Friday, 28 February 2014

Toddler shoes: because apparently girls don't go outside

This morning, on our way to Toddler's music group, I noticed she was walking funny. Then she asked to be carried when we'd only just reached the end of our street. It suddenly occurred to me that we hadn't had her feet measured in over three months.

I know, I'm a wonderful mother aren't I?

So this afternoon we took her to our local shoe shop and, sure enough, she's gone up half a size. Time to part with some cash. The shoe shop stocks Clarks children's shoes so we had a look at their girls' range.

Every single shoe in Toddler's size had big open bits in the top. They were either Mary Janes or T-bars. (Yes, I had to Google shoe styles to find the proper names!) When we got home we looked at the Clarks website to see if there were any other options, and they did have some trainers, but they were all canvas.

Now, that would be fine for indoor wear, or for walking down a clean, dry path. But my daughter likes walking on grass and splashing in puddles and going to places that tend to be muddy. Because she's a child. Children like exploring the outdoors.

Obviously Clarks knows that children like exploring the outdoors because the boys' range is so very practical - lots of trainer styles and leather. So how come girls don't get the same options?

To be fair, we have previously had some much more practical shoes made by Clarks, but that makes their current range all the more disappointing. They've actually taken a step backwards in the choice they offer to young girls. Yes, I know this is probably their spring/summer range, but do you know what? We live in the UK. It rains here in all four seasons, and grass and mud exist all year round too. So children need shoes that will keep their feet dry for more than five minutes. That's why the boys' range is full of leather trainers.

Perhaps Clarks are expecting girls to stay inside until the weather is dry enough for them to go out without fear of messing up their pretty little shoes. Well my girl doesn't. She'd go outside in her pyjamas if I let her. And she doesn't much care about keeping her shoes pretty. She just wants something that fits so she can walk and run and climb just like any child.

Looks like I'll be buying from the boys' range then.

Friday, 14 February 2014

What is Gentle Parenting?

OK. Before I get started here I want to make something clear. I'm not an expert. I haven't read every book going so my use of parenting terms may be a bit loose. Furthermore, I've only been doing this motherhood thing for 26 months, with one kid. So what follows is what gentle parenting means to me, and is not intended as a judgement on any other way of parenting. Heck, I don't have all the answers, so who am I to judge?

But anyway.

A few times on this blog I've mentioned the term 'gentle parenting'. But what actually is it?

Well, despite it's rather woolly sounding name, it's actually rooted in an understanding of the human brain – more specifically, a child's brain. It's also influenced by childrearing practices that are considered completely normal in many cultures, and were probably considered normal in our culture once too. So before anyone dismisses it as a fluffy, new-age fad, it's not.

For me, gentle parenting is about asking myself three questions:

  1. Would I like it if someone treated me like this?
  2. Am I being reasonable in my expectations of my child at this stage in her development?
  3. Is this helping her to grow into the kind of person I want her to be?

Let's look at these each in turn.

So, number one. This is a rule I try my best to live by. (Note I say 'try my best'. I'm not always successful. Too often, I'm unsuccessful. But still I try.) I do believe that, as far as possible, you should treat others how you wish to be treated. So it makes sense to apply it to my relationship with Toddler. Would I like it if someone yelled at me? No. Would I like it if someone I love ignored me when I was deeply upset? No. So should I do those things to Toddler? No.

There is a limit of course. I wouldn't particularly like someone changing my nappy. And I wouldn't like someone to say no to me if I asked for icecream for breakfast. So, of course, I'm sensible about this – if it relates to health, hygiene or safety I may have to ignore this rule. But most of the time I don't have to.

Number two – here's where the science comes in. I'm not very good at science, but one book I've found that explains child brain development very clearly is ToddlerCalm by Sarah Ockwell-Smith (you can read my review of this book here). Basically, I have to continually remind myself that Toddler's brain is very different from mine. Huge chunks of it (the empathy bit, the logic bit, the emotional regulation bit) aren't there yet – or at least they are still massively under-developed. The rest is a mess of links and connections that haven't been pruned down yet. Which explains why an innocent question about what she wants for pudding might trigger off a 10 minute monologue quoting a dozen children's books. She hasn't sorted the wheat from the chaff yet, mentally speaking. So when she's reciting 'Horsey Horsey' to herself instead of telling me which tights she wants to wear today, I have to stay calm and repeat my mantra – "she's only two, she's only two, she's only two ..."

So this means that I need to fill in for the bits of her brain that aren't working quite yet. If I ask her to tidy up but she's off in her own little world, I may have to accept that I'm doing the tidying for now. If she has a tantrum over something seemingly ridiculous, I have to be the calming, consoling bit of her brain rather than ignoring her, or worse, laughing at her. (Although I may share the most bizarre tantrums with friends or on social media later when she's not around. Because if I don't laugh about it, I'd probably cry.)

Number three is probably the most crucial question. There seems to be a bizarre contradiction in our culture where we want our kids to be obedient and quiet and do as they're told until they're sent out into the big wide world where they have to be independent and assertive and think for themselves. So as much as I can I try to remember the qualities I want Toddler to possess when she becomes an adult.

This means I don't make her say sorry, because I don't want her to grow up thinking that sorry makes everything better. It often does if it's sincere, but using the word as a 'get out of jail free' card is not sincere. It means I think hard before I make a rule, to make sure it's actually necessary and just me exercising my authority for the sake of a quiet life. It means that if she does something wrong, I take the time to explain to her why it was wrong, and hopefully will one day help her to work out how to put it right, rather than inflicting a punishment on her that she will remember long after she's forgotten what she did wrong.

So that's what gentle parenting means to me. It's essentially about treating my daughter respectfully – like I would any adult, with the caveat that as she isn't an adult, she'll need a little more help while she learns and grows.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Why I hate princesses

Toddler and I were eating lunch yesterday when she launched into a little monologue (as she often does). "Have a bootiful face, think bootiful thoughts, dance like a fairy." Oh great, I thought. That's that awful bit from Sleeping Beauty. And my two-year-old daughter has it stored in her brain.

In case you don't know what I'm on about, we have a Ladybird Books version of Sleeping Beauty. I got it second hand when I was pregnant, because I had fond memories of Ladybird books as a child. I'd clearly blocked out the awful messages it gives young girls.

What Toddler was reciting was the part of the story where the good fairies give the baby princess her gifts. As well as the gifts listed above, she is also given the gifts of being kind and loving and singing, "like a nightingale." We are not told all the gifts, but apparently these are, "everything in the world one could wish for."

Really? So girls, beauty, dainty dancing and a pretty voice are what you ought to aspire to. OK, being kind and loving and thinking beautiful thoughts is better, but how about also being brave, determined, confident? What about innovative, courageous, problem-solving thoughts? (I tend to add my own lines, such as, "The sixth fairy said, 'You shall do well academically.' The seventh fairy said, 'You shall be daring and adventurous.'" How long until she can read and realises they're not there?!)

I didn't think much about the princess culture before I had a daughter. But when I started to think about it, I realised I don't like what these stories are telling, or will tell, her. I mean, let's have a look at some:

Sleeping Beauty - if a man kisses you when you are asleep and therefore unable to consent, that's fine. In fact, go ahead and marry him.

Cinderella - you can escape a miserable life by dressing up and pretending to be someone you're not, thus bagging a man.

The Princess and the Pea - a 'real princess' (therefore the most desirable wife) is so delicate the tiniest discomfort is too much for her.

The Little Mermaid - to gain independence you must lose your ability to express yourself. And to get the man of your dreams you must give up your former life entirely. Or, in the case of the original, give up your life.

Beauty and the Beast - if a man is aggressive and threatening towards you, don't worry, you can change him. (Err ...)

I could go on. The point is that princess stories aren't the innocent, twee little tales they seem to be. They have a common theme that beauty is all-important, the main aim of a young woman should be marriage, and if life is hard, the best thing to do is wait around for a man to save you. Oh, and once you're married, it's happy ever after.

Now, I'm a married woman and I do believe that marriage is important. But it's not the only important thing a woman can do. Nor is it a ticket to everlasting happiness - yes, it does bring happiness, but sometimes things can be hard, and successful marriages require work. And beauty is not all-important - at least, it shouldn't be. Girls and women are equipped for far more than looking decorative, giving a nice twirl and humming a pretty tune.

As Toddler gets older I know the princess culture will become less and less avoidable. Eventually she will see the Disney films. She may even ask to buy the dolls, and if not, she'll probably come across them at a friend's house. I'm not sure how I'll handle this. At the moment I can limit her exposure to the handful of Ladybird books she has, and I can interject my subversive comments. But as she grows up with these fictional role models all around her, how do I keep her feet on the ground and help her to believe that she is complete in herself without a 'prince' and that she can aspire to be more than eye candy?

I'd love to hear from parents of girls who feel the same way. How do you deal with the whole princess thing? How do you keep it balanced with messages that this isn't all there is to being a woman?