Should we push our children to “succeed”?

As parents I know we all want what is best for our children. We want them to thrive, to be successful, to be happy, to be healthy etc… Pretty standard wishes and expectations for a parent I think. But what about when one comes at the price of the other? Who gets to decide which is more important and which should be prioritised?

Of course, ask any parent and *most* would probably say that mental health is more important than grades, its a fairly common concept. But in reality what does that mean? Define that idea? When children’s mental health is at an all time crisis point, and pressure is not being reduced then who is making the call that mental health matters? So you have a whole year group of young adults due to sit their GCSEs, and the average school day of 9-3 is no longer enough. Additional classes are added to time tables across the country to allow these young people to remain at school until 4:30 for study time. A number of schools have opened up Saturday classes as well, with claims that attendance to these classes is optional followed up by the notification that failure to attend these classes will mean that the children will be unable to attend their senior prom. These additional classes are not there to take away from the regular home work schedule either, they are not instead of, they are completely additional. Other parents where schools are not offering weekend sessions are still expecting their teenagers to work over the weekend to put in that study time. The focus is all on study study study, exams exams exams. So when is the chill time? When is the mental health matters time?

What if the teenager in question is not expected to do well in GCSEs, is it right to apply additional pressure when instead you could be offering support and investigating one of the many alternatives? Is it so bad to reassure teenagers that these grades DO NOT DEFINE THEM?

What about what they WANT to do? If their goal does not require GCSEs, are they not able to be happy working towards that end goal? doing what they enjoy and what makes them happy?

It is the same for our young children. Pre schoolers already under pressure to learn phonics “in preparation”. In preparation for what? They will learn, you can’t learn something in order to be prepared for being developmentally ready to learn it!  Why are parents feeling the pressure to get their 4 year olds learning to read and write?  They have so many years a head of them when “learning” in the educational sense is compulsory, why the need to push anything at all before they are compulsory school age? Let them play, let them be kids rings out across home ed advice groups and forums again and again. Play is the work of children, it is how they learn and develop so many valuable life skills.

Are we as parents really wanting to send out the message to our young people that we don’t believe in them? That we think without our constant pushing and pressuring that they wont “succeed” ?  That we don’t trust them to be able to make decisions about their life and education?  When have they been given the chance to prove themselves ?

And really, what is the worst case scenario here? that they don’t get the grades that in an “ideal world” they would get?  All the stress and pressure in the world wouldn’t guarantee those grades and to be honest there is a whole lot of evidence that would suggest that it has the opposite effect anyway. Perhaps certain grades would make certain pathways easier, but as parents do we really think that there isn’t other ways? Would our young people be any less loved, any less “successful” in our eyes ? Does our view of our children come down to a score on a piece of paper?

When you can drop out of school at 15yrs old and still get your degree, homeowner and self employed. You can get poor GCSE grades be excel in your work role and earn over 60k. You can go to uni, rack up student debt and struggle to find stable employment. A 17 year old can have his GCSEs behind him but have poor independence skills and treat people badly or a 17 yr old with no GCSEs who can work in any number of roles, navigate public transport and house hold chores independently, know how to fill out a tax return and work out mortgage figures and treats people kindly.

I know that I would be far more proud of my children treating those less fortunate with kindness and compassion, being helpful and supportive friends and being caring human beings who think about the world that they live in over some stars on a piece of paper to indicate they did a really good job at memorizing what they were told.

Does the paper speak more loudly than experience, or the heart ? What good is fantastic grades if your ability to think for yourself and use your own initiative is compromised? In an age where news of a 20 year old student can die after eating pasta that has been left out for 5 days I have to ask:

What is success anyway?

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Domestic Abuse Awareness

As a parent, I am trying to raise my children with values. How to treat others, with care, kindness and respect, but also to respect themselves. While being kind to others I don’t want them to lose sight of themselves.  I want them to be strong, to respect their bodies and to own their own bodies, I want them to stand up for what is right and to not stay silent when they see something wrong. Its a lot to expect from children and teenagers, but it is crucial as far as life skills go.

In the year ending March 2018 it was estimated that 2. million adults aged 16 to 59 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year. This equates to approx 6 in 100 adults, with women twice as likely to experience domestic abuse than men, an estimated 1.3 million female victims and 695,000 male victims. (Office for National Statistics. 2018)  The police recorded  599,549 domestic abuse related crimes in that year and made 225,714 arrests. This equates to only 38 arrests for every 100 domestic abuse related crimes recorded.

Its all rather worrying, and important to remember and highlight that domestic abuse isn’t always violence. The current definition of domestic violence and abuse recognises this and defines domestic abuse as “Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. It can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse: 

  • Psychological
  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Financial
  • Emotional “

Coercive and Controlling behaviours were introduced as criminal offences on 29th December 2015.  (Office for National Statistics, 2018)

There have been three very serious and local to me cases that have stuck in my head in recent years. Cases that have resulted in death. The sad thing is, that the children in these families report the warning signs were there. Signs of abuse, verbal, physical, building and going unchallenged until it is too late. It is so hard to know what goes on behind closed doors, but when those signs are  spotted is it not better to be able to act, be able to support. Its a lot  to put on someone, but what if it can save a life? Even the act of sharing your own experience can raise awareness, awareness is key. More support for victims, more convictions.

And so I find myself thinking back to an experience of my own. One that I don’t speak of, that I got out of and think myself lucky every day that we are away and have well and truly moved on. I have been happily married to a wonderful man who I love dearly for coming up to 7 years now. But life wasn’t always rosy.

I don’t plan to share too much detail, because that isn’t the point of this blog.  But I want to share enough to reassure, and to perhaps make a difference to someone who may read this one day, early enough to make a difference before it gets too far.

I remember meeting *him*, I remember how romantic his actions seemed. I met him through mutual friends in town and then he had managed to find out from a mutual friend where I lived and turned up flicking pebbles at my balcony door. Those early days were exciting, he took me out, we went dancing, he took me clothes shopping…….. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, he was choosing and buying my clothes, telling me how wonderful I would look, and totally changing my style. Gone was my whacky pink fluffy jackets and mini skirts, teamed with purple fishnets and new rock boots right at home on Camden streets, replaced with super skinny jeans and high heeled Timberland boots. It didn’t end there, over the years gradually and slowly I was altered, I backed away from friends, I felt guilty spending time with them when they didn’t like him, he would tell me that they had been nasty to him when he had been out or similar…… “why would you want to spend your time with someone who didn’t respect your life choices?”  “He isn’t your friend, he just wants to get in your knickers and you’re encouraging him” said about one of my best friends who was like a brother to me.

Besides which, with 2 children I soon came to “realise” that my place was at home to keep it clean and dust free. When there are skirting boards to clean, carpets to hoover, dinner to cook, dishes to clean, floors to mop, clothes to wash and 2 young children to care for there isn’t really much time to do much else. Especially when you’re up all night with a baby that “You chose to breastfeed, so I can’t help you!” Getting told “This place is a dump, I do everything, without me you would end up getting these kids taken off you.”  and “you dont need any money, Ill do the food shopping on my way home”  Only to find out that your phone bill didn’t get paid so you cant call anyone.

And so it went on, for several years. So gradually  that at the time I genuinely didn’t see it, because it wasn’t obvious. What I have listed above took place over the course of 4 years.

Getting out was hard, there was a moment when it clicked, perhaps he had slept with too many people while we were together, perhaps finding out about one in particular was the final nail. Perhaps it was the walking out on Christmas day while we had all been sat eating dinner. Oh he opened his presents before leaving!

I had to begin the battle that is claiming benefits as single parent. I unearthed a lot of debts, unpaid phone bills for different mobiles, unpaid rent, unpaid council tax. It took me a couple of years to be free of those as several were also in my name. I had social services called on me, malicious calls and accusations that following investigations were recorded as such, but at the time they were stressful and I felt in it alone. But worth it all, because the difference in my children was obvious, and amazing. I had never thought that his actions would have been affecting them so much.

It was several years later that it came out about certain things that my daughter could remember. Being hit by him, him throwing her little brother……. His own mother spoke out against him after he had left town to live with another woman. But then she spoke against him in those early days as well, she would say “don’t love him” “don’t get involved with him” “don’t let him get you pregnant” . It says a lot when even his own mother knew he wasn’t right.

I am glad that I got out when I did, for my own good and for that of my children. Raising them on my own for that time wasn’t easy, but things worked out, I am one of the lucky ones.

I DID find love, look, someone else DID want me! There is so much light when you come through the darkness.

I AM ABSOLUTELY FINE AND LOVEABLE FOR JUST WHO I AM!

But it means now that I can understand how it can happen so slowly, so subtly, that sometimes even the victim living in the middle of it can’t see. This is why the world needs friends, families, people who can spot the wrong and who aren’t afraid to raise that concern and shout “this is not right, this is not ok” . People to help make that difference, before it is too late.

 

 

 

Processing a Diagnosis: Parenting from the heart.

When you cant sleep, when thoughts are running through your head and the house is silent, how else to process your thoughts that write them down and share them with the world. Here to seek the reassurance that I am not alone, that I am not the first to feel this way and to know that perhaps one day from now someone will stumble upon this blog entry and know that they too, are not alone.

So I got M’s diagnosis of mosaicism in 2017. He was 8 weeks old before any suspicions were raised and then we had tests etc….. Mosaicism is a form of Downs syndrome. It is a Trisomy 21 condition. Unlike downs syndrome where every cell carries that extra chromosome, in mosaicism it isn’t in every cell. Basically the additional chromosome wasn’t present at the first cell division at contraception, it appeared randomly somewhere down the line. In Ms case, 1/3 of his cells are affected but we have no idea which ones or how this could potentially affect him in the future. So he will have all the same checks as any other child with a Trisomy 21 diagnosis.

At the end of 2017 we moved county so he wasn’t seen by peads.
March 2018 we had his 12 month check with health visitor who said she would refer to Child development peads in this county.
November 2018 she calls me apologising she forgot to make referal and was doing so now.

In this time, I haven’t worried. He has been growing and developing well. He walked at 10 months but went through the “normal” milestones. He is aware, he copies, he can communicate his needs, he can jump etc… he’s doing pretty bloody brilliantly even if I do say so myself so I guess I’ve been in my little bubble.

Now all these appointments are coming through. He is under audiology because “children with T21 can be more prone to glue ear”
Physio because “low muscle tone is common”
Speech and language ….. He doesn’t talk much, I’m told clearly his level of understanding is greater than his communication and perhaps I should try pictorials and some simple signing to help him. …… both great ideas don’t get me wrong, But these things aren’t generally monitored or suggested for “normal” 22months old. Because children all develop in different times…..
He needs to see a pead to be referred to ENT to check ears and nasal passages. He needs regular blood tests because children with T21 need their infection markers checked because they can be more prone to infections.. . He needs annual thyroid checks…..

M hasn’t had his 12 month vaccinations, despite approaching 2 yrs. He was late having all of his baby ones because our doctors surgery wouldn’t give them when he was unwell and he always had quite a bunged up nose. When we moved county our new GP looked at his records and suggested the blocked nose could be as a result of narrow nasal passages due to the T21 and gave him his jabs. M then stopped weight baring for about 4 days, we had to take him back to the GP who confirmed it was likely a result of the vaccine. He then got poorly and came up in quite a nasty rash that looked similar to measles. So we never returned for the boosters. Yesterday at an appointment I was told by a medical professional that children with T21 are more vulnerable to infections and so in some cases are advised against the vaccines anyway, suggesting that perhaps I made the right call. Which blew me away, why was this never mentioned at ANY of my prior appointment about vaccinations?! And why now is it such a minefield to find out as there are so many fors and againsts?

He will be 2 in March and I guess I’ve just kind of ignored his diagnosis because he is doing so well and nothing has affected us. Now this, all at once, and my husband been at work so I have been attending these appointments without him and I’m spending my evening’s repeating what’s been said like a flipping dictaphone and not really processing it myself and this evening have finally been in the car without children and broken down in tears.
And I don’t know why!? I know I am lucky, and he is an amazing boy bright as a button and I wouldn’t change a thing. But it like bam, hit me. You know? And I feel a prat. Because I knew this, and I know he’s doing fab. But no one gets that my logical head understands but my heart needs to just weep a little bit for no other reason than to just try and process something.

Parenting is an utter minefield. From day one right into the adult years I guess, you don’t stop worrying about your children. As parents you want to see the good in them, at times ignoring evidence that suggests they might not be that nice human beings, you don’t want to see it. We want to keep our children safe. I get it.

I have had several raised eyebrows over the years. Head shakes, questionable stares and outright being told I am wrong. But actually, I can honestly say that my teenagers are fairly decent human beings. They work hard, are self motivated, know their minds and have fantastic friendship circles. People like to be around them. They aren’t out smoking, drinking, doing drugs and nor are they cooped up in bedrooms on their own. They are active and valued members of the family and community, and they join us for activities and events by choice. They are always given choice. And mostly I am proud of the choices that they make. Like all humans they sometimes make mistakes, or over react to a situation but their hearts are always in the right place and they apologise when they need too, even if at times those apologies are not accepted graciously.

Today we were at an event where one of the young people got injured and was taken ill. These teenagers rallied round and were brilliant without crowding or getting in the way or being dramatic. From fetching drinks of water, to holding hair back, removing chewing gum from her mouth. Playing with the little ones and keeping them occupied so that their curiosity didn’t get in the way of the ambulance crew, and later sitting quietly and respectfully in the other room away from the ambulance crew quietly hugging the injured girls sister and making sure she was also ok as she had been shook up. I was proud of each and every one of them. I am aware that I may be biased, but when you get your thoughts confirmed by the youth worker staff who run the venue, that they don’t often see young people at their venue so supportive and caring yet totally sensible and helpful, it validated a pride that needed no validation.

So I have trusted my judgement. I have parented from the heart. I have made mistakes, I am human. But my teenagers are pretty decent human beings, and the 4 yr old, while he is a menace he has some pretty useful skills and knowledge already, and some pretty fantastic role models all things considered. As for M, I will carry on, processing each topic and it arises, facing each appointment and taking on board what is said, but I will keep parenting from the heart. Because in the end, that’s what will count. That we did our best.

January 2019. A time to review.

Our needs as a family have changed over the years. It has been 4 and a half years since we went those registration letters in for the older children. Little N was just 2 months old!

My 9 and 12 yr olds have now grown into 14 and 17 yr olds, little N is 4, he would have started school himself in September! And they have a little brother M who is rapidly approaching 2! So the family dynamics are totally different to when we started.

Its so hard not to compare with other children, to look at your own children progress alongside others in mainstream education. It goes against everything I know and feel deep down. I know that all children are unique individuals! I know that age is just a number and that standardized tests go completely against the grain, and yet here I am. I have to make a conscious effort to remind myself that the children are following their own paths and doing well, even if the path is not a conventional one.

You see, A made the decision not to sit any further IGCSEs, and I supported that as it was her decision. She is now learning to drive, studying for a SEN diploma from home and working on her silver Arts Award. Qualification wise she doesn’t have the list of GCSEs that others her age may have, but the anxiety that crippled her has improved hugely! She has other qualifications and work experience which have built a great CV, and in time she will be successful at interview as she learns and develops those skills as well. She can travel independently, she recently made her own way to Oxford Street during the rush hour commute to attend an event that she secured tickets for. She is able to make her away across the county to visit her friends and get home and she is earning her money for these trips by baby sitting her younger brothers allowing me to do some extra work. Whilst it would be easy to focus purely on qualifications, her ability to navigate public transport and to get from A to B without having the anxiety attacks that she used to have are by far a greater and more beneficial achievement. Because you can study as and when you need to at any age!

She recently spoke to me and told me “I honestly don’t think I would still be alive if you hadn’t taken me out of school, I would be just another statistic. Don’t ever doubt yourself mum!” …. She’s right, there’s so many figures, young people’s mental health, suicide rates etc. The damage is long lasting and in too many cases completely irreversible. Why, in so many cases, is importance placed on grades over mental health and emotional wellbeing?

And so I find myself looking at N. Plenty of friends children his age are now heading off to school each day. Children Ms age will be heading off to preschool soon enough! Again, the proud parent posts that you can’t help but compare too. Children writing small notes and proudly scrawling their names in greetings cards……. while I look on and can’t help but think, N barely picks up a pencil! He still uses fist grip and is only just getting some letter formation……. aarrrgggg!!!!

BUT HANG ON!!! He is only just getting some letter formation!? He is 4, plenty of other countries don’t start formal schooling until 7 and yet their children are not behind ours in the educational league tables. And N with NO formal schooling is STILL learning letter formation!! That’s him learning completely freely, in his own time, no pressure, just enjoying it and it is coming too him!!

We were stuck in traffic outside a takeaway place and he sat in his car seat and said ” mummy you can get us some pizza while we wait!” … there wasn’t a pizza picture, he had recognised the word! He had read it.

This child runs around and plays with children of all ages, he is happy and confident. If he is cross he lets us know, he embraces his negative emotions as well as the positive one’s. He sleeps when he needs too, eats when he is hungry and goes to the toilet without having to ask. He is not woken up, told what to wear and sent off to learn for several hours at a time. I don’t have to rely on someone else keeping me up to date with his progress. This child can follow directions, he builds Lego, colours in fantastically, can climb, bake, build….. he can make sandwiches, toast and even tea now independently. He can point out where different countries are around the world and he can tell his grandad all about blood sugar, germs and why our bodies form scabs!

Can they all do / know things that this time last year they didn’t? Yes absolutely! So I need to stop the fleeting comparisons with peers in mainstream school. Because all we really want for our children is for them to be happy and for them to make progress however that progress is made right?

Education and happiness are not destinations! They are journeys, without endings and as unique as the individual choosing the route. Regardless of whether you follow the main roads or veer off the beaten track, enjoy the ride.