Archive of ‘instincts’ category

Is sibling rivalry really so bad?

Sibling rivalry: competition between siblings especially for the attention, affection, and approval of their parents.

My two youngest are currently on top of one of those rope-climbing contraptions in our local park. The ones that look like a gigantic triangle tangle of wires designed specifically to alarm parents when their children are at the peak waving manically, whilst not holding on. One of mine is halfway up, and the other (the eldest of the two) is at the top, coaching his younger brother on how to climb and reach his dizzying height. This is a good day, a day where they are friends, a team working together and supporting and encouraging each other.

It’s not always this way.

Especially when you add my teenage daughter into the mix.

Don’t get me wrong, my children are very pleased to have siblings, but sometimes I think they’d rather not have them around all of the time. Rivalry between people who share blood is inevitable. Even the most placid of personalities can be riled by those closest to them and as a parent it can be frustrating and upsetting to watch.

I have two ways of dealing with the disagreements, which mainly occur when my children are tired and drained of any kind of resolve. If my they are physically fighting, which thankfully is not a regular occurrence, then I tend to dive in and resolve the situation, no-one needs to get hurt because they both want to play with the same toy, and anger should never be allowed to erupt and be directed at another just because they’re doing something you don’t like or can’t control. However, if it is a verbal disagreement then I often stand back and wait, for it’s these very encounters where children begin to learn to manage conflict. To understand empathy. To fight their corner. To adapt to situations and manage shit beyond their control.

Imagine we were all thrown together in close contact with people we didn’t chose to be with, made to get along with, share bedrooms with, spend more time with than anyone else. A mix of people with different needs, wants, personalities, and beliefs. People who are competing with you for attention and affection. We only have to watch Big Brother to know how those situations work out. Conflict and rivalry seeps in from day one. Siblings are the starting blocks for dealing with a world where everyone is different. For understanding things from another perspective. For learning about compromise.

Whilst also learning quite rightly that the world does not revolve around you.

My children know this, even more so because of the boys’ medical needs, and I am in awe of the way my teenage daughter is accepting of the situation. And also how beautifully supportive the boys are of each other; they hold hands during blood tests whilst telling the other one that it’s ok, it won’t hurt for long. I’m lucky that something so horrible has brought out the best in my children and dampened their rivalry somewhat. My brother and I were not the same as youngsters. Best of friends now, we fought endlessly as children and exhausted our mother because of it. And the stuff we fought over all seems so petty now. What to watch on the TV. Toys. Winning Monopoly. Again it was illness that changed it all. First my brother contracting a bone abscess and being in hospital over Christmas when he was eleven, and then our father passing away when we were in our early twenties. Landing on Mayfair and going bankrupt was insignificant after that. My brother says he didn’t know how much I loved or even liked him until he went away travelling for six months when he was eighteen and I balled like a baby when saying goodbye. Something he doesn’t let me forget.

Sadly not all rivalries can be contained to childhood. It’s sad when families fall out and siblings no longer speak, but you can’t force people to like each other even if they are related. You can, however, force them not be to vile to each other, but often in these cases things have gone too far, resulting in estranged families who no longer speak.

And, of course, not all children have siblings. In my novel, currently on its fifth and hopefully final draft, three only children seek to fill the space their unborn siblings have left. And that doesn’t end well. Not that I’m saying being an only child is a negative thing, not having siblings doesn’t automatically put you at a disadvantage in life, of course. Being an only child, or a sibling of one, or to many all has pros and cons. And I haven’t even touched on the horror of losing a sibling in childhood, that deserves a blog post all of it’s own. So does writing about half brothers and sisters and the many wonders of blended families, like mine.

There are many angles and things I’ve not touched on here, I know this.

In this post I wanted to focus on rivalry between siblings and how the inevitable fall outs can help teach children important life skills. There isn’t enough tolerance around at the moment, or empathy. The world is a very different place to the one I grew up in and children and teenagers face more challenges than ever before. And I do wonder if parenting now has affected this. Helicopter parenting, tiger mums, over protective adults who strive so hard for their children to be happy that they won’t even let them have an argument with their siblings and resolve it independent of adult intervention.

Yes childhood should be filled with love and laughter and play, but it’s when the foundations for life as an adult are laid down ready to be built upon.

And a healthy dose of sibling rivalry can help do just that.

This post was inspired by the new novel, Blood Sisters, by author, journalist and Sunday Times Bestseller, Jane Corry. Blood Sisters is out 29th June, pre order here now.

Blood Sisters copy

Jane Corry credit Justine Stoddart copy.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aurora Borealis and Fireworks

When do we start planning the lives of our children? Is it when we conceive? Or is it earlier than that? Does everyone, unconsciously at least, absorb events, feelings, hopes and dreams, and hold them in a tiny part of their brains ready to transmit to those they may give birth to.

We may think, as a stroppy teenager, angry at the world that we will never speak to our children in the way our parents do to us. Or we will find a love in something so powerful that it absolutely has to be passed down to our children so they can exact the same pleasure we have from it.

However the hopes and wishes for our children manifest themselves in our minds there is always one enduring want – for them to be healthy. You often hear people comment when asked, probably for the millionth time, ‘Do you know what you’re having?’ that they don’t care as long as ‘it’s’ healthy.

And so, what happens, when your child isn’t healthy when they are born? Or are diagnosed with a life changing disease when they are still young and vulnerable? Do your ideals for their lives flash before your eyes, like time is said to do when on your deathbed? Do visions of what could’ve been dance and flicker before you when dealt with such a hand?

I should know. I should know because I have been there. I am that mum. I have sick children. And ever since their diagnosis I have been struggling to find the right way of describing how our lives have changed. How what we thought was before us was snatched and tarnished with the threat of a life changing and life threatening illness.

And until now I have found no way to explain how that feels. What their diagnosis has done to them, to my husband and I and to our family, who are all affected. But then, two nights ago, I watched a documentary on the Aurora Borealis, where the night sky is lit up by the most beautiful, natural lights in an awesome show of colour. And it got me thinking. Whenever I see the lights in photos, or on the television, they fill me with pleasure. One day I’d love to see them for real and experience nature at its most awe inspiring.

The journey there wouldn’t, of course, be stress free. Especially if I went with the children. There would be arguments along the way. We’d be oh so very tired when we got there, but would marvel at the relative ease with which we are now able to travel around the world. We’d laugh at the time our suitcases went missing and have fond memories of the time we caught a plane for our honeymoon and talked about doing this, seeing the Northern Lights, with our family complete. We’d be making the journey with a multitude of other people from all different countries and backgrounds. And there’d be a plan. A guide telling us what we needed to look out for and the best times to travel and see them. It would be an adventure and one that we would all be on together, with other people who, like us, would want to offer their children the very best experiences in life.

And then I took this dream and put it out of context. For not everyone gets to go to see the lights, even though they may want to. Some people are forced to watch fireworks instead. Something that is noisy, artificial, and dangerous. Fireworks have the ability to wow and hurt at the same time. They are not predictable. There isn’t just one destination where they can be seen – they are not always let off at the same time and in the same place.

My family wanted to see the Aurora Borealis, but instead we’ve been singled out to observe the fireworks. At first we watched from afar, not wanting to be herded in with the other people there. We watched the different colours and patterns and oohed and ahhed. But all the while believing this wasn’t go to be all we were going to see forever. We’d be allowed to go to the lights at some point. But then, over time, we were pushed deeper into the crowd. It didn’t matter if we closed our eyes to shut out the bright, artificial lights, or the noise – the fireworks were still there. And they had the ability to catch us off guard. Make us jump, like when a firework is set off at 5pm on the first of April instead of 5th November after it’s dark.

And fireworks burn. Scar. Leave you with physical injuries that, although they aren’t painful and raw forever, remain as a reminder of what happened and where you are. Where you can’t escape.

Some people in the crowd walk away from the fireworks. You can hear them scream, ‘I didn’t sign up for this shit,’ and as it’s all a bit loud and unpredictable, they go. To where I don’t know for I don’t believe you can fully ever leave the fireworks once you’ve been forced to go to the show. There’s always someone nearby ready to set one off and rock your world once more. It can be peaceful for a time, but never for ever.

And so at the moment, this is where my family is. We are repeatedly being surprised by loud noises and sudden fires, and even though we’ve remained relatively unscathed so far, it’s been bloody hard work. We have to tend to the field where the firework show is daily, and it’s tough fighting the fire to make sure we don’t get burnt. But we are doing it. We’re getting used to this new future. This new place we find ourselves in. The Firework Show. And The Northern Lights and all the hope and wonder they would’ve brought remain a distant memory. Nature has played us this cruel hand instead.

And all the while, the most important thing is to make sure the children enjoy the show. That not for one minute do they feel they are missing out on something more spectacular. So we embrace the show, buy them sparklers and candyfloss and take them on every single ride we can.

They know no different and for as long as I am fighting fireworks, I will fight to keep it that way.

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Diagnosis

Diagnosis: the identification of the nature of an illness or other problem by examination of the symptoms.

This time next Thursday, I will be sat at home with my fasting six year old, waiting to take him into hospital for a lobectomy. Surgery where he has to have part of his right lung removed because it is permanently collapsed, and what remains is a hot bed for mucus and bacteria.
This diagnosis and operation has been a very long time coming and, whilst I know that it needs to be done urgently before the rest of his lung is affected and he needs a more serious remedy, the preparation for a stay in hospital and surgery like this is not easy.
When my son was born he was a healthy baby weighing in at 8lbs 10oz. I had a normal delivery and we were home the next day. He fed well and after an initial scary weight loss continued to thrive. There were a few strange things that happened, which each of them on their own should not have rung alarm bells, but looking back now maybe were all connected. He failed his newborn hearing test, in itself not unusual, and soon after passed one at the hospital and was given the ok. He had reflux, as many babies do, but vomited blood one day when he was a couple of weeks old. The doctor checked him over and said it was nothing and a one off, which technically it was. Then at four months old he had an anoxic seizure. Again, he was referred to the hospital and checked over and they said it was a one off, which again, it was. (We did buy a breathing alarm for the cot after this, which thankfully never went off.) He had the usual coughs, colds and viruses, but nothing that required hospitalisation or more than one dose of antibiotics.
But he was always full of snot and mucus and had a permanent cough. It was present in the winter, spring and summer and was no worse day or night, but it was there and ever present and when he was two and a half was diagnosed with asthma. I remember telling my mum, right then and there after that diagnosis that he wasn’t asthmatic. That it was something else. But we trusted the doctors and gave him a brown preventative inhaler every day.
And he started to waste away.
Dark circles appeared under his eyes and he began to fade in front of us. He looked skeletal and every photo I have of him at that time I have had to delete because they broke my heart.
Again back to the doctors we went and he was put on protein shakes, as he was malnourished and failing to thrive. This was when the phlegm vomiting started. If he laughed, cried, ran too much or sometimes simply for no reason at all, he would cough until he threw up a yellowy grey pool of mucus. An urgent referral was made to a paediatrician, however the wait was for twelve weeks minimum.
We couldn’t imagine what would’ve happened had we have had to wait those twelve weeks and were so lucky that my husband had private health insurance. I spent over a day on the phone to various different people and ended up getting an appointment for the next week.
At that first appointment my son was checked over, had his chest and heart listened to and the initial thoughts were that maybe he had a cow’s milk protein allergy, reflux and possibly something wrong with his immune system. Bloods were taken, we were given Omeprazole for the reflux and advised to go dairy free, with a follow up appointment made for in a few months.
When we returned a couple of months later, I said that he was better, but not fixed. So we were referred to an ENT specialist who said maybe his tonsils needed to come out, but because he was not 100% convinced this was the problem and I did not want my son to have an unnecessary operation, we decided against it. The ENT doctor gave us some Flixonase for allergic rhinitis and off we went again, now with two different sorts of medication.
A few months later we were back and yes, again I said things were ok, the early morning marathons of coughing and retching were less frequent, but still I didn’t think we’d cracked it. So this time we were sent away with Montelukast to help my son’s lungs as the cough and phlegm vomiting were ever present.
I remember during this long period of time, when I was back and forth to the paediatrician, how frustrated my husband and I were. The paediatrician always said that with children they work very differently to how they do with adults in that they don’t do any investigative tests and work empirically. To us it seemed like they were just throwing medicines at us and I wondered if we’d still be going there in ten years time with our son now on a hundred different types of medication.
But what choice did we have other than to trust them and go with it? He was improving after all, and with each new medication we hoped we’d finally cracked it and solved the puzzle.
We returned again, a year ago, and this time we were given Certirizine, which is an anti-histamine.
The phlegm vomiting and cough all but disappeared and we started to reintroduce some dairy. He began to put on weight and had more energy than he’d had in a long time. The combination of the four different types of medication seemed to be working.
However in December, the paediatrician noticed that he had some clubbing of his fingernails, a sign of lung disease, and ordered an immediate chest x-ray, which showed a collapse of the lower lobe of his right lung.
Our son needed a four-week course of antibiotics in an attempt to re-inflate the lung. It didn’t work.
We were then referred to a respiratory paediatrician who told us some hard facts.
This could be congenital and he was born with a diseased lung. Or it could’ve happened from him having a nasty virus that damaged the lung. He could’ve aspirated something, which had caused the collapse. Or he may have a genetic condition called PCD, which had led to this happening.
There was so much to take in and the advice was that he would need antibiotics for the foreseeable future before having to undergo a bronchoscopy to look into his lung, followed by a two-week stay, on IV antibiotics, in hospital with vigorous physiotherapy to try and re-inflate it.
We spent three long weeks in the Children’s Hospital and he had IV antibiotics, two bronchoscopies and intensive physiotherapy all to no avail and so, at the next outpatients appointment, were sent for an immediate CT scan, which showed permanent damage to the lower lobe of the lung. It was never going to inflate fully again and needed to come out before it infected the rest of his otherwise healthy lung.
The operation is risky because the lung has been collapsed for so long and I’m dreading it, but that is where we are. He has on-going tests to try and determine the cause of the collapse, which we still don’t definitively know, however several results do point towards the genetic PCD condition, which has implications for his younger brother, who too coughs constantly.
He is a wonderful six-year old who has, remarkably, taken all of this in his stride. He hates cannulas (or ‘nasties’ as he calls them) but knows they need to be done, and if you ask him how he is he will tell you, in a very matter of fact way, that he has to have some of his lung chopped out, and that afterwards he will feel better and get all the presents in the world. Children are so resilient and are masters at not worrying about something unless they have to.
I could learn a lot from him.

Opinion

Opinion: In general, an opinion is a judgment, viewpoint, or statement about matters commonly considered to be subjective.

There was, as you are all undoubtedly aware and completely unsurprised about, another Twitter debate that involved/angered a large proportion of tweeps earlier this week.
And I watched and read every tweet with interest. Just as I did after the election.
But not just because of what the debate/argument was about, but more to see how it played out.
You see, I have been involved in many debates of the last few months, mostly during university sessions, and I have become fascinated by the way in which they work. People have always interested me and I always try and look behind the bravado and the words and to work out why they are saying or behaving in the manner with which they are.
Usually it’s about what has happened to them. Their past and all of the many varied experiences they have had which culminate in this thing we call an ‘opinion’.
And, more often than not, when people no longer have a valid argument or line with which they can follow, their response is ‘well it’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it.’
Entitled.
I think it’s that word that sits uncomfortably here. What makes someone ‘entitled’ to something? And does being entitled to an opinion qualify it and protect it from attack?
I’m thinking…no.
Opinions are constructed over time from influences both socially and culturally. For example, natural desires and behaviours corresponding to the female body are born from natural occurrences, whereas feminism stems from cultural constructiveness.
Everyone’s differing points of view are huge bubbling pots of individuality, into which ingredients have been slowly added and combined since each individual was born. In went what their parents thought. Followed by what they heard from their peers. Spoonfuls of ideas gathered from reading magazines, books, and newspapers. A large dollop of what they have watched on the television, or listened to the radio. Snippets soaked up from having travelled to different places peppered with the suffering of a range of illnesses and hardships.
And then…the wonder that is confirmation bias enables people to surround themselves with likeminded people who compound their beliefs. That flavour their opinion soup, so to speak. I mean, having experienced something that means you’re entitled to an opinion on it…right?
But then doesn’t everyone experience everything in a unique way? So won’t each person’s opinion be a different one?
I’m digressing somewhat. Which isn’t a surprise given that I am attempting to discuss something as diverse and complex as this.
Let’s take parenting a newborn as example. You’ll find that everyone has an opinion on that whether they’ve had a baby or not. And, oh, what a variety of opinions on how to handle a newborn there are, some of which are extreme polar opposites. They vary between genders, classes and generations. Instincts are those natural occurrences that feed desires and behaviours whether we are aware of them or not. And then there is the culturally constructed side of parenting. The attachment parents, the cry it outs, to name two. I’m intrigued as to what makes one mum differ so much from another and believe, sometimes vehemently so, that their opinion on how babies should be handled it without doubt the only valid one. It’s like the old nature verses nurture debate. Or…
Nature v Culture. Or…
Naturally occurring v produced. Or…
Natural instinct v human nurture. Or…
Emotion v reason.
I could go on.
The debate this week wasn’t one sided, it wasn’t even two sided, and was almost too complex for me to follow at times. But what I did follow was anger towards someone, who was technically expressing an opinion, a thought, voiced through many differing opinions. There didn’t seem to be any middle ground or initial questioning of the tweet that caused the outrage. There were sweeping statements and judgments and at times became painfully personal.
For me, what there wasn’t enough of was evidence. Some people believe that in order to have an opinion that you are ‘entitled’ to, you don’t only need to have experienced something, but studied it. Learnt the facts. Be able to back up your argument with truths and statistics from reputable sources.
One could argue that your own emotions are a reputable source and that you have an opinion because you wholeheartedly believe it.
Trouble is, those opinions are the easiest to attack and criticise. Not so much opinions, but beliefs maybe.
They are personal. They are individual. And they are real to the person who holds them.
In my opinion, we all need to be a bit more tolerant of those who do not share our views. Especially where those individuals in question are attempting to support and help others.
You are entitled to your own opinions, but what you are not entitled to do, is attack someone else because they don’t share the same ones.

Done

Done: no longer happening or existing.
“her hunting days were done”

Social media and I have had a bit of a falling out recently. I’ve not blogged for ages and have taken a bit of a step back from Twitter. I’ve been mulling over this a lot, and whilst I haven’t definitively come to any particularly conclusion as to why this is, I’ve certainly realised a few things.

Social media is a very powerful tool. It influences millions – sometimes positively and sometimes in not such a positive way. When I first joined Twitter I was breastfeeding a newborn baby and enjoyed stalking celebrities at 3 in the morning. Then, as PND took it’s hold for the third time, I frantically used it to find people going through the same thing, either to convince myself I wasn’t ill or to reassure me that you can indeed survive on very little, if not no sleep. I was becoming obsessed with confirming all of the things I thought in my very poorly head and whilst Twitter, blogs and forums provided some comfort and helpful suggestions there were also a lot of dark and dangerous things on there. I read some things I didn’t want to read and saw pictures that once seen, can never be forgotten.

Thankfully I have very wise friends and family who helped me channel my energies and into getting better and starting a blog. Wonderfully cathartic, it felt amazing to be able to write openly and honestly about things I was experiencing. Chats on Twitter were fun, supportive and honest, and some of the people I have met through Twitter and blogging are truly amazing. But recently, I’m beginning to wonder if it all offers a bit of a false sense of security. Some people claim they can only be themselves on Twitter, that they cannot be real in real life and that all of the friends they have are virtual ones. And some say that when they have a problem – sometimes an extremely serious problem – Twitter is the only place they feel they can go for help. Help from people who are not experts. Who do not actually know the person in distress, do not know their triggers or their history – in fact they know nothing about them at all. And I see people offering advice about babies they’ve never seen, giving mental health advice to suicidal people, and becoming outraged for someone they’ve never met, only ever hearing one side of the argument.

Now I’m obviously not saying don’t ever go to social media for support and advice – my goodness no it can be a wonderful place and so many people and organisations on there are doing amazing work for smashing stigma, supporting sufferers of mental health and aiding new and overwhelmed mums, and that’s wonderful when it’s done properly – but sadly social media lets anyone join, and when you’re vulnerable and fragile you can easily take the wrong advice, from the wrong person.

The deeper I have gone onto the world of blogging and social media, the more disillusioned I’ve become. In some parts it’s a hugely supportive and comforting group of people, yet in others it has cliques, comment rings and a whole load of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ shenanigans I had no idea existed until recently. Some people deliberately provoke, whilst others constantly seek attention. Some blog from the heart, and some do so for ratings and to up their stats. The lives and personalities people project online are often very different from their reality – even mine. It has all increasingly unnerved me over time, and do you know what? I don’t think I can do it anymore.

I’m tired of Twitter arguments. I’m sick of the monthly scoring system which seems to drive everyone bonkers and become totally competitive. It’s exhausting. It’s draining. And it can be extremely upsetting at times.

When I started blogging it saved me and has quite literally turned my life around. I was able to find my voice again after an evil illness. I found new confidence through writing and having people read, comment and enjoy my blog. It has opened doors to me that I never dreamt possible and the future is so unbelievably exciting for me right now. But I do feel I’m done. I’ve reached a point where I’ve no more to give with ‘mummy blogging.’ I don’t want to review endless products; the power of trusting your instincts as a mum has become so wonderfully recognised by so many; and writing about PND is about to happen in a novel. Put simply, my writing and I have moved on.

I will still write, I will always write (and tweet!) and I may even start a new blog all about that. But for now – with heartfelt thanks to all the blogging community has given me and to every single one of you who has read my blog – I’m trusting my instincts, and I’m done.

Tongue Biting

Bite your tongue: to stop yourself from saying something because it would be better not to, even if you would really like to.

My inability to bite my tongue has always got me in trouble. I often wonder if it stems from my senior school days where I wish I’d bitten my tongue a bit less and lashed out a bit more. It wasn’t an easy time as those of us over the age of 18 all know, and it’s a period of my life that I’d hate to relive with a passion. A time where you’re not a child, yet equally not an adult – where everything can be a bit scary and overwhelming. You learn a little more about the world you live in and discover that it’s not all Care Bear hearts and flowers, but that it can be tough, unforgiving and unbelievably cruel at times. I found maintaining friendships at secondary school very tricky and always thought about everything far too much. I was never relaxed and able to go with the flow like most of my peers, and would lock myself away in an extreme dark mood if I thought I’d been wronged, which obviously led to me being the butt of many a prank and sarcastic comment. I was easily wound up, and still am.

When I look back at who I was and how I behaved as a teenager I see a lot of similarities between myself and my daughter – however, where I (mostly) kept quiet and retreated into myself and my OCD, she very much vents her frustrations outwardly so everyone knows about it. And she is without doubt far more stubborn that I am, which is really saying something. I’ve written about this many times before and yet somehow, in spite of everything I’ve tried, things have deteriorated between us somewhat to where we have both openly said that we don’t actually like each other very much at the moment. Which makes me feel incredibly sad. Everything is a battle – she won’t eat anything that contains any goodness in it whatsoever. She refuses to drink water. She hates cleaning her teeth and showering as they are just too much effort. She’s exhausted, yet will not sleep before half past ten. Her room is forever messy. And I find myself constantly wondering whether this is all normal?

Don’t get me wrong it’s not all hideous, we do have wonderful mother/daughter meals out and time when it’s just the two of us and it’s magical. And recently we discovered something new which worked wonders. I suggested that she went and wrote me a letter, as honestly as she could and that if she wanted me to read it I would, or if she wanted to keep it privately then she could. And it was a really useful tool in diffusing her anger, yet like most things the positive effect was short lived.

Many people I know do not have twelve year olds, and I’m really missing those reassuring conversations where someone else says their tween is exactly the same. There are no toddler groups for tweens, no stay and plays or tween massage sessions. Health visitors don’t come round and ask how you’re getting on and there are no 13 year checks. It’s a time where parental instincts really do have to kick in as you blindy go where you’ve never been before and tackle challenges you didn’t know could exist. I understand why she is like she is, and I know I can’t fix hormones and make this period in her life any easier, but I do want to make it more bearable for us all, I just haven’t worked out quite how to do that yet and I’m not prepared to ‘wait ten years until she comes back to me’ as many have suggested. Life is too damn short for that.

What I do know is that my instincts are definitely telling me that I have to learn to bite my tongue more. I’m ashamed to admit it and am being painfully honest here when I say that she often succeeds in dragging me down to her level, and we’re like two teenagers arguing and I’m no longer behaving like an adult – and I’m mortified and know I need to reign it in. I have to accept that she’s going to be challenging, that she feels like she hates the world and the world hates her and that everything and I mean EVERYTHING is so horribly unfair to her that it’s unbearable. And I have to find something good to praise…something…somewhere, but it’s far from easy.

So please, if you have any tried and tested tongue biting techniques share them in the comments below, for my instincts are also telling me that at the moment, I need all of the help I can get…

MAD Blog Awards

Is parenting learnt or instinctive?

Parenting: Parenting (or child rearing) is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. Parenting refers to the aspects of raising a child aside from the biological relationship.

I’ve written a few posts about trusting your instincts when parenting, however I’ve become aware that these posts are mainly about how important I think instincts are and how much I dislike parenting manuals. I thought maybe a post was in order where I write about what trusting your instincts means to me. Where I define it and put it into context. Where I show you how it’s helped me and how I learnt to trust mine.

Today I googled ‘instinctive mum,’ not because I wanted to revel in my own presence on the internet, but to see if there was anything like my blog out there. To see and read blogs by like minded people. Instead however, I found a blog that was completely the opposite. Where the whole premise behind it was about how we learn as parents, and that instincts very definitely do not exist; and those who say they do are doing others a disservice.

Understandably I was saddened by this, and frustrated. Now I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and boy do people have their own opinions when it comes to parenting, but I felt this was a very strong statement to make. I tweeted what I had read and many of you replied, outraged that someone should say such a thing. Dig a little deeper and you’d discover that the author of the post gave birth to a daughter who was in constant pain, and who, no matter how hard the author tried, was never comforted. Is it any wonder therefore, that the writer of the post doubted her maternal instinct? That she felt like her’s had left her and that she’d failed immediately as a mother?

I then asked the question to my followers on Twitter as to whether they believed parenting to be ‘learnt’ or ‘instinctive.’ The responses were thick and fast with many of you saying it’s a mixture of both. To which I agree. But what surprised me in the replies, and prompted this post, were the beliefs about what ‘instinctive parenting’ actually means. Does it mean knowing what each different cry from your baby means? Does it mean you always know exactly the right thing to do in every situation? Does it mean you are smug and have got this parenting malarkey sorted? Ha! No! Far from it!

For me trusting my instincts is not about having parenting sussed. It does not mean I know everything, that I am the perfect mum and always make the right decisions. I’m not and I don’t. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve doubted myself. I’ve always been useless when it comes to telling my babies’ different cries from each other and often discover the root of the problem through trial and error; if the nappy isn’t full then it’s milk time! Just because I trust my instincts does not mean I find parenting easy. Parenting is not easy, in any way shape or form. Instinctive parenting is in no way meant to be intimidating, or like a gift some of us have and others don’t. And I’d be horrified if it was added to the already over analysed list of the way we parent, as if it’s a fad or some new technique to try.

Instincts are not a wonder drug, they cannot prevent cot death or cure a sick child. They do not offer all of the answers, but they can tell us when we need to ask for help and seek advice. They are there in the middle of the night when your baby has a temperature and you need to help them. (and yes not knowing what to do and ringing the doctor is also trusting your instincts in knowing when you need a professional!) They are there when your baby cries inconsolably and you can’t comfort them and you need to ask for support and advice. They are there when your baby is adjusting their nap times, or isn’t ready to sleep alone or is showing signs of being ready to start potty training.

I agree with many of you who believe that parenting is a combination of many things and that it is an inherent blend of instincts and learning. Many parents believe instincts can tell them when something is or isn’t right for their child, and then they look for the answers, try something new and learn little more. Others say instinct relies heavily on a bond between you and your baby, yet for me I found the opposite to be true; when I was ill with PND I had difficulty bonding with my youngest and relied on my instincts more than ever to listen to his needs, as loving him didn’t seem to be enough.

Many people feel the need to seek acknowledgement or approval before they learn to listen to and trusting their instincts. Others think instincts are primeval and enable you to fundamentally look after your children whilst being influenced by other factors; and some believe that parenting is learnt from our parents and instinctively reproduced. And me, well you all know that I believe in listening to what my instincts are telling me before anything else and going with what I feel is right. I observe, ask myself many different questions, and listen to the answers my instincts are offering. And when no answers are offered I know I need to look elsewhere.

Parenting is about team work between you and your child; it’s about learning together. Undoubtedly the more time you spend together, the more you will learn about your baby and all of their beautifully individual characteristics; but I’d say instincts will definitely have played a part in building this powerful knowledge. They certainly don’t exclude learning, and can work in harmony with it. Instincts are invaluable in helping you have the confidence to trust what you’ve learnt combined with what you know deep down. You can ask for and listen to advice from others (and they’ll often give it whether you’ve asked for it or not) but only you can instinctively know which advice to follow. Only your instincts, if you listen, will let you know which advice is best for your children and your family. It takes time, it takes practice…and it’s priceless.

Do you think parenting is instinctive, learnt or a combination of both?

MAD Blog Awards

#wednesdaywords

Today’s Wednesday Words is going to be another short but sweet one. I have just seen this photo posted on Facebook (for once on FB something I actually agree with!) and had to share.

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My instincts have never sat comfortably with any form of controlled crying…have yours?

Crazy

Instincts vs Books

Instincts: Any behaviour is instinctive if it is performed without being based upon prior experience (that is, in the absence of learning), and is therefore an expression of innate biological factors. Sea turtles, newly hatched on a beach, will automatically move toward the ocean. A joey climbs into its mother’s pouch upon being born.
Manual: Manual may mean: Instructions. User guide. Owner’s manual. Instruction manual (gaming) Online help.

This morning I sat down to write a post. A post which I had been meaning to write for sometime, but had never quite plucked up the courage. For this post might just be a little bit controversial. Now, if you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that I always try to be fair and balanced, but the name of my blog itself implies where my loyalties lie in this particular piece…however I will, as always, try to look at it from every possible angle! And before we get started I’d just like to say that I am not saying don’t ask for advice. I think asking for advice and support is brilliant…I just think you should ask for it from the best possible places.

I wanted to write a post about books. Namely manuals and books all about babies. The kind of books you buy when you are pregnant with your first and then promptly ditch or use as a coaster with your second or third. You may have put your feet up on maternity leave, read these books and thought you had it sorted, that this parenting malarkey was going to be a doddle because you knew what was coming and were going to be in control. That these mums whose babies didn’t sleep through the night, were fussy eaters or had tantrums were bad parents and had done something wrong. The manuals made it all sound so easy, so simple, so straightforward.

Or were you a new parent, overwhelmed and completely sleep deprived searching for answers, seeking much needed help? Were you desperately trying to find some way of making your baby sleep because you were led to believe that a baby that doesn’t sleep is indicative of a bad parent? Were you sat on your bed in the middle of the night scouring these books to find a solution, and then did you try a gazillion different things suggested these books,that didn’t work? Whilst all the time not even looking at your baby to see what it was they actually wanted?

Now, I might have angered a few of you already. Have I made judgements? Assumed things? Or would it surprise you to know that in both of the cases above the person I have been taking about is me? I’m not ashamed to say that with my daughter, twelve years ago, even though my instincts were screaming many things and me (as was she!) I still attempted to follow the rules and listen to advice which told me what she should and ought to be doing. I still read the (often conflicting, one size fits all approach) books and believed that sleeping through the night was something that had to be achieved and then I could become part of an exclusive club. I know we all like sleep, but surely the needs of our babies are more important?

The more I read in the media and on social media the more upset and frustrated I become. I fear that parents are becoming less empowered to trust their instincts. That so called ‘experts’ are making parents believe that they are not doing the things right, and are sucking the natural parenting instincts and confidence out of new parents through feeding off their anxieties. These ‘experts’ are now, thanks to the wonder of social media, more available than ever and can even come into your house and make you believe the only reason your baby is now sleeping is because of them, and what they told you to do. That if you didn’t follow their often very strict advice and guidelines, then you’d be in a mess because you are not an expert. That if you don’t do 100% of what it says in the book that you and your baby are doomed for life. How does a mother then feel when left on their own or when what is said in the books just doesn’t happen…possibly worse than they did before?

Many of the authors of these books are not parents themselves, however, I would also argue that even if they are they would still not be the experts on my children or indeed any children but their own. They might be an expert on mixing formula, or creating a nutritious meal, but not about all of the intricacies of a baby that only a mother knows. Now I’m not saying that these manuals are the reasons for all doubt, for all anxiety and all loss of trust in our instincts, but I am saying they undoubtedly don’t help. So what would help?

I know a lot of mums I have spoken to tell me that when their baby was born they felt they had no instincts. That they didn’t know what to do. That they couldn’t read their baby who cried all of the time. And it got me thinking (yes again, sorry!) about what I could do to help. Is there a market for a book about trusting your instincts? A book that empowers parents to trust theirs? And if there were then what could I write in that book that would help, comfort, and reassure mums? (yes I do appreciate the irony of a mother who has just written a blog post about her avid dislike for baby books wanting to write one, but this book wouldn’t be a manual ok?!) It would be honest and tell of real accounts of life with babies, possibly elaborating on my previous blog posts like the one on sleep and potty training. And instead of pages and pages of instructions on what you must do it could have questions at the end of every chapter to help you read your baby and learn to trust your instincts? Your baby, your instincts, your choice.

Yes parenting is hard, yes at times it is draining, debilitating and more frustrating than anything in the whole world, but it’s still a journey I believe you and your children should undertake together. You’re not always going to get it right, but if you have the confidence to trust your instincts you’re never going to be far off the mark.

So let me know, what do you think would help mums trust their instincts more?

I wrote this post for myself and my blog, but have agreed for it to be shared on What to Expect.

MAD Blog Awards

Wishes

Wish: A wish is a hope or desire for something. Fictionally, wishes can be used as plot devices. In folklore, opportunities for “making a wish” or for wishes to “come true” or “be granted” are themes that are sometimes used.

So if you’ve followed me on Twitter today you’ll know I’ve had a bad day, well afternoon really. And what does a blogger do when they’ve had a bad day…why blog all about it of course!

A few things that have happened recently have got me thinking (yes I do do that every now and again) and have made me realise how fragile my mental state can still be at times. It’s hard once you’ve suffered from depression (well it is for me anyway) to not think it’s always hovering not far away ready to come back and bite you on the ass. I forget sometimes that life with three children is going to be busy, stressful and hard work and that things are not always going to happen how I’d like them too or when I’d like them to. And I need constant reminding that I don’t necessarily feel overwhelmed because I’m depressed again, but simply because it’s life; and good days are often intermingled with bad ones. We all have them. I guess for me maybe the trick is to recognise that this is exactly what they are…just bad days, not a bad life. And sometimes even though those bad days do all appear to happen at once, hence the phrase ‘never rains but it pours,’ the good days are still there too, if not a bit few and far between at times.

Recently I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and a bit anxious again and it has got me worried I’m sinking back into the treacle I spent so much of last year trudging through. But if I look closely there have been so many reasons for me feeling out of sorts, not just PND…there has been a sickness bug in the house, my middle child has started school and routine is all out if the window thanks to a ridiculously long settling in period, my husband has had to work long hours and be away, my mum has been abroad, (this always unnerves me, I like it when she’s here even though she lives two hours away) it was my dad’s (who sadly passed away when I was 22) birthday last week, my 12 year old has been beyond hormonal and challenging, the toddler never ever sleeps (slight exaggeration!) and the weather has turned to pants to name just a few things. I know these things aren’t life threatening stuff. I know these things are not end of the world stuff and I know that these things are just stuff. Stuff that on a good day I can embrace with the fact that my life is never dull. Stuff that we all experience. But it is stuff that at the moment is slowly wearing me down and making me tired and emotional.

We all know parenting is relentless. The challenges and difficulties you face at one stage disappear only for a million other challenges to rear their ugly head. It’s never easy, the goalposts constantly change and a whole load of new crap comes our way. And yes I waffle on about instinctively we’re supposed to know how to deal with all of these challenges, and when I’m well and feeling rational my instincts do guide the way and I marvel at them all the time. But on days like today I’ll be honest, even I doubt them, even I doubt myself…and I hate self doubt. Deep down I know I can’t control my daughter’s hormones, just guide her through them. Deep down I know my toddler’s sleeping issues are not because of something I’ve done and that I have to be patient and know that this is how things are at the moment. Deep down I know I’m not ill again and my instincts are as strong as they ever were. But when I’m having a bad day all of that goes out of the window. I feel trapped. I feel useless. I desperately crave a break and a bit of time out. All it usually takes is half an hour. Time to say…let it all out in a blog post…and then I feel better. But sometimes it takes more than that. It needs a day away from it all and I’m starting to recognise when I need these days the most.

A while ago I wrote a blog post about a letter I had written to myself with wishes and hopes for the future and I thought that maybe it was time to write another one. I’m a firm believer in having things to look forward to, plus I’m a list lover, so writing a letter detailing all of the things I’d love for myself and my family in the near future seemed like a productive way of working through my current not-so-great-mood. It goes as follows…

1. A date night with my husband. Oh this is a big one on my list. We still have not had an evening or a night to ourselves since February. Lack of a babysitter seems to be the main problem. When you’ve got three children it can (shock horror) put some people off babysitting. And with the toddler not sleeping too great I’d probably worry he was being troublesome whilst we were out. But nevertheless my husband and I need some time so I need to make it happen.
2. A mother/daughter evening…or several! These have really worked wonders in the past and made our, at times tested, relationship stronger. Sometimes I forget that she had me all to herself for so long and that living in a step-family situation possibly isn’t always easy on her. It’s good for us to have some time together.
3. A day for me. To just be me and not a mum and all of the things that brings with it. I’d love to go to a spa, or sit in a cafe all day writing, or go for a swim where I can actually swim. You get the idea. I’d just, selfishly, like a ‘day off.’
4. Family walks and Sunday roasts. We got into the habit when I was ill with PND of not venturing out too far. Of just going for lunch and then coming home again with the excuse that the baby needed to nap. I love autumn and the run up to Christmas and have very fond memories of family walks as a child. collecting conkers and jumping in piles of fallen leaves. So I’ve joined the National Trust and would like to go on many a winter walk, coming home to cook a wonderfully warming roast. Thankfully the rest of the family would like to do this too! 😉
5. Self-publish A Monster Ate My Mum. This excites me…a lot! So far I have asked the wonderful Helen Braid to do the artwork for me and the sample pages have brought tears to my eyes they are so perfect. I have no idea how to go about self-publishing, but hopefully I will learn as I go through the process and the poem will be brought to life.

So that’s my list for now. I think it’s only fair to stop at five things for fear of writing down too much and becoming disappointed when they are not all achieved. The things I have written above are all achievable (I hope!) and would benefit more people than just me…so watch this space and hopefully, fingers crossed, I will be writing a blog post at Christmas telling you all about it!

What would be on your wish list for the next few months?

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