Dave, Alex and I just came back from spending a week on the east coast. The reason for the trip was a conference I wanted to attend in Byron Bay. It was something I wanted to do for myself, but thought would be good for the kids as well. Since it was something new, that we hadn't done before and therefore, the kids could not relate to, I started talking to them about it a few weeks in advance. I went through what we would do and what it might be like. The first day involved two hours driving, spending the night at their cousins', more driving the next day to the airport, then a five-hour flight to Brisbane, and finally hiring a car and spending the first night at a hotel. Up to then it had all been quite familiar and special and it all went smoothly. As they're getting older I notice it is easier for them to accept change. When we finally got to the hotel though, Alex burst out crying. I comforted him right away, but before I could even ask what the matter was, Dave said, 'He's crying because we don't want to be here. We want to be home.'
That's what I've come to think of as 'the first night blues.' I've experienced it myself many times before, especially when I travel alone. It's homesickness on the first night. The first time I travelled overseas on my own, when I was fifteen and had to stay with a family I didn't know, I cried. Dave and Alex have been doing it every time we travel and stay at a hotel or strange place. This trip was the first time that Dave didn't cry. Alex did it only for a couple of minutes. I acknowledged his sadness, like I always do, and I'm sure he felt instantly better because next thing he was excitedly jumping on the bed.
The next day we went to the famous Australia zoo, which they loved. And the day after, a Friday, I took them to Dreamworld. The conference started on Saturday and went on for four days. The night before I reminded them about it and told them being there was something 'for me' and I would be listening to the speakers. In the meantime, they would have a good time too because they could play with other kids or join in the programmed kids' activities. Dave said, 'So it will be like going to school but cool?' Exactly. In spite of this, I didn't know how they were going to react once we got there, a strange place where we didn't know anyone. I didn't tell them, but I was prepared to spend all day playing with them and miss the conference in case they didn't feel comfortable there: I have never left the kids in the care of anyone else unless they (the kids) wanted to.
The conference took place in the same caravan park where we were staying, under marquees. It was all very casual and I loved the fact that the first speaker, a psychologist and psychotherapist whose work I admire very much (Robin Grille), was giving his talk barefoot. Dave and Alex sat with me for two minutes before they noticed some kids running around. Like I've seen Dave do before, he approached them and said, 'What are you playing? Can we play too?' and that was it, they were both gone. How I wish I had been this confident when I was his age!
So, for four days, I listened to the experts and took part in the chats, while Dave and Alex ran around, and played. They also painted, drew, made stuff with clay, and other similar crafts in the kids' tent. Sometimes they came to see me, especially Alex, who sat with me for short periods of time.
The purpose of the conference was to explore conscious parenting and natural learning, which happens to be my philosophy on how to raise children in order to really connect with them from the moment they're born. This approach favours natural births, breastfeeding on demand and for as long as the child and mother are comfortable with, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, empathic and compassionate parenting as opposed to punishing and rewarding, homeschooling and unschooling... All the things that I believe in and have been doing for seven and a half years now just by following my heart. I knew some of the speakers were renown psychologists and child advocates both in Australia and the United States, and I was curious to hear what they had to say. I have decided to write a book about my own experience and the things I have learned and keep learning from children, but to make it more reliable I am now turning to the experts, to back me up with their extensive research that proves, for example, that children who are praised or rewarded turn out to be less efficient and motivated to do whatever task they were rewarded for. (This I learned from Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards, among many other books.)
It was a fantastic four days. I didn't learn a whole lot of new stuff from the speakers, which was in a way a tiny bit disappointing but in another way it was great because it made me feel like after all these years of doing my own research I am a bit of an expert myself, at least when it comes to my own children, who are physically, mentally and emotionally healthy. I already knew all the theory (putting it into practice is the hard part, especially when our own conditioned upbringing steps in) and have checked numerous times how well children respond when they are treated compassionately always, even when they're being aggressive or behaving in harmful ways to others. (This is not to say that violent behaviour should be condoned, but I strongly believe it shouldn't be punished or shamed either. Instead, I choose to investigate the cause of the behaviour and try to understand it.)
The best part of being there, actually, was the people I met, other parents with similar ideas to mine. There was a surprising big amount of dads. It is surprising to me because over the years I've noticed that natural parenting is mainly the work of women. Ironically enough, most of the speakers, the experts who have written the books, were men. I soon found out though, that most of the dads were there because their women had dragged them along, of course. These men, who were brought up in a time when breastfeeding was discouraged and boys were told not to cry and toughen up! feel quite lost when they become dads and their partners give the new baby the unconditional love they didn't get. According to John Travis, they suffer from Male Postpartum Abandonment Syndrom (MPAS). As described in his and Mery Callander's book Why Dads Leave, men who were not properly connected with their mothers as babies and small children spend all their lives searching for a sort of surrogate mother, then marry her, and when the first baby comes along, feeling abandoned again, leave, either physically, emotionally or both.
Talking to some of the dads was very interesting for me. My heart goes out to them because I understand how hard it must be to embrace this new parenting mode when as children most of them were brought up by an authoritarian father who maintained the exclusive rights to their mothers' breast and bed.
But with whom I really connected were the women, especially a couple of them. And it is funny how the one I really clicked with and was laughing out loud with after only five minutes of meeting had some slightly different ideas to mine when it comes to education. This happens to me all the time, and I think I tend to like people with different world views because if I didn't then we wouldn't have anything to talk about!
The absolute best thing about the conference, something that I couldn't quite put my finger on at the start, was that the whole time I was there I felt peace of mind. The children were out there playing, interacting with many other kids, and I knew that if Dave had a problem with another child he would find the way to solve it in a peaceful way. Alex still comes to me, and he did, a few times. I actively listened to his woes
and then he was off again. Above all, I knew that no adult would tell them off for what some call 'misbehaving' and it's really just 'being a kid,' at least the conference organisers wouldn't. A couple of months ago, a woman we didn't know at all told Dave not to leave the playground (he was leading Alex and two other kids under my care to the adjacent playing fields). He said, 'We're not with you,' and the lady came to me complaining that my son had answered her back, at which I laughed, and of course I got in trouble too. This was still fresh in my mind while we were at the conference, but I felt relaxed knowing that it could just not happen there.