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parenting

32 articles in parenting

More Stuff Kids Done Taught Me

Thrilled Parent: Watch Me Ace Raising a Child on My Own with No Rules!

A few years ago I had lunch with a beautiful and successful American woman in her mid thirties. Sooner or later the conversation got around - as it often does with me - to children. This woman told me that she had a five year old daughter. I asked her if it was difficult living and working in New York while raising a child on her own. She replied that it had been hard but that now it should get better since she and her little girl were going to parenting classes. `Parenting classes,' I asked, `whatever are they?' `You know, where you learn how to be a parent. We go twice a week together,' she reported with enthusiasm. Curious about what was taught in these new programs, and at the same time suppressing a smile at the latest American attempt to package up something as rich and complex as parenthood and spoonfeed it to clients well-heeled enough to afford the indulgence, I asked, `What do they teach you?' `Oh, they teach you just everything’ she screeched, sweeping her hand across the table in a way that makes British head waiters loathe American clients. `For instance, when your child goes to pick up something from the coffee table which you don't want her to have you must never be negative,' she said. `Negativity is not good for children,' she added, leaning closer in a conspiratorial fashion. `So instead of saying, "No, no," which might crush your child's spirit, you say, "Now darling that is a no, but this is a yes (pointing to other objects near by), and this is a yes and this is a yes."' OUT OF PATIENCE I have little patience with such practices - nor do I believe there are a lot of set rules to follow to raise a child well. That is because, like a lot of seasoned parents, I have learned about parenthood the hard way. When my first child was born—more than fifty years ago now—I was determined to bring him up right: not to make the mistakes that my parents had made with me, to ensure that he developed quickly both physically and mentally, and that he turned into the kind of person that I thought he should be. I worked hard at it. I read everything I could get my hands on about child development - all the latest theories and all the traditional wisdom. No time or expense was to be spared in bringing up this child. He would be breast-fed, disciplined, and taught to read by the time he was a year old using special equipment designed for the task. I would instill in him a strong sense of moral rectitude and good manners and he would be given every kind of educational toy I could lay my hands on to help develop his creativity. Also I would never lose my temper, always be patient and kind (but firm of course) and make sure he didn't watch too much television. My master plan for child rearing might have sounded good on paper, but it had a couple of big drawbacks. First, no human being could ever have carried it out. Second, it completely ignored the most important truth there is about child rearing - a truth which I did not myself come to know until I had two or three more children under my belt. It is this: You don't have to read a thousand books and follow a lot of rules the so-called experts make up to raise a healthy, happy, creative child. You only need to learn to trust in yourself and in the incredible powers of Nature. You also need to develop the art of listening—with your heart and mind and instincts as well as your ears—to your child. Most of the time he will tell you what you need to know. TO HELL WITH “PERFECT PARENTING” Once I finally figured this out - many tried and failed strategies down the road - I let go of my anxieties and theories. Then motherhood became not only a joy for me but a source of never-ending wonder. I discovered that each child—not only my own children, but boys and girls with whom I worked as a nursery school teacher, and others—is utterly unique and perfect in his or her own way. I also learned that your relationship to a child has a life of its own. So long as you are willing to face each child honestly and openly day by day and so long as you honor and respect this relationship, not only does this empower you to give the best guidance and care for the child. In some magic way which I still don't fully understand, it can even help heal deep emotional wounds within you yourself as a learning parent. Most important of all I discovered that the whole idea of perfect parenthood is a big fraud. There ain't nothing perfect when it comes to parenthood. Perfect by whose criteria anyway? The sooner you accept this fact, the sooner you can get down to the business of child rearing and enjoying it. For me, raising children—whether it be dealing with a tiny baby or seeing your twenty-five year old develop year by year—has been the most exciting and rewarding thing I have ever done—or for that matter, ever hope to do. And as for the widespread belief that unless you have been well mothered while you were growing up you are doomed to be a bad mother yourself. It just ain’t so—no matter what those high falutin’ experts keep sayin’.

Child-Raising—Trust In Nature

Release Perfection and Open Yourself to a Child's Seedpower: A Parent's Magical Ride

"Your children are not your children," wrote the Lebanese poet Kahil Gibran, "They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself...You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth." It is a quote I like, not only because—having raised four children by four different men on my own—I believe it to be just about the most accurate description of parenthood I have ever come across, but also because it emphasizes the 'lightness' which develops when you give up trying to be perfect and come to trust the processes of Nature—in feeding, in healing, in guiding you and your child towards what is best for his or her development at any moment in time. SEEDPOWER HAS WISDOM Like the seed of a plant that has encoded within its genetic material the characteristics that will in time produce the full-grown flower, every baby comes into this world carrying a package of as yet unrealized, but incredibly rich, potential. Within each child is nestled his or her very own brand of unique seedpower, encompassing far greater physical, creative and spiritual potential than he or she could realize in ten lifetimes. Your child is like the brush stroke the zen painter uses to represent one leaf on a shaft of bamboo. The leaf he paints is totally singular—like no leaf that has ever existed. Yet within this uniqueness is encompassed universal beauty and life energy of the highest order. Just as I tried to do with my first son, most conscientious parents try their best to mould their children from the outside by imposing upon them their own ideas about what they should act like, think like, look like and all the rest. Not only does it work a lot better the other way round—listening to the individual echoes of a child's own seedpower coming from within, and responding to it by offering whatever at any moment is most appropriate, in the form of food, health, guidance, education, toys and so forth—it is also infinitely easier. CONTRACTS HOLD A KEY Taking on the job of guardian for a child from birth to adulthood also involves making 'contractual agreements'—agreements which need to be re-negotiated from time to time. Like every contract, the parent/child relationship is always a two-way deal. It has to be fair on both sides and nurture both people involved. How well your own contracts develop and how much joy there is for both of you in living them will depend to a great extent on how clearly the agreements between you are understood. Let me show you what I mean. In establishing 'contracts' with my own children, I decided I wanted to supply them with wholesome food and clean surroundings, as well as physical warmth, safety, and the right to their own needs and opinions even if they differed from mine. In return I expected them to accept the home and food and care I provided even though it would never be perfect, and to be as honest, respectful of my decisions and as reasonable with me as their age would allow. What I would never ask of a child—and where so many parents, in my opinion, go wrong—is to ask that the child love me. Get into that contract and you automatically create trouble. For whether or not your child loves you is ultimately beside the point. Your responsibility is simply to use the best of your wisdom and physical resources to help that child grow. I decided long ago that I would do my best for my children always, but that they were stuck with me as a parent for better or for worse—complete with all my warts. I also decided that, while I didn't expect them to love me, I did expect them to know that whatever I did, I did because I believed it to be right. When some decision I made or action I took turned out to be wrong, I owned up and, where appropriate, asked for their forgiveness, just as I forgave them their mistakes. MAGIC HAPPENS I discovered quite by accident that there is a certain magic to all this. For when you genuinely give up all claim to being a 'good parent' or to having your child love you, you create a remarkable expanse of freedom for you both. In the end, not only do your children end up loving you of their own accord, they also respect you (even when they don't agree with you). Most important of all, they feel safe because they know that although at times you may seem unreasonable and unbending, your strength—on which they rely for security—remains uncorrupted by flattery or emotional blackmail (which even very young children can be very good at). They learn that your strength is there to serve them.

Love With Muscle

Love Lessons from Kids: What Branton Taught Me About Real Love

Children have also taught me much of what I know about love. They have a singularly unsentimental attitude toward love and show little patience with an adult's romantic notions. To a child love is nothing fancy. It is a real and tangible feeling to be taken highly seriously. `If you love somebody,' a six-year-old boy named Charlie once told me, `then you help him put his boots on when they get stuck.' `When I grow up,' said eight-year-old Marlene, `I'm going to love somebody even if his handwriting is messy.' I once had a real demonstration of what love is all about from my eldest son, Branton, who was then eight and to all appearances totally indifferent to his little sister, Susannah. One Autumn evening, after we'd all been out in the yard, we discovered Susannah was missing. Through a series of misunderstandings she thought we'd gone off for a walk in the woods - and we thought she'd gone back to the house. By the time I realized she was gone, Branton had a dachshund under each arm and was firmly ensconced on the sofa watching his favorite television program with a friend. If one thing was certain in our house, it was that Branton would do absolutely nothing anyone wanted him to do - such as set the table or wash his hands - while this particular program was on. I could stand in the middle of the room and scream at the top of my lungs but he wouldn't hear me. After I'd searched every room for Susannah, I began to be frightened. It was dark by then, and she was only five years old. Our house in the country had enormous expanses of land and woods surrounding it. She could have been anywhere. Careful not to betray my anxiety, I announced, `Branton, Susannah is gone.' There was a pause, rather like a slow take in a cartoon film, then he turned and looked at me. `I can't find Susannah,' I repeated. `She isn't in the house, and I don't know where she is.' He was up as if dynamite had blown him off the sofa. The poor sleepy dachshunds were shaken out of their stupor. `I'll find her,' he said on his way to the door. Then he stopped and turned to his friend, still engrossed in the television program. `Get up, Jeff,' he commanded, `we've got to find Susu. Hurry up.' I have never seen any human being move faster. Within two minutes he had been around the acre of land surrounding the house and rung two doorbells to ask if the neighbors knew where his sister was. By then I had remembered our talk about going for a walk in the woods, and had headed toward the thicket. Branton, still running at top speed, came up and passed me by, all the time calling: `Susannah, Susannah.' As we headed up the big path into the woods, I heard the faraway sound of a child crying out. It was Susannah. I tried to reassure her we were coming - while attempting to avoid falling in the wet mud - meanwhile Branton plunged on ahead, apparently afraid of nothing. In another minute he had her in his arms. As I approached, I heard him saying over and over, `Oh, Susu, Susu, are you all right?' as tears streamed down his cheeks. Later that night at the dinner table I told Susannah, who frequently suffered Branton's scorn, that now she knew what Branton really felt about her. I suggested she remember this evening whenever she became discouraged by his taunts - calling her a drip, for instance. She smiled. `You're a drip,' said Branton.

Re-discovering Life

Mummy Learns How to Have Fun Again: Uncovering Joy After Anger and Frustration

I think maybe I know what's wrong with you.' `What?' I asked skeptically. `You're always thinking about such serious things. You're always telling yourself what to do and what not to do. No wonder you're angry. You've forgotten how to have fun, Mummy. One day in summer, everything seemed to go wrong for me. For no apparent reason I awakened in the morning with the awful feeling that nothing was worthwhile. At 10am I received a telegram from a publisher saying that two manuscripts (of which I had no copies) had been lost in the mail. By noon not even the brilliance of California sunshine (where we were on holiday at the time) could shake off the heavy black cloud that surrounded me. I was angry with myself - and trying to avoid being angry with everyone else. My two younger children, Jesse, aged eight, and Susannah, ten, kept asking me to take them to the beach. I didn't want to go anywhere, especially the beach. I did not want to do anything for anyone. Finally, in the worst possible spirit, I consented - making sure, of course, that they realized I was doing them a big favor. The pure white sand and the fresh sea air on the almost deserted beach did nothing to improve my mood. It seemed to me that life was `out there' and I was `in here' locked away in the depths of the gloomy dungeon I'd built and was powerless to break out of. As the sun shone brighter and more beautiful, I grew steadily more gloomy. Finally I could stand it no longer. Despite the fact that the children were playing in the sand nearby and I didn't want to upset them, I broke down and cried. Susannah asked what was wrong. `I don't know, just about everything seems wrong at the moment,' I whined. `I feel like that sometimes,' Jesse said, offering no sympathy whatsoever. `I think you must be angry.' `So what if I am?' I snapped. `Why don't you hit something?' he suggested. `There's nothing to hit,' I replied irritably, `and anyway that's stupid.' `No, it's not,' Susannah chimed in. `It will make you feel ever so much better, Mummy. Or maybe you could growl like a dog.' I was willing to try anything. So, feeling like a complete fool and admonishing myself for behaving so stupidly in front of my own children, I growled and complained. I hated everyone, I said. I hated myself. I was lonely and I felt the whole world was stupid. Then I growled some more while the two of them sat listening silently. Not once did they try to console me, or tell me I was wrong or protest that the world was really a lovely place to love. Not once did they pass judgment on me or make me feel ashamed of myself or foolish. They just sat and waited. Finally I felt a little better. Jesse had been right, I thought, but I still had no idea where to go from here. At last I was quiet. Only then did Susannah say, `I think maybe I know what's wrong with you.' `What?' I asked skeptically. `You're always thinking about such serious things. You're always telling yourself what to do and what not to do. No wonder you're angry. You've forgotten how to have fun, Mummy.' She was certainly right. Having fun seemed as far away as the moon at that moment. I realized then, that for several months I had saddled myself with my work as if work were the only thing that mattered. I'd hated almost every minute of it but had felt proud of being such a `responsible adult.' `Maybe you're right,' I replied. `But how does somebody who's forgotten something so important remember it?' `Come on, let's dig a hole,' was her reply. `Yeah, I like holes,' Jesse chimed in. Feeling like a half-frozen hippopotamus, I lifted myself off the towel and mechanically moved toward the site they'd chosen for the hole. I started to dig. Jesse, who tended to act a bit of a clown, was soon sliding down into it and Susannah was snapping at him for `ruining the shape.' I looked at the two of them fiercely sneering at each other and saw myself as I had been just a few minutes before. I began to laugh. So did they. Before long we had a beautiful hole dug. It was probably the most beautiful hole you've ever seen... or so it seemed to me. We had a contest to see who was best at running up and leaping over it. Then we drew pictures in the sand and ran into the ice-cold water, splashing each other. By the time the first wave struck me, I, like the two of them, had become part of the sea and the sky. There was no more gloom and no more supercilious self-assurances that I was `doing the best thing.' I was alive again. Later that evening I thanked Jesse and Susannah for helping me and teaching me to have fun again. Then in typical adult fashion, I added, `You know I'm likely to forget and be all grumbly again before long.' `That's all right,' replied Susannah, `we'll remind you.' And they have - again and again over the years.

Eyes Of A Child

Learn to Love: Discover How To Rediscover Joy Through Children's Eyes

The greatest art any parent needs to develop to support the graceful unfolding of a child's unique seedpower is the art of listening. Not only can it help you learn from each child what you need to know at any moment in time to help heal, guide and nurture him, it can also help you rediscover the joy of living within yourself - a sense which we as busy, responsible adults so often lose. Children make the greatest teachers when we are willing to enter their worlds, lay aside our preconceived ideas and learn about how each of them views life. It is only in doing this that a real relationship develops between you and your child, and it is in honest and vital relationships that the power to rear Nature's child easily and gracefully lies. Looking at the world through the eyes of a child transforms humdrum reality into a magical land of the unexpected. It can also teach you a lot about how your child thinks and grows emotionally. `Cigars are fattening,' my eight-year-old son Jesse announced one day. `I know because all the men who smoke them are fat.' Children have incredible wit and freshness. Everything is new to them. The most trivial event can bring to a child the kind of pleasure we adults spend a lot of money searching for. But that's not all. In subtle ways, they are able to teach us truths that we might otherwise never learn. Once, when we were experiencing gale-force winds, five year old Jesse sat at the window watching what the wind did to the trees. Finally he turned to me and said, `Reflexible trees are stronger than ordinary trees. Do you think reflexible people are stronger than other people?' I was slow to answer as I couldn't imagine what he was talking about. `Jesse, what are reflexible trees?' I asked. `They're the kind that bend all the way to the ground when the wind blows instead of pushing against it,' he said. `The reflexible ones don't get cracked like the others.' `Yes,' I replied, `I guess you're right. Reflexible trees and reflexible people really are stronger than the rest.' Through thirty four years of motherhood, plus years working with young children in nursery school, I have never stopped learning from them. I know it is supposed to be the other way around - and I have always done my best to explain the intricacies of life to my children and pupils - but in the meantime, they have taught me lessons I won't soon forget: lessons in courtesy, humor, responsibility. They have shown me how to be angry and how to forgive, how to care for another and still demand my own right to separateness. Most of all, through knowing and watching them, I've begun learning how to love - an art that, on too many occasions during these years, I had almost forgotten.

Nature's Child

Secrets of Unleashing Your Child's Hidden Potential: It's All in the Parenting

"Your children are not your children," wrote the Lebanese poet Kahil Gibran, "They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself...You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth." It is a quote I like, not only because - having raised four children on my own - I believe it to be just about the most accurate description of parenthood I have ever come across, but also because it emphasizes the `lightness' which develops when you give up trying to be perfect and come to trust the processes of Nature - in feeding, in healing, in guiding you and your child towards what is best for his or her development at any moment in time. Like the seed of a plant which has encoded within its genetic material the characteristics that will in time produce the full-grown flower, every baby comes into this world carrying a package of as yet unrealized but incredibly rich potential. Within each child is nestled his or her very own brand of unique seedpower encompassing far greater physical, creative and spiritual potential than he or she could realize in ten lifetimes. Your child is like the brush stroke the zen painter uses to represent one leaf on a shaft of bamboo. The leaf he paints is totally singular - like no leaf that has ever existed. Yet within this uniqueness is encompassed universal beauty and life energy of the highest order.

Nature's Child Salads

Feed Your Kids Like Spiderman: Discover the Magic of `Spiderman Salad' & Avocado Dip.

Kids are meant to hate salads. In my experience what most, very young, children hate is not salads but the textures to some salads, because they are not cut or shredded finely enough. I don't blame them. I don't like salads either unless there is real aesthetic variety to the vegetables in their color, the way they are cut and arranged or mixed on a plate. I started my children on what my youngest calls `Spiderman Salad'. He came up with that name one day when I was explaining to him that if you wanted to be strong like Spiderman you needed to eat lots of raw vegetables. These first salads are more like vegetable pates. You can chop or puree them (depending on the age of the child) in a food processor or with a handheld blender. The secret is in the `binding' such as avocado or ground cashews or pureed hard boiled eggs which makes them stick together. The great thing about these `Spidermans' is that they are highly concentrated once they have been chopped or pureed. A dessertspoonful at a meal can give more nourishment than an adult side-salad. Experiment, but always taste your experiments yourself. If they are yummy to you, they are likely to appeal to a child. If not - re-season until you have created a real prize. spiderman salad When you make any salad for yourself, including dressing, put a little of it into a food-blender, the sort that has a blade, add a spoonful of cashews or avocado or the yolk of a hard boiled egg, or even a little thick yogurt - something that will bind. Mix it all together and season with vegetable bouillon powder and herbs plus a little salt and maybe a drop or two of olive oil. What you have left is a "Spiderman", a pate which can even be spread on crackers for older children. sprout magic salad Make a base with alfalfa or other sprouts and around the dish arrange: Grated carrot Finely shredded cabbage Chopped apples Grated beetroot Add: Sliced mushrooms, black olives, spring onions Sprinkle raisins over the grated vegetables and add a spoonful of seed or nut cheese. dressings basic french dressing 3/4 cup oil 1/4 cup lemon juice or cider vinegar 1 tsp whole-grain mustard or mustard powder 2 tsp honey A little vegetable bouillon powder and pepper to season A small clove of crushed garlic (optional) Combine all the ingredients in a blender, or simply place in a screw-top jar and shake well to mix. Some people like to thin the dressing and make it a little lighter by adding a couple of tablespoonfuls of water. avocado dip or dressing This is my favorite of all salad dressings. Kids adore it; you can make it thick for them to spread on crackers, leave out the curry powder and feed it pureed to babies, or make it thin to pour over salad. 1-2 avocados 1 cup fresh orange juice (use more or less to give the desired consistency) 1 tsp curry powder 2 tsp vegetable bouillon powder Fresh herbs (e.g. lovage and French parsley) 1 small clove garlic (optional) Peel and stone the avocados. Blend all the ingredients together in a food processor until smooth.

Nourishing Body & Soul

Nurturing Nature's Child: Unlocking Your Child's Optimal Health

Being healthy means a lot more than just not being sick. A child that is healthy experiences a sense of grace in his life. He feels at ease. He has access to all of his being - his imagination, his intellect, his physical strength, and his ability to connect with the world around him through his senses. Buoyant health depends on there being a high degree of biochemical and emotional order in his life. These days, such order is not always easy to come by. It begins with the way you feed your child, and ends with creating structures for his day to day life that establish a safe arena - emotionally, physically and spiritually - in which he can operate. When you do, the child develops a sense of trust in himself, a huge resistance to illness, and a sense of real connection with his outside world as well as an excitement about his life and what is going to happen next. This is what real health is all about - nurturing Nature's child, body and soul.

How I Learned That Love Is Real

A New Mother's Unexpected Epiphany – My Birth Story

My first child was born in a huge teaching hospital in Los Angeles. The labor was long and regrettably not natural. I was given an analgesic during labor and an epidural for the delivery. It was all very cold, efficient and mechanical. The hospital I was in happened to be a Catholic one in which every other woman there seemed already to know the ropes since she was giving birth to her fifth or eighth or tenth child. Nobody bothered to tell me much about what was going on or what was expected of me. My baby was taken from me immediately after the birth and put into a nursery with all of the other babies while I was wheeled off to a private room. Soon they brought this tiny creature to me. I held him in my arms and stared at him in stark wonder. Then at three hourly intervals he would reappear for twenty minutes at a time and I'd hold him in bed beside me until the nurse would come and take him away again. The third or fourth time they brought him to me, he began to cry. I nestled him, rocked him, and spoke gently to him but he wouldn't stop so I rang for the nurse. `My baby's crying,' I said, `What should I do?' `Have you burped him?' `Burped him?' `You have fed him haven't you?' `Fed him? Am I supposed to feed him?` The nurse took him and put him to my breast. His tiny mouth opened and reached for me as if he had known forever what to do. He began to suck with such force it took my breath away. It was like being attached to a vacuum cleaner. I began to laugh. I couldn't help myself. It seemed incredible that such a tiny creature could have such power and determination. He too had a purpose. He was raw, insistent and real. With every fiber of his being, this child was drawing his life and he would not be denied. Tears of joy ran shamelessly down my cheeks while he sucked. There in the midst of all that clinical green and white, I had discovered what love was all about. It was really quite simple—a meeting of two beings. The age, the sex, the relationship didn't matter. That day two creatures - he and I — had met. We touched each other in utter honesty and simplicity. This experience was for me a true epiphany. My life was forever altered by it. There was nothing romantic or solemn about it. No obligations, no duties, no fancy games, and you didn't have to read an encyclopedia of baby care to experience it. We'd met, just that. Somewhere in spirit we were friends. I knew beyond all doubt that I had found something real and real it has remained.

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