Sure, I can be an authentic and present parent, but what does that mean in practical application? What about when my child doesn't listen to me? How does presence help if my child is running toward the street and doesn't stop when I say stop?
Last week my husband attended a parenting lecture by Kim John Payne at our local Waldorf School. I've heard him speak before and I love what he has to say about raising children. He's a great speaker, and if you ever have a chance to go see him, I highly recommend it.
The last time I heard him speak, my son was six months old. Everything he said made perfect sense to me then. My son is now 2 ½, and things have changed. Theory and reality don't always mix seamlessly. When my husband debriefed the lecture with me, I felt conflicted. I wasn't sure I was 100% on board with what he was suggesting.
I've read everything from Babywise to Unconditional Parenting, and if you've read any of my posts, you'll know I lean significantly to the latter. In Unconditional Parenting, Alfie Kohn lays out researched evidence about the long-term harm we do to our children when we rely on rewards, praise, punishment, or coercion as our parenting strategies. He states that our reliance on these methods indirectly tells our children that our love is conditional and can be withdrawn if we don't approve of their behavior. While these methods may gain obedience in the short term, they create adults who are overly dependent on others for approval, among other things. I'm a big Alfie Kohn fan, and I love this book!
However, it's rather challenging to apply to daily life. Just try for one day to not bribe or coerce your toddler into cooperation. Or try counting how many times you say, "Good job," thereby robbing your child of the innate satisfaction of accomplishment. It's tricky.
I had recommended the book to a friend who was half-way through it when she said to me, "I haven't gotten to the part yet where he says what to do instead of relying on rewards, punishment or coercion." I told her not to hold her breath. The book's not big on practical advice. It's more about laying a philosophical foundation from which to make our parenting decisions.
Which brings me back to Kim John Payne…
Payne's approach to parenting also discourages rewards, praise, punishment, or coercion, for the same reasons Kohn describes in his book. I like that. He focuses the practical application of his parenting philosophy on the three stages of youth identified by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf schooling. The three stages are: Willing (ages 0-6), Feeling (ages 7-14), and Thinking (teen years), and the parenting approaches change depending on the stage of the child.
Here is why I'm conflicted. He says that the key word for the "Willing" stage is "limitation" and the name of the game is compliance. (Hello? Flashbacks to Babywise!) At first (or second or third) glance, this doesn't sound at all compelling to me. It doesn't fit with my ideals of fostering a strong and independent-minded adult. After all, I don't want to train my son to blindly obey authority. Au contraire! I want him to break the molds and chart new territory. How is compliance going to get him there?
Before you get your feathers all ruffled like I did, keep reading.
After grappling with this dichotomy and thinking back on past experience, I think I've come to a better understanding of what Payne means.
First of all, the compliance thing is not forever; it's only for this early stage of childhood when consistent boundaries create a safety zone for our children. Compliance, in the way Payne is suggesting, is not gained by punishment or fear. It simply means to set clear boundaries and be consistent. (Parenting 101, right?) In a nutshell, it means that when a boundary has been breached, everything stops and the breach is addressed, clearly, calmly, firmly, and every time - even if you're in the middle of doing something else.
I have known this and practiced it for many years as an elementary school teacher. Within the very clear and safe boundaries that were set (in stone!) at the beginning of each school year, creativity and originality were able to flourish. Once these clear boundaries were established, very little "discipline" or redirection was necessary. Our 2nd grade classroom was alive with deep discussions, compassionate behavior, and mutual respect. Compliance to clear boundaries didn't inhibit their natural spirit. Rather, it allowed them a safe space for its free expression.
Yet … I can honestly say that in practical application in our own home, the boundaries have been less than clear and rather inconsistent. It's always more difficult with our own children, isn't it? Perhaps my awareness of Lucas' sensitivities led me to believe that he'd just know how to cooperate. Yes, he's a powerful being, but he's still in a child's body and needs my guidance as his parent in order to grow into the fullness of his being. Thinking back to my teaching days helped me remember the wisdom in what Kim John Payne is sharing. Setting limitations now, when Lucas is young, is not going to stifle his strong spirit.
What does this mean for me in practical terms? It means that I need to be present when I give Lucas instructions, with the full expectation that he will follow through, and I wait for it. No more instructions hollered from the kitchen with no way for me to know if he's acknowledged them. It also means that my husband and I need to be very clear about what is and is not a boundary, so we can consistently reinforce it.
I think of a boundary like an invisible wall. Lucas can't see it. The only way he knows it's there is if we describe it for him the same way every time he reaches it. Eventually, he'll just trust it's there, and he can turn his attention to more productive things. Until that point, he'll need to keep feeling for it, in a sense asking us, "Is it here? Is it still here? Is it over there?"
Since we haven't consistently described the "wall," he's still in that stage of pushing at the edges, (i.e. challenging everything!). It would be easy for me to describe this as rebellion against these newly enforced limitations, and say it's "not working". I've reached this stage (and this conclusion) before, and easing up on the expectations was certainly a relief. But … it didn't help him stop when I told him to stop running toward the street; it didn't keep him from climbing the bookshelf or running away when it was time to change his diaper or get in the car.
And so, we are starting again. My husband and I will attempt to remain consistent with our newly-agreed-upon limits, and we will carefully watch to notice the effects on Lucas. I want to give this enough time to allow the "wall" to become visible to him, so he can relax his search.
What approaches have you tried with your children, and to what effect? What do you think of Payne's focus on limitations and compliance for this stage of childhood? Please leave your thoughts in the comments. I look forward to the conversation!
Sure, I can be an authentic and present parent, but what does that mean in practical application? What about when my child doesn't listen to me? How does presence help if my child is running toward the street and doesn't stop when I say stop?
My friend recently discovered that her son is intuitive. This is not the kind of thing that was ever discussed in her family. Her church community would likely find it very strange. The point being, this is not a woman seeking to project hippie aspirations on her offspring. She was caught by surprise with this discovery, and now finds herself wondering what it means for her as a mother.
What is she supposed to do differently now?
We had a conversation about this today and I thought I'd share the essence of my response to her question.
I think most of what I'm learning in this trial-by-fire classroom called parenting can be summarized in two words: authenticity and presence.
As mothers of very sensitive children, we are being called to become very aware and sensitive parents. Our kids feel any nuance of dishonesty, fear, superficiality, or negative energy, and they reflect it back to us, amplified. (This is not pretty or fun, by the way.)
For the most part, if my son is acting out, I need look no further than my own self to find the reason. It could be something obvious: Am I out of sorts today? Mad at my husband? Feeling sick? Overwhelmed? Or it could be something more subtle: In the back of my mind, am I feeling stuck in some old thought patterns? Am I being unloving to myself? Am I being critical of myself?
Any child will pick up on the more obvious negative vibes and act out - that's a given. However, intuitive kids will pick up on the subtle vibes as well, so as you can imagine, life can get pretty challenging pretty quickly if we aren't paying attention. We need to continually practice keeping our thoughts and actions in alignment with our values so that our energy remains clear and positive.
For me, this has meant recommitting to a practice of daily meditation and journaling. I've been journaling daily for four months now, and meditating daily for four days. (Yeah, well … we're all a work in progress, aren't we? You can help remind me and keep me on track with the latter.)
Our children will need to learn how to effectively manage far more energy than we can imagine. When we discipline ourselves to manage our own energy, we are providing a powerful model for them.
I also mentioned presence as an important theme in my parenting approach. I've written about it here, here, here, and at length here, so I won't go into detail about it in this post. Please do read the other posts, though, especially that last one. Suffice it to say, it's REALLY IMPORTANT!
I know there is so much more to discuss on this subject and I'm just hitting the tip of the iceberg. Being authentic and present – for any parent - is a good start, though, don't you think?
In my efforts to wean Lucas off of the Peggy Lebo cd we've played approximately eleventy-billion times, I introduced him to a long-time favorite of mine, Dar Williams.
The first time he heard The Honesty Room, Dar's debut album, he listened with interest to the entire cd. For me, it was like time-travel to my mid-twenties, when I would listen to this cd (back then it was a cassette tape) over and over again. She's a gifted poet whose songs speak directly to my heart. I used to sit with the cassette insert and study those lyrics until I'd memorized them. I just love her!
I guess Lucas does, too. This is now the cd we listen to every time we get in the car. (I won't argue!) I thought he just loved hearing her play the guitar – his beloved instrument of choice. And then he said something that made me realize he was paying attention to the lyrics, too!
It was maybe the fifth time we'd listened to the cd. Dar had just sung the phrase, "This is where I let my pain go," and Lucas said, "Oh! That is like "I Surrender", like Peggy Lebo sings!" The music of the songs did not sound at all alike. I was confused.
"What is like "I Surrender", Lucas?" I asked him.
He answered, "She said 'let my pain go'. Like I surrender." And he started singing the chorus of "I Surrender". He was talking about the lyrics!
How on earth did he
- pick up the words that quickly,
- understand the meaning of "let my pain go,"
- understand that letting go and surrendering are similar things, and
- remember another song in which he'd heard the sentiment?
And, AND… all in time to tell me about it the instant she sang that phrase?! He's two years old, fer cryin' out loud!
I've got to stay on top of my game with this one. There's no telling what he'll be doing by kindergarten!
It is said that one of the key characteristics of Crystal and Indigo children is their sensitivity – in other words, their ability to pick up thoughts, energy, and other non-verbal, non-physical cues from other people and their environment.
In addition to Ella, his imaginary friend, I know Lucas actually sees other spirits or non-physical entities. Ever since he was a baby, I would watch him follow them around the room with his eyes. One time, while I was holding him facing me on my lap, I watched his eyes focus on one as it flew right between the two of us and out the window.
There used to be many of these entities flitting about when he was a baby, but now that he's a toddler, the traffic seems to have slowed to a trickle. My grandmother ("Nani") and someone named Trea (?) are the two most regular visitors these days.
But does this mean he has ESP? Can he read my mind? I mean really read my mind, as in "What color am I thinking of right now?" So far, I'm not sure. He's not hip to those kinds of party tricks just yet.
However … the other day we were headed to Stroller Strides and were stopped at a light. I was reading the new signage at the corner gas station, which had recently changed ownership. I noticed that the font for the "Snacks" sign over the mini-mart was really weird, and I was wondering if it was like that before, or if this was part of the new signage. As I sat there, silently pondering this insignificant detail, Lucas suddenly said, "Yeah, snack, Mommy. I do want a snack," like I'd just asked him.
I replied, "I didn't ask you if you wanted a snack. What made you think of having a snack?" No answer.
So I asked, "Did you know that I was just thinking of that snack sign?" To this, he answered, "Yeah."
I know, it was a leading question, but he's only 2 ½. There's only so much he's going to offer on his own at this point. Sure, he could have just been hungry. We'd just finished breakfast, but it's not unheard of for him to ask for a snack immediately afterward. The timing of his request could have been coincidence.
So… I don't know.
Maybe the actual mind-reading is a skill that develops over time and with practice - like speech. Another mom of two Crystal children was able to do the mind-reading party trick with her five year-old, but not with her toddler.
Time will tell, I suppose.
I don't claim to be an expert on Crystal and Indigo children. I can't even say I'm an expert on my own (Crystal) son, although if expertise were to be measured on a relative scale, I'd top the list. Certainly, there is no one paying closer attention to him.
In that paying attention, I'm noticing things, (sometimes extraordinary things) and I'm sharing them with you here. It's really that simple.
I'm understandably curious about this phenomenon, and so I'm also keeping my eyes open for relevant and valuable information I can share with you. I stumbled on a little tidbit I wanted to share with you today. It's from a fascinating blog called The Crystal, Indigo and Starchild Info Clearinghouse. It presents an idea about why these individuals are here right now. The following is excerpted from this post with permission from the author:
Crystal, Indigo, and Star Children are here to awaken the planet. This means helping the other individuals on the planet to learn to be in the moment. That is what awakening means.
If the [Crystal, Indigo and Star Children] do nothing more than learn to be in the moment and help the rest of the planet to be in the moment they will have accomplished something that this planet has not known for millions of years.
Isn't this lovely? Eckhart Tolle would be proud. (Tangent – when you're done here, go visit Tolle's site! It's so peaceful and beautiful!)
Regardless of where you fall on the "conventional to woo-woo" continuum, being present is something we could all practice for the benefit of a better world, don't you think? Being in the moment makes us better parents, better spouses, better colleagues, better humans. It allows us to be open to inspiration without the mental clutter of worry or regret. It allows us to experience what's right in front of us and appreciate it for what it is: a precious moment we'll never have again.
Certainly, Lucas is the master at bringing me into the present moment. Whether it's by being so deliciously entertaining that I can't think about anything else, or whether it's by pulling the rug out from under me when I've allowed my energy to stray too far from now, he always manages to bring me back to the moment. He's a consistent teacher.
I think that's true of children, in general, not just of Crystal kids. Maybe the only difference is my willingness to notice. What might change for you and your relationship with your child if you were to practice being in the moment more often? What would it be like to imagine your child as your spiritual teacher, helping you to awaken?
Imaginary or spirit friend, Lucas' pink playmate, Ella, has become a regular visitor. She has quite the rambunctious and silly personality, we've discovered. Whenever Lucas is playing with her, it generally involves high-energy activities like dancing, jumping, and lots of laughing.
It's taken an interesting turn lately, which leads me to believe she's more a product of his imagination than a separate spirit entity. In addition to playing with Ella, he often "becomes" Ella. If we're getting him ready for his bath, he might say, "Ella's getting naked! Ella's going to take a bath!" Or if he's jumping on his bed, he'll say, "Ella's jumping on the bed! I'm Ella!" These declarations are always accompanied by lots of laughing and squealing.
Ella has a silly kind of dance-walk, with lots of arm and shoulder motion. "Ella's walking!" he'll shout as he shimmies down the hall, laughing his head off.
Sometimes, he delights in switching back and forth. At the dinner table, he'll tell us Ella's eating her dinner, and then say, "No, Ella's not eating. Ella went to she's house. For right now, I'm Lucas."
In these ways, Ella is different from Trea, the spirit friend who hangs out by his bedroom light. Trea never comes down to play. He never pretends to be Trea. He likes Trea, but there is not much interaction, as far as I can tell. When I asked him where Trea lives he said, "Up in the sky." When I asked him where Ella lives, he said, "In she's house, by Mike and Molly's." In other words, where our neighbor, Ella, lives.
So it looks like Lucas' Ella is a pink, slimy-eared, imaginative embellishment of our neighbor girl, after all. I wonder what she'd think of her transformation.
Since changing the focus of this blog, I've received some interesting feedback in the form of emails and conversations. Surprisingly, none of it has been negative. I thought I'd have people writing in to tell me I'm delusional, but instead, it's as if in writing about Lucas being a Crystal/Indigo child, I somehow gave others permission to open up and talk about their own, similar experiences.
Hooray! That's exactly what I was hoping for! It's nice to receive such immediate confirmation that I'm on the right track.
Immediately after posting about space-clearing and Lucas' concern about the spirits in his room, I heard from people about their own experiences with seeing and feeling spirits, and how they struggled to make sense of it and deal with it.
I've heard from a number of mothers of Indigo and Crystal children who are eager to share stories and resources.
Through some of these mothers, I've connected with online communities I never knew existed, frequented by people who consider astral travel and Indigo children normal topics of conversation. They've given me some great tips!
- Meditate with Lucas. We began a (brief!) little meditation ritual at night before bedtime, and he really loves it.
- Get a violet-colored LED light for his room. I found an LED nightlight that rotates through six different colors. Guess which color Lucas chose as his favorite? Violet.
- Give him passive clues about his energy with whale sounds or images of dolphins. I put on a cd with recordings of humpback whales, and he loved it. I used to work with dolphins, so we have a few dolphin things around that he enjoys looking at.
All in all, I'm glad to be writing about this topic, and I'm grateful for the feedback. Though I know my son well, I have very little knowledge of the phenomenon of Crystal children, and therefore, it can feel a bit daunting to focus a whole blog on this subject. I never know what I'll be writing next! It's a bit of a leap of faith. Thanks for taking the leap with me.
An update on my previous post … It's taken less than a week for Lucas' behavior to return to normal after my illness-induced parenting hiatus and our home's resultant state of anarchy. Not a bad turn-around time, I'd say. Thank goodness!
I recently learned some things about the effects of my parenting. Over the past two weeks while I've been sick, let's just say that I haven't been on top of my mommy game. As I started down the slippery slope into half-assed boundaries and complete lack of routine, I knew I'd be paying the price. I just didn't have the energy or the will to do anything about it.
Me: Please eat your snack in the dining room, Lucas.
Lucas: No. I want to eat it in the living room. (Staying just out of reach from my sick-camp on the couch, dropping cheerios on the carpet)
Me: Sigh. Cough, cough, cough, cough, cough, cough, COUGH, COUGH, cough…. Whatever.
Lucas: I want to watch Sesame Street again.
Me: We already watched two episodes on demand today. How about if we read some books together instead?
Lucas: No. I don't want to read some books. I think I want to probably watch Sesame Street again. (Grabs the remote, runs away with it, and tries to figure out for himself how to get the free on-demand kids channel.)
Me: (flailing) Hand me the cough, cough, cough, cough, COUGH, COUGH, cough remote before you accidentally order an adult movie. (Collapsing half-dead on the couch as Big Bird leads the little ballerinas across the street; Suuunny Day…)
With my ongoing lack of follow-through, his behavior escalated to screaming fits over snack choices and sneaking out of his room during nap time to rearrange our office supplies and tattoo his belly and legs with ink pens. He began to flat-out refuse to cooperate on routine tasks like diaper changes, baths and getting into his car seat. While I was on the phone, he drew all over the couch with marker. While I was in the bathroom, he made a "special drink" with protein powder and an entire bottle of liquid trace minerals. (No, he didn't drink it – he just crowed proudly, "I made a special drink!" before throwing the glue-like concoction on the wood floor and running away.)
Meanwhile, my coping skills hit an all-time low, my fuse hit an all-time short, and I degenerated into a two-year-old myself, throwing some of my own fits. Lucas now knows the appropriate use of the phrase, "Damn it," as in, "I WANT MY VITAMINS NOW, DAMN IT, DAMN IT, DAMN IT!" Though I'd never do it, I began to really, really empathize with parents who hit their children. I called my mom and offered to sell him to her for cheap.
What a disaster - and all in two weeks of lax parenting!
I'm not at all proud of this. It's embarrassing!
However, I am proud of the fact that this is an aberration from our usual happy and cooperative home. It showed me that Lucas' normal behavior must be, in some part, a product of our conscious parenting choices. It's not about disciplining my son. It's about disciplining myself to think carefully through every choice and interaction with him. Staying five moves ahead in this chess game of parenting requires constant vigilance and Zen-like presence. It requires always trying to see things through my son's perspective, and taking the time to discover non-coercive solutions to problems that meet both of our needs.
Before I got sick, I didn't realize how much energy it took to maintain anything close to this level of self-discipline. (Mommies, this is a crucial reason for taking good care of ourselves!)
Being sick = no energy = no self-discipline = anarchy.
I'm feeling better now, and so the repair-work is underway. My energy is returning, as is my patience and my perspective. It's not turning things around overnight, but the yelling has abated. Routines are falling back into place, and with them Lucas' expectations of how life should be, which means fewer power struggles and more fun together. I predict things to be back to normal within a week, thanks to the resilience of children, (bless them!) and my willingness to recognize what went wrong and simply do the work to fix it.
I'll keep you posted. It's all one big experiment, isn't it?
Care to share any of your stories of losing perspective and getting it back again?