Friday, 29 August 2014

I'm a Survivor!!

As the long summer holidays draw to a close - are you relieved? Sad? Or a little of both?

There is a little-voiced secret amongst Mum's around this time of year.... they are at least a little relieved that August is drawing to a close.
If asked, most will admit to being sad the long summer break is nearly over, but few will ALSO admit that with that sadness comes a liberal dose of relief. A very liberal dose.

Working Mum's often find it traumatic juggling school holidays whether in full time or part time work, and full time mums - despite loving their children dearly find many successive weeks all together draining both emotionally, physically and financially!

Each year I look forward to a couple of months with less racing around, spending a little more time just "being" and less time "doing". Relaxing and enjoying time with those I love. But it never quite works out like that!

Firstly my fabulous four don't actually enjoy each other's company very much.... they would far rather exist as separate children and claim they would probably rather have been only children! All are delightful on their own but I find I take on the role of UN Peace Negotiator for the entire duration of the summer as we vainly struggle to find activities that four very different children can all enjoy.

Except it's unpaid work and continues well after the witching hour rush hour. And without perks or lunch - or even the chance to grab a quiet coffee!

Second, and perhaps more importantly, they all prefer being in school with the routines and activity, to being at home! (Yes, really!!)

As I wrote on one of my other Blogs recently (for children) Summer Holidays are an anachronistic anomaly. Our children are not required to pick hops, thresh the wheat or help with stubble clearing. No, they are far more likely to be found in front of a games console, maybe a piano, or with a vast box of loom bands than helping out with even the most meal chores at home.

The long summer break was never intended as a prolonged time of doing nothing for kids, it was built in to the school year to avoid the considerable absenteeism that would otherwise occur as parents needed their children as additional labour, and meant that families were more supportive of the compulsory schooling Gladstone and his government were seeking to enforce.

Doing "nothing" isn't good for anybody, and the continued week after week pressure to find "something" to do is exhausting and expensive. There is a limit to the number of free activities available, and the length of time to be filled necessitates a large variety. But more importantly, my children miss the social side of school, the mental activity and the routine. My daughter has been asking "how long is left?" since the beginning of August!

For those of you with those mythical easy going, chilled out children who enjoy nothing more than relaxing with family I suppress my envy am thrilled for you and hope you have enjoyed a perfect summer break. But next week cannot come soon enough for us!

Having had one son at home since April on Study Leave then long post-exam leave it seems the normality of the school routine is but a whimsical dream from yesteryear - a reality I look forward to reliving soon. And when the start of term routine (finally) rolls around, I most certainly WILL be singing "I'm  a Survivor" very loudly after drop off, but the people most chuffed to be back will be these:-

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Friday, 22 August 2014

Should older siblings help out?

I recently read an interesting post by Jayne Crammond about her very valid concerns that she didn't want to make her daughter feel somehow responsible for her new sibling. Superficially I couldn't agree more - whilst many children are indeed Carers for siblings or older family members it is far from ideal, robs many of their childhood and eradicates that fundamental freedom from responsibility which is essential to experiencing childhood to the full.

But I would argue that responsibility is two-fold. Whilst yes, the parent is at all times responsible for his or her child, there is no reason why an older sibling should not help. Their level of responsibility is no less valid and can bring huge benefits. The older sibling gains a feeling of importance, a boost to their sense of self worth and a valuable enforcement of the links which bind them to their family.

In a society where the focus is too much on the self, too much on individual rights and needs it is essential that children are taught they have a role within the wider world, and that role exists on several levels. The early stages in social connectivity start at home, within the family. Helping Mummy carry out simple chores can be fun, helping the child feel involved and valued. My toddlers helped fetch simple items, put their bowl in the dishwasher, pick up their toys etc. This has also had the added benefit of teaching basic life skills, and an awareness of all that is involved in day to day living. At no time did I make any of them feel the outcome of such tasks had a bigger purpose, of that this simple type of responsible helping had any connection to Responsibility for the outcome. (capital "R")

As children grow up they need to learn - want to learn - that they can influence their surroundings. Not by asking for new toys, TV programmes and sweets, but by being actively involved within their family and later, in the wider world. This is enforced at school - even in Reception children are given simple tasks and praised for their efforts. The child who feels they have no means to increase their self esteem by participating in helping others seeks to boost it in other ways, valuing objects and gain instead of interaction with others.

And it works both ways- the grandparent who gives of their time, involves their grandchild and values their presence will gain far, far more from that relationship than the one who seeks to maintain a strong relationship by focussing on the child's needs. Teaching children - however young - that we all have needs is vital. None of us exist in isolation and most human beings are happier interacting with others. It saddens me that too many children are put on pedestals, showered with gifts and wanting for nothing. They exist on the edge of their families, or above them, not an integral part of a solid unit.

It is really only recently that the very idea that siblings might have a choice in helping has existed. Historically older siblings have always helped out and derived a huge amount of pleasure, satisfaction and pride in doing so. Maybe the fear of siblings feeling weighed down by too much responsibility has pushed us in the opposite direction in a knee jerk response. But responsibility is not a dirty word! What matters is that it is always preceded by the word "appropriate".  There is a reason there is no minimum age for children to babysit. A parent is always Responsible, but children can still learn responsibility.

If you partition a family into several individuals with unique needs rather than a group they easily lose interest, concern and sometimes even respect for other siblings/family members. Helping out is the glue which holds a family unit together, I think any kind of family support should be instinctive, encouraged and expected. There is far too much consideration of individual rights these days.

For us however with at least one member on the Autism Spectrum this is profoundly difficulty. Autism has sometimes been termed "Selfism", in that Autistic individuals find empathising with others acutely difficult. But high functioning individuals can and do learn to be a cog in a bigger machine, it just takes time and effort. We struggle hugely with this, and all too often fragment into a group of individuals rather than a family unit. But it is something we focus on whenever possible.

And that's where that word "appropriate" comes in. No one shirks responsibility, and helping out improves family connectivity and overall happiness.

 photo letkidsbekidslogobadge_zps424b7d61.jpg

Sunday, 17 August 2014

End of an Era

Last Thursday I lost one of my dearest friends. Words cannot describe how lost and desolate I feel, without my furry companion of nearly eighteen years.

He preceded all my children and my husband, the only member of the family to have lived with me in  all five of my homes. He was my friend, the most loyal cat in the world. 

In fact, in many ways he was more of a dog, with a personality far too big for his not-so-small (once) 7kg frame! He had been ill for a while - and eighteen is a great age for a cat. But knowing it was coming hasn't made it any easier. I have so many memories to treasure, and wanted to record them here to return to in future. 

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Missing the point?

I've read many wonderful tributes to Robin Williams this week - a true acting legend and comic genius. (There is a short biography here.) Films such as "Dead Poets Society" and "Good Will Hunting" had a profound impact on my adolescent world view, and his role as the Genie in Aladdin was one of a kind. A hugely talented man - yes, but the international outpouring of grief appears to be ignoring the elephant in the room.

Image courtesy of Tom Curtis /
Which is particularly pertinent since August 12th (this week) was World Elephant Day!

Mourning this loss of greatness is vital, Williams gave more to the Hollywood film industry and those who loved him than most actors of his time. It is said that his severe depression led him to commit suicide, and I am pleased to see a drive on social media to raise awareness of depression as the very real illness it is, and to highlight the appalling impact it has on the lives of sufferers and their families.

There are many people who still believe that you can "think yourself" out of depression. That it's a life choice. Those people would most likely have supported medieval practices of blood-letting to cure all ills and rebalance the body's "humours" or the belief that women were impure after childbirth and needed to be shut away until they could be "churched". Such views of metal illness are as outdated as this and there is simply no excuse for them to persist.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Breastfeeding Two - a "TimeHop" post

Now... whilst it is some years since that was my reality, I wrote a few articles about my breastfeeding views and experiences and had a couple published. Never one to turn down a writing opportunity, here is my "Breastfeeding Two" article written for La Leche League in their Spring newsletter 2007 when the twins were one.

I must stress that this was written for a purpose, for a magazine whose raison d'ĂȘtre was the promotion of breastfeeding - which I wholeheartedly support but it does affect the tone of the article.
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