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Charting the Inner Journey

What does it mean to do your inner work?

What does “personal development” mean, other than going back to school or getting a gym membership?

We are all pretty familiar with the course of child development, but what does it look like for an adult to change and mature?

child development

Our culture does not have much to say about these things. Not on the surface, anyway. If you start looking you might find a yoga class that talks about something like deepening into your experience, and there are a bewildering array of books in the self-help section, but it’s chaotic and messy. There are many conflicting voices, and if you have a strong critical voice that lives inside your own head, it is not easy to discern what is real growth and development and what just looks like it.

And besides that – what the heck does inner work and personal development have to do with parenting? Isn’t this a parenting blog? Maybe some of you are thinking, “Stop the train, this isn’t where I want to go.”

I’m here to tell you that doing your inner work and attending to your own development is an important part of parenting.

inner work

I first realized this when I read Naomi Aldort’s book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, and tried putting her advice into practice. She says, “When you feel the urge to do or say something that you may regret later, stop! Watch the words you were about to say as if you were reading them on a computer screen. If these words or actions are not what you want, don’t say them.” I wholeheartedly agreed (and even blogged about it), but the truth is that I couldn’t really get past the part about noticing the urge and stopping.

Often by the time I noticed the urge, I was already doing or saying those things. It felt like they happened automatically, and I had almost no ability to stop and reflect on them in the moment. When I noticed afterwards, I was filled with guilt, shame and self-hate. Those feelings were so horrible I tried to ignore them, which pushed me further away from awareness of my bodily sensation of emotion. In those moments, the idea of a magic wand that would help me be in control of my child was incredibly attractive – since I couldn’t control my own emotional state, I wanted to be able to control those around me so that I could avoid getting into situations where I would feel guilt, shame and self-hate.



I wanted desperately to be able to change this pattern. Something had to change. And so I began with a question – how can I change so that I can actually behave in a way that is in integrity with my values?

This is Inner Work.

It might take different forms. It might be forming new habits, trying something outside your comfort zone or learning to meditate. It might be learning self-acceptance, or how to prioritize self-care. It could look like getting help with an addiction, or going to counselling. It might be about awakening a sense of connection with the body, and learning to use body sensations to become aware of our emotional experience. It might not be about changing anything at all, and working instead to stay aware when things are difficult, instead of mentally “checking out”.


Any time we work to change ourselves instead of changing others, that’s inner work.

But wait, you say. Isn’t parenting about changing others? Aren’t we trying to shape our kids so they can have the best future possible?

I don’t really think parenting is about changing our kids. I think it’s about guiding, teaching, mentoring, inspiring, helping and loving our kids, without trying to change who they are. It’s about trying to understand what their needs are and working to meet those needs in a way that works for the family. Poor behaviour often comes from unmet needs – meet the needs and you don’t need to change the child.

So instead of changing my kids, I’ve been working hard to change myself. And just recently, I’ve realized that the next step is actually giving myself a little more space and gentleness. Less pressure to change, more loving acceptance. Seeing what is, and allowing that to be. Simply being aware of how I feel or how things are for someone else, without rushing in to fix anything.

This is not as easy as it sounds.


Somehow my parenting journey started with debating the pros and cons of woven wraps and structured carriers and has evolved into a very personal journey of self-discovery and spiritual awareness. I don’t know if there are any readers still here who have been reading all along over the years, from the carrier stage to the inner work stage. I know the words have not been coming as frequently as I’ve been focusing inward more and more. This journey is mostly invisible and quiet. But it feels like waking up to myself, waking up to the world.


Awesome, Girl-Friendly Early Chapter Books

Book List Time! Here’s a list of books for the kid who is making the transition from early readers (few words on each page, lots of engaging pictures) to early chapter books (more words on each page, fewer pictures). These are books that my girls especially liked, and many have girl heroines or central characters. They are also more rad and less insipid, in case you may still be reading part or all of them aloud to your kids, or you would like to plant a few choice books in amongst the piles of Rainbow Fairies and Magical Unicorns on your independent reader’s bookshelf.

rapunzel's revenge

Rapunzel’s Revenge

A super kick-ass graphic novel that retells the Rapunzel fairy tale. It may be a little over the reading level of a kid just transitioning out of early readers like Elephant and Piggie, but both of my girls spent many hours poring over the pictures, reading bubbles that they were able to read independently, and listening to it read aloud, all at varying stages in their reading journey. It is so enticing that it may prompt kids to stretch their skills and try to read more than they would have attempted in another book. Rapunzel’s Revenge

mercy watson

Mercy Watson

Hilarious stories about the antics of a suburban pig, her family and her neighbours. These the perfect books to follow on from Elephant and Piggie, reading level and style wise. Just as with Mo Willems, there is so much hilarious action that the kids forget they are practising their reading. One risk though: you may suddenly have uncontrollable cravings for hot buttered toast. Mercy Watson to the Rescue



Dark and beautiful, the Ottoline stories are about a rich girl who goes away to a magical school where she can practice esoteric skills and have adventures. The illustrations are gorgeous and the stories are interesting and wacky. More advanced reading level than Mercy Watson, but easy enough for a highly motivated early reader. These books feel a little like a hybrid between a novel and a graphic novel. Ottoline Goes to School

worst witch

The Worst Witch

The Worst Witch series is reminiscent of the early Harry Potter books, except is set at an all-girls school, and lacks the dark, violent aspects of the later Harry Potter books. These are firmly in the “novel” category, even though there are still some pictures. The Worst Witch

smuggler's cave

Smuggler’s Cave

A west-coast adventure story about some kids who take a rowboat and go exploring on their own, running into some trouble as they go. Early chapter book style, more words on each page but printed in large text and not too phonetically challenging. Smuggler’s Cave

tintin destination moon


Potentially controversial, but highly motivating and compelling for many kids. Like with Rapunzel’s Revenge, my girls would pore over these books for hours when their reading skills were emerging. They would read the speech bubbles they were able to read, and gloss over the ones they couldn’t read by examining the detailed drawings. There are some good reasons why many parents choose not to expose their kids to TinTin, but in our family Bea learned to read by taking TinTin comics to bed with a flashlight each night for a whole winter. Tintin Destination Moon



Girl space pirate! Wacky superheroes and evil villains! Each Sardine book is broken down into several shorter stories, all told in graphic novel style. The reading level is easier than Rapunzel’s Revenge but harder than Mercy Watson. Not just for girls, but definitely in the kick-ass girl category. Sardine in Outer Space


Which books have your kids loved in this tentative, in-between stage of reading?  This time between early readers and children’s literature proper feels so much like hanging on the cusp of something so much more amazing, yet there are some fantastic choices for kids reading early chapter books too.

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Are you willing?

this is an adventureWould you mind picking up your socks?

Would you like to help me wash the dishes?

Please fix the chicken house today.

Are you willing to unload the dishwasher when you’re finished reading your chapter?

Word choice matters. Sometimes it feels like the specific words we use are more about style or attitude than actual meaning, but every word we choose carries a slightly different meaning, and is received in a slightly different way.

I remember when my kids were toddlers I became aware of the critical importance of deciding whether I really wanted to ask a question or whether it was more appropriate to use a statement. “Are you ready to go now?” vs. “It’s time to go now.” One is not necessarily better than the other. There are certainly times when it’s OK and important to find out whether a toddler is ready to go. But if you are not open to going later, don’t ask if your child is ready to go now. Choose a statement instead of a question.

Now I am becoming aware of the need to fine tune statements and requests even further. Sometimes I will ask my kids to do things that they don’t really want to do. Heck, sometimes I need to ask myself to do something I don’t really want to do. I may not want to do something, yet I’m willing to do it even though I don’t want to, because it’s important for my health, or it’s important to someone else. I am willing to get up off the couch in the evening and close the chicken coop and water the garden even though I don’t always want to because I value the health of the plants and animals in my care. Word choice can either acknowledge that, “I don’t want to, but I’m willing,” or ignore it.

In my NVC/Empathy workshops, our wonderful facilitator, Sarah Peyton, always begins guided meditations with a request to gently ask your awareness if it is willing to go to your breath. For a while I thought this was kind of unnecessarily gentle – I didn’t really understand why there was all this hesitation. If meditation involves going to your breath, then just do it! And then I read the draft copy of her new, soon to be released book, and realized that asking if we are willing leaves space to acknowledge that for some people it’s painful and distressing to spend time quietly paying attention to their bodies. Asking if someone is willing (and being OK with a no) creates a space in which you can simultaneously acknowledge that they may not want to do something and yet may also be willing to try.

It’s not a quick fix. There are still plenty of times when I ask if someone is willing to do xyz and I get “No” in return. But it opens a space to say, “Ok. What are you willing to do to contribute to cleaning up?” And most of the time my kids come up with something they are perfectly happy to do that I would never have thought to ask them. Like re-organzing the jars in the fridge door and labelling all the different compartments. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but I’m willing to receive that!


And now we are six

Birthdays have a way of getting me to dust off the old blog. It’s a way to commemorate that is more reflective, a little more slow than the birthday-party-and-cake routine that is also a part of our tradition.

Claire is now six. We’re waving goodbye to early childhood, and settling in comfortably into the school-age years. Reading, writing and logically figuring things out are stepping up while fingerpainting and playdough are stepping back. (slowly. we do still kinda love playdough and painting.)

And while those things are unmistakable signs of six-ness, I want to celebrate her particular Claire-ness too. The way she wears her emotions on her sleeve, telling the truth about how she is feeling and what is going on for her. The way she likes to tell everyone about what she is learning about and how it relates to what we are doing in that moment. The way she loves to play make-believe for hours at a time. The way she just is, in herself.

Happy Birthday Claire! I am looking forward to seeing what the year ahead brings.

smiling girl

2015: The Year of Practice

Last year I chose a word to represent what I wanted to explore, learn about and invite into my life in the year ahead instead of making traditional resolutions. The word I chose was harvest, and boy howdy did I learn about harvesting.


I learned that harvesting is mostly about letting go.

Visualize what is involved in harvesting food – you have to physically separate it from its life source, right? Zucchinnis must be cut from the vine, eggs plucked from beneath the hen that laid them, carrots pulled from the ground, firewood cut from a tree that was once alive and is now dead. There is a whole lot of death and dying involved in harvesting.

And yet: the harvest is necessary. Death is a necessary part of life. If done with respect, it can honour the life that came before and nourish the life that is coming up behind. If we never killed anything, we could never survive ourselves. This year I got very closely aquainted with this idea in many different ways: I started eating meat again after almost 14 years of being mostly vegetarian, our rooster fathered a few chicks before being killed, I cut countless zuchinnis from our monstrous zuchinni plant, I permanently said goodbye to any future childbearing, and at the very end of the year, I buried five of our hens, killed by a maurading dog who broke through the fence.

I also learned that the hard work of harvesting is not necessarily the killing part, it’s the processing that comes afterwards. It’s transporting, splitting and stacking that firewood after the tree has been felled. It’s baking, pureeing and using that pumpkin, or putting it by to use later. It’s working hard to be successful at something after you’ve made the decision to do it.

So when I started thinking about what word I wanted to choose for this year, I was feeling cautious. I sure got what I asked for when I chose harvest. I wanted to be very careful what I asked for this year.


This year’s word is Practice.

It’s a humble word, but powerful when put to use. It’s the cumulative strength that comes from doing something many, many times. It’s a path to mastery, creativity and fluency.

It’s also a personal, spiritual relationship between yourself and something that brings you into a new awareness of yourself. A yoga practice, a meditation practice, a dishwashing practice, an empathy practice.

Practicing leaves room for making mistakes, for exploring and repeating and private struggle. It carves out time for dedicated work, for honing one’s craft and skill. It’s about the act of doing. I’m ready to practice.