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Archive for the ‘gentle parenting’ Category

One of my favourite poets is Adrian Mitchell, the late “Shadow Poet Laureate” who died in December 2008.

Mitchell is best known as a political poet, but many of his poems were concerned with family, friendship and love. This includes a number of moving poems about his parents, with whom he clearly had a happy, loving and warm relationship. (He wrote a response to Philip Larkin’s This Be The Verse which begins: “They tuck you up, your mum and dad…”)

Along similar lines, I loved this poem from his final collection (Tell Me Lies: Poems 2005-2008):

Early Daze

I was born on the Moon
On a sunlit night
it was Saint Diablo’s Day
My Egg cracked apart
with a happy heart
I dived into the Milky Way

I was found in that bath
by my Father and Mother
A Unicorn and a Dove
They took me to their home
In an ice-cream Dome
And all they ever taught me was to do with Love
And everything they taught me was to do with Love

I’m not a big one for new year resolutions, but if I had one ambition for the coming year it would be for our children to be able to say at the end of it, of me and E, “all they ever taught us was to do with Love”. Easier said than done, alas…

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Our pace of life, especially when in the company of more conventional parents, is noticeably slower than most. Whenever I’m in the company of time-out using, school-using, toddler-taming people, I always feel like I’m being hurried along a bit. I ignore this feeling, of course, because I’m one of those annoying obstinate, opinionated people who has the courage of their convictions, but it’s there nonetheless. I feel hurried, not just in that moment of that day, but in life in general. There’s a real feeling I get around conventional parents; they seem to always have somewhere else they have to dash off to; they always seem in such a rush to get to the next stage in their children’s development; they always seem to be in such a hurry that they hardly notice the child it’s all supposed to be for. And R and I just sit and watch them from our nice, calm bubble, and we really do seem to share the same complete refusal to be rushed I have blogged about many times before.

I’ve noticed that maintaining the ideals of peaceful, non-coercive parenting is much easier when we are on our own. After some contemplation, I’ve decided that this is because of the time-pressure put on us by other people, that is absent when we are alone. If we are on our own, and R is having what I, for want of a better word, often call a “meltdown” or an “episode” (because I will not use the word “tantrum”), we can take our time. R can take as long as he needs to work through whatever it is, and to scream as much as he needs to, and I can take as long as is needed to hold him, or just be present, or softly speak reassuring words to him, tell him that I love him, and whatever else is appropriate at the time.

If this happens when we are in a cafe, shop or park where other people are, even though the process of the “meltdown” is the same, and we need to do the same things, there is an unspoken (or sometimes tutted) time-pressure there. This is even worse if we are in a more obviously parenting or childminding setting, like soft play or the park, for instance. The presence of other people, and especially other parents or parent substitutes, brings with it eyes to look at you, and ears to hear you, and an immense pressure to ‘deal with the situation’ (ie support and love your child) as quickly as possible, and return the child to its more desirable seen-and-not-heard state.

The result of this is that those wonderful peaceful parenting ideals sometimes get a little squashed in the rush to get those eyes and ears off you; to no longer be the focus of so much (usually negative) attention. Sometimes in a situation like that, all those phrases I hear trotted out so many times by the time-out and bribery users, come into my head, and almost, almost out of my mouth. I start to think, it would be so easy, and so much quicker.

But I don’t want R to learn that his “moments” are unacceptable. I don’t want him to think there is any part of himself he cannot express, because it would draw disapproval or embarrassment, especially from me. I don’t want him to feel that he has to somehow rush his “meltdown” because he is inconveniencing other people. This is where I have to try and block the other people out, and just focus on R and what he needs in that moment, and take. my. time. This is when the contrast is sharpest, between the rush rush must get on can’t stop world of the conventional parents and me with R in out little bubble, trying with all my might to keep calm, slow down, focus, and make sure he knows I love him.

It doesn’t always work. I get embarrassed, not because of R or anything he is doing, but because of the other people. Even at home, I’ve used some kind of coercion (“Do you want to go and see Jane?” “Yes.” “Well, let me comb your hair, then.”) when we’ve been in a rush to get somewhere. But there it is again – the time pressure; and I realise then that I’ve been putting that pressure on myself, not even waiting for someone else to do it. Those are the times when the conventional-parenting-speak has come out of my mouth before I’ve had the chance to take a breath, and stop it. And I almost always immediately say something like, “Oh sorry, mummy’s talking rubbish, just ignore me!” and we have a laugh about it.

So, it takes time. Time to really be with R; time to ignore the nay-sayers; time to think before regurgitating conventional-parenting-speak. Time is the most important thing we have together, and we do our best to take it. Every day we take………….our………………………………time. 🙂

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Lately I have began to think more and more about my daughter starting school (and in fact my son one year after). In all honesty the more I think about it, the more I dread it! My husband does too infact!

I hated school! As a preschool child, or so I have been told, I was very intelligent, but wierd! My first memories of school are of crying because I didn’t want to sit down in assembly. The work in school, I found boring and unchallenging.  All the other children knew each other but I had moved there from Carlisle so didn’t know anyone and had a funny accent.

My husband had worse experiences of school. He was bullied and excluded by the other children, yet although the teachers noticed, they did nothing about it.

What bothers me now about school is the emphasis on achievement even from the foundation stage. The whole importance of conforming and not recognising children as individuals. I think young children should learn through experiential learning rather than following a curriculum. Even before I had the children I remember learning about schools which didn’t follow a curriculum but followed a humanistic and holistic approach to learning (I can’t remember the name though.) I thought what a good idea this would be and how I would have loved to learn in this way.

As much as I try not to also, I am terrified about my children being bullied. It is impossible not to be, there are so many horror stories and teachers are afraid to do anything these days.

I have done my best to socialize my children. They have lots of friends and my days off are spent either seeing friends, in playgroup or in the park or soft play. Hopefully they will learn to socialize and to stick up for themselves. However I still have this worry!

In an ideal world I would love my children to go to a small independent school such as a Steiner or Montessori school but even if there were any round here I wouldn’t be able to afford it.

So Homeschooling is the alternative. The fact I would even consider it is pretty mad. You see I am pretty much Miss Mainstream. I read New magazine, watch Xfactor and the soaps and shop in Primark (and Topshop when funds allow).  Nor am I by any means middle class. My children were formula fed, they eat chicken nuggets and smiley faces. I am not a person who one would even imagine would consider anything so radical as homeschooling. Most people who know me would think I needed sectioning or something to even think of the idea seeing as most of my Facebook statuses consist of things like ‘OMG how long til bedtime?’ or ‘aargh these kids are driving me mad’.

However they are my babies and I want the best in life for them. I want them to be happy, confident and enjoy life so I dread sending them to main stream school.

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I just wanted to share a couple of links. The first is a truly amazing and inspiring piece of writing about Parenting in Freedom, and the second is to do with home education in England. It gives a very good overview of the current crisis in home education in England, and I thought people here might like to read it, to see what all the fuss is about in case they’re not already aware. I am planning a post about the current issues but until I manage to get that done, Elective Home Education in the UK, a brief history? is a very good place to start.

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A thoroughly infuriating, although predictable, article from the BBC today tells us that something called “tough love” is good for children. That “it is confidence, warmth and consistent discipline that matter most” when raising kids, and that “a balance of warmth and discipline improved social skills more than a laissez-faire, authoritarian or disengaged upbringing.”

Isn’t that lovely? All parenting styles on this whole planet neatly summed up for your reading pleasure, or…not. There are, as we know, as many ways to raise children as children themselves, but this list containing only “laissez-faire, authoritarian or disengaged” parenting betrays an all-too common prejudice against parents who fit into none of these categories. As usual we are not recognised, we do not exist. We manage to parent without being authoritarian or disengaged and without any guidance from the state, and that just won’t do.

I don’t doubt for a second that trying to balance warmth and discipline when raising your children is better than being authoritarian or disengaged but, thank goodness, they are not the only options. There IS another way. There are lots of other ways. Personally I find the words “warmth” and “discipline” hard to reconcile, because that is not the way I parent. The word discipline does not get used in our house, and the concept is not practiced, although I hope that we as parents and the atmosphere in our house do generally have a degree of “warmth”. Neither are we disengaged or authoritarian. It is perfectly possible to be both disengaged and authoritarian anyway – this list is meaningless!

There is so much in this article that I’d like to pick to pieces, but for this post I’ll focus on the “tough love” aspect.

So, let’s think about that for a minute. What is “tough love”? As I said to Ruth earlier, I dislike the term intensely, because to me all it does is let parents who know they are disrespecting their children off the hook. I have it in the same category as “it’s for your own good” and “we only want what’s best for you”. It’s a get out clause that allows the adults to justify their actions towards the child by making it sound like they are doing it for the child, instead of to the child, which is actually the case.

We know that “tough love” and disrespect for children is fully approved of by the Government by the fact that it refuses to outlaw “reasonable chastisement” ie the hitting of children by adults. They must really like this report, then, and indeed it goes on to make several recommendations to the Government, all along the lines of more interference into private family life by local government lackeys in the form of Sure Start schemes and Health Visitors.

And of course to your average non-thinking BBC believer that all sounds quite reasonable – they recognise that a certain type of family struggles more with raising their children in the state-approved way, and so the state “helps” those families. But just think about those very narrow definitions of the different ways of parenting; you’re either “authoritarian” or “disengaged” or “laissez-faire” or you might even be one of those lucky families who manage to get it right and instill “warmth and discipline” – and where does that leave the rest of us? Where does that leave families who would rather raise their children in the way that works best for them, regardless of what the state approves of?

The whole game is given away at the end of the article by Parentline Plus chief executive Jeremy Todd, who says:

We welcome this report and hope that it stimulates debate among policy makers around how best to support families to transform our society into one where we top the league tables for outcomes for children and well-being.

Got that? “support families to transform our society into one where we top the league tables for outcomes for children” I bet Ed Balls wishes Todd had kept his mouth shut. Doesn’t he know the line is “It’s for the chiiiiiiiiiiildren”? You can’t go telling everybody it’s really about league tables to make the country look good (and more than likely getting yourself a nice fat pay rise into the bargain)!

So, we understand now, if we didn’t before. They could not care less about our children; they just want them to perform in the proper state-approved ways, and meet all the state’s tick-box criteria for childhood, so that we can get to the top of the all important league tables that Jeremy Todd thinks we should care about so much.

There are going to be a lot of us letting the side down then, aren’t there, if that’s the case. Send in the Sure Start advisors and the Health Visitors to make sure we buck up our ideas.

I mention Ed Balls because it is him who makes these decisions regarding our children: whether to listen to reports or take advice, or dismiss them. That’ll be the same Ed Balls who’s wife Yvette Cooper had this to say to the Guardian in 2007:

It was the 2001 election, and I’d agreed to do a Today interview from home. Ed [Balls] was away, and it was just me and my eldest, who was two. I’d asked a friend to stay over to look after her while I was on air, but the press office had got the time of the interview slightly wrong, and I was still getting up when I heard the package before me begin. So I was frantically looking for the number of the studio, and I got through just in time. Then I heard a thump. It was my daughter, who had fallen out of bed, and was coming howling down the corridor. I had to leap up and slam the door in her face, and then put the duvet over my head so the listeners couldn’t hear her. I couldn’t even say, this has happened, could you call me back, because I was coming off the back of a feature about children’s hospices, and I would have sounded flippant. But I couldn’t actually take in any of Humphrys’ questions. I knew she wasn’t hurt, but I just felt a terrible sense of guilt, about doing everything badly.

Emphasis mine. No, Yvette, you did not “have to” slam the door in her face at all. You did not even “have to” put a duvet over your head to muffle the sound of her screams. There are many options for what you could have done. You could have put the phone down and gone to your daughter, realising that she was more important than any radio interview could be, but you didn’t. And these people want to give us parenting advice? No thanks, “think tank” Demos, Ed Balls and all the rest of you – you can keep your advice to yourself.

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SchoolSchool admissions policies are back in the news, and the actor Rebecca Front has an excellent article in today’s Guardian on the dilemmas faced by parents in the face of these policies.

I don’t want to start a debate here about school admissions policies (or approaches to education) as such. Instead I just wanted to post a couple of thoughts on what happens when “gentle parenting” meets a school system in which parents’ decisions are driven more by desperation and fear than by a calm, considered assessment of what is best for their children.

First, what do our children learn from how we make choices regarding their education? The system seems designed to teach children that it’s a “dog eat dog” world in which those with the sharpest elbows win. That their educational choices are entirely a matter for their parents, not for them. That the school in which you find yourself at 11 completely determines your life path, with no second chances. Are we teaching them that “gentle parenting” and “unconditionality” are just a front, and that when the chips are down what matters is a ruthless pursuit of self-interest?

Second, what pressure are we putting our children under, and from what age? Our eldest, T8, has just started year 4 at primary school. We live in an area with a lot of selective state schools – don’t get me started – and some of T8’s classmates are already having tuition in preparation for the selective tests in two years’ time. This puts us under pressure – are we letting T8 down by not following suit? – and more than that it puts the children under pressure.

Third, the system leads parents to fixate on “winning the admissions race” rather than finding the right school for the individual child. There are children who scrape into the local “super-selective” school having been tutored and coached to within an inch of their lives, and who are then utterly miserable. The lucky ones are able to persuade their parents to send them to one of the good non-selective schools to which they should have gone in the first place, and perhaps would have if their parents hadn’t been propagandised by the media (and by years of conversations at the school gate) into thinking the only choices were between St [Name Deleted’s] Grammar School and educational oblivion.

Any thoughts?

Image courtesy of most uncool, under a Creative Commons licence.

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Think about the way things have changed even just in the last 10 or 20 years, regarding how we talk about disabled people, how we treat the elderly in society, how REAL change has happened, and all the better for it.

Now consider these statements and imagine they were said to one of those groups in society.

‘He should not be doing that.’

‘He needs to shut up.’

‘Give her a good slap.’

‘You’ve got to let them know who’s in charge.’

‘What is it then male or female? Can’t tell with those clothes.’

‘What have you done to him?’

‘Isn’t he a bit big to be in a push chair.’

‘If she does not like it MAKE her eat it!’

‘If he cries at night just ignore the cries.’

‘Don’t hug them every time they feel sad, they will become dependent on you.’

‘Ewww do you HAVE to feed them in public?’

‘Her favourite food? Oh well why don’t you just give her any old thing?’

Except all these things were not said to an elderly person or a disabled person. All these comments have been made to my children or to me about my children, in a city which prides itself on being tolerant. They are cruel comments, they are hurtful. If as I suggested at the start they had been said to a disabled or elderly person there would be outrage. For some reason there still exists the belief that it is ok to talk to children or about children in this manner. It is not! The ‘what have you done to him’ comment was made by someone who actually stopped in the street and peered at my son who was at the time bandaged up due to eczema. It still makes me feel shaky thinking about it, and my son still remembers it. I don’t know any other better way to put this that children are people too, a bit of a tired phrase but a simple truth that is sadly and often overlooked.

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