Changing Family Culture

When you think about your family culture, what do you think of?  Are you intentional about what forms a part of what is important to your family or does it kind of morph into a set of values and practices that become important to your family and what you do year in year out?

I am generally an intentional person but I confess that I find that time zips by so quickly that our family values and practices do often develop out of daily habits and just what we tend to do.  That’s why what I’m writing about in this blog kind of surprises me.  I’m writing about the year I decided to have a go at changing family culture – it was a combination of being intentional and reaching the end of my tether over certain things.

It was Easter 2011..or 2012..to be honest I can’t actually remember which year it started.  It actually started in 2010 when our church, to which we had just returned, having lived away from Perth for 5 years, announced that it was no longer celebrating Easter.  Instead it was going back to the Biblical festival of passover, a Jewish practice but one oozing with symbolism and focus on how the last week of Jesus Christ’s life had fulfilled a number of the aspects of the celebration of Passover.  It was a big announcement, a big adjustment and the catalyst for me to consider why our family celebrated Easter.

Truth be told I had been growing increasingly disenchanted with the fact that Easter eggs were appearing in stores barely 2 weeks after Christmas was done and dusted, and that it was possible to buy hot crossed buns in February!  Just what was it about Easter that was spiritual?  My children fixated on the whole notion of chocolate and spent far too much time poring over catalogues figuring out which mega eggs they wanted.  When I tried to talk to them about what else Easter might mean they were simply not interested.

In 2011 (or was it 2012?) I drew a line in the sand.  NO. MORE. EASTER. EGGS.  I simply could not bring myself to give my money to companies who had no compunction into flooding shelves with chocolate bunnies 2 months before it was necessary.   I announced to my family that we were starting a new tradition and that I had told the Easter Bunny to give the chocolate destined for our house to families who needed it more than we did.  Instead, we would be doing something special together as a family.  In fact that year we all rode the Fremantle Ferris Wheel together and visited the mini fair on Fremantle esplanade.  It was fantastic.  The Freo Ferris Wheel did at least 7 revolutions, giving views across to Rottnest, over Fremantle harbour, over the town and across the ocean as far as eye could see.  It was beautiful.  The girls loved it and did not particularly miss the chocolate.

We have kept to that tradition since.  I do not object to others giving them chocolate at Easter and this year my parents did an Easter egg hunt with them.  I think they each received 4 or 5 mini eggs and a small Lindt bunny.  I am writing this in June and both girls have 90% of their Lindt bunny left in the fridge and one of the girls still has some of her mini eggs left.

When I drew my line in the sand I was a bit worried about how the girls would go.  It’s tricky for kids whose families practise different cultures to the norm.  I was conscious that I didn’t want them to appear too different from everyone else.  The reality is quite different however.  They don’t seem to be overly bothered by the fact that their friends get mega eggs or are visited by the Easter bunny.  They mention it from time to time but not with a notable degree of angst.  They enjoy the family time – this year we spent a day at the zoo.  And clearly they don’t miss the masses of chocolate as they both still have most of their Lindt bunny still to eat.

So….if you’re contemplating a change of family culture, be daring and take a step into the unknown.  You never know what the result might be…..

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I Let Down my Football Team

Today I let down the local football team.  As well as my many parenting duties it appears that I should also have supported the Dockers today.  They lost because instead of choosing loyalty and watching the match I chose to go the Royal Show with the kids, thinking and hoping that it would be quiet because the game was on.  It was not quiet and my disloyalty had dire consequences.  The Dockers lost their first grand final.

It is years since I have watched an AFL match but since the Dockers started I have been a nominal follower.  Whenever they played the Eagles it was of course essential that they win.  Being a Fremantle resident it was natural that I follow their progress with interest.  But watch a match?  Hmmm, not sure.  So little time, so many things to fill it with.  

It’s years since I’ve watched an AFL match.  You would think the Dockers making the final would change this but it didn’t.  I guess it shows that my priorities do not really rate football games as worth my precious time.  And that’s OK.  It’s OK to be interested in a football team without having to watch  a match.  It’s OK to swim against the flow and choose to do something else with my Saturday than to watch the match.  It’s OK to choose something that my family would prefer to do than sit down in front of a screen.  And we did engage in the local cultural experience as we stood at North Fremantle train station,  watching people at every train station on the Fremantle line cram themselves in the already packed carriages, carting people into the centre of Fremantle.

Football is the religion of many parts of Australia but it’s not my religion.  I have other things that get in the way of my worship of God but it appears that football is not one of them.  And I’m not saying that choosing to watch a football match today amounts to idolatry, not at all, but choosing not to watch it is just as valid a choice.  

The Royal Show was fun, by the way.  It was far busier than I expected of a football dominated Saturday but it was fun, a nice family time.   And now that we’ve been, now that we’ve managed to survive a Dockers loss, life will go on.  It will now be another 10 – 11 months before I have to deal with more nagging about going to the show (next year) and also another 10 – 11 months before we’ll know whether the Dockers have another shot of the finals next year.  I hope they do.  I hope they win next year.  I might even watch the match.

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So much more to life than TV….

In the name of encouraging my children to prefer outdoor pursuits to television and computer games, I took my neon-white, hairy, winter-flubbery legs down to the beach today…..and the children of course. It’s August so the majority of winter had preceded us and the water was COLD, but the sun was shining gloriously and it was a great day to picnic and play on the sand and in the water. The thing is, my girls love the beach. Miss C was not the least bit fazed by the water temperature and went in on her boogy board. Miss N was considerably more reticent but was also persuaded to “swim” as long as Mummy kept a firm hold of her. It was too cold for me to swim but I did go in thigh high so that Miss N could have her go. When the water became too cold for all of us, we spent time making sand angels and checking out the variety of shells, finding artistic bits of seaweed and generally enjoying the sunshine after quite a few bleak days of rain and cloud.

There are a lot of things I could say about today’s outing. For one, it was nice not to be so busy with other things that we didn’t have time for a beach expedition. Secondly, to my mind, this was a far superior option to staying home and watching tv. I’m sure my girls agreed, but the second I mentioned heading home it was “can we turn the tv on when we get home?” Arrgghh! It’s such an ongoing battle to avoid the terrible screen! It’s so much easier to turn the thing on and let the kids sit, mesmorised, so that I can get half an hour’s worth of jobs done. If I say no to the tv, then I’m faced with either having to come up with something to entertain them or, if they do manage to come up with something to entertain themselves, it’s only a matter of time before I have to step in as mediator.

Still, I’ll persist with the outdoor activities because I’m determined that my children will develop a stronger and stronger taste for it. I’m determined that, growing up, they’ll have lots of fond memories of time spent outside and adventuring. I’m sure they won’t particularly remember what they saw on tv or the computer games they played, but they will remember time at the beach and the different parks we’ve picnicked and played at. They’ll remember feeling fit and free. They’ll remember the feel of the sun on their backs and the sand in between their toes; even the shock of the first toe dip into freezing water. And that’s what I’d prefer to remember too.  I want memories with my children, of being with them and having fun with them.  I don’t want to be so bogged down in domestic details that I don’t manage to have these times with them.  I don’t want to use the tv as an excuse to avoid contact.  These girls are precious gifts, as are the amazing weather in this town and the beautiful beach that is a mere 5 minutes’ drive away.  I don’t want to waste them!

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A Child-Free 24 Hours

Hubby and I have just enjoyed 24 hours without our kids.  Don’t get me wrong, we love our kids but when a good friend offered to have them for a sleepover, we didn’t have to think too hard about it.  Coffee and a movie, a quiet dinner at home, a night’s sleep free of interruption and a sleep in.  It was reeeeaaaalllly nice.

When my first baby was born, I didn’t want her out of my sight for a minute.  On the very few occasions we went out and left her with a babysitter, I fretted.  She is now 6 and a half and things have changed since then…quite considerably.  I love being with my children but I also love short periods of time away from them.  It’s good for everyone.  It is good for them to be exposed to families who do the familiar things in unfamiliar ways.  It’s good for them to see how good and comfortable their lives are at home.  It’s good to know that if Mum and Dad are not available for whatever reason, they have others who will love them and look after them.  And it’s a good break from the unrelenting demands of being a parent.  In fact I can tell when I’m overdue some “time out” because my fuse halves in length and I find myself telling the kids off for perfectly normal behaviour that I wouldn’t even blink at on another day.

This makes me think of extended family and of cultures which obligate extended family members to contribute to the upbringing of a child.  There are pros and cons, of course, especially if your relationships with extended family members or in-laws are dysfunctional but when these relationships are healthy, there are so many benefits.  Children grow up considering a number of points of view.  They have the chance to learn from a number of significant elders.  Parents are relieved of the unrelenting pressure to meet their children’s needs single or double-handedly.  And the kids are surrounded by people who love them and are happy to “own” them.  My next-door neighbours are Caucasian but they have grandparents and uncles and aunts on both sides, all of whom live quite close.  Their two boys often spend nights with their aunt and their grandparents share the school drop off and pick ups when the parents are both working.  It works apparently smoothly and the boys are happy, well-balanced, confident little chaps who relate well to all kinds of people.

In my own case, I have lived away from family for significant periods and even having returned to my home town, my parents live 5 hours drive away.  My brother lives in USA and the most often I see him is every 2 years.  My husband’s family also live on the other side of the world.  My girls are a bit bereft of close and loving family.  Thankfully we have friends who are willing to step up to the mark and play the role of surrogate aunt and uncle (and cousins).  These are the friends who had our girls for 24 hours so recently.  We also have a strong church community where friends step in and help out when we need it.  I’m not sure how I’d cope without these supports.  The fact that we do have these supports makes me think about how I can be family to kids who are otherwise a bit lacking in family.  It’s a role we can all play.  It’s not necessary to be blood-related in order to love a child.  It’s simply a matter of looking for what is endearing in that child and finding ways to encourage and affirm them, to win their trust; a consistency of presence and celebrating with them what they love and what they think is important.  Yes it takes time and energy and commitment but my life doesn’t feel the poorer for having taken a surrogate family member role with some friends’ kids.  My life is the richer for having supportive friends and it’s also the richer for finding time to love others’ kids and giving them a home away from home.

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Frivolous Girly Talk (My Make up Dilemma)

Thanks to those of you who follow my Blog and read my posts whether it be from a sense of loyalty or curiosity.  However, this will be, without apology, a girly post.  You are most welcome to keep reading but if you’re drawn more to an existential or serious or weighty discussion, please bail out now.  Also, please bear in mind that the following comments are entirely tongue in cheek – please do not feel the need to provide advice.

I’m the kind of girl who is equivocal about make up.  I wear it – not every day and not just when I go out.  I wear it when I go out somewhere nice and some other days and sometimes not.  It used to be that I was far more interested in my cricket bat and hockey stick than what I looked like.  Now it’s much more about what I can realistically fit into my mornings.  I’m getting older so I do look more presentable with makeup (subject to what I’m going to say later) but if it comes down to another 10 minutes in bed or getting up so I have time for “looking nice”, well there’s just no contest.  There are times, however, when I do deliberately make time in my morning to apply make up.  Now, if I’m going to sacrifice sleep to try to look nice, then I want to look nice.  The trouble I have at the moment is not so much the time pressure but the unfortunate proclivity of my eye shadow (mineral make up of course; I want to be and look as natural as possible) to exude a fine line of coloured dust down the inside of my nose and even sometimes across my cheek.  Not a good look!  Even after I carefully wipe it off a  greyish shadow trail remains, making it look as though I haven’t slept in a year or, if the eye shadow is green, that I have some rare exotic virus.  This is a more demoralising experience than sneezing just after applying mascara!  

I suspect that, as with many of our self-consciousnesses, that no one has even noticed my unfortunate greyish eyeshadow trail and, even if they have, they are more interested in who I am than whether or not I’m having a “bad hair day”.  And I guess that’s why I’m equivocal about make up and why, more often than not, an extra 10 minutes in bed is more enticing.  It’s nice to look nice but it’s not essential.  I am who I am and that’s that.

Mind you, blogging about something frivolous like this has taken my mind off the colossal almost-end-of-term meltdowns both girls have had today……

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To blog or not to blog…….?

One of the things I find most difficult about blogging is making the time to do it!  I tend to have a bit of a spurt and then let other things crowd around me and by the time I get back to my blog months have elapsed.  I love writing and countless times over the past years I have come to the place where I have realised that I.really.must.make.writing.a.part.of.my.daily.reality….of course only to have the very same things crowd back in and in seemingly no time another 3 months has elapsed.

I’m not necessarily a perfectionist but I do like to write to a standard of sorts.  With my days dedicated to kids stuff and various aspects of housework and the general administration of our lives, evenings are an obvious time to write, but by that time of day, my capacity for composing intelligible sentences is severely limited.  Even so, I am going to make one more commitment to writing more regularly.  I apologise in advance for the increased amount of drivel I’m bound to produce but feel free to pick and choose and sing out if the ratio of drivel to entertaining stories and profound thoughts gets unbearably high.

So blogging for blogging’s sake?  Yes and no.  Yes because it is therapeutic for me and if nobody else reads it or enjoys it I can live with that.  And no because just every now and then someone else manages to sift through my drivel and find something worth keeping.  If sharing my journey encourages someone else from time to time then it’s definitely worth it.

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What We Tell Our Children

It has been occurring (reoccuring) to me lately how important communication is, especially with our kids.  It is almost so self-evident that it doesn’t need to be said, except that it does, and actually more often than you’d think necessary.

What has prompted these thoughts is my growing realisation that our Miss 6 has not quite been herself lately.  She’s tracking well enough, expressing appropriate exuberance, chattering endlessly as is her wont and sleeping well.  It’s just that her vivre has been lacking a bit of joie.  I had a bit of a clue when she told me  that she doesn’t like the fact that she is at school all day while Miss 3 has 3 full days per week at home with Mum and Dad.  I’ve been mulling on that as I’ve been going about my days and I’ve been watching her as she interacts with family.  And various things have occurred to me.  For one thing, one of our family dynamics has done a 180; it used to be that Miss 6 held the balance of power when it came to getting our attention, leaving Miss 3 to fight for it.  Sometime in the past 6 months, that has flipped and the balance has passed to Miss 3.  Miss 6 now needs to fight for attention rather than simply get it as a matter of course.  Then she has had to adjust to the transition from Pre-Primary which was largely play-and-activity-based to Year 1 which is much more “academic”.  Miss 6 thrives on making things – crafty things or paintings or things out of cardboard boxes or anything really.  She had plenty of that in Pre-Primary and not very much at all of it in Year 1.  Not only that, but she’s in a Year 1/2 split class where the Year 1s are vastly in the minority.  For once she feels a bit out of her depth and her confidence has taken a bit of a knock.

With all of this going on, Miss 6’s behaviour has had definite elements of attention seeking, whinging and  being dissatisfied, in other words annoying!  (As well as that, she has the unfortunate combination of limbs that are constantly knocking into things or knocking things over so we do groan at her quite a lot.)  In contrast, Miss 3, although she has her own annoying ways, is also very cute and very cuddly and somehow lately I’ve been finding her easier to enjoy than Miss 6.

Time for some active communication.  Miss 6 needs to know that she’s loved and enjoyed and safe and secure in her home environment.  It’s so easy to let days slip by, my attention gripped by whatever screams the loudest and my main goal to ensure my energy makes it to the end of the week.  However, last week I made a point of getting the craft box out and making cards with Miss 6.  And what she made was beautiful, completely from her own imagination and without any guidance or help from me.  (Note to self, this needs to be a regular part of our weeks).

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And then I’ve reverted to verbalising as much as possible with her.  When I feel tired or under pressure, I tend to retreat to verbal minimalism, assuming that those around me will know (by osmosis???) where I’m coming from.  Instead I’ve been chattering with her about everything.  “You know, today C, we’re going here and we’ll be there about an hour and then after that….for dinner we’re having….” or “C, I was thinking you and I could go into Fremantle and….” and most importantly “You know, C, sometimes Mummy gets cross with you, sometimes very cross, but what you must remember is that I will always love you.  You know if you chose to live with another family I’d be so sad, I’d really miss you.  You’re lots of fun and I love you just the way you are.”  I’ve been telling her this since the days of her earliest comprehension and every now and then I tell her again.  Children learn by repetition and some things can never be said too often.

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