From Pattern to Details

Freedom Fighter

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Patterns for consumerism are so easy to slide into.  This way of being and relating to the world has become so innate that it feels normal.  Our family is dedicated to reducing the number of purchases we make, but still, we end up slipping into the mind trap of ‘consumption means progress.’

We are just edging away from a very busy season in our lives.  We completed a tiny home project where we converted the unfinished addition to our home into a 400 sq. ft. apartment.  The result is wonderful.  The apartment turned out great and we now have some of our best friends living with us on the farm!  Although it is easy to minimize what a labour of love this project was now that it’s complete, the truth is, it was hard work.  There were many late nights, a lot of frustration and an overall exhaustion that befell our home. What the project meant was many months of stretching ourselves to our maximum edges and beyond them some days in order to get the project done.  This had a trickle down effect for our children.  Not only were we as parents strapped for energy, but our children were parched for attention and authentic connection.

Part of the process of creating the backhouse apartment was accumulating many items.  We tried to use as much recycled material as possible, but not everything we accumulated was able to be used.  We were in the state of increasing our volume of ‘stuff’ for nearly a year.  With little time to manage it all, things became heaped upon each other making a giant mess of our workshop and parts of our yard.  We just simply didn’t have the space to deal with it all.  We have been feeling the pressure of disorganization and our inability to keep up with the demands of maintenance around the farm.  Every job has taken many times longer because tools haven’t been put away properly and oftentimes we need to sift through piles of items to locate what we need!  It’s easy to recognize in hindsight how inefficient this is.  But at the same time, it is with a compassionate heart that I recognize how very hard we worked.  It is real to say that the project would not have been finished if we took the time to tidy as we went.  We were doing the very best we could and it was still impossible to stay on top of it all!  Our lives are very full!  Between homeschooling and caring for our children, running a farm, my full time job, Rob’s nursery business, an auto-immune paleo diet and the related health issues, not to mention everything else life brings!  There was no time for management since life required us to push forward in order to keep our heads above water.

This year when garage sale season rolled around, I was in full accumulation mode!  I was excited as I always am to experience the thrill of finding something unexpected that someone else no longer needs.  Weary from a year of full time work, I was ready to hit the streets and find the bargains, as well as some instant gratification!  It’s amazing how alluring it can be to experience that thrill of a great find.  It was also appealing to run away from our trashed and neglected homestead.  The draw was somehow to finding that perfect ‘something new’ that would fix it all.  This thought of course was not so overt on the three Saturdays I spent driving around shopping from people’s driveways.  My subconscious wanted the solution to cleaning up our lives to be easy.  But the reality is, even if I found the item that could revolutionize our lives, I would not be any further ahead in doing the actual work of implementing it!

“Bandaids don’t fix bullet holes.”

~ Taylor Swift

I had been feeling exhilaration at going to yard sales and coming home with new items.  But beneath the surface there was also a dissatisfaction with how my time had been spent.  After a morning wandering from home to home buying what other people didn’t want anymore, my children and I were more connected to the stuff we toted home than each other.   This commodification of our lives wasn’t really made clear to me until Rob and I were talking through our plans for today.

Today is the day when the wealthy neighbourhood nearby has their town-wide yard sales.  The town is renowned for having great stuff and people travel from all over to attend.  I try to go every year, arriving at 7am before things get picked over and the crowds show up around 10.  I usually find some clothes for myself, some Christmas presents for my children and a few odds and ends for Rob, the household or the farm.  More stuff.  

We have been talking about looking for ways to live more authentically as of late.  We’ve been lamenting about the state of our homestead.  We’ve been working through how to meaningfully connect with our children while still getting the work done.  We’ve taken action for change in our lives when I accepted a new part time job for next year.  We are sacrificing money for the lifestyle we want.  Yet here, on this Saturday, one of the two precious days I have with my children, I’m willing to get up early and go to yard sales without them, or drag them around looking at things I don’t really want them to buy.  It became clear to Rob (before me) that this was a juxtaposition of our values.  What were we really choosing to value here?

It took me some time.  I had to sit with the decision for an hour or so.  I had to feel it.  I had to acknowledge my emotional connection to the event.  To wanting to find the deals.  I had to get real about how much I was valuing stuff.  I had to get honest about valuing stuff over the people in my life.  Not easy ideas to rumble with.  It became clear over the course of my hour mulling it over that what I really want for my life is not found at any yard sale.   Used or not, cheap or not, I was still bringing home mounds more stuff!  And the inevitable work that comes with managing it.  It is work to find a place for it, organize it, deal with what has to go because we have something new to fill the space, and so on.  I was able to realize the whole picture…that the management of stuff is not how I want to spend my time.

In our over-scheduled consumer-driven culture, we have to make a concentrated effort to create space.  Not just physical space, because our 50 acres can hold it all!  The type of space I’m seeking is in freedom.  By clearing things from our lives, both tangible and time drains, we can clear the mental and emotional space needed to see what we really want for ourselves and our families.  Space has the potential to highlight for us what is not serving.  Had we had more space during the backhouse renovation, we could have kept things more orderly.  So now, when I do have the choice…I’d like to make it.

If you want freedom, you’ve got to fight for it. 

So…we stayed home this morning.  We spent time fixing fences and plugging holes in the barn where the mink got in.  We tidied the yard where the children had made a village out of recycling that had since been abandoned.  We played with ducklings and chicks.  We cleaned the bathroom together.  We read books.  I washed the cupboard faces.  We played lego.  I swept the floor for the first time in 2 weeks.  We connected.  To our stuff…the stuff we already own.  To our homestead.  To our animals.

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Inner Buoyancy

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I have found myself indulging many of my deepest fears lately.  As we make the conscious choice to step out of our conventional life and into the murkiness of something completely uncertain.  Selling our home without a new one to inhabit has been pushing my edges with intensity.  Most days I feel convicted.  But lately, I’ve been swirling around in puddles of ‘what if’ and regret.

I have chosen to jump into a deep pool without being prepared and have been here for quite some time.  There are times where I’m able to stay calm enough to tread water and wait for the way out to appear.  My recent feeling has been more like I’m drowning; thrashing around looking for something, anything to grab hold of.  I remember from my lifeguard training that when someone is drowning, they are fully under the influence of their amygdala gland, scrambling toward survival.  Writhing around is not only an abundant waste of energy, it creates a situation where the people around the victim need to worry about keeping their head above water too, since saving oneself might be achieved by pushing another beneath the surface.

We choose joy.  It is clear now that what I choose to focus on contributes greatly to my perception of the world.  My emotional landscape is correlated to my ability to meet the world with myself.  It is often that I am drawn into feeling like an external object can solve a problem.  I have been seduced by our culture into thinking that it is the ‘thing’ – in this case my home – that will bring me happiness.  Feeling between things means that I am forced to find inner security.  We have created a situation where we are forcing ourselves to grow beyond materialism.  I know from my experience over the past weeks that there is no room to indulge fear in my new landscape.  I am happy to acknowledge it, thank it for it’s messages of warning, then to put it into perspective and ultimately set it free…at least temporarily, in favor of joy.  Deep joy that is only possible from within.  I just keep bringing myself back to the surface…again.  and.  again.

12 Ideas for Rebuilding Connection

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It happens every once in a while that I find myself at odds with my children after several months of getting on so well.  Somehow we lose our connection and end up trying to control each other in some way or another.  We fall into the trap of making our lack of connection about ourselves rather than recognizing it as relational.  When undesirable behaviours amplify and begin to take a front seat in our home, I know it’s time to take a step back and look for a way out.  It is in these times where we’re all feeling tight and frustrated that we need to revisit how we are exerting our power.  We need to refocus from ‘power over’ to ‘power with.’

Every time I find myself in one of these phases of disconnection, I try to think back to the previous time, thinking hard about how I managed to resolve it.  But I am never quite sure how it was that I got out of it the last time.  It seems that simply drawing attention to the problem as a lack of intimacy and placing some conscious effort on rebuilding it seems to do the trick…with slow but steady results.

I feel like restoring connection is rather like a slow cooking stew.  I know some good ingredients to put in the pot, but almost never follow a recipe.  Sometimes it turns out great while other times it ends up a mediocre meal.  But at the end of the day, no matter how stellar the meal turned out, we have all eaten.  Not only that, we can cook up a new stew the next day and hope for a winning combination.  Once we get the hang of it again, we seem to be able to knock out great tasting food day after day…that is until we’re missing some essential ingredients one day and find ourselves needing to revisit the recipe.

I find myself just on the far side of one of these disconnected states now…on the heels of birthday week – my three children were born on April 6, 8, and 9 – which throws us all for a loop.  So I have been reflecting on how it is that we are steadily climbing our way up out of the darkness.  After some reflection, I realized these strategies are great for parents, but can work for any relationship in need of more intimacy.

So here are some ideas I’ve thrown into my stewing pot of re-connection:

-spending lots of time outdoors together, especially in unstructured environments.  We took a lot of hikes in the woods this past week!

-spending a day (as often as possible) doing what they want to do.  If my children can’t agree, thy each get one choice.  Yesterday we baked muffins, made a huge outdoor fort, had a picnic and spent some time creating with Play Dough.

-giving more hugs, kisses and snuggles.

-going out of my way to notice and respond to positive interactions that are happening in our home.  For example, my sons were trying the comfort the baby while she was upset during dinner.  They came up with many creative ideas and games to help her through it.  They ended up calming her down and helping her through the meal.  I made a point of telling each one separately just how helpful that had been and how grateful I was for their creativity and compassion.

-looking forward to things yet to come by talking about them in advance.  For example, we have been making a plan for the coming day at bedtime, each telling something that we are looking forward to the next day.

-taking genuine interest in what they’re working on.  I get them to tell me about what’s interesting them, encouraging the conversation with probing questions to deepen it.  This includes making space for just that child, including eye contact and physical contact if possible.

-play with my children by joining into their games.  This week I’ve been building Lego creations alongside them on the floor.

-roughhousing.  This is more my husband’s forte, but I’m pretty good at instigating tickle fights!  A note on this – it is key that everyone involved is enjoying themselves.  Consent is a huge part of feeling connected.  We stop all roughhousing and tickles at the first ‘no.’  Teaching consent, even at a young age, is imperative learning for all relationships that happen outside of our home.

-being mindful of making connection a priority.  This commitment changes my body language, tone of voice and general response to my children.  It also reminds me to slow down and patiently wait for the storm to blow over.  We are not a family who uses computers/cell phones/etc. while the children are present, but during disconnected times I make extra effort to further reduce all use of technology.   For example, my blogging time during rest time is reduced to ensure the children do not see me using the computer at all.  This really brings the focus back to the people, and they can feel it.

-remembering it is more important to listen to understand than to respond.  Releasing my need to ‘fix it’ allows me to roll with the waves of emotion a lot easier.

-taking time for myself.  I let go of things I think I should do in order to pursue things that feed my soul and try reduce my own use of technology which I find allows me to ‘escape’ but doesn’t actually refuel myself.  If I can treat myself with compassion, I will have more of it to give my children.  In order to be mindful, I need to be connected to myself.  To make space for this, I re-prioritize how I use the times where I am not normally with my children, like rest time and after they’re in bed.

-lighten up!  I look for ways to focus on joy.  I look for ways to have fun, laugh and find opportunities to turn a situation around.  I share statements of gratitude, and encourage my children to do the same.  Life always offers more than one perspective.

 

What ideas do you use for re-connection?

Grocery Store Meltdown

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Today is birthday week at our house.  My daughter, now 2, was born on April 6th.  Today is my eldest son’s birthday, he is now 6 and tomorrow, April 9th my second son turns 4.  Needless to say, birthday week is a crazy one around here.  I try to make each child’s birthday special for them, doing whatever it is that they choose for the whole day (within reason of course!) The children have not been sleeping well because they’re so excited!  Then factor in the cake and ice cream, increased levels of sugars in their diet – I let them eat cereal for breakfast and parfait with store bought granola for snack.  Add to that jealousy the children feel as they watch their sibling enjoy their special day.  Needless to say we’re a bit out of sorts.

Yesterday was our day off from birthday celebrations, so we headed to the grocery store to stock up on the things the boys wanted to have for their birthday meals.  The children, excited at the prospect of getting to choose their menu were having difficulty containing their excitement.  I usually have the littlest two ride together in the car.  But as they grow it is getting harder and harder for them to share the middle leg hole space!  My middle son was feeling uncomfortable and asked to come out of the cart.  Ensuring I had his attention, I confirmed that he had to stay near me and not touch things on the shelves in order to be able to stay out of the cart.

The two boys did a decent job of containing themselves in the aisles, but things started to unravel when they started playing horse and rider in front of the supplement shelves, lined with tiny bottles.  When I asked them to stop, pointing out the density of products on the shelves as well as the dirty floor, my younger son began to spin instead.  Dizzy, he knocked into the elbow height bottles, knocking every over.  Bless my eldest, who helped him to line them back up with careful precision.  Now spinning again, I had to remind my middle child to help with the mess.  He helped as much as he was able.

Shortly after, the boys decided it would be funny to play a game on me and head to the next aisle over on their own.  My eldest was gone only a few seconds before he thought better of the plan and came back to find me.  My younger son held out until I could maneuver the now heavy cart around the end cap to find him.  Reminding him what I had told him when I lifted him out of the cart, I placed him back in the seat.  He was not a willing participant, but I got him into the seat without too much commotion.  He continued to protest in new ways, clearly not wanting to be at the store any more.  His disdain turned into bothering his sister by squishing her leg and leaning over to compress her body.  I asked him to stop several times, but was unable to think of an alternative to him sitting in the cart…and taking the 2 year old out was not an option!  Despite my attempts to use sportscasting and non-violent communication by the time we reached the check out line she had grown tired of his antics and began hitting him in an effort to get him to stop.  He was quick to join the party, adding a chorus of cries to the mix.  I wanted to leave for the sake of my children.  But with three small children to manage by myself, a cart full of unpaid-for groceries and no other time to accomplish this errand, we had to find a way to move though the last of this shopping trip as gracefully as possible.

To maintain the limit, I stopped their hands gently, saying “I won’t let you hit each other.”  When my daughter tried to start the fight again, moments later, I held her hands firmly but gently, saying, “I won’t let you hit your brother.”  I asked her to tell me when she was ready to stop hitting.  It didn’t take long.  Once I released her hands, the hitting stopped.  For a time.  I tried entertaining them all with a game of ‘I Spy’ while we waited.  Participation was waning when my middle child decided he would like to get out of the cart.  I set another limit…”It is not safe for you to stand in the cart.  You must stay sitting down or I will have to put the buckle on.”  Cheekily he tried again as I was distracted with loading the groceries onto the conveyor belt.  On went the buckles.  Then the cries of protest erupted.   It didn’t take long for my son to begin the hitting again.  Again, I maintained the limit, “I will not let you hit your sister,” holding his hands gently to stop him.  When he was finished trying to hit again, I released his hands.  He continued to cry for the duration of the check out process.

Once we finished, my eldest needed to use the bathroom.  I stood there and talked to my middle son about what had happened.  He expressed how angry he had been because I made him sit in the cart and put his buckles on.  I listened.  Then I asked if I could tell him my dies of the story…how I needed him to be safe by being near me in the store and staying seated in the cart.  Also by not hitting or being hit.  He understood, ending with, “I love you mommy.”  We hugged, rejoined with my eldest, and headed out of the store.

It was the first time I haven’t felt embarrassed at this type of misbehaviour.  I was able to keep my temper under control for the whole thing…an remarkably, I didn’t even have to think about it!  For the first time, in the moment, I felt like I knew what to do to help my children.  For the first time I wasn’t worried about what other people thought of my children, my parenting style, me.

After the whole thing was over, and we were heading home, I pondered what was different.  Nothing really.  That was probably the worst behaviour we’ve had at the grocery store.  The difference was in myself.  My ability to keep calm despite the fact that my children weren’t was new.  Detachment from my children’s behaviour was new.  Usually I feel like the way they are behaving is a reflection of myself…but not this time.

Ironically, this day, this one day where I felt like I nailed it given the circumstances, having confidence in the way I had handled it, a woman stopped me on the way out of the store saying:

“We’ve all been there.  And if people say they haven’t they’re lying.  You’re doing a great job.  Don’t worry about it!”

I uttered a quick “Thank you,” with as much of a smile as I could muster, feeling pulled from my disconnection from judgement and proud that I didn’t really need any congratulations this day.  I knew that I was doing right by my children.  Yes, they had a loud and unsavoury emotional experience at the store.  But people have big and difficult emotions and as a culture we hide them away all to often.  Perhaps we created a disturbance for other people who were shopping there, but really, that is their problem.  My problem is to figure out how to support my children through their emotional turbulence the best way I am able.  I am building confidence because I see that my efforts to be a mindful and respectful parent are working.  I am beginning to more consistently access my ability to be vulnerable, and in doing so I am finding that I am more connected to my children…and myself.  The difficult moments aren’t what matter…connection does.

 

Thanks to Janet Lansbury for her post which inspired me to share this story.

 

Open House

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I can understand why people find it so stressful to move.  My inner perfectionist has been awakened by the need to have the house looking spotless for prospective buyers.  We have decided to list our house ourselves for a short time to try and sell it to someone who is like minded.  As a result, we hosted an open house this past weekend.  Getting ready for it made me realize just how comfortable I am now with a bit of mess.  Feeling the need to ‘impress’ other people gets my dander up every time.  My poor children had to suffer through my demands to keep toys put away, keep their hands off the freshly painted walls, and not dig holes in the back yard (which I think was the hardest for them, since we’re experiencing an unseasonably early Spring).

I can also see how my attempts to control the state of our space has pushed my children away.  The effects of attempting to micro-manage them can be seen so clearly in this time when we push up against a new (unhealthy) way of being.  Actually, it’s more like returning to an old way of being, one I hadn’t realized just how glad I was to let go of!  My inner landscape isn’t as calm, and neither is my children’s.  The work, the chores, and the state of the house has taken priority over our relationships.  This doesn’t feel good.  What has been lost is our connection, which I am now having to work hard to recover.  The process is difficult because my inner resources are depleted due to my own emotional processing over leaving this home.  We have been working hard to ready ourselves for this transition.  Now that we’re living at the edge of public and private life, I want this process to be over quickly so that we can move on with our lives in the way that is meaningful to us…to be with each other again.

Creating illusions is not what we’re about.  We have had to put our values on hold for a while to meet the values of the world at large.  In fact, I feel like I’m a hypocrite for creating the consumer driven illusion of  perfection.  This has not been an easy task, since I take my decisions and my integrity very seriously.  Life doesn’t stop just so that you can sell your house, but the expectation is that it should, since a home needs to appear as though it is easy to always maintain unsustainable levels of cleanliness and order.  In effect we are commodifying our lifestyle in an effort to sell this home.

The people who came through our home didn’t see us scrambling to wash the windows on Saturday morning, or compromising our integrity by throwing out the paint rollers to save time over washing them thoroughly for reuse.  They also couldn’t see me feel the void of not having the volume of my children fill the space or the starkness at seeing all of their books neatly lining the shelves rather than the surface of our sofa.  Homes are meant for living in.  Selling a home is a prime example of how our culture thrives on the outward appearance of perfection as an attainable and desirable goal.  But what this experience has made so very clear for me is that there is always an expense.

Cutting the Tethers

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Making the descent into the unknown is a scary ride.  We are currently working our way out of this wonderful home that has been our comfort for over 8 years.  I love this house.  It makes me feel good.  But it has become clear that it no longer serves us.  We were different people than when we moved in.  We wanted to live in a neighbourhood so that our future children would be able to play with their classmates.  We now homeschool our three little ones.  We wanted a large property where we could grow our own vegetables and fruits, but not too big.  It is no longer big enough to hold our vision.  I hold such gratitude for the deep and meaningful ways this home has held us.

We recently returned from a three week ‘vacation’ to Florida, where we were trying our hand at a transient lifestyle.  We thought we might be able to sell the house and hit the road for a while, becoming ‘roadschoolers.’  It was a fantastic trip and brought us a lot of clarity.  Having a napping baby in the mix made it really difficult to do much, especially since our children don’t sleep in the car.  What ended up happening is that she missed her naps for nearly the entire trip!  This resulted in some undesirable behaviour, and really got us questioning this as a longer term solution.

Two days before the end of the trip, as Rob and I sat around the campfire together after putting the kids to bed, we reviewed the pros and cons of life in an Airstream.  We could easily identify the challenges, since we were living them moment to moment.  But the benefits were abundant as well.   Living minimally was such a breath of fresh air!  We have been trying to push into reducing our stuff for a really long time, so experiencing life with few belongings was refreshing and inspiring.  It was so meaningful to take the children places to learn things first hand.  They were able to experience so much more than is possible in one place…it was incredible.  We tried not to do a lot of ‘attractions,’ but went to a Titanic exhibition and saw Winter the dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.  Even the day we hunted for seashells along the ocean shore was amazing for the children!  They have grown in so many unexpected ways as a result of our travels.

By the end of the campfire conversation, we had decided that as difficult as it was to live this way, things would be different if we stayed in one place for much longer periods of time.  Changing how often we moved ourselves would allow us to set better boundaries for the children, fall into a nap routine for the baby, find better food to eat in each location, and generally make it plausible to find enough creative solutions to make our dream into a reality.

That night after we went to bed, there was a huge rainstorm.  We had been blessed with precipitation-free travels up until then, so sleeping through a rainstorm in the Airstream was a new experience for us all.  The dream we had created the night before were swirling around like the puddles in the children’s bedroom!  The trailer was leaking (badly) in several places and a mildew smell came to join the party.  As much as we were ready to make the jump, the rain had made it clear that this was not the right time.  Now that we’ve returned the trailer to the dealership and our lives to our version of routine, we have decided that traveling with thee children five and under is not ideal.  It seems that our family isn’t quite old enough for this type of lifestyle…yet.  We’ve filed this idea away for a few years down the road.

We did come home with clarity on a few other things as well.  It became clear while away from our routines that things in our life were no longer serving us as we had assumed they were.   We decided that in order to move forward, we needed to let go of the things that are no longer serving us.  We need to cut the ropes which tether us to the shore.  We identified that our mortgage/house and the number of hours that Rob is working outside the home needed attention.  We have a beautiful vision of where we want to end up…living debt free on a rural property somewhere with gardens, fruit trees, livestock, and joy.  The trouble has always been what steps we should take to get us there.  So, we are cutting the tethers in order to take a first few uncomfortable steps toward something new.  Toward the unknown.  The house will be listed shortly.  The hours of work are being negotiated.  We would rather choose to make an uncomfortable change from a place of security than to wait for it to be imposed upon us.  I also believe our finest human creativity is born of necessity.  So it is with courage and determination that we begin to drift from this beautiful life we know and continue watching for shadows dancing upon the horizon to guide our journey.

 

Weed Whacking

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How may things are needlessly judged as weeds?  What makes some things less worthy to be considered as the indicators of a need?  Isn’t it the weeds that show us where we need to plant more of what we do desire?  But our culture is expert at sussing out ‘weeds.’   The trouble is that sometimes problems deemed ‘undesirable’ have been inappropriately condemned.  Goldenrod is a wonderful medicinal plant, but is frequently confused with ragweed for causing allergic reactions.  Consulting Google Images for photos of ‘ragweed’ turns up numerous pictures of Goldenrod.

‘Weeds’ we embrace in our home include: crying, anger, mess, mistakes, sadness, defiance…and there are many more!  These behaviours are generally not well accepted in society, for children or adults.  Our culture tries to fix them and keep them under control in an effort to create a visage of perfection.  But it is in fact these darker emotions and undesirable things that are the indicators of need.  Crying can be a release of pent up emotion.  Anger an indicator that things are out of balance.  Mess is evidence of creativity.  Mistakes are the best way to grow and learn.  Sadness is a cry for connection.  Defiance demonstrates a need for control.  Although I have simplified these greatly, there is always an underlying cause for difficult ‘unwanted’ behaviours. But it takes courage to have presence with difficult situations.  Apart from fear of being judged for not keeping in line with the general populous, sitting with uncomfortable feelings and situations reveals how little control we actually have and indicates the depth of real work that needs to be done to resolve the issue.

If you want to grow fewer ‘weeds,’ consider planting more of what you do want.  For example, if a child is often defiant, what are ways to give them more opportunities for control in appropriate ways?  Could they be choosing their own clothes?  What to have for lunch?  What about engaging in play that is directed by the child and allows them to ‘boss’ around the adult?  Or an extra curricular interest that allows them to control the full outcome of a long term project?

What I see happening is the removal of weeds at first sight of them.  Our culture rips them out, squashes them and stifles them before they have time to be fully expressed.  Many plants are considered ‘weeds’ are in fact the most useful and potent plants we can grow!  In our effort to judge and keep things under control we hack down that which has potential.  What opportunities are missed because we lack acceptance?