Two tiny words that changed my parenting in a big way

I just finished reading the new classic alternative parenting work Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves: Transforming parent-child relationships from reaction and struggle to freedom, power and joyand let me start by saying, “WOW!”  This is a great read and I am so glad that I came across this title and asked my library to borrow it for me. Not everyone will agree with the author’s message or her methods, but I think most of us would say that we want to enjoy a peaceful and joyful relationship with our children, and at least this book offers some ideas of how one can reduce or eliminate the need or desire for coercion or other means of controlling these pint-sized human beings in our care.

I’m still processing the ideas I read about in this book, but I’ve been surprised over and over by how one little change inspired by this book has lightened things up around here.  Those two little words that have changed everything?  Oh, no!  Yes, they are “oh, no!”  Accompanied with exaggerated begging and exasperation, they have transformed situations where I could have nagged, corrected, coerced, or physically prevented them from doing something, into opportunities for us to connect, be lighthearted, and share the absurdity of worries about the “small stuff”.  For example:

  • When the kids begin taking frozen items out of the freezer: “Oh, no!  My Brussels sprouts! What will we have for dinner! “
  • When Peter “steals” my toiletries bag when I’m packing: “Oh, no! How will I brush my teeth?  They will rot out of my head!”
  • When John takes the hat off Peter’s head: “Oh, no!  He stole your hat!  What will you do if your head gets cold?”

It is so easy and natural to want to pack your bags without interference, or to be able to cook dinner without wondering if a misplaced bag of frozen chicken carcasses will get forgotten in a couch cushion.  But instead of providing tension by trying to force them from doing things that I wouldn’t do, even if it is done in the most peaceful, redirecting, and gentle way, we’ve been laughing and playing.  Hopefully, I’m teaching them what I’m learning—-that little things are not worth bothering about and that enjoying each other as we are is more important than making sure things go my way.

But what about those Brussels sprouts, toiletries, and hat?  After a few times of my “pretend” over-the-top antics of putting them away and begging the children not to touch them again, they tend to stay right where they “belong.”  But regardless, my children are right where THEY belong in those moments . . . laughing with mama and knowing how important they are to me.

thiscrunchylife_boyswrights

Another vegan disappoints

I was excited to request the new cookbook Betty Goes Vegan: 500 Classic Recipes for the Modern Family from my library when I learned it had been purchased.  Clearly my love of kefir, bone broth, and other dairy items currently preclude me from veganism.  That being said, I love vegetables and try to eat as many of them as possible.  I am always on the look out for easy and tasty recipes that will work more vegetables into my family’s diet.  In fact, for many, many years, Matt and I cooked almost entirely vegetarian.

I had high hopes that this cookbook would include comfort food vegetable-heavy dishes that would be easy to prepare since they are for the “modern family” who is always on the go.  Much to my disappointment, instead of whole foods dishes filled with natural, minimally processed goodness, this cookbook was filled to the brim with highly processed fake meat, fake vegan cheese, and soy products.  My family does not have time to follow three paragraph instructions on how to craft “vegan hard-boiled eggs” out of tofu shaped into half-egg shapes and then stuffed with spiced tofu and baked.  If we didn’t want to eat eggs, we would just skip the eggs and eat cauliflower, or green beans, or pretty much anything else that comes in the form that it was grown on this earth.

I’m not trying to trash vegans here as I am sure there are many who despise mock meats, cheese, and soy as much as I do. But what does it say about veganism when this is the cookbook that is supposed to appeal to the masses?  Personally, I do not think it is more ethical to eat mass-produced soy, corn, or beans, over-processed and shipped huge distances, then to eat local pastured animals, but everyone is entitled to their own food ideals.  To past muster in my kitchen, a meal must be whole foods, affordable, and delicious.  Tonight, our grain-free, vegan dinner was a turnip, carrot, onion, lentil soup, seasoned with bay leaves, salt, pepper, olive oil, and parsley.  Simply delicious, and no fake smoke, flavor-injector, or soy needed.

thiscrunchylife_lentilsoup

Peasant Soup very slightly adapted from This Good Food

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 cup rice (or sub more lentils)
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, sliced
  • 2-3 turnips, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional, but recommended: fresh parsley and extra virgin olive oil

Optional step: Soak lentils in water plus a few tablespoons whey (which you can get from straining yogurt through cloth) for about 7 hours. Drain.

Step 1: Combine lentils, rice, carrots, turnips, garlic, bay leaf with enough water or bone broth to cover by an inch in a pot.  (About 12 cups if you did NOT soak the lentils, less if you did 🙂 )

Step 2: Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer for about an hour, adding more water or broth if needed.

Step 3: Add salt and pepper and any optional ingredients.

Reading: Revolution in the Bleachers

We are not a very sporty family at this point.  It seemed like everyone I knew played sports growing up, so I played some too, but wasn’t what I would call “athletic.” Now, I enjoy being outside, but I don’t watch sports on TV or play any team or individual sports.

Still, I want my kids to explore their athletic side so I picked up Revolution in the Bleachers: How parents can take back family in a world gone crazy over youth sports because I saw it at the library and it looked interesting.  The thesis of Revolution in the Bleachers is that parents or coaches are sometimes losing sight of the positive goals of playing individual or team sports, like learning about winning and losing, developing social, physical, and leadership skills, and just having fun and getting outside. Instead some parents and coaches are taking a winning-at-all-costs approach which is driving kids and families to be over-scheduled,  over-worked, and emotionally drained and all for what?  The small chance of winning any athletic scholarship or making a living as an athlete?

Surprisingly, reading this book got me thinking about a lot of parenting issues outside of decisions about sports.  Here are my key takeaways:

When you make any investment of money or your family’s time, think about what you hope to achieve and decide if it is worth the cost.

As we make decisions about the ultimate size of our family, I think about the choices we will have to make about activities.  Right now, I don’t see an extra $200 a month materializing to cover sports, scouting, music lessons, gymnastic, swimming lessons, dance lessons and other activities for multiple children at a time. We will have to pick and choose.  This book also made me think about those investments in terms of time.  How many directions can our family be pulled with multiple evening commitments per week?  I hope that my children can have a fun time playing sports and doing other activities, but if the time commitment is too great or if they aren’t having fun because of a coach who cares about winning over character development, then it is all right to opt out of the activity. I won’t be robbing my children, but instead will be allowing our family to invest its efforts in experiences that are worth it.

At the extreme, Revolution in the Bleachers describes families where children are specializing in a single sport at the age of 8 or 9 to then play that sport year-round spending thousands of dollars per year on sports fees, personal trainers, summer camps, and travel costs for the family.  Moreover, family time is destroyed as one parent travels with the child many weekends and holidays and family dinner time is rarely observed. Whether soccer, spelling bees, piano lessons, or beauty pageants, I can’t imagine what end result would be worth such an investment if it were at the cost of my sons’ childhoods and our family life.

Doing structured activities can benefit your child AND not doing structured activities can benefit your child.

Of course I think about the opportunities I want to give my children.  Although I usually think of opportunities as “things to do” like lessons or travel experiences, reading this book reminded me that giving children down time and free time is also an opportunity. I spent hours and hours outside as a youngster: exploring nature, playing ball games with my neighbors, reading, or playing make believe with my sister.  I hope my children can enjoy the same opportunities.  I think there are skills and life lessons that can only be learned when children guide their own activities as opposed to showing up to participate in activities organized by adults.

Children are people, not projects.

This one kind of hit me hard.  I take my parenting choices very seriously.  Sometimes I confuse the desire to give my children the opportunity to flourish as well-rounded, happy adults with my desire to have “done a great job” as a parent.  I’m not saying that I shouldn’t want to do a good job.  Instead, I’m saying that doing a good job should involve me growing as a person and learning how to be the best parent I can be, and should NOT be focused on what my children can achieve.  There is a big part of me that is convinced that great parents should raise happy kids, but reading Revolution in the Bleachers made me see the danger in this thinking.  Being attached to your children’s performance, whether at piano, soccer, or life generally, puts too much pressure on them and isn’t a good example of the kind of unconditional love I’m shooting for.  I still want my children to be successful and I hope they are wildly so.  But signing them up for sports or nurturing their creative side or giving them amazing learning opportunities should be to help them develop as wonderful people because I love them, and not to develop them as wonderful people so I can feel good about myself.

What about you? How do you decide what amount of structured activities are right for your child?

50 cent pony ride was definitely worth the cost!

50 cent pony ride was definitely worth the cost!