My reflections after week 7 of an incredible 8-week online course titled: ‘Parenting as a Spiritual Practice – an Integral Evolutionary Approach to Parenting’. For more details of the course, please visit: http://integralparenting.com/ref/heather/
This week we have been exploring the untapped potential of our family culture and our freedom to renew and consciously breathe new life into family traditions, habits and rituals. We have been looking at how we can honour the future through including gems from the past, inspiration of the future and co-creating a family culture in the present moment.
This joyous discovery encourages us to take time to digest the journey whilst being poised at the edge of the unknown and being willing to keep listening and keep growing up, as well as co-creating a conscious family culture as we dance at the edge of the unknown; breathing in a new sense of adventure and discovery as we do so.
Facilitating this joyous discovery includes us as parents letting our child guide us, whilst also listening to the whisperings of the future, viewing our role and our path as an opportunity for lifelong learning. In this sense, we can co-create a conscious culture where growth and transformation are encouraged and embraced, where we model to our children that we all stumble at times and that we are here to learn, to practice, to keep growing up and showing up.
“Each child offers us the invitation to start over, to renew, to undo, to let go of what was and to see what’s possible.” Miriam Mason Martineau
This week has inspired me to question my priorities, my purpose and my direction and consider what these may be for our family, giving consideration to what experiences, growth and memories we want to create and consciously considering how we can live, embody and make these intentions real.
I began by looking at the past, into my own childhood and the family culture I was raised in and taking time to reflect on where I’ve come from and our family traditions and habits. ‘Family’ in itself was a core value I was brought up with. I would say our main family values were: family, love, growth, self-expression and kindness.
The family I came from was one that valued time spent as a family. My parents were both working parents but made a point of including protected family time, including family dinners. I have fond memories of family holidays and outdoor adventures, of picnics and seasonal traditions.
There was always space in our family culture to explore our individualism and an encouragement of personal growth as well as an awareness of how our thoughts and actions have consequences and that we are responsible for how we live and design our lives.
What delighted me about being in my family is that from age 5 I knew I was loved; I had my place in this family and felt very much a part of it. I was encouraged to follow my passions (no matter how quickly these changed) and encouraged to learn about (age-appropriate) personal development. My interests, passions and skills were nurtured and when I wasn’t confident about something, I was stretched by my family (in a positive way).
Growing up we had some rules that didn’t make sense to me though. I remember laughing until I was crying with my sister at the dinner table (on many occasions) and having to leave the table until we were ‘well behaved’ again, rather than the family delighting in our laughter. We were also not allowed to sing at the table, I’m not quite sure why.
As a child, on the lead up to Christmas, my brother, sister and I would each place our baby bauble (from our first Christmas) on our parent’s Christmas tree – an age-long tradition that continues today. Our Christmas always lasted a few days, we celebrated through good company, gift-giving and beautiful food. Christmas Eve included music, candles, family, food and an early night (except for Santa/Dad who would be busy wrapping most of the night).
On Christmas day we would each open our presents one-by-one going round the room to give each person a turn, taking time to appreciate what everyone had been given. We would break for tea, homemade Christmas cake and my Grandparents would arrive in all their Christmas joy and sparkle. We would go for a Christmas walk before dinner and we would all have a lovely meal together, pairing up to pull the crackers and tell jokes. Grace was another family tradition before the meal.
On Boxing Day, the family came round for my Dad’s famous Boxing Day curry – my favourite! If we were lucky, my Mum would also make her secret apple crumble recipe, a recipe that has been passed on to me and found its way into our wedding meal.
Before the New Year, as children we were encouraged to reflect on the year passing and on our learning, challenges and achievements, we would bring our year highlights together as a family to collectively share about the previous year and to share our hopes and aspiration for the coming year. We were encouraged to be creative in how we shared these and I enjoyed doing a lot of writing and mind-mapping. We brought in the bells with the family and wished my brother a happy birthday when the 1st of January arrived.
Birthday have always been celebrated in a big way in our family. My birthday cards have always been filled with heartfelt messages of love (usually from my Mum, with Dad writing humorous notes about how Mum has said it all and there’s no space for him to write). My parents would always check-in with me in the lead up to my birthday, to check what kind of celebration I was wanting that year and they were always up for my plans. I liked to make the most of birthdays, and still do!
Somewhere along my journey, I invented ‘Heather’s Day’ – a day to be fully appreciated for who I am and my contribution to the world. I’m not quite sure where it all started, but every single year my family would get behind me with it (though my big brother was reluctant at times). Although I haven’t had one since Noah was born, but I’m going to revive it in 2017!
I always felt loved in my family. I knew my behaviours weren’t always approved of or appreciated, but I really knew unconditional love in my bones. My Dad once told me that he makes a point of telling someone that he loves that he loves them, every day of his life. I love this ritual, of proactively making sure that people know how much you love them.
My childhood was filled with the sound of my Dad whistling, of family songs and Country and Western music. It was filled with the sight of Scotland’s landscapes in all their beauty, of nature in all seasons, of smiles, connection and pride. My childhood was filled with the smell of island air, of peats and open fires, of incense and of my Granny’s famous duff. It was filled with the taste of good food, of Boxing day curry and apple crumble. It was filled with the touch of warm embraces, of cuddles and kisses, of my Mum’s soft hands. My childhood was filled with memories of family dinners, outdoor adventures, sibling fun, climbing trees, building dens, playing scary monsters, island life, farm life, bramble picking, laughing until I cried, copying my big brother (from skateboarding to basketball), volunteering and so much more.
As I look back, I can see gems from the past that I want to include in our family and I can see things we have already incorporated. For example, I want to sing as much as my Dad did and have music playing in the house. I want to dance wildly with my children as I do with my Mum. I want to make delicious and nutritious hearty family meals and I want my children to know what good food feels like for the body and mind. I want to encourage storytelling, humour and laughter and allow contagious laughing until we cry. I want to include learning and personal development from a young age, providing skills to help my children navigate and integrate in this world. When life feels particularly hard, I might encourage my children to eat a dark chocolate button as they work through each of the significant challenges in their life – one of my favourite ways to work through difficulties which my Mum introduced me to.
My family was filled with heart, but we too had our issues. In the nature of respect for my family, I won’t go into too much detail about our hardships but I want to touch upon them in the nature of reflection and integrity, because as a family, we faced up to some pretty big challenges (and still do).
Growing up, my parents’ relationship confused me. I deeply missed Mum when she was working abroad and I felt sad for my Dad. I didn’t know how to support him with my Mum being away and with his health issues. As a child, it felt like it was very much Mum or Dad, rather than Mum and Dad. I would have wished for more family time with ‘Mum and Dad’. I would have wished that some things that happened, never did. I would have wished that my Dad had better health. I would have wished that there had been more honestly, transparency and integrity from my parents to each other. I would have wished my parents could have given us age-appropriate understanding of the complexities of their relationship (and all relationships). I would have wished that we had more family check-ins.
Now, as I take time to consider what has yet to come and how we (Kevin, Noah and I) might keep evolving our family and parenting, listening deeply to the future potential of what could be, I feel curious and attentive to the whisperings of the future. I feel inspired by allowing these dreams, hopes and aspirations to surface as well as choosing what no longer serves us and what to consciously leave behind.
I choose to leave behind any unhealthy hierarchy between parent and child. I choose to leave behind strict rules at the dinner table. I choose to leave behind family secrets and family patterns that tripped me up as a child. I choose to leave behind the conflict between the role of mother and father and rather see this as one partnership.
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
In this ever-growing integrity of my own journey as a parent and as Noah’s orientation to the world, I am embracing this unresolved, open approach to parenting and love holding the belief that it is Noah’s birth right to experience who he really is and therefore it is my responsibility to help this unfolding happen gracefully. I also hold deep gratitude to my own parents, for encouraging this depth of reflection and my own growth from such a young age.
For now, here I am and here we are as a family – Kevin, Noah and myself – and we need to weave together these gems from the past, with the glimpses of hope from the future, into a present vision for our family in the here and now, of who we are and who we are becoming (as individuals and collectively). In the nature of programming our subconscious, I’ve written the following paragraphs as ‘we are’ with the understanding that I am holding these as intentions, as we continue to put these things into practice, knowing that we have arrived and we are still arriving.
We are co-creating a home that is a sanctuary. A home that offers a safe space for all in the family; a place people look forward to coming home to, a place people feel safe, heard, respected and listened to. We are co-creating a home that is nurturing, encouraging, creative and fun. A home filled with beautiful memories and simple rituals, where photographs, memories and presence bring warmth and laughter. The atmosphere is nurturing, thoughtful and present. Humour and laughter are a part of our daily life. Our home holds sacred space for creativity and stillness.
Viewing our home as a sanctuary encourages us to make conscious efforts to nourish our soul and our relationships and for us to create a container that supports, nourishes and inspires the intentions and aspirations that we hold as a family. Creating this uplifting, simple beauty in the home allows us to interweave the daily (sometimes mundane) with the spiritual; simple pleasures like lighting candles, sitting by the fire, creating quiet space, and decluttering.
We are co-creating values of integrity, compassion, love and kindness. We look for opportunities for fun, playfulness and adventure. We encourage growth on all levels – body, mind, spirit and soul – and celebrate growth and transformation, acknowledging the journey with all its beauty and challenges.
We are co-creating memories of joy, love and laughter, where myself, my child(ren) and my husband will remember laughing until we cry, remember the sound of ‘I love you’ and other nurturing affirmations. We are co-creating memories of adventure, of the appreciation of the simple things in life. We are in a family culture filled with gratitude and love for life itself. We face the challenges and differences within individuals and in life with respect and with an expanded viewpoint, using creative ways to allow everyone to share their story.
We are co-creating a culture that celebrates the small stuff and the big stuff – one where pride is articulated, felt and expressed; making time to celebrate and enjoy the people and the moments that matter.
We are co-creating a culture that knows that when we focus on service, the rest will follow, where my family follow their heart and find their ‘home/heart’ work. We are teaching values that encourage my family to look beyond their immediate selves and reach out to the wider context – to give back to the world, without needing any appraisal or expectance or exchange, simply from the kindness of their heart.
As far as the daily rituals, we sit down with our family calendar and look at all of our schedules to work out how we can flow gracefully together; we have regular family meals and create one-to-one time with Noah. Through looking for and making space for these daily rituals, we have found some beautiful spontaneous rituals too. For example, Noah knows that when he comes out of the shower and gets wrapped in his towel that this is time to have a big cuddle with Mama or Dada. When the music is playing, he knows that we will have a dance with him. When I’m doing the dishes (again the mundane) I pull up a chair and watch as he delights in splashing in the bubbles. When he wakes in the morning, we have a hug and a kiss. There are words, gestures and loves that we do as a family that make the everyday that little bit more magical.
My family is inspired by the law of attraction (or karma) and recognise the power of the thoughts we think, the words we speak, the love we show and we know that although we have to experience suffering, what we put in to this world, we will attract back to us in this life or the next. We are nourished, sustained and supported by connectedness, by real, authentic soul-to-soul connection. We are nourished by self-care and family-care. We are deeply nourished by the time we spend together, the love we have for one another. We are nourished by gratitude for all that we have and all that is possible.
We draw upon each of our gifts, talents and resources, individually and collectively when we come together. We draw upon my spiritual experience, my Reiki, my design skills, my experience through volunteering, the empathy I have for people. We draw upon Kevin’s worldly experience, the difficulties he faces and the lessons he’s learned, the courage he shows. We draw upon Noah’s presence, his playfulness, his ability to rest in his essential self. We relate through the eyes of the person we are relating to, through an expanded context, in awareness, with an open heart. We reach out. We communicate thoughtfully, using language choicefully.
Learning to hold our aspirations of more conscious parenting with grace requires us to have a graceful relationship to growing up and showing up with our children, and for us to love being immersed within the creative process, as we feel our way through, learning and making mistakes as we go.
“Perhaps there no arriving but forever birthing of self.” Miriam Mason Martineau
This has been a wonderful week to reflect on family culture, in particular on the traditions I was brought up with and reflect on what traditions we are introducing Noah to. Having completed this course last year, it’s lovely to be able to speak from experience as we revived our Christmas tradition last year, changing the expectations and realigning these with our own collective values.
Miriam encourages us to 1) replace assumption/expectation or habit with inquiry, 2) replace habit with conscious thought and 3) put conscious thought into action. Evolving and transcending age-old traditions and reviving the potential of what Christmas (and other habits/traditions) could be. Breathing this new life into existing rituals and co-creating an authentic Christmas, actually meant we co-created our favourite Christmas yet. This feels especially precious, as unknown to us at the time, it was the last Christmas we would spend with either of my Grandmothers.
Approaching parenting with this consciousness requires us to make time and space for the practice, and to understand that there is always more we can do, that we are human beings and human becomings, as our children are. Parenting as a spiritual practice enables us to recognise that we can hold these two perspectives simultaneously. We are already there and we are still arriving. We are good enough and yet there is always more to do.
Parenting as a spiritual practice is about lifting this bar of consciousness, bringing awareness to the gap between where we are at now and where we have the potential to be in the future and to bring consciousness to dancing at the edge of the unknown, continuing to wonder how we can hold this tension between these two places – of being and becoming – with grace.