Mother is the name of God in the lips and hearts of children. -William Makepeace Thackeray
I don’t suppose it was ever easy to be a stay-at-home mother, at any time or place in history. The huge responsibility on one’s shoulders, the neverending flow of chores from the moment you wake up in the morning to the moment you go to bed at night, the unpaid work, the fact that there is no difference between weekdays and weekends… It always must have been the same, right?
But if you live in twenty-first century Britain you can expect a few extras, such as being invisible, unappreciated, or undervalued. There is this huge pressure that you’re worthless to society unless you work. Wait a second, you do work as a stay-at-home mother, you’re working non-stop, you’re on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Oh yeah, of course, it’s unpaid, so you don’t pay tax, so you don’t work really, so you don’t contribute. And how dare you.
When the new tax break was announced yesterday for families with children under the age of 12 I thought to myself “oh good, that will come handy” and it was only after that I realised that this will only apply to families where both parents work (with a joint income of up to 300,000 GBP! surely they need that tax break, right?). Without going into politics too much, the tax break won’t apply to our family, and I have to accept that, which I have. But it made me feel oh so bad about myself. For a few seconds I had to think what day of the week it was, and indeed what year it was, and when it would be feasible for me to go back to work. Well, let’s just say that the answer didn’t make me feel any better.
Then I thought, “this can’t be right”. Have mothers always felt like that? How did the human race survive at all? So I decided to take a little time travel and check what the two biggest world religions, Christianity and Islam say about motherhood. If they both say that it’s rubbish to put your children first and foremost, then I might as well pack it in, put my son in a nursery from next week and go back to work. This is what I found:
The Bible always holds motherhood in high esteem, yet our culture doesn’t. According to the Christian faith motherhood is ordained by God and it is part of his plan. Our children are our ministries, and we need to honour God’s vision of motherhood by holding it in high esteem and affirming those who aspire to motherhood and those who are mothers. Titus 2:4-5 says “These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good” (New Living Translation). Isaiah 66:12-13 says “I will give Jerusalem a river of peace and prosperity. The wealth of the nations will flow to her. Her children will be nursed at her breasts, carried in her arms, and held on her lap. I will comfort you there in Jerusalem as a mother comforts her child” (New Living Translation). So the archetypal mother is someone whose home is important (check), who loves her children (check), nurses them (check), carries them (check), holds them on her lap (check). This already made me feel so much better.
Now let’s see what the second biggest world religion says about mothers. According to the Islam faith to raise a virtuous child is one of the greatest good deeds, and it continues to bring rewards even after death. Mothers have an elevated status of honour and respect in Islam, because Allah loves people who love and care for others, and he knows that in this world nobody is more loving and caring towards another person than a mother is to her child. A Muslim sees a mother as an icon of strength and courage, tempered with kindness, compassion, and love. (You can read more about mothers in Islam here and the role of the mother here.)
After some consideration I think that nursery can wait a little bit longer then.
All of you mothers out there, don’t ever feel bad or intimidated by being “just” a mother. You’re doing a wonderful job. And you can always adapt Peggy Campolo’s answer to the question:
“And what is it that you do, dear?”
“I am socializing two homo sapiens into the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might be instruments for the transformation of the social order into the kind of eschatological utopia that God willed from the beginning of creation.”
Then you can go on and ask back: “And what do you do?”
“Sometimes when you pick up your child you can feel the map of your own bones beneath your hands, or smell the scent of your skin in the nape of his neck. This is the most extraordinary thing about motherhood – finding a piece of yourself separate and apart that all the same you could not live without.”
- Jodi Picoult, Perfect Match
It’s World Book Day today!
I have always loved books. My parents say I self-taught myself to read and by the time I started school I was reading fluently. I don’t remember the process, but I do remember how much I loved to read. In the breaks I would often sit at my desk absorbed in my book that I always carried with me, regardless of the number of textbooks that had to fit in the bag. I loved losing myself in the wonderful world of my book: it was magical, it was adventurous, it was exciting! It felt as if I was part of the story and my imagination was going wild in a foreign land. Nothing has ever given me the same feeling.
I’m convinced that all children love that feeling; but it will only come from a book that they really enjoy. A book that speaks to them, a book that touches something inside their soul. It might not be the most popular or trendy children’s book, and it’s unlikely to be a textbook. In my case it was a book about a journalist raising an orphaned lion in the Serengeti Park in Africa – hardly the obvious choice for a child’s first book to read. And yet, it established a life-long love of reading and learning.
Children should be encouraged to read for enjoyment. Let them pick the book for themselves (as long as it’s not adult content of course). Their taste might be different than what we think and they might not like a book that everyone praises, and they might think “oh well, reading is not really my thing”. It’s not until they discover something that truly captures them that they find joy in a book.
The reason I’m going on about reading? Because it’s good for you. And what exactly are the benefits? Here’s the top 10 list, compiled by Best Books For Kids:
- Reading exercises our brains: Reading is a much more complex task for the human brain than, say, watching TV is. Reading strengthens brain connections and actually builds new connections.
- Reading improves concentration: This is a bit of a no-brainer. Children have to sit still and quietly so they can focus on the story when they’re reading. If they read regularly, they develop the ability to do this for longer periods.
- Reading teaches children about the world around them: Through reading, children learn about people, places and events outside their own experience. They are exposed to ways of life, ideas and beliefs about the world which may be different from those which surround them. This learning is important for its own sake however it also builds a store of background knowledge which helps younger children learn to read confidently and well.
- Kids who read often get better at it: This is pretty much just common sense. After all, practice makes perfect in almost everything we humans do and reading is no different from anything else.
- Reading improves a child’s vocabulary and language skills: This is because children learn new words as they read but also because they unconsciously absorb information as they read about things like how to structure sentences and how to use words and language effectively.
- Children who read do better at school: And they don’t just do better at subjects like reading, English and history. They do better at all subjects and they do better all the way through school.
- Reading develops a child’s imagination: This is because when we read our brains translate the descriptions we read of people, places and things into pictures. When we’re engaged in a story, we’re also imagining how the characters are feeling. We use our own experiences to imagine how we would feel in the same situation.
- Reading helps kids develop empathy: This is something I’ve only recently realised but it makes sense. As my fifteen-year-old son said to me when we were discussing it, ‘Of course it does because you’re identifying with the character in the story so you’re feeling what he’s feeling.’
- Reading is a great form of entertainment: A paperback book or an e-reader like the Amazon Kindle doesn’t take up much space so you can take it anywhere and you’ll never be lonely or bored if you have a book in your bag. You can read while waiting in a queue, while waiting for a friend who’s running late or during a flight delay at an airport.
- Reading relaxes the body and calms the mind: This is an important point because these days we seem to have forgotten how to relax and especially how to be silent. The constant movement, flashing lights and noise which bombard our senses when we’re watching TV, looking at a computer or playing an electronic game are actually quite stressful for our brains. When we read, we read in silence and the black print on a white page is much less stressful for our eyes and brains.
Yes. Reading is a great thing, it’s fun, it’s liberating. And if you don’t quite believe us, you might believe Oprah Winfrey: “Books were my personal pass to freedom. I learned to read at age three, and soon discovered there was a whole world to conquer that went beyond our farm in Mississippi.“
“I think that the best thing we can do for our children is to allow them to do things for themselves, allow them to be strong, allow them to experience life on their own terms, allow them to take the subway… let them be better people, let them believe more in themselves.”
C. JoyBell C.
What an amazing weekend it was at The Baby Show in London! The ExCel was loud with giggles and gurgles and all kinds of baby sounds, the buzzing of expectant mums and dads strolling around the aisles, industry experts and speakers discussing topics related to babies and toddlers, all the big brands and cool new inventions, and of course great discounts everywhere.
The organisers really made it family-friendly. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the breastfeeding room with state-of-the-art chairs, water dispenser, breast pads for mums to use – just, wow. The same goes for the baby changing room or the designated feeding area with high chairs and microwaves; they really thought about everything. There was a créche for parents who wanted to drop off the kids to play for a bit; we checked it out during the incredibly busy Saturday lunchtime and the place was clean, full of friendly staff, babies were held, cuddled, comforted when they cried, and health and safety was taken seriously. Great job.
But what I found even greater was The Work & Family Show which was next door to The Baby Show and all tickets were valid for it too. This was organised for the first time and it was born out of the demand from families looking for practical and personal solutions for returning to work or starting up a business.
The Show had commissioned some research into the current state-of-mind of working parents and the results show that 80% of women feel guilty about going back to work and struggle to find a healthy work-life balance. 20% of men wish they hadn’t gone back to work after having a family, and 37% of men claim they work full-time with no flexibility at all. 35% of women feel they don’t have any help or understanding from their employer when dealing with the transition from working woman to working mum. The figures speak for themselves, and I’m pretty certain many more working parents would agree.
The need for practical help for families is undeniable and massive well done to My Family Care, who designed the content for the Show. According to Ben Black, Director of My Family Care ”due to the lack of support from employers on returning to work, women often feel forced to give up the careers they have trained so hard for in order to fit into their new role of motherhood. However, it shouldn’t be like this. Businesses are missing a trick by failing to support their caring workforce – by offering flexible working and a more understanding ethos through the company, businesses can create a happier and more engaged workforce that will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the business in the long run.” His words echo my exact thoughts that I recently published in my post The (un)making of a nation.
The Show was a great platform for advice, inspiration, and solutions around flexible working, family-friendly franchise opportunities, career advice, personal branding and development, childcare advice and solutions and developing business ideas. A wonderful first Show, I’ll be looking forward to next year’s one!
I’ve been asked to review the website Education: Not Just 9 Until 3 which provides primary/elementary education activities for parents who want to help develop their child’s learning at home.
The activities are designed around the subjects of literacy, numeracy, science, humanities, technology, creativity and general. Lots of great ideas that are not only educational but also fun (for both children and parents). Whether you’re looking for something to improve the basic skills, or you want to encourage the use of technology for educational purposes, or just need some help to make a long car journey more fun, you’re sure to find something that both you and your kids will like.
Some activities are quite comprehensive, such as ‘Read All About It’ which encourages children to do their own research, combining history, literacy, technology and creativity. I love it how the activities represent the modern world, for example the ‘Polar Bear Bank’ that helps with numeracy skills but also helps children learn about the concept of money, or ‘Recyclables’ which raises awareness about the importance of looking after the environment.
As the name of website suggests, education doesn’t stop at the school gates, and there is so much parents can do at home. Learning through activities is great for children. It’s much more fun than revision from textbooks so it’s easier to get them excited about learning, and it’s also good for some bonding time with parents.
Apart from the activities you can also find a list of the top 10 educational websites for kids, a really useful collection so you don’t have to spend precious time doing your own research. All in all, well done Education: Not Just 9 Until 3!
The debate over longer school hours has been raging in the British media, and I still catch myself reading about it in disbelief.
My son is only 19 months old but I’m already worried about his schooling. Worried, because developmental psychology research has proven that children should start school at no earlier than 6, but preferably 7 years of age. At the age of 4 testing, learning to read and write, or even just expecting children to sit still at their desks for hours is unheard of in most European countries. This system was introduced in Britain to help women back to work, rather than on the basis of educational benefits for children; and the damage is already showing. (You can read the article in the Telegraph here and the research by the University of Cambridge here.) To raise awareness of this the Too Much, Too Soon Campaign was launched by the Save Childhood Movement.
And if starting school too early is not worrying enough, now there is a chance they might have to spend their days at school from 9am to 6pm, and I just can’t help asking myself: what about those poor children? Are they not supposed to be enjoying their childhood, playing games, and soaking up their parents’ love? Can you really imagine five-year-olds in institutional education 45 hours a week? And all that without some serious detrimental effects on their emotional wellbeing?
Also, what about the parenting duties? Who is going to do those? You know, loving those children for example, paying attention to them, hearing them out, building up their self-worth (and the list could go on and on). Teachers and school staff are already stretched to the limit, and to be fair there is only so much we can ask from them.
And there is only so much we can ask from those parents with a full-time job… A great backlash of feminism was tricking women into believing that they can do it all, that they should do it all, and that they should want to do it all. The concept of ‘wonderwoman’ was born and now women aspire (and struggle) to live up to the expectations. Working full-time, having a successful career, running the household, doing the shopping, doing the cooking, doing the laundry, playing with the children, bath-time fun, bedtime stories, quality time with the husband, a well-rounded social life… you get the picture.
In reality, something’s gotta give. And in the present scenario it will be the children who suffer.
Take a look at two relevant quotes from the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child:
6. The child, for the full and harmonious development of his personality, needs love and understanding. He shall, wherever possible, grow up in the care and under the responsibility of his parents, and, in any case, in an atmosphere of affection and of moral and material security; a child of tender years shall not, save in exceptional circumstances, be separated from his mother (…).
7. (…) The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavour to promote the enjoyment of this right.
The mere idea of children being cooped up in classrooms from 9am to 6pm, just so that both parents can go and work full time, sounds like a dystopia to me. Something you would read in fiction. In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four for example, where the state is hostile to motherhood. It is a totalitarian and invasive state which I wouldn’t necessarily associate with 21st century Britain; allow me to quietly note though that the proposed school hours (and the reasons behind them) would be considered invasive of both childhood and family life.
Because family life will suffer, too. It is no small job to keep a family together, to keep the family members happy, the atmosphere of the home warm. All work no play… makes us a dull family? A dull nation? What will be the cost on the long run to our national wellbeing? Don’t make parents feel more guilty than they already do. According to research conducted before The Work and Family Show, which takes place on 21st and 22nd February, 80% of women feel guilty about going back to work and struggle to find a healthy work-life balance. Also, 20% of men wish they hadn’t gone back to work after having a family, while 37% claims they work full-time with no flexibility at all.
There is no doubt that big reforms are necessary, indeed not short of a revolution. But there is also no doubt that the proposed changes are not what this society needs.
Instead, how about more flexible working hours for both mothers AND fathers? The possibility of a career as a part-timer? More working from home and telecommuting opportunities? And dare I say it, the rise of minimum wage so that one parent working full-time could support a family? Or a single parent working part-time wouldn’t have to struggle? You know, just in case somebody thinks that home-making is important, family fun is important, and a happy childhood is essential to growing into a healthy, content and productive adult who is a well-respected citizen and a pillar of society. After all, it is the next generation whose fate we’re deciding on. They might only be children now, but one day the world will be in their hands. It is important (and the least that they deserve) that we do a good job with them.
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February is here, and just when I thought we managed to escape those horrible winter illnesses, a nasty cold has come, and it has come with a vengeance.
The type that keeps our little one (ie the whole family) up all night with a blocked nose and constant crying, his fever up through the roof, and bouts of coughing that send even those few spoonfuls of liquid that I managed to get into him straight back up.
Tough times. For parents of more seriously ill children this might seem like a light summer breeze, but the worry of a mother with a sick child is very similar, regardless of the illness. I’ve seen the faces of those fellow mothers in the waiting room, when we went to the doctor’s early in the morning. A nervous forced smile for the sake of the child, muttering “Don’t worry, mummy is here” more to themselves than to the children. Or when we rushed to the doctor’s again, late in the evening. There were mothers with the same worried look on their faces everywhere. One of them was holding a big bundle wrapped up in a blanket. The only tell-tale sign of a child being in there somewhere was a little foot that was sticking out. It had a stripy sock on. I remember I tried to make eye contact with the mother, just to give an encouraging look – she was staring at me straight in the face and I don’t think she even noticed.
Yes, the worry. There is a level of worry and love that is simply unknown to you as long as you’re not a parent yourself. And nothing could ever prepare you for this. And on top of it all, it is not only your own child that you love and worry about – but every child. Charlotte Gray captures this feeling in a beautiful quote: “Becoming a mother makes you the mother of all children. From now on each wounded, abandoned, frightened child is yours. You live in the suffering mothers of every race and creed and weep with them. You long to comfort all who are desolate.”
P.S.: I am posting this a few days after it was written, and I’m happy to report that since then the little one has made a full recovery. Just in case one of you worries
Everything you do, everything you say, everything you like or don’t like is setting an example for your child. This beautiful poem captures it perfectly:
The Little One That Follows Me
A careful woman, I ought to be;
a little one follows me.
I do not dare to go astray,
for fear they’ll go, the self-same way.
I cannot once escape their eyes,
whatever they see me do, they’ll try.
Like me, they say, they’re going to be,
that little one that follows me.
They think that I am good and fine;
believe in every work of mine.
The bad in me they must not see;
my life to them, must, an example be.
I must remember, as I go,
through summer’s sun and winter’s snow,
I’m building for the years to be,
for that little one that follows me.