I Don’t Want My Daughter To Be Nice

A really interesting situation came up this week that had me realising how much more internal work I have to do to unpack my own experiences and expectations, particularly around gender and relationships.

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It is seriously freezing here. Actually about twenty degrees below freezing. We have been hitting up a lot of indoor play spaces each week so that everyone can move their bodies. We were at one of these places yesterday and my daughter met a little boy. She said, ‘I wonder if he wants to be my friend?’ And off she ran to find out. They happily played for half an hour or so, going up and down the slides, running about the place.

He was a sweet, energetic little boy. Like a happy little puppy, bounding around, getting very close, talking excitedly and non-stop.

They played a few arcade games together and the boy went off with his mum to choose his prize. He chose a small jar of slime for himself, and one for my daughter. It was kind and considerate and he eagerly ran over to give it to her.

He proudly presented it to my daughter and she said ‘thanks.’ His mum was standing behind him smiling, no doubt admiring her son being such a thoughtful person.

Then my daughter said, in her typical four-year-old, full-volume and uninhibited way, ‘mum, I don’t want to be his friend anymore.’

I froze. I felt the weight of expectation in that moment. The boy standing there in anticipation, wanting her approval. The mother wanting his kind deed to be noticed.

And so I said ‘you sound like you need a bit of space right now.’

I was desperately hoping she would agree with this wording so that the possibility of rekindling a bit later on might hang in the air and diffuse the tension. It feels kind of gross to write that, but it is the truth.

Instead, she said, ‘no I don’t want space. I don’t want to play with him again. Ever.’

She looked up at me. I saw her confident eyes. She wanted to know that it was ok.

And it clicked for me.

I said, ‘you don’t have to spend time or play with anyone that you don’t want to. Would you like to go down the slide with me?’

And we walked away.

And it was hard.

And I spent the rest of my time there feeling a little bit bad about that.

But this was big.

My daughter doesn’t have to spend time with any person she doesn’t want to spend time with. It doesn’t matter if I, or anyone else, thinks that person is nice and treating her well. It doesn’t matter if they shower her with gifts or affection.

The little boy made the choice to give my daughter a gift. And she decided that she still didn’t want to play with him anymore. She wanted to spend time with him, and then she changed her mind. And that is ok. Even if feelings are hurt.

It isn’t ok to spare someone’s feelings at the expense of your own ongoing discomfort. It is something I am still learning.

The awkwardness and embarrassment I felt in supporting my child felt big in the moment. And that was so important for me to recognise. I realised how conditioned I am towards the idea of women keeping the peace. To preserve the feelings of others. To not ‘make a scene.’ But I swallowed all of these ingrained reactions that were bubbling to the surface, threatening to invalidate my child’s feelings in a really predictable way. Through apology. I didn’t apologise for my daughter’s behaviour to the mother because there was nothing to apologise for. I didn’t want my daughter to think that putting in place a boundary is something to be sorry about.

My daughter used the terminology she understands. When we play we are friends, when we don’t we are not friends. She didn’t want to be friends anymore. I made steps towards making that clear boundary more ambiguous by implying it might be a temporary change of heart. I was trying to make everyone comfortable, please everyone, ‘be nice.’ She responded by making sure it was very clear to everyone how she felt. This was a permanent arrangement. She wasn’t being mean or rude or unfair or any other ridiculous judgement you could put on a girl advocating for herself and being direct in placing her boundary.

If I teach my daughter that the potential hurt feelings of a little boy trying to please her are more important than her own feelings of not wanting to spend time with that person, she will carry this. And the implications of carrying the burden of people-pleasing become much bigger when you start navigating more mature relationships.

There was an important lesson for the boy, too. Just because you really want to spend time with a person and just because you give them things, doesn’t mean they will feel the same way. Rejection is tough, but learning to process it in a healthy way is such an important skill. If I had overridden my daughter’s wish to end their relationship by saying ‘that’s not very nice, you should play with him, look how kind he has been!’, the lesson for that boy would have been that his desire to be with a girl, especially if he really, really wants her attention, is more important than her desire to be left alone. What a dangerous precedent.

Respectful parenting doesn’t always feel easy. Slowly, your children help expose each layer of your own conditioning. Reflecting on and unpacking unhealthy thought patterns is hard. But, confronting and processing these emotions is vital if we are to step in the direction of breaking a cycle. When we embrace this process, there is so much opportunity. It means that the messages we send to our children, have the potential to be a much healthier version of those we have accepted for ourselves.

These small interactions between young children might seem unimportant, but each experience becomes a puzzle piece, which over time fit together to become the big picture of how a person feels about their self worth, their ability to define their relationships and the power they hold in protecting themselves through boundaries. They are important. So important.

Shaming Joy

This past week has been a tricky one. To give you a bit of an indication of my headspace, I started with a post titled ‘why are most adults such assholes?’ My husband saw my computer open and said in a slightly uneasy way, ‘interested to see where you go with this…’

He was right. Where was I going with this? It was actually a bit of a catalyst to sit with the experiences of the past little while and access that discomfort. What was I so upset about?

There are a lot of really great articles and studies out there about kids and negative emotions. As adults, the language we use with children experiencing big feelings can be really unhelpful. Phrases like ‘stop crying’, ‘why would you get upset about that?’ ‘be a big girl” ‘you are embarrassing me’ invalidate the negative emotions of children and begin a cycle of unhealthy emotional processing.

What I haven’t seen or read about, is how a lot of adults do exactly the same thing for positive emotions. It is a big can of worms. And once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t stop.

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The Value Of Respectful Parenting

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Yesterday, my seven year old ran to me sobbing. “Mum, I got really angry and said something mean to my friend.” He collapsed into my arms and I held him while he cried. He let out all of his feelings. Everything that had been slowly piling up until the collapse of treating his friend unkindly. I listened and listened more.

“One day your child will make a mistake or a bad choice and run to you instead of away from you, and in that moment you will know the immense value of peaceful, positive, respectful parenting.” L. R. Knost

‘I want to show you.’ Continue reading

The Value Of Respectful Parenting And Being A Stay At Home Parent

Along this parenting journey, I have had moments of doubt about my own value and self worth. Is my contribution to society enough? We are told we can have it all, to which I wholeheartedly agree. But when your ‘all’ looks like being a stay at home, homeschooling parent, the cheer squad kind of disappears. It is not very widely celebrated. It is more “you can have it all, but are you sure that is all you want?” It is less “Wow! That is amazing!” and more “Oh, I could never do that.” Over the last few years, I have worked hard on letting go of my need for external validation and dug deep to understand and honour my own understanding of success. It is a process, and a work in progress.

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A couple of years ago, I was chatting to one of my best friends over a glass of wine. She said to me, “you were so incredible at university. You got all of the offers and ‘things’ that people want. I am still waiting for all of the amazing things you are going to do.”

I sat with those words. I am still sitting with them a couple of years later. I didn’t take this as a negative comment at the time, and I don’t now either. I certainly know it wasn’t meant in a negative way. She believed in my ability to do amazing things as mother plus. Plus something else ‘more amazing.’ But what about mother, full stop? It made me think and reflect. Am I enough? Is this enough? As I unpack my need to please others, I am not trying to answer these questions in the context of anyone but myself, or to live up to the expectations of anyone but myself.

It has forced me to ask myself some questions. I have sat with uncomfortable feelings while I untangle how I feel about my role and my impact. It certainly looks different to the life I envisioned for myself as a new adult, thinking about where I would fit in the world. I never thought much about being a parent and it certainly wasn’t a goal that defined the vision I had of myself. To find myself here is as much of a surprise to my younger self as it is to anyone else. But while this path I have carved out might not always make sense to others, it is one that feels so significant and intentional for me.

Over the last couple of years this is what I have come to believe. My circle of influence in undoubtedly smaller than what I anticipated. Three bright eyed children. But my impact is more profound than I could have imagined.

What I am doing is amazing. Right now. How I spend my time is the sum of the incredible things I want to offer. I am striving and reflecting each day on my desire to reach my potential in this role I have chosen. This is the difference I was always meant to make. I haven’t lost myself in this life, but instead I have found a meaningful purpose. There is immense value in my purpose. I value myself and what I am doing.

I believe deeply in the incredible opportunity presented by respectful parenting.

“One generation full of deeply loving parents would change the brain of the next generation, and with that, the world.” Charles Raison

It is a revolution I buy in to and want to be a part of. I believe that healthy development is driven by love and connection, not shame and control. I believe that hurt people, hurt other people, and without conscious change, that cycle will never be broken. I believe that emotional guidance rooted in respect leads to emotionally intelligent and healthy people, and the world needs people like that.

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Children who are trusted to choose, grow into adults who are confident to make choices. Children who are given bodily autonomy, grow into adults confident in their ability to set and enforce personal boundaries and respect the boundaries of others. Children who experience empathy and natural consequences rather than arbitrary punishment, are intrinsically motivated to make choices based on a core value system rather than choices driven by fear. Children parented respectfully grow into resilient adults.  Children who are trusted grow into adults who trust themselves.

Without really knowing what they were doing, or having a name for what they were doing, my parents lay the foundations for my growth in respectful parenting. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch. It never is. But, I was heard. I was valued. I was supported. I was trusted. I was loved. And from that base, since having children of my own, I have grown. It has not only positively affected the way I am raising my own children, it has positively impacted all of my significant adult relationships. I have learnt that there is no person, anywhere, at any stage or age, who doesn’t benefit from being treated with respect and kindness.

My parents became the top of a pyramid, its base growing larger with each generation. There are no fractured relationships undermining its strength. And I can see, that with intention, I know how to build. Respect trickles from the top of the pyramid, the course of its flow grows stronger and more defined with every moment we choose trust, every moment we choose connection, every moment we choose empathy. As I watch my children forge relationships of their own, I am watching that pyramid grow larger still, respect touching all of those around them. It will continue to grow with my children’s children and their children, too. It is quiet, unsung work. But I see it. I value it.

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To those respectful parents struggling with their inherent value. To those who feel invisible. To those struggling to celebrate themselves. To be a respectful parent is radical. You are a grassroots change-maker. You are top of your own pyramid. Your work is discreet, but you are making a profound difference. The legacy of your respect and kindness will be generational. You are so important. You are enough.

Seasons

Today was tough and amazing. And then tough. And then amazing. And all that can be put down to my head space. Lucy over at Lulastic and the Hippyshake is doing an incredible series on Instagram at the moment tracking the moods of her menstrual cycle. She refers to each stage as a season. Sometimes it takes someone sharing their experience and their perception for you to recognise patterns in yourself that have long been there, but you never knew existed.

I am deep in a cold and blustery winter. It goes the same for me each time round. When I feel internal chaos, I desire external calm. I like things to be tidy. My typically extroverted personality cocoons and I turn inward. I like space. I like to get lost in my head. I want long baths. I want to write and write and write. None of these things are really compatible with sharing a small home with three children and being the only person on call. And this change in me is not typically embraced by those around me. Fun and vibrancy turns to quiet introspection. Enthusiastic yes-es turn more frequently into maybes and noes. Continue reading

The Unschooling Iceberg: What’s Beneath The Surface?

I have a confession. Our life is not how it appears. I have been thinking about this a lot and I want to clear up any confusion. If you check out my Instagram or any of the ‘Unschooling on Tuesday’ posts I write showing you a glimpse of what we get up to in a day, I think it is painting an inaccurate picture. There is a LOT that is left out. And I think it is the most important work.

You see, I truly believe that in a supportive environment, the learning takes care of itself. It is also simple to capture. A child reading a book or doing a science experiment or creating. Obviously, a lot is missed here too, but it is easy to get a quick picture and write a few sentences of your child excavating a fossil and for everyone to feel all warm and fuzzy and think, “oh when they are unschooling they do LEARN. They are MOTIVATED.”

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Respectful Parenting And Unschooling: The Experience Of A Non-Primary Caregiver

Families come in a lot of shapes and sizes. It isn’t always this way, but I know for a lot of families, making decisions about education and parenting styles isn’t unilateral. These decisions are often made jointly between parents or caregivers.

Our family is pretty uncomplicated. My husband and I live together in a happy partnership and the three children we share this adventure with are all ours, so the decisions made about our family are not subject to the opinions of any other party. But along the way we have decided upon an unconventional education route in unschooling and respectful parenting and getting on the same page has involved a lot of listening, reflecting, reading and talking.

This blog is written solely by me and therefore represents my views on our journey getting to this point. I thought it would be interesting to add another perspective, especially that of a non-primary caregiver. I interviewed my husband about his views on our experience, and his views on his own role in our family. Some of the questions were submitted by my readers on Instagram, so thank you!

First, some background on our family situation and my husband. While I do a small amount of consulting work in my field, my husband is the primary earner in our family. He works in a senior corporate role that can be stressful and involves long hours, but it is typically a traditional working week of Monday to Friday. He chooses to start early so he can be home in the evenings with us. He leaves the house before we wake at around 7am and is home by 7pm most days, often a bit earlier. He also travels regularly for work, but he tries to organise his work trips so they are also during the working week.

My husband followed a very standard education path of twelve years of school education and then many years of university after that. In fact, he spent ten years at university, culminating in a PhD. Both of his parents were teachers and he grew up in a very traditional and authoritarian household.

So, let’s get into it. Here is the transcript from our little chat in the car on our recent family holiday.

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How do you feel about where our family is at right now? Continue reading