Words of wisdom

Balance

Life is a pendulum. A series of movements toward the center – toward balance. When times of extreme hit, no need to knee-jerk, or over function. We take a breath. We focus, and trust that the pendulum will once again swing the opposite direction. Long term thinking, a vision for completion.IMG_6621

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Calm, cool and collected

Do you think some parents have an intrinsic knack from being non-anxious in any situation? I was talking with a fellow mama the other day about children, sibling conflict, defiance and disrespect, and general fussiness. We joked about how easy it is to shout, “Would you stop SHOUTING!?”

How do you keep your cool as a parent?

Even though it may seem like some parents have a higher threshold for madness, I do believe that harmony and temperance can be learned and practiced.  When we are loving unconditionally, we have no reason to blow our top.  Even when I become the target of my child’s aggression, I must respond with compassion. I don’t see that as weak – in fact I see it as supremely strong.

I think there is a level of detachment that has to happen in intense situations with children.  I can not be tied to whether or not my kids like me in any given moment. I can not be worrying about what they might say to me. If I have clearly and consistently laid out boundaries for them, then I can confidently stand by those boundaries and not be swayed by their agitation or imbalance.

Let WAR fall to the FLOOR

Since adolescence is right around the corner for my crew (12 boy, 10 girl, 8 boy), I have experienced a few, ahem, outbursts. The increased changes of mind and body can generate a spike in emotional energy, and suddenly without warning, a battle ensues.

My daughter in particular, the 10 year old, middle child, has recently become a little more prickly.  Because I know that hormones are the culprit,  I can simply respond to her with compassion, even when she behaves in a less than gentle manner.  When it is aimed toward me, I say, “I don’t yell at you, so I would appreciate the same kind of respect.”  She sometimes takes a pause, and reccaliberates,  “Mommy, I am sorry for yelling, what I meant to say was….” And other times, she stomps off.  I can only assume that she is going on a pilgrimage to some safe space to soothe herself.  And that is ok.  Upon her return, she is greeted with a loving welcome.

When the children have an emotional flair up, I don’t take it personally.  And neither should you! When their heart is at war, I hit it head on with PEACE.  I respond non-anxiously and let the WAR fall to the FLOOR. I don’t have to engage in a battle with a child.  I really don’t. When I remain self-defined, their eruption carries no power. Kids need this, do they not?  They need to know that we are strong enough to handle the full gamut of their emotion.

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My mother [God rest her soul, 2002] was a great example of unconditional love.  We always knew where we stood with her. She never took her love away from us regardless of our mood or attitude.  And you know what – – we respected her for it.  She was confident and full of grace.  My mom is the one I channel during difficult emotional moments.  I try to remember my own adolescent turbulence.  I breathe, and muster up the tenderness these little ones need from me, to continue on in their journey.

My hope is, that at some point in their 20’s and 30’s, my children will look back and reflect on our time together. They will unquestionably say that their mom was consistent, tolerant, and gracious. That they were loved regardless of their actions or inner unrest.

C’mon mamas and papas, we can do this. We can get through these turbulent times together! Let’s lock arms and move forward.  But please, I beg you. Don’t lash out at your child, whether they are 4 or 14.  Don’t yell at them just to show them that you can yell louder. Be the adult. Be compassionate. Be aware. Show them that their turbulence is normal and that you understand what they are going through.

At the very least, you will give them less to talk to their therapist about when they get married and have kids of their own!

We are Alexanders, we are learners.

My focus lately has been on family axioms, values and virtues that we overtly speak over our children describing the kind of people we are (ahem, suppose to be.) Call it a motto, maxim, adage, rallying cry….

On my post We are Alexanders, I describe what I mean by this, and list out many of the axioms we say day-in and day-out.

Today I am focusing on “we are learners”. This one is a tremendous parenting value for me. I am a learner, I was raised by learners, and I am married to a learner, so naturally I hope to impart this quality into the hearts of my children.

By learner do I mean over-edumacated academic elite? Heavens no. In fact, I agree with Albert Einstein who said, “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

This world has so much to teach us.

Culture, nature, myth, math, history, technology, poetry, politics, physics, linguistics, economics…shall I go on? How could we ever imagine that we are done learning as soon as we finish our educational requirements? One thing I admire about my dad, is that at age 66, the man aspires to learn something new everyday. Never assuming he has all the answers, he ask good questions. He reads, he studies, he works hard to keep up with the inexhaustible pace of technology.

There is always something to learn from this bountiful planet. Project-based homeschooling works well for us, because it is designed to help kids pursue the things they are passionate about learning. But weather you homeschool or not: Does your child have a favorite food?  Trace the origin and historical preparation of that food. Discover how that food is prepared today, here in America. (disclaimer – your child may not like what she/he discovers). Did your child get a letter from grandma?  Outline the process of how we send and receive mail. Take the kids to the US Postal office and ask for a tour! Did your kids witness the dogs procreating?!?! Talk to them about the reproductive system of animals and allow them to follow the process out all the way through birth, infancy and independence.  There is so much to learn each day. We need only to open our eyes and pay attention! Life is our Guru. Earth is our hands-on instructor. History is our counselor. Get out there and let your curiosity lead you!

People have so much to teach us.

Do you think you have it all figured out? You don’t.  Your experience or degree make you an expert? Nope. Feel like you really have a handle on things? Guess again. Don’t assume that you know the perception of a Republican or the viewpoint of a Democrat until you share a meal with one.  Don’t expect to tell a teenager what they should do before you embrace them and listen to their heart. Don’t judge a buddhist until you are willing to sit quietly and let them share the experience of their faith journey.

Ok, I am no expert – but here are a few suggestions for us about how to lovingly approach people:

  1. Ask good questions.  Before my husband goes into a group meeting or a one-on-one coffee, I always remind him to ask good questions.  He grins and replies, “I know, I know, don’t talk too much….”  He is joking, but always comes home and reports the success of simply listening and asking good questions.  Not only do we learn so much more about the other person, but we come away nourished because listening is receiving – and our souls love that.
  2. Don’t give advice unless someone specifically asks you for it.  Over and over I hear people discharging dogma like an M2 machine gun (yea, I totally googled that). I want to stand up and shout, “NO ONE ASKED YOU FOR YOUR OPINION!” Although it is difficult to sit and listen and keep your mouth shut and ears open, please, for the love of all things vulnerable and tender – – please wait until you are asked before doling out your answers to life’s questions.
  3. Approach every conversation as an opportunity to learn. Every person you meet has a unique story. Try to engage them in that story. Strive to understand their perspective.  Think of your friends (and even random people you meet on the street) as mentors.  My friend Heather mentors me in self-dicipline. My friend Anna mentors me in a healthy lifestyle in regard to food and movement. My friend Laura mentors me in intentionality with children….and so on.  Every person in our lives has something to offer, something to teach us. So let’s tap into that wisdom.

We are Alexanders, we are learners. It’s an important message to my children to ALWAYS look for learning moments – every outing, every activity, every project, every movie they watch, every book they read. With every person they encounter, with one another, with home schoolers, with public schoolers, with babies, with elders, and with Mr. Henry – the mail carrier.

I must go now, because my friend is teaching me how to make organic apple muffins.

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We get in a rush, we get in a wreck.

I have been focusing lately on family axioms – values and virtues that we overtly speak over our children describing the kind of people we are (ahem, suppose to be.) Call it a motto, maxim, adage, rallying cry….

Today, I am expounding on one my my favs, the simple yet sensible “We get in a rush, we get in a wreck”.  A phrase aptly spoken to myself yesterday as I was dashing out the door and speeding down the street to get to a wedding on time. Breathe Nikki. We get in a rush, we get in a wreck. And by the way, your kids need a mom, so buckle up and bring your A game.

This axiom first came out of my mouth a while back, when 6 kids were in my playroom, fussing over who would get what lego piece. I declared, “Whoa, slow down kids! We get in a rush, we get in a wreck!” Seconds later, one of the children unintentionally flung my iPhone off the table, shattering the glass into 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces.

I love this axiom because of it’s clarity and veracity. Not mind-blowing, life-changing, earth-shattering.  But a valuable reminder to slow down and breathe. To remain sharp and alert, and be present in the moment.

A related note about HASTE. I have been pondering haste lately because many of my friends are leading frenzied lives, rushing from this appointment to that, practices, meets, recitals, rehearsals, games, tutoring, church, playdates, and terra-robo-astro-geo-paleo-lego-theo-neo-nova club.  Some of these mamas are frazzled and perpetually exhausted – missing appointments, double-booking, and complaining about being SO BUSY.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had many a season of overcommitment and boundary vertigo. But these past three years in Tuscaloosa, I have pulled back – banned chaos – shunned overcommitment – practiced NO – and sloooowwwwed down.

My message is this. On a micro level, take a look at each moment, each activity, as you move through your day. Notice the patterns that cause you or your children to spin into carelessness because of haste. On a macro level, examine your calendar, your lifestyle, and your commitments. Become aware of areas that need attention and balance.

Grounded in the midst of chaos.

Grounded in the midst of chaos.

Change it.

I have been focusing a lot lately on our family axioms – values and virtues that we overtly speak over our children describing the kind of people we are (ahem, suppose to be.) Call it a motto, maxim, adage, rallying cry….

Yesterday I had the opportunity to use my new favorite: Change it.

We had a German family over to play for the afternoon, a family I have been wanting to connect with for a while.  All the children were having a grand time outside for a couple of hours. But as soon as we came inside for cake and milk, my younger two children began to bicker and fuss at each other for every little thing. “You know how to work it out”, I reminded. Their clashing continued. Finally after about 6 minutes, I pulled each of them aside for these two simple words. CHANGE IT.

Why does “change it” work?

1. This quick two-word command is powerful. The word change is powerful. It is like a pinch in the arm or a glass of water in the face.  It snaps them out of their funk, and offers a real solution.

2. It reminds them that they are in control of their own actions and emotions.  Sometimes children get stuck in a feedback loop of powerlessness. “Change it” puts the responsibility back in their hands and kicks blame to the curb.

3. The third reason this works, is because we talk about it ahead of time.  I help the children prepare for an event, and plan their intended actions accordingly. I am a huge fan of James Lehman and The Total Transformation program.  One thing he talks about  is a concept called cuing.

CUEING:  It can be valuable if the parent and child have a cue -or signal they can give in times of high stress or intense frustration that signifies one party needs to take a break.  A cue can also be used as a signal to stop some troubling behavior from escalating.

I have a cue meeting with my kids before nearly every social activity. Cue meeting in the car before going into the grocery. Cue meeting before heading to the swimming pool,  the movie, a dinner out, a birthday party – whatever social situation we may be in.  It’s not a lecture. Cue meeting simply sets up the event and prepares the children for the choices they will make.  “Change it” has become a staple for us in the cue meeting.  The message is clear. If I say, “change it”, that means that something that you are doing is causing friction and negativity.  Do not try to explain, do not try to defend. Just change it. Then we can talk about who did what, and “this about her” and “he started it” blah blah blah… later.  Because I spoke to my children ahead of time, they were able to make an adjustment upon hearing the cue, “change it”.

Dawn and IPROPS to my friend Dawn who introduced me to this tasty little morsel.  When we visited last summer, Dawn shared a couple of her family axioms with me. Change it is one of them.