BLAZE YOUR OWN TRAIL

Introduction

There is no right way of parenting. All parents will find out what works best for them.

Parenting styles vary widely across the globe and within countries. Practices are generally influenced by cultural, philosophical and psychological factors. This website will look at some books which communicate certain values and convictions, yet does not condemn other ideas.

“There is no such thing as a generally applicable blueprint for perfect parenting”  – Christina Hardyment

As an expatriate without any family in the UK and first one among my friends to get pregnant, I jumped into motherhood with my instincts and socio-cultural background as only sources of reliability. After the blur that qualifies the first couple of months with a newborn, I started reflecting on the kind of mother I wanted to be and the values I wanted to teach my daughter in this fast-paced, crazy world of ours. I looked back at my own education and evaluated what I wanted to replicate and what I wanted to steer away from. I spent a yearlong maternity leave devouring parenting books and joining online & offline conferences with a great zeal to poach ideas – and ultimately, create my own parenting style.

Through my readings I realised that, overtime, there has always been a swinging pendulum in parenting theories from the need of strict discipline and schedules to a more permissive approach, up to the point of child-led developmental stages.

British writer Christina Hardyment reviewed in the early 1980s more than 650 parenting books and manuals, some dating to the mid-1700s when advice pamphlets started to be distributed in hospitals. She found out that the ideas in parenting books typically drew from former theories and reflected the authors’ opinions more than being based on pure scientific studies.

Although I don’t particularly like attaching labels to parenting methods, values  belonging to the “gentle discipline” and “attachment parenting” theories  stroke a chord with me as they mirrored my natural instincts and personal beliefs.

The curated selection of books reviewed and talks on the website inevitably reflects my personal inclination toward these schools of thought, but the core goal of TheMeandersOfMotherhood is to push boundaries and explore new horizons with an open mind. My hope is that this website serves as a platform where we can exchange our views or personal experiences and learn from each other.

Fundamentally, it is about widening the parenting lens so that each one of us can confidently blaze her own trail.

3 films that made me take a step back from my own parenting reality

Parenting Blog

While set in different time periods and locations, these three gripping stories told through children’s eyes have all changed the way I look at my parenting reality. Comfortably confined in our Western bubble, it can be easy to overlook families’ struggles in other corners of the world. But films like these are great reminders of what hardship, poverty and misery actually mean; it will likely make you appreciate how lucky you are to have whatever it is you have. 

Capernaum

The film tells the powerful story of Zain El Hajj, a young boy from the slums of Beirut suing his parents for giving him life. Capernaum depicts the harsh realities of unfortunate children with honest, raw emotions. Adopting a documentarian style and using simple, functional aesthetic, Nadine Labaki captures through the eyes of streetwise young Zain many issues present not only in Lebanon, but in any country with homeless or refugee kids. Zain lives in a cruel world where the notion of adults protecting children is subservient to that of adults looking at children in a cold transactional manner. Topics covered include parental neglect and domestic violence, the migrant crisis, human trafficking, paedophilia and child labour. 

LION

Based on the novel A Long Way Home (2014), this film adaptation follows the physical and emotional journey of Saroo, an Indian boy born in a poor, loving family. Garth Davis splits the film into two halves: the first focuses on Saroo as a five-year-old, lost in the densely populated city of Calcutta, nearly two-thousand kilometres from his home village. He must fend off predators and survive many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia. The second half of the film looks at Saroo as a grown man, so far away from the life he left years before. As memory flashbacks of his childhood and native land increase in intensity, he sets out to find his lost family. The eyes of the amazing protagonists of Saroo (child & grown-up) perfectly portray his anguish and loneliness throughout the story. The film touches on several themes, including the dual identity of an adopted child, a family’s impotence in face of their missing child and the long-lasting trauma of abuse. What struck me the most was the resilience of little Saroo – a beautiful example of children’s innate mental strength.

The Glass Castle

Perhaps less of a masterpiece than the first two, this film still offers a gritty and thought-provoking commentary on the ups and downs of family life. Many reviews pin down this film as a disappointing big-screen adaptation of Jeannette Walls’ memoir (2005) and advise to read the book instead. Admittedly, I haven’t read the book and the slow pace of this indie drama can be unnerving. However, the baseline scenario depicting the unconventional upbringing of Jeannette and her siblings at the hands of their free-spirited (and highly dysfunctional) parents stroke a chord with me – not because I was raised that way but because I often find myself swimming against the tide and rebelling against societal pressures and ideals. It also shows how parents struggling with unresolved issues can tremendously affect their children… A word to the wise!

I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions, please leave a comment below! 

YOU AND ME

Parenting Blog

My dear baby girl,

We had the immense privilege of staying together from the first time I held you as a newborn until now, nearly three years after. What a wonderful little girl you have bloomed into!

I tried my best to respond to your every need, day and night. Last year, at exactly the same period, we had to close our beautiful breastfeeding chapter. It was a heartbreaking phase for you and me, but we managed to get past it without scratching the strength of our bond.

Overtime, you have naturallly become more independent and welcomed more people into your life … But I know I was the first you loved. The first face you looked at and the first scent you recognised.

I now have the unsettling feeling I have to say goodbye, as I leave our sweet bubble and return to the real world. We won’t see each other as much, my love. But you will still be in my arms every night and in my heart everyday. This is a new chapter for us – one of expansion.

I guess all mothers need to accept at some point that they will no longer hold the prime spot in their children’s lives and hearts. This is my moment and oh my, it is tough.

As I step down from your heart’s pedestal and leave more space for you to open up to the world, I will finish this letter with a promise:

Nothing will ever matter more than you. You will always come first. It will still be my biggest life mission to nurture your happiness and wellbeing.

I love you beyond words.

Yours always,

Maman

Discipline: teaching, not controlling

Parenting Blog

“You don’t need to be Yoda to be a good teacher”, reassured Sarah Ockwell-Smith.

On a gloomy Saturday, she unfolded the concept of imperfectly perfect parenting under the bewildered eyes of a dozen people sitting in an empty school of North London. Like the others, I was keen to access the well-kept secrets of parenting, especially those about discipline.

The parenting author explained us that discipline, following its Latin etymology, is simply a process of teaching and learning. Rather than following discipline techniques encouraged by society, parents should put the focus on themselves and how they respond to situations. A positive role modelling will be much more impactful than compliance sanctions and rewards (sadly promoted in schools in the UK).

Through little group exercises, Sarah Ockwell-Smith showed us that our expectations on children are often overblown ; what we praise in adults (a critical mind, spontaneity and ambition) is often condemned in children. The key to conscious parenting is to treat children with respect and to coach rather than control. Abiding to the authoritative parenting style, she emphasised the importance of setting firm, consistent rules but with compassion and an open mind. Authoritarian and permissive parenting styles are equally harmful (permissive can be seen as neglectful) and parents need to balance control in a healthy way: keeping children safe is more important than being gentle / we can let children have control in their play. It is also helpful to think about the worst that can happen before we say NO – eating on the floor on a picnic blanket or wearing the same dress for one week in a row wouldn’t be that catastrophic, right?

The most soothing lesson I take away from the parenting expert’s talk is that good teachers have flaws and it is okay to make mistakes as long as we apologise for them (let’s stop beating ourselves up!). Parents also learn from their children and it is fine not to have all the answers now.

She concludes by highlighting the need for parents to look after themselves and work through their own feelings in order to have the necessary headspace for when our children need our unwavering support.

I really enjoyed this talk and her ideas were amazingly refreshing. Openness and receptivity were at the heart of her discourse. To find out more about Sarah Ockwell-Smith and her books, visit her website https://sarahockwell-smith.com

*These are my words and opinions, this post is not sponsored.

MOTHERS FOR HIRE

Parenting Blog

In the midst of Brexit turmoil …

Companies in the UK are currently facing a considerable decline in candidate availability. The latest KPMG and REC UK Report on Jobs shows that the decline in availability of both permanent and temporary staff is linked to a reluctance among candidates to move roles amid Brexit-related uncertainty as well as a generally low unemployment rate across the UK. In the upcoming months, it will be imperative for businesses to consider new recruitment strategies and ultimately compensate for the large loss of EU workers.

An untapped workforce 

YouGov research shows that 86% of the UK’s 2 million-plus unemployed parents are motivated to return to work, but this segment of job seekers remains vastly untapped. Businesses’ hesitation to hire applicants returning to work after parental leave particularly affects mothers. Their profile remains overlooked, mainly because of some old-fashioned misgivings: relative to other kinds of applicants, mothers are seen as less competent and less committed to work. Traditionally minded employers fear that a mother’s personal life will distract her from her work or that she might leave shortly again to have another child. This motherhood penalty is a persisting and systemic problem that sees women who take time out to have children hugely disadvantaged when they attempt to return to work (Research shows that fathers do not suffer this penalty*).

Hard times call for inventive solutions

As a result, mothers who want to return to work or need an additional income stream are bound to seek alternatives to traditional employment. More and more mothers start small-scale ventures, set up as freelancers or take on collaborative projects. These solutions often enable mothers to create a work-life that fits comfortably around their family life. While these alternatives are attractive to some mothers, others prefer the security and stability of employment, or simply desire to pursue the career they started prior to having children.

Positive changes in the labour market

There is still a long way in reducing discrimination and creating gender parity – both in the home and the workplace -, but attitudes toward hiring mothers are changing. Companies that recognise the high potential of this workforce segment are taking steps toward more inclusive recruitment strategies. Travelodge, one of Britain’s biggest hotel chains, has recently reshaped their HR model to integrate more flexibility in their work environment. In order to appeal to these highly efficient, multiple hats-wearers (aka mums), businesses will need to include in their job offerings unconventional parameters such as working hours that can fit around the school run and perks that suit families. These changes are slow but will eventually *hopefully* spread far and wide, hence benefiting companies and mothers alike.

* Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty? Shelley J. Correll, Stephen Benard, and In Paik, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 112, No. 5 (March 2007)

BACK TO BASICS

Book reviews

If you have not heard of Kim John Payne before, you likely will thank me for introducing his stellar work here. The Australian family consultant and author of the best seller Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids among other books (*), has extensively researched the roots and antidotes to social difficulties, behavioural issues and emotional obstacles.

 

The premise of the book is that overstimulation, as a slow, insidious drip of heightened stressors, creates an effect similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Children’s schedules, activities, meals, clothes, books and toys – all the over-committed, over-burdened ways we have stretched their lives – deplete our little ones’ inner resources.

 

I had my doubts about this book but it is not at all the preachy, cult-like manual I thought it might be. Wise, gentle and beautifully written, Simplicity Parenting is full of practical tips and sensible observations drawn from real-life stories from Payne’s 24-year-long consulting practise.

 

Nowadays, parenting has become a competitive sport; society has normalised the anxious pursuit to “childhood enrichment” with learning activities (“so children discover their talents early and develop them fast”), teaching verbiage and educational toys. Payne’s gives you the permission to step out of this rat race and relax, by showing you how children benefit from fewer toys and carefully chosen books as well as blank spaces on the daily calendar and predictable routines.

 

Well versed in the Waldorf principles, Kim John Payne suggests that children can develop their innate capacities for creativity when we make space and time for free play, self-discovery and connection.

 

Highly inspiring, this book makes you pause and evaluate the home environment you create for your children. As the architects of our family’s daily lives, we can establish a safe, warm and secure family base camp from which children will launch out into the world with resilience.

 

“A protected childhood allows for the slow development of identity, wellbeing and resiliency.” – Kim John Payne

 

Simplicity Parenting is a true springboard for ideas on how to slow down and to restore a calmer home life for your children, away from the bustle of the outside world and the pressures of our fast-paced, consumerist culture.

 

Even if not all of the advice works for you, Payne insists small changes make big differences so you are free to pick whatever bits are doable in your family. The consultant noticed that, the most common first step families are willing to take is clearing out the excess of “stuff” (see infographics “Environment” below) in their children’s bedroom!

 

I’ll admit it was really therapeutic and liberating for me to de-clutter our physical space, but what struck me the most was the “filtering out the adult world” chapter. Gaining awareness of what we talk about in front of or over the kids when they are around is a notion I haven’t come across in other readings related to parenting. Many books emphasise the need to extensively talk to children about their feelings, yet Simplicity Parenting advocates a limited but more meaningful use of our words, while following your instincts and the child’s cues. Payne also suggests we ponder before speaking and ask ourselves if what we want to say is true, kind and necessary. Another very relevant element of this chapter is the “hovering / helicopter parenting” which I can a lot see around me and that I yield to at times myself. It is such a relief to read that stepping back and trusting more is actually positive for children.

 

The ideas for setting up a daily predictable routine and creating rituals were lovely, I noted down some of them here below:

“Favourite things”: Family gathering, for example at dinnertime, with each member explaining something that stood out from the day – parents can take this opportunity to acknowledge and encourage their children’s positive actions.

Dinnertime: Family eating dinner together. Children involved in meal preparation. A few moments of silence observed before dinner (whether religious or secular). Candlelit dinner. Clean up together after dinner.

Menu plan with daily dinner staples: for example, Monday pasta, Tuesday oriental, Wednesday soup. Variations can obviously be made within each staple.

Rituals: after-school snack together, Saturday morning pancakes, waking up song, evening walk in summer, candlelit breakfast in winter, scarecrow of child’s next-day outfit on a hanger.

Dependable activities: washing hands before dinner. Brushing teeth after dinner. Stories before bedtime, instrument practice after breakfast, free play in the park after school.

Advance notices to ease transitions.

Preview of the day: Parent and child sit together at a casual, unhurried time to walk the child through what he can expect (for example at breakfast time).

Politeness as a form of predictability.

 

“Rhythm calms and secures children, grounding them in the earth of family so they can branch out and grow” – Kim John Payne

 

In addition to creating islands of consistency within an intentional, slow lifestyle at home, Payne’s cautions against screen media and packed schedules. I understand why many parenting authors put forward the need for children to play with their parents, but it is refreshing to read that I don’t have to be a clown and entertain my daughter all day or cram her every waking hour with some form of stimulation. Boredom is valuable and children need time between activities to process what happens around them (see infographics “Schedules” below). They thrive when they have opportunities to spend unstructured time to tune in to themselves or engage in deep play.

 

Overall, the book shakes up some accepted norms of modern parenting and reframes parenting to its primary goals. It made me acutely aware of where it could all start to go wrong, as my daughter gets older. While Payne lays out various attainable ways of simplifying and balancing family life to allow children to flourish in the critical period of childhood, I believe some lessons are widely transferable to other areas of our adult life: it taught me to speak less and in a more meaningful way; to unplug and direct my attention to the necessary when stress and anxiety are creeping in; and to go further in de-cluttering my physical and mental space.

 

 

(*) Kim John Payne also authored The Games Children Play, (1996 Hawthorn Press), The Soul of Discipline (2015 Random House/Penguin), and co-authored Whole Child Sport, How to Navigate Child & Youth Sports and Being At Your best When Your Kids Are At Their Worst (2017 Shambhala Press)

 

If you want to further explore the ideas of balance & simplicity, you can sign up to the Simplicity Starter Kit on Kim John Payne’s website, or listen to his Simplicity Diary which consists in a series of brief records inspired by his daily life and travels.

 

 

OUTDOORSY CHILDREN: 5 ADDRESSES IN NORTH WEST LONDON

Parenting Blog

Are you tired of taking your children to the same playground with rusty swings over and over again? Are you craving a different sight than the one of your local park? With a little a bit of research, I found out that the city provides many unsuspected opportunities for outdoor activities all year long. Here are my top 5 original ventures in some secluded and green corners of North West London.

 

 

 

1 – Mapesbury Dell Park

 

 

London harbours many lovely parks, which undoubtedly contribute to the city’s charm. Mapesbury Dell is a magical garden tucked away behind a row of residential houses, a carefully guarded secret by local residents. It is a rather small park that has everything to please the nature-loving crowds: beautiful gardens with a variety of flowers and wildlife, a wooden playground, a pond and some picnic tables. The park hosts free admission to annual events such as the popular Wild Day in the summer, a Midsummer Open Air Opera Evening, a Back to School children’s party in September, festive fun and carol-singing at Christmas, as well as a regular Gardening Club.

 

Address: 10-12 Hoveden Rd, NW2 3XD

Website

 

2 – Kensal Green Cemetery

 

 

Inspired by the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, Kensal Green Cemetery was founded as the “General Cemetery of All Souls” by barrister George Frederick Carden. It is recognised as one of England’s oldest and most beautiful public burial grounds. Kensal Green Cemetery opened in 1833 as one of the world’s first garden cemeteries and doyen of London’s Magnificent Seven. Its Gothic character made it the ideal setting of several scenes in movies, notably in Theatre of Blood. The cemetery is a conservation area and it is home to at least 33 species of birds and other wildlife.

 

My suggestion to bring children to a cemetery may make some of you startle; it goes without saying the location demands a certain degree of respect but children’s imaginary worlds are vastly enriched when they explore uncommon surroundings with mystical ambience.

 

Address: Harrow Rd, W10 4RA

 

3 – Fenton House

 

Pictures by commons.wikimedia.org & geograph.org.uk

 

This 17th-century house sitting in Hampstead will give to its small visitors a sense of wonderment. Fenton House is owned by the National Trust. Curious objects and collections of early musical instruments and ceramics can be found inside the house and, from the balcony at the top the house, you can see far-reaching views across the City of London. But the main attraction is assuredly its 300-year-old walled garden, which brims with colourful flora and constitutes one of the most charming locations for a stroll in nature. Family based activities are organised throughout the year, including the Easter Egg Trail, the Apple Weekend and musical performances.

 

Address: Hampstead Grove, Hampstead, NW3 6SP

Website

 

4 – Meanwhile Gardens

 

Pictures by geograph.org.uk

 

Meanwhile Gardens is a beautiful community-run landscaped garden playtrail near London’s Westbourne Park underground station. It is a tranquil hideaway that allows people to peacefully sit, read or reflect, despite it being two blocks from busy streets in a densely populated part of North Kensington.

 

Also known for his arty maze of bridges, stepping stones, optical illusions, tree ladders and tunnels in Haldon Forest, Devon (named the “The Beginner’s Way”) Jamie McCullough is the sculptor who sought to have this then-derelict wasteland used as a communal garden. Westminster Council, the local authority at the time, gave temporary permission – which gave rise to the name ‘Meanwhile’.

 

The Gardens now fall under the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s jurisdiction and have undergone many landscape developments since its creation in 1976. The four-acre site provides a wildlife garden project run by Kensington & Chelsea Mind, which works with adults who have mental health difficulties, using horticultural training and social enterprise to help with recovery and social integration. At one end of the Gardens, the renovated scented courtyard offers space for quiet contemplation; at the other end, a free skate pit draws hundreds of skateboarding enthusiasts all year round.

 

There is also a purpose built play centre for children under 6 called the Playhut. This area offers to the little ones a large outdoor space for play, a paddling pool in summer, a sand pit, arts and crafts and other activities that stimulate play and learning.

 

The Gardens themselves provide opportunities for volunteering and educational schemes; some youth offenders carry out their reparation orders under gardeners’ supervision.

 

Overall, local residents – the Meanwhile Gardens Community Association – work hard to perpetuate Jamie McCullough’s vision of a lush garden that brings joy and reflection to people in their everyday environment.

 

Address: 156 – 158 Kensal Road W10 5BN

Website

 

5 – Queens Park Vegetable Allotments

 

 

Allotments have gained hype these past years, brought by the increase of popularity in healthy eating, the media coverage of organics and the rampant culture of ‘growing your own’. Your little ones will be delighted to dig in the mud while participating in a common family project and learning about where their food comes from. It is beneficial for Londoners who don’t own a garden to get an experience of working the land and grow fresh vegetables and fruits which are part of a healthy lifestyle. Food growing can also bring people together from all parts of the community through a shared interest. Most of the people interested in these allotments are in their 20s and 30s with young families. As there is a high demand and an endless waiting list, Robin Bower, secretary of Queen’s Park Allotments, suggests putting your name down as soon as possible.

 

Address: Kingswood Avenue, NW6 6SG

Website

 

 

 

 

LET THE CHILDREN PLAY

Parenting Blog

Picture children climbing in the trees, building sand castles or mucking around at the creek, immersed in their fantasy game. Peter Gray, Ph.D., research professor at Boston College, and author of Free to Learn and Psychology was invited this year to the Online Positive Parenting Conference hosted by Sumitha Bhandarkar, to speak about the need for children to have open, self-directed play. This form of play means children initiate the game themselves and make their own rules.

 

Unlike children activities structured by adults in which competition is often instilled, self-directed play allows children to explore freely their environment and try new things without being afraid to fail. There is no trophy on the line and no adult judgment, so the children are free to take risks and immerse themselves in whatever experiment they are carrying out.

 

“Play is never random or unstructured,” claims Peter Gray, “it is structured by the kids.” When children make their own play rules, they learn to negotiate, assert their own needs and practise problem solving. How to get along with other people and how to control their own emotions constitute valuable lessons, which will also serve them well in their future.

 

In addition, through the use of imagination to create their own activities, children develop a sense of identity and discover their own passions and interests.

 

 

Peter Gray mourns the simplicity of old times where children of a same neighbourhood were playing together in the streets – with (almost) no adult interference – in lieu of after-school scheduled activities.

 

In all honesty I was beguiled by the evolutionary psychologist’s case in favour of free play but it turned out to be an introductory argument to the eulogy of un-schooling. I dont particularly embrace this alternative approach to mainstream education and although some of his allegations were absolutely valid, I was disappointed to see the interview unfolding into a praise of this system rather than offering practical tips to enable safe self-directed play to happen in busy cities like London.

 

For more information about un-schooling and self-directed education, you can check Peter Gray’s website self-directed.org