Wednesday, March 27, 2013


This is the 2nd post in the series PICTURES FOR PARENTS - 
"SEEING WITHOUT WATCHING - Parents are to be Sphinx-like"
"Like the great pyramids, Chephren's sphinx has endured over the long centuries. Today, as it did more than 4,500 years ago, it stands in the shadows of the pyramids of Giza, gazing sightlessly out over the Nile towards the rising sun."  THE PHARAOHS OF ANCIENT EGYPT: Elizabeth Payne. p59
A sphinx is a creature with a head and intelligence of a human (pharaoh) and the body and strength of a lion. The ancient Egyptian word = "shesep ankh", means "living image" (Ancient Egyptians: The Kingdom of the Pharaohs Brought to Life : Anton Gill). The sphinx in Giza guards the pyramids. Unlike the pyramids, which with effort were constructed out of stone from the rock cliffs on the opposite side of the Nile, the sphinx was carved into a natural outcrop of rock. It is the largest monolith sculpture in the world - 73.5 m long and 20.2 m high. Originally it was covered in polished stone, but is now weather-worn.
What an appropriate picture of parenting the sphinx is - given by Charlotte Mason.
The information above gives us numbers of connections with parenting. To say the sphinx "has endured over long centuries", is a fact-filled incredible statement 
~ the extreme harshness of desert conditions, which have surrounded the sphinx - parenting parallels here.
~ the multiple millions of tourists, the innumerable invading armies, then the determined rulers who followed after Chephren, that gorked, chipped away at, attempted to vandalise, deface, even wipe out the memory the sphinx - again strong parenting links to this point.
~ then there's the idea of a very long length of time that the sphinx has simply been there, doing its job - just like parenting.
The point that "it stands in the shadow" needs thought - this is where we parents need to be, rather than 'out-there'.
But the last point from this quote "gazing sightlessly" is worth spending time thinking about.
Charlotte Mason's reasons for saying parents are to be sphinx-like, are given in these 3 points:
1. She starts by saying that, parents "...must see without watching, know without telling, be on the alert always, yet never obviously, fussily, so. This open-eyed attitude must be sphinx-like in its repose." This could sound heavy-handed with parents having their nose into everything that the kids are doing, but she doesn't mean that. She's talking about parents being up with what their children are interested in, and involved in, however not living it with them, or in-their-face. 
Next she tells us how we are to do this, to stay aware. With an element of respect for the child  - we don't question them as though we are scrutinising or accusative of what they are doing, (rather we choose to use those same CAREFUL eyes we had when they were newborns and were finding their way) - we do not fuss over them or treat them as if they are unable to make choices, ( rather we casually look them over, and move along). We are asked to see, know, and be alert with the principle of loving compassionate for our child. 
2. The second point is that children must be confident that parents are leaving them to decide for themselves, both when they are working on things they are obliged to do, and when they seek their own pleasure. This is a continuation of respect and trust which parents must display towards their children, when they are working on their home work, their responsibilities assigned to them, and organizing their own fun... These are time we are to be like the sphinx - present, but the kids don't realize we are even there, instead are confidently going about what they are doing, knowing we support or trust in them. This too applies when they are outside our home, are teenagers... This trust element from parents to children is crucial for children to grow up well!!!!!!!
3. A child must not feel they are hemmed in without choice. There's no point children growing up obeying, studying hard, volunteering to help.... if their action resulted from pressure or came from having no self-choice. "The child who is good because they must be so, loses in the power of initiative more than they gain in seemly behaviour. Every time a child feels that they choose to obey of their own accord, their power of initiative is strengthened. ... When it occurs to a child to reflect on their behaviour, they should have that sense of liberty which makes their good behaviour appear to them a matter of their own preference and choice." 
Back to my introductory information about the sphinx:
~ it is a guardian (not a controller)
~ it represented strength and intelligence (not command)
~ it originally was covered in polished stone, but now is weather-worn (the veneer removed, the real revealed)
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ read some ancient Egyptian history with your kids, looking carefully at all the fantastic attainments of that culture. Don't neglect the sphinx at Giza.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


This is the first post of a series called "PICTURES OF PARENTING".
The idea started last night during a discussion of Charlotte Mason's material on the subject of parents needing to let children alone. Let's start in the garden to find out more.
"Fruit trees not only produce a rewarding crop of fruit each year, but are also great as a decorative garden feature, providing spring flowers, fragrance and summer shade. Fruit trees are actually easy to grow and many trees will manage with relatively little care." GROWING GREAT FRUIT TREES:
This fridge magnet of the teddybear gardener, now lives on our refrigerator. I bought it years ago one Fathers Day for my Dad. He was a gardener, a neat dressed man, in garden shoes and gloves, shirt with no tie. But the tie, apron and bear-face expression of confidence, a little fuddy-duddy with complete approachableness, was my Dad, so I bought it for him. 
He loved his garden, and knew his garden. He wasn't chained to it, but he mowed, pruned, mulched, mowed, fertilised, mowed, weeded - especially the lawn, watered, mowed... so that it always looked great, actually inspirational in the spring and summer.
Charlotte Mason in her book, Home Education, says, "The gardener, it is true, 'digs about and dungs,' prunes and trains, his peach tree; but that occupies a small fraction of the tree's life: all the rest of the time the sweet airs and sunshine, the rains and dews, play about it and breathe upon it, get into its substance, and the result is - peaches. But let the gardener neglect his part, and the peaches will be no better than sloes." page 134.
I believe that sloes are North American fruit trees whose fruit is tart, rather than sweet like a peach. 
I am impressed when I think about my Dad's gardening skills and attribute the beauty of our family garden had, to him. But Charlotte reminds me that his part was  not the only factor that was going on in growing the garden. For a far bigger portion of time, the trees and plants were influenced by the air, sun, rain and dew - getting into their substance. My Dad had no control over these things!! He simply did "his part" and the plants knew how to do the rest.
This is a picture for us of parenting. We have our "part" to do, the caring like digging, dunging, pruning and training of our children, but for children to grow and develop 'sweet fruit' in their lives, like the peaches, they need a far bigger portion of time, in Charlotte's words, to be "let alone". This involves not giving "perpetual commands and directions - a running fire of do and don't; but letting them go their own way and grow, having first secured that they will go the right way, and grow to fruitful purpose." - back to our small part of digging...
I loved the point in the quote above from the Mitre 10 website, that fruit trees not only produce fruit, but give decorative, perfume and flower beauty in the garden and contribute to the garden by giving it shade. This is the result and function of a well grown fruit tree. This too, is our desire in relation to our children. That they contribute into our family and into the community in helpful ways, and make life a joy and inspiration for others.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ as you go about your "digging and dunging", keep the proportion correct of "letting them alone". All the best with your gardening.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


"How good and glad it is to be grateful! The joy is not merely that we have received a favour or a little kindness which speaks of the goodwill and love, but that a beautiful thing has come out of some other person's beautiful heart for us; .... We lose this joy often enough because we are too self-absorbed to be aware of kindness, or are too self-complacent to think any kindness more that our desert." Ourselves :Charlotte Mason p. 108.
"... Appreciation, whose business it is to weigh and consider, duly and delicately, the merits, the fine qualities, of a person, a country, a cause, of a book or a picture. .... It is so good and pleasant to notice a trait of unselfishness here, of delicacy there, of honour elsewhere; to observe and treasure the records of the beauty of perfectness in any man's work, whether the work be a great poem or the sweeping of a room. It is a happy thing to discriminate peculiar beauties in another country and find traits of character that differ from our own in people of another nationality. Life has no greater joy-giver than Appreciation, and though this Appreciation is the due of others, and our duty towards them, we get more than we give, for there is no purer pleasure than that of seeing the good in everything, the beauty in everyone." Ourselves : Charlotte Mason p. 148.
These words written so long ago, are about practices and attitudes which are rarely thought about today. If we use words such as being "glad", "grateful", "joy", "kindness", "goodwill", we possibly have a different idea in mind to what the quote intends. Words like "self-absorbed" and "self-complacent", are more familiar because we experience and know about these. Here is an indicator of both how far we have shifted in mind attitudes, and also of where we should head, in order to come away from the current brain, body and relationship damage we live amongst. We need to learn to appreciate and offer gratitude.
In his book, "Thrilled to Death", Archibald Hart says that appreciation is the foundation for gratitude, because you can't feel gratitude for someone you don't appreciate. Here is the core of where we are going wrong, why we rarely sense the joy described by Charlotte Mason in the quote above. So learning to appreciate is the place to start.
To be honest most days I get through the day and hardly have a memory of the things I need to remember, let alone having "weighed and considered", "noticed", "observed" or "discriminated" the finer qualities of people around me. Proof that I'm "too self-absorbed to be aware of" worthwhile things and people in my life.  And I can't expect anything different in my family if I don't change my ways first.
There are numbers of books that give helpful methods to learn how to appreciate your life, the people in it and even difficult situations. One book is Ann Voskamp's, "One Thousand Gifts". It trains us to stop in our busyness and recognise that a simple object and a common situation, have something worth giving time to and thinking carefully about. I found beauty, intricacy, and things I'd not noticed, which led to thoughts I'd not considered before. For me it was finding the profound in the familiar. 
When a person is oblivious they don't know what they are missing.
~ Hints to Help Children Learn Appreciation ~
  * Learning appreciation is all about moving one's mind off self and onto someone or something else.
  * How aware are your children of their surroundings? Begin here. Get them to look and therefore give them a curiosity and appreciation for the weeds, plants, trees, grass, animals, birds, insects, reptiles, clouds and sky both day and night, waterways, mountains, rocks..... just outside the window. Our ignorance of what's close at hand breeds hollowness of mind.
  * Appreciation can only be learnt through finding it oneself - so telling a child how much they should appreciate XYZ is useless. This is where bringing an ever widening world into your child's life is crucial, through  books, movies and people from other generations and cultures. Here is where a child discovers ways of life that are different to their own.
  * The learning of appreciation involves cultivating a tenderness in our mind and heart towards others. This is why it is essential that children have generous experiences with people in need in all senses of the word, as well as being taught to think on people, no matter who they are, with value and suitable respect.
  * Archibald Hart and Ann Voskamp agree that practice is fundamental. Hart says you need to daily practice appreciation. Voskamp encourages you to list everything you are appreciative for until you reach one thousand, and then go on to two thousand. They are clearly right, as a one-off attempt at appreciating does not bring change to a character or mindset.
Gratitude "serves as a major buffer, when regularly practiced, to many mental illnesses. It is also a major player in fostering authentic happiness." says Hart. Backed by studies, he also says that teenagers and young adults who practice gratitude, have higher "levels of the positive states of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy, compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison..."
Gratitude springs from thankfulness, that someone has been kind to us, helped us, often to their cost. So our gratitude needs to go beyond a thought, it needs to be expressed. Hart says, "speaking about it helps to reinforce the gratitude in your brain and sends it far and wide throughout your nervous system." 
Mason speaks both of gratitude and appreciation, as obligations that we owe to one another as fellow humans. 
~ Hints to Help Children Learn Gratitude ~
  * Building a gratitude attitude in your children starts by chatting regularly about the many things as a family, you can be grateful for.
  * Communicating gratitude may be spoken, expressed through our face - a glance, warm smile, soft and kind eyes, a wink, it can be in a touch or in many other forms. The important thing is it must come from the heart, so can not be rehearsed. Then it "will fill the person who has done us a kindness with pleasure." says Charlotte Mason.
  * As in appreciation, gratitude must be frequently practiced to become a habit, "watching for opportunities" and developing "a good memory and a quick eye to see where" gratitude is due.("Ourselves":Charlotte Mason)
Learning gratitude is rather like learning to be content in whatever situation we find ourselves. "If your attitude is right and your perspective healthy, it takes very little to make you content." says Hart. 
"....for a glorious day, for a face of a little child, for happy work, for pleasant places. According to the saying of Jeremy Taylor, he is quick to 'taste the deliciousness of his employment'. He is thankful for all the good that comes to him. The poor soul who believes that life yields him nothing beyond his deserts, that it would be, in fact, impossible to give him more than he pays for, whether in coin or merit, is to be pitied for all the joys he loses, as well as blamed for the pain and irritation his progress through life must cause. 
'Yea, a joyful and a pleasant thing it is to be thankful!'." Ourselves:Charlotte Mason p. 111.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ where will YOU start. Wherever it is, remember you're teaching your kids to "observe and treasure" not the  flamboyant and thrilling, but the heart-felt simple, common experiences that happen everyday.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013



"Everyone needs to have an enlarged capacity for appreciation and gratitude. Both help the human brain to regulate the delivery of pleasure.
Appreciation and gratitude are emotional states of mind that both help to create the right conditions for pleasure - pleasure that is enduring and that can never become addicting. If you could become addicted to showing appreciation and gratitude, it would be an addiction worth pursuing.
These emotional states not only help us to experience pleasure in the ordinary things of life, but they also help to protect the pleasure system in the brain from being led astray and depending only on super-flooded thrills that can numb our pleasure pathways. They help to soothe and heal the pleasure system when it has been abused."
THRILLED TO DEATH : Dr Archibald Hart. p 194.
The initial story on the front page last weekend of our "Sunday Star Times", was headed, "Fantasy Game Turns Deadly - Online Gamer Loses Cyber Battle then Accused of Killing Opponent". The article filled in the details of the tragic story that the headline had already given away.
Games mentioned in the article such as, "Guild Wars" and "Oblivion", are only one of many activities which Hart would put in the "super-flooded thrills" category. A fair proportion of young adult literature and assorted television programs, also play on creating a hunger for thrill.
But the main point of Hart's quote, is that appreciation and gratitude help the pleasure system in our brains to remain healthy and even recover from abuse.
We get an unexpected feeling when we verbally show we appreciate someone. When I go through the checkout at the supermarket I deliberately choose the ones operated by students. I started this subconsciously when one of our children, having finished school, had taken a trip for a year overseas. I like to ask these students about themselves, what country they come from, if they have family here in New Zealand, what they are studying, what they're doing that evening or over the weekend... And then when I've paid my bill I wish them the best in their studies and thank them for helping me with my groceries and for being prepared to chat. 
We usually part with smiles all around. But I continue to experience a happy feeling all the way to the car park.
This is what Hart describes as "an extra boost of dopamine to my pleasure center".
In his book, Hart talks a lot about the alarming way people of all ages are damaging their pleasure systems through an insatiable appetite for thrill related activities and leisure pursuits. The article in our weekend newspaper blatantly displays an horrific outcome. But my interest, while I do want to sound an alarm of this danger, is more in how to pursue the practice of appreciation and gratitude, since it is this danger's cure.
But first, please watch this youtube clip - yes it's cute, but again it shows that even at a young age a habit is very easy to start, which could affect one's pleasure centre. CUTE BABY ON YOUTUBE.
Parents lead by example in all areas of life, including in how we show our appreciation for something. If we routinely speak such positive thoughts out loud, our children see 'how you do it'. And of course the opposite is equally true. 
Charlotte Mason gives a great illustration. "Have you ever thrown a stone into the water and watched the circles about it spread? As a matter of fact, they spread to the very shores of the pond or lake or sea into which you have thrown the stone; more, they affect the land on the further side. But those distant circles become so faint that they are imperceptible, while those nearest the point where you have thrown in the stone are clearly marked. So it is with our Gratitude. It is as if, in the first place, our home were the stone thrown in to move our being; and from the central point the circle of our gratitude widens until it embraces all men." "Ourselves": Charlotte Mason page 81-82.
Charlotte's point is that as gratitude is practiced its affect is felt by many others. It radiates out or multiplies.
Thinking of this in terms of Archibald Hart's points, gives something inspiring to think about - the pleasure systems of all those people being helped to recover or strengthen in a good way.
There is another side to practicing appreciation and gratitude which needs to be considered also. Everyone has experienced receiving an 'empty' comment of gratitude, where the speaker either gives it out of duty or politeness, or speaks of things which just do not connect as things to be appreciated for the receiver. 
For example - the musician who is thanked profusely for an memorable performance with the final comment of, "... I was so glad when it was all over." My husband has a teasing habit in this area, where most nights he comes out with, "That has to be the best dinner I have ever eaten."
So to 'do the trick' of helping another's pleasure system, there needs to be reality in the comment, sincerity in the words and sentiment and some  time taken to express our appreciation with our mind on that person.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ have a look at how much appreciation and gratitude is expressed in your family. Next post will include some methods to help you set up new habits in appreciation and gratitude.