Parenting

My journey to taking a kinder path

In which I attempt to explain a little about how I discovered the delights of gentle parenting, natural learning and intentional living, and why I write this blog. Enjoy … x

When I had my first baby, almost 21 years ago now, I was so amazed at the wonder of it all. Not the childbirth part, but once that was over. Once my gorgeous daughter was born and we were home, our own little family, I became a total evangelist, enthusiastically declaring the good news. Everyone should have babies 🙂 I was deep in the first flushes of newborn love, determined to spread the word on the joy and delights of having a baby.  And even with the lack of a decent night’s sleep, it felt totally magical. 

But things were about to get tricky…

Fast forward two years and that first cute chubby faced bundle of loveliness became a toddler. A second sweet bundle of gorgeousness arrived and life started to feel a whole lot harder. The love was just as strong, stronger even. But the cracks were beginning to show. I felt out of my depth, pulled along, no, more like dragged along. Somehow transforming into a kind of parent and person I didn’t want to be. And I didn’t like it.  

That beautiful close connection with my first born baby seemed to be slipping away and I didn’t know why. And I didn’t know how to reclaim that relationship. I didn’t know how to be the best mama I could be, for both my babies. 

Instructions anyone?

Now, I’m a big fan of instructions. If it’s got a manual, I’ll read it. I like to know the ins and outs, the recommendations and the warnings. Not that I always follow the instructions, I guess I just like to know they’re there. Yet when I had children, they didn’t come with instructions (major design flaw?).

“When in doubt, go to the library.”

Ron Weasley. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

So when my second daughter was born, that’s where I went. To the library. Because that’s what Hayley does 🙂 Wading through all the parenting books I could find, I felt more and more uncomfortable.  I wanted to meet my eldest daughter’s needs, be close to her and protect the growing connection and trust we were developing. Yet what I found in those pages was disappointing to say the least, and actually pretty alarming. Littered with calls to control, demand obedience and punish and reward her every move, the books I found seemed much more concerned with undermining our relationship than supporting it.

Seeing the light… or just finding a really good book 🙂

That was until I stumbled upon the wise and wonderful, life-saving treasure – ‘How to Talk so Kids will Listen, and Listen so Kids will Talk’ by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. It’s an easy read. Straightforward, organised in bite-sized pieces, full of lists and illustrations to support the text. I read it almost in one go and have read it many many times since. 

Simple, yet for me, reading this book was utterly profound. Blew. My. Mind. It was unlike anything I had read before. Even at the time I knew that reading this book was a pivotal moment. If I’d never found this book? Or perhaps, even more disturbing, if I’d been unable or unwilling to consider the wisdom within it? Well, I dread to think what might have become of us all. 

Okay, that might seem a little dramatic. I know, I was lucky. The stars were aligned… still sticking with the drama, it seems 🙂 I was open to some new information, fresh ideas and frankly desperate for help. And this book appeared at the right moment, when I was ready and able to listen. If I hadn’t found it then I’m sure we’d have survived, but luckily I don’t have to worry about that.

“Because find it, I did. And grateful, have I been, ever since.”

Yoda. In a Star Wars movie. Somewhere. Maybe. Or at least it would’ve been if he’d had children and read this book 🙂 

I certainly feel like this book changed the course of our lives, it definitely transformed our relationships. It was the kinder path I’d been searching for. And ultimately led us to the discovery of so many other delights that I’d never heard of, or even dreamed possible. A whole new world of parenting discourse and discussion that respected children, parents and the relationships between them. More on that later in this post and here 🙂

It didn’t start well…

Some of you might read Faber and Mazlish’s book and say, yep that’s cool. Got it, do it, everything’s rosie in my garden. And for you my friend, I’m totally stoked. But for me, this was a revelation.

My mum died when I was small and my dad was a deeply troubled soul, not just after my mum died but long before. My dad came from a long line of trouble, and that was where he left me, in the care of my grandparents. Sadly they weren’t that well equipped to take care of themselves, let alone anyone else. And then to make matters worse, my dad returned. And left. And then so did I, spending my teenage years in a children’s home and with various foster-carers.

Luckily for me, I met some wonderful people who helped me through these difficult years, and some of them have been there for me ever since. Love you guys 🙂 

And yet, despite going on to train and work as a childcare ‘professional’ I was short on positive role-models. Although a determined and committed cycle-breaker, as a new parent I lacked many of the skills and knowledge that would help me build supportive and respectful relationships with my children. This book really helped.  

But it did get better 🙂 

Of course I still don’t know how to be the perfect mum, I don’t have all the answers and now, as a mother of four, I continue to make mistakes. But at least now I’ve discovered some great places to go for insights and wisdom. The best websites, blogs, books and podcasts that can help me to make good on some of those mistakes and that support me in growing and learning to be a better mama. This blog and the one that went before it, started as a way for me to keep a record of those amazing resources and reflect on how they were supporting my growth as a kinder parent, and person.

And that’s the thing. Once my eyes were opened to how my relationships with my children could be so completely different to much of what I saw around me. I began to notice it everywhere – the lack of respect for children and their rights.

And I want it to get better for all children.

We live in a society that disrespects and distrusts children on a routine and regular basis. Their views, their competence, their rights and their humanity are ignored in so many ways and so many places. And I want to challenge that, in my home, here on my blog and out in the world. This has become about so much more than my own parenting journey. 

My childhood wasn’t pretty. But in a way, that makes me lucky. What is this woman talking about you might ask? Well, the way I see it, it’s easy for me to reject and challenge the parenting, social and emotional models I grew up with because they were so obviously not healthy and not respectful. They were harmful and damaging to a degree that it’s hard to argue against. Yet many children face less obvious, or perhaps just more socially acceptable harm and hurt every day from the attitudes and practices of a society that doesn’t value them. And yet the fact they are less obvious, less blatantly abusive and more socially acceptable does not make them morally acceptable or in any way less damaging. 

Taking a kinder path.

Finding Faber and Mazlish’s words*, later led me to Alfie Kohn, Dr Ross Greene, Pam Leo, Sandra Dodd and so many others. So many inspiring and encouraging individuals and organisations that have challenged me to think more deeply about the world we live in and how we are treating our children, ourselves and our planet. So many amazing ideas that I’d never heard of, and one or two that I’d dismissed without even giving them a chance.

Breastfeeding beyond the first few months, elimination communication, baby-wearing, natural learning, unschooling, even home education and attachment parenting – all concepts that almost passed me by. But once these ideas were firmly on my radar, well, then the wonder, the joy and the loveliness really notched up. Of course, along with that, there was a fair amount of regret, anger and sadness that I’d never even known some of these ideas existed, or that I had misunderstood them so terribly. But as I learn to be kinder to my children and everyone else around me, then so too am I learning to be kinder to myself.   

‘There is always a way, Wooley’.**

And often there are many ways, infinite possibilities for how we can live in any given moment. Many options and choices where once it may have seemed there were none. I don’t want to suggest that any one way is right for everyone. That I’ve found the one ring to rule them all the one and only way to parent or to live 🙂 That isn’t my intention at all.

But I am fed up with seeing so much parenting advice that seems to be about dividing parents and children rather than supporting them to live and work in partnership. That isn’t good for any of us, as individuals or as a society. And talking of society, I’m fed up with living in one that prizes competition, compliance, consumption and control. I want to live in a world that values kindness, connection, co-operation and consent. And I know that you do too.

We want to have strong and respectful relationships with our children. We want to be kinder parents, to meet the physical and emotional needs of our children and support them in ways that respect their humanity. And together, we can. 

“We who believe that children want to learn about the world, are good at it, and can be trusted to do it with very little adult coercion or interference, are probably no more than one percent of the population, if that. And we are not likely to become the majority in my lifetime. This doesn’t trouble me much anymore, as long as this minority keeps on growing. My work is to help it grow. ”

John Holt.

John Holt said a lot of great stuff. If you’d like to read more of his quotes, check out this post

Like John, I want to help ideas about respectful parenting, home education and intentional living grow. So that more and more of us, more and more often, remember that we do have choices. That we can challenge negative assumptions about children and human nature. That we can explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man [sic] has gone before! (sorry, just couldn’t resist), that we can seek out better patterns to match, models of compassion and connection that support us to feel confident and empowered to live in harmony with the planet, with each other and especially with our children.  

And so if you’d like to know more about taking a kinder path, I’d be honoured and grateful if you’d check out some more of my posts on parenting, learning and living.  

And if you’d like to know more about me, check out my about page. 

You can find out more about home education here. And about what kind of homeschoolers we are, here. And I plan on sharing the story of how we became a home educating family soon and will post the link to that once it’s up.

But for now, if you’ve enjoyed reading this, or any of my posts, please consider subscribing to the blog. It would make my day 🙂 And feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Wishing you all a wonderful week x

* ‘How to talk…’ was actually published in the 1980s and although it’s wisdom is pretty timeless, if you’re looking for a bang up to date book on living respectfully with our children, look no further… My friend, Sue from the wonderful website and podcast Stories of an Unschooling Family published a book just two weeks ago, Curious Unschoolers. You can find it on Amazon and Goodreads

**  A quote from Commander Cody, Clone Wars, Season 1. My children just love to tease me about this one. Although I like to use this line to encourage the search for peaceful solutions whenever we face a tricky situation, in the show the preceding line is something along the lines of… “It’s not going to be easy getting to those guns, Sir”, and don’t they just love to remind me of that one 🙂

 

4 Comments

  1. Hayley,

    Thank you for sharing more about yourself and your journey to respectful and kind parenting. I’m sorry to hear you had such a tough time as a child. I guess our experiences make us think about what we want for our own children. Do they deserve something better?

    Oh yes, there are some good mentors available in books and blogs etc. I have my own favourites such as William Sears who opened my eyes to new and better ways of parenting. I feel so honoured that you included a link to my book and blog in your post. Thank you!

    Have you ever considered writing your own book? Taking a Kinder Path would be such a fabulous name for a book as well as a blog. Your posts are always stuffed full of things to ponder and practical information to put into action. They are so well thought out. Perhaps you could share your experiences of taking a kinder path in a new way!

    1. Hayley says:

      Thanks Sue, you say the loveliest things 🙂

      It would be a dream come true to write a book one day. Curious Unschoolers is wonderful and I love the idea of you narrating an audio version.

      Looking forward to hearing you, and Imogen and Sophie, on the Homeschooling Global Summit, exciting times!

  2. Epic ‘cycle breaking’ is hard work and I’d never thought about the flip side that it’s easy to question your own parenting if it was so clearly abhorrent! Very eye opening point!

    I love Caroline Ingles (Laura Ingles Mum … Little House On The Prairie … who’s work I know you’re currently reading!)
    Whatever goes down, be it blindness or literal starvation, she’s always finding the silver edges of each cloud. And I wonder if it is our empathy and our ability to positively seek those positive thoughts that enable us to be cycle breakers where others pass down the abuse? For sure, when under stress, it’s a massive undertaking to filter out the knee-jerk, learned parenting moves and messages. And it takes a whole tank of self discipline and self control to do it. But having a clear memory of how it FELT has to be the constant reminder a parent needs in order to put themselves in their child’s shoes. ❤️❤️❤️

    1. Hayley says:

      Appreciate your comment Sally, thanks.

      It’s been interesting to finally read the Little House books after being a fan of the show since forever. While my eldest daughter read the books as a child, she never wanted to watch the show. Finally I have someone to share it with as my youngest daughter and I are making our way through season 1. Every episode still a tearjerker, for me at least. For her, she just has so many questions 🙂

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