Small Cultures With Small People Part Three: How Your Family Rolls

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In Part Two of Small Cultures With Small People, I looked into how babies’ culture-making ability develops from birth. This is a huge influence in the way family culture-making plays out, as parents respond to the changing needs of their little one/ones. This followed on from Part One, which was about how people make culture and the family group.

In this post, I want to explore what happens as a result of family members coming together and participating in whatever activities emerge within the group. First, I will reprise the topic of development, as it relates to the family, then I will talk about how small cultures get negotiated, and who decides how things play out.

New Developments in Family Life

The Wonder Weeks charts ten developmental leaps which occur across the first eighteen months of life. These represent huge, fundamental changes in how a kid sees the world. With each leap, new meanings are conferred by the child onto the world around them, and this is reflected in their behaviour. So, a baby who has learned that day and night are different is more likely to have different behaviours at these times of day. Typically, babies start sleeping more at night, and less during the day, as a consequence of this leap. Sadly, the effect may be temporary!

Adults do this ‘leaping’ too, though not nearly as often, and new understandings about their world also shape the way they act. As far as I know, these are not so uniform as the developmental changes that take a baby through to adulthood. However, becoming a parent is one clear shift, where the brain actually changes shape, new thinking occurs, and new behaviour follows. We have a remarkable capacity to move with the times, which is kickstarted by our biology and circumstances.

In addition, there are the incremental, everyday shifts in our understanding of all around us. For instance, there is the adjustment you make when picking up a newborn after being used to a solid lump of toddler, or visa versa. The different weight feels odd, but you move around a bit, pretty much without thinking, and a new balance is achieved. This is because we get used to a certain way of picking up a child, but as soon as we sense that we have applied it in an inappropriate way, the natural thing to do is to modify our behaviour.

Likewise, a child might have a sudden realisation that hair is perfect for grabbing onto, and evokes an interesting, piercing sound from the person carrying you. They may eventually stop doing it if told enough times that hair pulling hurts and please do not do that, or are put down again as soon as they try to play this intriguing new game. Once again, new thoughts or sensations lead to a new behaviour, which affects interaction with others, and their subsequent behaviour. When these behaviours are understood as patterns that occur with a particular person or people, and are associated with this particular group, they become culture. If our beliefs about who does what in that group change, then so does the behaviour, and round we go again, interacting, responding, reforming.

So the way our culture-making works is that we see something new, and make adjustments in our interactions. This is why it is really useful to have friends with a child just a little older than your own, because you get a better look at what you might be in for, and it is not such a shock. The way a toddler makes culture is very different to a baby, and a small child has a different approach to a big one, and so on and so on. Plus there are all the intricacies of personality and mood, which play a huge part in what gets created.

Negotiating Small Cultures In The Family

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To say that we negotiate small cultures is another way of expressing that when people come together in a shared activity, then they have to work out how to get things done together, and what is appropriate or not. Different folk will have  variant conceptions of how family life should look, and will be working from personal models of reality which differ from their siblings’ or parents’. These differences might be a matter of age, development, gender, personal persuasion, mood, whimsy…..the list is long. Most of all, behaviour arises from a particular context in time, history, and space, and the meaning it carries alters, depending on these factors.

Assuming then, that you are always in the process of making culture within your family, there are various notions about what specific behaviours mean and whether or not they are acceptable in the context of the moment. Moreover, there may be conflicting notions about what behaviours mean and whether or not they might be a reasonable way to act. There are different ways of gaining consensus about the right way to do things and putting a shared understanding into practice. At a given instant, depending who is involved, parents might dictate what is OK, or might negotiate with their kids about what to do, or might let the children take the lead, or there may even be a stand off, with hissed words and slammed doors.

A Note On Book Buying

If you are anything like me, you might deal with change by purchasing books, or at least talking to people who appear to have read a lot. These tomes/bookworms can offer a generic structure that you can (theoretically) introduce into a small culture. It can be a great source of ideas, or it can make you feel like you now have a bunch of problems you didn’t know you had beforehand. Overall, because small culture is always evolving, and systems in books do not, it is important to realise that they cannot always be a good fit for what is going on.

Baby books with titles like ‘The Darlingest Little Baby in Town’ or ‘Abstract Concept Parenting’ are constructed around particular ideas about who takes what role in a family and how they should act. Advice is given with a certain understanding about the responsibilities and capabilities of each person. With something as complex as human interaction, there are few beliefs and behaviours that can be applied with total consistency within a family unit. It is always wise to bear in mind that there is no reason in the world why this should be so.

When it comes to expert opinion, it is fine to take on board ideas you like and leave anything that doesn’t feel right for you. It doesn’t matter if the book accuses you of ‘accidental parenting’ or uses lots of acronyms. You do not have to do what it says, because there is no foolproof recipe for how family culture should be. Some people suggest that there is because humans just love making up wacky rules and beliefs, then forgetting that they are a fiction among millions of possible others.

It is the nature of the family group to change and shift with the flow of life, so bugger anyone who says you should apply their rules or else. Besides, you and yours are a select bunch of experts on the topic of your family.

Cooking Small Culture

Having broken off writing to chat with my husband, he compared culture to diet, and behaviour to food, and baby books to recipe books:

“If you only eat bananas, then you will be missing out on nutrition and enjoyment from other foods. What you are eating may not always be appropriate to your disposition and circumstances, and it will cause trouble for you. On the other hand, if you eat a range of foods, and select according to what you need and want to eat, then you are likely to be healthier and happier. Following this analogy, baby books are like cookbooks, practices that you adopt are ingredients, and culture is what you end up with on the plate.”

I would take this a step further and suggest that culture-making in the family, and in general, is a process where everyone grabs the ingredients that make sense to them, and chucks it onto one big plate. There will be conscious and unconscious reasons why each choice is made, and sometimes the result will be pleasing, like strawberries and cream, and other times ingredients will clash with one another, like horseradish and vanilla. Some people might like a whimsical pairing, and others will not. The more people, the more potential ingredients, the more ideas around what the end product should look like, and the more reactions to how it turns out.

Therefore, one way of keeping culture-making harmonious, most of the time, is to form some sort of mutual appreciation of what everyone is going for in terms of texture, colour, and flavour. Perhaps, this explains why culture-making with babies and toddlers can feel like trying to enjoy eating crayons off the floor.

Having read this, my husband (clever clogs) points out that it is our preconceptions about food and crayons, from our wider knowledge and experience of diet, that leads us to question ‘crayons a la toddler’ as a viable source of nutrients. Our youngest offspring has no such limiting beliefs, therefore is more able to select and enjoy this option. This raises the issue of whether to trust the innovation of the littlest family member, or to take control as a parent, and dictate what is going to get eaten (or not).

It seems reasonable that children should benefit from the experience and knowledge of their parents, but also that parents can learn new and valid ways of doing things from their babies. There must be context if sense is to prevail, and in this case, I would tend towards banning of crayon consumption owing to the obvious, and the fact that our floor is seldom clean enough to eat from.

When Parents Decide How Things Go

Moving away from the table, and what lies directly under it, then the question is what you want to create in your family culture, and assuming that harmony is a goal, aligning the contributions of group members. For sanity’s sake, it is best to accept that sometimes discord is bound to happen. Usually when someone has a very particular idea about what they want and it is not working en masse: the toddler who wants to snatch her brother’s train and hit him in the face with it, or the parent who is frantic because you all had to be out the door ten minutes ago and no one is even dressed yet, or when parent A thinks that a time out is in order, and parent B thinks time outs are a load of crap.

Working out who does what and when is different from moment to moment, from family to family. However, I think most would agree that it is a good idea for parents to care for the interests of their offspring, and provide some kind of teaching about the ways of the world. They can make use of their knowledge and experience, to take an active role in shaping group practices. The caveat is that they are more burdened with preconception, so should try to be aware of limiting beliefs and stale logic, being open to fresh thought.

Of course, parents will often also find that their notions about what is a reasonable idea or behaviour are quite different to one another’s. There is always potential for diversity between adults and adults, as much as there is between adults and children.  We are all individuals, and have our own unique perspective on the world. In general, the more group members of any age listen to one another, and give equal respect to each other, no matter how old they are, then the better able they will be to create harmonious culture much of the time.

It seems to me that parental intervention to promote culture-making harmony is no bad thing, but it can be tricky to decide on the best way to carry this out.

The question is, what can parents do if a child is bringing a behaviour to the cultural mix that they feel is against the best interests of the family, and/or the individual? Jack Pransky identified five questions which parents can ask themselves before attempting to change a child’s behaviour. Written with older children in mind, these can apply every bit as much to babies:

1. Am I feeling love in my heart for my baby/child at the moment?

2. What is my baby/child learning from what I am doing?

3. How am I seeing my baby/child at this moment?

4. Why is it important to me that my baby/child does what I am asking?

5. Do I really know what is going on in the mind of my baby/child, that is driving the behaviour?

You can hear more about these questions in Jack’s interview on the Born Happy Show Podcast, or in his book Parenting From The Heart.

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By asking questions like these, and giving an honest answer, you can be guided in your response to any behaviour, check your feelings, and know whether it is truly a ‘teaching’ moment or a ‘let it go’ moment. Rapport and mutual respect is a wonderful conduit to harmonious culture-making. More than that, these questions ask you to consider if your heart is in the right place or whether you want things your own way because you are about to chuck all your toys out the proverbial pram. The latter is a sign that you are not doing your best thinking, and may regret whatever you say and do next.

When Baby Decides

Given the amount of rapid growth that happens in the infant body and brain, it is no wonder that sometimes parents find it hard to keep up. New behaviour appears all the time, and it is not always easy to work out what has shifted in their sweet and tender consciousness that has caused them to become a minion of Satan overnight (it almost always happens over-night).

There are at least two things that might be happening in this scenario:

1. Little one is doing something new and unexpected, which is fine, but you are tired, stressed, or otherwise feeling ‘off’. As a result, their behaviour looks like a humungous pain in the bum that must be solved forthwith;

2. Little one is doing something new and unexpected, which is fine, but they are confused, freaked out, and otherwise feeling ‘off’. Therefore, they are unhappy and seeking comfort.

Sometimes, 1 and 2 co-occur, and you find yourself in a rather despairing looking situation. It is in these moments that the case for parental intervention, to rule out ‘accidental parenting’ or some such nonsense might start to look really compelling. It can feel like whatever baby is doing is going to last forever, and you are never again going to be able to sleep, eat, shower, or pee on your own again. No doubt, the child will be damaged in some permanent and awful way, and it will be your fault for not taking action.

Do not fall for this type of thought! You are making small culture, and you can be certain that it will change over time in your family life.

It can be hard to work out what is happening within your child from their behaviour, especially in the prelinguistic phases. Calm scrutiny and curiosity may well yield some canny hypotheses, but there is no guarantee of surety. However, there is always the option of accepting on good faith that your erstwhile bonny bairn is doing their best with what they have right now, as are you.

Having asked yourself Mr Pransky’s questions, you will be aware of your own thinking. This will help you decide if this is a good time to make any big decisions about interventions. Often, what babies really need is a good dose of understanding and patience, to comfort and reassure them until they find their bearings. In many places, there is an awful lot of pressure for babies to achieve independence early on, but in the long run there is not a great amount of evidence to support rushing and forcing as opposed to waiting and seeing, and maybe waiting some more. Whatever is going on, I guarantee you will feel better about it and make more sensible decisions if you take note of the feelings you are experiencing in relation to choices you make.

Final Thoughts

I have covered quite a mishmash of cultural bits and bobs here from development shifts to cooking culture to interventions and decision making. Culture-making in the family is, not only a huge topic, but also one that is full of personal assumptions. As such, I am aware that the views I put forward are a product of my own time, place, history, interests, stories, whims and fancies. I hope that the ideas here prove useful to you readers, who may be coming from similar or different circumstances to my own.

However you roll, I hope that you are enjoying this parenting adventure.

Did this discussion strike any chords with you?

How do you roll in your family?

As always, I would love to hear from you!

Come chat in the Facebook Group!

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Small Cultures With Small People Part Two: Born to Love

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In Small Cultures With Small People Part One, I talked about how we create culture as a means to organise human group behaviour. Now, I want to move on to the way that babies start to make culture. 

In Western cultures, the first prolonged form of culture making we do happens within the family, though we also develop experiences of doing this with other people we come into contact with. Just think how often babies are happy to smile and interact with new faces and you can begin to see that we are built for this. We are born to connect with other people, born to love. 

In this post, I want to explore some of the ways that culture-making abilities might develop during the first year of life. To skim the surface of this topic, I would like to look at some evidence that culture-making is innate and well into an advanced form by baby’s first birthday.

Nature and Nurture

There is a longstanding question about whether nature or nurture is more important in human development. On the one hand, we are teeming biological organisms, with a particular genetic history, while on the other, we are social constructions, in a particular sociocultural context. Regardless of which is more dominant in particular circumstances, it is clear that both these factors are crucial to understanding the basic apparatus that we set out with in life. So, when it comes to understanding how we interact with others, how we love, then it is important to consider that our biological and social realities both play a part. Not forgetting that what individuals choose to do with what they have is part of this equation too.   

Our Innate Capacity For Connection

There is no doubt that our biology disposes us to be social creatures. As babies, we cannot survive alone, and require a large amount of parental investment to make it in the world. Like elephants or dolphins, we are ‘allomothers’, which means that we are mammals who specialise in group living, and rely on our ‘families’ a great deal for mutual support in raising our young and caring for our elders (Gopnik 2009). Therefore, it is vital for infants to be able to form connections with their parents, siblings, and other significant family members or caregivers. 

Throughout the first years of life, we learn to recognise who we need to connect with, and how to sustain those connections. We create a working model of how to interact with others which is powerful enough to influence our relationships for the rest of our lives (Johnson 2010). We are able to do this because, even as newborns, we have all the apparatus for interaction and love, even if we do not operate it in the same way that adults do. Given that we have an innate capacity for connection with others, we must also have the innate potential to create culture. 

Adrian Holliday points out that culture is created by drawing boundaries around a group of people. Culture is constructed by each individual, according to where they perceive these boundaries to be. This means the culture changes as circumstances and perceptions shift. Read more here on his blog.

First Experiences

The best book I have read that tries to imagine the infant experience is The Baby In The Mirror by Charles Fernyhough (2010). I used this account to look for the emergence of culture making ability. mirror baby

The first boundary a baby experiences is the journey from inside to outside of the womb. Their little brain has been growing for some time, and is already adapted to the specific environment they will find themselves in. The flavours of their mother’s amniotic fluid will have given them a unique preparation to be born into that place, at that time, to those parents.

While little one has been gestating, the family that the child is to be born into will have also been making preparations to receive this new person. They have a set of beliefs and expectations about raising children that are activated through the experience of pregnancy, and which will shape the child’s experience of the world from day one. 

The first cultural boundaries that the infant mind creates might be between people and non people. Newborns do not know themselves to be persons, as they have no idea that they are an individual, bounded entity. They live in a synaesthetic dream world that is hard to comprehend with an adult mind. However, there is firm evidence that they are born with the ability to perceive faces and mimic facial expressions. This ability recedes over the first few weeks of life, while the senses become more organised towards what mature brains perceive, but it is right there at the beginning. 

Another ability which may be innate is to tell the difference between objects which can move of their own accord, and those that cannot. They will recognise the voices of their parents, even if they do not yet understand the relationship between sound and object. Thus, the baby starts on the path to distinguishing actual people, but it will take around eight weeks for this to happen. 

Throughout the first six weeks of life, the puerparium, the people caring for the baby undergo powerful transitions in their own right. The mother will feel her body pulled into a new, non-pregnant shape, and many will take their place as half of a breastfeeding diad (or a triad in cases where there is shared feeding). These shifts in the body are coupled with changes to the brain, as the mother adapts to her role. Fathers or partners also undergo physical and mental adaptations which mark the start of a new phase in their life.

Though the baby cannot yet recognise who is who, the way caregivers carry out their roles, and the way they shape their environment in order to do so, will have a profound effect on the baby’s developing sense of reality. 

First Smiles

Between six and eight weeks of age, infants have learned enough to begin to control their facial movements at will. Their facial recognition software has been rewritten, allowing them to distinguish individual features, and in particular to identify eyes and gaze. They know when they are being watched and when they are not. They discover that when they mimic the smiling expression of the watcher, that person reacts with yet more smiles, and so they begin to explore the social world in a whole new way. People are not just there for food, warmth, and comfort, they are…fun. 

Two things come out of this shift. First, that babies begin to recognise their parents and other important figures who pop up a lot. Second, they realise that certain people respond to them with a greater degree of interest and affection than others. Both these factors lead to attachment, which is a huge change in their culture-making processes, as the baby creates two categories of people, an in group and an out group. This is the baby’s first real experience of creating a culture. 

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First Separation

The infant must establish security, then they can grasp at independence, so it makes sense that the next step the baby takes is to begin to understand themselves as an individual who can be separated from the person or people they are attached to.

This is an extremely important boundary to draw in terms of culture-making, because it is then possible to be left, and to be returned to, or to leave and return. Thus, they can also understand that they participate in a wider range of groups. Some babies will undergo more distress than others at this discovery, and how they are responded to is a powerful shaper of their worldview. The pattern this takes will be crucial to the baby’s growing construction of what interpersonal behaviour looks like, and what response is appropriate to certain situations. 

Susan Johnson (see above) discovered that babies whose caregivers respond to separation cries expect this to be the norm for everyone, while babies whose caregivers ignore separation cries are puzzled when they see the opposite reaction. The infants had clear stories about ‘what happens when you cry’ that shaped their reality, and predicted whether or not they would demonstrate distress to their loved ones or not when they were left in the care of others. These early experiences are shown to shape behaviour well into adult life, with broader cultural groups often favouring general demonstration or suppression of emotions. 

First Steps

Another key factor in how a baby’s culture-making develops is their growing personal agency. As the baby begins to gain greater mastery over face, head, arms, and hands, and can exploit this to communicate and play in new ways, these skills are brought into their culture-making repertoire. Where they are able to enjoy a game of peekaboo, find amusement in the sensations of bathing, or show annoyance at being placed into the rather expensive swing that their parents thought would help them sleep, they are able to have a direct effect on the culture being made at a given time. They are becoming more active participants in the social life of the family. 

As their charge grows, the baby’s parents and other carers will also adapt to the physical and mental development that is happening. In some cultural groups there may be rapid ‘baby proofing’ and ‘routines’ put in place, while in others the baby may begin to be looked after more by siblings, and to make little cultures with local peers. The form of these inevitable transitions will create new dimensions in relationships between younger and older family members, which will be reflected in the way the baby acts towards them, and visa versa.

In culture-making, we create our own behaviour and that of others to a greater or lesser degree, but there is much more of a grey area around who prompts what behaviours in whom. Some babies and some parents are more adaptable than others, so suffice to say that you will see yourself mirrored in your children in all kinds of ways, and also be able to pinpoint in ways that you have changed as a result of having them. 

Wherever they are, babies will experiment with new behaviours and draw conclusions around the results of their investigations based on responses. This is a point where the behaviours which are most valued in their social environment will be prioritised over those that are not, and some abilities will take a back seat. So, if the child is growing up on the plains of Mongolia, they will probably be encouraged towards greater physical independence than if they are being raised in a tiny flat in Tokyo. In my own experience, babies in Portugal are expected to interact with a larger cross section of the population than those in the UK. Factors such as gender, religion, ethnicity and so on will impact the way the baby is treated as they become more of a social agent in their own right. 

Compelling as it might be to catch on to cultural traits that span large groups, there are many nuances to individual culture-making that are lost when you cast the net too wide. You never can use environment as an absolute predictor of social behaviour. The way it works is so much more fluid than that, as the world of this moment is not the same as the last, and there is always the potential for change and innovation. 

First Birthdays

By the baby’s first birthday, he or she will have made a detailed study if those around them, and the place they inhabit. They will have undergone the necessary physical and mental development for feeding themselves and walking upright, though they may not yet have developed this skill. The urge to be like the people caring for them will become more and more apparent, as their independence increases. Though there are many, many variations regarding what ‘milestones’ are in different culture groups, and the speed at which each individual child reaches them, the child’s biology and chemistry will be saying ‘grow, grow, grow’. 

By their first birthday, a child will have experienced participating in a range of small cultures, and be able to change their behaviour according to situation. So, for instance, they will know that going to their baby singing group or the doctors is different to going to grandma’s house, and that grandma’s house is not the same as their house. Different activities will happen and they will be expected to behave in different ways in each setting, and they will be aware of different degrees of closeness to particular people. Thus, they will be able to shape their behaviour more to specific situations, or to create situations to suit what they feel like doing.

How their agency is received, and the part they are ‘allowed’ to play in the culture making of the family and immediate surrounds will affect their first working model of ‘how I make culture’. This model will become the base from which they move into more diverse small cultures and from which they take responsibility for creating new culture.

The Importance of First Culture-Making Experiences IMG_0462 It is from our early culture-making experiences that our sense of ‘who I am’ and ‘what I do’ comes. Whoever we are, it is deeply related to ‘who our folks are’ and ‘what our folks do’. Regardless of this, it is important to realise that these are mere ideas that are constructed through our experiences and what we imagine is expected of us in society.

While on paper, concepts like nationalities and ethic groups are straightforward and you are either a member or not, in reality they are only labels. The same too, goes for things like ‘attachment parenting’. They are powerful labels that can trap people into ‘this is who we are, this is what we do, and this is what is possible for us’, but they are labels just the same. They cannot possibly give an accurate description of reality. In actual fact, we are capable of creating ourselves and our cultures ad Infinitum. As J.K Rowling observed, there is an expiry date on blaming your parents for who you are. 

It is vital to consider that even little babies are learning how to make their own choices and take their place in the world in their own way. They may be tiny, but their birth creates new cultural groups and sets off a ripple effect that shifts the small cultures they participate in. The perceptions that their biology renders them capable of making, and the way they are received by those around them affects how they use their innate ability to make culture. It is through culture making that they come to express love and to be loved. This is a beautiful reminder of our social nature and creative potential, which is with us from day one. 

I would love to look at this in more depth some day, as I find it so fascinating how our abilities emerge as we grow, and how different environments offer various ways of understanding and encouraging the experience. It is hard to fathom that babies have often been considered a kind of helpless, incomplete adult in western cultures. Though they lack the means to care for themselves they also show us the amazing capacities we are gifted with from the start of life, many of which adults forget how to use in an effective way as we get older.

In Part Three of Small Cultures With Small People, I will look at how we negotiate the culture that we create in a young family.

What do you notice about the way your baby interacts with others?

What are you creating together?

Let me know what you see, and send me any questions or comments. I would love to explore this with you!

If this interests you go ahead and share, share, share. That would be lovely. IMG_1308        

Small Cultures With Small People, Part One: How We Make Culture

I am going to be running a series of posts exploring culture within the family. Here, in part one, I am talking about how we create culture and what this means for an understanding of behaviour and interactions between parents and children.

How We Make Culture

As human beings, one of the super cool things we do is make culture. I don’t mean just creating literature, art, or behaviours, like hand-shaking or nose-wiping, that have particular meanings in a particular country. Those are to do with ‘large culture’, which describes national characteristics and products. I am talking about ‘small culture’, where groups of individuals, each with their own unique perspective, come together and interact, and from which special patterns of behaviour and shared meanings evolve.

Culture is more than manners or identity, more than an elaborate means of not pissing each other off. It is an expression of what looks and feels real to a set of people, of the understandings they have about themselves, their environment, and one another. It also reflects the changing nature of our perspective on the world, which has the capacity to shift from moment to moment.

The ‘small culture paradigm’ was outlined by Adrian Holliday, who also described culture-making as an ‘innate human ability’. In his work, he argues that culture-making is at the heart of all groups and institutions that people create, and allows us to co-operate and transfer ideas from one person to another. Read his paper on small cultures here.

The conclusion that I drew from this is, the better we are at recognising and using this ability, the more we can explore the creative potential inherent in interaction, and the stronger our connections with others can be.

A really great example of culture-making in progress is to watch children playing a game like hide and seek. Though there are basic generic rules and behaviours involved in the game, which the participants may or may not actually understand, new rules and expressions of the game will appear through that episode of play.

So, perhaps some bossy older kids will want to create new rules with ‘safe spots’ and chasing, while errant younger players might decide they want to hide, then leap out and ‘scare’ the seeker, because they cannot wait to be found. The way each player sees the game and wants it to evolve will be expressed in their behaviour, and how they understand  rules and roles within the game, as it continues, will develop based on reactions to that behaviour.

Whether everyone gets along and the game is thought to be satisfying and fun depends on the ability of the kids to align their understandings around that expression of the game being played at that moment. If they cannot do this, then someone will be deemed to be ‘spoiling’ the game, and a radical change of play may be needed to set things ‘right’, or there will be branching off into new groups, new games, and new rules and understandings will be forged around those. Childhood play is really Culture-Making Practice par excellence.

I wrote a post about culture-making a while ago, which you can read here.

Culture Making In The Family

When members of a family interact, culture-making happens, and small culture arises between them. On the surface, there are the behaviours each individual deems appropriate to the moment, which spring from what makes sense to them at that time. This will, in turn, depend on their view of reality and mood.

Through this process there will be an inevitable evolution of understandings about the rules governing family life, and the way the family works together (or not!). By rules, I mean the logical ideas each person is using to reason about and react to what is happening. So, this includes both actual ‘Do This, Do Not Do That’ stuff, but also ‘I see the world like ‘this’, so doing ‘that’ makes sense to me’ type rules. No two people will understand rules in the same way, and the same person will have different ideas about rules from moment to moment.

There will be a tacit range of mutual understandings between the parents and children, which come from the fact that the individuals concerned have participated in this cultural group for a prolonged period of time. A lifetime, in the case of the kids.

These shared ideas are a bit like the generic elements of hide and seek, and provide a basis for everyone to work together.

For instance, you might create an understanding between you that bedtimes follow a particular routine of pyjamas, stories, toothbrushing, and cuddles. The routine itself might come from parental decree, or arise between the parents and children’s ideas. Family in-jokes and rituals are other great examples of these behaviours, such as the ‘cuddle attack’ created by my husband, and perpetuated by all. The point is, the ideas of the participants are somewhat aligned in proceedings.

There will also be differences in how each family member perceives the world from moment to moment and person to person, which causes them to act in divergence from generic understandings, from one another.

Differences in our ideas about ‘the rules and how they operate right now’ adds a frisson of unpredictability to any small culture that gets constructed.

For instance, my older two kids like to play a game at mealtimes where they make their spoons into little characters that talk to each other and jump around with great hilarity. The game always begins with the spoons greeting one another, then a big bounce, accompanied with a shriek of delight. After that, the spoons might chase each other, chat, or whatever. The game often gets rather excitable, and meal times take much longer because of the ‘inter-bite’ play.

The main factor in whether I find this behaviour sweet or irritating is my mood, accompanied with whether we have to be anywhere soon after the meal. I might also be less into this ritual of theirs when we have guests who appear unamused. There is a gulf in perceptions about table manners, and expectations regarding timely consumption of food, which may be wider or narrower, and more or less apparent, depending how disposed I am to their antics. Though the antics themselves are variations on a predictable theme. There is no ‘correct’ response, only a reaction based on current interpretation.

The result is that sometimes I am happy to let the spoon game play out, and other times, I discourage or even ban it. Sometimes I barely notice it. There has been no overt rule making, as there has with things like throwing in the house. However, there are times when it infringes on a ‘don’t knock stuff over if you can help it’ rule, or a ‘try not to be late’ rule which are part of my personal ideas. My rules, however, are my understandings, which the children do not appear to share.

I might respond to the apparent difference in our understandings by trying to introduce my rules to them. I might let the whole thing go because it does not seem a big deal. At the end of the day, I know my rules do not have to be my children’s rules. However, there is a place for teaching moments, and parents often do set rules about time, safety, respect, and avoiding accidents. After all, it is part of the mechanics of family life to do stuff like planning ahead and taking care of ourselves, our loved ones, and our living space. Parents have more experience in this area.

So, if i want to bring our understandings of reality into alignment, the kids would need to see the basic necessity of my rules. So, it falls to explaining, teaching, nagging, modelling, or all the above to try and make that happen, or having faith that all will become apparent to them on its own as their experience grows!

I can look back and see this behaviour swimming in the ebb and flow of our small culture, being created and recreated differently at different times. 

How Culture Evolves

Unlike large culture, the small culture evolves on a continuous basis and changes according to who is participating in a group at a particular time, and their perspective in a given moment.

So, when one parent is caring for the children, the culture is not the same as when both parents are present, or when a sibling is born, the culture is not the same as before the youngest came along. The small culture will also be affected by moods and rhythms within the group. In fact, the culture a group of people construct can be completely different between two in the afternoon and eight at night the same day, because it is always in motion. Just think how different your relationships can look depending on whether you are in a benevolent frame of mind or feeling put upon and knackered, and how this influences the way you interact with others.

This means that there is always new culture being made, and if there is anything that we do not like about the way things are working, it is reassuring to think that it can be changed. Change not only occurs through acting in new ways to produce new results, but also thinking in new ways, so that things look and feel different. Equally, that is why sometimes our mutual understandings seem to be going swimmingly, but the next moment everything is turned on its head. That is all part of the fun.

Because we are so good at making culture, even if we don’t realise that is what we are doing, then we often try to create it, work it, and shape it, with the idea that we are going to get it ‘just so’ and that will be it. Job done. However, even when we experience everyone working together and doing everything as expected, it cannot possibly last. Something shifts, a mood changes, or a perception alters, and BAM! new culture appears, which may leave us feeling like we are at square one again and it is not fair. 

However, the inevitable movement of culture is a wonderful gift. Not only are we assured a new start every time things go pear-shaped, we get to play, experiment, and imagine all kinds of new ways that we can work together. Small culture needs to change all the time because people do, relationships do, and it just doesn’t make sense to cling to a stiff turgid structure for interaction. This is especially true when you are making culture with babies and small children, who transform at an alarming rate.

Difference Is A Natural Part Of Small Culture

The world is full of opinions about how families should look, act, and feel. There are any number of views about what is appropriate in the raising of children, or of household decorum. There are ‘large culture’ assumptions about how say, British or Islamic families are, or how ‘Attachment Parenting’ families behave. In reality, there are as many expressions of British, Islamic, or AP family cultures as there are interactions in each family group. Large culture is an influence on family small culture, as Parenting Literature can be, but is only part of the picture.

The only constant is change, so diversity is inevitable in the way people choose to behave and assign meaning to what is happening in their relationships, under their roofs (whether we are talking houses, apartments, caves, tents, or the big blue beyond).

It does not make sense to try and make your family interaction an exact image of a book, or personal vision, or inherited structure. It is a waste of energy. So too, is telling other people they should conform to your expectations, or pouring judgement on those who do and see things differently.

It is possible to aim for an alignment of realities between family members, to the degree that you can work together. It is possible to negotiate about what is OK and not OK, and to create rules. It is also fine to be flexible, especially when your family members are in the early years and undergoing an intensive period of change. Small culture can be create and recreated as many times as you need to, to get it to work for harmony in family life, rather than against it.

In my opinion, understanding that culture is created and that we have culture-making ability could really help families to live together in happiness, and support one another.

In Part Two of Small Cultures With Small People, I will talk about how human development affects culture-making in the family. Then I will go on to discuss ways of negotiating how small cultures get created in Part Three.

Watch your culture-making! Notice this power you have!

What did you see? Do you find this a useful way to look at family behaviour?

I would love to hear some comments…

Do get back to me here, or via social media buttons provided above.

You can also join the Facebook Group to share articles, stories, queries about mothering your way.

If you know people who would be interested in this, then I would love it if you shared my post xxx

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You Are Amazing: A Letter To All Women In Their Third Trimester Of Pregnancy

Dear Tired, Third Trimester Mama,

So here you are. What a place to be. Between the world of pregnancy and the land of birth, which leads to the pastures of motherhood. Perhaps it is more like a doorway between parallel universes. You will move on through and everything will seem both familiar and completely different.

You might be enjoying these last weeks and days of your pregnancy, or you might be eager to move on. I know I did not always bear this time with grace!

Now is not the time to rush. It is the time to prepare for the future, but to remain in the moment, which can be a tricky balance to strike.

You might feel like nesting, or you might not. You might want to have a baby shower or blessing ceremony, or you might not. You might want to iron little baby clothes, and pack a hospital bag, or you might not. You might want to stay in, or go out, or work out, or rest up. There is no pattern that you must follow. Each person, each pregnancy, each labour, each birth, and each baby is different.

So, while there might be expectations placed on you by family, friends, doctors, and culture, you are free to see your circumstances and your role within them in any way you want to. You are free to listen to what you want and need, and to carry out your wishes as best you can.

You might find your thoughts drawn towards birth a lot more often than before. You might be looking for signs that it is imminent, or even be active in trying to speed things along. You might be wondering if you can do it, if your baby will fit through your birth canal, or if you can handle the experience, the pain. How can you know what to expect, or whether you will be equal to it. Will you need any special equipment, drugs, or snacks? Where will the event itself happen?

You might be wondering about motherhood, and how you will care for your baby. You may be buying cots, clothes, nappies, and breast feeding paraphernalia and/or bottles. So odd, to be preparing to move to another universe of tiny vests and socks that fit on your thumb, where you may need a breast-pump and/or a steriliser. How do you decide what you need, how can you be sure you have everything your little one will require? What do the experts say? What about baby books?

The idea of a postpartum body must seem far off at the moment, and is blurred by the actuality of your prepartum curves. How does one choose from the array of clothing, sanitary towels, and support belts, what will suit HER? That postpartum lady who you have yet to become. What will she look like? How will she feel?

You might feel radiant or plain exhausted.

You might prefer not to do planning and questioning, or you may be in the middle of it 24/7.

You might be doing a terrific job of balancing any and all preparations, or you might be feel like you are tipping over the edge of a cliff. You might veer between the two.

You can feel however you want. You do not need to justify yourself to anyone, or be a particular kind of pregnant lady.

What you do to prepare for your imminent transition from one universe to another is a matter of following your instincts. How you see that future place right now? What do you feel the need for?

Remember that universes always look different when you are in them, than they do from the outside. No one gets to see exactly how things will look from here to there. You can only do your best to imagine.

However, you can gather some information about what other people have experienced, and you can look at what your common sense is telling you to do.

You can find out what you can about how things might be. You can visit your chosen place of birth, you can gather stories from friends, books, articles. You can get information about services, policies, and practices. You can put it all down in a birth plan, using the best facts that you have right now. If you want to.

You can identify means of support that you have available to you, and you can take advantage of these, as appropriate. You can gather your loved ones around you in person or virtually, because you are carrying a lot right now, and it is OK to ask for help. You are not alone.

You can also make your peace with the unknown, and rely on that labouring woman, or postpartum lady to figure some stuff out herself. You can be prepared for flexibility.  You can realise that you do not have all the information that your future self will have, and so you cannot imagine her true thoughts and actions before they have happened.

One of the most important gifts you can give to your future self, is to learn how to be in the moment you are in and not to worry about the next one. It is how you get from one contraction to the next to birth and to the beginning of motherhood.

That is how you will go from babymoon (early days) to fourth trimester (early months) to the first birthday and second birthday and so on and so forth. There are going to be a lot of changes and a lot of doorways to walk through. However, there will only ever be one NOW.

You can practice letting all the ifs and buts go, and allow yourself to be in the moment you are in and no other. You can let yourself stand between the worlds and feel peace rather than precariousness. You can stand, or sit in a nice comfy spot, in all your pregnant glory and be your marvellous self. Look at where you are and how far you have come.

You might forget to pack something in your hospital bag. You might clip your newborns nails too short. You might need some practice before you are a pro nappy changer. You might freak out over the umbilical stump or your baby’s skin tone. You might make some mistakes. There is a distinct possibility that may not yet know everything you need to know. You might be human, after all. That’s OK.

I remind you that it is fine to ask for help. This is not a test, it is a transition, so it is not cheating to look to others. It is a natural part of the process.

Whatever exists out there in the world, you have the inner resources to cope with new situations and the unexpected. Your body and mind are miraculous entities, brimming with potential and possibility. The ability to fall pregnant, to birth your baby, and to care for him or her has been with you all along, and it is not going anywhere. It is part of your system. You are designed to create babies, labours, births, and yourself as a mother. You are built to adapt and to thrive in new places and new roles.

Where nature has been a bit haphazard in its considerations for you, and there is a need for medical support, that is available to you too. It is possible to work from an assumption that you already have everything you need, but in the event of a problem, modern medicine provides a recourse, and dedicated practitioners.

Your confidence will depend on the quality of the thoughts you have available at a given moment. If there are nagging thoughts of self doubt or anxiety, then see them as a reflection of your thinking, not an accurate image of yourself. It is normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes, especially when your body is working hard, and your mind is busy creating new blueprints to work from. In these moments, breathe and come back to NOW, and know that it is a passing thought, that your feelings will change as soon as your thinking changes.

Most of all, you are something to marvel at, just as you are.

You are equal to these tasks ahead of you. You may not know all the hows, or whats, or whens, but have everything it takes to be just fine.

This is not about knowing all the answers, or getting everything right, it is about letting your innate wisdom and common sense guide you through the challenges ahead.

I guarantee it. You are amazing and you can do this!

Thinking of you.

Lots of love,

Alexis xxx

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Getting Out Of A Bad Mood

IMG_1245Can I let you into a secret?

Right now, this very second, I am not feeling so good. I am tired. I would like a break. Preferably, I want some sort of hot tub, wine, and chocolate combo, followed by a nice, long, and above all, uninterrupted snooze.

I do not feel like picking up the kids, or accommodating my husband in his conference schedule. I do not feel like being sociable or caring. I cannot seem to find the stuff about bodies and minds (fascinating, I assure you) that I was about to turn into a blog post today.

What am I going to do about it?

Well, nothing.

In a minute, I will stand up from my computer, and I will go with the flow. That will probably involve hopping in the car to collect the children, or I may lie down and shut my eyes for several whole minutes. Maybe I will do something different. Who knows! That’s life in the moment, baby.

I am going to notice that I am experiencing the feeling of my thinking. My life, my children, my husband, and my body are all fine. It is only my thinking which is not.

I am OK, even though I have not had a whole night’s sleep for two years, and at this rate, won’t do for a good long while. Broken sleep is a bit of a challenge sometimes, but it is doable.

I am OK, even though I find it overwhelming sometimes looking after three children, with their own ups and downs.

I am OK, even though I cannot jet off to some exciting foreign location, with little notice, like I could before we started our family.

I am OK, even though my husband, who does not breastfeed our daughter, can leave her behind without depriving her of the comfort and nutrition which my body provides, and I can’t.

I am OK, even though there is not a scrap of chocolate in the house, no hot tub, and I cannot drink and drive.

I am OK, because I am this incredible collection of substances, which happily coincide to create my body and brain. I am part of the huge, pulsating energy of the multiverse.

I am OK, because I am full of love for my husband, and my kids. I love our life, and I am grateful for all that is around me (except flies). I love my family and friends, and their families too.

I am OK, because I have the privilege of first world wealth, and I am very lucky.

I am OK, because I know my mood will lift, if I let it. No ruminating, worrying, or whining. In fact, this is already happening, because the act of writing is helping my thoughts to shift, which ushers fresh ideas and brighter feelings.

I am OK, because I can see that it makes sense that experience is constructed through thought, that thought, in turn, creates feelings. I see that because our thoughts are always changing, so too are our feelings. I see that my mood had dropped, but is now rising.

I am OK, because I am not a Pollyanna, but I can also understand that life is what you make it. There is much I cannot control, but I am responsible for how I respond to what happens in my life, and able to own my feelings about it.

I am OK, because the problems I see in a bad mood are only significant within that mood. They will disappear when it changes.

I am OK, because I know that it is OK to not know how I will handle certain circumstances, or the unfolding of events. I am delegating that to future Alexis, should she need to figure out a plan of action.

I am OK, because inspiration for a new blog post popped up, the moment that I stopped looking for my lost draft, and took a breath or two.

So, I hope you are all feeling OK too. If you are, then enjoy your time in the sun. If you are not, then I send you my love and kind regards.

Slow down, give yourself kindness, and don’t do too much, my friend.

Perhaps find a quiet place.

Now, just because a bad mood is created by thought and lifts as thoughts change, it doesn’t mean you can’t help that process along. You can do that by letting go of the analysis and/or problems which occupy you. You can be mindful of not feeding the mood.

You could do something which you associate with relaxation and pleasure. Not because you have to in order to feel OK, but just for the joy of it.

Is it possible to just prioritise yourself for a while?

If so, then what will float your boat, fill your cup. I am not talking about coping mechanisms like wine and chocolate. I am talking about the small pleasures in life, which are different for each of us, and never too far away. For me, writing, drawing, walking, or taking a bath.

If you are fresh out of personal space, your mood can still rise, as soon as the thoughts which are working mischief have passed.

It is harder to get away from whatever you are thinking of, when you cannot actually leave ‘it’ behind, which is part of getting caught up. When you break the spell, and recognise your thinking, even for an instant, you can find the mental space for new ideas.

What can you focus on, just for a second?

You might take a few deep breaths or stretch. You might concentrate on the feel of the seat beneath you, or the look in your baby’s eyes, or the smells which hang in the air. Even the nappy-related odours, especially the whiffy ones, can ground you in the present moment.

You can anchor yourself and allow yourself to settle down for a minute.

Even surrounded by babies and tantrums and bodily fluids and mess, you can do this. Even when you are tired. Even when you are overwhelmed. Really you can, because none of these things dictate your sense of being OK.

Well. Do you know what? I feel better already.

I also just found a couple more things to read about lifting a mood here and here.

It is a truly amazing thing, the connection between reader and writer, and visa versa. Whether there are a thousand heads together or just a couple. You cannot feel alone when you are reaching across time and space with words. Thanks so much for being here with me, for listening.

I am curious what challenges you in your life? What brings you joy? What do you hope for? What do you worry about? What fills you up?

The Mamajestic Facebook Group is a place for sharing the inspirations and consternations of pregnant ladies and mothers to young families! Come and join us, we’d love to have you.

Because, connection is so important, and just saying ‘hello’ is all it takes.

Lots of love,

Alexis xxx

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How We Make Everything Up

“When you start to see the power of thought and its relationship to your way of observing life, you will better understand yourself and the world in which you live”    -Sydney Banks, The Missing Link (1998)



The Relationship Between Thought and Reality

It often seems like we experience something out in the world, then we form a thought about it. Actually, we form thoughts about things in the world, then experience everything we encounter ‘out there’ through this filter. This is why two people can watch the same film and have a different experience of it. This is why there are different experiences of everything, even for the same person. 

This morning I spotted something on my daughter’s windowsill out of the corner of my eye. I realised it was a huge insect and gave a start. Though I wanted to recoil, I knew I couldn’t leave it there. As I moved towards it, to inspect it further I realised it was made of paper. My experience of the bug changed as my perception of it changed. 

So, we interpret what is in the world around us according to the thoughts we are having about it at a given moment. I can look at our garden and see a pleasing abundance of greenery, while my husband sees that grass that needs cutting. I bet you can guess who usually does this task.  

Taking this a step further, we also interpret the abstract world according to the thoughts we have about it. So, words will hold particular meanings for one person, but not another. Take the way that ‘justice’ or ‘success’ get interpreted in different ways by different people, at different points in time.

Beyond this, the way we understand our internal experience, our feelings, our memories, our imaginings, our ideas, is a matter of interpretation. Thought forms which are about thought forms pop into our heads all day long too. This is how we come up with strategies, perspective, and views, then evaluate them. 

For many of us, there is a voice within that tells us it should be simple to distinguish between physical reality and these abstract or psychological ephemera. However, this impression is just a result of the illusory quality of experience. 

The line between the physical and psychological is always blurred, because the two are inseperable: You cannot have an external experience without internal experience and visa versa. You cannot build a house without imagining the structure, and when you fear that the project has gone awry, you see errors and problems in every nook and cranny. In both cases, the physical and psychological world are inextricably linked. 

Thought forms feel as real to us as the physical forms we come into contact with, because they provoke physical responses. We have a thought and a feeling of some sort occurs. It always happens this way around: When taken by surprise, we have a perception that something unexpected is going on, which triggers astonishment; when we see that the world is a delightful place, a feeling of pleasure arises; when we beat ourselves up for not living up to our own ideals, then we feel crappy. 

We are surrounded by thought forms made physical all the time in our everyday lives. Our buildings, our art, our books, our iPads, and our sponge cakes came into being because someone thought to create them. We find these things fascinating because we wonder at the magic of thought translated to the outside world, so that we can bring them into our internal world as experience. 

How Thought Forms Are Created

Thought forms spring from the same energy which courses through our body and keeps our heart pumping, our breath coming and going, and our cells doing what they do. It is the energy behind all life and form. Because we are conscious beings, then the thoughts which appear in our minds become our experience of reality. 

Thought forms start out flimsy, like tissue paper fairies, then we add layers and layers to them until they become dense objects with consistency and heft. Sometimes we do this with the care and love of an artist, and sometimes the maniacal fervour of a cartoon psycho plastering their wall with momentos and newspaper clippings.  

Is it any wonder that they feel so real, so tangible!

And we make thought forms about EVERYTHING that slides into our consciousness. Some of them disappear almost straight away, while others linger. The latter variety help us to structure our existence on a nuts and bolts level, but can also haunt us, exhaust us, please us, and comfort us. Sometimes, they do us service, and other times they outstay their welcome. 

Thought Forms In Pregnancy 

In pregnancy, we are growing a physical baby, cell by cell, gram by gram. We are also growing a thought baby. The two babies become intertwined in our minds, and we can experience the same baby in different ways at different times. I can still picture the little girl that I believed my second baby would be, right up to the point that I saw a willy in my second trimester sonogram. I like to think that she, the thought baby, was a portent of our second daughter, who arrived on the heels of our son! Actually the baby in my mind was never the real baby, and the son and daughter in my mind are not who they really are either. Like everything else, I experience them through thoughts about them. 

One of the things which is amazing about pregnancy is that we have a chance to see our thought forms and loosen our grip on them. As our joints relax, and organs shift to accommodate our growing baby, we shift our ideas about who we are, what we like, what we dislike, what our body does, where we begin and end. The thought forms we have about food and drink, stories, people and places take on new layers or get erased and restarted. 

One of the less lovely things about pregnancy is that there is a smorgasbord of imagery with which to create thought forms which do not serve us well. Take birth thoughts for instance: We might picture birth horrors, which leave us buzzing on the inside and feeling vulnerable; We might wrap ourselves in anticipatory thought about the magical entrance to the world that we want for our baby, and put pressure on ourselves to be a certain way, to control the uncontrollable; We might be reluctant to examine our thought forms in case there are forceps in there, but they lurk on the edge of our consciousness like awkward wallflowers at a party. 

Thought Forms in Motherhood

As we enter parenthood, we continue to craft our thought forms, adding new layers of self, responsibilities, expectations, and ideals. Thought forms relating to the small and large stuff of life continue to emerge, recede, shift, and often multiply. 

We might construct dense and complex thought forms about what mothering is, and what family life should look like. We might absorb all kinds of impressions from books, research, and advice into our thought forms. We might make a living breathing scrapbook of these things, then use it to measure ourselves.

Let me give you some examples from my life as a mother:

It is only in recent months that my aversion to meat, especially steak, has passed, which began when my 18 month old was an embryo. The thought form I had crafted over years of living in Portugal, as I developed a taste for hearty slabs of beef, was disintegrated in an instant when I walked past a butchers’ stand in the supermarket and felt ill. A new thought form, which persisted long after my pregnancy, made meat look really unappealing. 

My thought husband has changed many times over the years, once a colleague, a boyfriend, a fiancé, a partner in crime, a confidant, a consultant, a dad, a co-parent, a breadwinner. I sense the thought forms he has created for himself over the last few years, in response to his changing life and aspirations. I can see a tired film across his eyes when he is feeling overwhelmed by their jostling, overcrowding presence. I want to flick them away like pebbles, because they weigh so much more for him, than they do for me. It doesn’t work like that though. You can’t move other people’s thought forms for them. 

Neither can you put other people’s thought forms on and expect them to be a perfect fit. This is why, though they are well-intended, baby books that prescribe frameworks of techniques and methods can result in people trying really hard to take on thought forms which just don’t work for them. 

As a new parent, I found it very tempting to download a plan from someone else, because I had never looked after a baby before. I had never even changed a nappy before. However, as I realised that my daughter was pretty darn happy and alive, then my confidence grew. I liked having books to reference, but did not treat them as prescriptions, more for ideas. I have found that, more often than not, trying to follow expert advice resulted in me working myself up about how me and my child should be, rather than enjoying how we were. There is nothing that beats the feeling of doing things your own way, because only you can discover what constitutes harmony for you and your offspring. 

And yet, I often have a lot of thinking about parenting, most of it is about how I want to be with my kids. I find it easier to accept their foibles, low moods, and moments of crabbiness, than I do my own. Sometimes I catch myself in this double standard, and I find that the more I do this, the more simple and natural my experience of motherhood feels. 

Thought Forms Do Not Have To Bother Us



Sometimes, I picture myself tossing a great big ball of less useful thought forms into the ocean, wrapped in seaweed. I hurl them off a cliff and they plunge into the waves. Goodbye baby expert books, measuring tapes, and scales. Goodbye expectations and judgements. Goodbye ideals. 

In my mind, I see a mother laughing with her kids in a house full of organised cosiness, or sprawling on a laundered picnic blanket in a well-tended garden. She always looks happy and stylish. She is always ready to breath soft kisses into her babies’ hair. She is always present and loving. I notice when I am behaving in a way that would or would not be acceptable to her. 

Into the sea you go. Goodbye perfect mother. 

I tell myself that if I chuck all those thought forms away, then I can look at myself, my husband, and my world with fresh eyes. 

In fact, I do not need to work on throwing them away, as this just adds layers to their presence. Ironic, huh. All I have to do is loosen my hold on them, and they will float off on their own to be replaced by new thought. 

I repeat. In any given moment, when we are creating thought forms which induce nastiness or stress, all we have to do is allow them to shift away on their own. Thinking is a fluid process and if we do not cling onto thoughts, they will be swept away and replaced by others. 

Holding Thought Forms Lightly

When we recognise thought forms for the expressions of human creativity that they are, then they lose their power over us. They are just stuff that we make up, which excites our emotions because our consciousness makes them appear real. 

Knowing this is the difference between being drawn into a high tech illusion and watching a bloke pull a rabbit out of a hat at a children’s party. Sometimes the magician has us going, because we get caught up in the show. However, we become more discerning at seeing the fake bottom in the top hat, or the artifice used to distract us. 

We don’t mind that we know it isn’t real. We can still enjoy the show. 

The difference between adults and children is that kids will get swept up in the magic of the show, but will also be more willing to let it go afterwards, forgetting about it in the next moment. 

As adults, the analytic mental systems for planning, remembering, and controlling are much more developed, which makes it easier for us to build complicated thought forms and then to retain them. 

As observed by Alison Gopnik, author of the Philosophical Baby (1998 Picador), it does not make sense for children to hold onto beliefs about how the world is because they are learning so much so fast. They know by instinct to cast thought forms aside in the light of new experience, and are unbothered by doing so.

I like to imagine my children holding their thought forms lightly, then casting them to the wind like kites. They know just when to let go, so that they can blow away like so much confetti. 

The nature of thought is that it will always evolve if we let it. It passes through our heads day and night, and is capable of taking an infinite range of forms. The more aware we are that this is the case, the less we cling to thought forms, and the less cluttered our minds are likely to be. This leaves room for new thoughts to happen. 

So, my wish for you today is to hold your thought forms lightly, and enjoy the magic of creativity. 

It is quite a show. 

There are two wonderful blog posts about this topic here and here

What thought forms have you created? What images pop into your mind?

Leave me a comment or come chat on Facebook, and if you enjoyed what you read here, go ahead and share:) 







Mothering in the Feeling of Your Thinking

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The Ups and Downs of Motherhood

The early days, early years, of motherhood are a roller coaster. Anyone will tell you that. Many reasons are given, such as:

It is because…..

..learning to care for a little person is a steep learning curve;
the needs of babies and children are frequent and relentless;
your hormones keep changing;
you are always multitasking;
you are not mindful enough;
there are so many life changes you have to make;
you are an irrational female……

And so on. I bet you can add a few to the list.

One which may not have occurred to you is that, as Michael Neill puts it, ‘we live in the feeling of our thinking‘.

You know as well as I do, that mothers do A LOT of thinking:

Are the kids/ Is the kid warm enough? Well fed enough? Clean enough? Happy enough? Stimulated enough? Do they know they are loved? Will they grow up secure? Supported? Will they find a place to shine? Will they get into university? Will they be able to afford university? Are they stretched enough? Are they too stretched?

Those dishes/ clothes/ faces need washing. What was that finger painting activity on Pinterest? You know, I really can’t face getting the paints out. There’ll be such a huge clean up. I could use a shower. What IS that on the floor?

Does the baby need a nap, a change, a feed, someone to talk to, a cuddle? We haven’t been for a walk today. Should I be doing tummy time. If I do, he’ll just cry. Will I let her self settle? She is sleepy, but awake. Oh she’ll cry I know she will. I’m so tired. It is ok to breastfeed them to sleep, isn’t it? They’ll not be feeding when they are twelve. Will they? WILL THEY?

I would love some time to myself to breathe/ sleep/ wash/ sort out my work stuff/ just not be a mum for a moment/ to get my head together/ to read that book.

I haven’t talked to my other half about anything but nappies and bedtime routines for the last two days/ weeks/ years. We should be making time for each other. How though? How?

If I the house isn’t clean, the children are unhappy, my partner is absent in person or mind, I don’t get at least 5 hours of sleep/ get out of the house/ get home early from work/ get the laundry on today/ cook a nutritious meal to be enjoyed by all, then I WILL NOT BE OK.

If I am not OK, then we are all doomed! Doomed!

Am I ringing any bells?

You know what I am going to say though, right.

You WILL BE OK. You are most certainly not doomed.

Knowing Which Way Is Up

I know not every mother has the same kind of thinking, and I would hate to appear that I am stereotyping or judging. Mothers who think like this sometimes, think in other ways at other times. I know that motherhood is not always this way.

I just notice a trend in blogs, TV shows, movies, conversations, that a lot of mothers experience this kind of noisy thinking at one time or another. I know I have.

It is this sort of chatter that creates the downward spirals of the roller-coaster.

I would hazard a guess that underneath all that thinking, something that anchors mothers is the deep love they have for their child or children, and the deep sense of connection they have with them.

I would also suggest that there is a deep sense of contentment and wellbeing that beats at the heart of every mother. Within every person, in fact. Sometimes we can see that, feel that, and other times we can’t. It is always under there somewhere though, no matter how lost the person may appear.

The contentment, the connection, and the love may all be obscured from time to time. Like when you have been holding a crying baby for a length of time, and you are exhausted, it can be easy to feel that everything is drowned out by that sound, and the need to be anywhere but here, just for a minute.

The connection is still there, and so is the love. The only thing that has changed is that your thinking is covering it up for a minute, maybe for longer. It might feel like a very long time indeed.

I promise you, it is all still there.

That is the upward climb of the roller-coaster. The one that the ride begins with, and the one that the cars always return to, no matter how many twists, turns, and corkscrews they experience on the way.

You may not be able to put it into words, but you know the feeling of being at the top of the climb. Your world looks beautiful, simple. You have a sense of clarity, of rightness.

It might happen while you are lying there, settling your little one to sleep. You might feel it when you are washing dishes. You could be at the park, the supermarket, in the bath. You could be at work or at home or at the beach. You might be with your baby, your partner, your friends, your relatives. You might be alone.

You know when you are at the top of that emotional roller-coaster. You know when you are at the bottom.

The top and bottom of the roller-coaster can happen anywhere, with anyone, in any circumstances. That is because it is not about the outside world. It is about your internal world.

Life in The Feeling of Your Thinking

We experience everything via our thinking about it. That is why you can experience holding a crying infant as ‘no big deal’ one day, and on another it can feel like something you just must get away from. That is why your toddler can offer the baby their unwanted baked beans, and one day it is endearing, while another it is annoying, or even scary.

The fact that the baby is distressed, or that your toddler might put something in their newborn sibling’s mouth is real, and there is a need for some sort of reaction. However, we experience these things from a place of secure or insecure thinking and as such, we react to them in different ways.

Sometimes, you can hold a crying baby and take time to calmly assess if they are uncomfortable, hungry, tired, freaked out, or whatever. You can accept the crying and offer the comfort of your arms, or another form of help, as it occurs. You can let your toddler know that it is dangerous to put things in a baby’s mouth. You can teach them to put those beans somewhere more useful, like the bin, or on their plate.

Other times, you can feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and at your wits end with your baby’s cries. You can feel a sense of urgency that something has to be done, but not know what to do. You can get frustrated, or upset, which the baby picks up on and becomes harder to calm. You can see your toddler offering baked bean shaped death to your youngest. You can react to the threat that the beans pose, and see your baby choking in your mind.

You do not get to choose which of the kind of thinking you get at a given moment. You cannot send back the image from your frazzled brain, and ask for a refund. Only puppies and rainbows, please. You can be sure, that when you are having easier thinking, you are having an easier time.

There Is Nothing You Have To Do

You can only ever do your best with the thinking you have in a given moment. Those thoughts look so very real, but they aren’t. It doesn’t matter if you are at the top or the bottom of the roller-coaster. Your thinking can turn on a sixpence, and with it the reality you are living in can change beyond recognition.

This is amazing, because you do not have to change yourself, your baby, your toddler, your circumstances, your life, to be OK.

You are OK. It might not feel like that. You might be having some noisy thinking, but it does not mean that you are an incapable mum.

The reason that motherhood is so often associated with the ‘roller-coaster effect’ is that bringing another person into the world, and caring for them is a profound, and blessed experience. It is also a demanding one, and there is a lot to think about, to adapt to. Everyone’s thinking has inclines and declines, but being in a place where there is a need for great mental and physical acuity, then the peaks and troughs can seem larger than life.

When you are experiencing noisy thinking, you will likely feel a sense of urgency to go out and change five things at once, and a confusion as to what and how this will work. You will see a lot of problems, and come up with complex solutions.

However, you will also find that if you attend to your basic personal needs for rest, comfort, sleep, and so on, wait around a bit, then often the problems will stop looking so much like problems. The solution will be unnecessary, because the problem dropped away, or it will be simple and obvious.

It might help to find a quiet place.

Really. When your thinking is easier, everything feels easier.

And you do not have to do anything.

And you are totally OK.

So, next time you have some noisy thinking, say ‘aha! I know what to do. Look after myself as best I can and wait.’

You will be amazed how different the roller-coaster feels when you know it is your thinking and not your life that is going up and down.

Does any of this sound familiar?
Does the truth of this speak to you?

I was made aware of this by Nicola Bird, and I talked about the powerful effect it had on me here.

Here are some more links to read more about this here, here, and here.

If you want to ask me anything leave a comment, or come find me on Facebook, either on the Mamajestic Page, or in the Mamajestic Group.

I would love to hear from you xxx