What do we all want for our children? I know I want good health and happiness for James but that is a very blanket statement and my idea of happiness might be very different to yours. We all parent according to our own beliefs, morals and principles. If the parenting industry were apple we would have the IPhone 6000 already. Everything has become about products you can’t live without or indeed raise your child without. James is nearly five and I still have unopened “can’t live or raise your child without” products here and he survived. We are constantly looking outside of ourselves for happiness and for answers to our problems that we seem to be missing the magic of life as it unfolds right now in front of our very eyes.
When James was a newborn the parenting books I read left me dazed and confused. There were strict schedules and if you missed a window for a nap or indeed a feed it was all over. I became so consumed with trying to do everything right I forgot I had a baby. I threw all those books away and decided it was time to trust my own instinct. Our instinct is always talking to us we just need to tune in, listen to it and trust ourselves more. I wish someone had told me this before I had a baby because mum really does know best.
I’m a bookworm and an avid reader but I was nervous about entering back into the world of parenting books. I don’t like being dictated too and I have bold child syndrome, which means if you tell me to do something I will do the opposite. However I do believe we are learning every day which is why I’m excited about the new era of parenting books that are out there at the moment. Today I have picked my four favouries and I love them all for different reasons but primarily because they all encourage you to become the best parent you can be and not the best parent that they think you should be.
As I turned over the first page of Stella O’ Malleys book, Cotton Wool Kids, I felt a huge sense of relief when I read. “Lets get one thing straight – this isn’t another parenting book telling you how to raise your children or what you should be doing better” They say the first line of a book needs to make you want to read more and not only did I want to read more but I wanted to hug Stella and I don’t even know her. Stella explains with great humor how parenting has been hijacked by marketing and she’s right. I was hijacked for the first few years and actually made myself sick with worry about material goods not for me but for James because as parents we would willingly sacrifice pretty much anything for our children. What I now realise is that time is so much more precious than things. James does not have an IPad because only very recently have I been able to afford one for myself. I’m not inviting 30 kids to his birthday party next month because I have bills to pay but he will have an amazing birthday surrounded by people he loves. I don’t keep up with the joneses because I can’t and I don’t feel bad anymore because things can’t replace time, plain and simple.
I also want James to be a child, act like a child and explore the world through child’s eyes. Since reading this book I have cut down on scheduled activities and instead we go to the park where James can ride his scooter and climb trees. I have learnt to take the emphasis off his performance and accept that as a single mum I can’t do everything and that’s ok. I have allowed him to entertain himself sometimes, which has taken so much pressure off me as a mum and my family, have even commented how content he is in himself. There’s a little section on age appropriate housework and between this and preschool informing me how helpful James is I have stopped babying him so much. These might all sound like small things but they have made a big difference. This is a great book to wake everyone up so we can all start living again, enjoying life and enjoying our children guilt free and maybe we can start moving away from the fear based culture we have been sold by marketing companies
The book “New old-fashioned parenting” by Liat Hughes Joshi was next and there were definitely similarities here and again this book was a reminder that a lot of us have turned into lunatics. Liat says “Old-fashioned Parenting is about asking ourselves what’s really best for our children in the long term and not being afraid to do it, even if it’s harder for us all, or makes them annoyed with us.” Years ago children were meant to be seen and not heard and today it is the complete the opposite. Everything is now about the children and our weekends and free time are usually taken up with scheduled activities and mum and dad very rarely get to indulge in interests of their own. We have become very child focused but almost to an extreme level and we all know that anything done to extremes is bad. This book is set out really well and encourages balance, which is what we are all aiming for in life. A healthy balance is key and there are some excellent basic tips like “be a role model for manners and values’ this might sound like common sense to most of you reading this but as my Dad used to say common sense isn’t very common. How many kids do you see these days with little or no manners? On public transport how many young people stand up for elderly or pregnant women and yes I am old fashioned because I think our society needs some basic manners and a simple smile or a kind gesture can be really important. Liat encourages if you are drowning in advice make informed decisions and trust yourself and here we are again back to trusting ourselves and our instincts a as mum.
I love that Liat also talks about how families have changed at the end of the book and as a single mum myself I feel that it’s important for everyone to read this because we all need to think about how our own children view the term family. I have taught James that the word family means living with people who love and care for you and that all families are different. James has already come up against children taunting him at school about his dad not being around and as a parent you never know what is around the corner. You might separate or indeed lose your partner through illness and your child might be in this position too one day. So teaching our children that there is no such thing as the perfect family is really important too.
Colman Noctor is a child and adolescent psychotherapist and as the title of his book “Cop On” says he believes we should foster cop on in our children. This title brought back many memories of my own childhood because we were constantly being told to cop on! Colman has been working in this area for 18 years now and has seen first hand how quickly things are changing and how difficult it can be for both children and parents to cope. When he uses the term share, it means sharing on social media whereas with my old school brain I would literally think of sharing something like sweets. This book is a great tool to help parents prepare for future issues and problems that could crop up. It also looks closely at social media and how it has changed our world and the world of our children. I love his view on moderation and the 4-7 rule, which means you rate everything you do from 1-10: work effort, alcohol intake, spending, anxiety, stress, sleep, food intake, exercise etc and see how you get on. If you score low 1-3 or high above 8 you need to address it. I really wish someone had done this with me and it would have saved years of heartache. As a young person I struggled with my emotions and had a complete inability to communicate. This is a book I will be revisiting many times in an effort to develop, encourage and nuture cop on in James!
The most recent book I have read is Raising emotionally healthy children by Paul Gilligan who is a clinical psychologist and also the CEO of St Patricks mental health services and in chapter one Paul writes: What is our inner parent? And the answer, “Our inner parent is that part of us where our natural love for our child meets our natural ability to parent” I love how the word “natural” is used in this context and it reminds me yet again how difficult and complicated we have made life for ourselves when parenting is one of the most natural things in the world (I didn’t say easiest). As an ambassador for St Patrick’s hospitals “walk in my shoes campaign” anything and everything to do with emotional wellbeing is really important to me. As a parent with a history of depression and anxiety I want to understand emotions. In this book Paul has lots of help sheets that are broken down into different age groups about various topics like communication, emotional difficulties, building self-esteem and creating emotionally healthy environments for our children. There are questionnaires that really helped me to refocus my parenting on the positives like Teaching positive discipline and how I model it. I absolutely love Paul’s Seven S’s principle, which helps you to cope when your child is having emotional difficulties. James is starting school in September and his dad is not around so as you can imagine we are having some emotional issues with a lot of questions being asked.
The seven S’s are
- Stay Calm
- Speak to each other
- Agree a Strategy
- Provide Support
- Seek Specialised Support
- Maintain Stamina and
- Seek Support for yourself.
From reading Paul’s book I was encouraged to follow steps 5 and 7 and I’m glad I did. Sometimes asking for help can be difficult but very worthwhile.
So as you can see different things will be relevant to each of us in these books at different stages of our parenting journey. I have to be honest though I really learnt a lot and found the books to be very comforting, reassuring and thought provoking. It’s through books like these that we can not only grow as parents, but also as individuals. There is no denying that we need to keep it simple and time not things is what’s really important to me now. Joanna Fortune from Solamh once said to me “presence over presents” and that is the number one rule in our house. When I am with James I am actually with him and believe me they do notice. But these books are great because life is not perfect and we will all struggle with our kids at different stages and in different ways and sometimes we just need the tools to help.