Seen and not heard

We had friends staying for a long weekend, a childless couple as well as a family with two children. It was fascinating watching the couple suddenly knee deep in four kids 24/7, one of them was clearly more at home than the other and it was really interesting to watch the other’s expectations of how he felt the children should behave unfold as the weekend progressed.

What became apparent was that the expectation was pretty much that all children should behave at all times. It was clear that the occasional wrong doing, curt reply, moan, bicker, sulk, back chat, snide look or minor display of disobedience or rudeness etc – were surprising to him.

I think I understand where he is coming from as we are both of an age to have had the mantra of ‘children should be seen and not heard’ quoted to us regularly by our parents and older adults around us as we were growing up and he has had little, if any reason to question that.

Thankfully that kind of parenting is a thing of the past and nowadays that approach is generally recognised as an outdated and somewhat ignorant attitude to child rearing – at least by those of us with children.

However, in various Memes and Social Media posts that regularly do the rounds I am conscious that it is not just my child free friend who feels the way he does, it’s apparent that certain people – possibly of a certain generation – do yearn for the days when it was so and when in their eyes all children were so much better behaved and the world a better place as a result. I would suggest that they do tend to be the same people who share posts about smacking children and the subsequent downfall of society now that it not allowed.

So it has got me wondering about the children of the past, did they all just sit around for hours on end saying nothing and not interrupting the adults around them, did they all behave so well out of the fear of being smacked?

It doesn’t take much thought to realise that the answer is in fact a huge, resounding…NO.

Of course children were heard, of course children misbehaved regardless of the threat of a smack. Of course children were children – just as they are today.

So what is different? What is it that makes certain adults feel that children today are less well behaved, less respectful, less well mannered?

In a word my conclusions is… proximity.

Nowadays children – especially (but far from exclusively) those growing up in cities or towns – tend to be around adults the entire time. In the ‘good ole days’ doors were opened and children went out to play for hours on end, they were free to run and shout and indeed to misbehave – all away from the judgement of adults. They were able to ‘let off steam’, to run and jump and skip and to ride around on bikes, on scooters etc, they played football in the streets and were involved in other sports and games – endlessly releasing all the energy today’s parents have to deal with at home.

There was not only far, far less interaction with their parents and other adults around them, but when they were indoors they were calmer after all the physicality of being outside.

Of course modern parents make sure that their children get to run around, to play and get to be involved in sports, but surely with far more limits on time and ALWAYS under adult supervision.

We know with our sons that when we have failed to get them to release all their energy we suffer the consequences and their behaviour is more troublesome. We could scream and shout at them and insist that they be seen and not heard – but that would hardly be fair considering it is our fault that they are ‘full of beans’ from being kept cooped up in doors all day.

So today’s parents learn to be more patient, more relaxed and more tolerant – because we HAVE to be.

To develop and to find themselves children need to be able to express themselves, they need to be loud and to be playful, they need to challenge and to question, they need to ‘let off steam’ and if they can not simply open the door and go outside to do all this – they need to be able to do it around the adults surrounding them and without being in constant threat of being reprimanded – just for being the children that they are.

So in conclusion, contrary to popular belief I am pretty sure that children are no worse behaved today than they have ever been. There always have been challenging, rude, disrespectful children, just as there have always been wonderful well behaved ones.

As indeed most of our children are today – if we can only allow ourselves to see it.

One step ahead of the bully.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe only objection voiced to us as a gay couple when we decided to adopt, amazingly came from gay friends. None of our straight friends or family thought of it as anything other than a wonderful decision, for us and indeed for our future children.

The objection was a pretty standard one: ‘they will be bullied for having gay parents’, it just came from quite a surprising source.

Naturally we defended our decision and stated that children are bullied for a myriad of reasons, often related to their parents. I pointed out that children at my school were teased because their parents were considered – old, fat, lazy (unemployed), dirty and in one very memorable case ugly. Should all these parents have been banned from having children because their offspring would be bullied as many of their peers found the parents worthy of ridicule?

Of course not, so why should that only be a consideration for gay parenting? When I hear it from broader society I assume it’s just being used to mask homophobia, but when I heard it from within the gay community I was truly shocked. However, with some thought I realised that it was no doubt a direct reaction to what we suffer in our childhood, growing up gay and being bullied – directly or indirectly -for it.

Unlike most of the parents from my childhood who were oblivious to their children being bullied because of them – and consequently could do nothing to help – we are fully aware of the prospect of bullying and we arm our children well, they have a full understanding, respect and indeed pride for having gay parents.

They will never see a negative in the word gay as they are being brought up with it as a matter of fact part of their lives, they are taught that others ‘choose’ to see it as something bad and that as wrong as we may think that is, it is their perogative.

When confronted with that we have to understand that it is just their choice and that it has no value to us. Of course we also share with them that idealistic view of bullies as being the ‘weak’ ones which is why they bully and to treat bullying almost like a weird kind of compliment as it is saying that they actually feel ‘less’ than you and that they are probably threatened by you in some way. Although of course not always true I do think it’s something for a bullied child to get reassurance from.

I don’t for one moment think that we will eliminate the hurt that bullying can cause, but we are hoping that we can at least soften the blow if our children are exposed to it. We are trying to raise children who will be fully open and be able to share with us if they are being bullied and who are strong enough to keep it in perspective.

Whether we like it or not bullying is a sad reality of school life/childhood and I think it just seems to be an inevitability that we all have to teach our children to be aware of and to face up to. Are we not fooling ourselves as parents if we feel that our child/children will not be exposed to it and would we not be doing them a disservice if we did not prepare them in some way?

As much as we can hope that the schools are on top of it, I think the best we can expect from them is that they lessen it or control it, but certainly not eliminate it completely – regardless of the best of intentions and of any Zero tolerance policies they may have in place.

Personally I think it’s similar to how we need to make our children aware of the dangers of cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, it’s inevitable that they will be exposed to these and even see their peers embracing them and I feel we have to prepare them for that and give them as much knowledge as possible for them to make the right decisions.

By preparing our children I think we would be taking away the power from the bullies and hopefully putting it in the hands of the bullied by making them strong and not feel like ‘victims’.

None of us want to think of our child being bullied – but the fact is we can stick our head in the sand stating that ‘it is unacceptable and should not happen’ while it goes on regardless or we can face the reality of it and accept that children are being bullied on a daily basis regardless of every effort by us the parents or the schools or even society at large to prevent it.

Also let’s not forget that as much as us parents should be aware that our children could be exposed to bullying we also have to accept that for some of us it will be our children doing the bullying.

Now that’s an even tougher one to get our heads around.

A Birthday Wish

IMG_4105It’s your birthday, it’s your birthday.
Last year we didn’t see you.
But we thought of you so much.
All day, every hour.
Wishing you fun and laughter and cake with a candle.
We took ourselves to the beach and played in the sand, amused ourselves on the penny slots and ate lots of ice cream.
We wondered exactly what you were doing. We tried to see into the future.
To see if we could connect with you, almost transcend time.
I sat in your newly painted room, I rocked myself and pretended you were here with me on my knee.
I willed you in my life. I desperately imagined what life might be like with you.
I felt I couldn’t bear to be without you for a single day, even though I had not even met you yet.
But dear daughter, it really didn’t matter, as soon as we glimpsed you from behind the door, all those anxious moments, melted away. Our hearts were open and you jumped straight into it.
So my dear, on your birthday our wishes have all been answered as we have you in our lives forever and you darling can wish for the stars.

Listen Closely

 

20150716_102245I recently met a beautiful and totally delightful 11-year-old girl who at the age of 10 – after a long and very difficult struggle – had finally managed to make her parents realise and accept that the male body she was born into was wrong and that she was indeed female.

The parents shared with me the terrible time they had coming to terms with this reality and how they now realise that they had seriously failed the child that they loved so very much for so long because of their own ignorance and prejudice.

They explained that their resistance to accept the truth had caused the daughter so much unhappiness and distress and that it had resulted in her becoming ill and developing stress-related alopecia and then how it had simply gone away once they listened to her and allowed her to be the person she knew herself to be.

As a parent this conversation touched me greatly. And as a parent of a child whose genes I do not share maybe even more so. It made me realise the huge responsibility we have to listen to our children and to respect that they have a voice, to comprehend that they may not be the ‘mini-mes’ we want them to be, nor the people we expect them to be and, most importantly, that it just can’t matter.

Whoever they are and whatever they are is a fact. We can teach them to understand and appreciate social mores and expectations and we can equip them to be the best they can possibly be within the framework that society lays down, but we can’t stop them being who they truly are. And even if we could, what on earth right would we have to do so?

We can educate our children to understand and appreciate our lives and the way we live them, but we can’t change their being to suit us, to suit our extended family, to suit our friends, our neighbours, our religion. Maybe we can influence them, maybe we can bully them into our ideals, or to meet our expectations or our beliefs, but does that change the people who they truly are? Or does it just result in them hiding their true selves to meet our selfishness, potentially confusing them and no doubt making them hugely unhappy in the process?

I wonder how many of us parents can look back at how we were brought up – and what we inevitably bring into our own parenting to some degree – and recognise just how strongly we were expected to live up to our parents’ expectations and how wrong that was for us.

I for one wish that I had been able to stand up for myself and say – ‘NO, listen to ME. That is NOT me, that is NOT what I want and that is NOT who I am’ – but as a child I was never given that chance, was simply chastised for trying to be true to myself and made to feel guilty for disappointing my parents’ impossible expectations.

Of course we have to make sure our children know right from wrong; we have to make sure that they are good citizens who abide by the law and respect others as they would wish to be respected. It is our responsibility to arm them well to take their place in the adult world, but surely only as the adults that they know themselves to be.

I now look back and realise that over the years I have been around a number of parents who I think did wrong by their child/children by forcing their own ‘needs’ or their own agenda upon them. That has left me as a parent wondering if I will be able to hear my children when they need me to, if I will really listen to them when confronted with something that I would struggle with or simply does not suit my expectations.

I certainly hope that I can and if required: I truly hope that I do. Of course for their sakes – but equally for mine.

P.S. I guess it is not going to be as easy as I had hoped it would be. A short time after writing this, I was having a conversation with a parent about their child (who has been privately educated) not wanting to go on into further education, and I found myself saying, “Well of course he has to go to university. The investment you have made has been huge and what will his future hold without a degree?”. To which I was quite rightly told “I know my child and he is not remotely academic. This is not about money; it is about him knowing himself and about me respecting that”.

Thank goodness for the parent group!

WAF LOGO DEC 14We soon realised – and it was a shocking realisation – that we were in it over our heads.

We had listened intently at the prep’ course, read copiously, had scoured the internet, picked the minds of the experienced parents around us; we thought we were prepared. However, can anything truly prepare you for the impact of an adopted child coming into your life? Especially when a child displays the trademark – and oh so challenging – behaviour of a traumatised child?

We are taught what to expect and indeed one of the biggest criticisms of social services by many of our fellow adopters during the adoption process was that they were overly negative and continually painting the bleakest of pictures. Even if it’s not as bad as it could be, it seems that most adoptive parents go through a tough time once that initial ‘honeymoon period’ is over; it takes us by surprise and immediately rocks that solid foundation we thought we had built with all our preparation. Some of us had years to prepare, yet when we are faced with the reality we realise that it’s simply nothing like we expected.

The impact of a child arriving in your – often calm and in hindsight easily manageable – life is truly huge. Apart from the immediate pressure of the responsibility for these little lives and the exhausting non-stop care and consideration that they require, there is the enormous emotional turmoil that I am sure none of us could have anticipated.

Before placement and in the early days I think many of us can be in denial; a child is just a child and our son/daughter is going to be just fine regardless of what we are being told. I think this can be especially true of adopters of babies or very young children. When the reality of our children, our family, our new life hits it can be frightening and with social services stepping back it can feel worryingly lonely.

To use a cliched metaphor, for me it really did feel like being in the middle of an endless ocean on a rickety raft; I truly felt adrift and uncharacteristically helpless. On good days it felt like I had oars that could dig deep into the water and make progress, on other days it was oars that barely skimmed the surface or indeed on the worse days (and there were plenty) with no oars at all – bobbing along at the mercy of what life was throwing my way.

For somebody who likes – no, needs – to be in control this was new territory and I was far from comfortable with it.

I needed a life line – oh how I needed a life line – to help me pull the raft ashore and to give me some control again. Turning to our network of family and friends helped tremendously, but as we all no doubt discover, advice and help from parents of birth children is not always what is best for us parents of adopted children.

Then I was introduced to the We Are Family Parent Group – which has proven to be exactly the life line I required.

I can’t say it has ‘solved’ my family’s problems, but it has helped me understand them and most importantly helped me to put them in to perspective. It has made me realise that we are not alone and that what we are dealing with is not exceptional; that others out there are struggling just the same as we are and that it is just fine to be doing so.

The parent group is for sharing – sharing your experiences (good and bad) and your worries and your fears – and the group is also about listening, listening to others who clearly understand what you are living through and dealing with as they too face the same challenges and indeed the same joys.

No advice or suggested solutions tend to be offered directly – as nobody is qualified to do so – but by sharing our stories, our problems, our difficulties and of course the many positives we are experiencing, we support each other and we can take away what we feel we need to take or what we feel can help us.

It is most certainly not all about the difficulties we face. Between the tough times we are all equally overwhelmed by the wonder of being new parents and by the marvel that are our children and this is just as important to share, if not even more so for some.

If nothing else, the group just gives us a chance to vent – to let it all out – and not to feel judged on any level while we are doing so. That is enormous, that is appreciated and if you have never been along, that is highly recommended!

For more information about times and locations, or if you think you may be interested in starting a group in your area please click on the contact us button in the menu.

I Feel Left Out

20140826_170439It’s the first time I really haven’t been able to figure out a way to give her what she yearns for and needs.
She came home from school a bit quiet and sad and when probed about why, just kept saying “I don’t want to tell you, I don’t want to tell you”.
Eventually it tumbled out of her that she wants a sister.
I assumed it was because of Anna and Elsa who she loves with a passion but no.. it was more real than that. Several of her cousins and friends have new little siblings and the phrase that she kept coming back to was “I feel left out.”
I felt heartbroken for her.
How do you tell a child desperate for siblings that she actually has four of them but she can’t see and touch and play with them?
I tried to explain that if there were more children at home, she would get less time with me, and that we are lucky we get to play and snuggle so much together but it didn’t convince her and it was a wake up call for me.
There are some things I just can’t fix or sort out for her, even though I desperately want to.  I also need to work out a way to start talking more about her  absent siblings in a way that won’t make all this worse.
She has great friends and lots of cousins to play with and is generally a very happy little bunny; but it hurts that I can’t provide this one thing for her.

Words Words Words

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com.

Words, words, words… I think I’m getting tired of them and I think my son might be too.

As my husband likes to point out – I wasn’t born with the editing gene and neither were large parts of my family. I marvel at his ability to sum up any situation or episode – swiftly, succinctly and with integrity.

Fewer words is what I aim for.
For clarity. For integrity. For honesty.

When do I use too many words?
Well … Often. Here are a few situations where I am trying to cut down:

When he is sad. Or hurting. Then he just needs comforting.

When he is playing. Especially when he is in his flow zone, then he just needs to be left to his own devices and good company (except if course when sports casting).

When we need to leave the house/playground, eat, drink, get dressed and so on. Actually … I ask myself how often do we ever really need to do anything?

When he finds something that is totally absorbing. Like noticing a spider in a hedge, or spotting a blue truck, or a crane, crane, Crane!! CRANE!!! Then he just needs my attention.

When he is eating – at dinner for instance. He knows when he doesn’t like something or when he is full or wants more, he just needs my trust in him.

There can be a lot of acknowledgement in silence. Just catching his eye, or touching him gently. In smiling.

Let’s take one of these situations and dissect it: My son needs comforting. He doesn’t need words or even explanations. When he is sad or hurting, he just needs comforting. Period. Plus the acknowledgement of his world and feelings. Chances are he doesnt know why he fell of that log or bashed himself on the head, or spilled all the milk all over himself so there is no point in asking for an explanation. He won’t be listening anyway. His little body is so full of feelings (surprise, sadness, hurt, anger, frustration to name but a few regulars.) his ears are as tightly shut as his eyes. Only his mouth is open to let out the sobs and cries.

So now I find it best – and most efficient – just to comfort. I put my arms around him – if he will let me, and hold him. Sometimes I rock him. He likes me to stand up so he is really held tightly – suspended really.

‘Oh dear, my little love.’ Repeated or a variation of this, if necessary. Perhaps adding ‘ That looked liked it really hurt’ But not more. It is the tone of voice that carries the most weight of the sounds anyway. It is a verbal hug. The sound of soothing.

In any of these situations there’s a not so thin line between explaining and lecturing… (wrote the daughter of two teachers. – I should know.)

Words can crowd and cloud the space between us. Curiously I write this as my son’s language is coming on apace. This week I estimate 80%ish of his blubber being actual words that I might be able to understand. Last week it was 70%ish. When he gets it wrong, I try not to correct him too much but ask him either to repeat himself or what he meant. For instance ‘mee wan aish’ he might proclaim and I can ask ‘does Digger want an ice cream?’ Or ‘does Digger want that ice cube?’ Always followed by a long pause. I’m practising pauses. If I can master them, I hope to raise a son who is better at listening that my family is. Me included.

So many messages are lost in words.

For the sake of clarity, I’ll try to sum this blog up like this:
In parenting fewer words will probably do. Not least in the preverbal world of a toddler. So choose them well I tell myself.

I’m trying, I’m trying!