Month: October 2011

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

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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

Book Club Mum

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Book Club Books

I am proud to say that I am a member of two book clubs, (even if my husband has christened one of them wine club!) and they are definitely a part of me being more than a mum.

I am an English graduate and an English teacher, but when I had my daughter 2 and a half year ago, I hardly read at all, and it wasn’t because of birth or pregnancy, but reading had become work. I hardly ever read a book for pleasure.  If I was reading, it was usually a book I was going to teach or an Educational theory book and to be honest, I had got to the point where reading bored me.

In pregnancy I found I was too tired to read and when your tiny baby is asleep in your room, it is difficult to leave the light on and read, so all in all I wasn’t reading.

Then the group of Mums I knew from anti-natal classes and I started a book club.  The main intention was to do something which was completely adult and also stimulated us intellectually.  We take it in turns to host.  We read everything and anything, from teen-fiction to literary classics and from parenting guides to historical novels.  It is the host’s duty to chose the book and provide a meal, whilst the rest of us bring wine.  We give ourselves 4-6 weeks between meetings in which to read the books and on the night we chat about the book and drink and gossip! Some months we discuss the book more than others.  Sometimes we have discussion questions; sometimes we seem to need to gossip and drink wine more than we want to discuss the book (hense the hubby’s ‘wine-club’ comment!); but either way is good, because we are being more than mums; we are being adult women in an adult environment.

The second book group I belong to has a slightly more high-brow reading list.  It was also started by a friend of mine who is a stay at home mum.  She wants to read more of the classics.  She also has friends all over the world with whom she wanted to read.  She started a facebook group.  We also read books over a 4-6 week period.  We vote for books we’d like to read which we feel fall into the category of ‘classics’ and we have an open discussion that starts on a particular day on our facebook wall.  This group challenges me to read things that would not normally have been on my reading list, or that have been on my list for some time, but I’ve never quite got round to.

I love both my book groups and wouldn’t be without either of them.  Some months I read both books easily, some months (like this one) things conspire against me and I end up finishing my book on the bus on the way to ‘wine club’ and will be contributing late to the facebook wall of the classics book club, but neither group is judgemental so it doesn’t matter.

I think the most important things about my book groups are that they keep my brain active, they make me sit down and read, and they allow me to discuss grown up things in an all adult environment.

Are you a member of a book club?  If you are, what would you say are the most important things about your book group? If you’re not, what type of book club (if any) would you like to be a part of?

R

Silent Sunday 4

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Deer Rut
Deer Rut, Richmond Park

Playdough Recipe

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cooking playdough
Playdough ingredients

As the cold weather draws in we are all going to be looking for a few more indoor activities for the little ‘uns.  The best things provide a range of activities rolled into one to keep the kids engaged for a reasonable amount of time.  This is an old one, but a great one and both Munchkin and I love it – making playdough and having a playdough party.

Activity one: playdough making

Even young children can help with the mixing and kneading as both are done away from the heat.

Ingredients:

1 cup water (it doesn’t matter what size cup, just use the same one throughout)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil  

½ cup salt (This preserves it and makes it unpleasant for little ‘uns to munch on!)

Homemade playdough

1 teaspoon food colouring (You may need more if you want very vibrant colours)

A few drops almond essence (This is not essential, but mimics the scent of the bough playdough)

1 cup flour (Make sure it’s plain)

Put all the ingredients, other than the four, into a large saucepan and warm gently.

Remove from the heat and add the flour.

Stir in the flour, then remove from the pan and knead until smooth

Keep in an airtight container (we often use old take away containers)

Activity two: playdough playing

Once you have made the playdough, you can keep it for months (no exaggeration, if you’ve used cream of tartar) in an airtight container, but nothing beats that first game with the new, still slightly warm dough.  I actually find it quite relaxing, rolling, shaping and squishing the dough!

Munchkin and I usually have a playdough party the first time round. We get cake decorations, fairy cake cases and candles and make numerous cakes.  We usually then get out all the stuffed toys, a picnic blanket and the tea set and have a playdough party.

Making the dough is brilliant for their cooking skills (older children could help weigh and measure too) and the child’s enquiring mind will love watching the individual ingredients combine and create a new substance – chemistry in action!  Playing with playdough encourages imaginary play and also helps with fine motor skills.

Playdough cakes

All in all, then, making playdough is a great activity for a cold, rainy day.

The More than a Mum Challenge

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So most of you will be familiar with what we’re about by now: More than a Mum is all about helping you to be the best mum you can be while rediscovering your identity as a woman at the same time.  Well, we’ve had quite a few posts on issues that affect you as a mum but we are equally committed to encouraging you, supporting you and inspiring you to remember you’re more than a mum; you’re also a woman.

So, today we are kicking off our ‘More than a mum weekly challenge’.  The rules are very simple:  You just have to commit to do one thing this week for yourself that will remind you that you’re a woman in your own right as well as a mum.

It’s so easy for us to lose our identity as a woman because it can tend to be swallowed up in the all-consuming role of mum.  From your comments it’s clear that many mums feel this way and that most mums recognise the importance of ‘me’ time – but just how do we fit it in?  This is where we want to help.

We’ve realised that rediscovering your identity as a woman need only be done in the tiniest steps, actions and even thoughts in order to make a big difference.  We may not all be able to afford the time or money to go away on a weekend spa break but we might be able to challenge ourselves to read a book that is nothing to do with parenting, join an exercise class where no one knows you’re a mum or even just paint your nails.

Each Thursday (I know it’s Friday today) we’ll be posting suggestions and ideas of what you could do this week to remind yourself you are ‘more than a mum’.  All you need to do is take up the challenge and then tweet about it using the hash tags #Thursdaychallenge #morethanamum.  Our hope is that this will not only publically commit you to seeing it through but will also inspire other mums with ideas.

So are you in?

L