Is Santa coming?

  

Last year my then 1,5 year daughter saw her first Santa and she was scared of him. I can’t blame her. All the children were waiting for a Santa, who was very late. Finally a man in training shoes came to the indoor activity centre, where we all gathered, went to the toilet to “change” and after a while through the toilet door came Santa, in that same previously seen training shoes covered with a piece of tape. He was a pathetic Santa. Presents provided by the parents were handed to the children in provisory grotto, placed in the darkest corner of the big hall. Santa’s helper was calling the name, child had to enter the grotto, get the present, get the photo and that was it. If you can sense lack of any engagement and imagination in this picture,you are right, there was nothing of this kind.

I came across some comments on social media from parents questioning the idea of Santa. Some are concerned about lying to children – why not telling the truth about who is bringing the presents – they ask. Why enter into the world of making up stories, which gets only complicated with time, when there are so many Santas in town and when child grows older and there is no elegant way to come clean.

Well, I was also asking myself these questions, especially seeing these all Santas walking around, who just can’t be believed and who should be ashamed to be putting up such a bad show!

And my husband helped me with an answer. If you don’t want to engage and enter the imaginative world, it’s not worth it. If Santa is going to be only about presents it’s not worth it either.  

Yet watching and helping your child enjoy the magic of Christmas is a delight for all, seeing their imagination unfold and entering their world of creativity is both fun and how children learn. Engaging with Santa is not one way traffic- it’s not about what Santa will bring for you, it’s how you engage with Santa. Writing letters, sending them up chimney’s, leaving out carrots for the reindeers, making up stories, reading books – this sparks the imagination and joy of Christmas. 

Children have amazing imagination. The world which they live differs a lot from the world most parents live. During the course of growing up, years of formal education, years of learning how to make mental shortcuts and think schematically, how to fit to mundane tasks and repetitive work, our imagination can become dormant. It then takes great effort to bring it to live and enter the world of pure imagination, where Santa brings presents, but also does many different fantastic things, and does them in style.

Santa is not all about a set up which parents invent and a child follows- it can easily become this way, when we are too focused on this presents-delivered aspect of “Santaism” which today is so driven by commercial advertising and puts unwanted pressures on parents and children.

To play it creatively we can reverse the roles and think of if differently: this is us who are joining the children in their world and we are the guests who need to become familiar with the rules and obey them.

When I get hesitant about the Santa, I just think about my daughter and realise that she’ll be happy to guide me in this play, if only I give her an initiative.

I intend to do so and I hope Santa will come also to me. I wish all of you the same.
first published on xpose.ie

Photo: http://www.rachelcharlton.org

Is there a problem?How to know that you should seek advice


A few weeks ago I published a post about falling into a trap of following developmental charts and how they can provoke unnecessary anxiety or rivalry. The post focused on external pressures which may prompt parents to seek advice or get worried without any clear reason from the child’s side.

I keep thinking about this matter and recall real stories when parents had a dilemma whether to seek an advice or not. They were realising that their child develops a bit slower then other children in certain area and each family was taking different position on this fact.

It is a very complex and delicate matter and it surely engages a lot of emotions, some of them might be not that visible at first.

There is no advice which would apply to all of these families. Each parent and each family need to do their homework and try to understand their particular case, then act to their children’s best interest. Sometimes parents don’t realise how anxious they are and this anxiety determines their action. And it can go both ways: they might become overwhelmed by it and won’t seek any advice or further diagnosis – being too afraid that something wrong is going on. Or just opposite – they might be running from specialist to specialist, searching for an answer which in fact lays just in front of their eyes. I witnessed the situation in which parents were preoccupied with their daughter being much smaller than other children. They were performing complicated tests looking for  hidden abnormalities (including very expensive genetic analysis). All turned out to be fine and the daughter lives a happy life, despite being very petite (exactly like her grandmother used to be).
Let’s imagine we have a dilemma whether to seek advice or not. We have the knowledge available to us – from books, magazines and online publications. We observe our children with our caring and loving eyes. We do seek evidences that all is going well. Then we spot some signal that might worry us – child’s motor or sensory development doesn’t seem to be as fast as other children. How can we know whether it is just the child’s nature and her own path of development or there is something we should have a closer look at?

What can help manage our own emotions to allow us to make the right decision?

  1. Use the right source of knowledge – child development studies are very advanced nowadays and we have access to knowledge which helps us to understand our children’s developmental issues. If looking at the growth or development charts or statistics of any kind: read them properly: take all range of results into account (see my post) rather than only average result which is inadequate in assessing our children’s’ progress.
  2. Avoid posting real worries on large forums for parents – as you get all sorts of contradicting information which will only make you more confused.
  3. Observe your child – learn to know and accept her/his own phase of development. Think about environment you provide for our child to grow. What skills development are you supporting the most? Don’t judge, just look at your lifestyle as your children’s world and try to understand how it impacts them.
  4. Sit with your emotions – what is it that you feel about the possible issue? Are you worried? Are you avoiding this feeling by pushing all bad thoughts away and not even considering any further actions? Are you criticising yourselves for being too cautious? What is really going on within and for yourself?
  5. Decide who you can trust, a friend, a partner, an experienced relative? Who can you talk to about this, who will give you an honest advice, not only about the issue, but who can also help you manage your anxiety.
  6. Be aware of external influences. We have some knowledge which might be helpful but might be intimidating at the same time. We have a social network which can be precious but can put unnecessary pressure on us – fuelling rivalry or anxieties. We have family which wants best for us and our child but can also pass on expectations which we are not comfortable with. It’s important to know these possible influences and learn to protect against them.

photo: http://www.child-development-guide.com

Sweets Banned From Schools Why people resist reasonable changes 

  
There are some obvious facts about human health, which are being ignored by many people, for many generations. We all know that sugar causes teeth decay and is a major factor in growing obesity. Yet, we are surrounded by sweets, organised in a way which tempts us to buy them on every step. Cheap fat and tons of sugar wrapped in an expensive brand, waiting for us, lined up next to checking points – always handy.
Many of us know that eating habits are developing in early childhood and are difficult to change later on. This why we all – as a society – should be interested in doing something about those millions of products, directed to children and being packed with fat and sugar even more than products directed to the rest of our population.

I’ve been always fascinated by the subject of individuals and societies making conscious changes about themselves. How does it happen? Is it possible? What are the ingredients of a real change? Why on Earth it is so difficult, even when the reason for change seems obvious?
This latest case from Polish schools is an example of powerful unconscious forces, which work collectively against the change. 
 Starting from September, Polish government banned unhealthy food from school shops and canteens. I can’t see more reasonable decision and I am pleased, that authorities are able to take an ethical stance and take a lead in changing school environment into a healthier place. The message is clear: ‘We are responsible for what happens at schools. We know that unhealthy food is bad for our children, so we can’t allow it on our ground. We do what we believe it’s right and we expect other adults to do the same’.

It’s perfectly understandable that policy makers don’t want to collude with the system which doesn’t care about children’s health and wants more profit from selling unhealthy food.
Resistance to change came from many angles:
– Polish Employees Association takes it as an attack on small businesses 
– Social media circulate the jokes about chocolate bars dealers in schools. These posts are presented by people working in education sector and by parents

– Shops surrounding schools are packed with children during breaks. Shelves with unhealthy food get empty

– Children bring their own salt and sugar to the canteens.

What worries me is that adults, who should be representing voice of reason, collude with this behaviour and support it. The cause of making government look stupid is much more important for them than the real chance to make a healthy change in their children’s lifestyle.
The change isn’t going to happen if all parties don’t engage with it. Children have their right to oppose the change and laugh at it, but the role of parents and teachers is to distance from this reactive laughter and set an example for positive outcomes which will be attractive enough to follow.
It’s important to realise that our resistance to change has it’s unconscious side. 

Consciously, people bring to the table various ‘rational’ reasons for not wanting to obey new rules: they would be saying it’s bad for small businesses, it’s a violation of freedom of choice, it’s pointless in a world where you can buy sweets around the corner anyway, it’s badly implemented.

But what brings these arguments to live is an unconscious dynamic of our emotions. To really engage with change we would have to become aware that:

– we are in denial: we emotionally cut off ourselves from health warnings. Simply speaking, we don’t want to hear it and act accordingly

– we regress: we employ our ‘child within’ to fight a reasonable ‘adult voice’.

Introducing healthy eating habits is a task for policy makers, local businesses, people working with children, parents and of course children themselves.

Each of us can start by reviewing our attitude towards change itself. We need to focus on what’s positive in the idea, even if it is implemented by a government we don’t particularly like.      
   

photo: sqworl.com

Coming back to school – why it is an emotional experience

  
Children are soon going to go back to school after two months of holiday. For some it was time filled with pleasures, alarm free waking up, visits to families and exciting adventures. For others it was bitter – sweet mixture of school and task free time, but also time spent alone, while friends left town and parents were mostly working. There are also children who had a horrible time being off school, because it meant for them time of no care, no break from stressful family dynamics, no structure to hold on to. It’s certain that children coming back to school have very different experience of holiday and very diverse expectations about what is to come. This can create emotionally difficult situations and it gets more challenging when it soon becomes clear that there is no time for proper adjustment. A demand to get to work kicks on very quickly. Structure of classes, every day routines, homework – this all comes together as a reality so different to what most children experienced during the summer. 

While some children will be excited about seeing friends and buying new school equipment, others might feel anxious about coming back to peers who create challenging pressure to fit in, or about being embarrassed to see their parents struggling to get money for necessities.    
At school, among other children and observed by adults – parents and teachers, students are exposed and there is nowhere to hide.
For the above reasons, and many others, end of holiday and beginning of school is emotionally challenging situation. Even if children mostly look forward to starting the learning, it is still an important transition and this always creates some level of anxiety.
What is our adult and parents role in this process? 

1. Understanding our children 

We need to help the children to understand what is going on for them. Our role is to provide a safe environment for our child to express emotions and to find a space within ourselves to contain the difficult ones. This means being careful observers. If we see our child acting out and not being themselves, it’s worth to try and find the meaning of it.

2. Knowing ourselves 

We should know how we feel about starting a new school year. If we get anxious about getting back to school routine, we should be aware of it and accept our not so positive feelings. If we are afraid of how our child is going to deal with difficulties this year, we have to separate our feelings from child’s feelings and make sure we deal with our own emotions, instead of projecting them onto the child.  

3. Being sensitive to other children’s issues.

As I mentioned before, some children are coming back to school with very heavy emotional baggage. They most likely aren’t able to maturely express and verbalise difficult emotions. They instead might be acting them out, getting rid of tensions by getting into fights, rebelling against teachers, etc. They might also have difficulty with focusing on tasks and conforming to the school’s norms.Trying to understand these children and not just reacting to their behaviour is an important task for all of us – parents and teachers. We are part of a wider community and there is a risk that instead of dealing with our own problems, we will see the troubled children as the only ones who have problems and they will soon become scape goats.

Teachers and parents should be sensitive to diversity of experience and acknowledge that for some, coming back to school might be a real struggle and for some a rescue – when the structure provides a safety net that may be missing at home.  
In short, it’s time to be awake and ready to take in and work through children’s emotions. 
I wish you all that it comes together with real joy of starting something new and exciting.  
* photo from https://familymattersmallorca.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/primary_school_children_540x299.jpg

Parents and Experts: how far have we come?

David Beckham and his daughter Harper. http://bit.ly/1L3bfl1 photo from: Guardian

I visited my grandma today, together with my mum and my 6 months old son. We were chatting a lot about children and two comments stayed with me. One was my 87 years old grandma’s recollection: ’ we had to feed babies to a strict time schedule, it was the most horrible thing ever”. Then, later my mum said: ‘And then, there was this most horrible thing ever: parents were not allowed to stay with their ill babies on a hospital ward’.

Both memories made me think about the significance of experts back in early 1960s and 1980s There was no discussion with parents, doctors and nurses decided the regime of feeding and care and it would be dangerous to question them as they had total power over your child’s welfare.

Can you imagine the trauma of a child being fed at certain time against his or her will? Can you imagine the stress of a parents who felt that they are doing something against what they knew was right for their child, but they were under such a pressure that they proceeded with what they have been told to do? My grandma and my mother until this day hold these memories as ‘The most horrible things ever’.
This leads me to question, what is the role of experts today? Clearly a lot has changed and the brutal and total power regimes have changed, but there is still a huge power imbalance even if it’s more subtle.  

Are we able to say ‘no’ to Dr’s, teachers, psychologists or other ‘experts’ when we know that their advice is not right for our child? Do experts really listen to the parents who know the child best, who know their children’s needs, and have the direct experience of that child and their own expertise? Does it need a lot of courage to question the experts today? 

Experts’ advice are omnipresent in every space: online, at GP’S, in parenting books. David Beckham reacted recently to a newspaper that got an “Expert” to criticise his parenting when he gave his child a dummy (pacifier), he hit back and said “Why do people feel they have the right to criticize a parent about their own children without having any facts ?”
The trouble gets worse when our child is ill or not doing well at school, and as a parent we feel worried and vulnerable. Then it’s harder to be confident and to trust yourself against the experts, or even if you know you are right, to stand up to their power. 
Experts often cite science and research to support their advice, but it’s worth remembering that so often they offer conflicting advice, each claiming their own scientific proof. It is also worth remembering that experts used to claim many truths that have since been proven very wrong, such as blood letting and claims that smoking was a healthy habit. 
Let’s learn from it and don’t let our own parenting voice to be under-heard. Of course we should listen to experts and try to find out what’s best for our child, and of course experts should listen to us. There is still a lot of room for improvement for ‘experts listening to parents’, and part of that is taking responsibility ourselves and developing as more confident parents. 

What sort of parent are you?

 
Parent ‘tag’ is very popular in media. It’s easy to join or at least follow many conversations about parenting going on in social media. I read or scan so many information directed to me as a parent not because I’m parenting blogger but because I am a mother breastfeeding the baby and wanting to occupy my mind with something during that process. Or a mother having half an hour break for myself and being too tired to read the book. Or a mother searching for input on a particular issue which worries me. As a parent of small children I also find parenting the most interesting subject at the moment.
What I look for in those all numerous articles, advices and opinions is a consolation – a comfort of someone else saying something close to my view on breastfeeding or praising the way parents manage children’s screen time, which happens to be similar to mine. I also get excited when some opinion appears to be totally opposite to my view: I criticise it and I go mad: ‘it’s wrong’ I think ‘you can’t say that! it’s not a right way of bringing up children!’

Right – Wrong, Right – Wrong. This is a good way, this is The Way to start a spoon feed, this is The Way to breastfeed in public, the way to deal with siblings rivalry etc. etc.

Parenting world of opinions is completely polarised and it sucks people into thinking in these black – and white categories.
This creates a world where any real reflection or discussion which could enrich people with different views is practically impossible. The comfort becomes a distant dream too.

I lately read an article about letting children to fall asleep on a breast when the night time comes. The author was pro breastfeeding to sleep and critiqued the other article in which a psychologist was warning mothers that this is a bad habit, that breast is for feed not for comfort and that a child will have trouble falling asleep when gets older.

At first I was reading and thinking: ‘oh, great, the woman is talking sense – I am in fact breastfeeding my child to sleep now.’

But then the detailed explanation came and I started to feel bad: ‘ the child is unable to separate herself from the mother until 18 months old’ says specialist. ‘Every attempt to break the mother – baby fusion before 18 months is against nature, is wrong, unfair, can be damaging for a child’. 

‘Oh dear’ – I thought – ‘I do break the fusion…Sometimes it’s my husband putting children to sleep…Oh no, I left my daughter for a week with her father when she was only 14 months, have I done something wrong?’

And then I realise: It’s unfair to impose on us parents such a strong opinions, from arguably informed sources. No one is better informed about our children and family context then ourselves. This is very understandable that we seek reassurance about the way we do things, so yes: we’ll keep reading the stuff. But in my experience we are more likely to get doubts and worries fuelled, rather than become more confident with what we are doing.  
So I keep reminding myself: black and white world is a phantasy. There is no one magic formula to bring up children. Every child and every parent is different. 

Ordinary Parents

Royal Mother
Kate Middleton – The Duchess of Cambridge – gave birth to her second baby. It’s not this fact itself, what brought me to write this post, but another blog which in a humorous way commented on Kate’s perfect look during child’s presentation just few hours after giving birth.

The author very accurately picks up ridiculousness of a situation when woman being inevitably damaged and exhausted after enormous effort of labour, appears in front of the world ‘done up’ and ‘dressed up’, wearing high hills.
photo from Kate Middleton facebook page

Yes, the videos and photographs of Kate Middleton reminds me that I don’t belong to royal family and after I gave birth, no wider audience cared wether I had my hair brushed or nails done (and more: if I’d like to dress up straight after labour, someone would bring me on earth and told me to just lay down). It’s fortunately not part of my task as a mother to look perfect. But is it that obvious that the whole parenting venture isn’t about being perfect in any aspect? Isn’t the underlying message from Duchess to other parents: ‘perfect’ is what we all want?

‘Perfect’ is what the photograph captured but what was left behind?
Looking at the photo of Kate Middleton I’m reflecting on big picture of parenting. I am trying to capture what really matters in being a parent and what being a good parent means. I believe that in our era of parenting, where the pressure on parents coming from many angles is very high, we tend to forget what our priorities are and we might find ourselves in a place where we never feel good enough.
Experts and Ideal Parents
In fact, these dangers were present and spoken of in early 60′ of 20th century. Dr Donald H. Winnicot, English psychoanalyst, was particularly concerned about two issues (both of them become even stronger over the years and our culture is investing in turning them into the signatures of contemporary parenting).
One of the issue is a growing role of parenting experts. The market of education and advice for parents is really massive. Parents constantly hear what they should be doing and what is best for their children. I recently saw the post on facebook, written by child psychologist, inviting parents to write their concerns on the psychologist’s facebook wall and she promised to answer each of them in few sentences. This is very vivid example of the wider issue: the ‘expert’ badge, the voice of specialist, is in our culture very powerful. The experts sound so convincing that we are inclined to trust their voice more than our own judgements. This undermines parents’ confidence and makes them feel worried that they constantly miss some skill or important bit of information. Somewhere in experts’ minds exists a perfect and right way of doing things and we, ordinary parents will never be able to fully reach that. We then sip drops of wisdom from specialists’ mouth, hoping that this will be at least good enough.
The second issue is idealisation of parents. To illustrate what it means, I recall today’s radio program, where some caller criticised mothers for returning to work instead of staying at home with children. It was a judgemental speech, claiming that most mothers do have a choice and they still prefer career than the best start in life for their children. That lady simplified the dilemma and ignored complexity of the situation. She divided the world into two: good mothers staying with children and bad ones, returning to work. Her reasoning was fuelled by emotions: she split* them into two and assigned all the good ones to good – stay at home mums and all the bad ones to the other group. This is a process which we all sometimes go through, usually not being aware of this. Black and white world with simple divisions  is a product of our phantasy and it prevents us from seeing shades of the real world. How we as a society perceive parents seems to be influenced by this mechanism of splitting. They are good or bad objects – in minds of others and in their own minds. They experience emotional pressure, the necessity to be ideal and to fulfil unreal expectations.

To be ordinary

Parenting isn’t about trying to be perfect and fulfilling unrealistic expectations.  Parenting is about ‘ordinary’. Ordinary parents are good enough to provide right care for their children. And to be clear: vast majority of parents is doing great job of loving, caring and nurturing their children.
*original concepts of splitting and good enough parents come from works of Melanie Klein and Donald Winnicott.