The value of contributing

This week, my youngest daughter and I decided to finally renovate her bedroom. She had inherited furniture leftovers from the house throughout the years, and her room wasn’t very functional nor adapted to her taste and needs.

It has been a relatively long and enriching process, I think. First, we had to think of what we had to sell and which pieces of furniture we could keep but use slightly differently. She had to sort all her stuff in three piles: what she wanted to keep, what could be given away/sold, and rubbish. Only this was a good exercise for her. Things that could be given away/sold had to be sorted properly and cleaned for the next owner. She had to reflect about what she has and what she needs as opposed to what she wants. She has a small room, and I think it is important that she keeps things that make her room feel pleasant to be in, not stuff that take space and gather dust. We didn’t always agree on this one so it was also a good exercise for me to let her make her own choices for some of the thing she wanted to keep.

I dismantled her bed, advertised what could be sold further, and followed up with people contacting me to come and pick up furniture and toys. This was good for my daughter to see that we don’t only throw away what we don’t want/need, it can be useful for someone else. It was also good for our project because we ‘earned’ some money to buy the furniture she needed for her room.

Next was to clean the room thoroughly, walls included. Over the years, she had chosen not to listen to our request not to tape things on the wall, and the walls were in quite a bad state. After cleaning them, we painted them. I was very impressed by her perseverance. It took us a couple of days to finish painting, and although I could see she was tired, she didn’t give up. She experienced how, we needed to do the job with care and patience. Mask off the areas we weren’t painting, cover the floors, not spill painting around. Once we were done, she acknowledge the hard work it required and decided that it is a good idea to take care of the new painted walls and hang up things properly.

We looked at furniture online, and she was surprised by how fast we reached a significant amount of money if we bought everything new. So we started looking at second hand furniture ads, and we ended up buying some new and some second hand. When we were at the shop, she chose away some objects because she was concerned about the final amount. This made me feel very proud of our little project as I feel it also taught her that things cost money and therefore we need to take good care of them. It also made her reflect on what we can refrain from buying as it is not really necessary.

After a whole week of hard work from morning to evening, the room is ready. All she needs to do now is to empty the boxes we filled with the things she wanted to keep. She is dreading this task, and I will help her a bit, but I think it is good to for her to reevaluate if she really needs everything she put in those boxes.

This whole experience made me think how important it is that we include our children in everyday chores. Small chores and bigger chores. This not only teaches them the value of work, material objects and time, but also gives them the opportunity to feel useful, the pleasure to start and complete a project.

While we were working on my daughter’s room, a good friend of mine came to visit, and were discussing how, we often chose not to ask our children to help because 1) It takes more time and effort to teach them to do things 2) We feel ‘sorry’ for them because they should be allowed to enjoy their spare time. I think maybe we need to rethink this and find a good balance. I have observed some of my students struggling with motivation and self-esteem because they don’t find school interesting, they don’t have any particular hobbies, and at home they don’t do much other than stay on their electric devices. I believe that even if kids and teenagers find helping at home annoying to begin with, they end up with a good feeling about themselves knowing that they are useful and capable of contributing to their family environment. My kids have had the task to clean their bedrooms for some years now, but I think it is about time that they do a bit more on a daily/weekly basis and contribute to bigger projects.

We have of course, tried to get them to do the minimum like tidying up their things, clearing the table, emptying the dishwasher, etc. But I must confess that I often also do these small things because I don’t feel like nagging. I can find ways to reinforce without getting angry, but I will definitely reinforce.

I think this is good for society too. I am not sure if there is a connection here, but lately, wherever I see young people enjoying some free time, I see a mess left behind. Yesterday, I was very surprised to go into our local shop where there is a small area to sit down, to find empty soda boxes, chocolate wraps and pizza boxes spread all over the floor. This shop is close to a park that is quite popular on sunny summer days for young people to hang out. I see this more and more often. Rubbish left behind after a fun day outdoors. My theory is that youth are not used anymore to help around, to experience the consequences of what they do. We parents tidy up after them both material rubbish and challenges they might face. All this with good intentions. We want to protect them, we want them to enjoy life, we want them to be happy. But I think, we might have misunderstood a bit. I believe we feel happier when we feel we contribute in some way to our surroundings. When we know how to do things, when we feel useful.

I have decided I will give more responsibilities to our kids from now on. Especially the oldest one. He spends way too much time on the computer and his phone, and his explanation is that he has nothing else to do. I have lots of things he can do… 😀

Saving our children from painful situations

A friend and I were talking the other day about our sons who are the same age and soon will have to choose what kind of studies they want to do for high school. Here in Norway, they can choose to go the ‘regular’ pathway that can lead them to university, or they can choose to learn a profession and come out being able to work. The latter is, of course, less prestigious than acquiring a university degree, but a good option to those who either have a clear idea or know well their skills, or who are tired of so much theory at school and want to do more practical work throughout the three years of high school.

My husband and I believe that, if our son chooses to choose a profession oriented pathway, we will support him. She is of the idea that her son (and our son) should choose the pathway that allows them to go to university. She has good arguments, and I don’t disagree with her, but what triggered this post was what she said at some point:

‘I want my son to make choices that will allow him to do something with his life in a way that is as painless as possible.’

Or something like that. Her argument is that, if they choose the profession pathway, and they change their minds in some years and want to go to university, it might be too late for them to study for and pass the exams required for those who don’t follow the ‘regular’ pathway. Valid arguments.

Can we really prevent our kids from experiencing pain?, and maybe most importantly, should we prevent our kids from experiencing pain?

The answer, is of course neither yes nor no. It is our instinct and to a certain degree our duty as parents to protect our children as much as we can, but lately, I keep thinking that this well-meant attitude might harm our children more than help them, and what is more, will exhaust us, because lets face it, no matter how much I try to keep pain away from my kids, pain will reach them at some point. Pain is part of life.

How can we harm our children by protecting them from pain? Well, it is through the experience of pain that we learn resilience, patience and perseverance. It is through painful situations that we often grow because we are pushed to take a self-check, to evaluate our situation, to learn and move forward. Maybe the key is not to spend most of our time and energy preventing our kids from making mistakes, but rather create a relationship of trust so when they make mistakes, when life gets tough, they know they can get through it by their own strength, and/or get our support if they need it to gain the strength to stand up on their own feet again.

Don’t misunderstand me, I do want my son to make choices that allow him to live a happy and meaningful life, and I do say my opinion whenever he is about to make a choice, but I also try very hard to remind myself to let go of the need to control him. I have to accept that he needs to make his own choices and deal with the consequences. I just hope that the day he makes a mistake or a choice that brings pain to his life, we will be able to support him in a way that helps him reflect, grow and move on.

I see it as a teacher too. I am thankful that I teach in times where we have a lot of focus on students’ social and emotional well-being, but I also feel that sometimes we feel obliged to micro-mange them to avoid emotional distress. If football games during playtime get too rough, we ban them. Parents contact us often when their child has had a conflict with another child often with the expectation that we will ‘fix it’ without the kids being involved to ‘avoid the distress’ caused by heaving to deal with the situation.

Although I understand the intentions behind this kind of expectations, I think that kids need to experience all sorts of emotions and learn how to deal with them. Both their own emotions and other people’s emotions. Maybe instead of banning the football game, we can have the necessary conversations – over and over again – to help them reflect on what went right and what went wrong, and more importantly, how they can do better next time. We help the students better by creating the space for them to talk and find common ground, and understand how they feel and how their peers feel. Maybe sometimes kids need to find their own solutions without adult involvement.

If you’ve been around for more than twenty years, you would agree that in life, we go through phases, some phases are more painful than others, but often, the most painful ones bring also a lot of growth. I teach students between 13 and 16 years old, and many changes happen during those years. Some teenagers go through tough periods trying to figure out who they are and what they want. It is painful for them, and often even more for their parents. The parents that suffer the most are those who try very hard to steer their children into a specific direction believing that that is the right direction. Or being overly worried about their child’s confusion. What I often observe from the outside is that the kids that have been raised with a set of clear values, that have parents that are present and available, manage to go through and beyond phases of confusion and pain and grow from them. It requires patience, resilience and perseverance from both themselves and their parents.

Reflecting about this, I have made myself some mental guidelines as a mum and as a teacher that I try to follow:

  • Walk the talk. Live my life as much in line as possible with what I believe in. Accept my mistakes and grow from them. Reflect with my children about them. I don’t need to pretend that I am perfect, or devoid from emotion.
  • Be mindful of how I react when my children make a mistake. Try to show understanding and be open for discussion instead of being judgemental.
  • When appropriate, share my views or opinion on something, explain why I think like I do, but make it clear that the choice is theirs (and hope for the best).
  • Remember that each one of my kids is an individual with their own path to walk. Be supportive, be present, but not controlling.
  • Help them go through difficult emotions. Explore and accept the pain to then let go and learn from it.
  • Keep learning together with my kids how to better support them in their own path. After all, parenting is all about learning by doing.

Whose expectations?

My husband and I are what we would like to call low-maintenance. We enjoy holidays and special occasions, but we don’t feel like we need to make what we call a ‘big fuss’ out of them to enjoy our time. (I sometimes suspect it is more laziness than low-maintenance, but who cares as long as we both are happy?).

The challenge to this attitude came almost twelve years ago when our youngest daughter was born. She has high expectations, especially for birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Norway’s national day. I understand and I try to balance between complying to her wishes and keeping things to what I think is reasonable both when it comes to our economy, the environment and our energy.

During the last few years, as she is getting older, I am trying to be more sporty and supportive when she has big ideas trying to encourage her to take some of the responsibility to run them through. She doesn’t always only think about herself, she also plans how to surprise friends or her siblings for their birthdays, which I think is a nice way to show that she cares.

The interesting part is that, often the more I agree, the more she gets things her way the more she wants. As a mum, I am trying to figure out whether this is good or not. I don’t want to kill her personality, but at the same time, I feel I have to remind her about how important it is to focus on the positive and be thankful for what we have instead of focusing on what we feel we lack.

Like today, for example. It is Norway’s national day, and it is a BIG deal for children. Usually, there is a big parade downtown where all schools take part, and many celebrations with friends and family throughout the day. Because of the pandemic, the last two years, the parade has been cancelled for most students, and the celebrations have been restricted.

Traditionally, our little family eats dinner with a couple of friends and their son who are like part of our extended family, so my husband and I were happy we could keep this plan. My youngest had, of course, other plans. She decided to plan a picnic with her classmates, since it is allowed to meet outdoors in bigger groups if one keeps distance, especially if it is part of your daily cohort.

Yesterday evening, we baked cookies and muffins for the picnic, and this morning, I agreed to follow her to the park for a couple of hours. The weather was decent, and most of her classmates showed up. They played games, ate their lunch, and had what seemed like fun from where I was standing chatting with the other parents.

When it was time to leave, we all picked our stuff up, said goodbye and the girls and I walked to the bus stop. On the way, my youngest told me that one of her classmates had ice cream for breakfast, and that he is allowed to eat as many ice creams as he wants all day today. We have a daughter with PWS, so this kind of attitude towards food is not what we want to encourage at home. So, I said that I didn’t feel one needs to eat ten ice creams to have a good day. This was enough for her to be angry for the rest of the trip home and for a long while.

I must say that I find this very challenging, and I am working very hard with myself not to lecture her every time it happens. I feel that she knows what I stand for, she is allowed to disagree, but I can’t help but thinking that she is being ungrateful, and that my role as a mum is to teach her to be grateful.

Or, is it? One thing is her attitude, and the other is how I interpret it and transform it into my problem. “I have complied to this and that, and she’s still not satisfied?!”. Aha! The ego, comes through. I think. And I love it because this kind of situation teaches me over and over again what I can summarise into three main points:

  1. Be clear about what I stand for and act accordingly.
  2. Never do something with the attitude of ‘sacrifice’. Better say clearly ‘no’ and go through the unpleasant moment than to say ‘yes’ without meaning it and going into the martyr role when I don’t get a positive response for my ‘efforts’.
  3. Good enough is good enough and let other people’s expectations (even my sweet daughter’s) be their own problem.

The good thing is that, like many kids her age, after some time being back home and playing some board games before leaving for our dinner party, she had already forgotten her ‘disillusion’.

Before going to bed today, she said: It was a fun day mamma. I didn’t think it would be because of the pandemic, but it was.

My little cute teacher. Good lesson to remember as I am dreading a meeting tomorrow where I feel I will be confronted to the exact same problem. Expectations vs the reality of what I can provide. May I be wise enough to remember today while I’m in the middle of it.

PS I do talk with her from time to time about how we create the world around us by choosing where we want to focus our attention.

More about parenting

Usually, my reflections are about my interactions with people. I think that is one of the most fascinating aspects of life. For long (and still to some degree) I have been trying to figure out what is the ‘right’ way to relate to others until I started studying yoga and learned that in order to understand why I interact with others as I do, I first need to understand how my mind operates. So, I observe myself act and react, I observe my thoughts and emotions and I try to understand why they are as they are, all this in light of what I have been studying about the human mind according to Yoga.

During the lockdown, my social sphere has been reduced to my family: my husband and my kids. I do reflect often about my role in their lives and their role in my life, but these weeks, I have had the time to observe my behaviour more closely.

One thing that I have observed is how, in situations where I disagree with my kids’ behaviour or attitudes, I automatically change my tone and start scolding them. I have stopped myself a few times lately to ask myself why do I sound so annoyed? What is my purpose right now? How are they reacting to this situation?

When it comes to our youngest daughter she gets so frustrated that she starts crying and stops listening. For our teenage son, this just means that he gives up and accepts whatever I am saying so I stop scolding him ruining the opportunity to invite him to express his own opinions and have an interesting dialogue. For our middle daughter it means that she feels criticised hurting her self-esteem tremendously.

So why do I scold? In some cases, it can be out of frustration. Maybe I have repeated the same many times: “wash your hands when you come into the house after playing outside”, or “pick up your dirty socks”, or “take your used plate into the dishwasher”. There is nothing wrong with showing emotions to our kids, but I sometimes wonder if the emotion shown is proportional to the situation, or if the tone comes out of habit. How would I react if my kids talked like that to me? Isn’t it possible to be kind and ask them to help without the ‘attitude’?

In other cases, it is because of worry or even fear. When our son doesn’t make his homework and we get a note from his teacher or when our youngest acts selfishly in relation with her sister making her feel bad. The problem is, that I think the way I talk with them can have the opposite outcome than the desired one. It must be possible to show concern and be strict without having to make my kids feel guilty. I have actually stopped a couple of times during the lockdown while talking with my son and saying out loud “Wait, why am I using this tone right now? Lets start again.” To then explain that I worry, that I try to pass on what I believe is important values and attitudes, but that I might also be wrong.

It is powerful too. The other day, I asked my youngest daughter to come sit beside me, and asked her how she thought her sister felt when she excluded her from an online meeting with their schoolmates. I wasn’t angry, I was just expressing my concern. She responded much better than when I use ‘the tone’.

My point here is not to go into a guilt trip or to point fingers for ‘using the tone’, it is more a personal reflection about the hows and the whys of parenting. I really think it is important to stop from time to time and ask myself what is the intention behind my actions and consider whether the means of my parenting are the most appropriate for my kids.

I think the lockdown has done something wonderful for us as a family. It has given us time to slow down. To listen better to each other. I notice that I sometimes start getting annoyed by some of my kids’ comments or questions but I can stop myself from reacting in a hurtful way and rather show curiosity or disagree in a respectful way. I don’t want my kids to grow up doubting themselves or feeling constantly guilty for what they think and how they behave. I want them to grow up being reflective but well grounded in themselves. It is tiring to constantly wonder whether we are ‘right ‘ or ‘wrong’ according to other people’s standards.

On acceptance and its benefits

I was recently listening to one of my teacher’s lectures on his YouTube channel called 10 ways to live effortlessly through Yoga where the first point is acceptance.

Have you ever experienced investing effort and time into something with a feeling that you are pushing, fighting, getting exhausted and after a while realise that you are still standing at the same point? I have experienced it in many times and every time I try to remember one of my first experiences as a mum.

When our first child was born, I wanted to be ‘ready’, so I read books about pregnancy and birth. Then, when our son was born, I read books about the “normal” development of a baby and a toddler. When our son was maybe a year or a year and a half old, according to what I read and advice from others, it was time to start potty training. I bought a pot and tried different ways to get my son to sit on it and do his job. After some days of trial, we realised he wasn’t interested at all. Swallowing our frustration, we understood he wasn’t ready yet and that we would do things worse if we chose to push him. We waited despite what the books, parenting forums and some opinions from experts or experienced parents had. When he was a bit over two, we tried again, and in a week or so, he was nappy-free during daytime and some months later in the night also. I was so amazed over how easy this was! There weren’t any tears, and there were very few accidents. This taught me a big lesson that I have tried to apply throughout my children’s upbringing. There are some milestones they have to go through to develop, but there is no point on pushing them. I think acceptance is key here. I accepted that my son wasn’t ready, but I didn’t necessarily give up, I just needed to back off, and try a bit later.

Sometimes, we have a goal, an idea, but it is so big, so overwhelming that we don’t even know where to start. This applies also to challenges and problems. Acceptance can also be a good tool in this cases. We need to accept first the situation and then see which small steps we can take to achieve the goal or to improve the situation that eventually will help us solve the problem. We accept that we have to take small steps.

The example that comes to my mind is the challenge we face today with pollution. I have long had bad conscience because I wanted to do something big for the environment, but it felt overwhelming until I decided to take small steps. The first step was to observe my lifestyle and accept that I have some habits that aren’t healthy for the environment. I have made some changes that have demanded changes in attitudes and perceptions and still felt achievable, while other changes are so big that I have to wait a bit. This doesn’t mean that I will settle for doing the minimum but I have to take it step by step to not overwhelm myself or my family. This might not be the way for everyone, but for me, it is either small steps or no steps at all.

The other day, I was talking with a yoga teacher that works also as a life coach. She was telling me about how, for people that experience chronic pain, it can be helpful to learn to accept the pain. Pain is something that scares us, it is part of our survival instinct, but sometimes we need to accept it to tolerate it. I have done the experiment sometimes when I experience a sharp pain, to relax the rest of my body and focus my breath into the pain. It doesn’t take the pain away, but it does help me deal with it better. If I reject the pain, if I start to make a thousand stories in my mind about the pain, I just get more stressed and my experience of the pain is more intense.

It is almost needless to say that acceptance is also a very powerful took when it comes to relationships. All kind of relationships. Accepting others as they are is the obvious one, but also accepting that sometimes things between us and others get stuck, and remembering that nothing lasts forever. We benefit from giving us some space to let things cool down, and then try again. Accepting also that sometimes, there is no solution, things are as they are and we have to learn to live around them.

Lastly, I have already written about strong emotions and how acceptance can help deal with them. Often, we have a tendency of rejecting, hiding or pushing away emotions such as anger or sadness. We don’t want to feel angry or sad because we should constantly feel happy and satisfied. Unfortunately, the emotion doesn’t disappear just because we don’t want it, and we end up with a pile of emotions such as frustration and regret on top of the ‘original’ emotion. Accepting the emotion without feeding into it can take us a step further. When I am sad, I can accept that I am sad and even give myself the space to feel the sadness, slow down, be kind to myself without making a thousand stories in my mind on why I have the ‘right to be sad’. Let the emotion be what it is, and when the sensation is less strong, try to understand where it comes from and see if there is anything I can do to help myself.

Acceptance is not resignation, but it is a tool that can help us save energy that we can canalise in a more constructive way than when we use it to reject, run away from or fight blindly.