had been recovering quite well. Then this sudden bleeding. In only seconds he loses so much blood that life is fading away. The paramedics save him by minutes only. But after two days of artificial coma he’s coming around. Still, the doctor’s advice to me is to say good bye. How the fuck do I say good bye to my dying Dad? We haven’t spoken much in the last years. Short emails for birthdays and Christmas. Once in a while meaningless conversations over the phone: ‘Yes, it’s still rainy here. How’s the weather in Berlin?’ – you know, that kind of chat.
I have not the slightest idea what is going to happen. I feel helpless, speechless, alone. The only way to deal with this devastating situation is to follow my very own instinct and heart. Yes, in the back of my mind I remember so many moments where he and I were light years apart. His life and mine have little in common. Disappointment, frustration and even anger have been the ingredients for our relationship over the last years. He knows that. I know that. But I’m not here to judge him. This is not about forgiving, understanding or questioning. This is about being present and authentic. I listen to my heart and I feel my love for him. Love he needs to know about.
I go inside his room again. He is awake and his tired eyes look at me. I don’t know whether he is wondering what I’m thinking right now. He tries to smile. I take his hand, look into his eyes and kiss him. Tears run down his cheeks. Everything is still. Just him and I. We hold each other. A perfect moment between father and son. We are close, we are connected.
I don’t care about the past. I care about the present, about him, about now. I hold his hand and whisper that I love him. Tears block my throat. With a shaking hand he picks up pen and paper. He writes: ‘Torsten, I’m happy that you came’. I cry.
A New Closeness to My Family
He sleeps and I’m talking to a doctor again. He’s very clear and doesn’t hold back. His question drills a hole in my heart: ‘How far shall we go to keep him alive?’ What the hell does that mean? Of course they should and must try everything they can. Even if only machines keep him alive? You see, life is not always life. Am I here to make such a decision? No. As long as my father has clear moments it is entirely up to him.
My sister and I agree on that. My mother, understandably, wants to answer for him. Confusion follows. The doctors receive different messages, some get even lost with shift hand overs. It gets blurry and misty. Does this happen to all families where a relative might die? The chaos needs sorting. My sister and I sit together and talk. It feels good as we didn’t speak much with each other for years. We push our own issues with one another beside and focus on our father. I feel closer to her. I know her pain and she knows mine.
Together and somehow united we talk to the doctors again. And to our father. Gently I tell him what the doctors can do if he starts bleeding again. Frankly, it’s not much. I hold his hand again and under tears my sister and I talk about our mother; that he doesn’t need to worry about her, we’ll take care of her. No pressure on him, from no one. We ask him to use all his strength for himself, to make up his own mind. And whatever he decides about the hours and days to come, we will be there for him.
It’s quiet again. My Dad looks at my sister, then at me. He writes just one sentence on the white board I bought for him: ‘I want to go in peace’. We hug and kiss him. He smiles at us. I try to smile back. But tears run over my face and my body shivers. I feel incredibly sad and my heart could break any moment. But I also feel peace and truth. We are close to him and I am glad that we experience this moment together.
I don’t know how much time he has left. No one knows. What’s important for me is that in all this sorrow my father and I feel connected again. Something I have been longing for, for years. He knows that his son loves him, something all fathers want to know sooner or later. His note ‘I’m happy that you came’ is inside my pocket when I board the plane home.
“Sharp knives don’t belong into children’s hands”, “That’s not safe, let me do it”, “A kitchen is no place for kids” – sounds familiar to you? Well, that’s some stuff I had to cope with when growing up myself, and – bad enough that’s still the mantra for many parents or adults working with kids nowadays.
I just recall some playgroup situations: the parents’ response when their two-year-old picks up a plastic knife (yes, the good ones for butchering play dough) to murder a cucumber at snack time. Eyes wide open, panic mode, shrill voice: “Ah sweetie, Mummy will hold that dangerous knife for you, don’t you think?”. A millisecond later – the object of mass destruction is safe in Mummy’s hand. All other parents exhale a sigh of relief.
Another example comes from the next-best playground of your choice. Little Joe tries to balance over the climbing frame. He concentrates hard enough and works his way up. Before he reaches the top little Joe hears his Dad shouting “Oh Buddy, that’s quite high. Just watch out. Hold tight. No, not left, go right. Easy man. Not quite sure if that’s a good idea”. Smiles nervously. Dad that is. “Hang on. Let me guide you. Stop. Stop I said!” Joe loses his balance and falls off the climbing frame. “Told you to stop!”
Clever omniscient grown-ups have created a fluffy, pink, bullet-proof world of health-and-safety where we all wear safety goggles to watch the wind and face masks to breathe nature. Because…, just in case…, because we’re rather safe than sorry…, because to make sure… because. Well, just take a moment and stop breathing – just to be safe!
What has gone wrong here? Have we lost the very basic connection and trust in our children? Or, was there ever a time when we trusted them? Hmm… Let’s see. Just back in the 19th century children would have lots of responsibilities: cleaning, cooking, looking after their siblings, helping on the farm… and, yes, brutal hard labour in dark factories, ten or twelve hours a day… good that we left those times behind us (well, over here in the rich part of the world…). And, yes, many of those household chores were done by children because of living in large families or parents having to work twelve and more hours a day as well.
When World War II was over, still many children played important roles in helping their families with household chores. You could argue that this happened because out of necessity or desperation. Indeed, that’s one reason. Another one was simply called trust.
Trust and a strong bond between parents and their children. Only from the 1950’s onwards, something strangely has been happening in our society. Families started to spend less time together. The so-called classic family model, where dad leaves in the morning for his desk in an office while his wife stays home to look after house and kids, took over.
That quite artificial construction became a bit of a relationship killer. While in the past fathers and their sons, as an example, would often work and spent time together (on the field, in their business…), now children missed their father for most of the time under the week. Mums got busy in their brand new kitchen with all the latest inventions and gadgets. Kids? Go to school or your bedroom.
You see what else went on here? Skills. Not only relationships suffered, there’s a whole generation of lost skills. Cooking, working with tools, fixing and mending – you name it. Fixing something, why? Buy it new, it’s easier. Cooking? Get a ready meal. I still remember my parents’ pride when they bought the latest of modern cooking inventions in the mid 1990’s: a shiny, adorable, handsome, easy-to-use microwave! Plus 200 packs of ready-to-microwave food. Yuck! I can still sense the aftertaste. They probably spend two or three weekends in deciding which microwave to buy… I wished they had taken one afternoon to teach me the basics of cooking.
You know, I’m not the least surprised that today three-quarters of children in the UK have no idea how to boil an egg, or that 30% have never chopped veggies. I probably was 18 or so when I found out that kitchen knives have more purposes than just hanging on the magnetic knife holder. And another five or so years to get serious about cooking.
Starting to trust our children is the very foundation of a well-connected relationship. Children (and, indeed us adults too) learn by trying. They give it a go. They might fail, they might succeed. It doesn’t matter, as long as we provide a bit of a safety net in the background so that they won’t ever get seriously hurt. If they feel excited and stimulated, they will try again… and again.
My eldest, who is nearly 8 now, showed a great interest in preparing meals and cooking lunch and dinner. He’s been watching my wife and me since babyhood. When he was about three, he used a sharp knife (not one you are able to cut your fingers off with, but one that’s just sharp enough for cutting with – a bland one would be safest, sure, but equally useless and only frustrating) for cutting up an apple. Yes, he cut himself a few times, but that’s how he learnt, and nothing happened apart from some quickly dried tears and a cool plaster on a tiny wound. With four he cooked himself porridge on the hob for the first time. Yes, his first cooking session was guided and supervised by me, but I didn’t interfere. I just watched. Today his cooking repertoire includes pasta and tomato sauce, scrambled egg, various cakes and biscuits, and – hold your breath – sushi (ok, the sushi rolls can’t compete with a sushi bar, but it’s just a question of perspective and expectations. Expect a perfectly cooked and awesome looking meal? Do it yourself).
It’s a great learning curve for us parents to lower expectations and to be more prepared for a giving-it-a-go mantra. And, yes, sometimes we get pushed out of our comfort zone as well. In our family it’s a bit of a tradition to make pancakes for Sunday breakfast. Often – I admit my sins – they go with chocolate spread. This morning we had run out of the sweet treat and no-one seemed to be willing to go down to the local shop (2-minute walk) to get more. Only my nearly 5-year-old volunteered. I hesitated as I wasn’t sure whether he would manage. I trusted him with finding his way to the shop and paying for the item, but I feared the road he would have to cross.
My wife’s response was more clear. Yes, he’ll be fine. And off he went. But, I threw over my invisible cloak and sneaked after him to watch his adventure. He didn’t see me and I had a great time hiding behind bushes and trees. My main fear – the road – was quiet, he stopped, checked, checked again, and crossed. No problems. A woman stopped him (she was probably a little anxious… as me), but he carried on.
At the shop I peeped through the window (gosh, if someone had observed me they must have thought I’m a little… well, crazy) to make sure he’s alright and the shopkeeper is not calling the police or social care. She didn’t. With a great smile she scanned his jar and gave him receipt and change. I stood there – watching and with tears in my eyes. My little son, so great and independent. He skipped all the way home. Just fifty metres behind him, I – his dad, full of love, joy and trust. At home we both hugged for a long time. And, of course, we enjoyed our chocolate pancakes!
The confidence and self-esteem he gained from his independent venture was giving him a glowing buzz all day – he knows his parents trust his abilities.
Next time your little one is climbing up high on the climbing frame or tree, just position yourself, discreetly, so that if they fall, you could catch them, and just observe. Neither encouraging nor anxious, just observing and trusting (your facial expression and body language can communicate that, too!) that when they are able to climb something unassisted they’ll know how to get down again by themselves. Soon enough, they have learnt to use their body well, trust themselves and know where their limits are.
Trust your children and you’ll be amazed by what they are able to do by themselves and how their self-esteem grows each day!
PS: A few days after I published and shared this post on facebook, I had this reply:
…just awesome! 🙂