Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Fear based parenting - refusing the pressure

A friend with a nearly 4-month old baby visited me today. We don't see each other much these days since I've moved away, but before she gave birth I offered her a few thoughts on baby parenting (mainly to trust her instincts rather than parenting books / other people's opinions, and follow the baby's lead) and she told me today how much she took those things to heart and how well it's served her. Both she and her baby are thriving and loving the bonding early months.

But, she also told me that there's already pressure on her - friends with babies the same age are sleep training them (leaving them to cry alone), raising their eyebrows at her feeding her baby to sleep... at not even 4 months old?? I was gobsmacked. She asked me, why is it bad to feed your baby to sleep?

My answer: I'm not sure, I still feed my 3yo to sleep and it's the one thing that makes her want to go to bed - without it I don't know how much fight she'd be putting up!

But of course I've had that thrown at me too. You can't keep feeding your baby to sleep, it's a bad habit!


The best answer I can come up with, from conversations with friends, is fear. Why do people let their babies cry until they can cry no more, and call it self soothing... why go through that awful time as a mother, when every fibre of your being screams at you to just GO TO YOUR BABY and you refuse... what can possibly trump the power of that instinct? Fear.

What are we so afraid of that we create issues where none exist? When a baby could peacefully feed to sleep in mama's arms - instead to spend hours and days and nights refusing its urgent need, until it learns to stop asking? Where does this fear come from?

We have to learn to refuse the fear. Refuse the pressure. I will not create issues where there is no problem right now, just because I fear some vague problem that may (or may not!) occur in the future. 

So if I feed baby to sleep, they may not be able to settle at night without me? Well here's a newsflash: I signed up to being a mum when I brought this baby into the world. Being there for my baby is my calling, my duty - why should it have to settle down without me? If there's an emergency and I can't be there, the baby will suffer a bit and then eventually manage; but why make baby go through that without the need?

So if I don't force my baby to sleep all alone, they will NEVER sleep alone? Newsflash: I know so many families whose children - school age children! - regularly come into the parents' bed at night... yet my 3yo sleeps through reliably every night, and has done since age 2. I  refused to make her associate falling asleep with distress - shouldn't it be a safe, calm, warm experience? Funny how many kids hate going to sleep and stall and stall. I wonder if there's a connection.

So if I don't send my kid to nursery (later: school) they'll become a loner with no social skills? Well newsflash: we're surrounded by people to interact with. People of all ages, not just those within a year of the same age who are still very much learning what is and isn't socially acceptable behaviour. My 3yo is polite, friendly, open and inclusive - not least, I would say, because she learns how to interact from a variety of people, not just from her equally immature peers.

I will not base my parenting decisions on fears of the future.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love and sound judgement."
- 2 Tim. 1.7 HCSB

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Building family Christmas traditions

I was never 'into' Christmas as an adult. Along with most reasonable people, I rolled my eyes at the waste of electricity for fairy lights, the earlier-every-year creep of its attending commercialism, the nonsense of a fat bearded man in red and white coming down chimneys. (I didn't grow up with Santa so from an outsider's perspective it just is weird to celebrate Christ's birth that way).

Now I have children, however, I have to engage with the culture around us, interpret it for them in a way... I want them to experience that deep and meaningful anchoring to the past that traditions give us.

But not with Santa. I'm uneasy about that man.

Traditions and family

I think that traditions serve several important purposes for kids:

  • identity (this is what we as a family do); 
  • anchoring (this is what we as a community do), and
  • sign posting (this is why we do this)

These are probably why I rejected the traditions I grew up with as a young adult: I did not wish to identify with or be anchored to where I'd come from, and I certainly didn't believe in what it all pointed to - Christ come into the world.

But now, a Christian, a mother, I have a joyful duty and serious responsibility to offer my children memories to make, stories to carry throughout their life. Traditions matter.

Christmas as a Season

The day itself is short - it's the climax, the fulfilment of all the preparation that's gone before... like Mary giving birth to Jesus (and after all that's what we celebrate) it's an event that is preceded by a period of preparation, of anticipation. There will be a big emphasis on advent in this house.

Advent will include:

  • Advent calendars. A lovely, visual way to build the excitement by counting down (well, up) to the big event. We've got two chocolate advent calendars - the boy is now 18 months and won't be left out - but only one 'gifts' advent calendar, for the 3 year old. It's the same one I've used since we got married, so there's already a kind of tradition there... it's got sewn fabric bunting pockets to put small items into. I bought a small nativity play set that just happens to have almost the right number of pieces; between shepherds, animals, angels, kings etc she will end up, at Christmas, with a full nativity set to play with. And each day I can explain who this figure is. 
  • Advent Sundays. They're special. In Austria we would light another candle each advent Sunday on our advent wreath, and I like that tradition so we're doing that. 
  • Also weekly, although probably not on Sundays, we'll be visiting a place (our doctors, the police, fire service, ambulance service) whose service we are grateful for and thanking them with little gifts of sweets. This way I'm looking to instil an understanding of the spirit of Christmas, of blessing others - to counter the message that it's all about the gifts you get. 
  • Lots of toddler group Christmas activities and crafts. Of course those are inevitable, but they're also useful. The kids will experience all sorts of views, images and ideas about Christmas and I'll get the chance to talk to them about it all. 

What advent won't include for us:

  • Visiting Santa's grotto. Going into what sounds like a cold, damp lair belonging to this mythical intruder is not for me, and even if we did it there would be a lot of explanation needed (is this man here the real Santa? Why sit on his lap? What has he got to do with Jesus' birthday?) which I think would be quite confusing for a 3 year old. 
  • A Christmas tree at home. Our home will be decorated, yes, but by putting up a Christmas tree weeks before the event they would become used to its presence and by Christmas it's not special any more. 

Christmas, the event

To me, Christmas is the evening of 24th December. That night is the culmination after so much preparation and excitement and I want it to be magical to the children.

They will go out with their grandparents that afternoon. Maybe to a Christmas market. Meanwhile at home, we'll put up the tree and put the presents underneath it so that when they come home after dark, they walk into a room that is lit up only by the lights from that tree. Christmas music will be playing softly in the background. We might sing Silent Night. We'll definitely wish Jesus a happy birthday and thank God for sending him into our world.

And then, somewhere between eating our Christmas dinner and opening our presents, we'll be making lasting memories of love and family.

Friday, 10 November 2017

A New Vocation

We need money.

The cold hard truth - we are just about managing on one salary, but it's tight and the house is still a project with much more to do than we have money for! So, we need some more income.

 Mr. and I sat down for a long chat about that. He can't change jobs; in his industry there is great uncertainty due to Brexit right now, and he sees lots of colleagues being made redundant. He's got a good pension scheme where he is, and has been due a pay rise for several years (!) now - hopefully that will come to fruition at some point. So changing jobs isn't workable for him, and changing careers (which he would quite like to do) would mean taking a huge pay cut for several years as he gets stuck in to his new career, which also isn't workable right now.

As for me, I'm qualified as a marketer (postgrad). But I don't have the mental capacity at the moment to really apply myself in that field; if I wanted to be employed, it would be difficult to find a job with better conditions than the one I had before baby #2 - that was only 8 hours a week, from home, completely flexible on times... yet I could barely do it with one baby, certainly not with two! Only 8 hours, sounds like nothing, but working them around kids naps or occasions when the grandparents can take the kids was incredibly stressful and I don't feel I was able to give my best to that job. If I wanted to be self-employed and work as a consultant or similar (charity marketing, fundraising etc. being my specialities) I'd have to spend years to build up a client base and reputation, and would have very busy periods within projects which I couldn't necessarily work around the kids.

So... what to do?

It was for me to find something to do, since Mr. isn't in a position to. I set out my requirements:

  • a completely flexible job that I could do around the kids
  • something that would bring in money quickly (not years of building up)
  • something that would definitely be needed
  • something that didn't require strenuous training or time away to train (because of the kids)
  • something that wasn't too mentally demanding - as my mental energy mostly goes on my kids!

...so now I'm training as a hairdresser.

It's a one-year course, after which I'll be qualified to be a mobile hairdresser. I can go to people's own homes, or have them come to mine. This means I can set my own working hours around what works for me and my clients!

And is there a market for this? You bet! I know lots of mums who avoid going to a salon due to having to organise childcare, as well as the cost; also elderly people who find it hard to get out to a salon. Both of these groups, mums and elderly people, are also often lonely and need a chat. This is the vocation I'm increasingly becoming aware of - having chosen the profession and training on the purely practical points above, I'm now finding that perhaps this is actually what I'm being called to do... a way in to be a listening ear, an encourager, a sympathetic presence in the lives of people who don't often get the chance to have an uninterrupted conversation (and with toddlers, don't I know all about that!)

I can't wait to get stuck in. Several months into the course now I find it's so much more interesting to learn about all this than I thought it would be!