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Parenting

That time Santa made me a rubbish parent (and a Christmas Wishlist for me, you, everybody)

24 December, 2015

Santa owes me one. Big time.

We went to a Christmas Light Show last week to get in to the spirits of things. It was lovely, and also strange, with flashing Christmas trees set to the rhythm of ACDC songs and foam snow pouring from the sky. And there were Santas everywhere you looked. Small battery powered ones dancing Gangham Styles and big blow up ones floating eerily in the sky. But in the gleeful madness Ramona and I lost each other. It was only about 18 minutes of sprinting around trying to beat the advancing dark, my stomach clenched and my heart in my throat, but it was the most frightening 18 minutes of 2015 hands down. How we clung to each other when a kind elderly elf hefted a sobbing Ramona into my arms.

So yeah, Santa and his distracting Santanic minions get the blame for that one.

Which makes me feel compelled to write a Christmas wish list, like both of us fulfilling the traditional roles of human and, um, legendary fairy-man will help us get on good terms again. No one wants an ongoing beef with the bearded one. And if Santa makes my wishes come true we’ll be even stevens.

So.

If Santa is really real I know that when I wake up tomorrow I’ll have a gift-wrapped repeat perscription for de-worming tablets and a robotic vacuum cleaner.

(These actually exist! The robotic hoover, not the repeat perscription for worming tablets, they don’t exist, I know that as a result of a very embarrassing conversation with the Doctor. Robotic hoovers are all real though. I just heard about them on the internet and I was like “Oh my word a better life for me is out there!!!” But apparently we can’t have one because they are too inefficient to make sense on solar power and also because most of the stuff on our floor is lego and those tiny goggly eyes you craft with and robot hoovers are indiscriminate. Ha. As if I don’t hoover up lego all the time. I’ll fish it out of the filter one day promise. Anyway hopefully Santa doesn’t apply this reasoning and soon I will be able to push a button and have a tidy home… In fact, I know he doesn’t because who got the kids all the lego in the first place HEY)

I’d also have a local library that didn’t worry about the DVD’s making it back with their covers on…. We never lose the DVDs but somewhere there is a stash of plastic covers and the librarians simply have no flexibility on these things! We probably lose an hour a week hunting around for DVD covers. Also, just quickly on that subject, if you are out there Santa, I’d wish that only good books made it on to the NY Times Bestselling list, please? And that it was against the law for famous authors to give other author’s rubbish books misleading, supportive phrases for their covers. *glares at Jodie Picoult in particular* And that I would stop accidently getting out books from the library that I’ve already read because I like the cover/ it comes recommended from a famous author. And that I’d therefore never again be lying awake wrestling with the insomnia that has tracked me my whole life with Nothing To Read.

In fact, just help me be better at getting to sleep and not lying awake worrying about all the things I’ve lost or forgotten to do or losing my children or just worrying about my children in general.

Also, I wish for a dog that doesn’t fart. WOAH THERE. No one mentions the dog farts when you are excitedly mentioning that you are gonna get a cute little puppy. We needed no other farting thing in our lives. We really didn’t. Sometimes late at night I am reading an amazing novel and am zoned in to this fantastical story of wild adventure and then all of a sudden I am engulfed in this putrid cloud of terror as if someone just scratched a Scratch and Sniff card the size of the planet with a picture of a Rotten Egg Turd on it right in front of my face. UGH. Please will my dog stop farting.

This might sound like a frivolous list. But its only because I know if I had all these things I would be a more generally patient and lovely person, unstressed by the mundane and rank annoyances of daily life.

Thanks, in hope of avoiding conflict resolution,

Lucy

***

MY REAL CHRISTMAS MESSAGE:

Okay, I know, you know, we all know that often the rank and mundane are the things that make us better people. Not the avoidance of these things.

So to you lovely readers, ones that have stuck with me since those cheapskate days in South London when we used to wait ‘til schools broke up to get their enormous slightly withered Christmas Tree and then get it stuck in our front door, to new ones, who joined me more recently in the heady days of being the Internet’s Number One Dirty Hippy, I want to thank you so, so, SO MUCH for reading the things I want to write about, for your insightful comments and your encouraging tweets, and for being a part of an incredible tribe of parents/ general good people, that helps all of us live these intentional lives as best we can (Golly, so wordy, but I really mean it!)

I wish for you:

peace amongst mess

deep connection in your relationships

happiness in the chaos

hardy soles that can withstand the treading on of lego

repeat prescriptions for any antiparasitic medication you feel your family needs, be it nits, threadworm, scabies, I mean it, ANY or ALL of them

courage to live a life that matches what is in your heart

and may a tiny Gangham Styles Santa never make you lose your children. 

 

Breastfeeding, Parenting

It’s official. Breastmilk is yummier than ice cream.

15 December, 2015

Fresh out of Yurt University comes a rigorous* research project that can formally confirm that breastmilk is yummier than ice cream. The study surveyed a range of breastfeeding children** and posed the academically approved*** survey question;

“What is yummier?
A- Booboo
B- ice cream”

100% of the participants responded that booboo was yummier than ice cream.

*by rigorous I mean “enthusiastic”
**two participants, age 2.5 and 5
***by “academically approved” I mean “I thought it was fine, and I did a whole paper on research methods when I was 19, y’know”
  

Mobile milk bar on the beach

Ah, the laughter and simple joy involved in breastfeeding older children! They don’t tell you this bit, it’s all either “GROSSS WHO WOULD BREASTFEED A TODDLER EWWWW THAT’S ABUSE” or “EVERYONE SHOULD BREASTFEED OLDER CHILDREN THE AVERAGE WEANING AGE IS 7” – both of which are fairly extreme positions and, well, untrue.

Cos here is the thing about most breastfeeding experiences… It can be just a simple, happy part of family life. No capital letters required, mostly.

Remember the days when I was blogging about breastfeeding all the time? They were great days. But now it has been a YEAR, a YEAR! Since I did a breastfeedy post. (It’s here – with some tandem breastfeeding where I look like a fierce Victorian.) And I guess that is just because instead of feeling like I’m out there, breastfeeding like a badass in a hostile environment, it just happens day in day out, with little fuss.

I wonder if this is because Juno looks so much like a baby still, with her fuzz of hair and freckled face. By this time with Ramona, she had a long shock of blonde hair and was wearing converse and people would STARE as I breastfed her… Seriously. Eyes for Christmas. I was also pregnant, so perhaps that required extra staring. Or maybe there are just enough hippies around us these days to help us feel that breastfeeding older children is perfectly fine in every way.

When hostility is felt, positions are polarised. The capitals come out and wild facts make an appearance.

And little stuff gets swept away. We have to storm the media with breastfeeding sit-ins and argue about the objectification of women’s bodies and the vital biological role of breastfeeding in children’s health.

It’s all so important. And we have to go on and on and on about it, we need to, it is how things change. (Please mamas, keep getting your boobs out. And sitting in and going on one.)

But we can miss out on describing the heart-swelling fullness of the breastfeeding gaze. When your kid is just drinking, and staring tenderly, but with a fierce focus, right in to your eyeballs.

And the way it seems to restore a busy child’s emotions, smoothing out enfrazzlement and giving a boost of happy.

And the loveliness of having children who talk describe what breastfeeding is like. And say it is yummier than ice cream. The other day Juno had almost had her fill, but not quite, but I was all out of juice. She squeezed my boob and said, frustrated, “Run out of batteries, mama!”

(Do we all love the iPad much, or what?!)

It’s a super privileged position I have right now, to feel so accepted in our breastfeeding older children thing, and to be able spend a few minutes being thankful for those small, quietely-felt ways that breastfeeding brings joy into our family life.

Whatever environment you’re in, city or hippy, welcoming or hostile, I hope your breastfeeding journey can be full of these beautiful, gentle moments.

And if your life is full of breastfeeding angst, and you find yourself having to come up with smart retorts for busy-bodies who have something to say, at least you can now pull out this robust research and declare that breastmilk is officially the yummiest foodstuff in the whole world which makes you the most awesome mum in the universe, as announced by the very best (and, um, most Not Real) university of all universities. So there. 

 

Parenting

To be held in a good light

17 November, 2015

Yesterday we had some friends over and we were all sitting around the yurt relaxing, kind of observing with humour the travelling espresso convoy that Ramona’s buddy had set up using the Playmobil. But, as things can sometimes do, it unravelled a bit and he got frustrated and a bit stuck in his play and Ramona really helpfully dived in, grabbed the vehicles and shoved them behind the bed.  As you can imagine, he was, erm, upset.

“Mona!” I exclaimed, sort of in shock that she was so able to do the very, very thing that would make her friend see red. Ramona stood boldly in front of him and gave a little preach about how she thinks he should play. His mum, ever loving and wise, observed outloud how Ramona was trying to create a space to talk about what was going on for him, perhaps get some perspective and move through the frustrating part of the game. Sure enough, once Ramona had delivered her sermon she retrieved the vans and gave them back to her friend.

It wasn’t all solved (no one really likes a sermon) but after a little while the game moved on. Ramona really did just want to see her friend happy again.

It was a perfect example of something I’ve been thinking about almost constantly this couple of weeks, about how important it is to assume the best of our children. How much they need to feel held in a good light. It is such a simple phrase, but it was the one phrase that keeps pinging around my mind after a seminar with Genevieve Simperingham on Peaceful Parenting.  The idea that our starting point is always to assume the best of our children.

It’s not easy to do when so many of our words around children are so polarised (are they good or bad?) or just negative (naughty, mischievous, deviant) and we have such a prevalent view that children are by nature selfish. (That one comes up all the time in my comment section – but it simply isn’t true. Yes, they are instinctively focused on their own needs, but I am blown away all the time at their selflessness and generosity.)

If we go through our days holding our children in a good light the whole day takes on a better hue. It’s not about spin doctoring, simply changing the way we speak about children (although that helps greatly – for example, changing “bossy” to “leadership skills”) but about changing our whole perspective on childhood! We must believe in our children’s goodness and give them the opportunity to reveal that goodness.

 If we wait to see what they were hoping to achieve, rather than jumping in to halt their unhelpful action. If we see their good intentions and then talk about ways they could have executed them. Trust them. Seek to understand them. Show empathy.

A few times in my life I have found myself in a tangle with someone. It’s felt like they have misunderstood me, like they always take my actions the wrong way, like I have to constantly explain myself or tiptoe around them, I’m left groaning in my mind knowing how they would have interpreted something. And, what sometimes happens is that, because I am feeling so stink, I start to act defensively, and my mind bubbles up with stinkness.

It is oppressive, feeling this way around someone. It crushes our journey of self-love. It isn’t living. It is no way to live.

And yet I think a lot of children have to live this way. They have adults in their lives who think they are selfish, naughty, attention seeking, destructive. And when their behaviour is seen this way, they then get in a spiral of it, and they are disconnected and not themselves and can’t really think they are loveable, by their own selves, or their parents.

Really, I think all we all really want is to be held in a good light. Our greatest friends are the ones who really know us, the ones we never have to sensor our words with. The family members we want to hang out with are the ones who have faith in our decision making. We move like magnets towards the people that make us shine.

I want my children to catch me looking at them with love and understanding in my eyeballs. I don’t want them to detect disappointment in my voice – frustration, perhaps, yes, because I want to be authentic!  I want my tone to be an empathetic one. I want them to feel good and understood. I want them to know that I know their hearts are good! I want them to shine when we are together.

Parenting

The one thing that makes your kids mean – and it’s not religion

10 November, 2015

One of my clear memories as a nine year old kid is being sat on the first row at Sunday School having being asked to close our eyes and imagine Jesus standing in front of us. I must have thought it was quite a nice thought because my face broke into enough of a smile for the Sunday School teacher to growl to the whole class “Well, Lucy obviously thinks Jesus is funny because instead of praying she is laughing!”

I was struck with shame at the teacher’s words. I can sense even now the pound of my heart in my ears drums, feel the red sweeping up my neck to flush out my freckles, the determination not to let my lip wobble. I was the minister’s kid. Blonde haired and sweet looking but fiercely mischievous. I’d already been asked to leave the choir. The teacher probably shouldn’t be blamed for taking my smile as an obtuse grin. I felt deeply misunderstood but no way was I about to show it.

The one thing that makes kids mean

Spot my angelic self

I have been shown a lot of kindness during a lifetime at church too. Roast dinners cooked for us while our parents set up the evening service. The incredible gift of Hungry Hippos one Christmas when we couldn’t really count on many presents at all. One church-Aunty taught me to cross stitch (and then completed my Happy Mother’s Day piece when the week before the big day I had only done the H.) Other grown-ups who took me under their wing, and still to this day send me birthday cards across the oceans, tracking me down at various addresses to let me know I am still in their thoughts.

So I felt a lot of things when I read the recent news about how religious kids have been found to be meaner than their non-religious friends.

Instances of my own shaming and punishment at church sprang to mind. And yet so did all the kindnesses. And the unavoidable blueprint I have in my mind for wanting to tackle injustices and inequality.

The main thing that struck me as I read about the research was this is about parenting, and general adult-child relationships, not religion.

There is ONE THING (and probably other things too) that makes our kids mean. And it sure is found in the church. But it is also found in many non-religious families. And schools. And in public spaces.

And I care to address it because we all need to face it. If the recent research makes us all think: religious = mean kids, non-religious = kind kids then we have been led up a wildly incorrect and dangerous path.

We need to talk about empathy for starters. Empathy, seeking to understand another’s feelings, putting ourselves in their shoes, is the only genuine foundation for morality. Being able to empathise is key to stopping childhood mean-ness and is the foundation for a lifetime of kindness.

The one thing that short circuits the development of a child’s empathy?

Not experiencing empathy in childhood.

Basic, huh? But there is groundbreaking work being done right now that is clearly revealing that in order to become empathetic, we have to experience empathy.

I first heard this concept at a talk by psychologist Robin Grille, who reckons all parents should see themselves as “empathy farmers”… like nurturing the cherry tomatoes in our garden we can grow or stunt a child’s “empathy centre” according to how we treat them.

And, contrary perhaps to what some institutional religion teaches (but not what many religious texts actually teach) it isn’t taught through teaching lessons in morality, or shaming, or punishing.

It is taught by kindness.

By putting ourselves in our children’s shoes, trying to get what is going on for them, meeting their emotions and being their in the experiences with kind hearts, their empathy centres in their brains begin to flourish, creating new neural pathways and literally growing brain cells whose job is to make us kind.

Mind = blown.

The last couple of years has seen a huge increase in knowledge around brain development and emotional intelligence, studies exploring the way empathy develops through stuff like our right supramarginal gyrus, which, frankly, sounds like something out of Dr Seuss. It is all covered in this absolutely BRILLIANT video of Robin Grille talking about the peace code we have in our brain, activated by kindness.

“Our brains’ empathy centres grow – or fail to grow – according to how we are nurtured.”

“The brain of a child grows in the way that child is treated. So in an empathic environment the brain of this child grows in one way. But in an environment that is harsh, punitive and cold, the same child’s brain would grow quite differently. So, our early childhood relationships grow our brain. The shape our behaviour and that is how we create the kind of societies that we are going to have.”

 

And the thing is, and perhaps this explains the research about religious kids being meaner, a lots of things get in the way of us treating our children with empathy.

I see lots of these amongst the church. (And in non-religious homes too.)

Teaching a lesson.  Often, instead of attempting to understand what needs a child might be expressing when they do something that seems mischievous, we are tempted to launch straight in with a lesson in morality. We fail to listen, we fail to create a space for our child to be heard, for their emotional and physical needs to get met.

Punishing and shaming. We tend to err on the side of punitive. In some countries – I’m eyeballing the States – a religious upbringing is synonymous with a childhood filled with violence (which must feel like an utter slap in the face to God) with the popularity of Christian books advocating physical assault and even in more progressive societies, the genuine fear that children won’t grow up to be kind leads people to treat children harshly. The very thing that will lead them to be unkind. Gah.

Cheering up/ giving a positive spin. And then there is the nice, cheery face of Christianity, and the general sense that kids should “look on the bright side”… which is actually an empathy blocker. It is SO easy to do. “Oooof! At least you only grazed ONE knee!” But it is a missed opportunity to simply be there and actively hear our child’s pain.

This list of empathy blockers from Robin Grille’s Heart to Heart parenting book is a bit of an eye opener. 

  In some ways raising kind children is simple. We treat them kindly. We don’t call out grins we think are inappropriate, we don’t shame them into better behaviour. We listen to them, assume the best of them.

And in other ways it isn’t. Because in order to give empathy, we also need to be receiving it! We are far more likely to be pulling out all those empathy blockers when our own emotional needs are not met. If parents need to do one thing to parent more kindly, it is to find a friend, or a whole tribe of friend who we can be honest with and who can encourage and support us. (This can sometimes be easier said than done, hey?)

We haven’t been a part of a church community for a couple of years, one of the reasons being that we struggle with how it sits so comfortably within a archaic control paradigm, and y’know, homophobia etc. But we truly believe that the bible actually teaches kind and empathetic parenting, and that people of faith should be championing this new, peaceful vision of adult – child relationships. (I wrote a letter to the Pope about that, actually.)

More than anything though, let’s not be distracted by the research from what is the real gamechanger for kindness in childhood – neuroscience is helping us out big time here. Central to developing kindness in children, from any home, religious or not, is that they experience empathy. All of us can make that happen.

Parenting

10 things that are worse for your child than playing on the ipad

2 November, 2015

*ping* Another notification from someone about the problem with ipads. This time ipads are responsible for humankind never stepping outdoors again. Yep, our children will be the last generation that played outside.

I guess people think I like this stuff because I wrote a book on families rewilding and often post about how good it is for kids to get outdoors and fun things to do outdoors and all that nature shizzle.

But you know what? I think the ipad is a TOTAL bogeyperson.

(HA bogeyperson! What do we want? Non gendered language for bogeypeople! When do we want it? Now!)

(Actually the person that sent me the ipads are evil link this time, Thalia, from Sacraparental,  happens to be brilliant and gets all this stuff.)

We set up technology as the enemy of nature and it isn’t. Taking the ipad out of our child’s hands is a quick and easy answer to a multi-faceted problem, and it is a disrespectful, short-term and narrow minded solution.

I can think of many, many things that impact our child’s well being and relationship with the earth more than playing on the ipad.

Here are ten.

1- Being told the things they love aren’t important
This one is so close to my heart, because I am learning as I parent. I had a list of things I would never “let my child do” but as her different likes and loves unfold she is showing me that it is not up to me to tell her what she should and shouldn’t love. I have some knowledge and wisdom from my longer life, and I will share it non coercively. Celebrating with them over the things they love is a far better way to developing a trusting relationship with our children. Imagine if your other half didn’t like you doing your favourite hobby so huffed and puffed around yo every time you did it? That would feel so awful, that constant undermining, and it would hugely damage your relationship.

2- A parent that doesn’t partner with them
Instead of telling them the things they love suck, the invitation is to partner with our children. To help take their love of something on the ipad and take it to the next level. It is to trust that technology can open huge doors for learning. They love Happy Feet? Perhaps they are working through themes of loss and grief and reuniting (I *may* be talking from experience…) how about entering into imaginative play with them and the penguin stuffed toys, or getting all the penguin books out, strewing about some penguin costumes and seeing if they want to take Happy Feet to a deeper level? The potential is for a huge connection, begun by an ipad…

The invitation is also to PLAY with them. Not use the ipad as a babysitter but take it in turns to play, as another child would, to find out about their favourite game. Last week we had a huge car journey and I sat in the back and played Ramona’s favourite game, The Dolphin Show, for 4 hours straight. We were trying to get a million points in order to get the dolphin that farts rainbows. After about 3.5 hours, she turned to me and told me about something cruel someone really important to her had said to her, and described how her heart had been hurting ever since. I had observed that for a few days she had been really quite emotional, but I hadn’t been able to get to the bottom of it. Spending time jumping through hoops (no really, we were jumping our dolphins through hoops) really joyfully (it is THE BEST GAME) deepened our connection to a point that she felt able to fully open up.

3- Learning Latin
Some schools still teach that. Shiver my timbers. If we really want to target something that stops children playing outside it should be the thing that ties them to a desk for several hours everyday (635 hours a year for under elevens!) learning stuff that is often age inappropriate, doesn’t recognise the important of play and the biological imperative for movement and may well never be used again in their lives. (*cough* algebra *cough*)

While we have chosen to unschool in order to foster a more curiosity led education, schools around the world have successfully changed; schools in Finland have reflected research on this and introduced far healthier learning foundations in State schools, there are Forest Schools in Germany. You know what would make the BEST target for a child’s time not spent playing outdoors? It is the classroom.

4- Parents that don’t make an effort with nature
Here is my bugbear…. all this reminiscing about our natural childhoods (er, mine was spent watching Going Live) and freaking out about Nature Deficit Disorder, without realising that the responsibility for our child’s relationship with nature lies with us! You know what? If WE love nature, and prioritise it, if we run barefoot in the forest and climb the trees and lie and look at the stars, this love will so likely become infectious. Children don’t learn by us telling them (the ipad is the enemy of nature, darling!) but only by modelling.

10 things worse than ipads for children

Technology and Nature are friends! Thanks Annie from Fable and Folk for the picture.

5- Double Standards
Oh, by golly, if I read about Steve Jobs not letting his kids play with an ipad one more time I will send Apple a scary barbie in the post, I will, I tell you!!! The double standards! OH MY!! This is the kind of unfairness that I think could really damage a child’s likelihood to grow up caring about fairness.

6- Having nowhere to play outside
How about targeting society’s obsession for turning every spare bit of land into malls, instead of handing them over to the people for nature places? (Okay that is a little bit Daily Mailish… let me pull back from the extremisms.) Society is narrowing the places that childhood has been traditionally spent, either by building on them, or risk assessing them (try swimming in the many beautiful swimming holes in the UK without getting the “Do Not Swim” sign pointed out to you) or disallowing ball games from them. How about giving children access to the streets for free play?

7- Having little say over the activities in their life
A child is a person. They deserve to get a say over their activities. When their hobbies are directed and their play manipulated they will get frustrated and learn that their own wants and needs don’t count for anything. Having an ipad in the house and not letting a child use it if they want to just totally sucks.

As the brilliant Peter Gray says “Children are suffering today not from too much computer play or too much screen time. They are suffering from too much adult control over their lives and not enough freedom.”

8- Parenting advice based on nothing
Really, what was that original article article based on? Yeah, nothing. That’s what I thought. It’s just a lament from a dude who is actually really successfully using technology to provide a livelihood for himself and to help people around him. Oh! Technology can be GREAT! There are articles floating around that seem quite research heavy, but on a second glance leave me ABUZZ with questions about who they were studying, and how, and if there is really anything meaningful in there.   Let’s stop the fear mongering research, let’s scope out all the stuff out there –  like this other Psychology Today article by Dr Peter Gray comparing limiting computer time today to hunter gatherers limiting bow & arrow time, or the quiet release of the American Academy of Paeditrician’s new guidleines on screentime for young ‘uns, let’s make decisions that reflect all our family’s needs.

9- People who think “drastic” measures are called for
How about not being drastic? How about simply being mindful and thinking things through and coming up with ideas together that reflect everyone’s desires? How about considering the burgeoning role that technology is playing in our world (genuinely, that is something we can’t change, love or hate it) and considering a family approach to reflect that? How about trying some stuff – moving towards letting go of limits like some families, or having tech-free zones decided as a family, or coming up with guidelines together (this is what we did at a family meeting recently. Family meetings will probably only be a success if your relationship is built on mutual trust and respect.

Drastic is really the opposite of good advice, for parents, in really any situation. For some nuanced, yet traditional, ideas on child hood and screen time see here.

10 – Playing with this toy.  

 A Shape Shifter Punisher, with a rather rude rocket. 

There are worse things to play with than the ipad. That’s all.

***

Now, I really don’t have the answers for your family. We have tried a lot of things and I have felt torn a lot of the time in the past between my real rational preference for unschooling and letting the girls choose access freely, and then my inner desire for a really “natural” childhood for them. Just now we are in a good space of free reign over technology, but with them choosing OFTEN, far more than the ipad, the options of imaginative play, putting on shows with puppets, river fun and cooking. Which is what I think occurs naturally once we free up all our triggered, negative emotions around screen time. And it has been this partnering thing that has been the piece of the puzzle that now makes it all feel good, for all of us.

It’s close to my heart this technology and children and earth stuff. I love the internet and ipads, and I love trees and oceans, and I don’t believe they should be pitted against each other. I think we are the unfortunate generation of parents who are lumped with having to muddle our way through this technology and social media and internet saturated life whilst trying to hold on to values that are important to us. On the other hand perhaps we are the fortunate ones- we can carve a way for future generations! What a privilege and responsibility – let’s make the journey of childhood in the 21st century one filled with empathy and respect and connection.

As usual, would love to hear from you! Either here in the comments or over on Le Facebook

Parenting, unschooling

Parenting: “Child Rights” or “Don’t be an arse”

21 October, 2015

We are three weeks into our new homesteading life and what I want to do is tell you all about it. The pet ducks we are going to pick up, how our big family bed takes up most of the yurt (hmmmm, bed), the vintage potato mashers we hung to scare the birds away from our seedlings,  the forest walk I went on that was actually really scary so I had to do the whole thing singing songs from Frozen to stop my mind stewing on the fact that there was only one set of foot prints in the muddy path ahead of me. EEK!

But I actually need to get a lot of things off my chest.

I have had these thoughts milling around in my head for months. Since I wrote that post 10 Habits that Infringe on the Rights of Children … and got an extreme response across the internet. But this week the criticism sort of crescendoed.

So for yurt dwelling and potato mashers and forest life check out my Instagram and keep your eyes peeled for the very next post….

So back to 10 Habits. Remember that? It was a Marmite post.

A lot of people loved it, I got messages from parents looking for someone to articulate WHY they need to treat their children with respect when they feel it so strongly, and from child rights advocates who could clearly see that the way we treat children in the home impacts the whole experience of rights in every country. And there were lots of people for whom it wasn’t a revelation at all – simply just the way they parent. (A lot of unschoolers in that category.)

But then there were the haters. Like I’ve never had before. Some feminists called it “sanctimonious trolling” and some mothers literally feeling happy about calling me a dickhead and dissing my children’s names.

You diss my children? Prepare to die. (I JEST! I JEST!)

You diss my children? Prepare to die. (I JEST! I JEST!)

When that happens to you you get a bit introspective. (Am I really a sanctimonious trolling dickhead?)

 And you try really hard to see things from other people’s points of view. (They are frightened by the idea of not having control over their children.)

And you even question if you really think that, because if so many people think it is crazy, then maybe that makes you crazy. (Am I crazy?)

This process has left me with many thoughts. But I will share only a few with you right now. (Forgive that introspection. It’s a bit more relevant from here down. I guess I feel like my blog is actually a pretty safe place to talk this stuff through, I have so, SO rarely had vitriol in this comment section! Thanks, friends.)

I missed a lot of nuance
I often write a blog post and then I go back through and remove the “perhaps”s and the “I wonder if”s because I want to be clearly understood. I don’t want to make my blog hard reading because it is jam packed with caveats and context. Which does mean sometimes I come across as holding these intense black and white opinions, without any room for movement. I wish I had, for example, explained that I don’t always manage to correct these habits. That some days I suck at it and then I tell my children I am sorry.

I missed out a discussion on rights and privilege
I  agree with one of the criticisms, that I failed (and fail often here on this blog) to acknowledge my own privilege, as a white, physically able, middle class woman with access to security, education, safe employment.  I don’t believe it should be possible to have a conversation about anybody’s rights without recognising that there are huge oppressive structures at work such as race and economic inequality  And also that I can not help but write with this lens on; in lots of ways my analysis comes from this position of privilege. Alongside everything I write I need to remember that my experience is not the experience of all mothers or women.

Parenting with a recognition of your child’s rights is available to every parent
One of the accusations I’ve experienced is that parenting with respect is only available to the white middle class of this world. It is just not the case. In fact, it seems prejudice to say that. In this corner of the parenting world I have met people from every section of society doing life with their children this way.

In the comments of the original child rights post, I felt there was a breadth of people talking about their experience of this kind of parenting. Sunshine posted in response to my suggestion that we ask before doing anything to our children’s bodies.  “My toddler, whome has Down syndrome and is a tad delayed in development started wiping his own nose and cleaning his own hands and face after a messy meal at the age of 1. Practicing beforehand. And he absolutely loves this freedom. When I ask him if he would like a tissue ( towel) he dramatizes his YES, PLEASE!! If he doesn’t want to ( which is rare) I leave him be, booger and all. Just to illustrate that children are great learners even with their challenges, and they appreciate the chance to control their own discomforts.”

If you are interested in unschooling and child rights and disability please do follow Living Outside the blog, a differently abled mama with a child on the autism spectrum.

And if you are interested in the experience of people of colour and respectful parenting I want to point you in the direction of Akilah of Radical Selfie who writes for Everyday Feminism through the lens of a Black unschooling family, I began following her on Instagram a few weeks ago and what a delight! I also enjoy Darcel of the Mahogony Way – and in particular this interview with another black unschooler.

And I believe that talking about ageism (or adultism/ childism) belongs in intersectionality rhetoric
“Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.” (Geek Feminism)

You’ll notice that in that description of oppressive institutions ageism isn’t mentioned. I think it is a huge and grave omission. Children are oppressed daily by various adults in their lives. They live in a world set up for people bigger than them – the light switches are too high, the taps too far away (these may seem minor but accessibility is absolutely vital in the fight for differently-abled people’s rights) – in most countries in the world children are legally allowed to be physically assaulted.

In the very group, a feminist and social justice-parent discussion group, that described my child rights post as “trolling” they had a discussion yesterday about using gaffa tape to keep a child’s pyjamas on at night. With absolutely no acknowledgement that those pyjamas might be uncomfortable or that the child may be too hot. There is not a people group in the world, apart from the young, that a social justice minded group would collectively believe it was okay to coerce in this way.

Adult privilege must be acknowledged. Please read more here on adultism and a Day in the Life of an Adultism-Aware family and Teresa Brett on adult privilege as toxic to our parent- child relationships. 

Rights don’t trump other rights
People seemed worried that talking about child rights in the home would negate the very serious, often fatal, rights of children in developing countries. Things like child labour and FGM and trafficking are absolutely sickening violations of the rights of children that are close to my heart. I do not believe that aiming to observe child rights in our homes undermines those violations. I believe the opposite. That a full and practical discourse around child rights in more economically stable societies will impact rights every, both by raising the profile of children as fully human, and by raising a generation of people who, having not been the victims of abuses of power, will not allow that to happen systematically, globally. (Crikey, what a sentence!)

Pitching FGM against “taking things off children” (which was one of the things I pointed out we do commonly that infringe on our child’s rights) is a tactic we don’t need in a world where a team of one hundred people are planning to colonise Mars within the next decade. We have HUGE resources available to us, we are achieving IMMENSE things, why not believe that all forms of oppression are evil, and fight them all?

I also think that using the “why use your energy on this minor issue when THIS is happening in the world?” is a form of silencing, commonly used by right wingers and Daily Mail commenters.  I don’t believe in rights being exclusive in that way.

People also raised concerns that this style of parenting was mother hating. Nope. I believe it is mother loving! There is deep, profound joy in this consensual living malarkey. There is a shrugging off of “shoulds” and a general up-turn of the nose towards society’s ridiculous, imposed expectations on mothers. If parenting is seen a a partnership, between child and adult, there is less burden, not more.   Winning Parent, Winning Child by Jan Fortune is a very practical guide to how this partnership can be very unburdening. 

Finally, for the people suggesting I take the idea of a child’s right to be touched consensually too far, because I think it’s best we always ask before touching another persons body, I read this piece on Teacher Tom (marvellous blog!) about how his class of preschoolers, when given the chance to formulate the class rules came at it with this “extreme” rule; “Don’t do anything to anybody before you ask them.” Children get it. They want their body autonomy to be observed, even when there may be good intentions.

teresa brett - child rights in the home

Why do we need to talk about “child rights” and not just “be kind to your kids”

Do parents really need to read something about how they are infringing on their child’s rights? Why so intense? Why not be kinder and simply talk about kindness?

I do get this one. The last thing parents need is to feel like they are being compared to Vladimir Lenin. (On the positive side, you’d probably look pretty alright next to him yeah?)

On one hand, I haaaaaaaate the idea of putting more shit on parents. Sheesh mcneesh, some days I’m just thankful we’ve made it through the day alive. The place is a tip and all we’ve eaten is cocopops but YES WE MADE IT!

On the other hand, I believe a recognition of child rights is something we need in our homes. Almost every critical thing levied at the concept of child rights in the home was something that has been tossed about as reasons to oppress women and people of colour and the differently abled and other minorities. They aren’t intelligent, they are selfish, they don’t understand, they are physically dependent on us. In the fight for equal status for women, people of colour, the differently abled, the elderly, the rights rhetoric is the critical thing.

 In all of those cases people used to say “come on, we don’t need to talk about rights! We can just be NICER to them!” but it is only a rights framework that really brings to light the structural abuses of power that must change. It is only the implementation of those rights that has begun to change things (and we still have a long way to go on all of those institutional prejudices.)

I believe this will be the case for children too. I believe we are getting there. Robin Grille, in his brilliant book, Parenting for a Peaceful World, calls it the Child Liberation Movement. And it will be like the civil rights movement and the emancipation of women – we will eventually recognise that children are fully human and get the full quiver of rights that comes with it.

But “Don’t be an arse to your kids” simply doesn’t cut it.

Child rights-aware parenting is a Thing. It is done by lots of people! Thousands! 
I was kinda shocked how dismissive some people were of child rights in the home purely because they couldn’t imagine it working. People couldn’t visualise a life with their children without Time Outs.

You can’t naysay something just because you don’t know anyone who does it. There are so many people living this way. Talking to their newborns about picking them up, asking if they can wipe their child’s nose, giving children body autonomy and dignity and giving space for their voice.

I also wonder if people immediately put barriers up to imagining this kind of world. perhaps because we are triggered due to having been a powerless child, it is hard for us to see ourselves as adults, delivering the same kind of power dynamics upon our children. We have a bit of an internal revolt about it. (My original post should have  been far more sensitive to this idea – that many of us have been marginalised as children, and this will raise a lot of emotion, that would possibly appear as anger or disgust.)

Knowing there are thousands of people who have dealt with this inner turmoil and triggering and are now living respectfully with their children might release some naysayers to suspend that disbelief and find more out about it.

Once you decide to live in a rights-respecting way with your children there are bountiful resources to support you. There is Dr Laura Markham with her suggestions of Time Ins instead of Time Outs.  There is Joyce Fetteroll of Joyfully Rejoicing with her perfectly practical suggestions on living life with children without forcing them. There is Teresa Brett with her book and parenting course.  There is Genevieve Simperingham with her resources on Peaceful Parenting and phone consultations.

Once we deal with our huge feelings of, historical or present, internalised oppression and look at this idea of parenting this way objectively, I believe we can see that it is the logical way to a more socially just world. As Teresa Brett concludes;

“If children have not experienced what it feels like to be dehumanized, dismissed, and marginalized as children, they will not feel the need to perpetuate injustice on others as they grow more powerful in the world. If they have experienced trust, respect and mutuality as their paradigm, they will be the change our world needs.”

Wowzers.

I had a lot to say about that!

*crawls to bed*