Monday, 31 August 2009

Making Friends With Uncertainty, and Never Saying Never

It seems that uncertainty is to be my friend for a little longer. At this point I don't know where I will be working or living in a month's time. Something that probably wouldn't have unduly disturbed me in my pre-motherhood life, but is now requiring a lot of concentration on 'letting go and letting God'.

The company where I started a job just over a week ago, can only offer me a month's contract due to needing someone to work full-time. 'Discrimination', says a little voice in my head - after all, I'm a mother of a pre-schooler, I'm not on an even playing field here - but I'm trying to see it more as a sign that there's somewhere else more suited to me. search begins again. Exciting things are happening on the living situation front, though: together with a friend, I am looking at creating a 'conscious community' of like-minded people to live together in Brighton or Hove, from October. At the moment fliers are circulating on the web, and soon to be distributed in real life too. I feel positive about finally creating a living environment that reflects my values, and sharing it with people who feel the same about the planet and about spirituality.

A big 'letting go' is coming in the area of childcare with so much about parenting, I've discovered once again the truth of 'never say never'. Never say you won't do something, because you probably will, whether it's shout at your child, give them sweets or...put them in nursery.

After reading Oliver James' Affluenza and Steve Biddulph's Raising Babies: Why Your Love is Best - Should Under 3's Go to Nursery, I was dead set against the idea of J ever going to a group care situation before the age of three. There are lots of reasons which I won't go into here (I've probably discussed it on another post anyway), but basically I'm now finding that a nursery for 4 hours a week is the best way to meet my childcare need. A good friend whose little boy went to nursery at 10 months and has thrived, (to the point where he doesn't want to come home sometimes!), has reassured me a lot, but even so, I feel sad about letting go of one of my 'big ideals' in parenting. J starts his first 'settling in' sessions at a small private nursery next week.

The funny thing is, everything seems to be coming together at the right time. Even two months ago I would never have imagined J being ready for this amount of separation from me, and not being left with people he knew well. He has always been incredibly 'attached'. But just recently, he's taken great strides forward in his 'independence' (I hate using that word in relation to such dependent beings as babies and toddlers, but you know what I mean) and ability to withstand separation. He is genuinely enjoying the company of other children and seeking them out. Just a few days ago I watched him run around the park, with complete confidence, initiating games with children older than him and not looking back to me once. I felt proud - and, yes, a little sad. But more relieved than anything else.

After investigating child-minding options and finding that they're basically the same as a nursery but with less staff, I decided a nursery would provide more safety and peace of mind for me - and having seen the staff from this nursery out and about with children several times, and being impressed with their warm, natural and 'non-hovering' interactions, I decided to try this particular one. My other childcare hours will be taken up by a very kind friend who's doing a 'swop' with me, and by J's dad who has a day off.'s not that bad really.

J has, so far, adapted remarkably well to all the changes, but at the moment he has a cold and his need for 'mummy' has come out a bit more. I'm finding an unexpected side-effect of working part-time is that I appreciate my time with him more, and am more able to focus on him when necessary (except when I'm stressed!) We spent a week at a friend' s house and he loved playing with her children, barely noticing that we were outside of our usual environment.

What's been getting me through all of the uncertainty and change is a very simple, yet amazingly effective breathing exercise from Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, which I got from his book 'Be Free Where You Are'. Doing it twice a day, and whenever I feel tense or need a 'pick-me-up', is helping me to stay calm and be in the present moment. I highly recommend it! Prior to that, I was doing a Kundalini Yoga meditation called 'Creating Self Love' daily for a couple of weeks, and I'm now also doing the Buddhist metta bhavana (loving-kindness) meditation - on myself. As a mother, continually giving, I'm finding I need to give some of this energy to myself.

And it's coming out in unexpected ways, with more energy and inspiration for my creativity. My novel has sprung back into my consciousness again this past week, and I've been scribbling away, really enjoying the characters and feeling them come alive. Who knows when I'll ever finish it, but for now it's great to be inspired to write.

Well, I think that's enough from me for now! Next time I hope to update you on the developments with the budding 'conscious community', and on how J does with nursery.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The end of Stay-at-Home Mom-hood - and control vs authenticity

Has it really been two weeks since I last posted? I've been running around like a whirling dervish, applying for jobs and going for interviews. It's been both nerve-wracking and exhilirating. I'm sad at having to let go of my Stay at Home mom role, but necessity calls now that I am officially a single mom. Big transitions all round. I'm doing a trial first day at a new part-time job next week - nothing creative or particularly inspiring, alas, but in a way I like to save my creative energies for my writing and parenting. The main considerations right now are, of course, money, and using as little childcare as possible - so, this audio transcription job having flexible hours appealed to me.

Being faced with the prospect of less time with J has brought me more into the present moment with him: I'm appreciating our time together more, almost soaking up his every smile and joke - and even enjoying the truly boring moments of watching him move his little cars around. Part of letting go of SAHM-hood is letting go of the notion that I can control every aspect of my son's experience. The reality is that he will now be spending fairly significant amounts of time with other care-givers than me (although I'm not doing group care, I believe he is too young for that), and this can feel scary! But a book I've read recently, 'Raising our Children, Raising Ourselves' by Naomi Aldort (listed on my recent post about my top 13 inspiring books) has helped me to feel more confident that I can ride the wave with my son, whatever happens, and stay connnected to him and myself in the process.

This is a really mind-blowing book - beware! It is all about letting go of control, in favour of authenticity. I think if everyone parented this way, we'd have a hell of a lot less neuroticism and fascism in the world. It's all about treating your child with the same respect you would any adult. Letting go of the notion that you can control any other human being. All you can do is gently guide and show them through your own behaviour, how to treat other people, and help them to deal with their emotions lovingly.

It's more than a little radical! Most of us have been brought up with rewards and punishment and other forms of manipulation to get us to 'behave'. And I think most of us struggle at least a little with self-esteem and figuring out what WE really want to do. Although there's no way to bring up a child that guarantees they will be secure, Aldort describes a formula called 'SALVE' that allows us to parent more authentically, and thus help our children to keep their own authenticity.

The SALVE formula involves first of all, separating yourself from your child's behaviour and emotions with a silent self-talk. When our child does something, an automatic tape starts to play in our head: for example 'He is naughty. He shouldn't do that. If I don't stop it, he'll be an out of control brat' - sound familiar? When you can work through that in your own head, realise that it is only old beliefs and not 'the truth' in this moment, you are able to resist reacting automatically, and give yourself space to respond authentically and lovingly. You are then able to apply the 'A' of the formula: 'Attention on your child'.

'L' stands for 'Listen to your child's words and non-verbal communication'. This will help you understand where he/she is coming from, and what he/she may need. 'V' is for 'Validate your child's feelings and the needs he expresses'. So, for example: 'You feel angry because you really wanted that toy. It's hard to share sometimes' instead of 'You must share. Give that toy back right now!' which only disempowers the child and causes resentment, not a genuine desire to share.

Finally, 'E' stands for 'Empower your child to resolve his own upset by getting out of his way and trusting him'. This means not rushing to fix everything, and trusting that children can come up with their own solutions when they feel trusted, safe and free of parents' expectations. Aldort gives many practical examples of how this works, and how important it is for a child to genuinely make a free choice to do something, rather than be forced to. It's no use if someone is being kind only to earn brownie points - we want to give space for the inherent kindness of children to develop, and that involves not being unkind to them with manipulation.

Aldort's book gave me the practical understanding and tools to apply the concepts I first read about in Alfie Kohn's 'Unconditional Parenting', which I've also written about previously on here. In applying the 'SALVE' formula, and trying to understand J through the different needs that Aldort describes - love, freedom of expression, emotional safety, autonomy and power, self-confidence - I have found a huge difference in our relationship. Mostly, I'm simply enjoying it more, because it takes the struggle out of parenting. So much of our struggle comes from these old tapes that play in our head, and not being in the moment. When we can let go of those, it's hugely liberating. Still, it takes a lot of faith and trust to let go of old control models! I'm reassured by comments from other mothers who practice this kind of parenting, who say that others often remark on how well-adjusted and kind their children are - and of adults who were brought up in this way, saying how much self-confidence and security they've always had.

I'll end with a quote from the book: 'At each tough moment with your child, you have a choice: to stop the child's way of being so you can stay devoted to your old ways or to grow into the greater person you can become by flowing with your child's journey. She is your teacher. Self-directed and self-realized people grow in families where parents are growing up side by side with their children.' (Aldort, 2005, xvi).

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Change - and Getting Unstuck

Every month I create a list of writing goals, many of which I end up 'carrying over' to the next month. But at the end of July, I was surprised to see that without thinking about it too much, I've achieved all but three of my nine goals. One of the goals I enjoyed reaching the most, was my first 'reunion' poetry performance in a long while, with the Writing Sisters Collective at the Brighton Poetry Society evening. Not too bad, considering the amount of personal upheaval in my life at the moment.

Yes, I am going through big changes in my domestic situation, which I don't yet feel ready to write about on here. But an unexpected direction in my writing this month has been starting a new children's story, called 'Petra the Pixie'.

I wrote a children's book called 'Journey Through The Elements' a few years ago, inspired by walking through a beautiful woods near Kirstenbosch in Cape Town, South Africa. I literally 'spoke the story aloud' to myself as I walked, and then came home and wrote it down. It took a couple of years to finish, and then a while later I developed an alternative, much shorter version for younger readers called 'The Lonely Oak'. One of my incomplete goals for July was to rework this story. However, I've been inspired by Ruby and the Star, a beautiful story written by one of the moms at my mothers' writing group, and am now thinking about different directions that I could go in trying to reach an audience with 'The Lonely Oak'. Right now I'm looking for an illustrator - any takers?

'Petra the Pixie' was birthed out of a writing exercise, adapted from one by Julia Cameron (author of 'The Artist's Way' and 'The Right to Write' among other amazing books): Imagine you're sitting against a tree. A storyteller is sitting on the other side - what do they look like? What kind of story is he or she going to tell you?'ve guessed it...simply write the story.

In fact I started writing the story during one of J's naps, sitting against - yes, a tree - in Hove Park, after attending an NCT summer picnic. It's about faery dust and the wishes of children, and it's a lovely bit of escapism from the rather raw reality of my life at the moment.

In trawling the web for writing exercises for my group, I've come across some lovely work by others. I'll leave you with these questions from The Writing Nag, a rather useful blog I discovered recently. It's about how to fine-tune your creativity by getting blocks out the way; becoming more organised and just getting on with it (never my strong point).

1. What one thing could you do this week to feel more organized? feel less stressed? help your finances?

2. What have you been procrastinating? Why? Can you schedule this task or ask for help in getting it done?

3. What are you missing in your creative life?

4. When I think about ____________________, I feel overwhelmed.

5. I'd like to call/email/write _________________.

6. If I was my boss, I would have fired myself for _____________.

7. One habit that I could change that would positively impact my writing (or whatever form of creativity is your bag) goals is __________.