What dolphins taught me about harmonious family life.

Swimming with Spinner dolphins

I recently had the privilege of swimming with wild dolphins off the Kona coast of the Big Island, Hawaii with dolphin researcher and advocate Roberta Goodman. It taught me a lot about family harmony and living in flow.

I’m not very familiar with dolphins. I’ve seen Bottlenose dolphins playing in the surf in Australia but I’ve never seen a captive dolphin show or been up close in the water. Hawaiian spinner dolphins are much smaller than Bottlenose dolphins and travel in larger pods. They hunt at night in the deep waters off the Kona coast and they come into shallow water during the day to play, sleep and socialize. This brings them into close contact with humans who use these crystal clear waters to fish, surf, dive, sail and swim. These wild dolphins don’t avoid human contact. Long stretches of coastal water are empty of people and yet dolphins linger in the area where boats are gathered and snorkelers are in the water eager to see them. Barbara has been swimming with these dolphins for 20 years and she confirmed that these dolphins seek out and seem to enjoy their interactions with the people who come to meet them.

My son and I were lucky enough to have beautiful calm weather for our morning of dolphin watching. We were with a small group of two guides and 5 visitors. The captain of the boat kept watch for dolphins and dropped us in the water just ahead of where they would swim past. The first few times we were in the water the dolphin pod swam past at their “travelling” speed. We had a short and delightful view as we swam hard to keep pace but we soon dropped behind them. There were a few other boats in the area and other snorkelers in the water waiting for a chance to see the dolphins swim past as they cruised up and down the coast. The dolphins obliged by slowing down and cruising around the gathered observers allowing us to swim alongside them for longer. They started playing with us, swimming up behind us and then zipping past very close. A few times we saw individuals leave the pod and leap up out of the water in a magnificent spin and then slip back into the flow of the dolphin group.

Dolphin consciousness

I lost all sense of time as I watched these delightful creatures. There was so much to take in!  The flow of the pod as they moved through the water was effortless and graceful. They truly moved as one, like a school of fish or a flock of wild birds. And yet, there were also bursts of individual expression as one or more dolphins swerved out of the group to do their own thing. It was clear to me after even this small time observing them that these dolphins experience both a collective consciousness as well as an individual consciousness. Continue Reading →

7 reasons not to set limits with your child.

How many times have you heard someone say that you should be setting clear limits for your child, as if this was the solution to most of the difficult problems that parents face? Many parents believe that if they aren’t setting limits, or they aren’t working effectively, that they are somehow failing.

There are at least 7 reasons why setting limits may not be ideal for your family.

  1. You may have a spirited or determined child who reacts strongly to having limits imposed on them. Some children are strong-willed by nature. They resist their parent’s attempts to control or limit them. This can lead to a great deal of yelling and fighting between parent and child and lingering bad feeling and resentment. No-one knows your child as well as you do. You will intuitively know if a top-down, parent-in-authority approach is not working well in your family.
  2. You may not enjoy the role of rule-maker or authority. Even though many of us were brought up to think that this was an essential part of being a parent, you may have other goals. You may want to be a parent who doesn’t try and control children with limits, consequences and boundaries. You may want to focus on respect and co-operation and finding solutions in partnership with your children.
  3. You may want your children to learn effective problem solving skills. If parents step in and set limits and rules there are missed opportunities for involving children in a problem solving process. When children are introduced to problem solving early in life they gain skills that they can apply throughout their lives. To show your children that there is always a way to find a win-win solution in any conflict is a very precious gift to give them.
  4. Some children appear to comply with limits but then act out in other ways. They may take their frustration out on a sibling or friend, or even start to harm themselves. There are many ways that children react to having power exercised over them and some of these can take years to surface. The fact is that most children hate to be restricted and controlled by their parents. There is a high probability that they will respond by lying, hoarding, sneaking or “acting out” at some stage.
  5. You may think that you love and accept your child while you set limits, but does your child see it this way? Whether a child feels unaccepted or unloved will be a determined by their personality, sensitivity and how many of their behaviours are deemed unacceptable by their parents. Do you want to take the risk that your child ends up feeling unloved when there are other, more peaceful ways of dealing with the issue?
  6. You may question the way that you were brought up and the values behind mainstream parenting. You may even be questioning your own ideas about how children “should behave” and traditional ideas about what behaviour is “right” and “wrong”. You may want to have a more heart-centred and intuitive relationship with your children that allows space for your child to explore, make mistakes and learn from them in a safe and supportive environment.
  7. Perhaps you simply don’t know what else to do. You may have resorted to setting limits because of your own frustration, resentment and overwhelm. Maybe you were feeling controlled by your child and that your own needs were not being met. You may have fallen into the trap of accepting behaviour that you really couldn’t handle. The good news is, it isn’t true that you have to opt for either setting limits or being overly permissive. There is another way.

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5 shifts I made to transform my marriage

My husband and I have shared 16 years of intense, passionate and challenging marriage. Things had been the same way between us for a long time. Then just in the last few months our relationship has changed dramatically. The change is so wonderful I can hardly believe it. The intermittent episodes of strain and disharmony have fallen away. Painful patterns have dissolved. There is more intimacy, deep connection and fun than we have ever experienced before. It’s like a whole new relationship with someone deeply familiar.

What brought about this transformation?

I can only tell my side of the story. It’s a story very much connected to my spiritual awakening. I have experienced five shifts in myself that are now being reflected in my marriage. It still feels a bit weird and I want to pin it down for myself. Somehow writing stuff down makes it seem more real. And maybe something of my experience will resonate with you and help you to find more trust, delight and joy in your relationship too. Continue Reading →

My sons love superheros and I am worried about the violence.

Post on Facebook: “Hi everyone, my 7yo boys currently love anything superhero. They have limited daily screen time and I try to give them as much choice as possible in how they use this (interesting iPad apps, access to certain websites, DVDs) but I feel like I’m constantly battling with them at the moment as all they want are superhero apps and superhero YouTube clips which I am not comfortable with as they have little substance and too much violence and they become obsessive about them. We have a wonderful busy and stimulating life outside of this one part of each day which has become a battleground.”

This is a question that was asked recently in a Facebook group I am in. It leapt out at me, both because of the superhero theme and because of the reminders of my own past struggles and the learning that I gained from them.

This was my response:

“I’m going to to go out on a bit of a limb here as this is such an important issue that I have struggled with myself in the past. It seems from what you say that you value peace and harmony and would like those qualities to be at the forefront of your children’s lives. And yet you say that you are constantly battling with your boys over this issue. I know what that can look and feel like as I went through the same things with my own two boys. I battled with them over their super-keen interest in fighting, questing, gaming, superheros, fantasy, shooting, weapons and all those related subjects. And what that looked like in practice was me getting frustrated, angry, yelling, threatening, trying to control through harsh words and manipulation etc. What I eventually came to realize is that all of these are forms of violence. It was emotional violence that my children were painfully aware of, even when it looked and sounded pretty mild by any conventional standards. And they were both highly sensitive to my words, actions and attitudes. I realized that if I really wanted peace and harmony that I needed to
make these a priority in my relationship with them. I know that my way of relating to them has SO much more impact on their wellbeing than anything they watch on TV or any game they play. Continue Reading →

Don’t blame me!

 

TO BLAME: To think or declare that someone is responsible for a fault or wrong.

Most of us blame without giving it a moment’s consideration. We blame others for hurting us. We blame our child for making a huge mess and ruining our day. We blame our parents for criticising or neglecting us. We blame our partner for not loving us in the way that we want. We blame the guy who ran over our cat and we blame Hitler for starting the Second World War. We are so used to blaming and being blamed that we think it is an inescapable part of human life. If that is what you wish to keep thinking, then read no further. Because I am on a mission to end blame. I want a world without blame, for myself and for all of us.

Never having to say Sorry
I want to be free of my deeply ingrained habit of accepting blame. I want to live without fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. I want to be free of the pain of believing that someone else’s suffering is my fault. I want an end to wallowing in self-judgement and to live without needing to say “I’m sorry.” I have been making myself wrong and apologising my whole life and I’ve had enough. I want to give myself a chance to love and give and shine without the fear of blame.

Refusing to accept blame does not mean that I take no responsibility. In fact I am willing to take 100% responsibility for my own actions, words, thoughts and feelings. But I am no longer willing to take responsibility for anybody else’s. That means that you can go on believing that I ruined your life (or whatever) and I can be quite clear that I am not, and never were, to blame for how you feel. Continue Reading →

How to live well and prosper: life skills that adults and children can learn together.

I am absorbed in an adventure. It is a wild, challenging, unruly adventure that takes place every day in my own home. It is an adventure in learning.

When my family of four embarked on our home education journey over ten years ago my attention was largely focused on the sort of learning that is emphasized by schools and mainstream culture. I was curious and sometimes worried about how my two boys were going to learn to read, write, calculate with numbers and absorb the vast canon of knowledge that is considered fundamental to the task of “getting on in the world.” These matters still occupy some of our time. We enjoy exploring new skills and learning facts about the world. And yet, I think about this sort of learning less and less as time goes on.

The type of learning that fascinates me now is the kind that I am engaged in at much the same level as my children. We are learning alongside each other every day. And what we are learning is far more important to us than the skills and facts of the school model. The focus of our learning is our own wellbeing and purpose in life. It is about discovering the joy of living a unique, precious human life to the very fullest.

The most important thing that we are learning about is ourselves.

We are exploring what excites and delights us most of all:
What do we desire more of in our lives?
What sparks our curiosity and urge to explore?
What can we do today that will give us enjoyment and satisfaction?
What comes easily for us?
What are the gifts that we bring to this life and to those around us? Continue Reading →

It’s time to have more trust in human nature

There is so much confusion about human nature in our society. We all know deep down that we are innately loving, kind, curious and have our own unique intelligence and purpose in life. And for most of us this deep knowing is obscured from an early age by learned beliefs. We pick up a worldview from our parents and the community around us and adopt beliefs that become part of the fabric of our identity. As children and young adults we may be unconscious or only semi-conscious of these deeply held beliefs and our thoughts are influenced by the collective unconscious of the society in which we find ourselves. We may follow a pattern of compliance and “fitting in” to mainstream culture unless something happens to disrupt our lives and throw our beliefs into question. Continue Reading →

Are you worried that your child is addicted to video games?

When you think about the amount of time that your child spends playing video games do the words “obsession” and “addiction” come to mind? Do you fear for your child’s physical and mental health? Is this an issue that keeps you awake at night? This is THE hot topic among parents that I talk to. It generates a huge amount of stress for parents and conflict in families. It’s a big topic and one that is beyond the scope of one post so I am going to focus on one key issue; the fear of gaming addiction.

At the heart of this fear of addiction is the belief that there is something about gaming itself that has the capacity to overwhelm free will and draw a child into a pattern of behaviour that is genuinely harmful. This belief places the child in the role of victim and assumes that the game (or gaming in general) is inherently dangerous. This belief fits comfortably with dominant beliefs in our society about the dangers of other addictive activities and substances. We either fear the activity or substance or we fear that we have an inherent weakness (such as a genetic predisposition) that makes us susceptible to it’s dangers. Either way, if you are believing that something is inherently harmful the most common reaction is to try and control and limit it. Placing time limits on video gaming is considered a responsible practice by many parents for this reason. Some parents take the next step and ban gaming altogether.

What if gaming was not the problem, but rather part of the solution?

What if limiting gaming actually increases the likelihood of compulsive gaming and its negative side effects? Continue Reading →

Spiritual practice can be fun?

How many times have you told yourself that you should meditate because it would be good for you? And how long do your good intentions usually last?

We all know that mediation is supposed to be a good for health and wellbeing. Many of us would like to have a regular spiritual practice that keeps us grounded and in touch with our inner selves. But we also have lives full of other commitments, relationships and activities that take our attention. How often does meditation end up dropping down the list of priorities?

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Is our world dying, or is it waking up?

It is so very, very easy to get lost in despair about the state of our world. Those of us who are passionately in love with the natural environment can become overwhelmed and hopeless or alternatively very angry as we witness the great upheavals of change and loss that are occurring on earth today. Often these changes also bring with them new waves of human suffering. Global warming, pollution, deforestation and extinctions are all increasing and the effects are seen and heard with increasing intensity in the lives of those who care to notice.

I am one of those people who feel most at home while out in nature. It doesn’t really matter what sort of environment. I love being in the sea, walking through the arid landscape of Central Australia or watching birds deep in the forest. I feel most peaceful and alive when I am surrounded by rocks, plants and water. I feel safe, connected and filled with joy when I am alone in a wild landscape.

Continue Reading →

Life is just so exciting

Hello Gentle Readers!

There is a whole lot happening in my life at the moment and I want to let you know about it.

The BIG news is that I have finished writing my book “Being with Children in Peace, Joy and Freedom: A Book of Skills and Resources for Parents.”

After five years of not being particularly interested in my writing project my husband has finally agreed to read the book, give me his comments and correct my hopeless grammar. Once I have made a last round of corrections I will be moving full-steam into the process of publication. I am SO excited to be this close to having a book to share with you.

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A natural flow of desire and challenge

I have these moments when inspiration comes to me. So often it is when I go walking on the mountain near my home. I park the car part way up and then walk the last kilometre up the road to the top. The road climbs up through a tall forest of turpentine and eucalypts. The trees arch over the road creating a leafy vaulted ceiling. When I walk early in the morning the bush is gently peaceful with the choir of birds providing a background chorus. And the smell! The smell! I think that’s what brings me home most quickly. I take deep draughts of the forest smell and I feel instantly calmer and more centered. I come home to presence. I breathe in the aliveness and timeless peace of the forest and I know that I AM.

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When giving is no longer helpful

I have spent most of the last 14 years feeling overwhelmed by parenting. Thankfully, this has eased up a lot in the last few years but that familiar feeling still comes to visit. It feels much more subtle than it used to but it can still have me in tears and even make me feel sick. I felt the classic signs of a cold coming on this week. When I lay down and meditated I felt the familiar heaviness, exhaustion and despair that overwhelm brings.

What are the other classic signs of parental overwhelm?

  • I feel the urge to complain, and it is usually about my children.
  • I want to blame somebody, and it is usually my children.
  • I get grumpy, irritated and reactive towards my children.
  • I burst into tears at the drop of a hat.

Continue Reading →

I have learned so much about myself from my children

I love to bask in the vitality and joy that my children beam out every day. I love to see how much they are enjoying life, learning and achieving their own goals. But it has not always been so rosy.

What I have seen in my children has also been confronting. There were things about them that I simply didn’t like. There were behaviours that I struggled with and dearly wished to see gone. What I have come to see clearly is that these aspects of my children that I disliked were things that I had not been able to accept in myself.

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Have I missed any great parenting books?

I am getting close to finishing the book that I have been working on for the last five years and I plan on publishing it this year. It is titled Being with Children in Peace, Joy and Freedom: A book of Skills and Resources for Parents. One of the aims of the book is to bring together a list of resources on peaceful parenting. At this stage, I am asking for your help to find out if I have missed something great that I should be including in this list.

I want to include books and websites that support peaceful, joyful parenting. I exclude any resources that advocate discipline (unless it is self-discipline), punishment of any kind and parent-imposed limits or consequences. I am also excluding books and websites that focus on the parenting aspects of home education and unschooling as I wish the book to appeal to the widest possible audience.

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What to do about strong fears and persistent worries

There are times when my fears and worries about my children have overwhelmed and overtaken me. It has helped my a great deal to identify and name my fears. I have feared failure as a parent: that my children will not be happy and healthy and that I will be judged by others. I have feared that my children will get hurt, physically or emotionally. These fears and others like them underpin many of the problems I have experienced with my children. My fear can drive a need for my child to learn certain skills or to behave in a certain way. It can drive me to control, manipulate and pressure my children. It has really helped to examine these fears closely and to question my belief in them.

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How can I help with my child’s problems?

“Exude the state of being that you want your child to end up with and they will find their way to that.” Bentinho Massaro.

Being genuinely helpful to my children when they have problems is something that brings joy into my life. I want to give help that is calm, supportive and that increases my child’s confidence in their own ability to help themselves. This did not come naturally for me, at least not to the extent that I would have liked. It was a skill that required a lot of practice as well as a lot of unlearning of old, unhelpful habits. For example, I often fell into the trap of trying to fix a problem when my help was not requested. My child would react to my intrusion and I would become part of the problem.

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The wisdom of gaming

I think most parents would accept that it is important for children to have time to play. In fact, many of us think that it is great for children to have lots of time to play. Things get more complicated when we start to talk about different types of play. When I was a child I spent a lot of time playing outdoors. I climbed trees, mucked around in the backyard, played games of cricket in the street with neighbours and siblings, went exploring in the bush nearby and spent hours playing with friends in the local pool. When indoors I liked to build and to make things. All of these activities were encouraged by my parents and seen as good, healthy forms of play. Flash forward to the lives of my own two children and things look a lot different.

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Understanding our reactions to teasing

There is no doubt about it. Seeing our children be teased or criticised by others can be tricky. I so clearly remember my own reactions to my child being teased; the rush of pain and defence when I heard the comment made. The desperate wanting to protect my child from the pain I felt sure they must be experiencing. Feeling my own anger rising as my mind reached out to attack the person who did this. It is all so familiar and so unpleasant. And my reactions always led to more conflict and unpleasant feelings, not less.

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Daily tooth brushing and peaceful parenting: can they coexist?

“It is my responsibility to make sure that my son cleans his teeth every day,” I used to believe this very firmly. So do many parents I know. It seems like a reasonable belief until you have a child (or two!) that refuses to brush their teeth despite repeated requests. No amount of explanation as to why this is an important thing to do would change his mind. In these circumstances this belief can generate a lot of conflict, anxiety and stress – and it did.

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How I discovered the joys of less doing and more Being

Do you ever feel exhausted, overwhelmed or resentful as a result of what you do as a parent? Do you find that there are times when it all gets too much and you start loosing your temper and yelling at your children? I used to experience this often. I understand, now, that these were symptoms of over-doing. I was pushing myself to do way too much and believing that I had no choice. It seemed as if parenting was such a bottomless pit of work that feeling overwhelmed was inevitable. Fortunately, I have discovered that over-doing is not inevitable or incurable. The solution is less doing and more Being.

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Food, glorious food: our journey from nightmare to nourishment

I love food and I love caring for my body with the best food that I can provide. Until I had children, I thought that I had no real issues around food. It wasn’t a big deal for me. Having children changed all that. Not straight away, of course, but over a couple of years I gradually felt myself descending into a nightmare of anxiety and conflict that I had never experienced before.

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How will my children learn to stick at things?

I have chosen to have a relationship with my children that is free of punishment or rewards. We don’t have rules and I don’t force my children to do what I want. It might sound crazy to many people but it works wonderfully well for us. As I discussed in my last post, I don’t push my children to do things that I think will be good for them. So how do they learn to stick at things? Do they manage to master new skills that require a lot of effort? Amazingly enough, they do!

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Swimming, riding a bike, reading, piano … should I push my child to do these things?

An issue that I have discussed with friends and family many times in the last few years is whether, as parents, we should push our children to do things that we think will be beneficial for them.

Consider this scenario. I have a great plan for my son to learn to ride a bike. I just know that he will love it once he has got the hang of it. I am also really keen to get him out doing some healthy outdoor exercise. My son seems open to the idea, even excited. I go out and spend $300 dollars on a beautiful new bike for Christmas. I research the best way to teach a child to ride a bike. Off we go to the park and find a nice gentle grassy slope. My son gets on the bike while I hold it for him. I push it gently down the slope holding on at first. I let go and he starts rolling down the slope. He falls off and lands in the grass. After that he won’t get back on the bike again.

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I grow what I choose to give attention to

What you resist will persist. This has been such an important lesson for me to learn. It is so easy to resist things about our children, to not accept them as they are. How many times have I wanted to change something about my child? Somehow the problems came to dominate my thinking.

Unfortunately, focusing on what I wished would change did not seem to help. This is because you grow what you give attention to. What shows up in our lives is a direct reflection of our inner thoughts and emotions. If we devote our minds to what we don’t want we end up noticing it everywhere.

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Finding deep peace in parenting

I received the most extraordinary gifts when my children were born. These two people that entered my life have beamed out love, beauty and aliveness every day of their lives. They brought such delight into my life. And yet, living with and caring for them also challenged me to an extent that I was totally unprepared for. I was challenged so profoundly that it completely transformed my life. I have experienced liberation through parenting. Yes, I know that sounds weird, but bear with me.

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What about setting limits?

Of all the issues that come up for parents one of the most difficult and confusing is the one of when to say Yes and when to say No. And yet it’s the issue that comes up most often. No wonder so many parents are stressed.

The reason it comes up so often is that children have wants – and lots of them. They want to explore their world, to stay at the park, to have ice cream, to watch that movie on TV and for you to buy them the latest toy or game. It can go on and on. Working out what to say in response to all that wanting can be difficult. It is an ongoing challenge for me to speak the simple words Yes and No with clarity, honesty and integrity. I am still experimenting and learning every day and I want to share what I have discovered so far.

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