Here you’ll find articles on all kinds of subjects related to how we live our daily lives and raise our kids. Dig deep, find inspiration for turning your home into a place where Uncommon Childhood is celebrated and thriving! Consider what you have to share and give back to the community, we learn from each other!
Parenting is a lot of things: It can be fun, rewarding, eye-opening, difficult, challenging and exhausting – off the top of my head. And all of those emotions are usually felt before noon in my house.
Meet Xavier Marat. Born on February 9, 2011, your textbook definition of “spirited child”. While I do not love labeling people, especially children, he fits the description almost perfectly and the truth is, labels can be helpful in locating the right resources.
It wasn’t until I heard the term “spirited” that I began to Google my heart out. Finally I came across a book, THE book, that continues to help our journey be a bit smoother: Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurchinka So many books and articles focus on telling you what NOT to do as parents, while this one gives me the language that I need to know what TO do. Click to read more…
Years ago, in a particularly frustrating phase of parenthood when it seemed like I would never get my head above water, a wise mentor mama encouraged me with words that I’ve hung on to and passed along over the years:
“It’s not what you do in any given moment, it’s what you’re characterized by.”
I can’t tell you what a load that took off of my heart. We try so hard to do it all “right,” to create perfection for our kids, to be the poster parents we feel pressured to be, to have homes filled with joy and light and creativity at every moment and every turn. And we’re so hard on ourselves when we, inevitably, fail at the task!!
Every young mother has smiled through clenched teeth as some well meaning older woman has delivered that admonishment with misty eyes. I know I did, when I had four under four and going to the bathroom alone was a struggle, never mind accomplishing the herculean task of grocery shopping.
Of course the sentiment is absolutely true, which is probably why it irks us so much. No one knows more than the maxed out mother how hard she’s trying to enjoy it more, or how guilty she sometimes feels not to be living up to that rosy cheeked vision of motherhood she had while expecting her first.
But, it’s impossible to enjoy every second, isn’t it? And if older moms were more honest, or memories of early childhood were less selective, we wouldn’t say things like that to young mothers.
One grandma got it right when she saw me struggling with eight mittens, four hats, and three boys who all had to pee in the entryway of a building one morning. She patted my arm and smiled:
“The days are long, but the years are short.”
And so they are.
Family life. We’ve got it all figured out. We’ve got a firm philosophy of childhood in mind. We know what we want. More importantly, we know what we don’t want as glaring examples of bad parenting surround us at every turn. It will be easy to do better than that, surely. And then… our babies are born.
The realities of parenthood and family life are sobering, aren’t they?
It’s easy to understand why parents get so discouraged and why they trade their dreams of intentional Family Culture for anything that will ensure their survival this day, this hour, this minute.
I remember one particular family that I looked up to when my kids were little. I went so far as to invite them (with their four angelic children) to dinner just before Hannah was born. It makes me laugh now, but with great sincerity and an earnest desire to “get it right” I sat Judy down after dinner and asked her what I could do to replicate the things about them that I so admired in my own family. Graciously, she did not laugh me out of my own living room.
“You see that one?” She pointed at her baby, ten years old, quietly playing solitaire on my carpet, “I really thought he might be possessed when he was a toddler! He never stopped screaming and he fought everything. Every single thing. And he was my fourth, so it’s not like it was my first merry-go-round!”
“My house is a train wreck. It’s never clean. Right now, I have piles of laundry waiting to be done. Don’t even talk to me about dishes. It’s impossible to keep on top of it. But those aren’t the things that matter.”
Years later I visited her house and, indeed, it was a train wreck. She was not much of a housekeeper, but she was a fantastic mother.
“Spend the time on the things that matter. Include the kids in everything, even when it’s harder and takes longer. Spend the time on books and music and art projects. Take walks. Collect things. Talk to them. Just remember to do your best every day. Perfect doesn’t matter, just do your best.”
She could never have known how much her words would mean to me over the coming days, weeks, months and years. She’ll never know how many times I held her family up as the pinnacle of all I hoped to accomplish, “someday,” and how much comfort it gave me that her advice was not a formula for success to follow in her footsteps, but an open window into the real world and hard work of raising great kids and building a beautiful family culture.
You see, a Family Culture is built, it doesn’t arrive gift wrapped upon the delivery of your first child.
Family Culture is the culmination of a million tiny moments, tiny choices, tiny and insignificant seeming motions that we go through over and over without thinking much about them. It’s something that can (and will) develop by accident, or it’s something that you develop very much on purpose.
What matters to you most in family life? Joy? Peace? Education? The Arts? Adventure?
Hopefully it’s not just one thing, but many, that you’re seeking to build into your Family Culture. With those things firmly in mind, it gets easier to lift yourself out of the daily grind of parenting multiple little people and the endless shoe tying, nose wiping, tantrum management and the litany of “Why?” questions to think on a bigger scale, with grander purpose and to do your best on any given day. Your best will vary with the seasons, with your health, with your family situation, and a million other things. That’s okay, and it’s to be expected. Just do your best today.
Our philosophies drive our actions, we all know that. If you’ve purposed to build a Family Culture of Peace, Joy and Adventure, and The Arts then your day with your littles might look exactly the same from the outside, but will be completely transformed on the inside because there will be a very definite “why” to your actions and interactions with your little people.
Do you see the difference? It’s not in the externals at all, it’s in why you’re doing what you are doing. You’ll know that you’re building something, with very tiny bricks.
The first five years of parenting are full of joys, but they’re full of struggles as well. It can be a very difficult and disheartening journey. It is made easier, I think, when one takes the longer view. If you can see, in your sticky faced, naked because he refuses clothing, belligerent because he wants a cookie, little person a self confident teenager with bright eyes filled with passion and purpose, it makes it a little easier to take the time to lay the next tiny tile that becomes the mosaic of a family.
Young mothers need to band together and help each other reach for something higher than the status quo, but in a way that builds up and helps forward, instead of inducing further guilt over perceived failures.
Middle mothers need to keep going, and remember not to count our chickens before they hatch. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and comparison is the enemy of building beautiful Family Cultures.
Older mothers need to reach down and help pull up the mamas struggling so hard in the daily grind. I know one grandma who blesses the socks off of younger families by turning up to help clean, cook, read to little ones and generally ease the mother’s burden, all the while encouraging her that she’ll get there.
The same goes for Daddies, incidentally.
If you have babies and toddlers and are just a few years into this parenthood marathon, take heart. You have years and years ahead of you to build something beautiful with your family and you have all the tools you need within yourself and under your roof. The main thing, it seems to me, is to think about it every day, and purpose in your heart to do the little things that matter. It won’t appear over night, but one day you’ll be the one with the “big kids” and you’ll find that your family is characterized by a very distinct culture… one that you’ve built, from the cradle on up. Make sure it’s the one you want, dig in and build with purpose!
Mothers of littles… weigh in… what are your thoughts on building Family Culture? What are your struggles?
Thousands of dollars are spent on consultants whose sole purpose is to examine the existing culture and craft action plans for developing it with an eye toward collaboration, productivity increase, or some other attribute that is important tot he growth and development of the corporation at large and the individual members within it.
In the parenting world there is a lot of talk about patching the ship, surviving a given stage, “fixing” a certain behavior, instilling certain values and in general “doing the right things” for our children. There are innumerable systems and philosophies full of dos and don’ts that are, at once, dizzying and demoralizing. There is immense pressure put on parents to perform and to provide that elusive “perfect” environment for their growing progeny. There is pressure on the kids too, who are primped, paraded, and compared to their peers at every turn, from their grades and the school they attend to their after school activities and their “giftings.”
What if the basic philosophy of treating children as a product to be crafted and then “sold” at the end in to the “real world” is wrong? What if it’s not at all about any of the things we spend so much time stressing out over? What if, instead, it’s about creating a family culture, more than it is about creating an individual? What if the individual is not a result of the series of behavior modifications and educational or enrichment “inputs” and what if, instead, he is the result of the culture of the family that is crafted around him?
Notice I said, “crafted,” not born into.
Think for a moment about the implications of that. What if it’s the family culture that matters most?
What is culture?
It’s the synthesis of arts, human interaction, philosophy, literature, education, heritage appreciation and building, values, habits and customs.
Every family has a “culture,” whether or not they are aware of it. If you think about the families you know, you’ll be able to easily identify the prime aspects of their cultures in a very few words.
Of course there is more to a culture than a one word summation, but in that one word definition, you have an immediate picture of what that means within a family.
What word, or two, would sum up your family culture?
Are you happy with that?
Every family has a culture, but you’re not stuck with what you were born into, and you’re not limited by what you are right now. Culture can be made, it can be crafted. Indeed, it is always made, always crafted, it’s just that most people aren’t conscious of the process.
Through intentional philosophy and through a myriad of small choices.
This is why culture crafting in business has become such big business. The first thing that has to change, if the culture of a business is going to be overhauled, is the mindset of the leaders, the CEO and the management. These are the people directly responsible for the climate of the business both in the public sphere, but also behind closed boardroom doors and in the day to day workings. They pay the big bucks to have someone from the outside, with clearer vision, come in and point out what, sometimes, they’re too close to see: what their philosophy really is and how it is affecting everyone who works with and for them. Once the new philosophy is clearly identified, then any number of actions can be put into place to change the culture. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long term project.
It is the same with families. The responsibility for the existing family culture lies squarely with the parents, as does any hope for developing the culture beyond that.
What is your family culture? What do you want it to be?
Not sure? Ask someone close to your family to help you see more clearly.
I think there is real benefit in considering this idea of family culture vs. reactionary parenting based on the ever changing whims of culture and the unending litany of books thrown at parents, marketed to their fears and weaknesses.
It will be a project that demands daily attention to the details. It will require faith in the 20 year process and value depth of interaction over instant gratification style results. Less emphasis will be put on what you’re seeing in front of you at any given moment. More emphasis will be put on what you’re trying to develop over the long haul.
A focus on building family culture takes the microscope off of the child. It also takes the child out of the center of the family and instead equalizes the values of all of the members. All of a sudden Jr. is part of something bigger than himself, more valuable than himself alone. He’s clipped, like a bright new t-shirt, to a laundry line that stretches for generations behind him and off into the future ahead of him. He has a valuable place in it, but he’s not holding it together, he’s not holding it up, it’s not there just for him, it was there before him, and will be there after him. Over the years it becomes clear that he has a responsibility to keep the line going when his turn comes.
Building family culture means that you’re not just parenting your children, you’re equally invested in self development and the personal growth of your partner. It means that the decisions you make about education, activities, the way you spend your evenings and weekends, what you read and watch, the community involvement you have, the way you interact with grandparents and extended family, your attitude towards total strangers and the habits that you allow to form are all considered in light of your family culture and what you are trying to cultivate.
It’s a harder way to raise a family, because it requires constant thought and evaluation on the part of the parents. It requires a focus on philosophy and overall “plan” not just a “whatever works” mindset for the moment.
But, I believe it’s a more respectful way to parent, because children, after all, are not products.
They are not inconveniences. They are not pets, or prizes or trophies to validate our self worth or a second chance at our childhoods. They are living, breathing souls who will live on into a future we will never see. They are our gift to the future. They are the echo of our existence and the living legacy of our grandparents and great grandparents. I don’t know about you, but when I think of my kids that way, as the living trust that my great grandparents fought wars (public as well as private) and famine on behalf of, it changes my perspective on my responsibility as a parent. It’s not just about me, and my kids. It’s about the past and the future of our family for untold generations ahead of me. How could I reduce that to a 1-2-3 method of parenting or a sound-bite, or strawman generalization? Families aren’t that simple. Humanity is not that simple.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to explore this concept of Family Culture further. We’re going to discuss what it looks like, how to build it, and we’re going to think about what that means in very concrete terms. I’d love to have your input. I’d love to have your suggestions, your observations, perhaps even your own article on what you’ve learned about family culture and the power of it in your own life. Please weigh in, and let’s talk. As a generation of free-thinking parents, let’s lay down the over simplifications of our age and dig in to do the decades deep work of crafting a family and its culture.
Experiencing a little slice of life through their eyes and having the privilege of peeking into family life under someone else’s roof. Our travels often include friends and family, not to mention complete strangers in addition to grandparents, and it has been wonderful. Each family blesses us in a different way. Each family causes me to look at life a little differently; and each family causes me to reflect with a grateful heart on the good gifts I have been given in my own family life.
I was considering these things this morning while we sat in the park, burning the half an hour between the ferry boat docking and the commencement of Sunday services at my parents’ church. Grammy took us to a lovely little park with a bronze statue of two little children playing leap frog. The girl was on top, leaping over her little brother with her pig tails flying in the breeze. Delightful.
The inscription on the plaque next to the statue caught my eye, I cannot remember the exact quote, but the gist of it is as follows: It is not blood that binds the hearts of family members, but the joy they take in one another and sharing life together. How true.
Someone I respect greatly says that what a child needs most is for his parents to simply delight in who he is, that no amount of discipline or instruction will come to more than a hill of beans if the child doesn’t grow in the sunshine of true joy at his mere existence. This quote seems to embody that thought, doesn’t it? Click to read more…
If you want to find us on a Saturday night you should look at The Mill in downtown Bristol, NH. We love to pack up the herd and a beanbag chair, for Ezra to sleep on, and head into town for an evening of live music in the cozy back room of our local coffee and ice cream shop. David and Linda run the place; they live in a tipi over on Murray Hill road and have for two years. Interesting folks.
Sometimes, Gabe and I take our knitting.
Last Saturday found us anchoring down our usual three tables, sipping tea and coffee. Hannah was holding out for the ice cream. Gabe and I were knitting away; he’s making his first sock. In walked an older couple, evidently regulars, although new to us. The man smiled down from beneath his fleece hat and snow white beard and said, “Oh! You must be Waldorf Schoolers!” We get a lot of funny questions and comments about our brood and their educational orientation, but this was a new one: Waldorf Schoolers? “No, we’re not, why did you think so?” I asked. “Because your boy is knitting. That’s a hallmark of the Waldorf Schools, they teach their boys to knit.” There you have it. Who knew? This got me thinking.
I’m not one who spends much time worrying about “gender equality or neutrality.” I just teach them the next logical thing. We’ve got a list of “life skills” that is pages long that we’re plowing our way through over time trying to turn out kids who are not only educated in the intellectual sense, but who have a whole bag full of practical tricks from which to draw throughout their lives, regardless of who they become or what they choose to put their hands to. Hence, knitting.
My Mim taught me to knit when I was six. I remember it vividly. It started at about five, actually, with spool knitting. Pip pounded four little finishing nails into the head of a wooden spool and Mim set me to making rope out of her scrap ends of yarn. I made yards of rope as a little person, perched on a stool at the bar of her cottage. When I could produce rope to her satisfaction she moved me to real knitting needles and scarf knitting. She sat patiently with me and drilled me on the basic stitches with the precision of the Marine that she was, “Knit! Purl! Knit! Purl! Good, keep going!” She taught Josh and Jacob to knit too. While I knit long scarves and eventually pointy little hats, she knit sweaters and slippers for the boys and I.
Naturally, when Hannah turned six, the Mim in me said, “It’s time to knit!” Gabe was right behind her, and last week Elisha started his first scarf on number ten needles with the chunkiest possible rainbow hued yarn. He says that Mim would be proud of him and that the scarf is for his good buddy, Jillian. Ezra is begging me with his whole heart (and occasionally a temper tantrum) to knit. He gets the spool, beginning this week.
Actually, Mim’s gift to me of the ability to knit goes far beyond my four kids. I’ve taught at least five friends to knit as well… one of whom went on to give herself carpal tunnel she knit so much! I take no responsibility for damage incurred by my pupils. Another friend is cranking out socks as fast as she can and has taught four of her six to knit as well. And not one is a Waldorf Schooler!
I know, I know, socks are cheaper at Walmart and hand knit sweaters are sometimes the tackiest things on the planet. But sometimes they’re also the most gorgeous expression of love. My Dad lives for my hand knit socks and cackles with joy at Christmas when he opens them… even though my Mom said he didn’t deserve them because he ruined the only pair she ever knit him by putting an axe through his boot, and his fresh knit sock, and his foot… but that’s another story. My husband (and the boys who want to be just like them) live in their “house hats” knit out of the ends of my sock yarn.
Love isn’t the only reason to teach your kids to knit.
There are other reasons. In our family, for several generations, we have a habit of preserving old skills. It is important to know how to do things, just for the sake of knowing how to do things. It enriches the heart and gives a person options. I like knowing that my family will never lack socks, mittens, hats, scarves, bags, sweaters etc. No matter what happens to the economy, where we live or how much money we make. I can always make them myself. Knitting isn’t the only old skill we preserve, but it’s a good one.
Learning to knit is also an antidote to our “hurry up” culture.
Last week as I sat on the couch with Elisha, holding his little hands under mine and teaching him “Knit, purl, knit, purl.” I pointed out the most important part of the lesson: “Elisha, if you are going to knit you have to be patient and diligent. When you get stuck, ask for help and Gabe will fix it, but you must work carefully and not lose your temper.”
In teaching a child to knit you’re working on what Charlotte Mason would have called the Habit of Attention, and you’re not cracking one school book to do it. Knitting provides children with a way to be productive and keep their hands busy while their minds are doing other things, like listening to live music at the cafe, or listening to Mama read history after lunch, or watching a movie with the family on a Sunday afternoon. It is an excellent car activity (Gabe knit a scarf for Ezra on the way to Washington D.C. and Hannah is working on a purse for her friend for Christmas). It is good for self esteem as well, as it provides a real, tangible accomplishment, and is an adult skill of which a child can be justifiably proud.
Or, maybe you hate knitting… my Mom did, that’s why she farmed it out to my Mim. No matter, it doesn’t have to be knitting. The point is that there are adult skills that we all have, old skills that need preserving for the next generation, that can be taught to our children.
Make these things an integral part of your children’s education. Resources for how to teach them are available easily on the internet, for free in many cases. Your kids may hate it. But then again, they may love it… you won’t know until you give them a chance. I would never have predicted that my outdoor adventure boy would also be the champion knitter of the children in our home. I’m so glad I didn’t keep him from it!
Post Script: I wrote this article on the plane ride home, somewhere high above Montana. Two days later when I took the kids to their music class there sat three children from three different families knitting and crocheting! How great is that?!
The stockings were stored in the basement with care, while the family absconded and took to the air.
I wanted a family experience.
I wanted adventure.
I wanted to run away from the ball of Christmas tree lights in my basement.
Thus, this year, instead of buying illuminated penguins and piling up haphazardly wrapped presents, our family will spend the holiday on the shores of the Red Sea, and if all goes well, we will explore the ancient Nabatean ruins of Petra.
Being considerate of others will take your child further than any college degree.
Marian Wright Edelman
I’ve been thinking, for quite some time, about how to write this article. How to dive into the fray of how the various factions parent in a way that won’t be offensive to people I love, or devaluing of the great effort that every parent I know pours into their decisions about how they raise their families.
There are so many “factions” within the parenting world. When you have your first baby, it seems like it’s all going to be so clear and easy, and then within five minutes you’re handed three books by your two best friends and your mother-in-law that are as diametrically opposed as fire and ice. There are procedures and “methods” for everything from how your kid eliminates, to what you put back into him, to where and when he sleeps and no matter what you do, someone is convinced that you’re doing it terribly wrong. The stakes are so high, therapy will be needed (for Mom, if not Baby) and we’re all trying so desperately hard to “do it right.”
I’m learning a few things, better than 16 years into this parenting project. I’m learning that there’s no way to do it “right,” but that what I can do is my best. My kids are mostly teenagers now, and they’re a happy, cheerful lot, over all. True, we’re not “out of the woods” yet, and perhaps tomorrow someone will come home in clothes stolen off of a homeless man with a brand new, red and raw tattoo and a girlfriend with unmentionable piercings, picked up off of one of the bar tables with a pole in the red light district. It could happen. We’re living in Thailand after all.
I don’t claim to have it all figured out, but here’s what I do know:
I can’t tell you how to parent, you can’t tell me how to parent, it happens from the gut and the heart and we have to do our best. It would be better, if we could support each other in doing so.
I’m thankful for the books I was given that set me on a path with my kids that has evolved into a houseful of a lot of fun, most days. I’m even more thankful to the hands-on Mamas who were a bit further down the path from me who were able to shine a light, lend me their lenses of perspective from five years on, and help me steer the course towards our hopes for the long haul when I was mired in the muck of the moment.
I learned something from those older, wiser Mamas that I wouldn’t trade for silver or gold.
It’s a simple, simple message, but it’s one that transformed my entire approach to parenthood, to my children, to my husband, to myself.
Would you like to know what it is?
Everyone tells you that having kids will change you. And it’s true, if you let them. If you are willing to acknowledge that being the one responsible for their growth does not mean you have reached some pinnacle of personal development and no longer have more growth to do within yourself.
Rather, becoming a parent can stretch and reshape the image you hold of yourself in very profound and enlightening ways. This has been my experience. Click to read more…
Something has been bothering me for several years years.
I suppose it has been there much longer than I have been aware of it.
I’m slow on the uptake sometimes.
It has been building at an alarming rate and it is now raging across our land like the flood waters from a crumbling dam. Or so it seems to me. What is it? This dangerous tide? Fear.The Culture of Fear, as Michael Moore (who I most certainly do not endorse) identified it. It manifests itself everywhere: Advertising, television programs, documentaries, news programs, radio shows, even in the kiddie pool at the Grand Lakes Mariott; it is inescapable.
“We the People” have become “We the ‘fraidy cats,” and our fear is doing more than crippling us and keeping us from living life fully, it is being used to control us and we are using it to control our children. Click to read more…