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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!!

L

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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!!! 😉

L

First steps to rediscovering your identity

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Rediscover your dreams

One of our aims and commitments as More than a Mum is to not only help you to be a brilliant mum but to help you rediscover your identity as a woman too.  We want our posts to be practical as well as informative, constructive as well as inspiring.

I’m conscious we could easily neglect the identity issue as it is incredibly easy for us to become absorbed, and dare I say, all consumed in being parents.  Sometimes without even realising it.  But who are you without your child?  Do you sometimes wonder what to talk about or even what to do with your hands when you don’t have your child with you? People lose their identity for all sorts of reasons; a dominating partner, a demanding career, a busy parent.  However, it’s worth remembering we are only in danger of losing who we are if our identity is wrapped up ‘only’ in what we do.

As parents we long for our children’s successes to surpass our own, for them to have the opportunities we never had and we do everything in our power to help them along the way.  However, as we’ve said time and time again in our posts ‘a happy and fulfilled parent equals a happy and fulfilled child’.  The best thing we can do for our children is to lead by example.  To live what we want to teach them – not just talk about it.  Not only do we owe it to our children though, but we owe it to ourselves to reignite our passion for our dreams, to dig them up from the depths where we, or life’s pressures, have buried them and to start to construct a plan towards achieving them.

Maybe it’s been so long that you’ve forgotten your dream.  Maybe you think you don’t have one anymore.  I’m confident with the right kind of digging you can uncover it and be on your way to rediscovering your identity as a woman in the process.

The following steps are just for you.  You don’t have to share them with anyone yet but I do encourage you to write them down to make it more real.

Step 1: What did you want to be as a little girl/boy? (Try to remember the self-belief and abandonment you had as a child – that the world was your oyster and you could do or be anything you wanted to be.)

Step 2: What would you do if you were guaranteed you wouldn’t fail?

Step 3: What do you wish you could be doing this time next year? (Your short-term goal)

Step 4: What do you wish you could be doing in 5 years time? (Your mid term goal)

Step 5: Where would you like to be and what would you want to be doing in ten years time? (Your long-term goal)

Step 6: What is something you would quite like to do that you know you can do you just haven’t got round to doing it or made time to do it?

Step 7: What would you love to do but it seems like too much hard work/effort/time?

Step 8: What’s your crazy dream you secretly would love to do but struggle to believe it’s even possible?

Step 9: Look back over all your answers so far.

–       What small step could you do tomorrow towards any of these things?

–       What medium step could you commit to do in the next two weeks towards any of these things?

–       What big step could you take by Christmas towards any of these things?

Step 10: The important thing is to just get on and do it. Stop talking yourself out of it or looking at the obstacles or difficulties in the way – Just get started.

Wake up tomorrow and take that first tiny step.

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

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