Boundaries and Toxic People

The other day I had a little post that talked about boundaries for older children.  A question came up regarding toxic people,  setting boundaries, and is it possible that this be done in a loving way.

Perhaps this question is a little out of my wheelhouse.  I am not a psychologist, and I am certain a psychologist would have better things to say than I on this subject.  However, because I think boundaries are such an important piece of being a healthy adult and something we should be working hard to model and guide our teenagers and children in establishing, I am willing to share my experience with this topic.  As always, if you need more help, there are many licensed psychologists and other mental health care professionals out there to help you!

One hears many definitions of “toxic people”.  Usually this alludes to behaviors or relationships caused by woundedness; usually this involves creating drama, infecting others with negativity, or being narcissitic, and using others to get their needs met.  To me, and again I am not a psychologist, my definition of a toxic person is that they cannot abide by boundaries in order to be in a healthy relationship with someone else; boundaries to me are key no matter the variety of behaviors displayed.  Therefore, because a toxic person cannot respect boundaries, by definition, there will be no truly “nice”   or “loving” way to limit the exposure of a toxic person to your family because the toxic person will have an excuse and will have a hard time respecting the boundaries that you set. So, establishing very strong boundaries or to even cutting the toxic person out of your life if you are in a situation where that is possible is often difficult, but I don’t think impossible, so long as  you don’t expect the toxic person to go along with it calmly!

From my experience, my  tried and true ways to deal with toxic people include:

Setting emotional distance.  You don’t have to answer every text, call, or email.  You can choose to only respond to facts or what needs a solution as opposed to all the barage of emotion and drama.

Not getting  into one- to -one situations with the toxic person.  There is safety in numbers.  Always have someone else with you for interactions with  truly toxic people.

Setting limits on negativity and complaining.

Setting a very close circle around me of positive people who have a firm grasp of reality and have different perspectives that help me see things clearly. 🙂

Letting go of guilt. Like many people, sometimes I want everyone to like me, and the reality is I am definitely not everyone’s cup of tea.  So letting go of that is important, and depending upon how old you are, you get more and more okay with that as you get older.  It is okay not to be liked, and especially by the toxic person, because in my experience many times a more toxic person will not like you if they cannot control you.

Not forgetting what the toxic person has done or the chaos that person caused.  Forgive the illness that consumes this person, but do not forget!   Sometimes I find toxic people seem to cycle in and out of creating emotional chaos, and it can be easy in the good moments to forget the emotional craziness the person created in the past.  I am all for growth and second chances, but in my experience, toxic people do not really change but only get better at manipulating and hiding motives with age.

Hope that not only helps answer the question, but also points out the value of boundaries in ourselves and raising our children to become healthy adults who can go on to have healthy families of their own. As always, consult your friendly local mental health care professional with your questions, as I can only share my personal experience.

Many blessings,
Carrie

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The Lenten Promise: Re-Committing To Our Children

During this Lenten Season, let’s remember and re-commit to doing well by our children. Depending upon the age of our children and the season of life we are in, it can be easy to grow weary. This particular time of year is a call to renewal and regrowth, and may this be the season to pull things in once again and move forward.

If we acknowledge the individual differences our children hold in the view that all children have gifts and marvels to share with the world, this journey becomes easier. Sometimes it can be hard to hold on to that when a child is struggling socially or through medical or learning challenges or just through a tough patch in development, but the gifts are there are surely as the sun shines. Look for those gifts, and repeat those gifts to yourself.

Let us step back a bit. Our children are capable and trustworthy. We need to trust that our children will makes mistakes, and hopefully the mistakes will be fixable and not catastrophic. However, let us also  not become complacent and uncaring. Studies have shown that children who have uninvolved parents have the worst outcomes of any parenting style.  Let us also acknowledge that whilst every child is different, there are developmental milestones that all human beings go through in aging.  If we can understand childhood development in a broader sense, it helps us hang on and see that many things are shared in the childhood journey.

Let’s re-commit to  kindness in our homes.  This back post from 2009 outlines several steps for kindness in the home, beginning with ourselves.  We cannot nurture our families if we are at rock bottom.  Most of us do not have extended family to lean on with our children, and we need to learn how to craft routines that include our own self-care and nurturing.  I can honestly say I am only starting to get this now, fifteen and a half years into parenting, but this is a crucial strategy for nurturing the family!

And finally, let’s re-commit to love being the ultimate goal and method of our homeschooling.  It can be difficult to feel loving in the midst of trying to help a child write a paper, tackle a hard subject, deal with a child who is not working up to his or her full potential or to not get lost in trying to rush through homeschooling in order to deal with all the things life is throwing our way.  Love brings with it an enveloping quiet and warmth, and a soothing quality that can help even the most frazzled of homeschooling situations if only we slow down to remember.  Love causes our words to become as pearls.

Here is to a season of growth, renewal, and love.

Many blessings,
Carrie

The Milestone Every Child Needs to Reach

II really loved this article entitled, “The Milestones That Matter Most”.  One of the things this article brought up was the cultural biases we have that play into our parenting.  I have long been fascinated with this subject; when my older children were tiny I read and re-read Meredith Small’s “Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent”.

What is interesting to me is that, of course, different things are valued in different cultures.  Our one milestone that we might feel every child needs to reach may not be the same in another culture.  One of the ways we may combat bias in parenting is to consciously examine our own biases in regard to development and culture.  Do we, for example, assume that babies have to sleep through the night by themselves?  Do we assume that babies should be able to “self-soothe”?  Do we assume that toddlers will have a “terrible two’s” period?  Do we think children have to go to school to be “educated”?  Do we assume that children  will be “defiant”?  Do we think that children should have a lot of responsibility for themselves or no responsibility?  Do we assume that children should be able to self-regulate by a certain age?  Do we assume teenagers will battle against their parents and be rebellious?

Some of these questions have an inferred bias that we must examine consciously and continually as we go through our own life changes.  Some of the biases we enter into in parenting may change over time as we are in the ttrenches of dealing with our own children and watching other parents.   Human development, growth , and change is never done for the parent or the child.  It is part of being human, especially if we are trying to live in a conscious manner and we take responsibility  for our own throughts and actions.

IOne thing that can really assist us as parents is to have a family mission statement.  In our family, we have had  the same family mission statement – KIPPA  (Kindness, Integrity, Patience, Positive Attitude, Adventure) – for several years now.  Acronyms can make things easier to remember.  The process of creating a family mission statement can help us see where our biases are, what our values are, and what we think will be a course that will sustain us through parenthood and our children into a connected, happy adulthood. Have a personal mission statement in connection with your parenting and what you want to model in life is also a great conscious step.

Things I find that can carry  through many years of parenting includes connection, rresolving conflict,  setting boundaries in a healthful way , and  taking responsibility for one’s actions.  Kindness is always a modeled value.  So perhaps the milestone your child most needs to reach isn’t learning to read, or learning any other academic skill, but instead the milestones of being able to offer and accept love from other human beings, being able to assimilate into a humanity and offer goodness and kindness.  Perhaps those are the best milestones a human being can reach.

Please share with me your family mission statement, or the values you have found that have carried you through many years of parenting that you try to model for your own children.

Blessings,
Carrie

 

 

 

 

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Finding Rhythm With Grades-Aged Children

I think rhythm with grades-aged children (which I consider children in grades 1-8, so ages seven to thirteen or fourteen) can become trickier.  As children grow, chances are that you are not only juggling one grades-aged child but perhaps children that are older (teenagers) or younger (the littles, as I affectionately call them) with children that are in these grades.  There can also be an increased pressure to sign up for activities or increased pressure at school  as a child advances toward high school.

Here are some ideas for finding rhythm with children in grades 1-3:

  • Seriously think about how many structured activities you need outside the home!  I wrote a post about choosing time outside the home wisely in which I detail how many activities I really think a child in public or private school, versus homeschooling children need.   Remember, it is almost impossible to have a healthy rhythm if you and your children are gone all the time scurrying from one activity to another.  Children under age 9 deserve a slow childhood with time to dream and just be (without screens) and I would vote for no outside structured activities for these tiny ages.  Mark off days to be solely home with no running around!
  •  Being outside in nature in an unstructured way is so very important, along with limiting media.  I suggest no media for these ages.  There are many other healthier ways for children to be spending their time that promote great physiological and psychological health rather than being a passive recipient. First through third graders need an inordinate amount of time to be outside, to swim and play in the woods or sand, to ride bikes, to climb trees, and just be in nature.
  • For those of you who want to homeschool through many grades, I do suggest getting involved in a homeschooling group or finding a group of homeschool friends for your child.  This usually becomes a much larger issue around the latter part of  age 10, post nine-year change for many children (especially melancholic children and typically girls over boys around the fifth grade year) and for those who are more extroverted.  However, one activity is plenty for third graders in anticipation of this “coming change” as a ten year old. 
  • Rest is still the mainstay of the rhythm – a first grader may be going to bed around seven, a second grader by seven thirty or so, and a third grader by seven forty-five.  This may sound very early for your family, but I would love for you to give it a try. If you need ideas about this, I recommend this book.
  • In short, I do not think the rhythm established in the Early Years should be changing too much in this time period.

Here are some ideas for finding rhythm with children in grades 4 and 5:

  • Rhythm begins in the home.  What are you doing in the home? I find sometimes fourth and fifth graders are anxious to go, go, go because there is not much happening in the home.  No rhythm is being held, preparing for the festivals has fallen by the wayside, and they now see being involved in things such as preparing meals and such as work instead of just part of a rhythm of breathing in and out.  This takes time to develop again by being home. Be home!
  • All the things in the first through third grade section above applies. Rest is still very important and fourth and fifth graders may need help in this area – both in resting and in having a reasonable bedtime.  Children this age should be getting 10-11 hours of sleep a night, plus time to rest! Most children this age are still going to bed around 8 or 8:30.
  • I do not believe fourth and fifth graders really need structured outside the home activities, especially for children attending public or private school. I have seen some fifth graders who really relished one special activity.   Many homeschoolers will find their fifth graders really wanting a homeschool community and friends at this point, so I think that might need to be honored.
  • Media!  I have written many posts about media.  Fourth and fifth graders do not need media or their own phones or their own tablets.  Think carefully about this.  There are other ways they should be spending their time that are much more important to development.  The reason media is important in the context of rhythm is that it generally is used as a time-filler – so if the pull to media is strong, that typically means the rhythm is not strong or that the child needs help in finding something to do – handwork, woodworking, and other activities can help that need to create and do.
  • Being outside in nature and developing the physical  body is still of utmost importance. Setting up good habits for physical activity is important in this stage because most children feel very heavy and clumsy when they are in the sixth grade and changing around age twelve.  Having great habits in this period of grades four and five can really  help with that.  
  • This is a great age for games in the neighborhood – kickball, foursquare, etc. – and general physical activity of running, biking, swimming.  Free play is probably one of the most important things fourth and fifth graders can do!
  • Keep your yearly rhythms strong.  This may be easier with younger children in the household, but never lose sight of the fact that a fourth or fifth grader is in the heart of childhood themselves and therefore should certainly not be treated like a middle schooler.  This time is very short, and needs to be treated as the golden period that it truly is!  Keeping the festivals, the times of berry picking and apple picking and such, is the thing that children will remember when they are grown up.  If everything is just a blur of practices and lessons and structure, there is no space and time to make those kinds of family or community memories.

Here are some ideas for finding rhythm with children in grades 6-8:

  • Rest!  Rest and sleep are very important components of rhythm.  Sixth graders who are twelve are generally sluggish, and teenagers have rhythms regarding sleep that begin to change.  This article from the New York Times details many of the changes for teenagers (seventh and eighth grade).  In order for these children to get enough sleep, and since the starting time of public school middle school may be later (but probably not late enough!), I highly suggest limiting late night activities.  Again, choose your activities outside the home carefully and with much thought.
  • This is a prime time to nurture life skills and responsibility around the home. If you are running everywhere, this time of learning, which is really the most important thing when children grow up and have to live on their own, cannot happen.   Life skills and home responsibility deserves a place in daily and weekly rhythm.
  • Media is harder to keep at bay for most families.  Remember, media impacts rhythm and vice versa.  It is often a time filler, and can prevent middle schoolers from solving their own problems of what to do when they are “bored” (or just being bored; there is value in boredom as well!)  and tapping into their own creativity.  It can derail any kind of “doing” rhythm.  Hold strong standards about media!  Some ideas:  use a Circle to manage time and content across devices ;  strongly limit apps (because every app you add generally leads to more time on the device) and do not allow social media.  We introduced the  computer in eighth grade (which I know is not always feasible for public or private school students who are using technology as part of school from an early age)  as a tool for school work more than a plaything, and I think that attitude also made a large difference.  If you allow movies/TV shows, I recommend using Common Sense Media , but I also feel this needs to be strongly limited (and I would vote toward not at all or extremely limited for the sixth grader/twelve year old) since these middle school years are  ages where children feel heavy, awkward, clumsy, and don’t particularly want to move.  So, more than anything else, I think watch what you are modeling — are YOU moving and outside or are you sitting all day on a screen?  Modeling still is important!   If they are sitting all day at school and with homework, it is important that they move vigorously when they are home from school and on the weekends!  With both things that unstructured in nature and as far as structured movement..
  • This is a great age to pick up sports if that hasn’t already happened, although many children will say they feel they should have started much earlier. Again, this is such a symptom of our times that everything earlier is better, which I often find is not actually the case.  There is a big discussion right now about sports burn-out for middle schoolers who have started in elementary school.    If you want to see more of my thoughts about sports, take a look at this post that details the last pediatric sports medicine conference I attended.
  • I find the artistic component often needs to be increased in these years to really counteract some of the headiness of school subjects and media exposure.  It is a healing balm for middle schoolers, even if they complain they are not good at drawing or painting or such.  Keep trying, and do it with them or as a family.  Keep art and woodworking activities out, provide craft ideas and help them harness some of that creative power!  That can be a part of the weekly rhythm for your middle schooler.
  • Remember that your middle schooler is not a high schooler. The middle schooler does not think, move, or act like a high schooler. Please don’t force high school schedules onto your middle schooler.  There should be a difference between the middle schooler and high schooler.

Last tips for rhythm with children in grades 6-8:

  • Where is the family fun?  You should be having tremendous family fun together.  Family is where it is at!  Family is more important than peers – you can look back to the book, “Hold On To Your Kids” by Neufeld and Mate if you need further confirmation.  Family fun can be part of all levels of rhythm – daily, weekly, and yearly! It is an attitude and an action!
  • Where is your rest, and your inner spiritual work?  I think you need this, especially as you enter the middle school years. Children can have a lot of emotion during this time period, and you have to be the steady rock.  If you need a reminder about boundaries and parenting, try this back post.
  • How is your home coming along?  By now, with children in these upper grades, there should be pretty steady rhythms and routines regarding the home and the work that it takes to maintain a home.
  • How is your relationship with your partner or spouse?  This is the time to really start thinking about date nights if your relationship thrives and deepens on that.

Blessings,
Carrie

What Are We Modeling?

I watched a little girl yesterday at the pool.  She was about four years old, and ran around the pool in hot pursuit of her older brother and his friends.  When he jumped in the pool, she jumped in the pool.  When he ran to the other side of the pool, she ran to the other side of the pool.  A mom sitting near me remarked, “Isn’t that cute?  She has to do everything he does.”

Yes, indeed, my friends.  This is the power of imitation for small children, and that is a foundational hallmark for young children in Waldorf Education in the early years.  I find though, that imitation extends far beyond the early years.

Children not only imitate what they see, what they hear.  They  also absorb our energy, our attitudes, our  ways of dealing with things right down into their soul. This is all the more reason to work on “our stuff” – whatever that spiritual stuff may be.  All the more reason to deal with our trauma – our own the trauma carried by how our past generations suffered.  Have you all ever read this article about how how trauma is carried through generations ?

There was an article about the ten habits of chronically unhappy people.  It was very interesting, and pointed once again to the fact that as parents and as homeschooling families, we have to be very on top of our own attitudes, views, and what we are modeling.

Every day we can get up and begin with a spiritual practice.  Many like to do this in the morning before their children awake.  I understand this with very tiny children.  However, do make sure you are modeling something of your spiritual practice when your children are awake!  Otherwise, they never see you doing anything.  This could be reading from sacred texts, meditating or praying, saying outloud positive things in response to  a situation.

Every day, I ask myself how can I model:

Gratitude for this present moment.  Accepting and finding pleasure with where things are in this moment.

Connection to others in community.  The biggest place of connection is within our homes and with our own family members living in our homes, and our extended families.  However, this can also happen in places outside the home and family.  It may happen for you through your neighborhood, through your friends, through a place of worship, through a group to which you belong.  Connecting and serving is so powerful.

Optimism

Accountability and responsibility for my own actions.  Where was I wrong? I am wrong a lot; mistakes are okay. A mistake is just moving forward with more experience.

Perspective.

What we are being called to is so much more important than what curriculum we pick, what activities our children do.  What we are doing is literally being called to stop generations of trauma, pessimism, and fear.  What we are being called to do is to help our children learn how to cope with the world.  It is not going to be perfect.  Life is messy, but let’s show them how it is done.

Blessings,
Carrie

The One Thing You Need In Order To Homeschool This New School Year

The beginning of the school year is coming.  Yes, I know for some of you it seems so far away, but some schools down here in the deep South have already started back this week.  However, most of the schools in my state start during the first two weeks of August.  We will be starting a bit later than that, but I know it is coming up fast and will be here before I know it.

One thing that I do to get ready for teaching a new schoolyear is to steel up my own spiritual work;  both the work focused on me and the spiritual work focused on my children for the school year.  When I am quiet and still I can observe- what is it that I really need?  What is it that the children really need and how can I help them?  How do I balance the needs of everyone in the family, including my own self-care? And most of all, with three children spanning grade 1-high school, how can I teach from a place of rest and a feeling of peace?

For me, the answer to this lies within my own spiritual work.  For years, I have seen families come and go from Waldorf homeschooling (and any other type of homeschooling methodology) – always searching for the answer in pedagogy and methodology, always searching for the next latest and greatest thing.  And,  (ironically), often grasping on to any and all posts containing the words “simple” or “minimalist” as they make their lives as complicated as possible searching the Internet and bouncing around from one thing to another.

The answer is NOT THERE.  The answer is within you.  And most of all, what is often crying out is a need for a connection to something larger than oneself, and a place of spiritual peace and rest that can only come from that connection.  This cannot be found in any book, curriculum, blog or Facebook group or by following someone else’s methods.  It can only be found by connecting to the Divine in whatever capacity that means for you.   This is something that sustains through all periods of life.  Life is often messy, especially if you have multiple children. My life will probably never be simple  with three children spanning large age gaps, but it can be restful and peaceful.

In past summers, I have begged parents to make it a summer parenting project to look carefully at their own spirituality so that beauty, wonder,  peace  and stability can be passed on to our children.  We cannot model what we ourselves are not actively doing.

So, to that end, my own spiritual preparation for the new school year begins with being immersed in God’s creation -sometimes in an active way that makes me feel alive and sometimes in a quiet way that makes me feel reflective.  It begins with reading the sacred texts of my traditions  daily and gathering with others in  a place where I feel connected to my Beloved Creator and  to others who are on this path.   We grow within a spiritual community.   It continues throughout the day in prayer and meditation and as I strive to be still, be watchful, and to align my thoughts with something higher than my own base reaction.   Rhythm is my ally in this endeavor, and keeping our homeschooling plans as uncomplicated as possible so we have “time affluence” – that time to just be in nature and space is the goal.  This is where the work begins.  And when I get lost during the school year and in the pulls of three very different children who have extremely different needs,  as I inevitably will, that is the work to which I will return.  May we all have a guiding compass to help us on our journey.  This is my wish for you this school year.

Blessings, love, and joy,
Carrie

Finding Your Mothering Voice

In a sea of information overload, how do we find our own voices as mothers and human beings?  I was contemplating this article by Stephen Covey and the creation of voice.  He speaks about what “voice” is, and what this could mean in an organizational context. However, I was pondering this question  more in relation to parenting and mothering.

First of all,  there has to be a period of listening intuitively to oneself without a lot of input. In general, this seems to be non- existent for many people simply because it is so easy to just fire off a question in a chatroom or on Facebook and get quick and easy input from many people.  However, I think it is so important to be able to find one’s own center.   How do I *really* feel about this decision that has to be made, how this situation unfolded, about my reaction to this situation?   When we apply this over years of parenting, we often need periods of silence and “away” when our children are leaping through large developmental changes and we feel as if the sand is shifting under out feet.  Then we learn over time what our voice really has to say.  We learn to know ourselves.

The events leading up to single decisions often take at least a few nights to settle, to hear what one’s gut really says, and then perhaps to get input from your trusted partner or a trusted friend.   Time also applies over years though – it can take years of experiences to really form your  general mothering style and voice and priorities.  It takes time, error, sometimes mistakes and unpleasant experiences and is constantly being refined.  That is parenting in the real world.

It is so easy in the beginning of mothering or every time your child changes developmentally to want to do what everyone else is doing.  I mean,  after all, in the superficial world, it often looks as if it is working out grandly due to XYZ choice(s).  Look at all those beautiful blogs of beautiful lives and perfect children.  However, people only put what they want people to see on the Internet.  Remember that everyone has triumphs and struggles and some people are more private than others.  Only you know your partner, your child, your family dynamics.  Don’t be afraid to be different!

Make sure  your decisions are aligned with your values.  If you have a mission statement of any kind, that can be a great place to check out your decision against your values.

Finally, take the action with decisions that clearly align your life with your values. This is what shows your voice more clearly than any words ever could.  It shows what you believe.

Please share with me about finding your parenting voice.

Blessings,

Carrie