Tag: slow parenting

YOUR Extraordinary Family Life

It was several years ago that Carrie Contey and I came up with the idea for Slow Family Living, after a workshop we did together. Though she handed the Slow Family reins to me a few years back, we still collaborate on many projects and on life in general. It is an inspired/inspiring web of new ideas.

Just recently we worked together on a web conference Carrie has organized with En*theos called YOUR Extraordinary Family Life, in which she has called together 15 amazing folks in the fields of parenting, human development, psychology, neuroscience, holistic nutrition, slow living and personal growth. And I am one of them! When I say amazing I’m  talking about people like Dr. Dan Siegel, Peggy O’Mara, Larry Cohen, Lenore Skenazy, Renee Trudeau and so many more. Needless to say I am HONORED to be counted among these incredible minds. I loved doing the interview with Carrie about Slow Family Living and I can’t wait to tune into to hear what all the others have to say!

The conference runs initially November 4-7th and then will be available online after that. It’s free if you sign up now. So might I recommend that you take a couple of minutes and go do that?

Bernadette + Carrie summer, 2013

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We All Like Different Things

The saying, “We all like different things” has been posted on our refrigerator for years now. I penned it one frustrating evening when every familial argument seemed to be one member trying to convince another that their perspective, likes, dislikes, tastes or ideas were correct, while the other person’s were then obviously incorrect. Each person then thinking that if others weren’t in agreement with their choices, words, thoughts, paths, decisions, then they were obviously being insulted. Not that the sign has ended such discussions,  but now I can merely point to the sign that says it all: WE ALL LIKE DIFFERENT THINGS. Plain and simple.

My own mother used to say a similar thing in Latin… De Gustibus non es des putantum, which meant, “there is no accounting for taste,” or, in other words, “please stop arguing already.” Over the years it got shortened and we would say, after a lengthy, ahem, dialogue, “that’s a De Gustibus.” (forgive my Latin here, not sure if that’s how it’s spelled) 

It is human nature I suppose that convincing one another of our perspective is sport. Or hobby. Or way to wile away the time. At least in the families I’ve lived in so far.

This mantra of mine has come to encompass much more than just a settling of arguments; I also refer to it when pondering what will work for each person. Take, for example, our morning routine: 6 people, getting up, dressed, fed, gathered and out the door all in a timely fashion and so, I must remember my mantra…

We all like different things. We all like different things. We all like different things.

And we all have different needs.

One child can be up, dressed, eaten, ready in 15 minutes. Another needs a long lay about time, but not too long, or he starts thinking perhaps he’d rather stay home then head out to school. Another is a slow, slow waker who likes a long, hot shower to open her eyes, freshen her mind, and get her head on right in order to greet the world. I have finally realized my snooze button gets me nowhere and so, I have become an instant waker. More out of necessity than desire. Though I’ve tried to kick my night owl tendencies, it will never be in my nature to get up before the sun.

So finally, after so many years of trying to get everyone up at once, and trying to get everyone to fall into the same routine, and trying to put all my variously shaped pegs into one round hole, finally we have created a staggered start that seems to really work.

Rather than everyone up at once, it’s one at a time. Rather than all of us eating breakfast together, which was nice in my head but not always in actuality, there is a rotation which looks more like a relay than a shot-gun start.

In addition to everyone getting the start they need, there are benefits I never dreamed of from this new way of doing things: 

  1. Everyone has a little more space to do the things they need to do.
  2. I get a tiny dose of one on one with each child at wake up time and at the table.
  3. There is less conflict because everyone isn’t trying to get to the same place at the same moment in time.
  4. By meeting everyone where they are, everyone is able to tap in a little more into what they need and want. A valuable life skill for sure.
  5. Though in my head it’s always so important to do things as a family, I am able to remember the importance of seeing each person as an individual and remembering that we all need/want/like different things.


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I’ve been reading “Free to Be You and Me” these past few weeks with my 6 year old. I found it on the shelves of my childhood home. It’s a great book originally published in 1974 by Marlo Thomas and friends. It’s got stories, artwork, songs, poetry and theatrical pieces all about life and the pursuit of happiness and being one’s most complete self.

In the back there is an afterword by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.  It’s great information for kids and adults alike and especially for families who are trying to find ways to live the life they really want to live.

“I’ve often thought there ought to be a manual to hand to little kids, telling them what kind of plante they’re on, why they don’t fall off it, how mcuh time they’ve probably got here, how to avoid poison ivy, and so on. I tried to write one once. It was called Welcome to Earth. But I got stuck on explaining why we don’t fall off the planet. Gravity is just a word. It doesn’t explain anything. If I could get past gravity, I’d tell them how we reproduce, how long we’ve beenhere, apparently, and a little bit about evolution. And one thing I would really like to tell them about is cultural relativity. I didn’t learn until I was in college about all the other cultures, and I should have leanred that in the first grade. A first grader should understand that his or her culture isn’t a rational invention; that there are thousands of other cultures and they all work pretty well; that all cultures function on faith rather than truth; that there are lots of alternatives to our own society. Cultural relativity is defensible and attractive. It’s also a source of hope. It means we don’t have to continue this way if we don’t like it.” Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 

As I read it I realized that what he’s saying is one of the tenets of Slow Family Living; that we don’t have to do it just one way. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr is right when he says, we don’t have to continue this way if it’s not working. There are so many ways that family life can work. Find the way that works for you. The way that brings you the most joy and lifelong connection possible.


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Remember as a kid when you’d say “I’m bored” to your mom.  My mom’s response was always, “Read a book. Write a letter. Write a book. Read a letter.” And we’d sigh a big annoyed sigh, kick the floor then be on our way.

To my own kids I say this same thing or “bored is as bored does” or I offer up a list of serving suggestions.

Yesterday, I was working. My husband was home and offered an outing to the resident 6 and 10 year olds. The 6 year old went. The 10 year old declined. As my husband left he uttered the words that I’m sure the 10 year old didn’t want to hear but the words I would have uttered also, “No screen time!” Ah, foiled again.

She stayed home anyway. For a lazy summer morning at home with her 13 year old brother still sleeping. No screen time. Now what? She called me at work. “What am I gonna do? I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”

I of course offered a list of ideas, all of them rejected without even the slightest consideration. When will I learn that the statement of “I’m bored” isn’t exactly looking for solutions of the D.I.Y variety. Rather it usually wants some sort of action. Like a trip to the cold springs or a friend’s or anywhere that wasn’t home.  After a couple of minutes of rejected suggestions I reminded her to check her list of “boredom busters” she had made at the end of the school year, said goodbye and hung up, leaving her to her boredom.

When I got home there the most colorful paper dolls on the kitchen table that I had ever seen. In her bored state she sat down with markers and blank paper and just started coloring wildly – filling the paper in completely. Then she folded it up and cut it into the classic paper dolls. She made a few. They were lovely.


Had I been there to intercept her boredom, or had my husband allowed her verboten mid-day screen time,  this project would never had come to fruition. It wouldn’t even have popped into her head. But instead, her bored state opened the gate to her own creativity. She didn’t need me. Or my suggestions. Or to be whisked away to something else. She just needed to be allowed to get bored.

It’s hard to remember when our kids are bored that we don’t need to rescue them, rather we can just let them be bored. And see what beautiful place their boredom will take them.



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Summertime Off-Gassing

Here in our house, the last day of school was exciting of course. We were all thrilled to be finished up with ridiculously early alarm clocks and lunches and homework and all the other stuff that accompanies a school year. It’s fine for a while, but by the time you reach the end, it is a veritable drag to the finish. Tupperware starts cracking, notebooks begin unraveling, and even our psyches hit the breaking point. I’m never sure whether we reach that point because we know we’re near the end, or whether we’re near the end because we’re reaching that point.

Here in our house the last day of school was absolutely crazy too. Tempers were flaring. Little infractions were seen as major affronts. Siblings were at each other. People were even making declarations of not wanting to go to Grandma’s together! Which if you knew the glory of Grandma’s, you’d understand the magnitude of such a statement. And my behavior was really no better. And I thought to myself, “oh man, there’s something wrong with us.” Seriously.

My friend Carrie, she who is witness to a lot of my parenting,  called it off-gassing, which by definition is the emission of especially noxious gasses. That description gave me great comfort.  And with that in mind I entered back into the fray.

When I shared  the story of our awful last day with a mama-of-3 friend of mine,  she grabbed my shoulder and exalted,  “US TOO! ME TOO! AWFUL! FIGHTING! CRAZY!!” And she too thought, “wow there must be something wrong with my little family as a unit and surely they’ll never rise out of this yucky, sibling fighting-filled state.

The next day things were a little better. Flare ups yes but not like that crazy last day where all seemed completely hopeless.

And I realized that transition from full on school to full on at home is a biggie. And that giant school’s-out-for-summer exhale is not to be taken lightly. And with each extra person in the house, that exhale will be even bigger still because each one bounces off all the others, around and around and around, until it finds a safe place to land.

So I gave myself a break. And I told my friend Kami that I would share this because we both thought others might want to know that this behavior isn’t indicative of something being wrong with your kids or your parenting or your family as a whole, rather just a little school’s-out-off-gassing. Which is normal. And can be remedied by some downtime, a few trips to the library, and soaks in some cool, clear water.

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For parents and people everywhere, a few words from Lao Tzu. Thanks to my friend Liz for sending this along the other day. It has stuck with me and helped me along this week. It’s funny sometimes what things change your perspective.

Print it out for yourself if you can, and the next time you’re struggling with a decision or looking at others to determine your move or worrying that what you’re doing for your children or offering your family or creating for yourself isn’t going to be right or be enough, read these words to yourself. Aloud if you can. Or put them on a loop for those days when you need a reminder that you’ve got this. You’ve totally got this.

Always We Hope — Lao Tzu

Always we hope
someone else has the answer,
some other place will be better,
some other time,
it will turn out.

This is it.

No one else has the answer,
no other place will be better,
and it has already turned out.

At the center of your being,
you have the answer:
you know who you are and
you know what you want.

There is no need to run outside
for better seeing,
nor to peer from a window.
Rather abide at the center of your being:
for the more you leave it,
the less you learn.

Search your heart and see
the way to do is to be.

Abide at the center of your being.

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Carrie Contey, PhD is the co-founder of Slow Family Living, not to mention a super dear friend of mine. She has wise things to say about babies and children and parents too and I feel lucky to get to have her visit our “lab” of 4 children and 2 parents. It helps immensely!

Recently we were kind of struggling to understand the resident 6 year old as he made his way through the world with some big, giant emotions. Woosh! It was sometimes hard to take.

And then, something busted through. He is learning to read. And the other day? He started dancing like a madman. Truly could. Not. Stop. Himself. Tap shoes were flying and everywhere he went he was like an animated cartoon moving fast and furiously.

Today Carrie writes these wise words…

You know when your child is acting in ways that are hard to handle?

I’m talking about the times when that little growing person is doing the things that push your buttons and make you want to SCREAM (and sometimes you do)? 

Well, it very often means SOMETHING’S COMING. Read more….

Our little guy is literally TAPPING his way into a bigger, brand new human experience. And I’m going to try to remember that.

Thank you Carrie Contey! You are a dream.

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The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood is a favorite organization of mine. They do a lot of really good work lobbying for rules and regulations about how and where children are marketed towards. They work really hard to keep our schools and school buses commercial free and they generally work hard to inform parents and children everywhere to be aware of the marketing machine that is working really hard to target children. Their work has definitely informed my own parenting and made me ultra aware of the power of the consumption machine.

Nowadays kids are marketed to at every turn. While eating breakfast and watching TV and walking through school and answering the phone. A lot of it is disguised as “information” or “entertainment” which is something I really want my own kids to be aware of. An informed and aware kid is not nearly as susceptible to the marketing tools as an unaware kid.

And I kid you not that more than once I have dissected the language in various catalogs to let them see that what they were trying to sell was a feeling. What they were actually selling were products. In one particular catalog that sells very popular and expensive dolls, one turn through all the pages and my girls were able to see that the languaging promised them, in no particular order: friends, love, happiness, security, popularity and adventure. It didn’t take much to decipher either.

And of course, the abundance of screens that are in our lives these days, in the form of TV, computers, tablets, e*readers and telephones, can be overwhelming bastions of advertising. Not to mention, creativity killers that take away our boredom, the very boredom from which many good ideas can come from.

With that in mind, The Campaign for  A Commercial Free Childhood is hosting Screen Free Week. Yes, you read it right. A whole week of Screen-free time for the whole family. Well, not counting work hours of course. But you know, that time the rest of the day that is spent spinning virtual wheels mindlessly searching, watching, wiling away the hours until bedtime.

What they’re suggesting is that we, as families, fill that time instead with, well, family time. In whatever way shape or form you can. Truth be told, in our house, the screen plays a fairly regular role. When the kids were little I controlled it more but now, with homework seguing easily into Youtube time or FB or whatever, (for me as well as them!) we are on the screens a lot. Especially if you count our collective hours – for 6 people.

Right now we have 2 school nights a week that are already screen-free and for next week we’re going to try to add a few more. It’ll take a little bit of intention on my part. And a decision to be a little more engaged in the evening that I sometimes am. Because I admit, when there is so much to do, it’s sometimes easy to have everyone plugged in and out of my hair.  So I’m going to ask that we shoot for 80% participation as a family. I’d say 100% but I feel like setting the bar a little lower will give us a little necessary wiggle room. Which this family really likes and requires.

So I’m going to buy a brand new box of big fat sidewalk chalk and then here, in no particular order, are 10  things we’re going to replace our evening screen time with next week…

  1. family games (Michigan Rummy is waiting)
  2. walk to the library
  3. craft projects (including using said chalk to make inspiring signs on plywood for all the drivers that pass on our busyy street)
  4. yard time
  5. basketball in the alley
  6. alley art project
  7. making cards
  8. writing letters
  9. getting ready for Maker Faire
  10. walks to the middle school track for family relay races
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My kids made up a new game last week. Partly inspired by ultimate Frisbee, partly by rugby and partly by the fact that we took a ball to a big giant field that just beckoned some kind of big, giant game.

All week they’ve been playing – in the yard, in the alley, on the beach and then back to that same big, giant field. I’ve played a few times. Everyone can play. It’s a game for all ages and abilities.

All week it’s evolved, with a few rules being added here and there and a few ideas dismissed after consideration by the group or after realizing it just didn’t work. Over time, the size of the goal has changed, where and how the game begins has been established (after one rather Hunger Games beginning ended up in a head crashing) and a few other dictates determining fairness, point tallies and strategy. One rule that I especially love is that each person on the team has to touch the ball before a goal can be made. The little sister in me always appreciates any rules that help. The rules are made by various kids playing and there is no time that isn’t an okay time for adding or changing or eliminating a rule.

I have loved watching this game come to life and we can already see this game will have a long term place in our family’s game repertoire. What I love more than the game itself is watching the game unfold from the depths of my kids’ imaginations. With each idea presented and rule established I can see their brains working out problems and creating solutions.  They are determining excitement, fairness, fun, duration, etc.

It is just this sort of thing that many experts are saying is eliminated from the childhood experience whenever there are too many dictates from adults or structured play or no play at all. It is the kind of game playing I remember from my own childhood – the creation of any game being part of the actual game itself. Like watching little kids play house where more than half the time they are planning and plotting the roles and rules – and that IS the play.

And I realize this is kind of how I view the whole idea of Slow Family too. There are no dictates or structures from others – there are only the rules that you as a family establish. You can beg, borrow or steal rules from other families you see and love, then interpret them on your own. Or you can make them all up completely, brand new family, brand new game.

It is what I mean when I ask families to ask of themselves, “Is this working for us?” Do you like how the game is being played? Does it seem fun? Fair? Exciting? If it does, keep the rules you currently have. If it doesn’t, make up your own rules. Add in new ones or eliminate old ones. It’s your game! And you can change the rules as you go along.

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I was approached by a mom once, someone whose world randomly intersected with mine both professionally and personally. She was a mom of two littles and I at the time had my three. She had recently seen this picture of me and with a slight twinge of accusation and envy, and a huge dose of fatigue, she said, “UGH! How do you do it? You always make it look so easy breezy. You’re like a mother cover girl.”

I don’t remember exactly what I said next but I think it had something to do with me spitting out my coffee. And then laughing for several minutes uncontrollably, with tears in my eyes.

Occasionally yes, it’s breezy. And even easy. And when it is I try to take notice of those moments in time. Those moments when things are going exactly as I imagined they could go. But mostly, where I live, in a house with 6 people, the line between calm and chaos is a thin one indeed. But what she perceived in that snapshot wasn’t even close to what was.

Which is often true from the outside looking in. Like in this photo. That isn’t even close to a look at the big picture.

Because in one hand, the hand that you can’t see, the one that’s cut out of the photo completely? I’m holding the hand of a rather frantic toddler who is standing precariously on top of a bucket and who is about an hour or so past her naptime and who resisted the idea of lunch just before that and who has hit the proverbial wall of toddler meltdown brought on by the dreaded combination of hunger and fatigue. In the other hand? The one she thought was some sort of handmade bag of fabulous vintage material? Well, that’s actually said toddler’s pants. Full of pee. Which at the moment right before this photo was taken was dripping down my arm. Into the sleeve of my fab dress. 

So the look that to the onlooker seemed to be the very picture of easy-breezy was actually an expression of surrender-to-it-all, if-I’m-not-laughing-I’m-crying, this-is-my-life-and-this-is-what-it’s-like, holy-sh*t.

Since this exchange we’ve added another member to our family and a little more chaos, and in all that time I’ve been aware of the danger of looking in on someone else’s life and thinking I know their whole story.  I know that what I see is a snapshot. A blink. And that I have no idea what’s on their plate at any given moment in time. If I find myself judging – the real of the the virtual, the good or the bad – I know my judgment isn’t really about them at all. But about me. About how I”m feeling in that moment of time. And about what I need. To make me feel whole and happy.


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