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Every year at around the end of December/beginning of January, I spend some time reflecting on the year that has passed, I think about ways I have succeeded, ways I have been disappointed and things I am grateful for. This process helps me to develop a mental picture of how I would like the year ahead to evolve. As I journal and reflect I allow space in my mind for a word to emerge that might carry me through the year ahead. I think about the ways I want to grow, how I want to be, how I want my family to be, what adventures we might embark on, how I want to grow spiritually and many other things. I have used many inspiring and provocative words over the years including Whole-hearted, Cultivate, Thrive and Organise. These words, and more like them have helped me to be much more intentional about the year ahead.
As 2021 approached and I looked back on the madness that was 2020, I reflected on how the year seemed to fly by, how little there was to remember, how few memory making moments there had been, it seemed like an unnecessarily wasted year. I also thought about my diet and how little consideration I had taken for how I had nourished my body that year. I thought about how I had parented, how I had home educated and felt a distinct lack of purpose. It felt like I had tumbled through the year in a mindless struggle for the end of it, the end of lockdown, the end of...something, some point in the future when I could start again. As I ventured into another lockdown in 2021 I knew things had to change, I didn't want another year of frustration and loss of time, love, care. I couldn't blame the situation entirely on the Covid pandemic. I had to take at least some responsibility for how the shape of the year had formed, I had allowed it to overwhelm me, this year I was going to action, knowing that I and only I could change the outcome of the year ahead lockdown or no.
So I began this year with the word "intentional".
You may be wondering why I am writing this at the end of February, aren't blog posts about words-of-the-year supposed to be in January? Well maybe, but at this point in the year I am at least able to reflect on how this word has served me thus far and share it with you, (it is never too late to choose a word-of-the-year) but mostly I didn't really want to talk about how important words-of-the-year are. I wanted to talk to you about how important I think being intentional is.
I grew up in a very loving, richly nourishing household, I had a very happy childhood and am eternally thankful to my parents for the way I was raised but, (and I checked with my mum on this!) my mum and dad were never very intentional on how they parented, how they nurtured our spiritual lives, what the values of our family were and character building, or on forming lifelong memories and a family culture that would become traditions, rituals and habits, these things happened but they happened accidentally. Essentially the happy outcome of our lives was more a serendipitous accident than part of a carefully planned and throughout out one; a lucky turn of chance that my mum and dad were both very reasonable, loving people, surrounded by a lot of other very reasonable and loving people, who exposed us to many experiences and in a certain time in history which allowed us to develop and grow in a healthy way.
A bit like a seed that happens to fall on fertile ground, and is watered in a timely manner by the rain, encouraged to grow by the daily appearance of the sun, BUT was lucky enough to not have to go through a drought or flood or to be picked or stepped on.
Now, this all sounds fine doesn't it, but the thing to remember is that my children are growing up in a completely different time than I was. The world is a totally different place so just relying on replicating my own experience is not only impossible but also not as relevant. I need to form a new path for my family or order for us to remain on a path that is nourishing. I might be lucky and have the rain fall and the sun shine of my little seedlings and all will be well. But what if it isn't? We have just been through a global pandemic like nothing our parents, or we as children ever experienced, to make sure that all is well with my children and my family I need to be intentional about how we live our lives. I need to make sure that we remain on the fertile path, that we remain in the sun, have the right amount of rain and maybe even a spot of fertiliser to boot.
So what does that mean in practical terms?
Here I will tell you about some of the ways the word "intentional" is feeding into different aspects of my life as we move into 2021 still in lockdown with many unknowns on the horizon, like moving house to a new area in the coming weeks. I will be holding onto the word as an anchor which will inevitably be a bit of a chaotic time in order to ensure or values and hopes remain.
Being intentional about screens:
For me, being intention about screens is about setting limits, both for me and my children. Now, I read and understand a lot about self regulation, I know it is important for children to learn to regulate themselves; their feelings for example and they only learn this by experiencing those feelings, being heard etc. However when it comes to screens, the technology has evolved much more quickly and our poor old human brains haven't been able to keep up. We are exposed to far more stimulation and information than our brains are able to process (and than we were exposed to as children). I can attest to this as someone who has grown up during the technological revolution, even I at the age of 37 am not able to regulate my screen time in any sort of sub-conscious way. The only way I can regulate my screen time is if I give my self strict externally imposed limits. How then could I ever expect my children, whose brains are a long way from being fully grown yet, to be able to regulate themselves on something which is not only addictive in it's very nature, but is actually designed by programmers to be addictive?
How then do I expect my children to learn to self regulate when it comes to screen time. Answer? I don't. I actually don't think it is possible at this point in history for children to be able to limit their own screen time. The constant stream of media, the 24 -hours-a-day programming, the instant access of phones and tablets means that it is very unlikely that they will just get tired of watching and go off and play in the garden or with their toys. The way screens stimulate the brain releases hormones that cause addiction, so anything less stimulating is just not going to hit those reward sensors in the brain as quickly as screens can.
The only way I see my children ever being able to control their access to screens is through habit (and a big old prayer to God that this method is going to work!) So I set limits on screen time for them and for myself. Of course we allow an element of flexibility here, if there is a program on that is relevant to our learning then we might enjoy some mid day viewing, or if I'm feeling unwell we will likely allow more screen time to take some pressure off me, and on long car journeys, a tablet with a movie can help prevent my children sleeping which makes bedtime easier. But in general we stick to the boundaries we set.
What is more, I have also started being more intentional about what my children watch and play. I was finding hours would slip silently away whilst they were playing games on the tablet, or watching mindless shows on YouTube. Home education writer Ainsley Arment says:
"Dear friend, don't let the bustling culture determine the needs of your own child. You get to choose how they grow up. You can protect their time, energy and imagination. You are the gatekeeper of the garden of their childhood."
So I decided, whilst I can, I would be having more input into exactly what they were watching and it was going to be things that were nourishing and not over stimulating.
Being intentional about learning:
My approach to our children's education draws from a variety of philosophies, but especially Unschooling and Charlotte Mason. We want to allow plenty of time for our children to play and to explore things that interest them, we allow time for play and learning to evolve, we don't stick to a strict timetable or structure, it takes intentionality to ensure there is time available for this and intentionality to allow flexibility and a rhythmic rather than timetabled approach. However I do not believe my children would think to expose themselves to the art, literature, poetry and music etc that is out in the world if I wasn't intentional about showing it to them. So I plan ahead to ensure that time is spent exploring things outside of their spheres or play and natural learning opportunities that occur with unschooling.
Planning is key here. I must be intentional. I must plan ahead. If I want to celebrate St David's day, for example, I need to make sure I have accessed books, checked out videos, YouTube, Twinkl (etc...) resources, bought ingredients, and gathered materials in advance that we would need to embrace the festival. This stuff can't happen by accident, it takes planning and intentionality. In the past I have missed out on learning opportunities like this because I haven't planned ahead.
Planning ahead for my children's learning also leads to planning ahead for celebrations, traditions and rituals. Whilst I am planning learning opportunities for St David's day I am also creating a yearly tradition of celebrating this day, marking it, setting it apart as a special day. This gives us a reason to gather together, a reason to be joyful and a reason to separate ourselves just for a few moments from the daily grind of chores and formal learning and think on a more spiritual and uplifting plane.
Being intentional about our spirituality:
Growing up my mum didn't have the wisdom of people like Sally Clarkson to draw from as she parented us in a Christian household. We were taken to church every week, encouraged to get involved in church and youth groups and had books about Christian growth pushed under our noses from time to time. When I reflect on this experience in the frame of being intentional, I am moved to work hard at creating a family culture where our faith is at the centre. It has taken me a long time to get to the point I am at now, so intentionality has been feeding into this for a lot longer than the 2 months of 2021, but being intention has been at the heart of it regardless.
Sally Clarkson, in her book "The Ministry of Motherhood" says:
"I realised with the passing of each day that spiritual and emotional maturity would not just happen to my children because I wished it so. It would not come from a passive example of my being good. Effective spiritual, emotional and social training in the lives of my children would have to be both intentional and planned".
Reading his quote made me realise that, although this approach more or less worked for me growing up, there was definitely no guarantee. I needed to take steps, I needed to know what I was working for and I needed to be intentional.
Being more intentional in this area has prompted me to dig much deeper into my own spirituality though much more regular prayer, prayerful journaling, Bible study, devotionals and reading books about spiritual growth. I chip away small amounts of time for this on an almost daily basis and I am getting better at it, I can see improvements. None of this would have happened if I had not been intentional about planning and living into those plans.
For my children this means speaking Godliness into their lives, including the name of Jesus regularly in the language of our everyday lives (not just on Sundays) and praying together as a family. It also means regular, morning, dinner time and bedtime devotionals. All of these things have happened because I was intentional about planning them, about buying books and about making the time for them to happen. They take a force of will. I am very far from where I want to be on this, I am not perfect and I don't achieve all this every day, but by being intestinal about it, I am putting it out there into God's hands that this is how we want to shape our family and trust that his Grace will fill in the gaps.
Charlotte Mason says:
"Of the three sorts of knowledge proper to a child, the knowledge of God, the knowledge of man and the knowledge of the universe - the knowledge of God ranks first in importance, is indispensable and most happy-making."
Realising that my children's spiritual life is the MOST important thing has been key in allowing God to work in our family through creating habits, rituals and a Jesus-imitating attitude. I often fret that we don't do enough maths, or that they haven't had the opportunities some schooled children may have had or that they are too messy, but each time I feel this anxiety growing in me I remind myself that at the end of the day none of that really matters. The ONLY thing that really matters is their relationship with the LORD, and if I get to the end of a day and the only "Educational" thing we did that way was read their morning devotional then I will know that at least what we did do was the most important thing of all.
If you enjoyed this post the you might like to hop over to my Patreon page where you will discover access to more of my writing. Also stay tuned because I will be elaborating of how the word "intentional" is adding to my life in an upcoming Patreon post.