Thursday, 27 March 2008

The Endless Sleep Issue

Every now and then, I receive vitriolic replies to something I've said or written, and wow... it really makes a mark! I peruse it carefully, read it over and over and re-read my original comments as context, often several times.

This stuff is just fascinating! The topics that people whip off these epistles over is hugely varied. I want to write more, just so I can get more of them. 
I don't think there is a faster way to find out what someone's afraid of than to see what provokes them to write hate mail.
The latest one was over some feedback I gave on a mom's networking website about sleep.

Man, do people get het up about sleeping issues!

I suggested: is odd, no? that our culture has this obsession with getting kids to sleep, making them stay asleep and a huge resistance to dealing with them in any way when they are supposed to be asleep...
Baby sleeping by Toshiyuki AMAI
The original question came from the mother of a 16mo girl who was, probably as a result of some recent travel and routine changes, having a hard time falling asleep alone. She had previously had no difficulty getting to sleep, ever since she was 2 months old. I suggested that it was ordinary, not any evidence of a brat or bad parenting, and that if the worst-case scenario was that mom would need to lie down with the child for 45 minutes a night for 18 days, where's the bad part?

I mean, really. What exactly is supposed to be wrong with meeting a child's changing needs? 

Even if they happen to change after 3 months or 14 years of stability, needs change. So, meet them. Even if the needs happen after 11pm? Needs change. So meet them.

What has this tiny, innocent child's current fears got to do with how well she slept as a 2 month old? Who cares? That's like saying, 'he never used to be that hungry at dinner, so he can't eat that much now.' What a completely bizarre criteria upon which to judge today's needs.

'Being weak' and 'giving in' are major themes in the hate mail, and I think 'where is the strength in talking a child out of expressing her fears?' 

Where is the 'win' in intentionally not meeting a child's current needs, because of how it was last week? 

How does giving a child what she needs now become 'giving in'? What possible benefit to anyone can there be to holding out? 

To me, it is all negatives: it causes parents a lot of stress and it teaches children that their feelings don't matter, and it damages the trust in the relationship overall...

I am often at a loss for words at the pervasive child-hate I see in the world. There is such strong resistance to any generosity toward children, against seeing children as innocent. 

Is it possible that people are not able to comprehend what 'innocent' means in terms of a child's motives?

Why is there such a fight against taking children's emotional reality seriously, particularly if that reality shifts or changes over time? 

While insisting on being a free individual, unique and special in every way, so many adults look at children as if they are only allowed to be one thing, fit into one box, express themselves in one way for all time. It is presumed that nothing a child experiences is different from the way an adult experiences it, therefore, it is assumed to be true that:
  • Children cannot be hungry in the night, because I'm not.

  • Children cannot be genuinely frightened of anything, because I can't guess what that might be.

  • Children cannot be lonely or insecure or in pain in the dark night, because I am completely numb at night.
    Swallows poop by David Leip

  • Children are constantly trying to get their own way, as are all people, I know that because I am.

What a pile of guano.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Dads & Life

Hmm... sounds like a fine thing to ramble about.

Parenting v., childrearing, see also mothering; fathering.

Funny, isn't it, how fathering means the same thing as breeding, pretty much, whereas mothering means the same as rearing. We’ve left dads out for too long, particularly in the West. Dads are important parents.

I have a soft spot in my heart for dads, here in our society. It’s akin to the soft spot I have for men, growing up where (for some reason) the way you stand declares your sexuality, and being ‘sissy’ is the worst possible insult a boy can receive. There’s a lot wrong with that... but it’s about dads, today.

I like my dad, as a person and as his ‘role’ in my life. I admire much of his character, and he is one of the most generous people I have ever known. There was that weird period when he was going from Exalted Human to A Person in my head, when he became a whole person, from infancy to old age, within and outside the realm of our small family. My head expanded that day, and I saw a wholeness in him. What had been stereotype became whole, complex human.

a little bit of gardening by bareknuckleyellow
I like dads, and I think they have a hard row to hoe these days. There is a lot expected of them, and they expect a lot of themselves. They hide from some of these expectations (usually behind other expectations as powerful!) I understand their avoidance. 

It isn’t fun to feel incompetent at something important. It is hard to acknowledge our ignorance.

There are a lot of professionals and people who will excuse dads from adapting to the reality of the role particularly when the child is damaged or ill, because men take it personally, a strike against their manliness. I don’t excuse dads from their role, however easy it might be for them to escape under the ‘the mom knows better than me’ or ‘I am busy supporting the family, I can’t do both’ clauses. 

I don’t excuse dads from their role because of how much it damages them to be excused.
The damage is caused by excusing themselves, and me excusing them too just makes it worse. It is almost peer pressure for them to keep excusing themselves when they know better, and wish to be stronger.

When there is trouble or strife in childrearing, too often dad feels incompetent and impotent and the pressure to escape feels tremendous. 

Escaping into work is virtuous, important, probably vital, in fact. 

Escaping into childhood (go play with the boys at the bar, out fishing, paintball... whatever) is popular.

The Escape by Max Meir Mroz
Both are difficult for sane adults to justify, even to themselves... which pushes them to escape their lives even further... and on and on the cycle goes, feeling unbreakable.

Sadly, what these escapes does to men is destroy their sense of themselves as competent and courageous, both at once. For many men, feeling competent is 9/10s of who they think they are, and I haven’t met a man yet who doesn’t want to be courageous, even if he’s never managed it. Being ‘yellow’ is up there with being ‘sissy.’ And escaping from dealing with reality is both.

Funny, now in this situation, it’s the mom who gets to be courageous and strong by default (with a few exceptions), when being called feminine is the worst insult to a man.

Bonds so strong by Sau Hee
I don’t know what the magic words or thoughts or beliefs are, for dads who find the courage and strength to hang in, be there, and deal with the reality of the situation. I’d sure like to know what those men think they are. I suspect they might be something like ‘I just had to’ or ‘I had no choice.’ I’d like to know how to install it in the rest of them, so they can feel better about their fathering... and themselves.


share, by Stephen Willis

I recently wrote a column about sharing, explaining why I’m a social pariah and have never made my kids (or anyone else’s) share anything. After writing it, my mom told me that she was amazed by this position at the time (when they were young and this came up a lot)... and she remembered that they always had ‘special’ things. Sometimes, the entire playroom was ‘special’ and the visitors had to play with my stuff, or outside games, or complete make-believe, because no toys were available.

I have received such a fun collection of responses for this position! It is amazing to me, how thoroughly socialized in this ‘children must share’ idea many people are, as if it strikes at the core of what is right and true in the world.

One woman has the mother-in-law beast from Hades. Mother-in-law has a key to her daughter-in-law’s home, and welcomes herself and her negative diatribes against both her daughter-in-law and the grandchildren, just as often as her little heart desires. The daughter-in-law is ‘powerless’ to do anything about this, because it would be rude to, say, change the locks or bar mother-in-law from entering or ranting.

unlocked, by Hakan Dahlstrom
After I pick my jaw up off the ground, I realize just how different life can be in different families. Not only would my mother-in-law never risk such behaviour, knowing perfectly well she’d be lucky to escape with her life the first time, and would never get away with it twice, even my own parents do not have keys to my home. Although they are welcome anytime, being polite and respectful people, it just never crossed my mind that they had any ‘ownership’ in my house... even though they loaned us money for buying it, and it took many years to pay them back. The bank also has a huge ‘stake’ in my home, and they aren’t welcome to walk in anytime they feel like it and mouth off to their hearts’ content.

I am not required to share my home under any circumstances – because it’s mine. No one around me expects me to – because they acknowledge that it’s mine. I don’t expect to encounter any indication that I am required to share my home. But for that woman, her experience is very, very different. It is clear to me that the ‘ownership’ of her home is not absolute, and it’s up to other people when, how and for how long she’s required to ‘share’ her time and possessions.
it’s up to other people when, how and for how long she’s required to ‘share’ her time and possessions
It is exactly this muddling of ownership that I sought to avoid, in allowing my children to share (or not) as they chose. When they know for certain that the object in question belongs to one or the other of them, neither needs to struggle to stake their claim... and lending the object doesn’t confer ownership in their own minds, so they have no difficulty ‘taking it back’ when they are finished lending it, or in letting the loan stand for years.

Because I’m inclined to go take any issue to the furthest possible extent, in my home this meant that the owner can:
  • refuse to lend it ever
  • refuse to lend it now, no matter how many times it’s been
    loaned before
  • repossess the loaned item at any time with any or no explanation
  • give or refuse to give any explanation for lending or not lending, including
    ‘because it’s mine’ (This has made some people extremely uncomfortable,
    particularly other mothers who have really bought the ‘children must learn to
    share’ edict. The fun side of this for me is that I agree – children must learn
    to share. But, that is also the caveat: they must learn to share. That is, they
    need not be forced to share, but must come at it organically and through genuine
A lot of people don’t trust that this can ‘just happen,’ so they force the issue. In my opinion this actually eradicates the natural generosity children have. It is hard trusting that this will, eventually, be learned: when the child is capable of understanding ownership, sharing and generosity will naturally follow. 

It is especially difficult to believe for people who only share because they think they are obliged to, grudgingly at that, because they know how distasteful sharing is. Other people hold the power, they can keep it as long as they like, treat it any way they want to, and decide whether to ever give it back.
This absence of trust that children will ‘just’ grow up, mature, become generous, share, learn... etc., etc. is the heart of a lot of unnecessary struggles for parents
Parents often know, intellectually, that children will grow up because of the internal need and desire to do so, but they don’t trust it --they don’t trust the knowledge or the child-- so they do things ‘just in case’. Unfortunately, ‘just in case’ is made out of fear, not love, and fear destroys things. Fear doesn’t create or facilitate things, it impedes them. It creates force, which creates resistance and resistance damages the innate need and desire to grow.

Forced sharing destroys innate generosity, and removes the conditions that make it possible to learn to share.

Alfie Kohn's Brilliance

mosaic with red leaf, Holland Park Surrey BC, by waferboard

I’ve been thinking and talking about Alfie Kohn’s latest book Unconditional Parenting recently. The subject keeps coming up on email lists and in conversations. Mr. Kohn’s premise is essentially that children are born ‘good’ and it is in supporting them and loving them unconditionally that they can remain that way.

Mr. Kohn points out that a parent’s whims are no more valid than the child’s whims, therefore it is not reasonable or mature to expect or want children to be obedient.

These are, for many, deeply challenging ideas. Many people ascribe to the popular thought that children are born evil (or they become evil very rapidly once here), and it is a parent’s right and proper aim to control them in order to eliminate or ameliorate the evil within.

Yin and Yang, Tao Rock Garden by Kyle Pearce

This whole premise reminds me of Taoist thought: That right-thinking leaders will always 
lead from behind, avoid being noticed and let people be the goodness that they rightly are, naturally allowing the peaceful population to state ‘we are naturally this way.’ Challenged, provoked, led, controlled and manipulated, people become challenging, provocative, manipulative followers who resist control and rebel, quite naturally. It is human to resist control. Control naturally causes resistance.

Resistance is the basis of all disobedience, disconnection and defiance

Children who are not taught how to participate in power struggles do not learn to struggle for power, but are naturally aware of their own power; they are not easily led, even when very young. 

Children who are not manipulated never learn to manipulate others, nor the value of doing so, and are difficult to manipulate. 

Children who are not controlled never learn to fight that control, they never resist it and never rebel against it, and they live easily within their ethics and morals.

Does this mean that children who are not punished never cause problems or misbehave? Of course not... however, the inverted argument is seriously flawed: children who are controlled, punished, threatened, held hostage to the withholding of love from their parents, manipulated, expected to obey and follow uncomplainingly are damaged by this. Even if in the short term their behaviour appears to be better
There is something larger at stake than just whether the child is going to behave in an exemplary fashion today at the mall.
That larger thing is what educators, parenting ‘experts’ and the general public call ‘success as an adult.’

If the benefit to the child (and society) is very short-term obedience to the whims of the local authority figure, then the costs of doing this are required to be part of the equation. 
What does it cost a child to learn that the only way he can be loved is by ‘performing’ the right way at the right time?
What does it cost those little children to be placed on stage, to strut and dance, so they can win meaningless trophies as the Cutest or Most Talented in a pool of 12 or 15 other kids their age... wearing wigs, false teeth, makeup, false eyelashes...? 

The same it costs kids who are compelled to pretend who they are, what they want, and how they behave in the world to be considered lovable, acceptable, sometimes to even be considered human.

I hear some hesitation... ‘but children, unpunished and uncontrolled, will be monsters,’ is the popular and pervasive thought...

But, no. 
The monsters are those who learned control, power, manipulation and rebellion early, early on. 
It is not the Buddhists who are staging violent protests in the name of some long-dead human who said something very much like ‘don’t take my picture seriously.’ It isn’t the Shintoists who are burning embassies or bombing cars to ‘prove’ that their way is the one right way. These are but two of the philosophies of the world that teach that the innate nature of things is good, and that children need love, support and guidance, not violence, control and forced obedience.

In my manuscript "The Way and The Power of Mothering, a translation of the Tao Te Ching through the lens of motherhood," I wrote:


yin yang by Tom F
In mothering lies great power. It is easy for her to think the child and

his destiny are hers to control; that the child is to be moulded to her ideal;

that the flaws are hers to correct.

Right mothering recognizes the false belief in this. A wise mother knows only her own imperfections are hers to correct--her child comes whole and needs to mould himself to meet his destiny. The power of motherhood is in the strength of supporting, loving and being present, which are hard enough.

yinyang-b by Elisabeth Augusta Borchgrevink

The hardest thing parents can do is let go of the need to control, especially within a society that says, ‘it is a parent’s most important task to control the child.’ Alfie Kohn’s brilliantly argued thesis is that in spite of the popularity of the idea, there is no empirical evidence (and many people have set out to prove it, and failed) that control is even moderately effective, even in the short term.
Control simply does not work
There is no qualification to that statement
Controlling children simply does not create obedience, even when it creates the appearance of obedience in the short term.

Besides, what is the benefit to humanity to have a population of obedient people? Who will they obey? What atrocities will they participate in because they are told to?

In the House Alone

In the House Alone

For the second day in a row, I’ve got the house all to myself for several hours. I wander around, thinking ‘ooh, I could do this...’ and ‘oh, or I could do that...’ for about 10 minutes. Finally, I decided I was hungry enough for lunch, which I can make all for myself, with no one else’s tastes involved... This does not happen very often. A taste of things to come...

A while back, an email conversation centred around the empty nest. How will mom cope? What will she do? How will she feel? One mom wrote a long, emotional post about how she’ll miss them (she knows, because some have already flown and she misses them) and how she’ll pine away for the good ol’ days, when they were clustered around her like little chicks, annoying and loud, but there: needy, present, safe... 

My response was ‘wow, are you kidding?’ 

I asked, ‘Am I seriously the only person who’s been looking forward to my kids growing up all along? I loved having my babies, and loved watching them grow, and I will love watching them fly, too.’ 

A couple of other mothers felt the same way, but the consensus was definitely that the ‘end of the era’ created a strong urge to start all over again, and have new babies, or start fostering, or adopt... or just counting the days to grandbabies... and then what, hope the kids move back into the house with them?

Arg. No. Gee, but thanks.

I get to play with new babies fairly often, volunteering as a La Leche League Leader.

La Leche League Canada
I always offer to hold the babe while mom takes off her coat, or gets a drink, or stretches for a moment or puts on her jacket, or whatever. I’m thrilled to watch them grow up between meetings, returning sometimes for years. I love seeing the little kids I knew as babies, and seeing their moms’ confidence and competence grow... I love the way they smell and their hilarious view of the world, the funny things they say and do. And I love when they go home with their moms, and I go home without them.
I don’t miss the diapers, the sleep deprivation, the mess, the chaos, the overwhelming physical and emotional exhaustion, the phases that change faster than the moon, feeling capable one moment and frighteningly out of my depth the next. I don’t miss being stretched between a toddler’s needs and a baby’s needs. I don’t miss how slowly everything got done, or how many dangers were lurking in the world for small, unpredictable children. I do not miss their inability to express their needs clearly.

I love the teen years – my kids (and other kids I know) are maturing and growing into adults right in front of my eyes, and that is as amazing as how small human toes can be. They waver between childhood and adulthood, depending on how tired they are, how balanced they feel, how overwhelmed they are by the prospects of the future. They stumble, try again, hide out for a while, and then suddenly blossom in ways that shocks and surprises them as well as me.

My mom still loves me – she still loves to see me, has no apparent upper limit to the amount of time she likes to spend with me, and supports me in everything I do. I feel a strong and flexible thread weaving through my life, from her, through me, to my girls. This isn’t going to end when they grow up – they’re just going to be very cool people some more. Farther away, but bringing new parts of the world back to me, too. Someday, we’ll change over from me being the person who brings them the world to them being the people who bring me the world. And to me, that feels right and proper –the natural order of things.

I don’t want to go back. Not to my teens, although those years were fine. These years are better. I don’t want to go back to my children’s infancy– nor to being the mom of infant children. 

Those years were wonderful. 

These years are better.

Principle-Centred Parenting

Conversations lately have centred around effectively dealing with stressful people and situations. I can’t explain the frequency of this, because just last month, I seemed to have twenty opportunities a week to talk about taking personal responsibility and growing up as a parenting tool. These things seem to have seasons.

Over the past week, I’ve spoken to 2 clients, 2 friends and a new online contact about a wide variety of parenting and personal problems that centre around the ‘toolbox’ method of living life. I’ve said these words, or something very similar, at least 4 times:

Think of it like this: when you have a hammer as your ‘tool’ you tend to
function as if the world were full of nails. Handy when you’re assembling a
shed, not so helpful when you’re trying to wash dishes.
I like tips, tools and techniques. They’re frequently useful to know and to have handy. There is a serious flaw in trying to stockpile them, though. There are zillions of possible problems any parent might encounter in the course of raising a child from newborn to fledgling adult, and, obviously, a wide variety of approaches (tools) that can effectively handle any one of them. So, the average parent, over the 20 years or so, will need, what... 200,000 different tools?

That’s not practical.

What if you spend an enormous amount of time and energy searching out tools and tips and techniques while your children are busy growing up without your noticing? (p.s. I have noticed that it is not possible to spend the same amount of energy twice – once it’s gone, it’s gone. Plan your time accordingly.)

What if you don’t find the right tool for the job until 3 years after you need it? What if you lug around 100 that you never, ever find a use for?

‘Ack! No! Don’t leave me with nothing!!’ parents are inclined to implore me, when I suggest that the toolbox approach might not, um... work... very... often.... if ever.

Principles to Use

I’d never leave someone with nothing... although ‘nothing’ is a suggestion I often make when people don’t know what to do. Here’s the suggestion I make instead:
  • decide what your parenting goals are

  • decide what your personal values are

  • work from there
The Mystery is Afoot, Wenjie Zhang, a certain slant of light
As Anna Christensen, of Wilderness Alert, says, ‘set your goals in stone, your steps in sand.’ You need to know where you’re going, or you’ll never get there. You can’t change your goal every 15 steps, or you’ll be going around in circles – or just going nuts. You can’t pre-determine all your steps to get there, because up-close obstacles are often invisible from far away. You need a guiding principle (or several) to know, in the moment, what you will and will not do in any given situation. 

For example, if your primary goal is to have, say, self-disciplined and responsible adults in about 20 years, you can’t wash all your kid’s clothes, cut the crusts off his sandwiches and help him brush his teeth when he’s 16, even if he begs, bribes, or cajoles you. Actually, you can, but you’ll be moving farther and farther away from your goal with every step.

If your goal is to have a highly-dependent 20 year old man-boy, that’s a good bunch of steps to take. Kind of like trying to get to New York from Winnipeg by going north... you can go north with true diligence, energy and serious determination, but you’ll never get anywhere near New York. Whatever your goal, it will predetermine a large number of your steps –or at least the general direction– right from the beginning.

Once you know what your main goal is (there are too many to choose from for me to list them in this post, I’ll let you use your imagination... or wait a while– I may make a list sometime later) you have to decide what kinds of steps you will take, and what kind of steps you will not take. This is defining your personal values... your guiding principles, your ethics.... essentially, this is the framework you make all your decisions within.

Begging: a cooled off Whiskey begging for a treat, by Kelly HunterWill you swear a blue streak at the child who just broke the lamp? That depends on whether or not ‘treat children with dignity’ is one of your values. Will you have a long roster of babysitters and adult-only activities? Maybe... but probably not if one of your values is ‘children need and deserve their parents’ presence.’ Will you train your child to sleep, use the toilet, to sit up and beg on command? Well, that would require you to believe children are sub-humans who need training... and the absence of the belief that children will naturally and automatically grow into self-disciplined and responsible adults as long as they are supported and loved by people who are mostly self-disciplined and responsible.

Your values have everything to do with the choices you make as you move toward (or away from) your goal. For a comprehensive guide to determining your own values, and a fairly broad introduction to choosing or identifying a primary purpose, the book The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz is invaluable. A quick overview is:
  • Your core values make you feel energized, eager and alive. Other people’s core values that you’ve adopted because you should or have to make you feel soggy, tired and annoyed. Move toward what energizes you – it’s just a good formula for success.
Possible core values are the ‘character’ characteristics people are talking about when they’re talking about ‘building character.’ Empathy. Respect. Self-discipline. Honesty. Trust. Wisdom. Creativity. Ambition. Kindness. Courage. Et cetera.

They aren’t ‘shoulds’ like: Nice. Fair. Looks-like. Blame.

Core values and a primary purpose anchor you in the seas of variable currents– mother-in-law thinks this, that neighbour thinks that, a co-worker contradicts both in a very convincing way, the parenting expert says, the doctors declares–there really is no end to the myriad voices, convictions and advisers.

As the Loehr and Schwartz say, knowing your core values and purpose is literally like having a rudder and anchor. Without them, you can’t steer and you can’t stop from being blown, well, wherever.

Knowing your core values and main goals is also inspirational. It will inspire you to live up to your own highest standards. Nothing else ever will. I don’t know that anything else ever can.

Speaking Outside My Expertise

Phone Call by James Deville
Talking to my sister this morning, I ran into one of those irritants that rubs me the wrong way from time to time... We were talking about someone my sister knows, a woman was told by her doctor that it was necessary to supplement through the night. Apparently ‘because’. Of, whatever.

Apart from the possibly actionable inaccuracy in the statement, that any licensed professional is willing to use their Professional Opinion for something so far outside their field is simply astonishing.

Now, I am willing to repeat some fairly ignorant and silly things... to quote a writer on an email list: ‘I wish my words were made of peanut butter chocolate ice cream because they’d taste good when I had to eat them.’ But, of all the times I’m going to be careful to avoid expounding on something I don’t know anything at all about, it would be when I’m wearing my Professional Hat, or asked for my expertise by a client. Obviously, I make mistakes – pass on some wives tales rather than some well-researched facts. But I concentrate on avoiding that as much as possible.

Hands up: which physicians in North America have studied, in medical school or anywhere else for more than 12 hours, normal human lactation? Oh, would that be three or five? Maybe 15? It can’t be more than 25...

Classroom by looshi

Most doctors practicing today have had no instruction or training or education of any kind regarding normal human lactation. If a doctor gets any education about breasts at all, it is anatomy and pathology, not the normal, healthy function. (That is true about the majority of medical science, by the way – pathology is very well studied, healthy function is not.)

I am possibly alone in not expecting medical practitioners to ‘know everything.’ I don’t expect a general practice physician to know a great deal about dermatology, or auto mechanics. I don’t expect any physician to know a great deal about human psychological development or roofing. I didn’t think of asking my doctor anything about nutrition the first time I was pregnant, way back at 22, but she was respectable and sane and said ‘ask a nutritionist or a dietitian, it’s not my field.’

Why don’t more doctors say that?

Perhaps a better question for this location:
  • why do patients keep asking doctors for information outside their professional expertise?
and, when they’re finished asking that (because my doctor has children who are older than mine, and I respect his philosophy, so I might have a good reason for asking his private opinion):
  • why don’t parents put the uneducated responses from doctors in the same place they put the uneducated responses of people who aren’t parents, people who parent in different ways, in-laws and other family members who did or do things differently?
stethoscope by Dr. Farouk
Maybe some day doctors will get really careful about expressing their personal opinions separate from their Professional Expertise... 

I wonder what would provoke that?

Camping With Kids

Not that I’ve done a lot of camping lately... but this question came up on a parenting email list recently, and it turns out that my decades of experience ‘family camping’ is broad and opinionated. So, I thought I’d share some...

Adult:Child Ratio 
The best advice I can think of for camping with the under-five set is to multiply the number of kids by 2 and bring that many adults along. Older teens, like babysitters, make handy adults-stand-in, but 2 times the kids in adults is a sane ratio. Trying to make dinner, tend a fire, stop one child from climbing a tree 5 times my height and keeping the other from eating the forest are simultaneous tasks. Obviously anyone who went to the woods for ‘fun’ would like some help with this.

Leaving the Luxury
First of all, why would any rational person who has doors, windows, indoor temperature control and a microwave think going camping with little kids would be a good idea? Well as an answer, there is the conversation I had with my parents... One year, our family went camping just as my parents were heading off on a cruise, coincidentally we were all coming back the same day. I pointed out that however luxurious their cruise would certainly be, we would be coming home to luxury, relief and rest – running water, sheets, toilets closer than 1/4 of a mile from the bed. They would be coming home wondering where the steward with the pillow chocolate got off to.

Getting a Break
As it has been said, a change is as good as a rest. In fact, resting, as a holiday tactic, doesn’t work very well. After the sleep has been caught up, and the sights have been looked at, a ‘restful’ holiday wears a little thin. A working holiday, though, particularly one that allows you to contrast your real life in a positive light, is definitely a welcome change. Apparently, the ‘honeymoon’ for how relaxed anyone is after a holiday is about 36 hours (see more about this in my article Parents & Stress Relief, also called Nano-Vacations). Because camping is kind of an anti-vacation, in terms of the less-stress, more relaxing idea, the length of time it takes to forget how lovely the modern conveniences of home are is far longer.

In fact, once home, it typically takes months before people stop saying things like ‘oh, dear, that’s barf on the bedding... it’s a good thing we’re not out camping, that would be a nightmare...’

Practical Advice
There are tips and techniques for backpacking with kids, camper camping with kids, general vacation tips for taking children along, and just about every kind of ‘how to do it’ imaginable about food, equipment and lifestyle. Lots of people have lots more experience than I do.

What I have is a set of parameters that have made camping relatively easy

Meal Planning

We live a mostly whole-food diet here, much to the ongoing annoyance to my children. I’m sure they’d rather have storebought pancake mix, made with that lovely soft white flour. I don’t care. I make my own pancake mix (it’s a no-brainer, and in Canada the price difference is worth it), and take only enough for the meals I’m going to serve pancakes – if that’s 2, there are 2 pre-measured baggies of pancake mix, made so the only addition put in at camp is water and egg, not milk. Milk lasts about a day and a half in a cooler, unless you freeze it, then it is frozen for the first few days and goes bad in a day and a half after that... (going bad, in this context = smelling like the inside of an old cooler.) Fresh eggs, on the other hand, can be individually wrapped tightly in saran and will keep at air temperature for 7-10 days. Keeping them in a cooler will keep them from getting broken and extend their shelf-life to 10-12 days. Wrapping them matters, as shells are air-permeable and eggs take on cooler odours in a really unpleasant way (see 'going bad' above), and are also not improved for being concentrated in the shell...

I plan out every meal for every day, and take only what is necessary to make those meals. When we’re there, I may not actually do what’s on the plan in the order it’s there (a hot lunch may be pulled ahead for a rainy day, while a cold one might be taken to the beach unexpectedly), but it is all the food I take. For a trip longer than 7 days, we always take a day ‘in town’ when we can wash the accumulated laundry, buy the planned groceries for the remainder of the camp, and eat lunch somewhere indoors, with cutlery, just for fun.

Most of the meals are taken in components – if we need mayonnaise, I take the amount called for in the recipe, or individual packets (which are available to buy at most warehouse/big box grocers) as a condiment. Cooler space is always at a premium, and I’d rather not have half a litre of mayo going skunky after the 4th day, all things considered. We start the camp with perishable, fresh foods and move further and further toward preserved foods, including dried grains and beans. We are generally carnivores early and vegetarians late. The grocery shop in the middle is almost always to replenish the meat and fresh veggie supply.

Camp Cooking

I cook on the fire as much as possible, because I find it far more economical (faster, uses far less fuel) than a comparable meal on a camp stove. I sometimes cook ‘in’ the fire, but mostly I make fires that are far too hot for that, so I keep my cooking on the grate above. I’ve baked everything from biscuits to upside down cakes on the fire with no more than the biggest pot that comes in the camp set. There are all kinds of things people believe ‘need’ an oven (and I know some campers who make camp ovens)... but almost all cooking began in a vessel over a fire, so most of it can be done that way today.

Efficiency and The Flow

Overall, the more planning and preparation that goes into the meals at camp, the easier it will be to live at camp, particularly with small children. The less you have to do while watching out for the little, chaotic ones, the more fun camping is. It is important to know, in this planning and preparation, that campers (even the little ones) will need 25-50% more food in a day than they would eat at home. Walking around, being outdoors and sleeping in uneven air temperatures all takes up a lot more energy than normal life, and should be considered if you want to ensure you’re not camping with the famished grouch family.

It’s a good idea to have some structure in mind for the day – outings after meals (or for meals – picnics anywhere in the area, including at the playground, at the beach, in the woods, near the nature house, along the riverside, are all pleasant diversions from feeling nailed to a campsite), quiet time before bed, activities to do while meals are being prepared or cleaned up...


I’ve never yet met a child who didn’t think painting on things was fun – and painting at camp can be much broader than normal life: firewood, rocks, shells, trees, stumps, leaves, picnic benches, concrete pads, campers – tempra paint won’t hurt any of them, and will wash off when if thinned with a bit of dish soap.

Weaving is fun and even little fingers can manage to mangle together dreamcatchers, gods’ eyes, shambles or other dangling hangy things from yarn, twigs, leaves, found shells, feathers and rocks. A couple of bright colours and the run of the nearby woods will occupy young children for half an hour with ease.

A bucket and spade can be used at the site as well as the beach, digging trenches for the rain, playing in mud puddles, splashing in water near the woods, ‘painting’ things with water and a brush – or a brush made from twigs and leaves and string... as a doll pool or bath, a lego pond or whatever attracts their imaginations. There is nothing quite like water to fascinate a young child.

Campfire/Lagerfeuer by Wolfgang Stief

Fire and Water Safety

The fire pit poses the single largest, ongoing danger to small children. Fire pits stay hot a lot longer than people think after a fire is doused, and tripping suddenly into a fire is hard to explain with a straight face in the emergency room, so creating a no-go zone for little children around the whole of the fire area is diligent and smart. Walking between people seated at the fire and the fire is a seriously stupid thing to do, and small children must be directed to go around back every single time. Diligence is necessary for safe handling of fire, just as it is for safety around water.

Having a water feature a very short stumble away from camp is not a good idea with small children – it is a constant source of fascination and they are too fast to be trusted even for a moment. Pitch the tent an easy 5 minute walk from the water, and much less diligence is necessary to stave off predictable tragedies.

The Sales Pitch

So, with all this effort and diligence and planning, what is the real reason people are crazy enough to take small children camping? It’s addictive, honestly...

The wonder of watching small children’s eyes open to the wonder of the wilderness around them, for hours and hours, day after day is different from visiting a local park, even every day. Taking them back, year after year, even to different parts of the country, gives them a real, personal appreciation of nature and their part in it. There is nothing else quite like that...

Movin' On, Again

Movin' On, Again

It is my experiences, so far, that my kids drag me forward. Them determined to move on, usually dancing and singing as they go, and me bewildered and unprepared lagging behind in a daze. They always seem to get to the next stage just a few weeks before I think the next stage exists, so I spend a little bit of time trying to get used to the idea, while they walk confidently and assured in what they have obviously been working up to for some time.

It’s an experience I’ve come to enjoy, kind of like the first time on a new roller coaster – every turn and dip comes as a complete surprise, but it’s sure a fun ride, anyhow...

Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson, is such a mild and jovial little book – those wee men and the wise mice, all responding to change in the different ways people do. There is wisdom in it for parents, and these transitions will come to us all whether we’re Sniff, Scurry, Hem or Haw.

So, what’s happened? Well, the younger of my two beautiful daughters left the house this morning at very shortly before 6:30am (this is the child who loves sleep and sleeps-in every opportunity and has been known to stay in bed until after 2pm), to go to her very first ‘real’ job (what the rest of them, to date including housekeeping, babysitting and a great deal of volunteer work, qualify as is a mystery to me, but this one will come with a payroll cheque). Her shifts, which she happily agreed to, begin at 7 and end at 3. She has had similar hours before (8-4 as a children’s workshop helper), but only for a week, and it required a lead-in and a great deal of preparation... to say nothing of how tired she was the third day in.

This sleep-in child got up before 6, showered, dressed, collecte the things she needs for the day and left the house smiling.

O-kay... I’m ready for this, totally.

Funny, how the things you ‘know’ turn out to only be things you ‘believe’, in the end. I always ‘knew’ (or felt confident that I knew) that whatever my kids did at 11 or 13 would have little bearing on what they could accomplish at 16 or 20 – they’d still be learning and growing and developing and would not be ‘stuck’ doing whatever they did then. Sure, I ‘knew’ that – but my response to how readily this ‘always prefers to stay in bed’ child has moved away from that stereotype, because she wants something different now belies how I knew it. I’m pleasantly surprised by seeing what I thought I expected. Turns out my expectation was more tentative than I would have guessed...

I suppose that makes me Haw. Ha!

Linda Clement's WeBlog

credit: AZ J. Alcid

Linda Clement was born in 1966 at slightly under 22” and is remarkably taller today. She began her career as a parenting coach at 19 by stating ignorant and credulous but definite-sounding inaccuracies about many aspects of childrearing. This was followed, almost immediately, by more than two decades of increasing gratitude about the absence of recording devices around back then.

Over the past 27 years, Linda has learned the real deal about how to Thrive as a parent, based largely on personal experience with her two now-teenage daughter, 25 years as a La Leche League Leader and much more than half her lifetime of studying psychology and human relationship theory.