Guest Post: Meaningful Work For Toddlers

(I asked my dear friend Liza to write this guest post because she has experience in weaving a life full of meaningful tasks that her twin toddlers do to help nurture their home.  What a wonderful experience they are having, and I thought her experience could help some of you out there who might be wondering about what kind of work toddlers could do!  Enjoy!)


Dear Friends,

I am a new mom, almost three years into parenting twins, and am humbled each day by what my children teach me.  How it is the simple things that bring them the most wonder:   the slow and steady journey of a snail’s trek across the patio, grandmother moon shining bright on a sunny day, how every flower on our morning walk is met with reverence and a deep inhale.  From them I am learning to slow down and settle into the sweetness of their early years.

I have also come to learn that time spent with my children at home is ultimately the most rewarding, for them and for me as well.  It is better than a visit to the playground, an organized class, or family adventure.   A bowl of sudsy water and a cup is like a trip to the ocean, dawdling around in our urban backyard feels like foraging through the forest and work- real work done with their hands (and mine) is deeply enriching. So we nest a lot, building and strengthening our home, caring for the objects and animals that surround us and attending to our rhythm.  Basically…doing lots of things with our hands.

When Hannah and Eli were born I joined the Christopherus Waldorf at Home Forum and there (enter angels singing and skies parting), was a group of mothers whose wisdom, humor and intelligence cradled my nascent mothering soul. Carrie was one of these inspired mothers/mentors.  I brought to this group my deepest anxieties, my ‘silliest’ questions, my fears and self doubts.  And trust me, there were a lot. But ultimately I brought to them my children to help me nurture, support and love more fully.

The sub-forum for those with children under seven was a particularly lively and active group.   We discussed everything about living with small children- from the practical aspects of coordinating nap-time, to building rhythm into our days, to finding love for your children when they do not seem so lovable. Overwhelm, burn out, and irritability came to the forum most days, right along side sibling conflict, strong emotions (formally known as tantrums), and whining.  From beneath the words of encouragement showered on each mama’s struggles you could almost hear the soothing siren song of this unspoken mantra:

slow down sweet mama,

take a deep breath,

you are doing a great job.

look gently within (take responsibility for what you might be contributing

and then forgive yourself),

connect back in with that little spirit who wants only to be loved.

And find some work to do with their hands

And so while the first four tasks are surely all parents’ karmic work (we have chosen the ultimate “path of service” it seems- the one that gives us access to expansive love…and a whole mess of other feelings), I leaned into the challenge of finding jobs for my children. And you know what?  It works.

At eighteen months we started small: stirring mama’s tea in the morning, grinding daddy’s coffee beans, making the morning eggs.  That bowl of sudsy ocean water soon had spoons and a sponge in it- a towel on the side to dry them with. The spray bottle entered our world and washing windows began- bliss was known.  Folding laundry became a game of discovery, an opportunity to run through the house delivering missing washcloths to the bathtub and napkins to the napkin drawer.

As time passed we found more work to do.  We stirred pancakes, made endless batches of muffins (and delivered them to the neighbors promptly lest they were all eaten by mama), made soup, pickles and bread.  The salad spinner is just as likely to be found on the countertop as it is the floor, the back deck…the living room.  Did you know you can spin almost anything?  We learned to pour with a pitcher, cut with a knife, peel with a peeler, use the cherry pitter, cheese grater and whisk.

We wash woolies in the bathtub, then wrap them in towels, stomp on them like grapes and hang them from a makeshift line under the kitchen island. That is a full morning’s work.  Bringing in the groceries one by one down our long apartment hallway to the kitchen still ranks high in the ‘fun things to do with daddy’ category- running fast like kitty cats with the apples, slow like turtles with the eggs.

There is a pride that emanates from a little one who has just accomplished a task they have watched you do over and over.  You can see it in their faces, their bodies and their spirit.  When they ask, “Mama, I do it!” I nudge you to let them try.  It is indeed messy, there is of course some risk, you may need to come back later and do it over.  But really, the rewards are huge.

I am still working to “de-mechanize” our day so that my daughter, whom I keep close to my side lest she finds her very capable hands pulling her brother’s hair or knocking over his carefully constructed ‘hayride’, is included in my housework.  Then my son who is only sometimes interested in working can play nearby and join in when he is inclined- apparently they have an agreement that he has claim over the salad spinner when the time comes to use it. And so it goes that sibling conflict is greatly reduced when we are busily working.  Self-esteem and positive exchange between all family members swells.

I recently bought some special wool felt to make a banner for the children’s play space- an attempt to add crafty to my day.  I put this little project in a basket in the living room so that I could attend to it when there was a free moment- idealistic I know.  When my daughter happened upon the basket of carefully folded rainbow felt she exclaimed, “my laundry!” as if it had been missing for years.

Yes, love, that is exactly what it is.

She has since added some kitchen towels, a couple of matchbox cars…a wooden chicken.  I often find her in the window folding her laundry and singing a little song. “Just a moment,” nodding over in my direction, “I am almost done folding the laundry”.

And so it is that imagination trips on the heels of imitation.

The forum ended a few months back and I missed the chance to heart-fully thank the women for all they had given me, to my children…to our family.  When Carrie asked me to write something up about work and toddlers I thought- what could I, fledgling mama, share with you?  And then I heard that siren song and I remembered the mantra, the trick that helps me shepherd two  often cranky toddlers through the day… and helps them back into their much more important work of play.  Thank you Carrie.  And thank you mamas.

Here are some ideas for including toddlers in your work…and play.  I would  sure love to hear what you are all up to!

  • Load/unload the dishwasher with supervision
  • Wash silverware ( in a little basin)
  • Learn to use a sharp knife; grating
  • Practice pouring into a glass
  • Stir, pour, play with flour/dough, etc.
  • Make coffee for daddy- press button on grinder
  • Spread butter on toast
  • Pick the leaves of kale, tear lettuce, spin in dryer
  • Shell peas
  • Scramble eggs
  • Unload groceries
  • Spray and wipe windows and bathroom walls
  • Wash tub with sponge and baking soda
  • Polish wooden toys/furniture
  • Hand me items from the laundry basket as I fold and then help carry to each room/drawer OR I have a basket ready in each room and I hand the kids an article each from the clean laundry and they deliver it to the appropriate room.
  • Sweep
  • Help take out garbage cans/bring back in
  • Get napkins and silverware for table
  • Water plants outside
  • Dig hole for new plants
  • Practice training dog with treats
  • Learning to iron
  • Polishing silver
  • Help make bed

Some additional resources have supported me:

Allison Carrol, Director

http://www.sfwaldorf.org/programs/earlychildhoodprogram.asp

And this verse by Steiner:

Into my will,

let there pour strength.

Into my feeling,

let there flow warmth.

Into my thinking,

Let there shine light.

That I might nurture this child

with enlightened purpose,

caring with heart’s love

and bringing wisdom

into all things.

With love,

Liza, mama to Hannah Simone and Elijah Moon

Thank you Liza, for sharing your experience…

Many blessings to you all,

Carrie

Following Through

One of the hardest parts of parenting is developing our own will to not waffle back and forth on “following through” in discipline.  We really can learn to  follow through calmly on what we said we would do when a child does something that is not part of the rules in our family.

To do this, I think one has to have in mind what the rules of the house or family actually are, and also the developmental expectations for that age.   Think to yourself:  can this child of this age meet the rules of the house or family, and in what way?  What is my part in this as the parent, and what is my child’s part?  The younger the child is, the more it is up to you to help the child.

Continue reading

Walking The Walk

The Collect for today, Easter Thursday, has to do with showing in our lives that which we profess to believe.  It seemed a very nice way to say that statement so many of us have heard: “Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk.”

In many times, this can be the most daunting part of parenting. Our lives become transparent and our children see all the parts, even the parts we think we have hidden from them.  We cannot be less than our authentic selves; our children know.

This leaves us with really having to work on ourselves.  What do we honestly think is real, true, sacred, noble?  How do we show this in our lives to our children without saying a word?  Are there areas in our lives that don’t match up with what we say we believe?  And if this is so, how do we make all areas of our lives align with what we say we believe?

This alignment comes with sacrifice sometimes, and requires an exertion of will.  If we do the same things over and over again with less than satisfactory results, than we must overcome our own inertia and do something different.

We live in this strange age where thoughts and feelings fly over technology; action is done by a push of a button. We have forgotten how to live in concert with the season and almost seem surprised when weather intrudes on our lives.  It leads to a situation,where quite frankly, we often don’t have to do much  exertion of  our own will anymore.  I wrote a post about developing the adult will some time ago and was just looking at it today:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/04/30/the-adult-will-and-how-to-develop-it/

Rudolf Steiner gave an interesting exercise to help in the development of initiative and control of the will.  He proposed choosing an activity that is simple and perhaps unrelated to what you normally would do at that time of day, such as just opening and shutting a door or window or watering a plant, and do it at the same time every day.  

I think the other piece of developing the will that can be hard in this day and age is  to think and come to grips with the fact that we cannot “have it all” and when we do things on a consistent basis that are not in line with our professed values, it ripples an effect into our lives, and into our children’s lives.  So, I ask you does it foster in you the real, the true, the sacred, the noble?

I know in this impersonal electronic medium, these thoughts have the possibility of coming off as unloving or holier than thou or damning.   None of this is my intent.  It is just questions for you to ask yourself: how does my walk match my talk and how could I align these two things more and more for my own holistic health and that of my children?

Many blessings,

Carrie

This Week In Discipline–MAPIT

M-  Movement.  Approach your under the age of 7 child with an idea about movement.  Use movement with your words to get done what needs to be done.

A- Attachment.  You can be home all day with your child, yet never really connect.  Connect with your child.

P- Positive Attitude and Patience.  Children are little, you are going to have to go over and over and over this.

I- Imitation.  Children imitate your every gesture, and what you do in your work in nurturing your family.

T- Take your time.  Calm down, breathe, give a minute to answer.

Many blessings,

Carrie

Step Up And Be The Parent

Just for today, step up and be the parent.

Just for today, stop making excuses and explaining all the reasons things can’t happen in your household and just make it happen. 

Just for today, live your life in accordance with your values in front of your children.

Just for today, model how you want your children to behave.

Just for today, show your children the world is a place of beauty, truth and goodness.

Just for today, have empathy for all the hardships present in growing up.

Just for today, speak to your children kindly, even if they are not speaking kindly to you.

Just for today, get a sense of humor.

Just for today, set boundaries and stick calmly to those boundaries even  if your children don’t like it.

Just for today, be the parent you want to be for the sake of your grandchildren.

Just for today, have fun.

Just for today, step up and be the parent because you are the only parent your children have.

Love to all,

Carrie

Benign Neglect

Lately I have been receiving emails from mothers who are frustrated with their children’s behaviors and can recount every small thing their child does (or does not do!)  The cycle seems to be a difficult one to break as mother and child get locked into battle positions.

May I suggest something to try? 

Benign neglect.  A tad of benign neglect.  Benign neglect is that art of discernment in parenting; in knowing what really needs your full attention and truly needs to be addressed, but in also knowing what needs to not be seen and what should  have a blind eye on the part of the parent!   It is being fully present yet knowing that the best way to respond at times is not to respond.  For example, the discernment of knowing that your child can come up with a cure for their own boredom, for example,  when you stop drawing such consciousness to it and keep on with your own work whilst being fully present.

Therefore, based upon that, I think one of the best ways to work with benign neglect is rhythm and real work.  Everything does not fall apart when one child falls apart.  That child is loved, but dinner is still served, joy is still there and life is happening, come back and join us, small child.

The other place where benign neglect starts is through your own inner work.   You must carry your own confidence and know that putting every behavior to psychoanalysis is not only unnecessary, but also harmful.   I see so many mothers today putting out fear and anxiety in their parenting.   Sideways parenting through just planting the small seeds of things is ever so much more effective in the long run of parenting.  Think stories, think your own work and space and time.

Give your child space to breathe.  Give them room to make mistakes and to fix those mistakes.  Laugh and find the joy and humor.

Live your life and enjoy it.   Here is a rather old post on the topic of letting go, but I think it still stands:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/28/letting-go/

Many blessings,

Carrie

When Your Children Are At Their Worst….

You need to be at your best.

You need to set the tone.  Quietly.

You need to calm down.

You need to use your hands gently to help.

You need to approach your child in a true manner that shows you actually want to help them.

You need to be able to pass this duty to someone else in your family if you cannot do it right this minute.  This does not mean you have failed, it means you are human.

You need to still be able to love your child, even if you don’t like them this minute.

You need to know this too shall pass.

You need to know life is full of these moments.

You need to know there is no perfect peaceful house.

You need to know that your child is not doing this on purpose.

You need to know your child loves you and wants to connect with you more than anything.

You need to know you are doing your best.

Many blessings today and every day,

Carrie

Collecting And Connecting To A Challenging Child

In our last post, we looked at the four things the authors of “Hold On To Your Kids:  Why Parents Need To Matter More Than Peers” outlined in regards to “collecting” our children after separation.  You can see that post here:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2011/02/01/hold-on-to-your-kidscollecting-our-children/

I got a wonderful comment on this post that basically stated it didn’t seem as if the steps outlined in this chapter would really work for a child that was either in a truly difficult developmental stage and where parent and child were feeling disconnected or perhaps in a situation where a lot of separation was going on due to life circumstances.

I have a few thoughts about this and I hope if you are in this sort of  situation you will go through these suggestions and take what resonates with you and your family.

  • If you are in the situation where separation is occurring frequently, is there a way to pare things down?  Sometimes families cannot pare it down due to work obligations or school, but if the separation is due to things outside of school and such, perhaps it is worth investigating cutting activities outside the home down.  Can you pare down how many hours you are working outside the home?  Could you possibly homeschool this child to give them extra time at home?  What can you do with extracurricular activities?    Many families will put a stop on sports for part of the year and just enjoy family activities.  Some families will say no activities at the dinner hour.  Perhaps if separation is occurring due to these extra activities, these need to be looked at within the context of the needs of the whole family.  Sometimes we have to give things up in order to gain things.  Simplify.
  • Get out a piece of paper and write down what separation is occurring each day and what happens before the separation and what happens after you and your child are reunited.  What rituals are there around going out the door, or reconnecting after school or work?
  • Do you cook and eat dinner together most nights?  This is really important and well worth the effort.
  • Do you parent your child to sleep?  This is important for all children, but for children nine and older, this may be the ONLY time they open up about their day. It is important to be able to give your child this time.
  • What do you do on weekends?  Is there a family activity one afternoon a week?  Even if children protest, this is an important ritual to establish. It does not have to be expensive, and can involve something as simple as hiking, taking a walk, bathing the dog, having tea.
  • Are you speaking this child’s love language?  Here are the back posts on that: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/06/16/how-to-work-with-the-love-languages-of-children/   and this one:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/06/13/loving-children-in-their-love-language/
  • What kind of language do you use daily with this child?  (http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/08/19/using-our-words-like-pearls/)   Do you connect with this child through your warmth and love throughout the day?  Do you consider yourselves on the same side and maintain your calmness whilst you help your child meet the rules and boundaries of your family?  
  • Boundaries foster security.  If you are being a jellyfish in your family,  (see this back post for an explanation of what a jellyfish is:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/02/10/what-kind-of-family-are-you/) now is your time to stop.  It is not punitive to consider logical consequences for behavior that you would not want your child to do to any relative or friend!
  • If your child is very enmeshed with peers, is there a way to change the scenery?  Is there a way to limit time with peers?
  • If you are going through a rough patch with a child, actually spending more time together and not less is often a key to drawing closer and communicating.  Some mothers I know have even brought their most difficult child home to homeschool with excellent results.
  • Meditate and pray about this child and carry this into your sleep and see what new insights come to you in the morning.  You have the keys to help this child within yourself. You really do!
  • Go slow.  Things are not going to change overnight.  I suggest you look at this as taking at least a six month period.  Write things out on a piece of paper, your plan, and put it into action.  Tweak as you need to, but start small with something tomorrow. 

I would love to hear the experiences of mothers who have survived a difficult period of connection with their child and came out even stronger in the end.  Do you have a story like that to share with us?

Many blessings,

Carrie

A Guest Post: Take Pause With The 10 X 7 Rule

I have a lovely reader who told me about a valuable tool she uses to “keep calm and carry on”.  It was so profound that I asked her to write a guest post and share her thoughts with all of you.  Thank you, Jennifer S.!

Take Pause

by Jennifer S.

"Our behavior is a reflection of who we are at the moment. Hating your child’s behavior is like saying you don’t love the part of your child that wants to behave that way." Author Unknown

My mother was a gem. She mothered me like a lot of others mothers did in the early 70’s – the natural way. Quite frankly, she mothered me in the spirit of Rudolf Steiner’s teachings without knowing who Rudolf Steiner was. My memories of how I was mothered, coupled with my inherent nature and my experience teaching Waldorf preschool have all shaped how I mother my 22- month –old- daughter. I’d venture to say to that I am doing an exceptional job. But I do have my moments. We all do. After all, we are mothers which typically means we wear a couple of hundred hats a week. We are allowed to be human and to have not so stellar mothering moments.

For me, the hardest part of mothering is not having that knee jerk reaction to behavior I consider bothersome or unwanted. I get in a tunnel sometimes and when my daughter does something that pulls me out of my mothering tunnel, I find that I react with an immediate exasperated sigh. I hate this. I do it more when I am tired and feeling like the weight of the world is upon me. (Which it is – I am, after all raising a human being!) I am conscious of the fact that I do this and I am also conscious of the downcast look on my daughter’s face.

I know mothers who do this very same thing and often times their reactions are even more extreme. Dealing with unwanted behavior (and by unwanted, I am referring to behavior that is annoying to us as mothers, not behavior that can cause harm to the child or others) is a daily, hourly, sometimes minute by minute challenge. So how can mothers put their negative reactions in check in an effort to be a peaceful parent to their child?

When I asked myself this question about a year ago, I thought back to my gem of a mother and some pearls of wisdom she provided me with long ago as I struggled with little ones both as a nanny and in a preschool setting. She told me to “take pause” and consider what impact your child’s behavior will have in seven different increments of time. I asked her what she meant by “seven increments of time.” It turns out that it is very simple and quite frankly works. When your child acts in a way that causes you annoyance, exaggeration, anxiety and the like, take pause and consider the following:

  • What impact will your child’s current behavior have on you and others in 10 seconds?
  • What impact will your child’s current behavior have on you and others in 10 minutes?
  • What impact will your child’s current behavior have on you and others in 10 hours?
  • What impact will your child’s current behavior have on you and others in 10 days?
  • What impact will your child’s current behavior have on you and others in 10 weeks?
  • What impact will your child’s current behavior have on you and others in 10 months?
  • What impact will your child’s current behavior have on you and others in 10 years?

For me, I usually calm down and am no longer irritated with my child by the time I hit “10 days.” I very rarely have to look much further down the timeline.

Taking the time to play out the effects of my child’s behavior is a calming moment in and of itself and it almost always makes me realize how trivial my child’s actions are and that it is some problem in myself that I need to address. Using this ten by seven rule simply lets a mother catch her breath before she expels it in an exasperated sigh (or worse!)

Honestly, my daughter is too young to know what I am doing but she watches me and realizes that I am taking a moment to push myself into a better parenting space. And she appreciates it. I know this because she will often give me a hug or a snuggle along with a grin that says “you’ll miss my antics when I outgrow them!” And she is right! I will miss her sneaking onto the top of the couch, just to fall off moments later. I will miss her dumping over the entire contents of the cat’s food bowl. I will miss her taking all of the trash out of the trash can. I will miss her unstuffing all of her cloth diaper inserts. I will miss her smearing her food all over the table. I will miss her dumping all of her water on the floor. I will miss all of these things and more because someday she will be off living her grown -up life and I will long for the pitter patter sound of her little feet followed by the perverbial “uh oh.” And I will wish that I had taken more time to savor those moments which caused me annoyance. The ten by seven rule allows me to do this because I ultimately realize that my daughter is just being her “age” and that I need to take pause and enjoy it for it is a mere fleeting moment.

It’s funny but I have seen similar concepts circulating around blog land recently. I would like to think that my mother was the mastermind behind this idea but hence, it really does not matter. What matters is that she gave me a tool to became a better mother. I hope that I have given this to you in turn. And on that note, I leave you with another great quote: “Believe in your child beyond today’s problem or behavior.” Author Unknown

Carrie here:  The other thing I love about this is the demonstration of passing on how we parent to the next generation.  Grandmother to mother to granddaughter. 

What kind of legacy are you leaving for your children in the way you parent?

Many blessings,

Carrie

Is “Keep Calm and Carry On” Unfeeling?

No, it is not meant to be at all!!  The main point is to connect with your child, but not “connect” by yelling, screaming, shouting.  Please go back and read the “How to Keep Calm and Carry On”  back post as I went back and highlighted in bold all the sections about loving and connecting.   This whole blog is about love, and I certainly didn’t mean for anything to come off as uncaring. 

Feeling as if your child’s behavior is not the end of the world, ie, equivalent to “please pass the salt” or picking up lint on the floor is simply an inner attitude to help you keep your cool and only part of what needs to happen in a situation of true conflict.  I think this also helps underscore that a child is ONE part of a FAMILY.  A family is a social organism onto itself, and the behavior of one child, one person, should not be enough to upset the whole balance and get the whole family in a tizzy.  That is more what I meant, but you may have to go through some back posts to really read the Keep Calm and Carry On series in context. Guess that is the problem of having a blog over say, a book.     

Connection is your number one discipline tool, I have said this over and over and over.  See this post: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/04/05/renewal-commit-yourself-to-gentle-discipline/ 

Absolutely,you must connect with your child, and you must de-escalate the situation before they get the point the child is having a temper tantrum.  However, whining and laying on the floor saying “I am bored” over and over deserves not only not yelling and shouting but a calm response and an assurance that the family life does not grind to a halt where everyone is tense and shouting because of just simple pushing against forms by a child.  Everything deserves a loving and  calm response.  I am certainly NOT suggesting you go off somewhere else and fold laundry whilst your child is melting down. 

What I am suggesting is that many parents have the problem of being calm in order to help their child.  Many parents blow their fuse almost immediately the moment a child does something normal, small and age-appropriate.  For small things, I think “keep calm and carry on” can help parents find their center.  The trick is being able to be connected and loving to your child on the outside, calm on the inside and show it through smiles, warmth, an “I am here” attitude, and even saying, “I hear you!” 

Sometimes there is only so much complaining and whining one can really hear but you can say to a six year old and older, “I hear you, and I have listened to you talk about your sadness (boredom, etc)  and right now I really am full but I will carry your thoughts with me  whilst I wash the dishes.  Come and help me” and take them by the hand to help you.  Sing.  This may sound harsh to some of you with smaller children, but many small children find it oddly comforting  that family life is still humming and they don’t have the utter power to make the whole family unbalanced.  When a small child can sense that their behavior can de-rail the whole family, that is scary to them.  Does that make sense?

I also honestly think that because many parents are only having one child or two children, these children live closer under the parent’s scrutiny than say, children living in a larger household.  Not everything needs to be so serious and taken so under scrutiny.  Children are not little adults, they deserve attention and love, but there is also something to be said for a bit of benign neglect where children are part of the family, not just something everyone in the family should be orbiting around like a small sun.   I like this post about benign neglect:  http://christopherushomeschool.typepad.com/blog/2008/01/a-bit-of-benign.html

Older children, your five and six to ten year olds. really need to see this calmness.  I am sure we all remember instances of being teenagers and not wanting to talk to our parents because they “would freak out”.  If you can be calm(er) in the years preceding these years, hopefully your teenagers will feel they can come to you with things because you will be calm and helpful and listen.

How-to’s of “Connection, Keep Calm and Carry On” in the next post!

Hope that helps to clarify a bit…Many blessings,

Carrie