Dealing with other people’s advice!

What makes children happy?

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I read with interest yesterday an article on the updated findings of a landmark report published three years ago by the Children’s Society – ‘A Good Childhood’ which I blogged on some months back – here.  The previous study warned that young people’s lives are being blighted by Britain’s selfish society.  However, the updated findings say that ‘half a million children in Britain are unhappy at any moment’.  Following interviews with 30,000 under-16s it claims those who have deeply negative feelings about their lives are at higher risk of bullying, depression and eating disorders.  At first glance it makes for depressing reading and is another stark reminder that we still have unacceptable levels of child poverty in this country are more than unacceptable.  But, I then realised that the study was not talking about children on the poverty line but children in general across the board!

As I read on what actually concerned, and frankly annoyed, me about the report was the findings that;

‘Children who worry that they do not have the right clothes to “fit in” with classmates are three times as likely to be unhappy with the way they look, with the problem affecting girls more than boys.’ And ‘Those who received less pocket money than their peers reported lower levels of well-being, but so did those who were given a lot more cash, suggesting that children want to be similar to their friends more than they want to be rich.’

I’m sorry but since when did we not balk at the idea that our responsibility for making our children ‘happy’ lies with providing them with the right ‘clothes’ and enough pocket money?   Is it just me or is something amiss here?   Should it not be more cause for alarm that the emphasis and importance placed on image, labels and material things in general is completely out of control and endemic?  Instead of being encouraged to revise our children’s opinions we’re being pressured to adhere to their demands and (in my opinion) helping to compound the problem.

Don’t get me wrong; I do understand the mortification of not having a ‘puff-ball’ skirt, ‘Wallabies’ or a ‘United Colors of Benetton’ sweatshirt at school because we were a single-parent family who lived on a council estate!  However, despite our low income, my mum always dressed us ‘well’ albeit not the latest labels.  My mum, instead encouraged us to be individual and suggested it was cool to be different – just as well seen as we were the only mixed-race kids in our entire year!  I remember my aunt made us some ‘flares’ just before they heavily came in fashion (I’m talking the second time round in the 90’s – I’m not that old!) and although we were a little nervous at wearing them in the first week, the ‘top girl’ of the school came up to us asked us where we got them from and if our aunt would make her some!  There is a lot you can get away with if you’re confident and this attitude has got me a long way in life ever since.  I just think it’s a much more helpful trait to encourage in your child – confidence, individuality and setting the trend rather than following it.

There is a big difference between not having any shoes at all (real child poverty) and not having the ‘right’ shoes.  And as for pocket money – don’t even get me started. They don’t know they’re born!!


First time mothers and home births

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At least once a week a report is published, and taken out of context by the media, on parenting, child birth or children that really annoys me.  Last week it was championing Ceasareans rejoicing in the fact that all women should be able to have one if they ‘want’ one – obviously they have not spoken to any women who have had one before phrasing this like it’s a luxury must-have accessory!!!  And this week it’s the ‘warning’ to first time mums against having home births!

The study claims that ‘First-time mothers who opt for a home-birth are almost three times more likely to suffer complications than if they go to hospital.’ It went on to state that ‘up to half of first time mothers were transferred to hospital while in labour from home and third from a midwifery unit’. Arrgh! This is yet again the ‘medical brigade’ forcing out women’s choices with that oh so powerful vehicle of fear!  I am aware not every woman will be with me on this one and perhaps it is reassuring for many to give birth in a hospital. I however, was adamant from the moment I was pregnant that I was not ‘ill’ and had never had a stay in hospital in my life so therefore why should I go now while I’m performing something that trillions of women have done through the ages and continue to do so every second of the day around the world which I believe is called ‘natural’ childbirth??!!  BearCub was meant to be a home-birth and I had my entire labour at home when the mid wife ‘thought’ his heart slowed so they took me in (during the transistion phase) when I arrived I was 10 cm and ready to push so I could have stayed hoem after all!

But what I really hate about this research, as with most statistics shoved in our face by the media that we for some reason feel unable to question, is that they only tell half the picture.  In fact way down near the bottom of each article on this paper the researchers stressed that ‘giving birth is generally very safe as 250 babies suffered complications from the 64,538 births in the study’.

Hospitals want us to have medical intervention during child-birth as it is quicker, safer (for them), and quieter.  Yes really! Ask any NCT teacher and they’ll tell you that hospitals don’t like the grunting, groaning, screaming and general animalistic noises that help us pop out our offspring.  We are hassle wanting to be mobile, upright, on all fours or have scented candles and Bob Dylan playing in the background!!! In short it is much preferable to them if they are in control of your birth experience rather than you.

I think it’s worth noting that only 58 per cent of women in hospital had a natural birth without any intervention, compared to 88 per cent of women who opted for a birth at home and 76 per cent to 83 per cent of women who chose a midwife-led unit.

Professor Peter Brocklehurst, who led the study at Oxford, but has since moved to University College London (UCL), himself said adverse events are very uncommon.

“For every 1,000 women, 995 babies would have a completely normal outcome,” he said.

In contrast to the study, Maureen Treadwell, of the Birth Trauma Association, said: “These findings are useful but are based on a study of only 5,000 women in each type of midwifery unit and do not tell us how many babies died or were brain damaged in each group.”

Could it possibly be a strong argument that the number of first time births have more complications because they are first time births whether at home or in hospital?  The experience is entirely new to the mother, things generally move slower and first-time mums do not know what to expect.  That sounds logical doesn’t it? And we are allowed to use our brains and our mouths right?

I’d love to, along side this, see a study publish the results and recovery time of women who have had a natural birth and those who have suffered medical intervention.  What can seem like the best option because it is the fastest can sometimes have the longer and more adverse affect which leads me on to another rant….. ok well I’ll leave that one for another post!!! 😉


Can Toddlers be bullies?

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This week is anti-bullying week and thinking about it made me recall a conversation I had with a mummy-friend a couple of weeks back.  She had been pulled aside by the nursery staff when she went to pick up her son and was told her son had been caught ‘bullying’ another child – a child with Downs Syndrome.  The whole incident was very distressing for my friend and she apologised profusely.

I had very mixed emotions when she told me about it and lots of questions.  In particular, what constitutes bullying by a 2 year old?  My son, and many of his friends, are presently living out the ‘terrible twos’ in full force, testing every boundary known to woman and generally challenging everything.  This sometimes manifests in what I suppose could be described as bullying: Being territorial over their toys, snatching, randomly diving on some poor unsuspecting child’s head, shouting at the top of their voices while just an inch away from someone’s face!! But is this bullying?  Had the nursery made an issue out of ‘normal’ two-year old behaviour because the other child had Downs Syndrome?

Now, from our previous post on prejudice and children, you’ll know that I don’t believe very young children can be racist or prejudice.  Difference doesn’t threaten them like it does when they get older.  The other thing that struck me was how it is just as devastating to be the parent of the bully as it is to be the parent of the victim.  We try to do our best with our children but sometimes they may still display bad behavior despite our best efforts – see our nature V nurture post.  I am devastated at the thought of my son coming home having been bullied at school but, I am even more horrified at the thought of the school contacting me to say he has been the bully!

I am passionately against bullying and fully support this week’s campaign.  Like racism, I think we can help our children against bullying by simply celebrating difference from a young age.  Ask any teacher and they will tell you there is no easy way to deal with bullying however, if we can focus our efforts on growing our children into accepting, caring, confident and content human beings, maybe that is our best fight against bullying as parents.

The Beatbullying organisation says their key aim is all about ‘shaping attitudes and changing behaviours’.  I’m inclined to agree that this is probably our strongest weapon to help combat bullying and we can start this with our young children as parents in the home before school even starts.


Breastfeeding in Public

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I was going to blog about something else today, but then I heard about a lady who was asked to stop breastfeeding in Debenhams, Oxford, because it was a public place. .. and that made me cross.

It is this kind of backward and ridiculously prudish attitude towards breastfeeding that means some women feel trapped in their home with new babies and many give up breastfeeding at the earliest possible opportunity.

In the UK the number of mothers who exclusively breast feed at 6 months is below 1%.  This is despite The World Health Organisation recommendation that exclusive breastfeeding has several advantages over mixed feeding.

One of my many roles as “More than a Mum” is a breastfeeding peer supporter. One of the most regular concerns I deal with is from Mums who feel that they’ll never be able to feed outside of the house.  I have had a woman turn up with a 5 month old child, distressed that she had not been out other than to friends and families houses, because she didn’t think you were allowed to breast feed in public in this country.  That is how  institutionalised this attitude is in the UK.

Breastfeeding is a brilliant thing to be able to do for and with your baby.  It has a number of health benefits for your child and for you (not to mention cost benefits), but moreover, it is your right!  You have the right to breastfeed your baby in any place, unless there are health and safety reasons which make it dangerous. If you need confirmation of this, take a look at this link.  I am fairly certain that Debenhams couldn’t suggest breastfeeding discretely in the corner of Dune shoe shop presents any health and safety issues.

Anyway I don’t wish to rant at you for too long, but I do want to let you all know about the brilliant reaction of the Mum in question. Emily John has set up a social-media protest.  She has set up a facebook event and wants to get as many Mum’s as possible to have a “Nurse-in” at Debenhams in Oxford.    If you are a nursing mum in the Oxford area, please join up.  I’m sure you’d also be welcome as a supporter, feeding or not.  Please pop along to Emily’s “Debenhams Nurse-in” event page on facebook and sign up, and then pass this information on to anyone you know who supports breastfeeding.


A little update 10/10/11 Debenhams have apologised but the ‘Nurse-in’ will still go ahead to raise awareness.  BBC coverage here

Rose-tinted spectacles

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I love my mother.  She is my best-friend and confidante.  She is the woman who brought me up.  She is an excellent Grandmother and a fantastic emergency, child-minder.  I value her opinions and trust her judgement… most of the time!

Recently, however, there has been one thing I have to disagree with her about and that’s the terrible-twos.

The munchin is not the worst behaved toddler I know by a long stretch, and I don’t think that anyone else would say that she is either, but she is two and she does have her moments.  I have made comment about those moments to Mum on the phone on a number of occasions.

I am usually at home on my own with her when she throws a real wobbler (thank goodness still appears to happen mainly in the house) and I often feel the need to off load.  Who better to call in the middle of the day and let off steam to than your mother?

Well last time I called and made comment about the ‘terrible-twos’ and a small barney that myself and munchkin had had over something trivial, mother decided that the best thing to do was tell me how she and her friends had all been discussing this issue and had come to the conclusion that it must be modern parenting which caused this, as none of them had ever had a problem with their children.  Way to make me feel better Mum!

We chatted for a while (with me no doubt sounding a little frosty) about why I didn’t think my parenting had created some sort of monster-child; how I wasn’t parenting all that differently to her and that one off refusals from a toddler are developmentally normal, but still she said, “I can see what you mean, but I think it’s just like stress, neither of them really existed in the past”!

I have decided that rather than falling out with my Mum on this one, (and I’m not even getting into the debate about ‘stress’!) I shall instead take a positive message from my mother and her friends’ rose-tinted spectacles.  No matter how awful those tantrums seem now, the memory of them must fade to nothing over the years. What other explanation could there be for an entire generation of angel-toddlers?!