fail to care for properly.
|synonyms:||fail to look after, fail to care for, fail to provide for, leave alone, abandon|
I want to make it clear that at no point in this post am I talking about neglect. There is no excuse for neglect and nothing but suffering can be born of it. And I also know that if your child has a disability or is not neurotypical, that you are dealing with something very different and you alone know what you need, certainly not me.
However, in the majority of cases, I do think that there are times when ignoring your child is a good choice for you, and for them.
I am in the fortunate position of spending every working day with hundreds of children. And I really do mean that. It is an honour and, often, an absolute delight. I drove into my usual parking spot yesterday to be greeted by three beaming 10 year olds, leaning (safely) out of a ground floor window, waving at me. What a delightful way to be welcomed into work.
But I am aware that even these wonderful children, who are so good with other people, and my own children who are so good with other people, are not always so good to their own parents. There are frequently times when I have ‘that’ conversation with my friends and with the parents of the children that I work with – you know the one, where you joke that you should swap kids because they’re so much nicer for other people. They don’t argue for them, snap at them, demand things and treat them like a slave.
And, that’s the way it should be. They are safe with you and they can test out all their feelings. They must have a place where they assert their needs and desires, their truths and hurts, and you are the best place for that – you will love them no matter what and they know that – it’s why they can relax into raw honesty.
As crucial as your understanding and support of them is though, it’s also beneficial to think about when to pull back from being their everything and from being their kickboard. I’m going to list a few things that have stood out for me as a parent and a teacher. A few tiny tweaks to reaffirm your role as parent, not as servant.
I readily admit that I am no ‘perfect’ parent (whatever that might mean?) and that I too have been, and still can be seen, doing many of the things I’m about to mention:
1. Get Out of Your Baby’s Face!
Give the baby / toddler times when they are not being stimulated by your loving face waving toys, singing, beaming, counting, quacking, mooing etc. Let them have moments when they are awake and not being the centre of everything. They won’t mind. You can leave a baby in a safe place, on a blanket, and you can fold the washing, unblock the U-bend or write your novel. I never did this. I thought I had to be the ‘best’ mother and I must have irritated the shite out of my first child. It left him unable to be left alone for the longest of times. I wish I’d been calmer. For both of us.
2. Don’t Make Every Group, Their Group.
My maternity leave was entirely structured around church halls and draughty rooms where I was paying (either in hard cash or by having to listen to Bible stories) for my tiny baby to be stimulated by something else. Music Groups, Baby Singing, Baby Signing, Baby Drama, Baby Swimming – my goodness, what a universe of opportunity there is. But actually, even though I did it because I was desperately lonely and wanted to be with people, it was hard to talk to other parents when you were supposed to be singing “Where has Teddy Toddy gone?” and holding a parachute with one arm. I’d have been better off spending the £4 on getting the bus to town with a mate and chatting, walking around a gallery that I was interested in. Remembering what I liked every now and again and not thinking that my 2 month old blob needed a class.
I do know, though, of an AMAZING new group in my area and expanding into other towns, for mothers, women, children, babies, bumps – called ‘Singing Mamas’ – I love their approach. Bring your bumps, babies, children (if you have them, no requirement) and sing in a choir. The babies and children are not the focus. You are. Your voice and your participation – the magic occurs when you realise that the babies, all around, are totally blissed out by the voices singing. They are content being around it. The women have something uplifting and special for them and the kids are perfectly, beautifully, held in the edges of that. I wish Singing Mamas had existed 12 years ago.
3. Stop Carrying Their School Bags
Unless they are tiny or carrying other things… it’s the routine exit-classroom-chuck-the-bag-at-mum-before-even-saying-hello and expecting it to be carried to the car by great big year 6 and 7s that gets me. I feel like a pack mule when my children try this. I think it’s much healthier for them to be in charge of their stuff, or at least, ask you for help if they need it. You need to be respected, not feared – but just not treated as a pack mule.
4. Stop Allowing Them to Stop Your Conversations
Again, I’m not talking about important interventions, like if a wasp has just stung them and they are swelling up struggling to gain your attention – but I do see parents constantly ending a sentence midway to answer a question that the child has just thrown in – it’s not a bad thing to ask the kids to wait until you’ve stopped talking to your friend. It teaches them that they are not always the MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER (I know, they are to you…) but there’s a great gift in learning to respect that your parent also has things to say and learning the conventions of conversation.
5. Stop Allowing them to Make the Decision.
This is really controversial. I know. And, of course, I know that children NEED opportunities to make choices and to express their desires and opinions. All healthy and good. But it’s about balance and trying to stop the children from becoming the people who call the shots in the household. It’s not good for them, or for you. Children will, pretty much always, push out to meet the boundaries and if you’re wobbling and asking them what they want, they won’t know, they will not feel safe and they will react in a panic. You can see this when kids are presented with too much choice. A whole supermarket shelf of sweets to select from – they just don’t know what to do and it upsets them, which upsets you and what was meant to be a nice treat turns into something a bit stressful. If you are able to go into that type of situation with your clear boundaries, ‘You can choose this one, or this one – which would you like?’ and if you stay calm and clear, they will be OK with that. Comforted, even. The same goes for clothes, food you’re cooking at supper, holidays, days out…. it’s hard for kids when they are given the throne – as much as they seem to want to call the shots, that’s what you’re for. You can introduce more and more choice as they grow and as you are happy to; just don’t feel worried about being in charge of decisions, that does not make you an uncaring parent.