What is the bravest thing you have ever done? One of the blogs I enjoy reading is from MOPS International (Mothers of Preschoolers). They are currently running a series on the theme of bravery and courage. ‘Be You Bravely’ is about capturing the stories of people who are living bravely. Bravery comes in many different colours, shapes and flavours. And this week I talked to my lovely friend Susanah about one of the bravest decisions that she’s ever had to make. You see, Susanah is in her mid thirties. And when she was 27 years old, she tested positive for the BRCA1 gene. In a nutshell, the BRCA gene was discovered in the 1960’s, and has been found to be the gene responsible for genetic breast and ovarian cancer. Most breast and ovarian cancers are not genetically linked, in fact less than 5% of all breast or ovarian cancers are attributable to a BRCA mutation. However, if a woman carries the BRCA gene mutation, (about 1 in every 400 people in our population carries a mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2), she has a sixty percent chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer.
Susanah sadly lost her mother to ovarian cancer in 2008. Her mother was only 50. For Susanah, whose family has a significant history of breast cancer. the hardest part of the whole process was losing her mother. ‘For me, the decision was easy.’ So in 2010 at the age of 32 this mother of one decided to have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, a procedure that removes both healthy breasts and lymph nodes, to reduce the risk of breast cancer. She had a reconstruction at the same time.
For any woman with the BRCA1 gene, this is not an easy decision to come to. Considering whether to have genetic testing is in itself, a difficult decision to make. At the time Susanah had one child and was not planning to have any more. After she had the procedure she became pregnant with her second daughter, who is now two. She says that breastfeeding was obviously not an option as she had already had a double prophylactic mastectomy. When her daughter was one, she completed the second part of the process to reduce her chances of developing cancer. She had a prophylactic salpingo oophorectomy, a procedure to remove the ovaries to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. This was a difficult decision to come to as it meant not being able to have more children, and facing the challenges that come with an early menopause.
Susanah is involved with the organisation ‘The Gift of Knowledge’. If you haven’t heard of this organisation, The Gift of Knowledge is a registered charity, and was founded in New Zealand in 2009. (www.giftofknowledge.co.nz). The Gift of Knowledge is focused on raising awareness of genetic breast and ovarian cancers, connecting those with the genetic disposition to others, supporting them to make informed decisions, providing advocacy, and contributing to reducing the incidence of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
Several weeks back I saw the recently released film ‘Decoding Annie Parker’. It was a sad yet inspiring film about a woman in the 1960’s who as a young child loses her mother to breast cancer. As a teenager she loses her sister to breast cancer, and then discovers that she has breast cancer herself. After going into remission from breast cancer she then fights ovarian cancer. She asks herself the question whether all the heartache that her family has experienced is a conicidence, or whether there is a genetic link. Anne Parker is a resilient woman who has survived cancer three times, and is still alive today. In parallel runs the story of the famous geneticist Mary Claire King, who eventually ‘cracks the code’ and discovers the gene for breast and ovarian cancer, in the 1980’s.
The Gift of Knowledge considers ‘having the information a gift, not a life sentence’. Susanah is happy with the decision that she made, and she now has the same risk for breast or ovarian cancer as I would have, or that anyone else of her age would have. We are fortunate to live in an era where we can take preventative steps to reduce our risk of cancer if we choose to, even if some of those steps such as the ones that Susanah has taken are very significant and far reaching. But she says that she made this decision for the benefit of her family. Whereas others with the BRCA1 gene may not come to the same decision so easily, there is no right or wrong. Whether a woman decides to have the genetic testing or not, or whether she decides to have prophylactic treatment, making the decision that is right for oneself and one’s family takes bravery and courage.
It’s been said that courage births courage. There is bravery to live more fully. More authentically. Bravery to have genetic testing. Courage to wait for results, and to have risk reducing surgery or to forgo surgery and opt for monitoring. Bravery to face one’s fears, and to give up and grieve for a part of one’s femininity. There is courage to be strong for the next generation. And courage to follow our own hearts, making the right informed decision for ourselves and our families.
Have you ever found yourself in a time of waiting? Sometimes in life we can feel like we are in a waiting room. We spend a big part of our lives waiting for things. And if you are anything like me, you may have discovered that God’s timetable is different to ours. I must confess that I like things to be done yesterday. We are renovating our kitchen and dining room at the moment. We discovered that our dining room had a rotten wall and floors due to a plumbing leak in the laundry. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it meant that we could knock down two walls in our kitchen and dining room, remove the laundry and have a much bigger space. We have needed more space for quite some time. But we are waiting for this project to be finished and are currently in week two of having no kitchen or laundry. We are camping at home!
We may wait for many things –for our prayers to be answered, for exam results, for homes to be fixed, we wait to find a job. We wait to see if chemotherapy or radiation will work, we wait for a marriage partner. And all this waiting is difficult. We are often in an incredible hurry. We live in a microwave generation where we want instant gratification. But God is not in a hurry. And it is in the waiting that God does His mightiest work in our lives. Have you found that to be true in your life? Some women wait many years to have children. I’m praying at the moment for a friend who is a ‘mum in waiting’.
If there was anyone who waited and travailed in prayer for a child, it was Hannah. Hannah’s story in the Bible is one of sorrow, supplication and sacrifice. Hannah was like you or I, an ordinary woman, who served an extraordinary God. She was married to Elkanah who loved her deeply, however she was unable to bear him a child. Elkanah also had another wife Peninah, and while she didn’t hold Elkanah’s affections, she was able to bear him children. This was very painful for Hannah, as ‘the Lord had closed her womb’ (1 Samuel 1:5). Hannah was hurting and heartbroken. Her soul was in anguish and she was chided over her childlessness by Peninah, at a time in history when a woman’s worth stemmed from her ability to bear children.
The Bible says that ‘she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in aguish. The she made a vow and said, ‘“LORD Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” (1 Samuel 1:10-11, NIV).
God graciously remembered Hannah; she conceived and gave birth to a male child whom she named Samuel, meaning ‘God hears.’ Hannah remembered the vow she made to the Lord, and when Samuel was weaned she took him up to the temple and entrusted him into the hands of Eli, the priest who had overheard her prayer. Samuel was anointed. Even as a tiny boy he heard the voice of God, and he grew to be the greatest prophet in the history of Israel. She ‘rejoiced in the Lord (1 Samuel 2:1-2), and was blessed with three more sons and two daughters.
Hannah’s heartfelt surrendered prayer is one of the greatest in the Bible. She was intense and completely committed. She never gave up. It was her barrenness that drove her into the depths of desperation and she prayed a prayer that captured God’s heart and changed the course of Israel’s history, allowing God’s great purpose to be fulfilled.
But between promise and fulfilment, there were months and even years of waiting, expecting and planning, pain and heartache. We have to trust God. In our time of waiting, God is perhaps preparing us, and strengthening us to be used mightily by Him. And there are many Hannah’s in our world today –women who are waiting for their dreams to be birthed. But there is hope that from a place of barrenness may come great fruitfulness, as we partner with God to see His purposes fulfilled. He is the God ‘who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly beyond what we can ask or think’ (Ephesians 3:20).
Photo credit – www,marissastar.com
My blog has just turned one! Being the birthday party mad individual that I am, for my first blogversary I decided to bake a birthday cake to celebrate. My four year old said to me ‘Mummy, why are you baking a cake for your blog? A blog isn’t a person, and a blog can’t eat cake!’ Don’t you just love how innocently literal young kids can be. I explained to her that we could eat the cake to celebrate my first year of blogging. And so I proceeded to make a gluten-free sponge cake, which was…..a disaster! This sponge was as flat as a pancake and as rubbery as a car tyre. I love to bake, but I am yet to master the art of sponge cake baking. Tips anyone?
Just like the first year of a child’s life, the first birthday is more of a celebration for the parents than the child. You celebrate because you have survived the first year, the crying, the sleepless nights, and the teething issues. And the first year of my blog’s life has been quite similar to the first year of a child’s life. Plentiful joy and much fun, as well as jolly hard work, sleepless nights staying up late writing blog posts, and a few teething issues. And if you are one that likes birth stories, all I will say is that the blog ‘Cappuccino & Chaos‘ was born after a lengthy labour, and that the first few months were intense as I found my feet. There were the ‘blogging blues’, and as this was my first born blog I didn’t really know what I was doing. The blog was then rebranded as ‘Lattes Laced with Grace’ a few months later. I’ve had to learn many things, and I’ve undertaken a crash course in Blogology 101 of sorts, making mistakes along the way. My husband jokes that this blog has had more changes of design than most people have changes of underwear!
Why do I blog? I blog because I love to write, design and create. I also blog because I feel that God has called me to this. And if something that I write ministers to one person, then it is worth it. Most people have a story inside them, Writing can be very therapeutic, and with it comes – reflection, self-knowledge and often healing. One aspect I have grappled with is how much to share. I want to be real, and honest about my failings and struggles, but where does one draw the line at over sharing? Not every story needs to be shared; and not every story is mine to tell. I want to protect the privacy and confidentiality of my family and friends. And I also want to be careful what I share, as anything that is published here is obviously public, and therefore subject to criticism.
‘Some write to make sense of the world; to understand what has happened to them – for whatever life throws at you, understanding and dealing with it tends to become easier if you try to write about it. Others write to push their ideas out into the world; writing is a wonderful way of realising what you think about things: “The pen is the tongue of the mind.” Cervantes (1547–1616)
So you think you might have a blog in you? I’m no blogging expert, but here are ten top tips that I have learned on my blogging journey thus far:
- Define your niche. You can’t do it all. Find topics that you are passionate about to start with.
- Balance blogging with parenting and other responsibilities. I aim to only blog in the evenings, or when my children are napping or are at preschool or school. There is no point blogging about parenthood if my kids have to be stuck in front of the TV so I can blog. Furthermore, find a structure that works for you. I’ve given myself the goal of writing one blog post per week, as this is manageable for me in my busy phase of life. Any more would be overwhelming. I also plan out what I am going to write about each week. Preparation is key.
- Blogging can be addictive. Keep it in perspective. Don’t worry about the statistics, number of likes or followers. Popularity does not determine success.
- Be careful what you write, and edit, edit, edit. Post only your best content. Less is more. Be helpful and not hurtful to others in what you deliver, but don’t worry what others think. Some will misunderstand you and that is part of the territory. In fact, in whatever you do you will be judged, so be authentically yourself, realizing that your blog will not be everyone’s cup of tea, and that this is OK.
- It’s been said if you want to write a book, then read more. The same goes for blogging. Read other blogs.
- Blogging is a community. The best part of blogging is the interaction. Comment on other pepople’s blogs gracefully, and respond to comments on your own blog.
- Be yourself and find your voice. Practise makes perfect.
- Know your reader. Write about what others want to read about. And remember that it’s not about you.
- Make it pretty. I’ve discovered picmonkey: – a free little online design tool. See: http://www.picmonkey.com. Simplicity can be more elegant when it comes to design. This is something that I am still working on, as I like ornate designs. Make sure your graphics and blog design is easy to read.
- Network on social media. The actual writing and design comprises only around 50% of blogging, The rest is determined by how well you link your articles and blogs on social media.
And if you feel like you have lost your blogging mojo….
My husband defines babywearing as ‘wearing your baby before they wear you out.’. It’s quite a good definition really! October the 5th kicked off International Babywearing Week around the globe. When I had my first child seven and a half years ago, I had never heard of ‘baby wearing’. I was the mother who used to complain of not being able to get anything done because her baby always wanted to be held. If I were to have my first child all over again, I would have just carried him. What about you? What would you say to yourself as a new mother, now looking back with the benefit of experience? Read more: Read More
What an incredible joy and a blessing to be gifted with a child. There are so many precious moments and ‘pinnacles’ in parenting. However, it seems to me that being at home with a new baby can often be a challenging time for many women. The transition from working woman to stay at home mother can be a difficult adjustment for many. I feel for first time mothers. For many women, a common post-natal theme that emerges is that of ‘This isn’t what I expected.’ Often parenting is more messy, demanding and difficult than we ever anticipated (as well as being joy-filled and fulfilling). We foresee that we are going to pop out a baby and carry on with our life regardless, not realizing that it is motherhood that changes our life totally, and is in itself, the most demanding job.
These days the expectant or new parent is initiated with an influx of information, conflicting advice and theories. Furthermore, when you are expecting a baby or you have a young child, don’t people just love to be forthright with their opinions and advice. Should one have a natural birth or a medicated one? Breast feeding or bottle feeding? Sleep training or co-sleeping? Just to name a few. And there are strong opinions in both camps. But I wonder whether the reception of conflicting information is all that helpful? It’s been said that parents are less prepared for parenthood these days, despite all the expert advice readily available. And many new mothers find it difficult to trust their instincts. I know that I did. I had worked with children, but like many parents these days, I hadn’t had much experience with babies or toddlers until I had my own child, other than a little baby sitting here and there. And it probably wasn’t until my second child was born that I developed more confidence and learned to fully trust my instincts.
Recently I perused an article about post-natal depression (PND). The premise of the article is that PND seems to be more common in modern times. It’s possible that today there is more awareness of PND and other mental health issues, as well as better access to screening and services. Like most mothers, I’ve had some challenging times since becoming a parent. And in retrospect. I wonder whether I had a touch of mild PND after one of my children. But no one knew about it. I don’t even know that I fully recognized it. One can’t be objective on oneself. I could function, but I just wasn’t quite right. I knew that I couldn’t sleep. I surely had post-natal insomnia. A sleeplessness not caused by the baby but a general inability to get to sleep. It was awful. I didn’t feel sad, and I enjoyed my baby. But it was the sleeplessness that led me to finally seek help after suffering in silence for months. Thankfully I recovered quickly. Whether I had a mild dose of PND or not, a family history of depression, a husband working long hours (yet who was still very supportive), no family in town and two children under two, I was a sitting duck for it.
Many mothers have down days, but how does one determine whether it is just a few down days or whether it is post-natal depression? Mental health is a continuum. And recovery from any episode of depression is always inconsistent because of a myriad of different factors. It is worth noting however, that the postpartum period has its own set of additional and unique demands. For example, sleeplessness, hormonal influences, the constant needs of other children, the busyness of family life and the feeling of being unable to control things around us.
Postnatal depression can affect women in different ways. And it is common. Studies mainly from the developed world indicate that it is present in 10-15% of women who give birth. That means that PND is very common. And this is only the cases that are documented. Many people remain undiagnosed.
But what are the symptoms of PND?
Symptoms can start soon after giving birth and last for months or, in severe cases, they can persist for more than a year. The main symptoms of postnatal depression are:
- a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
- loss of interest in the world around you and no longer enjoying things that used to give pleasure
- lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
- disturbed sleep, such as having trouble sleeping during the night and then being sleepy during the day
- difficulties with concentration and making decisions
- low self-confidence
- poor appetite or an increase in appetite
- feeling very agitated or, alternatively, very apathetic
- feelings of guilt and self-blame
- thinking about harming onself or one’s child, or contemplating suicide.
The jury isn’t unanimous as to what causes postnatal depression. But most researchers believe it’s the result of a combination of factors.
Who’s at risk?
Factors that can increase your risk of experiencing postnatal depression include having:
- A family history of depression or postnatal depression. Genetics appears to play a role in both of these conditions.
- A personal history of depression, postnatal depression or other mood disorders, including depression or anxiety during pregnancy.
- Experiencing complications during pregnancy (ie, gestational diabetes).
- A difficult or traumatic delivery.
- Physical health problems following the birth, such as difficulty breast feeding.
- Being a first time mother. However, having two or more children also puts you at risk for PND.
- Being a younger mother.
- Being a victim of domestic violence.
- A lack of perceived social or family support.
- Relationship worries.
- Money problems.
- Physical health problems following the birth, such as difficulty breast feeding.
Even if you had a text book labour and birth, having a baby can be a stressful and life-changing event that can sometimes trigger depression. People often assume they’ll naturally take to parenthood like a duck to water. However, it can take months before you begin to cope with the pressures of being a new parent. Sometimes it can also take years to develop confidence as a parent. This is true even for those who already have children. And some babies are easier than others. Some assume that it is only mothers than have ‘difficult’, fussy or colicky infants that develop PND. But this isn’t so. A mother can develop PND even if she has a ‘dream baby.’
Is it the hormones?
It was once thought that changes in hormone levels during and after pregnancy were the sole cause of postnatal depression. This is no longer thought to be the case, although changes in hormone levels may still play a role. One theory is that some women are more sensitive to the effects of falling hormone levels after they’ve given birth. All mothers will experience hormonal changes but only some mothers will be affected emotionally.
Postnatal depression can also affect men. A 2011 study found that like mothers, around one in 10 fathers experienced after the birth of their child. Having a baby can be stressful for both parents, and some fathers feel unable to cope.
Seeking help for postnatal depression doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother (or father) or that you are unable to cope. It is important to seek help, as when postnatal depression is untreated it is associated with adverse effects on the infant, especially if the mother is unable to engage with the baby.
But, it’s not all black and white.
What are some other factors that increase the likelihood of developing post-natal distress or depression? A friend who suffered severe post-natal depression after her second child, feels that there is so much judgment placed on parents today, and that mothers in particular feel that they cannot meet the expectations of those around them. Furthermore, she also feels that many mothers carry a burden that would be best shared by wider family.
It seems that parents, and mothers in particular, are judged if they do and judged if they don’t. A prime example of this is the popular debate over work outside the home. I read a research article recently that stated that many stay at home parents are more likely to be depressed than working parents. It doesn’t surprise me, although most of the time I’ve enjoyed being at home with my children. I have however, grappled with the loss of a career, and the isolation and lack of mental stimulation that accompanies caring for young children fulltime. Furthermore, today women are expected to do everything, and although we have many more opportunities, there are perhaps more pressures. No one person can do it all. I’ve always thought that the ‘mommy wars’ were not particularly helpful when you consider that all mothers are working mothers, and that every family has different circumstances. Parenting can be challenging enough without the ‘mommy wars’. Some coffee groups can be fairly competitive and sadly mothers can be hard on one another. But what would our world look like if mothers were able to be more supportive and respectful of one another’s choices? But when did being a fulltime parent become so devalued and disrespected? Perhaps that is one reason why depression may be more common in fulltime mothers, as well as the financial strain that being on one income places on some families. And mothers don’t just feud over the issue of work. I’ve often observed a divide between ‘younger mothers’ and ‘older mothers’ with both groups labelling each other with unhelpful stereotypes and hurtful generalisations. Younger mothers are not always struggling financially, frustrated because they have missed out on a career or partying with friends. Nor are older mothers always exhausted.
Many of the older generation express the belief that parenting seems to be harder these days. Does this contribute to post-natal distress? Some of the pressure placed on families today is perhaps economic. In this difficult economy the cost of living is increasing and just to pay basic bills and a mortgage on a modest home, two incomes are often required. And women have felt the need in these modern times to reclaim home making as a valuable occupation. However, one criticism of the trend towards 1950′s style home making so popular on sites like Pinterest is that it adds to the burdens of women.
There is research for everything, and there is literature to demonstrate that modern parents may experience significant daily stress related to the busyness of life. The more children one has, the busier life seems to become. Some busyness is unavoidable in life, there is the 24-7 needs of young children and their myriad of different activities, a relationship to maintain, a household to manage, a garden, perhaps a job with ever increasing demands and expectations. Perhaps there are aging parents to care for, not to mention time for seeing friends, hobbies and keeping fit. But some busyness can often result from what we choose to put our hand up for. And is there any honour in being busy? I’ve had to learn to say no and to move beyond people pleasing.
Many people are parenting in isolation these days. A supportive community of friends is wonderful and I’m very grateful for the supportive friends that I have. However they are functioning at almost full capacity with young families themselves, and it is not the same as having biological family on hand (providing they are supportive). My family are wonderfully supportive from a distance and thankfully we live in an age of technology and skype. But if it takes a village to raise a child, then where is the village?
Then there are some that aim to professionalize motherhood. Perhaps this is because motherhood is sadly seen as a low status occupation in our society. And while you are doing the most important work of your lifetime when you are going about the daily aspects of childcare, it can be difficult to see the small yet significant areas that one is achieving in. But I wonder whether a danger of professionalizing motherhood is that it may put one at risk of depression. It seems to me that women with perfectionistic tendencies may be sitting ducks for post-natal depression and anxiety. Life with children seems to be easier when one can relax and go with the flow, which is not easy for those individuals who may be used to being in a predictable job or profession that is structured and orderly, and one that has given the individual a sense of achievement. Nurturing your child is the most rewarding yet challenging and important job there is. Just consistently caring for one’s infant affects the architecture of the brain, providing the building blocks. I’m not just changing a nappy, I’m having an interaction with my infant that is fostering a secure attachment and setting her up for a life of learning and emotional health.
It seems that society often places unrealistic expectations on mothers of young children, and in response to this it can be a challenge to live counter-culturally. I once read the advice of someone in a magazine which really resonated with me. He suggested that until your child turns three, meeting their basic needs, cooking the dinner and doing the washing is a fulltime job. Anything else is extra. But most of us do more than those basics. There are many additional expectations placed on mothers, and some expectations are those that we put on ourselves.
I’ve learned to stop comparing myself with others and to have more realistic expectations of myself and others. Parents of young children can feel like they have to be perfect, but guess what? No one is a perfect parent. We all make mistakes and perhaps we need to be more vulnerable with one another and open about our failings, in order to normalize normal parenthood. And we all know that supermum doesn’t exist.
How can we support those who may be suffering from distress in the post-partum period?
I’m passionate about raising awareness of PND. It;s an area I’d love to research or work in. Interestingly, it’s not just mothers of newborns who develop depression. Parents of young children (under five) are also at risk of depression. My family doctor tells me that she sees depression in parents of young-ish children all the time. Mothers who haven’t had PND or any experience of depression themselves or in someone close to them, may struggle to understand. And that’s ok. But we can all learn some do’s and don’ts when supporting someone who is suffering. Don’t say to the person ‘Get over it’. Just like asthma or arthritis, depression is not something that someone can snap out of. Many heroes of the Christian faith, suffered with depression. Consider Elijah, the apostle Paul, Jeremiah. Don’t give advice, even if you have been there, but do encourage the person to seek professional help earlier rather than later. There are many evidence based effective treatments for post-natal depression. Anti-depressant medication and cognitive behavioural therapy can be beneficial. Exercise, good nutrition and baby wearing can also help (see my post on baby wearing). Attending a support group or sraft group may also be therapeutic. Do offer to help them with practical tasks such as meal preparation or laundry. Offer to help with baby sitting. Be there, listen attentively and maybe offer to pray. Encourage the person that:
My friend with her ten month old son, discovering the joys of baby wearing.
Recently my two year old has been desperate to go to kindergarten. When we dropped her older sister off last week she said ‘Bye Mum’ and had a large tantrum when we tried to leave. Everyday last week she insisted that she have a packed lunch and a packed bag, just like her older sister. My eldest child sweetly made her a packed lunch, just she could be like ‘the big kids’. Third children seem to be in a hurry to grow up! I wasn’t planning to send her until next year, but I had a change of heart, and today she had her first official day at kindergarten. She ran into the kindergarten, farewelled me with confidence, and had a wonderful morning. She will attend two sessions a week, with her older sister (who attends four sessions a week). Maybe I’ll have a little cry, but I know that she is happy and well adjusted there.
Sending my two year old to kindergarten gives me the bonus of a little break. Let’s be honest. Many mothers need this. Including stay at home mothers. Especially if they have a very busy, demanding toddler, and no family in town. It’s easy to romanticize our children’s childhood – the idea that ‘make the most of it, it goes so fast, don’t be in too much of a rush to send them out the door.’ While there is indeed merit in this philosophy, a little break for parents can be so refreshing, enabling one to parent better. It really depends on the personality of the parent and the family dynamics. Of course, there are other ways of getting a break, such as a toddler swap with another parent.
There is no one size fits all for all children when it comes to preschool/kindergarten readiness. Based on the ideas of German educationalist Friedrich Frobel, kindergartens historically provided an early childhood environment for 3 and 4 year-olds. As enrolments and waiting lists have dropped, kindergartens have extended their welcome to children under three years of age, taking them into an environment that was often structured for older children in a larger group setting. This seems to have been contraversial among parents. In some circles there is quite alot of social pressure to avoid sending two year olds to kindergarten. In other circles, there may be the opposite pressure, and that is – to send a child to kindergarten before the parent feels their child is ready.
It’s hard to make decisions for our children, and it’s even harder knowing that you are judged for every decision that you make. Part of parenting is being confident in the decisions that we make for our children, and not worrying about what others think. This is very true in the area of education. Some parents send their children to daycare from an early age, others opt for kindergarten at age three or four. Sometimes it’s not a choice. Some parents home school, others opt for a state school or a special character school. In our discussion of the different options, let’s be considerate of one another’s choices, building bridges instead of walls.
Preschool/kindergarten readiness really seems to depend on the child, their developmental readiness, such as whether they are happy to be left, and their language skills. If a child can’t yet communicate their needs verbally, combined with the fact that they are being cared for in a group, this can sometimes contribute to stress, even in the most ideal setting. In general, the text books say that group socialization can be beneficial for a child of 3 or 4, but toddlers 2 years of age or younger do not need to socialize in a group setting. Occasional playdates, going to the park to feed the ducks, going to a playgroup or music group with mum/dad or a caregiver is plenty of social interaction for a child 2 and younger. Janet Lansbury, an early childhood expert says ‘Your presence is enough, it is more than enough’.
I know of many families who prefer not to start their children at kindergarten til they are three (the traditional age) or even four, and I respect this choice. I’ve always believed that parents are first educators and while the research confirms that early childhood education benefits children, many children are happy to be at home with a parent til they are three or four. If this suits the child and the parent, the child will only benefit.
For many families, group care is a necessity because many mothers need or wish to return to work. Please don’t think that I’m critcising parents who place their child in childcare. I attended a creche when I was two and I loved it (not that I remember, but my mother recalls that I relished it!). Each family has different circumstances. Some two year olds are stressed by being left in kindergarten (as was the case for my first child, a boy), whereas others are happy to attend and are therefore not likely to be harmed by a session at kindergarten. My two daughters have loved attending kindergarten from the age of two.
But it is interesting that age 2 is now considered the time to begin preschool/kindergarten in some circles. It used to be 3 to 3 ½. Children aren’t maturing any faster now, but are we expecting them to be ready to begin education in a group setting earlier? Are we pushing our children to grow up too fast?
Many experts suggest that a later start to kindergarten/preschool is optimal for children. There is much development that takes place between two and three and that three or older is an ideal age. Children of this age have a command of language and are usually toilet trained. Separation is usually a little easier. Girls are often more verbal and independent at a younger age than boys, and therefore more ready for kindergarten, but I don’t wish to generalize. It also depends on the ratios in the preschool or kindergarten. The kindergarten that my children attend has a 1:6 ratio, whereas some kindergartens may only have a 1:!5 ratio which may not be ideal for two year olds.
David Elkind (psychologist, author of “The Hurried Child”) believes a later start is better. “Each child grows at his own natural pace and in his own time. It means respecting the child’s developmental level and not pushing him into school before he is ready. From a developmental view, it is understood that there is as much as a two-year difference in the development of children. Boys, in particular, are slower to develop than girls. A bright child may appear capable intellectually, but may have physical, social or emotional immaturity that would make it beneficial to spend more time at home” (“What is a Good Preschool Education?” Lois Robbert, UCLA 1984)’
The Teaching Research and Learning Initiative in NZ has recently researched ‘Under-3-year-olds in Kindergarten: Children’s Experiences and Teachers’ Practices.’ (See: http://www.tlri.org.nz). What the researchers found in this study was that two-year-olds quickly accepted and adopted the behaviours of “being a kindy kid”, doing what was expected of them in their new environment. They fitted into the rules and routines of the environment, they developed skills and confidence, and approached social relationships with adults and other children with a variety of experience and eagerness.
The research also discovered that two-year-olds who already had a sibling at kindergarten adjusted more smoothly to the environment than children who had no previous contact. Having a friend also made a positive difference to how comfortable 2-year-olds felt at kindergarten and the amount of sustained interaction that occurred among peers. Likewise, children’s previous experience of kindergarten influenced whether or not they were happy and confident there and acquired the “community of practice” of the kindergarten readily.
In the physical environment these children faced challenges due to their smaller stature. Having longer legs would have helped in navigating swings, steps, and furniture. In the social environment with peers and adults, two year olds needed to learn the rules of the game. Some routines (such as mat time and afternoon tea time) took time for two year olds to adjust to. The presence of parents or other non-teaching adults was helpful in guiding children through these experiences.
Two-year-olds often used nonverbal forms of communication that could be missed by teachers in the busy kindergarten atmosphere. Children liked to touch base with teachers and sought to be near them. The researchers also observed that the 2-year-olds gravitated to the teachers and often needed to know where they were in the environment.
These are interesting findings. While there does seem to be a trend to encourage earlier starts in early childhood education, for some children two doesn’t seem to be too little. For others, they may benefit from a later start. As parents we need to trust our instincts. Whenever you decide to start your child in early childhood education, whether at two, three or four, we need to be certain and confident about our decision, knowing with conviction that we are choosing the right time and place. That will make the transition much easier for the child and the parent.
Life doesn’t always unfold the way we expect. We all have dreams. I was once referred to as ‘the white picket fence girl’. It’s true, I always wanted a family. It wasn’t my only dream, I had many others too. But daring to dream for a family is high on the priority list for many of us. However this dream is an especially tender one, and for an increasing number of women, much heartbreak surrounds this. Tying the knot may be a case of ‘knot yet’.
While many people I know met their life partner or married in their early twenties, I was mid twenties. And I was in my late twenties when I married. I had my first child in my late twenties and two more in my early thirties. Pretty normal these days, especially amoung professional people. And some people wait even longer. But if I had had a choice, I would have married younger and therefore had children slightly younger. But I didn’t have a choice. It wasn’t something that I couldn’t have engineered any earlier. Waiting is hard. And many young people today have an especially difficult time as they are waiting much longer to have a family. They may feel like they are in ‘a waiting room’.
I once listened to a radio broadcast on the topic of why so many women are ‘delaying childbirth’. And I really wanted to call or write in, because no one mentioned the one obvious factor. That it really wasn’t a choice. It was assumed that childbearing was something that women were choosing to delay, but in many cases, it is outside their realm of control because they don’t have a partner. This trend has been referred to as ‘the delayer boom’. It’s not that women are necessarily more focussed on their career or on earning money to buy a house, although those are factors that do come into play, as does the reality that many young people have rather large student loans. I recall that we had been married only a month or two, when people started asking when we were going to have children. It seems to be culturally sanctioned to ask people all manner of personal questions these days. It is something that I have learned not to ask people, as for many the dream is delayed.
One school of thought suggests that young adults should be as deliberative about having children as they are about becoming married. But for many folks, they simply haven’t met the right person. Perhaps discussions about ‘the delayer boom’ need to sensitively acknowledge that choice doesn’t come into it for many women. People can be very insensitive about the trend for women to become mothers later in life. Obviously women need to be aware that perhaps it is optimal to avoid delaying childbearing if one has the choice. However research shows that for parents who are a little older for whatever reason, there are many psychological and economic advantages. And many young parents do a fabulous job of parenting too.
It seems to be harder to meet a marriage partner today. No there doesn’t have to be an explanation for why someone is single, not is there is anything wrong with someone for being single. There are many reasons for delayed marriage, but it would be fair to say that there is alot of brokenness around today. It is wise to be careful and (prayerful!) about who you marry as this decision has the potential to affect your life positively or negatively more than any other decision. Many young people seem to be taking marriage more seriously and deliberately than generations past, which is perhaps a good thing. But many have witnessed a common trend for men to fear commitment and for women to panic because they see no potential spouse in sight.
There can also be significant pressure in Christian culture to marry and to have children, with some congregations wishing to encourage and advocate for younger marriage. I can see the merit in this although some younger marriages may have more struggles. It really depends on the couple. I wonder whether the tendency of churches to encourage younger marriage just adds to the pressure that single people often feel to marry. Yes marriage and family need to be upheld in church but perhaps we need to be careful about the messages that this sends to single people.
The Many Colours of Childlessness
While many women eventually marry and have children, there are also some women who may never have children. For some, this is heartbreaking. And in Christian communities where there is an abundance of children, the pain may run especially deep. But there are many colours of childlessness, and there are women who don’t wish to have children. I read of one blogger who has never wished for children. She writes that she always felt the need to explain and defend the choice of childlessness. Personally I don’t think it is selfish to not want to have kids, as it’s not for everyone. Some people just know from an early age that they never wanted children. The desire just isn’t there. For others it is more complicated. Consider that ‘The room called childlessness has many doors, not just ‘didn’t want’ or ‘couldn’t have’. Perhaps we need to respect childlessness as a choice, a concept that may be somewhat contraversial in Christian circles. Because have we in the Christian church turned marriage and parenting into idols? Women should not be made to feel they are failures or “second class” if they never marry or never have children, but this is too often what happens in many churches – and this is not what Christ intended. Our identity is not in our ability to breed.
The author of a website called ‘Savy Aunty’ has written in the Huffington Post of her ‘secret grief’ of being over 35, single and childless. She writes that while grief for couples who struggle with infertility is accepted, grief for women (or men) who are single and childless in their thirties and forties is not so widely acknowledged.
It’s assumed that women just don’t understand that their fertility has a limited lifespan or that they are being reckless with chance. Women are labeled “career women” ‘as if we graduated college, burned our bras and got jobs to exhibit some sort of feminist muscle’. Or, it’s assumed we’re not ‘trying hard enough,’ or we’re ‘being too picky.’ This silent grief is often referred to as disenfranchized grief.
People may assume that the person never wanted any children. These assumptions of others can be difficult to cope with. And even remarks by well-meaning friends and family members can make them feel “less than” for not being mothers. In heartbreaking stories, Notkin reveals why “circumstantial infertility” can be as devastating as biological infertility.
She notes that “the rise of childless women may be one of the most overlooked and underappreciated social issues of our time.” Melanie Notkin (Savvy Auntie) coined the term “otherhood” to describe “the misunderstood group of women doing our best to live full and meaningful lives despite the frustrations of some of the most cherished longings’. Otherhood gives voice to a growing sector of society of society: women who are still waiting for love, marriage and children. ‘Otherhood’ has been described by one reviewer as ‘heartbreaking, insightful and ultimately affirming by one reviewer, and by another reviewer as an ‘anguished but undefeated post-feminist battle cry on behalf of childless women of a certain age who refuse to settle for a lesser love.’ Melanie Notkin gives a ‘giant comforting hug’ to the millions of women who don’t fit neatly onto the traditional timeline of marriage and motherhood. She compassionately and gently suggests that there are many paths to fulfillment and happiness in otherhood where women embrace love, commitment and mothering at different times and in different ways than they had ever imagined.
SAVVY AUNTIE: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR COOL AUNTS, GREAT-AUNTS, GODMOTHERS AND ALL WOMEN WHO LOVE KIDS
I have endeavoured to deliver this topic delicately, because there can be so much pain in people regarding these issues, and any discussion of singleness and childlessness is guaranteed to encourage some and offend some.There are no easy answers when one feels as if they are in a waiting room. It can be really difficult to trust God when hope is deferred. The Bible says that hope deferred makes the heart sick. We in the church need to be considerate of the feelings of single women who are childless. Perhaps the two most overlooked and forgotten groups in Christendom are singles and married couples who have not chosen to be childless. How often do we overlook the people who are single but strongly desire to be married with children? Do we ignore the agony of couples who desperately desire a child but have not been able to conceive or adopt? And how have we shunned couples who have prayerfully chosen to remain childless in a culture that prioritizes having a family? Ministry to these individuals ought to be compassionate yet not condescending, and there is a fine line. We need to mourn with those who mourn, and bear one anothers burdens. One of the bloggers I follow has written a lovely post titled: 11 Ways Married Women Can Serve Single Women. She talks about the invisible wall that often exists between the two groups, and suggests ways that women in two different walks of life can grow together. While married women and single women may often struggle to be friends, we must try, so that we can minister life and hope into one another’s lives.
THE STORM: By Marcie Watson
Are their storms within our wellspring,
Which cry out for release?
Like the pondering of ocean waves
Upon relentless seas
Or perhaps they’re more like crackling thunder
Which warn us of the worst
Or hit us hard like lightning bolts,
Leaving damage where it hurts
Then, there are brief afternoon showers,
Where we accompany the rain,
Because their is a cleansing,
When tears can finally drain
Whether we are in the eye of the storm,
Or through the other side
The thunderhead can be lifted,
If we only look to Christ
For I tell you, there is sunshine
Peace and comfort too
It is he who understands our storms,
And is with us all the way through
What storm are you fighting?
My friend, please don’t be consumed
The source of life is waiting, let his sunshine, his love break through.
Many seem to agree that mothers have their hands full today. Parenthood has always been a demanding job, but surveys of the public confirm that many people see raising kids as being tougher today that it was in the 1960’s or 70’s. Roughly eight out of ten women agree that being a mother today is more difficult than it was twenty or thirty years ago. In fact, I have heard so many mature folk comment that there are more pressures on families today, and on women in particular. I’m not wanting to romanticize the ‘good old days’, we all know that many aspects of living today may be easier, what with the convenience of mod cons. Possibly the main tasks of feeding, clothing and educating our children have never been easier. And with regard to physical safety, in many ways our children are safer today than they ever have been with the introduction of carseats, vaccinations, and medical and surgical advances. But consider that you almost need a degree in carseat wrangling to decipher some infant carseat configurations! And baby carriers too!
Is our generation the pressure cooker generation? Is there more stress today? Many people see the biggest challenge of raising kids today, to be the influences of society. Drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, the media. Changing views. Beyond societal influences, teaching morals and values, and maintaining discipline are significant concerns for many parents. But is 21st century life damaging our children? Well known British educationalist Sue Palmer thinks so. In her book ‘Toxic Childhood’ she argues that the last couple of decades has seen huge changes in adult lifestyles, which have affected the way we look after children, both at home and in school. Toxic Childhood explains how a toxic mix of side-effects of cultural change may be affecting the development of a growing number of children. Toxic Childhood also explains how a few simple adjustments to life-style in areas such as diet, screen time and exposure to nature, can ‘detoxify’ children’s lives.
Much research has confirmed that being a parent today is very different than it was a generation or two ago, and that it may in fact be harder, as we are expected to do more with our children than parents in previous generations did. Granted, we may have smaller families than they had a hundred years ago, although is the birth rate may be slowly increasing. When I was growing up in the 80s, two children seemed to be the norm in middle class families, whereas today, three or four children is becoming more commonplace. On average, parents are older and more educated, and perhaps more materially well off. Furthermore, it has only been in recent decades that becoming a parent has become a choice. It used to be the norm. Now it is an option, although still a fairly universal experience.
Some research confirms that today’s parents are spending more time with their children. We are more involved in our children’s education. We read to our children more and help with homework. And perhaps we are more child centered? In generations gone by, children were sent outside to play and told to come back at dinner time. Or they fitted in around household chores. In talking with my grandmother, ‘children were seen and not heard’. In interviews with older folk for the book ‘Nostalgia’, author Janelle Wilson discovered sentiments such as ”I don’t envy people raising children today.’ and ‘It seems that people pay alot of attention to their children today, or they keep them really busy with activities, or they raise themselves.’ ‘The expressions of kids are more violent, I wouldn’t want to be a parent of young children today.’ It seems that people used to be able to let their children roam the neighbourhood, walk to school, and climb trees. My grandmother often went to the beach at the age of five with just the supervision of her two older siblings (aged eight and ten), and with no adult in sight. While this was commonplace back then, it is something that would be unthinkable now. I let my son climb a tree outside our house and someone walking by questioned my decision! Have we become health and safety mad?. In this generation of helicopter parenting, it can be hard to get the balance right between being an involved parent but not a smothering one.
Family life may not have changed that dramatically in the last few generations. Rather, the bread and butter of family life may have remained the same in many ways, as the needs of babies and young children are the same—however outside the home the rapid rise of commercialism has meant that there has been an expansion of opportunities, choices athat make child rearing possibly all the more challenging. We are the microwave generation, and children are more used to instant gratification. And perhaps there is less community today. This is a common sentiment. Many mothers carry a burden that would be better shared by wider family. It takes a village to raise a child, but where is the village? We have online communities, but many people today don’t know their neighbours.
And then there is the whole host of different parenting philosphies that one is bombarded with. This can cause confusion for many first time parents especially. In parenting it is about trusting one’s instincts, but for me, and I’m sure this is true for many parents, trusting one’s instincts and developing confidence took time. And having a baby is not just about raising a child to be a healthy, literate adult. From the moment you announce your joyful news, it often means navigating a minefield of contradictory advice on just about everything: what to eat and avoid during pregnancy, how to give birth, whether to have pain relief during childbirth, sleep training versus co-sleeping, disposables versus cloth nappies, how and when to potty-train one’s child, breast feeding versus bottle feeding, schedule versus attachment parenting, using a buggy versus baby wearing. I recall talking to my mother about how many new mothers benefit from the support of a lactation consultant. Her response was – goodness me, we didn’t have lactation consultants in my day! Then there are the options of staying home versus going back to work, how much time our kids should spend watching TV (if at all), exercising, reading, what they should wear. And the considerations of schooling – at what age should our kids enter kindergarten, if at all. And whereas most children used to go to the local school, we now have more choice, and the option of home schooling. And we can deliberate over what to feed our children, given that much of our food source has been defiled by chemicals today, and allergies and intolerances seem to be on the rise. Should we be sugar-free, gluten-free, wheat-free?
Credit: Henry Essenhigh Corke (1883-1919); Autochrome. Collection of National Media Museum
It is common for parents to feel overwhelmed, and is it any wonder? Is it also any wonder that we can become uncertain and defensive about our choices? There is a dizzying array of important considerations that are vying for our attention where raising our kids is concerned. Is too much knowledge a dangerous thing? Thanks to google and the fact that many of today’s parents are educated up the eyeballs, we seem to question everything.
The blogger Jennifer Fulwiler summed up the feelings of many parents rather well in her blog Conversion Diary:
And I need — desperately, seriously, dying-man-in-the-desert-level need — one area of my life as a parent that I do not have to agonize about. As a modern mother, I am required to obsess over every. single. aspect. of my children’s lives. I have to make ALL THE CHOICES about ALL THE THINGS and I am EXHAUSTED.
Sorry for the caps lock, but seriously, people, I am supposed to be pouring all this energy into what food we eat and what types of shows they watch and what type of video games they play and how much time they spend doing those things and what sports they play and what sorts of clothes they wear and whether we should vaccinate and circumcise and pierce ears and…GAH! I can’t even send my kids to the school down the street without second-guessing it because now we have the options of homeschooling and charter schools.’ (www.conversiondiary.com)
There are many other factors that may make us sometimes feel like we are parenting in a pressure cooker rather than in a slow cooker. Since the 1980’s it has been more difficult to live on one income, and many families require two incomes to meet a mortgage. The cost of living is rising. We also have much higher material expectations today, and we have so much stuff, that makes managing the mess of family life much more difficult. And thanks to the feminist revolution (from which many positive outcomes resulted) women are now expected to do it all, and the result is that many women are stressed and exhausted, and for some, their health may be compromised. There is also a lack of respect for homemaking as a viable vocation today and many have felt the need to reclaim homemaking as an important role.
We can also consider whether commercialism makes life busier, and parenting more challenging? Do the myriad of activities that kids are engaged in add stress to families? And do cash strapped educational and community groups have high expectations of parental involvement? There are many issues.
We are also the first generation of parents of IEverything. We live in a world of Ipads and Iphones. 24-7 screen availability and cyber footprints. ‘IEverything’ may just be one of the most pressing concerns in child development today. Sue Palmer seems to think so.
Perhaps there was a time when parents did what had been done for generations. And perhaps there are some disadvantages to living in a cultural environment where you don’t question things, and you do things the way things have been done for generations. But at least you wouldn’t have to exhaust yourself analyzing every single parenting decision that you make.
Certainly we ought to put some thought into how we feed, educate, and raise our children, even if today’s vast array of choices means those decisions are harder to make than they were for previous generations. Perhaps we need to get back to basics, to think about parenting in the slow cooker lane rather than in the pressure cooker lane, I’m learning to slow life right down (as much as we can) so that family life isn’t as hectic and frazzled. And maybe the best option is simply to realize that most parents really are trying to do what’s best for their kids, and to extend a little more grace to the parents who raise their kids differently to us. There is so much judgment placed on parents today, and mothers seem to be judged more harshly than fathers.
And while we think that raising kids is tougher today, perhaps our parents or grandparents would have said the same thing of their generation too. We also see the impact of the parenting role differently. We are perhaps more psychologically aware today. We know how important it is to say ‘I love you’ to our children, to demonstrate affection, and to allow our children to talk about their feelings. And perhaps raising kids is tougher today, but the fruits of our labour are worth it. It’s still the most rewarding, wonderful job.