Sunday, April 28, 2013

PICTURES FOR PARENTS : PART 6 "SERENITY OF A MADONNA - Mother, an Example of Unruffled Tranquility"

                                             The Child's Caress : Mary Cassatt
                                     The Child's Bath : Mary Cassatt
                                   Small Cowper Madonna : Raphael
                                             Young Mother : Renoir
                                         Doni Tondo : Michelangelo
                                  Madonna and Child : Fra Filippo Lippi
This is the 6th post in the series PICTURES FOR PARENTS. This post is called "Serenity of a Madonna - Mother, an example of unruffled tranquility."
"It is not for nothing that the old painters, however diverse their ideas in other matters, all fixed upon one quality as proper to the pattern Mother. The Madonna, no matter out of whose canvas she looks at you, is always serene. This is a great truth, and we should do well to hang our walls with the Madonnas of all the early Masters if the lesson, taught through the eye, would reach with calming influence to the heart." School Education : Charlotte Mason. p 33.
If you google image "paintings of mothers" or "old master paintings of mothers", you will find an enormous number of mother and madonna paintings that have been painted over the centuries, and most of them have serene faces.
I like Charlotte Mason's thought or wish, that the serenity in the painted madonna's face could bring calm to the heart of the gazer. I want to make some comments on 2 sections of the quote above.
  1.  "It is not for nothing that the old painters .... all fixed on one quality as proper to the pattern mother." ~
It is not coincidental that the old painters came to the same conclusion, then attempted to paint this one 'quality' to represent motherhood - serenity. What an unlikely choice! Some would say that mothers have moved on from here, mothers today can do anything. Some may think serenity to be irrelevant for a mother in the 21st century. We are too busy and there's no time to sit around being serene. With the many messages today of what a mum is to be, we tend to want to be free from such a restrictive role of expressionless, dull, non-assertive, serenity. But the point Charlotte Mason makes, that countless artists not just through the Renaissance but over many centuries, have repeatedly portrayed mothers with a serene expression, certainly  makes one stop and think. WHY serene?
"SERENE" = calm, untroubled, unperturbed, expressive or suggestive of tranquility, clear, quiet radiance or brightness, unruffled, cheerful.  Charlotte suggests that the pattern of a mother, the template from which motherhood comes, is serenity, and the old painters continued to express this trait in the faces of mothers for hundreds of years. So serenity must be an important ingredient in a mother's makeup. 
If you think back to when you were a child and imagine how you would have felt if your mother had been calm, untroubled, unperturbed, tranquil, unruffled and cheerful through most of your growing-up years, you would possibly have grown into a different adult to who you are today. Your childhood would probably have been more wonderful than it was. It would have developed your capacity to be calm, unflappable and confident. This is what our children need for their future, they need to find in us a confident example of serenity. Living in a time of huge hurry and distraction, children need mothers who are serene.
  2.  "The lesson taught through the eye could reach with calming influence to the heart." ~
In the past centuries, before books were a common possession, images and art were a means of learning and influenced people's lives. Today we still know this to be true with the growing power of the visual world  through technology. Statistics increasingly show the connection between the visual material people look at and how they think and behave. This has been proven especially in the areas of violence and inappropriate sexual material. 
What we look at shapes what we think, say and do.
So Charlotte's idea to "hang our walls  with the Madonnas of all the early Masters", has real merit. Continually looking at serene faces, being reminded of the positive effects of an untroubled mum who expresses tranquility, is unruffled, cheerful and calm, could possibly have the effect Charlotte hopes for, in influencing our heart and starting new patterns of thought and behaviour, to the benefit of ourselves and out family.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ borrow some art books from the library with prints of mothers and madonnas. Have a close look at the mothers faces, and look at what they are doing while they hold their serene expression on their face. They are probably doing normal everyday jobs, like we do. Take your time to look carefully. Put them up for a time if you wish so you can memorise the images, and keep them influencing your mind.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

PICTURES FOR PARENTS - PART 5 " CARRYING OUR OWN WATER JARS - Parents are Parents, Children are Children"

                                                    Kurdish Women Carrying Water Jars.
This is PART 5 in a series, PICTURES FOR PARENTS,"CARRYING OUR OWN WATER JARS - Parents are Parents, Children are Children."
"In a nutshell, parentification is violation of a generational line," says Bryan Robinson, professor of counselling, special education and child development at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. "It's a line that says, 'We're adults, and you're children.' "
Robinson believes that line is being crossed more often these days, and not just in clear-cut involving neglect, sexual abuse and severely troubled parents. It's happening, he says, in outwardly successful families with parents who are absorbed in work, stressed by divorce, or just plain afraid to say no to their kids. ....
Much of what Robinson and his colleagues say sounds like old-fashioned common sense: Parents owe it to their children to set limits, make tough decisions, be the caretakers and handle their own adult problems, rather than dumping them on the kids." WHEN CHILDREN TAKE ON A PARENTING ROLE : Ann Doss Helms. 
The quote above is in the early paragraphs of an excellent article
Ann Doss Helms, simply describes the problem and suggests how it expresses itself, robbing children of their childhood. She says some children have been 'parentified' or "forced into adult roles too early. And... can expect to bear emotional scars in adulthood.."
Much of her comments come from Professor Robinson, who helps us to see where the problem starts when he says that more incidence of this problem are seen today in, "outwardly successful families with parents who are absorbed in work, stress... or just plain afraid to say no to their kids."  Robinson suggests that parents have become distracted from their role of parenting by becoming preoccupied by work, stress, and fear. I think he is right. 
Charlotte Mason in her book School Education, also writes about this  problem and then goes on to give help. She says that when parents shift their responsibilities or anxieties onto children, they 'oppress' them. The burden of caring for and raising our children, she says, "must be borne by the parents alone."
Both Charlotte and Ann identify the same two examples of parentification ~
 1. When a child is looked on as a 3rd parent due to the work load of household jobs or expectations to raise younger siblings. I am an advocate of parents training their children to have household jobs and responsibilities and leadership in the family and have written many post on this. But the point here is that teenage children and even those in their twenties, if they still live at home, are not parents of the younger children of the family. They are adults or becoming adults, and are not parents at all. The responsibilities of parenting must be carried by parents alone. 
 2. Another way parents shift their responsibilities onto children, is when they discuss parental issues or concerns with their children. 'Running a parent idea past them', or just speaking about issues in their hearing, can involve them in a parents' domain. I know I often do this - sharing my worries about stretching the finances when minimal grocery shopping with them, or explaining why a child has to keep wearing the shoes with holes in the soles. I divulge more than I need and in doing so I cross that line that Bryan Robinson talks of. A recent result of this sort of happening was that my son said he didn't need birthday presents for his birthday last month, then he offered to pay for the milk I bought at the dairy. I had crossed that line. There is of course is a subtle path to tread in this area as I want my kids to be money-wise and care for property. But the fact remains they are not parents and I am not to tax their thinking by involving them to try to problem-solve our family financial situation. They are children and I am the parent.
Charlotte Mason ends this section about parents alone carrying the burden of raising their children, with the picture of what we are to do - "But let them bear it with easy grace and an erect carriage, as the Spanish peasant bears her water-jar." What is that? As this section follows the section I wrote on last week, I think it is connected to the points there - THE POWER OF SUNSHINE AND SHOWERS.
The three words that Bryan Robinson gives - the preoccupyers which take our attention away from our correct role of parenting - work, stress and fear, definitely need our attention. We are parents whether we chose to be or not. Choosing to be preoccupied with work at the expense of raising our children needs to be examined. 
Managing parental stress also needs to be sorted with help from the abundance of books available on the subject, or may be a choice of reorienting your perspective on life, family and pursuits. 
Fear of our children is a wrong mindset. For help, read THE POWER OF SUNSHINE AND SHOWERS 
The photo at the top is not of Spanish women but these women are strong, even elegant, and were possibly shouldering their responsibilities "with easy grace and an erect carriage". They must have lived with stresses, not like ours, but I'm sure they were genuine stresses. In their culture and time in history they knew what is was to work very hard and were not "afraid to say no to their kids." 
It can be done - many parents have lived in their families "carrying their own water jars" and being parents and letting their children be children.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ have a chat with a friend or your partner about this and be honest about what needs changing in your situation. You kids need you to be the parent so they can be children. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013


This is the fourth post in the series PICTURES FOR PARENTS - "The Power of Sunshine and Showers - Parents Need Self Confidence."
Once again Charlotte Mason has triggered the picture and much of the sentiment of this post. 
"Self Confidence.... Parents should trust themselves more. .. The mere...fact of the parental relationship and of that authority which belongs to it, by right and by nature, acts upon the children as do sunshine and showers on a seed in good soil." SCHOOL EDUCATION :Charlotte Mason p 29.
"If a parent's goal is to raise his or her children into responsible adults-not just to make kids happy-it's essential to have a plan. But many moms and dads find themselves making it up as they go along, with little consistency or purpose."
"The mother [or father] often enough looses her hold over her children because they detect in the tone of her voice that she does not expect them to obey her...she doesn't think enough of her position; has not sufficient confidence in her own authority." HOME EDUCATION;Charlotte Mason p 162 - 163.
If a small seed is planted in good soil and given sunshine and rain, most people would agree that it will grow into a healthy plant. In fact most people would be confident in this fact. 
Sadly many people today do not hold this same confidence in the role of parents. Many parents themselves don't know who they are, are not clear on what they are meant to do, let alone how to do it. This problem begins with a doubt in the position that parents have, and the authority that goes with that role. This confused picture of authority is not restricted to parenting alone, but is effecting many areas of our society today.
The media certainly has not helped parents in this area, with its disconnected 'parent help' articles and information, which may give a momentary idea, but miss the starting, essential ingredient and belief that parents need - PARENTS HAVE AUTHORITY - They are authorised to parent, they have a position, a function, which they have not earned through their own personal abilities, but have been given. Their authority is in their 'office' (just as it is for Queen Elizabeth), not in them personally as people. If we view parental authority as something that comes from personal skills, we move into disastrous territory where parenting is based on our own opinions and inconsistencies alone. If you know the history of the kings and queens of any nation, you will recognise this fact as true, with some disastrous royal reigns due to autocratic or self preoccupied rulers.
In her book A Philosophy of Education, Charlotte Mason discusses the confused mindset of some, that authority brings tyranny, resulting in children living like slaves. Holding the opposite view, she says that without authority freedom can not exist. She describes the 'behaviour' of authority as neither "harsh nor indulgent", it is gentle and fully approachable on issues that are unimportant, but unalterable on matters of real importance which are fixed and permanent. These include things such as, children must eat healthy food, be respectful, do the jobs that are theirs. 
Charlotte agrees that parents can be wrong, and in such cases must apologies to their children. Parents must know when to take advice, knowing their role exists for the good of their children. We need a "quick and tender open-minded sympathy which enables us to see their side of every question as well as our own." School Education: Charlotte Mason p18. These, says Charlotte, are qualities which come from authority.
This is a picture of ordered life and ordered freedom.
"It is necessary that we should all follow an ordered course, and children, even infant children, must begin in the way in which they will have to go on." A Philosophy of Education : Charlotte Mason p 70.
Both parents and children are working towards the same goal - of children growing up, maturing, becoming adults and gaining independence.
But there's another interesting facet - authority is also in-built into children. It is only as parents make opportunities for children to "free-play" with their authority, that they will be properly prepared for adult life and its responsibilities.
SO much to think about here, and draw out into personal application!
This is why I am working at putting together a business where I can meet with parents one-on-one to discuss topics such as this, and assist parents to think through how it applies to their family, helping plan strategies to action it at home.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ You don't need to 'put on a face' of authority. Read through this post or the 3 beginning quotes, each day for a week, to help change your mindset of who you are as a parent.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

PICTURES FOR PARENTS PART 3 : "LIVING IN THE KINGDOM OF SILK - Parents need to be Tender-Hearted like Nell Silk"

"And Nell lived with them all looked after them and loved them all even though she wasn't related to them by birth, only by heart." ALL THE COLOURS OF PARADISE:Glenda Millard, p 48.
"Nell grandmothers the Silks, tells them true things she has learnt over her many years of living. She is old and wise and perhaps a little magic, as many grandmothers are. Nell says Grandmother magic is left over from childhood; that we all are born with magic in us but many of us forget about it when we are grown up. Nell is loved and listened to." PLUM PUDDINGS AND PAPER MOONS: Glenda Millard, p 3.
"Almost all the recipes pasted into Nell's spiral-bound cookery book with flour-and-water glue were hand-me-downs. Most had been hand written by the people who gave them to Nell. Often the writing was faded and the paper yellowed. Nell thought of these recipes as pieces of other people's lives, given away like slices of Armenian Love Cake with a cup of tea. .... Tiny treasures to keep forever. Nell knew most of them by heart, but she sometimes read her recipe book the way other people might read a novel. Sometimes she laughed as she read. Sometimes she cried. "PLUM PUDDINGS AND PAPER MOONS: Glenda Millard, p 30-31.
"Nell's heart was gently squeezed and she wished everyone was as lucky as she was and could eat (Christmas) pudding with people they loved." PLUM PUDDINGS AND PAPER MOONS:Glenda Millard, p43.
"Later, when Nell was resting amongst the feathery hills and downy valleys of her eiderdown, Scarlet crept into her bedroom and slid between the sheets. Nell's arms went around her the way they had so many times before. Scarlet stared out the window where stars pricked holes in the darkness like tiny promises of brighter tomorrows and she wondered how to explain the things she felt inside. .... But many unsayable things have been said because of eiderdowns and a grandmother's arms. 'I'm so sorry I was mean tonight, Nell,' whispered Scarlet. .... 'You're forgiven for shouting,' said Nell, 'but you don't have to apologise for disagreeing with someone or something." PLUM PUDDINGS AND PAPER MOONS:Glenda Millard, p58-59.
"The following morning Scarlet lay on the old red couch by the verandah steps. .... A pair of Nell's old spectacles with rhinestone-studded purple frames was perched on the end of her nose. Scarlet was wearing them to try to understand the world wisely, the way Nell did." PLUM PUDDINGS AND PAPER MOONS:Glenda Millard, p 62-63.
"Not many people expect the world's leading authority on tender moments to be a small white-haired woman who doesn't drive a car or know how to operate a computer and who has no ambition to learn how to. Nell Silk never attended a university because they do not offer courses in subjects such as the observation of tender moments. There is no technology, no textbook, no diagram or formula with clear instruction on how to identify and preserve them, pressed like forget-me-nots, between the pages of one's life. It is a hand-me-down skill usually passed on by wise and wonderful grand people to their children and grandchildren." THE TENDER MOMENTS OF SAFFRON SILK:Glenda Millard, p 11-13.
This is the third post in the series PICTURE FOR PARENTS ~ "Living in the Kingdom of Silk - Parents need to be tender-hearted, like Nell Silk.
WHO IS Nell Silk?? you ask. She is one of the characters in a series of books written by Australian author Glenda Millard.
The Naming of Tishkin Silk  (not in photo as it's lent out)
Layla Queen of Hearts
Perry Angel's Suitcase
All the Colours of Paradise
Plum Puddings and Paper Moons
The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk   Published by ABC Books.
The first three books have won book awards and my guess is the others will in time. Over Easter I continued reading the series which is like a heart-holiday or reviver, written for people of all ages. I highly recommend them.
The point or picture I want to 'paint' in this post, comes again from Charlotte Mason's book "School Education". It is about parents being  Warm-Hearted, having a disposition that inspires and invigorates others, of warmth, heart-felt friendliness, openness in an honourable straightforward manner, not trifling but persistent in a passionate desire to see a cause outside one's self, advance and develop. 
Nell Silk in the Silk Kingdom books, is a true 'fit' with the above description. Yes the books are fiction and the characters are made up, but the stories, the conversations, the tough life situations, the oddities that come into one's life, are all so familiar to 'normal' life. The courses of action, methods of working with the difficulties, and conclusions in the books, set one's thoughts moving in our own set of circumstances. The real reason I want to encourage you to read these books is to be "inspired", "invigorated", to be challenged out of our comfortable adult minds, and to see things as children do. 
Charlotte Mason gives this character trait the title of "The Element of Good Humour" and says it "is the outcome of strength", the opposite of "overmuch complacency, and a general giving-in to all the children's whims." which she states is an outcome of parental weakness. Charlotte adds that children are quick to see the difference. Strength breeds being "loved and listened to", while weakness "produces a restless desire (in children) to gain some other easy victory" over their parents.
The 'picture' given in this post, is another positive example of where to head as a parent. In a world where women's media especially, cuts ties of security in womanhood and parenting, with their ever changing perspective of what parenting is truly about, this series of books gives a cheerful and refreshing mind-sensation to the reader/parent.
I enjoyed Glenda Millard's description of Nell Silk being "the world's leading authority on tender moments", drawing attention to the fact that the skill of Warm-Heartedness, Heart-Felt Friendliness, being Honourable in a Straightforward Manner or possessing the Element of Good Humour, is  "pressed like forget-me-nots, between the pages of one's life." This is not to say that if you missed it in your own up-bringing, you can never pick it up - definitely not. You just have to read, talk to, watch and be a part of families who live like those in the Kingdom of Silk.
THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ start reading these books with your children.