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Conscious parenting through following our children’s lead

Conscious parenting through following our children’s lead

Parenting through a 6 week lockdown certainly had its challenges. But the thing about challenges is that they often make us look at things in a new way or support us towards conscious parenting.

During lockdown, Ian and I learned to follow our children’s lead a lot more than we’re used to. It’s something that’s definitely in line with our parenting approach and builds their self-esteem.

Following Dom’s lead started with home learning. I wanted to be able to continue Dom’s learning during lockdown. But, I was anxious that I would do something that would cause Dom to develop a lifelong hatred of learning and school.

His teachers provided me with the curriculum and learning tools. At the same time, a lot of noise was being made about how schooling wasn’t critical… safety, comfort and connection were most important for our kids.

So, I followed Dom’s lead. He wanted a timetable like he had at school – I made one. He wanted whakamata (activity) stations like he has at school – I set them up each evening. If he asked for a break, I gave it to him.

I think that because he knew I’d listen to him if he needed to stop and do something different for a while, he was also more willing to listen to me. I was successful, more often than not, at encouraging him to complete his lessons.

Science has been another way I follow his lead. Dom wanted to make Rainbow Juice. So, he told me that Rainbow Juice is what you make when you blend lots of different coloured fruit. He wanted to know what would happen if you put salt on a cookie and fried it in butter. These were his ideas of science experiments. So, we did them. And here’s what I learned:

  • Letting Dom make the decisions really boosted his self esteem.
  • These ~science experiments were a great opportunity for Mum/Dom time.
  • Rainbow Juice is delicious!
  • Salted, fried chocolate chip cookies are also delicious (although far less healthy).

Encouraging our children to have a say in their own lives builds autonomy and self-esteem. I’ve always let me kids negotiate with me. If I say it’s bed time and they ask to stay up later, we discuss it. Often we agree to a late night on the weekend. I’ve found this hasn’t meant they ask for a later bedtime each night. They don’t abuse the privilege.

Our children are people. They deserve the right to have control over what goes on in their lives. We’re here to guide them and help them make the right decision, but we’re also here to help them grow into awesome adults and one way of doing it is letting them take the lead as frequently as possible.

How to cope with anger and shame

How to cope with anger and shame

It’s Maternal Mental Health Day! Since sharing and supporting women through post-natal and ongoing depression is exactly why I wanted to start a blog in the first place, I figured I should probably write a blog today.

So, today I want to talk about two symptoms of depression… anger and shame.

Anger.

People think depression is all lying in the dark and thinking about ending it. For this reason, anger is such an insidious symptom because you might not realise that you’re depressed. You might write your anger off as lack of sleep, your baby going through a difficult phase or your partner being a douche.

About 6 months after having Dom, I was angry… ALL THE TIME! Everything that child did made me angry. Particularly trying to get him to eat. I can vividly remember him being in the high chair and I was feeling so full of rage I wanted to smash my head into the wall to stop release that energy in a way that wasn’t harmful to Dom. That’s the day I Googled about my anger and discovered it was a symptom of depression.

“Never shake a baby.” We all know this mantra. If postnatal depression really was just lying in the dark wanting nothing to do with your child, this mantra wouldn’t be something so drummed into all of us. It’s that anger that comes with postnatal depression that leads us to shake our babies. That rage that made me want to hurt myself could just as easily have been directed at Dominic.

And that’s why it’s so important to recognise anger as a symptom of depression… so that you know it’s an actual medical condition that you can see your doctor about.

Shame.

I’m not talking here about being ashamed that you have depression. I’m talking about the shame that depression makes you feel and ruminate on.

Depression directly causes shame as people stop living in accordance with their own values.

Maybe it’s the walks you’ve stopped taking or the junk food you’ve started eating. Maybe it’s yelling at your kids and nitpicking your husband.

For me, it’s the to-do list that I make each morning that never gets done. I want so badly to be motivated to clean, bake, exercise, work etc. and when the lethargy of depression prevents me, I feel shame. And then, I ruminate on that shame. So, not only do I hate myself for not being the wife, mother, friend, businesswoman and homemaker that I want to be, I can’t stop thinking about how effing useless I am.

Shame is a downward spiral. And a very difficult one to break. But it is possible!

I’m angry and ashamed… now what?

First and foremost, know this:

Depression is a medical condition in which you have thoughts and feelings that are not true!

The way forward is to develop your coping skills by challenging those thoughts and feelings. To help you do this, I’ve put together an overview and worksheet on challenging your thoughts and reactions.

Download the pdf now!

Read the overview and then here’s how to use the worksheet on the final page:

If you have a reaction to something and wished you’d reacted differently, fill in the worksheet. That might be that you felt ashamed after eating that whole block of chocolate or that you felt angry and yelled at your toddler for wetting themselves.

Situation/Trigger and Emotion/Feeling:

Write down the situation and what you felt. Often a lot of emotions are all battling inside us at once.

Unhelpful thoughts:

Take the time to reflect on the thoughts that ran through your head. Write down these unhelpful thoughts. There is a page of unhelpful thinking styles in the overview.

Helpful thoughts:

Take the time to think about what some helpful thoughts might have looked like in that situation. This can be difficult and can at times feel a little forced. That’s OK! It will for a time.

Response:

Write down how you wish you had reacted in that situation.

Once you’ve done this a few times in retrospect, you’ll find that you’re able to pause and challenge your thinking as it happens!!! Developing coping skills doesn’t happen immediately… like anything you’ll need to practice, but know this… it is possible to learn these skills!

Perfectionist Thinking: Am I passing it on to my kids?

Perfectionist Thinking: Am I passing it on to my kids?

I’m a perfectionist. Unfortunately, this isn’t as cute as it sounds. For me, perfectionistic thinking means that anything less than perfection is failure. This is what drove me to tears, screaming, and ultimately the psych ward, after having Connor. I believed that I had to do it ALL, be the perfect parent, have the perfect children. Any time I was doing less that absolute perfection (which, with a newborn is ALL the time) I was beating myself up, internally and externally.

My perfectionistic thinking has been the main topic of conversation with my therapists over the years. It still plagues me, but I manage it much better these days. I’m able to find joy in the journey, even if the outcome isn’t what I expected. I’ve learned to value effectiveness over perfection… a birthday cake is still delicious even if it doesn’t look Pinterest perfect!

Unfortunately, I’ve started to see some perfectionistic behaviours in my children. Is it nature? Are they destined to inherit my messed up brain chemistry? Or is it nurture? Am I inadvertently teaching them that perfection is the only option?

At the start of October, I decided to start the kids on some extra-curricular activities. For Dom, I chose Aikido. He loves martial arts and with Aikido he’d learn respect, focus and control which are some areas he’s struggling in at the moment. Unfortunately, it did not go well. Dom would watch the demonstration of the move and then refuse to try it because he didn’t know how to do it.

And herein lies the problem with perfectionistic thinking. While most people accept that it’s ok to make mistakes, the perfectionistic thinker believes mistakes are NOT OK! Mistakes are failure and it’s terrifying. Growing up, I always said I had a fear of failure. This was me recognising the symptom of my perfectionistic thinking before I had a name for it.

I watched Dom refuse to try basic steps at Aikido because he was, in his words, scared. Scared of not being able to do it. Scared of humiliation. I tried telling him that it was okay to get it wrong first time. I told him that no one knows how to do things first try, it takes practice. I reminded him that bravery is feeling scared and trying it anyway. I tried to help him physically by positioning his feet so that the risk of mistake was minimised. Nothing helped. His fear of failure was so strong he couldn’t even get off the starting block.

So, I’ve been wondering… is this perfectionistic thinking? Or is it just the uncertainty of a five year old? Am I beating myself up more than I need to? I don’t know, but it’s made me think about how I treat mistakes or failure, and the things I can do to help my children manage the disappointment or fear of making mistakes.

1. Try new things when the kids are fresh and in a good mood.

Connor’s first trip to athletics was very similar to Dom’s first trip to Aikido. The next morning Connor told me that the reason he gave up was because he was tired and could he please try again. So the next week we made sure he’d had an early night beforehand, had eaten and rested well and was in the right frame of mind. It worked wonders! He was still coming near the back of the pack, but he was able to cope with that by telling himself that he would get better with practice.

2. Remind them of what was good about the attempt.

We play a lot of card and board games in our family. And losing can cause tears. We spend some gentle time with whoever is upset, talking about what they did well and reminding them how much fun they had during the game. Dom is now excellent at congratulating the winner and Connor’s working on it, but I really feel this is helping.

3. Own up to our own mistakes.

I call them by the wrong name. I forget things… like a spoon for Dom’s yoghurt in his lunchbox. I spill things and I make a mess. I own up to my mistakes and talk about how it’s not a big deal. I do this when they make mistakes as well. If they spill something or break something on accident, it’s not a big deal… these things happen. I grew up in a house where accidents meant being yelled at and I’ve vowed to not punish my kids when they make genuine mistakes.

4. Love them.

One of my favourite parenting quotes is, “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not to join their chaos.”

As frustrated and angry as I was at Dom over his refusal to participate at Aikido, I couldn’t let it show. He was dealing with his own fears and anxiety and my job as his mum was to help him manage those emotions. It definitely ranks in the hardest parenting moments for me, but I set my anger to one side to help him through the moment and disappointment he was feeling.

Rules and consequences are for grownups too

We all know that kids thrive with rules and boundaries. I wrote a post recently about our family rules. In it I talked about how everyone follows the rules and everyone enforces the rules. Sometimes as a parent it can be frustrating following the rules… I’m a grown up dammit!

But, I’m a firm believer in not expecting anything from my children that I wouldn’t expect from myself, so I follow the rules even when I really really would rather eat my lunch on the couch instead of at the table.

Recently we’ve been having some behaviour issues with Dominic. This has pushed our patience to the limits and, unfortunately, Ian has displayed that frustration through yelling. One of our family rules (and a very important one with Connor who thinks louder is better), is no yelling at each other. And Ian hasn’t been following that rule very well at all.

Dominic was talking to me about how Daddy had yelled at him and he suggested putting in place a consequence to help him fix his behaviour. I love that we make the rules and consequences as a family and that Dom had come up with this strategy on his own.

Ian loves podcasts. Any chance he gets he’s got his headphones on listening to the McElroy Brothers or some other geek or science podcast. It’s his quiet time and it’s his boredom buster when washing dishes or folding laundry.

So, this became his consequence. Together Dom and I decided that if Daddy yells, he gets his headphones taken off him for 30 minutes. That afternoon we told Ian about the new consequence and he agreed to it. This was last week. We’ve now had 6 days without yelling… in fact he hasn’t yelled at the kids once since the consequence was put in place (did I mention Ian LOVES podcasts?).

He’s now calmer and able to talk to the kids about what they’re feeling and why they misbehaved rather than going straight to yelling and sending them away. We’ve seen a reduction in misbehaviour overall and a marked reduction in the amount of yelling the kids are doing.

It’s important to remember that we’re raising people, not kids. We can have rules and boundaries appropriate for their age and stage, but kids are smarter than we sometimes give them credit for… they know when something’s not fair. Making sure that we’re just as accountable to good behaviour as our children is showing respect for them and respect for the type of behaviour we expect of those around us.

Reintroducing Darling Buds of Play

The past week has been pretty crazy for me. A week ago, Olivia let me know she’d made the decision to leave Darling Buds of Play. I’ve had to really assess what DBoP means to me and whether I was ready to go it alone.

Welcome to Darling Buds of Play: The Kat Project! I’ve decided that I need to continue on with this venture. I believe so deeply in what Darling Buds is about and what we’ve been trying to achieve that I just can’t let it go.

So, in light of this reshuffle I thought I’d take some time to share who I am, what DBoP is all about and why you should stick around.

What is Darling Buds of Play all about?

Darling Buds of Play is a resource for mums who experience depression, anxiety or who just struggle from time to time with looking after themselves and finding joy in being a parent.

By sharing my journey towards mindful parenting and the struggles I face as a mum when my depression takes over, I hope to provide inspiration, support and positivity to other mums.

Why should you listen to me?

Because I’m a mum.

When I had my second child (a mere 15 months after my first child) I ended up in the Mothers and Babies mental health unit here in Christchurch. For the past four years I’ve had the constant support of psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors and family support workers. I truly wish that these were resources every mother could access because they are a huge reason why I’m the mum I am today.

Darling Buds of Play pairs the lessons and advice I’ve received from professionals, with my own unique struggles, experiences and approach to parenting. Hopefully I’m able to provide a different perspective to parenting challenges… something that you can use or adapt to support your own journey.

Want to know a bit more about me?

I’m a mum of two boys aged (almost) 4 and 5. I believe in gentle and emotionally intelligent parenting. As a parent this means I want to get to the feelings and emotions that are the source of undesirable behaviour rather than punish or deal with the actions.

I believe nature is the greatest imagination kickstarter. I believe kids should be raised to appreciate and respect all the wonderful blessings Mother Earth bestows on us.

I’m also a giant nerd. I love sci-fi, quiz nights, board games and comics. I’m a feminist and vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights. If you follow Darling Buds of Play expect Star Wars references and impassioned equality rants!

Welcome! I’m so so very glad you’re here. Feel free to introduce yourself below.

Small actions towards a healthier family and a healthier earth

Growing up, “hippy” was a bad word. A lifestyle which embraced nature and sustainability was one that was scorned by my parents. We ate white bread, and sprayed fly spray around the house with abandon! The one concession to being “green” was our vegetable garden and that existed because of tradition and money savings rather than any leaning towards ethical or healthy choices.

And so I began my parenting journey with many of these prejudices still in place. I used soaps on my kids and cleaners around the house with no thought to how this might affect their health, or the health of the planet. 

Then Connor started getting eczema. Goodbye bubble baths and goodbye fruity smelly soap. Hello aqueous cream. Suddenly I was aware of all the chemicals that were a key part of my daily routine. 

So now when I cleaned the bath with Jif I’d spend ages (and litres upon litres of water) rinsing and rinsing and rinsing to get rid of the gritty, chemical residue. I’d spray my bench with cleaner and then wipe and rinse and wipe some more to hopefully get rid of the cleaner before I started to prepare food there.

About 6 months ago, I started using a homemade citrus and vinegar cleaner throughout the house. While it certainly reduced my anxiety about the chemicals my kids are interacting with, a lot of the actual “cleaning” was being achieved through elbow grease rather than the vinegar… and my house constantly smelled like vinegar. But, it was a positive step in the right direction and the amount of water I used while cleaning reduced as a result. Mother Earth is thanking me for that one!

Then Olivia discovered Second Nature Botanicals on Instagram, a fellow Kiwi mum with a desire to make better choices for the health of her family and the health of the earth by eliminating plastics and chemicals. She very kindly offered us some of her products and I leaped at the chance to get my hands on some Organic Cleaning Spray.

Before I get into how awesome this cleaner is, I need to talk about the smell! Oh! My! God!! I grew up with the Abel Tasman National Park on my doorstep. I’ve spent many summers visiting, tramping and camping in this park. The moment I smelled the Organic Cleaning Spray, I was immediately overwhelmed by warm nostalgia. I’m assuming it’s the Manuka oil in the cleaner because Manuka grows in abundance through the Abel Tasman, but whatever it is, every time I use this I’m transported to golden sands and clear blue oceans and carefree summers. I LOVE IT!!!

As a cleaner itself, it’s awesome! My most frequent cleaning challenge is yoghurt and cereal, dried hard and clinging strong to my placemats. This makes cleaning a breeze! (I’ve tried to write that sentence without sounding like an ad, but I can’t. This cleaner is just so damn good!)

The glass bottle and natural ingredients really put my mind at ease over how my product choices are affecting my kids and our planet.

I’ve avoided buying household products online because I’m inherently lazy. Why go through the effort of online shopping when I’m at the supermarket each week? I think that the answer is, because it’s the more ethical and responsible choice! Supporting local, supporting other mums, knowing who made the product and what’s in it… they all are worth the extra effort. 

When Second Nature Botanicals creator, Kirsty, first decided to ditch the chemicals, she committed to one product at a time. This feels manageable. Small steps towards a healthier family and a healthier Earth. Growing up, it may have been “alternative” to give thought to green and ethical purchasing, but as an adult, it feels right in my heart and in my mind. I’ve done one product and am so very happy with the results. My next will be laundry detergent, so if you can recommend a great, Kiwi-made, soap and chemical free laundry powder or liquid, let me know!

Olivia says…

Unlike Kat, I embraced my “hippy” side years ago. Sage, essential oils and crystals are all in common use in my house. They help me find balance and calm when my anxiety or the everyday challenges of parenting threaten to overwhelm.

A few weeks ago, we were up to our eyeballs in a 40 degree fever and snot galore. We had not left the house in 24 hours and cabin fever was at an all time high. 

A knock at the door jolted us from our slumps. A package from Second Nature Botanicals! It really couldn’t have come at a nicer time. With no plastic packaging it was a joy to open and find the Chill Me Out spray… and boy did I need chilling out!  

I instantly went for the smell test… things I’ve had in the past that have included a hint of lavender can often just smell like, well, lavender. It’s such an overpowering smell that it can almost be too much. To my delight the lavender wasn’t overpowering and I could smell the chamomile and cedarwood! So off I went, spraying all the pillows and linen in each room. It instantly felt like we had opened a window and allowed the fresh air to come in even though we hadn’t.

Every day I have sprayed the beds with the Chill Out Spray before the kids have gone to bed. It really adds a nice ambience for bedtime and Maya loves that her pillow smells like “outside flowers”. I love that I know she’s laying her head down on a pillow that’s smelling amazing without worrying about the chemicals she could be breathing in!

How great is it that it’s easy to find and support local businesses who also love the environment AND their products are great quality?!