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Archive for October, 2009

I have 4 children, a boy of 17, girl of 15 and two boys aged 3 and 18 months.
At this stage it really feels as if I have every parenting issue to deal with.

Let me start by saying I have always believed that your children are people, your very best friends. They are the ones you WANT to spend your time with and ENJOY respecting as the incredible human beings that they are.
It has come to my attention, over and over again, that not everyone seems to accept these parenting principles.

“Dont you want to have a night out away from your children?” No
“Dont you want your life back?” Errm I’m not too sure where you’re coming from here..my children ARE my life.
“Your children shouldn’t be your friends they wont accept rules from you” Respect is surely built on mutual respect..what nonsense!

…and now, as I get constantly asked “Are you STILL breastfeeding..?” Yes and there is no STILL about it!

The latest issue to cause stirring of disapproval is the fact that I cosleep with my 18 month old.
It is no secret to those that know me that I am an insomniac and have been for the last 17 years..coinciding of course with the birth of my first-born. From the early years half of me never really sleeps and I am “on guard” listening out for any sign that my child may be disturbed in any way.
To me this is quite normal. This is how it is to be a Mum. You are the guardian of these wonderful little people and you want to make sure they are comfortable and happy at all times. What on earth could be wrong with that?
My last two children have been bad sleepers with Reuben, 18 months, awaking on average every two hours.
I work from home and try to work around the children which isn’t easy but its my preference.
After so many years of limited sleep I started to feel really run down. I can only describe the feeling as mounting panic with palpitations and constant nausea thrown in for good measure.
Reuben slept in a cot in our bedroom and I found myself  hopping in and out of bed so frequently that I found it impossible to get back to sleep.
I’d feed Roo then he would fail to settle so I’d be up again. My body seemed incapable of falling back into a real sleep because it had learnt that as soon as it did so it would be woken up!
I was beginning to feel really desperate and actually near to suicidal. I think I was losing the power to reason and just turning into kind of soulless robot.
It is here that I will admit that part of the reason I hadn’t coslept before was the ridiculous stigma attached to it.
“You’ll never get him into his own bed”! WHY did I listen to this ludicrous statement?
I could have saved myself so much angst.
My local health visitor had already suggested that I leave my son to Cry it Out although I had repeatedly told her that I would not contemplate doing this. Indeed I am INCAPABLE of this method. It goes against all my instincts and natural parenting ideals.
I asked my husband  how he’d feel if I took Reuben into bed with us, making a neat little space for him between us.
At this stage it was obvious to all household members that I was becoming quite physically ill through sleep deprivation and my husband was only too happy to have Reuben in our bed on a more permanent footing.
The first few night were difficult. My insomnia peaked and I lay awake most of the night listening out for sounds I knew to signify Roo wanted a feed. It was almost as if I had to recondition my brain and body into not leaping out of bed every two hours.
On the third night something magical happened.
Reuben only woke twice..something unheard of for him!
It became obvious that he was sleeping more deeply sometimes awaking briefly only to snuggle up to my husband or I and settle back to sleep.
To me this feels like the most wonderful, nurturing, comfortable thing I can do with my child.
I breastfeed him throughout the night as required but now we all stay cosy and warm and the actual QUALITY of sleep is so much better.

We have been cosleeping for the last 4 months now and although before Reuben often came into our bed he rarely stayed there all night.
Now he wakes beside us and I feel his little hand batting at face, playfully hoping for my eyes to open.
What could be a more wonderful sight than that little face first thing in the morning?

I still endure sour comments from ignorant  people but my friends and family have been incredibly supportive.
My insomnia is still a lurking ghoul but there is no doubt about it…cosleeping saved my life!

Fizzylady – Sylvie Foxworthy

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Hello to you all and many thanks to Ruth for adding me as a contributor to this fabulous blog :-). In this post I would like to write about my parenting approaches.

Firstly, I hope you guys will not think I am something of a fraud who does not belong here when I say I began my parenting life, with both of children very much traditional and routine orientated.

When I had my daughter (now 3) I was at a real loss as to how to get her to sleep at night. She would sleep all day and scream all night unless held. I therefore turned to the dreaded Gina Ford and Baby Whisperer for advice on ‘getting my children to sleep though the night’. For both my daughter and son (born 18 months later) we had set times for meals and naps as this is what has worked well for us although the children were not forced into any routines. We more fell into a good routine once I returned to work when my youngest was 13 months. In addition to this I have always had set bedtime with the kids in their own rooms. Again though this has never been an issue for my children as they both seem quite lazy and fond of sleep like their mum :-).

So now you may say ‘what is she doing here then?’ Well I would say, where I fit in here is more likely with ideas of discipline (or as some would say lack of it) and education and learning.

I studied a Psychology degree at university and have taught Psychology as a subject and always, even before having the children had an interest in developmental and educational psychology. I knew that while positive reinforcement worked as a means of behaviour control it was not a long term solution. I knew that lack of unconditional love can cause serious problems in later life. I knew that children should not grow up believing they will only be accepted if…

However when my own children got to an age where it was necessary to consider discipline to begin with I approached this using learning theory and behaviourism techniques such as ‘time out’, ‘reward charts’ and positive reinforcement. I think this was down to the fact that it had been ‘drilled’ into me by playgroups, health visitors and SureStart that this was the only way to discipline without smacking (which I am very anti). However, in my heart I knew that this was not the right way to go about things in the long run as it does not encourage any moral development or allow a child to see WHY they shouldn’t do something. The use of these techniques caused me to feel like I was constantly on my children’s case, I felt stressed and anxious and did not like myself for the way I spoke to my children.

I began to read Ruth’s Twitter posts and blog and so much of it made sense. I had already read about unconditional and attachment parenting in books and online forums and although that route had not been for me in terms of bed sharing and anti routine (although of course I have nothing against this it just doesn’t match my obsessive personality) their ideas of education and discipline have always been of interest to me.

I also became a little stressed out about developmental milestones, manners and saying please, sorry and thank you. My instinct told me that these would come naturally through observation. However when I saw friends talking about what their children could do (mainly children who went to nursery or childminders) or who hounded their children about manners I began to think maybe I was raising ignorant children if I didn’t do the same.

As for developmental milestones ; I remember buying Gina Ford’s book about Toddler Years and seeing all these things my child *should* be doing such as taking sips from a cup at the table whilst eating, making attempts to get undressed, using the potty, drinking from an open cup initially I worried as my daughter did not do these things.

Now however, I realise (although I think I knew all along) these things don’t matter at the age of 2 or 3. What matters is my daughter is unique, confident with both adults and children, inquisitive and adventurous. I feel a sense of pride when I see her scaling a climbing frame that many children double her age would struggle with or when I see her dribbling a football with the skills of a pro or asking question after question confidently to adults such as playgroup leaders and mummy friends (although maybe they find this annoying he he). These are the things that really matter at 2 or 3 not being forced to use table manners and saying please and thank you.

I will end this piece by saying one of the ideas I believe in strongly is in allowing children to act ‘age appropriately’ (term taken from Ruth I think). I have always let my children loose in restaurants and open spaces (so long as it is safe) and have not chastised them for running too much or being too loud. Myself I am a very lively person who can’t concentrate on things or sit still for a long time. I may had be considered to have some form of ADHD if I had been a child nowadays and not in the early 80s. My Mum said I would never sit still at playgroups during singing or story time or in assembly at school and I still feel a sense of unease in large staff meetings at work where we have to sit and listen, I am very claustrophobic and somewhat neurotic. My daughter, it seems, is exactly the same so far be it me to criticise her when if we are who we are is really down to nature it is essentially ‘my fault’ she is this way.

I would like to add I am not an experienced writer and have not written long pieces for a long time so I hope you can follow this even if the standard is not great! I will improve :-).

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This is a post I wrote a few weeks ago after a particular incident in our local supermarket:

There’s a man lives on our street who is one of those people who comes up and talks to you as though you are great mates, even though you don’t really know him from Adam and don’t like him much either. He irritates me but I manage to ignore him for the most part. However, he is also one of those people who thinks they are really good with children, and that all children love him, and is totally unaware (or uncaring) of how children actually feel about him.

I don’t know what it is in particular about this man, but R does not like him. And he is scared of him. If he stops and talks to me, R stares over my shoulder and will not look at the man at all, and when he’s gone R tells me in hushed tones, “That man talked to you!” as though he had committed a crime.

Yesterday we were in the supermarket getting the weekly food shop. R was sat in the trolley perfectly happily and we were chatting and playing as we went round. The man was also in the supermarket and we went past him a couple of times as we went through the aisles. He can never just smile and nod like a normal person-who-lives-on-our-street-but-doesn’t-even-know-my-name would, he always has to try and have a full scale conversation – but we were shopping so I was pleasant but just kind of carried on and left him talking to himself. Each time R intoned, “That man talked to you!”

We got round to the checkouts, and guess who arrived just after us and got in the queue behind us? Yes, The Man. R was still sat in the trolley, unfortunately facing outwards, so facing the man, and I was busy loading the shopping onto the conveyor belt. The man (who thinks he’s brilliant with children, remember) started poking R in the arm to try and get his attention. R looked away and looked like he was about to cry. Then the man came round to where R was looking and started pulling faces centimetres away from his face. R screamed and cried and asked me to get him out of the trolley. So of course I did, and tried to comfort him. The man conveniently decided to go to another queue, having caused the trouble. I gave R a big hug, but couldn’t take too long as the queue was growing, so I was carrying R and loading the conveyor belt one-handed. R would not let me put him down so I kept hold of him throughout the whole transaction, and thankfully had a very helpful checkout operator, who helped with the bagging and everything.

After we had all our shopping, R had calmed down a bit and said he wanted one of the scotch eggs we’d bought. He wanted to go back in the trolley, so I put him in and started rummaging through the bags looking for the scotch eggs. Would you believe it (I couldn’t) the man came up again, and started pulling faces at R! He stayed further away this time, but R did not look happy at all, and the man said huffily, “Who’s mardy, then?” and walked off.

Seriously. I was fuming. You upset him in the first place, and then you come pulling faces and talking about how “mardy” a little boy is? If someone came up to me and started poking me and pulling faces just inches away from my face, I think I could probably be excused for punching them. Why do people think it’s okay to do that with children? They have personal space, and a right to privacy, and a right not to be harassed in the street, just as much as anybody else does.

I came home and told DH about it (because I was still fuming), and he said next time I’ll have to tell the man. I nearly did say something, but everything polite I could think of to say sounded like I was making excuses for R. Stuff like, “Sorry, he just doesn’t like people in his space.” I couldn’t bring myself to say that because it makes it sound like it’s R’s problem when it isn’t. If people don’t poke him and gurn in his face, he’s fine! If people don’t expect him to instantly love them just because they’ve decided, completely erroneously, that they are “good with children”, he’s fine with them! It’s the man’s problem, not R’s, but I couldn’t think of a way of saying, “Please stop harassing my child,” that wouldn’t come across as hostile. I very nearly blurted out, “Stop it, you’re scaring him!” which should have been obvious anyway to anyone with a modicum of awareness of others, but just stopped myself because I thought it sounded a bit hysterical.

Anyway, next time, and I’m sure there will be a next time, because this man is so completely oblivious, something will be said. I’m not having him upsetting my child, just because he wants his little, “eee I’m good with the kiddies, me” ego boost. Tosser.

I respect my child. It’s such a shame that it seems to be too much of a stretch to expect other people to, as well.

For the purposes of this blog, and gentle, normal parenting (and huge thanks to Ruth for setting it up, by the way) I’d like to expand a bit on this theme. I’m always aware in situations like these that some more conventional parents or non-parents may be thinking my son is “spoilt” or “mollycoddled” by my respect for his needs and wishes.

It’s an attitude that I come across an awful lot – thankfully most people are too polite to actually say anything, but a surprising number do. It always reminds me of the time when R was a baby and my mother told me I was “spoiling” him by picking him up when he was crying. Apparently I should have just left him to cry for a bit, to see if he really was upset, or if he was just pretending, or something. I ignored her and continued to pick up my baby wherever and whenever he cried, and I see what I do now, attending to his every need (those that he can’t or won’t attend to himself) and respecting his wishes at all times, as an extension of that. He is in no way “spoilt” because of this. It’s called respect, plain and simple. If in doubt I always ask myself how I would react if it were an adult who needed my help, or attention.

This idea that attending to childrens’ needs is somehow spoiling them stems from the all too common idea that children are inconveniences to be managed, rather than what they are – human beings to be raised. It’s all around us in society, in the pregnancy and baby magazines, on the TV – the prevailing notion that children can be a bit sweet, yes, but ultimately they’re just a big pain in the arse to all involved who can’t wait for them to just grow up.

The idea is also often expressed that attending to childrens’ needs, and giving them attention, is like some kind of mindless chore that has to be done, but should be got out of the way as quickly as possible so that the adults can get on with the important stuff. I see it completely differently from that. The times when R needs attention, or some kind of “special treatment” (as many people might see it) are great opportunities for bonding with him, getting to know him a bit more, strengthening the connection between us, and of course ensuring that he feels safe and knows I’m always there to help him.

The incident in the supermarket led me to a greater understanding of my son, his personality and his needs. This understanding did not come until much later when I was thinking about it, but in a strange way it makes me almost grateful that it happened, because now I have that knowledge, that extra bit of being-R’s-mum know-how, if you like, and it’s been really helpful to us and to our relationship, as we’ve encountered similar situations since. Unfortunately situations like this are quite common because it remains the fact that most people just don’t respect what children say, want or need. The most recent time this happened, in the supermarket again, R actually very politely asked someone to stop talking to him, but still they kept on rabitting away, so he got upset and we had to have cuddles again, and I loaded and paid for the shopping one-handed again – I’m getting quite good at that now!

Anyway, sorry to ramble on at such length in my first post here. This total lack of respect for children in society in general is a subject I shall come back to again and again, I should think, so I’ll save all the rest for another time.

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I’ve heard some people who parent gently say “I don’t need experts, I just trust my instincts”, or “you should never learn parenting from a book”. Well, I don’t entirely agree.

My childhood was abusive. As a result, I had no good model for how to parent, and my “instincts” were shaped in pain and fear. The only instinct I did have was that I didn’t want to parent how my parents did. I knew I didn’t want to smack, ever. I also knew I never wanted my child to cry himself to sleep. Beyond that, I knew nothing.

I even, initially, liked experts like Jo Frost (Supernanny) because she “got the children to behave without ever smacking them”. Given this was a vast improvement on my own childhood, I watched her programme avidly while I was pregnant. Until, once, I saw her really hurt a child by dragging him by the arm to the naughty step. That really upset me and at that point even my dimmed instincts told me “this isn’t quite right”.

I looked to Gina Ford, and her Contented Little Baby Book. The version I had was one of the early ones where she talks about leaving small babies to cry, and about weaning from breastfeeding as soon as possible. The tiny amount of instinct I did have told me this wasn’t an expert I wanted to follow either, and when I learned about her attempting to sue a parenting forum because one or two of its members had said unkind things about her, I knew I wasn’t going to take advice from a bully.

I looked at The Baby Whisperer by the late Tracy Hogg. It seemed gentler, but even then, something about it wasn’t quite right. It was the story of the woman who was “still” breastfeeding her two year old behind her husband’s back. My instinct said “what a horrible man”. Tracy said it was the mother’s fault, and that breastfeeding a toddler was wrong.

It wasn’t until after I’d given birth someone recommended the Sears’ books to me, in particular The Baby Book. Although the heteronormativity, and classism in the book really got to me, the majority of their actual information on babies rang true to what little instinct I had. Being able bodied meant I was able to use a sling, and this stopped my baby’s near constant crying.

Learning that bedsharing was not only okay but might even be a more “instinctive” way to parent was a huge relief to me as I’d been doing it “accidentally” already, and feeling terribly guilty for doing so. My then husband set up a side-car arrangement with the cot fastened onto the bed. Gradually me and the baby ended up sleeping in the spare bedroom together, as things between my then husband and I became strained (various reasons).

I read more books which resonated with how I felt. Unconditional Parenting in particular hit a nerve with me. Of course! Punishments worked in the short term, but in the long term tell the child nothing of the “why not”. Putting a child on a naughty step for hitting, for example, tells a child that hitting is undesirable behaviour, but doesn’t try to understand why the child hit out in the first place, and usually doesn’t attempt to tell the child why hitting is wrong. Extrinsic (external) rewards also don’t teach a child why something is right. A sweet or a star on a chart won’t teach a child why tidying up is a good thing. It may get the child to tidy, but doesn’t explain why (because it’s easier to run about on a clear floor, it’s not right for Mum to have to tidy everything, it’s dangerous to have toys lying around, and so on).

Kohn also argues that children view punishments as withdrawal of love, and rewards as bestowing love, whether or not that is our intention. So in the examples above, we’re saying “I don’t love you when you hit. I love you when you tidy”. We shouldn’t be using love as a bargaining chip.

Kohn’s book, and other similar “experts” resonated well with what I was trying to do; give my child a relatively happy childhood, help develop his internal moral compass, help him to grow into a happy adult and so on. I sought out other books that worked along these lines.

I was starting to learn that I did have instincts after all, but that they’d just been hidden away. Personally speaking, I did need the experts to help me, but only to an extent. My instincts and the right “experts” work in tandem to help me parent.

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A new blog

I’ve set this blog up for those who parent or care for children using one or more techniques that could be termed “gentle parenting”, or for those people who were raised and cared in that vein.

I’m hoping to make it fairly UK focused and look more at the personal.  There’s plenty of polemic and advice out there for gentle parents, but not so much getting to hear about people’s journeys into this way of thinking and how it works out for them. But having said that, a little bit of polemic and politics isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In the UK at the moment, one or two gentle parenting practices are already under attack (home education, and shared sleep) and I know many of us feel as though that’s just the start of the onslaught, which is partly why I think it’s important to talk about what we do. We can show it is normal, it’s in the best interests of our children, and that children whose needs are met in this way grow into happy, thoughtful, vibrant adults. Not to prove ourselves, just to show we exist.

So without further ado, here we go.

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