Parental choices

How bond with mother in first 18 months can shape your love life

Posted on Updated on


So I came across another article yesterday that basically blamed mothers for any messed up adults (again!) the headline being – ‘How bond with mother in first 18 months can shape our love life!’ I should probably say it was in the Daily Mail which helped me not to take it too seriously.  However, the article was based on research done by a team of psychologists and university professors (The study is published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science) which again doesn’t particularly mean it’s any more true – but nevertheless made it appear slightly more official.  The researchers found ‘those children with a secure bond with their mothers were likely to have more successful relationships later on in life’.  This much I agree with and I know there has been extensive research that the first years are of huge significance to a person’s life course.  There has also been extensive research on how physical touch and love have a massive effect on the brain development of children – see a brilliant book on this called ‘The Science of Parenting’.  However, the research in this article goes a step further claiming:

‘Your interpersonal experiences with your mother during the first 12 to 18 months of life predict your behaviour in romantic relationships 20 years later.’

Apparently the ability to ‘trust, love and work through arguments’ is developed early on in these crucial stages.  I don’t think a single person could read the article and not end up analysing whether there is a correlation between their mother’s love and the success or failure of their relationships.  My problem with this is whether it gives adults an excuse for poor behaviour and encourages a lack of responsibility for one’s actions.

The article does go on to say, ‘Old patterns can be overcome. A betrayed baby can become loyal. An unloved infant can learn to love.’ Which suggests we are not a slave to our upbringing though even this was put in a particularly harsh way.

It is not new news that our childhood affects who we are as adults but when it comes to romantic relationships I would have thought we were more influenced by the opposite sex parent to a larger extent and surely at a much later stage in life?  As with most sweeping statements it ignores the multitudes of other factors that influence a persons conduct in a relationship.

If this study is to be trusted then where does that leave every mother who has suffered with post natal depression and was unable to bond with her child during that crucial first year?  Feeling pretty crap I would think!

I’m a firm believer that most things can be turned around with a big, and consistent, dose of love and that we have the power to change ourselves, break the mould and decide who we want to be!

L

Advertisements

What makes children happy?

Posted on


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!!

L

How to talk to Little Girls

Posted on Updated on


I read a really thought provoking article this morning which really challenged my thinking completely.  It was by author Lisa Bloom in the Huffington Post called How to Talk to Little Girls. Now I see myself as a liberal, forward thinking, bordering on feminist woman who feels strongly about girls celebrating their brains as well as beauty; having a healthy all-round self-image.  However, when I read the article I realised that I too have often been guilty of employing ‘flattering’ tactics of little girls in order to boost their self-esteem.  All little girls want to be a princess and love to be complimented on their pretty dress, hair or smile – something we never really grow out of!  But what Bloom challenges in the article is the idea that teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything.  This really did make me stop in my tracks!

Bloom noted that this week ABC News reported that;

‘Nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. Also in her book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, she reveals that 15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and 25 percent of young American women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they’d rather be hot than smart.’

A depressing outlook!

Yes we want our little girls to know they are beautiful physically regardless of the current ‘trend’ for beauty and whether they fit into it or not but, wouldn’t it be even better if they were brought up to believe that this actually doesn’t even matter at all?!  As to whether this is possible in today’s society is another thing altogether but Bloom does believe we can play our small and significant part to, as she says, ‘Change the world, one little girl at a time.’

Bloom suggests we consciously engage in a different dialogue when we talk to little girls such as asking them; What is she reading? What does she like and dislike, and why? For older girls she advises, asking about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Basically to model for her what a thinking woman says and does.

I found this really inspiring as well as challenging.  I don’t have a daughter but if I did I’d love it if my friend’s I admire and look up to conversed with her in this way.  As a mum of a son it obviously got me thinking about how we talk to boys and what negative stereotypes we subliminally enforce – but that’s another blog post for another day!!

L

First time mothers and home births

Posted on Updated on


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!!! 😉

L

‘That New John Lewis Ad’ Or ‘Better to give than receive? Try telling a Toddler that!’

Posted on


Is it too early to have a Christmas themed blog post? I hope not. I usually gage it by the Christmas lights being switched on in shopping centres so it seems to have officially started in some parts. I have an axe to grind, a bug to bear, a rant to rave…. Now when in my pre-parent days I heard people harp on about the over indulgence and materialism of Christmas I used to nod in agreement but secretly felt they were probably a bit of a scrooge or at least ‘tight’. Now, having become a mum and this year being the first that 2-year old BearCub seems to understand, I am outraged that the nets of marketing aimed at my seemingly innocent child have worked and fully ensnared him! Suddenly my son not only wants, but also expects, ‘everything’. Any shop we pass he is asking to buy a plane or car and any vague acquaintance that visits the house is questioned as to what they have bought him. I like to think I am not a materialistic person and we do try to avoid Milkshake in favour of Cbeebies in part due to the onslaught of child aimed mass marketing – in part due to the annoying presenters. Where has my ungrateful and greedy child come from? We have tried having the chat about not expecting presents every day and that gifts are deserving of special occasions only and I even put a ban on all gifts between a couple of weeks back and Christmas. However this all proved futile when BearCub’s Grandma returned from Australia and presented ‘just a few little gifts’ which turned out to be a massive remote controlled car and a mini motorbike – both gifts I’d deem as a main Christmas present – and with Christmas just 5 weeks away!!!! Grrr!

I really want my son to grow up with the literal awe my sister and I had when we would open our second-hand (and clearly used) presents with delight then go upstairs when it was over and find one last extra present – a Commodore 64 our mum had worked extra hours to get for us. We literally cried with joy and complete amazement! Instead my 2-year old already expects to receive whatever he wishes for!

I had a wealthy friend who would allow her children to select one toy to keep and then go with her children after Christmas to give their other gifts to less fortunate children. Maybe a step too far but I love the idea of teaching that giving is better than receiving from a young age.

You’ve probably seen the new John Lewis ad by now – you know the one everyone is raving about. Since being pregnant I have gone from a gal who had never cried at a film in her life to someone who gets choked at episodes of Holby City. The striking point of the J.L ad is the fact that we are so familiar with children impatiently counting down until Christmas in anticipation of the gifts they will receive that we are wholly touched when we realise this boy’s excitement is at that thought of giving a gift to his parents. This would obviously never happen in real life but, I do think it serves as a great reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. As to how we teach our little darlings that it’s better to give than receive when they are currently going through the stage of not at all understanding why they should share anything in the world…well if you have the answer please do let me know!!!

L

Nature V Nurture & National Adoption Week

Posted on Updated on


This week is National Adoption week.  To mark it, on the radio station where I work I interviewed 3 ladies for the women’s programme.  They were; a retired clinical geneticist, a former family lawyer who now works for a well-known family charity – Care for the family – and a post-adoption team social worker.  All are also mothers.  We were tackling the age-old debate of Nature Verses Nurture in the light of adoption.  When we have children, or adopt, we hope and believe environmental forces i.e. parenting, above all else excels a greater force on our children than nature.  That their personality will be shaped by love and discipline.  But is it really?

I love a good debate and this is one I’ve revisited time and again particularly since I became a parent and especially since I became a ‘single’ parent.  The radio discussion was fascinating:  The geneticist, understandably, argued that there is a limit to what good parenting can do as genes do affect behaviour characteristics.  However, she added we are never programmed fully by our genes.  Ironically, the social worker had done a thesis on nature V nurture years ago and concluded that nurture was the prevailing factor.  However, after years of social work she admitted her view has changed somewhat and now believes a lot is down to nature.  The ex-family lawyer and charity worker felt, like the other two ladies, that in the early years there is a key opportunity – in particular the first year and continuing until age 5 – when good parenting and a lot of love can have a profound effect.

My problem with this debate is there are very strong arguments on both sides.  There is no doubt certain traits and characteristics are passed down through our genealogy and we only need do a case study of our own familes to see it.  But, I also believe our environment and circumstances (in this case love and good parenting) can go a long way in shaping the people our children will become.  Our genes do affect who we are but the bit I’m interested in is, are we a slave to them or can bad genes be overcome with good parenting for example?  How much of children’s behaviour is due to parenting and how much is due to their innate character?

Lionel Shriver addresses this beautifully, if not darkly, in the brilliant ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ book.   (By the way don’t read it if you’re pregnant with your first child).  The book doesn’t really provide clear answers but wonderfully explores whether a child can be ‘evil’.  Furthermore, if this is possible, is it an innate evil that cannot be overcome or a result of experience and circumstance?  It’s just been made into a film starring Tilda Swinton if you can’t be botehred to read the book!

Studies suggest that many temperamental and behavioural tendencies are ultimately 30 to 50 per cent genetic and five major personality traits are identified which show the strongest influence called the Big 5: Extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness and openness to experience.  Others with a significant genetic legacy include altruism, shyness, accident-proneness and even self-esteem.

I guess we could all frantically go through this list and analyse our children trying to see if they have that same ‘look’ in their eye that mad uncle George had and end up paranoid and fearful.  However, it was in fact the geneticist who pointed out in the interview that although good parenting goes a very long way indeed it is helpful to acknowledge that genes play a part because despite our best efforts sometimes our children do go off the rails and parents are the first to feel guilty and ask the question ‘Where did I go wrong?’

As it is National Adoption Week, I have to also mention that I was astounded to learn that despite numerous research concluding that early years are the key time to provide, love, consistency and lay firm foundations for children, there are 3600 children in care under the age of 1 and only 60 babies were adopted last year!  I find this disturbing and quite frankly disgusting.  Apparently on average children have to wait 2 years and 7 months for a new home by which time a considerable amount of damage will already have been done.  It angers me that red tape is getting in the way of these babies having the love and stability they deserve especially when there are adoptive parents put there waiting to provide it.

To end on a more positive note, the family charity worker gave some great tips for making sure your child not only knows they are loved but feels it too.  She said we can tell when our child’s ‘love tank’ is empty when they start acting up (at this point I did think Bearcub must be running on empty a lot of the time lately!) but she then went on to quote a fantastic book, which I’ve read called The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman Chapman explains that it is imperative that we learn our child’s (or partner’s or friend’s) ‘love language’ and communicate to them using it to ensure the message gets across.  The Five Love Languages are – Time, Touch, Words, Gifts and Actions.  It’s about learning how an individual wants/needs to be loved.  I for one found this quite a helpful tip for making sure that BearCub’s Love-tank is regularly and fully topped up!

L

Urban Vs Rural Childhood

Posted on Updated on


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