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Oh Art! Creative Self-Directed Learning For Families

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 - Collaborative stamping

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.

OH ART - A helping hand to finish the carThe 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).

OH ART - Explornig Maths the Artsy WayIn 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.

kikiKiki 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!:

www.ohartproject.com
OhArt! on facebook

Kiki’s site Embracing Parenting

OH ART - Exploring movement and painting

 

 

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In-Between Worlds – Connecting With My Dying Father

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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.


 


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Inspirational Blogs To Share With You

inspiring blogs

It’s been about two years since I started blogging and writing. In those two years I learnt a lot: not only how to improve my (English) writing skills (yes, it’s still a challenge from time to time not to write in my mother tongue), but also all those technical gibberish when creating a blog or website. Many long (too long) evenings or early mornings (combined with some swearing or moaning because the supposed to be easy-to-install plug-in wouldn’t just plug-in) passed in order to get things working.

But, besides all challenges and difficulties, something extraordinarily happened as well: I met many inspirational, creative, kind, supportive and like-minded people. Something I’m really thankful for. Those people influence my writing and thinking. Those people make me laugh, dream, think, curious, and yes, sometimes even cry.

Today I’d like to introduce you to them. Take a moment to dwell in their sites and blogs. Make yourself a nice cuppa of something warm and start reading. You’ll enjoy it – promised!

eric greeneLet’s start with Eric D. Greene aka 1 Awesome Dad. Last year I discovered his blog and it took me less than two minutes to get hooked. One of his focuses is a respectful relationship, especially when it comes to parenting our children. He says: “I believe it’s time to honor our children and treat them with love and respect, as equals among the human species, not as second class citizens to be ordered around, shouted down at, disrespected and abused.” Eric writes about unconditional parenting and on how to stay calm when things get tricky. If you like this stuff, I strongly recommend joining Eric’s facebook group Peaceful Parenting Community – a lot of like-minded people who share their stories, problems, hopes and dreams.

joanna stevensJoanna Steven’s site, The Nourished Village, is all about healthy nutrition, peaceful and gentle parenting, and a positive lifestyle. My family and I have tried many of her delicious recipes and I think her ebook “The Nourished Village Cookbook” will give you a lot of creative input when it comes to healthy, nutritious food. Yummy!
Joanna’s mission is to inspire mothers (and I believe fathers as well) and make their life easier so they feel nurtured, nourished, and better able to raise children in a peaceful way. Also, take some time to read her series about peaceful parenting.

peaceful papaMany of you probably know Josh K aka The Peaceful Papa. I came across his facebook site (very busy over there) first. Josh is a strong voice in the anti-spanking and anti-corporal punishment campaign in the US. – “There is no single effort more radical in its potential for saving the world than a transformation of the way we raise our children.”
His blog is full of practical tips, inside thoughts and his personal journey when it comes to peaceful and gentle parenting. I love his honesty!

katephotoJust very recently I linked up with Kate Orson. She is a Hand-in-Hand Parenting Instructor, living in Switzerland. What I appreciate about Hand-in-Hand Parenting is their clear, easy-to-follow advice backed-up with scientific evidence. Kate gives useful tips: whether it’s how to get your kids help cleaning, or how we parents can help our children with separation anxiety. I’m so excited about her new book, which will be out this autumn.

 

unschooling kidsLehla and Anthony Eldridge-Rogers live with their three children in Italy. On their family blog Unschooling the Kids the whole family talks about their daily adventures, challenges and surprises. As my children are being unschooled as well, I often smile and nod when reading Lehla and Anthony’s stories. Best bits? When their children show in videos and posts about what they enjoy – sometimes it’s those little (science) experiments you and I can do at home as well!

 

jl-morse-polaroidThe world of my friend JL Morse is colourful, surprising and exciting. JL is an author, publisher, thinker, mother… and so much more. Her latest project is called New Days Resolutions: “If new habits are truly meant to stick, they are meant to seamlessly integrate into, and improve upon, our every day lives. Every. Day.”
Her books ‘The Family Bed’ and ‘The World of Wickham Mossrite’ have one common theme: family, respect, peace. #Simplehappy

 
Those are my favourites. But, yes, there are countless other sites, blogs and projects I would love to mention in detail. Here is a (small list) of more sites I would recommend to you as well:

The Dad Effect, Inspired Dads, OhArt!, Natural Papa, Love Parenting, MamaCravings, Stephanie Parker Blog, LadsanDadsClub

What are your favourite blogs and sites? Let me know and write a comment.

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How Staylistening Builds Family Connections

connected family

Today I would like to introduce to you Kate Orson. She is a Hand-in-Hand Parenting Instructor (love, love Hand-in-Hand and their philosophy) and will be publishing her book Tears Heal: How To Listen To Children this year.
I very much love Kate’s writing and I feel inspired by her suggestions and ideas. Here she shares a great post about how Staylistening can support strong family connections. – More links at the end of this post. Enjoy!

One evening when my daughter was 9 months old, my husband came home, and went over to say hello to her where she’d been happily playing on the floor. She burst into tears, and when my husband picked her up she reached out her arms for me.

I was surprised that she’d cried so suddenly. She wasn’t a newborn anymore. It seemed as if she’d been in the world long enough to understand this was her dad, that she was in a completely safe situation. I was right next to her on the playmat too! We had just spent a lovely, connected day together. Why did she suddenly need me so desperately?

Before I learnt about Hand in Hand parenting I would have taken her back in my arms to stop the crying. I would have automatically assumed that was the kindest, most naturally thing to do.

But now my perspective about crying has changed. I discovered that there are two reasons babies and children cry. The first reason is when they have a need, perhaps they are hungry, too cold, or are in pain. The second reason, is to heal and recover from an upset that has already happened.

In our busy, modern, society, it is sadly inevitable that all babies and toddlers will experience some degree of stress or upset. It could be from a difficult birth, medical intervention, or just the daily stimulation from getting used to being in the world.

Crying is a healing process, and there are actually stress hormones contained in tears. The psychologist Aletha Solter calls this the ‘Broken Cookie Phenomenon’ that often babies and toddlers will use a safe, everyday situation as a trigger to heal from

a bigger upset from the past. In these moments all we need to do is to listen and allow this natural healing process to happen.

We can see this phenomenon at work in our own lives. For example the other day I washed my favourite woollen dress on a normal cycle, and ended up shrinking it! I started crying, and quickly realised that the dress was just the trigger for a deeper upset. It was about the build-up of stress before christmas, my exhaustion from parenting, and my work responsibilities. Now the holidays were coming, I sensed the space to let go and relax, and release some feelings.

In that moment when my daughter started crying I knew that everything was fine in the present. My daughter loves her dad, and they have a great bond. So I didn’t pick her up. Instead I moved close to her, and reassured her that she was safe with her dad, that I was there too. He held her as she cried, and we both gave her lots of warm, loving attention. This is what Hand in Hand parenting calls ‘Staylistening,’ which means simply staying in the moment and listening to feelings without distracting or trying to stop them.

After a few minutes my daughter stopped crying. She smiled, started ‘talking’ and pointing things out around the room. She was completely at ease being held by her dad. We had dinner, and my daughter tried two foods she had never tried before, potatoes and cheese! This is often the case, that when we listen to our children’s deeper upsets, they can gain confidence in many unexpected ways.

Babies, and toddlers often choose little everyday moments to ‘work’ on their separation anxiety. They may suddenly have a desperate need to be with one parent. When our baby or toddler has a good relationship with both parents, and there is trust and safety there, then often, these moments, are simply a ‘broken cookie,’ a trigger for deeper feelings. If we listen, then these feelings no longer need to get in the way of our child having a joyful, connected relationship with both parents.

Separation anxiety often appears around bedtime. When my daughter was around 15 months old, she would sometimes start crying in the evening. For example if we were all hanging out in our bedroom, and then I needed to use the bathroom. By this age, I sensed she understood almost everything I said to her. I was pretty sure she understood when I told her I was just going to the bathroom and would be back in five minutes.

I could of tried the quick-fix approach and just dashed off to the bathroom leaving her crying. Or I could of taken her with me to stop the tears. But I knew this wouldn’t help her with her underlying fear about me leaving.

For a few nights my husband and I decided to staylisten during these moments. I would gradually try to leave, and would hold my daughter in my arms, listening to her feelings, slowly waiting until she was happy to be left with her dad. Often after having a big cry about separation she would suddenly flip into laughter, crawling from one parent to the other, as I playfully tried to put her back with her dad.

Then when I told her I needed to use the bathroom she would happily let me go, as if she had forgotten that she’d ever been upset about it. Afterwards she would be in a really happy mood, playing and laughing and enjoying the company of both of us. She had got through all the separation fear, and come out of the other side.

Staylistening has helped my daughter to be happy to be put to bed by her dad or to spend time with him while I work during the evenings and weekends. I can leave guilt free, knowing there’s no feelings of upset hiding beneath the surface. Most times I need to leave her, she’ll give me a big hug, and a smile. We’ve given her the space to be heard.

katephotoKate Orson is a writer, and Hand in Hand parenting instructor. Originally from the UK she now lives in Basel, Switzerland with her husband the author Toni Davidson, and their 4 year old daughter. Her book Tears Heal: How To Listen To Children, is now available to pre-order here  https://www.waterstones.com/book/tears-heal/kate-orson/9780349410104

You can follow her on facebook here https://www.facebook.com/ParentingByConnectionWithKateOrson/

 


 

 


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Sex And Parenting: Can The Two Of Them Get It On?

AnthonyIn my series about inspirational fathers, I would like to introduce to you Anthony Eldrigde-Rogers. Anthony lives with his partner and their three unschooled children in Italy and he’s interested in many, many exiting things: He has been involved in photography, film making, commercials production, pop videos, producing, directing….marketing PR, environmental projects….writing screenplays…then there was farming fruit and having a restaurant…to name but a few. He has always been interested in people, how people live and make sense of their lives. Now Anthony is working as a Recovery and Wellness Coach…. he trains coaches, and is writing a book (soon to be published), plus various plants for retreats and… you see, the list is long!

I so much love Anthony and his family’s blog which you can find here: www.unschoolingthekids.com

Now, I invite you to read Anthony’s post on sex and parenting and on how creative you can be to find the time for both. Enjoy!

Sex And Parenting: Can The Two Of Them Get It On?

First off a quick warning. I am going to mention s*x in this blog…..you have been warned.

Homeschooling, unschooling, home education. Whatever we call it usually means that children are around a lot. From dawn to dusk. I love it and so does my partner but…….it raises a challenge for the intimate part of our relationship. Before we had children….yes I can remember it well, we had freedom.

You know, get up late, stay in bed all day. Walk around naked all though the house and generally enjoy an open sensuous life.

We don’t do that anymore but not all has been lost. Now, apart from the intense adjustment that twins bring, having a baby is well a game changer. Post birth, about 12 month in and post breast feeding and before the next one came along there was a brief period where things slightly adjusted. But of course it has never been the same again.

I remember when they were all babies and we talked about schooling. Lurking in the back of my mind was the idea that when school started we might have the chance to kick back for a couple hours a day from time to time (us being self employed and all that) and revisit pre baby adult life.

That did work a bit until we stopped sending the kids to school! Then it collapsed.

But it matters. I believe that the adult carers, usually parents or a couple in an intimate relationship, should be the prime focus of family life as this is in the best interest of the children. Mum and Dad happy and singing off the same (ok, similar) hymn sheet means more harmony, balance and good feeling. Equals better for les enfants terrible.

If the wellbeing of the primary relationship is based in part on intimacy, sensuous engagement and good old in the sack lust then it needs to be kindled and kept burning in the grate of desire.
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In our house the windows of opportunity are slim and often ill timed. Sure we can get cracking on these things after the kids are asleep but in reality by 10pm I and my beloved are often basket cases. Can hardly string a word to a word to a word. And we long ago learnt to never, ever ever try to have a serious emotional conversation about anything important that we might disagree about after 4.00pm. Disaster. All the gremlins come out for a party.

So that leaves when? Er, early morning? Well our son has been getting up before us for several years now and even if we could set a ‘love’ alarm early enough can we get past the anxiety that he will get up a bit earlier and find us rolling around? So we lock the door right? True but you cannot put a lock on your psyche so a mere knock at the door might come at any time and he might have been standing there for a few minutes before hand!

And this is assuming we got past needing a coffee first thing (yup, I confess I have a major coffee habit first thing. And I know I am a wellness coach so should be on it and I am really). And then what about actually summoning up the actual desire? That can take a while. I am not a robot you know. Can’t just flick a switch and game on!

So late at night is a challenge and so is early am. That leaves the day. When the kids are around all day more or less. And as the girls schedule is different to our sons then only occasionally are they both out. It seems like once a decade.

We resorted some time ago to using hotels. When we just couldn’t find the space at home we would find a babysitter and go to a hotel. Not for the night necessarily. Sometimes we ended driving home at 12pm to relieve said baby sitter.

BED PICThose trips were and are gorgeous. Not only do we get the chance to slow down and chill and just have a bit of quiet but we get to have a conversation for as long as we want without getting interrupted! Yay! That’s adult gold.

So we plan more of them.

We work at it. We have to. Oxytocin rules. Intimacy makes for positive hormones which makes for closeness and good feeling. We adults need this as part of our natural health. We meet parents from time to time who seem to wear the “Oh we have never had a night alone in 12 years since the kids came” badge of honour. Usually, if we share that we do hotels they look righteously envious and irritated with us all at the same time.

But there is a deeper point here I want to end on.

Children learn by watching and sensing what adults actually do and they are masters of intuition. You can’t bullshit them. They glean and code how relationships work from the ones they see. If they see adults making time for each other. Committing to that, smiling, hand holding, being intimate. Looking like you do when you have had a heavenly hour or two just lying in bed and around with your lover. They feel it and know it for what it is. Love between two people in a relationship. If they don’t get it from us where will they get it from? A book? Er um well our son can’t read quite yet. Anyway you can’t read it into your life.

As I grew up I never realised until I was about 12 that adults actually touched each other affectionately. I was astounded! It made my adult to adult explorations rather difficult as it felt weird for a few years. Now I am affection nut. You name it I will hug it. I sometimes kiss things around the house ( to amuse the kids ) but actually quite enjoy it.

So intimacy requited matters. It binds and bonds and shows all without words but with behaviours and actions.

Anthony Eldridge-Rogers is a Recovery to Wellness Coach

He writes for www.unschoolingthekids.com as well as www.recoveryandwellnessblog.com


 

 


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20 Things A Father Should Do This Year

DadsTalkBlue

A new year is here. I’m always excited about a new beginning. So many new opportunities and so many things I can try to achieve. Personally, I don’t much believe in new-year-resolutions. I don’t want to pressurise myself and then feel depressed by the end of January when I need to confess that all resolutions actually don’t work. Again.

So, this year I came up with a list of things I just want to continue doing and working on. But also I added things which I think would be great to try out. And I want to invite you, fathers on this planet, to join me. Pick the things you like and go ahead creating your own list. Whatever you choose to do, I believe in your own creativity and fatherhood power. Be my guest:

1) Love your children unconditionally. Yes, there a plenty of moments where they gonna mess up; where they drive you insane, and where your only safe place is the locked bathroom to get at least five minutes peace. Tantrums, scream fits, broken things and even lies. It’s all part of the package. But, they are still the most magnificent and wonderful people on this planet. So, forgive, reconnect, give the love you would have hoped for when you were a kid and screwed up. Why did I put it here as Number 1? Because it’s my personal reminder and the most important thing to me when it comes to parenting and fatherhood.

2) Spend more time with your kids. Since I’m a father myself I can confirm this: Time flies. It’s such a precious time. And your children are only little once. Before you blink twice they’ve grown up and go their ways. You’ll still be part of their life (hopefully), but it’s nothing compared with the first years. So, get down onto the floor, or in the sandpit, or into the woods and play. When you join their games be present and follow your kids’ rules.

3) Take a step back: Watch your kids. Observe how they play and what they like. Try to see things through their eyes. Listen to them. Not only their words, but also intonation, face expression and body language. This way you’ll learn a lot about them and yourself. Promised.

4) Hug your kids. Yes, it’s always good to ask them first and get permission. But 9 out of 10 times, kids will say: Yes, I want a hug. Do it. Every day.

5) Surprise your children and partner with a new dish. Raid your cookery books, ask a friend or search online. Get the ingredients and ask your children to help cooking. Make it special. Put some candles or fresh flowers onto the table.

6) Learn an instrument. Gosh, did I really say that? Yep. It’s great to see for children that grown-ups have challenges too. How do you cope with struggles and something completely new (that is if you don’t play an instrument). Wanna make it easier? Get an ukulele. You’ll be surprised how simple it is. Even if you’ve never played an instrument before, with an ukulele you should be able to play a simple tune after some hours or so of practicing. And hey, your kids can join you. What about a little family concert after a couple of months playing?

7) Make up a story. No, not from a book, it all starts with your own imagination. Make yourself comfortable on the sofa and snuggle up together with your children. You start telling a story by introducing a couple of characters and a scene of action. (Keep it simple. It could start like this: One beautiful morning a farmer called Joe opened the door to his barn. In the barn lived a cow, a horse, and some pigs…) Then at a crucial point (well, it doesn’t matter so much if there’s a crucial point, but hey- ho let’s assume we need one: Joe opened the barn door and then he suddenly saw… Pause) ask one of your children to take over and to carry on with the story line. Depending on age and abilities, the story could be ‘passed on’ from one to another. This can go on for hours… or days. (Until Joe very exhausted and tired went to bed).

8) Apologise. Yes, we as parents can lose it too. That’s fine. We’re responsible for our short falls and mistakes. So, show your kids that you can take that responsibility and have the guts to say you were wrong. This way they see you as something beautiful: being authentic and real.

9) Respect and love your partner. If you want your kids to have healthy and good relationships in their lives, then set the example. Listen with empathy, reflect on your actions, and speak with love and gentleness.

10) When you have to clean the house, invite your kids to a cleaning party. Do you know the saying ‘You either have children OR a clean house’? Well, I totally agree. But sometimes it’s necessary to get a certain order into that chaos. Yes, you can choose to be either miserable and grumpy about it, or to turn the whole cleaning into a fun party. Turn the music up, have a dance with the vacuum cleaner and wear the kitchen apron on your head. In no time your offspring want to join in and help. Believe me. Yes, you look silly. But that’s part of the parenting, isn’t it? (Lower your expectations – no it won’t look like your pre-kids days – well at least not for very long…) You might remove the apron when leaving the house or opening the front door.

11) Connect with nature. Going to the park is a good start. But I’m talking about a real connection. Go wild. Off road. No phone signal (yes, that’s the hardest bit). Take a tent, a fire kettle and a few things to ‘survive’. You’ll discover how little you need. Collect wood, make a fire, respect all creatures and life out there. I always find that spending time with my kids in the woods awakes the most powerful feelings inside me. I slow down, I feel a strong bond to my children and I feel somehow home. And it doesn’t cost you anything.

12) Invite your neighbours. OK, if they’re bonkers or drug abusing idiots, you might not. Otherwise it’s a good way to find out who really lives next door and to see how you could help each other. Many children love to meet new people (young and old alike) and they might feel safer when they know they can trust people in their close environment.

13) Volunteer and take your kids with you. That’s on my list for a long time. I really want this to happen. I so believe we can teach gentleness and how to care for others by setting this great example: volunteering. It could be anything: your local care home where you help for an afternoon by talking to residents or reading stories; planting trees with an environmental charity or by cooking food for some people in your neighbourhood who are lonely or in need. It’s up to you.

14) Be a relaxed father. Yes, thank you very much, Torsten. Anything else? I know, I find it hard myself to stay relaxed. Gosh, our lives are extremely busy and demanding. Work, families, relationships, friends, community, and so on. And on top of that our children who easily pick up from our mood and mirror our feelings. And if that’s stress, yes, then they’re stressed too. So, let’s take it a gear down. When you feel stressed, tell them. That’s your kids included. Sometimes it’s just that small break you need to calm down. It’s not selfish to say “I’m off for 10 minutes. I need time to myself!”. Do it: find activities that relax you – be it meditating, visualisation, muscle relaxation, having a bath – what is it for you?

15) Write emails to your children. This isn’t from me. I read it somewhere. Unfortunately, I forgot where. So if you read this and you are the creator of this idea, please forgive me for not naming you. But I love this: Open an email-account in your child(ren)’s name and send photos, love letters and all kind of stuff (well, your stuff) to this account. As often as you like. Write about your emotions and be bloody honest. Then when they turn older (14 or 16 or 18 or 21 or whenever you think it’s right), give them the password. Joy!

16) Take time for yourself. You’ve heard right. TIME FOR YOURSELF! Take a day or a weekend (it helps when you talk and plan together with your partner) and just focus on your needs and wishes. I’m dreaming of a weekend where I just go for a long bike ride (cycling I mean). A tent, a sleeping bag and my bike. Then, in the evening, somewhere in the countryside, I will make a fire, roast some bread and veggies and have a beer… Sounds awesome to me. Then coming back to my family, feeling fully recharged and energised. Oh yes, we all need a break from time to time.

17) Say I LOVE YOU VERY MUCH to your kids and partner. Well, that sounds cheesy. Mean it, for god’s sake. And they will appreciate it.

18) Grow a beard. I just wanted to write something silly. But hey, I like the idea of growing a beard. It’s just that normally I look like a troll or evil dwarf when I haven’t shaved for about four or so weeks. But my kids (and wife) like it when I get fluffy soft in the face. So, what’s more important? Your kids and wife love you or you look like dwarf Gimli?

19) Help another dad. Often men find it hard to open up. For some it takes a few good talks to break the ice. If you know someone who struggles or find it hard to be a father and/or partner, talk to him. Offer him time and space to be himself. We need more gentle, empathic, down-to-earth fathers. By helping and supporting each other, we can come closer to this goal.

20) Enjoy. And how you enjoy it, that’s up to you.

I wish you all the best for this New Year. Be authentic, be empathic, be yourself. Real fathers for great children.

 

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She Doesn’t Really Love Me!?! Or Check Out Your Attachment Style

 

hand holdingRecently I came across the book “Attached” by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, as well as articles about the topic of how attachment styles influence our relationships. Having been interested in Attachment Theory since my first baby was born, I was intrigued about how my wife and I can use attachment theories wisdoms on our couple relationship.

Attachment theory was first developed by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby, who observed children’s reactions to being separated from their parents during WW2 in England. He realised that how children related to others was directly influenced by their experiences with their primary caregivers.

birdiesI wrote before about how essential our first bonding experiences to our caregivers are and that when our needs are not met at all or not all the time, we can end up longing for this sense of security and feeling of being loved unconditionally as adults . And this often influences how we are relating to our partners. In other words, the fears and needs of our childhood travel with us into adulthood and we re-enact certain situations and struggle with connecting to our partner out of fear of abandonment or rejection.

If we can’t be sure of being loved for who we are (and even if our actions aren’t always perfect), we might decide to hide our true emotions, close our heart and use communication to hide the truth of the matter.

Several researchers have looked into how our attachment styles influence our relationships. There are four styles. In their research, Dr. Phillip Shaver and Dr. Cindy Hazan found that about 60 percent of people have a secure attachment, while 20 percent have an avoidant attachment, and 20 percent have an anxious attachment.

  • SECURE people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving
  • ANXIOUS people are often preoccupied with their relationships and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back
  • AVOIDANT people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness.
  • FEARFUL/ AVOIDANT people live in an ambivalent state, in which they are afraid of being both too close to or too distant from others. They attempt to keep their feelings at bay but are unable to.

By being aware of your own attachment style (and that of your partner) you will be able to “see through” your own thought patterns (“he always does X that means he doesn’t really love me” or “she goes on and on about my flaws, I just can’t take it anymore”) and begin to address your emotions differently, by relating them back to your attachment style. What you have taken as “reality” or “truth” might suddenly be turned around.

So, for example if you have an avoidant attachment style, you might repress emotions, be distant, withdraw in conflicts and find it difficult to tolerate true closeness. The way to get your needs met is to act like you don’t have any. You might communicate in a way that frequently pushes your partner away from you in order to regain your sense of distance. Now, it might be that your partner has an anxious attachment style their buttons will be pressed painfully by your behaviour. They will want you to respond to their communication and can’t deal with your withdrawal. Lisa Firestone writes that your partner wants to be with you lots to feel reassured of your love as well as have their needs met.

Knowing your own and your partner’s attachment style can help with exposing the Disconnection Cycle that you might find yourselves in and moving towards healing past experiences and forming a secure bond.

It is interesting when we consider that research has also shown that we often choose partners based on the same character traits as our parents (or one of our parents). In their book, Levine and Heller write that “attachment styles actually complement one another in a way. Each reaffirms the other’s beliefs about themselves and about relationships. The avoidants’ defensive self-perception that they are strong and independent is confirmed, as is the belief that others want to pull them into more closeness than they are comfortable with. The anxious types find that their perception of wanting more intimacy than their partner can provide is confirmed, as is their anticipation of ultimately being let down by significant others. So, in a way, each style is drawn to reenact a familiar script over and over again.”

I believe, and have experienced, that it is possible to start being more secure in your relationships. It takes a lot of reflection and putting old thought patterns on the head, but it’s so worth it! My wife and I are doing everything to ensure our children are securely attached to us, we feel that in order to achieve that we had to look at our own attachment styles, our childhoods and what kind of thought patterns we had about each other. It’s funny to think that really all our partner wants is to be held in that secure bubble that we hold our children in.

If you haven’t already recognised yourself/your attachment style, here is a test to find out!

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