The Summer Prep Series - Part 1
Welcome to the first piece of The Summer Prep Series
The mindset, curation, and organization for a summer of family connection, and growth at home.
Part 1: Mindset
From willful to conscious and respectful
4 years ago, splayed out on the floor around me were thrashing limbs and cries of despair from 2 little humans, 1 year old Flora and 2.5 year old Isla, who simultaneously crumbled into this mess at the mention of a nap.
I had just launched the printable A-Z cards for Bueno Market and in the spirit of community over competition, I had it in my mind that we would at least make an appearance at Rising Tide Toronto’s Together Tuesdays, a meetup of small, creative business owners that gather monthly to collaborate, partner, and learn together. But first, my girls needed to nap.
At this point, you might be thinking this story is about how I changed these willful children into cooperative mini business partners, joining me in celebrating my launch with this community of creatives. However, I’d like to share a far more intimate reality of how this day sparked a transition point and will perhaps connect with you too.
This story is about me. Erika. The human. Now, a mother of 3. One of 2 tone setters in our household. A work in progress living an increasingly intentional existence.
4 years ago I was a person who firmly stated “you will” to my children, and waited patiently while their unheard feelings bubbled up and out of their trembling bodies in the form of protest; emotional overflow, tense fists, and when we needed to go somewhere, limp legs.
Back then, 2.5 years into motherhood, I had embarked on a deep drive to understand how young children learn. Milestones, sensitive periods, prepared environments, modelling behaviour, overviews of the neuroscience behind developing brains, and lots and lots of Montessori’s teachings. Was I interpreting all of this correctly? What schemas were they building? Was this normal? Phew, yes, Wonder Weeks leap 7 tells me this is exactly what I should be seeing. I could stick it out while the “stormy period” lasted. I was told that my child would “test” me from most mothers I knew. I could hold firm to what I knew they needed in the long run. And right now, that was sleep.
“You need to SLEEP. No, back into bed” as I firmly picked them each up like puppies, placing them back in their beds. “Sleep, NOW. No more getting out of bed.”
My frustration was felt by all.
After 40 minutes, exhausted both emotionally and physically, they eventually did. A parenting win right?
A nap time scene on another, equally stressful day. I have a video of the moment of the breakdown somewhere in my dropbox folder of videos and pictures from this time that I will try and uncover and share here when I do.
With the delay, I missed my meetup. I carried with me the disappointment of not getting my children to nap willingly that day and other days for years afterwards. Was this a rough patch in my parenting journey? Would it get better as they got older?
No, that couldn’t be, I doubted as I struggled with the increasing damage these interactions inflected on our connection.
I felt the earth between us falling - an emotional canon forming.
A few weeks ago, at 7:30pm, my exhausted 3 year old Ezra did not want to get out of the bath. Understandable - I can barely will myself out of the tub some evenings. This boy needed to be asleep 10 minutes ago, and I was the one who needed to guide him there asap.
This time, I was a different Erika.
I had spent the last couple years doing the internal work needed to understand myself and my past - part of the Emotion-Focused Therapy I started when looking for support during a difficult time with undiagnosed celiac disease - a story for another time.
I understood my triggers.
I had built up my emotional regulation skills.
I had become aware of my capacity for compassion with others and learned to extend that loving kindness to myself.
I had acquired a parenting approach.
Or more accurately, I had curated a mix of approaches and resources that shared the same values and principles when it came to raising children that are confident, resilient, and self-motivated, all while building a lasting connection with them - all under the respectful parenting umbrella. A calm and compassionate version of myself was ready to lead this little boy with confidence:
Me - after I gave a 2 minute and 1 minute heads up, reflecting the desire for rest “ *sigh* ok Ezra, it’s time to get out of the bath.”
Ez - “No - I don’t want to”
Me - calmly and with encouragement “There’s still time for you to try getting out yourself. I’ll count to 10 so you know how much time you have (giving him a limit). If you’re still having trouble, I’ll help you get out so you can get to bed on time (reinforcing the routine, not my desires).
“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1” matter-of-factly “Ok - I’m going to lift you up and out now.”
Hysterical, Ezra thrashes and squirms. I hold him firmly yet lovingly in his towel, letting him know I’m lifting him up to the counter.
Me, over his cries - “I see that you wanted to stay in the bath. You didn’t want to get out. It was so nice and warm”, reflecting the situation back to him.
Ez - cries but listens.
Me - “You didn’t want me to help you. I had to because it’s important to get to bed on time and you were having trouble getting out”, sticking to the facts.
Ez - pause…sniffle.
Me - “We need time to brush your teeth before you get dressed and we read a book together”, more facts, reinforcing our routine. “You always pick a wonderful book to read before bed”, a genuine compliment in a moment of venerability.
Ez - a large burst back into tears.
Me - genuinely and softly, “You look very upset”, acknowledging his feelings and modelling awareness of another’s face and body language communicating emotion. “Do you want a hug?”
I was in awe that this respectful approach was working. In a way it felt too easy - all I had to do was be compassionate to his struggle and let the established routine set the limits. Full video here. I was all smiles for days afterwards - the afterglow of connection.
What followed was one of the most raw and venerable exchanges I have consciously experienced in my 34 years of life - he squeezed me so fiercely, surfacing to breathe, before diving deeper yet into the embrace for reprieve. He wasn’t experiencing his intense inner state alone anymore. There we were: Child, exhausted, and struggling with his emotions as he faced the reality of leaving the comfort of warm bath and the inevitability of bedtime. Mother, who was able to separate her own thoughts enough to provide this child with a safe place to bring his struggle and be held.
What were those thoughts?
#1 - What I wanted to impart on my child:
Getting to bed on time, getting enough sleep, as well as recognizing the signs of when you are tired are all very important.
#2 - My feelings, short and long term, about Ezra and how he was doing as my child, and about myself and how I was doing as an individual and mother:
There had been a number of frustrating distractions and delays from him, his sisters, and shifts in our bedtime routine (thanks to the late setting summer sun and spring-forward time change). I was tired that day and it was loud with all 5 of us in the bathroom. I navigated thoughts about previous patterns, my responses in previous years to similar situations. There was a lot going on above my shoulders.
The latter, #2, was something I was fully capable of containing and processing later on while reflecting and writing in my journal, or while talking with other adults. Knowing I had the skills to do this brought me relief in the moment.
After a 3 minute long embrace, Ezra sighed, and asked if I could brush his teeth. After that he ran to pick out his clothes for the following day, and asked me to close my eyes so he could surprise me by laying out his selection at the end of his bed. We snuggled and read his all-time favourite book before I turned the lights out and he fell asleep before I sang the 3rd verse of Lavender’s Blue.
This was parenting success. A bed-time firmly held. A child that bounced back from a tough moment, self-directed, and active in our family’s night time rituals.
A connection maintained.
For some of you this might be familiar. You are already a parent who confidently leads their children with “I believe you can, and I’m here for you when the struggle comes”.
You already reside in this village.
Maybe this came naturally to you, was modelled by your own parents or parents around you, or was hard earned (as I feel it was for me). We all know this doesn’t play out perfectly every time - we aren’t always so present, receptive, and patient. And neither are our children. But that’s the messy and beautiful part of being human and raising other humans. What matters is that we repair afterwards, make an honest effort to do better, and stay connected right?
If you are still leading firmly with “you will”, or “I need you to”, or if you are allowing them to take the lead by offering exceptions to rules and routines, I am so happy you are here. We all know great parents/caregivers are developed over time. To add to the old adage, it take a village to raise a child - it takes time in that village to build up the community, connections, and experience to do it well.
Welcome to this village!
Today we begin mindset building.
Much like learning a language, I took an immersion approach with my inbox, my social feeds, my social life, quiet moments with a book, and even my yoga practice filling my mind with respectful parenting mantra. Before long, much of it became second nature and the energy required to manage these big moments was significantly reduced, allowing me, and hopefully you, the mind space to focus on more enjoyable things - like curating and organizing our family spaces together in the coming weeks :)
Our kids are thriving with this intentional approach to parenting - and yes, like the humans we are, we have our good and bad days, but we’re moving in the right direction. Over the coming month we’ll be measuring the success of our efforts by how quickly we and our kids are able to come out of heightened emotional states - it’s turned out to be an identifier for how well our kids will transition into summer break at home together. It’s one way I’ve learned to measure how connected everyone is feeling. And perhaps unexpected, but this connectedness will correlate with how tidy we are able to maintain our home, how many adventures we whole heartedly dive into together, how beautiful our mundane moments at home and in the gardens are, and how deep we and our children will be able to dig into personal projects this summer.
You’re here to roll your sleeves up and join in the process right?
This week’s goal:
Surround yourself with resources that reinforce this type of respectful parenting - that encourage a parent-child cyclical relationship, connection creating and maintaining, healthy boundaries, and more as you learn about what matters most to you and your family.
Remove influences that diminish parent-child respect (for now). If you’re on social media, that might mean unfollowing some accounts that find childhood struggles funny, manipulative, or testing, or that view parents in a position of superiority. Or that view children as less than whole people, objectifying them. It might mean delaying some play dates with certain families. It may mean a break from calls with a certain friend who parents with passive or authoritarian approach.
Give yourself a few weeks of space to grow or deepen your roots in this space.
Need some places to start?
I’m going to send a follow up newsletter with resources on Friday. The perk of spacing it out from this is that you can share your favourite resources in the comments below for others to see and benefit from - I’ll try and select some to share in Friday’s guide as well - I’m excited to see what you share!
If you’re keen to start building familiarity or diving in deeper with me today, let’s start with Parenting in general.
Parenting Styles and Principles
Approaching this from a designers perspective, I know how important it is to look at all of the possibilities to understand why I am choosing to go with the solution I have selected - in other words, we’re being intentional here about our solution.
Parenting Styles, Wikipedia
If you really want to get into the weeds with me, this overview mostly covers, funny enough, what hasn’t worked. Historically it’s interesting and surprising to see what was common in the past and when.
Stay in the weeds with me a little longer. The styles section is somewhat of a repeat of above but worth seeing again. Take note of Authoritative Parenting, and also the Practices section, specifically Skills and Behaviour - Respectful parenting falls under this style.
Resources for Infant Educators (RIE) Principles:
"A network of infant-toddler professionals who are passionately dedicated to empowering parents and caregiving professionals to provide the secure and respectful beginnings children need for a healthy life.” Respectful parenting as a form of Authoritative parenting is continuing to show that children score higher in terms of competence, mental health, and social development. For those of you familiar with Janet Lansbury, she is an incredible force in the respectful parenting world and studied under Magda, the founder of RIE. The work of Dr. Montessori in the early 1900’s, if extended to educating our children as parents, lines up very well with the RIE approach as well.
A note on the personal aspect of this:
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend identifying your personal values and principles.
One option is Ray Dalio’s book, Principles - or really just the first bit of it relating to values and principles. “Principles are ways of successfully dealing with reality to get what you want out of life” - Ray.
Explicitly stating what I value, and the principles that guide me to live a life inline with those values has helped me be a better version of myself, and has helped guide my parenting choices. The rest of it seemed to fall in line, small good decision after small good decision after that. I plan to share more about that later this year.
Not being an educator, researcher, psychologist or other wellness professional, mindset is a subject I can address from my personal experiences, as a professional designer, and a mother of 3. I hope you find my frameworks and processes helpful in discovering your own version of this that’s true to you and your family.
Phew! Great job making it to the end of this with me. It was a long, but important one. I’m wishing you an inspiring week as you get yourself setup for Part 2 coming up soon!
Feel free to post any questions or thoughts in the comments below, and don’t forget to add your favourite mindset resources. I’m excited to share my list with you Friday!
What’s next for Raise In Place? Here’s The Summer Prep Series schedule:
June 7th (delayed to June 9th and now in your inbox!) - Part 1: Mindset
June 20th - Part 1’s follow up resources + weekend challenge
June 13th - Part 2: Curation + Organization
June 17th - Part 2’s follow up resources + weekend challenge
June 20th - Part 3: Curation + Organization
June 24th - Part 3’s follow up resources + summer challenge
July 26th - Half-way Check-in
August 30th - Summer Reflection
Wishing you a week of meaningful work and changes!
Until next time,
This newsletter is called Raise In Place, and is the newsletter companion to my Residential Design Consulting Services + Shop, Bueno Market. This Summer Prep post is part of a series inside that newsletter called The Summer Prep Series.
Questions, comments, requests > firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was originally published on the writing platform Substack on June 9th 2022. To find it and a complete collection of the original publications and to join as a free or paid subscriber, visit the Raise In Place on Substack.