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Raised Together

This week, we have been sick. The entire family is sick. So we have been bingeing on watching David Attenbourgh and all the documentaries he has ever created. We recently just bought a blu-ray version of Blue Planet and Blue Planet II which has been amazing to see.

What strikes me the most is watching the mammals. All the apes, the cats, wolves and bears. When the mums have their babies, their babies are with them. When they grow up a little, they are still with their mum. When they are ‘teens’, they are still with their pack.

So why is it, that we are the most intelligent beings on this planet, and we are not raised together?

We are suppose to be this amazing being, that can achieve so much, yet we apparently have no clue on how to raise our children. We need to send them to specialists, everything needs to be checked by someone else, and we apparently do not have all the knowledge and skills to raise our children. We have to send them to others so that they can learn the basic skills to survive as a human being.

From the age of 3, children are sent to kindergartens. I sent my eldest to kindergarten, and there was many tears. He simply was not happy to go. He wanted to be by my side. But not trusting my parenting and not trusting my instincts, I believed what others said, and I walked away. (He’s now 7 and homeschooled… just so you know).

From the age of 5, children are sent to schools for 6-7 hours a day, 5 days a week where they are segregated into classes with children their age, which they must get along with. They must be able to listen, sit down, to get along, to express themselves, to read, to count, to be happy with all this.

But what happens when they don’t? If they don’t listen, if they don’t express themselves, if they won’t sit still, and what happens when they are simply not happy with all this? The teacher will tell the parent, that possibly, little Billy needs to see a specialist. Because he isn’t normal. He doesn’t fit.

And this goes on for the next 13 years of your child’s life. They are not with you, they are at school.

I personally use to think this way, that I didn’t have the knowledge or experience to raise my children. I needed to take them to all sorts of specialists to ensure that they fit into school and sometimes, I would see their spark dull a little… because they were just being kids.

But after a full year of homeschooling, stepping through life with them for an entire year together, I now know that all my children want, is me. And my goodness, how they shine when they are nurtured, when they are loved and raised together.

Our children have not only become confident in the way the speak to others, they have been able to discover what it is they love about life, what makes them tick. Incidentally, I know several adults who still don’t know what makes them tick. But the most beautiful thing about all this, is that there weren’t any specialists involved (except for our 3 year old who needed grommets put in his ears), all our social and mental issues were fixed because we homeschooled. The children felt safe, they felt loved, and they felt that they were listened to, honoured and respected.

Now, I understand their are children who truly do need specialists, and that ADHD, Autism and ODD are disorders that require attention. I understand this. But I also believe that their has been an epidemic of diagnosed cases with parents who worry about their children’s behaviour.

But it just does not agree with me or our family to send a young child off to someone else to teach and raise. And later in life, if my children choose to go to school, then so be it. But it will be their decision, and not based on what society says they should do, or who they should be.

The system cannot give them the cuddles they need when they just aren’t feeling all that together on any particular day. The school teaches them things, but it cannot show them what it is that makes them tick, and then allows them to delve into their interest for hours and hours on end.

I refuse to believe that we are the most intelligent beings created (or evolved, which ever you believe), yet we are also the being that does not trust its own ability to raise our own children. Animals have been raising their children naturally, and the little animals learn all that they need to survive in the world that they are given.

Why is it that we cannot do the same? Have we made the world so complicated that we can no longer parent our own children?

Well, I for one, am taking a stand. And saying that all my kids need to live a healthy, resilient and fruitful life, is love, togetherness and for them to know that the family is always on their side.

 

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Happy without Facebook

I am so glad the Sun has made an appearance. If you’re a Melbournite, you will have endured what seemed to be an endless cloudy and rainy season that is our winter. And how absolutely glorious to now bask in the warmth and gentle touch of the Sun, as it makes is lovely appearance.

But I am well aware that even on these sunny days, there are always dark times in our lives that inhibit our ability to smile.

Recently, due to journalists hounding my privacy due to a news story I witnessed, I shut down my Facebook page for a couple of weeks. At the time, I battled with the notion of not having my supposed lifeline to the outside world SHUT DOWN, but in order to get some peace from the constant contact and the public eye getting my private details, I shut it down.

And what an unexpected outcome. I felt free. Not initially. Initially I felt lost, empty and “what do I do now?”. I realised that the times I checked my phone were:

  1. First thing in the morning,
  2. When the children and their behaviour just got too much; and
  3. When I felt like I needed something for me.

It was then interesting to have a life without it. What turned out to be done due to media, has actually enhanced my life. Now, instead of looking at my phone, I:

  1. Embrace my smiles, and settle into the warmth that is God’s love for me, as he prepares me for the day through prayer,
  2. Address my children’s issues immediately, and hold them, as nothing else in my day could be more important than right now,
  3. Know that my life is enough for me, and I have everything I need, and
  4. What you see, hear, smell and feel affects you in every way.

There are more cuddles, there are more face to face conversations, there is more connected play time, there is nothing more important than them, when I am there, with them.

 

I understand that these are things we should just KNOW, and these are things that we should just DO, but I wasn’t doing them. I was doing them SOMETIMES, but I felt that my social media was giving me more joy in my day than the difficult times during my day. And they weren’t. For some unknown reason, I felt unhappier everytime I updated, checked and had a notification with my Facebook. But I was addicted, clearly. I needed people to like my posts, I needed people to see my beautiful life, but for what reason? For likes? Is that a good enough reason not to engage fully, 100%, with my world? Absolutely not.

So it has been shut off. And the only times I check it, is once, at night, for a given time of 10 mins. And then it’s off.

I’ve noticed that most, if not all, of the notifications on Facebook, aren’t actually for me either, which has annoyed me recently. They tell me what people are doing, where they are going, who I haven’t contacted in a while, what happened in my life a couple of years ago; things I really don’t actually need to know.

There is a level of depth to any relationship that grows and deepens more and more with connectivity, complete undivided attention and with unlimited patience.

I started homeschooling because I wanted more time with my children, to do what they wanted me to do with them, to connect. Now, I am connecting with them without the phone.

And it has been bliss.

I am still overweight, I am not exercising as much as I want to, but I am praying more, connecting with God more, connecting and giving to my husband more, and connecting with my children when they need me. It has been an undeniable success. And I will never go back, because I am simply very happy.

Peer to Peer versus Family Influence

Today is such a great day. The Sun is finally out in dreary cloudy Melbourne, and my husband is home this week from work. We wanted to replicate ‘holiday mode’ even without the going away part, so have gone out for breakfast most days, gone out for dinner most days, and put housework aside to focus on family time. It is joyous… to say the least. Currently as I type this, I have a 3 year old who has chosen to take his nap on my lap.

These moments are important to me. They silently build something within me that actually makes me happy, content and complete. Recently I wrote a piece regarding mental illness in our children and society and the possible links to pressure from mainstream schools. I have just read a book that adds another idea to the mix of what might be missing from our lives.

Currently, I am reading an out of print book called, “The Collapse of Parenting” by Leonard Sax. It was published some 10 years ago, but in my humble opinion, should be essential reading to all parents in modern society. Sax speaks of the dangers of today not just being social media, junk food or medication/drugs, but very much to do with two factors:

  1. The parent no longer being the authoritative lead in the home, but the child;

and

  1. The shift from family influenced children, to peer to peer influenced children.

The first is something we can see very readily. Parents don’t feel the sense of control they once use to. There seems to be so many things that a child can be attracted to these days, that it does seem so much harder these days to raise children.

When I was a child, there were 5 channels, and you only had two channels in the morning showing cartoons you actually wanted to see, and that ended at 9am. Go outside. Do something else. Now, there are several channels, DVD options, some channels showing round the clock cartoons, iPads, youtube… kids can have what they want, when they want it… right now.

Sax speaks about the 1950s where you were given no choice as to what was given to you at dinner, you ate it or starved. There are no snacks in between, so you knew the times to eat, and it was your choice to not eat the meals given. Today, kids can’t go without a snack in a 40 minute car ride.

Toys are abundant. We are drowning in junk because we can’t find it in ourselves to say no, I mean, its only a $9 toy… just give it to him, he’s been good today. I remember waiting for birthdays and treasuring every toy because I would not get another. And I have to admit, I’m one of those parents who does give my kid that $5 toy once a week at the shops because I just need to get the grocery shopping done!

But even this is something we can control. If we put up rules in our home to ensure some sort of normality of control, we might pull it off. No snacks after 2pm as dinner is at 5:30pm. No sugary drinks at all. No toys unless its your birthday or Christmas (I’m going to try this one! Wish me luck!) This point is somewhat in our control.

I believe the second point is far less out of our control.

(Now typing with one hand as son has decided to move onto my side! Excuse the mess too, on the floors, I can’t move right now!)

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Sax speaks of times gone by, where the family would be the child’s main area of influence. The father would influence the sons to help with the family business. They would always look up to their father, even once they have mastered the trade, as the wise expert and holder of all knowledge. Grandfathers would have more knowledge and thus, the influence was kept within the family.

Sax also says that in the 1950s, a survey to teenage schools students at the time asked them this question, “There is a party that you want to attend, and your friends are attending, however, your parents disapprove of the friends going. Would you go?” A resounding 97% said no, that they would adhere to their parent’s wishes.

Sax personally performed a similar survey in 2006, asking the teenage school students this question, “There is a social media site that your friends are on, but your parents do not want you to go on it. Would you still go on it?” 86% (check this Belinda) said that they would, and for those that answered no, Sax believed that they were being sarcastic due to the amounts of laughter that followed the answer ‘no’.

Now, some of you reading might say, “But this is just where society has gone. Our kids need to learn to live in this society, in this world.” “This is socialisation, our kids need to know how to decide for themselves what is right in this world.”

The dangers of this type of influence, however, are this. When the family is the influencer of the child, they are being influenced with expert knowledge, with a life lived full of mistakes as well as a well-fed life, but most of all, the influence is mostly given out from unconditional love to the child. A child in this type of influence would know boundaries, would feel supported and would know that the knowledge given to them was essential for the betterment of the next generation.

Peer to peer is something different. When a child enters into peer to peer influence, the influence that child goes into the hands of another similar less mature mind. The child will seek approval from anyone who has influence over them, and when it comes to peers, sometimes, they will not align to your family values.

What makes a teenage girl scream and shout because her mother won’t let her go to a party? Why is it acceptable for that teenage girl to scream and shout at her mother? What makes someone so upset at being banned from a social media site that their friends are on? Why would it be acceptable to yell and scream at the people who are primarily taking care of you, and have been, your whole life?

When the influence shifts from parent/family, to peer, a child no longer regards their parents commands, feelings, advice or wishes for them as important. A child looks only to satisfy their peers, and this, as Sax points out, can be so utterly dangerous for our children.

I’m not just talking about the bad influences, drugs, smoking, drinking and sex. I’m talking about not wanting to excel in a subject you’re good at, for fear of being not as cool. I’m talking about not wanting to admit that you went to see a movie with your parents, and actually had a great time. I’m talking about suddenly not caring what your parents think of you, and caring immensely about what your friends, society and the outside world thinks of you.

Today, I see a broken world, full of nursing homes with beautiful parents who have no one to take care of them, because we have somehow gotten to a stage where it’s just too hard. When I look to my past, my grand mother was 97 when she passed away, spending only the last 3 months in a hospital and every moment from when she was 70, living with her eldest son and his family. I love that. Don’t get me wrong, there are other circumstances that lead to our elderly being in caring homes, please don’t read this the wrong way. My point is just the vast amount of nursing homes we seem to have and how society doesn’t seem to support multi generational living.

Today, it is somewhat expected that when a teenager turns 14, that they will separate from you and ‘turn’, so to speak. But history has shown us generations of children growing up, respecting their fathers, grandparents, mothers and so on, for all the hard work they do, and how much they loved their children.

If you home-school, you are keeping your family close. You will of course, have a wide circle of friends, but your child will sense that their family is the main influence in their lives. I have some some wonderful families keep their family’s influence over the children even with school. I absolutely commend these families and wish they would write a book. But as society values the young, as we push our children from one activity/school/after school activity to another, as we focus more on academics rather than family fun times and warmth with in the family… we will continue to lose these children.

If our children do not get the fun times, warm love and happy days from us, they will get it from their peers. And this is when the influence changes.

So thank you to all you wonderful people, homeschooling your children, and creating a better society as we bring the focus of our children’s influence back to love, acceptance and boundaries.

I have to stop typing now as my one hand and my neck are very sore!!!!!

Mental health, homeschool and happiness

Sometimes it’s difficult to write a post on how our days have been. And this isn’t because it’s difficult to write about. Simply, every time I write about how wonderful, amazing and fulfilling a day has been, I realise that it absolutely comes across as arrogant, conceited and to be honest, showing off. This is never the intention.

See, most days for me, ever since taking this journey of homeschooling with my three children, is wonderful, it is fulfilling and most days are amazing. Hard days are days when no one (including me) wants to do the work, and instead, we go to the local trampoline bouncing play centre and have 5 hours of jumping fun (pelvic floor training fun). Hard days where little kids throw tantrums and cannot regulate their emotions become our hug days, where we bake cupcakes together, hug it out on the couch whilst reading a funny book that has no pictures.

This was a far cry from the end of last year, where I was booking appointments for mental health experts for Mr. 6; paediatricians, child psychologists, having conversations with them over the phone about what is wrong with him, booking assessments.

Today, he is simply a very different child.

I asked Mr. 6 today five reasons why he likes being homeschooled. Here they are:

  1. After “work” time, I get to play and I get to play a lot.
  2. I love break times where we eat together.
  3. I love being with my brother and seeing him be silly.
  4. I like seeing friends and playing with them for the whole day.
  5. I like staying inside when it’s cold and not rushing in the morning.

Sometimes I feel the need to check with my children, to see if everything is okay, and they are happy. Is this working out, is homeschooling making you happy, are you happy with the way things are. And the reason is, is that the reason why I first started to homeschool, was simply because my children’s mental health is of the utmost important to me.

Now yes, every parent would probably say the same. Why would a parent say anything different?! But the little man I have this year, and the little man he was last year, are two completely different little men. Something has shifted, and an overall confidence has replaced a scared and shy little boy. School and kinder may not have directly done that to him, no, but it’s more what is HIS priority. Being away from family was the issue. And when you look at his responses to what makes him happy about homeschooling, you can see why he is finally being fed.

Mr. 6 is no longer chronically shy (he is still cautious but no longer shy), loves making friends and being around them, but more than anything, he is happy, secure and confident in what he does, how he talks and who he is… everyday.  I have had many people tell me just how different he is this year, and how he has changed. To me, it is nothing short of miraculous to see Mr. 6 sometimes steal the limelight from our very bold Miss 5.

Mental health is such a major issue in Australia. We are spending $8 billion each year to just treat mental health issues. It is stated that almost half of all Australians have had a mental health issue, and 1 in 7 children between 4 – 17 years old have a mental health issue currently being treated. My son was nearly this child.

In such an affluent country, why is the prevalence of mental health so high, and why is the expenditure on it so very high?

Health Direct’s website advise the following 8 tips for good mental health:

1. Build relationships
Having good relationships with other people is the most important factor contributing to a sense of wellbeing. This can include family, friends, workmates and others in the community. Investing time and energy in your relationships can lead to great benefits for all involved.
2. Exercise and stay healthy
Exercise has been shown to increase wellbeing as well as reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Good physical health is related to better mental health so a healthy diet, avoiding excess alcohol or drugs, and regular checkups with the doctor can all help.
3. Develop gratitude
Count your blessings. Try keeping a gratitude journal and write down 3 positive things for each day. This can lead to increased wellbeing.
4. Identify and use your strengths
We all have different strengths and weaknesses but finding out what you are really good at and using those talents can increase wellbeing. A strengths questionnaire is available at Authentic Happiness. Using your strengths to help others or contribute to the community creates a sense of meaning and purpose.
5. Create flow
Flow is the state of being so highly involved in an enjoyable activity that you lose track of time. This usually happens when the level of challenge is about right for your level of skill. Flow can happen during work, hobbies, creative arts or sports.
6. Give to others
Making a contribution to the community, however small, increases social wellbeing. Many people feel a sense of contributing through meaningful work, but this could also mean volunteering, helping a neighbour or performing small acts of kindness. Take some time to do the things you really enjoy. Pleasant events can lead to positive emotions that can cancel out negative feelings.
7. Spirituality or religion
For some people, being involved in spiritual or religious practices can improve wellbeing, help in coping with stress and reduce symptoms of mental illness. This can include belonging to a faith community, meditation, prayer, mindfulness or practices such as yoga and Tai Chi.
8. Seek help
If you are struggling to feel happy, cope with everyday life, find meaning or feel connected to others, see your doctor or a mental health professional. 1 in 5 Australians will experience a mental disorder at some time in their life – depression, anxiety and substance abuse are the most common disorders.

 

Mental health problems are caused by so many issues. Now, I am not a mental health expert. But I cannot help join some dots in wanting to understand why it is such an issue. Why are people simply not happy? Is it because society’s expectations on our youth too demanding? Are we trying to put our kids through too much so they won’t miss out? Is it social media? Is it the iPad addiction? Is it the foods we feed our kids? What could it possibly be.

When we first have our kids, when we hold our child for the first time, we are just so happy they are here. We are so happy they are safe, and alive and our lives change because they are here. They are so precious to us, they could be covered in scales or have 3 eyes, we would still love them with all of our being.

But suddenly when they start life, we want them to be the best. Either we start to live through them, or we just want them to never be second. We want them to be the best ‘them’ they can be. And this expectation makes us see things in them, such as their strength, their musical ability or their intelligence. We sign them up for activities to enhance this, we sign them up for the best schools, we sign them up for things to make them the best. Surely, to be your best, you will be happy. We rank them, we judge them, we work so hard to spend money on all these opportunities… to make them happy.

But they aren’t. They simply, are not happy.

Here’s another idea.

This is the link to the Australian Curriculum. The first welcoming paragraph of this website reads this:

The Australian Curriculum sets the expectations for what all Australian students should be taught, regardless of where they live or their background. For F-10, it means that students now have access to the same content, and their achievement can be judged against consistent national standards. Schools and teachers are responsible for the organisation of learning and they will choose contexts for learning and plan learning in ways that best meet their students’ needs and interests.

What I see here are words such as ‘expectations’ and ‘achievement can be judged against’. When I read this for my Mr. 6 and my Miss 5, it makes my heart ache. Because I don’t see words like, helping children flourish in their “Natural Flow” (point 5 of the mental health recommendations), connect with families and community (point 1), identify and develop their individual strengths (point 4), giving to others and also spirituality (point 6 and 7, which incidentally, spirituality has been removed from most public school curriculums). At this time, the only expectation I have of my children, is that they are truly happy.

If you are not aware, homeschooling in Victoria is going to take a bit of a shift as of January 2018, due to new regulations that will require all new registered homeschoolers to summit a plan for the year, be ready for checks, and possibly, a requirement to stick to the Australian Curriculum for the children you are teaching.

I have read all the requirements for Foundation, Grade 1 and Grade 2 (all 600 pages thus far) to just simply get ready for this. I am currently changing my homeschool to ensure I am within the requirements.

But nothing here… tells me how my children are going to benefit. It simply tells me what is expected, what they should achieve and how this achievement will be measured. It does not teach my children perseverance through mistakes, it teaches them that there is only one answer to every question, and it will be marked and judged. And simply, if it doesn’t measure up because rather than getting his reading up to scratch, he would rather learn the periodic table’s list of elements, they are advising that possibly, homeschooling will not be an option for him.

My beautiful family is happy. My beautiful son is a happy, free and secure child. I do not aspire for him to get 99.95. I do not aspire for him to be a doctor, or the next olympic swimmer, or the next Thomas Edison (although, he was homeschooled).

I aspire him to be happy.  I aspire them to be happy, and to know how to be happy.

Just like what they are now.

And some of you may say, yes, but will they be happy in years to come, without school friends, without certain opportunities, without all those activities and lessons, school sporting opportunities on weekends etc.

My response to that is this. If they have the best childhood, that is filled with happiness, with slow days, with cups of Milo whilst you mull over sums and reading, with warm hugs in the Sun whilst reading the Iliad and Shakespeare, watching the rain whilst indoors inside a warm doona, whilst helping your brother spell ‘poo’ and ‘wee’ and laughing at each other when mum finds out, whilst learning with your family and celebrating achievement instantly when you finally get it, slow family days that connect connect connect…

… they will carry with them something worth more than anything could ever buy.

They will have the confidence to follow their dreams, to achieve their interests and goals, and to strive for that idea.

They will have had time to connect with their family, with their community and grown a strong relationship around people who are feeding them positive messages about themselves, and not more aligned with society’s ideals of who they should be.

They will have had so much time to play, run, jump, kick, somersault, climb, each and every day that it will be so normal for them, that sitting down all day will be absolutely abnormal.

They will discover and develop their strengths, their interests and what makes them tick. They will find that element that makes time flow so fast, they won’t know that they’re working, studying or achieving set goals. They will have found their passion in life.

They will discover what it is to give to others, to consider others and to be thankful for what you have. Because they are not rushing from life goal to life goal, from activity to activity, they are focused on other things… and are able to allow deep thoughts on certain matters through time and having the space to do so.

And of course, they will understand their own spirituality, and what it is to be human.

A parent is always happy when their child is happy. My days are full of happy days, and our lives are fulfilled and warm. Schooling takes part, yes, but our homeschooling provides so much more than one on one teaching for our children, it gives them happiness, security, comfort, warmth and connectivity, delivered in a slow paced family orientated setting. I cannot think of a better start to life for any child than this.

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Listening to the little voices

In a world of expectations, a world of competition and a world where we should constantly show empathy, but secretly want to not just survive, but be better… we have little children who only wish to be heard, to be cared for and to be accepted… by us.

The more I listen to my children and spend time with them, the more they seem to tell me (either in words or their emotions) what they want from me, need from me. It could be a look, it could be a cry of frustration, or it could be a long constant dialogue from my verbal processing little girl. But the more I discover their hearts and mind, the more I realise that they simply want me to hear them, love them and accept them… no matter what.

Unfortunately, the sad part of all this is that I see heart-breaking images of children being told off, yelled at, ignored or harshly spoken to because they won’t comply, and not because they were doing something ‘naughty’, but all because they were afraid, felt they weren’t being heard, or that they simply wanted to choose a different path.

I see all this beautiful children, fully capable of beauty, love and kindness, with such a willingness to please their parents, crushed by the weight of expectations and their unheard cries for help. Not wanting to enter water with a stranger, not wanting to do that particular sport, unable to just choose… because a future has been set for them.

I saw a beautiful souled boy today (he looked just like my Mr. 3 so maybe that’s why he caught my attention), crying because he didn’t want to do his lesson today, he wanted his father to hold him. He just wanted to be held. But his father and mother sat him down, and felt it necessary to tell him off loudly, with a finger pointed in his face. The boy complied and did what was expected of him. And every-time he did something right, he instantly looked as his father’s face, to see love, gratitude and acceptance. It was at this time he saw that to receive the love he wanted, he would need to listen. His father’s love for him appeared conditional.

Sometimes children get use to the disappointment and conditional love. Some children grow to work extremely hard to ensure that they keep receiving this love. Some walk away from it. For me, neither outcome seems ideal. The idea that achievement is expected would not be my message for my child’s life and future.

I hear some interesting conversations from parents to their children in the change rooms of some sports and lessons. Most are of parents who are telling their kids that they could have done better if they had listened, concentrated, watched that other kid or why couldn’t they be like that other kid. There isn’t a lot of praise. And I get that…

I understand for a parent, it’s hard. Because we sign our kids up to all these activities, and we rush them to them, because we want them to succeed, be better, be better than we were, be given more opportunities than we may have had, or if you were successful, be just like you were. It’s hard, life is hard, and we want them to try hard, appreciate these opportunities, appreciate how hard we are working for them, and doing for them.

But without the listening, the support, the hugs and without the UNconditional love, the effort you put in for your kids might just be ignored and unrecognised. Because all these beautiful children want to do is have your love, make you happy and be in their world.

See, in their eyes, you are their world. When your kids are young, you simply are their world. Their eyes are full of love, acceptance and warmth for you. You could be unaccepted in the world, look like a mushroom and have no teeth, they will still look at you like you’re Christmas. You are simply amazing just as you are.

And so are they.

So lets start by stopping all the expectations, and let our children be freely loved and recognised for how wonderful and miraculous they are. Children have such a wonderful beauty inside them wanting to come out and be shared with the world. How about we stop trying to make them fit into someone else’s box, and let them create their own artistic wondrous forest of magic?

Love those little ones as long as you can, and be there for them when they need you. They love you, and cry to you, because you are the one person that they trust more than anyone else.

Let’s not make our kids fit into this world. Let’s help them be themselves and change it for the better.

 

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