Tag Archives: raising boys

Silent hero.

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I have been away from my children these last few weeks and I would have thought I’d have very little to write about in the way of parenting this month- if it wasn’t for something my eldest son said yesterday over the phone that very much surprised me.

I was standing at the airport, ready to board the plane home from Phoenix, Arizona where I had been visiting my partner.  My eldest son could hear that I was tired & emotional; and then suddenly out of the blue, he said, “I’m proud of you”.

I was so touched, but I didn’t quite know what he meant.  So I asked him, “What for?” and he simply said- for the way you live your life. 

It just struck me like a bolt of lighting to the gut.  I had been feeling guilty about being away, but I had forgotten that well beyond all the conversations, all the lessons, all the cuddles, lunchboxes and excursions- the greatest impact we can have on our children is to show them an example of how to live.  Not just ‘how to get by’, or exist- but to get out there and live.

After all, it’s not what we say, it’s what they see.   Words are never louder than what you witness.

My life has not always been easy, but with gratitude I have to say- it’s always been rewarding.  As I said to my partner this morning on leaving, I’ve never been afraid to trade the path that is convenient, for a path that promises to be extraordinary.  I grew up in the middle of a civil war, at ten we travelled to Australia as refugees, I then left home at seventeen to go travelling, I got married young and took on step children at twenty-two.   I survived a divorce, and we have somehow found a way to successfully co-parent our four sons.  I’ve jostled up and down the corporate ladder.  I’ve started businesses and had to close them.   It’s sometimes been challenging, but heck, it’s definitely not been boring.

Student, traveller, step parent, mother, business woman, writer… we are all called to adapt and re-invent ourselves as we travel along our own personal adventure.   I’ve been down, I’ve been up.  I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor.   I’ve been right and I’ve been wrong.  But of all the things I’ve been, there is one thing I’ve always refused to become: a victim.

For this, I’m grateful to my parents: a pair of the toughest, hardest working people, who always taught us that it isn’t what  happens to you that matters, it’s how you handle it.

And yet to be honest, I don’t actually recall either of them saying this to us even once.  They were just silent heroes, who through their dignity and determination- showed us how to live.   Aware that every single day, we were watching; much like our own children are also watching.  They are watching how we manage our fears.  They are watching how we handle our enemies.  They are watching how we bounce back after our disappointments.

What does it matter if we tell your children to be kind, but then show cruelty to others?  Who cares if we encourage them to be brave, to reach for the stars and pursue their goals… if we ourselves live defeated, crippled by fear.

I believe that there is no such thing as a ‘good parent’, who sets a bad example. 

Hypocrisy is one of my greatest gripes.  I cringe at folk who sit in church pews on Sundays, but show total intolerance of others through the week.  I can’t stand the flippant insincerity of someone who will smile to your face, but backstab you when you turn.

If you’re going to live, live truthfully.  Because either way, the world will eventually reveal you.  And when it comes to our children, there is no hiding at all.  From the moment you wake up, the curtains are up, and the spotlight is on.  Piece by piece, our behaviour will form the backbone of the standards they accept in their own lives.

When we chase our dreams, we teach our kids it’s ok to chase theirs.  As I boarded the plane, I felt hopeful that my sons might see in me one day, an example that there is no compromise necessary for staying true to their own happiness too.

Our example will either leave a trail of inspiration, or a trail of destruction.  

I am now on the last leg of my journey home.  I can see the sun rising on the horizon as we start to sight the sleepy silhouette of Australian soil.  I can imagine my boys curled up in the beds, still asleep.  I can’t wait to hold them.  And as I reflect on the month gone by – all the things we’ve done together and all the things we’ve done apart – it occurs to me that I’ve never been obsessed with what I can do FOR my boys, but more concerned that I teach them what they can do for THEMSELVES.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, we shouldn’t seek to be ‘needed’ by our children…  we should hope to be admired.

Five small changes that can make a BIG difference.

The list of ‘things I could be doing better’ always feels so desperately endless.  Help the kids with their homework, read more stories, cook healthier dinners… but between running a business, running a home, and trying to have some kind of a life, it can seem overwhelming to find everyone a clean set of clothes, let alone be the kind of mum that cooks regular five star meals.

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To be honest, I think I might suffer from a bit of defiance.  I see mothers who have the time and energy to run their kids around to twelve different types of sports, who bake everything from scratch and who somehow still manage to look amazing.  I resent them and their perfect hair… and I tell myself that I don’t need to change.

But I guess we all have things to learn from each other.  And not being  ‘perfect’ is no excuse for not trying to be ‘better’.  It’s in this spirit, that I wanted to tackle the topic of nutrition and offer 5 quick and easy changes we can make to drastically improve our family’s eating habits… without a massive amount of effort.

Why bother at all? Well… for the same reasons we put suncream on our kids and tell them to get off the road when there’s a car coming.  There is simply too much information out there now, to pretend that the highly sugary, highly processed, high fat diets that are ‘normal’ in many households aren’t going to have a devastating impact on their health later.

I honestly believe that there will come a day when we will look at highly processed foods, the way we look at cigarette smoking now.  We won’t fathom how we used to eat the things we did, knowing all the poisons they contained.

But where to begin?  Please don’t give me a list of fifty things to change in my diet, because I’ll just cry and do NONE of them.  How ’bout we start with five small things that even busy mums with bad hair can do, to nudge their families towards better health:

1. Say no to soft drink. We could chat about this for days, but let’s just lay out some quick facts.  Did you know that one average can of soda contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar?  The impact on a little body is significant – raising insulin levels, causing dehydration and destroying teeth.

What about ‘diet drinks’, you ask?  Well, now you’re dealing with a far worse set of problems.  Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners used have been linked to hundreds of conditions including seizures, multiple sclerosis, brain tumours, diabetes, and mental health disorders.

So whether it be the phosphoric acid, additives, the fructose load, the empty calories… Just say no.  Handy hint: they can’t drink it if you don’t buy it.

2)  Buy fresh bread (or bake it, if you’re a show off).  Most supermarkets carry a line of freshly baked bread… and surprisingly, it’s often cheaper!  Packaged breads are manufactured to last longer and stay fresher.  In order to do this, companies pack a cocktail of chemicals into the mix, and what you’re actually serving up for breakfast contains similar ingredients to cleaning products which would make you rush to hospital wailing if your kid ingested.

Check out the back of the next loaf you buy- it will probably have a long list of nasties like chlorine, potassium bromate, dough conditioners, high fructose corn syrup, dangerous sulfates, diglycerides, calcium peroxides… all inside a loaf with a pretty picture of barley fields and misleading labels like “healthy heart”.  Shame on you, marketing department.

Flour, water, yeast, and salt.  That’s ALL it takes to make bread.   Ok, wow, I need to get through this faster….

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3) Ice cream isn’t the only desert.  When looking for sweet things, it’s worth remembering that there are many alternatives that are just as yummy.

We make banana and strawberry pancakes, drop blueberries and dark chocolate chips into yogurt, blend up a big round of smoothies.  Jump on google and find better alternatives to ingredients- like using rice malt syrup (made entirely from brown rice) instead of regular honey…. a sweet tooth doesn’t have to be a curse.

4) Cut down on processed lunchboxes.  Ah, this is a tough one.  If you nagged me about this in the morning, when I’m trying to get kids out the door after five hours of fitful sleep, I’d probably punch you in the face.

However, for the same reasons as processed bread is dangerous, all food that comes in ‘pretty packets’ is laden with preservatives, additives and – to call them what they are – poisons.  The further a food item is from it’s original form (eg. from potato to salty crisps), the more has been done to it, and the more dangerous it is.

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Ideally, our kids’ lunch boxes would only be filled with fresh food; but I’m realistic.  That ain’t gonna happen.  But what I can do is make sure it’s not ALL processed food.  Fruit, fresh meat cuts, dinner left overs, fresh salmon or tuna, rice crackers with cheese, bakery treats, yoghurt… I set myself a small challenge to ensure that the fresh food in their lunch boxes outnumbers the stuff in packets.

5) Finally- I believe that we need to educate our kids. If I come across an eyeopening documentary, we watch it.  I don’t even mind if it shocks them a bit; ignorance is far more costly long term.  We look at ingredients on the back of foods when we’re out shopping.  I’ve scooped out ten teaspoons of sugar onto a plate to show them what’s really in a can of coke.

I know some people will disagree with me on this, but the way I see it – I wouldn’t have my kids cross the road with their eyes closed, and I won’t have them be blind about what they’re putting into their mouths either.

Plus, I can’t always be around nagging them to make good choices.  The aim of half decent parenting is to raise kids that can make good choices for themselves.

In closing, I’d like to be clear that there is so much room for improvement at my table.  We get takeout when I’m tired, we eat way too much pizza and I can’t go without wine.  But I’m open to learning and if you’ve got simple ideas to add to this list, please jump in and share.  We don’t have to be perfect, but we can all get a little bit better.

Resources:

  1. https://wellnessmama.com/379/reasons-to-avoid-soda/
  2. http://naturallysavvy.com/eat/scary-ingredients-used-in-bread-manufacturing

Father’s Day Stays

Fatherhood.  What do I know about it?  I’m a mother.  And just because I’m a single mother, doesn’t mean that I know anything about being a father, or that I DOnick-wilkes-490 the role of a father.  I do the role of a single mother.  That’s what I am.  And I’m so proud of it, that I don’t need to claim recognition on someone else’s day.

I was really shocked this week when I heard about this publicity stunt – err,  excuse me – proposal by a child services educator to rename Father’s Day as Special Person’s Day.  Is nothing sacred anymore?  Is the Queen’s birthday up for grabs next?  We might offend the Australian Republicans, you know.  Brazenly celebrating the monarchs and all.

The professor behind the noise is a Dr. Red Ruby Scarlet (because THAT is a serious name of someone worth listening to) claims that the movement towards changing the day is one about inclusivity.  And before I totally dismiss that there could be any logic behind her proposal (which I’m unashamedly about to do), I would like to acknowledge that Father’s Day is not an easy day for everyone.

There are families who have never had a dad in the picture.  There are families who have recently lost theirs.  There are people who only see their fathers in their nightmares.  And others who wonder if they’ll ever even know his name.

As sad as these situations might be, they are no less real for families who struggle through Mother’s Day, Christmases or birthdays.  None of us are untouched by grief.  We all have places in our hearts where loved lived and left, or where loved should have lived and never existed.  Nobody said life would be easy.  We already know we won’t get out alive.

We can’t take away the darkness.  But nor should we let it rob us of the brightness that deserves to be celebrated.

There are some incredible fathers amongst us.  In my opinion, unpopular as it probably is, they don’t receive anywhere near as much recognition as mothers do.  Maybe it is because childrearing has been a traditionally female role.  Or maybe it’s an echo from the feminist movement.  Every time I see a girl power sticker that says some version of “Women Can Do Anything”, I wonder to myself why we need to keep announcing it?  And I also wonder how people would react if the sticker said “Men are so Powerful”, or some other shameless version of the male might.

Personally, I find it embarrassing.  There’s plenty of room on the podium for both the guys and the gals.  Everyone gets a turn, so chill out Dr. Ruby Raving Mad Scarlett and go make yourself a cocktail.  Sounds like you need it.  Today we are cheering for Fathers, and that’s ok.

We are saluting the men that went out at 2:48am to get their pregnant wife tavern chips and gravy, because it was the only thing in the world that mattered to her at the time.  We high five the nappies you changed balancing on chipboard at Bunnings.  We thank you for the safe arms you wrapped around our toddlers when they learnt to walk.  Thank you also for the awful meals you tenderly made- which everybody hated, because it didn’t taste like mum’s.

We appreciate how hard you’ve worked through the years, even when it kept you away from the bedtime stories you would have rather told.  Thank you for the bugs you’ve killed and for the mouldy mysteries you’ve fished out from under the car seats.  We salute the single dads buying tampons for their teenage daughters.  We are grateful for the men who sacrifice precious time with their families in order to serve their country abroad.

There is really so much beauty in Fatherhood.  Oh, and noise and vomit and exhaustion too.  Fathers deserve to be celebrated every day.  As do mothers.  That, in my opinion, is true inclusivity.  When I sent my ex-husband a text today saying ‘thank you for being an amazing dad to our boys’, I didn’t feel like it detracted anything from me as their mother.  Yes, we kill bugs and work long hours too.  Nobody said we didn’t.

Invisible Hormones

Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 10.18.15 pmI always like discovering new words, and this week I found one which has helped me understand my sons a whole lot better. It’s called Adrenarche. It’s rather appropriate that it kind of sounds a bit like ‘anarchy’, because that’s what led me to go looking for it.

The benefit of having four sons (and God help us, there HAVE to be some), is that you have the opportunity to notice patterns. Recently, Cruz- my third child to turn 10- has been acting up a lot. He normally has such a lovely nature, but lately he’s been excessively reactive, emotional and just all round volatile.

The other day he ran into the house really upset over a soccer goal that was scored against him, and as I watched the other boys rush in behind him, complaining that he had ‘lost the plot’, I thought to myself: this scene looks familiar. Both his older brothers had a really nasty patch that came out of nowhere around the same age. Could there be something more to this?

So I took to Google and came across Adrenarche, which is a sort of silent pre-puberty that hits children around the age of ten. In preparation for the body changes that lie ahead, the adrenal glads (over the kidneys) suddenly come alive and begin to secrete a cocktail of androgens, which apparently affect young boys a lot harder than they do girls.

It’s interesting because we girls go through such visible changes in puberty that ‘oh it’s just hormones’ becomes a very plausible way to dismiss tricky behaviour. Boys dealing with Adrenarche however, may not generally have access to the same level of awareness. It must be a confusing and challenging time for them.

Long story short, I gathered Cruz and his older brothers and explained my findings, using (as I always do) analogies to help simplify the matter. “It’s like your brother has suddenly found himself behind the wheel of a much bigger and more powerful car than the one he’s been used to driving. We can’t get angry at him for not knowing instantly how to control it. We have to help guide him.” I reminded the older boys that they had gone through this transition too, and they had been right trolls to deal with- so they owed me some help.

Imparted with their new status of ‘driving instructors’, it has made for more peaceful and compassionate dynamics. And not to mention, Cruz feels a lot more empowered to handle this little bump in the road.

Thank you, Google. You have all the answers.

(Photo by Nick Schumacher)

When something bugs you

IMG_0329Last week I led my boys through an experiment on the driveway which involved the smashing of an egg to demonstrate the power of the spoken word.  Much like the unrecoverable splat of shell and goo on the driveway, once an insult is thrown, it can never be taken back.

The intended moral of the story?  People are fragile and we need to treat each other with care.  However, as I thought about it some more, I realised that there was a second part to the lesson.  We can’t walk around on egg shells after all.  The world isn’t always a kind place.  We are all recipients of harsh words at one time or another.

We can’t just crack under the pressure each time it happens.

Alright, no more ‘egg’ puns.  It’s getting eggsausting.  For this next demonstration, what we needed was a swarm of bugs.

So one evening during the week, I left the outside light on for longer than usual and once I had a good gathering of moths, geckos and assorted bugs, I called the boys to the screen door.  From behind the mesh, they could see the bugs, but were not affected by them.

I stepped out bravely into the swarm of bugs and begun by making an analogy out of the situation.  Whenever we shine in life (like the light bulb), we are likely to draw some criticism (like the bugs swarming around it).  It’s annoying, but it’s just life.

What do most of us do?  We step right into it.   I invited the boys to step out from behind the safety of the screen door.  Now they too were exposed to the bugs.  We stood there uncomfortably for a few minutes, noting that there is a clear difference between being observant to criticism, and allowing ourselves to be affected by it.

Sure, it’s impossible to ignore what goes on around us.  If people are cruel, unjust or aggressive, it’s going to be something that we notice.  But much like the screen door, we have access to emotional filters designed to manage how deeply we allow things to affect us.

In a practical sense, how do we do this?  The answer comes from knowing WHY certain things affect us.  It’s not necessarily what is said, it’s the stories we tell ourselves about what is said.

A statement is made.  It touches a sore spot.  We feed the statement with other lies, sifting through the dregs of our fears and insecurities, looking to build a castle around what should have only been a brick.

We are natural storytellers and it’s our tendency to feature ourselves as the dramatic heroes of our personal Shakespearean tragedy.  It makes for a more interesting read, right?

But…. what if we are reading the story all wrong?  What if the real message behind each insult was “I’m afraid,” or “I feel threatened,” or “I’m hurt”?  Would it still affect us in the same way?

I invited the boys to make a choice: would they prefer to stay outside swatting bugs, or did they want to go back inside, behind the screen door?  We couldn’t get back inside fast enough.   As we shuffled in, I reminded them that whether it was bugs or insults, we always have the protection of a door, depending on where we chose to stand.

We may not be able to change what is said, but we always have a choice about how we interpret it.

It’s our right to shine brightly, our responsibility not to throw eggs and it’s within our power to close the door when others do.