RL Community—You Know, Face to Face

Mothers with babies in the partk

Do you access your community through a screen? With more screen access, both parents and children are making their social ties online. Online social networks, though, don’t teach our children the same lessons that face-to-face communities do. This is more than just a need for natural play beyond the screen.

For their normal development, your children do need participation in a robust, face-to-face community.

Within the field of child development, there is a lot of research on community. In what kind of communities do children and families thrive? The research is often related to learning and school. Ultimately, though, research shows that the community in which a child grows shapes the child’s understanding of society. A local community is, for the child, society in microcosm.

Thinking more broadly about what the whole family, not just the child, needs, community is our support system, where we participate and share experiences. We weave our safety net from our community.

We can certainly get a shadow of that support and participation from our online social networks, but those usually consist of ties to people that we are connected to outside the network. A community, online or offline, is a more robust social structure that grows around a common interest. Even when we participate in genuine communities online, they don’t have the richness, complexity, or resilience that face-to-face communities can have. Online ties are weaker.

You probably have points of reference for participation in face-to-face communities that your children will not because they will grow up in a far more screen-mediated world. They won’t realize how deep social connections can be unless they experience those connections. Your children do need the experience of those face-to-face relationships.

Even if you don’t feel a burning desire for community in this moment, you build now for the future. That is how a safety net works.

Finding – or Building – Your Tribe

Every once in a while, I mention an article in Mothering years ago, “Finding Your Tribe,” because this article was a trigger for me about 15 years ago. I was in graduate school, living far away from my family and my husband’s family, and I didn’t really have much of a social life outside of school. One my first child was born, I spent time with other local homebirthers who had shared the same midwife. When I read that article in Mothering, I realized that the people I was spending time with, these other new parents, were my tribe. Just that realization and my dawning understanding of how important it was to have a strong community helped me to cherish this group of families even more.

I mention the article often because I keep hoping that you will find a similar group of people who support you in your parenting journey. Whether you realize it or not, it will help you and your children.

Maybe you already have a community you can strengthen. If you have friends nearby, you’ve got the pieces ready to be matched together.

If you don’t have a group already and you aren’t sure where to start to find a community, especially if you are new to an area, you might just have to plant the seeds yourself and help community grow. Weak social ties can grow to become strong social ties.

You could start a group around your children and just keep inviting new people until you start to build stronger relationships and a core group pulls together. That core group can grow to become a community.

Ideas for groups around children:

  • Play group for crawlers.
  • Game day for children of all ages, with different games each week.
  • Project group for mothers with baby play on the side.
  • Baby yoga and social time for mothers.

If you already have strong interests, you can strengthen your ties with those who share your interests. My family is friends with a family that is very connected to renaissance fairs. They spend months a year dressed up, painting faces, and participating with their tribe. Their youngest child was born at the fair. Their closest friends are with the fair. When one group of their friends started a new fair, they went, too, and they are spending their summer at the new fair building making a lot of connections and gradually strengthening ties.

Whatever the interests you build around, you build community by strengthening ties and building genuine relationships within that group.

Your children will learn how the world works from their ties within a complex community. It is worth the discipline and effort to pull back from predominantly weak ties of screen time to build strong ties within a face-to-face community.

For an example of one family’s experiment in seeking connections beyond their screens by unplugging for six months, read Susan Maushart’s The Winter of our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept with her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale (2011).

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Unplugging Kids

Children playing around a television

Whether you’ve noticed your kids have too much screen time or you are just trying to avoid that in the future, how do you go about unplugging your children?

Why Worry about Screen Time?

We’re surrounded by symptoms that cause us to worry about kids who are plugged in all of the time to electronics. Childhood obesity is alarming. I don’t know that we can blame screens for obesity, but surely there is some impact when 2- to 5-year old children spend an average of 32 hours a week with the television on. Think about that. If my kids and your kids aren’t watching at all at that age, does that mean there are kids watching 64 hours a week?

I personally find passive consumption of ideas alarming. I want critical thinkers. I’m the mother who pauses documentaries to give long explanations. Even when we do watch television now that my children are older, it’s an active pursuit of ideas. We all have to have our say, and sometimes the conversation overtakes the television, and we ride the waves of ideas. TV can be a starting point rather than the end.

But, my children didn’t watch television much as young children because I wanted to shape their understanding of the world. Frankly, I wanted to avoid the chop-chop-chop editing that interrupts one’s thoughts. It turns out, there is a positive correlation between concentration, which leads to better learning, and taking walks, for example. You don’t get that from passive consumption of television—even the kind on public television that is supposedly good for you. (Sesame Street still has fewer cuts per minute than commercial television, though.)

As parents, we want our kids physically and mentally active. So, we look for a better way to keep them engaged than plugging them in.

What Can You Do About Electronics?

First, a DON’T. Don’t use the television or computer as a babysitter. Turning on cartoons or a video is easy with babies and toddlers, but it creates habits for you and expectations for your children.

So, what is the DO instead?

  • Plan ahead quiet, engaging activities, like play dough or drawing, and save those for a routine quiet time.
  • Watch the world out the window or from the porch. My son had a once-a-week routine of sitting and waiting for the garbage truck. It was the highlight of his week when he was about 3-years old. Put up a bird feeder, and you have something interesting to watch without it being passive.
  • Read or tell stories. Save a long story for the time of day when you most need everything to be a bit more calm. We started reading The Hobbit to my children when they were 2- and 5-years old. They don’t need to understand it all. They just want to be engaged.
  • Play board games or card games, if you have enough people around to make it fun.
  • Play with puzzles, if you just have the two of you. We carry a big variety of board games that start at around age 4 and puzzles that are appropriate for toddlers.
  • Listen to music, either the kind you can sing along to or the kind you can dance along to—or maybe the kind you can drift off to.

There is plenty to do. If you know you need helping thinking up activities, buy a book that gives you a list. We have a lot of books that might help, including Playful Parenting, Imagine Childhood (25 projects), and many more on our parenting bookshelf.

Set the Pattern Right

Start when they are very young with interesting outdoor activities. Don’t make those outdoor activities optional. You are creating your family, and you get to decide “this is just something our family does.” If your family creates patterns of outdoor activities and hands-on activities, it will remain just what you do as your children get older and are more exposed to screen time at friends’ houses.

Does It Have to Be Negative?

I am reluctant to use the negative. Why call them UNplugged kids or screen-free kids, as if everything has to be in reference to a plug or a screen? Do that, and the plug is there in mind even when you do manage to get the children into nature or exploring with their hands. Why not hands-on kids, on-their-feet kids, or outdoor kids? At bynature.ca we raise Nature Kids!

That’s just a caution that too much focus on the negative holds on to the negative rather than the activities you want to replace the negative.

How to Encourage Your Kids to Sneak a Peak at the Screen

I do know that forbidding my kids to do something that their friends do freely is a way to encourage them to keep secrets. We don’t do that. So, I found that exposure with my voice in their head was a better approach than exposure with their peers’ voices.

In the end, it just takes making life beyond the screen more interesting, more compelling than the screen. I’m not trying to make that sound easy, either.

I have a fairly new teenager who has gradually put more and more of his alone time into Minecraft, which I don’t mind in moderation, but I worry that he has fewer hand-on activities (“Hey, how about doing a project out of Make Magazine.”) and outdoor activities (“Have you reserved a golf time for this week?”). So, he and I talk about this. He points out to me that he spends hours a day playing piano, saxophone, and drums. He is reading several novels. He uses his computer for online classes and writing. I still think it’s too much time, but I make it a conversation we have, an awareness we share. He told me that he would be happy to do other things if he could find something that interests him.

There is the rub. I can’t force his interest. At his age, parental force is more likely to result in anti-interest. So, I continue to scatter beautiful baubles along his path, hoping he picks them up here and there. I trust that his low-screen diet of the first twelve or so years will have created stronger patterns than the pull of a not-as-bad-as-it-could-have-been video game.

You do what works for your family. Just remember to set the patterns early as an active, engaged family, and trust that your children will find their way toward their own interests in an overwhelmingly plugged-in world.

Resources

Image © Samrat35 | Dreamstime.com - Child’s Play Photo

Slowing Down

Woman in a breeze in the foreset

If time is sliding by, and you are not sure where it’s gone, you may need to bring yourself back to focus in your everyday life. We all need to slow down.

It might sound difficult—or impossible—to slow down with everything you need to get done. Rewards await you, though. You will get more done and be more aware of what you are doing if you slow down.

It’s not just a nice idea. I am telling you that if you don’t slow down, you are going to miss it all. You won’t get things done. You won’t remember those precious moments in the lives of your growing children. You won’t know where it all went as it slipped away.

Scary? Good. Whatever it takes to get you to realize what is at stake.

A simple start will put you on the path to slowing down.

Mindfulness

Last week, I suggested that the time you spend breastfeeding is an ideal time for simple meditation. In just three steps you can start: sit with your back straight, notice your breath, and bring your mind back when it wanders.

Those 3 basic steps are common to most forms of mindfulness, but I pulled them from Dan Harris, an ABC Nightline anchor who wrote a memoir and mindfulness guide after he had a panic attack on the air. In his book, 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced stress without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story, he is funny and self-deprecating even while he makes a case for slowing down.

Yes, it’s just breathing—and it works.

When you are ready to build on the breath, you can use the RAIN technique to show yourself compassion. Add this to your basic meditation or use this technique in other areas of your life.

  • Recognize what is going on;
  • Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
  • Investigate with kindness;
  • Natural awareness, which comes from not identifying with the experience.
    (From Tara Brach, “Feeling Overwhelmed? Remember ‘RAIN,’” Mindful, August 2014.)

Through RAIN each of us can answer those voices that say we aren’t enough—aren’t good enough, aren’t experienced enough, aren’t organized enough, aren’t rich enough, aren’t good enough. (Yes, that last one comes around again and again.) If those voices are crowding in while you are finding your bliss, you just meet them, greet them, ask why they are speaking, and let them be. The voices aren’t you. We don’t let them grow; we don’t put our energy into fighting them; we just re-focus. Bring it back to whatever you were doing, thinking, or breathing before the voices tugged on your attention.

Practicing RAIN is just one way to be compassionate with yourself. Self care is the most important step in caring for others.

It’s Not Always the Breath

Do you know of the FlyLady? Years and years ago, when online forums were the rage (I’m going to say 15 years ago), my online parenting friends and I were all trying to gain control of our cluttered houses by following the FlyLady. When you are a new parent especially, you need to adjust your routines for your new reality.

FlyLady knew a lot of us were living in chaos, and she broke down organization into non-threatening steps—delivered in an overwhelming number of emails per day. So, I turned off the emails and kept the first step: the sink.

When you organize your house and home, FlyLady always starts every day with Shine Your Sink. If you don’t get to the rest, you always come back to the sink. The sink is the breath in FlyLady.

Coming back to focus can be the breath in meditation, the sink in cleaning, or whatever you need to focus on.

Come Back to the List

Each day, I make a list of three things I want to accomplish that day. Three might seem like a small number, but the chaos of real life can pull you away so often that it gets difficult to check off those three things.

When I let myself get distracted from my list, I just pull myself back and focus on the first thing.

Let the one thing be the only thing.

You might think multitasking works, but science shows that it doesn’t. Bring yourself back to one thing, and make it a small step (like I did in the 30-day Eco Challenge).

Whether it’s a list, your sink, your breath, or your baby’s gurgling noises while you breastfeed, bring yourself back to focus—with compassion and gentleness. Your wandering mind is part of the practice. No, it will never stop! Just bring it back.

Overwhelmed

I’ve been thinking about the time crunch all of my friends and colleagues seem to be barely surviving. Several months ago I bought a book I thought might help me understand how to help others:

Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time (2014).

Here’s my sad little secret: I haven’t read it yet. I tipped it up against the wall so I would see it a dozen times a day as I walk by, but it hasn’t hit the top of my priority list yet, and I’m starting to feel really bad that I haven’t read it.

Overwhelmed is a map of the stresses that have ripped our leisure to shreds, and a look at how to put the pieces back together. Schulte speaks to neuroscientists, sociologists, and hundreds of working parents to tease out the factors contributing to our collective sense of being overwhelmed, seeking insights, answers, and inspiration. . . . Overwhelmed is the story of what she found out.”

Why feel bad that I haven’t read it? Because what if THIS book has the answer to everything? She talked to scientists. She talked to parents. She has the answers. I want the answers.

You know how it goes. We wind ourselves up.

So, let’s wind back down and return to our breath, our list, our sink, or whatever has our focus in this moment.

The book you haven’t read will be there when you are ready to read it. The news feed will fill up with more tidbits next time you check in. It can all wait.

What can’t wait is self-care, your health, your growing children, and whatever you let into your core.

You decide where to put your focus. Choose one thing. When too much at once starts to feel overwhelming, just slow down and bring your mind (or your action) back to the one thing.

Peace.

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Mindful Milk

Happy breastfeeding mother and baby

Your breastfeeding relationship is precious and short. Mindful nursing means connecting with the experience in the moment, bringing your attention back to the milk.

Simple Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness as a basic meditation practice brings us to a non-judgmental awareness and focus on the moment. That practice can be formal, as we might learn in yoga or in Buddhist meditation, and that practice can be a loose, much less formal yet powerful consciousness in our lives.

A very basic structure for the practice can be:

  • sit with your back straight,
  • notice your breath, and
  • bring your mind back to the breath when it wanders—and it will wander.

You can spend 5 minutes on this practice, 30-minutes, or all day.

Yes, it can be that simple—to start.

Science of Happiness

The science of happiness has begun to tell us that this simple practice of mindfulness or meditation can help us savor the moments and let go of the judgments we let block us.

Our brains reorganize based on our experience. This is called brain plasticity or neuroplasticity. By being present in our moment with kindness and compassion toward ourselves and others, we change our brains. We create pathways ready for peace and happiness.

Just spending those few minutes of breastfeeding in awareness can have a big impact on your life and on your parenting—and through your parenting on your child’s life.

Meditative Breastfeeding

The length of time and the kind of time you spend breastfeeding is a perfect place for mindfulness practice. In most meditation, you bring your attention back to the breath, which you can do while your are nursing a baby, certainly, but there is much in the moment to recognize with breastfeeding. As your mind wanders, you could bring it back to your baby’s breath, to the sound of the suck, to your feeling of letdown, or more generally to the milk. Rather than bringing your mind back to the breath, you can practice bringing your awareness back to the milk.

Practice bringing your awareness back to the milk.

Mindfulness doesn’t push or pull, it recognizes what is as it is. Mindfulness is a practice of compassion, compassion for yourself as you are. At no time in my life have I needed more compassion for myself than in my parenting. Perhaps it is that way for you, too.

Using this breastfeeding time to cultivate a natural awareness will bring you back to yourself as parent, to your baby as a wiggly, giggly new person, and to your relationship with your baby as your milk flows.

Remove Barriers When You Choose

Breastfeeding in a baby carrier or under a cover can leave us disconnected from the experience, from the moment in the experience. It can, but it doesn’t have to if you don’t let these become barriers to your awareness or barriers to your relationship with your baby.

Practice Mindful Milk

However or wherever you are giving your baby milk, be mindful. Bring your awareness back to the physical and the more-than-physical experience.

Whether you breastfeed for months or years, this part of your relationship can feel altogether too short. Being present in the moment, each moment, can help you to welcome the experience as it is and let it change as it must.

As you sit with your baby, let the experience itself bring you back to the moment. Maybe your baby pinches you, bringing you back to the moment. Maybe you gaze into one another’s eyes, bringing you back to the love. Maybe you feel your milk flowing, bringing you back to the milk.

Practice bringing your awareness back to the milk.

For the next month, we are focusing on slowing down, unplugging, and being mindful—of our parenting, of our communities, and of our presence in nature.

Resource

Mindful Parenting. Nancy Bardacke, a midwife who has developed a program for new parents and for those who work with new parents on Mindful-based Childbirth and Parenting. As part of her short talk to other professionals working on Mindful-based Stress Reduction, she shows a video of parents who talk about (and demonstrate) how mindfulness has influenced their parenting.

Photo Breastfeeding – © Cherrymerry | Dreamstime.com

Milk Matters

Baby breastfeeding because milk matters.

World Breastfeeding Week

Milk matters for babies, for mothers, for families, and for global health and sustainability. World Breastfeeding Week is our chance to re-commit to wellness.

This campaign is a project of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding, which is “a global network of individuals & organisations concerned with the protection, promotion & support of breastfeeding worldwide.” Local advocates plan their own events then pledging funds from their local events to support breastfeeding worldwide.

Overall, World Breastfeeding Week goals are:

  1. To provide information about Millennium Development Goals and how they relate to breastfeeding.
  2. To showcase progress so far.
  3. To call attention to stepping up actions after 2015 (the goal date for Millennium Development Goals).
  4. To stimulate interest among young women and men in the relevance of breastfeeding in today’s world.

World Breastfeeding Week Goals

(Goals are listed on WorldBreastfeedingWeek.org.)

See the pledges made so far, including 6 from Canada and 96 from the U.S. (as of this writing). Most of the North American pledges are from The Big Latch On events that took place today.

Milk Matters

At bynature.ca, we are pleased to support breastfeeding mothers in our own community with a monthly support group: Milk Matters.

Register online.
Registration is not required, and there is no cost associated with this group.

Moms need all the help and support they can get. If you’re a breastfeeding mother looking for a like-minded support system, we’re thrilled to announce a new weekly Breastfeeding Café being hosted in the Parenting By Nature Wellness Lounge (above our storefront in Orillia, Ontario). Join other nursing moms in our community for a morning of conversation and support.

Pregnant women welcome and encouraged!

Whether you’re pregnant and just thinking about breastfeeding, currently nurturing an early breastfeeding relationship with a newborn, a pumping mom, or looking for a supporting group that understands the joys and challenges of nursing a toddler, this is the group for you.

  • DATE & TIME: Begins September 2014. A monthly support group meeting Wednesday mornings from 10:00am -11:00am
  • REGISTRATION: This is a complimentary program hosted by Parenting By Nature. Registration is not required.
  • TOPIC: Each week we will be discussing a different topic, depending on the needs of the group.
  • NOTE: In order to ensure moms are comfortable, this is a women-only support group. Men are welcome to wait in the lounge within the storefront. Thanks for your understanding!

Milk Matters is a local support group for breastfeeding women. The Café is facilitated by a trained Lactation Educator, Doula, or La Leche League Leader.

We provide mom-to-mom group support during these sessions. If your experience requires more individualized or clinical support, referrals will be provided.

Photo Breastfeeding BW – © Alexhg1 | Dreamstime.com