I am about to tell you something which goes against what your education has taught you to think and do. Since preschool, adults have pushed you to excel, to rise above your peers. My generation has groomed you for success, to get into the best universities and snatch the most prized careers. Well, it is nice to have confidence, to fulfil your dreams and have a sense of satisfaction in your chosen field of work, but that will not make you happy.
Just take a look at the generation that has gone before you. The midlife crisis is a testament to the failure of a life focused on career advancement to the exclusion of family. Men and women bemoan the fact that they did not have time for nurturing and loving their spouse or children. All too often family life crumbles to ashes, sacrificed on the altar of success. As for childcare, society relegates it to women who are often treated as second class citizens.
I want to yell out as loudly as I can, “Raising children is not a default chore for women who failed in the world of business, power and wealth.” Who raises our children is important because exactly how YOU, the next generation, raise your children will directly influence the kind of society that they in turn create.
Do you want to live in a world focused only on the ruthless accumulation of wealth? Will you consciously create a race of humans who are shallow, cold, and cynical about relationships, family, and love? Do you want children who are more comfortable texting you, their own parents, than speaking with you face to face in a warm, loving way?
Family is crucial; it is the foundation of society. Now I see my own adult children beginning their young families and it touches my heart to know how much they value family as well. Just after his daughter’s birth, my son turned to his dad and said, “Dad, this is the best thing that I have ever done in my life.”
Children — especially babies — are little and vulnerable, vulnerable to the large, often clueless adults who care for them. Put yourself in a baby’s situation. Preverbal for years, it must be frustrating to be tired or in pain, only to have a bottle thrust into your mouth or have a tense, upset mother try to nurse you when your stomach is bloated with burps.
This disconnect does not end once children can communicate. Nope, our adult reasoning simply does not always compute in little brains. Why, I have been told that human beings do not get their adult brain till they are 25 years old! Apparently, the frontal lobe that makes sane, rational decisions is not fully developed till the mid-twenties.
That means for almost a quarter of a century, humans need a special kind of love and nurturing that will not only meet them and connect with them right where they are, but guide them gently without controlling them and stunting their own growth intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
The best mothers are willing to learn from their offspring, from books, from experience and from others. Good mothers need a wonderful sense of humour to laugh at their own blunders, to laugh at their kid’s blunders. Openness to trying new tactics helps, as does creativity, but most of all they need to be intuitive, listening to their little ones’ body language and tone of voice and their own gut feelings and instincts.
The best parents also know how to ask God to parent each, individual little person in their care because, after all, He knew them before they were knit in the womb. The best parents know how to let God be in control of their parenting.
“The image God gave me of Christian family was a triangle of light with strong bars of light flowing from the heart of the mother and father at the base and up to God at the top of the pinnacle, with the children protected in the middle of the triangle.”
My husband and I discovered how to build relationships with our children and encourage their relationship to God through a combination of the grace of God, parental intuition and perhaps a dash of sheer luck.
In order to nurture authentic Catholic family life, we learned that we had to first nurture our own intimacy with God. When parents are in communion with the Trinity (who are the first community), our children are also drawn into a spiritual relationship with their parents and in turn with God as well. A blessed home, dedicated to God, could actually be called a tabernacle because it is filled with a tangible Presence of God. When we give God permission to be Lord of our lives, our children and our family life, then the Holy Spirit is in the very air we breathe.
The image God gave me of Christian family was a triangle of light with strong bars of light flowing from the heart of the mother and father at the base and up to God at the top of the pinnacle, with the children protected in the middle of the triangle. The light of God’s love filled the triangle protecting and nurturing the children. This is a vision of family as a community, submersed in the community of the Trinity.
This atmosphere is not something a parent can manufacture in his or her own strength; if we try, we end up creating a phony, religious atmosphere that will stifle little ones rather than nurture them in Love.
No, we surrender to God and allow Him to be the Lord of our homes by consecrating our house to Him. It is wonderful when a priest can bless our homes with holy water, dedicating our house to God with a physical, tangible ceremony, a visible symbol of what we have already asked for in our hearts. His presence is tangible when we welcome Christ as Head of our homes; we can play and laugh and simply be with our children when we give God control over our family. No need to try too hard or force religion down their throats because Jesus is present with all of us, in communion, living in community with us and teaching moments flow naturally in our daily lives.
I was delighted to discover that it is possible to connect with an infant, not simply with their heart but with their spirit as well. It is a gift to connect with a newborn, knowing that they know, that I know, that they are not idiots but vibrant souls who are in communion with God.
My husband, Michael, and I were blessed because we somehow understood, right from the start, that we were relating to another human being when we communicated with our babies. I stopped and listened when they cooed and then I answered them when they finished cooing. It might sound foolish but I believe that this attitude instilled respect for themselves and others. I tried to treat them as people, albeit little people.
I learned that we can bless our unborn child, pray over them, that we can relate to our babies while they are in the womb just like the women in the Old Testament who prayed psalms and were often in seclusion while they were pregnant. This is interesting because we now understand that an unborn child hears and reacts emotionally not only to his mother but also to the people and activity around him.
Prenatal babies have personalities before they are born. As any mother can tell you some babies move around energetically both in and out of the womb, while other infants are physically passive. Some infants are night owls both in and out of the womb and others actually sleep well at night.
Nurses will point out to new parents that their newborn quickly turns towards the voices of their mother, father, siblings, and even grandparents. So that means that an unborn child hears what is happening and remembers what he has heard while he was still in the womb. These memories are conscious for the first couple of years of a young child’s life but later they lay deep within their subconscious. For example, some musicians, when first introduced to a piece of music, already know how to play it without even rehearsing. Later they discover that their mother had practised that very same piece of music while she was pregnant with him.
Understanding the implications of these tidbits of trivia, I convinced my son to try this experiment with his pregnant wife a couple of months before the birth of their first child. Actually, this is something I did during all my pregnancies. Often my kids laugh and dismiss some of my beliefs but this time David took my suggestion and put it into action.
Daniel gently placed his hand on one side of his wife’s stomach and then talked loud to his unborn child, welcoming her into their family. He told unborn Mary that both of her parents loved her already and that they would protect her and supply all her needs, physically, emotionally and spiritually. He concentrated on pouring love into his unborn baby’s spirit. As Daniel loved his baby by talking and placing his hand on Erin’s right side, unborn Mary kicked and pushed on that side of the womb! When Daniel placed his hand on the other side of Erin’s stomach and repeated the ‘prayers’, their unborn daughter placed a few good kicks on that side instead! Obviously, pre-natal Mary heard everything and she was happy and excited by what she heard.
As a result of Mary’s parents consciously soaking her with nurturing love while she was still in the womb, she is a peaceful, content baby who is a joy and a delight to everyone she meets. None of their friends can quite understand how Mary can be such a good baby. Basically the answer to their question is that my son and his wife connected with Mary’s heart, mind, and spirit before she was born. After birth they knew how to respond to Mary’s non- verbal communication. Daniel and Erin were in fact Baby Whisperers.
In the hospital, while holding his newborn daughter, Daniel turned to his dad and said, “I think this is the best thing that I have ever done!”
What makes a good parent?
In two words? A sense of humor and humility.
Lately, I have spent more time with my five grandchildren, all of them aged two and under. I am struck by the fact that most adults are not natural baby whisperers and that our society really does not spend time preparing hapless adults to become parents.
Children, especially babies are, well…little. Little and vulnerable. Vulnerable to the large, often clueless adults, who care for them. Put yourself in a baby’s situation. Preverbal for years, it must be frustrating to be tired or in pain, only to have a bottle thrust into your mouth or have a tense, upset mother try to nurse you when your stomach is bloated with burps.
This disconnect does not end once children can communicate. Nope, our adult reasoning simply does not always compute in little brains. Why, I have been told that human beings do not get their adult brain until they are 25 years old! Apparently, the frontal lobe that makes sane, rational decisions is not fully developed until the mid-twenties.
That means that for almost a quarter of a century, humans need a special kind of love and nurturing that will not only meet them and connect with them right where they are but guide them gently without controlling them and stunting their own growth intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
That means that the best parents are willing to learn — from their offspring, from books, from experience, and from others. Good parents need a wonderful sense of humor to laugh at their own blunders, to laugh at their kids’ blunders. Openness to try new tactics helps, as does creativity. But most of all, they need to be intuitive, listening to their little ones’ body language and tone of voice and their own gut feelings and instincts.
As Catholics we are called to listen to the voice of God within because those kids are His and He knew them before they were born. He knows how they tick better than you or I. And this is often where the greatest lessons in humility enter in. Listening to this voice of God is what truly makes us a “good” parent.
Image credit: Ron Chapple Studios (thinkstock.com)
Published previously at Mother of Nine9.
Experience has taught me that the easiest and most effective way to influence children is to ignore negative behavior and praise good behavior.
When our family was still young, few kids lived nearby because our house sat on a few acres in the sparsely populated Greenbelt surrounding Ottawa, Canada. The kids were free to explore, catch frogs, make forts, skate on a homemade rink, and ride their bikes on narrow dirt paths through the surrounding fields and clusters of trees. It was the perfect spot for imaginative children to play without fear, like children have played for hundreds of years.
Our homemade ice rink attracted three teenage boys who lived down the road. They were actually quite sweet and included all of our kids in pick-up hockey games even though everybody was eleven or younger. David, my fourth child, was only five but he was the designated goalie, sporting adult-sized pads which almost completely immobilized him. Although he could hardly move, he was thrilled because he was an important member of a real hockey scrimmage. He never complained,enduring hockey pucks that relentlessly slammed into his pads.
These hockey games were the highlight of the day. After dinner, I’d bundle up our youngest children against the cold so they could get in on the excitement. They could barely waddle outside, scarves wound around their faces and foreheads, with only their twinkling eyes visible. Then they stood like stuffed statues, pleased to simply watch.
It was a lovely old-fashioned pastime, repeated for generations in the frozen north. However this idyllic scene was not as innocent as it appeared; our teenage visitors did not curb their language while they were in the heat of the game. I discovered this one evening while tucking three-year-old Claire into bed. She had just had a bath. Her hair was curling softly around her face and she was cozy and warm in a soft pink blanket sleeper with her thumb in her mouth. She looked adorable. But Claire was mad that she was in bed before her younger sister who had slept for a couple of hours in the afternoon. As I started closing the door, Claire took out her thumb and yelled, “Close the fu**ing door you stupid b*tch!!!!”
My eyes opened wide. My mouth dropped open. I stood frozen in shock for a moment. Slowly closing the door without saying a word, I went down the hall in a bit of a daze. I faltered slightly as I managed to stutter to my husband, “Do you want to know what Claire just said to me? …”.
I didn’t mention anything to Claire and she never repeated those three swear words again.
Image credit: Devonyu (thinkstock.com)
Yes, my new title is “The Bathing Grandma” because I know how to bathe newborns without making them cry.
How I move and speak and handle newborns is automatic after mothering nine children. I learned intuitively, by trial and error and of course from books. In fact one of the biggest jokes in our family is about the time I bathed my oldest child for the first time.
I was nervous about bathing a newborn. It is hilarious to admit now, but I actually had a book propped open with one elbow awkwardly holding it open to the right page, while my baby was in a bathtub on the table. The book was my security blanket, I guess.
My new husband, who was the second oldest of ten children and completely relaxed with babies, walked through the kitchen, shook his head in disbelief and said quite wisely,
“Melanie, there are some things you just can’t get out of books.”
How to bathe a newborn . . .
First rule is not to bathe the baby like the nurse showed you in the hospital. My son tried that, wiping the baby from back to front just like the nurse had and the baby cried just like he cried in the hospital. Nurses are wonderful people but they have a lot to do and are efficient. Babies do not like efficient baths. Don’t treat babies like objects or bath time like a chore. Relax, talk and relate to this new little person in a soothing, calm voice that reassures him that he is safe, loved and protected.
My daughter-in-law asked me to do the next bath and she was thrilled that her baby did not cry. She ran downstairs to tell my son all the things I had done differently than the hospital. I am delighted to have some claim to fame. So here are my time-tested strategies for a happy bath time for infants.
The bathing room should be draft free and warm, even hot. A bathroom is the easiest to close off and warm up, even if it is with shower steam. Make sure the water is deep enough to cover the baby’s entire body because when the chest and tummy are exposed, the baby feels vulnerable and is also cold.
The main trick is to move slowly and keep body contact with the newborn. That means bending over in slow motion as you lower the baby into the water, still hugging him, even when his bottom touches the water. You can place either a very warm face cloth over his chest or a hand on his tummy as he slowly relaxes in the water. Also the water should be quite warm. This sounds crude, but think how hot your own urine is . . . that is how hot the amniotic fluid was in the womb. When the water does not feel warm enough, babies stay tense and don’t relax in the tub.
So basically my advice is to relax, enjoy your baby, move slowly, and keep him warm and he will love his bath time almost as much as you do!
Image Credit: Jupiter Images (Photos.com)
There is a universal image stuck in our brains of a screaming toddler throwing a tantrum on the floor of a grocery store. Even the best parent becomes a helpless victim in these situations because nobody is as miserable and disagreeable as a hungry and irritable baby, toddler, or small child. This so-called temper tantrum is really a baby breakdown; they are over-stimulated, under nourished and physically exhausted without any tools to vent their frustration and anger.
Think about being in a position of total submission to another person’s control, unable to meet your own needs, and the person in charge is not doing his job. When I ignored the warning signs that my kids were reaching their limits of endurance, I created either a clinging, whiny wimp or a screaming monster. Then nothing I did or said seemed to help the situation.
I might have looked like a self-sacrificing mother but I was merely acting out of a sense of self-preservation when I put my kids’ needs first. No time for resentment because happy and satisfied kids were worth every “sacrifice” I made. The peace was worth any compromise. One niece once told me that many people had given her advice when she became a new mother but the only thing she always remembered and practiced was,
1. I love you and believe in you. Let that love be your foundation and your springboard into life.
2. God loves you, just as you are. Relax in that Love, let it sink in, heal you, strengthen you, and release you into freedom and joy. Don’t try to save yourself and everybody else on your own because He is the only Savior. Notice that I called God Lord. Let God be the Lord and don’t steal His job.
3. Reach out and allow that Divine Love to flow through you to your partner, children, and neighbors. In doing so, discover your unique vocation, your work in the world.
Believe that a loved, secure child can change the world. A child rooted in love becomes a secure, warm, giving adult who attracts as much light as he reflects. He can live in relative peace with himself and others. With his basic emotional needs fulfilled, he is free to love and serve other people and to develop intellectually as well as creatively.
Baltasar Gracian, a Spanish Jesuit scholar who lived from 1601 until 1658, said:
A child grounded in his parents’ love, who knows that the Lord loves him, is strong and resilient. Most of us spend years dealing with love, trust, fear, and guilt issues. Imagine a whole generation of young people healed and set free to serve the world in and through Christ’s Love!
Advent is a time of waiting, waiting in the dark. In Canada, it is cold and it is also the darkest time of the year, so the image of lighting one candle each week is powerful. The flames are hot and bright, the exact opposite to the weather, to the physical reality that we see around us in our daily lives. If we are open and humble, the flames of the Advent candles shine as a beacon of hope in the darkness, symbols of the Light of the world who will come on Christmas morning.
But how do we wait?
Do we wait stoically or with joy? Do we wait like a child, a child who trusts that his daddy will keep His promises or have life’s disappointments left us jaded and closed off to any spiritual surprises? Come to think of it, how many of us actually expect anything to happen to us on Christmas morning? When we are secretly cynical, we will not receive a thing, not a crumb of Light and we will cement our cynicism in place for another year.
As we wait, secretly longing for the dark, empty places within us to be flooded with His light, we should look to our children to teach us how to wait for the Christ Child to be born anew in our hearts. They trust and believe the words of both their earthly and heavenly fathers. Think a young child, eyes twinkling, barely able to sit still and contain his excitement because he knows that hid dad will never give him a stone instead of a loaf of bread. Yet as the child waits, he also enjoys even the strike of a match, delights in a single flame of the Advent candle because he is open and enjoys simple pleasures. No wonder Jesus tells us,
In fact, why don’t we all humble ourselves and ask for the faith of a child as we wait this Advent?
Has God surprised you with special blessings at Christmas? Can you take a leap of faith and ask your Father in heaven for the bread of His Presence, knowing He will not give you a stone?