|April, 2012 LifeJournal Newsletter
I’m just back from a trip which included presenting a workshop at the National Association for Poetry Therapy conference with psychologist Beth Jacobs on the topic of writing by hand compared to writing on a keyboard. It was wonderful to meet and talk with so many journal writers!
We have several upcoming journal and writing related events I think you’d really enjoy, regardless of whether you have LifeJournal software. Sign up for one or more!
This newsletter is about writing and parenting/mentoring. The first article is about how you might use your journal in improving your parenting (or grandparenting or mentoring any child). And the second article, Five Free-Writing Minutes with my Ten-Year-Old Son, is written by LifeJournal writer Mary McCauley-Stiff who, after participating in one of Judy Reeves’ Online Writing Practices, was motivated to try a writing session with her son. Find out how that went!
All best wishes,
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Journaling and Parenting (and Grandparenting and Mentoring Any Child)
By Ruth Folit
I spent many happy years parenting—engaged in the process of making decisions that I thought were best for my kids. It’s one of the most rewarding jobs on the planet, but also one of the most demanding and challenging. The parenting path at times is strewn with complex choices, delicate negotiations, and tactful discussions. Not only must you consider your relationship with each child, but also, if you have one, your parenting partner. Parenting can’t be done well without thought, care, and reflection.
CLARIFYING PERSONAL VALUES. Journaling can be really valuable during those times where the right path isn’t clear-cut and the road rocky. Parenting is based strongly on personal values and style along with nurturing the relationship. Little is set in stone, settled, unambiguous, and exactly what you expect. What do you do when you face an issue that is a direct clash between you and your child? A journal is an excellent place to explore and define and refine your values. What’s most important to you? What’s most important to your child? What matters most to your parenting partner? Can you come up with a creative way to please all of you? Or to at least minimize the conflict?
STAYING CURRENT WITH CHANGE. Sometime my parenting style and expectations didn’t change as swiftly and responsively as I should have. Every phase of development has its own vocabulary, set of needs, and style of relating. What kids love or find hilarious when they are three, isn’t the same as when they are five. It helps to write about those new kids’ needs if nothing more than to solidify our knowledge about these changes. Sometimes it even helps to remember a story and write what you can remember about a particular age–the age of the child you are parenting/grandparenting/mentoring. You might be able to better understand the perspective of the particular age.
VENTING. Every parent has times where the relationship between the kids or kids and parents are bumpy. Journal writing is a great place to vent, to lick one’s wounds, to let out the strongest difficult emotions. When you are simply irritated and fed up with a child’s behavior, it’s probably not best to do the venting when your child is within earshot. Once your big emotions are expressed in the container of the journal, you can then talk with your child more calmly in a way that makes clear how you feel.
STRATEGIZING. Journal writing gives you a chance to be strategic, to figure out what’s the best way to approach the latest recurring sticky situations. Chances are there is no quick, straight path around those challenging areas, and it may take some creative thinking and trying different approaches to find a way that minimizes conflict and helps everyone get what they want and need. This might be a great time to do write an imaginary dialog with your child, testing out different conversations you might have with him. I’ve also used my journal to strategize for fun, list interesting things to do with the kids when the opportunity arises.
REMEMBERING THE ANECDOTES. Your journal is also a wonderful place to remind yourself about the positives about your kids. It’s so easy to get into guiding and teaching that one can forget to write down the adorable, the poignant, the wise, the funny anecdotes about your kids.
COMMUNICATING. “Catching your kid at doing things right” is probably one of the best ways to gently and positively guide your child into a pathway that is a good one. Rarely does someone love to be told what to do, but giving positive reinforcement for doing something right (and not just the over-used phrase “good job!”). One mother wrote to me that she would write a complementary short essay about each kid every so often with the intent of giving it to her child. A copy of that essay would go into her journal, too. What a cool idea! And just putting that idea into you head–that you are going to write positive things about your kid, keeps you on the look-out for finding their goodness.
THE FUTURE. Actually, I don’t think the job of parenting ever ends. Relationships with one’s child is unlike any other relationship, and each child, of course, is different. Even as your offspring become adults, there’s a unique way that you relate to your child. How does that bond move forward? How can you support your adult children without meddling and interfering? And, how does the shift change even more after your children become parents? And, of course, the relationship with grandchildren offers a whole new subject to journal.
Five Free-Writing Minutes with my Ten-Year-Old Son
By Mary McCauley-Stiff
For those of you who journal write, perhaps you’ve done a timed free write in which you write without stopping for a certain period of time. I had been attending Judy Reeves’ monthly free-write sessions for several months when it occurred to me that this was something my ten-year-old son might enjoy doing with me. At this age, he’s definitely pulling away to establish his own persona outside of his family. I thought that the free-write session could be a fun way to spend time together and maintain our closeness. In addition, he definitely has the spark of a writer inside of him, and I wanted to encourage that. (In today’s misguided educational system, creative writing — much less free writing — in the classroom is not a daily activity.)
Just Five Minutes
To be on the safe side, I decided to keep the writing time short. I wanted to leave him wanting more. Best to err on the side of caution rather than risk giving him an unpleasant first-time experience if didn’t enjoy the process. We settled down at one of our favorite comfortable spots in the home where we often read together. He already had a spiral notebook with a few scribbled entries, and of course I had my own journal. Before we started, I also explained that he needed to keep writing no matter what, even if he only wrote “I don’t know what to write” over and over. It was also important for him to know that he didn’t need to worry about grammar or spelling; he just needed to be able to read his writing after we were done. (He’s a messy writer!)
He seemed intrigued by the idea. I’d been a bit nervous about that. If he had been resistant, I planned to coax him, but if he had been adamant about not doing it, I would not have forced him. Instead, I would have done the free write by myself for five minutes and let him observe if he wanted to.
The Free Writing Process
We used a writing prompt from Judy Reeves (from A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life) that started out as “Just before midnight….” I set the timer and off we went! After about three minutes of writing, his hand cramped up. (Not to ding our educational system again, but children aren’t used to writing more than a few sentences at a time.) However, he persevered and we both wrote up to the five-minute mark. One thing I should have told him before we began was that he didn’t have to feel the need to wrap up or finish what he wrote. As it turns out, he had written a mini-story with a beginning, middle, and an ending!
Just as we do in Judy Reeves’ monthly free-write session, we took turns reading what we’d written aloud. Something else I hadn’t thought of ahead of time was what would happen if my free write ended up being deeply personal? Would I be willing to share that with my son? I believe my subconscious mind took care of that issue; I ended up writing the beginning of a story in which a woman wakes up (just before midnight) and discovers that her toilet has disappeared and been replaced with a large, dark, and ominous hole. This definitely piqued my son’s interest and he asked me to finish the story for him sometime soon. That was another side benefit of the free write; it generated another excuse for us to spend time together!
I do plan to repeat the free write sometime soon with my son. I’m tempted to let him use the keyboard for writing. He’s already a proficient keyboarder, but I believe I’ll use that option only if he hesitates to write because of his hand cramping. The issue of hand writing versus keyboarding is a whole other issue, but for now I want to expose him to the more organic pleasure of pen and paper.
One reason I believe this free-write session went well was that it had a game-like element to it, but unlike the timed math tests he was used to taking in school, there was no threat of failure if he didn’t “finish.” And what kid can resist the lure of “the only rule is that there are no rules” in free writing? Another element of success was that this practice promises (and will almost always deliver) quick results. Kids like quick!
“The child supplies the power but the parents have to do the steering.”–Benjamin Spock
“You have to support your children to have a healthy relationship.”–Connie Sellecca
“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” –Kahlil Gibran
“You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.”–Kahlil Gibran