Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we examine our Ideal Life in the light of the Golden Rule and take tiny steps to start living it every day.
The podcast in which we revel in the gorgeous Venn Diagram that makes up our lives, and start connecting the dots with silvery threads of virtue and values, to reveal more of the intoxicating beauty of your Venn Diagram.
The podcast in which we can be honest about how amazing being a parent can be–and how absolutely miserable it can make us feel, when we are parenting from an empty tank.
My name is Lily Fields, and I’m going to be your Fairy Godmother for the next half-hour or so.
Now now now, Lily Fields, Oh–that’s you. I like to imagine you like a Southern Belle. Hoop skirt and all. You are absolutely adorable.
Are you going to go on and on about the Golden Rule again? Because I think we’ve heard enough about it. Blah blah blah, you can’t love others unless you love yourself…
Good on you!!! You have been listening! Yes, indeed, I will be going on and on about the Golden Rule today. Today, we are going to be talking about parenting.
So much of Parenting is about the Golden Rule. Doing for others what we would like done for us. Loving others as we love ourselves. And, as you so aptly reminded us, my dear, we can’t love others like we love ourselves unless we love ourselves. Don’t stop listening to me just because you think you know what I am going to say, though because…
Your Wicked Stepsister LiElla is here and going to bring her incredibly unique perspective as a Death Doula to the conversation. She is going to address the question of “how to support someone who has lost a child,” and it has everything to do with the Golden Rule.
Fine, all right. But Lily Fields, the way you talk about Venn Diagrams makes me roll—my—eyes. It’s simply appalling that something so benign gets you so excited.
Oh, my little country bumpkin…did you mention the Venn Diagrams again just for me? Thank you!!!
Yes, I do get excited about Venn Diagrams. You see, I truly believe that every aspect of our lives is connected back to a single original plan for our life. My philosopher husband calls it a blueprint. I like to take it a step further, and imagine that each of us is given a treasure before our birth that we are to explore and invest in ways that are specific to the plan for our lives.
The very meaning of life, as I see it, is to make the world a better place by investing the treasure we’ve received according to that original blueprint.
No, we don’t know what the blueprint actually looks like. But if each aspect of our life–what I call the “Ideal Life Categories” is a circle in a Venn Diagram, those circles will overlap in a very specific pattern for each of us. Those places of overlap are the ones where we can make the most impact.
No single circle of our lives has more points of overlap, and more potential to make this world a better place than the Ideal Life Category of Parenting.
You see, if we believe that we were given a treasure and that there is a plan for our lives, and we are doing the hard work of digging up our treasures and putting them to work for our lives, then it should be all the more important for us, as parents, to know and believe that our children were given treasures, different treasures to invest, and that there is a plan for their lives,too.
Our objective, then, should be to make sure that our children never dig a hole in their backyard to bury their treasure. Today, we are going to talk about how to make that high calling a reality.
We are in the middle of a series about the Ideal Life Categories. We have previously talked about Scheduling and Planning, Work, and our Bodies and Health. Next week we will be tackling, literally, my least favorite topic of all time, the topic of a “Clean House.” This should be way fun. You’ll get to hear me moan and groan and whine and complain. It’s also the area in which I have the farthest distance to go to get to my Ideal Life, so you will see just how real and down-to-earth this heretofore rather philosophical enterprise can become. Next week, practical magic is the name of the game.
But, as I said, this week we are talking about Parenting.
The Ideal Life Exercise is a daily habit of sitting down to think about just one of these themes each day for a few minutes and asking four questions about the theme.
I have nineteen themes, one of which I esteem sufficiently important to living my Ideal Life that I consider it every week. The other themes are in a rotation that takes three weeks. My themes may not be your themes, and that is perfectly fine. After all, we are all different! What I want to do, though, is to get you thinking about the process.
My themes are what rose to the surface after I spent some time answering the sentence that starts, “In my Ideal Life, I am a person who…”
When it comes to Parenting, here are a few of my Ideal Life Statements:
I am a person who takes her children seriously.
I am a person who does not have unrealistic expectations of her children.
I am a person who places more value on working hard than on succeeding.
I am a person who sets an example for living a passionate life.
I am a person who is not afraid of tough questions and difficult conversations.
I am a person who makes my children proud.
I am a person who loves my children according to their Love Languages.
I am a person who forgives herself when she fails to be perfect.
The “Parenting” Category is one of three circles in my gorgeous Venn Diagram that is about relationships–one circle is my marriage, one is my parenting relationship to my children, and one circle is relationships with people outside of the immediate circle of those who live in my home.
I decided not to lump my marriage and parenting into one big category called “Family,” because, in the end to me at least, they each deserved their own separate check-in.
Parenting is where the rubber meets the road for many of us. For all the joy we imagined experiencing prior to becoming parents, and for the handful of moments of joy we experience as parents, it is not always terribly fun.
When I first was confronted with just how unsatisfying I found the reality of parenting, I happened upon a book entitled, quite aptly, All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior. Reading this book gave me the reassurance that my dissatisfaction with what had been, for a few years before my children were born, my one and only desire, namely to become a parent, was not an uncommon experience.
Becoming a parent to a living, breathing, often crying and rarely sleeping human being is one of those decisions you can’t undo once you’ve made it. Once you realize you’ve got buyer’s remorse, it’s too late to return the merchandise to the store.
If you are not yet a parent, don’t let me discourage you. It is an absolutely worthwhile pursuit. It’s also the hardest thing you will ever do in your life…and I am not talking about being pregnant or giving birth.
Parenting puts a very fine point on just how we actually love ourselves. And remember, the Golden Rule tells us to love others as we love ourselves.
It is in the fire of parenting that we discover aspects of ourselves that we despise. It is the furnace of urgency that our patience with others and with ourselves burns up.
One of the hardest things about parenting is learning to love ourselves so that we can, in turn, truly love our children.
If we are truly to do unto others as we would want done for us, then it is not a long distance logical leap to ask ourselves, “How can I parent my children in the way I would want to be parented?”
This does not mean we are necessarily calling into question how we were parented (although, I can think of a few times when I was little I remember saying to my mother, “When I have a daughter, I will let her stay up until midnight on a school night.” Lucky for me I don’t have a daughter! ) It means that, given the current culture, the current societal pitfalls, the current technology, the current environment, that we make wise choices for our children that best reflect our values.
This isn’t parenting “as in training our children into who we would have wanted to be”, so as to live vicariously through them. That’s not the point. The point is to raise them the way, given similar circumstances, we would have wanted to be raised. Thinking about the legacy we received from our parents, in both good ways and bad ways, is a good place to start.
For example, I was fortunate to be raised by my mother who loved her job. The example my mother set for me, is one that says our work can be our passion, too. That is a legacy I want to leave for my children, too. My father set the example of being someone incredibly resourceful, industrious and hardworking. I want to set that example for my children, too.
Point One: The Work of Childhood
In the early episodes of the podcast, I encouraged you to go back and try to remember highlights of your childhood. I believe that those moments of joy from our childhood are precious little strands that connect back to the talents and treasure we were given before we were born as the raw materials we need to fulfill our purpose.
It was not an easy task to do for ourselves…quite often, through no fault of our own, those raw materials ended up discarded as unimportant, buried out of shame because of they didn’t let us blend in with the crowd, or caught up in a confusing, unusable mess that was easier to ignore and let oxidize than to contemplate and put to use.
I don’t know any parents who don’t believe that their children are special, unique, funny, talented or exceptional in some way. Oh, sure, they might be the same parents who find their children exhausting, annoying and overwhelming. But it’s built into a parent’s heart to believe that our children are the cat’s meow.
As parents, we have the opportunity, and I would argue, the duty, to help our children keep from letting those strands get jumbled up, sullied, tarnished or buried.
Having a vision for how we parent–not what we want our children to do, mind you, because in the end, we have very little control over what they actually do– but having a vision for how we want to interact with our children, and the kind of relationship we want to have with them as they grow up, is the difference between having the image for the puzzle before our eyes as we try to fit it together, or not having it at all.
Although I am intrepid in many ways, I am a puzzle purist. I for one, prefer to have the image as a guide.
When my husband and I wanted to become parents, we documented ourselves beyond reason. As we examined all kinds of parenting methods, education methods, methods for raising bi-lingual children, we came to agree on several aspects of how we wanted to parent:
One, we wanted our children to grow into the blueprints for their lives with as few detours as possible. Two, we wanted to live simply and with as few distractions as possible. Three, we wanted our children to be as autonomous and as independent as possible, as young as was developmentally possible, and according to their character and capacities.
And four, we wanted to make virtue the guiding principle of how we raised our children–neither of us were interested in living with strict rules and punishments or power struggles with our children. Aristotle said that the pursuit of virtue is happiness. I really believe this is true, and wanted to test it out by articulating virtue as the most significant way to encourage them to live happy, fulfilling lives, in the hopes that our children would grow into virtuous, happy, fulfilled people.
Yes, my husband and I intellectualize everything. But we had been married for sixteen years by the time our first living child was born. So…we had the time to think these things through and to develop action plans.
Of course, nothing works out exactly how you expect it to. But by having a plan, we were able to return to it when things were seeming out of control. Maria Montessori and the Montessori Method, Magda Gerber, via Janet Lansbury for the RIE Method, Kim John Payne and Simplicity Parenting…we had resources to go by and to return to.
It has been a wild ride, but already today I get glimpses of who my boys are becoming, and those glimpses have made the less magical moments worthwhile.
Just as we got out of the young child-phase, and into the regular old being a little boy phase, I was starting to feel out of control again. There was no handbook for this new phase where all the major basic developments were complete–walking, talking (in two languages, thank you very much!), sharing, playing together, making friends, reading and even writing. Suddenly, there was the random question about sexuality. Suddenly there were indelible character traits.
How to keep an eye on their development when suddenly all the big boxes were being checked?
That was when I came across a thought from one of my favorite thinkers, Bandra Bukowski, who often writes about self-esteem and creativity. He wrote this:
When I look around, it seems everything magical in the world was created when someone put their Heart & Soul into it.
And isn’t it true that one can only put their heart and soul into something they truly love?
Why not encourage that as early as we can?
And celebrate the free thinkers, the odd balls and not stifle them with trying to get them to be ‘normal’.
Something to chew on.
I’ll link to Bandra Bukowski’s work in the show notes, where you will find more thought-provoking ideas like that one to chew on.
The discovery of this little thought came at exactly the right time for me as a parent: As with any parent, I believe that my children are unique, talented free-thinkers. If I truly value these traits, then I need to parent like I believe it. As small a shift in thinking as this might seem, it was revolutionary for me.
Detaching ourselves our from expectations and the cultural norms, from the “what should they be doing” and allowing them to pursue “what they want to be doing in the way they want to be doing it” is one way to prevent those silvery threads from getting jumbled, to strengthen the self-confidence and help them learn to make better decisions.
It’s hard, it’s time consuming, it can be incredibly boring. But to see my children, at their young ages, living with self-confidence and honoring what makes them special instead of trying to hide it in an effort to blend in…it gives me hope that they will spend the entirety of their lives making magic with all their hearts and souls.
Point Two: Never too late, never too early
Having a plan: the virtues, studying parenting methods. We will fall short of the plan, that is a given. It’s like those amazing “Pinterest Cake Fails” that I spend far too much time laughing about.
I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, but on the off-chance you don’t, it’s when people try to make something beautiful they saw on Pinterest, a gorgeous cake, and the homemade result is appalling or hysterically funny.
When we fail as parents, which we will do, we often do it spectacularly.
That said, even when we fail spectacularly, I do not believe that this is cause for regret.
The bigger the fail, the greater the positive impact it can have on our will and desire to make progress. Failing in a big way is an opportunity to reconnect with our core values and to recommit our efforts. It can, eventually, even be an opportunity to laugh with our children. To not take ourselves too seriously. When we screw-up as a parent, we need to be willing to laugh at ourselves like we would a Pinterest Cake Fail.
And if at first we don’t succeed…try, try, try and try….ooh! Oh…and try and try again.
It is never too late to sit down and consider how we want to parent. A word of warning, though: the later we start, the harder it will be to get everyone on board with change, including the children. The later we start, the more perseverance we need, to be able to get through the uncomfortable beginning stages.
It goes perhaps without saying, but it is never too early to consider how we want to parent. However, if you are listening to this and you are not a parent, I would simply suggest that you stay humble and teachable. Dreaming and having a vision is a wonderful thing: it’s that puzzle box cover I talked about. But reality can dampen that dreaminess rather quickly. Never let go of your idealism, but learn to be flexible. It’s a tightrope act, but one well worth mastering.
Now, this is where the episode is going to get less lighthearted for a few minutes.
If you are listening to this episode about parenting and you are currently struggling with infertility, or you have experienced miscarriage–well first, I salute you for making it through to this point.
Your relationship with parenting has already begun, and you are already learning that tightrope act. What is so heartbreaking for you is that you are in the uncomfortable position of having to remain idealists and learn to be flexible, without yet having the baby in your arms as a reward.
Your pain is invisible and urgent and it is constant. Your journey is one part caterpillar in the cocoon, one part ski jump gone terribly wrong. It can feel so dark and immobilizing, and simultaneously horribly out of control.
The only thing I can offer you is my compassion. I have been where you are, and while I cannot know your exact pain, I know what the empty arms and empty womb felt like for me. Expressing your doubts and your hopes is not futile.
One useful way to spend this season of emptiness is to invest it in dreaming about the kind of parent you want to be and working on becoming the kind of person who can parent that way.
Pursuing your Ideal Life in the area of parenting, as well as continuing to develop the other categories and themes of your life will ensure that when your arms are busy caring for that baby, you will already be that much closer to living your Ideal Life.
While you are waiting for your child to come change your life, work on becoming the kind of person your child will be proud of.
Point Three: Navigating Grief
LiElla Kelly, your wicked stepsister is here today to discuss a very sensitive topic.
LiElla isn’t actually wicked, I want you to keep in mind. She’s actually a truly lovely person who I can’t get enough of. It’s just that her job is something very very unique, one that many of us might consider unpleasant…thus why we call her “wicked.” She is a Death Doula. Her role is to help people navigate end-of-life issues, whether planning for advance directives, organizing funerals, or sitting with grieving families and holding space for them.
Her unique perspective today is going to address how to help parents who are faced with the loss of a child. It is one aspect of parenting that we all hope we never have to experience. What she has to offer us today will help us live out the Golden Rule if, or when, someone we love must grieve their child.
LiElla, the floor is yours.
Navigating grief. That’s what we frequently call it. And it’s an apt term. Navigation can be defined as travel over a stretch of terrain with great care or difficulty. Grief is very difficult terrain and the grief that comes with the loss of a child, can be downright treacherous. With this in mind, how can we support parents who are enduring loss of this magnitude?
Let’s start with a category that we’ll call ‘What not to say…’
Some of these may seem quite obvious, but our discomfort with the death, especially the death of a child may get the better of us and before we know it, we’ve said something like, at least you can always have more children. Do I need to even explain what is wrong with that sentence?
You can’t just replace a child. They aren’t light bulbs. They are individual, beautiful humans and they are irreplaceable. Along the same lines would be a phrase like, ‘at least you have other children’. Please, no. You probably have a lot of friends, the number of friends you have doesn’t matter when you lose one. Again, humans are unique and one can’t be substituted for another. If what you’re going to say begins with, ‘At least’…it might be best not to say it.
Maybe you want to comfort with a spiritual thought and you say something like, ‘God needed another angel’, or ‘they’re in a better place now’. I’m not going to have a conversation about religion but I want to make note that the God that I personally believe in, wouldn’t “take” children to be with him instead of me. There isn’t a better place for my child than with me. That is my personal belief and perhaps you don’t share it. But here’s my point, you may not know or understand the parent’s feelings on God and death and you risk causing offense. Keep that in mind. Avoid religious statements that point fingers, such comments may not be well received.
Perhaps you want to convey something about the magnitude of suffering that is being experienced and you say something like, ‘You’re so strong, I just couldn’t do it.’ This is what one grieving father told me. “That’s a cop-out.” He’s right. People have managed this same, horrifying scenario from the beginning of the human race. We could in fact do it, we just don’t want to think about how much it would hurt to have to do it.
Let’s move on to things we can do, positive ways to show our love and support.
Just be there. You don’t have to talk, nothing you could possibly say will make this situation ok. It’s not ok and nobody expects you to fix it. Just listen. Put your own awkwardness and discomfort aside and pull up a chair. The middle of the night can be a really hard time. The distractions are gone and people are left alone with their thoughts. Can you be a hearing ear, even at inconvenient times? If so, let your friends know that you’re available day or night.
Maybe you’re more of a person of action? Ok then, offer practical assistance. Does the garden need to be weeded? Does the litter box need to be changed? Does someone need to do a grocery run? All of these things may be overwhelming in the midst of new grief, but you can handle them with minimal effort. Pitch in and get your hands a little dirty.
This one is really important. Are there other children in the family? Parents will likely get a lot of attention but what about the siblings? They have lost a playmate and companion, maybe even their roommate. They may be overcome with feelings of loneliness. Can you think of activities to include them in? Maybe something as small as baking cookies togethers or watching a favorite movie with them. Keep in mind that they may feel insecure about leaving home so it might be best to think of activities that can be done in their own home.
I have one last suggestion. It’s both a what not to say and a what not to do. Nothing. Don’t say nothing and don’t do nothing. Don’t pretend like nothing has happened. Something huge has happened and it will be a part of this family from this point forward. If you are going to be a part of this family, you have to do something, you have to say something. Even if you say the absolute worst, foot in your mouth, awkward thing…your friends will forgive you. They are still your friends, they’re just hurting. They know exactly how poorly you can behave at times and what they will remember the most, is that you loved them and you supported them even if you weren’t the most eloquent. Ultimately, all that matters is that you stood next to them.
This is my plea to you. Support your friends, even if it makes you sad and uncomfortable, be there for your friends. They need you.
Thank you LiElla. You just reminded me of how very important it is to be told these kinds of things. It’s so critically important, but because it is uncomfortable, we don’t ever want to have to learn. So, thank you for educating us.
LiElla will be hosting an event on April 30, during which you can ask any death-dying-or-end-of-life related question you might have. Check the show notes for the details.
So let’s take a minute to review the four questions we ask for each of our Ideal Life Categories:
What is working? What is going well in your Parenting right now? Maybe you have found a new way to connect with your children. My youngest, because he now can recognize numbers, recently learned how to play Uno. I love to play Uno. This is a new point of connection for us, and I feel like that is going really well.
What isn’t working? What feels like a recurring problem with your parenting that has got you stumbling? Go ahead and be honest. There might be more than one thing not working. That’s okay. Just state the facts.
What do you need to think about? Perhaps those things that aren’t working are related…can you find a relationship between your children’s grumpy behavior and their nighttime wakeups? Did you hear about an activity you could do with your child that might help you connect better?
What one small thing can you do today to get you closer to your Ideal Life as a parent? Just one thing.
To love others as you love yourself means you must love yourself. Growing and seeking to live your Ideal Life is an act of self-love. Being curious about yourself is an act of self-love. Answering these four questions is a way to be curious about yourself and pursue your Ideal Life. The act of answering these questions equips you to love others as you love yourself.
You are an amazing parent. You are raising amazing children. You are doing a great job. Now go out there and make your kids proud.
Thank you so much for listening to the podcast.
The way that you have been sharing the program lately with your friends is amazing! I’m learning firsthand that it’s hard to explain what a podcast is to people who don’t know, and that can be a challenge to sharing it. So the fact that you are out there doing it means the world to me.
So, to that end, I have been also posting the full audio on YouTube, in a version that might be easier to share with people unfamiliar with the wonderful world of podcasts. I’ll put the link to the YouTube Channel in the Show Notes.
You are the best marketing department a fairy godmother could ever have.
A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
This is your Fairy Godmother signing off. Just remember, it is never too late to start singing with your feet.
This week, a slightly stuffed-up Lily and the always fabulous LiElla bring the challenge of living out the Golden Rule to bear on parenting. Whether you are currently a parent, you are struggling to become a parent, or someone you know is a grieving parent, there is something here for you today.
Talking Points: The Work of Childhood; Free-Thinkers and Oddballs; Infertility and miscarriage; Supporting a grieving parent.
All Work and No Fun by Jennifer Senior: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/02/books/review/all-joy-and-no-fun-by-jennifer-senior.html
Janet Lansbury on Elevating Childcare and the RIE Method: https://www.janetlansbury.com/
Bandra Bukowski on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bandra_bukowski/
Virtual Death Café, hosted by LiElla Kelly of Leaving Well End-of-Life Planning will be held on April 30 at 11:00AM MT. Register here: https://deathcafe.com/deathcafe/14940/
You can also find LiElla on her website, https://leavingwellmt.com/ or on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leaving.well.death.doula/ or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=leaving%20well%20end-of-life%20planning
A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/, here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.