Young mother and her two kids play in the yard in front of their house
“Eli is such a great big brother to Lyra. Like all siblings, they have their moments but because we have such a small house we have to focus on sharing and they’re getting really good at that, which is cool,” Renee says.

I didn’t go into parenting with much of a plan. I had always said to myself that I wasn’t going to hit my kids, or yell at them, but I had never done any of the inner work that I needed to do to learn how to manage my own emotions – let alone help them with theirs. When my son, Eli, was born in 2020, we had a lot of difficulties with breastfeeding and then he had colic and acid reflux. I was struggling with postnatal depression and anxiety, and on top of everything else we had moved from Palmerston North to Geraldine right before the country went into lockdown.

I didn’t have any friends who had children, and I didn’t have any support around me. On one hand that was a good thing, because I didn’t have anyone telling me what I should be doing, but on the other hand I was like, “What the hell am I supposed to be doing?”

Renee plays with her two young children on the footpath.
Renee playing outside with Lyra and Eli. “My social anxiety has improved a lot since we first moved to Geraldine. I still struggle with it, but I’ve met people through playing netball, going to some playgroups and meeting some really cool mums.”

I started to explore mindfulness and yoga to help with my anxiety, and for the first time in my life I was able to build some really healthy coping mechanisms for my emotions. I was twenty-four years old and I wondered what my life would have been like if I’d had these strategies earlier, particularly when my mum died. I thought, “Man, I really don’t want my son to have to wait until he is an adult to know how to cope with his emotions properly.” That was when the seed was first planted.

My parents did the best with what they had, and I definitely don’t want to blame them for what I experienced growing up. They were so loving, and I had a great childhood. They were breaking cycles, too. My koro was beaten when he was a kid – it was horrendous. He didn’t do that with his own children, but he did hit them. And then my mum hardly ever hit us; her go-to was to yell at us instead. That was her way of breaking the cycle.

Woman and her two young children barefoot on the footpath, playing hopscotch
“I use our peaceful place more than anyone in the house,” Renee says. “It helps me manage my own emotions and it’s good modelling for my kids of how to use the space.”

The real trigger was when Eli was about one-and-a-half and his behaviour changed. He started throwing tantrums for the first time. One day, I was feeling so frustrated and overwhelmed and I just heard these horrible words fly out of my mouth – things I remember my mum saying to me that I swore I’d never say to my kids. The second I heard myself, I broke down and cried. I didn’t realise my body had remembered those words until there they were – right on the tip of my tongue in that stressful moment.

It was a very humbling experience and inspired me to research more about emotional intelligence, and that’s how
I discovered the peaceful parenting approach. I’ve been practising peaceful parenting for just over two years now, and it feels really natural to treat my children how I wish I had been treated when I was a child. My go-to is to centre, connect and communicate. I put my hand on my heart, breathe and acknowledge my feelings; this helps me find empathy for myself so I can find it for my child. I try to look for the underlying feelings and needs that drive their behaviour. I get down to their level and place a hand on their shoulder and, depending on the situation, I actively listen to what they have to say. Then I repeat what I’ve heard and validate how they might be feeling. Depending on the situation, I either help them problem-solve or set a boundary.

I came across the idea to set up a calming corner in our whare, but the resources were too expensive. Then one day I felt inspired to just create my own, and that’s how my business Little People, Big Emotions began. I realised how many people were interested in the peaceful parenting approach and I started to feel more confident in everything that I was learning and practising. I have the tools now to help with my social anxiety and I hope that I can make a difference by sharing what I’ve learned with other parents.

Woman and her two young children smile at the camera, sitting on a step
“Having my own business has helped me so much mentally – being able to have a really fulfilling thing that I can do at home, and still be there for my kids.”

I have so much more peace within myself and in my home thanks to this approach. Lyra is still too young to really see the impact but I can definitely see the difference in Eli. He’s still a toddler and still learning, but he is very empathetic and has an amazing emotional vocabulary – he can identify how he’s feeling and choose an activity that will help him feel better or calm down. He’ll call me out, too, if I raise my voice or if my tone is a bit sharp. He’ll say: “Mum, you need to do some deep breaths.” It’s very humbling, but it makes me so proud. I feel like I have found my calling in life.

Glossary. Koro, grandfather. Whare, house.

 

Renee first shared her experience of losing her mum when she was young through the Shepherdess THREAD digital storytelling project. Read that part of her story online at shepherdess.co.nz/living-with-a-heavy- heart.

This story appeared in our Kōanga Spring 2023 Edition.

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