• Paula Gray

Turn your face to the sunshine and the shadows fall behind...


A couple of weeks ago, my girls and I had a glorious end of summer photo session with our long-time family photographer and friend Kristen Pirie (Kristen Courtney Photography). There was something particularly surreal about this experience of chasing the light at the end of a very long tunnel that has been 2020 and into an unknown but hopeful future. Here are some of our favourites...



Serenely,


Paula

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Updated: Sep 21


Sometimes even the most carefully laid plans go wrong, especially when a cataclysmic event forces us to pivot and re-evaluate our fundamental beliefs and patterns of behaviour. We often use inference when planning for the future. But what happens when the trajectory of that future is forever altered? And life at best can be planned from day-to-day, perhaps a week-to-week basis? Uncertainty is never a comfortable stance, but it has become a necessary companion. An unwelcome guest we must entertain.


As a history enthusiast, I've often wondered what the defining moments of our generation and era will be. Torn halfway between the excitement of being a witness to history, and utter mortification of what that may entail. I've sometimes tried to contextualize where we are in time and space as a "before" and "after" some radical life-altering event. Contact with extraterrestrials? a nuclear holocaust? World War III? the Singularity? Climate Change? A Global Pandemic?


I'm not an alarmist but as a futurist and "Possibilian" (thanks David Eagleman) I've mentally mapped out how that future may look like.

Well, I wondered, and 2020 sure delivered.


We, humans, are terrible at responding to long-term threats even as they infringe upon the immediate (hello, climate change). We can shout from the top of our lungs that the house is on fire, but not everyone will mobilize to act until they are themselves engulfed.

Yes, there have been TED talks speaking to how woefully underprepared we are for a global pandemic. But who else could have anticipated this when it comes to planning in real life? What started off as a distant concern has now taken over every facet of our lives. As we descend into entropy, my heart feels heavy and grieves for the loss of what we had so casually taken for granted.


It's the age of a pandemic, in other words, the age of anxiety. As we struggle to process our own emotions and fears about what is happening, we parents must also remain keenly and painfully aware that our children are watching our every step and expression. It's a lot to take on. This is the generation of children who will shape by these events in ways that we can't even fathom for years to come. They are looking to us for guidance and security to help navigate this new world. And so the responsibility falls to us, our mental and emotional loads have never been heavier.



How do we parent mindfully when we are losing our minds?

Because, sh*t just got so real.


If you've used the term "conscious parenting" before to describe your ethos towards your role as a parent, now would be a good time to focus on your strengths, weaknesses and set this commitment and intention of "consciously parenting" against the challenges of COVID. If you are not familiar with the style, conscious parenting provides a path of inner growth and personal development for you as an individual and also helps to build a deeper relationship and bridge of understanding between you and your child. Perhaps this is exactly what we need to help turn anxiety into courage, and despair into hope.

Conscious parenting is a term used by various psychologists (and others) to describe a style of parenting that usually focuses more on the parent and how mindfulness can drive parenting choices.

This entails:

  1. Letting go of our own egos, attachments and desires.

  2. Honouring the child as his/her own unique person who is engaged in a reciprocal relationship whereby the parent and child teach and learn from each other.

  3. Being fully present and responsive to the situations that may arise.

  4. Establishing clear boundaries and using positive reinforcements.

  5. Modelling positive relationship skills.

  6. Allowing our children the opportunity to struggle and fail in order to learn from the experience in a constructive and supportive way.

  7. A commitment to inner work and personal development. Understanding that you "cannot pour from an empty cup". We must meditate, reflect and replenish our inner reservoirs.

A not undesirable outcome of this pandemic has been that it's forced many people to adopt "slow living". You know what I'm talking about. Suddenly everyone is baking or making sourdough bread (cause even yeast became scarce!), growing their own food, cutting their own hair. Necessity may be the mother of invention, and be honest, how many skills have you learned (that you never thought you'd needed to) since the start of this ordeal?

We've learned to be more resilient, self-reliant and self-less. Perhaps in some ways discovering new and better ways of doing things so that we don't want to go back to the old normal.

We've had to cancel plans, focus on families and really cultivate our home culture. I think for many people this has been both a blessing and an awakening. Because we suddenly find ourselves spending so much more time with our families, this has brought a degree of critical awareness about what kind of home life we are creating. What kind of values, rules, and boundaries are we creating and imparting at home? On top of this, social consciousness is shifting and conversations surrounding BIPOC justice and equality have been brought to the forefront with Black Lives Matter.


With so much anxiety, uncertainty and urgency - what's a conscious parent to do?


Focus on connecting with each other in the present


Block out the noise, unplug from the endless stream of news and negativity and just focus on connecting with each other. Be wholly in the present. Spend meaningful time together whether it's reading a story out loud, having a heartfelt conversation, cooking, going for a walk in the woods or even off-grid camping.

Have the important conversations about mortality, race, and illness as they come up, but in a gentle and thoughtful manner. Between having to balance working from home and raising children, it can be easy for them to feel like a distraction or that they're being pushed aside for more "important matters", which can be heartbreaking. As cliche as it may sound, we cannot lose sight of what is truly important. As long as we take the time to meaningfully check-in and connect on a regular basis, eye-to-eye, face-to-face, as if they are the ONLY and MOST important thing in the whole world in that present moment then they will rest secure in their bond and connection with you.


Keep your fears in check


Remember your fears and anxieties are separate from your child's and we must not actively be impressing or imparting our emotional load onto them. This is not the same as emotionally connecting and expressing vulnerability: "mama wants you to put your sweater on because she's really concerned that you may be too cold and get sick, and it makes mama sad to see you unwell". I mean the part where we're talking about our adult fears and concerns in front of them (and there's so much these days). Be mindful of your behaviour and self-regulate. This is really hard work and requires a massive amount of self-discipline. I struggle with this!

Which brings me to the next point.


Inner work, inner work, inner work

You will not be good teachers if you focus only on what you do and not upon who you are.” - Rudolf Steiner

Inner work as a parent means making personal growth and self-development a crucial part of parenting. It entails actively working on yourself in order to teach or raise your children and not neglect yourself. Personal growth is central to conscious parenting, it's the foundation really. We want to lead from a strong and connected center, we lead from within, and we model the behaviour we want our children to learn, and ultimately build upon our own character and self-esteem. It's hard to have the confidence, conviction or even sense of peace without actively engaging in inner work.


Flex your creative muscles


This is my own personal take on being a conscious parent, especially during this time. Engaging your children in the arts is nourishing to the soul, and presents a therapeutic and experiential way to help process and express your emotions.


Be forgiving


Forgive your child, let them struggle and make mistakes, then use it as an opportunity to constructively support their growth. This is how they will learn and develop fortitude. Steer away from punishments. Mistakes make us human and they make us vulnerable. There's an opportunity for connection and empathy when we forgive, and that is how our brains thrive. And this means also forgiving ourselves as well! We can't grow if we stay attached to our limiting beliefs and mistakes.




Being a parent is never easy, and every generation of parents has its challenges. As a parent during the time of COVID and Social upheaval, the challenges seem nearly insurmountable - but there is so much hope. For growth, for connection and transformation. Let's orientate our thinking to believe that we can parent through these adversities to grow and thrive as individuals and families.


I hope you find some of my advice helpful. I see you mama, and the hard work and emotional labour you are putting in as a conscious parent during this time.


We're all in this together.


Serenely yours,


Paula


Updated: Aug 25


Change happens slowly, and then all at once. The last couple of weeks for our family has been emblematic of this adage. We sold our house (an hour north of Toronto) bought a property in rural Kingston and enrolled our children into a small private Waldorf School starting in the Fall. Over the coming weeks, the realities of these life-changing decisions will begin to unfold.

For now, it still feels illusory and perhaps too optimistic. These are changes we have been contemplating for a long time, but the timing feels nothing short of revolutionary.


Has there ever been a more tumultuous and surreal time than 2020? Our social and emotional lives are in upheaval. Beneath the veneer of apparent normalcy the short lease of summer offers, a palpable and acute awareness of the precarious unknown lingers.

But there is perhaps some comfort to be had in the dispassionate and indiscriminate nature of this virus. We are in this together. Young, old, White or Black, we are all susceptible and vulnerable to its harrowing effects.

The likely truth of the matter is that whatever course or trajectory your life was on, it will never be the same. It is a loss so far-reaching, we are collectively reeling from its implications. We need to come to terms with the grief that accompanies loss. Like a breakup, the most devastating emotional impact is the loss of what could be. A loss of a shared dream, and finality to a path not taken.



The noun crisis comes from the Latinized form of the Greek word krisis, meaning "turning point in a disease." At such a moment, the person with the disease could get better or worse: it's a critical moment.

We are in such a critical moment in history. And for once, there are no bystanders. This battle is not fought on far off lands or behind closed doors. While our healthcare workers are fighting this devastating virus in hospitals around the world, make no mistake: WE are their frontline of defence. We have an ethical and moral obligation to do all we can to protect each other by taking all reasonable precautions.


But in crisis, there is also opportunity. Crisis lays bare the fundamental flaws in our systems and beliefs and disrupts our regular modes of operating enough to show alternative ways of moving forward.




For our family, this crisis has given us the impetus to make drastic changes. Particularly, the decision to not homeschool any longer did not come lightly. In many ways, it seems counter-intuitive. If there was ever a rational time to educate ones' children in the safety of one's own home, a global pandemic would be it.

But within the context of this pandemic and its physical and emotional effects on children, sending our children to Waldorf school makes the most sense for us.


Let me explain why.


As someone who has homeschooled for the last 3 years, I am well familiar with the benefits, drawbacks and everyday realities of homeschooling. We have loved the flexibility, the inherent social isolation and the "bubble" homeschooling creates. Prior to COVID, this bubble we created was one where our children were sheltered from the effects of mass media and consumerism. We have done our best to create social outings and community for our children, and for a while, it did feel like enough.


Then the pandemic and lockdown changed everything.


Our home, which was once our playground and classroom became a cage. And although we were physically safe because of our isolation, it took a heavy toll on our emotional and mental well-being. Despite being homeschoolers, we had never felt more isolated and alone than during this pandemic, and this is not a place we ever want to return to.


What I have come to realize is this: in Crisis, there is a real opportunity for growth and social renewal. But it cannot be done in fear and isolation.



There is a lot of turmoil right now regarding the Ontario government's back to school plan. You have parents who think the precautions are not enough, and some parents who think it is too much. Safety is everyone's top priority, so why is it so hard for everyone to agree?


There is a difference, of course, between being safe and feeling safe. Actual safety is a fantasy. We can take every precaution and still sometimes find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. When we talk about being safe, what we really mean is taking reasonable precautions. Deciding what’s reasonable is where values and interests often clash, and where political polarization and moral judgment can make sane conversation impossible.
Feeling safe is another matter. It has little to do with risk assessment. We feel safe when we belong to a community, a group of people invested in our well-being and the well-being of our children

- Kim Brooks (author of “Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear.”)


As a family, we will be taking every reasonable precaution (handwashing, mask-wearing in public, social distancing) but for our feeling of safety, we NEED community. And I don't mean the kind we interact with a couple of times a week. We need to be an active part of a larger social organism, and we cannot let fear keep us from living or our children from having healthy in-person social interactions with other children.

We are fortunate that the small Waldorf school we are choosing to send our children to is in an area with no active cases (as of August 16), has dedicated and conscientious teachers (including my sister-in-law), spacious classrooms, large windows and very small class sizes. These are all further precautions that alleviate our anxieties and reservations for schooling in the time of COVID. Furthermore, the school community will serve as a cohort of its own. Whether this is as lovely practically as it sounds theoretically still remains to be seen. But nothing is certain nor definitive regardless of what path we choose to take.


We are fully prepared to keep our children at home and homeschool if and when the need arises. But in the meantime, we are making the move and sacrifice to do whatever it takes so they can have this kind of educational experience on campus at a small Waldorf school.


For families who are choosing to homeschool, my biggest piece of advice is to focus on rhythm, connection and community. We are social creatures and need each other to feel safe, even during a paradoxical age when we need to stay apart to keep each other safe. Form your bubbles or cohorts, interact safely and responsibly within your bubbles and commit to following public health guidelines.


There are no right or wrong answers, no easy decisions or solutions moving forward. No matter what we do, there is a seemingly endless stream of criticism or judgement. We may all end up having to homeschool again anyway if the government mandates further lockdowns once school resumes. But in the meantime, given the bevy of options - every family needs to decide for themselves what is best for their families, and no matter what you decide - the best thing we can do for each other is to be kind, compassionate and empathetic.


Serenely,


Paula

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