Thursday, 29 September 2011

Dead birds and Feelings

"Mum! There is a pheasant eating a bloody bird in our garden!", the excited voice greeted me as I ventured downstairs this morning. During the night a cat (possibly ours) had butchered an innocent bird and left the feathers and entrails in our garden. By the time I looked out the window, the mystery 'pheasant' had vanished. The boys were so excited, it took all of my strength and will to prevent them from going outside at 7:30am to inspect the contents of the dead bird.

The troubling incident led me to the differences between girls (or maybe just me) and my boys yet again. Why on earth is it exciting to see the bloody intestines of a bird spread about around our garden? How can they possibly want to inspect it straight after breakfast? Of course, I could transform it into an educational moment, but at that time of the morning I was not quite awake enough to fulfill my teaching role.

If you have read any of my previous blogs you will know that I am passionate about seeing our boys be free to be the boys they were made to be, accepting all their adventures, risk taking, superhero delusions and noise making capabilities. However, I was struck again this morning by the fact that there has to be a limit even to this. If we give them total freedom, they will not learn to be disciplined. We will create selfish children who only think of themselves, and not how their actions affect other people. We will also, dare I say it, not allow them to develop any of the more feminine traits.

Don't click on another tab yet. I am not advocating lip stick and glittery high school musical school bags. Nor am I suggesting that girls cannot have adventures and take risks (although I am not sure I know of many little girls with superhero delusions). However, I do see my role as the sole female in the house, and as the mother of 3 incredibly testosterone fuelled boys, as one of enabling them to learn about their emotions and to experience enjoyment of reading or art. Before anyone tells me that these are stereotypes, I know they are. I know that many grown men are sensitive and enjoy the quieter activities. I am not writing a blog about stereotypes, I am writing a blog about a mother's role to develop her sons.

From when my boys were very young, I have taught them about their emotions. We used to sit in front of the mirror making happy faces and sad faces. I have encouraged them to talk about how they feel. I have welcomed their outbursts of emotion, even the angry ones (although this is sometimes harder), because they give us an opportunity to learn. I work hard at passing on to them my love of reading and the written word. I point out beauty in nature and use words that boys might not necessarily use. I discuss with them how other people might feel in different situations. My job as their mother is to develop their emotions and help them to understand them. It is to foster in them a sensitivity towards others. This is more difficult with some boys than others. Toby, for example, is highly sensitive to other's feelings. Max, at the other extreme, probably wouldn't even notice if someone was in the same room as him nevermind thinking about what they might be feeling! I can only do my best with the boys I have been given.

Of course, when the boys come home from school they will go straight outside and inspect the, by then sun-cooked and rotted, dead bird. As much as I would like to, I cannot contain their excitement about it. By that time I might be able to rack my brains and transform it into a teaching moment, then at least I will feel it had some use. Their training in emotional development will continue until they are not in my care anymore. You never know, one day they might see a dead bird and manage to refrain from jumping up and down, finally able to contain the thrill within them.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Who's In Charge?

Forgive me for being controversial (is this becoming a habit?) but I have noticed a new trend which I am altogether not sure about. Unlike the latest Blackberry or newest colour of Birkenstocks, this trend, as far I can see, can have extremely damaging and lifelong consequences.

I am aware that this blog post will cause ripples, and for that I am prepared.

Seeping in from who knows where, I have begun to notice a trend in parenting that removes the parent's authority. Mothers of newborn babies are now told to 'let the baby lead'. The baby can decide when they will sleep (regardless of any sleep deprivation for the mother or the child) and when they will feed. The baby, in it's experienced wisdom, decides when they are ready for solid food, and which solid food in particular they are ready for. The baby decides how they will eat said food. Toddlers, naturally exploratative, are rightly encouraged to investigate their surroundings but are not reined in when necessary. The toddler, who still might not have decided that they are going to sleep at night, can make a choice about their food and drink. They can be in charge of their lives. Parents can just shrug their shoulders and smile at their little angel's cute antic.

Since when were children capable of making those decisions? How does a newborn know how to sleep unless it is trained? Of course, some perfect babies sleep from the beginning and it all seems to come naturally for them. For those that do not (and I include my 3 babies unfortunately in this category), they need to be trained. How does a toddler know which food will be good for him or her? How does a child learn to sit still and listen? How can we stop a toddler in the face of danger if they have not been taught to listen and obey their parents? (I understand this last one is a longer term process....)

I have noticed this bias weedling it's way into modern parenting, even since I have had my boys. I have noticed parents, unable or unwilling to control their toddler and pre-school children. I have met mothers with grey faces and exhausted eyes, having been told that when their baby is ready to sleep, he or she will. I have seen overweight children, because they only eat chips and 'chicken' nuggets. I have seen pre-school children unable to sit still and concentrate because they have never been taught to. I have seen older children bewildered at the choices presented to them and unable to make decisions. I have noticed a rise of conditions such as ADHD and ADD which, I know, are often genuine.

Of course, I am not advocating 'controlling' our children in a negative sense. I do not think parenting is a dictatorship. If you read any of my previous posts you will know how I love to see children set free to be themselves. However, 'letting the child lead' creates a relationship in which the parents do not have their God given authority any longer. Our job as parents is surely to teach and train our children. We are there to give them boundaries, which surely include the basic needs of sleep and food. When children have boundaries, they feel safe. Within those boundaries, they can then begin to be trained to make choices for themselves but ultimately, the parents are in charge.

I know we all make mistakes - I make them every day (today's was to give in to Jonah's request for more television...). I also know that no child fits the textbooks. Each child is different, but I sincerely believe that we were given our unique children so that we can train them in the way that is unique to them. Mums and Dads really do know best for their children, despite what the children like to think sometimes ("Yes, really, that broccolli is better for you than the sweeties"). Parents must be in charge, otherwise we are breeding a scarily powerful generation that does not recognise authority. The consequences of this? I shudder at the thought.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Highs and Lows of Back to School

Every week brings with it highs and lows, here are a few highs and lows from our first week back into routine....


On Thursday morning, I enjoyed a blissful morning of peace. Of course, there were seven week's worth of jobs to be done, but I was able to complete them without the 'help' of lots of other little hands (and voices). Actually, I did not complete them all. I almost completed them, and then, feeling the satisfaction of actually having done some cleaning I sat down, had a cup of tea and read my book.

Today, as Jonah came out of his second day in the nursery class with yet another stolen vegetable from their veg patch, I had a little giggle to myself. Yesterday he brought home a runner bean, today it was two tomatoes - one green and one red. Does he think they are just there for the taking? Perhaps he thinks they are part of the nursery experience. He does, however, look extremely cute in his little uniform. It almost makes him look respectable.

Over the week I have watched Toby growing in confidence and enjoying meeting new people. I have seen him take all of this on board by himself, without me there to guide him or even protect him. Of course, now he is in Middle School, he really does know everything. If we thought he knew everything before, we were wrong.

Max's first day brought a rare moment of organisation. These moments come so infrequently in his life, that they must be documented and cherished. He even asked me for a 'morning timetable' so that he knew what he needed to do each morning. After his first day back at school, he arrived home, took his shoes off and put them in the cupboard. He then hung up his bookbag (I am amazed he remembered to do that considering he probably only did it once for the whole of last year) on the hook, emptied out his lunchbox and put it next to the sink. I stood, mouth gaping, and foolishly thought he had turned over a new leaf. Today proved me wrong, of course, as he crawled home from school on his hands and knees (he was too tired to walk) and when he eventually made it through the front door, he lay in the middle of the floor for 10 minutes making loud donkey-type noises.


The tiredness and grump levels have, towards the end of the week, reached a record of new proportions. Having been well behaved in their new classrooms all week, they have to have somewhere to let their true feelings escape. Where better than at home and who better to punch than your brother? I have refereed many fights this week.

Having had the most relaxing (well, perhaps relaxing is not the best word) summer for ten years, the early mornings have come as quite a shock to my system. I could never understand other mums complaining about the early start. I did not realise that children were capable of sleeping later than 6:30am. Whilst Toby was up and dressed at that awful time on his first day at Middle School, the rest of us were somewhat slower to come round.

I have begun the 'Year of the School Run'. With Jonah in the nursery part time, I am now traipsing down to school and back again three times each day. I will soon know where each dog poo has been laid and where every crack in every pavement lies.

And so begins another term.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

New Starts

The holidays are over. We have just experienced the first summer holidays without a toddler or baby in tow and, as much as toddlers and babies are cute and everything, it was fantastic. We actually had lie-ins (until 7:45, but when you have spent years getting up between 5 and 6am, that really is a lie-in) and going out is so much easier without all the (un)necessary paraphernalia. I even managed not to yell at the boys (apart from the "lunch is ready" yelling and the "stop weeing up the garden shed" yelling) until week 6. This is most definitely progress. However, all good things (and tiring things and noisy things) come to an end. Today was my biggest boy's first day at Middle School. He spent his last evening of freedom subjecting us all to nerve-driven verbal diaorrhea and shed quite a few tears at bedtime when his mind was plagued with worries (although this is not to be admitted to now he is at Middle School). He was up and dressed at 6:30am, all ready for his new start! I waved him off this morning with a reassuring smile on my face and threatening tears brimming in my eyes. As I closed the door on him and let the tears fall, I felt again another painful snip of that umbilical chord and took a deep breath, knowing we are about to enter a whole new world with him. My littlest also begins his school journey this week as he joins the nursery class at our school. What they will make of him, I do not know. I heard a most excellent description of a deadly ant (on Deadly 60 for all those who also watch it!) which summed up my 4 year old perfectly. "He is fearless and has an attitude that is far too big for his size." Nursery staff, you have been warned! Will I feel tearful leaving him at nursery on Thursday? Not in the slightest. In fact, I may even be seen skipping home. What is my reaction as a mum to all these new beginnings? My reaction is to grieve what has passed, but also to celebrate what is to come. My boys are growing up and taking brave steps towards independence. I am right behind them, watching them totter, and will be there when they fall (which they will - but don't boys love a good injury to show off to their mates?) but I have to let them take these steps themselves. Next in the plan for independence is to teach my lovely, but eccentric, Max to be more organised ....... This may take some time ......