parenting

Unattached to the opinions of others

Last week, a mama left me a voicemail, “Nikki, I need to have a conversation with you and it’s not going to be fun.”

You can imagine my angst in returning that phone call!  My mind was spinning about all the ways I might have offended her, or inappropriate deeds my kids might have done.  Was it a Facebook post that didn’t set well with her?  Is it my choice of reading material? My use of technology? Is she concerned that I practice yoga and have introduced it to my kids, and thus to their friends?

My mind spun for about an hour. Then I came to myself.  Although I know I have blind spots, I am parenting my children in the way I have chosen, and I have nothing to fear from the opinions of others.  This realization and reminder was so comforting to me that I picked up the phone and made the call.  I received her concerns with humility and understanding.

This mama and I talked through everything and it worked out fine.  The issue was regarding security and safety during playtime on my property. Her concern had to do with girls and boys mingling – and she needed to understand my play protocol. THAT WAS IT!!  What an easy conversation it could have been. Instead I allowed her initial voicemail trip me up into insecurity and self-doubt.

It is so freeing when we can be bold and confident in our own skin – and in our own intentions. When we unhinge our identity from external influence, we can soar without hindrance.  When we are true to ourselves, authentically, we can buffer the criticism and even judgement of others. And what’s even better?  When we respond with a clear head and interact with the person humbly, the conversation has nowhere to go but UP!

Ultimately, I am thankful for this experience because it reminds me that being attached to the opinions of others is toxic. There is no room for this in the healthy soul.  Call me and let’s talk more about this.  🙂

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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.

Homeschool Queen ironically has a distaste for princesses

I have never bought princess playthings for my daughter. Not a tiara, nor a wand. Not a Magic Mirror vanity, not a $10 princess gown. Disclaimer: other family members have bought these things for her – in which case I just smile appreciatively.

Don’t get me wrong, I never would outright BASH a princess.  I appreciate that Belle is an avid reader and that Ariel is a passionate learner.  I applaud Cinderella and Snow White for serving their families without complaining and growing bitter. Jasmine, Mulan and Pocahontas – the POC (princesses of color) are breaking all kinds of cultural legalism.  These are all good things!

The part that I struggle with is the idea that in most cases, the main character – an intelligent female – ends up looking to a man for her happily ever after. Frankly, my issue is more with our traditional misogynistic culture, than with these young women.

“Why does every princess have to have a prince?”

All three of my kids went to see Frozen, and they loved it. Many people around the web have criticized Elsa for her individuality. Their argument revolves around the assumption that her expression is sexual. This is interesting to me, because there is no love interest in the movie for Elsa.  She simply wants the freedom to express her gift without subjugation. Was she sexy? UH, yeah.  Was she using her looks and body to lure a man? NO!! Frozen blew my mind because it is a different kind of love story – TRUE LOVE IS SACRIFICIAL and at it’s core, has nothing to do with romance.

Friends, I don’t mean to sound judgmental. We have definitely experienced every disney movie ever made. I find it ironic however, that the spin for male main characters revolves around adventure and accomplishment. The spin for female main characters 9x out of 10, revolves around finding true love.  For this mama – I am looking for a different message for my daughter.

My hope for my little princess (warrior), is that her true love will be an equal, a partner. Her relationship will be one where each person respects and values the other. Mutual deference and honor. True love is sacrificial, for both persons, whether male or female.

Agree with me?

Wanna get in my face and yell at me?

What am I missing? Teach me.

What would you add?

 

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.

Sometimes we need a reset

What are your family axioms?

Passionate about speaking values into the hearts and minds of our children, my husband and I have begun to compile a list of our family axioms. These virtues, overtly communicated from day to day, week to week, help our children notice and acknowledge when they need an assist. We picture these axioms as mini towers of refuge. A solid – in their otherwise chaotic world.

One axiom we use regularly is this: Sometimes we need a reset.

What is a reset?  When the children start to get fussy, angry, aggressive or out of control, a reset helps them take a breath, calm their bodies, and center themselves.

Three reasons a reset is better than a time-out.

1.  A reset is not punitive. For a few years, when my children were acting out, I put them in time-out. This never really felt right to me because sending them away resembled a punishment of shame.  God never sends me away when I am out of balance, or out of his will, but rather embraces me with understanding, and grace.  While I admire and respect the Supernanny – – the naughty-chair seems to stir up chaos, rather than facilitate calm. In my next evolution, I sat them right beside me for their time-out, which was more compassionate.  But it still did not quite accomplish the self-soothing advancement I hoped for.  That’s when I came up with “the reset”. Their bed is a safe space, a place of comfort and support (blankies and snuggle friends). I can walk them to their bed and say, “Sometimes we need a reset”. This helps them see that they are ok and this is normal – we all need a reset now and then. I never want them to hear, “you’re bad”, or “shame on you”. Reset focuses the attention on their action rather than their character.

2. It allows a gentle removal from the situation. Most of the time, our upsets spin out of sibling arguments. At age 8, 10, and 12, many children are still not entirely skilled at using their words and thoughtfully working out their disagreements. A reset lifts them up and out of unproductive bickering and allows a change of scenery, fostering fresh perspective.

3. It is self-regulated. Reset helps them to take a break, and regain composure. I walk them to their bed, acknowledge their feelings, and remind them to breathe and rest. They are given the freedom to rejoin the family whenever they are ready.  This could be 4 minutes or an hour. They can nap or read or talk to their stuffed animals – whatever they want to do to. The goal is to coach them in understanding themselves (triggers, patterns, emotions).

One morning last week, I was in the kitchen making coffee. My 12 year old stumbled in, and began complaining about how his neck hurt and how he didn’t sleep well…etc.  I hugged him and was about to suggest that perhaps he wasn’t finished sleeping. Before I could say anything, he looked at me and admitted, “You know mom, I think I need a reset.”

We are Alexanders

“We are Alexanders, we are direct. We look people in the eye and say what we need.” One family member overheard me saying this to my 8 year old. She mentioned that she has noticed this saying, “We Are Alexanders, we…” in various forms over the years, and began to interview me on the subject.

Where did you come up with the idea?

We started our Alexander axioms when Canon (now 11) was 2. I didn’t want to be that mom who was constantly saying NO. I desired to parent in the positive. Speaking values and virtues over my children makes more sense to me than always negatively correcting. It is a code of conduct, whereby children begin to be aware of principles that are important in relating with family and community.

What are some other Alexander axioms?

We are Alexanders, we…
are direct.
are learners.
are leaders.
are problem solvers.
are kind.
use our words.
treat people with respect.
don’t whine or complain.
tell the truth.
listen.
include everyone.

These are the main Alexander axioms. My children hear many other sayings throughout the days and weeks as well.
“We get in a rush, we get in a wreck.”

“Be mindful of the needs of others.”

“Yes ma’am, no ma’am, yes sir, no sir.”

“You’re always in my heart.”

“A person falls down 7 times, but gets up 8.”

“There is no excuse for abuse.”

“Sometimes we need a reset.”

And a couple I recently picked up from high-school-bestie-reunited:
“Swear on our love.”
“Change it.”

Do you have them written down anywhere?

I have always told myself I need to start documenting our family axioms. I believe that each family has a unique set of values they are passionate about. We should all record these values and speak them over our children in ways that help shape character. If we feel strongly about particular virtues, we can either assume our children will magically pick up on them, or we can clearly communicate them.

What are your family axioms?