Using Wool for Cloth Diaper Covers

I’ve used cloth diapers for my babies since about 10 years ago, starting with my 2nd child.  I switched from disposables when she was 2 or 3 months old, and never looked back.  Over the years, I’ve tried just about every type and brand of diaper on the market.

By the time I was pregnant with my 5th and last babe, I knew exactly what I liked and didn’t like, and purchased only the things that I knew worked for us:  Fitted diapers with wool.  

It’s occurred to me that even among other cloth mamas, wool with fitteds seem to be a minority combination.  Maybe no one knows how to care for wool, or they think it’s difficult, or confusing…?

FYI:  Wool diaper covers are called a variety of things:  covers or wraps–these usually look like a regular cover and have snaps or velcro tabs; soakers or pull-ons–these look like underwear but are thicker, often with a roll-down waistband, and they pull on, as the name suggests; shorties and longies–these are usually knit, styled more like pants or shorts, and double as clothing and a diaper cover.

Wool care is actually really easy, and in my opinion wool covers and cotton diapers are much preferable to any diaper with synthetic fibers.  I will discuss the reasons why in a future blog post–but for now, let me just share some facts about using wool for cloth diaper covers:

  • WASHING:  Wool does NOT get washed with your regular diaper laundry, and NEVER goes in the dryer!  Unless you want to shrink it to fit your child’s baby doll..  Yes, I have done this accidentally.
  • One lovely thing about wool for diaper covers is that, unless it’s soiled, it only needs to be washed about once a week.  Yes, you read that right.  Wool is naturally anti-microbial, and so it simply needs to be aired out when damp, and then it can be used again.  In other words, you can use the same soaker for overnights several days in a row–just turn it inside-out to air-dry all day, and by evening it’ll be ready to use again.
  • However, woolies are a hand-wash-only item (For this reason, I especially love fitted diapers.  They ensure I never have to hand-wash poo stains!).  I do this in the sink, with Eucalan Wool Wash.  If you don’t have (or don’t want to buy) Eucalan, you can also use a teaspoon of Dr. Bronner’s Baby Mild Castile Soap, or a teaspoon of your favorite natural baby wash or baby shampoo.
  • Water must be room-temperature/cold!  Too cold and you’ll shock the fibers, too warm and they’ll shrink.  Fill the sink with water, check the temperature, then add your wool wash or other soap product.  Swish it around, then add your woolies, turned inside-out.  Let them soak for about five minutes, then gently squeeze out the excess water, and place them on a thick towel to dry.  You can place another towel on top, then roll them up together, and stand on the towel roll.  This sounds awkward, but really cuts down on your drying time.
  • Hang your woolies, or lay them flat to dry.  This will take at least a day.  Don’t put them outside in the sun on a hot day, because the heat will shrink them!
  • LANOLIZING (what’s that?!):  All natural wool contains lanolin, which keeps it water-resistant and anti-microbial.  After repeated washings, the lanolin gets washed out and you’ll need to re-lanolize.  You can tell if your wool needs lanolizing if the water soaks right in, saturating the fabric when you put it in the sink.  If it floats/resists being pushed down into the water, and you see water drops beading up on it, it’s still got some lanolin in it.  Of course, the other way to tell if your wool needs lanolizing is if, when your little one’s wearing it, and her diaper leaks right through it!  But I’d recommend avoiding that if you can help it!
  • Lanolizing only needs to be done once every few months, and it’s quite easy to do as well.  If you have a tube of Lansinoh from your early days of breastfeeding, you can easily lanolize your woolies in a few extra minutes during your wash routine.

To lanolize your woolies:  

1. Fill the sink with cold water again right after washing them, and place your woolies in the water, inside-out.

2. Get a mason jar or drinking glass, and fill it with HOT water from your tap.

3. Put a small amount of lanolin into the water–either a pea-sized amount for one or two woolies, or about an inch-long strip for six or more–and stir vigorously until it melts.  It should look like golden oil droplets in the hot water.

4. Pour this quickly into the sink, on top of your woolies.

5. Swish with your hands, and let the woolies soak for about 30 seconds to a minute–then remove them and dry as usual.

  • BENEFITS:  Wool is THE BEST for bedtime leak protection.  No more wet sheets!  With wool, it’s water-resistant, not waterproof–which means that if it’s compressed, you might feel some wetness.  In other words, if baby’s absolutely soaked her diaper, and you pick them up, you might feel wetness on your arm, in the area where it’s squeezing the wool against the soaked diaper.  But this rarely happens unless the diaper is REALLY wet, and it won’t leak the way that a soaked pocket diaper would.
  • Woolies are also super-cute–if you buy shorties and longies instead of just soakers, they double as clothing, which simplifies things.  It’s more comfy for baby to wear fewer layers, and it gives them more freedom of movement, which is especially healthy when they’re learning to crawl.
  • You can use any sort of diaper underneath a wool cover–prefolds, flats, contours with snappis, fitteds, etc.  However, I prefer fitteds, for their superior poo-catching abilities!
  • You can spend as much or as little as you like on your wool stash.  You can find gorgeous, handmade works of art for your baby to wear that cost over $100 a pop; you can make your own wool soakers and wraps from cut-up woolen sweaters, sewn by hand–or anything in between.  It can be gorgeous and comfortable for baby, either way.
  • Not all wool is scratchy, and it’s actually a very healthy fabric to use, even in warm climates.  Wool is naturally breathable and has the ability to regulate temperature, so it keeps you cooler in the heat, and warmer in the cold.  This quality makes it much preferred over non-breathable synthetics in our Texas summers!
  • Wool is hypoallergenic.  Except for a small number of people who are allergic to lanolin, wool is an excellent choice for sensitive skin.
  • Wool is really, really durable.  While many of the new, synthetic, made-in-China diapers are falling apart after being used for only a few months, wool can be passed on or handed down from child to child with very little decrease in function.  Using gentle, correct washing techniques, woolies will stay out of the landfills and last for many years.
  • Woolies don’t have to be bulky or thick.  I have thicker wool for nighttime, and thinner wool for daytime use.  They sell jersey knit wool and even wool crepe fabrics–very trim under clothes, and very breathable on hot days.

I think wool is a beautiful, healthful, and useful alternative to both disposable diapers and synthetic cloth diapers.  If you’re curious about wool, I highly recommend buying or making one or two covers (here’s a great link for making your own soakers, diapers and more), and using them for nighttime.

My absolute favorites for nighttime are Aristocrats brand pull-ons.  They retail for about $35 each, but you can pick them up used for as little as $10.

I’m at the point now where I have mostly wool, and only a few PUL covers as backup.  For a long time, I avoided wool (as a former vegan, of course), but now it’s my favorite.

…and it’s so cute!
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Part 3 – My Journey to & Beyond Vegetarianism

So in my last post in this series, I was feeling very unsettled and confused because wheat, the major ingredient in my diet, was suddenly being implicated as unhealthy, and the cause of my husband’s Celiac disease.

This Celiac thing turned our world upside-down.

At first I approached it like a random allergy, as if he was allergic to strawberries or latex:  “Bummer!  Sorry you can’t have this pasta….”

So we bought gluten-free pasta–which is expensive–so we would just make two separate types of pasta…  We soon realized just how much pasta we ate!

Now, my husband had been mostly vegetarian for most of the time we’d been together thus far–meaning, he would have meat when it was available, but for the most part ate a vegetarian diet with the rest of us.  He’s the chef in our home, but he didn’t want to frequently cook something that only he would eat.  Also, meat is inescapably expensive–even when it’s the hormone-injected “cheap cuts” at the big-box store.

  • One of the major caveats with having limited funds is that your diet is one of sustenance rather than health-promotion.  Ideally, we’d all eat foods that healed our bodies and supported optimum health–not just survival….but I digress.

As time went on, I read and researched more about Celiac.  I have prided myself on my continuing nutritional knowledge base since I went veg as a teen, but here I was being presented with a glaring discrepancy and confusion.

I didn’t understand how it was possible that large numbers of people could be allergic to something that’s widely promoted as staple of a healthy diet.  I mean, even in my impassioned vegan years, I’d never heard of a “meat allergy”!  Yet there are so, so many people with Celiac–and even more with wheat intolerance.  Some estimates claim that as much as half of the American population is sensitive to wheat!

My oldest son, who loves to critique and analyze the world, likes to ask me about nutrition pretty often:  “Is this good for you?  What about this?  Which one is better for you?  Why?”

When he asked about pasta, “whole grain” bread, rice, cereal….I never had an answer that I felt confident of.  My nutritional knowledge up to that point left me with the weak conclusion that whole grains were “just okay”–i.e, that they didn’t have loads of nutrition but weren’t supposed to be “bad” for you, either.  But what exactly did that mean?

Interestingly, the WIC program advocates “healthy whole grains”, and only lets participants choose certain cereals with “high whole grain content”.   However, a “food product” that’s as processed as dry cereal cannot be a health-promoting food, and so should be eaten moderately, if at all.  Anyway, Dora cereal is one of the allowed “healthy choices”–and if you’ve ever seen that stuff coagulate in milk, you’ll know it isn’t healthy just by looking at it!

I have been a fan of Dr. Joel Fuhrman since before his books were published, and I still very much agree with his central premise that the bulk of your diet must be whole, natural foods in order to be health-promoting.  Ideally, he promotes a vegetable-based diet instead of a grain-based diet–which is sound advice.  However, Dr. Fuhrman doesn’t implicate whole grains as BAD–just as grossly overused in the typical American diet.

  • I knew there was more to the story than just processed/refined grains versus “whole” grains…but what was it?

As you might know, when you turn your attention toward something, it grows within your consciousness.  Law of Attraction and all that..  Gradually, I realized that several of my other friends were avoiding not just processed grains, but grains in general, and I started asking them why.    I checked out Mark’s Daily Apple and bought The Primal Blueprint.

Also, another friend of mine began a journey of her own, called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which is a very regimented diet that’s designed to heal your gut.  I asked her about it, and the only thing that stuck in my mind–other than it was often the best prescription for Celiac patients (!)–was that it included an awful lot of meat!

Meat in a diet that is designed for healing??  This grew stranger and stranger, I thought.

Yet another one of my friends lives on a farm, and she’s quite healthy.  It occurred to me that she and her family eat plenty of raw, unpasteurized dairy products, butter, eggs, and yes, meat.  Organic, grass-fed meat from animals that had been gently taken care of, allowed to roam free, and were slaughtered as humanely as possible.   If you know anything about the factory farming operations that most of America’s meats come from, you’ll know that this is about as opposite as you can possibly get from the family farm.

As I started unraveling the hidden mess of questions beyond just vegetarianism-or-not, I learned that even my beloved tofu wasn’t safe.

One of the major fallacies of the vegetarian and vegan movement is that it’s possible to eat so low on the food chain that you’re not impacting the environment at all.  Most vegans I know (and the vegan I used to be!) still eat processed foods that have just as much of a negative impact on the planet and sustainability as the foods they are so diligently avoiding.

  • So what it began to look like is this:  Foods–ALL FOODS–vary widely in their ability to promote or detract from our health, depending on how they are farmed/raised/created.  

Now, if you’re familiar with energy work and the quantum view of the universe, that is so obvious and simple–yet complex.

The positive energy that’s put into raising your own garden, or raising chickens for eggs, or even lovingly preparing a meal (as mentioned in my last post), affects the quality of that food, and carries the positive vibrations with it as we ingest it.  Similarly, mass-produced, over-processed, ready-to-eat, “dead” foods that are regarded mainly in terms of some CEO’s profit margin, carry those vibrations as well.

You don’t need a psychic to tell you that a commercial slaughterhouse is a place that’s thick with the vibration of fear, death, terror.  Animals feel–they are sentient beings, and those residual energies and hormones are present in the animals’ bodies at the time of slaughter, and become part of the meat you eat.  (That’s in addition to the toxic compounds and mega-doses of drugs they inject them with in order to keep the animals alive in such crowded, filthy conditions.  Can we say antibiotic resistance?)

However, vibration and energy go on to give further meaning to another argument that most people like to use to poke fun at vegetarians:

       “Plants feel pain too.”

I used to get so frustrated with people who would say that to me.  As if the “suffering” of a cabbage plant is somehow equivalent to the suffering of a pig or cow.  Absurd, I thought.  Of course those people were just trying to be thorns in my side, saying nonsense to goad me…  But actually, I’ve come to believe that they have a point.  (Yes, really.)

Plants are alive too, but more importantly, everything is energy.  The suffering of an animal is more evident to us than a plant’s because we are biologically more similar, more able to relate.  But to say that killing plants doesn’t matter is to reject the energetic, divine nature of All that IS.  In the quantum view, a rock IS a leaf IS a cow IS a person IS the sun and stardust…

The veg movement is focused on getting people to extend their compassion to non-human beings…but why stop there?  

I was starting to realize that that obnoxious song by Tool, about the carrot holocaust, was not so far off the mark, after all…

  • Life feeds on life.  The solution is not to remove yourself from the equation–that’s impossible.  Everything is energy.  You are responsible for the mark you make upon the cycle of life.  No matter what, the fact of your existence creates suffering in other forms.

You must strike a balance, there is no opting out.

~*~*~*~

So, what does this all mean??  I’m honestly still chewing on that.  🙂

The short answer is, I’m regarding my food choices with a lot more conscious thought now than ever before, and I’m realizing that mindfulness and energetics are essential to my diet.

I’m still learning so much–about raw dairy, fermented foods,  how to brew kombuchaurban homesteading, and raising our own egg chickens, eventually.

I think, lately, that labeling one’s eating habits as vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten-free, etc, is misleading, limiting, and not focused on alignment with one’s body/health/Self.

Eating intuitively, seeking out high-vibe, consciously grown  foods is where I’m at right now.

It means that I’m not really interested in wrapping my identity up with vegetarianism anymore.  My diet still happens to be vegetarian–but the description (and stereotypes, and assumptions) of “vegetarian” is no longer all-that-pertinent to Who I Am…if that makes any sense.

My relationship with food is evolving…rapidly.

consciousness.  _shift_

Here are the links to Part 1  and Part 2 of this series…

Claire’s Rainbow Bridge Story

Telling a Rainbow Bridge birthday story is a Waldorf tradition that can be really fun and special as your child grows.  It’s sort of like a birth story, but told in fantasy or myth-form.  The Rainbow Bridge is the passage to Earth from the ether, spirit world, heaven, or whatever your beliefs may call it.  These stories can be written to include any religious tradition, or none at all.  This is the story I wrote for Claire, my precious middle child, who turned 5 today.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Once upon a time, in a land of time unchanging, there lived a spirit child.  She lived with the moon and sun, amidst the stars, with many spirit-beings–and she was peaceful and happy.  One day, she happened to notice a beautiful blue orb, far away–yet somehow, not so far.  The orb seemed to call to her, and so she asked the spirits about it.  “That orb is the world, our Mother Earth.”  “May I go there?” the child asked.  “In time,” the spirits replied.  “The world is not yet ready for you.”  So the child waited.

Time passed, and the spirit child thought about the world.  As she imagined what Earth would be like, she pictured trees and flowers, rivers and mountains, animals and people…as if from a distant memory.  And she longed to go there.  She asked the spirit-beings again, “May I go to Mother Earth yet?”  And they replied gently, patiently, “No, dear one.  The stars are not yet aligned in favor of your journey.”  So the child waited.

Finally, a time came when the spirit child dreamed about earth so vividly that it was almost like she had been transported there.  She walked amidst many, many people, and found a man whom she felt she had known before, and loved before, and so she asked him, “Will you be my Daddy?”  And the man said, “Of course.”  Then she found a woman with whom she felt safe and welcomed.  “Will you be my Mama?”  the spirit child asked.  And the woman said, “Yes.”  Then, she met two Earth-children whom she just knew were special, somehow; and they whispered to her, “We love you!  Will you be our sister?”

The spirit child awoke, excitedly, and told her spirit-guides about her beautiful dream.  “Ah,” they said. “Now it is time for you to begin your journey to Mother Earth.”  “Do I have to go alone?”  the child asked.  “Yes,” said her spirit-guides, “But we will always be near you…”  And with that, the child began her journey toward Mother Earth.

While ten moons waxed and waned, she rocked gently in a little boat.  As the journey went on, the child grew fearful, and did not want to leave this place-between-places.  But then, she felt surrounded by love, warmth, and light like never before, and finally peeked out of her boat to see the most glorious sight:  A beautiful rainbow had stretched from the edge of her boat, all the way to Mother Earth.  And so the spirit child traveled across the rainbow bridge, through the veil–and on that day our precious baby Claire was born!

Everyone was so happy that she was finally here, and we loved her and cuddled her.  And Claire began to laugh and crawl, talk and walk, and then she was ONE year old!

Then Claire discovered butterflies, learned to dance, got to know her grandparents, and read books with her siblings, and then she was TWO years old!

Then Claire’s hair got longer, and she learned to say ALL sorts of things, and to go down the big slide at the playground, and she met her brother Nik–and then she was THREE years old!

Then Claire got to go to the beach, and the mountains in New Mexico; she said goodbye as her Grandma passed through the veil, and became good friends with Lexe–and then she was FOUR years old!

Then Claire got to visit a big hotel, learned to ride a scooter, and met her baby brother, Oliver.  She grew and learned and changed even more–and NOW she is FIVE years old!  Happy birthday to our wonderful daughter, Claire!

My Journey to and Beyond Vegetarianism, Part 2

So in my last post in this series, I left off at the point where I was a complacent vegan who felt “pretty good” about my choices from an ethical and a nutritional standpoint, and was more or less satisfied with my diet for the time being.

Then, gradually, I lost passion about veganism.  Now, I was never one of those street-corner supporters, denouncing the evils of flesh food to anyone who would listen–but from the start, I had been quietly passionate about lessening animal cruelty and helping the environment–and being vegan was the most tangible way I thought that I could effect positive change.

Somewhere along the line, I lost passion for most other things in my life, as well.  I was in the grips of a deep depression.  I realized that I wanted out of my marriage at the time, and felt that I was trapped in a vortex of negativity and fear.  It took monumental efforts to shift my thinking and move forward from this dark place.  Naturally, things that were not of the utmost importance fell by the wayside during this time.

As I picked up the pieces, slowly, I started to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t have the finances to return to the way I had been eating before, when I was “healthier”.  I talked a lot about my vexing relationship with food at this time in my life here, over a year ago.

Truthfully, we ate pretty well after we mastered the learning curve of having a very strict budget to contend with.  But it was a far cry from my previous, convenient, “fast-veg” diet.

That year–the year I got remarried and had my third baby–I learned to cook spaghetti sauce from scratch, and to cherish the feeling of a full stomach.  I had to re-train myself to eat things that I had worked so hard NOT to eat, or want, or even like.  During that year, I think what kept me on the path of vegetarianism more than anything else was that it was cheap.

I developed a really rotten philosophy about food.  It was arguably necessary at the time, but it’s not easy to just reboot your internal programming and change your diet back to a healthy one after eating addictive crap for over a year.

I also learned a lot about how I regarded food.  I was never a good cook, and mostly I didn’t care about how my food tasted.  For all my high-minded idealism, I mostly just ate whatever was convenient that fulfilled the label of “vegan”, to shut my stomach up when it complained.  When I met my now-husband, however, he showed me a completely different way of thinking about food–one that I am still struggling to embrace after all my negative conditioning!

My husband now is an excellent cook.  He has a passion for good, fresh food.  He’s respectful of vegetarian and vegan diets, but he’s an omnivore.  One of the first days we spent together, he cooked me an unbelievable feast.  I thought, when I met him, that he might end up as a star chef one day–and I still do.

Ironically, the foods that my husband prepares are sometimes full of dairy, fat or sugar–but I feel differently about them.  His intentions of what he is trying to create–something beyond simple sustenance–cause a sort of alchemy to happen to his food.  He is able to infuse the food he cooks with a sort of energetic vibe that makes it fortifying and life-affirming, in spite of what the nutritional facts might say about it.

So I reveled in things I had never allowed myself to try before–like cream cheese, white sauces, homemade spring rolls, and more.  As money became less of a problem, we enjoyed our food even more.  Cooking a big dinner for the holidays has become joyful and amazing–instead of a drudgery, or even something to avoid altogether, like when I was a child.

However, as time went on, my husband’s health issues got worse and worse, but not in the typical “you eat the standard american diet” ways.

Then I met Catherine.  Catherine is my very best friend–and a cancer survivor.  She is passionate about food, but in a slightly different way than my husband is.  She describes her diet as “clean”–and it was very impressive to meet someone who ate like she did, especially to me.  Mostly organics, fresh fruit and veggies, nothing with more than six pronounceable ingredients on the label (yes, really!).

Although, I admit that I felt very uncomfortable when I saw that she ate organic dairy.  Oh no!  Dairy is so unhealthy for a cancer survivor!  I thought.  I never considered that there was a reason beyond that she wasn’t hungry, when she politely declined the pasta I fixed when she came over to visit.  But Catherine blew my mind when I learned that she regarded grains as unhealthy.  What???  That’s the foundation of my diet!  And you try not to eat them at all??.

She told me about Paleo and Primal diets, and I had never heard of such a thing.  Previously, I had considered the diet options of man as being on a sliding scale or continuum, with from least healthy/enlightened to most healthy/enlightened–and you moved up or down that scale mostly related to how much meat or dairy you ate.  Raw veganism was, in my mind, the pinnacle of dietary health, and something that mere mortals like myself were mostly incapable of.

Then we started putting the pieces together, and we found that my husband has celiac disease.  He is severely allergic to wheat, among other things.

Whaaat??The foundation of my diet was being implicated again!  I still had a lot to learn.

Here’s a link to Part 3 of this series.

Why I Don’t Like Rewards and Punishments

Gentle discipline. That sounds pretty progressive, right? Not spanking or hitting children IS still a pretty progressive concept in our society. In my opinion, it’s disheartening that we’re still not collectively as a culture at the place where hitting kids is just accepted as absurd, archaic, and wrong for any reason…

But I digress. This post isn’t about non-gentle discipline. It’s about the ways in which we are moving forward, but in very small, still-misguided ways. Not that I’m the perfect parent, as if there is such a thing–but I am willing to admit that there’s still plenty of room for positive change. I am willing to acknowledge the ways in which we (collectively and personally) are still held back from relating to our kids from a place of love and trust, instead of fear and control.

One of the things–tools, if you will–that parents often turn to, or use more heavily, when they are working toward a more gentle way of relating to their kids, is using rewards and consequences. “Hey, the kids did what I told them to, there was no yelling or hitting (which is spanking, don’t kid yourself), and everything is great!”

Well, yes. But no. There is much more going on with rewards and consequences than just the immediate behavior changes that are effected. For many parents, the question of whether rewards and consequences “work” is rather a moot point. We don’t care whether they “work”, because we are more concerned with the long-term behavioral and psychological consequences of using such techniques.

Incidentally, of course they “work”. Pavlov proved that with doggies in the 1890s–but I deeply question the integrity of behaviorism as a school of thought when applied to human beings–in other words, beings who are intrinsically motivated to think critically and to make decisions based on internal judgments, not external carrots and sticks. For more on this, please check out Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn. You can read the first chapter, which goes into behaviorism and why it’s not appropriate for parenting, here.

The thing is, the concepts of rewards and punishment are so ingrained in our culture and our thinking that it’s at first hard to see how it might be damaging. Think of it this way: We are putting out little fires again and again, instead of investing a lot of time and money to create a fire-resistant structure. And we’re neglecting to notice all the little scorched spots adding up…

I am not merely interested in changing the day-to-day behavior of my kids–and I believe that that’s all rewards and punishments really do. Behavior is really just a symptom of the way that the child is currently perceiving the world to operate.

Behavior is like the mushroom (incidental), while the essential substance of belief/worldview (which manifests behaviors of all sorts) is the mycelium–invisible, yet vast and essential. Just stamping out the mushroom won’t get of the mycelium from which it sprung.

Punishing “bad’ behavior might get rid of the behavior, but punishment does not help the child to internalize why the behavior is being labeled as “bad”–WHY he shouldn’t do it. He is learning that the adults in the world around him don’t like when he does X, so he learns to avoid doing x when they’re around, or until he’s grown up.

Or–perhaps just as bad–he learns that pleasing the people in his external world is what’s important in life, and he dissociates from or subverts those parts of himself that display as “bad” in the opinion of the people around him. Never questioning why x is “bad” is the first place, what circumstances make x “bad,” or whether x is indeed “bad” at all.

Punishments create a worldview in which the child learns to look to others for what’s right and wrong, and critically thinking about WHY things are the way they are is not emphasized. Even the laws of the land, ideally, are followed because they make sense, because there is a rhyme and reason to them that we generally agree with. We don’t all drive on the right side of the road solely because we’re afraid we’ll get a traffic fine or go to jail if we don’t.

There are plenty of things in life with natural negative consequences–we don’t need to arbitrarily create more of them to teach kids about actions having consequences. If your kiddo leaves his skates out in the rain, and they get mildewed, he will likely learn from that without any additional negativity imposed by you. He’ll have to scrub the mildew off, or the skates will need to be thrown out, or he’ll have to save his money or wait until you can buy another pair for him. He might miss out on skating with his friends for awhile, etc.

Incidentally, this is not the same thing as purposely cleaning up the rest of the yard but leaving his skates there to “teach him a lesson”. There’s a line between natural consequences and on-purpose consequences–and you also don’t want to miss an opportunity to be nice for the sake of niceness. Next time he might remember, and bring your garden tools in along with his skates, for niceness… Think the best of your child–giving the benefit of the doubt to him will teach him to do the same with others…eventually.

That’s not to say we should embrace and encourage tantrums at the grocery store–but we’d certainly do well to recognize that children don’t WANT to lose control, or make us angry, etc. If they do something that makes us angry, most likely they had a need that they were trying to meet (in their not-yet-developed, immature way), that precluded our opinion about what they were doing.

One caveat here, however–if there’s already a controlling/manipulative, adversarial relationship firmly in place, an older child might actually be retaliating with his behavior–i.e, trying to make his parents angry. By the time I was about 8 years old, I did sometimes try to make my parents angry–becasue I felt like I had no way to make them understand me, so i wanted to get back at them for making up arbitrary punishments and “consequences”, and never believing me when I explained the reason why I’d done something “wrong”. Kids can be hurt so much more deeply than most parents realize. We say kids are resilient, and they are, but that’s no reason to treat them as if their emotions are trifling.

We can apply this concept of whether the child is “trying” to make us angry to this common scenario: The two year old who tells bald-faced lies. You see them unroll the toilet paper.

“Did you just unroll the toilet paper?!”

“No,” they say.

Most parenting “experts” would say the child should be punished for lying AND unrolling the toilet paper, at this point.

Here’s an alternative interpretation of what’s going on, which I believe is much more plausible:

The two-yr old has poor impulse control (incidentally, impulse control is not fully developed in humans until somewhere between 18 and 22 years old), and also has a magical and/or very subjective (i.e. what HE believes is what IS) view of reality. He saw the toilet paper and thought it would be fun (educational!) to unroll it! Whee!

Then he saw your face and heard your tone of voice, and realized that he’d upset you. Ohh–oops. He wishes he hadn’t done it, so he says “No” when you ask him if he did it. He is responding to your question in accordance with what he *wishes* were true, now that he realizes he upset you. Further, the two year old knows fully well that you saw him do it.

So, it’s setting him up for confusion and asking him to displease you even more, when you ask him a question that he knows you already know the answer to!

It’s much more helpful to just clean up the toilet paper mess together and calmly talk about why we don’t play with toilet paper (it hurts trees, that’s not how we use it, it’s expensive, etc etc)–or even better, just laugh with your child about it–delight in his delight! Then, make sure the toilet paper is not available for playtime in the future.

I already hear the objections: “That’s not feasible/convenient for everyone!” But of course, nobody said that mindfully raising a child was going to be even close to convenient 😉

So we’ve talked about punishments and consequences–now, rewards.

I know, I know. When I was first introduced to the concept of rewards as harmful, I felt frustrated! I’d already come so far from hitting and yelling–even rewards are harmful?

“I give him chocolate, he pees in the potty! I let him watch TV with me for an hour, after he eats all his dinner! How can this be wrong?”

The research of behaviorist psychologists has found again and again that introducing rewards for certain activities actually decreases motivation for those activities, compared to before rewards were introduced. So even if we do succeed in getting rid of a negative behavior by offering rewards, we are actually reinforcing the desire to do something if, and only if, a reward is involved–still not addressing the underlying cause of the “bad” behavior.

I put “bad” in quotes because often we label behaviors of children as bad or good, when really we aren’t aware of the underlying reasons why a child is acting the way he or she is.

If we provide rewards for our children reading books, doing chores, or other “desirable” behaviors, then we actually dampen the natural desire and instinct of children, which is to learn and interact with their environments. Rewards interfere with the natural process, which is to derive joy from learning, helping, or otherwise participating in daily life.

I understand that offering rewards is a really hard habit to break! My mother raised me on a steady diet of “good job!”, presents for good grades, and chore charts–and it just created apathy and distrust.

“She said my drawing was awesome when I barely even tried. Does she really even look at my art? If I get a dollar for “doing the laundry”, what if I can’t fold the sheets? How much less can I get away with?”

Incidentally, it’s the same with grading work in school:

“If I know I can get an A with minimal effort, why waste my time doing more? If I don’t do the report at all, I can still pass with a B? How many days can I miss and still pass the class?”

These are the sorts of questions I think virtually every opportunistic teenager asks in junior high and high school–because schools especially train kids to focus on “getting the grade” rather than actually challenging their mind or pushing to learn and try new, difficult tasks. Hyper-focus on grades is a big part of the reason why I think our schools are failing. We are looking at education as a product to be prepared, instead of a process to be explored and savored.

If the goal in school is to get the grade, then minimal effort is going to be expended to achieve maximum grade percentage. Kids usually aren’t willing to risk a lower grade for going out on a limb and pushing themselves to improve upon their personal best. If they can get a 90% (i.e, a “reward”) with moderate effort and few mistakes, why would they risk getting a lower grade (i.e. getting “punished”)–even if the alternative assignment is more challenging, interesting, or mind-expanding?

Ultimately, what it comes down to is your underlying beliefs about human nature. Are we self-destructive, hapless beings who naturally gravitate toward negativity in our relationships with self/others/environment if not for artificial constructs keeping us in line (rewards, punishments, rules, laws, etc)? Or are we naturally self-affirming and growth-oriented, naturally inclined to meet our needs, and in need of only minimal, gentle guidance to help us learn to do so in ways that are respectful and helpful to the world/others?

I believe the latter, without a doubt.

What do you think?

Rethinking “TV-free”: Why I don’t censor television-watching

Earlier today, I was watching Disney channel with my kids, and we got to talking about childism in action on that channel. In particular, the show Good Luck Charlie. It’s about a “big” family (four kids), but the parents are self-absorbed, hapless idiots and they are constantly making comments that indicate that they would rather not have had kids. I am all for jokes and sarcasm, but IMO there’s a line that these shows cross, and I think it’s hurtful. Why do we want to perpetuate a cultural opinion of kids as a hassle or an inconvenience? How is that helping the relationships between parents and children?

These sorts of things are what my kids and I talk about as we watch TV. I think we get about 100 channels–maybe 200, I don’t know. We regularly watch less than ten of them. Personally, I think a lot of what’s on TV is garbage: disrespectful, overly commercialized, superficial, designed to get you to behave and think (and shop!) in certain ways that are not necessarily desirable, etc.

I don’t censor the things my kids watch, however. TV is a mixed bag. I want my kids to be able to discern programming that they feel comfortable watching for themselves, without my hovering and censorship.

I didn’t always feel this way. I was very limited in what I could watch as a kid. By the time I had my first child, I was very anti-TV/anti-media. I didn’t have cable in our home, and only allowed certain, approved-by-me videos to be watched. I was a big fan of books like The Plug-In Drug: Television, Computers, and Family Life, which harshly criticize “screen time” of any kind, for kids and adults alike.

Then I discovered unschooling, and my thinking started to shift.

Once, when my oldest was 4 or 5, he wanted to watch Lord of the Rings with his dad. I did not want him to be scared–I knew he was going to see Gollum and get freaked out. But he REALLY wanted to watch, even when I warned him that it would probably be scary. (I also probably got mad at his dad for wanting to watch a movie like that before I’d put him to bed–which, if it had happened now, I wouldn’t be–but I digress. This was at the very beginning of our unschooling journey.)

Frustrated, I sat down and watched with them both for awhile, and my son sat there happily–until Gollum came onscreen. Immediately my son hopped right off the couch, turned to me and said, “Okay, I’m ready for bed now! Let’s read a story!” At the time, I was scared that moment had traumatized him, but actually he had been able to decide for himself when his comfort level was surpassed, and this empowered him. I didn’t say anything, didn’t “rub it in” that I was right. I just let him make his own conclusions about that experience, and we read some nice bedtime stories together.

Kids who are not allowed to choose for themselves what feels like *too much* will often sit through things that make them uncomfortable, against their own inner judgment, just to exercise their own autonomy! If you tell someone they’re too young or they don’t understand, they will often try to prove you wrong once given the opportunity.

If you help a child to choose their own comfort levels with media (and other things), without judgment or “I told you so”s, there will be collaboration, trust, and ultimately a strengthening of the child’s own inner judgment–calibration of his comfort levels. This is essential for growing up–yet many kids aren’t permitted to start this sort of self-exploration and learning until they’re teenagers or older.

Many unschoolers embrace TV, but many others, like Laurie A. Couture, have consciously and cooperatively chosen to forego TV and media. This article talks about her and her teenage son’s mutual decision to stop gaming and watching TV.

Incidentally, Laurie’s an excellent speaker, visionary, author of Instead of Medicating and Punishing, and a passionate advocate of children’ rights. Her whole blog is very illuminating.

Like Laurie, I am a big advocate of deciding things together (explained further in this article, by Alfie Kohn)–and for us, right now, that means we watch TV.

There are things on the TV that are really, really world-expanding, in a good way. My kids have watched things on TV and then ran off on tangents of exploration, reading, pretend play, and more–all from the result of a 30-minute show. We’ve watched cooking shows and they’ve learned about new ingredients, or different foods that other people eat. We’ve also gotten up and cooked what they were cooking! We’ve watched cartoons and talked about how animation works, and how drawings can be exaggerated to show emotion or character.

We’ve watched HGTV and talked about different design styles, or how homes can look nice but actually be falling apart, or dangerous, due to faulty construction. We talk a lot about advertisements–how they’re convincing, or stupid, or exaggerated, or what techniques they use to compel people to buy their product; why sales and offers work, and what the manufacturer’s motivation or goal really is. We might hear a reference that the kids or I don’t get, and so we google it, and that leads to other thought-tangents.

I am not a wealthy mom, able to bring my kids to Europe or on multi-state vacations five times a year. TV brings the world to us in ways that I can’t necessarily replicate in the real world–at least, not yet! The internet is amazing, because you can find exactly what you’re interested in.

TV is amazing because it opens doors that you never even knew you didn’t know about, until you caught 15 minutes of this or that show.. 🙂

My Journey to and Beyond Vegetarianism–Part 1

I’ve been a vegetarian for about 17 years–but I’m currently experiencing an inner earthquake of thoughts on health, ethics, nutrition and more–and I need to write about it.  The next few posts are going to chronicle my thought process and dietary evolution up to the precarious, interesting point of view I’m at now.

I first went veg as a teen, along with my mother, who was becoming veg again for the third or fourth time in her life (she had a habit of not staying true to herSelf in the face of ridicule or opposition from those closest to her).  I remember wanting Long John Silver’s chicken strips, and fish sandwiches from Burger King (we ate out a LOT), and then feeling so guilty after eating them.

I had collected a bunch of propaganda buttons with animal rights messages on them:  “Go veg!”, “Animals are our friends”, “Love animals, don’t eat them”, and so on.  I had one that was black and red with big block letters proclaiming “Meat is MURDER”.  I wanted to use that button too, but I felt like a filthy hypocrite every time I’d cave and eat meat again.  I knew I’d be inviting scrutiny of my choices by going “public” with my belief in a veg diet, but I didn’t care.

Finally, the summer after I turned 14, I succeeded with staying veg.  I felt so proud of myself–like I was really making a huge difference in the world.  I even went out with flyers and distributed leaflets a few times.  I organized a library display for our town, highlighting famous vegetarians–and drawing the connections between environmental, ethical and health concerns.  The next year at school, I was made fun of for my new choice, but I didn’t waver.  I also met a few other veggie kids, which really surprised me. I even organized a protest when the school’s science wing installed a new exhibit:  a real-life, dissected, spread-eagled cat.  I had to walk past that thing to chemistry twice a week, and it bothered me deeply.  I collected signatures and got the school paper to write a piece about why we felt it was unethical, and that we wanted it gone. We succeeded in getting it removed.  I wrote a piece on vegetarianism for my school paper, and also got a letter to the editor of a national magazine published that year.  The topic?  Animal rights.  Of course I included vegetarianism as an extension of that concept.

I initially tried to go vegan, but being an already-thin person who had a very sensitive palate, that didn’t last long.  I’d restricted my diet so much that I was hungry all the time, but refused (or couldn’t deal with the textures/flavors) of many healthy vegan foods.  I made peace with being an ovo-lacto vegetarian for the time being, and enjoyed many processed meat alternative foods along with lots of fruits, veggies, pasta and rice.

By the time I was 21, I had read loads of vegan ethics and nutrition books, and I decided that it was time to get serious about my health.  My animal-rights zeal that prompted going veg was now a shared focus with health and proper nutrition.  I decided to cut out milk and cheese (which I already ate only in limited quantities), and eat more raw, whole foods.  While I still ate processed foods without thinking much of it, I felt that my diet was congruent with my ethics, and I also felt that I was eating really well.

This was the status quo for about 2-1/2 years.  What I wasn’t yet aware of is that comfort is sometimes a form of complacency–and mine was about to get disturbed profoundly.

Here’s links to Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.