Parenting: It’s About YOUR Family Values

Parenting: It’s About YOUR Family Values.

Our baby group began in the hospital.

Four of us delivered beautiful babies within a couple days of each other, and met as we waddled down the corridors, pushing our babies in their clear bassinettes. We discovered that we lived close to each other, and decided to meet up. We each brought a friend to our first meeting, and continued to gather regularly to support, laugh and cry together.

We shared our problems with breastfeeding: some had no milk and some had too much. Some had sleep, others had little. We excitedly phoned each other when our babies cut their first teeth, and rolled over for the first time – Well everybody else phoned when their baby rolled over. Our baby rolled over off the side of the bed, landing on her head – with both of us watching. So our excited phone-call was to the doctor!

Then, the babies began to walk. From then on, they proceeded to ‘explore’ or ‘get into mischief’ – depending on which school of thought we came from. Out came the virtual daggers that ripped each other’s views of parenting into shreds. Some were in favour of smacking while others were opposed to it. Some had schedules for sleeping times, while others had baby-led regimes.

Out of our regard for each other, we celebrated a combined first birthday, and officially ended our group. We recognised that our views differed enough to become a barrier to our friendship if we continued to meet up under the same circumstances.

Our ‘babies’ are now well into their twenties. All of them are beautiful, healthy, loving young adults – despite their parents’ different approaches to parenting. Occasionally we bump into the other parents and we share what our young adults are up to. We are still friends – probably because we chose to focus on things other than the behaviour of each other’s children.

We all wanted to do our very best for our families. But unfortunately, that was often framed in a very black and white viewpoint – certainly one that was clouded by lack of sleep, childhood illnesses, current hypotheses on child-rearing and the different backgrounds and beliefs of each of our families.

That initial experience of parenting groups was enough to make me seek friendships and mentoring outside of a focus on children. Perhaps I subconsciously recognised that other parents of children the same age as mine were caught up in the same boat as me. So I maintained friendships with older, more experienced parents through craft groups and bible studies. Through informal discussions, I found their objective views were much more helpful. Perhaps the most encouraging message they gave me was that they had survived.

At one stage, a group of older members of our congregation organised a parenting course presented by Ross Campbell, author of ‘How to really love your child’ and Gary Chapman, author of ‘The Five Love Languages’. The course was great and the kids had a good time too. They were fed pizza and cared for while we learnt to enjoy our kids…and really love them in a way they could understand. These days, we try to encourage and mentor parents as we were encouraged and mentored.

We recognise that there is a whole world full of different parenting philosophies and practices today. Each family is different from every other family.  So we encourage families to note and treasure those differences.

Some families have found it useful to make their own Family Values Ladder. Parents each make a list of what is important to them such as: education, trust, sharing, honesty, God-loving. Then they share their ideas and together prioritise them according to what they believe to be most important to their family. It’s useful to involve the kids in this process.  Just a word of caution: Taking your teens to the local KFC to do this activity while their friends are working a shift behind the counter is not a good idea…Don’t ask me how I know that!

Family Values Ladders 

Together with your partner, work out which values you hold to most strongly, and write them on a ladder such as this.

‘Family Values Ladders’ help keep family ‘challenges’ in perspective. For example, if ‘kindness’ is high on the family value ladder, while ‘keeping up with fashion’ is further down the ladder, mum and dad might choose to focus on encouraging kindness in their family, rather than arguing with their children about which t-shirt they should wear.

These days I encourage all parents to attend courses, read books, watch dvds or television programmes that teach about child development and relationships. There are some words of caution I usually give:

  • Parenting courses, parenting groups and parenting advice that is useful should leave you with a feeling of ‘I can do that’, no matter how well (or not) you have been doing.
  • Good parenting courses should back-up other good parenting courses
  • If some advice you hear is contrary to what others are saying, check it out! Find out the evidence and the original source of the information and compare it.
  • If your heart is telling you that something is not right, ask yourself, “Is this showing love, and does it practice respect for all concerned?’
  • Ask questions! Don’t take any advice as ‘gospel’ without questioning it – and especially, check out the context of biblical references if they are quoted.

Perhaps the wisest words of advice we’ve ever received are from Ian Grant, author of ‘Growing Great Families!’ *

‘If you’re having fun being a parent you’re probably doing it about right!’

*http://www.theparentingplace.com

The Nest Is But An Empty Shell.

The nest is but an empty shell. It sits on the lowest branch of our neighbour’s palm tree. I can see it from my window as I write.

To look at it now, in mid-winter Adelaide, it looks cold, hard and lifeless.

A pair of Murray Magpies built it from mud last Spring. Then they took it in turns to bring materials to line it with warmth and love–and a Murray-Magpie-mud-nest-full of our roof insulation. We had enough to share.

Over the next few weeks the birds kept the nest warm and each other company much of the time. Of course, they may well have been guarding the nest from neighbourhood cats and possums. Beware anything that gets between a Murray-Magpie-mum and her eggs!

The day arrived that we saw tiny beaks poke up to be shoved full of whatever mum and dad bird collected.

But, as happens, the chicks grew–too big for the nest. The chicks flew away.

Too soon the nest was empty.

Summer passed. Autumn too.

And now, Winter sits. Its long, dark clouds hang like a lifeless shroud.

The nest is but an empty shell. It sits and sways on a dying palm branch, waiting silently for the warmth of Spring that promises new life and love.

And this empty shell, from which I watch, fills with the warmth of hope.

 

Julie Hahn 12th August 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Not To Use a SMART list: For mothers and others

I made my list, as I’ve often been told to do.
It was quite short, and, as the experts had been coaching me SMART:
Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.
And so the day began.
First job: Strip the bed – except that a sleeping husband lay there soundly sleeping, so I made plans to come back later.


I decided that I might as well have breakfast, except that last night’s dishes had been forgotten by the other inhabitants of the house. So, I went to fill the dishwasher. But it too was full of dishes that had not been put away. I thought that while I put those away I’d fill the sink to wash the pots and pans. I turned on the hot water and went to sprinkle several drops of dishwashing liquid into the water, but alas, the bottle was empty. To be efficient, I thought I’d write it on the shopping list straight away.
So I grabbed the shopping list, ticked the box for dishwashing liquid, and some other tick boxes caught my eye.
‘I must not forget coffee, or tuna or flour…Now what else do I need?’


But as I contemplated the list a bit longer, I heard an unfamiliar trickling sound behind me. I looked around and saw that the hot water was still running, and now there was a puddle on the floor and trickles all down the kitchen cabinet doors.
I turned off the tap and headed for the mop and bucket which I couldn’t find in its usual place. So I went to ask the sleeping husband.
“Errr…oh…Its outside!” he moaned as he rolled over and pulled the quilt back over his shoulder.


I grabbed the mop and bucket and was about to mop up the puddle on the floor. But then I thought that while I was at it, I ought to mop the rest of the floor–it was well overdue. 
So I went to the laundry to get the floor washing liquid.

One of the laundry baskets was overflowing, so I filled the washing machine with clothes to wash. But when I went to fill the rinse container with vinegar, the vinegar container was empty.

So I went to the pantry to get some more vinegar. There was no vinegar there either, so I went to the bathroom where I sometimes keep vinegar so I can use it with carb soda to clean the bathroom. Sure enough, there was some vinegar there – and also some carb soda.

The bathroom, especially the loo, looked a bit grimy and I remembered that it had missed out on its weekend clean. So I poured some vinegar and carb soda into the toilet with the promise that I’d return to scrub it later. I went to wash my hands and noticed that the hand basin wasn’t clean either. So I made the most of my time there and began to clean it.

An empty toothpaste tube lay on the vanity as a reminder to get some more – and I’d already forgotten it for three days already. So I picked it up and took it to the kitchen to add it to my shopping list.

And what did I see?

A half-made shopping list; a puddle on the floor and trickles down the kitchen cabinet; a bench full of dirty dishes and an open dishwasher full of clean dishes. I thought back to the laundry in which sat a dry mop and bucket and a washing machine full of clothes but empty of vinegar. In our bathroom was a toilet waiting to be scrubbed and a hand-basin half-done. And still in our bedroom was a soundly sleeping husband.

As far as my list of things to do – well, nothing had been done. My list of SMART was dumb for mums. It was an hour and a half later, and I hadn’t even got to number one.



Part Two:

My morning of doing a SMART list had resulted in many things begun…but nothing finished.
I sat and sulked…until the sleeping husband arose from his slumber and wandered out to the kitchen. He found me, shoulders slumped, at my desk–My desk is only a metre away from the sink.

‘I just wanted to do a few things and have failed at them all!’ I told him, my bottom lip drooping almost to the ground.
He took me in his arms, kissed me on the forehead and laughed gently–I love it when he does that!


Instead of lecturing me about good time-management or coming up with easier solutions, he just hugged me and listened. I ranted and raved until eventually I said,
‘Perhaps I should just be a little gentler on myself.’
At last he commented,
‘That’s about the first thing you’ve said that’s made any sense.’

I hugged him back.


It’s now a few weeks later. All of those jobs did eventually get done – just not in the linear time-frame I had originally planned.
The clothes were washed – and hung out, and brought in, and sorted by another member of the family.
The dishes did not stay in the sink or on the bench or in the dishwasher all day. I think it was the mess in the kitchen that prompted the girls to get it clean before they left for work.
The floor was mopped by the son who was working a late shift.


Eventually I realized that having put some strategies in place years before, to get each of the family to do their bit, had paid off.

As long as I didn’t expect everything to happen before 7 am!


Written in May 2013

Thanks to Beverley Eckermann for the photos


What happens when the lights go out

The day began great

I was up before eight

Had a walk, a coffee and shower

 

Then I went to my room

Felt a shadow of gloom

Alas! We’d run out of power

 

‘Tis no matter, thought I

‘Tis as easy as pie

My PC is charged to capacity

But what I’d forgot

–So easy ‘twas not—

The NBN needs electricity

 

Though my homework was done

I’d bet three to one

My excuses would not be allowed

So with paper and pen

I began it again

Coz my homework was stuck in the cloud

 

So tonight when you say

What did you do today

Forgive when my temper ignites

Though it started out great

I’m blamin’ the state

Coz my homework went out with the lights

How to Travel with Children Without Losing the Plot

How to travel with children without losing the plot?

Like most of my parenting journey, I learnt the hard way how to travel with children.

We’ve certainly had moments on our trips that we’d all prefer to forget. For example, when they were babies and we had food poisoning from a questionable chicken burger on our way to a wedding in Queensland. And when we moved to the USA — six flights in 56 hours with three children under five, and no sleep!

On our way home several years later, we traveled through the Rocky Mountains and danced with real live American Indians. We went to Universal Studios and screamed on the Jurassic Park ride. And we visited Mickey Mouse at Disneyland – where our four year old whacked him on his nose! Ouch!

We did things we never dreamed we’d do.

Yet, six months later, our children announced that their favourite place in the whole wide world was Lake Bonney Caravan Park, a couple of hour’s drive from our home in Adelaide. And their favourite ‘theme park’ was the Monash playground, a free community playground in the Riverland.

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Family trips became one of our favourite things to do

and we’ve had fewer of those ‘moments’ since we’ve learnt to simplify and enjoy the journey.scan_20161210-19

On one of our trips, the six of us traveled to Queensland in our Tarago–without a trailer or roof rack. Many caravan parks now have camp kitchens, so we no longer have to take our own barbecue or gas bottle, tables, chairs, saucepans and kettles. On that trip we packed two very cheap tents, and limited each passenger to a back-pack and a handbag-sized bag, a gym-mat, pillow, polar-fleece blanket and quilt cover (without the quilt).

We relied completely on what the towns between Adelaide and Brisbane had for us to do and eat. We figured that they needed our business more than the big supermarkets back home did.

So we got to taste the bakery food in every town, and checked out community centres and local landmarks. In Coonabarabran, for instance, there was a really neat planetarium, where our seven-year-old astounded us with his questions about particular constellations. We had a great trip of over 7000 kilometres.

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Perhaps we’ve missed some of the more famous spots along the way.

But we’ve learnt to have fun, discovered all sorts of surprises and enjoyed the diversity of interests in our family. And the kids have stored up enough silly stories about their parents to write their own novel.

 

Tips we’ve learnt along the way:

.    Treat the whole journey as an adventure.

Don’t try to travel too far in one day with little kids. Take your time, even if you need to take an extra day to get there.

Stop every couple of hours, at least, to break up your trip, stretch legs, wear off energy, find a toilet and perhaps, change seats.scan_20161210-15

Even a pile of stones or a creek on the side of the road can turn into an adventure. More than likely, your kids will remember the tiniest thing you did along the way — as long as they had time to spend with you.

.    Pack a ball or Frisbee and find the local playgrounds. Most towns have an oval or sports park. Botanic gardens and national parks are usually cheap places to visit, and they have all sorts of adventures in store for kids (of all ages).

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.    Have the children participate in the planning. Get some maps or ‘trip-tix’ from your automobile association, information from the internet or library, and help the children to plan and anticipate the trip. On the way, help them to follow the roads on the maps, and look for interesting landmarks such as Big Koalas, old buildings and airstrips.

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.    Save your sanity! As parents of little children you still need to cater, cook, wash and clean, even when on holiday.

Aim for simplicity. Is it necessary to have a big holiday far away while your children are really little? Could you get the same benefit from having a more relaxed time somewhere closer?

Is your destination family-friendly?  Could you be less ambitious about how far you will travel on the first day? Is it possible to get the kids looked after while you pack? Could you spend a whole day just relaxing when you get to your first destination? Can you plan to have a day to chill when you arrive home, so you’re not exhausted when you return to work and school?

We discovered that the most stress came from just getting going.

Our parents/grandparents live an hour away. So sometimes we stay there on our first night, just so we’re on the road – then have an early start from there the next morning. With a box of cereal, a long-life milk, (and a stainless-steel coffee plunger) we head off before anyone is ready for breakfast, and stop for brekky somewhere further along the road.

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.    Keep a list of travel games in the glovebox: ‘I spy’, ‘Car cricket’*, ‘Animal, vegetable or mineral?’ Borrow audio books from your local library or download them onto a phone, or stock up on the CDs your kids like to listen to. Make sure they are not your most ‘unfavourite’.

.    What about a scrapbook? Keep a glue stick handy to incorporate collections you make along the way: tickets,  pressed flowers and leaves. Have pencils/felt-tip pens on hand for kids to ‘journal’ — even a two-year-old can ‘draw’ his trip, while a school-age child can write a diary. Remember, like the trip, it’s not the destination or end result that is always the most important.

.    Keep bottles of water in the car and a picnic kit in the boot or in your luggage, with a plate and a knife, and a jar of Vegemite or peanut butter. Lunch can be as simple as purchasing a loaf of fresh bread at the local bakery and making fresh sandwiches at the local playground, saving money for entrances to zoos and theme parks and for accommodation. A bottle of water and a roll of good quality paper-towel makes great wipes for sticky fingers and faces.

.    A trip to the local supermarket for a roasted chicken, a bag of salad and some bread rolls makes a quick, nutritious and relatively inexpensive meal for a family. It’s easy to pack to take to theme parks or to eat when you arrive at your destination. And it really helps the cook to enjoy the holiday!

Pack a bag of apples, bananas or oranges for healthy ‘fast’ food. Freeze long-life milk or drinks to keep your esky (cool-box) cool, and to keep the little ones hydrated, cool and busy for a while.scan_20161210-ggaf-15

.    Children don’t tend to appreciate the value of your money. While Disneyland might have been your life-long dream, that does not oblige your child to appreciate its monetary value. The simple things in life are often the best.

.    Give your children their own spending money, or even better, help them to save for the occasion. Then allow them the freedom to spend ‘their’ money and learn its value. It’s also an effective technique for stopping the
‘I want…s’.

We found this worked when we stopped for an ice-block too. We told the kids they could choose an ice-block up to x-amount. (As the kids have grown older and gone on their own adventures, our ice-blocks have been replaced by coffee.)

.    Teach your children protective behaviour.

Teach them to speak politely and respectfully to new people, but be aware of their safety and security: Not to tell anyone their name, or where they live. And to not go with anyone other than their family.

DO NOT put their name on their hat, t-shirt, bag etc. in a place where it is visible.

Teach your child to stand still if they are lost in a crowd, so that those they’ve lost can retrace their steps to find them. If someone else wants to help them, teach your child to stay still and ask the person to bring mum or dad to where they are.

Children should especially learn that ‘if you can’t see Mummy, Mummy can’t see you’. Practice at home, and get them to also practice saying ‘NO’ really loudly.

.    Keep a list of what to pack, so that you don’t keep forgetting the same thing, such as the hammer to bash in the tent pegs. (No prizes for guessing why I know that one).scan_20161210-14

.    Plan for your trip home too. Don’t be like me. On our first trip I had all sorts of activities for the way to Brisbane, but forgot about the trip home. Oops!

You might like to send some postcards to your home address to remind you of your trip. Or take lots of photos and put a book together as a keepsake. How about getting the kids to design a ‘slide-show’ – using music and narration, when they get home.  Or keep a private Facebook page or use Instagram especially for your trip.

.    Treat the whole trip as the adventure. So a caravan park an hour away can become as much a treat for your children as Disneyland. (Ain’t that the truth?)

.    Finally, remember that

‘Happiness is not the destination; it is a way of traveling’.

 

Originally published in 'The Lutheran' magazine, March 2008.

 

Where is the Green Yaris?

My plans to fly interstate to see my newest relative changed suddenly.  Instead of spending hours trying to find suitable flights and coordinating train trips, Chris and I found ourselves on the road, in our green Yaris, four days after my sister requested some company.

We tend to have the approach that a holiday isn’t just about the destination – but in the way of travelling. So we take our time to get to wherever we go, and make the most of the scenery and the people along the way. And we hate being in a rush.

There were several slight hiccups before we left

including a sudden shower of water over my feet as I sat in the passenger seat of the Yaris the night before we left.

Adelaide received yet another hail-storm that night. The hail missed our place, but we had a downpour big enough to confuse me. Was the splashing on my feet and the slushy sound in the front of the car due to the rain or had something gone wrong in the engine?

A search on you-tube helped me identify the source of the problem. Armed with very pointy tweezers I removed several leaves that clogged the outlet to the hose that should drain the condensation from the air-conditioner. Fixed!

Instead of leaving before the birds, we left after lunch – and headed to stay with a cousin in Mildura.

The reception by the cousin’s two small children was a little cool initially – until I produced a book from my bag –

‘The Book with No Pictures’.

‘I LOVE THAT BOOK!’

yelled the smaller of the two children, who grabbed my hand, took me over to the couch and climbed up next to me. Then he called to his bigger sister,

‘You’ve gotta hear this. It’s SO funny!’

The three of us sat and giggled, and their mum and dad and Chris came up close enough to discover what was going on, but far enough away so they didn’t look too interested.

Next morning, we left before the birds woke up and headed to Balranald – or so we thought. Let’s just say that Siri got lost. Siri is not intimately acquainted with Irymple – so before long, we discovered that we’d gone a full circle.

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The next time around we followed the street signs instead of the i-phone, and before we knew it, we were in soggy Balranald.

We spoke to the attendant at the servo about the water we’d seen the whole way from Mildura. She pointed out the water behind the caravan park rising up from the Murrumbidgee River. ‘Hopefully it won’t get much higher,’ she said.

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As we entered Hay, a sign said that the West Wyalong road was open. The driver who shall remain nameless rarely takes notice of signs. The navigator at that stage didn’t take much notice of that sign either. We stopped at a  pub for a coffee and a muffin.

A few years ago, we passed through Hay in the middle of a drought when there were puddles where the river should have been. This time, the river filled its banks and the rest of the place was green and sodden.

It wasn’t until we recognized that there were many, many road teams attending the road between West Wyalong and Forbes, and lots and lots of holes where the road used to be, that we remembered the sign that informed us and everyone else that the road was open. It had been flooded for weeks apparently. And  re-opened only the day before we drove upon it.

At Forbes we filled up our petrol tank, and a little further on stopped at McFeeters Motor Museum for a coffee. A cafe inside the museum hosted a bee-hive in a transparent perspex box to promote its ‘Buzz In’ honey shop and educate coffee-sippers like us.

The bees fascinated us.

The bees formed honey bee-chains–I wanted to write human-chains as an illustration–to bridge the gap between  the base of the box and the tray specifically provided for them to build their hive. The bees looked as though they were training for Cirque-de-Soleil and creating their own ‘Wheel of Death’.

On to our new friend’s home on a farm just out of Orange. We were treated to good ol’ fashioned hospitality, yummy food, lots of play and stories with their three-year-old and cuddles with their brand-new-baby.

The evening was full of story-telling, dancing and laughing. It included an impromptu duet performance by me on the piano, and our new friend Dave on pedal organ. We played whichever songs we both knew – which weren’t abundant. But we achieved playing several well enough that the others could recognize them and sing along – well, almost.

I surprised myself that, with a push, I could actually play by ear, and add accompaniment. Thanks for the push, Dave!

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The next morning, I got in the way in the kitchen while Chris ‘helped’ Dave outside doing ‘farm-work’ – but that’s another story.

 

Chris’s Morning on the Farm: Dog and Sheep Stories

Our morning at our new friends’ farm began much later than we expected. We rarely sleep in, but slept through baby’s squawks, Dave having breakfast, and a three year old who wanted to play.

We had the best breakfast! Milk straight from the cow. Eggs straight from the chooks. Bacon – from the friends of the pigs.

Then Chris went with Dave and the sheep dogs to help sort the sheep. ‘Help’ is a rather generous word, by all accounts.

They had to separate the girl sheep from the boy sheep. Chris, being from a farm himself, does know the difference and how to tell. But, try as he might, he could not identify which was which quickly enough to help Dave. By the time he thought he’d identified one sheep, Dave had sorted about four and had swung the gate one way or the other, to separate them into boy and girl pens.

In the end, Chris asked Dave how he could identify them so quickly.

‘Easy!’ Dave laughed. ‘Every sheep has an ear-tag. The boys on their left ear, the girls on their right. I just swing the gate according to which ear their tag is on.’

I think Chris was a little embarrassed, but he told me the story anyway.

Three Sheep Dogs

But his favourite story was about the farm’s three sheep dogs.

Dot, the smallest dog, is a sheep-dog-in-training. To our untrained eyes he looks like a Kelpie. He was efficient and obedient. Despite being the size of a medium-sized puppy, Dot knew where to be and how to convince the sheep where they should be.

Lucy, the biggest dog, was hopeless…well, as far as usefulness on a farm. A Maremma, a guardian of the sheep, Lucy flunked out of ‘guardian of the sheep’ school. Chris described Lucy’s ability to tend and guard the sheep as ‘She just thinks she is a sheep’.

Then there was Lambie. Apparently, Lambie was quite effective at rounding up the sheep and getting them to go wherever Dave wanted them to go.

The only trouble was that nobody has ever told Lambie that she is not a dog. She is a hand-reared sheep. She grew up around the house with Dot and Lucy and does everything with her two doggy-companions.

Even when Dave tried to intermingle Lambie back into the flock, that only lasted until Dave and the dogs headed back home. Then she’d split from the flock and rejoin her ‘family’ at the back door of the house.

So Dave was blessed with a puppy training to be a sheep-dog, a dog that thought she was a sheep, and a sheep that thought she was a dog.

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…◊…

Messy Christmas!

Christmas Pageant day was pudding day. As the family had done for years, on the first Saturday in November, they went together to the Christmas pageant on the Saturday morning and then returned home to make the pudding.

Round, huge and destined to be delicious, the pudding hung from the rafters for the next six weeks in preparation for Christmas dinner. The pudding was a constant reminder of the tastes, smells and rituals that the family celebrated each year. 2008-04-22-18-46-23

At last the time came for Christmas dinner.

The main course was eaten and enjoyed.

It was time for the pudding.

However, when it came to the ritual of the pudding flambé, the brandy was missing — presumably drunk.

Not to worry! The hostess, being quite resourceful, scoured through her pantry for an equally flammable spirit.

‘Oh that will do!’ she exclaimed as she found a little bottle of spirit at the back of the pantry. She quickly loosened the cap, briefly smelt it and announced, ‘Essence of Lemon’. Thankful that the flambé ritual was saved, she poured the entire contents of the bottle over the pudding in the middle of the dinner table.

By this time someone else had found the matches and then proceeded to ignite the pudding.

‘Whoosh!’

Enormous flames engulfed the pudding and very nearly reached the ceiling.

The first casualty was the holly on top of the pudding, which shrivelled into a remnant of its former glory.

The next casualty was the decorative plastic table runner. It melted into a blackened heap and sent off sparks onto the tablecloth, which acquired several random holes and scorch marks.

But the pudding was saved, and, after the fire was out, eventually devoured.

It was only later, during the after-Christmas cleanup, that the source of the extraordinarily energetic flambé was discovered. Somebody else picked up the ‘Essence of Lemon’ bottle, and, using  considerably better eye-sight than that of the hostess, read the label.

‘Citronella’.

Fortunately, no ill effects resulted from the accidental ingestion of Citronella-flambéd pudding—apart from an acute case of embarrassment by the hostess.

But all the family agreed that the mosquitoes didn’t seem to bother them as much that summer!

…◊…

Some of our Christmas memories are like this funny and true story, aren’t they? They are a mixture of tradition and variations on the theme.

Christmas is one of those annual events that bring back many memories — good or bad, depending on our own life experiences.

I know many, many people who hate thinking about Christmas because of the fuss and bother that goes along with it. For some it is the time their family has the biggest arguments.

I know others who love getting together with family and who believe it really is the happiest time of the year. And still others who religiously disappear to the beach to avoid any possible reminder of Christmas.

For many of us, Christmas is one of the saddest times of the year as, for whatever reason, we are separated from our loved ones.

Whether we love or hate Christmas, we tend to develop our own rituals around it — to celebrate it or to avoid it.

…◊…

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I had a sad moment when I spoke about the Christmas pageant with my youngest.

‘Are you going to the pageant this year?’ I asked  him, remembering the panic he’d thrown the rest of us into when he decided he was going to the pageant, with or without us. He dressed and headed for the bus while the rest of us were still in bed. He’d never caught the bus by himself before, and he had no idea of where the pageant was. Fortunately, one of his older siblings was able to catch up with him and they went together to the pageant.

But this year, he’s grown up and he gave me the answer every mother dreads, ‘No, I’m too old for the pageant!’

…◊…

Christmas traditions have their moments. Some we grow out of. Some we never want to lose. Some should perhaps have never been there in the first place. But not all of them help us to focus on Christmas.

What we focus on grows. Focus on the Christmas dinner that isn’t cooked in the way we would do it, and bitterness and jealousy grow.  Focus on the relationships that aren’t easy – and Christmas cheer grows into hatred.  Focus on Jesus in the manger, and see a king who humbled himself – and our view of Christmas changes.

…◊…

I went to see my daughter perform in several school plays about the cynical views of Christmas. In one play, Santa’s elves went on strike because of lack of pay and appreciation from a particularly consumerist Santa. But, in the spirit of Christmas, the elves returned to work to perpetuate joy and peace, and demonstrated love that gives and gives, despite the rubbish that bad-Santa dealt out.

In every play, peace and goodwill (eventually) overcame the evil and cynicism, and left the audience with several challenges on which to ponder.

It reminded me that my attitude towards Christmas could be like that of the grumpy, greedy Santa, or that of the elves who chose to love anyway.

…◊…

Christmas is about true love—not the wishy-washy, sterile variety we see on the movies that leaves us with a fuzzy hope for a ‘happily ever after’.

It’s about Mary putting herself in a precarious place for the rest of humanity.

It’s about Joseph saying ‘Yes’ to a dream that told him to marry the girl who was in trouble in the eyes of her people.

It’s about Jesus — the one who was there in the beginning of creation, humbling himself to become one of us, in the lowliest form possible — a baby in an animal’s feed trough.

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It’s about the love that is messy; the love that hurts; the love that overcomes the pain; the love that hurts most when somebody else is hurting; the love that makes you want to go through the pain yourself so your loved one doesn’t have to.

It’s about us putting God’s love ahead of our embarrassment and risking life itself to give God’s love to others.

It’s about Jesus giving up his crown to live like us, with us, for us — for always.

As we draw closer to Christmas, may you be truly blessed with a new way of seeing Christmas, and a new understanding of the love that never ends.

Special thanks to the teller of the story – who shall remain anonymous to protect the identity of the not-so-innocent.

Previously published in The LutheranDecember 2010 edition. 

 

Daring Ducks: How to Make Boundaries Work

I would never have thought I’d learn about boundaries from a farmer and his ducks.

On a trip to Bali, long before everyone else had been to Bali too, my friends and I stayed in a home in Ubud. One afternoon, as we walked back from a nearby jungle full of cheeky pick-pocketing monkeys, we encountered a farmer walking his ducks.

I can still see the farmer dressed in his traditional rural Bali clothing, complete with a broad-brimmed thatched hat. In his hand he held a thin rod of cane – about three metres long.

Waddling up the path in front of him were several hundred ducks. Most of the ducks walked straight ahead, as though they’d walked the same way dozens of times.

But on each side of the raft of ducks, there were the more daring ducks who kept trying to veer off into neighbouring fields, wandering off from the remainder of their buddies.

Whenever this would happen, the farmer would very gently stretch out the cane in front of him, but to the side of the raft of ducks. By gently alternating his stick from one side of the ducks to the other, the farmer effectively created a physical “V” boundary.

Only those dauntlessly daring ducks who wandered a little further than the edge of the flock ever felt the cane. And never did they feel it as a weapon – more like safety rails on a walk, or bumpers on a ten-pin-bowling alley.

So there were several dozen plucky ducks leading the flock, knowing where they were going, the daring ducks and their buddies in the middle and only a handful of dawdlers who stayed at the back, close to the farmer.

The ‘V’ of Love

Years later, when I was introduced to the ‘V’ of love’ memories of the farmer and his ducks rushed back into my brain.

In her book ‘How to parent so children will learn: clear strategies for raising happy, achieving children’ Dr. Sylvia Rimm* uses the ‘V of love’ as an illustration of how boundaries can be applied effectively.

Boundaries work best when they grow as our children grow.

Picture the sides of a ‘V’ as boundaries, and the length of each side as a time-line.

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If we picture a baby at the bottom of the ‘V’, we can see that babies are restricted in freedom, have limited choices and no responsibility. Their place in the ‘V’ of love’ is within firm, close, nurturing boundaries.

As the baby grows, her freedom, choices and responsibilities within the ‘V’ should grow in proportion to her stage of development. The boundaries expand as she grows.

We can give our children safe and reasonable boundaries

If we’re aware of our child’s development, we can give them safe and reasonable boundaries that allow them to explore, stretch and grow. And to retreat into when necessary.

Rather than being restrictive, effective boundaries are like safety barriers at the sides of steep, narrow, windy roads. They don’t hold us onto the road. But they give us the security that if we wander too far to the right or left, there’s something that will stop us from damaging ourselves.

Within the boundaries of the “V” of love, there needs to be an expanding volume of choices, complete with consequences (especially positive ones), freedom and responsibilities.

Here are some suggestions as to how boundaries need to change as a child grows.

Toddler

For example, reasonable choices for a toddler might include a choice between two options such as:

  • Would you like apple or banana?
  • Would you like to wear the green shirt or the purple shirt today?
  • How are you going to get to bed tonight? Will daddy give you a horse-ride on his back, or will he carry you in his arms?

The boundaries are set:

  • Children need to eat nutritious snacks.

It’s the parent’s responsibility to provide a nutritious choice. The child chooses whether to eat and how much they’ll eat.

  • These are the clothes you can choose from.

This gives your toddler an amount of control suitable for their age and development. If you’re not sure what I mean, watch a child in a department store being given free-reign. Too many choices are overwhelming. Let their choices expand as they’re able to handle them.

  • The toddler’s freedom and choices remain within the boundaries of a familiar bed-time routine.

Eight year old

An eight year old might like to have a bigger choice of which clothes to wear, but with that comes responsibility.

For example: If she forgets to pick her clothes up off the floor she can choose to pay 50c  for every article of clothing dad picks up at the end of the day – or she can figure out and negotiate an alternative.

Eight year olds LOVE the opportunity to debate. Don’t take it personally.  Try to use it as an opportunity to encourage respectful negotiating techniques.

The boundaries are set:  Clothes belong in the cupboard.  If you’re old enough to shop for your clothes, you’re old enough to look after them.  (I’m still working on this one!)

Fifteen year old

A fifteen year old can probably manage his own finances for clothes, mobile phone, social outings and gifts for friends – and learn to save and be charitable.

The boundaries are set – “This is your allowance. If you believe you need more, you will need to negotiate or you will have to find a job.”

Wise parents remain available to help and guide through budgeting at this stage. Allowing teens to have responsibility for managing their own money, within stretching boundaries, gives them the knowledge to be able to manage their finances later.

Some kids will continue to test the boundaries

Just like the daring ducks, some kids will continue to test the boundaries. Some will discover new ways to teach the parents about different dimensions in parenting.

Hang in there, parents! If they are testing out new boundaries, you may need to stretch the boundaries a little or patch up some holes in the boundaries. And be prepared to apologize for not having appropriate boundaries in place that may have protected them from the consequences of unwise choices.

If your kids haven’t had safe, secure boundaries, it’s never too late – but you’ll probably need to find someone who can guide you through applying boundaries to older kids. Speak to the teachers at your school, your GP, or other parents who you know have a great relationship with their older kids.

The ‘V’ of Love works. Kids (and parents) appreciate the security of knowing they are safe between boundaries set by someone bigger, stronger, wiser and kind.

They tend to respect boundaries when they can see them growing with added choices and freedom. And, believe it or not, they take pride in accepting responsibility for the consequences of their actions–good and bad.

By the time they’re independent enough to borrow the car, kids who’ve grown up with ”V’ of love’ boundaries have had the experience of making wise and not-so-wise choices, and are more prepared to navigate safely through adulthood.

And, just like the Plucky ducks up the front, they’re likely to lead the world in the right direction.

 

 

*Used with permission. Thank you to Dr. Sylvia Rimm for permission to cite her book and webpage. www.sylviarimm.com

Thanks to Kay for the photo of a Balinese farmer and his ducks.

Originally published as ‘PLUCKY DUCKS’ in The Lutheran

How Relationships With Your Kids Can Rescue You

There were no spiders on my garden chair when I sat down today.

I checked.

 

The last time I went to sit on my garden chair, I used my hand to knock off a few dried up leaves from its cushions. But, as I went to brush a couple of leaves off the back of the chair, I noticed two big, beady eyes looking up at me.

 

I shrieked–evidently too quietly for my husband to hear me. But one of my sons yelled from inside the house

‘’You okay, mum?’

 

Bravely (I thought) I went inside to create the least fuss possible and sought out my daughter who had named the previous year ‘The Year of The Spiders’. That year she worked at an outdoor education camp and took it upon herself to transfer spiders from inside dormitories to outside, away from the screams of hysterical campers.

 

‘How big is it?’ she asked me as she proceeded to the pantry.

‘Oh, not too big,’ I said.

She raised an eyebrow at me, turned to me and held out her hands. In her left hand she held a square-round tupperware container, big enough for half a sandwich. In her right, a four-litre ice-cream carton.

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Medium-sized’.

She grabbed a different container and headed outside to my chair… and the spider.

‘Ooh! He’s a big guy isn’t he?’

 

My embarrassment dissolved. I felt vindicated.

 

I also realized how much I enjoy having my young adult kids close enough to me to have them rescue me.

 

The tables are turning.  We rescue each other.

And I’m so glad of our investment in our relationship with them–or I’d be chasing my own spiders.