I don’t comment on the news much, largely because I don’t watch the news too much, but this week there have been two ‘stories’ that have been inescapable and as a result, unavoidable. First, this headline:
More than 40% of schoolgirls aged between 13 and 17 in England say they have been coerced into engaging in sexual activity, a study has found.
and second, well it’s not a headline, but it’s everywhere. From a well known paint brand advertising it’s 50 shades of grey paint, to an insurance company quoting 50 shades of insurance to the madness that is this ‘much anticipated’ movie – apparently cinemas across the country are sold out tonight.
Now look, I don’t care about what other people do in their bedrooms – or everywhere else in the house in the case of co-sleepers. I don’t care what the next person’s proclivities are. It makes no difference to me if you read the books or will watch the movie. I didn’t read the book, simply because I don’t have time to read anything these days, and prioritise those things that are valuable to me. That’s not me being smug or haughty either – I simply didn’t read it. Not because of the subject matter, and not because of any self inflated sense of morality or prudishness – I just didn’t, just as I won’t go and see the movie, since I don’t remember the last movie I saw without children!
But something that bothers me, is the surprise with which people responded to the first headline, when you consider how many of those same people are tonight in the cinema watching the movie in the second!
If you plant a tomato seed, folks, you’re going to harvest tomatoes.
Whether it is or isn’t, it’s our job as parents to protect our children & equip them for life
We can’t have an adult world driven, motivated and revolving around sex (and money and power) and be shocked when our children are dragged into that world, even if it is kicking and screaming.
Again, don’t misunderstand me. In your marriage, in your relationship, whatever floats your boat – go for it. If you want to get moralistic and spiritual about it, even the Bible says ‘In the marriage bed, nothing is unclean‘, but don’t act surprised when the child that learned to speak by hearing you speak, who learned to eat by watching you eat, who learned to act as you act is able to coerce or be coerced into ‘sexual acts’ if you – if we – introduce them to them to it vigorously and with enthusiasm and excitement and fan fare.
As adults we have a responsibility to set the standard for our children – and we all know, if not from our own time as parents, then from our time as children, that children are smarter than we give them credit for. They can smell our double standards. They know when we’re living to two sets of rules.
I remember things that happened to me when my parents weren’t around. When we were with ‘trusted’ friends. I know what I got up to when my parents weren’t home. What I watched when they were sleeping, what I read when they thought I was asleep – and that’s in a world before internet, and 24 hour TV, and most definitely in a world where ‘sex sells’ meant a scantily clad model stood next to a new car in advertising.
I’m not trying to ruin your fun, and I’m not saying don’t enjoy the privileges of adulthood, but if you’re going to expose your children, even passively, to matters of sex, then equip them too, and do it proactively, because innocence lost is lost for good. The wolves are out there waiting, we don’t need to truss up our babies.
A few months ago, we had a good look at our lives, and came to the conclusion that we weren’t exactly doing the best we could with our lives and with that, the lives of our kids.
Our home was crowded, cluttered and overwhelming. The children’s wardrobe was so full of clothes, it was bulging at the seams. No matter how many loads of laundry we did, it was never enough. I did a preliminary clean up of all Aviya’s clothes, and removed no fewer than 200 – two hundred – items of clothing, still leaving more clothes than she could wear in a month!
Ask my girls what they’d like to do, and the answer was always something that started with “watch” or “play” (a device). Ask them to play with their toys, and it would end up with boxes of toys strewn over the room, nothing really played with, everything just thrown about, and either an epic mission to get it all back in place, or I’d have to do it myself – clean up would take longer than play lasted, time after time, and it was becoming disheartening.
I felt like a failure as a mother. All our PlayLearning, all our Montessori style set-up and my kids had no imagination, no motivation and no interest in anything not screen based.
So we decided it was time to simplify. It was time to empty the house of everything that wasn’t necessary, beautiful or valuable (sentimentally or financially.) Trust me when I say it was a big job.
I went through the children’s clothing and removed everything that had even the slightest stains. I removed everything that was too small. Everything that for some 2, 3, 4 or 5 year old reason they decided they didn’t like, or didn’t want to wear.
It still left enough clothes to fill a large suitcase, and really, how much more do you need?
The toys went through the same process. Puzzles, play sets, games and everything else that had missing or broken pieces was discarded. Everything that had a resale value was listed on selling sites. Everything else I laid out on shelves and invited my friends round for cake and coffee, and a garage-sale-style-help-yourself.
What didn’t go from there, went in a donation box.
I felt such guilt, looking at the one small box of memory box toys we decided (together) to keep, and the two small boxes of toys for now and toys to swap out in a few months again. We did the same with books.
In the end, when we moved out of our house, the girls had a Trunki of books and a Trunki of toys between them, for now, and the same again for swapping out at a later stage.
We moved into the house we were renting for a month while we waited for travel visas to come through, and the most amazing thing happened. With no beautiful wooden toys, with no ‘imagination building’ contraptions, with no developmental toys, with no organically grown – sourced-by-Tibetan-monks-and -spat-on-by-garden-gnomes equipment that I deemed good toys for them, my girls suddenly started playing.
They played together. They played in turns. They didn’t need me to turn a bed and sheets into a fort – they did it themselves. They found cotton wool and filled an empty drawer with their “diamonds”. They still had their Kindle Free Time every day, sure, but rather than whining about being bored, they spent four weeks of rainy winter, playing.
When we took away the toy overwhelm the children learned to play.
At first I felt guilty and worried that we were going to end up rebuying up all our old toys. I never anticipated finding freedom to be children when we took away the clutter of trying to ‘help’ them develop and grow.
Since this revelation, I have been reading a book called Simplicity Parenting, which talks about ‘soul fevers’ and how stuff and time overwhelm can affect our children’s behaviour and their inner selves. It’s a gentle introduction to help the reader analyse our own lives and see where we can declutter our children’s minds and environment. It’s highly recommended and available from Amazon and The Book Depository (with free international shipping)
**These are affiliate links. Using them doesn’t cost you anything extra though, they just send a few pennies my way 🙂 **
In December last year we were suddenly struck by an opportunity to be stronger than we never wanted to be. My mother had come to visit us for the holidays when she was suddenly taken ill. There’s a back story, but the short version is that they discovered a 21cm tumour in her abdomen, and two weeks later she died.
Those two weeks gave us an experience we never asked for, and as a family, we all learned a whole lot from it all. I sure know what not to say to someone dealing with death or terminal illness now. Admittedly a lesson I’d rather not have learned.
If you’ve landed here because you’re looking for a way to support someone dealing with death or terminal illness, remember that every situation is different, and people are different too. These are the things we highly appreciated or felt we could have used.
It’s not all that hard, really, to prepare a meal. The problem is planning them, thinking about what goes with what. Unless you have unlimited resources, most people can’t afford to just eat out all the time, and when your life revolves around Morphine-runs, or physically sitting with someone 24 hours a day, in shifts, there are so many decisions to make all.the.time. that ‘what’s for dinner?’ is incredibly hard to answer.
Two things to note here are that everyone turning up on the same day with a meal might not be practical. If your recipient doesn’t have a freezer, they can end up with a fridge full of food, all needing to be eaten immediately. My friends used a free web service called Meal Train to schedule the meals so that we had a meal delivered to our house every day for just over two weeks. It was phenomenal. I cannot say how much pressure that took off me.
Provide disposable baking trays and dishes, and when you can’t, just make sure to label your stuff so that the recipient doesn’t have to worry about remembering who’s is what.
This might sound weird, and might not be appropriate to everyone, but two days before my mom passed away, we went grocery shopping (it was Christmas eve after all), so we had a fridge full of food. My vegetable delivery had also come, so the counter was full of vegetables too. I wasn’t in much of a position to sort, cook or store, so by the time a week had passed and people were bringing us meals, I had so much in the fridge that was turning or going off, that having someone come and just go through the perishables – even to take it away and turn it into meals – would have been a godsend. I just didn’t have the strength or foresight to deal with it.
3. Laundry/domestic services
Again, depending on your relationship or the people involved, but people still wear clothes, and unless there’s someone unaffected by what’s going on who is keeping on top of the domestics, things like laundry, cleaning or picking up toys still need to be done, but can seem overwhelming. Personally, I will never again say ‘if there’s anything I can do, let me know’. Because once again, there are so many decisions to make, when someone asked me if there was anything they could do, I couldn’t pin it down to anything. A friend who came over and said ‘I’m here for an hour, can I do the laundry, sort out the toys or is there anything else you really need done?’ is the one I actually gave a ‘task’ to. While you know people really want to help, it can feel so awkward ‘putting people out’ and sometimes you feel people are just asking to be polite.
4. Turn Up
Well, I’ve just said it. Turn up and offer your services. Whether that is as a friend, to provide a domestic task, or simply to take the children to the park for a while. Turning up says “I’m here. I really want to do something for you”. (Make sure you’re not adding to the burden, of course. Bring coffee, bring cake.) (I don’t know that this would work for everyone. Some people might not like it at all. You know your friend!)
5. Offer an escape
One of my friends asked me what evening I could go out with her. She said to bring my Kindle and we could sit together quietly and just read and drink coffee. And she meant it. We didn’t have to talk about what was going on. We just sat, together. It was so lovely. I needed it and now, months later, I remember that night as an oasis in a very difficult time.
6. Unexpected Bills
Money is rarely spoken about among friends, and that’s fair enough, but assume that when someone is looking after someone terminally ill, or who has died, even if there is life or funeral insurance, these only come later. If you want to help someone with money, offer to pay their phone bill for the month – we had to make so many international phone calls for family and friends abroad who we didn’t want to find out on Facebook. There will be increased gas and electricity or water bills if family all gather in one place – we had 9 people in our house for a period of weeks. It all adds up.
Then there’s also loss of income. Most people are blessed to have leave to cover them for emergencies, but that only goes so far, then they have to take unpaid leave and eventually that could become unemployment. Fortunately it didn’t go that far for me, but I personally lost almost a week’s income. In a minimum wage family, that can be crippling. Most people – me included – would have a hard time accepting offers of financial help. A friend of mine knows that and as she left my house one day, she popped something into my handbag. I saw her, she saw me seeing her, and she said ‘…just a little something for you…’ and it was £100 that went towards paying that mammoth phone bill. A kingly gift that you certainly don’t expect everyone to be able to do, and not everyone would need, but I appreciated it immensely.
7. Take the Children
If there are small children involved, taking them to the park for a few hours is a fabulous idea. Even better is dropping off a few new games, an activity book, or a new movie for them to watch. Something that engages them, giving the person caring or taking care of arrangements an opportunity to do so, or to do anything else.
This can be a tricky one too. My husband wanted to take Ameli to his parents in the days leading up to my mother’s passing, and I was dead set against it. I was just about to lose my mother – I didn’t want to be separated from my children. My inlaws are wonderful, kind people, but my child’s place was with me. In the days between the death and the funeral it may have been acceptable, but to be honest, Ameli was so clingy and insecure it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea either.
But a few hours in the park, or even just playing with them in the house is a sweet relief.
8. Accommodation and transport
When someone is in palliative care, terminally ill, end of life care or has died, family tend to come together. Offer a couch, sofa, spare room, use of an extra car if you have it, or even a spare bed if that’s all you can cope with.
9. Send a card
Social media is wonderful, it really is. I received so much support via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, but when I shared the announcement of my mom’s death, I wished there was the option to disable comments. I say this knowing that a lot of people who commented on Facebook may read it, so should say that I really appreciated the outpouring of love. It meant so much. But we received a handful of cards in the mail too, and I will treasure those forever. They provided a tangible affirmation of our loss, and each one was like a big hug.
10. Know when to say nothing
The first friend I saw after my mother died was one I ran into in a shop. She shook her head and said “I don’t know what to say. I’m not good at this”. I cannot tell you how much I appreciated that. Everyone wants to say something kind. Everyone wants you to know they care, but they do not know how to show it. In your pain, however, there’s little comfort in someone being ‘in a better place’, and while ‘no longer suffering’ is a big thing, it doesn’t take away the suffering of those left behind. The friends who sat across from me, listening, letting me ramble and mostly saying nothing were the ones who saved my sanity. That’s where healing begins.
Have you been through a loss? What did your network do to support you? What could they have done? Help those who still have to walk this path with someone else know what to do to support them by sharing your comments below.
I’m sitting in the soft play tapping away on my keyboard, while my children play off somewhere inside a myriad of tunnels and ball pits and slides. I hear the occasional sound of a voice I recognise, a shout of glee or a call to come back, but I can’t see them.
I’m sitting here alternating between my thoughts, and the book I’m trying to read, and now this, the thoughts I need to put down on proverbial paper.
There are other parents crawling around this plastic paradise, having lunch or spending time together. I seem to be the only one here not engaging with my kids, which is a nice change, but don’t judge me.
I’m here for a few minutes of peace. A few moments to put my thoughts together to organise my mind. I’m here because I worked till 1am and was up with a hungry toddler at 5am. I’m here because yesterday we spent the day stomping around the woods, playing in a mud kitchen and digging for buried treasure.
I’m here because its been raining for days, and I want us to rest our sore throats rather than jumping in puddles, being wind swept on the beach, and I’m here because I’d rather not take a rest day by sticking them in front of the TV.
I’m here because moving out of a house that was no longer right for us was a mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting experience, and two weeks later its finally knocked my wind out. I’m here because I’m overwhelmed with concern about our future and while my mind is trying to process how we are going to survive as a family with just one income when my husbands contract ends next month and I’d rather not spend my day snapping at my babies because my mind is preoccupied.
I’m here because this is the best choice I could come up with for today, and no, I’m not married to my gadgets and my screens and with being so connected to the world that I’m not connected to the best parts of my world.
Its the exact opposite… today looking after MY need to give MY brain space is the best thing I can do for them. Its easy to judge what you see and think that you know what you see, but today, like every day, I’m doing the best I can for my family.
There’s still washing drying on the line, and a bread rising on the counter. Dinner will be fresh and healthy and made from scratch, and before I head back to work tonight, I’ll kiss each of my daughters and ask them what their favourite moment of the day was. I’ll still look in their eyes and remind them how deeply they are loved and wanted.
Like most everyone else, I’m just trying to do my best for the people I love most in this world and for this morning, that involves leaving them to their own entertainment in a place designed for it, while I empty my mind onto a screen, so don’t judge me. Sometimes what we think is a whole pictures, is only a tile on the greater mosaic of life.
Your First Day of ‘Big Class’ – You didn’t want to pose for a picture as you didn’t want to be late.
My most beloved big little girl
It’s the day before your last day at preschool and the world is changing again for you and for me. I watch you sometimes and the mannerisms, words and thoughts that come from you are no longer those of an infant or a toddler. I’m scared to say it as you are still only four but they are often barely those of a child and at times, when you speak, I feel like I’m faced with an adult – a short little grown up.
It’s strange for me, you know. I know this is your whole world and right now you are standing at the furthest reaches, the outposts of the world you know, standing on tip toes and stretching your hands out. Like a counter from which you can smell, but not yet see the chocolates. You think you see the whole world. All of life. And you feel so big, so ready for it.
I can’t imagine how I will feel when you reach the end of school, university, singledom, child-free, or when your little girl heads off to her last day of preschool. But I do know that on that day you will look at me and there’ll be a little understanding, a little sympathy for what my heart feels right now, when I look at you and see the smaller version of the future you.
You were born, and imprinted on my soul forever
You may have forgotten, but I rember the moment our eyes met. Hollywood makes movies from moments like that. That moment, that first feel of your skin, the meeting of our souls, it is imprinted on me forever. As I write this I’m sitting on a train and my eyes well up with tears as I remember the moment that cataclysmically ended life as I had known it, bringing in a new dawn, one where I became a mother. At the moment while you are so excited about all the new things that the new school year will bring you I can only see you through that filter, that small baby.
Oh, if I could stop time to do again these last four years with you unaware of the world out there, with me as your world once more, oh my darling, I would, I would.
I remember the first time I got on a bus with you. I paid my fare and asked the driver how much I had to pay for you. He said “children under 5 are free!” I laughed. I felt I had won the lottery! FIVE years!! That was, I thought, practically a lifetime of free travel!
In just a couple of months, you’ll have to get your own ticket and the thought of it startles me. Where did five years go? Sometimes I still feel like that young mama, baby strapped to me, boarding a bus.
Go my girl. Go into this big wide little world in front of you. Explore beyond the bug box, beyond the sensory rice, beyond the mock snow, dig deeper than the sand pit, deeper than the treasures I’ve hidden for you.
Your first school play at Preschool
Make friends with people I haven’t introduced you to. Learn about things that I haven’t taught you. Go where your imagination takes you but always know where your home is, and where my heart is beating anxiously to hear about your day, your adventures, your experiences.
Yes, you are only nearly five, not eigteen, but if I don’t say it today, the next 12 years may soar by and I’ll be saying it again but with less time to hold on to you.
The world is out there my beautiful, strong-willed, golden-locked girl. The chocolate is yours for the taking. But be kind to your mama whose arms still carry the imprint of the first time they held you. Once in a while, nuzzle into my chest so I can still breathe you, once in a while look back and know that you are still in the centre of my world.
Well, I should say, “How the Pre-School Run Drove Me To Planning For Home Education” because that’s where we are right now, on that cusp between the final term of preschool and the first term of home schooling, home educating in the UK, our four and a half year old Ameli.
Ameli’s been going to pre-school – a play group in a church – for over a two years now, on and off. She goes three times a week, for three hours. It’s not so short that I can’t do anything with that time and not so long that I can do a lot. It’s just enough time for her to have a fabulous time playing and learning and being part of a group. It’s been a time for us to see her through someone else’s eyes, and a time for her to enjoy – she’s been independent since the day she was born holding her own head up to look around – some of that independence all of the Western world seems to want our infants to have.
When we had to look around at schools and make the decision on where we were going to send her in September, I made two lists. On the one I wrote down the pros and cons for her. On the other I wrote down the pros and cons for me.
My pros were easy: me-time, time with Aviya, time to pursue some of my own interests again. The cons were even easier: SCHOOL RUN. Yip, just the one.*
I hate the (pre-school) run. The mad dash to get ready in the morning. Getting to the school ‘gate’ with my hair unbrushed packed into a tight bun so no one will know. My fingers still sticky from the jam on Ameli’s breakfast toast. The evidence that I’m just not as organised as everyone else looks.
Their kids don’t have pen marks from DIY tattoos. Their hair is in perfect ponytails, not pulled out 6.3 seconds after they were tied up. No one else ever forgets the (empty, because I have no idea what to put it in it now that she doesn’t need a spare change of clothes for ‘in case’, and since she gets a snack and drink from school) backpacks. It really seems to be just me.
But that all I could live with if I could stay in the car and wave her off into the school building. But no. Come rain or shine, I have to stand in line with a bunch of other mothers and fathers, and make small talk.
Folks. I missed that class in school. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how to talk about the weather, and I don’t watch X-Factor or Big Brother. And I don’t want to start, just so I can talk to the parents in the school line.
To be fair, my life is unchanged by their presence in it. I’ve become friends with one or two but for the rest, they have no impact on my existence, but I know this isn’t fair to Ameli. She comes home and talks about her ‘best friends’, these people who are so formative to her future in these relationships that form the basis of every other relationship in her life to come. I feel I owe her to at least try.
So I do. But I wear my heart on my sleeve. I think I look and sound like a fool. I look and sound like I’m pretending.
Sorry parents on the school run. My husband normally takes and fetches Ameli, because standing in that line with you feels like there’s a spotlight on me. My husband says you all think I’m really rude and stuck up, because I don’t talk to you much. I just nod and smile. Which he says is “sooooo unlike you!”
He’s right. But whether it’s because I spent my first six months of school run over two years ago now not talking because I was afraid I was going to throw up on you, or if it’s because I can’t bare to stand and talk about nothing, I apologise. It’s not you, it’s me. And I’m so very glad that we have chosen to home educate, at least in the beginning, so that I don’t have to do it every.single.day.
Also, I have no idea how I spawned such a confident and outgoing child, but I’m sure glad for her that I did.
*my decision to home educate came down to a lot more than just hating the school run. This post is about hating the school run. This was not what made our decision.
There’s definitely a hint of spring in the air, with lots of flowers everywhere.
82: Bring On Spring Inspired by our trip to the Moonpig Mother’s Day event a few days earlier, we made a lollipop flower garden so we could give a few special people some flowers.
84: Gift Basket Friends of ours came back from a holiday in Australia, so we dropped a care package on their doorstep so they wouldn’t have to rush out for breakfast, or worse, milk for coffee first thing off a 19-hour flight. I know what it’s like coming ‘home’ from a trip ‘home’ and never really belonging in either place. It’s hard.
We receive the Disney Cakes And Sweets Magazine every month, and this month, the freebie with it was a pan for making these fab Mickey Mouse pancakes. So yum using our regular recipe, and the girls just loved it.
Although it’s two weeks after the fact, we’re having Aviya’s birthday party tomorrow, so I’ve been making flowers for the cake. Unfortunately I didn’t think to actually flour the shot glasses, so most of them broke taking them off. Lesson learned. I was quite happy with them to that point though!
87: Messy Play Party At some point I’ll get round to blogging Aviya’s messy play party. Suffice to say it was super fun though.
Another thing I have to get round to blogging, is our trip to the Farnham Firestation as part of our Emergency Services PlayLearning week. Doesn’t she look pleased with herself though?
Here we are, staring down the barrel of your second birthday, and I feel a little bit shocked. A few days ago I looked up at you with your hair in pigtails and twirling around in a fairy dress, and for a moment, I wondered where my baby was. It was just a split second, but it took me by surprise, to see this little girl looking back at me.
I realised that your first almost two years have passed in one almighty blur. I feel somewhat bad, because I haven’t written to you as often as I would have liked to, and I haven’t kept as detailed a record of all the little things that you do and have done, but I want you to know without doubt that I have loved being your mama. I have loved watching you develop and grow. I have loved traversing the journey of mama of one to mama of two with you, and I have loved the lessons being your mama have taught me.
I look back through the pages of our two years together, through the medium of this blog, and I know that it looks like so much time and attention has been focused on Ameli, rather than you, but I hope that you will realise that pictures and journals only show us the bit we’ve recorded and that there are hundreds, thousands of moments between you and I that could never be captured on paper, on film or on screen.
You’re coming up for two now, and you’ll be having surgery in a few weeks because of your teeth – you were born without enamel on the first four, a fun throwback to my Hyperemesis days – and that’s caused you problems in your eating, but on the up side, for you, it’s turned you from indifferent to breastfeeding, to a definite lover of mama-milk. I am grateful that you’ve had that as an option, and that I persevered through the early days with you, where it was quite difficult and we battled thrush for months.
I am grateful that despite the dentists saying it’s breastfeeding that’s done this to your teeth, I had the wherewithall and the brains to find out the real reasons, and to stick to my guns. I’m glad that when they tell me to stop nursing you, but can’t tell me what I’m then supposed to feed you, I’ve been brave and strong enough to stand up for you, and for us. I am proud of me for that, and grateful to you for trusting me.
As we go into this surgery, I know you’re going to have fears. You’ll be asleep, and you’ll wake up in a bit of pain, and you won’ t know why, and you’ll look at me and have questions, and doubts and fears, but I hope you know I’ll be there, every step of the way. I hope you know I’ll be there, holding you and looking after you and caring for you. I hope you’ll trust me that this really is the best option for you.
You show such personality these days. You love singing and dancing and twirling and being a little girl. You love making up your own little songs, and you love copying the things your sister says and does. You love playing with her, and following her around. You love running squealing and hiding in your tent when it’s time to change your nappy. That one is less fun for us.
You’ve always been a little book worm, and you’d sit paging through all the books you could find your hands on, but recently you are a little Kindle and Netflix obsessed, so we’re trying to wean you off it – largely by hiding it away or letting the battery run flat. I really miss the days you’d sit looking through books while I worked. Hopefully we can get those back. It would definitely be better for you.
You’re also somewhat more prone to tantrums than I’ve been accustomed to from still one year olds and I’m trying to remember all the positive parenting techniques I learned and pretty rarely needed to use for Ameli. We’ll get through this, I’m sure. I’m trying to view it as you making us more empathetic to other parents. And to standing your ground and not being a trodden-over second child. Good for you.
You seem to have been deeply touched especially by your Oupa’s visit here, and refer to him often. Like saying you want him to help you put your shoes on. Not me, him. And when I point out that he’s not here, you want daddy to do it. Little Miss Independent.
You are deeply sweet, and kind. You are gentle and you are laid back. And then you are angry and shouty and passionate and a minute later you’re chilled out again. I think you may have a bit of my temperament there. Long may it keep us happy.
You are my beloved baby girl. I can’t imagine a life before you, can’t remember a time I didn’t love you.
I hope that as this next phase of our story unfolds, that you will feel my love every day, and that even though I don’t always have the time to write to you, you will know, in your heart, deep in your soul, in the most inner part of you, where foundation is laid that I have loved you, every day, and that I will do so into forever.
As parents we have this unique and rather amazing ability to forget things. From pregnancy, through birth and seemingly into childhood (and possibly further) we forget the bits that admittedly, don’t always add anything positive to the story. I’ve seen my parents do it, and while I was of the firm opinion that I would never forget a weight, a height, a date of a first word, first whatever, the truth is, you do. Then you have a second (or subsequent ) child, and somehow, amazingly, you forget.
So when Aviya recently started shouting Mine! for… almost everything…., I was suddenly concerned. When did my sweet little genteel baby become so possessive? What did I do wrong. Were we missing out on something fundamental to her development? Aren’t second children supposed to be better at sharing than their older siblings… oh, wait…. that’s right – Ameli did go through something like this. In fact, Ameli was 23 months old when we met our current friendship group, and the first few months of our meetings, I thought they must think me a horrible mother because all my child does is grab, and shove and say MINE!
Then, Ameli being six months older than most of the rest of her group, six months later I started noticing the rest of them had entered this phase and I felt such relief! My child wasn’t turning into a psychopathic monster after all! And then… then I forgot all about it. What is that about?
Anyway. Armed with the wisdom of two and a half years later, and faced with a 23-month old there are a few things I’ve learned along the way, and partly to remind myself and partly to help those of you who are facing this for the n-th time [1. that about the sum total of what I remember about mathematics from school days – ‘nth’ term is a formula with ‘n’ in it which enables you to find any term of a sequence] here are a few things to remember about children and sharing and a few gentle ways to help them through this developmental phase:
1) Don’t Force It
Think of children in terms of your best friend. How would s/he feel if you took their Kindle/iPhone/iPad and made them share it with the guy/girl you met in the coffee shop this morning? Your child feels the same about that doll/car/stick/leaf. It’s worse about things they have a real attachment to, but anything that is your child’s sudden favourite is really important to them.
Instead: Offer an alternative. If it’s something your child really doesn’t want to share, ask them if you can keep it safe until they are alone again. If you’re asking, accept that the answer may be no. Remember that you can’t teach ‘don’t snatch’ by snatching it away from them.
2) Don’t guilt them
‘If you don’t want to share, Johnny/Sue won’t want to play with you‘ sounds a whole lot like ‘If you won’t sleep with him, people will say you’re seriously lame and uncool‘ to me. Not the words, obviously, but the sentiment. I don’t want to teach my child that to be socially accepted she has to willing to do whatever is asked of her. (By the way, there’s a difference between that, and saying ‘if you hit your friends, they won’t want to play with you’. That one is simply true, and logical and pretty much applies in adulthood too. Unless you’re in a boxing club.)
And the truth is, it’s often less about the children than our embarrassment about what people must think.
3) Adjust your expectation
Gosh – I’ve uttered those words to my husband so many times. She’s t-w-o. (not even). Don’t expect six year old behaviour from her. Understand that this is a phase and that it will pass. Your goal isn’t actually – shouldn’t be, anyway – to make her share everything. Your goal is to help her understand why we want to share some things with some people.
Cornell University [2. Psychological Science October 2013vol. 24 no. 10 1971-1979 http://pss.sagepub.com/content/24/10/1971] did a very interesting study on preschoolers and sharing, where children were divided into three groups – one group had to share stickers with a puppet, the next were given a choice between keeping stickers and throwing them away, and the third group had to choose between sharing with the puppet or keeping their sticker.
Interestingly, the children who were given the choice of sharing the sticker or keeping it for themselves, when presented with a new puppet and more stickers to share were the ones who shared the most.Read the full study on toddlers and sharing here. It’s really interesting reading.
“Here are your options: we can put the toy away, or your sister can play with xyz for two minutes while you watch, or you can swap toys and play with each other’s special toys, or you can go play with your own toy somewhere else.” The problem with giving options is that you have to be able to follow through – “should we go home and you can play with your toy alone” given as an option, means you have to be willing to go home right away. Don’t offer it if it’s not an option, and an immediate viability – “share or she won’t share her toy with you later” means nothing to a two year old with no real concept of the passage of time.
3) Highlight the benefit of positive behaviour, without being punitive
There’s a definite difference between “look how sad your friend is because you wont share” and “you shared and your friend is really happy”. The one is guilty manipulation and the other is pointing out the consequence of a behaviour.
If they choose not to share, divert attention to the other child for a minute. “Aviya really doesn’t want to share her special toy at the moment. Why don’t we let her play with it for now and you can show me your special toy?” Chances are the introduction of something else that someone else wants might just provide the motivation for the first child to share their toy after all.
Does this take longer than just snatching the toy from your child and giving it to the other child – something I’ve sadly been guilty of! Of course it does. Are the long term effects worth it? Of course.
There’s nothing wrong with a child having a sense of ownership over their items, and I find especially with second child, so many of their things once belonged to an older sibling, that having things specifically ear marked as theirs is very valuable. And after all, if they care about something, they’ll care for it, and we really do want them to have that sense of ownership so that they will learn to care for their things too.
Remember that modelling is really important to children. They will do as they see us do. (And if you want to read them a story about sharing, Mine! is a great place to start.)
And most importantly, it is a phase. It will pass. What matters isn’t what is and isn’t shared, but how their relationship with the other person – especially in the case of a sibling – is affected going forward.
Parenting is a cacophony of emotions. When you’re not thoroughly worn out from sleepless nights, exhausted from good parenting days, or simply just trying to make it through, there’s always something to worry about. Someone you know lost a child, someone in your area had a child go missing, someone who knows someone who was a really good parent ended up with a junkie-teen. Just like people love to share a terrible birth story, and tend to shun those who had wonderful birth stories, everyone loves to share the bad stories about what happened to someone else, or how another child turned out, and it doesn’t really matter – to some extent – how they were parented, it’s normally the mother’s fault.
Welcome to the February 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Fears
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and wisdom about parenting fears.
It’s the fear of these things that make parents so susceptible to marketing, spending (often wasting) money on the latest gadgets and basically living our lives doing everything we can to prevent something bad, and encourage something good happening to the little people entrusted to us.
The scary thing though? Like most of us, I know this, but I still have three particular fears where my two little girls are concerned:
In no particular order, there’s the fear of death, kidnapping and failure.
Most of us know someone who has lost a baby – born or unborn – or a child. I never knew how ‘common’ infant loss was till I became a mother myself. And then, because Ameli’s birth was such an amazing, enriching and empowering experience, I wasterrified when Aviya’s turn came. For months I really worried, almost believed that I would never get to hold her alive. I was so worried something was going to go wrong in her birth. I mean, what are the chances that I could be so blessed, twice.
And now, even though I am a confident second time mother, and even though I am confident and relatively experienced in my use of homoeopathic and herbal remedies over conventional medicines for most of the girls’ minor ailments, when Aviya, specifically, gets ill, this niggely, horrible voice in the back of my head forces me to question myself, reminding me of that ‘feeling’. It takes a lot of pulling myself together to trust my intuition as much with this lovely second child of mine.
While many of us know someone who has been touched by the loss of a child, very few of us – me included – knows personally someone who has had a child kidnapped. And yet, it’s probably one of the biggest fears a parent faces. I can’t imagine how parents who have lost a child this way go on. I can’t imagine the horror. And yet, the statistics on ‘stranger danger‘ and someone doing something to our children are so different to what our fears justify.
If you’re a parent who lives in the shadow of this fear, I highly recommend Sue Palmer’s book, Toxic Childhood (US Link). It highlights how rare something like a stranger kidnapping really is, but how, because we see the lost and forlorn little face, and the obviously heartbroken parents in our living room, on repeat, day after day after day, it imprints on our brains to the point that we start almost identifying each replay as a new occurrence. (I actually recommend this book for a ton of other reasons too, it doesn’t make you feel guilty, but does encourage you to see a lot of reality in parenting and child raising. It’s one of my top three parenting book recommendations!)
Failure. Failure is a big one, and we all get it from the day our babies are conceived. Didn’t have a natural birth? Will I be able to bond with my child? Didn’t breastfeed? You and your child will probably both die of cancer. Didn’t babywear? Your poor child will lag behind in literacy for, like, ever. Didn’t co-sleep? Poor kid will have intimacy issues for the rest of their lives. You sent them to nursery school for four hours a week? Oh, the drama. Didn’t send them to a Montessori/Steiner/Waldorf/Forest school? What kind of parent are you!?
Pretty much everything we do is wrong to someone. Praise your kids? Wrong. Don’t praise your kids? Wrong. Send them to school? Wrong. Keep them at home? Wrong . Feed them grass-fed meat? Wrong. Feed them no meat? Wrong. Make everything from scratch? Did you sprout the grains first? Well… did you?
I think a lot of parenting and enjoying parenting comes down to three things:
Let go – of the things you can’t control.
Be realistic – in accordance to what’s real, your circumstances and what you can really do
Trust your instinct – listen to your child, listen to the voice inside you, and when you’re confident in your choices, no one can make you feel judged. And when you’re not confident, do your own research.
If you can – if I can – let go of things I don’t control, be realistic about my limitations and abilities, circumstances and finances, and trust that everything I do is for the best of my children and our family, the fears are a lot easier to quell, and motherhood is a much more fulfilling, enjoyable ride.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (list will be final around 5pm PST February 11):
When Parents’ Fears Escalate — If we didn’t self-doubt, we probably wouldn’t care enough about our children to struggle with understanding them. But how do we overcome self-doubt? Read advice from Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., guest posting today at Natural Parents Network.
What ifs of addiction — After seeing how addictions of adult children is badly hurting a family close to her heart, Hannah at HannahandHorn shares her fears for her own child.
Sharing My Joy — Kellie at Our Mindful Life shares her fear that others think she is judgmental because she makes alternative choices for her own family.
Building My Tribe Fearlessly — A meteorite hit Jaye Anne at Tribal Mama’s family when she was seven years old. Read the story, how she feels about that now, and how she is building her tribe fearlessly.
Fear: Realized — Laura from Pug in the Kitchen shares how her fear of car accidents was realized and how she hopes to be able to use her efforts to overcome the remaining fears to help her children overcome their own.
My Greatest Fear For My Child — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama admits that she has struggled with not allowing her fears to control her and how the reality of this was blown wide open when she became a mother.
Out of Mind, Out of Fear — How does Jorje of Momma Jorje deal with her pretty steep, long-term fears regarding her son’s future?
I Don’t Homeschool to Manage My Kids’ Transcripts — One of Dionna at Code Name: Mama’s fears of parenting is that she will get so caught up in the monotony, the details of homeschooling, the minutiae of everyday life, the routine of taking care of a household – that she will forget to actually be present in the moment with her children.
Beware! Single Mom Camping — Erica at ChildOrganics shares her first adventures as a single mom. She laughed, she cried, she faced her fears.
Parenting Fears And Reality Checks — Luschka from Diary of a First Child shares her three biggest fears as a parent – that most parents share – looks at the reality behind these fears, and offers a few suggestions for enjoying parenting.
Roaming — sustainablemum considers whether allowing your children freedom to explore the world safely is harder now than in the past.
Meeting my parenting fears head-on — Lauren at Hobo Mama had many fears before she became a parent. Learn how they all came true — and weren’t anywhere near as scary as she’d thought.
Don’t fear the tears — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger worried that letting her children cry when going to sleep was tantamount to the dreaded parenting moniker, CIO. She discusses what actually happened after those teary nights, and how she hopes these lessons can carry forward to future parenting opportunities.
Will I Still be a Good Mom? — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot worries about her mothering skills now that breastfeeding is no longer the top priority.