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There’s no “cool mom” or “mean mom”

24 March, 2017

…there’s just parents who understand how the brain works, and those that don’t, yet.

Last week my husband made two cheese toasties and one of my daughters thought they were both for her- when they went on two different plates, one toastie for each kid, my daughter Lost Her Shit in the biggest way. Bigger than I’ve ever seen. An hour of violent, ear splitting shit losing. I think the trigger was the toastie, but that toastie unleashed four years of having to share every damn thing with the newest member of the family. The emotions were deep and dark and frightening for her.

For whatever reason that day, the surprise spare hour I’d found in between places I had to be or the little lie-in I’d had that morning, I was an ocean.

Immeasurably calm.

Encompassing.

Enough.

Her emotions were just one drop in the big sea of my empathy and solidarity. I held her, stopped her hurting someone, rocked her, repeated back to her the one phrase she couldn’t stop shouting.

It might feel funny to start a blog post like this, like “look, let me tell you about this one time I was amazing!” But you see, at the end of it all, I felt like I’d been through labour. (I’m sure she was just as wrecked.) I felt like I’d climbed a humongous mountain, and I’d smashed it. There was something required of me, and I’d rose to it. Honestly, without sounding like a dick, it was surprising and humbling. And I want to be able to do it more and more and more. Every. Single. Time.

I need to celebrate these moments, because littered around these mountain topping achievements are the times I snap, the times I’m grumpy all day, the times I exhaustedly reach out for a quick threat “if you call your sister baby one more time I will take away your internet!” and it is HARD work trying to change your mindset from the dominant one (parents must be in control! Children must obey! Children mustn’t steal a whole hour of your day with their meltdown!) to a more empathetic, power-sharing one (we are in this together! I am here to guide my children, to show them kindness so that they can thrive!) and we’ve got to give each other a high five when we rock it.

The truth is, it is only when I am able to keep in my head all the insights from neuroscience that I am able to rise to what is needed of me as a parent. This stuff is the gas in my tank, without this information I resort to a totally unjoyful, fearful, disconnected parenting.

(Story told with permission.)

***

This week I read the article “7 Reasons I’m a “mean mom” not a “cool mom” – all I had in my head after reading it was the phrase ‘There ARE no mean moms, or cool moms, or good moms, or bad moms (or mums!) there are simply those that have had the opportunity to learn about our children’s brains and those that haven’t.”

When I say there are parents that understand the brain and those that don’t, I’m not being patronising. I just absolutely believe that you can’t hold the information that neuroscience is bringing us and still proudly be the “mean mom.” And it’s no ones fault, so there is no judgement. I mean, it’s not as if you have a baby and someone hands you a little pamphlet about how to raise your baby according to the latest research and people are actively ignoring it. Nope. The opposite is true – you have a baby and the majority of people; health visitors, family members, mainstream media, actually give you advice that is the very OPPOSITE of what recent studies are telling us. I guess this is because society churns along smoothly if everyone just does what has always been done. So I want to speak kindly, empathetically; I truly believe 99.9% of parents make their choices because they want the very best for their child. But I also want to do what I can to highlight what people are discovering about the brain and how the different ways of raising children can impact them for the rest of their life.

Also, you can have all this information about the brain and still sometimes be the mean mom, ‘cos you are having a bad day and you can’t shake the blues or you’ve run out of time and you have Cocopops stuck to the soles of your feet constantly and it is Winding You Up. ARGH! Those days happen, but you still aim to do best by your child’s brain.

But to actively CHOOSE disconnection over connection with your children – that makes me think not enough parents know this shizzle.

(Sidenote- the article claims a bit of science itself, the “fact” that nagging works. I have spent alot of time looking into this in an attempt to find the source of this claim, I’ve even emailed the researcher, and only ever get ultimately directed to the Daily Mail. Not a single scientific journal has covered this piece of research and you can’t even find the original study, or even a reference to it, apart from in the world’s most crappy pop media. Plus the claim “nagging works” goes against everything neuroscience is telling us about relationships. So can we just chuck this claim out the window?)

So let’s get in to the good stuff.7 things about the brain that you can’t unknow…

I could choose ANY number of gamechanging brain things, but these are the seven that really struck me from an event I organised last week with Ruth Beaglehole, the founder of Nonviolent Parenting.

7 facts about the brain that could transform your parenting

 

1- Our brains can flip us from rational human to grunting ape in a couple of seconds.

The brain is a mega complicated thing. (Ha, that sentence – I can hear the squeak of the chair as my neuroscientist readers squirm!!) But let’s simplify it for a sec. Humans essentially have three brains that make up their brain. Our early brain, the first brain we got, is a bit of an animal – almost purely focused on survival. Then we evolved a bit, and on our way to our higher brain, get a midbrain, a bridge between our survival brain and our rational, analytical, poetic, artistic brain. This higher brain is also where all of our ability to empathise is located.

You know the phrase “fight, flight, or freeze” – that is what happens when all of our thought process sinks back down to our survival brain. When triggered into a big emotion, or when panicked by an emergency situation, we take a dive down to this lower brain and it is common for all rational thought to leave us.

This simplified brain picture is important for a couple of reasons:

When our kids experience big emotions, trying to bring them out of it with logic (Hey, don’t worry about it! I’ll make another cheese toasty!) will commonly not work, and will commonly only make the child feel more isolated, as though you don’t understand the bigness of what she is experiencing. When your child is in their lower brain, when they are little this is often, they need you to be present, to be with them, as their survival (all their brain is thinking about!) rests on you being close.  We can also help them make the transition back to their higher brain – see number two.

But the second reason this 3 brain image is important is for our ability to parent wisely. If we are panicked by something (in a rush or external pressures) or triggered by a big emotion (something that child has said or done has pushed a button and made you see red!) where do our thoughts come from? Yep, the lower brain. We sink there and, lemme tell you, nothing good comes from there when you are parenting! That’s when we blow our top, or say something to shame or threaten, or just act like a big ridiculous chimp.

Our job as a parent is to keep pulling ourselves up from our brain’s urge to take a dive!

2- Regulation is key.

At one point during the Nonviolent Parenting Workshop, Ruth said “And this, THIS, is the work of the parent” – we all shuffled to the edge of our seats, desperate to hear the silver bullet. “The work of the parent is REGULATION.” If we focus on one thing, if we can only focus on one thing, our job is to keep ourselves regulated – in this higher brain. Because if in the face of our children’s emotions, actions and words, we can keep our empathy neurons firing (and they are ONLY in our higher brain) we will be able to provide what they need from us. (What do they need from us?? See number 6!)

Once we have entered a disregulated state, it is hard to come back from.

So actually we need to get real good at listening to our bodies and trusting the signals we are getting, the warning signs that tell us we are about to sink into disregulation.

My warning signs are a fastly beating heart, short breath. This tells me I need to tap into my Regulation ToolBox. I am an auditory regulator. So I play music and say a mantra over and over under my breath.

We are also here to help our kids understand their warning signs. There is sometimes a clue in what people do when they are in a disregulated state.

If you fight and move your body when overwhelmed, you are possibly a movement regulator and doing something physical – punching something or having bath- will help.

If you swear and scream or sigh then you may be an oral regulator and singing or chewing gum might help.

Do you pull at things, your hair or your top? You may be a touch regulator and it might help to have a stress ball or pat your pet.

If you do a death stare or need people to look at you, you may be a visual regulator and it may help to have a favourite painting you can turn to, or a book of photos to look through.

Getting our heads around what is in our own, and our child’s regulation toolbox, and knowing when we need to turn to it, can save some really shameful crap happening.

3- Everything gets wired in.

Oh, gawd, this one. Our brains are amazing. And awful. They never forget. Every word, every action, every experience gets wired in somewhere in the brain. If things happen every now and then, it still goes in there. Obviously, it changes the brain less than when things happen often. When things happens often, say your child never knows when you are gonna erupt at them, their brain will be wiring itself up to protect itself from harm, to do what it needs to do around you, and possibly others, for the rest of life.

We all shed a few tears at this revelation. And even more at the next.

4-  It is never too late.

Even though everything gets wired in, it is never too late.

Because; neuroplasticity.

Whilst everything is in there, the brain continues to rewire until the very day we die. It is ABSOLUTELY possible to change the effect we have on our children and help them wire their brains in a healthy way. It is possible, as an adult, to observe that we are wired up for insecurity or anger or distrust, and to begin the work of rewiring. I’ve mentioned this book a few times, but the book 4 Ways to Click by Amy Banks is the most excellent and readable thing I have read on neuroplasticity and relationships.

The significance of neuroplasticity is that no matter our worst parenting moments, no matter what has gone down for our kids, no matter the shame and punishment that’s been dished out, kindness can always win.7 facts about the brain that could transform your parenting

5- What goes in, comes out.

A little task for you to do in the next 5 seconds – have a think about all the things you want your child to be when they grow up. Here’s mine. My honest list:

kind
empathetic
able to connect with people
to trust herself
to love herself

Guess what?

If I want those things out, I have to put them in!  It is literally how the brain wires itself!

Lists like “Reasons I’m the Mean Mom” completely ignore this fact about the brain. People think they are doing the tough love thing in order to make their child kind.

Oh!

It s the opposite of how it works. You simply CAN’T think that raising your child with severe consequences, with anger, with micro controlling, is going to result in a kind adult.

The only way a brain learns kindness is to experience it.

The only way my child will learn to trust herself is if I trust her.

It is that simple.

6- Empathy cells grow only by our brains receiving empathy

One of the characteristics that has been really delved into in recent neuroscience is empathy. I guess that’s because people realise that if humans could be raised with more empathy our world would be a far better place to live. There has been some incredible work on empathy to show that we have empathy centres in our brains, a little hub that is added to and built up every time we receive empathy. And knocked down a little every time empathy is not given, and shame and punishment given instead.

Read more about empathy and in particular empathy blockers here. 

7- Anger is an important state.

Firstly, anger is never just anger, but unmet needs.

Dan Sigels “H.A.L.T” is helpful – is your child hungry, angry, lonely or tired? It is a good one as it recognises that needs are not just physical, but that some of our BIGGEST reactions can come from emotional needs that aren’t met.

Anger is also a good thing. The impetus to ask ourselves what is really going on, what can we change.

Anger also gives children the chance to learn – to figure our problem solving. If we try and immediately quench all anger, what do they learn?

Anger also gives us the opportunity to let our child know that we love them unconditionally, that we accept them 100%. I love this quote from Gordon Neufeild, author of the incredible, highly recommended book Hold On To Your Kids. 

“Unconditional parental love is the indespensible nutrient for the child’s healthy emotional growth. The first task is to create space in the child’s heart for the certainty that she is precisely the person the parents want and love. She does not have to do anything or be any different to earn that love – in fact, she cannot do anything, since that love cannot be won or lost…The child can be ornery, unpleasant, whiny, uncooperative, and plain rude, and the parent still lets her feel loved. Ways have to be found to convey the unacceptability of certain behaviors without making the child herself feel unaccepted. She has to be able to bring her unrest, her least likable characteristics to the parent and still receive the parent’s absolutely satisfying, security-inducing unconditional love.”

Understanding where anger comes from, what role it can play can hugely impact our response to it.

***

Eep, I feel I could go on but I have actually been writing ALL DAY!!!!!!

Just quickly though, I do want to say that everything that applies to the child applies to us too. Our brains are the same. Human Brains, y’know? They require kindness and empathy. And the best person to deliver that is us!! We must be kind to ourselves. Give ourselves a break. Forgive ourselves if we’ve flipped our lid. Be compassionate about the fact that we haven’t had this insight about the brain so have been proudly parenting meanly. And encouraging to ourselves, remembering, It Is Never Too Late!

This is my latest video – it goes into all this brain stuff PLUS it includes another 4 letter word that can really help us with our desire to parent well.

Finally, I would love to hear from you. If you have had any mountain topping moments, I would love to give you a big juicy high five. And if you found this helpful, and want to help spread these insights, why not share this article somewhere?

Parenting

Rants in the Dark (Parenting; the dark side and the dawn of change!)

16 March, 2017

Here’s something I struggle with the most as an online parent-y person:

How to share the tougher parts of motherhood without either harming my children’s dignity, undermining my family’s privacy, or making people worry for us.

But sharing the tricky stuff is such an important thing to do. It’s why I love being with Channel Mum- a team of vloggers whose very tagline is “the honest face of motherhood”- and why I LOVE the groundswell of realness happening at the moment.

I was recently sent Rants in the Dark by Emily Writes and as I’ve been reading it, watched it smash into the Number One spot in the book charts. And I’m cheering for a bunch of reasons.

Rants in the dark Emily Writes

Rants in the dark Emily Writes

Firstly, it is hilarious and I love to laugh. There is a chapter, It Has Been A Day, where I fully oinked with laughing so hard. Secondly, Emily manages to share stories from her family life without pushing the boundaries of sharing. Do you know what I mean? All that stuff above, the stuff that is so hard to do, she manages. I didn’t wince once on behalf of her kids. Some of the other well known internet people sharing the real side of their life don’t quite pull this off, there’s stuff on the internet that is gonna make their kids cry once they can read, and I think that’s a problem. Emily manages to tell the funny or tough stories without compromising her children’s dignity. Thirdly, it normalises the intense feelings of motherhood – the epic highs and the I-absolutely-suck-at-this lows.

There’s another reason I think Rants in the Dark is an important book, and that’s to do with making the work of the parent a real, valid, legitimate thing. If we want stuff to change in society, if we want better parental leave and flexi working and funding for families – policies that give parents the support they need to be the best, kindest parents they can be, we need to be clear about how central a pillar parenthood is.

Society is a community building and one of the pillars that holds the whole thing up is the way that children are raised. If that pillar is strong and protected, the whole building stays standing. When it is used as a punching bag, it gets chipped and cracked. When the pillar is forgotten about, it begins to crumble. History shows that time and again we fail to remember how the whole of society rests on this post, then someone comes along with a spray can and scrawls KEVIN WOZ HERE on it and a few years later society isn’t being held up by that central pillar but by two new hastily erected walls built out of hate and fear.

If we want a fairer, more empathetic world, we need parents to understand that their work is the Important Work and we need governments to get that raising children with care and empathy is critical for a world without war and terror.

This is why I love books about parenting, why I eat up their pages, both advisory books about child development and also the records of life with young ones like Rants in the Dark – they validate the experience of parents, carve out space, they put yellow tape around the pillar to protect it. Rants in the Dark says “all the things you are feeling are okay, parenting is a big deal, a big messy deal, but its important, let’s support each other.” It is emotional and hilarious and inspiring all at once.

There is one bit in there that made me feel a bit uncomfortable, and it is the pop at Natural Parenting. It is so far off the wall that I’m sure Emily didn’t see it as a pop, just a funny play on the Gwenyth Paltrow brand of wellness, but as I read it I thought of all the mothers I know that are big into natural health, who do spend all their earthly treasures on whole foods and quite mystical remedies, and I wondered if Emily knew she might alienate them. This would be a huge enormous shame as Emily is CLEARLY a natural parent in my interpretation of the term, ha! Someone who trusts their gut, trusts their children, sees children as 100% human and worthy of dignity and respect, validates their child’s needs and priorities attachment and connection.

I had a bit of a chat with Emily about that chapter and she says “I would be devastated if it alienated anyone, it’s only meant to be a laugh at nobody’s expense. It’s completely off the wall for that reason!”

Buy Emily’s book here at a discount with my affiliate link and we are all winners!

***GIVEAWAY***

I’m doing a giveaway of Rants in the Dark (kiwis only, I am so sorry, I will be the first to do a worldwide giveaway when this book goes global!) over on Facebook. Click here to enter!
And, just before you go, here is my latest video!

Parenting

The great Night Weaning post

28 February, 2017

I’ve been planning this night weaning article in my head for about a week and the whole thing is basically hung on song lyrics:

    • “All night long, all night! ooh! All night Loo-oo-ong.” (Matter of factly, perhaps even brightly. Breastfeeding all night long is just the way it is for some of us. Thanks Lionel)
    • “Night Weaning! Deserve a quiet night” (sung with melancholy. For when you are fed up of the nightly milk bar. Thanks REM.)
    • “Night weaning, night wea-niiiing. We know how to do it!!!!” (Beejees. This is when you still believe in yourself and your ability of getting a complete nights sleep.
    • “BOOBY BOOBY BOOBY BOOBYYYYY!!! Aaaahaaahhaaaahaaahaaaaah.”  (Your kid, in the middle of the night. Louder than Kaiser Chiefs.)
    • “Morning has broken. My boobs are broken.  Everything’s broken. Like the first bird. Which is probably broken tooooo.” (This is a hymn. These aren’t even really a bit like the words but night weaning is hard and you are more tired than the person that first ever wrote “Morning has broken like the first morning” because really, that person was tired, to write morning twice like that.)

Let’s crack on!

I haven’t really written about night weaning before. The closest I got was Weaning a Breastfeeding devotee, last year, when Juno (3) and I made an agreement to cut down the breastfeeds. Our weaning journey began with Juno giving me an ultimatum – either I give her booboo or I go to Pak N Save (NZ’s budget supermarket); she didn’t like the idea of weaning any more than I like grocery shopping. She had leverage. We found a peace though, in good conversation, and Juno asked me to “write it down” – I scrawled our agreement down on a piece of paper and put it somewhere safe.

Writing about night weaning though, jeepers, it feels like a huge, very personal, subject! My peeps, Channel Mum, have pulled together such an array of sleep stories that show just how different each family is.  However recently lots of you have asked for our story. So first off here is Ramona and Juno’s story, in video form. And then I am going to share everything I have come to believe about night weaning!

1- Firstly, just so we are all on the same page, breastfeeding all night is pretty normal. The very moment I realised that I became SO MUCH more calm about my baby’s night wakings. I was a new mum, in a bit of a stew, trying to figure everything out and the first question from everyone’s lips was “Is she sleeping through the night?” I began to feel like there was a direct correlation between her night wakings and the quality of my parenting. Huh? Babies are meant to sleep all night? So, if she isn’t, does that mean I am doing it all wrong?

Nope! No, no, nononono. I don’t understand whhhhhy people ask that question when we are DESIGNED to wake up in the night! It is healthy for babies to wake in the night! In more ancient circumstances it would have keep babies alive. These days they wake in order to get their emotional and nutritional needs met.

Once I realised that I covered my clock so I couldn’t see and keep track of my baby’s night wakings. Soon enough I just fed her in my sleep and ended up getting a pretty good sleep.

So, let’s be clear:

Breastfeeding at night is healthy and normal. 

2- The point at which you night wean will be different for every family. Some babies are happy to night wean early. Ramona night weaned at around 2 years old (not exactly early but with hindsight it feels early!) possibly because I was pregnant and my milk wasn’t flowing so abundantly. Juno wouldn’t have a BAR of night weaning until she was three. (I continued to feed them both together for some time – see breastfeeding older children together and our experience of tandem breastfeeding here.)

But, on top of your baby’s readiness, there is your readiness as a mother to consider.

If breastfeeding all night is making you feel all out of sorts and impacting your ability to be kind and empathetic in the day time, I would say it is important to consider night weaning. When you are ready, firm in your mind, it will be easier for you to night wean.

Only you can figure out if night weaning should happen now or later.  If you are feeling pressure from society or a health visitor or extended family to night wean and that’s why you want to do it, it is probably not a good reason. Jump on Facebook and search “breastfeeding older children” in order to find a group of encouraging mothers who will help you be the mother you want to be, deep down.

If you know within yourself that it is a good time to night wean, say you have to head back to work or lack of sleep is making your struggle or whatever (it’s personal!), then there are a few things that can help:

3- Validate, even in the depths of night. I am so bad in the night. My night time brain is a monster. Until I come to the surface I am quite the punitive witch! “Will you JUST settle down and be quiet!” And then I wake up a little more and am like “Oh, I can see you are upset, did you have a bad dream?”

If I was awake enough I made sure to validate both children whilst night weaning; “You are sad as you wish you could have booboo. Booboo in the morning, okay?” I think it makes a huge difference for a child to have their upset feelings validated by us – it shows we understand how important breastfeeding is to them.

4- Breastfeeding at night is providing comfort and security and connection to your child. So when you head down the road of night weaning, be prepared for higher needs in their waking hours. No one really talks about this. But it is a big deal. Have a plan that takes this into consideration. Have a lot of connection time with your kid, call on extra support so you have the time and patience to meet their needs. Get someone to cook you meals for a few days. It is a huge change for your child, plan for it like it is.

5- Don’t leave them. There is no need to do a short, sharp shock of absence. You can absolutely still night wean and be present to them. I think this is a beautiful, modern progression in what we know about night weaning. It used to be felt that mothers had to go away, or hand over night time to someone else, or let a kid cry and cry without them, in order to night wean. It’s just not the case these days. We have hundreds of stories available to us of mothers who chose to night wean and stay present and connected to their child, even through the hardness of it. Although, of course, if you have another loving care giver on hand to offer presence, cuddlesm and support than that is a winner.

6- You can still breastfeed them off to sleep. Night weaning doesn’t have to involve stopping breastfeeding anywhere near the bed which is what some gentle night weaning advice involves. You can stop feeding all night long and STILL breastfeed them to sleep. With Juno I was just really clear about the boundary. At the going-to-sleep feed I’d say – this is your last breastfeed tonight okay darling? Booboo next in the morning. And she would go to sleep on the breast and then that would be it all night.

7- Talk it through with your child. Let your child know why you are doing it, see if they have any ideas for how to make it easier. For Juno, part of the puzzle for her was me writing it down. As if it helped her have closure or something. Your child is never too young to be communicated with respectfully. It might be a tricky conversation, but you never know where these conversation end up going, and how helpful they can be for your child.

8- You don’t have to night wean in order to have someone else take over the bedtime routine. Some people night wean as they want an evening off now and then. I am going to put it out there that your child can still breastfeed to sleep alongside lots of other ways of going to sleep. When I am home Juno has breastmilk. When I am not home she has cuddles and back tickles from Tim. When she is at Grandma’s she goes to sleep with a story. It isn’t confusing to her. She gets that she can’t drink milk from these peeps.

~

I would love to hear your stories of night weaning. It can feel so immense both for mama and child. I really believe that night weaning can be done in a gentle, respectful way. Sometimes parenting is hard and we have to make calls that feel upsetting for one or both of us, but it can still be done with empathy and connection at the very heart.

Lots of love x x

Parenting

10 reasons I’m delighted my daughter cut all her hair off

19 January, 2017

My children have a very beautiful relationship with creativity. At Christmas I made some dough and got out the festive cookie cutters and before I could say Jingle Bells the girls were on the table pressing their toes into the squidgy mass with joy. We get the paints out and they carefully and lovingly dabble a bit on the paper, and a bit on their face, a bit on the paper and a bit on their hair, their bellies, their knees.

“Show me your painting Juno!”👌 (Are kids the ultimate teachers of abandoning ourselves to the moment or what?) 😆

A photo posted by Lulastic & the Hippyshake (@lulasticblog) on

Early on I learnt to bite my lip; I didn’t want them to feel controlled by my arbitrary ideas about what counts as “art” and what counts as “mess”. Who am I to judge their own creations?

Whenever we get scissors out to cut shapes or paper people, they do the same thing; a snip of the paper, a snip of their fringe, a snip of a magazine and a great big walloping chunk out of the middle of their forehead. A few weeks ago I came in and they were surrounded by felt tips, shreds of paper and hair. Ramona had cut Juno’s hair down to one inch all over. It looked amazing. In a bald-patches kinda way. And they were both utterly stoked. They had a vision for their art, hair, whatever, and they made it happen. They did a little dance together, sang a song about being hair twins.

Ramona had cut all her own hair off a short while before. Well, she cut almost all of it. She left a 15 inch long plait at the base of her neck. Technically, it’s a ratstail. Hairstyle of the rebellious teenage boy in 1992. But to Ramona it is simply “her long bit” – the bit that means she has the best of both worlds.

My children love cutting hair so much they want to share it around. My mum and dad are visiting us from the UK next month and we wrote a big list of all the things we would like to do with them while they are here. Number seven is “Give Nana a hair cut”…I just know she is going to be SO EXCITED about that!

Ha.

When my children cut their hair I usually have one reaction – to fetch them sharper scissors. No-ones got time for a haircut executed with those tiny yellow giraffe schnizzors.

You see, when my kids cut their hair, I delight in it. For me it as a chance to send an important message to my daughters.

And it’s a chance that MANY parents get. Almost every child I know has picked up a pair of scissors and had (or tried to have) a little snippitysnip or a big chunkycrunk at their hair. My sister and I did it – she chopped off one of my pigtails. One kid I know experimented with an electric razor. Jeepers. Even if your child doesn’t give themselves a jazzy new style, there is still the same opportunity whenever they visit the hairdresser.

And in every instance we are invited to share a lesson with our kids about consent and body autonomy.She cut off all her hair, and her sister's. Here's why I'm glad.

So here we go- ten reasons I am happy about my daughter cutting all her hair off:

1- It is her body. She is the boss of it. She gets to say what happens to it. Either I mean this, or I don’t. If I do mean it this involves stepping back and watching her cut all her hair into a ratstail two weeks before a family wedding – even if she has been asked to be a bridesmaid.

2- It is her body. Nobody gets a say in what she does with it. I want her to continue in this vein for her whole life; giving Zero Effs to what other people expect her to do with her hair, face, or body.

3- It is her body. She does not belong to me. No child is the possession of their parents. We are here to guide them through this tricky world, not treat them like they are ours.

4- It is her body. It is her human right to have autonomy over her body. I’m not being dramatic.Body autonomy is one of our most basic human rights and forcing a kid to have a hair cut, or not have a hair cut is a violation of that right. Everyday we can choose to not infringe on rights of children in our homes.

5- It is her body. When I stand back now and let her do what she wants with her body, she learns a lesson that will serve her for the rest of her life.

6- It is her body. My daughter’s experience of body autonomy through my response to hair cutting will form a part of her ability to say a clear no to unwelcome touch, and is a key part of protecting her from sexual abuse.

7- It is her body. My daughter is at the start of her identity journey and getting to know herself, and love herself, and expressing herself with her body is something only she can do.

8- It is her body. No one should ever force anyone to do something, or not do something, with their own body. This is one of the fundamentals of dismantling the rape culture we live in.

9- It is her body. Giving herself a haircut and not coercing or manipulating her to do something more “socially acceptable” creates a culture of consent in our home. One of the greatest wishes I have for this world my girls are growing up in, is that our rape culture will be replaced by a culture of consent.

10- One last reason; It is her body.

I have a load more reasons in my head, just so we are clear. For example, wanting to save my children from the knowledge that society judges people by their looks. If I don’t blink when they do something dramatic to their appearance whilst they are young, perhaps that will provide a buffer of sorts to the stark fact that we can be a shallow, judgemental bunch. I could also have spoken about gender stereotypes and the good message that is given when I am not precious about her long hair. I could also have made a point about how practical and unknotty short hair is- quite frankly, it is mindbogglingly amazing.

But all of these pale in significance to the one clear truth that my child’s body is her body and she can do what she wants with it.

I want my children’s relationship with their body to be like the one they have with art; expressive and loving and fully autonomous.

NEW VIDEO

(Forgive these capital letters, melodramatic titles, it’s kinda the way Youtube works… meh.)

PS- I write with almost all the privilege there is and want to recognise that body autonomy looks different for those without the same privilege. I enjoyed this article about how to support a child who needs blood tests whilst upholding their body autonomy.  I would love to hear from others, to hear of how you support your child’s body autonomy whilst not being healthy or wealthy or white.  A little while ago my children got sick with something the internet told me was an illness that impacts mostly poverty stricken households. We were in a bad space for a few different reasons and I was feeling really nervous about taking them to the Dr, with their dreaded hair and felt tip all over their bodies and this Thing. I was worried they might ask questions, dig deeper. I scrubbed up, I put on the smartest clothes I had, and put my shoulders back and acted as if I hadn’t a care in the world. It was an awful, tragic glimpse of how lucky I was that I could do that. It was one of my first insights into how privilege works, and how my privilege is related to all these parenting choices. This radical, rights-upholding, respectful parenting is being done by a huge, diverse array of parents… but we must acknowledge the role of privilege.

Parenting

An ethical Christmas gift guide for parents and children

14 December, 2016

We are celebrating Christmas with Tim’s extended family this year, and we’ve decided to do a Secret Santa pressie giving thing to take the pressure of having to buy for seventeen million people. So we all get a name and we buy for that person only. It has all been meticulously organised by my amazing sister in law, and part of it included doing a wish list so that the presents were actually valued and appreciated, rather then spending, collectively, hundreds of dollars on jokey gifts or those wire scalp massagers. (Every year!!! They are pretty lush though. In a weird way.)

I have never made a Christmas wish list as an adult. And we’ve never done them with the girls either. We’ve always just been super chill about pressies and bought for each other almost entirely from second hand shops or the local Fair Trade market.

Doing this year’s wish list made me realise that we are not normal in this regard, and that actually it is WAY better getting people stuff they actually WANT!! Especially if it is ethical in origin.

So here’s some ethical gift ideas for parents and children. This is all stuff that we have had in the past and appreciated, or stuff that we would proudly buy, and many of them link to affiliate ethical companies that I am working with, so if you click through from here I get a percentage. (Thank you so much for all your support of this blog by doing that. I feel like it is win win for all three of us, me, you and the ethical company, and I hope you feel that too, rather than any exploitative thing. I wouldn’t link to anyone I wouldn’t personally buy from, promise. Aye Carumba, sorry, enough analysis!!)

If you don’t feel the the need for any more gifts on your list, please stop reading and go and enjoy something else!! Like this rendition of Oh Holy Night. The last thing I want to do is make people hanker for something. Happiness is on the inside, not what’s in your stocking etc etc. (Unless there are birdprint leggings in that stocking. I don’t care what you say. Happiness. Harhahahaha. )Ethical gift guide

Ethical gifts for parents

1- A subscription to the Green Parent Magazine, the most amazing magazine that I write for. If you use the code LULAST they will give you £5 off – that is a whopping third off the price! Click here for that.  This gift idea is one available all over the world, not just UK.
Green Parent Subscription Discount code

2- Imagine a pair of shoes that met an intensely high standard of ethical and was completely and utterly out of this world BEAUTIFUL?! Can I introduce Po Zu? I am *so* excited at the prospect of slipping my smelly old feet into a pair of these stunners. They have men and women’s shoes, boots and sandals. And they are completely gorgeous. Also available worldwide.
ethical guide guide

3- I love the range of clothes at Spirit of Nature – many are fair trade or handmade in Britain. I can’t get over these BIRD PRINT LEGGINGS – HELLO! – and this poppy dress. Too beautiful.bird print leggings ethical gift guideethical gift guide

4- When Tim did his Christmas Wish List he wrote “Socks”…
ethical gift guide

Behold the most beautiful collection of ethical socks! Buy them all!

5- You can’t beat a nice pampery lot of body stuff either aye? There is a great mens’s range at Green People. See all the goodies in here.

ethical gift guide for men

6- Make Up, sweet Make Up. This here is the tinted Burt’s Bees lippy which I have worn since forever and LOVE. But there is also an enormous range of eye popping red colours, and smouldery eye shizzle and foundation and it is all cruelty free, often organic and often free from the harshest chemicals. Check it all out here.

ethical gif guide

7 – LOOK. Organic clutch. And all the clutches on there. Oh my golly.ethical gift guide

8- You can’t go wrong with a brilliant book, can you? The non fiction I absolutely loved reading this year includes Holly McNish’s Nobody Told Me, Naomi Wolf’s Vagina, Bloom’s Endorphin Effect and Amy Bank’s Four Ways to Click. I recommend them all HIGHLY! I might not agree with every single word, but they all gave me an awful lot to think about and improved my life in a number of ways. (That’s a whole other post, I think!)

Ethical gifts for children

9 – I love the stuff from Green Science – like this solar plane! Amazing.ethical gift guide

10 – Ramona is so into organs at the moment. This week Tim went to the butcher and asked for an eyeball. “Why?” said the butcher “for my daughter. she just, you know, wants an eyeball.” They bought home two pig eyeballs. First she put it in her mouth to see what it felt like. Then she drew it. Then she dissected it.

In lieu of this hands on experience, perhaps a Human Organs science kit would suffice?! Ha.
ethical gift guide

11 – This cute little farm made out of recycled plastic. I love this toy brand for doing this. I love them. I really do.  It is such a great effort when humankind has such a problem with plastic. Ugh. Click here for this.ethical gift guide

12 – Gorgeous sustainable balance bike. In my experience balance bikes are the IDEAL vehicle for non biking kids. They can whip along with the big kids and have so much fun. There is a big range of colours here.
ethical gift guide

13 – In my list of non-toy great gift ideas for kids I mention how much someone enjoyed getting a green house when they were a kid, and then her Grandad taught her how to grow veggies. How amazing is that? Well, here is a little mini green house plus all you need to get your own seedlings on the go.
ethical gift guide

14- One of the books I think should be on every family’s shelf is A is for Activist. Such a great way to introduce important world changing social movement vocabulary to our children! You can get it here.
ethical gift guide

15 – Here is something. My children LOVE nail polish. I don’t wear it and to be honest wouldn’t want to draw attention to my worried-down nails. In an ideal world I wouldn’t have it in this household where we try and monitor our use of unhealthy chemicals and minimise the emphasis we put on beautifying our bodies, but alas and alack my children can not get enough.  So I am super stoked to find this selection of nail polishes that are cruelty free, and free from the harshest chemicals. Click here to check them out.
ethical gift guide

So there we go.

My theory is that Christmas is all about love, so if we can buy stuff that shows we care for the people who get the gift AND the people that made the gift AND for the planet then we are doing really well!! 

Would love to hear what is on your list x x

Parenting

20 Ways to a Better Bedtime

29 November, 2016

There is a huge amount of myth and mysticism surrounding bedtime and children’s sleep. For eight long months I kept up a rigid set of bedtime routines with my first daughter Ramona based on other people’s opinions dressed up as sleep science. They were depressing and anxious times. Then I had a set of revelations – mostly involving the idea that it is actually not my job to make my children sleep. (Read more about the changes in my approach that led to happier sleep for my daughter.)

From a pretty cursory look this morning it seems as if an enormous amount of the information we have on children’s bedtime is based on studies done with people who are experiencing serious sleep disorders. This is pretty sad news for our children. It is a mistake to take tips on life from those experiencing the very sharp edge of it.

An example of this is the idea that if we get bedtime wrong, ie, wait until the child is sleepy, this will then make them overtired, which will then release cortisol into their system, making it impossible for them to go to sleep.

Is this fact or myth? I know that sometimes my older child does seem to get a bit wired before bedtime, and then takes a while to go to sleep. It may happen a couple of times a month. I could interpret this as us “failing” because we let her choose her own bedtime. Or I could just see it as part of her learning about her body, her body’s cues and her body’s response.

Many children around the world are given freedom around their bedtime and they get it right, for themselves, 90% of the time. Recognising their sleepiness and asking to go to bed. They do not head into cortisol zone (as even the most gentle of parenting advocates suggest they will).

If we are so concerned about the release of stress hormones at bedtime, why isn’t there more talk of making bedtime a pleasant, connecting time, when children can trust that their parents will continue to meet their needs? As opposed to suggesting that once in their bed there shall be no play, no talk, no more drinks or food (basic needs!) – all of this could release cortisol and adrenalin, every single night. (I love Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s work most of the time, but beleive she has disregarded the importance of child rights in the home in these articles on sleep.)

What if the “playing up” so commonly spoken of at bedtime is because our children are not tired enough for bed? Or because they feel worked up because they are heading into the one time in the day where their parent’s stop meeting their needs? Where their fears are not validated, their worries not given chance to be worked out?

What is our aim at bedtime? To make sure our child gets enough sleep? Or to stay connected to our child, to nurture our relationship with them?

In an ideal world it would be both, of course. If any part of your bedtime routine is causing a disconnect with your child, then it needs to be tackled. And I see so often, in conversation, in magazine articles, in gentle parenting forums, that bedtime is always a battle of wills.

This post absolutely isn’t about making anyone feel guilty, and there’s absolutely no judgement. I recognise that everybody’s bedtime is different and each family has unique needs that i could never possibly understand. This is no “my way is the way” kind of post! I Twenty Ideas for a better bedtime

I simply want to advocate that bedtime becomes a place of connection, rather than power struggles.

As I tried to pull my thoughts together about children’s sleep I realised that bedtime is one area where we don’t trust our instincts. We don’t apply the same respectful or gentle principles to bedtime as we do to the rest of the day/ our child’s behaviour.

I guess that is because we are afraid. We’ve heard so much about the cortisol and overtired thing. We’ve heard that all childhood problems come down to a lack of sleep (or screentime! Hehe.) and that not getting bedtime right leads to a life long set of troubles.

Considering there are *so* many sleep issues with my generation, and the older generations, who likely had VERY strict boundaries around bedtime, I think this is a load of BS.

Now I don’t have the answers. We live in an unschooling bubble where our kids can fully yield to their own natural sleep rhythms because we don’t have a schedule to stick to. In many ways this counts me out of having advice for all parents!

*IE. NEW VIDEO ON WHY WE GAVE UP BEDTIME*

This way may not work for you, I totally get that!

But I do want to start a conversation on it, where people from a range of situations can ask themselves, and answer (here, in the comments, if you can) these questions. These are four questions that I beleive if they were asked by parents and parenting gurus, would help make bedtime better for children:


What does bedtime look like for children where:
1- keeping the connection between parent and child is an utmost priority
2- letting our children tune in to their body’s needs and respond to it is a priority
3- a child’s rights are observed (i.e – not coerced to do something with their body that they don’t want to do)
4- a child’s needs are met (i.e – they aren’t forced to go without connection, to face fears of the dark alone, forced to forgo food and drink)

I’m going to share my ideas on that, in the hope that you will share yours, particularly if you come from a very different place.

So what does it look like? I think there is a lot of talking and playing in the hour before sleep. It is one of the key moments in the day, an hour where children get to process the days events and get to connect with mum and dad / mum/ mum and mum/ dad and dad (you get me.) There is plenty of discussion around a child’s feelings of tiredness and the parent’s opinion of how much sleep they need. The child gets to taste the freedom of choosing a later bedtime, and possibly suffering the consequences – say having to get up when they are not ready. They are encouraged to do something nice in their bed, so they want to be there rather than forced to be there, such as audio books. They have supper before bed and a water bottle by their bed. Their parent stays with them, reading a novel or listening to podcasts until they feel safe.

Those are some ideas of mine. Dashed out as a quick response to my questions. (Our own home is actually far more liberal than this. We tend to all rock into bed within an hour of each other, quite late, my husband is out like a light and Ramona pokes him awake to keep reading her story and I breastfeed Juno and then I read for another couple of hours. And, don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a bed of roses. Sometimes we have grumpy evenings but by and large it is a time of connection.)

I would love to hear your ideas. I beleive we can carve out a new vision of bedtime for our children.

I do actually want to be helpful though, rather than giving a list of questions! So here are some of the ways I think we can build a better sleep environment at bedtime.

Many of these are based on the idea that, rather than bedtime needing to be a somber affair, laughter and active play are actually vital for helping a child move through the day’s anxiety. What if daddy’s instinct to wrestle with the kids on the bed before storytime is actually a sound one? There is evidence to suggest it is really important.

Processing anxiety before bedtime through play
Roughhousing or wrestling on the bed is a great way of helping kids work through feelings of powerless leftover from the day. (Can’t recommend the book The Art of Roughhousing enough!)
A game of freeplay, where your children direct who you are, what your role is, what happens. Just go with the flow and observe what they might be trying to work through. This is another way that children process what has gone on for them. (Read more about this in the book Playful Parenting.)

Processing anxiety before bedtime through talking
Have a sharing circle. Light a candle and each family member answers the questions
What was your worst part of the day?
Favourite part of the day?
Something you are thankful for.

Play something one to one – in my experience my six year old opens up far more when we are playing something together, either a card game or one of her ipad games.

Meditation at bedtime

One beautiful way Ramona and I have discovered is using a meditation. It was suggested by Tim’s Uncle and Ramona loves it. She lies down and closes here eyes. I describe a butterfly landing on her nose and waiting there a while, and then it moved onto all the different points of her body and each time it lands she feels warmth and joy and heaviness spread through. We go real slow, with big pauses, and by the time I am at her toes her whole body has sunk in to the mattress and she is fast asleep.

If you aren’t confident to lead a meditation yourself check out the many available online.

Unpacking the day rituals

We all know the bedtime stories and the bedtime bath and they are great for some kids. But other’s might enjoy something more hands on, or something different from day to day.

We try and keep up a nature table for each of the seasons. How about placing the treasures you’ve found from the day onto the table and talking about how they make you feel? (We would do this if we were more on to it!)

How about using some worry dolls together? To pass on to each tiny figure some of the problems of the day?

Creative rituals for bedtime

One reason I enjoy my children’s later bedtimes (between 8:30 – 9:45pm) is because there seems to be some sort of magical creative zone that happens after dinner. They begin crafting up and making these wonderful worlds with their colouring pens or lego or whatever. Something feels different about it.

Sing songs together – ask the kids to make up the lyrics

Work on a watercolour painting together

Make some paper dolls and treat them like worry dolls, ask the kids to colour or draw in each of their worries on a doll.

A lovely way for children to transition to sleep is using music. You possibly already have a cd that gets them sleepy – utilise it! Or have a look for some music especially made to help children relax. (Ideas welcome, please!)

Dream Talk Bedtime
I used to absolutely hate going to bed. I’m sure it is because my natural rhythm is a late one. My ideal sleeping hours are 11pm to 8am. And I think even when I was a kid I was a night owl. But my favourite bedtime was the one where my mum used to lay with me and describe the dreams I could have. She’d depict me doing something awesome, like going to the funfair, and I would go to sleep with these images in my mind.

Letting go of the bad parts of the evening/ bedtime
Kid’s don’t need a daily bath. My children love them so it’s all good. But so many parents cling to the nightly bath even though their children hate it.
Forget the homework. If it is making a kid anxious don’t force it. There is an emerging body of evidence against it.
Sometimes bedtime has become such a battle of wills that even just starting the bedtime routine causes a kid to be thrown into anxiety. Press the rest button. Go for a long walk together in the evening and then come back and do one of the above little rituals.

Making sure the body gets what it needs at bedtime
Magnesium helps us sleep. That’s pretty much a fact. Do your kids have enough of it? Take either through food, an epsom salts bath or a supplement.
It’s also suggested that a spoon of honey helps us sleep. The jury is more out on that one, but why not? So much other good shizz in a spoon of honey too!
Even wackier is the idea of banana water. Ha. Hard to write that without a little giggle, but *so* many people reckon that boiling a banana and drinking the potassium and magnesium filled tea helps you drop like a stone.

As ever would LOVE to hear your suggestions for alternative ways to make bedtime easier. I will add them in to the post so it can become a truly helpful resource.