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Worth a listen.  Between ourselves today was a discussion with child Psychologists Laverne Antrobus and Oliver James.  (Oliver James of ‘They F*** you up, your Mum and Dad’ and ‘Affluenza’ fame)

It’s not very often in the mainstream media that you hear people talking sense about parenting and raising children but these two did, I thought.  Oliver James was particularly good.

Up for discussion was:  the importance of attachment, the craziness of institutional childcare and the fact it is BAD for our children, how children considered as ‘evil’ get to be that way via severe abuse, the phenomenon of the Supernanny approach to parenting and the unnecessary-ness of things like the naughty step and time out for all but the most damaged children and most refreshingly – the championing of the Good Enough Parent. 

A shame it was only 1/2 an hour – I could have listened for much longer.  You can ‘Listen Again’ for a while, not sure how long here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00s0cmx/Between_Ourselves_Series_5_Episode_5/

I must get a copy of Affluenza, I’ve had it recommended a few times but not got round to it yet…

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If you have a minute please check out my article on the My Zero Waste website.  It’s all about having a ‘Zero Waste Baby’.

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Isn’t this a crazy idea?  That a child can be too attached to his or her parent.  Just the thought that anyone could think that makes me react in two ways: slightly-too-hysterical laughter and deep resounding sadness.

I have come across two examples of this within the last week.  One was a friend whose mother thought that her grandchild was too attached.  The ‘warning’ signals apparently included clingy behaviour and that the child was still waking regularly at night. 

Why do people think that a baby preferring to be with her mother is an abnormal state of affairs?  Why might we have evolved as a species to be like this?  Why can’t we accept that this is actually totally normal behaviour for a baby or young child?  Why do women, especially, have such an issue with other women allowing their children to have a natural attachment?  I can hazard a guess but genuinely, answers on a postcard please.

Similarly, why do we consider a baby waking in the night to be unusual, strange or a problem that needs to be fixed?  It is common.  So common to be considered normal I would even put forward.  It’s been documented that the vast majority of one-year-olds still wake regularly at night.  So why are we so focussed on the sleep patterns of babies?  Why is this biological disposition attributed the deciding factor of whether a child is ‘good’ (shudder)?

The second was while waiting in a queue at the post office.  A woman with a girl of around two-and-a-half was in the queue with her sister-in-law.  The sister-in-law was talking to a family friend.  The conversation went something like this:

“Yes, this is my niece Mia” gesticulating at child.  “She’s driving me mad today” (Annoying Aunt – or AA)

“oh” (embarrassed friend)

The friend tried to bend down to say hello to this child whom she clearly didn’t know, the child hid behind her mum’s legs.

This prompted AA to launch a tirade of aggressive ‘advice’ against the poor mother.  Was Mia always like this?  Answer, no she’s fine at home and with people she knows.  Well she needs to get out!  She needs to socialise.  She needs to go to nursery.  Her mother is stifling her development.  She can’t stay home all the time, clearly she can’t cope in the real world.  She needs to mix with other people without her mother…. etc. etc.  And on and on. 

Clearly AA had no children.  She was young, and yes, clearly an idiot.  But by no means is this an isolated incident.  I’m sure we all hear and meet people like this all the time.  But where has it come from?  This strange and consuming idea that young children need to socialise away from their primary carers in order to develop properly. 

Just a few minutes of thought would render the very idea ridiculous and unworthy of any more consideration.  And if a few minutes of thought are not available then the stack of evidence that ‘socialising away from a primary carer’ is harmful to young children should stamp out this loony theory for once and for all.  Yet, it is so incredibly persistant.  Everyone continues with this theory as if it’s sensible and obvious … why?  What do ‘we’ get out of it?  Obviously it frees up women to go into the labour market, and further provides lots of jobs to other – mainly – women.  Oh and lots and lots of opportunities for nursery owners to make a lot of money.  But surely this can’t be the only reason for ignoring facts, evidence and instinct.  Can it?

Assigning babies, toddlers and young children the ‘problem’ of being too attached to their parents or too clingy seems to be a national pastime.  I just can’t help wondering why? 

It seems as clear as day to me that a baby and/ or young child needs to be raised by one primary carer.  This person is his or her rock.  They provide safety and security – a soft place to land.  The child knows this person and is utterly confident in their love.  They know that they are always safe when this primary carer is around.  And if this person suddenly disappears then surely a normal reaction is anxiety until they reappear?  Until such time as the child knows that this person will always reappear.  

Surely anyone knows in their heart that this is right and good.  Compare to a young baby or child who is left with a wide variety of people and has no strong attachment to anybody.  Yes, aren’t they ‘good’.  They can be left anywhere, with anyone.  They never cry.  This child never feels safe, they don’t have a soft place to land.  We know from scientific studies that these children have abnormally high levels of cortisol in their bodies which set the ‘normal’ level for the rest of their lives at a level that is too high.  This causes them difficulties for life which include attention-seeking behaviour, risk-seeking behaviour and relationship problems.  (Check out my shop for the Margot Sunderland book which contains all the evidence and scientific data that proves this pretty convincingly.)

Would anyone honestly choose an unattached childhood for their child if they knew the lifelong consequences?  Would anyone actually think that a child could be too attached or that a normal attachment could damage a baby?  I hope not, but I fear so.  Such is the crazy world we appear to inhabit.

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This is something I have been pondering for quite a while.  Obviously life is full of contradictions but there are two that really get my goat.  Namely:

  1. Single fathers are considered to be heroic, while single mothers are treated as if they and they alone are the cause of all of the problems of society.
  2. Everyone who is half intelligent recognises the importance of mothers to young children and the value for a baby/toddler/child of being raised by his or her mother.  However a lot of these people draw the line at single mothers for some reason, and think that these women should get ‘back to work’ for the sake of their children. 

These two points baffle me totally.  Firstly, there are hardly any single fathers who are the full time carers of their children.  Those that do are in the lucky position of being looked upon with admiration and sympathy for all the sacrifices and difficulties that they must face.  I don’t take issue with this at all, but wish that this could be extended to the millions of single mothers who face equal difficulties and make exactly the same sacrifices.  Why are they not afforded the same admiration and sympathy?

There seems to be some strange assumption among aspects of the press and the public that a single mother is somehow to blame for the situation she is in. 

Whether it is the stereotype of the teenage mum trying to get a council flat (for goodness sake, how out of touch are these people?) or the woman with 5 children by different dads or whatever.  Most of the single mums I know are not so by choice, but through unfortunate circumstances.  Whether that be a violent father, a lazy father, a cheating father or an absentee father: in most cases the cause seems to be the father not the mother left holding the baby and trying to make the best life for her family.

Secondly, the single mother who chooses to listen to her instinct and/or the overwhelming evidence concerning the best care for young children (their mother) faces criticisms ranging from laziness to an inability to be a good role model.   Why is it that an arrangement that best suits the wellbeing of the child and, therefore, benefits society in the long term is almost universally ignored if the family in question consists of a mother only? 

Everywhere you turn there are ‘welfare to work’ programmes, nursery places for younger and younger children targetted at low income or lone parents and legislation cutting benefits to those who need them most if they dare take full responsibility for the raising of their children.

It drives me absolutely crazy and goes against common sense and reason.  I don’t know how single mums handle this so well, they are so maligned by society while doing such a difficult and amazing job single handedly. 

I would love to see any political party actually extending the hand of reason to single mothers, but as far as I can see all women get a rough deal but none harsher than the women who heads her family alone.

*I have used the term ‘single parent’ as opposed to ‘lone parent’ to account for the fact that many of the fathers are around and able, if not willing, to fulfil the other parental role.  No offence is intended.

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I have spent a fair while compiling a shop at amazon that contains only items personally tried and tested or recommended by trusted NAPfriends.

Please check it out, and let me know if you have any more recommendations for products or books that other Natural, Attached Parents might find useful.

Please visit the NAPshop from the menu above.

 

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Thinktank DEMOS got quite a lot of publicity yesterday for it’s new report entitled ‘Building Character written by Jen Lexmond and Richard Reeves.

Building Character was funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and included such names as Penelope Leach and Penny Mansfield on the advisory board.  The EHRC commissioned DEMOS to undertake research into the development of character capabilities contributing to ‘life chances’ and factors influencing the development.

The methodology looks pretty robust.  They reviewed up-to-date literature, carried out a new statistical analysis of the Millenium Cohort Study and analysed policy initiatives.  The statistical analysis looked at information given by over 15,000 families.

The report first of all defines ‘important character capabilities’ which include empath, agency (locus of control), responsibility and self-regulation.  The authors state that these should be considered ‘hard skills’ if the definition of hard and soft skills is actually useful, which they doubt.

They go on to divide parents up into 4 groups:

  1. Tough love.  Parents are attached, warm and loving and ‘high control’ more rules, consistently enforced..
  2. Laissez-Faire.  Parents are attached, warm and loving and ‘low control’ have fewer rules/more variably enforced.
  3. Authoritarian.  Parents are not attached, have ‘low warmth’ and ‘high control’.
  4. Disengaged.  Parents are ‘low warmth’ and ‘low control’.

They then also look at parents capabilities, self esteem and so on.  They look at how children’s character develops in relation to the above style of parenting.  They also compare all the usual ‘risk’ factors such as low income, family make-up, employment, ethnicity and so on.

I think the findings are remarkable.  In virtually all cases, allowing for the capabilities of the parents the ‘risk factors’ become negligible.  The style of parenting is the most important factor in how children develop these ‘hard’ life skills.  Children of ‘tough love’ and ‘Laissez Faire’ parents develop character far better when all factors are taken into account than authoritarian and disengaged.  Children of Tough Love parents do significantly better and children of Disengaged parents do worse of all.

This is probably hardly surprising but it does bring about some interesting thoughts.  All the money being poored into providing childcare, welfare-to -work, reducing teenage pregnancies and so on is seemingly wasted.  In actual fact having working or young parents makes no difference to outcomes for children.  It is the style of parenting that is all important.

Demos make a very convincing case for refocussing public spending and energy on providing parenting skills and support to impact on the style of parenting.

There is really far too much information in this report to summarise in a blog post, but I’ve hopefully whetted your appetite enough to go and read for yourself.  If not, here are some quotes from the report which might convince you!  Check out the Breastfeeding one – one of my favourites 🙂

An analysis undertaken by Kiernan of the MCS found that family status was only very weakly associated with children’s development, once other factors – like poverty, maternal depression and so on – were controlled for.

When we control for other characteristics – namely parental style and parental confidence – the relationship between family structure and child outcomes disappears almost entirely.

Crucially, the outcomes for children of lone parents and step-parents are explained by the differences in other family characteristics such as parental confidence and self esteem; being a lone parent or a step-parent does not adversely affect child outcomes in itself.

There is a strong association between children’s development of character capabilities and breast-feeding to six months. This effect remains even after controlling for all other variables in the model, including primary carer attachment

There is no connection between paid employment on the part of either the main carer, or the second parent, and the development of character capabilities in children.

Parental disability and parental ethnic background are associated with significantly different outcomes for children at age five, but all differences are outweighed when parental ability was taken into account.

Now, I’m off to peruse the rest of the DEMOS website as this report is pretty good in my opinion.  Just wonder… is anyone going to listen?

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Reclaim Family Sundays

I love the campaign to ‘Reclaim Family Sundays’ that my favourite magazine The Green Parent hasFamily been running for a while.  I think the main point is to try to move away from the 24-hour consumer culture that we’ve all been sucked into and instead spending at least one day a week just ‘doing stuff’ with our families.

We had been intending to go for a day out today but as it seems to be driving rain, I think we’ll be giving it a miss and spending the day at home instead.

I think the children benefit from just one day that is not hectic and involves all of us being together.  For us, this doesn’t have to be a Sunday – it could be any day depending on work etc and is often more than one day a week.

So, our favourite family activities are:

  • going to the park/woods
  • walking round our local reservoir
  • cycling trips
  • chilling in the garden
  • chilling out at home
  • going to the cinema
  • going swimming

I’ll stop interrupting our family Sunday now but would be interested to hear your favourite family activities?

 

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