Tag Archives: love

Parenting is a two-way relationship

One of the things I encourage parents to do is to see parenting as a relationship between a parent and a child rather than as a one-way activity. That means focusing on building a good relationship with your child and tuning in to how they communicate. Seeing parenting as a two-way relationship not only enriches family life, it opens us up to understanding the influence of children’s innate personalities.parenting as a two way relationship

Modern parents like to think we’re very important. The fashion for blaming parents for how children turn out – or indeed giving credit to parents when kids do well – leads us to believe that we really matter in our children’s lives. That we are the deciding factor. That if we parent ‘right’ then our kids will turn out great. That way of thinking supposes that 1) we can choose how we parent and 2) our kids are totally shaped by their environment. It tends to forget that there is a child in the mix with their own unique fixed set of variables.

Now, there is most definitely evidence from quality research that certain parenting styles and strategies are associated with good outcomes for children. But, equally, there is clear evidence that the genetic factors that predispose children to certain personality traits are also influential on kids’ long term outcomes. Both nature and nurture are at play and parents are only part of the picture. Continue reading

Storybooks for children about working mums

A client recently asked me to recommend books she could read with her little one about going back to work. But I could only think of one book. I can recommend lots of books for helping children cope with change in general, and lots of books about issues in children’s lives (like starting school and making friends) but I couldn’t think of any storybooks for children about working mums. So I decided to do some research.

It didn’t take long to work out that a) there are not many books out there on this topic and b) that’s probably because it’s a complete minefield. After all, merely the act of writing a storybook about mums going to work presupposes that this is unusual or problematic, that it will cause issues for children that need to be dealt with. There are no books about dads going to work so why should there be storybooks for children about working mums? Mums work, end of story.

Indeed, the one book that does jump out on this topic (My Working Mom by Peter Glassman)has been widely vilified as insulting and offensive. The working mum character in this book is a witch who is either never there or turns up late and generally fails in all her child’s wishes and expectations (though the moral of the story is that her daughter loves her anyway). Do check out the reviews on Amazon if you fancy a bile fest!

But, having said that, the fact that a client had asked me to recommend something suggests that there is a need for storybooks that will prompt conversations with young children about the world of work and why adults go to work. Children are often baffled about what we do all day! And when things aren’t going well, due to separation anxiety or childcare issues for example, it’s easy to turn on the guilt and get trapped into emotional messages. Having a storybook to frame some blame-free conversations might really help sometimes. Continue reading

Why parenting is about process not outcome

process not outcomeI’ll get the Mum gloat out there straight away: this year, my son qualified to row at Henley Royal Regatta. For those of you who aren’t rowing parents, this is a really Big Deal. It was the culmination of a hard year of training.

Or, as my self-congratulatory Facebook post put it:

120 6am omelettes cooked; 200 rower’s lunch boxes packed; 300 bowls of pasta made; 450 homemade protein flapjacks baked; 100 dashes to the supermarket because “we’ve got no food!”…. One day in a silly hat at Henley. Very proud

I can’t take all the credit, of course. In addition to the sheer number of hours, sweat and tears my son put into it, he also had access to a brilliant Junior Rowing Coach. And his coach’s mantra for success is to focus on processes not outcomes.

‘Process not outcome’ is an idea that you see everywhere in elite sport. Sprinters on the start line train their minds to focus not on what it will feel like to win (which is a distraction) but on each sequential movement they need to make between the start and finish lines.

And remember Johanna Konta’s eerie calm under pressure at Wimbledon this year? She bounced that ball so carefully and rhythmically before every serve, bringing her mind fully onto the shot she was about to play.

Which got me thinking about parenting and about how often we tie ourselves in knots focussing on the outcomes we want for our children rather than the actual moment we are in. Read more…

[This week’s blog post was published on The Huffington Post, just for a change!]

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Stressed-out parents: how stress impacts parenting (and what to do about it)

One of the key principles of positive parenting is looking after yourself. Being a parent is not all about the kids. Creating a family that you enjoy being a member of means balancing everyone’s needs. And nurturing your own wellbeing as well as your children’s. Stressed-out parents find it much harder to be calm and consistent or to provide the loving warmth and boundaries that children need to thrive.stressed-out parents

The problem with stress is that it tends to create a short-circuit in our brains. This means we bypass the thoughtful front regions of the brain and fall back on the more instinctive visceral brain regions that trigger our defensive fight-or-flight reaction. Those fight-or-flight instincts have a very important role in keeping us safe from danger. But, in the face of a screaming toddler or tantruming teen, a fight-or-flight response (though understandable) is not especially helpful. Continue reading

Book review: Brain-based parenting

Brain-based parenting: The Neuroscience of caregiving for healthy attachment (by Daniel A. Hughes & Jonathan Baylin) tries to do something truly amazing – to explain the chemical and emotional brain mechanisms that interact to create and sustain the loving bond parents feel for our children. That magical bond that makes us love every inch of them, that makes us prioritise our children’s needs over our own and keeps their wellbeing central to our thoughts and fears. And that stops us throwing them out the window when they are at their most annoying and antagonistic. This is magical territory indeed.

This book covers some really crucial topics – like the importance of parents’ emotional self-regulation in parenting effectively and the negative impact of stress on parents’ ability to tune into their children empathetically (and remain the ‘adult in the room’). There are some fascinating insights into the roles of oxytocin and dopamine in building the parent-child relationship and ensuring the parent gets pleasure from it (and therefore wants to engage even more). And a truly wonderful “caregiving formula” comprising playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy to optimise a reciprocal and nurturing parent-child relationship. Continue reading

Book Review: The Guilt-Free Guide to Motherhood (by Kirsten Toyne)

As mothers, we constantly measure ourselves against our own elusive (and often contradictory) ideals of perfect motherhood. We know those ideals aren’t real but their power over us can be so strong that we are left either feeling like a failure or warping ourselves out of shape in a doomed attempt to conform to those ideals.

The Guilt-Free Guide to Motherhood by Kirsten Toyne is a great antidote to that futile search for perfection. It is also a wonderful exploration of the troubling feelings that can come with adjusting to being a new mother. It is a book grounded in real women’s lived experiences of pregnancy, birth and the baby years that aims to showcase just how diverse and OK our different feelings and experiences of motherhood actually are. Continue reading

The day my mother left

The day my mother left us, my father decided to get a dog. It seemed like a straightforward swap to me. We went out to buy a border collie and when we came back my mother was gone. I was ten years old.

1987Swapping my mother for a puppy had many advantages. In one stroke I was liberated from all the petty restrictions of supervised domestic order. Bedtimes and hygiene went out of the window, replaced by endless summer days topped with coke and crisps in pub gardens. And without a live-in mother our family activities could no longer be divided along gender lines – no more being left behind to dig a stupid fish pond while the men went off to watch the Test Match! My world shifted shape. Continue reading

Book review: The Psychology of Babies (Lynne Murray)

Give me a baby and I can’t help experimenting on her. Sticking out my tongue to see if she will copy, striking up a ‘making-faces’ conversation, looking at an object to see if she will follow my gaze, playing peekaboo. Now that my children are older, I don’t get much baby time but The Psychology of Babies by Lynne Murray makes a great substitute.

This fabulous book recreates classic developmental psychology experiments in an easy-to-follow photo format specifically designed to support parents and practitioners in decoding babies’ behaviour and understanding why babies do the things they do.

Continue reading

Books for preparing toddlers for new babies

Books are a great tool for preparing toddlers for new babies. There is so much about babies that toddlers can’t anticipate and sustaining a sensible focused conversation with a toddler is never easy. So that precious time when you are snuggling up for a good story is a wonderful opportunity to introduce new ideas and prompt conversations about feelings and upcoming changes (see tips on Preparing your child for a new baby).

Whether you are just about to tell your toddler there is a baby on the way or have already welcomed your new bundle of joy, these are my personal recommendations of books that help young children cope with the arrival of a sibling. But be warned, talking to toddlers about new babies can throw up some probing questions about how the baby got into Mummy’s tummy in the first place – so you might also want to check out these Top 10 Books for talking to children about sex too! Continue reading

Helping children through divorce and separation

How are we going to tell the children? What are we going to tell the children? When are we going to tell the children? Believe me, I wish I had a script I could give you that answered those questions. Helping children through divorce and separation isn’t easy and there are no pain-free solutions. Being strong and calm and rational at a time when emotions are running away from you is a real challenge.helping children through divorce and separation

Having been on both sides of that conversation – as both a child and an adult – I do know that in the grand scheme of things there isn’t usually one conversation that makes the difference. Parents often focus on the initial ‘breaking the news’ moment but, in reality, it takes time for news to sink in and questions to rise and helping children through divorce or separation usually involves returning again and again to the same themes and issues and repeating the same messages until a new consistency is gradually established. Continue reading

Becoming a mother: my story

For me, becoming a mother was like being hit by a bus. I knew there was a baby coming and that babies were full-on and hard work but I was not expecting the complete shift in my identity that I actually experienced. I didn’t see it coming.

becoming a motherI was in my thirties by the time I had my first baby and I had lived a wide and adventurous life. The baby was conceived while I was living in Mongolia, a place where life and death come and go daily in a nomadic life too focused on the basics of food, fuel and water to get introspective about identity. I waddled back to the UK at 34 weeks feeling like a cow about to calve, more concerned about how I would fit all the baby kit into my suitcase to take back to Ulanbaatar than about how becoming a mother might change me.

And then the bus hit me. It turns out, babies aren’t just a practical undertaking after all. Continue reading

Sexual Exploitation: parents need to think the unthinkable

A few weeks ago I attended a refresher course on safeguarding children and sexual exploitation. As a professional working in children’s services, I have attended dozens of these courses over the years and dealt with many child protection cases so I have become inevitably a little hardened to the topic. I am no longer the rookie who cried all the way home after her very first child protection workshop.

sexual exploitation signs and symptoms

But, as a parent, I find it impossible to remain unmoved by a whole day thinking and talking about child abuse.

Of course my thoughts fly automatically to my own children. Then fly away again just as quickly. Because thinking about my children coming to harm in that way is just unthinkable… My instinct is to push it all away and seek refuge in denial. Continue reading

Introducing a new partner to your children

Introducing a new partner to your children can be daunting: there are life-changing implications for all involved. But it is a bridge that more and more parents and children (and new partners) have to cross. introducing a new partner to your children

It doesn’t help that fairy tales are full of wicked step-mothers and the TV is peppered with abusive step-fathers. Talk to a room full of parents and you will hear a wide range of experiences, from heart-warming accounts of blended families that have brought love and value to every family member’s life, to long-term estrangements, rifts and rejection.

When it comes to introducing a new partner to your children, there is no guaranteed way to ensure a smooth ride. But follow these tips and the chances of it working out will be greatly increased. Continue reading

Why I don’t regret taking my children to Nepal

silhouette of boy in front of Himalayas This Easter I took my two children (aged 12 and 14) on a two-week adventure trip to Nepal. It was meant to be the stuff that childhood memories are made of: a year in the planning, we crammed the trip with mountain trekking, white-water rafting, an elephant safari, jungle walks, crocodile-spotting, cycling, cultural tours and middle-of-nowhere star-gazing. Smiling, wind-swept (and wearing unwise harem trousers) we flew back into Heathrow just before a huge earthquake shook Nepal killing an estimated 8,000 people.

Since the news broke, my feelings about the trip have been very confused. I feel incredibly lucky to have got out in time. I feel privileged and grateful to have seen this amazing and inspiring country before the earthquake destroyed historic sights and devastated the infrastructure. I feel shocked to the core knowing that people we met have lost everything and villages we visited have been levelled. And underneath it all is the horror that my children were there, that it so easily could have been them. Continue reading

Book Review: Life After Birth (by Kate Figes)

Everyone experiences becoming a mother differently. For me, it was a bit like being hit by a bus. Of course, I knew there was a baby coming and that babies were hard work but in terms of the fundamental irreversible impact on my sense of identity, I just didn’t see that coming. For the first two months I sleepwalked in a post-traumatic haze: I was a mother who hadn’t yet become a mother and I was utterly conflicted. I couldn’t let go of the pre-birth me (the person I had invested 30 years into becoming) but I couldn’t see how to be that me in the face of the sheer scale of demands and love that had arrived with my new baby.

Life After Birth by Kate Figes was the catalyst that eased me through the transition to
motherhood. Or, as I melodramatically announced in my sleep-deprived haze, “This book saved my life.” Continue reading