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Archive for the ‘the right to be left alone’ Category

Something upset me yesterday at soft play (again – why oh why do we still go there?) – my son’s hair is getting quite long now, which hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice, and people frequently say it needs cutting. That’s just water off a duck’s back. I have asked R several times if he would like me to cut his hair for him, and the answer is always the same – No, he wants to grow it long. So I’ve asked if he would just like me to trim his fringe for him. The answer is still No, he wants to grow that long too. So, that’s the end of the matter as far as I’m concerned. Until such time as he says Yes, he would like it cutting, it will remain uncut. My family have suggested I do it anyway while he is asleep, but I absolutely will not sneak about in the night doing something to his person that he has expressly said he doesn’t want doing. I just won’t. It is dishonest and disrespectful, and aside from anything else would seem very wrong.

So, back to soft play this morning. R’s hair was mentioned several times by several people. We had the usual boring conversation about how he won’t let me cut it, and how he’s said he wants it long, and how neither of us are particularly bothered about it. Still the comments persisted, and at one point it actually felt quite threatening, with one of the women saying she had some scissors in her bag and would do it now for him. I actually had to move away from her. R just looked a bit bewildered by everybody going on about it all the time, and I said something jokey about not coming here anymore if people were going to start threatening us with scissors. But really, I was upset. As I’ve said the bottom line for me is that R has said repeatedly he doesn’t want it cutting, so I won’t cut it. It’s a simple as that. But it seems for most people the idea of actually respecting your 3-year-old’s wishes is absurd, and they think I should ignore what he says and cut it anyway. I really wish it wasn’t even a topic for conversation. I really wish it mattered as little to other people as it does to us; but this letting his hair grow seems to be taken as some kind of sign by people – a sign of otherness, of difference, something that sets us apart, and they’re all desperate to cut it so we can be the same again, and they can feel comfortable with us. It’s bizarre.

Anyway, my point is, our hair – yours, mine, our children’s, is ours and nothing to do with anyone else. Nobody has any business making anybody else (and that includes children, of course) feel pressured to cut it, don’t cut it, dye it, don’t dye it, tie it back, cover it, or anything else. There have even been stories of schools refusing admission to 5 year olds because their hair is ‘too long’. This morning was a vivid illustration of the way people think they can act for and on behalf of children without their consent. People also have no qualms about commenting on the appearance, demeanor, personality and everything else of children, as though it’s any of their business. One of my old friends’ son came home one day at the age of around 11, having been to get his head shaved without telling her what he was doing. She was plainly disgusted with him and told him he looked like a “thug”. What a message to send to the poor child. All that disapproval, along with the brand new label of “thug” on his young shoulders, where it didn’t belong. All he had done was shown a bit of autonomy, a sign that he could think for himself, and look where it got him. I don’t think for a minute that he was seeking her approval by doing that, but wouldn’t it have been nice if she could have reacted more positively? As with my own son, even at the age of just 3; it’s his hair, and his decision.

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Hello to you all

I would like to share with you a very positive and child friendly experience myself and my children had recently whilst on holiday.

Firstly, to begin, I am someone who believes that children should be allowed to run free and should not be made to sit still and be quite whilst adult eat or chat among themselves. I don’t believe that children should be told that it is wrong to interrupt or that children should be seen but not heard. Rather, I have always preferred my kids to have freedom. From my daughter and then my son being as young as 6 months and just able to sit unsupported in restaurants or cafes I have always got them out of the pram or car seat and left them free. Myself I am someone who can not sit down still for a long time. As a young child I used to scream in assembly at school because I hated being made to sit still and also I was and stil am extremely claustrophobic. Therefore naturally now I have children of my own I am able to easily put myself in their shoes and see what they want.

Anyway to begin the point of this post; last week our family holidayed in Centre Parcs in the Lake District. While I am certainly in no way affiliated with this company (lol) I would like to tell you what a wonderful holiday I had.

All activities we went on, whilst well organised, were not of the  ‘you must do this, you must do that’ style that I have been used to with activities and groups I have been to in the past either from SureStart or franchises like Tumble Tots!

Also, what was most refreshing, was the fact that myself and my husband could sit down and enjoy a meal or drink while our two children (age 18 months and 3 years) could be free to run round and enjoy themselves without nasty stares or comments or orders to keep them more supervised. Quite a few of the bars or restaurant even had suitable playareas which as a parent who needs a holiday as much as their children, is most welcome.

Finally another positive feature of this holiday was the absence of parents swearing and screaming at their children. I am by no means judgemental as I know how hard work children can be at times. However, I do cringe when I hear children as young as two being threatening with a smack, dragged around, sworn at or even hit in supermarkets and the like which is all to common around where I live!

So that is the end of this post. I just wanted to share with the readers a totally positive and child friendly experience!

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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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…who scowl or tut or comment at my son and I when we are in town, at the shop, or anywhere else out and about…

– If my son wants to go on his hands and knees and crawl along the pavement instead of walking, I am going to let him, and we will have a laugh pretending he is a dog and I am taking him for a walk, and you will just have to walk an extra few inches to go around him so as not to step on his hands. You will get over it.

– If my son wants to play on the toy keyboard in the Early Learning Centre, he can do so, even if it is pink and you think that means it’s just for girls.

– Likewise, if he wants to play with the (pink) pram and doll in the Early Learning Centre, he can do so without people laughing at him and making comments about his “feminine side coming out.”

– If my son wants to take his shoes and socks off in the supermarket, so that he can feel that lovely smooth, cool flooring beneath his feet as he runs around, he can, and it is none of your concern.

– If we want to stroll along at a snails pace, discussing what flavour lollipop we shall have, and studying a fly that has landed on a shop window, we will. We will not hurry up for you, and we will not get out of your way. If you are in a rush, that is your problem, and you will just have to go around us, preferably without the accompanying eye-rolling and tutting, if you can manage it.

There are many other examples I could give from when we have been out and about and being ourselves (shock!), instead of fitting into whatever “mother and toddler” boxes people have in their heads. We are not what polite society expects. We are letting the side down. We are doing it our way, and screw you and your pathetic, pointless rules.

Yes! We are often scruffy, and our feet are dirty. Yes! I forgot to comb R’s hair this morning (somehow, I think he will overcome the trauma of this). Yes! We don’t care what you think. Why on earth should we?

We are madly in love, and learning about each other, and we are best friends, and finding out about the world. We don’t follow your rules, and we have no rules of our own. We are living by our principles and letting our instincts guide us. It’s wonderful! I have not showered for days. Nobody, unless they are a coal miner or something, needs to shower everyday. Why do people do it? Because other people do it. Follow the herd. Don’t think.

We are thinking, and we are living. While you tut and roll your eyes, and adhere to your narrow-minded tick-box view of the world (and especially children) you are not living. You are just not dying, that’s all.

We are free and you are not. Now leave us alone.

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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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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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