Playful Parenting : Part 1

I finished a great book recently: Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen, PH.D. (www.playfulparenting.com)

I often found myself frustrated, annoyed, and stressed, which meant during the little time I was home with them, my children got an irritable, angry, bossy mom. Everything we tried to do together was difficult and escalated easily leaving everyone feeling empty, exhausted, and hurting.

Dr. Cohen’s premise is this – Being a Playful Parent fosters closeness, connection, and confidence, which results in happy, healthy, helpful children, fewer behavior problems, and stronger relationships. He describes Playful Parenting “as a way of filling children’s needs for attachment, affection, love, security, confidence, and closeness.” (p274)

Even though I don’t agree with some of his thinking, I do like his overall approach, and he has brilliant play ideas. He gives countless examples of how to actually do what he says, which is incredibly helpful.

His basic principles are:

Join Children in Their World
Establish a Connection
Encourage Confidence
Follow the Giggles
Roughhouse
Suspend Reality
Follow Their Lead
Accept Strong Feelings

To Join Children in Their World means to basically pay attention to them, to participate in their play, to be in tune with their joys and struggles by taking the time to get to know them. Choose to play even if you don’t feel like it.

Game – “Fill Up” – individually fill each child up with Mommy love, from toes to head.
Game – “Love Egg” – crack imaginary egg over child’s head to spread on love.
Game – “Lava Game” – wrestle on the bed and pretend the floor covered with molten lava.
Game – Do it Again (and again and again and again…)
Game – If child is aggressive or fearful or competitive, play a game with them that incorporates these ideas so they can try out ways of dealing with them.

“When we constantly tell children what they should or shouldn’t do, they have no room to think for themselves and are forced to choose between resentful obedience or defiant rebellion. Playfulness helps them think for themselves, even about serious topics.” (p26)
“Take any troubling or annoying or infuriating message from your child, whether it is in words or behavior, and translate it in your head into something that you can deal with more effectively. For Playful Parenting purposes, it is especially useful to translate whatever you hear or see into the language of closeness ad isolation, confidence and powerlessness.” (p37)

The thing he said about Establishing a Connection that stuck with me most was that disconnection is painful.

One visual he uses to help parents understand kids is the idea of Filling Cups. “The child’s need for attachment with them is like a cup that is emptied by being hungry, tired, lonely, or hurt. The cup is refilled by being loved, fed, comforted, and nurtured.” (p43)

Game – “Peek-a-boo”
Game – “Hide and Seek” & “Chase” & “Tag”
Game – “Mirror” – mirror the child’s motions in a ‘follow the leader’ way (not mockingly).
Game – “The Love Gun” – when you get shot with it, you get crazy love for the person who shot you.
Game – Respond to insult with “I had a great time playing with you. I really like you. It’s hard to say goodbye.”
Game – Be the village idiot
Game – Be overly dramatic
Game – Pillow fight
Game – Arm wrestle
Game – Nighttime ritual of putting toys to bed.

In the chapter on Encouraging Confidence, he discusses society’s confusion about power, how children experience power, independence and powerlessness, and how adults can help them navigate as they grow. His basic advice is to let children experiment with power (power of words, power to break rules) on you, the adult, instead of on other children.

Game – Respond to insult with “Shhh, don’t tell anyone my secret name!”
“Just kidding, my secret name is Rice Krispies Cake! Please don’t tell anyone!”
Game – Respond to insult with “Well you can call me that, but definitely don’t call me Googlehead.”
Game – Make something they don’t like into a game they have power over, instead of using force.

He has an excellent philosophy about preparing children for how hard the world is:

“If life is really that difficult, then we don’t need more beatings and humiliations and losses than we will get anyway. What children really need is to be secure and self-confident, and that comes from being loved and well cared for. Not protected from every little bump and bruise, but not toughened up either… We prepare children best by both nurturing them and challenging them.” (p66)

Game – Start out letting them win, and then slowly play harder and harder
Game – Follow their lead, sometimes they want you to let them win, sometimes they want to be challenged.

Play with the theme of competition to help them release intense feelings about winning and losing by:

Game – Set up a game where they always win and be a sore loser. (Make them laugh!)
Game – Brag about how great you are at a game, and then do a horrible job. (Make them laugh!)
Game – Let the child make up the rules to an already existing game
Game – Flip a coin. If you lose, ham up the loss. If you win, brag obnoxiously about how great you are.
Game – Ask the child for a game idea.

Dr. Cohen touches on the topic of criticism with this accurate observation: “Adults are famous for taking all the fun and playfulness out of learning.” (p71) Children learn criticism from us, and the voice can stay in their head for the rest of their lives. We must be cognizant of this internal struggle and encourage them to ignore the voice telling them they can’t do it – first subtly, then verbally. If they have a strong emotional reaction, “all we have to do is listen and maintain our confidence in them while they release these feelings.” (p72)

He finishes the chapter by showing us how we can use play to help children work through something painful or difficult that they are struggling with, and suggesting we try finding a way to laugh about a morally-charged topic instead of giving a lecture that they won’t learn much from anyway.

The next chapter is probably the best in the whole book… “Follow the Giggles.” We’ll check that out next time.

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Genesis 22 : Sacrifice

I’m sure you remember that appalling, heart-breaking passage in Scripture where the All-Merciful, All-Compassionate, God who Is Love, tells Abraham to kill his own child? And Abraham actually is going to do it? Now that I actually have children, I don’t think there is any other story in the Bible that has upset me more. Is this not the same God who commanded “Thou Shalt Not Kill”?! How could He ask such a thing?! I don’t want a God like that! How could Abraham be so willing? If God asked me to do that, I would tell Him take a hike! Atrocious!

How Abraham must have agonized over this call. What if he couldn’t go through with it? What did he tell his wife before they left? Blood, violence, fire, crying, dirt, puke… how would he return home afterwards? How would he ever be able to live with himself? His sweet, innocent son, slaughtered at his own hand, at the command of someone he had spent his entire life trusting.

I did eventually come to accept that God’s will and Abraham’s obedience (and Isaac’s obedience) was as it should be… God asks sacrifices of me all the time and they have always proven to be for good. Eventually I felt relieved that Abraham and Mary have filled the “Most Faithful” positions in history, and I would be given smaller crosses.

But… that doesn’t mean that the crosses He gives me are easy for me. In fact, the other day I had what I would describe as a Genesis 22 experience. I realized that God was asking me to pursue a potential promotion at work, and in doing so, relax my desire to become a stay-at-home mother as soon as possible.

On the surface this doesn’t seem like any big deal… but for me it is. What I want more than anything in the world is to home-school my children. I can’t bear the thought of sending them to school. To me, school is like a den of wolves, it is the secular mind-numbing machine that will ruin their innocent souls, draw them away from God and virtue, crush their character, flatten their individuality, dampen their natural intellect, take away their curious, boisterous joy and replace it with cynicism, uncertainty, fear, weakness, and ignorance.

This seems harsh. Most everyone in the world would probably disagree with me. It does not matter; I have a responsibility to raise them the best way I know how, and I believe with all my heart that the current school system does massive harm and is a disservice to all humanity.

This is not a condemnation of teachers or other parents in any way… everyone makes decisions based on what they see, and we all see a little fuzzy. The fact is that they will learn faster and better if they are not in traditional school. Not that I am any great teacher… it is more that I don’t have the time or skill or energy to undo all the damage that school will do. I’m not so strong; I’m too weak.

And yet, He made it clear that I was to approach my boss about taking on a leadership role within the company. Effectively making me a woman who has pursued her career at the expense of her family. And thus delaying what I thought was my imminent retirement. How will I face God at the end of my life and say that I made the necessary sacrifices to fulfil my most important role as a woman?

I know it is not as black-and-white as that. There is a balance to achieve for the time being… but it still breaks my heart to leave my sweet, sweet children every day, all day. To basically let someone else raise them. To try in vain to find my job meaningful and fulfilling. To come home for the final few hours before bed. To be a part-time parent. To squeeze the moments I treasure most into the time that I am most tired, most busy, and most stressed. To expect them to love me and obey me when I was absent for the whole day. To watch them grow from a distance that I so desperately try to close, but like a wound gets torn open again with each new sunrise. What a bum deal.

Genesis 3:16
To the woman he said:
I will intensify your toil in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children
It is an intolerable abuse, and to be abolished at all cost, for mothers on account of the father’s low wage to be forced to engage in gainful occupations outside the home to the neglect of their proper cares and duties, especially the training of children.” Pius XI, Quadragesio anno, 71
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2015 Insult the Devil Day

Ah Satan… your sulfurous, swampy, sweaty stench stings the nostrils of saints, and suppresses the souls of thirsty, shameless, servile sinners. So sorry that Christ’s sacred sacrifice has shattered your supposed supernatural sovereignty. How stupid and sorrowful is your stubborn persistence, your sinister labor in vain; for the incense of His Church’s Mass signals the sweetness of your daily demise.

Does God’s image in me upset you? Well, may you always be irked.

May His goodness irk you.
May His truth irk you.
May His beauty irk you.
May His perpetual sacrifice infuriate you.
May I cling to Him when you tempt me.

May His grace abound and His angels defeat you – may every trial that you put us through cause every soul to grow closer to Him.

May every act of mercy and repentance send you squirming, slithering, and screaming in sickened defeat back to your pathetic padded cell of sad, slimy isolation.

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Writing Assignment

I have a small writing assignment for you if you are interested…!

As a way to kick-off the season of Lent, I have officially declared Shrove Tuesday / Fat Tuesday / Mardi Gras to be “Insult the Devil Day”

Your assignment should you choose to accept it:

Drawing upon the example of past literary giants and your own God-given talents, please compose one finely-crafted, well-worded, non-vulger, personal and creative sentence or two that totally and completely puts the devil in his place.

Examples:

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”  William Faulkner about E. Hemmingway

“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”  Mark Twain

“He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up.”   Paul Keating

“Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without an address on it?”  Mark Twain

“There’s nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won’t cure.”  Jack E. Leonard

“His library burnt down in a recent fire.  Both books were lost.  And he hadn’t even finished coloring one of them.”  Jack Kemp

“What could you hope to achieve except to be sunk in a bigger and more expensive ship this time?”  Admiral Mountbatten

Ash Wednesday this year is February 18, so please submit your insults by Sunday, February 15, 2015 to be included in this year’s Insult the Devil Day!

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Father, My Father!

When I started this journey I had already grieved so much – for the man he wasn’t, for the man he could have been, for the beautiful relationships he could have had, for the beautiful relationship we could have had.  It seemed to me that he had died a long time ago.  I was desperate to save him, but felt so incapable; my skills so handicapped and his walls so impenetrable.

I was bothered by people assuming he went to heaven, as if death magically erased all the harm he had done, all the selfish things he had done and painful things he had said so easily, so often, without compromise and without repentance.  He was rarely wrong, but he was rarely edifying or merciful.  I was relieved that he could no longer hurt others and others could no longer hurt him.

I want so badly to know he went to heaven, but it is not for me to assume, I have too little information, too fuzzy sight.  Perhaps purgatory…

In every prayer, God gave me overwhelming reassurance of His love for my father, His son.  He reminded me very clearly of His infinite mercy.  After all, he had been baptized into Christ, and nothing my father did was unforgivable… the Lord would have spoken to his heart, and perhaps interior repentance was all this fragile soul could do… nothing he did was unforgivable.

What comfort!  What strength!  What hope!

Such grace did He fill me with in those moments… it was almost tangible.  The results were contagious.  I could feel my family grow strong once we were all together.  The Lord was there, we would help each other.

A friend of mine said a few helpful things – one, he almost certainly didn’t go to hell; two he may not have been capable of a certain kind of self-reflection; and three, my concern could almost be considered judging him.

Many people have memories of him that were good, positive, loveable… where are mine?  They must be there, maybe I can borrow some of theirs… maybe my perception of him was inaccurate.

At the head of his casket was a candle.  A red candle – exactly like the ones we use to signify that Christ is present in the tabernacle.  The realization that ‘Christ is present’ was a great comfort.

As I stood looking at him I knew there was something on the tip of God’s tongue…

Then the Lord showed me that my desire for Him is insatiable, and that maybe I was demanding too much of my father. 

He was (of course) exactly right.  This was so unfair of me.  Perhaps I could have loved him better, or had more affection for him, if I had not always been mourning some disappointment.  It is almost as if I had made him an idol.  But how do I lower my standards without growing callous, cynical, jaded?

I realized that I must be careful not to let my children make this well-intentioned error.  God alone is deserving of our efforts.  I want them to work for His glory and pleasure, not mine.

I don’t mind having low expectations of people I dislike.  I don’t want them to go to hell; I want them to know Jesus, but I don’t pursue them or lose sleep over their apparent lack of conversion.  Isn’t that evidence of my hardness of heart?  My lack of love?  I could never do that to my father!  I did cry for him, I did worry for him, offer sacrifices for him, and lose sleep over him.

But it is now 10 days later and I still have not experienced overwhelming grief of his passing.  I have sadness because others are hurting – my sister, my brother, my mother…  And I have lost opportunities to love him better.  I will miss his voice and his intelligence, and the way he told stories and shared his thoughts.  I always found it so hard to ignore how much of his words were laced with pride, fear, anger, judgment.  How surprised he must have been to experience the Lord’s unconditional love and mercy!

I hope that I will see him in heaven.  I try to imagine him without the sin that was so heavy in his life while he was here… will I even recognize him?  What is he really like?  What does it look like for him to love with reckless abandon, to trust Someone other than himself, to be carefree, cheerful, merciful, free of the pain he held onto, and confident in the Lord?

What a dazzling sight… what an amazing transformation is the soul that emerges from the fire of God’s loving embrace after death.  In this Moment of Mercy, the Lord cannot but make a glorious saint of the man He gave me to call my father.

Lord, I beg for your mercy on my father, and on me and my loved ones here on earth.

Holy Mary, Sweet Mother, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.

 

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