Parenting

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

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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

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

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.

Working Mum V Stay at home Mum

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It is with slight apprehension that I begin to write a blog post on Stay at home mums V working Mums.  Mainly because, like most things in life, I don’t believe there is a firm black or white, right or wrong answer.  However, today I saw the Myleene Klass Yahoo channel ‘Bumps, Babies & Beyond’ programme and it was discussing the common debate – Can mums really have it all? – so I thought I’d dive in.

Until fairly recently, Ruth and I (who run this blog together) represented both of these worlds with Ruth staying at home to bring up Munchkin and me working (albeit part time) with Bear Cub in nursery 2 days a week and 1 day with Aunty.  So this is a discussion we’ve had many a time and we both see the pros and cons of each choice.  I say ‘choice’ when actually many mum’s are unable to afford to stay at home and not work and it doesn’t feel like a choice at all.  But from first-hand experience I’d also argue it’s an equal financial struggle to afford the astronomical childcare costs these days if you decide to go back to work!

The controversial bit:  Personally I don’t really see the point in having kids if they are in nursery from 8am-6pm 5 days a week.   It seems a bit like when people have a dog and then keep it outside in the kennel all the time – I just don’t get it. Having said that, I don’t think I could not work at all a) for my own sanity and b) for financial reasons.  So I opted for working part time. Bear cub gets a lot out of nursery and enjoys it but, there is just no denying if he had the choice he’d want to be with mummy full time.

One of the mums in the Myleene Klass video spoke of how upset she was that she missed her child’s first steps and this was what prompted her to become a SAHM.  However, the other guest described how working actually enabled her to be a happier and more fulfilled woman and therefore a better mum.  Both are incredibly strong arguments.

So in the interests of sparking some feedback and discussion let’s really go there with the good, bad and ugly of both options.

STAY AT HOME MUM:

Good – Won’t miss out on any key ‘first’ moments, give a secure start to your little one, form a close bond, educate them yourself, influence according to your family rules and preferences

Bad – Can sometimes be boring, may miss engaging your brain beyond child level activities, may miss adult company/interaction, may get frustrated with little person due to so much time with them, tiring.

Ugly – Lose your sense of being a woman in the role of being a mum, only talk about poo, Cbeebies and the latest soft play area, live in jeans and joggies

WORKING MUM:

Good – Having something for you can raise your self-esteem, by having time away from your little ones you may have more energy, patience and quality time when you are with them, makes you put make up on and do your hair, you can go to the toilet in peace and on your own!

Bad – May miss special/key events and first moments, bad habits can be learned at nursery/childcare, your child may have increased separation anxiety, nursery/childcare may teach different values/lessons to your preference, missing out in general as they grow up so quickly, tiring.

Ugly – You may have to learn how to walk in heels again (depending on your job) you have to work extra hard to keep all the plates spinning.

I’m sure you can think of many more to add (and I hope you will in the comments below).  One thing that really struck me is, whichever category we fall in, there is one accessory we all seem to wear as mum’s – altogether now – GUILT!!!!

Let’s give ourselves a break ladies and do what we feel is best for our family.

As we’ve often said on More than a Mum, we firmly believe it’s possible to be a great mum AND a fulfilled woman.

L

Are you scared of spiders Mummy?

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Not scared in the slightest!!!!!!

One of the constant dilemmas I face as a single-mum to my 2 year-old bear-cub is how much negative emotion to try to ‘hide’ from him.  The other day we found a huge spider in his bedroom and I tried to calmly explain that we needed to take him outside so he could ‘be with his spider friends’.  When bear cub questioned why I was putting the spider in a glass and not picking it up with my hands I answered, through gritted teeth and with shaky hands, that I simply didn’t want to accidently squash him!  From the look on his face I don’t think bear cub was convinced for a minute.  I however, was actually quite proud of myself for managing to get that close to a big spider even if there was a glass between it and me.  Dealing with spiders is yet another new territory for me since becoming a single parent.

But there are so many questions here regarding fears.  We, as mums, instinctively want to do what is best and right for our little ones.  We cannot fight the overwhelming force which leads us to want to protect them from all harm at all costs.  On the other hand, most of us recognize how in the long term it does not benefit our children to grow up completely ignorant to some of the harsh realities in life that they inevitably will face.  The fact is, bad things do happen in life and it is not always a world of Cbeebies-happiness.  But how much should we educate them in the darker side of life and at what age? I constantly change my mind on this one.  As a child, I was exposed to the troubles of the adult world too much and too soon, the result being my sister and I were in somewhat of a role-reversal situation with our mum particularly in our teens and we were forced to grow up too quickly.  The positives are my sister and I are very strong, independent and calm in a crisis but we do some times wish we’d had a few more years of the care-free existence of a child who only has to worry about what they might not get for Christmas.  This experience has made me adamant that my son will not feel burdened with the responsibility of ‘making sure mum is ok’ or feeling guilty at having his own life and certainly that he will not feel that he has to be ‘the man of the house’.  Having said that, despite my best efforts, if I’m having a ‘difficult’ day which I feel I am handling internally I’ll often catch my little boy making an extra effort to make me laugh or smile.  It saddens me that he can so easily pick up my mood and want to or even feel responsible for turning it around.

My reality is that my little boy does not have his daddy living with him and although we’re trying to make that situation as smooth for him as possible he is beginning to become aware that this is not the case for many of his friends.  I’d be doing him a disservice as a parent to not sensitively communicate with him about this in terms he can understand.   I think we’d all agree it is not healthy to wrap our children in cotton-wool but I also believe it is good practice to let them know it is ‘ok’ for mummy to not be happy all the time and that sometimes people get sad.  More often than not, if it’s explained in an appropriate way they can handle it and move on.  After all, as I have discovered, kids are not stupid and know when you’re faking something anyway!

What’s your views/experience on this topic?

L

Doctor Who: invasion of the mummy-blogger

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We got round to watching this week’s Doctor Who on Sunday evening. After a hectic, but fun family Sunday with old friends, which entailed stopping toddlers from fighting and trying to make them eat, we settled in for an iPlayer moment and a hot chocolate. (It’s just so rock and roll in our household!).  I was trying not to keeping thinking about morethanamumblog and just to relax and enjoy sitting on the sofa with the long-suffering husband, but even Doctor Who conspired to trigger the mummy blogger in me and I had to run and get my new notepad (more of that in a later blog!) and make few notes.

If anyone else saw the episode you are likely to realise that it was pretty early on when the inspiration struck.  If you’re not a Who fan, then just a brief outline.  James Cordon helps the Doctor save the world, but despite his apparently poor parenting skills at the beginning, it is his love (the Doctor explains it in a much more scientific manner at the end, but resorts back to love for us mere humans to understand) for his son which saves the day.

The sight of James Cordon, surrounded by mess, desperately trying to persuade everyone that he was “coping” made me remember those first few days, weeks, months with a new baby. “You read all the books and they tell you you’ll know what to do, it’ll be fine if you follow your instincts.  I have no instincts.” Says Cordon, looking unkempt and at the end of his tether. Brilliant; it must have been written by a parent.  No matter how much of an earth mother (or father) you may be, we all have those days.  Those days when we wish we were like the Doctor and could speak baby, but know full well that we can’t.  Those days when it feels like you know nothing about parenting, and if the baby could talk it wouldn’t tell you what it needed but that you are a crummy parent. But, take heart; we do all have those days!

One thing I used to do early on, and still do sometimes, was Google the issue.  Often it wasn’t finding a solution that made me feel better. One thing I’ve learnt about parenting over the last 30 months (not long, but long enough!) is that there rarely is one easy solution. No matter what parenting manuals promise, every baby is different; every parent is different; every family is different.  Some things work for some people.  If they don’t work for you, you can bet your bottom dollar that’s not because you’re any different to a massive chunk of the population, it’s just because parenting doesn’t come in a one-size-fits all mould.   Although I may have Googled to try and find the solution to various problems and even tried many of the ideas which were sold as the cure, it was finding out that I wasn’t the only Mummy struggling with a particular issue that made me feel better; realising that I was no different to many other Mums and Dads; all of us just muddling along.

So, my advice if you’re worried about something is Google it, by all means, but when it’s really getting to you, take a leaf from the Doctor: put your finger to your lips and ‘shhh’ all thoughts of yourself as a bad parent from your head.  We all get it wrong some of the time, but (cue cheesy comment – sick bags ready) it is the fact that you love your child that it will all come out in the wash.  Oh, and sometimes it is easier once they learn to talk.  At least then they can tell you what’s wrong…even if you do still have to tell them it’s not allowed!

R