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Parenting

Resist and Relax – a Baby Led Approach to Weaning

23 November, 2013

You have a baby, you know mess; volcanic eruptions of poo, tides of leaking milk, scattered bags of cereal as an innocent hand bafflingly tugs. You think you know mess. And then you start Baby Led Weaning. The mess you thought you knew was a mere warm up to the full cabaret of FOOD. EVERYWHERE. It is like that scene in Hook where the Lost Boys have a food fight, but with only one tiny warrior involved. Juno manages to squish avocado in every possible crevice- parts of the Campervan we didn’t know existed and parts of her body she can’t even reach.

I love this stage though; the expressions on their faces as they try new tastes. The quick development of dexterity, “I WILL GET THESE SNEAKY BUGGERS OF RICE IN MY MOUTH DAMMIT.” And the sense that they are enjoying participating in the social side of a meal. (That IS Juno trying to hold Ramona’s hand and chatter away, isn’t it? Oh. Oh no. Juno’s just trying to steal her pasta.)

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I love Baby Led Weaning especially, I love the autonomy already being granted to a baby, how they can choose what to chomp on, what to ignore, what to stick in their ear. I love how it is such a gradual introduction to food, they can just take more and more on according to what they are capable of holding and getting down. I also love the sheer ease of it- the “preparation” being simply “leave the salt out of the main meal.”

I would never suggest it is the only way, and it is a bit gutting that people feel Baby Led Weaning people can be a bit militaristic. It seems absurd that Baby Led Weaning could seem superior to puréeing in terms of how much you love the kid- going to the shop especially and lovingly puréeing tens of tiny pot loads of veggies and then warming them individually and then sitting there tenderly delivering each spoon into the baby’s mouth? Vs sitting baby on lap and letting them grab at your food? Massively trumped.

(Parenting choices being used as a Who Loves Their Children More Competition is frankly mad.)

Doing this second time round with Juno has got me thinking about how my approach is differing to what I did with Ramona.

Resist
I was soooooo eager to start BLW with Ramona. I was counting down the days until she could sit up properly and seemed ready. It seems sad to me now that there was a whole period between five and six months with Ramona that I was whiling away waiting for her to be ready. Why? I think there are some deep down ideas here about wanting our babies to be less dependent on us.

Although I was enjoying breastfeeding Ramona I think I still felt a bit of a societal pressure to have her more independent, more able to go to others, to sleep better, to thrive without me. Once a baby has more than breast milk this does happen, but there is no need to rush it. I’m not at all like this with Juno. I feel it is perfectly natural and perfectly wonderful for her to need me as much as she needs me until she decides she doesn’t need me! It is a waste of time to hurry this. I’m all too aware with Juno that days are passing too quickly so I’m much happier with her pure, dependant babyhood.

I think I was also curious about the often bandied about “Once they start solids they’ll start sleeping” concept. I am pretty decided on this- it’s a myth! Some people I know have found this. Others haven’t. Some people I know came across more sleeplessness once their baby had solids. I was excited for the day that Ramona would fill her belly up on food so that she wouldn’t wake me all night. Guess what?! It never came. Even now she is three she stirs next to us for a snuggle in the middle of the night. Now I am much more confident in the fact that night waking is totally normal so it’s neither here nor there for me what impact solids has on Juno’s sleep.

Relax
With Ramona, I genuinely thought Baby Led Weaning meant, like, weaning! Ha! Someone forgot to explain this to her and she is still nursing, three years later. It’s funny though, as alongside being over eager to begin, I was also nervous that it would herald the end of our breastfeeding relationship.

I’m able to be loads more chilled out with Juno, whether she has just a little bit to eat, or stacks, because I am aware that breastfeeding operates quite apart from food in some ways. It meets emotional needs that food can’t. I’m pretty sure Juno will keep going strong with the nursing even if she sometimes seems to be doing a Hungry Caterpillar impression, working her way through every bit if food out there. I do think too, that BLW’s slow progression of solids intake perfectly supports longer term breastfeeding.

Ramona really enjoyed her food but she didn’t really start eating whole meals until she was about 18 months old, and even then ate heaps less than I thought she would. It was reassuring not having to stress about vitamins and nourishment because I was breastfeeding on demand until I got pregnant with Juno. (Now it is just twice a day with Ramona.)

I’d also relax a lot more about the gagging- we have been eating in a crowded room this week as part of an eco project we’ve been hanging around and the silence that descends when Juno starts gagging is stark! Everyone starts to panic! Even though the baby is calmly just bringing up a slightly stringy bean. They have a wonderfully set up Gag Reflex which means proper choking is quite rare, a few patient gags nearly always brings up the goods (or the bads) – however do know the latest on how to deal with choking so you truly can sit their in a state of calm too. (I did a paediatric First Aid course a few months ago and it advised to turn them on to their tummy across your arm, face down, and smack their back.)

I’m finding this with so many experiences with Juno- lots of stuff with Ramona was tinged with worry, but second time round it is all just confident joy. So cool.

Also, this time round we don’t worry about a bib. We all just put those surgical suits on and sit inside an inflatable paddling pool that we blow up every time Juno wants food. See, it’s dead easy this Baby Led Weaning thing…

Got any Baby Led Weaning tips? Or recipes that your baby and the whole family enjoy?

Parenting

Library activism for gentle parenting

28 October, 2013

When I was a brand spanking new mum (actually, not spanking, just cuddly) I wandered down to my local library in Peckham to see if I could get some reading matter on gentle parenting. I was looking for advice on building attachment, the norms of breastfeeding and what to expect with cosleeping.

I found the parenting aisle, and bent down to scan the books. Spine after spine yielded Gina Ford’s name. The parenting section seemed like a shrine to the Contended Baby Empire. I didn’t find anything to help me out that day; fortunately I found the solace and wisdom I was after later on in online groups.

Whilst being in London over the last couple of weeks, crashing at my folks place while Tim rescues Betty the Camper from the grubby hands of peculiar mechanics, I’ve joined their library. Honestly. Libraries. They are so FLIPPING BRILLIANT. I’m too scared to hire books these days as I have an actual Forget-To-Take-Books-Back Syndrome. We just go up there and laze amongst the tomes and read on the sofa together, and I use my library card to download books on my E-reader. (I can’t tell you how ridiculously happy downloading free ebooks with no overdue fine possibilities makes me.)

The first time I was there I perused the parenting aisle, hoping that in the last three years things might have gotten a little more representative. Well, every single Ford volume was there- guides from sleeping to potty training to riding a bike to singing a Nursery Rhyme (just joking about the last two, but I expect they’ll be next!) But there WERE other books… Tizzie Hall and her similarly extreme, ungentle methods, also a sleep training guide describing the “extinction” method. (What a name. If a name of a method could perfectly sum up what you are doing to your child’s trust in you, and your connection then they have NAILED it.)

Why, WHY, would I pick these books up for a flick through? WHHHHHY shatter my hope that people are moving towards more peaceful and respectful interactions with children and babies? I blame my hands. The rascals grab these books and open them up to the saddest parenting advice and shove it in my face… My eyeballs are like “DON’T LOOOOOK!!!” But they always do. The same thing happens with the Daily Mail at my granddad’s house. My hands are fisticuffs, Well Up For It. They didn’t get my memo about peaceful living.

I approached the librarian for a conversation. I wanted to find out why the shelves were stocked with pretty harsh, punitive child rearing methods. A reading of Parenting for a Peaceful Word by Robin Grille has convinced me that there is a really strong link between the mainstream parenting practices and the quality of societal well being, justice and peace in the subsequent decades, when the kids are adult and making decisions that effect their country. It may sound a bit conspiracy theorist, but it seems to me that the most predominant parenting literature at the moment is designed to squeeze our children into a mould that will make them compliant and obedient Contributors to the Economy. What is the relationship between this idea and our libraries?

You’ll be relieved to hear that George Osbourne doesn’t hand select the books with the most punitive regime, package them up and send them via UPS (he doesn’t use the Royal Mail, it’s inefficient) to each library. The librarian told me that it is simply the publishers who send their books out to a central library hub, who then pass them on. Chief librarians also request books that have come to their attention, that they feel their community might enjoy and members of the public can also request them.

It could be as simple as the fact that some of the more attachment/ gentle parenting books have lesser known publishers, and smaller marketing budgets, so don’t come to the attention of the library decision makers in the same way. After an enormous conversation with my local librarian about all of this it seems to me that WE can have an influence on making our library shelves more pro-child.

    Five ways we can get more gentle parenting literature on our library shelves

Request them. Each library should have a “Stock request form” – this means that if they don’t have it in the borough they will seriously consider buying it in. My old library would ALWAYS buy the requested books, but my current one only promises to consider it. This is still quite a power we have, particularly if one or two people request the same book in the same borough, giving the request much more weight. Get a few of your parent chums together and chose a book to request, each using a separate form. Toddlercalm by Sarah Ockwell-Smith is a new one just out, and anything by Dr Sears, and if every library had Robin Grille’s Parenting for a Peaceful World the world would surely be more peaceful.

Borrow them. Once they have a few attachment and gentle parenting texts you should get them out! (Unless you have the syndrome that I have…) Use your library, support them not just because libraries are wonderful for you right now but because they are wonderful for the whole of society long term. Borrowing these books will show the library that they are desired, and it will make them more likely to buy in more of these books.

Review them and share them. If you have enjoyed a respectful/gentle/ attachment parenting book then shout about it. It is possible for us to rival the big marketing budgets of controversial Super Nanny book publishers, simply by doing online reviews through Amazon, tweeting, face booking and generally making a fuss about the books that we think will make society a more beautiful, peaceful place. This will bring these books to the attention of librarians and book stockists, giving the books much higher chance of getting read by more parents.

Move the others. Okaaaay, so the librarian didn’t EXACTLY suggest this one and this is quite an active kind of library activism. The librarian told me that the books that are often hired most are those that are displayed with their front cover facing out. If you want you could, when no one is looking, rearrange the displays with gentle parenting books being the most obvious. You could also, if you felt like it, take some of the harsh tomes and, if they seem to be massively over represented on the shelves… well, errr….HIDE THEM. Good luck finding the Extinction Method in my local, unless you are well into horse riding.

Send a letter A quick phone call to the Head of Library Services in your borough, or even to the library number on your library’s internetz page (not your branch) should give you the name of the Aquisition Librarian. It would be well worth emailing them, or writing them, copying in your MP, with your concerns and some of the suggestions for books you have. You should also, anonymously this time, write them a letter about all the reshelving you have been doing, just so the librarians don’t get the blame…

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I’d love to hear from any librarians or publishers about how to get our library shelves reflecting society’s need for more gentle child nurturing literature…

PS For more parenting/ travelling / thrifty blogging follow through Facebook or Bloglovin or even just enter your email to get them pinged into your inbox. I don’t rant and rave THAT much…


Parenting

How to be a Spiritual Parent

9 October, 2013

We are trucking along with this celebratory “How to be a _____ Parent series” I am incredibly delighted to have Thalia from the fascinating, kinda lighthearted but also pretty deep blog, Sacraparental, talking about raising her family in a sacred sort of a way. I love how she discusses her spirituality in inclusive and accesible terms and she often prompts me to pause and ponder love, beauty and connection amidst the craziness of family life. ( I have loved each contribution to this series so far. If you missed them, check out the ones from the last few weeks- How to be a Feminist Parent, an Expat Parent and an Eco Parent. We have some flipping BEAUT ones coming up too…)

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Spiritual, eh?

It’s a word that’s often followed by ‘but-not-religious’ so it’s brave of Lucy to invite me, a Baptist minister on maternity leave, to comment. But I have a nose-ring and we co-sleep with our toddler, so that gives me some street cred, right?

Anna Maxted recently wrote a reflection on parenting for the Guardian, worrying about her secular family’s lack of ‘spirituality.’ She wants her boys to have a sense of wonder, a respect for religious tradition and a moral compass to develop empathy and character, but also a scientific worldview. She decided after some thought and research that all are possible, and I agree with her – none of those are mutually exclusive.

My own spirituality is based in the Christian tradition, but I’d like to make this post an invitation to consider a broader kind of spirituality in your family life, illustrated by how we do things in our family. I hope you’ll take it in the inclusive spirit offered, and find a point of connection that meets your family’s experience.

Stretch high

Have you ever been to a singing workshop, or a fitness class, or a yoga session, where you were encouraged to stretch your body to its fullest extent? Go up on tiptoes, extend your arms to the sky and out wide, maybe even poke out your tongue?

Use everything you’ve got. Stretch as far as you can. Don’t confine yourself to the usual or the obvious – in posture or in awareness of the world.

If being or becoming a ‘spiritual’ parent is something that catches your eye, here are some stretches to try to make the fullest use of your inner life, connect yourself in different ways to the wider world and help your kids to stretch high and wide, too.

Listen to your life

There’s more meaning in your daily life than might be immediately obvious. Doing the washing-up is an act of love towards your family, a chance to muse or sing while your hands are busy and a bringing of order out of chaos – it needn’t be merely a mucky necessity. Can you find meaning, purpose and connection to the wider world in your grocery shopping, gardening, accounts and nappy-changing?

One piece of the spirituality puzzle is mining your usual life, mundane and exciting, for all the meaning, connection and potential in it.

This might come through a spiritual or secular practice of mindfulness, through meditation or just through consciously looking at your life more carefully.

One of my favourite writers, Frederick Buechner, calls it ‘listening to your life‘:

I discovered that if you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited and limiting life as the one I was living on Rupert Mountain opened up onto extraordinary vistas. Taking your children to school and kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day’s work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. . . . If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

Live out loud

You might be a pro at finding God in everyday life, or seeing the spiritual angle of your routines and choices. In my observation, many kids don’t notice this in their parents. Churches I have been part of are full of kids who would be astonished to know why their parents actually follow Jesus, because the subject simply hasn’t come up. If you want to model spiritual stuff to your kids, you’ll have to live it out loud.

We are developing language in our family to do this. When I see the first glimpse of sky in the morning, I instinctively, habitually, think of God’s goodness, which is, in the words of the Bible, ‘new every morning.’ But my son can’t know what’s going on in my head, or make these connections without help, so when we open the blinds in the bedroom in the morning, we say, ‘Good morning, Wellington! Thank you, God, for a new day.’

Similarly, as well as having ‘thank you, God’ routines for mealtimes and bedtime, we say ‘God speed that ambulance’ when we hear emergency sirens. When his dad leaves for work at the hospital, we call it ‘going to help people for Jesus’ to make the connection between work and spirituality obvious.

Writing this is reminding me to update our repertoire as he grows (he’s now 22 months old), to connect his growing empathy with an awareness of God’s love for other people and our repsonsibility to show love and care to friends and strangers.

He has picked up on our ‘bless you!’ when someone sneezes or coughs, so perhaps adding ‘God bless you’ when we talk about someone being sick or sad might be the next step for us. What about in your house?How to be a Spiritual Parent

Be part of a faith community

Together and alone, in company and in silence: most spiritual traditions have elements of solitude and elements of community.

There are huge benefits for all kinds of families in finding a community to belong to that supports your kids’ spiritual development.

A religious community, if it appeals to you, can offer educational support (mentoring, children’s programmes, group activities), practical help (meals for new parents, extra ‘grandparents’ for your kids, support for vulnerable families) and a shared context for exploring the sacred. For older children in particular, it is powerful to find that adults outside your family respect, believe or practise similar things.

Maybe, like Anna Maxted, you’d like your kids to develop a sense of wonder about and in the natural world. Joining an outdoors club or community as a family might help make this a regular thing in your life and surround you with other people to support your children as they explore the world.

It’s really important to our family that our son is surrounded by people other than his parents who will encourage him to thank God at dinner time, practise hospitality and kindness, read stories about Jesus with him and when he’s older, talk with him about their own experience of God. It’s hard to do this stuff alone.

Speaking of which…

Get yourselves some ‘godparents’

Whether ‘God’ is a word you use in your house or not, it can be brilliant to get your child a ‘godparent,’ someone who is explicitly given the role of encouraging them in their spiritual development. This doesn’t have to be a formal church arrangement, you can just ask a friend to be a special person in your child’s life, and define that in whatever way makes most sense to you.

Our son is lucky enough to have four godparents, two in each of our home countries. As well as thinking the world of him, this is the job we asked them to take on, in the words of the Church of England service:

[Minister:] The church receives this child with joy. Today we are trusting God for his growth in faith. Will you pray for him, draw him by your example into the community of faith and walk with him in the way of Christ?
[Godparents:] With the help of God, we will.

What would you want to ask a godparent to do? I’d be keen to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Keep some rituals

I’m not much for routine, truth be told, and we have lived most of our son’s life as international nomads. But I am appreciating the daily rituals that are a necessary part of child-raising. It can be oddly freeing to have the anchor of young children in the house.

You may or may not eat or go to sleep at regular times (we don’t, really), but your kids will still eat, sleep and brush their teeth sometime, so you can attach small rituals to enrich those kinds of daily events.

We say ‘grace’ when we eat. At the moment my son just says ‘Thank you, God. Amen.’ But we’re just on the cusp of making it more elaborate as he becomes more articulate. I have plans of writing out a few family-friendly grace options to keep on the dining table. I’ll let you know when/if this eventuates (I’m sure Lucy has a crafty solution to make it gorgeous!).

Read and feast

As I said, my own spirituality is part of my identity as a follower of Jesus Christ. What Christianity offers beyond the kind of spirituality Anna Maxted seeks for her sons is a shared narrative of how the world works: there is a God who is bigger than our universe, who is revealed to us through Jesus Christ’s work in the world, and who connects with us directly now through God’s Holy Spirit.

If you identify with organised religion, either as a matter of personal belief or belonging, or as part of your family history, there are a few key things that can help connect your kids to it as well. Belonging to a faith community helps, of course, and the other biggies are helping your kids to engage with your tradition’s sacred writings and following the festivals and seasons of your faith.

The topic of children’s Bibles is a huge one, both philosophically and practically, and I haven’t yet tackled it online. But I can tell you that I have bought over a dozen copies of The Jesus Storybook Bible for special children of my acquaintance, and the biggest hits in the Jesus genre in our house are a lift-the-flap book called Who Am I? and a retelling of Daniel in the Lions’ Den that (this is the popular bit) has a dog and a cat sprinkled through the illustrations.

For older children, I’d make special mention of Joy Cowley’s The Easter Story and Geraldine McCaughrean’s The Jesse Tree.

As for festivals, well, who doesn’t like to party? We follow the church calendar, more or less, including doing a bunch of things to mark Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Pentecost.

So far almost all of these celebrations have been outside of a regular church community while we’ve been travelling – so I can confidently say you can participate in the rhythms of the year whatever your situation.

What do you think, friends-of-Lulastic? Does exploring spirituality in your parenting interest you? What do you do in your family that we could try? What are your best tips and resources to share? I’m very keen to hear your ideas in the comments below.

Thanks for having me, Lucy!

Parenting

How to be an Eco Parent

2 October, 2013

Third in the How to be a _____ Parent series, is Kat from the beautiful and inspiring blog, Eco Empire. Let her inspire you with her tips for nurturing a nature loving family….

I didn’t suddenly decide to become an eco-parent – it just made sense to take care of the environment our children are inheriting. My belief is that even the little things can make a big difference so I try to encourage people to start small but dream big. I started small by looking at the products I was bringing into my home and then I started to dream big – like being self-sustaining with chickens and fruit trees and maybe even bees!

One of the strangest misconceptions about being an eco-parent would be that we make things harder for ourselves. I’ve actually had someone tell me “yeah but I just can’t be bothered recycling” (I thought they were joking, but sadly they weren’t). What you need to know is that being eco conscious does not mean compromising on the good stuff, it just means making informed decisions. I rarely do anything without stopping and thinking how it may affect the environment. The good news is by being eco conscious you often make decisions that are not only better for the environment but better for your family’s health, wellness and bank balance!
how to be an eco parent
Some simple rules to live by:
• Always consider an item’s origins. Whether it be the clothes your kids wear, or the fruit they’re eating – think about where it was made, how it was made, how far it’s come. I try to buy local and ethical products.
• Always read the label. Whether it be that jar of sauce or your laundry liquid, get to know what’s good and what’s bad and be warned about deceptive labelling making out a product is organic or eco-friendly (when it’s not). It’s amazing what kind of toxic and unhealthy ingredients are in well-known products. These are not just bad for the environment, but unhealthy for your family too!
• Ask ‘what are my options’? Don’t just assume that you HAVE to buy or do something. There are always more environmentally friendly options out there. If you’re ever unsure just Google ‘eco-friendly _____’ – there are so many wonderful resources out there for you to find.
• Start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself all at once. Perhaps try to do one new eco thing a week or even month. I’m still learning and growing.

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Here are ten of the easiest eco things I’ve done as a parent that you can do too.

1. Buy second-hand. Kids’ needs grow quickly, so buying everything brand new is often unnecessary and expensive. I buy boxes of second-hand clothes and toys from the local online classifieds or Ebay. Markets and Op Shops are a great place to go too. Most of the things I’ve bought look near new! The kids certainly don’t care that it’s second-hand.
2. Use natural products. Whilst you might eat naturally (wholesome food with no artificial or toxic ingredients) people often forget about what goes on (or makes contact with) their skin – such as bath soap, laundry liquid, kitchen spray and wipe, even medicine. There are so many toxic products that not only damage our ecosystem, but aren’t good for your health either! If you can’t afford to buy eco products, you can possibly make them for next to nothing.
3. Grow your own. Grow fruit, vegetables and if you’re lucky get your own chickens. It’s a great way to ensure you are eating organically and it’s such a great activity to do with the kids and teach them where food comes from. My son is a big fan of picking mint leaves and chewing on them as a snack!
4. Visit the local farmers’ market every weekend as a family ritual. Especially if you can’t grow your own food, you can buy them from local farmers. The markets usually sell fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs as well as breads, plants and homemade jams and preserves. It’s really a great way to do some food shopping disguised as a great family outing!
5. Begin a love affair with nature. It won’t be hard to convince most kids to enjoy the outdoors, in fact as a newborn my son was often only consoled by going outside (I’m talking the instant we walked outside he would stop crying). By teaching them to be kind to animals and respect nature they will become natural mini eco warriors and nature will become their playground. My son can play in our yard for hours with little to no toys.
6. Join a toy library. Usually not-for-profit organisations run by local parents, they offer annual memberships which let you borrow toys (much like a book library) for a set number of weeks. By the time my son is sick of a toy it’s time to return it for something new!
7. Use cloth nappies. Disposable nappies are an environmental disaster taking decades to break down in landfill. There is a big misconception that cloth nappies are hard work, but they’re not! I personally wash (and by wash, I mean put them in a washing machine) my nappies daily so it’s just part of my daily routine and that way it only takes maybe 15 minutes out of my day. That’s not a lot when it means saving thousands of nappies from heading to landfill (not to mention saving you lots of money).
8. DIY and homemade. From recipes to toys, before you buy think about whether you could make it instead. One of my son’s favourite toys as a young baby was a fabric ‘book’ I put together from fabric scraps. He also goes crazy for my homemade dehydrator raw crackers – and the best part is I know exactly what’s in them.
9. Create new traditions. Holidays such as Christmas and Easter (also Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and even birthdays) has turned into a consumerist, commercialised nightmare. I’ve watched kids get absolutely spoiled with gifts only to be happier playing with an empty cardboard box. Come up with new traditions for your family – I’ve always loved the “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read” gift giving philosophy, and for holidays like Easter simply making chocolate Easter eggs together is an affordable fun family activity.
10. Read. I’ve borrowed books from the library and even bought a few, but there is SO much great inspiration and information on the internet. I follow a pile of great blogs written by people, just like me, learning and sharing how they live their lives in a sustainable and eco conscious way. Pinterest is another great resource for ideas. Expand your knowledge!
As a mother I feel like I have been given the most important job in the world. Everything I say and do could shape the person he will become! Talk about pressure! But I think teaching him how to love and care for the environment automatically provides a fun and imaginative childhood, implanting amazing moral and ethical values for life. I think if people aren’t already convinced to ‘go green’ before having kids, holding a newborn baby in your arms and knowing that you’re daily living has an impact on that tiny baby’s future, can be the light bulb moment!

Attachment parenting

Playful parenting with a baby- 5 ways

28 August, 2013

My eldest daughter, Ramona, talks a lot. She said only 7 words or so until her second birthday, at which point the flood gates of speech opened and they haven’t stopped since. Most of it is either hilarious or insightful, and the rest of it involves a variation on “LET’S PLAY!” (spoken exuberantly, in caps, just like that.) She wants to play ALL DAY (spoken aggressively, like Schmidt.)

It is only right; play is how children discover, process and communicate. Play is a crucial way that kids let us know what is going on, and one of the primary ways we can build a strong connection. So I want to nurture that, to be a playful parent. (Most of the time. Sometimes I want to curl up in a corner with a good book while she unravels the toilet roll, puts it in the sink and makes papier mache. Sometimes I think 70p spent on a wasted loo roll is the best 70p ever spent.)

My second child, Juno, is only 4 months old so has no words. But I feel she is communicating the same thing- she’ll shoot me a mischievous look, an invitation; “Let’s play!” She’s been doing it since she was a few weeks old, I’m sure they are born with the same playful ways, and we’ve been playing since. I figure many of the benefits of playful parenting can be ours even now, and it is a habit we can form together that will stay with us for her whole childhood. Here is how we play…
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Follow the giggles!

In his book, Playful Parenting, Lawrence Cohen suggests that playful parenting can be led by the children, that their laughter will show you what they are enjoying so simply go with whatever that ridiculous thing is. Ramona’s first giggle came at 12 week, as Tim danced with her in the loung. It poured out of her like a waterfall- probably one of the best sounds I’ve ever heard in my life.


Noises and expression combination

Juno’s first laugh came when she was lying on my lap looking into her face and doing a PAH! sound with a crazy open mouthed face. There is no diginity at all in playful parenting- the more expressive your face is and the more unnatural the noise is the more your baby will be delightes!

Baby roughhousing
At the International Gentle Parenting Conference I had the privilege of hearing Larry Cohen (it’s Larry to friends, yeah) speak. He spoke about the importance of rough play for kids- how wrestling with us physically helps them work out extra energy, anger, big feelings, and explore new strength and physical potential in a safe place. He described how it can be done with babies too and Juno loves it! I push her around with my head, rolling her over. She grabs my nose and ears and pushes at me.

Nuzzling kisses
This is a softer version of the above, and just as mammal- like! It is simply tickly kisses all over and growls in to her neck. A few parenty authors talk about the danger of tickling (you never thought you’d see that sentence in your life, eh?) and it is true, we must be so sensitive. Tickle fests can be hard to communicate within, kids can like it, but very quickly not. And if we go too far it can be a real invasion of physical boundaries and incredibly disempowering. Tickling babies must be done in tiny doses, softly and with great sensitivity.

Peekaboo
This is the most natural game we all play with babies. At the conference, Laz Cohen (just what his best mates are allowed to call him) discussed a study of Peekaboo. Parents are instinctively amazing at it- knowing exactly, by the milisecond, how long to stay hidden for to get the best response. Beginning to play Peekaboo early is amazing because you can see a babies sense of object permanence develop right in front of you. One day is is like “Boo!” “Whatever, mum.” The next it is like “Boo!” “HAHHAHAHA YOU ARE BRILLIANT MUM! HAHAHA! BRILLIANT I TELL YOU! YOU WERE THERE, THEN NOT, THEN THERE AGAIN! GENIUS!”

How do you engage in play with your babies?

Attachment parenting, Parenting

Authentic Parenting and the Importance of Happiness

30 May, 2013

A few weeks ago, in the late stages of pregnancy when I felt like my womb-baby and rapscallion toddler were running me a bit ragged I  had a totally indulgent, luxurious shower all by myself. (Hey, this is a big deal! Even the stealthiest of my loo breaks are interrupted by a curious “What are you doing, mummy?”)  I was tired and body-weary and even though Tim wasn’t around I just wanted to have some time to myself. I wanted to shower so hard I got WRINKLES. I left Ramona playing alone and I let the hot water run over me for what seemed like half the morning. Every so often she would pop her head in and say “Are you having a nice time, Mummy?” and would skip away, delighting in her mum’s delight.

It struck me just how knitted together a child’s joy is with her parent’s.

One of the biggest implicit myths around Attachment or Gentle Parenting is that a child’s happiness correlates directly with a parent’s sacrifice. No one really says this out loud, but sometimes it does feel like the message is “The more night time parenting you do/ the more babywearing despite back ache/ the more breastfeeding a toddler whilst cooking dinner, the more well- rounded your child will be.”

In a big way I think this really is just rubbish.

I do think there are sacrifices to be made as a parent. And I do think that for babies, those under a year, their needs should always, always, always come first. This will mean less sleep/ stopping what we are doing to respond to a cry/ tough, stretched nipples. (I think most parents can handle this for a tiny one – so many of us gather under the “They are only babies once” banner.)

I think people who appreciate attachment parenting principles can too often forget that there is a balancing of needs to be done. Sometimes this balancing of needs is easy. Often there is  massive joy in meeting our little one’s needs first;  a pleasure in night parenting and putting plans on hold to play.

And then there are other times when we need to listen to our own bodies and minds.

I’m just sure that as our little ones grow we need to grab hold of our own sense of well being. I am becoming increasingly convinced that our children are massively affected by our own happiness.

Too often I see (and become one!) a mother who has taken Attachment Parenting as an order to ignore every niggle and ambition and desire and hope of their own.

Kids take in EVERYTHING. Every grimace. Every flare of the nostrils. If we are babywearing through exhausted discontent then they will know. They will absorb an underlying resentment like the sweat from your neck. So push them in a buggy. It will be about a million times better for you both.

There is some science around this – chemicals we release when we are either joyful or annoyed. (Yeah, that is about as far as my science goes. I spent most of my science classes at school playing with the pet rabbit or dying my hair with the little vials of peroxide.) Oxycontin or adrenaline float through the air like dust, alighting on those we are with and setting off a similar mood. It is why when the plane takes off from the tarmac a palpable fear sometimes descends, or why when we giggle with our children you often end up rolling around in delirium together.

authentic parenting atta

Then I think there is also something about authenticity.  Our children need us to be real and to be honest. Yes, we ARE the adults so for the most part we do need to hold it together, take some deep breaths when we feel like yelling. But if our children never see us sad or cross, what are we teaching them about the importance of expressing emotion? We risk too much if we mask everything, if we are dishonest with ourselves and our children about what is causing us stress.

It isn’t manipulative to discuss with your two year old how hard you find it when she gets naked in public. You aren’t a bad parent if you do a childcare swap (where you baby sit yours and theirs and then they look after yours and theirs another time) with your friend just so you can have an afternoon not being climbed on. If you are a parent with an ambitious mind and a brain that needs stimulation the best thing you can do for your child is get back to the workplace for at least part of the week – they don’t need to be cuddled through your bitterness.

(Also, it is kind of an aside, but while I am justifying all the things I need to do for my own sense of well being: it is natural to describe your crossness after an infuriatingly long and expensive and pointless 0844 call – just maybe don’t growl Ba$!a%ds! in a tone your toddler will find impossible to not repeat all afternoon as you hang up. Er.)

Despite me being the BIGGEST FAN EVER of cosleeping and that I always imagined the four of us would hunker down in the Family Bed, since Juno was born we have split up. Tim and my toddler Ramona in one room and Juno and I in another. Despite knowing Ramona’s needs are being met it was hard to make this decision, I felt like I was letting the world of cosleeping attachment parents down! But maximising the sleep we all get is pretty much a must right now and waking up to one kid each is more than enough!

It is a shame that as people pick up and run with parenting approaches, expert advice is often bashed all over the nuances of our personalities, cultures and families. It annoys me that Attachment Parenting is seen as extreme practice because some people see it as a set of rules to followed, rather than an encouragement for parents to simply connect, connect, connect with our little ones.  And in order to connect we need to be authentic.

I’d love to hear your honest thoughts on this. Can you believe I get annoyed with attachment parenting?! What have you found in your own parenting experience? What do you do to maintain a sense of well being as a parent? As a Gentle/ Attachment parent, do you think we can have a tendency to compromise authenticity?