Environment, Guest Posts, Society

Why We All Need To Stop Worrying About Climate Change (And What To Do Instead)

I’m writing this from my little desk in my children’s ‘reading room’ (where we also keep the Xbox). I’m surrounded by their books, piled up on shelves, scattered on the floor. ‘Brave Bitsy and the Bear’ gawps at me as I tap at the keyboard and, if I glance out of the window, I can see a picture perfect view of spring in rural Cornwall.

And this morning I read about the collapse of the insect population, decimation of soil productivity and saw — for the fifth (or is it sixth?) time — someone share that post by academic Marc Doll about how woefully positive the narrative on climate change is that we’ve been given by the IPCC.

And in the room next door, my four-year-old (who wants to be a dog) and seven-year-old (who wants to be a marine biologist or live in Minecraft, I can’t be sure which) are fast asleep.

Personally speaking, it’s hard not to feel worried and stressed about climate change.

For most of the summer last year I carried round this edgy feeling, a sense I was already living in a dystopian nightmare.

Somewhere inside me I think I’d already given up. Resigned myself to the collapse of civil society and eradication of so much of life on earth.

Along with this, a sense that I’d been deeply irresponsible bringing my children into such a world.

Given that you’ve chosen to read this, I wouldn’t be surprised you have experienced or are going through something similar.

The reason I’m writing is that I feel that I’ve come to a different place with it all, and I want people to know that the narratives we’re sharing and behaviours we’re encouraging in each other are potentially working against us.

What I want to tell you might be difficult to read. It might be triggering. And if it is, that’s probably a good thing.

What I want to tell you is that the anxiety we’re producing for ourselves — while it feels very much justified — could be a symptom of everything we’ve been doing ‘wrong’ and is making things worse.

And the alternative isn’t inaction but instead wiser action.

Hear me out.

Stressing ourselves into consumption

Like me today, many of us are being constantly bombarded by facts, figures and narratives that tell us our days on earth are numbered, that it’s our fault and that it’s also largely out of our control.

This is impossible for any human being to process and still remain calm. Things that present a threat trigger us into a stressed state. When we feel helpless in the face of that threat, everything gets much worse for us.

In this stressed state we change physiologically — we become more problem-focused and look for other people or things to blame.

This is a function of our evolutionary development. In more precarious times it’s been critical in keeping us alive but in this instance it’s not helping.

When we enter this state we are incapable of thinking creatively or compassionately. We look for quick fixes, easy solutions and bad guys.

We also want to consume more. We crave salt, sugar, fat, simple carbs. We’re not hungry it’s just that our bodies are gearing up for the fight or the flight.

And as a result of these changes, in this state none of us are fit to act wisely. We haven’t got a hope of addressing complex problems or creating a future fit for everyone.

The difficulty is that in this state we feel utterly compelled to act. The function of the state is to deal with the perceived problem — to flood our bodies with stress hormones so that we can do whatever it takes to make it go away.

The sneaky thing is that we might not even realise that this is going on, because we’ve got so used to it.

It’s not just the obvious, adrenaline-infused headspins I’m talking about, triggered by a stranger shouting abuse or being chased by a dog.

What I’m seeing all around me is people operating at a low level of stress and anxiety, triggered by perpetual busyness and information overload.

It’s almost like our lives are being engineered this way. Cuts to benefits, dismantling of free healthcare, Government openly allowing the majority of wealth to be passed on to those who are already most wealthy.

And we seem to be ‘happily’ participating in making life more stressful — busying ourselves into the ground, glorying in our busyness and our achievements from it. Actively choosing to consume news that makes us angry and fearful.

This news now includes a constant feed of existential threats, taking many of us to an extreme level of baseline stress.

Given the challenge we’re facing — one that’s complex, systemic and long-term, if we carry on acting from this place we’re going to really screw it up.

Not because we’re stupid or bad, we’re just on the wrong setting.

How we got here in the first place

Climate change and the destruction of our ecosystems seem to be the result of persistent, rampant over-consumption.

This is because our modern society is a consumer society. It’s based on one simple idea: that consuming will meet your needs.

We’re educated to work, so we can earn money, so we can pay for things things so that we create jobs, so people can work… and so on.

To keep this going we’re told that if we don’t consume the products and services offered to us then life will be more uncertain and we’ll be less than we need to be — loveable, sexy, successful.

Once upon a time religion and spirituality would have played a more active role in our lives and, at its best it would have reassured us that ‘you are enough, you are loved, have faith’.

Conveniently religion has been made the enemy of rationality and the domain of nutjobs, so consumerism has helpfully stepped in to take its place and shore us all up against our insecurities.

Its message is instead: you are not enough, you are not loved, there is no reason to have faith but — lucky for you —here are some things you can buy to make you feel better.

Some of them we know are bad for us: smoking, alcohol, fatty, processed foods.

Others we think are harmless but still serve to numb us: Netflix boxsets, gym subscriptions, smartphones.

And some masquerade as the answer but are really just part of the same system — insurance policies, private healthcare and the multi-billion dollar ‘wellness’ industry.

None of these things can or will ever meet our unmet needs for love, connection or trust in the world so we continue consuming, throwing more things into the bottomless pit inside.

We try and do it consciously. New industries pop up to give us what we want without the guilt — sustainably sourced, vegan, fairtrade — but even aside from the minefield that is working out whether it’s really ‘sustainable’, it’s still built on the same system.

A system built on a disconnection from your needs, that can never leave you satisfied with who you are and the world around you.

The future is not a zero sum game

We’re being led to believe that the society we’ve built has to ‘collapse’ if we’re to save the world.

The message is that all the things you rely on to keep you safe: jobs, booze, Netflix, specialty coffee, vegan sausage rolls (etc) are no longer part of a viable future fit for everyone.

The sense is that when these things disappear, life will be unbearable. That we’re going to turn on each other.

We’re presented with a binary choice — save the planet and live a miserable existence, or accept that some populations (plant, animal, human) will have to act as collateral damage to ensure a quality of life that vaguely resembles our current one.

I believed this until a good friend of mine, Charles Davies, said:

And I thought: Dammit, he’s right.

We’re being fed — and feeding each other— a lie.

The lie is not that we won’t have to radically change the way we live, or that many people (some of the most vulnerable) will experience severe economic hardship and loss.

The lie is that the future *has* to be worse than the present from the perspective of human experience.

The lie is that letting go of our current way of living is a bad thing.

How about we dismantle that lie?

In my experience we seem to be more unhappy than ever before. More physically and mentally ill. More divided than ever. More stressed about our impact on the world.

And yet we are told that taking apart the trappings of the world that create these outcomes is a bad thing.

We tell each other almost gleefully: you need to be scared! This way of life we have can’t go on!

Be scared? Who on earth wants this way of life to go on??

Our current model of relating and cooperating is built on a model of disconnection.

Educated and co-erced into disconnecting from our needs in order to be good participants in a consumer society.

And (as I was reminded in a conversation Brendan Montague, Editor of the Ecologist website) that it’s this disconnection from ourselves that leads to the disconnection from each other that in turn leads to disconnection from our environment — which is the only thing that has enabled us to create the extractive, destructive system we have in place.

Disconnected from your needs. Seeing others as threats or problems to be dealt with. Walking around with a tightness in your chest because you feel the world our kids are growing up in is being trashed.

Numbing ourselves with dopamine hits from glass screens between consuming things we don’t need to make ourselves feel semi-satisfied for five minutes.

No. What meets our needs is connection.

Connection to ourselves, to others and the world around us.

Feeling at home in our own skin, having meaningful relationships and being friendly with our neighbours. Creating things that feel like they matter, with like-minded people. Being in natural environments, caring for living things.

These are what help us sleep at night, that make us feel whole.

They are also the enemy of consumer society, which is why it’s evolved to reduce their prevalence in our lives.

When we get these needs met we stop throwing endless consumer products, services and experiences into the void that can’t be filled.

And when we stop doing that, we start creating a different kind of world together.

I’m not saying that we don’t also need to make clear and difficult choices about the lives we live.

Personally I turned down two jobs last year because they were with companies that were involved in promoting consumerism in an active way.

I’m self-employed and so is my partner. I earn nearly half of what I did a few years ago working in take-every-job-that-comes-along-regardless-of-what-they-do-because-I-am-a-freelancer mode.

We don’t always meet our overheads. It can seem pretty precarious (financially speaking) at times.

But two things make this a choice that I can stand firm with.

Firstly, this way of life has put me firmly back in the role of active parent and community member. I’m more available for my kids, I’m more involved in their lives. I volunteer at the local school and I help to run wilderness sessions for Dads and kids some weekends.

Nothing money could buy will give me what this gives me.

Secondly, I have found that in order to do anything different requires me to disconnect from my needs again. It takes a kind of energy that I’m no longer willing to spend. My kids and my neighbours can have that instead.

I’m not for a second judging anyone else’s choices. We’re all doing the best we can to get our needs met. There are reasons I’m able to do this and others might not, and there are many (many) things about my life which I know are very unsound, ecologically speaking.

Away from stress, towards connection

Given all this, ‘conscious consumerism’ and ‘green new deals’ will never offer the solution we need if they are built on the fundamental idea of citizen is as consumer, working to earn, earning to spend, spending to consume etc.

I think the fundamental answer lies instead in rebuilding our lives around connection.

And this has to start with coming down from our persistent, stressed state.

If we are facing complex, systemic challenges we need to be able to bring our full capacity and creativity.

We need to be able to see and hold multiple perspectives, cross divides and have healthy conflict.

None of this is possible if we continue to stoke the fires of stress and anxiety in ourselves and each other.

My invitation is to recognise that any time you’re looking for quick solutions, or people to blame that you’ve lost your way.

To see that looking after your mental health, staying calm, being open-hearted is the most subversive act of our time.

Recognise that if you would love other people to live in a certain way or see the world from a different perspective, this is only going to happen if they sense you’re not judging them to be wrong.

Know that the thing that’s most firmly under your control is how you show up for your children, your neighbours and your wider community.

This rules nothing out — from this place we can still protest, dismantle, subvert.

You might still feel this is far too measured: “There’s a fight on our hands — a fight for our children’s future! How can you be so irresponsible?”

As a martial artist, ex-doorman and someone who’s been in a few violent confrontations I can tell you with certainty that if there is a fight, it’s not the angry, anxious person who wins.

It’s the person who is very, very calm. Who is totally present and has no sense of wanting to hurt you. They are very comfortable using whatever means necessary but without malice or pleasure, simply because it gets everyone to a better place.

It’s already happening

I can already see a growing recognition that connection, inclusion, creativity and celebration are the keys to a genuinely better future.

You can see it in the best of the climate protests — garden bridges, calm nonviolent protest , dancing police officers.

And in the growing popularity of secular spiritualism and spaces for new ways of relating (like circling and real relating).

People are slowly but steadily finding that their real needs are met more consistently in self-awareness and relationship than they are in quick fix consumption.

We can’t all join a five-day protest and we’re not all ready to sit in a circle and talk about our feelings but that’s not what’s being asked of us.

The invitation is to start building the new society from inside each of us.

Resisting the urge of distraction and consumption, rejecting the voices (inside and out) calling for us to divide ourselves, not taking in any more information that will stress us out.

Instead showing up to each conversation with family, neighbours and community with genuine willingness to engage in something different, knowing that it’s one of the most likely paths to a better future.

To be a calm, loving human, raising calm, loving kids (if you have them) and fostering a calm, loving society.

Even if that means dismantling a load of stuff in the process.

My name is 
Max. I show people how to listen to their needs, realise their ideas and deal with all the conflict that shows up in their lives with skill and ease. I do this from my smallholding in the rural Southwest of the UK.

About Max St John:

Showing people the way home by connecting to what’s there and working with what is. Get clear, fight well, move naturally. www.maxstjohn.com

This article was originally posted here

Parenting and Empathic Fathers

The Third Child: Yes, I’m Ready to Go

31 Wochen (4)‘When is the baby coming? Today? Now? I want the baby to come now!’ – These words are being said by my nearly 4-year-old every day. Every day for the last three months. You see, there is a little pressure and some expectations on us – the parents – or, to be more precise, on my wife. Come on, bring the baby on!

We’re expecting our third child this May. If everything goes by plan, birth should take place at home again, as with the other two. I feel ready for it. More or less.

Looking back I realise how little time we took to get prepared for this birth and the arrival of our baby. I remember the long evenings prior to our first birth. We sat on the sofa and chatted about everything baby related: how life will change, how to fold cloth nappies and we even practised the baby sling with a dolly inside (well, that was actually for me who needed a bit of help there… yes, I did manage dolly in the sling after twenty or so minutes). Everything we did or said was with the focus on baby or birth.

Things shifted slightly three years later when our second child came along. Yes, we were more exhausted and the evenings often ended with us going to bed the same time as our toddler, just to catch up. Still, we had great moments where my wife and I could sit down, reflect, relax, think, talk, laugh, cry and enjoy ourselves. With that kind of confidence the second birth went very smoothly and peacefully.

But life geared up again. Both our boys are wonderful and curious explorers. Most of the time anyway. Our days start normally around 6.30-ish in the morning and the eldest should be in bed around 8.30pm – but, hey ho, life is not like that and quite often the evening routine gets delayed. After we re-established a certain order and tidiness throughout the house we fall into bed as well. And in between I just finished writing my first book.
So, all fine by me. But, and here comes my point, we just noticed how little time there is for us. Not only time as a couple but also time to get prepared again.

Well, we already went through two home births, babymoon, sleepless nights, toddler tantrums & co., why should we need more preparation? Good question. For me it’s about celebrating that very special, beautiful and unique moment when a child enters the world. It doesn’t matter how often I’ve seen or experienced it before. This new life deserves the same attention and care I’ve given to my other two.

And, it’s about my wife. She, who went through the last 34 weeks, struggling with sickness, fatigue, heartburn and the general exhaustion pregnancy brings. She, who gets up every morning to be with our very active boys, seems to have quite endless energy and patience to deal with all the difficulties and joys parenting can bring.

So, taking that time to get ready again is also an important way to say ‘Thank you’ to her. To show respect and empathy. Yes, there is less time available now, but I believe in these small but important moments of kindness. For me to get up a little earlier in the morning to prepare her some breakfast and tea in bed; to let her nap in the afternoon while the boys and I are somewhere outdoors, or to give her a nice and relaxing belly massage (even when I’m terribly tired) before we go to sleep – I know it’s no big deal but it does help her.

Belly MassageWe also try to involve our children in the whole pre-birth celebrations. They love to use the natural belly massage oil (the more the better) and when the younger one can’t wait for his turn to massage, he then has a go at my belly (bliss). Or the other day they both helped me by inflating the birthing pool. Of course the hosepipe had to be tested and this way they found out that they can use it as a mega cool telephone…

Yes, time is tight. But it’s really up to us to make the best of it. Tonight we have planned something very special. It all happened quite spontaneously with the support of friends: My wife and I go out!! The eldest will stay with friends and the youngest with our adopted Granny. So, from around 5pm till tomorrow morning we’ll have time to ourselves!

The only plan we made is to go out for dinner – and then… let’s see. No plans, no pressure, no hurry. Just us. What a treat! Yes, we will talk about birth and the baby – of course! But we will also just enjoy ourselves – the couple, the lovers, the two of us. Recharging our emotional batteries for the weeks to come. I can’t wait. For both.

31 Wochen (1)

Book Banner 2015

Guest Posts, Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships

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.

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



Guest Posts, Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

Here’s What A Dad Did After His Wife Was Asked Not To Breastfeed At A Public Pool

Over the coming weeks I’ll introduce you to more inspiring, creative, hands-on fathers who all live in different places on this planet. It’s always a great joy to meet, to communicate and to exchange ideas and thoughts with other fathers. I like hearing their stories and reflecting on their experiences. It gives me a lot!

Joe ValleyA lot of emotional input for me came from a guy called Joe Valley. He runs the website Empowered Papa and focuses in his work on how to empower and strengthen the role of men in childbirth. Wow! How awesome! Joe and his wife’s work is also aimed at birth professionals, for them to have a greater understanding on how to support dads in the way that dads need.

More about Joe at the end of this post.

Today, I would like to share Joe’s article on breastfeeding in public. Find out, what he, his wife and their baby experienced at a community swimming pool in Missouri:

Here’s what I did after my wife was asked not to breastfeed at the community center pool

Yesterday, I received a text from my wife, Andrea, stating, “Any chance you can get in the car and come down here. They are telling me I can’t bfeed at the pool.” I put on a nice shirt and pants [doing web design from home requires neither] and got in the car for the Gladstone Community Center.

James Ryan Valeii happened to call me about some collaborative work for HypnoBirthing we are doing, and I told him I was on my way to address an anti-breastfeeding scenario. “I want to be respectful while clarifying our position,” I told James. I also told him I was feeling nervous. James was the best person in the world to be calling me in that moment because of what he told me, “Ask to see their policy in writing.” James is no stranger to this scenario because he is married to Kathy Valeii who runs Birth Anarchy, a website devoted to standing up for the rights of women.

With the focused words of James in my mind, I marched into the community center and asked to see my wife, the one with the baby. Without skipping a beat, the guy at the front desk told me how to get to the indoor pool. Andrea was seated in a chair looking out to where Sacha and Grandma were splashing in the kids pool. Andrea had her baby bag next to her and baby Kai was asleep in her arms. She directed my attention to the teenage male life guard who had asked her to cover up. Here is what Andrea reports:

I was feeding my 8 month old son while my older son played in the pool with his Grandma. I had been doing this on and off the whole time we had been there. The lifeguard on duty came over to me and said “If you’re going to breastfeed, will you please move to the changing room,” and I said “No.” He then asked me if I had a towel I could use to cover up. I again said, “No.” I suggested at this time that he go get a manager to talk to me about it, he said it would be his manager’s call. I agreed to talk to the manager about it.

The manager came over to me and said ‘We do ask people to move to the changing room to breastfeed,” and I said, “I’m not moving. I’m not doing anything wrong sitting here feeding my baby.” He mentioned it being the policy. I said, “Has someone complained?” and he said, “No. But someone might walk in and get offended.” I said, “I’m not going to move, so you might want to go get someone else to talk to me about this.” He agreed and said that he would talk to someone else and that they would see, but probably they were going to get me to move. I did not move. I finished nursing my baby to sleep, and immediately messaged my husband asking him to come over to the center to speak to the manager. I also looked up the breastfeeding laws in Missouri to be sure that I was within my rights. 

I went back to the guy at the front desk, introduced myself, and then asked to see in writing their policy on breastfeeding. His name was Adam and he was nice about the exchange, and I could tell he didn’t want to cause a scene; he kept his voice low and remained seated for most of our conversation. He explained that their effort to ask Andrea to move/stop was because they did not want other people to become offended at the sight of a breastfeeding mother. I told him that I understand their awkward position in this circumstance and that they did not want to offend anyone. Adam appeared relieved to hear this. I also explained how Missouri law protects breastfeeding mothers and that he couldn’t find the pool’s written policy prohibiting breastfeeding because it would have been an illegal document. At some point during our conversation, Adam gave me the business card of the community center administrator, and said he would be able to help me better understand the Gladstone Community Center policy on breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding-Natural-ChoiceAfter this pleasant yet awkward exchange, I returned to my family at the pool. We packed up our bags to head out, and then the aquatics director arrived. His name is Jeremy and he was the guy notified by the lifeguard in Andrea’s story above. Jeremy said, “I apologize if I upset you,” and appeared to be going out of his way to act in a kind manner. I inquired about their breastfeeding policy, and Jeremy told me that they do not want to offend anyone, and so they ask breastfeeding mothers to remove themselves. I asked him for documentation of this policy, and that’s when Jeremy fumbled with an answer, stating he didn’t have anything to give me. Andrea told him that a twenty-second Google search revealed that Missouri has laws in place to protect breastfeeding mothers and that it is illegal to ask them to move/cover-up. Jeremy said he didn’t know what the laws were, but that the pool is a public place, so they have to do certain things not to offend their guests. That’s when I looked right at Jeremy, turned my head to the side and arched my left eyebrow. What did he just say?

There are three men in this story that each tried their best to act in a kind, unoffensive way. Here’s the problem; each of them were unknowingly sustaining the patriarchal stance that women are told what they can and can’t do. When Jeremy asked Andrea to move and she declined, he mentioned that he would talk to his manager, who would get her to move. No matter how much this manager was trying to act nice by using a soft tone, his actions were violent.

Hummm….violent seems like a strong word to describe this, right? After all, he wasn’t using brute force to move Andrea; no blood was spilled in this scenario. However, to take a stance that you control what a woman does with her body is an assumption that you have power over her. You are dictating what is appropriate behavior. You are trying to “get her” to do what you want. If she doesn’t comply, then you obtain assistance to “get her” to do so. Here’s the deal: every time you prevent a woman from choosing what she does with her body, you are acting in a violent manner. Do you see where I am coming from here?

You’ll never guess what the lifeguard had uncovered when he was telling Andrea to move. I’ll give you a hint. They are round. There are two of them. They are between his neck and his hips. Ok, it’s his nipples. Both of them were out and for all to see. Andrea had only one nipple out at the time she was feeding Kai. Why was she told her nipples had to be removed from the pool while the male lifeguard could have his out with no question?

Well, you might say that women’s breasts are sexualized in our culture, so we cover them up in the effort to remain decent. Yes, female nipples are sexualized in our Western culture. Here’s the rub; a woman decides when her nipples are sexualized, not a teenage male lifeguard, not a 30-something aquatics director, not any other person in the world.

Let’s look at it this way: if some man gets turned on by the low-hanging oak branches of the trees on the street, we don’t cover the branches because they are sexualized by that one guy. The oaks tickle his fancy, but they don’t tickle mine, so I go about my day, enjoying their summer shade rather than their erotic pleasure. The same is true for nipples, because there are times when they will be seen as a source of erotic pleasure and times when they will be seen as a source of baby food. One doesn’t negate the other.

I think the same is true for women everywhere. If they want their nipples to be sources of stimulating pleasure for others, then awesome. I love that. Thanks. You’re so kind. However, if a woman wants my attention to be focused elsewhere, say on her ideas about our culture, then me staring at her boobs is missing out on a good connection with her. It’s also rude, because it says, “Yeah sure, whatever. I don’t care about your ideas or what you care about, because I only care about you being a source of sexual stimulation for me.”

The same is true for breastfeeding. If a woman decides that her nipples are for her baby, and a guy says that her nipples are inappropriate and that she needs to cover them, then I see that guy as being violent. You might disagree with me here and say I am taking it too far. However, I am coming from the idea that violence is dictating what someone else can and can’t do with his or her own body. Violence is saying that you decide what is right for another person. Violence is negating someone else’s needs in order to serve your own. Violence is using power and force to obtain compliance. Violence is the end of communication and the beginning of war.

To tell a mother to cover up or to move while breastfeeding is to say that your needs are greater than hers. You are trumping her choice for her own body. You are missing out on the opportunity to have connection with her. This is sad, because mothers can be amazing, wonderful people that bring life into the world. Literally, mothers bring life into the world. It’s in everyone’s best interest as a species that we respect the mothers.

How do you respect mothers? How do you see your nipples? What do you think about our culture saying YES to man-nipples and NO to woman-nipples? Do you think that is fair? I remember once when Gena Kirby was staying at our house she brought this up. She said she was pissed that it is OK for a man to take his shirt off when it’s hot, but it’s not OK for a woman to do so. Crap. I felt embarrassed. I had never thought of it like that.

It comes down to this: a woman should have the freedom to decide to use her breasts for feeding a baby just like she can decide to use her breasts to stimulate the attention of a sexual partner. In either situation, it’s her decision. If a man finds the sight of a breastfeeding woman to be stimulating, then it doesn’t mean that he has the right to tell her to stop breastfeeding. It certainly does not mean that the breastfeeding mother is being inappropriate. Remember the low-hanging oak limbs? We don’t cover those up just because someone is turned on by them.

Let’s be honest; breastfeeding is titillating. The female nipple has been sexualized in Western culture in a most tremendous way and to such an extent that the vision of it is literally banned from television, so seeing one provides a thrill because of our cultural conditioning. The same is NOT true for an indigenous tribe in Papua New Guinea where the women leave their breasts out. The vision of a nipple to a boy or a man would be no more eye-catching than the vision of an elbow or an ear. What I am saying is that a heterosexual Western man will likely have a variety of emotions arising at the sight of a woman breastfeeding her baby. This is understandable. It does not mean he is bad or the woman should cover up.

If we are to march forward into the future with the health of our families in our best interest, then it behooves us to consider the nipple of a mother and what it means to us. We are mammals and all mammals feed their babies from the breast. Consider a world where the vision of a mother breastfeeding her baby is seen as wonderful and natural.

Hold Up: you’ll never guess who just called me. I am not kidding..as I am typing this post, my phone rang. It was Adam, the front desk guy from the community center stating that they are having building-wide training to address the situation yesterday, and to offer education on the Missouri breastfeeding law to all of their employees. Adam apologized for our experience yesterday and explained that they were in the wrong to ask Andrea to move. He explained that they were unaware of the law and also that they hire some young people whose first job may be to be a lifeguard at the pool. He apologized for the community center’s actions and hopes that we feel comfortable to return to the pool and enjoy our time there. I asked if he had my number from when I called yesterday to get his name. He told me that was true and that it took him a while to find my number in the phone records so he could call me back. Well done, Adam. I feel relieved that you took this seriously and made a strong effort to make the situation right.

Also, THREE CHEERS FOR ANDREA!!! Hip Hip Hooray! Hip Hip Hooray! Hip Hip Hooraaay! Andrea stood her ground by remaining seated when she was asked to remove herself for breastfeeding. She said NO to the men claiming that they decide what she does with her body.


This article has been originally published HERE.

What Joe says about himself:

Joe Valley is a feminist web designer working from home while supporting his young family. He and his wife, Andrea, have two boys born at home and an aging black cat who must be at least 20 years old by now. Joe came from the world of counseling where he worked with families finding relief from the rigors of life. Joe teaches counseling skills to birth professionals and also cheers for dads’ supportive role in birth at EmpoweredPapa.com.
All the best Joe! For you and your family!



Creative Stuff

When Papa Bakes A Stollen…


So, in my other post about this season of the year, I was talking about how we keep Christmas simple. Simplicity also means to me growing and cooking your own food. This way you know what’s in it and most of the time it’s cheaper and yummier. To get you and your kids baking, I got this old, old, old (gosh, very old) recipe from my Great Great Great Great Grandmother (I leave it up to you whether you believe me) who passed it on for generations…

It’s one of the wholiest things you can get for a true German Christmas celebration. Forget Bratwurst. Let cool down your Gluehwein (Mulled wine). Skip the Bretzels and Lebkuchen. It’s showtime for the unique, special, fabby-do German Christmas Bread – or The Stollen.

Dads (and Mums of course), let’s get baking:

Your Stollen needs:

  • A preheated oven at 200Celsius/Gas mark 6)
  • 50g Currants and 75g Sultanas (or Raisins do the job as well)
  • 4 tbsp Rum (It’s a good excuse to buy a whole bottle)
  • 380g White Flour
  • 50g Caster Sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon (or a bit more if you love cinnamon)
  • 2 tsp Dried Yeast mixed with 160ml lukewarm milk
  • 50g melted Butter
  • 1 lightly beaten Egg
  • 50g Mixed Chopped Peel
  • 50g Blanched Whole Almonds, chopped
  • For the Almond Filling: 120g Ground Almonds, 50g Caster & 50g Icing Sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp Lemon Juice and 1/2 slightly beaten Egg (no idea what to do with the other half)

1. Get all the currants and sultanas (or raisins) and put them into a bowl. Open the rum (have a small taster to check whether it’s a good one), warm it up (don’t boil) and pour it over the dried fruits. Leave them on the side to soak.

2. Don’t shake, but mix the flour sugar, and spices, pour in the yeasty milk, and make it into a nice batter. Get a cleanish tea towel (yep, that’s always the big problem), cover the batter and leave it in a warm place for about half an hour. Then add the butter and egg.

fairy3. Mix everything into a dough and knead for 8 to 10 minutes (nice job for the kids). Now let’s have a rest for 1 to 2 hours (have more rum) and wait for the dough to double in size. Mix the almond filling ingredients into a paste. Knead all the fruits and nuts into the dough.

4. Now roll the dough into a oval-ish shape. Form the almond paste into a long roll, put it in the centre, fold the dough over the paste, brush the edges with milk, rest for about 45 minutes. Then into the oven and let the Stollen bake for 30 minutes.

5. Once the Stollen has cooled down, cover it with as much icing sugar as you like. Then wrap the Stollen into cling film (or a nice clean tea towel) and put into a coldish place to rest (and don’t tell anyone where you put it).

6. After a week your Stollen is yummy and lovely and ready to eat. Some people even leave their Stollen for weeks or months before they would eat it (my father used to eat Stollen for Easter). Well, we never waited that long, it’s too tempting.

So, get into your kitchen now and surprise your loved ones with something very special this year.

Frohe Weihnachten!





Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships

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!





Parenting and Empathic Fathers

Sorry Kids, I Messed Up! How to Apologise and Reconnect

Brent_and_DaddyThis is just a shitty day of parenting. You know what I mean. Whatever I do or the children do or whatever is happening today sucks. My eldest winches and complains about every- and anything: the food (too spicy), the weather (too wet), his toys (too boring), me (because I’m not reading the same book for the 25th time today). Simultaneously his younger brother takes a pair of scissors and cuts open toothpaste tubes (“No, it wasn’t me!”), sets the alarm clock for 2 in the morning (“No, it wasn’t me, really!”), and finally blocks our toilet with the lid of our coconut oil jar (“No, Papa, it wasn’t me. Told you”).

To say it in one sentence: I COULD SCREAM! The thing is you can replace ‘could’ with ‘did’. Yep, the same guy who tells you all the time how to be empathic, calm, relaxed and so on, loses the plot. Because I’m upset, I’m annoyed, I’m f*****g angry. Yes, there is so much someone can take and yes, parenting also means that we have bad days. And, yes, we’re just human beings.

I love my kids, obviously. In an instant I felt ashamed and bad. Why didn’t I respond with a nice smile and a phrase, like “Don’t worry about the toilet. Yeah, it’s just fifty quid for the plumber, but hey, it’s just money, isn’t it? The bigger problem might be, where we go until the loo works again?”

But, as I said before, I didn’t respond in that cool way. I messed it up. But, the good news about that, it’s OK. No, it’s not OK to shout and scream but it does happen. To all of us. More important than the kick-off itself is the aftermath. What do you do next? And that’s where the key lies for me.

When I look back at my childhood, I remember my parents being loud or shouting at me on occasions only. Like a short but intensive thunderstorm. Sometimes it was about nothing (at least from my point of view), and then the “deserved” ones. What I also remember is the fact that my parents never ever came to me or my sister to apologise. It just didn’t happen. Once the thunderstorm was over, life went on – more or less – as normal. Only my dad could be quite unforgiving for a long time (but that’s a different issue).

What I’m trying to say is, that they missed an enormous and important chance of reconnection. They left me with all my feelings of resentments, frustration and shame alone. Yes, I might did something I shouldn’t have. Yes, I screwed up. Nevertheless I deserved love, support and kindness, because that’s what all children need: unconditional love.

After their anger had vanished, they could have come to me and said something like “Hey, we were really cross with you and that’s why we got mad at you, but now we wanted to see how you feel. And we wanted to say ‘sorry’ for being so mad. Look, grown-ups make mistakes, too. It’s sometimes quite confusing and hard to understand, even for us. Anyway, we wanted you to know, that we still love you! You are not responsible for our anger, it happened out of our own fear, insecurity and helplessness”.

What a powerful message that would have been. In an instant I would have forgiven anything. I would have cried and laughed at the same time.

Kids want to be loved. Of course. And, yes, they’re not doing things to upset or annoy us. If we think it’s mischief it often is a little cry out saying “Hey, I’m here. Play with me. I need you now!”. But often they can’t say it (because they are either too young or they haven’t got the words yet).

Let’s go back to my shitty day. Yep, everything went wrong, and that includes my response. When the storm had passed and things settled down, I went to see my boys. I looked them in their eyes and apologised. The apology doesn’t have to be very long (hey, you speak with kids), but should show respect and empathy. I see the very moment of the apology also as a great example of authentic parenting. I’m authentic because my kids can see that I make mistakes. That’s fine. Because I take responsibility for them and show how to deal with them.

After that we hugged and cuddled and reconnected. Children forgive so quickly and easily. They truly love unconditionally.

The reconnection or healing process is always important to me. Often I try to do something I know they enjoy: like reading their favourite book or having a long cuddle on the sofa. Especially with my eldest I use the evenings, before he goes off to sleep, to talk about it again. He often needs more time to digest things, to reflect and to talk about his feelings. Having that good father-son-chat really helps him and me to find to each other again. No, I’m not afraid to apologise and I’ll always tell my children how much I love them, particularly after a shitty day.