Still Alive

I haven’t blogged for quite some time. Last year saw massive upheavals for my family, a whole heap of stress, oh, and I finished my novel!

i’m hoping to find the time to pop back in here from time to time to chronicle my parenting journey, but most of my writing time now is consumed with my books and writing-related blogging, competitions and marketing.

So please pop over to my author site and follow me there and do please buy my book, Echoes of the Past: Seeds of Autumn.

http://hblyne.com/

http://echoesofthepast.uk.com/

Has Virginia Wade Been Written Out of History?

imageIn the days after Andy Murray’s amazing victory at Wimbledon, this image has gone viral. Why?

The reporting of Andy Murray’s triumphant victory in the men’s singles Wimbledon final on Sunday has provoked some angry online comments, including this image, which implies that the press have ignored Virginia Wade’s victory in the women’s competition in 1977.

This is a ridiculous and inflammatory argument on several levels.

First of all, the press have not completely omitted the vital information that Andy Murray won the Men’s singles final.

Daily Mail: “first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years” 

The following as pictured on The Guardian’s website here:

The Independent: “Champion – Andy Murray, the first British man to win Wimbledon since 1936”.

The Daily Express: “Magical Murray – First British man to win Wimbledon in 77 Years”.

The Sun: “Finally, after 77 years, 15 PMs, 3 monarchs, Brit man wins Wimbo”.

The Times: “Murray ends 77-year wait for British win” as the headline, above it is a photograph with the caption: “Andy Murray savours victory and the Men’s Singles trophy…”

These front pages came under fire by someone blogging for The Guardian here and yet the one and only front page pictured that can honestly be said to be omitting the fact that Andy Murray is the first MAN to win for 77 years is the Telegraph, with its “After 77 years, the wait is over”, the text under the photograph and in the article is far too small to read, but I have to assume that it clarifies which tournament he won. The blogger quite rightly points out a selection of other winners at Wimbldon since Fred Perry, though I notice he or she did not mention any of the male or female doubles winners, such as Jamie Murray, that Britain can celebrate, or seniors or juniors. Why? Because the writer either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about doubles tennis. Just like most people in this country. It is a sad fact that the men’s singles game is of significantly higher public interest than any other form of the game. The hypocrisy of the writer of this unnecessary and inflammatory article is staggering.

Secondly, the women’s game is a completely separate sport for most of the year, only coming together at the major tournaments. British fans are famous for completely ignoring tennis for 50 weeks every year, only becoming enthusiastic followers during the two weeks of Wimbledon. Their knowledge of the players, therefore, is very sketchy. They will recognise Federer, Nadal and Djokovic because they have won Wimbledon. In the women’s game, they will probably recognise the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova. Now they will have heard of Marion Bartoli, the press coverage of her win is a related matter but probably deserves its own blog post. Those who follow the game a little closer will also recognise Azarenka, Kvitova, Errani, Radwanska, Wosniacki and many other great and up and coming players.

Anyone who watches any tennis at all will know all about Virginia Wade. Not only was she the last British woman to win Wimbledon, she is also currently a well-known broadcaster who appears on tennis programmes all year round, along with other British stars of the past like Sue Barker, Annabel Croft, Sam Smith and Jo Durie. The current players’ achievements are measured in terms of “the first British woman to … since …….. [one of these players]“. None of them would consider themselves to have been airbrushed out of history, their achievements are remembered with pride and affection by the British public, to as great an extent as the way in which they remember Tim Henman.

Admittedly it has taken many years of hard work by Billie-Jean King and many others to get prize money in the women’s game on a par with the men. However, this isn’t just the case in tennis. How many people can name a female British cricketer or footballer, despite the huge advances made by women in these sports? Tennis is also the only major sport to even have a professional women’s tour. Football? All amateur. Rugby? All amateur. Cricket? Some female international players get paid, but not whole teams and not from all countries. The women’s games just don’t attract the same volume of spectators that men’s sports do, and therefore less sponsorship, less TV income and lower income for the players.

Maybe women don’t have as much time and energy to go and watch sports events, which could cause a lot of knock-on effects and many men probably have less interest in the women’s sports than the men’s, for whatever reason. In tennis, the lack of a ladies’ tournament contender for a title is sure to have limited enthusiasm for the women’s game for British fans for the last thirty years, though that is about to change…

laurarobsonHowever, don’t blame the media entirely, they are writing for the public and will cater to the interests of their audience. Now that Britain has Laura Robson and Heather Watson to follow, just watch what will inevitably happen to the headlines when one of them wins Wimbledon (the women’s tournament, of course,) no-one will expect the headline “Laura Robson the first Brit to win Wimbledon for 40 years” to imply that Andy Murray’s win doesn’t count just because he’s a man! The headlines will be just as big, but they might not happen to mention she won the women’s tournament. Why should they? Why should we constantly have to clarify whether we are discussing men or women when it comes to a big achievement? Why should it matter, if we are all equal? And when we are discussing a male only or female only sports title, a big photograph of the winner holding the trophy ought to be a big enough clue which title is being discussed.

I don’t wish to be misunderstood here. I am a feminist and am often among the first to point out how important the language we use is. However, this case just stank of looking for an argument, of seeking to stir debate where none need exist. The papers DIDN’T “airbrush Virginia Wade out of history” at all, most headlines included the word “man” or “men’s” and those that didn’t largely clarified in the by-line or photo caption. Are the British public considered so lazy that we have to now assume the majority will not even read the first line of a front page story and literally JUST the headline? Really? Typsetters for the national press beware! Your punchy headlines now have to be painstakingly PC, even when a photograph speaks for itself.

I’m also NOT saying that there isn’t sexism in sport, or tennis in particular, I’m not saying that it’s right that women’s tennis is often overlooked by large numbers of people. Not at all. All I am trying to say is that this piece of viral vitriol was totally inaccurate and has caused a whole load of negativity around what should have been a huge celebration of Andy Murray’s achievement. I would love to get a quote from Virginia Wade herself and see how she feels about her image and achievement being used to stir needless conflict. I can’t imagine she would be too pleased.

- Thanks to my co-author on this post, Linzy Lyne.

Working With NOT Doing To

This is a topic I have been meaning to blog about for a few weeks now, but a discussion on Facebook this morning has nudged me to grab the little window I have while the Bean sleeps. As parents, we all strive to do the best we can for our children, there are a few different theories about exactly what is “best” and parents from differing schools of thought can have quite passionate disagreements on it. What the hubby and I feel is best is unconditional and attachment parenting. Let me preface this with the confession that we are not perfect, we often do not live up to our parenting ideals. We lose tempers and shout, we say things to the Munchkin that we regret and we spend many evenings despairing about things that have happened. But we chalk it up to experience and promise to try harder.

According to Alfie Kohn, there is ample research to show that children develop best into independent, free-thinking, compassionate and hard working adults if they have parents who give them unconditional love, who steer clear of punishments and rewards and practice “working with” rather than “doing to” parenting.

“Working with” parenting includes giving your child control over their own life, with appropriate limits, of course; so for example, allowing your child to choose their own clothes each day and dress themselves, to the best of their ability! Parents aiming to work with their children might also be sure to give explanations for boundaries, rather than expecting them to be adhered to without question. You won’t hear a working with parent saying “Because I said so!” Negotiation and compromise feature heavily in the working with household. Instead of rewards and praise, a working with parent encourages their child with descriptive responses, such as “I see you doing forward rolls, you really controlled your body and landed just where you meant to.” This gives the child the opportunity to evaluate their performance for themselves and decide how they feel about it. The child might respond with “Yeah, but I was a bit wobbly as I stood up, let me have another go,” or perhaps “Actually, it made me dizzy, I think I’ll stop now.” They learn to motivate themselves and take pleasure and pride in their achievements and to recognise their own limits.

Discipline“Doing to” parenting consists of using punishments and rewards, forcing children to behave in desirable ways. The foundation of this type of parenting is the belief that behaviour is more important than understanding. So for example, a doing to parent might force their child to apologise for accidentally hurting another child, with no regard for whether their child actually is sorry or not. When a child does not immediately follow the parental rules, a doing to parent might confiscate a favourite toy, force the child to isolate themselves for a period of time (time out) or possibly even use physical force, such as smacking. On the flip side, a doing to parent may use rewards and praise as well as, or instead of punishment. Rewards might be very material, such as food or toys, or they might be in the form of a sticker chart. Praise is the verbal reward system and is also quite damaging. Dishing out “good job”s or “well done”s is Pavlovian, pure and simple, it is behavioural conditioning. It teaches children to do something solely for the treat, like a good little puppy. This means that when the reward is no longer offered the child is not motivated to do the task. Alfie Kohn references many studies that have found this result in his book Unconditional Parenting.

Conditional, or doing to parenting hinges on the belief that children are inherently wayward and bad. How many times have you heard phrases such as “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile”, “You’re making a rod for your own back” and so on? These comments come from a very dark view of human nature, one that asserts that children must be trained to behave in acceptable ways through systematic use of punishments and rewards. Bad behaviour must be discouraged through punitive measures and good behaviour must be encouraged with rewards; because no normal child could possibly be capable of doing the right thing for its own sake and all will be utterly selfish without punishments to keep them in check.

I don’t subscribe to this view at all. I have seen for myself how kind, well mannered and thoughtful the Munchkin can be and we have never forced him to say sorry, please or thank you. We have never put him on a “naughty step” or told him to do as he is told with no explanation. Today he pushed over the Bean in a scramble to get trains out of the toy box, I swooped in and picked up the Bean as he was very upset. The Munchkin was told, sternly, that he isn’t to push his brother over because he could get hurt just like this. The Munchkin took himself off for a minute and came back to us looking very solemn and said “I want to say sorry to him.” And he did, and gave his baby brother a cuddle.

time-outI’m not going to sugar coat things. Does the Munchkin sometimes (often?!) refuse to eat his nutritious home-cooked dinner because he would rather eat chicken nuggets? Yes! Does he get in a strop over the slightest thing and refuse to help tidy his toys away at the end of the day? Yes! Sometimes it does not matter what we do or say, he will not be cooperative and we find ourselves tearing our hair out in frustration. It is so tempting to yell, to punish him in some way. In truth, that would be the easy option. It is easy and on some level satisfying to yell “Go to your room!” in those situations. Would this be the lazy option? Sometimes, yes. Though I think most parents don’t realise that there is an alternative way, all they know is what they experienced as children and what well meaning friends, family and strangers are telling them to do, as well as what they see on TV or read in baby training manuals. Working with parenting is certainly not the easy option. It is so hard to push aside your own anger and pull your stubborn child into a loving hug instead of yelling. It is utterly exhausting to repeat the explanations for the dozenth time in 48 hours.

But he is three.

This is what I tell myself when I have to remove myself from the room in order to avoid shouting. I take a moment to breathe deeply and compose myself and I say to myself “He is only three”. When I am calm I can go back, give him a big hug and explain to him gently why I would like him to do, or not do something. Even if I just had to explain the same thing five minutes previously. Because he is three and he is still learning. It would be unreasonable of me to expect him to be able to control every impulse, to totally understand and have mastered his anger, jealousy and fatigue.

What about as children get older? Do punishments and rewards become necessary then? How about in schools? Do teachers need to use these tools in order to control their classrooms and get through the curriculum?

Well, I believe that as children get older unconditional love becomes more and more important because they become much more able to comprehend consequences and subtle behaviours. For a fantastic and thorough exploration of communicating with children of all ages, I highly recommend the book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I hope that my teenage sons will be able to come to me or their dad if they are being bullied, or have feelings for someone that they need help understanding, or any other problem they may have. Knowing that they are truly accepted by us, no matter what they do or feel will be the foundation for open and honest communication. If they feel that they will only be valued or respected if they behave a certain way they will be less likely to come to us with the difficult problems life can throw at us.

As for schools, well that would be a whole other blog post, I fear. I strongly believe that schools can employ working with principles and some alternative models of education do so very effectively, such as Steiner and Montessori. However, very few, if any, state schools even try to do this. The “better” schools may steer clear of punishments as best they can, but they seem to feel the need to compensate for this with praise and rewards. Alfie Kohn has written books and run seminars for educational professionals, but I haven’t read any of this work. I assume it is of the same high standard as his Unconditional Parenting book and gives teachers and school administrators the knowledge and inspiration to change to a working with model. However, this is difficult within the current state system here in the UK as schools have little autonomy and are inspected by a governing body (OFSTED) that is unsympathetic to alternative models of child care and education.

school-disciplineI feel that sending a child to a “doing to” school can undo a lot, if not all of the good work that “working with” parents are doing at home. I would hope that children would still feel secure in their parents’ unconditional love and that this would be a good enough springboard for them to go into adulthood with all of the things parents wish for their children. However, I fear that detentions and A grades would be the undoing of most children from unconditional homes. My parents raised me in a pretty unconditional manner, but I can’t honestly say that I don’t see in myself the same weaknesses that Alfie Kohn talks about and I attribute this to the schools I attended. I think it is important for schools and parents to work together with children, to have the same foundations and approaches, in order for children to truly thrive. The alternative, and the one we are intending to pursue is to home educate. Though we have applied for a place at a couple of local schools and are crossing our fingers that our local Montessori or Steiner schools get free school status, just to keep our options open. If the Munchkin did end up at the local state school, well, we’ll be buying the principal a few books to read over the summer ;)

How To Get Away With Child Abuse

First of all you have to be a middle aged, middle or upper class white man in a position of power or authority. Next you make your story of calculated abuse of your own child public with the caveat that you expect to be vilified. Then stand back and wait for all the gormless plebs reading to congratulate you on your bravery for speaking the truth and confess that they have done the exact same thing.

Unhappy FamilyI am talking, of course, about “journalist” Martin Daubney and his sickening confession in the Daily Fail. He describes how he threatened to leave his wife unless she went along with his plan to abuse their three year old son. She agreed and they proceeded to fit a bolt to the child’s bedroom door and leave him to scream and throw himself around the room for three hours. The reason? Little Sonny wouldn’t stay in his room on his own and his parents were exhausted, desperate and ignorant.

They knew nothing of childhood development. I believe it is very likely that they had made a string of parenting errors and failed to seek reliable support and take appropriate action. With no support, bad information and no better ideas, they resorted to imprisoning their child and letting him potentially harm himself in the quest for some R&R for themselves.

In this earlier article, Daubney describes their son’s traumatic birth and his own consequent birth trauma. Had he done just a little basic reading, he would have known that a traumatic birth can have a lasting effect on babies. Sonny “nearly died” at birth, so I have to assume he had a stint in the NICU, where he was probably left crying by overworked nurses with little grasp of the importance of attachment in newborns. Daubney does say that when they got home Sonny slept in the family bed for the first few months and in a cot in their room for another six months after that. Thank goodness. Until I read this second article I had assumed the couple had gone all Gina Ford on this poor baby, but it appears not.

I would love to know how their baby slept in those early months, what signs of readiness he had shown before they moved him to his own room and why on earth they kept him in a cot until he was nearly three years old! When he started climbing out of his cot they restrained him in a sleeping bag, which he figured out how to get off and one night fell out of his cot when climbing out. It’s one case of restraint, followed by another, then another. Snowballing out of control. Daubney also mentions in passing that they leave Sonny locked in his room until 7am, even though he wakes earlier and that the child goes to nursery, where the day after his three hour long torture he fell asleep on his lunch. I am struggling to find a point in the day where this poor boy enjoys quality time with loving parents.

Babies who have gotten off to a shaky start in life, who have not necessarily formed a secure attachment to at least one parent, often exhibit insecurities as toddlers. This poor boy was desperate to get out of his room, to not be on his own. Interestingly, he didn’t run to their room, he would explore the house. They fitted a stair gate across his door, but at three years old he could figure out how to unlock it and one night ventured down two flights of stairs in his sleeping bag and opened the dishwasher. Clearly, this is exceptionally dangerous and I absolutely do not blame these parents for being desperate for a solution at this point. But I cannot on any level condone their chosen action.

According to the article, Daubney and his wife did not give any thought as to the reasons why their son might be having such terrible anxiety or try to address his deeply rooted insecurity. All they cared about was putting an end to the behaviour by any means necessary so they went for a quick fix. Daubney then describes his mother’s advice and her confession that she had locked him in his room as a small child. And here we come to the heart of it. No doubt she would be the first to follow up this revelation with that old chestnut “and it didn’t do you any harm”. Well no, I suppose not, if you consider very obvious intimacy and attachment issues both with his wife and his child as perfectly healthy.

The research is overwhelmingly clear that poor attachment in childhood leads to difficulty forming trusting and loving attachment with others as an adult. Daubney was himself a victim of abuse (being locked in his room) and has gone on to have the kind of relationship with his wife where he views her body as his to possess, ruined by witnessing her traumatic birth and he resented their baby for sharing their bed and needing his mother and at the point at which his little boy most needed to be held and reassured, he told his wife he would rather leave them both than hold his child and tell him he was safe.

No doubt little Sonny was a high needs child, probably because of his birth and the immediate aftermath, all the more reason to treat him with sensitivity and compassion. But what he got was abuse. Not only does he now know no one comes when he cries, but that he also cannot escape.

MilesYou can train children not to cry out when they need their parents, you can crush their spirit and teach them that no one comes to their aid when they are distressed and children learn very quickly. They may become very compliant and obedient for many years, maybe even decades, but still waters run deep and these very same children are the ones most prone to excessive and destructive behaviour later in life, perhaps in their teens, but maybe later.

The response to this article is perhaps, the most shocking thing of all. Most of the comments are supportive and the negative ones have received hundreds of “dislike”s. Many comments state that the readers have done this same thing and make reference to children needing boundaries and so on. Daubney and his wife will not face a social services investigation for their action, whereas a family from the wrong part of town in receipt of benefits almost certainly would. The double standard is as sickening as the abuse itself.

My heart goes out to Sonny, and to his mother. I hope that some how they are able to heal together.

Full On Full Time Mum

The Bean is 6 months old today! So I thought I had better find the time from somewhere to pop back here and actually write something. I’ve been quiet for some time, thanks to a little thing called LIFE! I honestly did not realise just how little time I would have with two children. No one prepares you for this at all, I heard it was hard work, but I had no idea that I would literally have about two minutes in the day during which I was not feeding, fetching, doing or playing with one of my kids. I’d heard those jokes about parents locking themselves in the bathroom for two minutes to themselves, but it really is true! I have found myself doing that!

The Munchkin rarely goes to sleep before 8.15 and the Bean won’t settle to sleep until about 10pm unless I am in bed with him. He won’t even settle in the living room with us, he cluster feeds and when he isn’t feeding or dozing in my lap he wants to play. The Munchkin doesn’t nap at home any more, only if we happen to be out in the car at the right time and the Bean naps on the go for the most part. At home it is rare for him to sleep more than 20 minutes at a time, so I have no time to myself in the day either.

I’m finding it challenging, to say the least and I have bleak moments where I feel tearful and frustrated. But I know that this time is fleeting and they both really do provide a lot of joy. So I guess it’s all worth it.

The Munchkin is utterly in love with his baby brother and now that the Bean is sitting up and laughing all the time the two of them can and do play together a bit, with the Bean grabbing the Munchkin’s trains and trying to suck them and the Munchkin tickling the Bean and laughing at his expressions and noises.

The Bean is massive. He was big at birth and has resolutely stayed that way. We don’t weigh him, but he has been consistently in a size or two bigger than his age, he is currently transitioning into 9-12 month clothes and we are constantly getting remarks about his size. Thank goodness we declined all involvement from the health visitors, I don’t doubt they would have been trying to persuade me to wean him early with such silly remarks as “He’s big so he must be hungry and you’ll never be able to feed him yourself”, I have heard this exact comment from a supposed health professional. Sigh. Well, to the naysayers, our little man has had nothing past his lips but breastmilk. Or at least, not until this week… at lunch one day I had just finished feeding him and sat him up in my lap. In the two seconds it took me to re-hook my bra he had snatched some lettuce off my plate and shovelled it into his mouth!

So we’re taking that as a sign of readiness for solids and so begins another adventure in Baby Led Weaning. We used this method with the Munchkin with great success and pleasure and are really looking forward to doing it again. The Bean has had a play with some pasta, carrot and turkey, but so far has just managed to break the food up with his two little teeth and then spit it straight back out. So he’s definitely just in the exploration stage and so we’re not presenting him with food on a regular basis, just every now and then.

He has also decided to forgo rolling and move straight on to standing. He wants to be up on his feet nearly all of the time and is almost cruising the furniture already. He is currently stood in hubby’s lap, grabbing hubby’s face in both hands and slobbering all over it. Ahh, happy times :)

G’Night all.

In Support of Invisible Midwives Everywhere

Today is International Day of the Midwife. A day to honour all of the midwives who have been a part of all of our lives, after all, even those people without children of their own were born themselves once and chances are, a midwife attended their birth.

Midwives are there for women and their families on one of the most important days of their lives. Midwives nurture women in their care, guide them emotionally and physically through pregnancy, birth and early parenthood. Midwives save lives and witness daily the amazing entry into the world of new little people, quietly, confidently and with compassion. Midwives know when to sit back and be invisible, trusting women to birth their own babies and only coming to assist if the need arises.

Or at least they should.

Unfortunately the systems that midwives have to work within don’t allow them to do their job properly. They are forced to place time limits on the women in their care, to intervene unnecessarily on a regular basis and to persuade women to birth in big obstetric units if their employer is under the false impression that these units will prevent law suits from happening. The fact is that home is the safest place for women to give birth, it is also the cheapest place. Continuity of care from a trusted midwife also results in better and safer births. It’s utter madness that the system doesn’t grab hold of these facts and embrace genuine with-woman midwifery.

All over the world, women and midwives face persecution and legal action against them if they dare to step outside of that system. Agnes Gereb, Hungarian midwife and obstetrician, is currently under house arrest for attending women birthing out of hospital. Even here in the UK, NHS midwives who work with women at the centre of their care face the possibility of harassment in the workplace from their colleagues. AIMS has a Midwife Defence Fund that people can donate to, this fund helps secure legal representation and cover other costs to assist midwives facing persecution. You can donate here: http://aims.org.uk/MDF/

Independent midwifery is scheduled to become illegal as of October 2013, due to red tape. The EU has declared that IMs must have indemnity insurance, but no provider on the market is willing to insure midwives working outside the system. Therefore, by default, midwives will no longer be legally able to practice independently.

IMUK has been tirelessly searching for a solution, but there is no option available that will allow them to continue to provide care during birth for women who are anything other than “low risk”, that is, “risk” as defined by an extremely conservative legal team in charge of defining NHS protocols, which is not always the same as genuine medical risk. Even if it were, women should still have the right to choose their care provider and place of birth.

If I am ever to have another baby, I would not be able to be cared for by a skilled and experienced midwife of my choice in my own home, as I have had two previous caesareans and am therefore “high risk”. The actual risks of a home birth in my situation are tiny and I should be free to choose to birth there with a midwife of my choice. The changes in the law mean that I am extremely unlikely to ever have a third baby and if I do, I would be forced to choose between the luck of the draw NHS service, who treated myself and my husband so appallingly three years ago, or to not have a midwife present at my birth at all. Basically, I don’t want another baby at all if I can’t have the same amazing midwife that I had for the Bean’s birth.

So today, on International Day of the Midwife, I’d like to shout out my support to independent, with-woman and invisible midwives everywhere who are striving to care for women and their families despite great personal risk. You are all superstars.

Three Little Words…

…and they are too small. Sometimes when I look at the Bean or the Munchkin I get so overwhelmed with emotion that I just burst into tears. “I love you” is too easy, the words are too small. There should be these huge, complicated words that truly convey the gravity of the emotions. I could look to other languages I suppose, “Watashi wa anata o aishite” sounds as complex as the feelings. Good old Japanese, a great language for making ours look abrupt. Or maybe the Romance languages do have it right, “Te amo” in Spanish and “Je t’aime” in French, short and to the point. In a way the emotion is simple. It’s raw, it’s fundamental and we can’t live a fulfilled life without it.

The love we feel for our children is so different from any feelings we might have for anyone else. It is completely unconditional and without question. Even when they drive us crazy love is still there. It’s there in the middle of the night when they just won’t sleep. It’s there in the park in the bright sunshine or trapped indoors when it’s pouring with rain (or snow!). It’s there when they’re sleeping in your lap and when they’re stamping their feet refusing to get dressed or eat or go to bed. It’s particularly strong when they are hurt or upset or unwell. And every time they tell you they love you? Pure magic.

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