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“Get a move on!” Road safety and parental rudeness

Posted by Samantha on Sep 18, 2015 in Communication, Conditioning, Consequences, Safety, Worry
Crossing fields...easier than crossing roads

Crossing fields…easier than crossing roads

I pulled to a stop at a red traffic light the other day. Two teachers began ushering a long line of primary school kids across the road right in front of my car bonnet.

All the children wore those bright-yellow high-visibility jackets and were around six and seven years old. The teachers were so close that I could hear them clearly through the open window of my car.

 

“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, go, go, go”, said one, touching each child on the shoulder and kind of shooshing* them along.

 

(*Shooshing – a cross between a shove and a push, not truly rough, but not gentle either.)
A second teacher also did this shooshing thing and added her own “Move, move, get a move on”.

***
Both teachers seemed harried and irritated. Both teachers seemed afraid of the danger the children were in while crossing the road.
I felt sad watching this. How tragic is it that the teachers were so worried for the children in their care that they treated them like that? How awful is it that they thought there was even a tiny chance that I would begin to move my car before the children had all crossed the road?

***
Did they think these fear-inducing thoughts consciously? Were they aware of how their fear was making them behave rudely? I don’t know, but their behaviour certainly betrayed the fear they felt.

***
This is a classic example of how we often unthinkingly speak to our children in ways that demean them; that are offensive to their innate dignity as human beings.  We usually do this when we move  out of love and care and into fear. Most of us would not dream of speaking to an adult in this way. And if we did, that adult (if they were emotionally healthy) would not spend long in our company.
And yet our children cannot escape. Day in and day out they have to listen to our fearful exhortations. They have to suffer the indignity of being shooshed and barked at.

***
The situation was not all the teachers’ fault either. It was a busy junction. Maybe another driver would have revved or moved their car forward as soon as the light turned green. Our roads and drivers are frequently hostile to young pedestrians. Getting the children across the road as fast as possible was the right thing to do.
And I know I’ve spoken to my own children in ways that have demeaned them so I certainly don’t condemn those teachers for how they treated the children in their care.

***

But understanding where behaviour comes from doesn’t undo the consequences of the behaviour. Right before my eyes I witnessed adults behaving rudely under pressure to children.
Rest assured, the way we speak to our children will come home to roost.

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Who’s in charge in your family?

Posted by Samantha on Jun 4, 2015 in Boundaries, Communication, Connection, Expectations, Respect, Trust

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” John 2:1-5 (NASB)

 

One of us has to be in charge...while he is this age....it's me.

One of us has to be in charge…while he is this age….it’s me.

I am convinced that the story of the Wedding at Cana contains many great lessons for mothers and sons (and daughters) everywhere, in every time.  I am deeply grateful that St John recorded it for us.

For starters, Mary is quite indirect and yet her son understands what she means.  He doesn’t give her a lecture on saying what she means!  In this I hear validation of parents’ sometimes indirect way of requesting things.

Jesus disagrees with her that it would be appropriate for him to do anything and he says so – with a touch of irritation according to some translations. What are we to make of his “Woman”?  Newer translations try to soften it by saying “Dear woman”.

But I read “Woman!” as evidence of a slightly jokey, loving relationship between them – a little bit like when I address my own Mom as “Mother!” when I’m a tiny bit irritated but also amused.  In fact, I know my own brother sometimes says “Woman!” to my mother in exactly that kind of jokey, loving tone that yes, is slightly irked, but amused because of course she’s right! (He also has an equivalent “Wife!” thing going on with my sister-in-law that is very cute and amusing for all of us).

My first ever bible from junior school translates what Jesus says as “You must not tell me what to do”, which makes me laugh nowadays because it reminds me of how annoying my own daughter finds it when I tell her what to do!

Then – and this is vital – Jesus does what his mother asks.  Let me type that again: JESUS DOES WHAT HIS MOTHER ASKS.

Most bible commentators I’ve read emphasise Mary telling the servants to do whatever he tells them.  Her trust in him and submission to him is a lesson to us they say.

But I think they’re missing a crucial point: he did what she asked.  In other words, he submitted to her.

This is so very important, I’m even going to say it again: Jesus did what his mother wanted him to do even when it was not what he wanted to do.

The fact that she immediately turned to the servants and said do what he tells you, suggests to me that she was sure of his cooperation.  In other words, she was confident in her parental authority.

We can certainly learn from Mary’s ceding to Christ’s authority – and I believe this was a turning point in their relationship, when the authority swapped as Jesus stepped into the role which his mother had helped prepare him for.

But we should not overlook the fact that when his mother said in effect “You are ready, go”, he paused for a moment, and then trusted his mother.

Thought for the day

God, help me to find the quiet confidence of Mary.  Help me to trust my children to do the right thing, to listen to me, to show me respect and acknowledge my authority over them.  Help me also come to them with a spirit of quiet assurance and love.  I do not have to be forceful if I am sure of my right to be in charge.

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Should gay couples have kids? Should any of us?

Posted by Samantha on Mar 16, 2015 in Relationships
I love her....and yet....sometimes I wound her deeply

I love her….and yet….sometimes I wound her deeply

Courtney Love has tweeted she wants to burn her Dolce & Gabbana clothes because of the “senseless bigotry” of Stefano Gabbano’s beliefs that a child needs a mother and a father; that he could not imagine his childhood without his mother.

I feel for Courtney Love: a woman whose own daughter has had to somehow integrate the suicide of her father when she was only an infant.  A woman who (I’m guessing, based on her immoderate over-reaction to the Elton John / Dolce & Gabbana dispute) is working hard to deny the impact of her and her late-husband’s historical drug and alcohol abuse on their daughter.

Elton John (a man not well known for moderate reactions) is understandably offended by Stefano Gabbana’s comments, though I do not believe the comments are inherently offensive.  They seem to have gone right to the core of Elton John’s insecurities.  He is hardly unique in wondering if he is a good enough parent; in secretly worrying that he might – at least on occasion – be doing a terrible job.

There is hardly a parent out there who will not deeply wound their own precious child over the course of their childhood; just as there is not an adult child out there who has not been wounded by their own parents.

When this wisdom about the nature of the parent / child relationship is treated without compassion we get attitudes like those exemplified by Oliver James’ famous book title “They F**k You Up”.  Or what I’ve now heard referred to as “parent-blame”.  Parent-blame is a sad blight on the life of the modern family.

But perhaps even more achingly sad is how parents struggle to keep at bay, the painful awareness of how their choices (or their powerlessness over their choices) wound their children.

Whether it’s your work, your hobbies, a divorce, infidelity, chronic arguments, a tendency to criticism and negativity, depression or other mental illness, a physical illness, the illness of another one of your children, your children are hurt by these things; sometimes deeply.

It goes without saying that being the offspring of Elton John and David Furnish will bring unique advantages.  It also has the potential to bring unique pain.  Will the deepest cuts be because Elton John’s children have two Dads?  The truth is that we have no idea.  But in a world where bullying can happen as a result of the slightest sign of difference, I would say it’s not difficult to imagine that it isn’t always easy to have two gay parents.

I don’t think that should be a controversial statement.

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What do you mean “Do I work?” I have two children and a husband!

Posted by Samantha on Mar 10, 2015 in Hope
Family games night - unpaid....but worthwhile....

Family games night – unpaid and unglamorous….but worthwhile….

I’ve just read a BBC article which concludes with the sentiment that the Japanese government wants to “fully utilise its female workforce”.  This means they want to get women out of full time at-home employment (i.e. supporting children and husbands and running a home – which is still called being a housewife in Japan) and into full-time out-of-the-home employment.

I don’t know about Japan, but I know here in the UK, on top of work supporting children, step children, husbands, partners (and often exes), parents, family members, friends and neighbours, not to mention running households, many women without full time paid jobs (who are therefore apparently not being “fully utilised”) are also a vital part of our society doing work on a voluntary and unpaid basis in schools, churches, charities and communities up and down the country.

Are we now also to be unappreciated for this as well as unpaid?

Creating school notice boards....more unpaid work undertaken by mothers....

Creating school notice boards….more unpaid work undertaken by mothers….

I also, thanks to the miracle of the internet, manage to run a small business from home as well as doing occasional (under)paid work in schools and children’s centres when I can. There are increasing numbers of women like me who supplement their family’s income with this type of child-friendly working arrangement.

I have the greatest admiration for women who manage to juggle their unpaid life commitments with a full-time paid career.  I could not do it.

Contrary to what many in governments seem to think, children remain a lot of work beyond the age of three.  For the sake of my health and my sanity, I simply cannot afford to work full time outside the home, no matter how much I might like the extra money, or how much the government might like the effect on the economic statistics of the country.

I love the attitude apparently voiced by many young female Japanese students in response to this push to get women to comply with such a narrow definition of a workforce: “The government wants me to give birth, raise a child properly and work full time? Are they trying to kill me?”

I find any discourse about female employment that refuses to recognise my commitment to my family and community as worthwhile, quite simply offensive.  More fundamentally, I find the refusal to recognise my work as EMPLOYMENT profoundly sexist.

I will always remember my mother pulling me up short one day when (in the arrogance of my early 20s) I was telling her off for “not having done anything with her life”.  She pointed out to me that she had made a choice to raise me and my siblings as a full time mother, that she would do it again, and that she would not tolerate my unappreciative, feminist-sounding, but profoundly anti-woman and motherhood sentiments.  What a lesson she taught me.

The true point of feminism must be to recognise the fundamental equality – despite differences – of the sexes.

It seems to me that we are coming dangerously close to denying any value to the types of work that women have traditionally undertaken – raising children, making a house a home, connecting with family and friends, showing mercy and compassion to those who need help.

I for one refuse to bow to this pressure to believe that only full time paid employment outside the home counts as “work”.

What I do with my time – most of the time – may be unpaid, but it is unquestionably of immense worth.

It is high time those running the country recognised this too.

 
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What if my children are not ok?

Posted by Samantha on Jan 14, 2014 in Letting Go, Trust
What if they're going to be all ok?

What if they’re going to be all ok?

What if my children grow up and they’re not ok?

What if I’m making too many mistakes?

What if they grow up and blame me for everything that’s “wrong” with them?

What if they drop out of school? Or college?  Or life?

What if the pressure is too much for them?

 

What if none of that turns out to be true….?

 

What if my children grow up and they’re more than ok?

What if the future that lies in store for them is beyond my wildest dreams?

What if they become people that bring tears of awe and gratitude to my eyes and heart?

What if they grow up to see me as I truly am: flawed, but really trying?

What if they grow up and love me anyway?

 

What would I do differently today if I believed this second story?

 

 

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How should we handle teenage bullies?

Posted by Samantha on Oct 21, 2013 in Bullying, Consequences, Criticism, Punishment, Responsibility, Teasing

kickingPupils at a school in Yorkshire have assaulted at least 6 of their fellow pupils in an unofficial “Kick a Ginger Kid Day”.

The school have called the acts “deplorable” and have “acted swiftly to send a strong message”.  It seems the pupils involved have been strongly reprimanded.  Furthermore, there has been a school-wide warning that any future acts of violence will be “met with similar strong and decisive action”.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10387636/Kick-a-Ginger-Kid-Day-leads-to-attacks-on-schoolchildren.html

I can state with some confidence that the school are deluding themselves if they think this will be an effective consequence.  In my opinion this is  a clear example of the punishment not fitting the crime.

As one parent of an attacked child said “If I went into school and kicked a kid then I would be arrested.”

Why do I believe the school’s action will be ineffective?

For starters, I suspect that teenagers who would take part in such an attack will be able to consciously shrug off a strong reprimand.

A strong reprimand is essentially criticism.  This will subconsciously reinforce the teenagers’ negative image of themselves.

It gives them no opportunity to make amends for their terrible behaviour.  This means they have no alternative but to carry the shame and/or try to deny it.  This will further harden their hearts and subvert their consciences.

The schools’ choice of consequence does not offer the wronged and wounded pupils an apology and a chance to heal their hurt.  This inappropriately lenient consequence runs the risk that their hearts and consciences will be negatively affected by the incidents too.

It reinforces the idea that adults are not empowered to stand up to violent teenagers with truly serious consequences.

It contains no element of taking personal responsibility for the effects of one’s actions, which would be an essential element of an effective consequence.

What will the kids learn from this attempt at discipline?

Nothing that they haven’t already learned a long time ago: that adults will criticise you non-stop no matter what you do.  All you need to learn is to stand still and pretend to be listening to their drivel.

If kids could actually keep our criticism out of their hearts and minds it might be merely ineffective at teaching the qualities we hope it will: in this instance perhaps kindness, remorse and empathy.

Unfortunately for all of us, the strong reprimand the school have so hopefully doled out, will – on it’s own – teach none of those qualities to these teenagers.

The school authorities needs to (re)familiarise themselves with the concepts of restorative justice and being in charge.  Otherwise unruly pupils will continue on their destructive and negative lifepaths.

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When parents hurt their children

Posted by Samantha on Sep 18, 2013 in Courage, Guilt, Safety, Thought for the day, Violence
Let's not keep pretending the way we're living isn't hurting them

Let’s not keep pretending the way we’re living isn’t hurting them

Daniel Pelka was murdered by his mother and her partner because adults were scared of wrongly accusing his mother of abuse.

Now that he’s dead people are shocked the abuse could get so bad without detection.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-coventry-warwickshire-24106823

But it’s not so hard to understand really.  These days we are not allowed to say (out loud!) that there is any such thing as a bad parent, lest we be accused of heaping blame on already guilty parents.

But the uncomfortable truth is that there are very many abusive parents out there.

Even more uncomfortably, there are very many parents who are hurting their children dreadfully through practices we deem “normal” – for example, relationship and marital disharmony, infidelity, separation and divorce, remarriage, long working hours, devotion to hobbies, frequent socialising.  I could go on.

Children are not depressed and eating disordered and abusing drugs and alcohol and out of control and failing in school for no reason.  Children these days have very many reasons to be furious at adults.

That’s no different than before though.  What’s different today is that we have muddled upon a way of empowering and yet abandoning children which is giving rise to increasing numbers of children expressing their pain and suffering in increasingly diverse ways.

There is no silver bullet for the malaise we see in the lives of so many children today.  But I was taught that all successful cure begins with accurate diagnosis.

It might feel good to tell ourselves that we are doing great as parents – like the baby food and nappy ads tell us.  But the data is telling a different story.

Our children are struggling because we are failing them.  And we are failing them because we are frightened of facing up to our own imperfections as parents and taking it on the chin like adults.  We prefer to bleat that it makes us feel guilty to hear such things.

We must seize that guilt and examine it.  Then we can reject it if it is false guilt (e.g. feeling guilty about having to work or give our children rules and boundaries for their behaviour).

Or we can learn from it and change if the guilt is well founded.  This is the whole point of guilt and human conscience.  It is a mechanism to guide our behaviour.  We must remember how to use our guilt functionally.  Not merely run away from it.

When we face our own parental guilt and resolve it, it will be less difficult for all of us to tell the difference between an abusive parent and a “could do better” one.  And fewer children like Daniel Pelka will die.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-coventry-warwickshire-24106823

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When teenagers have sex…

Posted by Samantha on Aug 15, 2013 in Parenting Dilemmas, Relationships, Responsibility, Teenagers

Young LoveI’ve just read a story about a 17 year old boy who jumped to his death from the Forth Road Bridge.  He was being blackmailed about online conversations he’d had with someone he thought was a girl his own age.  You can read more about this sad story here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2394520/Dunfermline-teenager-Daniel-Perry-17-kills-blackmailers-trick-Skype.html

When will we begin to have realistic conversations about teenagers’ sexual activity?
When a 17 year old sends an explicit photo of themselves to a 17 year old friend, they have broken the law and can be charged with making or distributing indecent images.
Phrases like “sexually predatory” are certainly loaded and it is obviously wrong to lay the blame for a rape at the feet of a 13 year old rape victim. But it is also clear to me that some very young teenagers are sexually promiscuous and can be sexually manipulative.
As Dave Lee Travis is arrested on 12 counts of historical sexual offences who will say out loud that a man having consensual sex with a woman in her late teens is a very different offence to a man having consensual sex with a girl in her early teens.
There is too much high emotion in most media conversations surrounding children, teenagers and sex.
It is preventing us from having level-headed discussions that will truly safeguard children and young adults – from both predators and each other.
We need to include words like morality and modesty and responsibility in these conversations.
In a world of moral relativism and an increasing fear of being seen as “judgemental” this will be difficult.
But we should not shy away from it.
Because we cannot keep our children safe if we do not have these discussions in an atmosphere where sanity, level-headedness and reason prevail.
***
Frank Furedi’s book Moral Crusades in an Age of Mistrust: The Jimmy Savile Scandal is an example of an attempt to have a level-headed discussion about these issues http://www.amazon.co.uk/Moral-Crusades-Age-Mistrust-Palgrave/dp/1137338016

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Helping kids with big changes – moving house, school or country

Posted by Samantha on Jun 10, 2013 in Change, Communication, Feelings, Moving house
Fully settled in...

Fully settled in…

How should we prepare children for big moves – like a new school, or a new house, or living in a new country?

There’s a lot of advice out there: keep children involved in the process, get them to imagine the change, have them keep a diary of all the steps along the way, talk with them about it.

I’m not sure that many parents have either the time or inclination to do the sorts of exercises that are recommended nowadays for helping children to cope with change.

In the past, parents didn’t talk much about this big stuff with children.  A child could even lose a parent and no one really talked with them about it.  Nowadays we know that becoming emotionally literate requires us to talk about our emotional lives.  But you don’t have to be a therapist for your kids – you just have to be open and honest with them.

I recall that my parents talked freely about the exciting and positive aspects of moving house when I was 11.  But we didn’t talk about my sadness.  And they didn’t talk about their own sadness, if they were sad, about leaving our home.

I think my parents intuitively knew that focusing on the positive would be beneficial for us.  Of course, it would have been great if they could have acknowledged sadness as well.  But to be fair to them, I was the kind of kid – and became the kind of adult – who focused more on the exciting future, than on what I was leaving behind.  I hid my sadness.  That was a strategy that served me reasonably well for a long time.

All children (and adults) vary in the degree to which they look forward or back when facing change.  There are temperamental differences too governing whether we focus more on the scariness or the excitement of an impending move.  If your family is facing a move, try to be mindful of how each member of the family deals with change.

Children are normally sad about what they are leaving behind (the losses).  But they may be relieved or happy as well.  And they are usually scared and excited (two feelings which actually feel very similar) about what is coming in the future.  And they will certainly have learned to feel and express these emotions to varying degrees.

My family moved last year.  We kept our children involved in the process.  But not too much.  The metaphor I like is that of a democracy: everyone’s voice matters, but you have to be over 18 to vote!

I had my children write a list of all the things they would like in their ideal new home.  I wrote one too.  We cut out a map of our area, marked our school with an ‘X’ and then drew our ideal circle (5 mins away) and our realistic circle (20 mins) for where we wanted our new house to be.

I didn’t do this because I have too little to do with my days, because I actually follow the advice from the “help children cope with change” books, or because I am Kirsty Allsopp’s worst nightmare client.

I did it with an ulterior motive.  My daughter could pester for Britain (we work very hard on keeping her natural persistence in check).  I did it so that she wouldn’t pester us to buy every house we looked at.  And it worked!

For example, my children were very keen that our new home should have a tree house with a slide to get out of it.  Believe it or not, we actually found a house with such an unlikely item.  But it was missing plenty of other things from our lists.  So our children found it easy not to get attached to the idea of living there despite the awesome tree house.

As our moving date got closer and closer, we talked and cried and remembered and laughed a lot about all the things we had done in the home we were leaving.  We talked about what we loved and what we would miss.  I held them and I hugged them and I listened and I talked.  I wouldn’t say I was being a therapist – I was just being a parent.  I didn’t lead the whole process either.  I was just open to when they brought things up.  And sometimes I brought it up myself because it was where I was in that moment.

The day we found our new house, I surprised myself by bawling crying.  It was a bittersweet moment.  While I was really excited to have found what would be our new home, finding it meant we really were leaving our old home.  I loved our old house and part of me was devastated to be leaving it.  I let the tears come.  And then I watched them go.  I have moved a lot of times in my life and I’d never felt like this before.  I realised it was because I’d never let myself feel like this before.

But we didn’t just move.  Our home was scheduled for demolition.

We had to talk about that too.  I let my kids talk and I answered their questions as honestly and simply as I could.

When it comes to moving, I’d really recommend that you don’t make promises you can’t keep about friends.  My kids stayed in the same school.  But if yours are facing a school move as well as a house move, by all means tell them they can stay in touch with or keep seeing friends.  But maybe resist the urge to say things that imply they’ll be able to keep in touch with all their friends for all their life!

We can aim to strike a balance between not taking away their hope, and easing them gently into the idea that friendships ebb and flow.  I know a lot of women who give themselves a hard time about not keeping up with childhood friends as much as they “should”.

On the day they started to knock down our old house (my next door neighbour texted me to let me know it had begun – I was ever so grateful!), I went and stood watching for a while.  And I just felt the sadness of my loss.  I drove by on a regular basis to watch the house coming down, and with the kids too, we have kept an occasional eye on the new ones going up.

On our most recent drive-by I noticed that for me the process is almost over – the site is no longer “our house”.

I reckon the kids have moved on too.

So what am I saying about how to prepare kids for big changes like moving house, or school or country?  Be present.  Be real.

I’d like to finish by quoting a few pertinent lines from the brilliant Brene Brown’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto taken from her book Daring Greatly:

“Together we will cry and face fear and grief.  I will want to take away your pain, but instead I will sit with you and teach you how to feel it…..

I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly, but I will let you see me, and I will always hold sacred the gift of seeing you.  Truly, deeply seeing you.”

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Should children have best friends?

Posted by Samantha on May 3, 2013 in Happiness, Over-control, Relationships, Trust

Onesie TimeEarlier this week I was musing with my husband about whether all this well-meaning parental interference in our children’s friendships was hampering the development of those friendships and in particular, best-friend relationships.

I’ve had plenty of conversations with parents who have said that their children do not yet have a solid best-friend.

I recall that in my school days we made our own (best) friends and our parents facilitated that.

Nowadays I wonder if we haven’t encroached too far into this area of our children’s lives.

For example, I see a lot of parents (and I include myself in this) organising play-dates with multiple friends rather than supporting the development of one very strong friendship.

Then today I read this article on the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22383453

Should children have best friends?  Apparently, led by a concerned head teacher, a school in London is doing all they can to DISCOURAGE best friendships.  Why?  So that children are not hurt by feelings of rejection.

Being mindful of how my actions impinge on you is the essence of the Golden Rule.

Not allowing children to have best friends so that other children are not hurt is taking this idea to a frankly insane level.

For once, I notice that the professional voices quoted in this article (an educationalist, a philosopher and a relationship expert) are in agreement.  And I won’t repeat their excellent points here.

But I will add my voice: as parents, and as teachers, we need to back off and trust that our children will learn to navigate the ups and downs of life – including friendships.

Part of our job as adults is to be there to support them when they fall, not to always make sure they don’t fall.

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