What is childhood?

Artist Raindropmemory from www.wallpaperswide.com

Artist Raindropmemory from http://www.wallpaperswide.com

Reading the comments below this blog post on extra-curricular activities for children has got me thinking – what is childhood?

Are those who say “let children be children” and “XXX is being robbed of his childhood” a bit disillusioned? It’s only in recent decades society has romanticised childhood. Before the war and for hundreds of years (and in many countries even today) children were/are expected to work in factories, not have an education and provide for their family doing laborious, and very dangerous, jobs.

Children now in the Western world have never had it better. Education, toys, technology and more all on their doorstep. No longer are they shoved up a chimney or whipped to fetch a pail of water. Most are privileged to have loving families, a school system to help them succeed and to participate in extra curricular activities, which more often than not, are fun.

A fair number of parents shake their heads disapprovingly at the latter. When a parent is prepared to pour their time and money (not to say it always requires money) into educating and bettering their children, how can that be a bad thing? I see and hear about parents who don’t read to their kids, aren’t fussed about homework and let them play on the streets until dark in the name of childhood. Letting their child fall out of education without a plan in place, because you know, little Timmy is still trying to work out the path he wants to take.

Children get stressed when they have too many choices. Choices should be arbitrary (“would you like a custard cream or a digestive?”) not about serious life decisions. No child will ever volunteer themselves for maths tuition (or anything else that requires effort quite frankly), but that doesn’t mean it’s cruel to enrol them. DS1 started Kumon workbooks I bought from Amazon from aged three and they were a game to him.

At aged five, DS1 has been enrolled onto the Kumon course for three months now. He gets home from school, has a snack, does his 20 page Kumon worksheet in approximately 15 minutes, practises reading with his daily book from school and then he is allowed free play. He understands the routine, there’s no fight, no shouting, no tears. The misconception that a strict routine entails negativity from the parent is wrong. He is praised for his efforts and excited for the sticker at the end. Kumon hasn’t only taught him sums – he’s learnt routine, concentration (even when the task in hand isn’t brightly coloured and flashing to get your attention like most activities – that’s another blog post for another time…), to work autonomously, self-correction, seeing things through to the end, pencil control among many others.

The key to success is to be relentless with everything you do. I try my best to instil good habits from an early age, so as they grow up my children are hungry to achieve for themselves.

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Food for thought.

I have always been a bit obsessive mindful of DS’ eating habits, paying close attention to the food groups and making sure he had a balanced diet from the word go. Some might consider my behaviour a bit abnormal, I mean, I have been known to stand in the yoghurt aisle for a good fifteen minutes, noting each pot for it’s sugar, salt and saturated fat content.

Knowing this about me, my seven year old sister was a little anxious about staying at my house this weekend. She’s that kid you see in the TV programmes, junk food galore, shunning every vegetable in sight. My mission was to break her down, remove the crisps and replace with fruit and well balanced meals.

It wasn’t as difficult as I first anticipated. I allowed no room for discussion, outlining that her dislike for one thing or another just did not matter. Sometimes children and adults have to do things we don’t necessarily want to. It’s important to embed this young, teaching children to get over things easily, otherwise you end up with an adult who has learnt to be spoilt like me.

I made eating fun, getting DS and my sister to race against each other – who can eat the fastest, who can find the carrot first, who has the biggest chunk of salmon. If they grew tired of the games and receded back to moaning about their meals, I would not even acknowledge that either had spoken. I like to be hard but fair in my approach – speaking to children matter-of-factly seems to work well.

Some would view the spectrum above and believe the best position would be to place themselves in the middle – well balanced, a bit of everything. The stigma of mothers who stand firmly on the right end of the spectrum, is over presumptuous and gives excuses to those who wish they could have done better. Mothers who obsess over healthy eating slave away in the kitchen, they create children who are gagging for a bit of chocolate, alienated by their peers and when they are older they’ll over indulge.

It’s not true. It takes me 20 minutes tops to make DS’ lunch every time. We eat the same dinners. It is just as quick to pick up an apple as it is to grab a packet of salt ridden Walkers. Children who go without are resigned to this fact. When they are older, they will become equally as apathetic. Something went wrong for the children who do over indulge.

Hopefully my prudence will spur my sister on to eat with variety and encourage DS to continue his love for healthy foods. I don’t think I can convince her to steer away from junk food entirely – I don’t work miracles.

Going potty over pants.

So I’ve been a bit neglectful of my blog over the past three months recently, but for real good reasons. Honestly.

My time has been mainly consumed by house-hunting (don’t even get me started on this) and potty-training – as well as the chaos that is my everyday life. Training a 2.5 year old boy to urinate and excrete in the ‘right’ place wasn’t an easy ride, there have been tears on both sides. I say ‘right’ with inverted commas, because, in DS’ mind, who am I to decide where is and isn’t appropriate to take a p*ss when over the 200,000 years since humans graced the earth, the majority of the population have let go wherever they so please. I can only imagine that kind of philosophical thinking in a 2.5 year old has such a deep and wonderful meaning that it occurs in the most condensed and simplest form.

So we played hardball with potty training, mainly because I only had 5 days where I wasn’t working so I didn’t have endless weeks to faff around. We didn’t leave the house for four days, until we felt we could trust DS would give us some kind of indication of needing the toilet. Even then we only went to other people’s houses, as the stress of venturing anywhere public was inconceivable.

I won’t give a blow-by-blow account of DS’ toilet habits, but he very quickly learnt to use the potty and the toilet (hurrah!). At home, when he is out the house with us or looked after by Grandma, he doesn’t have accidents at all. At nursery, he does use the potty for wees but it seems to still soil his pants on more occasions than not, which leads me nicely into the crux of this blog post.

The majority of the time DS is unable to hold his bowels for the day and ends up poo-ing himself, nursery have taken the decision to bin his pants. It is not every time, on occasion they bag it up, but I have noticed DS’ pants collection decreasing by the day. What was once a nice assortment of twenty M&S and Gap undies, has now diminished to ten. Needless to say, I have replaced them with Asda George and Primark.

I am yet to read the policy on binning soiled pants, but I do think throwing away DS’ clothes without my permission is a bridge too far. They are not disposable, they are expensive items of clothing. Regardless where they are from, parents cannot afford to constantly replace pants, just when they thought a saving had been made on no longer buying nappies.

You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

A paper Easter basket filled with mini Lindor chocolate eggs, made by my little sister.

The Easter holidays are upon us, which usually means time off, free chocolate and some kind of religious festivity. Though I am somewhat excluded from all three, in consideration that I don’t work in the education sector, am an atheist and not much of a chocolate fanatic. DS naturally falls into my latter three, being a baby and not having much of a choice himself.

I am aware that as he grows older, he will gain interest in the things I try to shield him from (i.e. Easter eggs). But the thought of giving my baby boy an Easter egg, or anything else sugary coated, horrifies me. Children have the rest of their adult lives to eat, or do, whatever they like; it seems ridiculous to give a baby chocolate just because it’s mean not to. He doesn’t think it’s mean, because he doesn’t know any better.

DS has only tried chocolate once or twice, because nursery had slipped up, and he is not overly crazed about it. Honestly, he would happily devour an apple and not think I was cruel. My line of thought is that all children are inquisitive and it is our job as parents to guide them down the right path. If we start as we mean to go on, children will trust their routine, take comfort in the rules set and hopefully grow up not being all that phased by the junk that is constantly shoved in their faces.

So now you know my stance on the matter (though you could have probably guessed), rest assured any chocolate presented to DS will not be wasted, it will be thoroughly enjoyed by DH and I.

Get Out of my Hair.

I love DS’ hair. His luscious long locks, coupled with his sweeping fringe, is a rich chocolate brown and on occasion shines golden in the sunlight. It can be tucked behind his ears or left untamed in all it’s glory.

I take pride in my boy’s hair and do feel insulted when we are greeted with, ‘I think you should get his haircut soon‘, as if anyone other than Mummy and Daddy have any sway on what DS’ hair looks like.

We have only taken him to the hairdressers twice, both experiences were rather traumatic for everyone involved. I am not averse to getting his hair cut more often, although I do find it heartbreaking. Not just the physical cutting of the hair and handling a very strong toddler who will battle with all his might, but his hair has become part of his identity and to snip a part off does not sit well with me.

I cannot ever imagine my boy with a shaven head, or to generally not have it long. There must be a word to describe exactly what the feeling would be, devastation would come close, but slightly overdramatic I guess.

I will say it once more for clarity; DS Will Not Be Undergoing Any Form of Significant Hair Loss Resulting From a Pair of Scissors. 

Mr. Bump.

It is not unusual for DS to fall over and display some sort of mark from an accident, however Sunday was different. There was actual blood dripping from his face. Perhaps I am being overdramatic and a bit precious over my baby, but it was pretty shocking from where I was standing.

So the story goes, Daddy and DS were setting off to Tescos for some cream cheese to accompany our smoked salmon lunch, which I was very much looking forward to. But within a minute of closing the door behind them, there was a loud frantic knock on the door followed by the sound of DS’ cry. Upon opening the door and seeing DS’ face, I froze and became motionless. I am not sure Daddy knew exactly what to do either, as this had never really happened before.

We decided to clean up the cut with a wet towel, much to DS’ dismay. We dabbed some Savlon on his lip and proceeded to cure him with love and kisses. He most probably ate the Savlon, as he was very keen to prod his lip and investigate after he was over the initial shock.

He seems absolutely fine now, a few days on, though I am still getting over it. It is awful watching your child bleed and feeling helpless, but knowing full well what happens next is up to you. I guess it was one of those milestone moments that follows all the childbirth/nappy changing/weening ones, when it suddenly hits that you are Mummy (or Daddy) and in charge now. No one else can fix that boy.

Do Mums Know Best?

A maternal bond is heavily focused on amongst new mothers and midwives, how it is crucial to get that motherly connection going in case it might never happen and your baby will grow up resenting you. As you can probably tell by my sarcastic tone, I completely disagree.

Scare mongering new mothers in thinking they must breast feed, co-sleep and wear their baby like a fashion accessory is completely absurd. Of course breast-feeding is considered the ‘better’ option, however mothers should not be made to feel bad if they are unable to (as explained in a previous post). Also, articles which encourage co-sleeping are just creating a recipe for disaster.

It is almost tragic that there is not equal respect for paternal instinct. This is not just sharing responsibility and baby duties begrudgingly whilst the mother takes a rest, but to actively seek to care for your child and equally be Mummy. DH and I are both Mummies and Daddies; we both know how to put DS to sleep, feed him, his likes and dislikes, whilst simultaneously slaving away to earn the bucks.

On leaflets, websites and magazines we all advocate fathers taking an interest in their child, some choosing to take the lead in parenting. However, when it boils down to reality, attitudes and public opinion have not changed. In any circumstance when I mention the hardship we endured during the birth of DS in the midst of our degrees, I receive positive responses varying from amazement to shock. Yet when DH broaches the subject, it almost ends in an anticlimax as the listener stares expectantly for the next part to the story; as if he had the time to juggle anything more than being a full-time dad whilst achieving a First in his degree.

I believe fathers have equal capability when caring for their children and it should not be a mother’s prerogative. You learn from your child through practice, it is not instinctual. Your baby is born a blank canvas and it is both parents’ responsibility to shape who she will eventually become. Traditionally a mother knew best because she would always be looking after the baby, however in our modern society I believe team work produces the greatest results.

Sometimes we need to ask, why is it that a man gets a job over a woman because he is least likely to take time off for the children? Why is a man looked down upon for stepping up to the game? Society shuns fathers who abandon their babies and leave behind a single mother, yet it is no more inviting to fathers who love their children and actively seek to be part of their lives.

Two months - I'll help you study Daddy!