Rest and Play

Last weekend, my daughter and I woke up to a grey and rainy Saturday. We lounged around in our pajamas, reading books for most of the morning. As we neared lunch time, my child was struck by the idea to build a fort in the living room. We pulled out every blanket and pillow in the house, constructing a cosy rabbit warren of cushions and comfort. We drank tea under the cover of darkness, faces lit by the camping light.

After enjoying our new ‘home’ together, we pulled on some clothes and took our dog out into the wind and rain for a blustery walk on the beach. Returning home to warm mugs of hot chocolate, I prepared dinner, and we watched “The Sound of Music” on tv trays, tucked up on the couch. We pulled out the sleeping bags and spent the night sleeping in the fort.

This day was the first in a long time that I allowed myself to be completely and fully at ease with doing ‘nothing’ on the weekend; my focus was simply on allowing myself to steep in the enjoyment of the moment and be fully present with my loved one. I let my child lead the way. This is her natural habitat. I simply had to follow.

As a busy, independent parent, I normally have a long list of chores and activities to attend to on the weekend; I rush around in a desperate attempt to get it all done before I start back to work again on Monday. It has recently started to dawn on me that the work is never really done and there is very little satisfaction in spending my precious free time ticking things off a list. I need to prioritize rest and play as much as duty.

While it is essential to tend to the immediate and pressing needs of your family, there is a real risk of missing out on the life happening around you, if you push yourself too far in the pursuit of perfection. Endless doing and busyness is more often driven by anxiety, rather than necessity.

There is boundless joy to be found in exploring opportunities to rest and play: and no better teacher than a child to demonstrate how to do this well. Before every weekend task I undertake, I am now trying to ask myself, “Is this really necessary? Can I let this go for now?” Although I cannot always dedicate a whole day to rest, I can purposefully choose to build in pockets of time. It is a dance to find ways to let things go while also achieving what needs to be done to keep my family running; but I am finding it to be well worth the effort.

Family Manifesto

As an independent, working parent life is very full: wake up; get dressed; make sure your child is fed and dressed; rush out the door; drop off at school; make it to work on time; perform all day; pick your child up from school; carpool to activities; cook dinner; clean up; help with homework; prepare lunches for the next day; settle everyone into bed (books, cuddling); go to sleep. Rinse and repeat. There is very little space. Every minute is accounted for and full to the brim. It is easy to become exhausted and burnt out. This hectic pace can strip the joy out of being with one another on a day to day basis.

I have been noticing lately that it is taking a toll in my ability to manage conflict with my child. I lean on old habit patterns learned from my own childhood. This primarily manifests in taking privileges away from my daughter when she does not listen and help. I get exasperated and out comes the punishment. Although this approach works as a temporary measure, it does create understanding about why I need her support as a family member; and it ultimately generates resentment, rather than connection.

As my child nears eleven years old, it is essential that she learns to become an active and supportive family member. I want her to grow up with the ability to take care of herself and to think of others; and now is the time to really drive home these good habits. The challenge that I face is how to help her to understand the importance of helping out, so she does it willingly, and not under duress.

I sat down with my daughter the other day and we talked about our family. What are our values? What are our rules of engagement? And what should the consequence be if we do not honour our agreements? We started to create a rule book, which included joint commitments like: “When someone asks for help, we say yes.” and “Yelling is not ok.” I asked her to identify a suitable consequence if she does not respect the rules and I did the same. It is all captured in our manifesto, which is now displayed on our fridge. It is a work in progress and we will continue to add to it, and update it, as needed.

Since working on this document together, it has helped to shift the dynamic. We continue bump up against one another but it is valuable to lean on our co-created agreement in those moments. To start from a place of remembering that we are on the same team and we have a commitment to support one another. I remain the parent and I ultimately make the final call; but it is important to me that my child feel like she is a respected and valued member of our family. It is also essential that I have a mirror held up to my own behaviour, so I am reminded of when I can do better, and learn from the experience.

The Talking Stone

As my daughter enters adolescence, emotions and hormones are starting to run high in our house. There are tears and slammed doors, raised voices and words thrown. But at the very heart of it, my child’s core desire is to be heard and listened to. A few months ago, out of the blue, she came up with the most amazing idea; and I wanted to share it with you.

After a particularly difficult exchange, she brought me out to the living room and pointed to two chairs. “These are going to be our talking chairs,” she told me. “When we are having a fight, I want us to come out here and sit down with one another.” She pulled a palm-sized labradorite stone off of my mantle piece. “This will be our talking stone. Whoever has it, gets to talk and the other person has to listen. We can’t leave these chairs until we are ready to say sorry and hug.” Amazing. This proposal came from a ten year old child.

We have been using the talking space for a few months now and it has been very impactful. It is interesting how, when emotions are running high, it is easy to want to speak over another person in order to get your point heard. But, of course, then no one is really listening to the other: everyone is just competing to talk.

When you are compelled to stop, and really listen to the perspective of the other person before responding, it shifts the dynamic. Now there is the opportunity to really hear them and to be heard. It becomes a human exchange, rather than a boxing match, and all kinds of solutions are born.

We have been practicing this approach for a few months now and it is working really well. We always walk away from the space with a renewed sense of love and connection, which is the objective in a healthy home environment; and I am once again reminded of how my child is also my greatest teacher.

A Season of Giving

The holiday season is upon us. From the end of October onward, the stores are packed with merchandise, and we are bombarded with the message to buy more, more, more. Expressing love has become synonymous with gift giving.

A few years ago, I stopped to think about how I wanted to intentionally cultivate my own family traditions; and I spent some time reflecting on some important questions. What values do I want share with my child at this time of year? How can we meaningfully experience this season together? How can we give back to our community?

For me, quality time is very important. I want to fill my child with love and lasting memories. This is a gift that she can carry with her forever and it does not end up in the landfill. I also want her to learn the value of community and the importance giving over receiving.

To try to achieve these goals, we have established some traditions that we look forward to sharing.

Giving:

  • Santa’s Anonymous: There are so many families who need help during the holiday season. If you visit a local mall, such as Hillside or Mayfair, between November 25 – December 6, 2019 you will find a Tree of Wishes. Low income children from across the CRD have requested a special gift to make their holiday season bright. Food hampers are also provided to their families.
  • Donations instead of gifts: Instead of giving large gifts to the adults in our family, I make donations in their honour to charities close to my heart; and I ask them to do the same for me. I also like to choose special books for each person, purchased from independent booksellers, like Munros, Bolen Books or Ivy’s Books. This not only supports authors and publishers but also local businesses.
  • Volunteering: There are many local not-for-profits looking for help at this time of year. In our family, we volunteer with a local chocolate maker. She raises money for Connections Place, a supportive drop-in centre for people facing mental health issues, through her annual fundraiser. My daughter and I help with the packaging and assembly. I also order her delicious chocolate for stocking stuffers.

Home Activities:

  • Baking: It is really fun to spend time together in the kitchen. There are so many delicious treats that you can bake at this time of year. We enjoy shortbread and sugar cookies. Decorating them together is the best part! You can gift your goodies to friends and family.
  • Host a Gingerbread Party: Invite a few of your child’s friends over to the house and decorate gingerbread houses. If you do not want to make them yourself, there are simple prepackaged options available at the grocery store.
  • Trim the Tree: We love to pick our tree together and spending an afternoon decorating it, while enjoying festive music and hot chocolate. My daughter loves putting the star on top at the end.

Community Events: There are so many great events taking place across the city and many of them are low cost or free. Here are a few events coming up this year:

  • Christmas Lights Across Canada: Celebrate the lighting of the provincial Christmas tree and the Parliament Buildings. Enjoy festive performances, music and seasonal treats. December 5, 2019.
  • Gingerbread Showcase: The Parkside Hotel & Spa hosts an annual Gingerbread Showcase in support of Habitat for Humanity. It is free to visit and you can enjoy exploring a wide range of creative and festive entries, in support of a good cause. You can vote for your favourite one. It runs November 16, 2019 – January 5, 2020.
  • Light Village: The Downtown Victoria Business Association is hosting a light maze in Centennial Square this holiday season. It will run from December 13, 2019 until the end of the month.
  • Christmas Movie Nights: Oak Bay Beach Hotel is hosting screenings throughout December. Holiday films are accompanied by light dinner, popcorn and house-made sweet-treats. Partial proceeds of all sales go to the David Foster Foundation. Films include: Love Actually; Elf; Home Alone; and the Polar Express.
  • Christmas at Butchart Gardens: Colourful lights and festivities are on offer at the world-famous gardens. It is hosted from December 1, 2019 – January 6, 2020. I like to take my daughter in the days following Christmas, as it is quieter, and it is nice to have something seasonal and bright to look forward to after all of the holiday fanfare is over.
  • The Peak of Christmas: Every year, we make a special trip to Vancouver to visit Santa at Grouse Mountain. It is a lot of fun to take the gondola up to the top. Grouse does an amazing job create a winter wonderland, with ice skating, a light maze, live reindeer, crafts, movies. Santa Claus has his own cottage in the snow. It is at truly magical experience.

Celebrate Diversity

  • Learn and Grow: There are so many wonderful celebrations taking place throughout December in addition to Christmas. In our family, we enjoy learning about how this season is celebrated by cultures across the world. A few of them include: Hanukkah; Winter Solstice; St. Lucia Day; Kwanzaa; and Ōmisoka. You can do this by taking books out from the library, researching information online, and/or speaking with friends in your community who celebrate these special holidays.

Every year we add new traditions to our list. It is fun to try out new things, spend quality time together, and explore this beautiful season in our own special way. It is the greatest gift we can give to one another.

Hold On

My daughter is nearing eleven years old. I am starting to see signs of adolescence on a daily basis. Her body is metamorphosing. She is more reactive when conflict arises. We are entering into a phase of rapid brain development, which cause larger than life emotions and irrationality, similar her early years.

I have been taking notice of how triggering it is for me when she yells or explodes about an issue. It is so easy to fall into the reaction trap. Someone is yelling, so the automatic and primitive response is to yell back. But she is a child, not my peer. What is is doing is not based in logic. It is a cry for help, love and guidance. And as I always tell her, no one can hear you when you are yelling. You need to speak softly.

In taking a moment to step back and reflect, I understand that my daughter is struggling to manage the brewing storm inside of her. My work is to create a container for these emotions: to guide her in learning to express herself in a positive and respectful way, without taking any of it on personally. This is easily enough said but harder to achieve in the heat of the moment.

This is when I remember to hold onto myself. To use my belly breathing as an anchor. To allow the storm to blow around me and trust in the strength of my roots to hold me fast. Sometimes it is just a matter of not saying anything when I desperately want to lash out. To take a moment to breathe and create space for reflection. To remember that none of it is personal. It is just a difficult and uncomfortable phase of necessary growth. Although it does not always work, it is a good starting point as we navigate uncharted territory together.

Endless Summer

The transition from summer into fall can be a challenging time for families. The free and easy pace of the lazy summer months suddenly shifts a hectic school schedule. The days start to get shorter, darker and cooler. There is a general sense of sadness for the loss of freedom: from parents and children alike.

When we move from one season to another, it often changes the way that we engage with one another. In the summer, it is easy to pack up a picnic and head down to the beach for dinner or enjoy the extra hours of evening light playing at the park. There are road trip and camping trips to look forward to. We live in our flip-flops and swimming suits on the weekend. Everything generally feels fluid, happy and expansive.

In the fall, there is a shift into the “all business mode” of school and organized activities. We are suddenly confined by a rigid schedule and our time is spent shuttling family from school to work and from activity to activity. There is very little time for unstructured time, play and exploration.

This fall, I am trying to make a conscious effort to do things differently. The seasons will continue to evolve, and our family schedule with it; but there is an opportunity to be more intentional about how our time is spent together once this change occurs. It just requires time, attention and practice.

Here are some ideas for bringing the playfulness of summer into your fall routine:

Dance: Start the day with laughter and movement. As a part of your morning routine, put on some music and dance with your child. Take a few minutes to express yourself and move your body. Be silly and let loose. It is guaranteed to make you smile.

Eat: Sitting together at the table to enjoy a meal is proven to provide a wide range of social and health benefits for the whole family. It is so important to take the time to connect and communicate. To add a bit of fun, try hosting a picnic dinner on the floor of your living room once a week. Let everyone choose something to bring.

Play: It is easy for the evenings to become dominated by homework or television. Make the effort to schedule a screen-free family night at least once a week. Take turns to choose activities that you can share together, such as puzzles, board games or taking the dog for a long walk.

Explore: Be a tourist in your own town during the weekend and explore local parks and sites. You can choose a different adventure each time. There are great walks at Mt. Doug Park and Thetis Lake and fun monthly events at local museums, such as the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and the Royal BC Museum.

Rest: Try not to over schedule your down time. Make time for rest and unstructured activity. Follow the summer time freedom model. It is too easy to fill up every moment with activities and chores. Leave a few hours during the evenings or weekends to read, play or nap.

It is easy to change seasons without a lot of thought for how it impacts your family. With a little bit of effort and practice, you can bring some summer fun with you as you transition into fall this year.

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This article was written for the October 2019 edition of Island Parent Magazine.

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Learning to Parent Myself

Woman Makes Heart With Hands In Sunset. Healthy People  Lifestyl

Ninety percent of the time, I consider myself to be a pretty decent parent. I care deeply about my child and I enjoy her company. I help her with homework and participate in school field trips. We talk about the world and make each other laugh. We go on adventures and enjoy each other’s company.

The other ten percent of the time, I feel like a failure. I raise my voice and lose my temper. I am short with her when I should be patient. I say things that I should not. I am the worst version of myself. It is not that I think I should be a perfect parent but I do want to be kind one; and ten percent of bad behaviour feels like it cancels out the ninety percent of good.

When I am calm and centered, I encourage my daughter to take deep breaths when she is angry. I remind her that just because she is mad, she is not allowed to be mean. I bring her in close and hug her when she is misbehaving. Why is it so hard to follow my own good advice, in the heat of the moment?

It is amazing to me how easy it is to be an unfiltered version of yourself with those that you love most. To explode when you are angry or to say all of the things that come to mind with wild abandon. We feel safe together, so we let it all hang out; rather than showing the restraint we do with those who are not in our inner circle.

In paying attention to these moments, I notice that it most often occurs when I am tired, stressed or overloaded. There is no opportunity for me to stop and pause when I am running dry; as there is nothing left in my reserve tank. I am realizing that in order to be a better parent to my daughter, I need to start being a better parent to myself: offering up attention, love and care, rather than judgment and frustration.

As an independent parent, it can be difficult to find time to rest and decompress. Life is busy and there are many moving parts. It is hard to slow down. If I do not make space for myself on a daily basis, however, the fragile balance tips. Over the last little while, I have been testing out some strategies for better managing the stresses of daily life:

  1. Movement:The first thing that helps is a commitment to regular exercise. I need to move my body every day. It can be as simple as taking a walk at lunch or a free online yoga class at home (doyogawithme.com). Movement in any form is medicine: for the mind and body.
  2. Meditation:A regular practice of meditation is a good tool. Sitting still and paying attention to my breath for ten minutes a day, first thing in the morning, gives me an anchor in the moments when I later feel ungrounded. Deep, belly breaths really help to take the edge off of a difficult situation.
  3. Rest: My daughter and I spend a lot of time together and I cherish it; I am also realizing it is essential that I have time to rest and to be alone. I aim to get her into bed early each evening; both so she can rest after a long day and I am left with a pocket of time to myself. After she is asleep, I can take a hot bath, watch a show or read a book. I also like to go to bed early myself, as it is essential for my energy levels and overall well-being.
  4. Reflection: When I am not at my best, I often regret the things that come out of my mouth. In the moments of frustration or anger that arise, I am working to create a small space between the emotion and myself: to pull back and reflect. Who do I want to be in this moment? How do I want my child to remember it? Does this behaviour feed connection or separation? Although it is difficult, it really helps to shift the dynamic.

I feel fortunate that there is an opportunity, each and every day, to start new and recommit to being a better parent, partner and friend. Love is amazingly resilient, forgiving and patient; but is also needs to be fed a steady diet of kindness, tenderness and joy.

An important first step is to start by acting as a parent to myself: to make sure that I am fed, cared for and rested. To give myself time for things that fill me up and build my capacity to pause in those difficult and challenging moments. If I do not, and I allow myself to run on empty, I am guaranteed to tip over into the dreaded ten percent.

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This article was written for the June 2019 edition of Island Parent Magazine.

Is it true, kind or necessary?

Little Girl Closed Her Eyes, Praying Outdoors, Hands Folded In P

My ten-year old daughter is facing friendship issues more regularly these days. Kids who have been in school together since kindergarten are forming groups and leaving one other out. They are telling tales and talking about each another behind their backs. Although considered to be “normal” adolescent behaviour, it is not ok. Little girls can be mean if left to their own devices and it is important for us to guide them.

I have been talking with my daughter lately about the fact that we cannot control other people’s actions but we can control our own. She finds this very frustrating, as she wants the world to be “fair”. I explain that her integrity is grounded in her own choices of words, actions and people. Nothing else. The rest is out of our hands.

In working through this issue with my child, I am reminded of the parable of three gates:

In ancient Greece, Socrates was visited by an acquaintance. Eager to share some gossip, the man asked if Socrates would like to hear a story that he had just heard about their friend. Socrates replied that before the man spoke, he needed to pass through the three gates.

The first gate, he explained, is truth. “Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to say is true?” The man shook his head. “Well, I heard about it from the butcher who heard it from a client, and …”

Socrates cut him off. “You do not know for certain that it is true, then. Is what you want to say something good or kind?” Again, the man shook his head. “Well…not really. If our friend heard about it he would be very upset…”

Socrates lifted his hand to stop the man speaking. “So you are not certain that what you want to say is true and it is not good or kind. One gate still remains. Is this information useful or necessary to me?”  A little defeated, the man replied, “No, not really.”

“Well, then,” Socrates said, “If what you want to say is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say anything at all.”

I have always liked this parable as it underscores the importance of being mindful about what comes out of your mouth before you speak. Too often words flow out and information is shared without thinking about the consequences. This is how people get hurt.

Although I cannot protect my daughter from friendship drama, I can support her as she navigates her path through it. Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful? Keep coming back to these three questions, my love. They will help to guide you through. They will move you away from the friends who gossip and towards the ones who choose kindness and integrity. These are one who will love you unconditionally, treat you with respect, and celebrate your unique and beautiful self. These are the friends that matter.

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A Juggling Act

Juggle

As a single, full-time working parent, I often feel caught up in a juggling act. The balls flying through the air represent my various identities – mother, friend, daughter, employee, community member – and each of them demands time, effort and attention. More often that not, a ball or two drops and I am left scrambling to get it back into the air. Then the act starts up all over again.

Life is busy and time is finite: this is a fact. As I walk along this parenting path, I am realizing more and more the importance of prioritization, self-discipline and self-kindness. I simply cannot do it all. Some things need to be set aside and let go. The question then becomes – what is most important to my family and me? What do I need to live my best life?

Most recently, I took time to evaluate my jam-packed weekend routine. After a full work week, I was jumping right into a schedule of “to do’s” on my precious days off. It left little, to no, time for being fully present and engaged with my daughter. I finished each weekend depleted and without rest; and my child was often asking for more of my attention. The worst part is there is no end to it all. As a wise friend once told me: “You will die with an unfinished to-do list.” Amen.

I asked myself – Why am I doing this? What is most important to me? After some reflection, I identified the following:

  1. To be an engaged and loving Mom;
  2. To ensure that we are eating healthy and well;
  3. To keep us safe and protected;
  4. To savour the time that I have with my daughter while she is young (and still wants to spend time with me).
  5. To cultivate more joy and fun.

I then reviewed the activities I was doing most weekends; and it turned out a lot of time was time spent on chores. I considered my list and decided other than laundry, budgeting and keeping the house generally tidy (e.g. changing sheets), a lot of it could wait until another time.

After deciding what chores to prioritize, I decided to create a standard two-week, rotating meal plan. While not as exciting as providing new meals on a weekly basis, it removes the guesswork, and it saves creative cooking for special occasions: like when we host friends and family.

I picked healthy meals both my daughter and I enjoy; I also tried to choose ones that produce multiple servings and allow for portion freezing. When I take the time to cook more labour intensive meals (e.g. Shepherd’s Pie), I know I am also investing in meal preparation offering value and time savings (e.g. two to three dinners). On a busy weekday, there is nothing better than pulling a well-balanced meal out of the freezer and putting it right into the oven.

Lastly, I started to on-line grocery shop, rather than drive to the store. Many stores offer this option now. Not only can you shop in the comfort of your own home, you can set a time to pick up the groceries for free, or have them delivered to your home for a small charge. I place my order mid-week and I track the grocery bill costs as I shop. It is much more efficient than walking up and down the aisles of a store; and my monthly grocery bills have greatly reduced since I started.

Lastly, I asked my daughter to help me identify more fun activities that we can enjoy together over the weekend. She likes to play school, build forts and dance to “Just Dance” videos on YouTube. I enjoy taking her on walks with our dog to Mt. Doug Park, Thetis Lake and in our local neighbourhood.

Although weekends are still really busy at our house, we talk, share and laugh a lot more now. The same is true for those weekday evenings where I am not scrambling to cook a meal. Even though it is still a juggle, my life is also a work in progress; and I am doing my best to evaluate, streamline and adjust as I go.

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This article was written for the April 2019 edition of Island Parent Magazine.