Month: October 2011

Sloe Gin Recipe

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Sloes
Sloes for the Gin
Gin
A pint of Gin!

I know two blog posts in one day is extravagant, but here at More Than A Mum we don’t like to be too conventional and post rural/urban blog discussion of rural pursuits left Loretta complaining I’d never offered her Sloe Gin! So, here’s the recipe I’m trying this year:

4oz sugar

8oz sloes (skins pricked)

1 pint Gin

Shake daily for a week and then weekly for at least 7 weeks.

Sieve through an old muslin (I knew I’d find a use for them!) into a sterilised airtight bottle.

Keep…or drink!

BritMums blogging prompt: WHO are you?

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So the BritMums blogging prompt this week is:  In 100-200 words WHO are we? (Really got to cut the waffle for this one!)

We are More than a Mum. We want to support women in being brilliant Mums, AND help them to rediscover their own identity.

We are Loretta and Ruth, two Mums who love being parents, but don’t want to lose our own identities or stop thinking intellectually. We both work part-time, to varying degrees; we both love a good socio-political debate; we both love sharing the hints, tips and traumas of motherhood and that’s what our blog is about.

Our posts range from the trials and tribulations of our own motherhood, to discussion of news stories that have a family resonance. We are going to blog about recipes (just sorting out my Sloe Gin one now!), craft ideas, and kid-friendly activities as well as parental concerns, me-time ideas and our own experiences. We also want to create a forum for other Mums (and Dads) to discuss some of the big debates surrounding childhood and parenthood.

We fancy being the Marie Claire of Mummy Blogs…We like to aim high!

187 words – done it!

R

http://www.britmumsblog.com/2011/10/britmums-blogging-prompts-defining-moments/

Silent Sunday 5

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Child Running
Munchkin at Kew

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Urban Vs Rural Childhood

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Recently I have been thinking a lot about the pros and cons of rural versus urban childhoods. Does the perceived safety of a rural environment allow children more freedom? Are children who are brought up in the city more tolerant of difference? Are rural kids fitter? Do urban kids have more access to cultural and intellectual stimulation?

As part of my MEd I had to read a report about urban and rural childhoods.  It was not well researched and had many flaws, but it concluded that those children who grew up in urban environments had much higher ‘social capital’. i.e. they could socialise better with a wider range of people, had a wider range of experiences and social networks and that this is led to more economic stability in adult life. I don’t feel like I was stunted by my own rural up-bringing, nor that I am less economically stable than if I had had an urban upbringing; but who am I to judge myself? Munchkin, at two, has a much more diverse range of experiences than I did at her age thanks to living in London.

The second thing that made me think about the urban vs rural childhood was CoombeMill’s blog and in particular the Country Kids photoblog linky that Fiona has started.  This week she put up photos of her kids climbing trees and I thought, “I remember that, and I loved it!” I remember the freedom of being outside all day from a very early age and wonder if I’d have been given the same freedom had I lived in the city? But I also remember visiting my London cousins and feeling much more naive than them, despite being older.

I grew up in a hamlet of 15 houses miles away with nothing but a post box and a phone box and 3 miles to the nearest bus stop. As a teenager I did get frustrated that I couldn’t visit them without relying on my parents, but overall I loved the freedom.  I’d go miles (literally) on my bike with friends with the only proviso being that I should be back for tea.  I could spend the day making dens in the farmyard.  I could identify flowers, trees and insects.  I got muddy and I knew where milk came from!

As an adult I enjoy the convenience of the big city.  I couldn’t go back to having to get in the car even for a pint of milk, but I do miss the countryside.  I miss the community of living in a small village where I know everyone.  I have much more of a sense of community in London than I thought I would, but I don’t know my near neighbours.  Long Sunday walks to the park are lovely, but not quite the same as a country walk. I make jam, chutney and sloe gin (collected sloes at Mum’s when we visited last weekend!) but I get funny looks when I offer people a jar/bottle!

OH and I are planning to move to the country in the next few years, so whilst we’re in London, I intend to take Munchkin to as many museums and galleries as possible.  I do worry that rural village school will lead to a more blinkered view of things like race and I know that we’ll have to work harder to counter those things.  I hope my understanding of the rural life will allow me to give her more freedom than I would in the city.  There are pros and cons to both upbringings.

I know we have a diverse range of readers and I’d love to know your thoughts.  What are the pros and cons of bringing up children where you live?

R

Daylight Saving Time: Torture for parents!

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I am too tired to write a deep and meaningful blog post this morning and I’ll tell you why:  Whose stupid idea was it to change the clocks twice a year?  Obviously they were not thinking of the impact on Mother’s across the nation whose little darlings get up at 5.30am like mine does!  What on earth were they thinking and just who does this benefit?

Well apparently it’s all to do with saving the hours of daylight, and was started by a chap called William Willett, a London builder, who lived in Petts Wood in Kent.

Basically, he reckoned that you could improve the population’s health and happiness by putting forward the clocks by twenty minutes every Sunday in April and do the opposite in September (quite obviously not a parent!). His idea was not taken up, even though a ‘Daylight Saving Bill’ was introduced some five years before the outbreak of World War One. But once the war started, it was considered prudent to economise, to promote greater efficiency in using daylight hours, and in the use of artificial lighting. And so in 1916, ‘Daylight Saving Time’ was introduced.

Hello?  This was therefore about three reasons: improving health and happiness and economising due to the war.  Not a very extensive study admittedly, but I’m yet to meet a person let alone a parent whose happiness, health or utility bill has been helped by this out-dated notion.

Let me tell you the affect it has on me:  BearCub has never needed much sleep.  He sleeps through the night pretty much without fail (apart from when he’s ill) but he has always been an early riser.  I have done everything to try to change this including pain-stakingly moving his bed time 10 mins a time to an hour later.  As is the pattern I will finally get him into a routine of sleeping until a grand 6.30am when the clocks will change and we’re back to 5.30am wake ups!  I can handle anything past 6am but just that half hour earlier tips me over the edge.  I’m particularly dreading this weekend’s change as BearCub has taken to waking at 5.30am for the last week which means I’m in for a 4.30am little alarm clock on Sunday morning – joy!  It will take me a good few months to get this back to anywhere near 6am and then the clocks will go forward and bedtime will be mucked up with a knock on effect on wake ups!!!  Bloody daylight saving!!

L

 

Teaching children about identity, prejudice and racism

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A couple of things have prompted me to write this blog. Firstly, last week I was described and recommended as a ‘black’ mummy blogger to a mum who was looking for the same (apparently there are not many in the UK so identify yourselves if you’re out there!) In case you’re thinking this offended me, it didn’t in the slightest but as a ‘mixed race’ woman it did get me thinking about identity, culture and heritage and how we communicate/pass that on to our children. I have been asked numerous times in my life whether I see myself as ‘more black’ or ‘more white’ and I always find the question puzzling as in actual fact I don’t see myself as ‘more’ of one or the other. Now, I don’t mean that I see myself as separate from both rather I see myself as entirely both. From a young age my twin sister and I have called ourselves ‘brown’. Not sure if this is PC or not but it’s what we always felt was most fitting. Growing up we hated ‘coloured’ and ‘half-caste’ both common in the 80’s. A friend who has mixed race children used to point out to her children, ‘You are not ‘half’ anything – you are fully black and fully white.’ I quite liked this description owning all of your heritage and not just portions of it. Furthermore, I remember from very young age thinking for myself how wonderful it was that just by existing I represented two races coming together who had such a stark history of ignorance, hate and prejudice – I actually announced this to my teacher when I was around 10 years old! (Can you imagine what an annoying kid I was?) Please don’t stop reading if you’re not an ‘ethnic’ – sorry I’m not good at being P.C – because I think we can apply this to any racial background, not just colour. Whether your background is Welsh, Scottish, Irish or much further afield, our heritage is part of who we are and we should celebrate it and proudly embrace it but I strongly believe it shouldn’t and does not define us.

The thing is race and or ‘difference’ to children, if left to their own devices, really isn’t an issue. It wasn’t when I was little and it isn’t now. It only becomes an issue when children imitate adult’s poor attitudes, representations and prejudices. In short; it is learned behaviour. It’s not that very young children are unaware of ‘difference’ or don’t notice it, they simply accept it, get on with it and even celebrate it! I remember in the summer when BearCub noticed a birthmark Munchkin has on her foot when they were playing. After enquiring what it was, Bearcub actually cried because he wanted one too and we had to draw one on his foot to pretend. I wondered how different that conversation would be had the birthmark been on a child’s face and had they been thirteen!

So how can we encourage our children to keep the wonderful, curious, open-mindedness they have towards other looks, ways of doing things and experiences that they have now while they are pre-schoolers? I believe the answer is to expose them to as many different cultures, types of people and experiences as possible. We are spoilt for this in London as society is so vibrantly varied in terms of different cultures and races. However, I grew up in a school where there were only 4 black people in our year and my sister and I were the only mixed race pupils. Going back to the same school now every class has at least a couple of mixed race students! Mixed-race people are the fastest growing ethnic minority group (defined according to the National Statistics classification) in the UK and, with all mixed categories counted as one sole group, are predicted to be the largest minority group by 2020. I guess one day maybe we’ll all be brown! Last week at my local library they held a ‘Roots of the Caribbean’ day to celebrate Black History Month (This month in case you didn’t know!). It was a great event with Steel drums, traditional soul food and a wonderful carnival vibe.

My little boy doesn’t look like he has any black in him at all (his dad is white) but I think it is important for him to understand and explore his roots, not only so he is able to dance in time at the school discos, but so he can appreciate the wonderful diversity of language, culture, colour and life in general. My son has never asked why Grandad is black and Nanny is white or even why mummy is brown (or gold as he likes to say) because it doesn’t even occur to him. Sometimes by being overly P.C we can create issue where there is none. Wouldn’t it be great if adults took the lead from how young children so readily interact with those different to themselves?

L

Men and babies

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I know that we are More than a Mum, but at the end of last week, I chatted with two men who challenged my preconceptions and made me re-evaluate what it is to be a Mum and what it is to be a Dad.

The first challenge came on Thursday night, when I chatted with Dean from @DaddyNatal. I was really interested in his idea of Daddy Natal, which offers “practical, memorable and enjoyable antenatal education for men, by men.”

At first I was a little sceptical, wondering if there really was this gap in the market. Do men want this sort of personalised Daddy-class? Is it all a bit too girly for them? Surely couples antenatal isn’t sexist…I didn’t notice. But then I mentioned it to my husband and his first comment was, “much-needed.” I asked him why he felt that and he said that sometimes it seems that parenthood has a ‘mummy club’ where women are told all the secrets of parenting and that men are strictly forbidden. He called it the ‘Mummy Masons’! (Though if you read BabyRambles you’ll know it’s not just Dads who feel like they’re out of the loop!)

Hubby said, that whilst he’d found the antenatal classes that we did useful, he felt they were feminised and geared towards the girls. I am ashamed to say I hadn’t even realised he’d felt like that. He’s very lucky with the Dads we met through the group and they do all meet for beers, but as they’re all working fulltime, they don’t do it anywhere near as often as us girls and I’m not sure that even with beer the men discuss parenting in quite the same way we do. So it seems that there is a need for a Daddy-centric approach to antenatal classes.

I was also interested to see that on the website, Daddy Natal also offers new Dad’s classes for Daddy and baby – no Mum’s allowed. Sounds like the tables are turning!

The second meeting that made me reassess my opinions was in my role as a breastfeeding peer supporter. I run a drop in group at the local Sure Start Children’s centre and the Health Visitors do checks in the room next door. On Friday I was introduced to a new trainee Health Visitor, Mike.  Mike, as you may have guessed, is a man.

After I had met him, I wondered how I would have felt if a man had turned up at our door in the first few days to check on us and our baby. I wondered if I’d have been comfortable; and then I checked myself and thought OUR door, US, OUR baby. I wonder if my husband would have felt more at ease with a male Health Visitor? More included? Mike will, after all, have exactly the same qualifications as any female Health Visitor.

R

What is a good childhood?

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As well as being a mum and a singer I also work as a radio presenter and producer. My show is for Unsigned artists and I meet some incredibly talented people.  This week an artist who is also a friend of mine (Jules Rendell) sent me a new track she has written which was inspired by the 2009 Children’s society report.  The song is called Never been Loved and it’s in response to the findings, which basically said that children are more anxious and troubled today than ever before.  It largely put this down to parents striving for material success and pursuing their own self-centered ends rather than the needs of their children.

Wikipedia puts it like this: The Inquiry’s report, A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age [8], was published in 2009 and received considerable media coverage, including from the BBC[9]. It found that ‘excessive individualism’ is causing a range of problems for children today, including family break-up, teenage unkindness, unprincipled advertising, too much competition in education and acceptance of income inequality.

The song is fantastic and speaks of discovering an unconditional love that can spur you on to hope but what really impacted me was the summary of the findings that she sent along with the track (above).

This ‘excessive individualism’ can be seen throughout our society and I agree that it’s spreading like an endemic disease. It is all the more deadly because it is not only seen as acceptable, but the norm. We are programmed from an early age to strive and compete to ‘have it all’.  In deed in this day and age we believe it is our ‘right’ and that we in fact deserve it.  What’s worse is many young people are growing up believing these ‘things’ should come their way without doing a thing to contribute to themselves or the society they live in.  This dissatisfaction with life is what I believe was at the root of the recent UK riots primarily amongst the youth: Young people who feel the world owes them more without having to earn it in any way.  And it is not just the under-privileged youths that have this attitude.  Middle class children who want for nothing, have the latest gadgets and get everything on their Christmas list are also turning into adults who ‘expect’ material gain with little effort.  But as super-nanny would say (bless her) usually it is not the child’s fault for their behavior and attitude.

Along with this, the lie is sold that by gaining these ‘things’ you gain happiness and fulfillment along with it.  Mums and dads who work all hours, most days just for a luxury 2-week holiday twice a year are modeling this same attitude.   I must say I get challenged every Christmas when I find myself wanting to buy BearCub every toy I see that I know he would love.  However I had a stark wake up call recently when he started to ask and expect a new toy every time we went out.  I had been spoiling my child.  At the risk of sounding all ‘when I was a wee lass’, when I was a child we had secondhand toys which we were overjoyed with and I remember my sister and I crying for joy when my mum managed to scrap together enough to get us a second-hand Commodore 64!

We ought to be showing our children what is important in life and the only way we can do that is to find out what really fulfills us and make sure we’re living our dreams too.  This will inspire our children that happiness and fulfillment equal success – whatever the route there may be for each individual.

L

Should I send my child to preschool?

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I know that not everyone will share the views I express here, nor will everyone have the luxury of choice, as I do.  But I want to explain why I will not be sending Munchkin to preschool.

I am a teacher; I have a Masters in Education (well, very nearly!); and I am a mother. I think therefore, that I’m pretty well qualified to make the following comment: we institutionalise our children into school at too young an age.

Children have to be in compulsory education from 5-18; that’s 13 years of their life! If we send them from age 3, that adds another 2 years. I wias in favour of the Cambridge review, which stated that children should not start formal education until they are 6, but that was ignored by the Government who commissioned it and the opposition at the time, so that was that.

I know that a lot of preschools and reception classes do have a play based curriculum, do understand the need for informal styles of education in the early years and do work hard to keep learning fun, but I’m a secondary school teacher and I have regularly seen pupils who are bored witless of school by 14 or 15 (just when they really need to be switched on) and all I can think is, they’ve been there pretty much all their life.

I didn’t go to preschool as a child, and I still felt pretty cheesed off with it all by sixth form (and staying until 18 was a choice then, unlike now).  I didn’t do as well as I should have in my A levels and didn’t start working until I reached University and began a whole new style of learning and teaching.

I don’t think that we should institutionalise our children at such a young age, and yet I am also very aware that my daughter is at her most interested and like a sponge at the moment and I don’t want her to miss out on Educational opportunities. But, you don’t just learn in school, there are many other places and ways to learn and by not sending Munchkin to pre-school we have time to exploit those.

I also know that one of the things children do in the preschool and reception environments is to learn to socialise without their parents, both with other adults and with other children, but again, there are other ways to achieve this.

The choices we make about schooling among the most difficult choices we have to make for our children and only you can decide whether or not your child will benefit from preschool. As the Government said in their 2007 document about home schooling, “The responsibility for a child’s education rests with their parents. In England, education is compulsory, but school is not.”.

R

That’s what (mummy) friends are for

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My part-time work is in media and today I was forwarded some very interesting findings from some research by Bauer Media into the women’s market.  Bauer Media own more than 80 influential radio, magazine, TV and online UK media brands, including heat, GRAZIA, Closer, FHM.  The research aimed to help advertisers find new ways to influence the conversation of British women.

The research concluded that five key roles are played in women’s conversation:

  • Queen Bee, the direct and unquestioned leader in the conversation – she is independent, strong minded and with lots of outward confidence, friends look to her to organise things, take charge and make group decisions when they are unsure of what to do.
  • Northern Star, the indirect but respected leader – she has a mind of her own, is highly influential and has strong inner confidence. She is not the loudest in the crowd, never forces her opinion, friends turn to her for advice and guidance as she is deeply respected.
  • Socialite, the catalyst for conversation or new ideas – she is lively and talkative and her friends often see her as the ‘funny one’. She gets her energy from interacting with others and doesn’t enjoy spending time on her own, often socialising with many different groups.
  • Little Sister, seeks support and guidance and uses her friends’ feedback as a way to process her world and anxieties, often lacking inner confidence. She prefers to make her decisions after discussing it with friends and is happy to talk about her feelings openly.
  • Social Listener, supporting and listening to others – she is often the glue that bonds a group. Her friends rely on her to listen to their feelings and support them when they have problems; she prides herself on being a good friend and puts others before herself.

The research had the following conclusions:

Three main reasons for talking have been identified – affiliation, the need for bonding and belonging; mood uplift, for entertainment and escapism; and finally, a need to be ‘in the know’, to help make decisions.

It was fun thinking about my friendship circles and trying to identify the various different roles and characters (and I’m sure you can’t help but do the same when you read it) but, it also got me thinking about the power of talking and of friendship to women.  The three reasons identified in the conclusions perfectly describe the needs of every mum and indeed every woman.

When I became pregnant hardly any of my close friends had babies and one of the things I was most worried about was being lonely and isolated because I was sure I wouldn’t have a thing in common with typical mummy-types and couldn’t stand the thought of a mums and toddlers group.  I attended NCT classes just to be more informed about the birth and what to expect and inwardly rolled my eyes when most of the other mums expressed their reason for attending – to make friends with other new mums!  What would I, a singer, radio presenter and former baby-phobe, have in common with any of them?  The answer was and is a resounding ‘A LOT’ and in more ways than just the fact that we have children of the same age.

My mummy-friends turned out to be my biggest cheerleaders of my outside mummy achievements, supporters when times were tough, feeders of cake when things were desperate and providers of laughs and wine at book club (as you heard from Ruth earlier this week).  These ladies are not just my friends they are my heroes.   We have laughed together, cried together, shared failures and celebrated successes together.  I had no idea as a pregnant first time mum what a lifeline these women were going to turn out to be.  The understanding of a mum who is going through the same sleep-deprived-madness of that first year of motherhood is unsurpassable. I guess I may have still secretly wondered if the friendships would drop off when we began to more resemble our pre-baby selves when the kids turned one year.  But, I am pleased and proud to say we still regularly meet 2 years later and my mummy-friends have become ‘friends’ even without the mummy part.

To look at us we are like a carefully picked sample of all kinds of professions, cultures, religions, backgrounds and world-views and there are less than a dozen of us.  It’s a beautiful mix of life experiences and outlooks and makes for fun and stimulating company.  I cringe now at my judgemental assumptions before I got to know my mummy-friends and I’m just grateful they didn’t have the same narrow-minded view of me.

It amazes me to think that it’s my mummy-friends who most help me to remember I’m more than a mum!

L