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Believe Me: Our Parenting Will Bring The Change!

Some people turn to me and say with a serious face that times are dark and quite hopeless. Wherever you look on our globe, you see aggressive people ruling countries, old conflicts breaking out again, mass-shootings in schools and churches, men in politics, media, clerical institutions and – well basically everywhere – found guilty of sexual harassment and abuse. Being harsh, loud and careless is seen as a sign for self-confidence and prerequisites for economic success and peer recognition. The white man over 50 is still in power and barks his orders and commands via 280 characters into the world. 280 characters don’t allow much space for deep conversations, emotions or reflections. Whoever doesn’t fit this old-new picture is marginalised: gay, black, a cry-baby, a softy. Man-up. Don’t be such a girl. Yesterday’s old fashion is the new.

I don’t buy it.

“How much evil throughout history could have been avoided had people exercised their moral acuity with convictional courage and said to the powers that be ‘No, I will not. This is wrong, and I don’t care if you fire me, shoot me, pass me over for promotion, or call my mother, I will not participate in this unsavory activity.’ Wouldn’t world history be rewritten if just a few people had actually acted like individual free agents rather than mindless lemmings?”

Joel Salatin, an American farmer, lecturer and author, said this, not me.

I don’t expect you to get shot, to kill No. 45 or to start a world revolution. And, yes, we all need jobs to pay our bills. But, hey, you can choose your place of work and not sell yourself to evil Nestlé. And there are many other choices YOU can make: voting, telling the world what you think, buying/not buying, doing your own research, questioning authorities… the list could go on. You’re much bigger and more important than you think. Use this power.

The world seems darker than… well, since when actually? Are we really facing a new dark age or is it just Rupert Murdoch and his golfer friends who vomit their manufactured realities into our faces – 24/7 and worldwide?

I don’t think we’re doomed. Yes, there are countless challenges waiting for us to be solved through amazing solutions. I don’t have all the answers right now but there is plenty of hope that humankind will find its balance with nature and Mother Earth. I believe in a future of peace, equality and solidarity. We’re the generation of transition. Transition from the old world, the world of war, aggression and ego, into a new world of empathy, kindness and care.

You and I were probably not parented in the most peaceful way. That’s how it was. I imagine our parents tried their best, but they came from a generation with even more violence, bribes and punishments. And they had far less research and help available than nowadays. No blaming, no shaming from me – just reflecting and thinking how we can improve.

We – our generation – have the ultimate chance to get it right. We can change current moods  around, we can help our children to find the answers and solutions, to equip them with skills in becoming humans in the full meaning of that word . Yes, we have to work damn hard to get there, set-backs and disappointments included. Good parenting, I believe, is here and now the most important job to set a strong foundation for tomorrow’s life.

Gentle, peaceful parenting is the way: respecting our offspring from the moment they enter life. Whatever your children do, stay connected. Be the best role model you can possibly be – the way YOU treat your kids, your partner, friends, neighbours and other people will have a great impact on how your children will see their world and learn life and social skills. Speak with respect, listen without judging, see the possibilities and support their dreams – regardless of gender or age. Help, show kindness and care wherever you can. Switch off violent and negative news (or at least reduce your intake on news). Be authentic, be human. Apologise and hug. Love and cry. Plant trees, run through the woods, paint rainbows, buy some organic veggies from your local shop and dance salsa – do whatever brings happiness to you and your children. Open your heart and mind.

We have choices. We have skills. We have voices. We are not alone. Let’s start. Let’s unlock the chains. We hold the keys in our hands.

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We Need A Cultural Change In The Way We Treat Children

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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.

love meI’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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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?
  10. 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.

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Am I a Good Parent? Feeling Judged by Others

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I love my children. But sometimes I seem to stop loving them so unconditionally or looking at them through this (rightly!) blurred vision of a parent when there are other people around.

I notice myself thinking: “Oh why is he doing this/behaving that way?”. Whenever there are other people around, my children seem to become these total strangers that I suddenly feel ashamed of. What’s going on?

First of all, they are so easily excitable by visitors and then act in a way that I often find so hard to tolerate. I hear myself saying “oh they are very excited” to excuse them (and let’s be honest: try and convince my guests that really it’s not my fault they are like that!). The other day our landlady came around and my four year old was hiding behind me (which he REALLY! never does), the seven year old was whizzing around as if he hadn’t had been outside for days and was on a sugar high (REALLY not true!). Immediately, I felt judged “she will think my kids are not social/behaving oddly/need more parental input/stimulation/less sugar. AND, maybe worst of all: “he is not ‘up to it’ as a dad).

I think as a parent we often feel that we are judged as people by how our children look or act. So, we try and make them do things we wouldn’t ever do at home or even think are stupid to ask of them anyway. To my six month old baby I hear myself saying “be gentle” and anxiously wonder whether she will be an aggressive child because she is playing with another baby in a way a six month old baby does (poking at eyes, pulling feet, scratching…). Later I can laugh about how my own thinking is influenced by the fact another parent is watching. Of course, she will learn that we are gentle with each other, simply because she sees us being that way with one another. And, of course, I should not judge her for being the way she is: just a normal six month old baby.

I remember with shame those days I tried to get my two year old son to share. Just because it made me feel better in front of the other parents present. Even though I knew he wasn’t able to understand that concept yet at all. His needs suddenly became less important than other children’s needs. Putting other people’s needs first (and sometimes up to an unhealthy degree) is what we adults can do, but we cannot expect that of a small child. Even though I knew that at the time the need to fit in and be accepted as a father by other parents was so great, that I wouldn’t stop myself and just say “sorry, I think my child isn’t ready to share this yet” and stand up for him.

Secondly, they just adapt to other people, like I do. I need to accept they will take on a different persona when they are with certain people. One of my sons will sometimes just not answer people. So, if he is asked a question, he often stays quiet. I used to feel very ashamed that I still had to talk for him, way past the toddler years. Now, I mostly try and stay calm inside and accept it. He is old enough for us to talk about that and I tell him the impression that his behaviour might have on other people but ultimately I feel it’s his decision. I cannot make him do things, that would also go totally against our parenting philosophy. So, I will have to accept that side of him and free myself from making judgments. Tirelessly I will reject labels such as “oh he is shy/ introvert” because I don’t think they are true. He is perceived like that in this situation, but it is not a true description of his character. At home or with a different set of people he will talk non-stop and wouldn’t dream of not answering.

And when I think about it I know that I am the same. It is mostly hidden though, because I am an adult and have learnt to act differently to how I feel, but it still comes through. There are several “personas” in me for different people. I will feel more relaxed with my family and that means act and talk in a different way.

Our children are the best they can be in any situation. If they behave in a way we would like to change, then they are actually diverting our attention to a need of theirs that needs addressing by us! Not because they are “naughty”. So, if they act ‘impolite’, they might feel insecure or simply don’t know what to say. We can help them out, it’s ok, whatever their age.

I am working hard at being proud of who they are despite of how they are. I also, as my children get older, understand that they are not me, and are walking their own paths that have, in some respect, nothing to do with me. I am guiding them, but I don’t have control over their every step and they will make decisions that I might consider wrong, it’s not always to do with me.

I am working hard at being a better parent – yes, I’m talking about the best person I am possibly capable of becoming. That also means in becoming immune to other people’s judgments. This goes along with my own seeking not to judge others and becoming more compassionate. Towards myself and others. There is always a reason we and others behave the way we do and by loving my kids unconditionally I show them that it really doesn’t matter if they take up roles sometimes (as long as they do it intentionally and happily) or act out their emotions (which I sometimes, secretly, wish they would hide) and hopefully they will grow up self-confident and compassionate towards others and themselves, instead of worrying what other people think.

So, am I a good parent? The only people I will grant judgement of that are my children. The older they get, the more I have to face their irritated looks when I, again, have chosen the wrong tone ‘Daddy, you really don’t need to shout’ or come up with a stupid ‘rule’ and their reply is ‘Daddy, I can do that, it’s ok, really’.

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Say More YES! To Your Children

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‘Papa, can I pitch up the tent in the garden?’, ‘Can you read me a book?’, ‘Please, I want to stay up a little longer tonight, just five more minutes.’, ‘Is there really chocolate ice cream in the freezer?!?’

I get those and probably a few dozen more (or maybe hundreds?) questions a day from my children. And not only me. All parents, I believe. The crucial point comes now: What do you answer? What do I answer? Sigh. I confess, I too often reply with an excuse like ‘Eeehm, maybe later’, or ‘Let me think about that’ (and not really thinking about it at all), or with a simple and straight forward NO! Full stop.

Often enough my NO will evoke disappointment, sadness or frustration in my kids. Yes, they might understand why they can’t have the ice cream right now, but why on earth is Papa not wanting to have a spontaneous campsite in the garden or isn’t in the mood for the favourite book?

The NO-word is easy to say. I’m the powerful parent and can decide and if I’m busy, tired, annoyed, stressed or simply not bothered many projects end up being dismissed before they even have a chance to take off.

Please, don’t get me wrong. There are very obvious and no-discussion-moments when you and I have to say ‘no’ to our children, to avoid danger and to simply protect them. Hey, that’s why we’re the parent and adult. And sure, children are more content, relaxed and co-operative when they know about clear and understandable boundaries.

No, here and now I’m talking about all those moments where I fired my NO without really thinking or reflecting. Sometimes just for the sake of my own peace and convenience. To get that moment of quiet or to enjoy the one little minute longer being on the sofa. And yes, that’s fine, too. We parents need to keep our sanity. But that doesn’t mean to use a NO as our power tool, or even worse, not take serious those things our children want to do.

We can make that change quite quickly and it doesn’t take too much effort. I started by taking my children’s requests for x, y and z more serious. When they asked me for something like ‘Can you play shop with me?’ and I just felt no desire at all in that moment, I decided this: give them the YES and just play for a few minutes. Honestly, a quick shopping trip to your child’s grocery doesn’t take longer than 3 to 5 minutes. I also asked my other son to join me and he went shopping as well. After a few moments they both were very busy with playing shop, so I could sneak out… I did my ‘duty’, gave a positive response by saying YES (even if I didn’t feel like it), but at the same time benefitted from it as both my sons were engaged in a game they liked and I could go back to – doing nothing.

(By the way, I prefer an honest NO (sometimes inevitable, I think) to ‘in a minute’, at least the child is not kept in the air and waiting. They know what to expect and continue in their game/do something else.)

Another way to show a more positive attitude is something psychologist Oliver James calls “Love Bombing”.

It could work like this: Spend this Saturday with the motto ‘Let the children decide!’ Yes, everything: from when they want to get up in the morning (hey, they might choose to stay in bed until lunchtime, so you have the morning to yourself), then the activities they chose for the daytime, their favourite food, to the point they decide it’s bedtime (agreed, it could be late!).

Oliver James says “I developed Love Bombing to reset the emotional thermostats of children aged from 3 to puberty. It gives your child a very intense, condensed experience of feeling completely loved and completely in control”. He advises to have a go at Love Bombing for a day or two or even a shorter period, followed by daily half hour slots devoted to it. He states that parents report a closer connection to their child and that Love Bombing balances the child’s behaviour and personality (read more about it here).

Of course you would have to negotiate. If your offspring ask for a super expensive day out (yeah, let’s go shopping and then to the fun park and then to the cinema and then to the zoo…), let’s calm them down a bit. Having a fun day, doesn’t mean you have to go bankrupt. We often spend an afternoon doing crafts with our children. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Try to see the day through your children’s eyes. They will love it – and you too!

Do you know the saying: When the children are happy, then the parents are happy too? I think that’s right!

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