cooperation

Nut Cracking!

They saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them…so we’ve all decided to go a bit nuts around here!  We purchased a nut cracker last year, which never made it out of the box.  This year, we had a big crop of walnuts as well as some pecans and heartnuts we purchased from a nut farm we visited recently that were sold in their shell.  The children have been having a great time cracking nuts on the back deck.  Makes for a reasonably mess free snack…a quick sweep and we’re done!

The nutcracker we purchased, called “Grandpa’s Goody Getter” is very easy for them to use.  It automatically sizes the nut and requires very little force on the lever to crack the shells.  Even my three year old is able to load the nuts and crack them himself.  The black walnuts are a bit more difficult, since the shells are harder and thicker.  My five year old cracks the walnuts, with everyone else standing well back to help prevent shards of nutshell hitting someone!  The children feel so good about participating in the process.  There is something about mining the nut themselves that definitely adds to the allure.

Bringing children as close as possible to food production has wonderful results.  My children eat more healthy food directly from our property than they ever would from their dinner plate.  Participating in the harvest has an amazing way of making food taste better!  It has been amazing to see how trusting them with a bit of responsibility has allowed them to blossom.  I am able to step back and watch them help each other.  When children feel valued and respected, they are able to value and respect others.

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Top 10 Permaculture Parenting Tips

When I think about what it means to me to be a ‘Permaculture Parent’ I feel that it really is defined by my approach to life.  Looking for ways to live more in line with the Permaculture principles is a way of approaching life.  When I change, those around me change.  When I learn, those around me learn.  Permaculture is a design process by which you observe nature and try to learn as much as possible about natural systems.  I see my family as a natural system.  I, as part of the system influence all other parts of the system.  When I change, the system changes because part of it is new, and it must adapt.

Permaculture is more than a design system for me.  It is a way of thinking about and approaching the world.  We consider as much as possible in our lives how to live by nature’s patterns.  I am constantly self-reflective in order to observe and interact with my own behaviour patterns.  The beauty (and most difficult part) of having children is that they allow your dark side to surface so easily.  Despite the deep love and reverence I have for my children, the day to day living with three little beings that all need help from me pushes me into my edges of human capacity.  Of course it is in these edges that the most growth will occur.  In these moments of being stretched, the tiny cracks in my psyche expand and allow for patterns from my past to emerge.  There is often no time to ‘catch myself’ before reacting.  But these unsavoury moments become fodder for where to turn my attention next.  I try to view each challenge as a guild project, one that needs careful attention in order to discover a way to make the many different levels of the situation work together to support each other rather than out-compete.

When I read other people’s articles about parenting, I love succinct lists of practical changes I can make, things I can do right away!  The difficulty with Permaculture, and parenting, is that neither one offers clear cut answers.  The approach is just that…a set of guidelines by which to structure your actions.  They both take thought, engagement, careful observation and response.  But in the interest of providing something useful that helps to bring focus to a sea of grey areas, I have put together this list of 10 ways I try to be a better Permaculture Parent:

  1. Slow down the pace of life, remove the excess, simplify: physically, emotionally and mentally.  We constantly ask ourselves if things are ‘necessary,’ because if they’re not, the outcome also isn’t worth it.  In the spaces we create, creativity blossoms.  We try to disengage with the ‘overculture’ of consumerism, technology, fear, control, apathy, etc., as much as possible, carefully considering where to place our engagement.  We try to be present and mindful to the situation at hand, knowing that everything else will wait.
  2. Respond rather than react – I try to take a deep breath to reconnect with the Earth before responding to any given situation, there are very few situations that cannot withstand a 10 second delay in response.  This is also modelling a great skill for my children to learn that will serve them.  Taking pause allows me to observe before interacting, by this I mean mainly observing my own inner landscape!
  3. Get outside.  Spend loads of unstructured time in nature.  It’s hard to recognize ourselves as part of nature if we are separating ourselves from it.
  4. Accept feedback in all its forms.  As difficult as it is to take a critical look at my role in my children’s behaviour (especially those rough times), usually the root cause of the turbulence is that I’ve inadvertently created a climate of ‘control.’  If I can find a way to release my ‘old paradigm’ approach to controlling my children and look for creative and less obvious solutions to work cooperatively, I can usually turn things around in a hurry.  The trust required for this took  several months to build.  I had to learn to trust that there was another way that would work, and my children needed to trust that I could change my way of engaging with them indefinitely.  It takes radical trust to allow our children to receive their own feedback and respond to it, but when I am able to step back and observe (with the help of sportscasting or non-judgmentally verbalizing the events of a conflict), it is amazing what solutions the children reach for their own problems – ones that wouldn’t have been obvious or fair in the eyes of an adult.  In treating problems between my children this way, we are also allowing them to learn fundamental Permaculture skills.   Aside from behavioural conflicts, we try to communicate clearly, about everything.  If my children ask a question, I try to give as complete an answer as possible while still being age appropriate.  Our children want feedback about their world and experiences too!
  5. Enjoy time together as a family as much as possible – I have learned to find joy and gratitude in tiny spaces to combat the illusion of drudgery…most of the time.
  6. Practice and teach extreme empathy.  “The Golden Rule” is prevalent in our home.  Not just applied to others in our home, but to all beings, plants, and Mother Nature herself.  My hope is to help my children know and feel the impact they are having on everything around them, since everything in this living system called Earth, is connected.  I hope to help them understand that they are only in control of their own actions, but that their participation in the system will ripple out in positive and/or negative ways.  When my children are upset, the first thing I do is empathize with them, despite my gut reaction to apply logic or quell their emotional response.
  7. We find small solutions to big problems.  I have started to focus on one small thing at a time to try and make change happen and sustain.  For example, I wanted to have a moment of gratitude before sharing our meals, so we started saying a family blessing.  It has taken a while for it to become routine, but now the children remind us if we forget.  We were also having difficulty with tidy up time (a time rife with the temptation to control!).  I started having a tidy up time every day before dinner.  Once dinner was ready to serve, we’d tidy until the house was clean, then eat.  It has also become a pattern we’ve been able to stick to.  I’ve taken to tackling one thing at a time, until it’s established.  Related to this, I have made many mistakes along the way.  When something doesn’t work, or fails to flourish, I try another approach to the same problem.  Being willing to take chances and make (many) mistakes in the process of trial and error is part of the learning process.
  8. We carefully consider the foundation of our children’s days.  Their basic needs are an essential way for my children to catch and store energy.  In our house, sleep is treated as sacred.  We try to work our activities around sleep routines so that my children have enough rest to participate fully in life and with their best selves.  We also make food a priority by consuming nourishing sustenance.  My children help with planting, tending, harvesting, preserving, and preparing food where possible.  We engage with food on as many levels as possible. If you consider other mammals, they spend most of their time eating, drinking and sleeping.  We should also afford these things as much value as possible.
  9. Set clear limits, and allow things to run a bit wild within the defined boundaries.  Our top concern when setting boundaries is safety.  Apart from that, we have certain things which are not tolerated in our home: violence, disrespect of people or destruction of property.  These are hard and fast.  We debate about the best ways to ensure these expectations are met, and have tried many things!  Luckily, since there are few of them, and we always follow through with some method of dealing with the problem, we don’t have to address this issue too often.  Where possible we try to use relevant meaningful consequences.  For example, if you colour on the desk, you clean it up with guidance.  If you upset someone, find some way to make it right (apologise, give the toy back, do something to make the person feel better).  If you throw your food, you clean it up and you can can choose to eat what was thrown or be finished eating (make no waste!).  Our philosophy is similar to that of good design principles.  If we put the time in up front, at the messy design stage of planning, the long term yields will be much higher.  All that being said, we do give time outs for physical violence, as we feel strongly that this is not acceptable in our home and sometimes a timeout is warranted for the safety of all involved.  Most of the behavioural guidance we offer our children comes in the form of asking questions to provoke extreme empathy or by having them predict what might happen if they carry through with an action (for example what might happen if we ran across the street without looking?).  As far as what is and is not acceptable in our home, it is family choice based on our own comfort levels.  We set many smaller limits, but these are situational.  A great tip I follow from Janet Lansbury is that if something is making you feel uncomfortable, set a clear limit and if you have lost your temper, you waited too long to set that limit.  After I set limits, I refer back to the question ‘is it necessary,’ since sometimes these limits are not genuinely serving a need, but come from the overculture, and require a more scrutinous look at a later time.  I am often trying to push my edge as to what ways I can continue to offer my children more freedom.  In the moment where I am dealing with the child, I will set the limit, because it can always be changed, with a new clearly defined boundary in the future.
  10. Awaken curiosity.  There is so much humans don’t understand.  Invite surprise.  Discover together.  Learn together.  Grow together.  Accept growth as a messy process that doesn’t always look pretty.

A Message of Activism

“If we don’t change our direction, we’re going to wind up where we’re headed”

-Native American Saying

I had the extreme pleasure of attending a lecture given by Starhawk last week.  I decided that her message was too important to keep to myself, so here are the salient points that I came away with…

The decisions we make in the next ten years will determine the future of the human species and the earth.  Culture forgets that our resources are sacred.  We need to start caring about Earth’s resources more than our own comfort.  We need to care enough to refuse watching it be defiled.  We need to care enough that we will make sacrifices in order to maintain clean water.

It is a problem when power is in the hands of few people.  Centralized power likes centralized power.  Why does centralized power require enforcement?  Because in its very nature, it’s calling for rebellion.  We can’t ‘solve’ climate change because of the vested interest in oil.  The Tar Sands raise a deep moral question.  How do we take care of the earth?  A million Litres of water a polluted EVERY DAY in the extraction of oil from Tar Sands, 95% of which cannot be treated.  The first are showing signs of tumors and cancer.  What we need is a shift in consciousness, spirit and values in order to make change.  We need interdependence and cooperation.

“What would it be like if we replaced scarcity thinking with the goal of creating as much real abundance as possible?”

-Courney White, Grass, Soil, Hope

Abundance means sharing and everyone having enough.  Abundance is found through generosity.  We need to create safe, renewable power within ourselves to regenerate the land.  We need to rehydrate the earth – water brings life.  Slow it, spread it, sink it.  Drought represents many levels of difficult relationships.  Put humus (carbon) back in the soil to regain humility.  Heal the soil by using compost, compost tea, sheet mulching, worms, bio-char, fungi/mycellium, growing intentionally selected plants and working for survival.  Look to holistic management practices for grazing animals according to patterns of wild herds to regenerate soil quickly by restoring carbon.

We don’t need outer solutions, what we need to do is work in harmony.  Here she cited the example of a company looking to invent a device to take carbon dioxide out of the air, balking at this unnecessary business venture, since nature and plants have the best possible systems to serve this need, ones we couldn’t dream of replicating, let alone improve on.  What we need to do is stop taking resources out of our planet in order to preserve the pristine while doing all we can to put carbon back into the soil.  We are responsible for giving back, not just taking.

We need to be considering the destruction of our environment as a moral issue.  Then value moral issues above economic issues.  We need to take care of each other.  Our money should be going to support the elderly, educating the young and taking care of the sick.  Wealth distribution is not stable or sustainable.  Localize and regenerate the cities by growing food near them.  How many times the dollar changes hands before it leaves the community is the determining factor for how much buying local is actually supporting the local economy.  Shopping at your local chain store serves no inherit benefit.  We need to shift our view away from large systems.  The message isn’t less, it’s conservation. Save energy.

Let’s look at how to improve the quality of our lives so we require less quantity.  Transition towns.  Community gardens.  Community on every level is the antidote to climate change.  We need to organize in order to create change.  Lobby.  Campaign.  Use media.  Build coalitions.  Resist and protest.  Say no to policy, not to the people behind it.  It is for a noble cause that we separate the people from the choices they make.  Build leverage, but out of love rather than hatred.  Build our future for the land, nature, and our children.  We need to do all of this yesterday – but since we can’t, we need to do it today!

Stages of an activist campaign: research, educate (children and officials), negotiate (policies and legislation), mobilize, direct action, and transformation!  She left us to ponder the question,”What are you producing that feeds the land?”

Should Children Do Chores?

I was having a conversation with a friend last weekend about how to get our children to help us with chores.  We were questioning how to balance the workload of mothering with giving the children all they need besides a tidy home.  I wish I could accomplish everything myself with ease, then this would not even need to be a problem!  It would be nice for the laundry to be folded and put away, the dishes to be done, the floor swept after each meal, the counters cleared and wiped, the clutter filed, the toys picked up and sorted..oh…should I stop the wishlist?  I fully recognize that there are many more important things than a clean house, which is why I usually have dishes scattered about the kitchen and unfolded laundry piled in the corner.

What I have noticed though is that when I let my chores slide a little too far, when the laundry piles creep out into our living space, or the kitchen is so bad that I have no work spaces left to prepare food, then the rest of the household starts to unravel as well.  This goes for both its general state of cleanliness and the attitudes of the people living here.  As I discussed in a previous post about the broken window theory, there is a certain amount of maintenance that is our baseline.  Without that, things seem to spiral out of alignment quickly.  I function best when things are reasonably tidy.  I’m not sure this is as important to the children, but regardless, when my bristles get up about the disarray of our living space, I inadvertently pass on my frustration to the children – no matter how much I think I’m being calm and in control of myself about it!

So how can I maintain the level of cleanliness that I need to function properly without forcing my ideals onto my children?  Trying to ‘make them’ clean up is an ineffective strategy anyway – it inevitably becomes a power struggle and justly so.  Whenever I feel I should do something, it usually creates resistance or at best an anxious feeling of malcontent.  Insisting children should keep the house in a certain way is sourced from my own set of values I’m imposing on my children.  While I understand that my role as a mother is ultimately to instill values in my children, I also have to take pause to question just how much more of me they really need!

On the other hand,  I do need their cooperation since I can’t do everything for everyone.  This is not in anyone’s best interest.  I need to feel supported and not taken advantage of.  I need to feel that we are functioning as a community.  I need to protect my own sanity.  So I must set limits for myself.  Clear, healthy limits of what I can accept and not accept.  But setting limits for myself does not mean that I should to impose them onto someone else.

Then there is also my desire for them to learn how to do chores.  I want their autonomy to include the ability to do whatever task they need to with confidence because they have been shown how.  Ultimately I wish for them to find joy in the work.  The idea is to plant the seeds of how a tidy house feels and tend them, in hopes that they will grow a family who also is compelled to join in the work too. I will often ask questions before and after cleaning to raise awareness in my children about the look and feel of the space.  They are often surprised by how their mood is lifted when we tidy up.  Like my recent post called Perceptions of Work, it is when I am able to approach the work with a joyously open heart that it becomes a desirable activity for all of us.

So what exactly does a balance look like?  I see it as the coming together of when I am able to get the help I need (however limited) to feel supported and get the work done and the children are not begrudgingly carrying out tasks I demand them to complete.  Perhaps a first step to achieve balance is to look at my own expectations…what is it that I really need to get done?  What things do I think I need to get done because of feeling judged or scrutinized for it.  My house will not be perfect because I have three little souls growing inside these walls.  Gardening humans is messy business.  I often use the strategy of saying something like, ‘I cannot do this until that is done.’  They will sometimes pitch in to help me, because they want to get to the next thing.  But sometimes not.  In my reading about attachment parenting and RIE, I often come across the reassuring statements that children want to do what we’re doing.  As humans we want to fit into our society.  So as soon as conflict and the energy bound up in a power struggle are gone, suddenly the possibility to work together arises.  When the children have enough autonomy to feel they are choosing to participate, things work much better.  This is what cooperation is.  When I can stop clinging to old ideals and control, new potentials open up.  I question what possibilities for enjoyment of chores and work am I cutting off because of the language I’m using – both for myself and my children.  What difficulties am I creating in my relationship with my children because I am expecting them to perform a certain way?  How do I balance the needs of myself, the household and my children?

So what am I left with in my toolbox then if I don’t enforce their participation?  I want to integrate, not segregate.  I know that establishing rhythm and leading by example works.  So how do I weave these pieces together to find something that works?

Out of necessity due to a small entryway, we have a rhythm to entering our house.  I installed hooks at the children’s height and gave each child a cubbyhole for their shoes/boots and another for accessories (hats, mitts, splash pants, etc.)  They are expected to put away their things before entering the home.  They do.  I do.  It’s just what we do.  So how do I transfer this to the whole house?  I find this question to overwhelm me quickly.  I have observed that if I let up on my rhythms for a day or two, suddenly everything seems to erupt.  I think that having a house wide tidy up, A quick five minute overhaul of the floors and surfaces to clear the debris, just before mealtimes could work nicely.  I’ve tried this before, but haven’t been regular with it.  The key for the children is predictability.  The key for me is to not expect or enforce participation.  If I take the attitude that tidying is what is being done at that time and that dinner will be served when the work is done, I don’t think it will take too long to become ‘normal.’  Building this into our regular routine would help it to just be part of what we do.