Tag Archive | parenting

Calling all parents!

Illustration by James Robinson

I’ve come back inside from the great outdoors to think about work, excited by the prospect of my picture book being released this week.

I reckon there’ll not be a parent out there who hasn’t known an inquisitive little spark like this one, endlessly wanting to investigate and not understanding why parents just don’t seem to appreciate it!

I always found it such a comfort to know mine wasn’t the only one. I’m calling all parents to please tell me you’ve got, or had, one the same – it would be a relief to hear!

Hope you enjoy the story, the illustrations are definitely awesome and I reckon it’s okay for me to say that since I didn’t do them!

Look out for it after 27th May. And do let me know if you like it.

The joy and the terror!

I thought galloping about on a massive uncontrollable horse was the most terrifying thing I’d ever do. spring15 016

Then I had children!

Becoming a parent is full of both joy and terror, when you become terrified of your sudden vulnerability through your children, especially as they begin to experience the challenges and dangers of the world beyond the safety of your nest.

But these days, as well as concern for my grown up girls, I face a new kind of terror on the cusp of releasing a new book.

Probably most people don’t realise this about writers; that the reason they write is because they love the world. They want to illustrate it, champion it, contribute to it, give support or entertainment, send out a message. My book; ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ was an attempt to do all those things.

The fear comes at the prospect of that attempt to offer some love being rejected, ridiculed, spurned, or not reaching its mark.

It’s a fear that writers face as real as leaving your child to school for the first time or the start of home educating. Although I have to admit that my fear of the former was by far the greatest; home educating seemed less scary than leaving our children in a system that for some is totally wrong.

As a writer, just like raising and educating children, you have no control of the outcome of all this, or what happens. You have to hand over to the world and wait the world’s response, either warmth or rejection of your babies or your baby book! Waiting on that response is terrifying.

So I’m a little reassured to read a couple of reviews by lovely supporters prior to its forthcoming release on 27th. You can read them here and here. But the best recommendation of all is their child wanting to read it over and over again.

I’m indebted to those children and families for putting my mind at rest. Gives me further courage.

Courage enough perhaps to leave my nest and maybe chat to some of you at forthcoming events we’re hoping to hold to celebrate it. The first is likely to be in the Peterborough area but there will be others. Date to be announced soon so sign up to this or the publisher’s website to hear when.

Meanwhile, I hope you’ll understand the fears of writers a little better and will be kind to them. Just like children and parents and home educators they too need a bit of encouragement to overcome their fears!

Born Naughty?

“Mum, there’s a programme on Channel 4 tonight you might like, I just saw a trailer,” says Charley as she comes through to where I’m working.

I look up from the keyboard and peer at her suspiciously. “Oh, yea? What’s that then?” She knows I’m not into watching telly much, especially fly-on-the-wall type programmes that turn people’s misery into dramatic telly just because it’s cheap to make!

“It’s apparently about children being naughty – whether it’s learned or genetic. Thought you’d be interested as I know how much you hate that word.” She grinned at me round the door frame. She’s heard me ranting over parenting programmes many a time, and use very bad language!

I’ve always hated the concept of ‘naughty’. It goes right back to when I worked in schools back in the dark ages when parents instructed me to not worry about ‘givin ‘im a belt round the ear, cos he’ll need it, he’s so naughty’. A parent actually said that to me on one occasion.

I couldn’t really understand it, for I never had reason to label that child, or any other, as ‘naughty’. I always took the approach; kids have reasons for what they do. I appreciate that small kids aren’t open to reason sometimes and parents could do with some guidance themselves. You get thrown in the deep end with parenting – how could we know how to deal with the more complex challenges it throws our way?

The programme, ‘Born Naughty’ was quite empathetic. But when it opened with a question; ‘Do these children need diagnosis or discipline?’ I quailed at the prospect of these kids like many others just being given pills to calm them down. And I certainly quivered at the images of frustrated, screaming and anxious kids and desperate parents in dire conflict with one another. I never had to deal with anything quite so upsetting or extreme.

But watching the parents my heart went out to them. Parents always get the blame when a child is a screaming whirlwind of tantrum, don’t they? But funny how you never seem to get the credit for when they’re beautiful little people who do all the right things!

We certainly saw some screaming whirlwinds on the programme and the parents said how sick they were of everyone pointing the finger at them when they’d tried their best to manage. But child behaviour is never, ever just the fault of parenting. It’s far more complex than that.

Everyone’s behaviour, our own included, is affected by a multitude of things; our genetic make up, personality and character, our environment and family life, even the food we eat and the opportunity for exercise and recreation to help us burn off stress, feel calm and relax. It is never just the parents’ fault in isolation.

The programme dealt very sensitively with all this and made several recommendations to help parents deal with the challenges they faced with the children’s behaviour. Interestingly it was observed how contact with animals helped one girl, which I talked about in my last blog post.

But the answers lay in a collection of influences that we as parents could not possibly know about if we hadn’t already experienced them. And when you’re parents of young children, you haven’t! It’s as simple as that.

There’s no loss of face in asking for help, asking those who’ve spent hours observing and working with different child behaviours who might have more of an insight that we do with our limited experience.

I’m not in favour of children being labelled, filled with drugs, or forcibly restrained. I never trust the so-called experts unquestioningly.

But sometimes you have to seek help and guidance in order to save the child from themselves. Youngsters cannot understand that their behaviour is what connects them to others which is one of the elements in life that make us most happy. It’s also what can destroy those connections, which benefits no one.

When children are immature they cannot control their impulses as we can. They cannot understand the awful feelings they have or how to manage them. They’re not interested in reasons.

So it’s up to us to try and understand these reasons behind their behaviour – it was extreme anxiety in one of the examples – and guide them towards overcoming it with patience and consistency, so that they can go on to enjoy connected and happy lives.

There is no such thing as ‘naughtiness’ – only reasons. That’s not an excuse. It’s a demand for greater understanding.

And to increase my understanding, I might watch the next one. For a fly-on-the-wall parenting programme, it wasn’t too bad!

Amazing shows and guinea pigs!

Well, it was amazing!20150511_122251

Their production sold all tickets which is a pretty incredible achievement for a fist venture, says she with just a teeny bit of pride. I am choked!

I am also choked because the snag with visiting loved ones is you have to leave them again! Tears threaten and throats go constricted and the journey home is beset with gloom.

I console myself that the girl I leave behind not only has the most loving partner to cuddle her now, where once only mum would do, but she also has guinea pigs!

You wouldn’t think guinea pigs would make such a difference. But there’s something in the deep emotive caring part of our being that flourishes through a connection with an animal.

There have been studies done on it apparently.

Studies or not there was something in my grown up girl that made her feel the need for an animal in her life again. She’d always had them when little when I gritted my teeth and got over my aversion to cages and we had a variety of furry things over the years. And seeing the children calm themselves with caressing a pet, put their cheeks to furry bodies as I held my cheek to infant hair, I knew it was worth it. I watched them virtually dissolve into bliss.

Ironically I’ve just seen the same sensation in my twenty four year old. Pets bring something to life that calms stress and ignites that loving side when it gets buried in the business of life.

I recently read the most beautiful book ‘The Gentle Barn’ about a special centre offering animal therapy to lost and troubled children. The connection to, looking after, and physical proximity of warm loving beings connects children to a loving core that may have been imprisoned by traumatic life experiences.

I think putting on a production for the first time ever may almost have felt like a traumatic life experience for my eldest and her partner! But afterwards I watched some of it leech away whilst holding a guinea pig!

I might try it and maybe I can heal some of the trauma a mum inevitably feels at wrenching partings from grown up girls by cuddling the cat!

A couple of decades later…

Production shot from Decade 20

When you relinquish your little one to the mayhem of backstage that accompanies any children’s production you wonder whether you’re doing the right thing. It appears to be a mad disorganised crush of costumes, dropped make-up, stressed parents and performers and a half dressed chorus line looking bewildered.

I remember a strong desire to snatch Chelsea back to my suffocating bosom and cry ‘You’re not doing it’!

But I got over it, went out front and watched with amazement this perfect little pro overcome her own shyness to do what she loves; perform on stage. (You can read some of this in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’)

I’ve since found out how many actors are shy. Yet there followed from that day many a production, two or three a year, which we sat through and applauded with dripping cheeks, for the next twenty years – can you believe!

Now, all that ground work has culminated in a play that Chelsea, with her partner Rich Foyster, has written, produced, directed and everything else it takes to put on a production – an enormous amount of work, believe me, I’ve had the exhausted phone calls.

What appeared impossible has evolved into a remarkable project I could never have imagined. The play, ‘Decade 20’, is to be performed during the Brighton Fringe on 8th and 9th  of May – just a few tickets left if you’ve a mind for a grown up evening out away from your little ones. Because your lovely children will also one day be staging their own grown up lives away from you and you’ll need to acclimatise!

And even though I still hanker to snatch her back from the strife of life and say ‘you’re not doing it’ and bleed through the angst of those phone calls, it’s just as well not to. For our beautiful children need us to be as brave as them and let them be what they want to be.

I can’t wait to see it. And there’ll no doubt be tears of pride and yet still bewilderment on how a shy little girl could go so far!

Watch the trailer here.

Do children need forcing over shyness?

Charley and I had a jaunt out together the other day. She’s a lovely young adult now and we share grown up things together like art centres, charity treasure seeking or walks. And I always enjoy the opportunity to chat – and listen. How did she become so intelligent and astute? Sometimes I feel I’ve been overtaken!

Quite randomly we got to talking about shyness, particularly in children. She was painfully shy; pulling hat down over eyes rather than engaging with people. Hated crowds, hated people noisy places, and generally had a serious frowning face as a baby. It was a good job our first child was beaming as I might have thought it was me making her miserable.

Her Gran could get her giggling though and when she did crack out a smile the sun shone. But she was never one for leaving my legs and joining in.

Yet she recently managed a very difficult conversation with a boss. How did she get from being the shy little girl, shy big girl as well, to someone who could deal with situations like college, Uni, colleagues and bosses? As a home educating family, whose children don’t experience the affray of school, you’re often accused of failing to push them out into the big wide world. ‘They have to get used to it’ you’re told. Is this true?

It’s a dilemma for parents: How much do we push interaction and how much do we leave it to develop naturally?

Not being a parent who was comfortable with any kind of enforcement, and being shy myself, I felt very strongly I shouldn’t push. That in the right environment, with the right encouragement and a consistent demonstration, with exposure that a child feels comfortable with, you don’t need to push interaction it will develop naturally through developing confidence. And confidence comes from support and experience.

This is what Charley says about it; ‘I hated it when people approached me when I was little. I felt sick and like I wanted to cry. I was so grateful to have you as a shield if I needed it and I can look back and see now that you let it be alright if I didn’t want to talk to people. If you’d pushed me out before I was ready I would have thought you were ganging up on me as well, as that’s what it felt like. Instead I had the choice to interact or not and very young children need that protection’.

I knew that sick feeling well, so I was determined that she shouldn’t suffer the same. We are all different and all have different characteristics.

However, I knew that Charley did need to become confident in dealing with people. And I thought about certain strategies to pass on as she grew to help her over those difficult situations. I remember telling her that sometimes all you have to do is look people in the eye, say hello, then look away and they’re satisfied with that and leave you alone. I made sure that I approached people with confidence so she could copy my example (I was bluffing but she didn’t know that!) and told her about ice-breakers, where you talk about something that’s common between you – even the weather. And smiling always helps! Little tips like these she could put into practice and gain experience from using.

As we were chatting about this Charley went on to say; ‘As I got older I realised that being shy, and not being physically able to speak to people, wasn’t going to be help me progress and get where I wanted. So I had to get over it so I took courage and went for it as my confidence grew. I also wanted people to think I was approachable. Looking at people and smiling changes their responses to me and helps them relax’.

And now you wouldn’t know she was shy and she seems very good at putting people at their ease. Better than her mother probably! She certainly does when she’s photographing them – there’s no worse subject than me, but she managed it for my blog.

Yet this was a child who was not taken to toddler group, contrary to the advice of health visitors who think it’s a way of ‘socialising’ them. (That’s rubbish and you can read why in my book ‘Mumhood’). She was not sent to school. She was not forced into group situations before she was ready. She was not forced to party, mix, engage, unless she chose to, just came along as we did it, but whether she interacted was up to her.

And I wanted to write this here in support of all those painfully shy children who are forced to ‘get over it’. And all those parents who worry or who think they should be forcing their children to mix – you shouldn’t. Or that home education is going to compound the problem. It doesn’t.

You don’t have to push them out there – they want to get out there for themselves when the time is right. And they will do – Charley is proof.

Balancing the crazy parenting scales!

I SO appreciate the comments, compliments and messages I receive via this blog, Twitter and Facebook.

You can't force a tree to blossom or a child to bloom

You can’t force a tree to blossom or a child to bloom

THANK YOU!

They are a delight to read and help restore balance and perspective on days when I’m laying words in isolation and never hear a voice except the one in my head – which gets dead boring! Especially messages like one recently telling me how valuable my work was to their parenting life, despite not being a home educating family.

That’s nice to know. Because firstly, I’m for all parents, I’m for families, whatever route they take. And secondly it confirms such an important point; family life and education (all education not just home education) are interconnected. And the trick is to maintain the balance between them.

What a balancing act parenting always is, with decisions to make about how we parent and what to do for the best, all the time.

Even now mine are older, I constantly question how I should react, support, advise, not only as in the ‘right’ thing to do (whatever that is), but what’s right for our individuals and in the wider picture.

Looking at a broader picture sometimes can help maintain balance when we’re bogged down in concerns which seem overwhelming at the time. In the perspective of the broader picture it helps sometimes to ask; will this really matter in a week’s time, a month’s, a year’s, ten years? So it can ease a concern by balancing it with that broader time frame.

A world-view frame also helps when little dilemmas about our children’s behaviour constantly rise and we wonder how best to deal with them. Often these boil down to; should our child be doing this, should we stop them doing this, should we make them do that? And how to encourage what we want them to do?

I looked at it this way; their behaviour matters, not because I want ‘good’ little children. Neither do I want oppressed little children; that doesn’t make for good. But behaviour is about respect.

I wanted children who respected the world, who respected others, who didn’t abuse, who showed concern and consideration, and who were likeable little beings as this benefited both them as individuals and the wider world and its people. And the best way to encourage that caring behaviour is to demonstrate it.

Respect is just care really. It’s not about dominance. Or indoctrination. Or being either strict or liberal. It’s about mutual care and consideration for the world and all things and people in it. Respect for our children. And that’s why education is so important and tied up in our parenting. Because it is only through being educated about these things that children can practice them. We guide them by the way we show it, the way we behave, through our demonstration and explanation.

However, keeping that in balance; children are never finished! They need time to mature into – tidying up for example, not hitting others, not snatching, being helpful, being able to see others’ point of view, sharing jobs, stuff like that. This is where we need the balancing perspective of a time frame, and of a wider picture. We have to guide, encourage, be tolerant and consistent. They will get it wrong.

But never use that wider picture as an opportunity to compare your child with others. Although we all want to operate within a social world, we are all individuals in it, developing in individual ways at individual paces. And we all develop educationally at individual rates too. Sometimes parenting – and educating – requires us to bite our lips and wait. Be patient.

Just as you can’t hurry blossom on a tree you can’t hurry your child’s bloom either.

Another point about this balancing act is one that’s very easy for me to say now, but hard to accept when the children are little; the children are going to change! Nothing stays the same. The blossom nor the child!

The toy strewn floor will one day be empty. The fact that your child can’t seem to add two and two together right now will probably make no difference by the time they’re sixteen and competent in maths. The child who won’t tidy up will become the student who’s moaning to you down the phone about their housemate’s mess. That’s really funny when it happens!

So I found it best to maintain a balanced perspective on all these niggles, between rules and flexibility, between what really matters and what you can just let go for the sake of a good relationship, and consistently demonstrate respect for one another. Demonstration is the biggest influence of all.

And we don’t have to get it right all the time either – we’re still learning. I describe a tantrum I had in ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ where I get my behaviour and perspective horribly wrong. But guess what, the children forgave me as I forgave them, and despite my mistakes we have a wonderful adult relationship now that is based in love and respect and immensely treasured.

For I had to learn too; even through the ‘unbalanced’ bits, you never stop your education – however old you get.

And just like children, we all need that pat on the back when we get it right, which is why your messages move me so!

Thank you!