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Keeping it real

30 July, 2015

Isn’t the internet a strange old beast? I am, personally, in love with it. We are lovers. I’d like to cover it in Nutella and lick it. We are having an intense tryst at the moment because: UNLIMITED WIFI HERE IN THE UK! YEAH BABY!  After 18 months of being in an internet-less yurt in New Zealand, we are sucking the life out of all the wwws over here.

But how much does it skew everyone’s perception of what is real? I mean. What family life is like, how exhausting parenthood is, how hard it is to just recycle the little boxes that the takeaway you’ve resorted to came in?

Everything is a showreel. Facebook and Instagram – white, white, walls and children not wearing their pyjamas. Even when I livestream on periscope I tilt the camera so you can’t see the morning’s cereal bowls with the crunchy nut cornflakes that haven’t been crunchy for hours. Not very many people are upfront about the shitty bits, eh?

I wonder if this blog lately has been a bit like that “oh we are going on a big trip! Having a lovely time in Thailand with the baby elephants! We are REALLY respecting our children’s rights! Now we are in London and we have shiny hair that is really growing fast thanks to this nice brush!”

A lovely family walk amongst the nature no stress here folks move right along

A lovely family walk amongst the nature no stress here folks move right along

When I post a blog, I usually am feeling all the happies. I tend not to be very public with my woes, ever. (I’m British.) And I don’t like to talk about difficulties my kids are facing with people on the internet. My blog isn’t a facade at all, I don’t mean to give a false impression – I just wouldn’t flip open my laptop if I was feeling really mega bummed about something.

So I’m making a concerted effort to do that right now… because right now we are having some HARD days.

We watched the new Pixar movie, Inside Out, yesterday because we happen to be in Peckham, home to the legendary Peckham Plex where every film is a fiver all day every day. Yeah the carpet is so sticky that it pulled my sandal off and yeah there tends to be a culture of shouting at the screen but a fiver is well cheap.

I was almost on the cusp of tears the whole time. Thinking about how all the change we have brought on to our family in the last 18 months and how that must be so epically intense for our children to deal with.

And they are really dealing with it right now.

(At least I think that is what is going on. I think it’s the change. We’ll never know unless we can get Pixar involved to take a peep in our kid’s head… that’s how it works right?)

It is emotion central round here. The epicenter of rage and the source of all tears. We are every slammed door and every overthrown chair.

And then there’s the children.

(Jokes… I’m too lazy to overthrow a chair.) Me and Tim seem to take it in turns over who gets to run away from the sadness and shut ourselves in the toilet.

All the emotions are triggering things in us and we are trying to figure out what we need and how to get it whilst helping our children meet theirs and not really feeling like we are doing that very well at all.

On days like this, parenting this way doesn’t seem like the path to harmony one bit. There are little shivers of doubt and a sense that families who Put Their Foot Down probably never have bad days.

We are all just on. the. verge. All day. (And all night.)

It takes a village to raise a child, eh? And I guess we have left ours for a few months, and we are sort of popping in to our old one and our kids don’t remember the neighbours and the friendly village dog that used to lick their knees now seems like a strange menace.  And did a poo right by the swings.

All the normal things have gone, the daily rituals and things we could all rely on and yes, there is lots of fun and joy involved, but we are floundering a bit. The framework on which we hang our lives is back on a parcel of land in New Zealand and we are just bumping along from thing to thing. (I like to think we carry this framework around with us, in our family culture but I’ve totally misplaced it. It’s probably somewhere in my hand bag with my sunglasses, a mouldy sock, a half eaten apple, a small furry penguin, a few of those orange things that kinder egg toys come in, two Frubes and a mooncup but gosh darn I can’t find iiiiiiiiittttttt…)

In between little (freezing) picnics catching up with old friends we are rampaging drama queens; moody and explosive.

One of us needs to take a chill pill and it should probably be me… have any? *hopeful*

If I was updating Instagram today there would be a picture of me hiding under the covers with a book while Juno tries to put a toy screwdriver into my ears brrrrrrrrr and Ramona will be yelling for someone to play tag with her for the fifty billionth time and Tim will be asking if we are bringing our children up all wrong.

So… no feedback needed. I just wanted to make it very, very clear that our life isn’t some romantical, respectful, nomadic dream. We are trying, really trying, to embrace joy and freedom but some days… some days are just shit.

Activism, Featured, Parenting

10 habits that infringe on Rights of Children (and how to change them)

14 July, 2015

Do you dream of a fairer world, a cherished earth, a more peaceful community? And do you interact with children? As a parent or teacher or aunty or kind member of the public?

Nuzzle in, you. This post has your very name on it.

A few years ago, during my Masters at LSE, I spent three months studying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child under the tireless child rights advocate, Peter Townsend. The course was heavy but inspiring and I vowed to work on child rights for the rest of my life.

I went on to work for Oxfam as a campaigner, and imagined I would end up working on the rights of children through social policy.

And it would be easy to see me now, sitting in my pyjamas drinking tea, and wonder what happened to that vow.

But in actual fact,when it comes to human rights and social change, I feel as powerful in my role as a parent as I did as a campaigner.

When we studied the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) we covered poverty, child labour, hunger, trafficking, homelessness, but we didn’t ever look at the home and family life.

I’ve come to believe that the UNCRC can inspire us to observe children’s rights as parents and teachers and neighbours, and that this in turn this will lead to societal change that makes all those huge, global issues, much less likely to occur.  And, if we can raise a generation who have had their rights observed, the impact on global social justice will be boundless. 

Unicef say “The Convention changed the way children are viewed and treated – i.e., as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity.”

Unicef is slightly optimistic when it uses past tense here  – I think we are in the process of changing our view on children, but things haven’t quite got there yet. This post is going to take 10 everyday, simple habits that impede children’s rights, and consider a way to change them.

I did begin by going through the Convention, article by article, and pulling out the relevant bits – freedom to express views (article 12) and to impart information and ideas (article 13) and the right to dignity (article 23) but it got almost as heavy as my Masters, so I stopped that.

Instead, the guiding principles of the Convention, cover most bases:

All rights apply to all children without exception.

  • It is the State’s obligation to protect children from any form of discrimination and to take positive action to promote their rights.

  • All actions concerning the child shall take full account of his or her best interests. The State shall provide the child with adequate care when parents, or others charged with that responsibility, fail to do so.

  • Every child has the inherent right to life, and the State has an obligation to ensure the child’s survival and development.

  •  The child has the right to express his or her opinion freely and to have that opinion taken into account in any matter or procedure affecting the child.

And actually, these guiding principles can be distilled even further, I reckon. I think most adults have a good sense of what their rights are, and when their rights are being abused or repressed. This means that it might be helpful to think about upholding child rights simply by asking the question “how would I hope to be treated in this situation?” 

Here are ten things lovers of human rights and warriors of social justice do regularly to impede the rights of children.  We can break habits, and form new ones, humans are amazing like that. Let’s do this….Habits that impede rights of child in the home (and how to change them)

1 – Taking things off children. We do it in the name of safety sometimes; snatch scissors from a toddler or a phone from a baby. Sometimes we just do it absentmindedly- we want something they have, so we just take it. This act is discriminatory – excluding children from using something that they would like to.

What to do instead: Even with the very smallest child we can ask for something back, and explain why we would like it. If we are patient, and allow them to fully process the request (for young children this can take longer than you think!) with our hand out, it is highly likely that they will return it. We can explain things to children just as we do other adults.

We can also question our motivation for taking it – is it really unsafe for a toddler to use sharp things? I don’t believe so. At all. Juno has been picking up knives with our supervision since she could first handle any items. She has learnt to use sharp things very carefully as a result. Being committed to child rights means questioning a lot of assumptions we have about our children’s abilities!

2 – Talking about children in front of them. “Ah, yeah Ramona, woke up so early this morning!” – it is such a seemingly harmless conversation to have, sharing stories about our children while they are there. But would we EVER do this to an adult? Can you even imagine it? Being in a room with a friend, discussing the toilet habits / sleeping problems/ hilarious anecdote about another friend sitting next to you? It doesn’t protect dignity and privacy and you can stop it!

What to do instead: Weigh up the reasons for sharing that anecdote. If you need advice or support, consider sharing it in private, away from your children. But you can also ask your child, if they are there, if they mind you sharing a story. Or, you can include your child in it “Oh, Ramona, you woke up early this morning didn’t you – were you super keen to get up?” – involve them in the conversation as we would an adult.  This goes even for the tiniest baby. Defend your newborns dignity and it will be a parental habit formed for their whole life.

3 – Laughing at children.  Children can be hilarious, sometimes in a purposeful way – laugh right along to their jokes. But they are also funny sometimes in an intriguing, surprising way – and I’d you to consider not laughing at children. Sometimes, adults  find it hard not to smirk, to catch each others eyes and laugh at our children as they go about their lives. Just yesterday Ramona said “Don’t laugh at me, mum!” when I had giggled at something in a kind hearted way. It pulled me up short – even our loving chuckles as they fumble a word infringe on their personhood. I love laughter and joyfulness – it has to be up to you to discern whether your laughter fits with the idea of your child as a rights bearer.

What to do instead: Consider things from their point of view . It is tough not being able to reach things you need, learning all the unwritten rules of society, figuring out who you are. The very last thing they need is “kind hearted” adults giggling along. Dwell on this and it should help you hold it together when you want to snort-in-love.

4 – Picking babies up We get rights all mixed up on this one – we think it is our right to pick up our baby. Well, erm, your baby isn’t really, exactly, yours, you see. You don’t own her. She is not a possession. She is a person. With her own body.

Or we think we are helping when we pick up another child when they’ve fallen or  a baby when they are crying. Would you like a stranger to come up to you and pick you up? Nope. It’s the same. It is.

What to do instead: The alternative isn’t not picking babies up. Babies love to be in arms, it is one of the biggest ways babies and adults connect. PICK UP BABIES! But, do what you would like to be done to you: ASK THEM! Yep, even a newborn. If babies are spoken to this way they soon respond. The “I’m going to pick you up now” spoken to a baby soon becomes “Can I give you a cuddle?” to a young child. This practice of consent from birth could change the world. 

5 – Wiping children’s noses Sometimes we do things to kids in the name of health and hygiene. Sweeping in to wipe their nose for example – I used to pride myself on a swipe that came from behind Ramona’s head, cleared all snot that wouldn’t interfere with her play time.  Yep: stepping all over her right to influence decisions that affect her.

What to do instead: Say “I see you have a wet nose, can I wipe it for you, or would you like to wipe it yourself? and then wait.  It was Pennie Brownlee that opened my eyes to the possibility that most children, if given the option to not have a huge slimeball of snot dripping into their mouth would take it! Same goes with dirty nappies- in a respectful relationship, giving the child the option to come and get their nose wiped or their nappy changed, and given time to process it, is likely to result in them coming over for a wipe/ change themselves.

6 – Deciding things without their input “Right! We are off! Let’s go, COME ON!”  The amount of times I have seen parents suddenly decide it is time to leave the park and expect their children with no warning to come right along happily! We plan our days, our holidays, our visits, our lunches, our leaving times, every thing with very little input from our children because we think we know best. And it is a complete flouting of their human right to have a say in things that impact them.

What to do instead: Give them an opportunity to influence plans. This grows with the child; they are VERY good at letting people know when they are ready to have a say! It might start with a two year old choosing what friends to have a playdate with, and then can grow into a four year old helping the family decide where to go on holiday. Contrary to what people may think, having children as fully fledged decision makers is not a burden – it is a great joy, and it leads to a far, far more harmonious family life. 

7 – Photographing (and sharing) them without permission This one that really challenges me, and I have been on quite a journey with it. (In fact, you can see that my Instagram pictures are far less frequent as I try and do this 100% consensually.  When we are snap happy and post these photos publically we are in danger of disregarding children’s right to privacy. And don’t get me started on when we use those photos to publically shame our children… *ragey face*

What to do instead I do have a couple of friends who have sworn never to post anything about their children online ever…. I, erm, am clearly not there! I simply ask their permission to take a photo, and then ask them if I can share it online.Habits that impede rights of child in the home (and how to change them)

8 – Putting children in Time Out Yeah baby I’m calling it! Time Out is a Human Right’s Abuse! Putting a child on a step and not letting them move does not allow our children to experience the right to be a full participant of the community, it erodes their dignity and suppresses their right to have a say in things that are important to them. It just shuts things down according to an adult’s, often quite arbitrary, rules.

What to do instead  In our family, we generally feel that if a hiccup has occurred, it is because the child needs MORE connection, not less. Not to be excluded from our love, but to be encompassed in it.  So we go for something that is highly connecting. Some families however, might have found Time Out to be helpful in cultivating a thinking space.  If you like rules and things, you could consider coming up with rules that EVERYONE agrees with, and then coming up with the matching consequence. A family guide book by consensus – whole schools are run on this principle. (Personally, we go for less rules, more connection.)

9 – Telling them to stop crying It is hard to hear our children crying, either because we are sad for them, or triggered by them, or because we think its not worthy of tears. We “Shush” our babies and say “Don’t be silly, cheer up” to our kids. It’s probably not surprising to hear but: every child has the right to cry, to feel things, and to express their feelings as they wish. (Even if it was because their nutella wrap got torn in two.)

What to do instead: The HuffPost recently published a great article about how accepting feelings is the last frontier in parenting. But it doesn’t have to be a huge one to change. Firstly, if we are being triggered, we need to deal with that.  And then we need to cultivate the practice of validation. “I hear you.” “You are upset”. “You wanted that.”  “It sounds like you are feeling sad.” These words of validation, of letting your child express themselves, becomes second nature when faced with tears.

10 – Telling them what to wear. I would LOVE to have kids that wear cool retro style, ironically sloganned tee shirts with perfect pineaple print shorts. Instead, Ramona and Juno tend to opt for either fourth hand pilled fleecey onesies, bright pink tutus or nothing at all. But, it is more important to me that they know they are in charge of their clothes and their body and things that effect them. Their bodies, their choice, right?

What to do instead: Create more time in the mornings for them to choose their own clothes – with support if needed, particularly at the start. And mostly stop having an opinion on what you think they should wear. It is minutiae that doesn’t impact you in the least (as far as I can see) but very much impacts a child’s perception of himself in the world.

Supporting child rights doesn’t have to mean throwing things we know to be good out the window- but we do need to make the rights of children the framework for which we hang our family life on. 

I think there are quite a lot more – for example, not forcing them to eat certain things, not forcing them to kiss or cuddle. But I feel like this list of ten is a good starting point – possibly the easiest to change. Do you have any that you are working on at the moment?

And also, before I sign off, I want to disclose fully that I am not able to say “I am a true upholder of child rights!” – some days I am great at it, and other times my only aim is to try and stay sane.  But I have absolutely seen my own child rights record improve by being committed to working on these everyday interactions between myself and the children in my life.

I want to live in a world where everyone can experience human rights – and I believe this world is being built not only in UN offices but also within kitchens, playgrounds, schools. Places where children play, where they have their rights observed. Where adults change ingrained habits and children take their place as fully human, with all the rights attached.

A fairer world begins in the home! 

This is part of my slow burning Parenting for Social Justice series. Read all about Non Violent Communication for Parents here and pop your email address down here to make sure you don’t miss another post. 

Featured, Parenting

What makes us explode? Parenting Triggers and the Mother’s Wound

7 July, 2015

I realised last month that I was jealous of my four year old daughter.

Not her clothes – she wears My Little Pony pyjamas most days and whilst they are comfty my look is more vintage, y’know?

Not her running skills- she is fast, but I’d crush her in a race for sure. (Not that we do winning as such, our new motto is “If you had fun you WON!”) But I’d definitely come first.

Not her hair – she is growing it long, but is very anti-brush, so it mostly hangs in a big dreadlock. Clump-chic.

This is what I’m jealous of:

I am jealous of the way she is fully able to be 100% herself. I am jealous of the way she expresses her massive emotions with her whole body and voice and every drop of energy. I am jealous of the freedom in which she occupies her place in the world.

It’s a huge word, jealousy.

It doesn’t mark our relationship in a big way. Not like how I was jealous of my best friend when I was 14 for getting to go out with the boy we had both fancied for two years. We used to have competitions about how much we fancied him; “I love him so much I would steal one of his sweaty socks and sleep with it on my pillow” and I’d say “Well I would eat his bogies!” and now she is his GIRLFRIEND? I was consumed with this whole body ache. I’d wake up jealous and go to sleep jealous and inbetween times think about his bogies jealously.

It’s not like that with my daughter.

We are deeply connected, we shower each other in kisses, we laugh until we cry, we play hard.

But every so often, when I am analysing the moment that I exploded into a shout after asking her to stop doing something 7 gazillion times, I discover that the blast came out of this deep place rooted in my childhood.

Here’s a list of the sorts of things that, once or twice a month, will give rise to a deep bubble of anger in my belly:

  • The zip on my dress being undone 8 times a day
  • Bouncing on Grandma’s bed
  • Bouncing on our bed whilst I’m trying to get Juno to nap
  • Insisting on changing her outfit for the 7th time before 9am as we’re about to leave
  • Refusing to move out of her seat after the aeroplane has landed
  • Emptying a whole jar of my homemade sunscreen into the sink
  • Crunching on a load of vitamin Cs when she usually helps herself to one
  • Needing to take all her clothes off to go to the toilet, in a public loo

Now nearly all of these are wholly natural, fully understandable urges – irresistible things kids are almost created to want to do. I love urges, I love creating space for them to happen. Furthermore, a lot of these things are a child’s RIGHT. It is her right to change her clothes, to take them off, to stay sitting when I want her to stay. And you know how I love children’s rights.

So I am pretty generally okay at just sitting back and not getting cross and creating space and getting joy out of their joy when all these things happen. Not a drop of annoyance in sight – just pleasure in connection, or curiosity about the way she has chosen to connect. Like, with my zip.
I'm jealous of my daughter! Healing the mother woundBut sometimes I’m not. Every so often my rational mind that loves urges and rights just leaves me hanging and my stomach fells with the big balloon of fury. And a lot of the time I can breathe and deal with it and then sometimes I just. get. mad.

And I am beginning to realise that this is the four year old Lucy, inside, saying HEY WHAAAAT?!  THATS SO NOT FAIR I NEVER GOT TO MAKE A POTION OUT OF SUNCREAM OR JUMP ON THE BEDS OR BE MY FULL EXUBERANT SELF…

(I was a bit precocious as a kid. Well read. I probably would have said exuberant.)

Teresa Brett, author of Parenting for Social Change, calls these “parenting triggers”. We can also get triggered when we are faced with a child’s experiences that remind us of something that happened to us as a kid. For example, when I see another kid being cruel to Ramona? My little inner 4 years wants to bust out yelling NO! YOU ARE THE POO AROUND HERE THANKS VERY MUCH! A BIG SMELLY POO HEAD! My inner 4 year old is totally unreasonable.

Last year Robin Grille came to New Zealand and he did a fantastic talk about emotional memory. (I write about emotional memory in our children, and as parents, here.) He advised us to look in with one eye, and out with another. Because unless we deal with emotional baggage from our own childhood we won’t be able to support our children with their own emotions.

At the heart of people not being able to cope with a child’s loud noises, their huge will and determination, their sheer physicality,  there is a little wounded child, feeling a bit jealous and wishing their own childhood could have been so free and so fun.

The bloody patriarchy 

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this recently, particularly in the way mothers carry it. Because as women, we have been trying to thrive in an oppressive patriarchal culture, and must, to some extent, carry around baggage handed down through our lineage.

My friend sent me an article recently by Bethany Webster, Healing the Mother Wound, that articulated so perfectly some of my feelings. It discusses the role that living for generations upon generations within a patriarchal society can have on women, their daughters, and their daughter’s daughters, in a never ending game of pass-the-pain.

The hangover of women having to fulfil certain roles and expectations for so many years can leave us feeling like we are not quite good enough, that there is something wrong with us, that we must be a certain way to be loved, or plagued by guilt for wanting more than we have.

It gave me a how and a why for some of the deep emotions I have felt as a mother.

How I can be one minute sitting at the table doing crafts with my two girls, full of peace and joy, and the next minute battling a deep feeling of offense at how they want to push the ink pads directly on the paper, rather than using the stamps? WHY WOULD THEY WANT TO WASTE INK THIS WAY? IT DOESN’T EVEN MAKE COOL DINOSAUR SHAPES JUST BIG WET BLOBBY SQUARES. I have to sit, breathing with myself for a while, telling myself it doesn’t matter about the ink pads, they were only from the charity shop.

Webster says;

“In our society, there is no safe place for a mother to vent her rage. And so often it comes out unconsciously to one’s children. A daughter is a very potent target for a mother’s rage because the daughter has not yet had to give up her personhood for motherhood. The young daughter may remind the mother of her un-lived potential. And if the daughter feels worthy enough to reject some of the patriarchal mandates that the mother has had to swallow, then she can easily trigger that underground rage for the mother.”

Is it possible that when I see my daughters being so liberated and wild, so completely able to be themselves,  a small part of me remembers that phase in my teenage years, when I acted like an idiot, a classic bimbo, because I thought that’s how I, a pretty blond teenage girl needed to be in the world? My sister sat me down one day and said “Lucy you are intelligent. Stop pretending to be an idiot.” I did snap out of it, but I still sometimes recede into that place, perhaps to make people feel comfortable, or to like me, because somewhere along the line I’ve picked up that women need to be somewhat small. And this, eventually, is rage making. I'm jealous of my daughter! healing the mothers wound
My sister and I with our mum

I’m not happy with this rage. It isn’t fair on my daughters, for them to bear the brunt of thousands of years of gender inequality! Doesn’t that just take the mick? We’ve had the suffragette movement, women’s lib, and yet our daughter’s suffer because of a mother’s deep unhealed wounds.

The most important thing we can do as parents is acknowledge and validate our own pain, either from society, or childhood. It is a gift to become aware of how deep, untended to stuff can impact our relationship with our children.

A safe place to vent

The week I read about the Mother’s Wound I got involved in a small, very private women’s circle. A place to be honest, to acknowledge pain and rant and rave if necessary. I think it is a crucial step to dealing with these strange, unwelcome, unconscious feelings I have, a safe place to vent my rage.

Writing this has made me think of other ways to deal with emotional pain from childhood that I’ve found helpful – I thought I’d share these:

  • Finding a place to talk is so key – do you have a group you can form? Or an online place?
  • It sounds a little, er, quirky, but can you write a letter to you as a child? Address the pain you still carry.
  • Talk to yourself in the mirror. Tell yourself you are worthy of love, you are a good parent, you are kind. I recently had a very sad week, 3 things happened to me to make me question my work as a writer and general onliney person. I ended up going for a big rambly walk in the dark and began an inner monologue with someone I felt needed to trust themselves more. I began saying it over and over, like a mantra, and then realised I was talking to myself; “Trust yourself. You are a good person. Trust yourself.” It was really healing.
  • Change your brain. I know, it is like a proper insult. But it is science! Our brain acts like a muscle. With practice we can form new neural pathways. Keep doing something and you will get better. When you feel the bubble of rage, take a step back, count to ten, breath deeply, acknowledge and validate your feelings, and then address your children with love in your heart.  Eventually this will become your default. You can totally do this. You can change your shoutiness.

That best friend I had? When I was 14? She is still my best friend, two decades later. If I can get over the kind of jealousy that saw me madly eating bogies in my dreams, I am SURE I can address this subtle mother kind.

For my daughters’s sake, and my daughter’s daughters sake, I want to heal my mother wound, and show my inner 4 year old some love.

Come over to Facebook and hit like to stay connected.

Featured, Parenting, unschooling

How to start an Outdoor Play Group

12 June, 2015

I stuck my head out of our door to call the kids in for tea a few days ago. Ramona and Juno and our neighbours had been playing on the 6 foot high mud pile outside our house so I was expecting a bit of dirty wreckage…. I wasn’t expecting one of the boys to pop out of the sludgey mountain completely and utterly covered, from scalp to toe. The whites of his eyes shone out of this thick, black, magnificent dirt. They were playing mud ninjas, so, y’know… obviously. It was all I could do not to collapse in a hilarious heap. It was exhilarating to see someone so abandoned and wild and free.

And I was a weencey bit glad he was walking the 50 metres home to his own bath…

One of the things I have loved the most in our last 15 months living in New Zealand has been this sense of being nestled right amongst the mud and trees and birds. Whenever we are feeling a bit down we can just open the door and pick some fruit or climb a tree (time outdoors is one of the five best keys to happiness and we have really experienced that) and the girls are developing a whole education in the natural world. Ramona surprises me almost daily with little observations she has made about the animals that surround us, and then there’s Juno who mostly speaks Animal, with 3 or 4 perfect bird calls under her belt… amidst a tiny human vocab.

“‘Is the spring coming?’ he said. ‘What is it like?’ …
‘It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine, and things pushing up and working under the earth.’”

—Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Early last year a few of us got together and began an Outdoor Play Group – a group of parents and children that simply play in nature. It is pretty much the one thing in our week that we are committed to, every Tuesday we spend from 10-2 at our friends little slice of wilderness. It is a hugely important part of our lives, where the girls can play uninhibitedly and where I get the chance to be nurtured by time and conversation with other parents. I’ve written before about the many, many reasons to get outdoors and play in the wild. 

Here is a little video I made today about our own outdoor Play Group, Nature Space:

(It looks quite wholesome, I know, and it sort of was, with a lot of chatter about penises and poo muted out!)

I thought I’d put some ideas out there, that might help parents set up their own Outdoor Play Group. Here are 8 steps for setting up an Outdoor Play group – follow these and you could have your own group in a matter of weeks!How to set up an outdoor play group amongst nature

Check that an official Nature Play doesn’t already exist close by

Firstly check there isn’t an official Nature Play Group already in your area – you could be one of the lucky devils able to jump on board with one already rolling. Clare Caro (she is an inspiration) has developed an organisation that is leading a well supported movement of Outdoor Play groups in the UK, under the banner Nature Play. Double check this list to make sure you don’t already have one near you. If you do, find out how to get involved through Clare’s web site.

Find a team
Find two friends who are interested too. I watched a video a few years ago that has stuck with me ever since. It is about how the first guy that jumps up to dance will stay just a loner until a couple of other dancers join him – then a movement begins. (Watch it here. It’ll make you smile!) This goes for beginning pretty much anything and everything. You alone are FANTASTIC but you need two friends to build momentum. Once there are three of you, you are good to go!

  • Ask around your friendship group – you might be surprised who will commit to this with you. It is my experience that almost all parents are looking for ways to be more outdoors with their children.
  • Post on local Facebook groups or community forums- your two buddies might not be known to you yet! “Want to get outdoors with your children more? Let’s begin a regular meet up for parents and children! Looking for two team members, please call.”
  • Ask wider Facebook groups to help you with your search – the Attachment Parenting and like minded groups admins might be able to help, as an example.
  • Go offline- put little notices up in the library and at local Tots groups.

“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

—John Muir, Our National Parks

Have an open meeting
Draw on your whole community to give your Outdoor Play Group a good boost right at the start. Get people (parents, La Leche group organisers, wise people, elders, any stakeholders)  in a room to share your vision. Advertise this open meeting widely. This is a great way to pool resources, discover fresh ideas about location, and you could well end up with a list of contacts that might form your first attendees.

Location (public)
Scout for a location. The UK and New Zealand are fortunate to have lots of little woods and reserves dotted around the place, or failing that little pockets of “nature areas” within parks. Ideally you will have a little grove of trees, with a small clearing amongst it, enough space to really roam and feel a little isolated from the busyness of a city, enough peace to be able to spot birds. We are lucky to have a little stream running through our area which makes for a great amount of fun in winter and summer. A tiny pond would also be great – as would, even, a tree-less beach. Is it free from buildings and human-made structures? It’s a winner. Even if it’s a public place, being in touch with the council about your plans could be really valuable.

Location (private)
If you don’t have anywhere public try thinking about private spaces. There are privates gardens, or backyards of neighbours or stretches of land owned by trusts… get together with your team mates and start getting in touch with people.  I am sure you will be surprised how many private land owners would be delighted to step in and help provide a beautiful space for your group.

Get grounded in the principles of Outdoor Play
How hard can it be, right? Walk outside, play in the nature. Sort of. I like to think that there are some foundations for really free and beautiful parent-child time spent outdoors though. These include allowing play to be totally child – led. Giving space for children to work through challenges, and conflict. Clare has given a lot of thought to this and I massively recommend being inspired by these Nature Play Guidelines together. We introduced ukelele playing at our own Outdoor play group as a way for the adults to have fun, and to give the children more space to explore autonomously. We were finding that idle parents can spend too much time focusing on their children and almost interrupting their play.

Sort out the deets
Find a day and a time that suits your core team. We do Tuesday 10 – 2/3pm because we all make lunch and eat together. The official London South East Nature Play group do 10-12 on a Thursday. Figure out the slot that will suit you three, trying not to overlap with another local group that parents might attend,  and then let others arrange their timetable around you.

Promote it
Nothing’s really stopping you now, apart from other families joining you! Start a Facebook group and start inviting people to it, visit local tots groups and make an announcement at the end of each group, put flyers up around local venues. It can take 6 months to a year for a group like this to really build up. If there are three families committed to this you will be able to ride this bumpy first stage, as people come and go and get a feel for it. Soon enough you will be maxed out!

Hooray! Here’s to your own mud bath, river paddling, weed ripping, fire toasting Outdoor Play group!

“These people have learned not from books, but in the fields, in the wood, on the river bank. Their teachers have been the birds themselves, when they sang to them, the sun when it left a glow of crimson behind it at setting, the very trees, and wild herbs.”

―Anton Chekhov, “A Day in the Country”

Parenting, unschooling, writing, yurt life

What to do when the people you love don’t love what you do

8 June, 2015

A few months go we met up with an old family friend we hadn’t seen in yonks. We’d kept in touch, were really close and were excited about spending time together as we passed through her town. We only had her one hour lunch break so you can imagine our surprise, and sadness, that she spent almost the entire time letting us know in not-so-subtle ways that she was disappointed with what we had decided to do with our lives.

She questioned our decision to live in an unconventional dwelling, telling us our yurt wouldn’t stack up against health and safety regulations. She berated us for not using our good degrees, wondering why we had settled for such simple employment.

We knew some of our family and friends wondered about the same stuff, they’d let us know, respectfully, that they worried about our relaxed parenting style and lifestyle decisions. But we hadn’t ever been grilled for an hour, so upfront and disparagingly.

We were hurt.

But we got over it.

Because we are one hundred per cent convinced that we have made the right decisions, to give up our jobs, to move across the world, to start living in a yurt, to buy land with another family, to parent in a consensual, rights-respecting way. We have reflected hard and researched hard and then followed our hearts, and we think this is the only way to do life. We are pretty sure footed about this path we’ve settled on.

Most of the time.

Hehehe.

I had an email this week from a reader who is experiencing similar backlash about her and her partners desire to shake off the mortgage and hunker down for a more simple life. And it got me thinking about how common this is. People we care about letting us know that they don’t like our disregard for the status-quo. It got me jotting down a few thoughts.

Haters gonna hate?
When I am feeling defensive about all of this, it is easy to say “Haters gawn hate” in my most badass voice. But the truth, I know, is that these people aren’t haters. This isn’t a post about all the anonymous folk that comment on Daily Mail articles about hippies weaving a house out of the old uniforms of veterans. This post is about the lovers in our life who don’t like the way we live. Our siblings, and besties, and cousins, and parents.

They love us
And here is the thing. They love us. It is probably the main reason they tut or roll their eyes or outright berate us over lunch. It is easy to forget this when we are feeling got at. Sometimes it is hard to believe that love can ever look so reproachful. But it can. And we have to remember that.
They are scared
Why would people that love us want to criticize important decisions, especially ones that we have thought so hard about? They are scared for us. They haven’t ever seen people stray from the 9-5 working day. They worry that we will be left high and dry, age 93 without a bean to our name apart from dementia. If we come from well off families, it might look as if we are throwing off the responsibility that wealth can bring. If we come from hard – up families it might look as through we are chucking all their hard work spent raising us away.

And also sometimes they are worried because they think they have seen this before. I recently read a book that looked at the macro picture of The Sixties and it was pretty revealing about how older generations might see our lifestyle now and worry about where it is going to lead. It is easy to look back on the sixties and think, oof, all those hippies had it SUSSED! But in their shrugging off of social norms they really did shrug off a lot of good stuff, too. For example, it seems as though part of their dive into sexual freedom meant they leapt away from commitment, and even, sometimes, consent. I think the liberal, progressive days of the sixties paved the way for today- where we are able to take radical concepts and run with them- so ‘nuff respect for that- but our parent’s generation see this and think we are going to end up like the burnt out, drugged up, love crumpled hippies of the Sixties. And they are scared for us.

Reassure them
Are you able to pinpoint what people are afraid of, on your behalf? If so, you can reassure them, without having to change your decision making. This isn’t about having to explain yourselves, which can get tiresome in the extreme, but putting it out there, explicitly , that they do not have to be afraid.  Sometimes I think people are worried that we have simply “fallen” into this lifestyle, that our parenting is simply accidental laissez faire, as opposed to being a parenting style we have researched DEEPLY. They think our lack of proper jobs is to do with not asserting ourselves, of accepting something less than our full potential. Often, we don’t have to actually explain our position, we simply just need a few choice sentences that can address those deeper fears.

  • We have researched this extensively and believe this is exactly the right decision for us.
  • This is intentional, not accidental.
  • We have a plan.
  • We believe this is the way we can fulfill our full potential.
  • We are committed to our family’s safety.
  • This is the way we can achieve full mental and physical well being for all of us.
  • We have reflected upon the risks of this and are going into this with eyes wide open.

Let other people explain your thinking
We have a book that we sometimes call upon and give to people. It explains our parenting style from a philosophy which many of our family come from (Christianity.) Close family members can be very open to reading materials given to them, and this can be a much easier way of getting ideas across than through conversation. Having someone else explain something can validate it and articulate it better than our flustered, sometimes defensive, selves! This can lead to some quite open and honest conversation.
We can focus on connection
There are loads and loads of reasons Tim and I have opted to stray from the mainstream when it comes to our parenting, our children’s education, our jobs, our home and, well, you know, whole life. Some of them include “because we have given a lot of thought to the idea of schools and think that, for the most part, they stifle learning, stampede over human rights and crush a child’s spirit” also “we don’t have 9-5 jobs because the idea that you are what you earn or that we must find value in being busy, busy, busy is a load of crap” HOWEVER… we don’t tend to say this out loud to many people, y’know?

If it feels like a conversation is honestly and openly spirited, that people have authentic questions, then we are MORE than happy to have a deeper discussion about our reasons. But if it is just a quick talk, or we sense any hostility, than we try and focus on topics that are inarguable:

  • We want to spend this quality time with our children while they are young
  • We want to spend loads of time outdoors, enjoying nature
  • We want our children to experience as much love as humanly possible
  • We have plenty of time later on, if we want, to be more ambitious
  • Children are natural born learners and we want to provide as much chance for them to follow that up as possible

These are the kind of sentences that we think provide a way to connect. They are likely to get people thinking, ah, yeah, I can get on board with that idea. (For the most part, we just say the first one, over and over again, on a loop,  like a politician on the radio, exercising the media training they’ve been given.)

Your life fits you alone
And then, when all is said and done, you are the one living your life. Only you and your family know the right decisions for you. There very much comes a point when we need to stand tall, with our feet on the foundation of our good decision making! We have researched, reflected, looked inside our hearts and out, and we are living the life that fits us alone!

There is a beautiful quote, a slightly less street way of saying “Haters gonna hate” about how an entire sea of water can’t sink the ship, unless it is allowed in. Lulastic parenting lidestyle blog New Zealand

What is going to help you batten down the hatches? To seal up the portholes and fill in the cracks?

I feel at my least vulnerable, and least defensive, and least likely to let a dribble of water into our ship when I have these things:

  • A tribe. A group of people who think like us! Who make our parenting look normal, our yurt look awesome, and our lack of office jobs look ideal. At various times in our lives this has looked like online forums, regular attachment parenting meet ups, bi-annual unschooling camps, even moving to a place where questioning the status quo is a healthy normal. (Here in the Coromandel, New Zealand, living an eco, sustainable, progressive life is very common and it was a big reason we chose to move here.) Come on over and find a tribe at our Facebook page too..

  • This is our friend’s beautiful yurt. We actually know tons of people that live in buses or tents or handmade homes – life can be very good without enormous mortgages.

  • Lots of information. I am zealous about books and studies. I read and read. I keep up with neuroscience so that I can explain the importance of attachment, I keep up with the baby mortality stats so that I can counter any argument to cosleeping, I read everything I can about how children learn, I get my head around the unsustainability of our current housing situation and seek to understand what are the fundamentals for happiness and well being. I RARELY pull these out of my quiver and fire them – it might be tricky to do so uncombatatively! But for my own sake, this all helps me feel confident in the choices we are making.
  • Ongoing family discussion. Tim and I talk a lot about this stuff. It is important that we are together on this journey of understanding. We go over quick fire parenting decisions we have had to make, we discuss books we are reading about sustainability. We sometimes take a while to catch up to each other but we are in it together. A crew learning the ropes. (Oh lordy, I am completely unable to put my ship metaphor away!)

I want to just take a second to validate you. It’s going to be a slightly emosh second as I am feeling quite full of heart that you are here, reading this, one of us … You aren’t alone… we are all here and we can cheer each other on.

If you are questioning the mainstream and seeking to live a life that takes less of a toll on the earth, you are of a crowd that is going to go down in history, that will be thanked by our grandchildren’s grandchildren! They shall call you a legend.  If you are making presence and peace and love your ambition, and don’t really have two pennies to rub together, you are rich. If you are nurturing your child’ spirit, determined to let them spread their wings, to live as partners in this dance of life, if you choose empathy over control,  you are nourishing a generation that will take this love and build a new world with it. 
I am sure I have only scratched the surface of this topic! I would be absolutely stoked to hear some of your own thoughts on this hefty topic. 

Nappyfree, Parenting

The most gentle, stress-free potty-training ever

23 April, 2015

This week something momentous happened. I packed up our cloth nappies and gave them away. Oh, how I relished that. I was like LATER LOSERS! Actually, I hope never to clap mine eyes on them ever again. I don’t hate our cloth nappies, in fact they have been IDEAL for what we have done with our little ones…. but they seem to be everywhere I look at all times, in the laundry, on the line, in piles. And we barely use them at all! The reason is that we have opted for no nappies, most of the time.

I also experienced that special sigh of relief reserved for parents whose child has become toilet-independent. This realisation has come slowly over the last couple of months.Just last week my husband said “Hey, Juno’s pretty much potty trained now, eh?”  Ah. Yes, yes, she is. In fact, we were along time noticing properly (or wanting to say the words aloud) sine around 21 months she was getting her wees and poos on target the majority of the time.

See, we have been practicing the most gentle, stress-free, quiet way to potty train ever: Nappy Free – ness. Hmm. Nappy Free -dom. Or just… Nappy- Free babies.Nappy free is stress free potty training!

I don’t even really know what you mean by Nappy-Free. It sounds kinda dangerous
If you think “Nappy-free” sounds dangerous try “elimination communication” HA! That sounds like we are raising talkative assassins. The best term for this kind of potty-training is “Born Ready” – I love it as it captures the fundamental belief that no living thing wants to lay a cable on themselves.

We witnessed this first hand when we tried to save a baby bird, fallen from the tree. It was a tiny, weeny speck of a thing, but even so after it had munched on a quarter of a teaspoon’s glob of food it would shuffle over, put its butt over the edge of the nest we had made for it, and squirt out a Number Two. Our children are born communicating with us about all of their needs- their need for touch, food, and their need to release their bladder. They will shuffle and squirm and squark, and if we respond they continue to communicate about it long after you’ve packed up the cloth nappies- until they are grown ups! (If they are anything like me, that is, for I do love a good poo story.)

How is Nappy Free gentle potty training?
People who practice Nappy Free just accept that regular visits to the loo/ holds over the potty are a part of everyday life. There is no song or dance to be made of it. It is something as common as drinking or eating. There are no bribes or reward charts, no punishments for accidents or shaming. This shaming thing is something I see all the time (no judgement, I know it can be frustrating when our children pee their pants and you’ve run out of spares and it was in a neighbour’s house and it was already a rubbish day) – an almost accepted part of teaching our children that weeing in their pants isn’t acceptable. Mu understanding of the culture within Nappy Free families is an unconditional style of parenting – no shame allowed, ever. Nappy Free families just do trips to the loo when it seems needed and don’t make a fuss when the wires of communication are a bit tangled and a poo ends up in a shoe. Families take it at the child’s own pace, listening to them and helping them until they are ready to be entirely toilet-independant.

It could be more respectful
Having said all that… I think it could be even even more respectful. It is common practice with Nappy-Free world to simply feel “in tune” with a baby and whip off their pants and urge them on if we are sure they need to go. I don’t think this is right. I think we need to potty our children with the utmost care and respectful touch and we need to allow a lot more space for consent. I think Nappy Free families could aim to always ask their babies, even newborns, if we can help them go, and if they clearly show they don’t want to we should leave them be- even if that ends up as wet pants. We need to prioritise them receiving the knowledge that they, not us, are the boss’s of their own body.

Is Nappy Free for everyone?
I’m not in the business of telling people what to do. I like to share stories of what we do but I believe each family needs to weigh things up and consider their family’s own delicate dance of needs and then decide! I do think there are principles of nappy free that will make for a much, much less stressful potty training for everyone. Things such as acknowledging when a baby is clearly doing a number – keep up the communication, respectfully. Don’t let them forget what it feels like to relieve themselves.  (It seems to be the case that children can lose the sensation.)  Give children a go when it seems like they want to but need some help. Model toilet use. Be child led. Avoid forcing and coercive tactics.

Take it off
But how does one begin such a thing! You know what they say: a journey of a thousand poos begins with one poo. Begin that journey today! It can begin with Day 1 for a newborn or with toddlers even. Here are a few tips:

  • Give your baby a go on the loo whenever you go. You modelling toilet use is the number one way they’ll pick it up!
  • This also makes a bit of a regular rhythm, and you will soon pick up their rhythm.
  • Create little points in the day that they can become used to going – before meals, after meals, before the car, after the car, before the buggy/wrap one getting out of the buggy/wrap.
  • Create a little sign that you begin doing whenever you talk about the potty.
  • Have potties lying around the house – sometimes the sign is them patting or going to the potty.
  • Thumbs up for “tree wees” – it is my experience that it is very natural for kids to wee outside. It might feel like an accident, but they might have gone outside just to wee!
  • Don’t get too into it. Hehe. Just relax. You’ll have heaps of us and downs, really awesome in-sync days and them days where teething pain interrupts the brain-bladder signalling and, well, you know: wee. Spend loads of time outside where misses don’t count.
  • Put nappies on if it helps you relax in between. We always had nappies on hand for when we were at someone elses house as we dodn’t want to be super stressing about getting wee on someone elses carpet. You’d think this would make for mix messages but it didn’t seem to. Both our girls were fine with or without nappies.

Do check out my friend Jenn’s new online classes, of Born Ready. The Born Ready website was basically my homepage when I first got into this!  She is the absolute GURU of nappy free and offers loads and loads of advice.  She also sells flaparaps– the perfect nappy/pants inbetweener for babies.

Real Nappies and Nappy-Free are mates
It is Real Nappy week this week and I wanted to take a moment to encourage all the cloth-bummed baby mammas and pappas to consider this gentle form of potty training. I know you, you and your gorgeous stash of nappy covers in every crazy pattern, your ever-so-slight addiction to animal print cloth nappies. Real Nappy lovers and Nappy-free lovers are cut from the same cloth – we care for our babies bums and our earth. And we are not afraid of poo.

Go for it, go on. Take it off and liberate your baby’s butt! Nappy Free = Stress Free Potty Training.

PS Read more Nappy Free tales from me here. 

Parenting, yurt life

Things messy people say

20 April, 2015

This goes out to all the parents constantly feeling the stab of lego beneath their socks, those who let their kids unroll the toilet paper because they’ve done the quick parental equation and have decided the mess the loo roll creates is worth the 20 minute’s peace, and to all the parents who have ever found half a long-lost apple languishing in the sofa cushions.. (To all the very tidy parents, like my very best friend from whose sparkly toilet I’d happily eat my lunch, I love you but you don’t need a shout out, Mr Muscle’s got your back.) 

Things messy people say:

1- I’m not naturally messy- but since becoming a mother…. 

2- Besides, creativity THRIVES in chaos!!

3- No really, studies.

4- And, y’know, it was EINSTEIN that said if a cluttered desk is sign of a cluttered mind, what is an EMPTY desk sign of? Ha!

5- *ding dong* Oh hello! Ah yes, we are just having a sort out…

6- Yes, sadly, a bomb DID hit.

7- A KID BOMB 

  boom shake shake shake the room

8- It’ s not so much a mess issue as a storage issue.

9- In fact, if we had good storage that would be a game changer, I tell you. 

10- Ah, look, here’s that bag of manky feathers the girls collected…. I’ll pop them somewhere safe for that time in the future when I’m gonna have to make an owl mask. 

11- I’m actually going to have a massive tidy in the morning.

12- *in the morning*  Ooh a beautiful day! LET’S PLAY!

13- I’ll just totally BLITZ the whole house once the kids are in bed.

14- *later* This book is genuinely BEGGING to be finished tonight.

15- Anyway, Einstein and all those geniuses were WELL messy. Proper filthy. So.

16- Doodidodidoo. I’ll just stick this in the bits n bobs drawer.  

17-I’m just not the kind of mum that wants to be tidying toys away from the kids all day, y know?

18- Arghhh. MORE LAUNDRY. WHERE DOES IT COME FROM? Where does it go? Where does it come from, Cotton Eye Joe? 

19- I’m sure our laundry basket has a spawn function. I’ll have to tell the girls to stop pushing that button. 

20- A clean house is sign of a wasted life. A clean house is sign of a wasted life. A clean house is sign of a wasted life. A clean house is sign of a wasted life.

21- I’ll just pop this random Thing on that shelf with all the other random Things. 

22- Gah! We have too many clothes! I’ll put them all in bags and take them to the charity shop!

23- After a cup of tea, I’ll do that. I shall. 

24- (Self-care, that’s called. Timely cups of tea and chocolate for mothers. The foundation of a stable family life.)

25- Ooh, but I can’t really give all this away because some of this stuff will be IDEAL for the dress up box. 

26- Or cowboy boots might make a comeback.

27- Or I might be invited to a Ukrainian Pop Stars from the Seventies fancy dress party and I will rue the day I got rid of this PERFECT shirt. 

28-  Lalala, I’ll just shove this enormous box full of Stuff into our storage, I mean spare, room.

29- And jam the door shut. 

30- And put this “ENTER AT YOUR OWN PERIL” sign on the door. 

31- And hope no one ever, ever looks in it. 

32- I mean, yes, I’m messy but not WEIRDLY so. I’m not exactly going to be on the news burrowing a tunnel out of my own mess! ha! Hahahaha! *panicked laugh*

33 – But seriously, as I always say, it might be a bit untidy, but it’s not dirty, like, unsafe

34 –  *googles* “basic level of hygiene”

35 – Right. So we won’t be getting a certificate.

36 – But the kids ARE alive, so hey! 

37- And while they are still with us it is positively futile to keep on top of their mess. 

38 – Although tomorrow I am absolutely definitely TRULY going to tidy. Tomorrow. 

Parenting

Major ways I’m raising our second child differently to our first

7 April, 2015

We stayed up late the other night watching little videos we’d taken of our first daughter, Ramona, a few years ago. They were hidden deep in the caverns of our computer, buried under about 9 googleplex (the children’s current favourite number) of photos. We have so many photos that if we were to print them out I think we’d be able to stretch them to the moon and back, or we’d at least be able to bundle them into bricks and build ourselves a house.

Anyway, the films. Oh! How they made me BLUSH! I was absolutely criiiinging. It was so, SO obvious, in a way I hadn’t really processed, just how differently we are doing things with our second daughter, Juno. (There were also lots of really lovely ones – like this perfect example of that phantom breastfeeding thing babies do – once your nipple has left their mouth, they keep sucking. It is one of the loveliest things to look at in the world!)

I was trussing her about, waving her around, smooching her enormous cheeks, making her wave, making her stand, sitting her on my knee for Humpty Dumpty even though she was crying. I was having fun with her, almost like she was a prop or accessory to my–life-and-soul-of-the-party good time. And I wasn’t really treating her like a human at all.

It made me think of all the ways we have changed our parenting since having a second daughter. And the common theme to all of them is that we came to realise that even the tiniest babies are people – with unique feelings and important rights, with their own body to be respected and their own drive to be allowed to flourish.

It is so basic, but it took me such a long time to realise. I was a loving mum to Ramona, I ticked all the right attachment parenting boxes, but it wasn’t until she really showed me her bare face will, age 2, that I understood that she had had one all along. It was Ramona that paved the way for me to see Juno in the way that I did the second she was born. Juno turned up and her beautiful and glorious personhood was glowing out of her newborn folds of furry skin and baldness. I'm raising our second child differently to the first

Here are some examples of how differently this actually looks:

1- With Ramona we sat her up almost from the day she could hold her head up, we propped her and put her on her tummy and stood her on her big, rugby-player pins. Then I read about natural motor development and something clicked, so with Juno we tried to only ever put her in a position that she was able to get into by herself. So no tummy time, until she could roll, no sitting until she could pull herself to sitting. WHAT AN AMAZING JOURNEY!

The difference is that when they choose to do something, they are absolutely and utterly ready for it. It often means a different way round – crawling before sitting, for example- but they totally nail it. Juno crawled first and then sat a few days later and never, ever, ever tipped over.

This just fits in SO perfectly with the idea that children very often know what they are ready for, that they can be the lead on their own development and learning. It is awesome.

2- With Ramona I had quite strong senses of what she should and shouldn’t play with, where she should go, what she should be doing. Age six months for example, I had no worries about taking something straight out of her hands with no warning, or distracting her from something she was enjoying just so I could admire her cute face, or pulling her out of the way of something I didn’t want her going near. With Juno we hang back A LOT more. If we do need to take something away from her, mostly we simply ask for it, and she has tended to hand it over… but by and large we’ve just been able to let her go for it, and to REALLY let her get into it.

3- With Ramona, we had very little respect for the idea that her body was her own, we were convinced we were in charge of her body. We’d pick her up and plop her down and put a jumper on her and take a hat off her and wipe her nose and yank a nappy on. We have tried really hard to not do this with Juno. If ever we want to interact with Juno’s body, we ask permission first, even waiting for an invitation as a very small baby- such as the lift of a pelvis to change a nappy (Juno fully did this!) or extended, open arms from a 6 month old when we ask if we can pick her up.

4- We found Elimination Communication when Ramona was 3 months old and within a few days we saw it to be the way forward. With Juno it began on her very first day, when she was wriggling and distressed and Tim offered her the potty and she pooed and weed straight into it! Brilliant! However, with Juno we tried a lot harder to respect the fact that her body was her body, not insisting on her going if we felt she needed it (with Ramona we were like “C’mon, love, we can SEE you need to go!”) and we tried really hard not to interrupt bowl movements once they had begun, out of respect. We had no qualms about moving Ramona about mid-poo, to get her on the loo.I'm raising my second child differently to my first

I was introduced to a lot of this via Pennie Brownlee and Clare of the Pikler Collection – through the concept of Natural Gross Motor Development. It sounds a bit technical, but ooh look here is a simple introduction to exactly WHAT that is!!! *brand new vlog alert*

I was speaking to someone about all of this and they were like “WHAT! HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW ALL OF THIS STUFF?! EVERY ONE IN THE WORLD KNOWS THIS!” And I was kinda like… well… we can’t know everything, all at once! I really didn’t know many people doing this in London. All the connecting, attachment stuff just blossomed naturally but the standing back and giving full respect to babies didn’t happen instinctively or me at all.

We can only parent with the knowledge we have to hand right now, don’t you think?

Of course, parenting IS the most world-changing job ever so therefore we should take it seriously and take our open minds and find stuff out and make conscious decisions.

But still, even the President of the Post-Graduate School of Parenting doesn’t know every one of the good and beautiful ways we can be with our children at the exact perfect time.

C.S Lewis, in the final Narnia book, says that we can only act according to the light revealed to us.

I love it, I love it for life and I love it for parenting. You can’t believe that and have many regrets, or have much judgment.

Have you changed your parenting much, from one child to another?

Keep in touch through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Parenting

Do children need a daily bath? 8 reasons to stop washing so much

23 March, 2015

Ramona has a blue scalp at the moment. I mean, entirely blue. Bright, glowing ocean blue. It happened last week, when a friend and I looked out the window to see both of our children with rainbow heads – every hair shaft stiff with thick, vibrant paint they’d discovered in a drawer. It looked cool, really punky. I felt like I got an almost-complete polaroid of what she might be like as a teen.

Anyway, baking soda and honey managed to get almost all the paint out of her hair, just not her scalp.

It doesn’t really look cool anymore (there’s a reason coloured scalps have never taken off, turns out) – it just sort of looks feral. It’s like reptile skin, weirdly host to beautiful, blonde hair.

I guess, if we washed everyday, the blue scalp might have dissapeared by now. But the thing is, we really don’t wash every day… I’m developing a pretty strong stance against daily baths, actually.

There are so many reasons children don’t need to bathe daily. If a quick dunk in the bath is a chore in your family read on and let liberation soak you through…

8 reasons to stop giving your children a bath

Ramona must have a thing for blue hair (this is a wig, hehe, not the paint!)

1- Baths aren’t a necessary “should”.  

Family life is hindered, rather than helped, by having a list of Things You Must Do. Brushing hair, having a bath, eating five vegetables- chuck your list out the window and find yourself BLOOMING with liberation!! We have enough things we REALLY have to do as parents- so let’s let go of the things that have ended up on an arbitrary “should” list. As my friend and parenting guru, Sue, says “Parents need to stop shoulding on themselves!” Hold tightly to the truly important things, and watch everything else just falls naturally into a hierarchy.

2- Cleanliness is overrated.

A fascinating Washington Post article mentions the role a bit of dirtiness can play in our healthiness:  “overly clean living can be bad for our immune systems, which need certain microbes and gut bacteria to function properly and to keep us healthy from the more dangerous pathogens.” Having a good healthy, uninterrupted layer of skin-plus-extras can actually promote health. So many families report skin conditions such as eczema dissapearing once they switch to a weekly rather than daily bath. 

3- Baths, if not forced, can be therapeutic.

The result of making sure baths are only ever autonomously chosen is that children take great pleasure in them. For our four year old, the bath is the place she retreats to when she needs to find calm or have some space. She can spend an hour in their just floating and singing- once she even fell asleep. (We are lucky to live in a tiny winy shack that Tim built next to our yurt so the bath is only ever a couple of metres away… Somehow it still has a cocoon like feel.)

4- Pheronomes.

Furry gnomes (as Tim and I call them) are actually a really important part of our instinct and our understanding of people. There has been a bit of work done on the role of pheremones in sexuality, but they have a role in all part of our lives. There is growing evidence that suggests these chemicals we release impact mother-infant recognition and bonding. So definitely don’t wash your newborn!

5- Forcing our kids to do anything interrupts the development of their intrinsic motivation.

I see one of my roles as a parent to protect some of the precious things my child was born with in order to cultivate her happiness now and ever more! I see so many unhappy people who live their lives according to other people’s rules and wishes. How harmonious the world would be if we were all able to trust our internal desires, and to be self determined. I won’t (I should say, we TRY NOT TO) make our daughters do anything because I am preserving their internal motivation. They shall be the conductors of their own symphony! 

6- Baths can be an actual activity, y’know.

BATHS CAN BE SO MUCH FUN! They count as an official activity in our house. We put food colouring in, and glow sticks, and paints. (Consider these if for some reason you really must help your child to bathe more.)

7- Regular bathing is a modern, newfangled thing.

You know, back in the day they’d bathe ONCE A YEAR, in May. Then they used to get married in June because they were still clean. I’m not really a traditionalist, but for this point I am. Daily bathing is basically like SnapChat… in the history of the world, it’ll be barely a blink of an eye. (Although…. a year…. pheweeeee…. that is SOME TIME. Don’t go that extreme, eh, friends. Just meet in the middle with “Whenever your children fancy one”…)

8- Lastly, and most importantly, they are not “yours” to put in the bath!

Give your child an amazing gift: the awareness that his body is HIS alone. Show her, by never making her do something with her body, that no one can do something to her without her consent. Sometimes we let “the hygiene myth” get in the way,  we allow it  to interrupt this crucial, protecting message. Let your child yelling “I am the boss of my body!!!” fill you with hope and happiness.

8 reasons to stop giving your children daily baths

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So, having a child with a glowing, colourful scalp, who looks so clearly like they need a good dunk in the bath, has, over this last week, in a funny sort of a way, made me become more sure, confident, that daily baths are one less SHOULD families need in their lives. And if people think Ramona is some kind of lizard child walking amongst us, so be it. We all need a little more magic in our lives, eh?!

PS- Any other reasons you can add? I’d love to hear if you’ve ditched any other parenting shoulds! 

Attachment parenting, Breastfeeding, Parenting

100 Names for Breastfeeding

18 March, 2015

100 Names for Breastmilk

I am so excited about this post, I am sitting in a cafe using their rubbish (but existent) wifi beaming my face off. It has been such a pleasure pulling together all the names toddler have for breastfeeding out there. They cover different languages, most of them have been generated by the children themselves and a few have been passed down through generations. Some of them clearly come from similar meanings and then some of them are just totally wild. Olivia and Donald? Finky and Dumper? Unbridled imagination – (don’t crush it!!)

A child’s word for breastmilk and the act of feeding is very often one of their first, and often introduced into the family dictionary. It must feel pretty special for a child to have their own word, for something that is so important to them, taken on and used. How perfect to feel so valued and trusted and a part of things. I feel like this list symbolises some of that trust, and the trust inherent in the intimate breastfeeding relationship.

We live in a society where it is common to hear people say “I don’t mind breastfeeding- but as soon as a child is old enough to ask for it, then they are TOO OLD.”

This is a rebel anthology- declaring this position to be an untruth. The moment babies are born they find ways to ask for it, and the moment they find WORDS to ask for it is the doorway to a whole new amazing experience. Societies distaste for breastfeeding older children is totally misplaced- in fact,  *breaking news*, massive, longitudinal study just published seem to show that the longer a child is breastfed, the more “successful” she is. Let’s celebrate the connection, the emotional and physical needs that are met in breastfeeding, by revelling in this joyous list. MILKY BOOBIES, THE OTHER ONE: ROCK ON BREASTFEEDING TALKERS! You yell your milk cry across the room, go right ahead- show the world that it is normal and right and magnificent to be a breastfeeding child. what toddlers call breastmilk!

Commonalities
There were one or two variations on “mummy milk” present but without a doubt the one that came up over and over and over (ten times!) was “Other side”. This is funny and astonishing! It just shows how much our children tune in to everything from a youngest age. Obviously, we don’t tend to say “Milkies” throughout a nursing session but we far more frequently offer, during the act, “Other side?!” Brilliant.

Different Languages
Susu – Samoan word for milk/ breast (I am interested in the fact that Susu could be milk or breast? This doesn’t seem common?)
Maka- from the word Malako in Russian.
Leche – Spainish for milk
Lait- French for milk and Bord is French for other side.
Dudth is how the Hindi word for milk sounds.
Nyonya is remembered as Swahili slang.
Teta – Catalonion, for milk.

Stories
Here are a few of the accompanying stories…
Olivia and Donald: Lindsey explains “When he was 4 he started calling my boobs Olivia and Donald. Not really sure why. He’s a bit off the wall that one. “Olivia” was sometimes called “Big fat booby” due to the size discrepancy. Poor Donald wasn’t very popular…”
Dips: Abigail says “Because I had to undo the clip on my bra”
Feeju: Marnie “As in “Feed You””
Nulky nulky noo: Hanabee, “Her own poem dedicated to the joys of extended/ never ending breastfeeing.”
Booble: Mo says “This caused confusion one Christmas when we were looking at the wreath on the next door neighbour’s house and I said “That ones made of baubles!”

Big thanks to our brilliant Facebook community and Twitter peeps who collaborated and shared their lovely stories.

ALSO EXCITING: I AM ON YOUTUBE! AND HERE IS ONE OF MY FIRST VIDEOS:
You definitely didn’t think you could hack watching five minutes of someone breastfeeding their toddler, did you? Well, let’s just see if you can! I wanted to try and capture the frantic fun and mayhem involved with breastfeeding older children. I hit record and got it in five minutes straight off. Pahahaha. Breaking for a book. Yelling. All the laughter. Animal sounds. Hands up nostrils. Chest pummelling. It’s all there. Come and find me and subscribe on Youtube as I hope to be giving it a good bash this year.

Hehe, all the fun, eh.

Thank you for taking part in this breastfeeding anthology. If you missed out it isn’t too late- add it in the comments 😀

PS – If you like this post share it all about – play a little part in normalising breastfeeding… !