Category Archives: Being a parent questions

Let people be people….or Why baked beans can be as good as a roast!

 

I’m one of many parents who’ve bridled at the testing in schools. The recent Let Children be Children campaign had a critically important message. But I’d go one stage further and say that as a grown-ups we’re so bedevilled by societal pressures and expectations that we don’t fully function as people.

Perhaps that’s one reason the campaign has resonated so much. Sure we’re indignant that our children are having their childhoods dominated by the kind of homework and milestone-watching that we never had, but I think there’s a subtext to the resonance this campaign has had for many adults: that we miss being able to just be people, rather than automatons going through life desperately trying to live up to  the next set of expectations.

There are expectations on us to do things in certain ways: to take our children to every club going for fear they’ll miss out. But we all have different children and most of the time mine prefer to just come home and potter and play: it’s an expectation I’ve struggled with but thankfully I’m finally ignoring it. There’s an expectation to have a career in a certain sense, or you’re not fulfilling yourself and you’re “only a mother” – I’ve never bought that but it did make me feel I had to justify every waking moment as soon as my children reached a certain age. There’s an expectation to have a perfect house (so, I either spend all my time cleaning or employ someone, which I can’t – or don’t choose to – afford. I have to make a choice and accept what that means.) It’s taken a while but finally I’m starting to accept that if someone comes over unannounced, I’m not going to not invite them in because it’s a mess – a friendship is more than bleach and dusters.

I often quote a wonderfully liberated friend. Soon after meeting her she invited us round for Sunday lunch.  She made it very clear: she really wanted to see us and she thought it would be nice to get to know each other over a meal in her new home. However, she was really frantic at the moment, so we were to expect beans on toast. I just loved that moment! Better to have beans on toast with friends than a full roast because of some outdated sense of obligation. She wouldn’t have had us over if she felt bound to slave over the oven, because she just didn’t have the time. And of course, we had one of the loveliest meals ever.

Last night I was feeling exhausted. My daughter said she’d had the ubiquitous jacket potato at school for lunch. But hey….she didn’t mind having one again.  I’d suddenly realised that in all the work I was doing that afternoon, I’d not thought about the kids’  tea…at all. It was fine. Both of them ate well. Not exactly a varied diet for the day but it was wholesome and they saw me rather than heard me cursing in the kitchen and telling them to get out while I fiddled around with steaming saucepans. We choose. We recognise we are people and we can generate and live by our own expectations not by the ideals we see exhibited by beloved Topsy and Tim’s Mum and not by the ideals we absorb from other people: they have their ideals and we have ours, because we are individual people with individual needs and perspectives.

We want to let our children be children because all too soon they will be juggling all the expectations we’re juggling. Let’s show them that we are more than other people’s expectations. Let’s show that we prize fulfilling our full potential as people. Tests won’t ever fulfil us and neither will trying to match other people’s expectations.  In other words, baked beans with friends is better than a roast with frazzled host!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why can’t you stay still!

Not sure I’ve ever heard a child say this, but this is a question I often ask mine and I think I could nonetheless learn something from it myself – and learning from our children is a large part of the theme of my blog so…… please indulge me.

 

Why can’t they stay still?

I don’t know where other Mums learnt to do fancy hair styles on their girls, but I obviously didn’t go there. And if she moves, that’s it…..forget the plaits, it’s bunches time.

Children do not stay still. That’s part of what makes them exciting to be around. It’s also why, despite my most sanctimonious thoughts prior to having kids, I cherished CBeebies when they were toddlers: it could stop them in their tracks long enough for me not be on red alert for 5 seconds!1

Busy people crave stillness, but we assume it’s totally unfeasible; we laugh when people suggest it and we see it as sheer indulgence. Yet, I think there are ways we can incorporate stillness into our daily lives however busy they are, and I think we’ll feel stronger for it.

I’m not about to give a potted history of Lent, which of course starts tomorrow (while we’re still scrubbing the pancake batter off our kitchen cupboards)! But to help us find stillness, let’s just think what the Christian period of Lent is supposed to point to.  Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness fasting and bracing himself for the challenges ahead of him. I’m really not suggesting we can take that sort of time!

But to consciously – and not by accident – take ourselves away from the things and people and circumstances that distracts us, even if only for 5 minutes a day and actively be still and consider ourselves as individuals and not as a cog in a whole sequence of wheels, can uplift us and strengthen us.

2And I know that while considering my future and searching my soul would be useful, I don’t often feel emotionally up to it. But to light a candle and watch the flame flicker, see the mini tornado of black smoke spiral out of its tip and almost hear the wax drops hit the pristine smooth white candle – that I can do. As I do it I may not think of anything, but not thinking of anything is sometimes the point of stillness: our busy minds and hearts need a rest. Then perhaps we can look deeper into ourselves and it can be helpful, rather than feel like your heart’s in a brace.

So, whatever you’re faith or background – whether you’re an agnostic, atheist, humanist, pagan – allow a bit of stillness into your life. This can be a time of restoration. Why can’t you just stay still?

We may think we can’t aspire to having times of stillness, and that it is a sheer indulgence. I think it really is possible and necessary; necessary all the more for those of us who feel it’s an indulgence.

And partly with that in mind I’m going on a little blog-cation, as I believe the pros call it. Sometimes we can just try and fit too much in can’t we?  But I’ll be back.

In the meantime, please do let me know questions your children have asked you, because Big Questions from Little Minds can teach us “bigger”minds so much.

 

 

Why are you always on the phone?

My children haven’t actually asked this yet, but it’s just a matter of time and I dread it coming up. I will feel so awful if they ever think I’d rather spend time linking with other people – many of whom I don’t even know that well – than spending the precious time we have together. And so  – starting this half term – I’m making a pact with myself and with you….Maybe you’ll join me? Smart Phoners Anonymous?

I am going to control how much time I spend on my phone. And because it’s easy to get sucked in, I’m going to be quite legalistic about how I control this. So, on days when the children are with me, I won’t check Facebook, the Internet (unless direct and immediate need – i.e. how do we get where we’re going?) or email, or reply to any but essential text/calls (friends/family crisis) more than once during reasonable waking hours. On school days thereafter (told you was being legalistic) I won’t do the above between pick up and (reasonable) bedding down time.

Can you imagine how you’d feel if your children looked back on their childhood and had an abiding memory of you on the phone? Or making that dreadful repeated plea we sometimes get, “Will you play with me?”

I know, children need to learn that adults have tasks they need to do and can’t always play with them. (And you have my heart-felt sympathies if you’re juggling work and child care this holiday – this obviously can’t apply to you in the same way as those not.) Children do need to understand that adults have their own interests and needs. But to put Amazon browsing and passing on funnies on Facebook into the mix on top of cooking dinner and tidying up, is going to squeeze them out utterly unfairly. Obviously.

This small black rectangle I cling to as if it was my life, isn’t my life and it could damage it….and more importantly, the lives my children  – not perhaps through radiation anymore, but through how it affects our relationships. The pathetic part of it is that I’m not actually that bothered about doing things on my phone, it’s just become a habit….and it needs breaking. That’s why I’m starting Smart Phoners Anonymous.  This is a kind of addiction and it is destructive so let’s try and beat it together.1

Can you see where I’m coming from? Will you join me? Will you consider a pact? And maybe share with other friends? I think we’ll find our times with our children will be far calmer if they’re not fighting for attention with the extra child that is our ever-demanding phone!

If I don’t reply to your message within 8 hours, this blog is why….

Why do you always drink cold tea?

My Mummy-friends and I spent many years talking of how one day, when our kids were in school, we’d have…..wait for it…. a whole cup of hot tea. It was the symbol of spiritual wholeness almost – the point after which we’d realise we were an individual and not a bottom-wiping service. However, oddly enough, our youngest has hit Reception, and I still drink tepid tea…. and I hate it. I’ve come to the conclusion that many of us suffer from Tepid Tea Syndrome – the inability to manage our lives so that we can encounter tea as it’s meant to be.

Tepid Tea Syndrome

….or TTS – is really part of a bigger problem. And it’s not a ‘Mummy Problem’ and it’s not just about drinking a whole cup of tinglingly hot tea. It’s about your attitude towards yourself and the value you – in practice – place on focusing on things and completing them.

I’m not saying that I’m not good at getting things done and fitting things in and multi-tasking, but everything is done all at once in a great cloud of logistical smoke. It’s not that pleasant and it leaves you trying to get your breath, physically and emotionally.

I never walk anywhere without thinking about what I’m going to do as soon as my key goes into the front door. It goes something like this:

If I’m home by 915 I can put the washing out, clean last night’s casserole dish that I didn’t put in to soak, stick bleach in the loos and then by 925 I can start tonight’s meal and have it cooking while I clear up the lego before tonight’s play date………Oh good, there’s loads of time before the playgroup I’m volunteering with starts at 10.”

Crazy. And so I’m frazzled – although I don’t count it as such – before I’ve even got home. What a waste. It could have been wonderful walk, connecting with people, nature, history,……but it’s wasted time, all because of TTS. (And how many tepid cups of tea will I have half drunk by lunchtime? I wont have enjoyed one.)

What is Life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare,

No time to stand beneath the boughs.

And stare as long as sheep or cows  (Leisure, William Henry Davies)

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A poem that’s ended up in the Clinton’s cliché charts, but that sort of gets to the heart of it. I don’t actually want to stare, but I want to experience each part of my day without always planning the next ones. It devalues what I’m doing in the meantime and that sort of devalues me.

The Next Thing is the Next Thing

3So, even if you’re a Mum with small kids…..even if on one day a month you have to put them in front of the TV, check there’s no sharp objects in the room…leave the room, sit on the hall floor if necessary, and drink one whole cup of hot tea – DO IT!  As that dreadful advert would say...”Because you’re worth it!” In taking that time out, you are saying,“I need this time”. And it is important our kids, and all those making demands on our time, realise that we have our own needs….including an occasional HOT cup  MUG of tea.

So, are you a victim of TTS? It’s good to talk? How does it affect you?

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