Parenting – general


Review by Katherine

Breastfeeding your baby in bed or helping your toddler develop their autonomy may not seem like a political act, but according to Robin Grille, it may be one of the most important things you do to shape the future of society. In his Parenting for a Peaceful World, the Sydney psychologist argues that until we collectively parent children more empathically, war and unbridled consumption will continue to wreak havoc in our world.

The book starts off with a history of childhood which is hard to read as it recounts several hundreds of years of brutality and abuse. It’s not necessary to read these chapters in their entirety to get the message that up until about 50 years ago, it just plain sucked to be a kid. And still does in some parts of the world. If you managed to live to adulthood, you were deeply scarred by the experience, eager to brutalise others and ready to inflict the same torture on the next generation of children.

Grille uses this history to support his argument that the harsher children are treated the more violent and brutal the society they form as adults. He gives some specific examples such as Yugoslavia, Russia and Nazi Germany. While I’m open to this as being true, I think the evidence Grille provides would be unconvincing to those less open to the idea.

He extends this idea even further in the part of the book that I think some people would find challenging, where he describes the predominant style of parenting today as the socialising mode.

The socialising mode of parenting emphasises the need to train the child to behave in socially acceptable ways. Grille is critical of this approach because it ignores the needs of children in favour of the convenience and expectations of adults. Rewards and punishment are the mainstay of this parenting mode, and Grille is clearly against these techniques, including the good old star charts and ‘time out’. Another popular parenting technique he targets is controlled crying which he explains works because babies eventually become numb to the pain of not being responded to.

Perhaps his most provocative suggestion is that current common parenting methods such as these, which manipulate the child to behave in ways convenient to adults, create adults who are susceptible to manipulation and easy prey for the consumerist machinery of today’s society.

Grille’s alternative to the socialising mode is the helping mode of parenting which focusses, not on getting children to behave a certain way, but on empathy and open communication with them, responding appropriately to their needs, and having faith that they will grow into thoughtful, considerate human beings all of their own accord. In order to achieve this, however, he points out that it’s not only parents that need to have this focus, but all of us, extended family, child carers, teachers and politicians included.

As Grille himself warns, this is not a parenting book as such. It gives no detailed advice about sleeping, crying, feeding, playing etc which you would normally expect to find. In some ways, it’s more useful than a parenting book because it gives you some principles. Remember the principles, and you will intuitively know what’s best to do for your children.

Those looking for more practical parenting advice could try his second book, Heart to Heart Parenting. I haven’t read it – it’s on my list, and I’ll be interested to see how useful it is.

With a one-year old son, I have only started the parenting journey. My partner and I have implemented most of Grille’s suggestions so far and intend to continue to do so, because they appeal to us and they appear to be supported by evidence. I’ll get back to you in about 20 years time to let you know the outcome.

(Parenting for a Peaceful world is available from ABC shops and Mothersdirect)

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I hope you had a safe and happy Christmas and New Year’s celebration. Ours was low key, but delightful.

We stayed with Grandpa in Melbourne and really enjoyed exploring that city from a child’s perspective. My favourite day was the one we spent at Abbotsford Convent and the Collingwood Children’s Farm, and  Elisabeth was really taken by the restored antique carousel at the end of the pier at Eastern Beach in Geelong. We also had a lovely moment at a playground in Williamstown when a random dad, after chatting to us via our kids, said, “So you’re two mums?” His relaxed manner was such a testament to all the amazing work the Rainbow Families Council has done in Melbourne over the years. Everyone I’ve encountered in Brisbane has been absolutely fine, too, but he sounded so…blase.

I’m planning some changes around here, both in appearance and content.  I’d like to keep it going, and I need to make it sustainable for me to manage. So I’m going to cut back to two posts a week for a while (until I pull together a regular posse of contributors) – one article and one ‘Meet rainbow families’. Let me know if you’ve got any comments on how it is unfolding – like most bloggers, I love to get messages from the ether!

To kick off 2010, Mel from Rainbow Garden talks about home schooling her kids.

Home Education

by Mel

It’s a scary concept for some and a very liberating one for others. But what exactly is it?

Let me start by telling you what it isn’t.

Home Education is not locking your children away from society so they grow up social recluses who duck behind a bush every time they see a ‘stranger’.

Home Education is not depriving your children of valuable social opportunities – you know the sort of opportunities I mean – interacting with all members of society, from all walks of life, spanning all age groups.

Home Education is not indoctrinating your children with your belief system so they grow up mindless drones (I know, because I tried – it didn’t work.)

Home Education is not going to make your child grow up to be uneducated or unemployable.

Home Education is not something that can only be undertaken by trained professionals (I know this one too – because my kids are WAAYYY smarter than me!)

Home Education IS a rich, rewarding experience for both parent and child. It forms strong family bonds which they will need all their lives. It allows children to follow their own interests. It can be tailored to the needs of each individual child. Home Education can be delivered in so many different ways – from ‘school at home’ to complete ‘unschooling’ and everything in between. Home Education protects our kids from the more unsavoury aspects of school life. For instance, if bullying is such a good character building experience for kids, why are there programs (albeit failing ones) in place to try and combat it?

Home Education allows for plenty of social opportunities with peers and the wider community. Our own homeschool group has had sports carnivals, swimming carnivals, gymnastics classes, art classes, science days, nature days, history days, self defence classes, ice skating gatherings, numerous informal picnics and excursions. Not only that, as a natural part of having your kids with you 24 hours a day, they get to see how society works up front in a non-orchestrated way. They get to go to the bank, post office, doctors, hospitals, vets, shopping centres and so on; opportunities they may not get very often stuck in school  five days a week.

Parents home educate for a variety of different reasons. Some homeschool because of their religious convictions, others because their children were almost suicidal from the abuse they were receiving at school. Some  children are gifted and the school can’t keep up with the child’s needs; and there are those that homeschool because they just enjoy being with their kids and they see home education as a natural progression of their parenting life.

My reasons for home educating my children have evolved over the years. Initially it was because I was deeply concerned that children were growing up too fast because of peer and media influence, and I guess there is still an element of that there for me, but now it is just an inbuilt part of who we are and what we do – I can’t imagine sending my kids to school, it just isn’t an option for us.

I was asked to comment on whether there were any negatives to home education. It is a hard question to answer, because you will get a different response from everyone you ask. For me, the hardest thing is the 24/7 intensity of it all. Most people send their kids off to school when they turn five and have their days to do as they wish, be that at work or in the home. When you are homeschooling you just don’t have that freedom. But you do adapt, it just takes some creativity and the ability to realise that what you are doing is a good and worthwhile thing.

Home Education in Australia is LEGAL in most states and territories as far as I am aware, though each state has their own criteria. In NSW, for example, we have to follow all the Key Learning Areas (KLA’s) that the schools cover, but it is pretty much up to us how we do that. There are numerous curriculum suppliers or if you are really adventurous you can make up your own – it really isn’t that complicated!  Every two years, an Authorised Person (usually someone who was once a teacher) comes out and has a look at what you’ve been doing and what you plan to do with your kids. He makes sure that you are covering all the KLA’s, makes suggestions on where you could do a bit more work, makes sure that the location where the children work is suitable, and so on. If he is satisfied, he gives you two years registration. If he thinks you need to make some changes, you will most likely get a shorter registration period.

Education is not a sacred art that can only be imparted to others once you’ve spent four years in university. Education happens every day of your life and you can be taught things by a two year old or a 92 year old! You don’t have to have a high IQ or be an expert in any field. Let me tell you a little secret – kids learn in SPITE of us, not BECAUSE of us. We can provide fun activities and make sure we take our kids to all the homeschool meet-ups. We can provide them with the best and most expensive curriculum, but at the end of the day it is the kids that do all the work and learn what interests them and ignore what bores them.

Have you thought about schooling for your kids? what are you doing or planning to do?

With the UN Climate Change Conference struggling along, I’ve been thinking, rather despairingly, that I’m misguiding my energy working towards my children’s parenting security  when I can’t even guarantee my children a planet to grow up in. That seems pretty basic. Elisabeth has just finished  the harrowing The Road by Cormac McCarthy and we’ve been wondering what we can do. It all seems so big.

J-le over at  The Twinkle in My Eye has also been giving this some attention. This is reposted from her blog, at  Greening the Twinkle’s Future

I’ve been inspired by a range of factors to tread more lightly on this earth. Those factors include:

My head has been filling with ideas on how we can lessen the impact we have with our lifestyle and I’ve finally decided to put them all in one place, categorised, in public, to challenge me to go ahead and deal with them instead of just thinking about them. So here goes.

Here’s the list:

The things we could do more of:

saving water

  • collect excess water from kitchen and bathroom sinks and bucket onto garden/indoor plant
  • collect cold water from start of shower and bucket onto garden
  • install rainwater tanks – large for whole roof, small for verandah
  • collect more greywater and direct it onto the front (non-edible) garden
  • use more greywater-friendly cleaning products
  • plant more indigenous plants in front yard
  • buy a front loader washing machine in the long run

saving gas

  • put more clothes on before choosing to put heater on
  • reduce draughts around windows and doors
  • keep hot water service turned to fairly low temp
  • consider double-glazing
  • close vents not really needed (eg kitchen, bathroom in evenings)
  • keep thermostat low-ish
  • consider pelmets above windows
  • cover bathroom fan
  • put insulation in bathroom and laundry ceiling
  • put insultation in walls when weatherboards are replaced

saving electricity

  • be more vigilant about switching off lights
  • find a replacement for halogen downlights
  • switch appliances off at the wall
  • turn computers off at night
  • put in a smart switch for computers and maybe tv
  • switch to buying green energy
  • look at solar in the long term
  • buying 5-6 star rating appliances (not in the near future – most of our whitegoods are new-ish)
  • don’t use the dryer except for emergencies
  • only use air-con on 40+ days if possible, and don’t set thermostat too low
  • close all blinds on hot days
  • install exterior blinds or other shade treatments
  • use cross-ventilation on hot nights (find out out how to open top window on front door)

reducing waste

  • be more vigilant about separating recyclables
  • make the most of the worm farm and compost
  • find the best solution for dog poo
  • get a diva cup or similar
  • toilet-train the twinkle
  • get hankies instead of tissues
  • use microfibre cleaning cloths
  • consider rechargeable batteries
  • buy less pre-packaged meat and veg
  • buy less processed food in general
  • find creative uses for rubbish and recyclables (eg toilet rolls as seedling tubes, softdrink bottles as mini greenhouses)

sustainable transport

  • walk more!
  • get the bikes serviced and get a seat for the twinkle
  • investigate local produce to reduce food miles
  • produce more food at home
  • use public transport as much as possible

There’s lots of things that we already do, and there’s plenty more we could improve on. There’s more stuff that needs to be on that list that I have forgotten in my big brain dump just now. I will add them as I remember or learn them, and I plan to talk myself through it on my blog.

Molly adds:
Readers, I’d love to hear your ideas on what you are doing or could do more of to green your children’s future.

Last week Pearl and Louis turned two.  With Elisabeth working, I planned a whole bunch of fun toddler activities. I thought I’d take them to the park with their birthday scooters, and then we’d go out for babycinos and maybe even a celebratory muffin, and then stop at the local train station to watch the special Christmas steam train go past. A lovely jampacked birthday morning, and we’d be home in time for a good solid nap.

Pearl and Louis wouldn’t get dressed.

When I say wouldn’t,  yes I know I’m bigger, but they were kicking and flailing and crying out, ‘No nappy! No t-shirt!’ and then, when I tried to explain the morning’s plans, ‘No scooters! No babycino!’

I. Was. So. Angry.

At this point, for me, parenting by instinct would go awry. For me, parenting by instinct means unthinkingly reproducing how my parents parented. Some elements of how I was parented I would like to pass on to my children, others, not so much.

So my ‘instinct’ would have been to shove them into their clothes, possibly giving one or other a smart slap at some point, force two screaming children into car restraints, and head down to the park hoping that the combined three-way bad mood would clear once we spotted the play equipment.

Instead I took a deep breath and tried to remind myself of my parenting principles.

One: children often know what’s good for them. It was about 34 degrees at 9a.m. and getting hotter – who wants to get clothes on? They’d also had an exciting birthday whirlwind morning, with a present opening frenzy before Mummy Elisabeth went off to work. By 9a.m, they’d been up for four hours, and had more excitement than they get in most full days.

Two: natural consequences. They don’t want to get clothes on, therefore we don’t go out. This isn’t a punitive response, it’s just the way it is. My tone is not, ‘Right, you’ve refused to get your clothes on therefore we have to stay home and have a really bad time’. The message is more, ‘Okay, if you don’t want to get dressed, what shall we do around the house?’

The top of my brain was frantically working through what I should do in line with my parenting philosophy, but underneath that my mental conversation went something like this:

After ALL I’VE DONE FOR YOU, the very least you could do is co-operate!

I have gone to all the effort of planning a lovely day and you ungrateful wretches just don’t appreciate it!

If I don’t force you to do what I want, you are going to be SPOILED (like overripe fruit?) and take advantage of me forever.  I will be nothing but a doormat in this house.

OMG! I AM nothing but a doormat in this house!

So I stopped and tried to listen to them, and what  I heard was something like, Mama, this has been really great and all these big new toys are great and talking on the phone to every single relative has been fun and all that shiny wrapping paper is fantastic and I really loved the pancakes with maple syrup at six a.m. but it’s hot and I’m really quite tired and can we just sit still for a while?

And what I was really saying was something like, But if you reject all these lovely ideas I have for us then really it’s just like you’re rejecting ME.

So I decided to just follow their lead and see what happened. We went out into the garden – small ones naked – and had a lovely time making Christmas decorations and jumping in and out of the pool. An hour or so later, when I suggested babycinos again, they very happily got into clothes and climbed into the car (although they fell asleep on the way there – they really WERE exhausted).

The point is that it’s important to identify your hot-spots as a parent. Everyone has them. Perhaps you don’t like mess. Or you get distressed when your child doesn’t eat. Or you want your child to have good manners. Or you want your teenager to choose a ‘good’ career. Whatever your button is, your child will find it. That is how they keep forcing us to grow.

I know my button (or one of my buttons, more accurately) is being rejected when I feel like I’ve gone to an effort. The after all I’ve done for you… line. When they won’t get into the car when I’m trying to take them to visit a friend, or they turn up their noses at a meal I’ve cooked specially from ‘Delicious Toddler Meals’.

I don’t think what I did was the only response to that situation, or even the ‘best’ response.  It was certainly the best I could come up with at the time.  Sometimes the best I can do is not let them see I am completely, irrationally angry about something that is just normal child behaviour. I think the final outcome is less important than the fact that is wasn’t a knee jerk reaction  at the whim of my ‘button’ response.

What are your buttons? How do you deal with it when your kids push your buttons?

Don’t forget: I’m still looking for guest posts, so if you have something you’d like to say about rainbow parenting or general parenting, please email me or leave a comment. I’ve always got a lot to say, but I don’t want this site to just be The Voice of Molly.

December: It’s time to put up the tree, send out Christmas cards, and brainstorm ideas of what to get my impossible-to-buy-for father.

I love Christmas. My parents loved Christmas, and made a big fuss. In the weeks leading up to it, we’d go to Carols by Candlelight down at Altona Beach. My father put up fairy lights all around the garden. We’d all go to midnight mass together on Christmas Eve, and leave out fruitcake and a glass of port for Santa.

So, Christmas. Highlight of the year. Peace and love and goodwill to all. Only, I’m not Christian (any more), so what’s to be done with this odd festive season concurrently celebrating a baby come 2,000 years ago to save all humanity, and the awesome power of the credit card?

There seem to be three different ways to go about it:

  • The traditional, “real meaning of Christmas”. Nativities, church services, baby Jesus sent to save us. Emphasis on getting together with bio-families.
  • The secular “let’s make the major holiday of our society a celebration of Western excess” – too much food, an exhausting whirlwind of parties, long lists of things we want from other people, and overspending on things our own kids don’t need in order to prove how much we love them.
  • And then there’s a third avenue, which, while moving away from the religious paraphernalia, emphasises renewing a commitment to peace and love and community with neighbours, family and the world.

I don’t want Pearl and Louis to get swept up in this frenzy of greed and want. Elisabeth just wants them to have gorgeous Christmases. Some of my attempts at moderating Christmas so far have included, “The twins are only two, they don’t know it’s Christmas, maybe we can skip it for a year.” “We shouldn’t encourage the whole Santa Claus thing, it’s only an excuse for greed.” “Maybe instead of getting a sackful of presents each year they can just learn that Santa brings one good present?”

Elisabeth was horrified by the idea of playing down Christmas. On Christmas, I am afraid, I have been overruled, and sackfuls of presents are accumulating in the top of the linen closet as we speak. At two, Pearl and Louis are starting to become aware of this whole present-getting caper (to wit, their birthday last week), and I’d like to begin to consciously create the sort of celebration we are going to have each year. I want to do Christmas, but I don’t want it to be a fossilised relic of my own religious upbringing, or a frenzy of avarice and gluttony.

This will unfold over the years, but some ideas I’ve had so far about how to make it the sort of festival that would be fun and loving and peaceful and global include:

  • Emphasising connection with family. There are three sides to our extended family – Elisabeth’s side, my side, and our donor & his other family.
  • Helping the kids become aware that Christmas is one of many different celebrations throughout the year,  not all in the Christian tradition. They’ll get the religious messages thrown at them by various people – I’d like them to have a relativist approach to that. “Yes people believe Christmas is about that, and here are some other cultures and their important festivals”. There’s a big Buddha’s birthday festival here, we could take the kids to that each year. There’s an Eid festival held near where Dad lives. That way I can do Hallowe’en with integrity as well – I don’t like the idea of the US import but I’m sure within the next four or five years it will be firmly entrenched here, and I’ll just seen churlish if I insist my kids miss out.
  • As little “crap” as we can get away with. We don’t need plastic plates with Santas around the rim, we don’t need candlestick holders with holly on them. Hand made presents. Hand made decorations. Prioritising an environmentally light Christmas.
  • Maybe having some sort of ‘thinking of others’ ritual that we do around Christmas. I know one family that each year chooses a charity to save for  – the kids research and choose the next year’s charity and send off the money for the previous year’s charity with great fanfare. At my church when I was a kid we used to have a Christmas tree “for poor people” – the adults would bring along food hamper stuff and us kids would each choose a present to wrap up and put under the church tree for poor kids.  Even something like a Boxing Day cull of last year’s toys to make way for the new haul could be good.

It all sounds terribly earnest and hokey, I know. The fun will be in the way we do it. Not, ‘You’re so lucky, think of all the poor people,’ but ‘Let’s identify a problem and do something about it as our Christmas gift to the world.

I’m sort of working this out as I go along, so new ideas are welcomed. How do you do Christmas?

Wednesdays I’m allocating to general parenting issues. Stuff that’s not rainbow-specific, but that I’d like to give some thought to. As I have toddlers, it’s going to be a bit skewed to issues for people with little kids. If there’s something you’d like to discuss,  send me a suggestion or feel free to offer to write a guest post.

Some time ago there was a series on the ABC where the filmmakers followed six different sets of new parents, all using one of three styles of parenting on their brand new babies. The parenting styles they chose were: a very rigid, routine system; a follow-your-intuition approach; and a very connected style of parenting following the Continuum Concept. I booed the  woman who was instructing the new parents to be rigid and distant, rolled my eyes at the wishy-washy ‘intuitive’ style, and thought I could never keep up with the demands of the constant-contact approach.

In many ways, I don’t think parenting style matters. A great blog I consulted often in the early days is Ask Moxie.  She has a sensible, middle of the road approach which advocates not getting carried away by any particular parenting guru. If I have the best interests of my children at heart and I am responsive to them – if something’s not working, change it – then I think I can’t go too far wrong. I’ve been to two different parenting seminars, and both of them warned that if I didn’t follow their approach, my children were more likely to become drug addicts. I don’t think that drug addiction (or the myriad other things that can go wrong) is caused by refusing to allow my children to sleep in my bed, or conversely, by co-sleeping with them until they are five.

I would basically identify myself as an Attachment Parent , although with twins it’s difficult to be purist about anything. However I do have a touchstone of general ideas about childrearing that I like to consider when I am making day-to-day decisions. So,

  • I believe that children are born with an innate desire to grow up and develop and be the best they can be, and to be community minded and social and loving and kind. It’s simply my role to allow this to happen.  My theory is that I don’t need to teach my children to be independent – that they will naturally reach for independence when they are ready. I don’t need to teach them to be kind, or have manners, or be interested in learning  – I just have to create the conditions for them to follow their innate desire to do these things.
  • The children don’t have to fit into our life. We aren’t a couple anymore.  Elisabeth and I elected to have children, they are part of our family unit, and we are creating a different sort of life together. We don’t want to go back to where we were before them. We want to journey together on this wonderful adventure they have triggered.
  • I’ve developed an idiosyncratic evolutionary perspective that I’ll often consider before deciding how to respond. As in, “Probably in the caves they didn’t freak out every time some food fell on the floor, and they survived”. It’s not ironclad – in many traditional cultures one twin was left on a hillside soon after birth, so I certainly don’t think that just because it’s traditional that it’s better – but it helps me keep a sense of perspective. In tribes, they didn’t have gymbaroo or early Italian classes and they managed to survive. There’s such a variety of childrearing practices across cultures that whatever you are doing is probably normal somewhere. A Ugandan  man who goes to the same playgroup as me said, ‘Of course you sleep with  children! Children need to be with mother! Father can go sleep on couch for while’.
  • I like to keep in mind the sort of young people I’d like to raise. Confident, creative, socially aware, emotionally intelligent and in touch with their passions. Is what I’m doing today helping to move them in that direction?

One thing having twins has taught me is that what’s right for one child is not necessarily right for the other.  Pearl and Louis are very different.  One thing my partner Elisabeth has taught me is that what’s intuitively right for me as a parent is not intuitively right for everyone else. She and I parent differently – not unmanageably so, but enough so that we’ve had to negotiate keeping our mouths shut when the other is in charge. So far, the children seem to be doing okay with this.

So, what’s right for you?