Faith, Parenting, Personal Growth, Reflection

The First Pour

coffee pour by mark on flickr

We have this little ritual, West and I, of making coffee for one another.  Sometimes he makes it (usually after lunch), and sometimes I do (our morning cuppa, following the school run); but the process is the same for each of us:  rinse out our little Bialetti espresso maker, fill with fresh water, spoon the coffee grounds over the metal filter, screw the top back on, and place it on the stovetop to heat up while we microwave the two cups of milk for our lattes.  Mmmmm.  Rich, delicious, and – most importantly – caffeinated!

The coffee-preparation process is the same, but there’s one slight variation in the finished product each of us receives: whoever gets the second cup also gets a bit of ‘sludge’ from the coffee grounds.  It’s a very slightly finer cup for whomever gets the first pour.  Knowing this is the case, I make sure that West gets the first pour.

Oh, I know I could make it even.  I could do a little pour into each cup, back and forth and back again, to make sure that neither of us gets the dregs on our own.  I could.  But then neither of us would get the pure ‘first pour’, either.   And, in truth, I don’t really mind the dregs.  I know, too, that when West makes the coffee, he reserves the second pour for himself and gives me the finer cup.  It balances out.

When you think about it, it’s not just with coffee that there’s a ‘first pour’ and ‘the dregs’; our time, our energy, our families – with each of these things we have a choice to make, whether we realise it or not, about where we’re going to bestow this superior ‘first pour’.

If I’m working on an article or some other writing, it’s easy to be consumed by it; so focused on the words and ideas swirling around in my head that every other bit of input is a frustrating distraction.  In truth, it’s like that anytime I’m wrestling with ideas – even if I’m internally trying to figure out how to better nurture my children and be more patient with them, I’ll be swatting them away and growling at them while I’m trying to think it through.  How’s that for irony?!  There are definitely times that I need to lock myself away to sort out the ideas, set down the phrases, and complete a writing task; but at other times I really have to train myself to view the thoughts (and worries) as a distraction, rather than seeing my kids that way.  Sometimes, at the very least, my kids should get the ‘first pour’ of my energy, focus, and attention; my children as individuals and my family as a group – not just concepts, ideas, theories and debates about the concept of ‘parenting’.

Likewise, when life and lists crowd in and there doesn’t seem to be time for anything, let alone a sacred, quiet space in time to read the Bible, pray, or meditate, where does my ‘first pour’ go?  Likely, every little thing gets a drip of my best; the dregs, if anything, are what’s left for the pursuit of spiritual growth and nurture.

And although when I make a coffee I put myself second – with little to no detriment – I can see that it’s not healthy for us to always leave ourselves just the dregs of our time and energy.  Sometimes we need to make sure that we get the sustaining, superior, beneficial ‘first pour’ as well – not to short-change those we love, but to ensure that we function as healthy, fulfilled, and functional human beings.  When I start to feel like I’m pouring into too many cups, I know that the result will be unsatisfying – and unsatisfactory – for all of them.  I need to give myself the first pour – step back from things, renew my energy, regain my perspective, and then I’m fresh to make a new batch.

This isn’t a new idea.  In the Bible, one of God’s requirements of the Jews was that they would bring Him their ‘first fruits’ as an offering.  He also required them to sacrifice their best before Him; an unblemished lamb (sound familiar?), amongst other things.  Sure, these are Old Testament practices, but they’re ones whose essence remains useful to observe today:  what we do for God should be what we do first; and what we bring to God should be our best.  It shouldn’t be that church is what we fit in if we haven’t got anything better to do on a Sunday.  It shouldn’t be that sleep, activities, and TV crowd in and replace our time praying and reading the Bible. (It shouldn’t be the case, but I’ll raise my hand first – I find time to vege in front of Netflix almost every night, and yet I can’t seem to establish a regular quiet time routine for reading the Bible and meditating on God’s word…).

I think it’s worth considering, from time to time.  Who’s getting the first pour in your life?  Do you need to change the order of cups?

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Faith, Life, Personal Growth

Leaping for the Bar

Leaping for the Bar by magpie_drain on flickr

I’m not a risk-taker.  By which I mean, probably the biggest risk I might take is going on the school run without my rain jacket when the skies look threatening – and even then, why would I not just tuck it under my arm so I have it, ‘just in case’??!

My kids are rear-facing in the car until they’re at the limits of the seat’s capacity to safely contain them.  They’re in car-seats until they’ve outgrown those restraints, and then into boosters until – well, as boosters with greater weight- and height-limits keep entering the market, and as I have fairly light kids, I guess they’ll be in some form of extra restraint indefinitely because I’m in no rush to move them to something that’s any less secure!

I’m at my most comfortable when I feel safest.  I’ve had dreams about being cocooned in some sort of ultra-safe bubble, protected from harm and made extra-secure by a wall of shields above and around me, and (claustrophobia aside) I’ve been disappointed to wake up.  Some people think that the cartoon version of heaven – soft, pillowy white clouds and no sharp edges to be seen – sounds boring; I think it sounds like, well, heaven.  What could be safer?

So, when I was at a youth camp in my teens and one of the mandatory activities was a tree-top ropes course culminating in a giant leap from a wooden platform high above the ground (I’m not very good at spatial estimates – I have trouble negotiating my own shoulders through doorways – but at a guess I’d say it was somewhere between ‘super high’ and ‘extremely high’), I was tentative about the idea.  Obviously this whole thing was a huge draw for the adrenaline-junkie campers, but to a Nervous Nellie like me it seemed an exercise in insanity.  The idea of walking among the treetops didn’t sound so bad, but flinging myself off the platform at the end of it all seemed downright ludicrous.

I knew that this leap would require several things of me: first, I’d have to push my natural caution aside in order to even consider jumping; secondly, I’d need to trust in the ability of the safety harness to lower me gently to the ground; and thirdly, I’d have to put my desires to follow the rules and participate properly ahead of my desire to protect myself from harm.  This last one was tricky; while I was a natural rule-follower, and I’d been taught the importance of participating, in this case both of those desires were at odds with my cautious nature and my desire to stay alive.

To make matters worse, we weren’t just supposed to recklessly plunge down from that great height – we were expected to leap up and out to grasp a bar suspended some distance from the platform, hang on, and then let go.  Granted, either way we would end up suspended by the safety harness at some point during our fall – and we’d then be lowered gently onto terra firma – but this extra step added a further element of anxiety to the routine.

If I were a naturally brave and/or risk-seeking individual, perhaps this whole exercise would have been a welcome interlude in an otherwise uneventful life; however, for me it meant enduring the discomfort of my fear: that creeping feeling of dread; the prickly hot-and-cold of imminent danger (according to my fear-flooded brain); the heart-palpitating, breath-stealing anxiety I had to swallow in order to force my feet from the safety of the platform…

My knees felt weak.  My hands were sweaty and shaky.  My whole body felt tense and leaden.

I jumped.  I made a feeble grasp towards the bar, missed it by a mile, and fell towards the ground like a sack of wet laundry before the harness halted my descent and lowered me at a more sedate pace until I was standing, shaken but alive, on the forest floor.

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Not a very inspiring story, is it?

If I were one of those enthusiastic, hyper, rah-rah-rah motivational speakers, I’d tell you that I then got up, dusted myself off, marched back up to the ropes course, and leapt for that bar like I really wanted it.  I’d have grasped my prize and let out a whoop of victory as I energetically released the bar and embraced the freedom of falling until the harness caught me.

But I didn’t do that.  Because I’m not a motivational speaker.  I’m just a girl.  And I was just a cowardly kid doing something out of my comfort zone without any real idea of why I was doing it.

Certainly I wasn’t alone in my failure.  Not everybody who tried for the bar actually reached it.  But I know one thing:  nobody who didn’t try to reach the bar grasped it.  To put it more plainly: only those who leapt for the bar were able to grasp it.

Fear wasn’t my main problem, even though it seemed that it was at the time.

The main problem was that I didn’t want the bar.  I didn’t really see the point of trying to leap out to grab hold of something when I was just going to end up falling anyway.

But now I do see the point of leaping for the bar.

Now that I’m a bit older – and, I hope, a bit wiser – I know that there is every reason to make an effort to grasp hold of something that seems beyond your reach.  Because reaching for something beyond our grasp stretches us.

As I headed into this year (2015), I was aware of an approaching milestone at the end of it: my birthday.  A birthday with a zero in it.

There’s something about certain birthdays that makes you reassess your existence; you’re forced to examine goals, past and present, and see where things fall on the ledger lines of life.  For me, this is one of those birthdays.

All of those things you imagine, when you’re young, that you’ll do ‘when I’m grown-up’ – at what point to we become grown-up to actually do them?  So many times we sacrifice dreams to excuses.  We watch on, envious, as others achieve what we had hoped to do but haven’t done.

We chalk it down to ‘dumb luck’ or ‘sacrifice’ that has prevented us from following our dreams, but if we’re honest with ourselves we know it isn’t always that.

Sometimes it’s just that we didn’t leap for the bar.

If you’ve read anything else I’ve written, or if you know me personally, you’ll know that I’m not talking here about buying that lottery ticket, following through on that flirtation, or walking away from the negative people who ‘bring you down’.  I’m talking about those passions that were sparked in the heart of you as a youth – the way you were going to make a difference; the way you’d contribute to the world; the way you’d make the very best use of your unique gifts and talents – and which remain there in your heart, all these years later.  Maybe by now they’re a bit jaded by life’s experience.  Maybe they have the tarnish of disappointment, or a dent of rejection; maybe they have a crust of bitterness about how they’ve lain fallow for so long and never been put into action.

How about dusting off those dreams and polishing off those plans?  How about re-examining them and seeing what’s ready for the recycling bin and what you can move into your To-Do list for TODAY?

Leaping for the bar requires a calculation of the distance involved, a readying for the jump (crouch, engage muscles), and a reaching out for the goal as you spring towards it.  It requires you to put fear aside and ignore how far you’d have to fall if you missed.  You also need to be willing to watch and follow the examples of others who have succeeded at grasping the bar, while avoiding the trap of envy when it seems easier for them than it is for you.

So, how am *I* leaping for the bar?

I’m working on being published.

I love to write, and it’s tremendously validating to have people read my writing; step one, which I took last year, was starting this blog.  This year I’ve added a Facebook page and ventured into the Twitterverse to increase my audience and to hone the skill of saying something in fewer words (haven’t quite got the knack, as you can tell!).  But the big step this year has been to put out feelers about some paid writing – after a couple of decades of always having to say that ‘I’d like to be a writer,’ being able to say that I’m a professional writer gives me a real sense of achievement,.  My first paid feature is out this month – I leapt for that bar, and I’m hanging on.

I’m increasing my fitness.

I’ve started working out and running again.  I’ve never been a natural athlete, but in the past I’ve challenged myself and got into a healthy exercise routine.  This is an area I’ve been neglecting in recent years, so I’ve been preparing to leap back into things by signing up and training for a couple of runs – first a 10K, then a 12K – and towards the end of the year I’ve joined a group of friends who have signed up for a walking half-marathon to raise money for cancer research.  Does this mean that I’m instantly fit?  Nope!  But am I fitter now than I was six weeks ago?  I certainly am.  It has been a huge challenge to find the time (and energy) for the recommended runs and workouts, and I haven’t always succeeded – but I am on track to complete that first race (even if I have to walk for some of it).

With these things (and other goals), I have to constantly remind myself where the bar is, why I want it, and what steps I need to take in order to be successful in my leap.

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For some of those campers, leaping for the bar wasn’t really a big deal.  Some were fearless; others were just confident in their athleticism.  But for the ones like me, it had to be a deliberate choice to take the risk and make the effort to grasp something that seemed beyond our reach.

 

Have faith that you’ll be able to do what you were created to do: Leap for the bar.

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As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

          -1 Peter 4:10

 

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Motherhood, Parenting, Personal Growth, Relationships

How to Be an Emotional Adult

Angry kitten by zhouxuan12345678 on flickr

Last week I wrote about helping kids to navigate the often murky waters of their own feelings.  This is an important investment of our time as parents, to be sure – but kids aren’t the only ones who need to increase their emotional intelligence.  Some grown-ups still have a lot of growing-up to do when it comes to identifying, handling, and expressing emotion, too.

We adults – just like our kids – can be pretty clueless about how we’re feeling in some situations.  Why, otherwise, would we pull a kid back to prevent him from stepping off a curb into traffic and express our relief at having saved them by yelling at them?!  You know, the old “You could have died!  I’m gonna wring your neck!” speech… * We don’t choose carefully measured words because we are a jumble of nerves and emotions at that moment that we’ve saved a child from the precipice.  We can’t reasonably process all that we’re feeling – and so we express ourselves poorly.

*[Disclaimer here: it is a normal reaction to speak in violent hyperbole when rescuing children from certain death – this does not mean that we follow through with actual physical violence.]

We adults aren’t just clueless about how we’re feeling.  As the above example demonstrates, we’re not always in control of our emotions, either.  We don’t always express our anxiety, anger, or sadness appropriately.  But letting our kids see that we’re working on being better at those things can help them to realize that it’s important for them to make the same effort.  And yes, if we find that we’re consistently ‘venting’ in ways that aren’t healthy for our families or making excuses for yelling, ranting, and raging, then it’s time to get help.

I find it useful to give my family a ‘heads-up’ when I’m feeling particularly stressed or hormonal – not so that I have an excuse for losing my temper, but so that they can understand if I’m not as patient as I’d like to be.  And an apology goes a long way; if we admit that we’ve behaved in a way that we’re not proud of, it puts the responsibility for our actions on our own shoulders so that our kids are less likely to take a sharp answer or impatient attitude personally.  Apologising also demonstrates an important point:

We are responsible for our own actions, even when we feel that our negative feelings might excuse the poor choices we make in expressing those emotions.

We are the adults.  We need to be committed to striving for emotional maturity (more on that later).

It’s important to realize, too, that there are cultural and family differences that influence where we set our threshold for emotional expression.

Brits (and British colonials) have generally exhibited a ‘stiff upper lip’ approach to emotion; that is, don’t let that lower lip wobble and show your vulnerability, but push your feelings to the side and get on with it.  Latin temperaments tend towards the opposite end of the spectrum; Italians and people from other Latinate backgrounds are more likely to display their feelings in a ‘fiesta’ of passions; in those societies, it’s considered braver and more honest to express emotion than to contain it.  Both of these approaches have their benefits and their costs.  When we never address how we’re feeling, we risk becoming too repressed and never making ourselves truly known (nor ever truly knowing others); when we allow ourselves unrestricted expression of emotion, we can cause rifts in our relationships when we vent our frustrations in a heated moment (because seldom do these frustrations typify our feelings about the other person/people the rest of the time – they’re a flash in the pan).

Whether your family growing up embodied the ‘fight hard, love hard’ approach to life, or whether they exhibited a ‘tortoise’ mentality (duck down and wait ‘til it’s over – hide in your shell from those uncomfortable feelings), it WILL have an impact on how you behave in your own relationships today.  It will also affect how you behave in your role as a parent.  But it doesn’t have to be just a matter of walking in your parents’ shoes – you can make deliberate choices to achieve what you feel is a healthy balance (bearing in mind that you don’t want to be extremely to one side or the other of this spectrum).

So, what does emotional maturity look like?  Well, to me it looks something like this:

  • Acknowledging emotions – Accepting that you are an emotional being, and that feelings lend both colour and meaning to your existence.
  • Correctly identifying emotions – “Am I scared? Anxious?  Frustrated? Lonely?”
  • Tracing the source of your feelings – “This feels like anger, but what am I really upset about? Do I feel ignored?  Am I just hungry or tired and so my patience has petered out?”
  • Avoiding blame You’re responsible for your own reactions, and you shouldn’t allow the actions of others to control how you feel.
  • Expressing your emotions in a helpful, considerate, and honest manner – not ‘venting’ or allowing your emotions to control your behaviour to an unhealthy degree.

One of the signs of true emotional maturity in a parent is not mirroring your kids’ craziness back to them.  If your kid’s angry, then he’s angry – it doesn’t mean you have to be, too.  When your preschooler is losing it at the gate into school, you don’t have to burst into tears along with her (even though your heart is breaking) – because you know that you have to hold it together for her sake.

And please don’t think I’m holding myself up as any sort of epitome of emotional maturity here – I am SUCH a work-in-progress on this.  I’m not there yet – but I know where the goal posts are, and I am ever striving towards them.

Our kids need good role models who understand emotion and deal with their feelings in a healthy way.  Parents, let’s work towards demonstrating emotional maturity as we deal with our kids and the other people in our lives who make us crazy!  

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Life, Parenting, Personal Growth

If You’re Happy and You Know It

emotions by Daniel on flickr

A bloodcurdling scream broke through my reverie.  I was searching for the right word to place in a sentence and D. (then two-and-a-half) was playing happily with his toy kitchen tools when something got the better of him – a cap he couldn’t quite unscrew.

As was his default response to frustration at the time, he screamed.

“Can’t DO DAT!” he shouted with exasperation, shaking with the effort of trying to undo the jar cap.

I had rushed to his side in response to his shriek – not knowing whether he was hurt or otherwise.  So when I saw what was causing his distress, I bent down beside him and stroked his hair.

“You can’t undo the cap, so you’re frustrated!” I said.

“Yeth.  Fruth-trated,” he lisped.

“Shall I help you?  Here – turn it this way,” I undid the jar, “And the next time you have trouble, you can call Mama instead of shouting, OK?  You can tell me that you’re frustrated.”

He played happily again, and I returned to my computer to finish the paragraph I was writing.

These are the toddler years.  The years of Big Feelings and no maturity to deal with them.  The years that give us a glimpse of what it’ll be like to deal with them and their emotional ups and downs in years to come.

It wasn’t always that easy.  He wasn’t always so quickly placated.

Sometimes the rage built up and he gave vent to toddler angst that was undirected, unrestrained, and seemingly unstoppable.  He’d scream and cry in response to a perceived injustice and sob for a while afterwards, even in the comfort of my arms.  But he has been learning.  Now, barely three, he is finding words for his feelings.  I’m teaching him to name his emotions as I teach him to deal with them, too.

This is a part of parenting that can challenge even the most zen mother or father.  Emotional outbursts, especially the off-the-chart reactions to upsets – and the ridiculous reasons for kids feeling upset in the first place – can drive parents crazy.  There are hilarious websites dedicated to the mercurial temperaments and unreasonable demands of toddlers (Reasons My Son is Crying and The Honest Toddler are two of many).

But it also makes sense.

We all know that we can turn to a kid and find them blue-lipped and shivering in a T-shirt with their warm coat sitting right beside them.  It’s like they don’t even know they’re cold.  In fact, if we were to comment on their frozen appearance, they’d likely deny feeling any discomfort.  But if we were to throw their coat over their shoulders, they’d probably snuggle into it and enjoy the relief of warming up.

Similarly, it can take an adult to identify the leg-plucking, wriggly jitterbug as the ‘pee pee dance’ and send a kid off to use the toilet – whereas the child himself might not figure out that he was bursting to go until he had to make a mad dash for relief.

A lot of the time, kids don’t recognize what they’re feeling.

And if kids are oblivious to physical input like this, think of how much less aware they are of the emotional side of things.

This is why, when a child is feeling left out or ridiculed at school, he’ll come home and treat his siblings unkindly.  Why he’ll fly off the handle at the slightest provocation.  Why he accuses his family of not loving or caring about him when he’s disciplined.  He doesn’t know what his feelings are, and he definitely doesn’t know what to do with them.

So we as parents have to be prepared to act as guides for our kids.  We have to help them navigate the process of figuring out their feelings and finding ways of expressing those emotions.

This isn’t just a matter of letting kids ‘vent’.  While we definitely don’t want to dismiss our kids’ feelings, I don’t think it’s healthy to encourage a tirade from them whenever they’re upset about something – and I feel that encouraging them to express their emotions physically (i.e. punching a pillow) can actually increase aggression.  We don’t want to allow our children an unfettered response to every emotional trigger.  But helping kids identify feelings and giving them boundaries within which they can express those emotions will open up a world of communication and self-awareness that would otherwise be closed to them.

If they’re frustrated, acknowledge their frustrationIf they say, “It’s not FAIR!” don’t tell them that it is – tell them you understand how they’re feeling and accept that this feels BAD to them: “It doesn’t seem fair and you want things to be equal.  What would that look like, to you?”  This position is respectful of them and their emotions but also invites an exchange of ideas, leading to the opportunity for you, as a parent, to provide some perspective.

If they’re sad, provide nurture.  Come alongside them in their unhappiness.  Not, “What are you crying about?  That’s just ridiculous!” but, “Oh, honey – you’re so sad about this!  Can I give you a cuddle?”  From the warmth of your embrace and the sanctuary you provide when you acknowledge their feelings, they can often get beyond the trigger for their tears and down to the root of their upset.

If they’re angry, don’t reflect their rage. This is the hardest one for me – my pulse starts racing and I begin feeling defensive, and pretty soon I’m as upset as they are.  Anger, in particular, is usually a secondary emotion; that is, a child (or adult) is feeling lonely, misunderstood, dismissed, or whatever – and that sadness or upset grows into a feeling of defensiveness and anger.  But at the root of the rage is this little child who just desperately needs understanding.  When we don’t react to their anger, we open up the potential for them to engage with their primary emotion and deal with it.  This becomes a preventative for future outbursts.

If they’re excited, give them the freedom to express it in childish waysIt’s so easy to become irritated with excitable kids – they’re silly, loud, and can even be a bit aggressive – but we need to cut them some slack.  Yes, we need to maintain boundaries for them, but we also need to set boundaries around our own feelings.  “OK, they’re acting a bit crazy – but it’s so exciting for them that they’re going to this birthday party and they’re having trouble containing themselves.”

The caveat to this, of course, is that we don’t want to affirm their feelings so much that they continue to respond inappropriately to every upset.  The child who always feels victimized by whatever anyone else does clearly needs to be taught a different viewpoint – it’s just that this teaching should be step two of the process

“Jack’s always bugging me!”

1)“You’re getting frustrated with Jack”; 2) “You feel like he never leaves you alone.  I think he just wants you to notice him – maybe he feels left out.  Do you think that you could find a way of including him so that he doesn’t bug you to get your attention?”

Step 1: Acknowledge/name the feeling; Step 2: Analyze the feeling and determine/discuss the appropriate response/action. [Step 3 might include Addressing future courses of action – helping the child determine the correct response the next time]

Here’s another example:

“You’re feeling angry at me because it’s time to leave the park [Acknowledgement].  We need to go now, but we can come back another time [Action] – and because you’re coming right when I’ve called you, we’ll be able to stay a little longer next time [a little motivation – Addressing the future – thrown in for good measure].

There’s no rulebook for how to deal with the daily tantrum or the constant complaints of unfairness or the tearful declarations of wishing to be part of “ANOTHER family!” – except that we need to work hard to move past our kids’ behaviour in order to dig deeper into the feelings that precipitate that behaviour.

It would be great if there were just a one-size-fits-all explanation for why kids act the way they act, but there isn’t.

What we do know is that educating a child about his emotions helps him become more emotionally intelligent as he grows: read this article to find out more We’ve got to believe that it’s an important investment of our time.

*if you’re in a hurry, skip down to the next asterisk – this is just some insight into my own family, and how I’m working with their individual personalities*

All my boys are different. 

A is mercurial – he can be so polite, ingratiating and helpful – but his demeanor can change on a hair trigger and when it does he embodies the typical out-of-control screechy pre-adolescent. At this age, he’s a bundle of emotions. There’s plenty of self-doubt and a somewhat negative self-image (thanks to careless comments by schoolmates and siblings), and these are just fuel for the fire when something sets him off.  Two minutes later, he’s penitent and loving.  His apology is so sincere that the rest of us, still reeling from his latest outburst, can do nothing but forgive and embrace.  Later, though, there is time for the conversation.  Right now we’re working on identifying the triggers that lead to him flying off the handle – and I’m working on staying calm in the moment and not reacting to his anger.

B is super-sensitive – For a kid who generally seems confident (almost to the point of arrogance), he is remarkably thin-skinned. Turns out that what seems like self-belief can sometimes be a veneer on a lot of insecurity. He says he’s the fastest runner in his class, because it’s important for him to feel like he is – but he also doubts his own ability.  This means that he can be extremely defensive, argumentative, and touchy.  He acts like he’s pretty tough and resilient, but when the cracks appear we catch a glimpse of a deeply sensitive soul.  Even when he was a toddler, there were songs that touched his heart and brought him to tears.  He’s always the kid who sits there clearing his throat during a sad movie, “Oh, I’ve just got something in my eye!”  Our challenge with him is to encourage him to be vulnerable with his emotions and not project this armour of arrogance – and, of course, to help him to navigate the deeper emotions when he would otherwise see them as weakness.

C is a stoic – I work hard to get him to acknowledge that he has any emotions, let alone getting him to name them. The answer to “How was school?” is always, “Good!” and the response to my query about the high-points and low-points of his day is always an outright denial of anything negative (he refuses to acknowledge any low-points – unless it is to point out that the sandwich I packed wasn’t to his liking!). Hey, at least he’s happy-go-lucky, I hear you thinking, but of course we need to give him space and license to experience the deeper emotions – even the negative ones – as well.

D is a bit young yet – but as a toddler he’s a bit of a mix. He’s very loving with us – particularly with me (lucky Mama!) – but he’s not always quick to embrace others. In the church nursery he has, on a number of occasions, announced loudly that he “HATEs BABIES!” – to which I always respond, “You don’t like it when I pay attention to babies. I’m still your Mama, and you’re always my baby, but we need to be gentle and kind to babies.”  Our job with him is to love and encourage, to set firm boundaries but chastise gently, and to help him identify his emotions as we guide his expression of the same.

*If you’re reading the shorter version of this post, welcome back!*

We need to teach our kids to embrace their feelings, because we were created to be emotional beings.  We also need to teach our children how to express and manage their emotions.

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.

– Proverbs 16:32

Raising emotionally intelligent kids is a complex but vital part of parenting.  We accomplish this by acknowledging their feelings (and not dismissing them), analyzing their emotions (why they’re feeling that way and determining an appropriate response), and addressing how they might make good choices in expressing their emotions in the future.

Obviously we’re better able to help our kids with these things when we, as parents, are emotionally intelligent as well.  In my next post I’ll talk a bit about how we as adults process our feelings.  We’re works in progress, too!

Here’s to happy, healthy kids!

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Faith, Life, Personal Growth, Philosophy, Reflection

Books and Covers

Books and Covers by judy and ed on flickr

It was one of those church concerts you so often just stumble upon in European cathedrals.  A visiting Welsh girls’ choir was performing, and I nipped in and grabbed a pew just as the choristers filed in.  They arranged themselves on the sanctuary steps and very shortly a divine sound echoed into the cavernous reaches of the church.

As an old choir girl, myself, I was interested to see how some of the choristers employed techniques for improving resonance and maintaining pitch (including opening their mouths widely to let the sound out, and smiling to prevent the notes from falling flat) – but, in spite of the general professionalism of the group, a few girls looked as if they just weren’t trying.

One girl in particular drew my eye.  She was plumpish and round-shouldered, and she carried a neutral – almost sullen – expression on her face.  She barely opened her mouth when she was singing, made no eye contact with the audience, and seemed altogether uncomfortable.  I kind of wondered why she was there at all.

I was surprised when I saw her step forward at the end of a song.  I figured that somehow she had been chosen to introduce the next piece, and I wondered if she were going to mumble an introduction the way she seemed to be mumbling the songs.  I watched as she took a deep breath.  The piano started with a few bars – and she began to sing.

Though many years have passed since my serendipitous discovery of that concert, I still remember the sweetness of that girl’s solo.  Her voice rang out, clear and true, and the audience was transfixed – none more than me.  I sat, awestruck, stinging with my own ears’ rebuke of my prejudice against this girl: the one with the angelic voice.

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As I ran along the waterfront towards home, the sun shone warm above me and salty breezes buffeted the buggy.  In the marina, the sailboats’ rigging lines sang in the wind.

I came upon a carpool of construction workers exiting a beat-up old van at their worksite.  Two of them were burly, with bellies hanging over their belts where their fluoro vests stopped short; another was rangy, with two days-worth of ‘five o’clock shadow’ and a ciggie hanging, unlit, from the corner of his lips.  We called out good-morning greetings as I approached, and in the background I could hear that their music was still playing loudly – as you’d expect.  What you might not have expected, though, was their choice of tunes.  Strains of Tchaikovsky spilled out of the passenger-side door and mingled with the cries of the gulls overhead.

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A global study on happiness was conducted a number of years ago (not ‘The Happiness Project,’ which is somewhat skewed towards richer respondents).  They looked at affluent societies, industrial communities, aboriginal groups, families living in the most abject poverty – in short, the researchers covered a great diversity in living situations.  And they came up with some surprising findings.  What they discovered was that some people living in poverty achieved a greater sense of contentment with life – happiness – than others in far superior circumstances.  I remember seeing an interview with a group of people in a slum in India following the release of this study’s results:

“Yes, we’re happy,” said one woman, “Because we’re together.”

“Together” meant eight adults living in a one-bedroom shack.  Together meant eating their meagre portions of rice in shifts, because they didn’t have enough bowls for them to share their meal at the same time.  Together meant taking turns to sleep, too, because there was only half as much space as they needed to all be stretched out at once.

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“You can’t judge a book by its cover”

We all know this expression, don’t we?  And yet, how often do we heed the truth of it?

A plain exterior can conceal exquisite talents.  Rough edges can hide tender interiors.  Financial poverty can obscure the fact of the wealth of a life shared.

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.

-John 7:24

Again and again, I am reminded to suspend my knee-jerk judgement and look deeper for the truth.  People are so much more than they appear to be.

This seems an especially apt topic for me to cover right now, as I’m going through a bit of a ‘Common Dowdyfrau’ phase.  I look in the mirror, and all I see is what’s wrong with me – overweight, insecure, unattractive…  I know that this is how others might perceive me, too.

And yet, I also know that there is so much more to me than that.

I am a beloved child of God, for starters – no matter how unworthy I feel, I cannot dismiss the worthiness this gives me.  I am a mother – not always a good mother; not always an accomplished mother; but always, always a devoted mother.  I am a wife – loyal, loving, committed.  And I am a writer, an editor, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a niece…  The mirror tells me one thing, but the Bible tells me to look deeper.  My value – and the value of every other human – is contained in who I am and WHOSE I am, and not what I look like.

How much money you make, what school you went to, where you find your friends on the social ladder, who designed your clothes, and how many ‘Likes’ your facebook statuses get – those things don’t define you.  What defines you is who you choose to be on a day-to-day basis, and whose you are (because, whether you recognize it or not, you were lovingly created).

So let’s get past those covers and start delving into the stories inside.  Let’s stop believing that we’ve got other people all figured out because ‘we can just tell by looking at them.’  And let’s each try to be an open book and invite others to know us better so that they can move beyond appearances, too.

Let’s look inside.

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