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I'm a redheaded mama with four lovely daughters. We're based in southern Australia and travel in a small, colourful housebus — meeting inspiring people, learning lots and re-thinking everything. I feel passionately about spirituality, good design, alternative education, discussing death and conscious parenting.

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Behind the scenes:

10 October 15

In an unconscious moment, I resorted to bribing one of my daughters. “If you clean up, I’ll hang the dreamcatcher where you want it,” I said. Without turning her head, she looked at me sideways and casually drawled, “That sounds like something another person’s mother would say.”

Dreamcatcher by Ewen, August 2015
A perfect dreamcatcher of wood, bone, threads and feathers.

My motivation was all wrong in the first place. I was feeling pressured to clean up by a voice in my head who wanted to impress someone outside our family. As I was not feeling good about it, I was trying to pass the physical responsibility to someone else. Unconsciously, I located a weakness in my daughter’s world and sought to exploit it. Nothing about that self-analysis is good, and I’m thankful that I was saved from my own actions by my enlightened daughter.

It’s amazing and encouraging and terrifying when my children call me out on the unconscious impulses that still regularly slip past my tongue. I’m amazed that they inhabit a state of being where they can recognise a reaction and not take it personally. I’m encouraged that I must be parenting in a good way most of the time so that an anomaly is obvious. And I’m terrified to discover that I’m still regressing into unconscious parenting.

Our democratic societies have long recognised that bribery is wrong. Adults accept that bribery is not part of a healthy relationship. We do not put up with law-makers or leaders who accept or offer bribes. So why is it still perpetuated at the first level of interpersonal relationships — those we have with our children?

Bribing a child takes away their opportunity to develop intrinsic motivation. Instead — like rewards — it creates a potentially addictive scenario where children learn to behave according to external responses. I know that I don’t want my daughters to be dependent on others to validate their behaviour. Even if a couple casual bribes is not going to taint a child’s life, I’d rather err on the side of not bribing instead of one little bribe won’t hurt!

A parenting offering bribes is also delivering the message that the child must be motivated to be good because they’re not inherently good on their own (hello, Christianity). I’d prefer my children to find their own self-motivation for positive behaviour — I can only do this through modelling it, actively witnessing their actions and encouraging every growth as it happens.

Any attempt at manipulating a child’s behaviour is also delivering the message that the desired behaviour must be unpleasant enough on its own. Is tidying up unpleasant? Sometimes I think so, and sometimes I enjoy it. I’d like my children to tidy up when they’re happy to do so. It’s much nicer to live with a pleasant attitude in mess than with turmoil in a spotless space. If I’m determined to inhabit that spotless space while keeping my family peaceful, I’m the only one responsible to bring that into being through consistently and happily tidying up.

Conscious parenting requires maintaining a generous frame of mind towards our children. We accept that they will have seasons of growth, hibernation and regression. We allow that they won’t always want to behave as we would like them to, as we have been taught and pressured. We offer them the freedom of individuality and accept that their values and priorities and motivations will be different to our own.

I’ve discovered that communicating my vulnerabilities to my children gives them the opportunity to respond — in love or in indifference. My critical part is to not take their actions personally.

The best conscious alternative to my recent bribery attempt would be to expose my thoughts so my daughter could see that 1) I felt vulnerable and wanted to impress an outsider, 2) I thought a cleaner space would do that, 3) I didn’t actually want to do the actual cleaning up, and 4) it’s clear that I can identify numerous things that my children would like me to do and I’m still possibly withholding some of them for future attempts at manipulation.

After talking it all through — apologising, giving her the word “bribery” as an identification for that kind of behaviour, clarifying that it’s not a healthy way of relating at any level and exposing my own emotional baggage — I rephrased my request. “I’d like you to clean up. And I know you want me to hang the dreamcatcher for you. Let me know when you want it done.”

There, that’s clear. She knows what I want, and she is also completely free to choose to respond — or not. I have offered to give her what she wants, and at the same time my actions are not dependent on hers. Her motivation to respond to me will be built on the foundations of our relationship prior to this moment, because really, children want to please their parents, as we all seek to please those we love.

Now that I’m not making my service conditional, my attitude has completely changed. I no longer feel the unconscious weight of trying to impress someone else, and I’m also possibly feeling motivated to clean up her mess. Or not. I’m free too. :)

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8 September 15

Anyone who raises children, has been around children or ever remembers being a child will be able to relate to the stories depicted in Gayby Baby. The documentary that is so politically contentious that the NSW Education Minister banned its screening during school hours is not really so controversial at all — when you actually watch it.

Gayby Baby documentary
The darling of international film festivals is now showing in cinemas across Australia.

Gayby Baby follows four children over the course of several years as they navigate the hiccups of home-life, school-work and figuring out their place in the world. Yes, their parents are in same-sex relationships, but Director Maya Newell was adamant that she wasn’t trying to make a 85-minute commercial for gay and lesbian parents.

We’re shown glimpses into raw family life — children rebelling, parents yelling, an emergency admission to hospital, a car breakdown on the way to a crucial appointment, a family deciding to lie about their relationship and a boy quizzing the minister about God’s view on same-sex couples. There are tears and laughter — lots of laughter from the audience. It’s an unexpected comedy where the children are the comedians with all their best lines polished and edited for posterity.

At the screening I attended, the crowd was likely already comfortable with the idea of alternative families, but after seeing the film, I can’t imagine a hostile audience. The starring children quickly charm and endear themselves despite being, well, kids.

Parenting is hard, as Director Maya Newell reminded us during the Q&A afterwards, and that doesn’t have anything to do with a parent’s sexuality. “Same-sex parents shouldn’t have to be seen as perfect to be recognised as equal — equally flawed.”

Producer Charlotte Mars and Director Maya Newell, September 2015
I was pleased to have the opportunity to congratulate Charlotte Mars and Maya Newell on their exceptional production after the screening.

Because of the feedback I received around the word “gayby”, I asked Maya what she thought about the term and why she decided to use it. Maya explained that “gayby” was coined by children of same-sex couples, and although it wasn’t a word she often used in identifying herself, she obviously thought it had value in certain circumstances and was a easy, “cutesy” nickname.

I remember I first heard about the Gayby Baby documentary during initial talks with my friends in Iceland as we discussed our own gayby production. Their son was born in November last year, and we remain excellent friends with almost daily contact between our two families.

Ágúst Karlsson, Sæþór Randallsson and their son Daníel Valur, July 2015
In Iceland, Daníel Valur is growing up with his two loving dads.

A film like Gayby Baby can only raise awareness, promote tolerance and build the the world into a better place. Check the Gayby Project website to find a future screening near you, or bring together at least fifty people and organise your own screening. Go, go, go!

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17 January 15

The putalina Festival celebrates Indigenous music and culture and is a gathering of people from across the state who are united by blood and/or purpose. I can trace my ancestry to a Tasmanian Aboriginal woman, so now that we’re in Tasmania, I’ve been keen to introduce my girls to their people’s community. The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre organises the music festival each year, providing a terrific line-up of local artists for the crowd who today battled the sun, wind and rain (sometimes simultaneously) to show their support.

Aboriginal, Indigenous Australian flag, flying at putalina, Tasmania, January 2015
As an annual event — putalina Festival — celebrates the Tasmanian Aboriginal community’s reoccupation and reclamation of this Oyster Cove site in 1984.

putalina land, Oyster Cove, Tasmania, January 2015
A short drive south of Hobart, putalina is a beautiful location on Oyster Cove just north of Kettering. It was originally the site of mistreatment of Indigenous Australians by European settlers, but the current generations of Tasmanians have transformed the land's energy to infuse it with good memories and hope.

We arrived a bit late, and judging by the number of cars parked for kilometres up the road, arriving earlier would have been better! We first assessed the children’s entertainment (deliberately avoiding the ice-cream vendor who was parked close by — much to Lana’s chagrin).

putalina Festival, Oyster Cove, Tasmania, January 2015
A couple of children's rides are operating to one side of the main stage area.

Lana and Brioni at putalina Festival, Oyster Cove, Tasmania, January 2015
Lana enjoys the ride while Brioni spins the cup by twisting the wheel in the centre.

Cali and Brioni playing at putalina Festival, Oyster Cove, Tasmania, January 2015
And then they're off into the bouncing castle!

Once the girls were comfortable with the procedure of the rides and the layout of the festival, I set up our blanket in front of the main stage to watch the acts. The girls could come and join me for the entertainment or return to the games.

putalina Festival, Oyster Cove, Tasmania, January 2015
"We're all about that bass, 'bout that bass, 'bout that bass," this group sings, and half the crowd sings along.

kanaplila-ripana dance group at putalina Festival, Oyster Cove, Tasmania, January 2015
The first performance by the kanaplila-ripana dance group is about escaping from the boogeyman.

Performer at putalina Festival, Oyster Cove, Tasmania, January 2015
Taylor Hughes wows the crowd with her voice and presentation.

The weather was extremely schizophrenic, alternating between brilliant, burning sunshine and icy rain. Some spectators were prepared with raincoverings and umbrellas, but other moved locations according to their comfort levels.

Picnicking at putalina Festival, Oyster Cove, Tasmania, January 2015
During the rain, we take refuge under a tree to one side. At the top of the site, the elders are protected from the sun and rain by marquees.

putalina Festival, Oyster Cove, Tasmania, January 2015
A free barbecue lunch is on offer — with kangaroo sausages and wallaby steaks being served alongside more conventional fare.

putalina Festival, Oyster Cove, Tasmania, January 2015
The spectators move back into the sun after the rain.

We left mid-afternoon when the girls complained about being cold (despite wearing their snow jackets). I felt disappointed to a couple more hours of the eclectic range of performers but now that we know about putalina Festival, we can add this to our calendar of events for next year!

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