Saturday, 4 February 2023

Joyful Parenting

 At the beginning of this year I chose "Joyful" as my word of the year, and I have been using January to think about this word and map out how I will navigate creating a more joyful year for myself.

One area of my life which I have been finding especially joyless has been my parenting.  So I've decided to have parenting as my focus for growth in February.  Currently my parenting is feeling very joy-less.  I have got myself into a lot of bad habits.  Joyful parenting for me does not look like:

  • Yelling,  
  • shaming, 
  • making my children feel sad, 
  • punishments,
  • distracting myself from my children with social media, 
  • Not praising
  • not having time for my children,
I'm ashamed to say I've been doing far too much of this recently. 

    But equally joyful parenting doesn't feel like:
    • Being nagged constantly,
    • Feeling overwhelmed,
    • Experiencing sensory overload from the constant noise and requests,
    • my children saying unkind words to me,
    • Feeling guilty
    • not having any me-time.

      I matter too.  

      Let me tell you a bit about my parenting over the years, I've been doing it for over 10 years now so I feel I have a bit of experience.  

      When I had my first I was very idealistic.  I read books like Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn,  How to talk so kids will listen, how to listen so kids will talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, No bad kids by Janet Lansbury, The Gentle Parent by L.R Knost, and books by Sarah Ockwell Smith, and others.  So you probably get the idea of where I was hoping to come from with my parenting. 

      Now I am not saying that there books are bad (except Unconditional Parenting)  they are all good and have wonderful ideals, but they have become unrealistic for me, they have become a source of guilt and shame.  I cannot live up to the way parenting is presented in these books, maybe it would work if you have one or two children and they are in school and you have no housework, but, and I cringe to say it, gentle parenting hasn't worked for me or my children.  And we are now in a not-very-pleasant situation where we all shout at each other far too much, we don't speak kindly, I feel resentful, and they appear ungrateful and no one is really happy. 

      I am certain some reading this will think that I was just doing it wrong and maybe there is truth in that but I need to find a way forward that works for me and my children that doesn't leave me feeling guilty, like a failure and like I have ruined my children's lives. 

      But February is about being Joyful so I'm not going to spend any more time on self deprecation, adding more guilt to the load I already carry isn't going to help me.  I need a way forward that is going to be positive for me and my children. 

      So, what does joyful parenting look like for me and my children?

      Praising my kids - I didn't believe it when Alfie Kohn said don't praise you kids, it never felt right and I don't believe it now either.  I weep at the number of times I held back a cry of joyful praise at something wonderful one of my children had done, and instead joylessly described their drawing, observed their behaviour back to them, asked them a question about how they felt.  
      How my heart sings now to cry "good boy" to one of my children.  Who doesn't want to be called good?  In Genesis we read God creating humanity and declaring it was "very good".  If God can call us good they I sure as heck can tell my boys that they are good, even very good!  Yes praising my children is joyful and I'll be doing as much of this as I can this year. 

      Holding back the yells - I've nearly finished reading a book called Yell Less Love More by Sheila McCraith, and although the release of a yell in the moment might feel like a release of stress and give momentary relief, it certainly isn't joyful, so I'm going to try harder to hold back the yells using the techniques she gives (which by the way aren't fixated on examining your triggers, which I find, quite frankly like gaslighting parents.  Kids are annoying sometimes, lets just say that! they're annoying just because they are annoying!! Not necessarily because of some awful thing that happened in my childhood!  I hereby give you permission to feel annoyed by your children without having to masticate endlessly over why.)

      Get off my phone - Distracting myself from my children isn't joyful, having them see me on my phone a lot also isn't joyful, not being present and missing things isn't joyful. I need to create some SMART targets for myself to get off my phone (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely) so this is something else I am going to work on. 

      I also feel like joyful parenting looks like having a good time when I am with my children.  That they like me, trust me and respect me enough to know that what I am asking them to do is the right thing.  I think it feels like boundaries being put in place that mean they understand that nagging is not going to work, and that kind words help you get what you want and make you and others feel good.  I think it looks like getting time to myself to replenish.  It looks like laughing together, having fun together, having my children help me round the house.  Not having to yell all the time, working cooperatively.  I could go on, and perhaps now I am getting into fantasy land, but I think it is right to aim high, to visualise how I want it to be to "manifest" the life I would like.  

      That's all I've got so far and I'm going to use February to read more books and and work out what else makes parenting joyful and hopefully I'll be able to get back to you with an update on how this is going as the year goes on, but I've got all year to work on this so there's plenty of time to figure it out.  The most important thing I am going to need on this journey is prayer, because I can't do this on my own, but "I can do all things through He who strengthens me."  Philippians 4:13. 

      If you'd like to join me on my joyful journey please subscribe to my blog and you'll get all my posts direct to your inbox. 

      Friday, 30 December 2022

      Word of the year for 2023

      Well hello there, long time no see!

      2022 has, in one word been nuts.  Utterly mad, chaotic and crazy.  I had a baby and that's pretty much all you need to know. 
      My word for 2022 was grace.  I was to give myself grace on parenting, art, creativity, home ed, my home, and I did.  Giving myself grace was supposed to mean forgiving myself when I couldn't achieve everything that I wanted to,  grace was supposed to mean forgiving myself when I did not achieve perfection, and it was supposed to mean resting in the moment rather than frantically trying to do everything. Grace did all these things for me, whenever I started feeling like I wasn't doing enough, wasn't good enough I reminded myself that this year I would give myself grace.  2021 was a stinker, bad pregnancy, covid, my husband nearly dying, and numerous hospital visits, slow progress on our house and umpteen other unfortunately events meant I was all out of energy and motivation.  Grace was what a needed for 2022. 
      And I did indeed give myself grace, I gave myself grace in abundance, I totally and utterly clocked off from trying, the grace I was giving myself started mean that I became a bit lazy, I started to give myself excuses for doing the things that I should have been, could have been and wanted to be doing. For much of the year grace ended up meaning not trying too hard at anything. And in the end this was not the goal.  
      Although I did feel a degree of peace in not putting a lot of pressure on myself to achieve, I have ended up looking back and feeling like the year still very stressful and chaotic and I've ended up feeling a little bit disappointed with myself, and and that's not a nice feeling.

      It was back in November that I realised the word I needed for 2023.  It had been in my mind since my baby was born at the end of December 2021.  Joyful.  He was born at home about 20 minutes before the paramedics and midwives arrived, just me and my husband and it was perfect.  When he was born I felt the most exquisite joy wash over me and I began to laugh! His name means joyful. 
      Unfortunately thinks went bad after that, and joy wasn't something I could access for quite a while.  

      But I am so ready for joyful in 2023, and I'm excited to find out how I can make all aspects of my life joyful.  I'm going to explore joyful eating, joyful dressing, joyful home school, joyful marriage and joyful parenting to name just a few.  
      As I prepare for the year ahead I have been turning to the Bible to inform how joyfulness can influence my year and there are two things that strike me most.  First, joy comes from Christ and second joy in not dependant on circumstances. I will talk more about this in the year, but those two factors are going to be infused into every aspect of my word of the year and I'm really excited to experience the year unfolding with joy at the heart. 

      Do you have a word of the year?  I'd love to hear what it is a why.  

      Sunday, 3 July 2022

      So What Do You Actually Do All Day?

      Home education has been on the public radar quite a lot over the past two years with parents across the country being plunged head first into trying to educate their children from home back in March 2020.  Many parents found this experience excruciating and couldn’t wait for schools to re-open, still others loved in and decided to embark on home educating their children full time.  I had a really hard time during lock down in spite of regularly being told that nothing much must have changed for me.  Clearly there was a pre-conceived idea that home education took place entirely in the home in isolation from the wider world.  This could not be further from the truth and I struggled so much not being able to attend our groups, see friend and visit museums, libraries and other educational places.  These were a huge part of my educational provision, just being home all day everyday was not part of the plan!

      Two years on and many families have decided to continue home educating their children; as a result, numbers have risen and the government are starting to get concerned.  They don’t really want children being home educated because that means one parent not working (at least not full time) and therefore contributing less tax revenue than that of a full time working parent. I think the government would also prefer every British citizen to have the same educational experience as each other (except for the rich ones of course), it doesn’t really want too many free thinkers walking about.  So, in a small part as a result of the rise in numbers of home educating families over the last two years, the government have pressed on with their plan to introduce a home education register, along with their “schools bill” which all parents should be concerned about, home educating or otherwise. There is a lot of information on the internet about it, so I won’t harp on here, but needless to say the government’s claims that they will “level up standards” and be providing educational “excellence” are pretty laughable. 

      The Government claim that there are children “under the radar”; parents who are keeping their children locked up at home, neglected, with no socialisation and likely abuse under the guise of “home education, or else are indoctrinating children with illegal schools.  The Government claim that a register will make sure that no children are missed (won’t those parents abusing their children just not sign the register seeing as they are already doing something illegal?!)  in spite of the fact that every single child who was abused under the guise of home education were already know to local authorities.   It seems to me a lot of parents, even those in the home ed community think the Governments plan is a good idea, “if it saves just one child from abuse it’s worth it” they say “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” they say.  But the reality is that sadly it won’t save any children from abuse.  More children are abused in school than in home education.  It’s never really about the children.

      Maybe because of lockdown and how parents were forced into home learning in isolation, there are a lot of misconceptions about home education, and the image of all children sat at the kitchen table receiving drills in maths an English, churning out a generation of, at best, maladjusted weirdos, and at worst illiterate criminals, continues to permeate the minds of the general public. This perception was further ingrained after the lockdown as parents assumed what they were doing at home with their schooled children was the same as what we were doing with our home educated children (all at home, not going out, not seeing anyone).  And that, as I have said, couldn’t be further from the truth. 

      One question I get asked a lot is “so what do you actually do?”.  So I thought I would take this opportunity to dispel some myths and to give an insight into our daily life.  This is in part inspired by a friend of mine who did the same recently on Facebook (so thanks for that Amy).  I’ll tell you what the average week looks like, but I will also tell you about some of the interactions and spontaneous learning opportunities that take place that simply cannot be substantiated. 

      I dislike the use of the word routine and lean more towards rhythm in describing our days,  routine feels strict and unbending, but our rhythms change and move and flow with the seasons, the moods and the weather.  So please see this as less of a timetable of events and more of a flow of predictable rituals, traditions and habits interspersed with spontaneous learning opportunities, space for exploration, play and time with friends.

      We begin each day at the dining table with breakfast and a story.  At the moment I am reading Bible stories to the children from a big old Hamlyn Children’s Bible with lots of colourful illustrations.  I like this book as it sounds a bit more like the Bible than some other children’s editions, so prepares their minds a little bit for the style of writing in the Bible.  I read a few chapters then summarise what has been read at the end and ask the children to narrate what they remembered.  After this we do a morning devotional.  At the moment this is “Our 24 Family Ways” by Clay Clarkson.  A devotional is usually something a bit like a discussion or Bible study around a certain topic.  This devotional is about character and values.  It begins with some thought provoking questions, followed by a bible verse, some discussion questions surrounding the verse and then a prayer.  After this we read some poetry.  Currently we are reading from Collins “Treasury of Poetry” illustrated by Hilda Boswell. I love Hilda Boswells illustrations and I also have “A Child’s Garden of Verses” illustrated by her. We discuss the poems as we go. 

      Once the boys are dressed and teeth brushed and chores done (I will do another blog post about chores soon)  we usually sit down to do some Maths and English.  For Maths we are following the curriculum “Maths no Problem”.  Maths is my weak area so I feel much more confident using a curriculum which I know will take the boys through everything they need to know for Maths.  I like Maths no Problem as it uses The Singapore Maths approach, but also the traditional approach which I learnt at school, so it given children different ways of working things out.  I wouldn’t say this is necessarily the best Maths curriculum out there, but it is good value for money. For English we use workbooks for reading, spelling, punctuation and handwriting, the skills they need to decipher and understand texts and to write their own.  But they are free to do their own writing whenever they want, both hand written and typed on the computer, story and letter writing happens fairly regularly, on its own in our house.  On an average day this rhythm takes most of the morning.

      We do a variety of things in the afternoons, at the moment on Mondays our afternoons are free so we usually do some work on our current topics.  Often this is listening to a story which we might do round the table with a cup of tea, sat on the sofa with biscuits, on a picnic bench in the garden or even on the trampoline!  Currently we are reading about Alexander the Great. We also do crafts, art,  baking, or science experiments in this time, then the boys play.   In the evening my two eldest go to Cubs.

      On Tuesdays, after our usual morning rhythms, I take my eldest to drama, one of the home ed mums is putting on a performance of Mary Poppins 2.  While he is there I take my other three boys to a park and we usually do a nature walk.  After I collect my eldest from drama we go home and do stories, then the boys are free to play outside or with their friends or our neighbours.  In the evening all three boys do Jujitsu class.

      Wednesday afternoons are a meet with a group of our Christian Home education friends in the afternoon.  We usually do some sort of activity or social.  On Wednesday evening my 6 year old goes to Beavers.

      Thursdays are another free day. The afternoons are often spent with friends or doing activities at home.

      Fridays are a social day, we do nature group in the morning, always with a different topic, usually following the “Exploring Nature with Children” curriculum.  This involves a walk in nature, be that a meadow, field or pond, a story and sometimes an activity.  We do this with a group of friends.  In the afternoon we do park meet with a big group of home educators from all over the Forest.  Friday evenings are a treat night, so the boys have a snack and dinner on the sofa whilst watching a film.

      This is the general rhythm of our week, but what you don’t see from this description are the many spontaneous activities that take place.  The comic book strip writing, the engineering structures in the garden, the team work, the podcast one of them wants to make, the random questions that require an exploration in an encyclopaedia,  the board game playing, the spontaneous piano lesson, or French lesson on Duo Lingo, the story writing, the YouTube video inspired by something we read in a book, the lego building, the coding session, the stop motion animation, the nature walks, the excursions to castles, museums, libraries and shops,  the list goes on.  All these things happen spontaneously and without them being timetabled or planned in.  Making sure there is plenty of free time allows for this sort of exploration and genuine learning experiences.

      We are very flexible with our week, we do not do Maths and English every day if there is a day out planned, or perhaps, some days things are just different, maybe we slept in one day because we were late to bed after staying late with a friend the previous day, or maybe the mood just isn’t right for table work and we decide to do some baking or painting instead.  I don’t like to be too strict with our days.  I like to present my children with new ideas and experiences as much as possible to allow their brains to think and grow.

      So that is our life at the moment, it changes and flows throughout the year as different groups or classes start or end and the seasons roll on, it’s working well for us and is unique to our family, but might not be right for another family. Some families will do fewer groups, be home more, others will have online classes and group lessons and be at home even less. That is the beauty of home education, it is tailored, personalised and unique to each family. 

      Most importantly we are doing life together, learning to love and care for each other, to be responsible, to be kind and make life good as a family.  We see the good and the bad together and work through big feelings.  We don’t live a complicate life and I try not to be too busy, I like to be calm and have as little stress as possible.

      I hope this dispels any myths you may have and satisfies your curiosities, I hope it gives an understanding of what home ed life might be like, not to persuade you to make your life like mine but to gain understanding, because with understanding come acceptance.