Tag Archives: conscious parenting

Baby Stories: A Guide to Pregnancy Journaling

Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 4.23.38 PMBy Zoë Colette Etkin

As a Los Angeles-based birth and postpartum doula, my goal is to bridge the gaps in care for mothers, babies, and families through the perinatal period by providing physical and emotional support, education and resources. My other life’s passion is writing, and a year ago I earned my MFA in poetry. However, the main type of writing I’ve done throughout my life is journaling. My first journal dates back to my 5th or 6th year of life! Journaling has always allowed me to explore my thoughts and feelings, or jot down a strange dream, or even complain. Now that I work with mamas, I see how important it is for them navigate the complex waves of emotion that come with pregnancy, birth, and new motherhood.

Sometimes it’s difficult for new moms to express those feelings out loud. Writing and journaling through our ups and downs can relieve stress, help center and focus the mind, and force us to carve out a little “me time” in our busy lives. Keeping a pregnancy-specific journal is beneficial in several ways: it helps you focus on and connect to the baby growing inside, keeps a log of your emotions and physical sensations, and helps you work through fears and anxieties. Depending on your relationship to writing, you may journal with ease. For women who need prompts, I recommend the following as a guide.

Pregnancy Journal

Today’s Date:

Emotional Landscape: Today I am feeling….

Physical Sensations: (Examples: hunger, morning sickness, kicks or flutters of baby, tiredness, belly is growing, I see the pregnancy glow, etc.)

Today I want to tell the baby….

Today’s affirmation: My body is strong and capable of birthing my baby.

Today’s question: (Here you can talk about things you aren’t sure about. Fears, concerns, questions, etc.)

Today I am planning for you by doing…. (Here you can talk about prenatal check ups, classes you may be taking, buying things for the nursery, hiring a doula, making a list of people who will help out once baby is here, etc.)

Birth Stories

The topic of birth stories is actually one where people have varying schools of thought. Many doulas write birth stories for their clients. Some take a practical approach, chronicling the various times and events that took place, others take a more narrative approach and make it into more of a story. Either way it can be nice to have someone else’s perspective on how the birth went, since time is experienced much differently by the birthing woman. However, it can be important and cathartic for the woman herself to write the experience down as it was to her. If you had a traumatic birth or an ideal birth, writing through the experience can help release feelings you may be having or can affirm and celebrate positive experiences.

Another angle on the birth story is to write it for your child. Some write it as a children’s book for a young child, others write it for when their child is an adult. Either way, it can be a beautiful way to share that experience with your child.

Postpartum Journaling

There will be much less time to write once the baby has arrived, but I still encourage postpartum moms to journal when they can. Just like the pregnancy journal, it’s a nice way to chronicle your emotional landscape, as well as record all the baby milestones. Certainly a baby book makes room for that sort of thing, but it doesn’t give the mother the opportunity to write through her changes and her experiences. I find that postpartum moms can often feel ignored in the bustle of the new baby. Friends and family are constantly visiting and doting on the baby and moms can kind of feel like, “Hey, what about me?” It’s important that the mom have certain support persons who are there to concentrate on her. Postpartum doulas do this job well. Journaling, too, can help moms to take a few minutes to turn inward and focus on themselves and their feelings. It’s so important that postpartum women feel supported and also have an outlet for their feelings. I want to say, though, that if you see a postpartum mom who seems disengaged, or showing extreme emotions, she might need to talk to a professional, as she might be displaying signs of a postpartum mood disorder. Emotions certainly run high for new moms, but it’s important that she have people who are supporting her and have an eye out for behavior that might need further attention.

Allowing some time to journal during the perinatal period can give a woman the opportunity to think through and connect to her experiences in a special way. It also creates a record of her experiences that she may choose to go back to in the future. The process of journaling encourages growth in that it affords the ability to go back and read about yourself at different moments of your life, through different patterns of thought, different approaches to situations. You learn from your past, reflect on your present, and dream about your future all in one space that you can return to when you want, or not when you don’t. Mamas, I encourage you to grab a pen and paper and begin your writing journey today!

* * *

76773_582146197395_8154608_nZoe Etkin is an LA-based CAPPA trained birth and postpartum doula, poet, and teacher. She earned her MFA in Writing from CalArts, where she earned the Beutner Award for Excellence in the Arts. She is the editor of Red Sky: A Literary Journal, and her own poetry can be found in many print and web publications. She is committed to educating and empowering women, supporting families, and promoting good writing.

Photo credit: Gabi Menashe

4 Reasons To Put Spring Cleaning On Your Family Agenda

parentingspringcleaningAh, spring. A time of rebirth and renewal. A beautiful time to lighten your load and refresh your spirit. A perfect time to clean up and clean out the excess trappings of life.

Ah, spring cleaning.

I have a confession to make. My first spring cleaning exercise this year involved taking down my Christmas tree. Yes, it came down before Easter… but not much before. It was definitely spring.

My second spring cleaning task? Peeling the purple and orange lights out of the shrubbery in front of my house. Those would be the ones that I put out for last Halloween, only we got an early snow and I never actually replaced them with the sparkly white lights reserved for Christmas.

Hmm.

For me, spring cleaning often feels like a game of catch up. I come out of hibernation sometime in March and finally get motivated to do all the jobs that I’ve been contemplating throughout the cold, low-energy months of winter. I guess the good news here is that I do (eventually) get motivated.

Eventually.

I love the whole idea of spring cleaning. It is helpful for everyone, I think, but absolutely critical for families with growing children. And I think it is totally consistent with the practice of conscious parenting. Clearing space for conscious living is a physical as well as mental (and spiritual) endeavor.

Just in case you need a little extra motivation yourself, here are four great reasons to put spring cleaning on your family’s agenda:

Reason #1: Atrophy and Decay

Like it or not, life takes a little maintenance. When it comes to house and home — or car and yard — winter is a tough season. The world is cold and dark and frequently covered in snow. While the elements are battering the exteriors of our property, house-bound kids are beating up the interior.

Even with the best of intentions, home maintenance projects take a back seat to the Christmas holidays, winter sports and an inborn desire to snuggle in front of that warm fireplace.

You know how it goes. Cars become crusted with mud and road salt. Paint peels. Clutter accumulates.

Take a walk around your house and yard. Do you see anything that needs a little TLC? Maybe it’s time to start a list of potential spring cleaning projects. Don’t worry… you won’t have to do it all today.

Reason #2: Growing Families

By definition, we grow out of stuff on a regular basis: shoes, clothes, toys, books and sports equipment. Depending on the age of your children, you may also be growing out of furniture — like high chairs, trundle beds and baby carriages.

For the truly organized among us, there is already a process in place. We diligently sort through our cold weather clothes, packing them up according to size and carefully storing them for next winter. We bring out the warm weather clothes, all neatly packed from last season and ready to be shaken out and hung in closets or folded into drawers. Anything that we’ve outgrown goes to younger relatives or the thrift store.

For those of us still stuffing Christmas decorations into the far reaches of the basement, extra attention is required. And for those of us still hoarding baby clothes because we cannot bear to part with our child’s Blue’s Clues overalls (they looked so cute!!)… well, extreme action may be called for.

Take a few deep breaths and look at your children. Accept that they are growing up — it is a natural part of life. What has your family outgrown? It’s okay to let go, just a bit. Take your spring cleaning To-do list and add tasks as needed.

Reason #3: Maturing Adults

As adults, we continue to grow out of things, as our focus (hopefully) shifts from the accumulation of material goods to the growth of spirit. Spring is the perfect season for recognizing and releasing the clutter of our youth — all the stuff that we acquire, use briefly and then just hang onto for no really good reason.

As we mature, we might naturally need less stuff to make us feel good about our lives. As we watch our parents age and our children grow, we come to find that relationships and experiences account for most of the joys in life.

Those pristine Partridge Family albums from 1972? Not so much.

For many of us, this clutter becomes an anchor, holding us back both physically and emotionally from the adventures of life. If you are afraid to have friends over to socialize because your kitchen / living room / garage / driveway is serving as a storage shed for all those things that are too “valuable” to part with, you know what I mean.

Spring is a time for big projects. These can be big as in, “I need to paint the house,” or big as in “I need to grow up now.” Don’t forget… as parents, we are teachers. With conscious parenting comes a greater awareness of the major and minor choices of our everyday lives.

What lessons are you teaching your children? Is your behavior sending the messages you would choose, if you chose them consciously? Perhaps you want to help them learn how to care for what will probably be the greatest financial investment they will ever make. Or do you want to teach them how to live more lightly on our planet — accumulating less clutter and producing less waste?

How does spring cleaning fit in your conscious parenting practice?

Reason #4: You Deserve It

Spring is a natural time for a major cleansing because we are coming out of the stillness of winter, ready for action. We are reawakening physically, mentally and spiritually. With the snow melting, the sun shining and temperatures warming, we can feel our blood stir and energies rise.

Take a moment to shift your focus. Try to stop viewing spring cleaning as something onerous. It is more than a chore and less than an overwhelming obligation. Think of spring cleaning as a gift that you give to yourself. It will get you moving — mindy, body and spirit. It will help you shake off your winter blues and open you up to growth and renewal.

It will feel really, really good when you are done.

Take a few moments to prepare. Go outside, if you can, and feel the fresh spring air on your skin. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Absorb the sounds and smells of the season — fresh flowers blooming, the chirping of birds. The hum of bees.

Give thanks, for the absolute perfection of the universe. Give thanks for spring and the season of cleansing. Accept this opportunity to make positive change in your life.

What a gift!

Related Posts:

Recharge your batteries with “Welcome, Spring!”

For additional inspiration, see “Eight Great Ways to Keep Your Family Organized.”

Originally published in 2011

5 Keys to a Conscious Family Christmas

With all the holiday hustle and bustle, it might seem impossible to practice conscious parenting. Don’t give up. A little Christmas spirit is all you need.

What are your favorite Christmas memories?

When you stop and reflect, do you conjure up scenes of snow-covered hills, crackling fires, hot cocoa and sugar cookies? Do you see a family gathered around a bejeweled Christmas tree, with colorfully wrapped packages piled all around? Can you hear the sounds of caroling; or the music of children’s laughter?

For many of us, these are the images of a perfect Christmas. But here’s the rub: For most of us, the images are not an exact match for our real-life experiences, past or present. (Are you thinking, “Not even close”?)

How was your Christmas, this year? Perhaps you felt disconnected from your children, spouse or other relatives. Was someone tired and cranky all day long? (Was it you?) Perhaps you are now feeling torn between a week of festivities with the family and a week of mind-numbing, year-end, something-or-other at work.

Maybe you just missed out on the magic of it all.

family-christmas-fun_422_75445

If your Christmas was less than perfect – or simply over too fast, after all that preparation –  don’t give up hope. Christmas is still here.

And maybe there are still a few gifts waiting to be unwrapped. Conscious parenting teaches us to pay attention to the small moments and tiny treasures in life. They might not be done up in pretty paper with skating penguins or sledding polar bears, but I bet you can still find them under the tree.

You just have to look a little closer. Here’s how:

1. Accept – and bless – where you are right now.

Holidays, like families, come in all colors, shapes and sizes. If your family’s Christmas was just a little bit blue, that’s okay. It’s all part of the human experience. Take a moment to check in with yourself now. How are you feeling? How is your family holding up in all the holiday craziness? Accept whatever you find. Give yourselves a little love. Be at peace.

2. Set an intention for the rest of the holiday.

Now, take a moment to think about how you want to experience the week ahead. Create a Christmas intention, prayer or blessing for you and your family. This would be a beautiful activity to do with your kids. Write down your family blessing and post it somewhere visible. Agree that each time someone passes it, they will stop and read it out loud for everyone’s enjoyment.

3. Clear your calendar… as much as possible… unless it’s something fun.

Remember that winter is a season of slowing down and reflection. Don’t fight the tide with an endless stream of marathon ski trips and midnight parties. Take a look at your to-do list and try to cut it in half. Have fun with your children, but be sure to take time out for that cup of cocoa by the fire. Snuggle up and read a favorite Christmas story. Sing those carols. ‘Tis the season.

4. Give everyone a little alone time.

If you are already dreaming of sending the kids back to school, you probably need some “me time.” Keep in mind that your children may need this as well. Chances are good that you’re all over-stimulated, over-tired and cranked up on too much sugar. Let each child take a favorite toy or book and find a comfy spot for an hour or two of quiet. Do this each afternoon, if possible. Ah, nap time.

5. Be ambassadors of Christmas.

Still struggling to find your Christmas spirit? Try giving some to someone else. Trust me, this is where you will find the magic. Wherever you go and whatever you do this week, make every interaction friendly and joyful. Maybe take a dozen candy canes, tie ribbons around them and stuff them in your pocket.

Now, go about your family business. At the gas station, the super market, the ski resort… it doesn’t matter. Just find someone, look them in the eye, smile – pass out a candy cane – and say “Happy Holidays!”

Surprise. Gratitude. Joy. Love. Hope. You might find any of these gifts along the way.

Let me know how it goes.


Meg Brown is a former corporate executive and single mother of two gorgeous sons. She writes about conscious parenting, mid-life mommies, adoption and her own journey to wholeness at her website, www.ConsciousFamilyJournal.com

 Originally published in 2009

The Things We Take for Granted

Sometimes, conscious parenting means paying attention to what’s not going on around us.

Our family vacation is over and we are on our way home to New England. Yup. Just jetting our way across the country.

On a scale of one to ten, my exhaustion level is a twenty-two.

We spent the last night of our vacation at a hotel near the airport in Portland, so we could make a morning flight without too much stress or strain.

Oh, sure.

We said goodnight and good-bye to our friends around 9:30 last night and set out for our hotel.

The moment I fired up the rental car, the madness began.

After a long, tiring day – coming at the end of a long, wonderful week – the boys had used up whatever reserves of good behavior they might have had available to them. They argued. They insulted. They wrestled as much as possible, within the confines of their seatbelts.

They exercised all the foul language that they had held back over the past week, while on their (sometimes) best behavior.

In the meantime, I found my way to the airport in a strange city. I checked us in at the hotel and orchestrated the delivery of a week’s worth of luggage to the room.

(Whatever did we do, before they put wheels on suitcases?)

I dragged my complaining children back out to the car. After scouring a five-mile radius (unsuccessfully) for a gas station, I dropped off the rental car with a half-empty tank.

I must have looked pretty frazzled at this point, because the lovely man at the rental agency cut us a break on their normally usurious rates to fill up the tank.

Back at the hotel, I dropped my weary head onto my pillow. Wrapped in my fleece jacket because the air conditioner was working overtime and the room was freezing.

Peace.

Well, not just yet.

The boys were unhappily sharing the bed next to mine.

“Your feet are on my side of the bed.”

“Your head is touching my pillow.”

“Stop taking all the blanket.”

 

“No, you stop taking all the blanket.”

“Why do you have to be so fat?”

“Why do you have to be so stupid?”

“Move. Over. Now.

My younger son’s voice sounded like a rumbling volcano, on the brink of eruption.

Danger. Danger. Physical violence about to commence.

I was way beyond any attempts at conscious parenting. And you can forget about polite requests, wheedling or even rewards. I skipped directly to threats.

“If I hear one more sound, neither of you will have breakfast in the morning.”

A “free” breakfast buffet was included with the room, but what the heck. They didn’t know that. And any possible interruption to their food supply was powerful motivation.

They both stopped talking immediately. The sounds of flailing limbs and rustling sheets continued, however.

“I mean it. Any sound – not just talking – means no breakfast tomorrow.”

Aha.

Blissful silence.

As I drifted off to sleep, it occurred to me that these bedtime shenanigans had a familiar feel.

Back in the olden days, we would all visit my grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving and Easter. With six or seven siblings – plus that many cousins – all spread out in sleeping bags on the floor in my grandmother’s attic, bedtime was absolute lunacy.

There would be giggling, fighting and various kinds of horseplay, interspersed with increasingly loud exhortations.

“Stop it!”

“Go to sleep!”

“Shut. Up. Now!!”

My parents, aunts and uncles would take turns coming upstairs to settle us down. Frequently, tempers would fray. Eventually, we would all fall asleep.

I’d forgotten those times.

And I suddenly realized, that maybe I hadn’t been saddled with every possible parenting affliction.

Even when they were little, my children almost always settled down to bed with little drama. My older son, in particular, tends to fall unconscious within thirty seconds of his head touching the pillow.

If I wasn’t so darned tired, I could probably think of a couple more parenting calamities that should be conspicuous by their absence.

Thank You God, for these little blessings.

I’m sorry that I never took the time to notice them before.

I am grateful, that my children don’t usually turn bedtime into a battle royal. Those quiet evening hours are often what keeps me sane.

Upon reflection, I appreciate many other things that my children are not: Fussy eaters, painfully shy, afraid of flying. Totally uncoordinated, like me.

And Thank You, truly, for sending me two boys who, while pushing the limits of the term “wrestling”, at least do not inflict enough damage to warrant a trip to the Emergency Room.

At least, not yet.

 

Related Posts:

As you prepare for your own family vacation, you might want to check out, My Top 12 Tips for Traveling with Kids on Planes;

Or, Happy Flights: Avoiding Airplane Ear Pain.

Recommended Products:

For a much funnier account of two brothers trying to settle down at bedtime, listen to Bill Cosby’s classic, To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With.

Or, if you are looking for a little peace in parenting, try Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, by Myla Kabat-zinn and Jon Kabat-zinn. It has a lovely, meditative quality that will get you feeling good in no time.

 

Originally published in 2009

Remembering 9/11 With Our Children

Hmm… I just read this op-ed on CNN by Mike Milhaven entitled "How do I tell my kids about 9/11?" 

Quite frankly, I was shocked that his kids are 9 years old, and neither he nor his wife have talked to their kids about that day! 

Tara is 9 years old.  I was 5 months pregnant on 9/11.  My dad, my mom and my brother were on planes when all the news hit.  We thought my brother was on a plane. I will never forget my father, hysterical on the phone, while my aunt and I tried to track down my brother.  Our family was spared. So many were not.  That experience shaped so many of us and our sense of security.  It shaped the world my 9 year old has grown up in.  

When Tara was about 3, she asked me "Mommy, what’s a bomb?"  It was just after bombings took place in Europe. My husband and I were watching the news, not realizing that she was paying attention. I clearly remember holding her, and having a conversation with my 3 year old about how sometimes when people are hurting, they hurt other people.  Was she too young to understand? I don’t think so.  The conversation actually motivated me to write my book, 100 Questions From My Child.

I strongly believe being open and honest with our children early on is the key to making them compassionate, understanding, globally aware citizens of tomorrow.  

As parents, yes, some questions are way too difficult to answer.  There is no way to explain to my kids why my 20 year old cousin got diagnosed with a brain tumor and got blind and deaf because of treatment.  Why do such bad things happen to good people?  I don’t know.  But its ok for my children to know that I don’t know.  But admitting that to them, struggling with the question with them, listening to them struggle with it – that’s part of our journey together.  Its how we learn and grow, and figure out ways we can help the world.

Most children in the world do not have the luxury of being protected from violence, poverty, war, terrorism. 

Our family travels to India every year to visit grandparents and relatives – I cannot hide the poverty from them.  Its a reality.  You cannot cover their eyes when you drive by a child whose limbs have been cut off and is begging on the street.  "Mommy, what happened to her?" "Mommy, why are we in the nice car and why is she in the street begging?"  

Can we just ignore these realities? Of course, not.  Rather, as a parent, we can tell them that it is not ok, its not fair, its an injustice.  And begin a conversation of how we can help.

We need to protect our children, of course.  While the terrorist attacks took place in Mumbai, we were celebrating Thanksgiving with our family and watched in horror the live television images.  I did not let my kids watch.  But they knew something was happening, and it was more important to talk to them about it rather than pretend everything was normal.  Were they scared? Of course.  But together we explored why, and we could feel secure about being together and grateful for the peace in our life, and our community.

We need to begin these conversations early on and discover answers together.  9/11 has become a date of reflection, remembrance, sadness.  In my kids school, they recognize the day and take a moment of silence to honor those that were lost.  Its so important that when our kids hear about that day, they hear it first from people they love and feel secure with.  

We have an opportunity to raise children who are compassionate, caring, and inspired to improve their planet.  Don’t be scared to explore hard questions with your children.  Let them feel secure in a confusing world, by knowing that they can rely on you to be truthful with them.  That they can ask you questions, and explore answers – even the hardest ones – with you.

Rather than hide the truth from them, how can we use the tragedy of 9/11 to find, with and through our kids, connection, community and to be of service in our ailing world?  

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / bulldog008

Making Happiness a Habit Through Mindfulness

 

What if happiness was a habit that we could teach children? We can. Qualities that lead away from happiness (strong negative emotions) and qualities that lead toward happiness (ethical actions) are all rooted in habits developed in the past. Mindfulness helps children and teens recognize the habits that lead to happiness and break the ones that don’t.

Habits are easy to make, hard to break and everybody has them. Some habits are physical (cracking knuckles and twirling hair), some are verbal (using certain words or phrases) and some are psychological (worrying, daydreaming, judging and over-analyzing). By repeating a habit we reinforce the brain circuits associated with it and make the habit stronger. The stronger the habit, the stronger the neural pathways, and the stronger the effort and determination required to break it. If teenagers check their Facebook pages first thing in the morning, every morning, checking Facebook will soon become their default, automatic response to waking up. If they hike or meditate first thing in the morning, every morning, hiking or meditating will soon become their default, automatic response to waking up. The more a habit is repeated the stronger it becomes and the more likely it is to become a person’s automatic response to a specific experience.

There is a well-established, evidence-based curriculum that uses mindfulness to develop life-skills that make people happy. It rest on three universal qualities attention, balance and compassion. Countless parents and educators, who have tried this curriculum themselves, are now passionate about teaching mindfulness to youth. They form the basis of an emerging grassroots movement to bring mindfulness to education.

Mindfulness is a refined process of attention that allows children to see the world through a lens of attention, balance and compassion. When children learn to look at the world with attention, balance and compassion they soon learn to be in the world with attention, balance and compassion.

Making compassion a habit.

To make compassion a habit all kids need to do is promise that everything they do will be kind and compassionate and keep that promise. Sound easy? Anyone who has ever taken a vow, and then tried to keep it, knows that saying you’ll speak and act in a certain way is easier said than done. The best way to keep a promise is to make it a habit and that’s where mindfulness can help. Mindfulness is the mental quality by which children and teens remember to check-in with themselves throughout the day and make sure they are on track. Mindfulness helps kids remember their intention to be kind and compassionate and notice if they’re acting and speaking in accordance with it. We don’t expect children to be perfect, any more than we expect perfection of ourselves, but using mindfulness to notice when they swerve off track and away from their intention allows them to correct their course.

Making concentration a habit.

Concentrating on one thing and nothing else is a crucial skill in school. Students who have the capacity to direct their attention toward what they’re studying, and keep it there, have an obvious advantage over those who are easily distracted. To develop concentration, and make it a habit, students use mindfulness to periodically check-in and make sure they are still paying attention to their chosen object. "Has my mind wandered or become dull?" "Am I paying attention to my homework, or am I thinking about the past or future? " "Am I alert or have I faded into a sleepy state of mind?"

Making balance a habit.

Once children and teens use mindfulness to develop compassion by remembering to check-in to make sure they’re actions are aligned with their intentions, and refine their attention by checking-in to make sure they’re paying attention to their chosen object, they are ready to use mindfulness to develop emotional balance. The strong and stable faculty of attention that children and teens develop practicing concentration becomes more refined when they use it to see what’s happening in, to and around them clearly even when what’s happening is emotionally upsetting or charged. Like developing attention and compassion, when developing balance students check-in periodically and notice what they’re attending to. Mindfulness in developing emotional balance goes deeper by developing discernment a powerful quality of wisdom through which children and teens notice, among other things, patterns and habits of action and speech.

Hope motivates change.

I’ve worked with parents around the world and they have one thing in common: Parents want to be happy and they want their children to be happy. They’re worried that the current educational system doesn’t teach the life skills necessary to solve the myriad problems their children will surely inherit. Many parents feel hopeless. When they learn that mindfulness training is — an evidenced based curriculum; with a long, reliable track record; universal in its approach; and taught in a secular way — they feel hopeful again. Hope motivates change and explains the growing, grassroots social-action movement for mindful education.

Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of The Mindful Child and former corporate attorney, developed the Inner Kids program for children, teens and their families and teaches worldwide.

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / DistortedSmile

Mallika Chopra: Cherishing the Family Dinner

I have a confession to make.

I regularly let my kids watch television while eating meals.

Well, lets make that several confessions.

I find planning dinner, and meals, in general quite stressful.

 I am not a natural cook, and get insecure about how my cooked meals turn out.

I constantly feel stretched for time, and it’s easy to revert to pasta, some basic raw vegetables, and an easy boiled chicken hot dog (a healthy organic one) for my kids meals.

Big public confessions for me. Confessions that make me – an advocate of conscious parenting – feel a little bit like a bad mom.  Confessions that make me stop and think about the choices I am making on a daily basis without really thinking about the long-term consequences.

Well, I decided after speaking with Laurie David and reading her new book, The Family Dinner, that it is time to make some real changes about my families eating habits.  My intent is to consciously plan regular, healthy, family dinners.

Laurie’s book is filled with some amazing statistics that consciously planning family dinners has real emotional and physical benefits for children.

  • Compared with teens who rarely have family dinners, those who have them regularly are less likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or try marijuana.
  •  Compared with teens who rarely have family dinners, adolescent girls  who frequently eat meals with their families appear less likely to use diet pills, laxactives or other extreme measure to control their weight, even fiver years later.
  •  On average kids spend more than 7 ½ hours on electronic media.
  •  One in three American children are overweight or obese, Regular family dinner can reduce the incidence of childhood obesity.
  • Kids who have family dinners get better grades and test results, are less likely to get depressed, are more motivated at school and have better relationships.

For me, statistics alone are not the driving force behind my intent to change.  I was reminded while reading her book about how family dinners have deeply shaped and anchored me.

Growing up, my mother made sure we ate home cooked Indian food together every night.  It was at the dinner table that we shared stories from the day, discussed politics or family gossip, learned about our traditions and generally connected with one another.  When we traveled to India, meal times are my favorite memories. They were the time when my grandfather, Daddy, would tell us long, never-ending stories about our family history, his patients, memories of British India and partition, philosophy, interesting people.  Maa, my grandmother, would impatiently tell him to stop talking so we could get up, and he would add more detail and just keep talking.  I still tear up remembering those dinners.

I realize that much of the reason I have a close, healthy extended family, is because my mother, and my mother-in-law in India, made a conscious choice to put effort into making sure our family put in the time to be connected.  A meal together, even when there are long bouts of silence or tension, makes you come together.  Regular mealtimes are anchoring emotionally, spiritually.

Like so many others, my home today is filled with unopened emails, errands not done, cell phones ringing, text messages, television shows, over scheduled activities, homework.   In the process, I can see how each individual in my family is getting more consumed with their own busy-ness.  That saddens me.

Laurie’s call for regular family dinners isn’t an easy one – it takes time, attention, planning.  What I enjoyed about her book though is that she makes the aspiration for family dinners seem attainable, fun, magical – the book is filled with simple recipes, ways to get the kids involved in cooking, setting up the table and cleaning up, conversation starters, and practical advice.

More importantly, she advocates actively mandating family dinners and other rules for the dinner table.  In reading her rules, I realized that making a choice to eat (and cook) together is about making a decision on how I want to shape my family.   No more excuses about not cooking well or being too busy.  I was reminded that as parents, we teach through example and action, not just words.

I am a big believer in the power of ritual.  What better ritual to bring to our family than the daily coming together of healthy food, conversation and gratitude around a family dinner?  I am inspired to create this ritual with my kids – getting them more involved in planning meals, cooking, setting up the table, cleaning up afterwards..  (There are great tips in the book.) Activities I know they will love at the innocent ages of 6 and 8, and hopefully will evolve into activities that anchor them in the emotional years to come.

I see my kids growing up so quickly, and am already nostalgic about so much of our cherished time together.  I smile thinking about the laughter, stories, and memories we have yet to create together around our dinner table.

Learn more about Laurie’s book on Amazon.com

Photo: Flickr CC//More Good Foundation

Mommy On Demand

Editors Note:  I couldn’t be more excited that we are starting a whole new conversation on Bella Life.  After recently meeting Cynthia Litman at an event, I realized that there is a major need for mothers to make a conscious effort to make their lives more colorful!  Moms are constantly worrying about the color in everyone else’s life, but what about them?  Well have no fear, we are going to make sure the world is a colorful place for moms AND their families! ~Nitika~

Whether you are a young, middle or elder aged woman, when motherhood comes, it is a miracle and challenge rolled into one.

With your newborn’s arrival, your mommy switch is forever turned on. There is little, if any, transition time between the birth and entering mommy mode. In fact, most moms have to actively deactivate the switch just to catch a break.

The first few months are extremely challenging to your physical, mental, social, hormonal and emotional well-being.

Embrace your new life as a mom with this mom-to-mom advice:

TO VIEW THE ADVICE & FULL ARTICLE VISIT: http://yourbellalife.com/featured/mommy-on-demand/

 

Peace Culture- 4 Teens & Youth.

 "Peace Smarts " for at risk-kids is being adopted as a mechanism for a child to calm down from daily business and to relax. “Peace Smarts” is a curriculum that has been used in schools nationwide. It teaches conflict resolution and communication skills to youth 5th-12th grades. Teachers and students create a Peace environment that allows open communication. A safety net is created that deals with anger management and applies directly to bullying.

Parents learn the same skills. Incubation is also taught which is actually meditation, learning to breathe and to slow down the mind.    The sooner an intervention takes place, the better. Habits are formed early in life and addressing aggressive tendencies requires an effort on our part as parents. Practicing being present with your children, slowing down the breath and looking into their eyes to connect.  The eyes are the window into the soul…our children know when they are being viewed for their true essence.

Peace Smarts is a valuable entry point and I recommend that if a parent is looking for a better way to communicate with their children this could be a viable way to begin that journey. If we learn to listen, rather than preach, if we learn to model kindness and respect we are giving our children a message that reaches their truth of being-ness. Our society has lost its values and we attack others without remorse. It’s time to reclaim the sacred and that starts within each of us. Meditation is a great practice…May the meditation revolution continue and become an integral part of our family life.

As teens learn to quiet their minds, they will grow stronger to know what they want. They will listen to their inner voice and follow it.  Jonathon,  a 16-year-old shared the value of the Peace Smarts program.  “I discovered that I was a bully, in the sense that I was a racist.”  When I referred to another ethnic group as ‘they’ the light bulb went on. I had teased and taunted kids that were different religions, who had accents and I believed I was justified. Doing relationship work, I learned that I didn’t have to have the prejudices I had been holding, that I could respect difference and learn from it.”

 Jonathon made new friends and crossed the racial barrier in his ongoing awareness.  Baring witness to the anger, pain, and hurts many of us carry into adult hood, coming to terms with our disappointments can eleminte projecting it on to someone else

"Peace Smarts" is  a way of life. Peace within…spreads Peace to the world. Peace. 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Great Ways to Be Nice to Your Neck

Self-care will always be an important part of your conscious parenting toolkit. Here are some of the ways that I keep myself healthy, so that I have what I need to raise healthy kids.

I love my children, really I do. Being a parent is the absolute, most wondrous thing that I have ever experienced. Still… every now and then… my little darlings can be a real pain in the neck.

And I’m not speaking figuratively. Adolescence has blown right past the "terrible two’s" when it comes to cringe-inducing, brain-frying, jaw-clenching behavior. Some days I can actually feel the muscles in my neck tightening up. Then my right eye starts to twitch. Soon, my head is pounding.

Just another day of parenting pre-teens.

Of course, I can’t blame it all on my kids. There is also my laptop, which I spend too many hours hunched over, typing away my life stories (or compulsively playing Freecell.) And then there are those forty-pound bags of salt, which I need to purchase and carry regularly to feed the voracious appetite of the water softening system in our basement.

There is much in life to strain, tighten and generally abuse our poor neck muscles. Fortunately, with a little extra attention, we can give them the care they need to stay strong and healthy. Here are three great ways to be nice to your neck:

1. Check Your Posture

Yes, I know, people have been telling you to stand up straight all your life. Still, if you start making a habit of checking in on your posture periodically throughout the day, you just might catch yourself doing some unnatural things with your spinal column. How are you doing behind the wheel of your car? Are you sitting comfortably, with your weight distributed evenly and your back and neck supported? Or are you listing to one side, determined to rest as much weight as possible on your left arm, propped up against the car door?

When you drop off to sleep at night, are your mattress and pillow supporting the natural contours of your body? Or is your neck bent at an unnatural 45 degree angle, because your mound of pillows is too hard or too big… perhaps it’s the only way you can watch Jay Leno while still reclining?

I know that I need to remain vigilant whenever I am using my laptop. If I am not careful, I will find myself furiously typing away with my back rounded, shoulders hunched up around my ears and chin jutting forward to get my aging eyes just a couple inches closer to the screen. This position might work well if you are a lizard, but for humans, it is not good.

Tip: One of the best things I have found for training myself in the practice of good posture is yoga. When I started practicing yoga regularly about fifteen years ago, I was amazed at the difference it made in my posture, my strength and my overall sense of well-being. If you cannot make it to a studio on a routine basis, try the Total Yoga 4-Pack with Tracey Rich and Ganga White. It includes four DVD’s of varying lengths and rigor, all of which are narrated with gentle, clear instructions. The "original" workout was my first ever yoga routine. Fifteen years later, it is still the best, most comprehensive yoga practice I have found. 

2. Learn How to Care for Your Muscles

Do you know the difference between your sternocleidomastoids and your trapezius? Have you ever heard of referred pain, or trigger points? My massage therapist turned me on to the amazing Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief, by Clair Davies.

Davies describes trigger points as small contraction knots in your muscle tissue. They can apparently occur in just about any muscle in your body — and Davies’ book does indeed cover the human physique from head to toe. I’ve been reading the chapters on head, neck and shoulder pain over and over again.

For an information junkie, the easy-to-read, layman’s descriptions of muscle function and dysfunction are fascinating. And the illustrations make everything crystal clear.

"So, that cord of muscle running from the back of my ear, down the side of my neck to my collar bone and currently stretched tighter than a rubber band wrapped three times ’round a deck of cards is called my sternocleidomastoid? Who would’ve thunk."

Perhaps the best thing about the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook is the inclusion of detailed instructions for self-care. First, you identify where you are feeling pain. The step-by-step guide then walks you through likely culprits — i.e. the specific muscles that are "referring" pain to your point of discomfort. (For example, Davies explains that trigger points in your sternocleidomastoids could cause — in addition to a stiff neck — headaches over the eye, behind the ear and in the top of your head.) Finally, you are given clear instructions for massaging the muscle in question. Ta-da! Relief.

Tip: Can’t reach that pesky trapezius, whose trigger points can also cause a stiff neck and which happens to splay halfway down your back? Try this nifty tool: The Thera Cane Massager is a sturdy plastic device that looks kind of like a shepherd’s crook with various spikes and knobs sticking out in strategic places. It allows you to massage all sorts of hard-to-reach muscle tissue. I got one for myself and another for my mom. (Which ensures there is always one on hand when visiting the parents!)

3. Meditate

I don’t know anyone living in the world today who isn’t bombarded by a relentless ocean of stress. We may think we are handling it just fine, but I respectfully beg to differ. That stiff, achy neck? Might be more than just a missed yoga class or too many hours in front of the computer…

In her seminal work, You Can Heal Your Life, Louise Hay tells us to listen to our bodies. Our various aches and pains might be our body’s way of telling us to slow down and deal — with our past and our present; our worries and our emotions

Not surprisingly, Louise suggests that neck problems have to do with flexibility (or the lack thereof.) Take some quiet time and listen to what your body might be telling you. Have you made a habit of being stubborn, insisting that it’s your way or the highway? Are there areas in your life where you are refusing to see another’s perspective, or consider a different solution?

Where might a healthy dose of flexibility bring more peace to your life?

Tip: You may be thinking, "I’m too stressed/tired/ill to meditate." Or, "I’m listening, but my body’s not saying anything."  I’ve found a wonderful book for those of us who seek enlightenment, yet continue to struggle with the day-to-day stress of modern life. It is called, How Meditation Heals: Scientific Evidence and Practical Applications, by Eric Harrison.

It’s western approach to the science of relaxation — coupled with a full range of easy, practical tips — might be just what you need to get started with your own meditation practice.

Be nice to your neck. Be kind to yourself. Relax and enjoy!

Related Posts:

Remember, self-care is not a luxury. It is a necessity for today’s busy parents — especially those hoping to practice conscious parenting. For more ideas on how to take better care of yourself, see "It’s All About You!"

I keep wondering how to live my life without accumulating stress faster than I release it. The best answer I’ve found so far is to live in the present. Read more in, "Happiness Now!"

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