Pagan Parenting: Natural Living for Toddlers

Raising a child in my tradition poses some unique challenges.

For that reason, I periodically like to update you all on our progress so that other pagan parents know they’re not alone!

I last talked in depth about this subject in my post Pagan Parenting:  The First Year if you’d like some background context.

Please note:  There are lots of wonderful ways to raise a child.  None of these ideas are meant to be definitive.  I submit the following suggestions humbly and with respect for our diversity as parents looking for ways to raise our children in a natural and spiritual environment.

I enjoy coming up with creative ways to introduce my toddler to a life centered around natural living, compassion and heightened sense of spiritual awareness.  I hope the ideas here inspire you to come up with your own unique pagan parental journey.  🙂

To start, I always try to take a step back and observe my child’s abilities.   What do we do on a daily basis?

How might I best modify our routine or activities to creatively guide him towards an enlightened, open-minded path?

How do I steer him away from all the flashing lights and plastic and television that surrounds him and encourage him seek out the intrinsic beauty of the world?

Those are some pretty big questions!

The first goal I made for this year started with eliminating plastic toys.

Instead, I aimed to surround him with more natural materials like cloth, wood & metal.

A lot of people think natural toys come attached to big price tags, but I found this completely untrue!

To begin with, for us, minimalism works when it comes to toys.  I discovered (quite to my surprise) that while plastic toys with flashing lights and noisy gizmos engage my child briefly and intensely, he lost interest in them quickly and they became useless objects discarded in the toy box.

This made them addictive, and I found myself purchasing new ones almost weekly to keep him occupied.

Now that gets expensive!

On the flip side, when I introduced him to simple, traditional toys, it took a while for him to become interested, but once they engaged him, he played with them for hours and returned to them over and over.  Which in the long run, works out to be much cheaper.

But even the upfront investment in natural, simple toys need not be prohibitive.

If you are open to purchasing used or antique toys, thrift stores offer a great opportunity to find affordable toys like wood cars, rocking horses and blocks.  Just be mindful about things like lead paint, and small parts that pose a choking risk.

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However, if this idea makes you too nervous, you still have lots of options!  I found wood and cloth toys very affordably at IKEA.  Or, if your budget gives you some freedom, Plan Toys makes excellent toys made of sustainable materials.

Anyway you get them, I found less is more when it comes to toys.  Rotating a few toys proved more effective for us, engaged my toddler longer and let his natural abilities shine through to me.

For example, he loves wheels, and will play with the gears on this cast iron toy bike, endlessly hypnotized by the way it moves.

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All of this inspired us to make a decision I never thought we’d make:  We opted to enroll our child in a Catholic Montessori preschool. 

I know a lot of pagans have difficult or complicated histories with Catholicism and Christianity in general and I don’t want to negate that.

Personally, my experience with Christianity has been largely positive, so sending my child to a Catholic school poses no conflict for me or my husband—although filling out sections in the application truthfully without raising any eyebrows proved amusing:

“What denomination are you?”

(Uh, Unitarian Universalist?  We’ll go with that.)

I know his school teaches religious education as part of the curriculum.

I’m personally very comfortable with that.

I really want to steep my child in a spiritual community——even if it’s not mine.

Neopagan religions generally don’t encourage proselytization.

My husband isn’t pagan, no one in my (biological) family is pagan and I’ve never suggested any of them should become pagan.

To me, that extends to my child.  Of course I’d love to raise a “second gen” and have a child who is as enthusiastic about my path as I am—but I expect him to carve his own way, and I see my role as one of guided exposure, not predetermination.

I will teach him about my traditions as we go, but ultimately, when he reaches adulthood, I am called most to expose him widely to many different faiths so that he might make his spiritual and religious choices with as much information as possible.

Although Catholicism piques my interest spiritually (in particular, the idea of prayer to Mary, the high ritualism of ceremony, and the sacredness of art in Catholicism fascinate me) the “Catholic” part of this preschool seemed almost beside the point.

What really intrigued me was the Montessori approach, which has no association with paganism, but it feels pagan to me—the emphasis on both individuality and community, a progressive approach to education and the respect for children as human beings with their own minds really appeals to me.

Oh, and in the school we chose, there’s no plastic toys!  🙂

So we’ve covered toys and school.  Now let’s eat.

Food and mealtimes gave me another great opportunity to encourage natural living in my toddler.  In this respect, the universe blessed us generously.

I know not all parents have the time to prepare homemade food for every meal.

I was very lucky to have the option to work part time and I chose to do just that, so I have room in my schedule to cook a lot.

Having said that, if feeding your child “real food” from scratch is something that’s important to you, don’t be discouraged!  It’s not impossible to do it with even time constraints.

Actually, although I enjoy cooking, I don’t really need to cook much at all.  Raw fruits and veggies make up most of my toddler’s diet.  I buy some prepackaged things, like plain Greek yogurt and whole wheat pasta, but for the most part, I stick with totally unprocessed foods.

I make large batches and freeze them in single serving portions.  Homemade bread, quiche to reheat for breakfast, sweet potato mash, and all the other 10,000,000,000 recipe ideas on Pinterest I’ve yet to try make great freezer meals without the preservatives.

I also banned plastic tableware.  I noticed something whilst traveling overseas to . . . almost any other country in the world—-Americans take for granted that everything a child touches must be made of plastic.

I noticed in other places, families sat even the smallest children at the table to use tiny versions of the adult tableware.  Very early on, the children learn to handle these items with care, whereas American children treat tableware roughly well into the preschool years.

I picked out several wood bowls, as well as small “toddler sized” metal and wood spoons.

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I compromised on sippy cups.  If you live overseas, you might be quick to point out that everyone else also teaches their children to drink out of a glass between 12-16 months.  You guys are awesome.   I don’t how you do it.  My kid throws a cup across the room as soon as I put it in front of him.  So we do sippy cups.

In small ways, we even started to help our toddler make the connection to his food and the places it comes from by visiting pick-your-own farms where he could actually eat fruit right off the tree.  We particularly enjoyed our experience at the peach farm last month!

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Finally, one positive step forward to natural living that nearly everyone will find rewarding and achievable is a “screen free” hour every day.  I don’t let my toddler use any screened device at all yet, but I also don’t want him to constantly be surrounded by other people using them, so I try to take him on regular nature walks and I make it a point not to bring my phone.  It’s good for both of us.

And we have the good fortune to live near the Civil War battlefields, which are among the most beautiful trails in the world.

Towards the end of this year, I look forward to celebrating the Sabbats with my toddler, because he’s already old enough to start appreciating little things about them.  I’ll try to make some footnotes around the coming Sabbats about how that goes!

Blessed be!

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Pagan Parenting: The First Year

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Like everyone else, the moment I saw that second pink line, I knew I stood on the brink of complete transformation.

Very soon thereafter, I began to think deeply on how I planned to introduce and cultivate a spiritual life for my child.  .

Something about the label “pagan” made me uneasy when applied to my child that never made me uneasy as applied to myself.  It’s not really a word I identify with, but more of a shorthand that roughly describes the same spiritual “neighborhood” I live in—the way people who live in Tyson’s Corner just say they live in DC because no one knows or cares where McLean, Virginia is and it’s just easier to name a close-enough place.

But I felt more sensitive about labeling my child this way.

So I decided to focus on what I call “natural” parenting.  If you are interested in taking your baby down a more progressive, integrated spiritual path, but you think it’s too early, think again!

There are lots of ways to begin.  Here are some ideas that worked for me.  Obviously, your mileage may vary, but I hope to at least inspire you.

Spend time outside.  Developing a connected relationship with nature never comes too soon.  Don’t just strap your baby in a stroller and keep him there.  Find a sunny spot in the grass and let him roll around (avoid commercial lawns, which tend to be loaded with pesticides).

Work on your “psychic” connection.  Or whatever you want to call it.  The first year makes a great time to promote your unspoken bond because . . . well, babies don’t talk.  Once they learn, their thoughts are, in many ways, limited by the constraints of language.  Lay your baby on your chest and synchronize your breath to hers.  Try baby sign language.  When she’s crying and you don’t know why, stop, think, and pay attention to her cues.   Sometimes, just “listening” to my baby’s non-verbal signals surprised me with insight!

Try mommy & me yoga.  So many benefits come with some quiet, physical closeness.  Mommy & me yoga classes are playful, meditative and fun.   And if your little one freaks out, everyone in the room will understand, which takes the pressure off “controlling” his outbursts.

Include your baby in your rituals.  Try something simple at first.  A smoke-free smudge, or just bring her out under the full moon and let her enjoy the experience.

Celebrate the Sabbats together.  Try to celebrate the Sabbats on her level (see Baby’s First Mabon).

Make a “sweet dreams” sachet.  All first year parents await the night when baby lets them sleep through it!  Try filling a sachet with sleep/dream herbs and/or calming gemstones.  Hang it over the crib securely out of reach.  It can’t hurt!

Bless your baby’s blanket or lovey.  Anoint them with a diluted blend of olive oil and light essential oils for protection.

Try making your own baby care products.  Be sure you really know your herbs and oils, that you are extra cautious about common allergens and whatnot.  But making your own natural baby products connects you to what you put on your baby’s body.

Focus on natural or organic solids.   Have you ever gone in the baby food section at the grocery store and looked at the ingredients in Gerber Graduates?  I was stunned to learn that it’s even legal to market foods so loaded with preservatives and artificial ingredients to young children.  Regard your baby’s body (and your own!) as a temple.  Choose simple, natural foods to introduce.  Even if you don’t have time to cook every day, it’s almost as easy to cut up an apple as it is to pop something in the microwave.  The beauty is, they don’t know what junk food is, so they don’t miss it!

Finally, celebrate that first year with an outdoor cake smash!  We didn’t do a party, which seemed to me like it was really for the parents.  Which is fine!  But the idea of planning, making favors, invitations, ect didn’t do anything for me or my husband.

I wanted to do something to mark the occasion, so naturally, I consulted Pinterest and decided nothing seemed to have more potential for a crafty little witch than a cake smash.

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You can use herbs in the cake that have meaning to you, or decorate it with whatever happens to be in season to honor The Wheel of the Year.

I chose blackberries for their protective properties.

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I love having a spring baby, and I recall noting what wildflowers were in season when he was born last year.  I feel nostalgic now seeing them come back, and I think it might be nice to teach him that when he sees those things, it’s a “sign” that his birthday is coming.

Common grape hyacinth is one of my favorite wildflowers.

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Wild violets can even be candied and put into cakes and cookies.

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I also love tulips (we even named our dog after them!) and I plant them everywhere in the fall just so we can watch them come up now.

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Baby’s First Mabon

With Mabon on the way and its special emphasis on food, it seemed like perfect timing to open my baby’s eyes to the wide world of natural, earthy eating.

As a new mother, I felt intense, surprising excitement at the idea of introducing a little human being to the pleasure of a fresh, made-with-love meal for the first time.

The kitchen witch in me instantly came alive.   I knew immediately that I wanted to make his food myself.  So I consulted many herbalist manuals, international baby food recipes and general meal blessings to make his baby food healthy and sacred.

In many (if not, most) places around the world, food is a deeply spiritual experience that connects us to our life force and links us to the fruits of the earth.  Breaking bread with others in a communal setting connotes a moment of spiritual thanks in many traditions, and paganism is no exception.

We spend so much of our lives preparing and enjoying food—think how much richer if we daily took the time to savor it and honor what it offers us spiritually and medicinally the way so many others do around the world.

I want to instill this sense of gratitude and appreciation in my own child.

Hopefully, when he is old enough, he will even have his own garden to deepen this sacred connection to food, which I discovered much later in life.

During the weeks leading up to Mabon, I decided to experiment with different baby foods, appropriately using the season to introduce the new addition to natural, healthy foods and their meanings one by one, with a “feast” on Mabon of a little of everything.

After reading an enlightening book called French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billion, I decided on the french approach of starting with pureed vegetables rather than the traditional American cereal.

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The cleansing, purifying properties of asparagus blended with the protective but joyful spirit of fresh garden mint in this puree nourishes baby’s body and soul.

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For pagans, medicinal and metaphysical knowledge of plants and herbs is a birthright.  I believe this education begins with the very first foods introduced to a baby.

I have to admit, leeks would not have leaped to mind as a first baby food, but the are apparently rich in folklore and food magick.  In Cuningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen, leeks are identified as

“. . . worn over the left ear [in 12th century Persia] to prevent intoxication.”

Obviously, this is not a typical concern for a baby, but leeks are also used in protection stews or as a metaphysical substitute for onions and garlic.

They also apparently make a great, if unorthodox, introductory vegetable.

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I was pleasantly surprised to learn that babies can eat most herbs and spices.

The spice cinnamon, as well as apples, are symbols of love and affection.  This apple/cinnamon yogurt baby “smoothie” seemed like the perfect Mabon-season treat.

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Even bolder, we tried the traditional Mabon dish of sweet potatoes, but with a kick of curry powder.

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An Interfaith Baby Blessing

We had a beautiful baby blessing.

I didn’t get any pictures of the actual ceremony because I wanted to focus on the moment, but I got some of the details, so I’ll share those with you.

I’m used to doing indoor rituals on the floor.  I don’t know why.  I guess because I was solitary for so many years, and I did outdoor rituals sitting on the ground.  So I wanted to create this Moroccan-inspired vibe, with the pillows and the lanterns on the floor.

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I gave away blessing salts as favors, which were really easy but they smell amazing and people are always happy to get them.

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I want you all to know that I DID try to bake for this event.  It . . . did not work out.  So.  Store bought cupcakes for Cakes and Ale.

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But!  I did add this charming little touch with the birth date on it.

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I usually substitute for the “ale” part of cakes and ale.  Champagne, wine, mead, sparkling cider.  I don’t think I’ve ever actually served real ale, but this time, I wanted the authentic deal.

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So there you have it.  Blessed be!

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My Hopes as a New Pagan Parent

This post, and many of the posts to follow, were scheduled six months in advance.  It’s actually late October.  But I know that right around this time, I will be going to labor with my first child.  Even as a newbie to the whole parenting experience, I have enough sense to know that come April, I will probably be pretty busy with a newborn, so I figured I should get the blog squared away for this month well in advance.  But as of this writing, I don’t even know if it’s a boy or a girl yet.

I do know that I will screw up lots.  I will get things right, and I will get things very wrong.  I know that I will set goals as a parent.  I will meet some, and I will fail at a lot of other things.  But as a spiritual steward of this new little soul, I hope to get at least this much right.

I want my child to know that the spiritual life matters.  I really don’t care what path he/she chooses.  Really.  I’ve walked many myself.  They’re all beautiful.  I wouldn’t want to tell him/her which path to take, but I do want to show them the road map.   Speaking of which:

I want my child to know that when it comes to the spiritual lives of others, our job is to learn.  Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism—-these ancient faiths all have important lessons.  They didn’t get passed down a hundred generations for no reason.  I want to expose my child to every possible avenue of faith.

I want my child to respect nature and living creatures as a manifestation of god.  The way you treat helpless creatures, human or animal, says more about the state of your soul than any other single barometer.

I want my child to understand that things are to be used, but not worshiped.   It seems almost insurmountably difficult in our culture to teach a young mind why materialism is so corrosive to the soul.  But I intend to do my best.

I want my child to recognize art as divine expression.   What moves me may not be the same as what moves you.  But it’s the moving that counts.   Art isn’t a medium; it’s not a category.  Art is not limited to dance or music or sculpture.  Sometimes it’s a surf board.  It’s taking any medium and creating something that can only come from a human soul.  Art is the paintbrush of your divine nature.  Make it beautiful.

Most importantly, I want my child to know that the more deeply he/she loves, the closer he/she will be to what some people call “God.”  I think that says it all.

Here’s to high hopes.  Wish me luck.

Personal Update: Pagan Nesting

With just a few days until my due date, nesting is in full swing!

I am enjoying the last weeks of my pregnancy, which haven’t been nearly as rocky or uncomfortable as I expected them to be.  It is exciting to fully embrace the experience of motherhood.  I don’t want to miss out on anything!

Earlier in the month, I got a special treat from a talented local body painter/Henna artist.  I’ve avoided manicures/pedicures/hair color just because I’m paranoid about chemicals, so this was the closest I’ve had to a beauty treatment in about 8 months.  Getting my belly painted was so soothing and relaxing, and the baby really seemed to enjoy it!!

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Even though the artist is not pagan herself, the body paint and henna treatment felt like a nice substitute for a belly blessing.  I love the moon design she did.  My West African OBGYN was so confused by the henna tattoo.  “It’s going to come off, yes?”

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My bestie planned an amazing, beautiful, mustache-themed shower last month.   Whenever I plan a big party (or in this case, when one is planned for me) I am always nervous no one will show up, but so many people came, we ran out of favors.  Oops!

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I was blown away by all the people that where there to express their love and support at this time in our lives.

Instead of planning games, we just sort of sat around in a circle while they told me their parenting/birthing/kid stories.  It was my favorite part.  Even my friends without children had stories about being caregivers to nieces and nephews that cracked me up.

Of course, the overwhelming generosity was definitely a bonus!  One big advantage to having so many creative, artistic friends is that they’re always happy to share their talents.

To start, this kid is never going to be cold or wet.

We got so many blankets and baby towels, many of them handmade.

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One of mother’s good friends made our wedding quilt, so her hand-quilted baby blanket is particularly special.

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My friend Emily, who has been on my pagan journey from the beginning, and who was in my original coven, appropriately brought me a beautiful bottle of blessing herbs for the baby blessing, which she will be conducting as priestess.  I am super excited about this!

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On the other end of the spectrum, the latest addition to my circle, a lovely lady named Kristina, kindly handcrafted a basket full of homemade baby bath products.  A self-described “crunchy” mother of four, she is inspiring me to make more of my own body care and home cleaning products.  Plus, she raises her own chickens, is a talented canner during the harvest season and an accomplished dancer, making her super awesome all the way around.   More on her in future posts.

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My aunt really wanted to get the rocking chair.  I had fun decorating this cozy little nook.  I really, really want to breastfeed even though everyone says it’s hard, so I thought the least I could do for us was make a comfortable, quiet space to learn together.

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One of my friends wrapped her gift in this gorgeous chevron with gold-flecked tissue paper.  I liked the wrapping so much, I couldn’t throw it away, so I threw together this little sun altar for the bedroom and used the paper from the bag to make a frame tray.

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Of course, everyone knows I am an avid reader, so there’s been no shortage of people passing along books about breastfeeding, natural parenting and pregnancy.  But I was especially pleased by the gift of this gorgeous edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales by my friend Sandra (who is totally the grandmother type and could be a character in one of these stories herself!)  Most of you probably know that these stories have a lot of references to European pagan folklore.

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Everyone is getting super excited.  We’re almost there!