Well...... Today got off to a less than ideal start. I did the age old read-the-monday-to-friday-bus-timetable-when-it's-actually-Saturday thing. Then, when sitting at the bus stop, and becoming aware of the fact that the bus I thought I was catching, came at about this time YESTERDAY, I also became aware of the fact that today's buses were running very late. :( A friendly old bloke at the bus stop told me where the taxi rank was, and informed me that there are ALWAYS taxis there waiting, so I headed off, only to get there and find... nothing. :( So back to the bus stop to wait. Eventually I made it to the Conference venue, but the session I'd been so keen to hear was more than half over. I got a pretty good summary from a friend, though, and borrowed his book from the lending library, so here is my rendition of what it was all about! :)
Dr Andrew Seaton is one of the principals of "Australian Wellbeing Centres" and the author of a brilliant book called "Deep Intelligence: Giving our Young the Education they really Need". What an interesting bloke! He started off as a school teacher, was passionate about school reform, worked as an Education Advisor to school leaders and teachers, but ended up disillusioned by the inertia of educational culture. Seeing the Department of Education's reform agendas going nowhere, he resigned to do consultancy work, lecture at university and write a book! He also started the Australian Wellbeing Centre, a place that provides a variety of services and resources to support the health and awakening of body, mind and soul. He and his wife, Pamela, a clinical psychologist, are also enjoying establishing a nature stay and workshop venue, and a centre for enjoying and engaging with horses to our mutual benefit.
In describing himself on the Unschooling Retreat website, he writes: "I am interested in people, and in the ways we create the world we live in, and the ways we don't. I am interested in how we've learned to think about and feel about things in particular ways, and in how we can make more conscious choices about the thoughts and feelings we have, and about the actions we take. I've come to believe that all of us can play a far more active role in the creation of our own individual experience that we commonly assume we can. And I believe we can take far more responsibility for the world we create together. Even though it is sometimes difficult, it is exciting and rewarding to explore different ways of thinking about who we are and how we live, different ways of being in relationship with other people, and different ways of seeing, accepting and changing the world we live in, here and now. There is so much inspiration to be found for living a richer life, personally and collectively, and I have become interested in making such Inspiring Stuff more widely available."
From the first chapter of his book: "We can educate young people in such a way that they keep and strengthen their authenticity, their creativity, their intuition and their reason. We can educate them to recognise and celebrate the unique beauty within themselves and others. They can keep, into adulthood, their sense of joy, enthusiasm and aliveness. They can keep and strengthen their sense of connectedness, their tenderness and caring, their sense of the magical, and their sense of their own beingness and unlimited capacity...."
He talked a lot about how we allow our consciousness to be dominated by our intellect. About how healthy human beings are not "domesticated", but autonomous and free. He also spoke a lot (and writes in his book) about the problems of the school system and it's effect upon children, but that is not my purpose here. If you'd like to read more about that, I highly recommend his book. For those familiar with John Holt, I wonder if this guy might just be the new, Aussie version?
You can imagine how excited this guy was at being surrounded by a group of free-thinking families who are bucking the system and giving their children the opportunity to live the very reality he speaks of in his book: "We can help them to live with a kind of 'deep intelligence', intimately and dynamically connected with the world. What a world it will be, when we do! What a world it will be, when we take the lid off humanity. What tears of joy we will shed!"
We're already doing that! How wonderful it was to have this respected ex-teacher totally validate the free lives we are gifting to our children (and ourselves)!
Next we heard from Alice Kleinsman about "Heart Centred Parenting". She's a registered classical homeopath, certified NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) practitioner and life coach. I found what she shared to be quite inspiring, although a bit rushed. She quickly took us through the basics of what she works through with people in the 6 week course she runs. She had one hour with us, so you can imagine how condensed it was! There were 3 main areas: the "Having Values" wheel, where you write down the keys ways you enjoy to meet your own emotional needs onto a wheel chart divided into segments. It included things like spiritual practice, relationships, health, security, beauty, art & creativity, companionship etc.... The idea was to write down the key things that matter to you, and then for each one to mark down how close to the centre of your life it currently is. We need to be having at least one key area fairly close to the centre, to be finding some emotional fulfilment from it's practice.
Then she showed us the "Primary Being Values" chart, where you write down the kinds of things you'd like people to say about you after you'd died, the qualities that you'd like your life to reflect. And then from the list, you choose the top three, and you use these as anchors in your life, writing them in central locations that you see regularly, to help you stay centred. (Perhaps on your hand, or your bathroom mirror, or the top of your diary or to do list etc.) This included things like courageous, wise, loving, kind, generous, gentle, inspirational, authentic, passionate, etc.....The last thing she showed us was called an "Enneagram" - a model of personality that uses a particular type of diagram, which seemed quite interesting. I just looked up a website, because there are apparently free online tests you can do to determine which of the 9 types you are. I did a quick test and, funnily enough, the results are pretty accurate!! I'm an "Adventurer", in case you're interested. ;)
At the end she suggested that people draw up (artistically, if they like) their own personal "Happiness Model" using the 3 charts that she showed us. It was done with concentric circles, the middle one being the "Being" Values, the second one being the "Having" values, and the outside circle being the personality strenghths. I loved the way she said that these strengths can become "SUPER POWERS"!! :) She also talked about Radical Forgiveness, The Work (by Byron Katie) & The Journey (a transformation & healing work by Brandon Bays, cancer survivor).
Dayna Martin's session on "Unschooling the Spirited Child" was absolutely fantastic. The marquee was packed, and it seemed that everyone there was parenting at least one of these wonderful children! I loved Dayna's positive spin on it, the idea that these children are a gift to the world, and to our families, and we can learn so much from them. Through the unschooling lifestyle, we are able to give them the gift of being able to be Who they truly are. We must shift from control to connection. These kids DEMAND to be free; to not be controlled. They can help us to learn and grow as parents, by helping us to see things in ourselves that need to change, as we learn to respond to them with love and grace. We need to stop seeing them as broken & needing to be fixed. They are whole children.
It is so easy to respond with anger because they seem to be able to so easily "push our buttons". Most people were raised by parents who wouldn't allow us to be angry. They'd be mad at us for being mad!! So we feel uncomfortable with their raging, and we often get angry in return, then we feel guilty, or get locked into a power struggle. It is also easy to feel their pain or anger so deeply because we are so connected to them. We tend to label some emotions as bad and others as good, but it's ok to let them feel and express their feelings without our judgement. When we give them the freedom to express themselves (provided they're not impinging on anyone else's freedom), they will! And we don't need to be upset with them. We can offer solutions (or help them find them), and if they are still not able to get what they're wanting, we can allow them to experience their feelings, and we can be there, and hold the space for them. We can give our children the gift of being able to feel the full range of human emotions, without our judgment. It is easy to think that the child who expresses their emotions quietly is a "good child" or better behaved. But it is important not to let these quieter, "easier" children fly under the radar of our attention and affection.
These children are very persistent and intense, and when they want something they will tend to demand it loudly, clearly, and persistently. The tapes in our head tell us that if we give in, it will make them become more demanding in the long run. It can be really helpful to pause and think before issuing the first "No!" because if we say no, and they eventually wear us down, we end up with a problem. Better to really think it through first, asking ourselves, "Why not?"
It can be helpful to observe whether we (or others) are really listening to the child when they first indicate something (by word, action or mood), or are we ignoring all of that and just reacting to the explosion later? We need to take responsibility for ensuring that they are well rested and well fed.
Many of these children come to altruism a lot later than other kids. And that's ok.
We are paving the way to a new future by parenting these children differently, so it can be easy to feel a lot of fear, when we don't see many models around us that reassure us it will be ok.
We don't want people to think we are a "bad parent", so we can tend to feel embarrassed when our kids have big emotions or outbursts. Our kids sense our embarrassment, and it can interfere with the way we respond to our children. If we can stay authentic in our responses to our children, we can help observers to see a new and different way of responding to spirited children. Also, when we feel embarrassed by our child's behaviour, it is because we are not wanting anyone else to judge us or our children. In a sense, in doing this, we are trying to control the other person, too, and manipulate from them the response we want them to have. We can allow them to have their judgmental thoughts, because everyone has a right to their own feelings, even if it's negative towards us.
The question was asked if we are doing our children a disservice by allowing free expression of their emotions, because the "real world" won't be as tolerant as we might be. Dayna talked about how our freedom ends where another person's begins, and how she tends not to take her spirited child to a place that she knows she won't handle well yet, and that eventually the child does learn the skills for handling that kind of environment. When we give information to our children, rather than seeking to control them, they will gradually learn to cope with the difficulties of life. She reminded everyone that unschooling is the exact opposite of hands-off, lazy parenting. She is saddened by the times she sees unschooling parents truly unparenting, because that isn't the essence of this lifestyle. It is about connection, engagement, partnering WITH our children. It is not for the lazy parent!
What you resist, persists. There is no point in locking horns and focussing on what we DON'T want.
Talk less, analyse less. Save the talking for after the outburst. "When (this happened) I noticed (this). Perhaps next time....?"
It can be helpful to look at our children as though they are our best friends. Would we talk to our friend that way? Would we treat our friend that way?
We do not need to "mould" our children. We can allow our spirited children to blossom and be Who they are. And through parenting them the way we wish we'd been parented, we give ourselves a gift too.
The final session of the day was just so lovely. I got to participate in a simple yet inspiring little workshop about "Giving". We listened to some lovely little stories where someone's gift of generosity has caused such gratitude in the heart of the receiver. Then we spent some time thinking about what we want our kids' experience of life to be like (as kids as well as adults) and what default feelings we want them to experience as they go throughout their lives. We brainstormed the issue of giving to others, without thought of receiving anything in return (although the natural side effect of giving is that WE feel good!), and about there being an abundance in the universe from which to give. Such a great way to live, and so lovely to authentically model a lifestyle of generous giving out of a heart of love and gratitude.