Many of us have a longing for some spiritual aspect to our lives. We put heart and soul into parenting, and yet our spirits can feel neglected and overwhelmed. Spiritual living as a family is more than weekly church attendance or monthly charitable giving; it is a way of life that reflects our true selves on a daily basis.
To open your family’s spirit you may want to change some parts of your everyday routine; you will almost certainly need to alter the way you think. Fear not, this is not Zen Parenting 101. I’m not asking you to find enlightenment amidst eternal conversations about teeth cleaning, swimming lessons or whether lamp-posts die. You already are a good enough parent. This is about what your soul wants.
1 Spend time outside and show respect for Mother Earth by picking up any litter you find, and recycling it where possible. Show your children that even small actions like this make the world a better place to be in.
2 Elspeth Thompson’s The Wonderful Weekend Book reminds us that we “don’t have to be committed to a particular religion to get something out of attending a religious service or meeting.” (And no, I don’t mean a place at the local highly-rated primary.) Spending time in a religious building can enrich your spirit and provide you with the opportunity to contemplate and question. “The UK has far more to offer than just the Church of England,” says Thompson. “Why not investigate Afro-Caribbean spiritualist churches, Gospel choirs, High Catholic mass, Quaker meetings or the haunting singing of the Greek or Russian Orthodox traditions? You could even check out whether it is possible to attend your local Jewish synagogue or Muslim mosque. Wherever you are, sit quietly towards the back, try to observe and respect the traditions of the people whose worship you are sharing,” says Thompson, “and you will in all likelihood be made most welcome.”
3 Send a thank you card to your local fire station or hospital ward, or anyone else that does a tough job with very little thanks. Your children could help make the card and deliver it.
4 Take part in Amnesty International’s annual greetings cards appeal, and send a card to a prisoner of conscience. See amnesty. org.uk for the 2010 campaign.
5 Write a letter of gratitude to your local paper’s editorial section, expressing your appreciation for the community in which you live. Encourage your children to add their thoughts to the letter.
6 Many families have their own festive traditions, but these are not necessarily spiritual in nature. Open your mind to different festivals from alternative cultures; what can you learn from them and apply to your own home-life?
7 Halloween may appear to be sponsored by manufacturers of sweets and pumpkin-related tat, but its roots are in ancient Celtic celebrations of New Year. It was customary to ritually cast out all the evil from the year just ending, to prepare for a good year ahead. This tradition inspired Lucinda Herring to create an unusual ritual of making gloom dolls (see right), which is taken from The Book of New Family Traditions and has far more spiritual meaning than trick or treat. You could do this on either 31st October or 31st December.
8 Winter Solstice usually falls on 21st or 22nd December and is the shortest day of the year. You could make a solstice wreath, decorated with evergreen boughs and tiny white lights. Some families celebrate with a special dinner and the children receive one present a day between winter solstice and Christmas, instead of an overwhelming and unappreciated pile of gifts on 25th December. “Traditional celebrations usually include fire, light and quiet contemplation,” says Meg Cox, author of The Book of New Family Traditions. You could line the path to your front door with lanterns or luminarias (candles inside paper bags weighed down with sand), and light sparklers.
9 Many of us already practise the traditional Yuletide custom of creating a Yule Tree, but this year, honour Mother Earth by using natural materials to decorate yours. Scott Cunningham lists a number of appropriate Wiccan decorations, in Wicca: A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner including “strings of dried rosebuds and cinnamon sticks (or popcorn and cranberries) for garlands” and “bags of fragrant spices” hanging from boughs. Wrap quartz crystals with shiny wire and suspend from sturdy branches to resemble icicles. Not forgetting apples, oranges and lemons, which, Cunningham adds, were customary in ancient times.
10 One thing we might learn from the USA is the idea of Thanksgiving, a day when we count our blessings and express gratitude. You could begin your own tradition of giving thanks, by making a thankfulness tree. “You can make this as a poster,” says Cox, “drawing a picture of a tree, then having the kids trace around their hands on coloured paper to make leaves. Spread the leaves across the table, and let everybody in the family write things on the leaves for which they are thankful that year. Glue the leaves on to the tree poster.”
11 Even simple, everyday pastimes can be given an element of mindfulness. Take colouring, for example. It doesn’t have to be Toy Story or Thomas the Tank Engine. Look for resources on the internet that are suitable for your children with a message that encourages them spiritually. Many home-schooling webpages will have worksheets with spiritual themes, or try the websites associated with your particular belief system (or unbelief system). Diana Cooper’s Angel Colouring Book is a unique and new way of introducing the idea of angels to your youngsters. Not only are the pictures of angels and children beautiful to colour in, the text on each page is life-affirming and accessible, such as “Angels only see the good in you” and “When I share with others, more comes to me.”
GLOOM DOLLS: A HEALING ACTIVITY
You will need: Paper, pencils/ crayons; white cloth cut into 12” squares (you can use an old sheet); newspapers or wood, matches to make a fire
Each person writes his or her “glooms” on pieces of paper. These are things and feelings that family members dislike about their lives, from not making the cricket team to a serious illness or family crisis. Unless the children need someone to write for them, or want to share their glooms, these should be private. After writing the glooms down, crumple the paper into a ball, to make the doll’s head. Stick it in the middle of the fabric square and use a piece of string to tie the material round the paper ball, thus forming a head. In a barbeque outside or a fireplace inside, start a small fire. Discuss letting go all of the bad feelings that “haunt” us. Then everybody throws their gloom dolls into the fire, and watches them burn away.
12 Author, speaker and life-coach, Barbara A Clark, suggests each member of the family might choose to give something away from their wardrobe, bookshelf or toybox. This could either be to a charity shop or simply to a friend – it’s heart-warming to get a gift out of the blue, accompanied with the words “I’ve always liked this and I thought you would, too.”
13 “Pay the toll of the person’s car behind you,” says Clark, who is also known as The Spiritual Strider. If your kids are in the car, let them know kindness is appreciated by strangers as well as friends.
14 Give a children’s magazine subscription to your local children’s ward or hospice. Let your child pick an appropriate one.
15 Clark also suggests “a healing basket for a friend who is feeling down.” Include bath/ toiletry items, a good book, a handdrawn picture, candles, lotions, a meditation CD such as Healing with your Guardian Angel, a crystal, or any other ideas you have which will make him or her feel better.
16 When giving gifts, make sure it really is the thought that counts. Sarah Flower, author of Live More, Spend Less, encourages us to spend time on presents, not money. “Homemade gifts really mean a lot,” she reminds us. “It could be a jar of jam or chutney, a cake, some chocolates or even skincare products you’ve made yourself.” Use your skills and the art of customisation. “You can buy plain t-shirts for children and appliqué some vintage or kids’ fabric or motif on the front,” Flower says. Set an example and be brave enough to give thoughtful but inexpensive gifts, and home-crafted cards with meaningful messages.
17 Watch only positive programmes on television and inspiring films. Take care and be mindful when you are browsing the internet. Why choose to watch things that make you feel horrified, frightened or depressed?
18 Elspeth Thompson encourages us to feed our spiritual side by “spending time looking at beautiful books on art, spirituality or nature, or by reading contemplative poetry.” This could be done as a family. “Sometimes,” adds Thompson, “a simple walk on your own in nature is what is required to still the mind and replenish the spirits. No texting or chatting on the mobile phone while you are doing it, though!”
19 So how else to get the good feelings flowing? Particularly on those days when you’d really like a day off from the Job for Life which is parenthood. The Feel Good Friends affirmation cards help children to identify with different feelings and emotions, and ways to express these feelings. Used regularly, they will help to instil positive beliefs and enable children to recognise their unique talents and abilities. Encourage your children to pick a card whenever they want. You can ask them questions about it and get them to think of examples and experiences in their own life that relate to it. Choosing a card at bedtime will help your child to focus on the positive as sleep comes. Many of us have to be taught not to worry but to concentrate on the good things. Select a card in the morning, say the affirmation, and start your day on a positive note; stick it on the fridge or the wall so everyone will see it regularly. Feel Good Cards are a great way to cheer up an upset or doubting child, and remind them how special they are. Instilling positive beliefs in our children is perhaps the greatest spiritual gift we can give them.
20 Make a commitment, either to yourself or as a family, to say nothing but positive things to people for a whole day. Notice how difficult it is not to criticize and moan about things; it has almost become a national sport!
21 If you hear someone being gossiped about, make a point of voicing a pleasant comment about them, rather than adding to the negativity.
22 Meg Cox proposes that a weekly family night will do a lot to keep you close and spiritually in-tune. Choose one night a week that everyone’s at home and start with a simple dinner that everybody enjoys. You might start the meal with a song or hymn reserved specially for that occasion, and say a grace or pray together. Cox says “Even for families who aren’t religious, saying grace before meals can be a wonderful ritual of transition. It functions like a call to reconnection after a day of separation.” Lighting a candle can add a sense of occasion and connectedness. Some families choose a different topic for their family night each week, “often related to peace and social justice, that is explored with a biblical verse and then a related activity. After dinner, the family could play games, go on a special outing, like a walk to the park” suggests Cox, “or look at family photos.”
THE QUAKER GRACE “Us and this: God bless”
FROM THE WICCAN TRADITION “The table round contains the Earth And thus becomes the Mother. We share her bounty in this hour And bless and love each other.”
SUFI SONG May the blessings of God* Rest upon you. May God’s peace abide in you May God’s presence Illuminate your heart Now and forever more. *God = Love, Life, the Goddess, etc.
23 Bedtime prayers are a wonderful way to pass on or explore religious traditions and beliefs, and help teach children gratitude and empathy. You could start by asking for blessing on the family and protection, and praying for others. Author of Let the Children Pray, Esther Ilnisky, suggests that “if a child is having problems at school, they pray for God to help them, plus the other kids at the school having a hard time.”
24 Even before Meg Cox started attending church with her son, she said a prayer in bed with him every night. “It’s sort of a loose conversation with God, asking for help and guidance for our family and others, but at the heart of it is gratitude,” she says. “I start by saying ‘Thank you for this day, God’ (no matter how rocky it’s been), and end with ‘Thank you for all the good things in our lives’, some of which I list.” And her son’s reaction? “At first he was mystified that I seemed to speak to the ceiling, but now he often inserts his own pleas and thanks to God.”
Being a parent can be challenging, so let your spirit be uplifted with these life-enhancing suggestions. Pick the actions that best suit your needs and bring some soul back into the heart of your family.
Parenting with Spirit by Jane Bartlett
Buddha at Bedtime: Tales of Love and Wisdom by Dharmachari Nagaraja
The Singing Day by Candy Verney
Angel Colouring Book by Diana Cooper
Wicca: A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham
Live More, Spend Less by Sarah Flower
The Wonderful Weekend Book by Elspeth Thompson