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Parenting with Spirit - 30 Ways to Bring the Sacred into Your Family's Life

by by Jane Bartlett

listed in learning and development

This book shows parents how to celebrate, alongside their children, the joys of family life. Starting with the experience of the parent who recognizes the 'old spirit' shining through the eyes of their baby, Bartlett shows how to rejoice in the daily life of the child. She does not expect parents to be paragons or children to be angelic. Instead she offers a range of activities to help parents and children to love and appreciate each other and the world about them.

As the children grow and mature the activities become more complex, and include ideas involving the whole family. There are suggestions which could be introduced into any family unit, regardless of their religious beliefs or understanding of spirituality. Some, such as the developing a family creed could be off putting to certain people, whereas the sharing of a family walk or a bed-time story could happily be incorporated by any family. Bartlett advocates the introduction of prayer to children and offers simple, beautiful suggestions for prayers drawn from many sources. Meditation in the form of guided visualisation is introduced, as is the practise of yoga. She stresses the value of rituals such as the lighting of a candle or ringing a bell, to help children focus themselves on the purpose of an activity, or the construction of a family altar to celebrate the turning of the seasons. Not all the activities are quiet and formal; she also suggests that sharing in silly games and the occasional use of a comic grace or a prayer accompanied by physical activity can be an equally spiritual experience.

Some activities such as the saying of a simple grace at mealtimes or holding family meetings are shown as ways of helping the family to share a spiritual life together. For this reason too, Bartlett includes activities such as shared stories, visualisations and creative activities which can be adapted according to the age and interests of the child. She reminds us to celebrate the importance of play and to share the joy of the child in her fantasy world.

Perhaps the most useful section of this book deals with the complex issue of discipline. Bartlett does not pretend to be the perfect parent who never loses her temper. Instead she suggests ways in which the parents can calm herself and then decide how to deal with the problem. She guides parents in ways in which to condemn the poor behaviour without making the child feel unloved, and ways in which to gradually involve the child in recognizing, and atoning for, her own wrong doing.

The question of how to maintain a spiritual atmosphere within the home despite the pressure of advertising and the media is addressed realistically. Bartlett suggests strategies to dissuade children from choosing toys which encourage violence and aggression but accepts that there will be times when any available toy will be used as a prop for fighting games. She reminds us of the pleasures to be found in simple toys such as boxes and how to encourage imaginative play. The issue of television is covered with equal sensitivity and a reminder that parents should set an example to encourage thoughtful viewing habits. These less spiritual aspects of family life are counterbalanced by the introduction of animals into the home to provide practical experience in caring and nurturing. A time and place for silence offers respite from the hubbub of daily life and a chance to experience quiet reflection, a respite needed by both children and adults.

Bartlett offers ideas for introducing children to the wonders of the world outside, such as looking at the stars and taking night-time walks. She describes games using the senses which could be enjoyed by the whole family. Like many of the activities she suggests, the aim is to nurture a sense of awe and appreciation of the world.

She recognizes that this kind of approach to child-rearing is easier when supported by like minded groups and suggests strategies to identify and contact them. She then goes on to stress the importance of kindness and good manners towards others, not only within the family, but also in the wider environment. Charity and a caring attitude are promoted amongst even young children. Bartlett believes that children should be encouraged to question, and that their questions should be treated with respect. From this she leads on to a sensitive chapter dealing with answering questions about life and death.

Finally Bartlett recognizes that letting children grow up and become independent is something with which all parents struggle. She reminds us that nothing is permanent and that change is to be celebrated. She demonstrates how a spiritual upbringing prepares children to go out into the world and how the benefits of the parents loving practices will continue with them as they start their independent lives.

This is a book which should be given to all new parents, irrespective of their religious beliefs. It could also be useful in schools or youth organisations, anywhere where adults are struggling to find better and happier ways of interacting with children. Above all it should be a welcome source of ideas for anyone wishing to bring spirituality into the life of their child.

Kay Reeves
Published by Rider Books, Imprint of Ebury Press

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