Family Safety Guidelines: for the protection of young children against sexual abuse without creating fear

The need for guidelines

AA Pink roseYoung children clearly need extra help in protecting themselves against sexual abuse – from very early on in their lives. However, they also need to know that their world is a place which is (ideally) safe and good. How then do we offer extra protection against abuse without scaring them and undermining their emotional well-being and their trust in others? The foundation for the strength to protect oneself against any sort of abuse lies in good self esteem. This is so for adults and children. We need to help children have deep self respect, inner strength and confidence, and a belief that they have the right to feel safe. But there are also other strategies parents can work with, like the Family Safety Guidelines which follow.

These guidelines are designed specifically to help protect younger children against sexual abuse without having to talk about potential abuse and ‘bad people’ very directly with them. The time will come for that when they are a little older in school. We suggest you put a copy of the guidelines up somewhere very visible in your house as well as making them part of your children’s guidelines for living in everyday life. Explain to the people caring for your children that these are the guidelines you use in your house. This way it helps to discourage anyone with intentions to abuse from touching your children inappropriately.

As we have seen, most abuse (85%) is perpetrated by people whom children know within and around the family. If potential abusers know your family has these guidelines and that you carry through in making sure all the children know and understand them, they are more likely to look elsewhere for victims. You also help to define the boundaries of personal safety for the immature older children or adults, who might have confused sexual reactions to children.

Remember though, that younger children and even older children cannot be relied upon to follow safety guidelines and procedures. After all, they are used to having to give way to adult authority, and are often punished if they don’t. So all safety measures need to be put in place to protect children.

As children get older, and are out in the world without you (including for sleepovers), they will need to be given more specific information about what sexual abuse involves and how to deal with it. If young children are at high risk because of unavoidable circumstances, they may also have to be given more specific information, sooner than would otherwise be preferable.

Our Family Safety Guidelines

  • In our house feelings are important and may tell us what to do.
  • We always have the right and deserve to feel safe.
  • Privacy is respected. I am boss of my body.
  • We always have the right to say no if we are asked to do something that we think is wrong or we do not understand.
  • We do not keep bad secrets in our house, only good surprises.
  • We have a loving circle of friends who would help us if we needed it.
  • We can say NO and YES strongly when we mean it.
  • We can be persistent to get what we need.
  • We do not like bad tricks, bribes or blackmail in our house.

Why these particular guidelines?

These guidelines address the common factors involved in sexual abuse of children and encourage behaviours which can help keep children safe. See Dr Freda Briggs’ YouTube talks and books for more understanding of the basis for these guidelines, but here is an introduction to the background to them.

In our house feelings are important and may tell us what to do

This encourages children to listen to their feelings of discomfort, embarrassment or feeling that something is not right in someone’s behaviour and to withdraw from a person or situation that makes them feel that way. You need to absolutely respect their responses here, even if it is embarrassing for you—for example that they don’t want to be kissed by Aunt Carol or Uncle Jim or get undressed in front of Grandpa. Children can be quite sensitive to inappropriate behaviour in adults who squeeze their cheeks hard, pat their heads condescendingly, or hug too close. You need to support them in listening to their feelings or they will not listen to them when they really need to. They also need to be able to say they don’t want hugs and kisses from you too, just because they don’t want it. No other reason than that. No one has the right to ‘take’ hugs and kisses, not even you. This teaches them that feelings of vulnerability, reluctance and repugnance and doubt should be listened to.

We always have the right and deserve to feel safe

This is a rule which is useful for teaching children about safety all the way through childhood and to help them to learn how to problem-solve ways to make them feel safer. They can often tell you what they need, if you are willing to listen and help. “If you come with me…” “If Johnny is there…” “If I know I can call you to come to get me…” Parents need to learn to tune into what the signs are of their children feeling unsafe. Feeling fearful of a person or situation is not about a lack of courage but what may be a healthy wariness. When a child’s feelings of ‘unsafeness’ is related to a particular person, adults need to be especially wary themselves. Avoid leaving them with that person alone. Children have the right to feel safe and sometimes have a good sense of when an adult has unclear personal boundaries.

Privacy is respected. I am boss of my body.

This of course goes with the rule: ‘Our private parts (including our mouths) are our own and other people don’t touch them (except Mummy or Daddy or doctor in special circumstances like keeping them clean and healthy and then only with respect and permission.) We also do not touch other people’s private parts.’ This also means respecting that they want to close the bathroom door, not be made to get undressed before another person and so on.

We always have the right to say no if we are asked to do something that we think is wrong or we do not understand

This is the rule on the list you might want to point out politely to people who care for your children. Our initial reaction might be that we want our children to do just what they are told to do and say “Be a good boy and do what Jenny tells you to do.” But what if that involves something you don’t want your child to do or that you have told them is wrong? A safer admonition might be: “Listen carefully to what Jenny tells you.”

We do not keep bad secrets in our house, only good surprises

It is suggested that we avoid the use of the word ‘secret’ and use the word ‘surprise’ instead for all those occasions where we are going to surprise someone with something good. This is because abusers often tell children, “This is our secret” to prevent them from telling about what has happened. We need to teach children that ‘bad secrets’ should always be told especially if we or someone else is going to be hurt by a secret being kept. This guideline makes it so much easier for a child to report bullying in class, for example.

We have a loving circle of friends who would help us if we needed it

Children need to know that there are people around them who love them, whom they could turn to for help. This is reassuring anyway for children but it is part of the strategy for protective behaviours because often children have to go to many people to try to get help when abuse is happening, because people in the immediate family circle can be in denial that a family member or friend is abusing the child. A beautiful way to affirm who they can turn to is, at special times like birthdays, to light candles for each of the people in the child’s ‘circle of love.’

We can say NO and YES strongly when we mean it

Children need to be able to be firm in being able to say no and we can get them to practice this by saying yes and no firmly, like they mean it. Do you want an icecream? Yes… what? Say it like a lion! YESSS! Do you really mean that? YESSSS!!! Shall I tickle your toes? NOOOOO!

We can be persistent to get what we need

Another rule in protective behaviours is to teach children to persist in finding an adult who will listen to them when there is trouble. Adults do not always want to hear about abuse which they do not want to admit is happening. Teach children to be persistent with you too. “I did not hear you ask for a banana! Did you get my attention? Did I look you in the eye? Did I hear what you said? Let’s try that again…” “Mummy please listen to me…”

We do not like bad tricks, bribes or blackmail in our house

This rule is because abusers often use tricks, bribery and blackmail to get children to cooperate with them. Try not to ever use emotional blackmail or bribes yourself. Try to make it OK to get a reward for doing something good but not OK to take a bribe for doing something bad. A fine line of difference.

For more help

So these Family Safety Guidelines are designed to warn off potential abusers as well as to set the scene for children keeping themselves safe, and making a foundation for more detailed training in protective behaviours when they get older and can understand that there are people in the world who try to do bad things to children sometimes.

More information and references can be found in the longer article from which this excerpt comes: The prevention of sexual abuse of young children A developmental approach to understanding the sexual behaviour of young children, the nature of sexual abuse and how to minimise the risks by teaching protective behaviours.

The short version of the guidelines for viewing or downloading as a pdf can be found here: Guidelines

Celebrating the wonder of development

2 years eating cake 3There are three main factors which drive children’s behaviour –the individual nature or temperament of each child, the development of children at their particular ages, and the environmental influences, which may or may not be within our control, but which impact on children. All of these factors need our understanding but also our wonder.  We often wonder at the strong individuality of our children. We should also be amazed at the wisdom which manifests in development.
Development provides a myriad of opportunities for children to try out what it means to be truly human, in all its wonderful different aspects..

The wonder of children’s developmental ‘moods’

Development through childhood is amazingly complex. Growth is not simply incremental and linear, nor is the child a smaller version of the adult. Developmental patterns weave in and out through childhood, revealing abilities which metamorphose into other abilities, brains which grow and then prune themselves back.

In addition, and less well recognized today, there are characteristic behaviours and ‘temperament tendencies’ or ‘moods’ which belong to each age and stage. Such a ‘tendency’ in the children at one stage can be noticeably very different from the tendency they show in another stage.  Behaviour which is more amenable in one stage can be quite challenging in the next, or more sensitive then more hardy, or more adventurous and then more cautious, or more dependent then more independent, or more social then more individualistic, or more interested in depth and details then more interest in the big picture. We see in the pattern of these stages different sorts of approaches to thinking, feeling, relationships, will and action. We see different motivations for behaviour–an emphasis on the need for love, or power or freedom. The Gesell Institute for Child Development, who first identified these stages, observed that there were in fact six stages in a cycle, and the cycles repeated themselves through childhood, from birth to at least sixteen years.

These changing developmental tendencies offer children truly wonderful opportunities to practice the many broad ways of being human, regardless of their own temperament, although they will of course use these opportunities in their own individual ways. We need to be awake to the gifts of these changing tendencies rather than concentrate on the difficulties  that arise when the children appear to become a little too one sided, in the brashness, the shyness, the defiant independence, and so on. We need to welcome the positive opportunities the child is being offered at each stage and support them by optimizing the learning from these.

The length of these stages is quite short in infancy, increasing from one, to two to three months, then six months, and finally from Seven onward, becoming twelve months long. Because these developmental ‘temperament tendencies’ can change quickly from stage to stage in the early years, parents and care givers, who are trying to keep up with the development in their children, can be confused by the behaviours they may observe. These can also be confused by a children’s individual temperament and the effect of environmental factors, like stress, which can bring out the worst in children’s behaviour. Yet understanding the nature of each stage helps us to meet children with more compassion, less frustration and more insight for finding strategies which can support their growth, while also keeping our adult sanity.

Knowing both the individual nature of the child, as well as the developmental tendencies, can also help to identify when environmental factors are having a negative effect on children’s well being  and behaviour and need to be urgently attended to. For example, when a child, whose temperament normally makes them easy going, is also in a stage of equilibrium and cooperation developmentally, yet is consistently grumpy or irritable, it may be a sign that something else is wrong, perhaps in health, perhaps in the environment. Help for working with factors which are environmental is provided in the Working with troubled behaviours articles. More on individual temperament will have to wait until another time.

For a better understanding of these developmental tendencies and moods in your own children check out wonderful descriptions of behaviour in the original research on these by the Gesell Institute of Child Development in their series on development books, or in the development profiles on my website, which integrate the Gesell descriptions into  my own research. Perhaps then you too will wonder at  the Eighteen-month-old’s wriggling escapes from your arms after the affectionate cuddles which came at Twelve Months, Younger Four’s noisy boasting, Seven’s sensitive complainingness, or Thirteen’s solemn withdrawal from the family’s company. Is there something wrong with my child? Maybe not. It may be just natural healthy development.

See the links below:

 

 

Creating a meaningful New Year for children

Sailing joyfully out of the old and into the new.

new year boatsMany New Year celebrations around the world happen in big, rowdy, food and alcohol driven celebrations, inevitably going late into the night– all not very helpful in meeting the needs of young children, nor, for that matter, the needs of those adults who would prefer a quiet, peaceful time for thoughtful reflection on the year past and the year to come. But as with all the family festivals, we can make our celebration of the New Year what we want it to be.

Making New Year relevant for children.

In making a special family time for New Year we can of course look for inspiration in the old New Year traditions involving food and activities (try Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Year%27s_Eve). To avoid disappointment for children about not being awake at midnight, we can celebrate the New Year’s beginning at the time at the international date line, or with the Pacific Islanders of Kiribati, the first nation to experience the New Year, or to anywhere else around the earth, if it suits our children better. See http://www.timeanddate.com/counters/firstnewyear.html. We can make new traditions to share in our family which meet the needs of our own children more richly and appropriately. A special meal is always a good basis for a family celebration and provides the venue and time for sharing together about the past year. A simple way for children to remember the good things about the past year is to have a jar into which we put reminder notes whenever good things happen. Then at the end of the year you have a jar full of good memories to share on New Year’s Eve.

Remembering the year past

New Year is an ideal time to bring awareness to all the blessings life has brought in the year—the adventures, the learning of new skills, the friendships, even the hard but important lessons. Of course we can also acknowledge the sad things which have moved us–loss, illness, accident, death– which are also part of life. With all these, at this time of year, it is usually more helpful to remain positive and concentrate on our gratitude for what people or things have meant to us or what the events taught us, rather than dwell on the pain or hardship we may have felt.

Recalling the events of the year past can encourage both reflection and appreciation in us all. This can be done with the spontaneous sharing of memories, perhaps taking turns, or it can be given more order by reviewing the year month by month to prompt the memories to flow. Even small children remember their birthdays, holiday times, excursions, treats and will delight in sharing their memories of the good things that have happened.

There are three helpful questions which can deepen this reflective process for ourselves and for children as they mature: What was the most important thing that happened this year? What was the most enjoyable thing that happened? And what happened which was grace-given, which came unexpectedly but was greatly appreciated.

So we can review the year past.

Looking to the future

We can also look into the year to come and prepare the way imaginatively for the new adventures and challenges the children will face– perhaps the first day at school, the taking up of a sport or a musical instrument, a planned school camp or family trip,  even a house move or parent absence, and so on. It can be acknowledged that we sometimes may need our courage for some of these new adventures, but we can guide the children to concentrate on embracing the challenges, positively and energetically, rather than dwelling on their fears.

One way to provide a positive start to the year are the traditions which provide blessings for the New Year. An internet search can provide a great variety of possibilities for this in poems, blessings, thoughtful writing. One game which children love in this tradition is the provision of little blessing notes on cards on strings which are draped over the edge of a large bowl of water or other large water container. Each person is given a little walnut boat (or cupped flower?) to blow across the water to one of the blessing cards which then becomes that person’s message for that year.

New year boats 2

Building a tradition of sharing stories and learning

A New Year celebration can be a time which encourages deeper more meaningful communication between family members as life unfolds. As the children get older of course their memories and stories get more complex; they will have ventured further afield, developed new skills and interests, asked more complex philosophical questions. In this way an annual New Year sharing can get richer and richer, deeper and deeper, as they grow in their capacities to ponder on the lessons of the year gone by, and their hopes for the coming year. In fact this yearly sharing eventually can become a sharing about our meaningful learning in the year rather than about the year’s events themselves.

This final New Year sharing can be complemented through the year by the encouraging of each family member to tell their stories, especially after excursions and  times away from the family. If each person is encouraged to ‘begin at the beginning and tell us what happened’, at each home-coming, it helps all family members to develop genuine listening skills, empathy and appreciation for each other’s important stories, which culminate in this sharing at the year’s end.

New Year offers a  unique opportunity for a special family time. If it cannot be done in the evening, do it during the day. It is an opportunity too wonderful to be missed .

See also Creating Family Celebrations

Keeping children safe from the outside in and the inside out

Learning to sand OKidsafe Week is celebrated in October In Australia, this year marking 40 years since car child restraints were introduced here.  Safety legislation and advice on how to keep children safe at home, near water, in playgrounds and so on, has improved enormously in recent years, but there are also new risks unfolding all the time so parents need to be continually alert to new dangers.

Kidsafe SA give good advice on child safety —including a Home Safety List for parents and also all those new to child minding, grandparents, aunts, friends and neighbours.They also remind us about a few new dangers, for example, the possibility of severe burns from hair straighteners and buying possibly uncertified car restraints on-line. Their reminders are about safety provided by you in children’s environments,  from ‘the outside in’.

Kidsafe SA also point out:

There is a strong association between age of a child, developmental stage, how the child interacts with their environment, the type of activities the child undertakes, socio-economic status, gender, and the type of injury the child sustains (WHO & UNICEF 2008).

It is important to take note of the particular vulnerability of your children and their specific ages. The vulnerability of certain temperaments in children may not surprise you but the changing behavioural tendencies of successive developmental stages may. Children in bold expansive developmental stages (like Four and Eight Years) are more likely to take more risks, and injure themselves more often. They may need more supervision and/or teaching about safety at such times.More on the risks at each specific age can be found in my child development profiles.

The need for challenging play – should you risk it?

It is clear we need to take responsibility to make environments safer for children, especially little ones. But we need also to note what Kidsafe SA says about the need for healthy adventurous play. One of their headers says it succinctly. ‘Challenging play- risk it.’ They stress that a playground is more than just a playground. Kidsafe SA say:

Play is fundamental for children’s growth, development and learning. Play allows children to gain the life skills, competencies and values necessary for a happy and productive adult life. Children most commonly learn these life skills in the ‘playground’. Our thinking about play should be broadened from confined areas that contain only modular, fixed equipment, to areas that are diverse, flexible and interactive learning environments.

Dealing with risk from the inside out – teaching competence.

The transition from, ideally, the safer controlled environment of home, school and official municipal playground to more challenging free play and everyday activities needs us to educate our children about safety ‘from the inside out’. This is not just about warnings and admonitions but about teaching competence in dealing with dangers from an early age, in ways appropriate to that age. To understand about dangers and the need for safe ways to do things, children learn best when they can see and experience everyday dangers for themselves in a safe way. When they are given the time to develop competence and safety knowledge, we are then dealing with risk from the ‘inside out’!

A good example of learning needed very early on is learning about hot things. Admonitions not to touch are not enough. They need help to experience what heat is and why there is danger in it. They need supervised experience of the heat from the top of the toaster, the oven, the hot plate, the radiator, the tip of a drill after use, the candle flame. Remind them what heat is capable of – it burns the paper, cooks our food and so on. They need to know heat and fires can be dangerous and that we need to respect the safety rules around this.

From an early age they may see you light matches so teach them how it is done safely and what the rules are. You strike the matches away from yourself. You watch out for hot bits flying off the match. Children never do it without supervision/permission even if, when older, that may be just verbal permission. We never leave candles burning in a room without someone older being present. If they learn these early and are given practice in doing it right, safely, they are less likely to get into trouble when they are a little older when they can take the matches without your knowing and be off with their friends to experiment. If you teach them well they are also likely to remind you about the safety rules if you get careless! Be grateful for their sometimes bossy reminders!

With a little forethought we can give even very young children experiences of being near hot things safely—for example young children can use a small travel iron if they are wearing pure woolen gloves, with you always watching over them. A useful thing to teach slightly older children is the old fashioned way to test if a surface is very hot—to spit on your finger and then give a very quick touch. They learn if it spits then it is hot but the wetness has protected their finger against being burnt.

In this way we are teaching safety and competence incrementally from very early on. Another example is the danger of sharp tools like knives. Yes, we warn them that some knives can be especially sharp, cooking knives and ‘Stanley knife’ type cutting blades in particular. But we can also teach them to use knives safely. Very young toddlers can practice cutting something soft, like banana, or play dough, with a blunt knife, making sure the blade is held well away from the fingers. Later we teach them that cutting hard things that give way suddenly, like carrot, need a sharper knife, even greater care, and more experience.  As they get even older we teach them that with very sharp craft knives they should always, always cut away from themselves. To use whittling, lino cutting or carving tools safely they need to know and respect these rules and have good supervision.

Children need experience to understand. Where it is possible to safely give them the experience, this is the most potent learning opportunity. It is really not helpful to remove all the roses from the garden to prevent them from pricking their fingers on the thorns (as some child-care centre regulations require). At home it is better to show them the thorns and how sharp they are and warn them to be careful. On the other hand, very sharp burrs or thorns on the ground may need more serious precautions. One needs to be sensible about this.

Taking safety seriously: modelling safe practices

Children need to see that you take safety seriously. You need to model safe practices consistently. You wear a seat belt. They wear a seat belt. You wear ear muffs using noisy machinery like lawnmowers, they wear ear muffs helping you.

A good place to learn safety is in the home workshop. Here they learn to protect their feet, their eyes and their ears particularly. They need to see you do this! When you teach them to use these tools themselves, you let them practice safety and become more competent. Confidence and wise safety practices develop from this.

An important rule to follow in teaching safety is that there should always be an adult present while they are learning how to do something new. At very independent ages, this can be resisted vehemently – “Do it MYSELF!” they cry. A little story about our popular friends the firemen may help. Even firemen have another fireman with more knowledge with them, to give reminders and lend another pair of eyes and ears, when they are learning to drive a big firetruck. Good firemen take safety seriously—they practice safety procedures very often to keep themselves and us as safe as we all can be.

So we lead them to consider their own and other people’s safety when they do a wide variety of things. As they get older it may be they get taught by other experts—the swimming or adventure sports instructor and so on—but we support this learning by taking it seriously ourselves.

Personal safety, avoiding abuse, is another whole area of concern met in part by teaching good personal boundaries from when children are very young—see more in Teaching Protective Behaviours. As they get older they also need clear guidance and practice in going into the world without you. There is more guidance on this in the specific age Profiles, especially those of Ten and older.

All this means more time spent with your children, but it is a commitment well rewarded in the long run. It means finding ways to keep your children safe while still allowing them to experience more challenging activities which develop courage, confidence, competence, wisdom and more – qualities which will keep them ‘safe’ in a different way when they are older. All this involves keeping them safe both from the ‘outside in’ and teaching them to be safe from the ‘inside out’.

A story for parent absence

drawing for Mama 2 yearsThis is a story for the reassurance of a very young child when a parent or major carer needs to go away for a short while.

 

 

 

Whether it be for a one-off absence, like for occasional work, a holiday or a hospital stay, or for regular fly-in/fly-out employment away from the family, young children, (including those who do not talk yet,) may need a little extra help to adjust to the absence. They need reassurance that their mother, father or regular carer, like a grandparent, can go away and will come back. It helps when the passing time is marked by a repeating story, like this one, told each day of the absence. Ideally you would change the details to suit your child.

The child can also be reassured about the loved person’s return by the provision of some visible marker of time passing. For example one could use a calendar with opening doors (like an Advent Calendar) where one door or window is opened on each day of absence. There can be drawings or photos revealed inside each opening door, or a little surprise, or instruction for something for the child to do that day and so on. (Pizza boxes are great for making such calendars). Or little containers can be used to put messages or little presents in each day, sometimes for the child from the person going away but also perhaps from the child for the absent one, to surprise them when they get home. For example you could use little bowls, or match boxes or boxes from a Third World gift shop. Every family can find their own way in this, according to their resources, their creativity, the time available and the length of time of absence. Even a set number of dog biscuits in a jar for the dog, one for each day, can be a marker in this way. Remember to make it sustainable, without too much stress for the stay-at-home adult. Of course healthy treats, activities and crafts can give the child something to look forward to each day and enrich your lives together too.

Let the child also help to prepare a welcome home for the person when the time comes: a drawing, a card, a banner, a posy of flowers, a cake, a special dinner.

All this creates a daily reassurance of return and an ordered sense of anticipation for a home-coming.

Bennie’s story

Once upon a time there was a little boy called Bennie, who lived in a house amongst tall trees with his two big sisters and his Mama and his Papa. One day Mama sat down at the table with them and said she was going away for a few days to work but that she would come back to them soon because she loved them all so. Papa would look after them all while she was gone.

So the day came and Mama packed her bags and they all took her to the airport where she gave them all a big hug and off she went.

When they got home, that first day, little Bennie said: “When will my Mama come home?” His Papa said “She’ll come home in four more days because she loves you so but I’m here to look after you all. We’ve got lots to do together. Today we have to do the washing.” And they did and Bennie helped to hang all the socks on the line in a row in the sun. So—

On the first day they did the washing.

The next day Bennie woke up and said: “When will my Mama come home?” And his Papa said “She’ll come home in three more days because she loves you so but I’ll look after you all. We’ve got lots to do together. Today we are going to work in the garden and plant some seedlings to surprise Mama.” And so they did and Bennie very carefully planted some blue pansies because they were Mama’s favourites. So—

On the first day they did the washing.

On the second day they worked in the garden.

On the next day, Bennie woke up and said: “When will my Mama come home?” And his Papa said “She’ll come home in two more days because she loves you so but I’m here to look after you all. We’ve got lots to do. Today we are going out visiting.” And they did. They visited their favourite neighbour whose dog had three new puppies. So—

On the first day they did the washing.

On the second day they worked in the garden.

On the third day they went out visiting.

On the next day, Bennie woke up and said: “When will my Mama come home?” And his Papa said “She’ll come home in one more day because she loves you so but I’m here to look after you all. We’ve got lots to do. Today we’ve got to clean the house.” And they did. Bennie picked up all the toys and swept very carefully with his little broom. So—

On the first day they did the washing.

On the second day they worked in the garden.

On the third day they went out visiting.

On the fourth day they cleaned the house.

On the next day, Bennie woke up and said: “When will my Mama come home?” And his Papa said “She’ll come home tonight because she loves you so but I’m here to look after you all today. We’ve got lots to do. Today we’ve got to make her a welcome home cake.” And they did. It was a special carrot cake with nuts and a red flower on top. So –

On the first day they did the washing.

On the second day they worked in the garden.

On the third day they went out visiting.

On the fourth day, they cleaned the house.

On the fifth day they made a cake.

And that afternoon just before dinner, they all went down to the airport to get their Mama. When she came she gave her little boy Bennie the biggest hug you ever did see because she loved him SO much. And then she gave all the others a big hug too because she loved them all so much too.

So their Mama DID come home again and she very happily helped them to eat up all the special cake! And that night Bennie went to bed very happy that his Mama was there to tuck him into bed and kiss him goodnight once more.

View/download pdf  A story for parent absence

For more on healing stories, how to write them & more examples:

 

Father’s, Mother’s and Grandparents Days: Opportunities to teach appreciation

Dad & boys 2September in Australia and New Zealand brings Father’s Day, although this day often comes in March or June in other places in the world. The commercial world is quick to promote such days as times to spend our money to show appreciation for what parents and grandparents do, but there are many ways to say thank you.  We can use these days to be more mindful of what is done for us all year around by those who love us and to try to show our gratitude for this more often. Here, as always, we teach our children, by our own example. We take a few words from our earlier blog on mothering to remind us about this.

Gratitude for invisible parenting & grandparenting

Much of what parents do is invisible. There is always a huge amount for which to be grateful in what mothers and fathers do. Because the tasks of caring involve preparing the space for good things to happen– organizing, ordering, maintaining, watching over– we often only notice these things when they are NOT done. Caring also involves being awake enough to prevent bad things from happening, being ready to ‘nip things in the bud’; separating siblings when they are too tired to learn constructively from disagreement; observing the grumpy tiredness which can precede illness; making the environment safe for young children to play freely, without constant admonitions; thinking ahead to meet nutritional needs with healthy snacks; putting children down to sleep before they get over-active from tiredness.

Conscientous parents try to do this, some more successfully than others, but often at their own expense, working very long hours when they are tired, exhausted, often working outside home as well, and so on. Worldwide research shows that women work longer hours than men in caring and housework even when they are in full time paid work. Australian research also shows that the extra time fathers now spend with their children comes at the expense of ‘personal alone time’. We need to acknowledge all this in ourselves and in our partners as parents, and in our own parents, many of whom do so much today in caring for grandchildren, even when they may be at a time in their lives when they often have less energy for dealing with lively children.

These aspects of care often go unnoticed, but need acknowledgement and appreciation all year through. When we show our appreciation for all these small everyday tasks, visible and invisible, that parents and indeed other family members do, we teach our children about gratitude. We model appreciation and forestall the “entitlement responses” which sadly plague so many children today. Gratitude and the expression of appreciation then become part of what we value in the family, of how we live together in community.

Mother’s and Father’s Days give us a chance to review how well we are acknowledging, and showing appreciation for, all that the parents in our lives are doing and have done. Our children may need a little help to see all a parent does and to think about ways to spoil him/her on this day and more often. We can encourage them to make the effort to take on a parent’s task for the day and do it for them instead. Many families have traditions of children making a ‘pancake breakfast’ or ‘breakfast in bed’. Bought gifts especially may need more thought: that the gifts we give are not just another way of making sure a parent serves us better! If the household needs a new iron or toaster or power drill, then get it for the household, not for a parent on a Father or Mother’s Day. Find something for them which they otherwise would not get for themselves or make them something which can then be filled with our love for them in our effort. (See Love Gifts for ideas for this).

The not-so-perfect parent also needs this acknowledgement, perhaps all the more. Appreciation makes all but the most narcissistic person do better. For the struggling, overworked parent, gratitude can be food for their soul, in doing what seems an often endless list of tasks each day.

What we teach our children on these special days is not just about love and gratitude, but also about understanding, compassion and forgiveness.

See also:

Love Gifts for ideas for gifts which come from the heart, from our own effort and thoughtfulness.

Authenticity in Mothers Day for some thoughts on working with our children.

What of Mother’s Day with less-than-ideal mothers. Deeper considerations on mothering.

Straight talk with children about body functions, genitalia, sexual development and privacy

honeysuckle closeIf you find it hard to talk to your children about genitalia and menstruation and such you are not alone. This article models a way to do it. Be prepared for very straight talking.

Why such talk?

From a very young age we need to be educating our children about their bodies, about privacy, personal boundaries and about keeping themselves safe from sexual abuse. In my work with parents over many years in workshops on children’s unfolding sexual development, it became very clear that honest, open, un-embarrassed talk about genitals, private parts and their functions is not at all easy for some parents. Recently I was surprised to hear that even a man who had edited a porn magazine for 15 years had trouble in talking to his four year old about the boy’s penis; the father could not bring himself to call it a ‘penis’ and rather than referring to it by some more affectionate term, like a ‘willie’. Others cannot comfortably talk about the menstrual cycle with their children. This blog takes an excerpt from another of my articles Preventing Sexual Abuse of Young Children to give a developmental context to appropriate times and ways to talk to children and give a little extra help to those who have trouble talking about ‘our private parts and their functions’. For the whole article see the link at the end.

Clearly, the more we understand about children’s development and their natural healthy curiosity about their bodies, the more we can give them appropriate information for their age. We can also meet the children with a calm acceptance of their sexual curiosity (rather than be affronted by it) at the same time as teaching about what touch is appropriate, where and with whom.

What compounds children’s confusion about all this is our own adult confusion about genitals, excretory functions, reproductive functions and private erotic sexual activity. We have muddled them altogether as a result of our western cultural heritage and taboos. It is important that we separate these out once again if we want our children to have a healthy understanding of their bodies and clear guidelines for appropriate behaviours.

We need to be clear about what should be talked about with young children regarding elimination and reproductive anatomy, about our sensitive erogenous zones and sexual behaviours. We also need to find ways and language to talk about these things. We then have the means to teach children about their bodies, and also teach protective behaviours and how to keep themselves safer from sexual abuse.

In this way throughout childhood we gradually empower them to take responsibility for themselves so that by the time they are teens and off on their own for a large part of the time, they have safety strategies as part of their ways of working, and the means to develop healthy sexual relationships. At the same time we need to be very clear that young children under seven always need absolute protection from adults. Young children cannot be relied upon to keep themselves safe.

Finding the appropriate language

Finding the language to talk comfortably about sexuality is the first step in teaching children about their bodies, keeping safe and sexuality. Unfortunately adult embarrassment frequently sabotages such teaching because many people are unclear about what is really just anatomical education as distinct from what is erotic adult sexuality, which belongs in later sex education. Most people have no trouble in telling children that “play blocks are used in the play corner and are not thrown around the room or at the windows. We keep them in the block basket.” Unfortunately a lot of people do have trouble with saying “The penis and vulva are private parts of ourselves which are used in private places like the bathroom. We do not play with them in other places or with other people and we keep them in our pants.” This reluctance to speak clearly and openly about genitalia and naïve sexual behaviours, and to create clear rules about them, causes problems and confusion. We aim here to bring more clarity to this for parents, teachers and carers.

We also need to be clear that some parts of the body are ‘private’ and ‘special’ versus ‘secret’, ‘bad’ or ‘yuk’ etc. A start can be made in using specific anatomical terms for the part of our bodies, along with affectionate terms, if parents want to use them as well. Of course a penis can be called a ‘little willie’, so long as both can be used comfortably in conversation. When we have clear terminology we are better able to name the behaviours that cross the line of affection and become abusive.

As a start, to get more comfortable with matter of fact talk about our bodies, consider the following areas which need to be talked about with children, and the age at which such a talk is needed and appropriate. Since some people have great difficulty talking about these things to children in a natural matter of fact way, I will write it in a way you could use when talking to children, with examples of what can be said. I will then look in more detail at children’s sexual development and how this guides us to providing them with ways to keep themselves safer:

The mouth: Sexual abuse often involves the mouth, so children should be taught that their mouths are also private places which others do not interfere with, except of course, for keeping their teeth clean and healthy.

Elimination functions: Children are learning about elimination functions from babyhood. Children need to be told that bowel motions/faeces and urine, poo and wee or whatever affectionate terms you want to call them, are the function of our wise bodies, to get rid of unwanted matter we really don’t need any more. We don’t handle them because they are very smelly and, after all, our body does not want them either.

Tiny children themselves need to be affirmed as loved while the smelly poos are being removed, even if you have a laugh together about how smelly it is today. “What a smelly one that is.” (as you throw the nappy in the bucket) “But you are my gorgeous boy!”

Around two to three when children are concerned about potty training and poos, and may be scared of toilets, we can give them more information. “We give our poos and wees back to the earth via the toilet and the potty (and sometimes even a pee in the garden). Yes, when they go down the toilet they have a very long journey down many tunnels, but eventually they come out in a very large pond with reeds and rushes and bushy trees full of little birds making the loudest twittering you ever heard.”

“The anus is the little hole in our bottom where our body lets the poo out. We don’t put our finger in there, oh no, it might meet some poo coming out, then we would be very smelly, for sure.”

Curiosity in the bath and getting the pee in the toilet: “The penis is where the urine comes out when you want to pee, if you are a boy or a man. Even a tiny tiny baby boy has a penis. Daddy calls it a willie, but it is a funny little fellow which has a lot of names. It gets big when you stroke it, as you know from the bath. It has a little door to stop the pee coming out when it needs to, when it has another job to do. It is really very clever because you can help it to put your pee right in the toilet where it belongs.”

“Girls and women have a little hole where their wee comes out of the urethra. They can’t make it big, like the willie, but they also have another special hole behind it called a vagina, which is the little tunnel which leads to the baby house where the baby grows when the little girl grows up and becomes a Mummy. That is a very special place for a girl. We don’t put fingers in there either.”

At Five and Six, children really like to see for themselves and find out about what is down there in their pants. They are interested in all sorts of elimination processes, including vomit. (“That’s the wise body’s way of getting rid of things very quickly.”) Talk of wees and poos bring great giggles and little jokes. If children are not well informed there can be confusion later about where the urine comes from—whether the urine comes from the vagina and that in a man the tube from the urethra closes to allow only the sperm or only the urine to come through the penis at one time. Be ready for the question later when the question of sperm comes up.

Now is a good time to add more to the picture they have of their private parts. You may want to add that “Little boys also have two testicles, called balls for fun, in a little sack called the scrotum. After boys are born sometimes the testicles take six months to come down into their little sack, and sometimes they have to be helped along.”

You may need to confirm again with the girls that the urine comes out of the urethral opening, the hole between the vagina and the clitoris. “Girls have a little clitoris which peeks out of its folds at the front.” “All of this part of you is protected by folds we call the labia which help to keep us clean and moist and comfortable, and hide our private parts away, keeping them from harm.” “So girls have a vulva, with all those special places hidden away inside, and boys have a penis and scrotum out for all to see, until they keep them inside their underpants!” “We have to take care of all of these parts of ourselves, in boys and in girls, and we do that by not letting other people touch us there.”

Clearly they need to have the rule about private parts and privacy re-stated with their intensified curiosity at this age. Not only should it be made clear that we don’t let others touch us in our private places but also that another person (child or adult) should not ask to touch our genitals. Lack of such basic instruction can lead to emotionally painful situations between children, even in the kindergarten community.

Breasts: Curiosity about breasts comes particularly strongly at Three and Four. “Yes, Mummy’s breasts are big for feeding babies and the nipple is made just the right size for a baby to be able to suck, just like you did. When a baby comes, the breasts grow very big to have milk for the baby.” Do Daddies have breasts? “Well they just have the nipples, like you do, perhaps just in case they were going to be mummies, but then they weren’t, so their breasts did not grow any more because they didn’t need them for that.”

Reproductive functions, like menstruation, can be talked about when it arises but certainly Five and Six year olds will be observing what goes on with their mother. Blood on pants and pads, tampons are often spotted and need unembarrassed explanations. “You know how Mummy has a vagina that goes to the baby house where you grew in her tummy? It is such a cosy warm little place for a baby; it’s called a womb, or a uterus. But of course it can’t have a baby in it all the time. Oh dear no, we wouldn’t have anywhere to put so many babies. But the womb needs to be always ready for the time a baby might come to live in it, so every month it has spring clean, to make a new bed ready, and the old bed comes away through the vagina as special blood and Mummy has her period. Sometimes Mummy gets tired from all that work preparing a new bed, and gets a little cranky with us for a bit. We have to help her more and let her have a little rest then. (To girls) When you grow up a bit more you will have a period too, and we will look after you too at your special time each month. It is a special time for a girl when she gets her first period.” “We use pads and tampons to catch the special blood that comes in a period.” “Sometimes we call this by a big word—menstruation.”

Young children don’t need to be told the full details about human reproduction and sexual intercourse yet. They are still confused by the idea of seeds being planted (do the leaves grow out Mummy’s ears?) They are happy with simple explanations like Mummy and Daddy made you with their love. But often other children have been told quite young and they will tell everyone else and your children may come home with more concrete questions about the penis in the vagina. You can just be brief and matter of fact then, using the information you have already given them. “Yes, Daddy’s penis put his love seed in Mama’s vagina where it went looking for her love seed to make a tiny little body for you. And you grew and grew that little body in her womb and here you are.”

Sensual responsiveness, erogenous zones and masturbation

Children are responsive to touch from birth and, left to themselves with few enough clothes on, they discover the most sensitive erogenous zones on themselves, the penis and the clitoris. The penis, being more readily available, is usually discovered more often and used most for comforting when the child is stressed, in masturbation. Some girls also discover that touching themselves around the clitoris is comforting or sitting on a ridge produces a good feeling between their legs. You need to talk about this too, in saying “touching yourself there is a private thing, done by yourself when you are on your own, and not by anyone else.” That’s enough, just to reinforce the boundary of privacy. But you also may need to find the source of stress that is driving the child to find comfort in masturbation.

Adult sexual intercourse and associated activities.

Sexual activities are private and intimate and for older people only, so it is proper not to talk about them with young children unless you really have to because they have seen things they should not have seen. Observation of adult sexual intercourse by children constitutes abuse. Accidentally or deliberately exposing children to pornography also constitutes abuse. It can be very frightening for young children to observe such strange behaviour which sexual intercourse appears to be and which takes adults away from them and into their own world. It is little wonder that if they see adult sexual intercourse that they may play it out with their friends to make sense of it. In Australia, the children call this play ‘sexing’.  Imitation of adult sexual behaviour by children needs discreet investigation and a restatement of privacy rules. More is said on this in the bigger article.

Conclusion

So, of all these areas, really only the last, speaking about adult sexual activity, is not appropriate to be talked about with young children unless a special need is there. Everything else can be talked about in a matter of fact, simple way, using concrete images they can understand. Some adults may need to practice getting used to using descriptive words describing the anatomy of the physical body, anus, penis, scrotum, vulva, vagina, clitoris, menstruation, period. We should not be embarrassed by them or ashamed to use them with our children when they just need straight factual talk. Embarrassment and shame have confused the issues and meant we have often not kept our children well informed and safe, for want of straight talking about the private parts of ourselves and their functions.

Further reading

See the whole article from which this excerpt comes: The Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Young Children which includes teaching children about personal boundaries.

Are we really helpless in the face of the flu?

Talk has started about the risks of the flu again this winter. In an article about that year’s influenza season possibly being a bad one, Ian Barr, acting director of the WHO’s influenza centre at the Doherty Institute (Melbourne), was quoted as saying that when it comes to avoiding catching the flu there are a few measures people could take: “Move to a solitary location in the middle of the desert, stay away from everyone and lock yourself in a house…Or more practically you can get yourself vaccinated.” But are we really as helpless as this implies? Why do some people hardly ever get the flu and others get it regularly? Could lifestyle choices and pressures play a part in why some of us are more vulnerable? Is there anything we can do to stay healthy enough to not succumb to illness from the presence of viruses in our bodies?
The following reminders may not guarantee that you and your children won’t get flu but they may help you get a less severe dose and recover more completely if you do.
Healthy living habits

Firstly there are the usual ‘Live healthily’ factors: sufficient sleep (8 hours plus), nutritious food, regular physical activity, keep to a healthy weight, reduce your stress; and minimize processed food, alcohol and smoking. Don’t underestimate the positive effects these have on your immune system.

But there are also other things you can do with your family to stay healthy.
Stay warm!

Warmth is important for emotional well being and mental and physical health. Viruses can take hold more easily when you are cold—hence the body’s response to fighting a virus is a rise in temperature. Insist on your family dressing warmly and be prepared to pay more for heating bills. Remember young children cannot accurately assess how warm they are for themselves.

Do things that make you feel more alive!

Enlivening activities prime your immune system as they make you feel good: smile more, laugh more, breathe deeply, sing, be creative, be more playful, do good things for other people, be good hearted. Studies have shown these things support health.

Watch your attitudes and fears.

My grandmother told her children; “We don’t have to be like other families. We don’t have to get the flu!” Many health campaigns use fear as motivation, yet fear can undermine health. Advice on avoiding flu normally focuses on minimizing contact with germs. It also helpful to remember that if your immune system is healthy it can build up immunity so that these germs may not be a problem for you, if you do come into contact with them. It is more helpful to be well informed and self-aware, not fearful.

Recognise times when extra help is needed.

There are times when life is just unavoidably over-demanding. Give yourself and your children permission to have a day off sometimes without having to be sick first. There are also times when an extra boost for the immune system from something extra—like garlic, Vitamin C, spices, herbs, supplements—may help.

Know when to stop.

If you do feel something coming on, perhaps when your body feels especially tired or when you feel the first tickle in the throat, take it as a message to stop and care for yourself. I knew a teacher who had an agreement with her headmaster that she could take an ‘antibiotic day’ if she felt herself becoming unwell. She would go skiing and come back to work next day rejuvenated, while the rest of the staff ‘soldiered on’ but finally succumbed to the flu and had to take a week or more off! Stopping sooner is sensible living and working. Children often seem unreasonably cranky at such a time—try to recognise the signs and take action quickly to reduce stimulation, increase sleep etc.

If you or your children do get sick, take the time to recover fully.

Secondary infections and lingering symptoms often occur because we go back to work or send the children back to child care or school too soon. Be generous with time here. It is worth it in the long run.

Stay well!

 

*The Age Melbourne, June 6, 2015 p3

 

 

What of Mother’s Day with less-than-ideal mothers?

Deeper considerations on motherhood.

Picture 123Of course no mother is perfect, but some mothers are far from the kind of mother a child yearns for. Family celebrations, like Mother’s Day, birthdays and Christmas or other religious festivals, can be painful when relationships are rocky, when love is ambiguous, when one feels love but not liking, or no love at all, but we still feel duty-bound to celebrate that day.
How can we then feel authentic in celebrating Mother’s Day? How does one greet one’s mother with true heart-warmth when they have been lacking in understanding or let bad things happen to us or have been thoughtless, even cruel in one’s own childhood? Or when they still try to interfere, control, manipulate, even bully us, even as adults with families? Sadly too, sometimes in old age, (when parents need us more intensively) failing strength, decrepitude and dementia can also make them more self-centred (even narcissistic) and unpredictably tyrannical, especially towards the very daughters who do the most for them.

There is a strategy that can help bring healing and more heart’s ease into this, though it is not easy and is not always successful outwardly. This strategy follows a simple rule: Find gratitude for their gifts and compassion for their weaknesses. It is a strategy we can choose to use when dealing with anyone we have difficulties with, one that keeps understanding and positivity as priorities and helps to keep reactiveness, blame and prejudice at a minimum. It helps too, when we ourselves are the target of our own criticism—when we feel that we ourselves are less than ideal mothers and perhaps undeserving of accepting the love that is offered to us on Mother’s Day. Here too we must also find recognition and acknowledgement of all we do right in caring for our children, and find compassion for ourselves, when we act in ways even we do not like. Life can be hard. We are not perfect. What is important is that we are striving to be better and we are willing to try to heal the hurts we cause in our children. (Apologising is a good start and it is never too late for that.)

Gratitude for their (our) gifts and compassion for their (our) weaknesses.

One further comment is needed before elaborating on this strategy. It is always helpful if you can stand centred and clear about what is unacceptable behaviour in your family and your life—such unacceptable behaviour may be manipulative, bullying, disrespectful, unkind— then you can also be clearer on whether you wish to diplomatically discuss unacceptable behaviour in others or withdraw and avoid it altogether. (This latter can be a wise option where denial, blame, deep neurosis, mental illness or drug use is present in the offending person). Taking your family away at times of family celebrations can sometimes break the patterns of other’s expectations of you. Sometimes the focus has to be on healthy communication within your own family and removing yourself from the negative behaviour of extended family may be necessary in order to do this. After all, children need protection from manipulative behaviour or negative messages from other family members.

Gratitude and invisible mothering

Much of what mothers do is invisible. There is always a huge amount for which to be grateful to mothers. I saw a cartoon once about a mother who went out for the day, leaving her small children with the father. It showed the father and the children meeting the mother at the door when she got back. Behind them was chaos, toys, everything in disarray. The caption said: “You know how you always ask me what I do all day…”

Because the tasks of caring, (but mothering especially), involve preparing the space for good things to happen, organizing, ordering, maintaining, watching over, we often only notice these things when they are NOT done. Caring also involves being awake enough to prevent bad things from happening, being ready to ‘nip things in the bud’; separating siblings when they are too tired to learn constructively from disagreement; observing the grumpy tiredness which can precede illness; making the environment safe for young children to play freely, without constant admonitions; thinking ahead to meet nutritional needs with healthy snacks; putting children down to sleep before they get over-active from tiredness. Nearly all mothers, whatever their faults, try to do this, some more successfully than others, but often at their own expense, working very long hours when they are tired, exhausted, pregnant, working outside home as well, and so on. Worldwide research shows that women work longer hours than men in caring and housework even when they are in full time paid work. We need to acknowledge this in our mothers.

This is invisible mothering which often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. We should really call it parenting, because many dads, especially single dads have to do it too. But this is about Mother’s Day so bear with us, fathers. This invisible organization is a skill which takes time to learn, something perhaps women, often with more skill in multi-tasking, find easier than men. But it is something which needs acknowledgement and appreciation, not just on Mother’s Day but all year through. When we show our appreciation for all these small everyday tasks, visible and invisible, that parents and other family members do, we teach our children about gratitude. We model appreciation and forestall the “entitlement responses” which sadly plague so many children today. Gratitude and the expression of appreciation then becomes part of what we value in the family, of how we live together in community. And of course insults, put-downs, derogatory remarks and constant criticism cannot be part of such a value base, which makes such things unacceptable, always.

Mother’s Day gives us a chance to review how well we are acknowledging and showing appreciation for all that the mothers in our lives do. This may need a little help from us to open the children’s eyes to all their mother does and to think about ways to spoil her on this day and more often. We can encourage them to make the effort to take on some of a mother’s tasks for the day and do them for her instead. Bought gifts especially may need more thought: that the gifts we give are not just another way of making sure mother serves us better! If the household needs a new iron or toaster, then get it for the household, not for mother on Mother’s Day. Find something for her which she otherwise would not get for herself or make her something which can then be filled with our love for her in our effort. Perhaps all this should also remind us to be grateful for, and not take for granted, all the work grandparents do in the care of children too these days.

The not-so-perfect parent in us needs this acknowledgement all the more too. Appreciation makes all but the most narcissistic person do better. For the struggling, overworked parent, gratitude can be food for their soul, in doing what seems an often endless list of tasks each day.

Not-so-perfect mothering and compassion

Mothers are not perfect. Sometimes they may be their ‘best selves’  and then we love them, but sometimes they may succumb to being their ‘worst selves’, perhaps after sleepless nights, during illness, after taking on too much and so on. Looking back, I have to admit that I would be my ‘worst self’ in that time pre-menstrually—it would be then I would feel everything I was doing, while trying to be a good mother to four children, was too much and I would over-react to something trivial which had become ‘the last straw’ on my over-burdened back. Research is showing that due to hormonal changes within the menstrual cycle there are times when woman willingly take on and can cope with many more challenges than they can later cope with at other times. Women need encouragement and support to do less and take care of themselves better at times when their energy is lower. This needs true understanding and support, not jokes or rude comments, if we are to support women’s well-being and educate our girls to know their bodies better and look after themselves with respect.

Sometimes women act chronically as their ‘worst selves’; it may be that they are ill, completely exhausted, suffering abuse or mental illness, or resorting to alcohol or other drugs as a way of coping. Sometimes mothers stand back and allow a father to be his ‘worst self’ regardless of the effect on the children.

For those who as children suffered frequent misunderstandings, neglect, even abuse, it can be painful to reconcile our mixed feelings when Mother’s Day creates inner conflict in us. Perhaps one can say “I love you” but not that “I like you or what you did.” Here we can only try to work with gratitude and compassion. Can we appreciate them anew with more understanding hearts for all they did do, even when we feel disappointment for what they did not do, perhaps could not do? Can we appreciate that they may have done the best they could within their circumstances? Can we value what they gave us even by default, even by negative experiences from which we nevertheless learned? Can we see that they were women of their time, greatly disadvantaged by their gender—sexually, financially, socially, politically, educationally? They did not have the same choices some of us have today, but probably the majority of women in our world still do not have. Can we bring more understanding hearts to review our childhood disappointments and hurts? Can we get to know our mother better by looking at her biography with compassion, at our own childhood with deeper understanding and appreciation so that Mother’s Day can be a fuller expression of our gratitude?  Can we ultimately understand them for what they did or did not do and let go of blame so that our unresolved hurts do not get taken into the next generation?

There is something biographical that works into this. In considering our own mothers, it is also interesting to consider the gifts and problems that come to us through our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. For this we must know something about their biographies, our family history. Are there qualities socially, culturally, genetically which we can identify that we have benefited from in our own lives—quiet courage, compassion, artistic or intellectual giftedness, independence, and so on, that come to us through our mother’s line? There are also tragedies which get passed down from one generation to the next. Can we stop it at ours? Another place for acknowledgement, compassion and gratitude.

What we teach our children on Mother’s Day is about not just love and gratitude, but also understanding, compassion and forgiveness.

See also the blog Authenticity in Mothers Day for some thoughts on working with our children.

Authenticity in Mother’s Day

One boy said in his card to his mother on her birthday: “I love you and I like you’. So he expressed an appreciation for his mother with some wisdom  about the nature of relationships (conscious or not conscious).

I have heard it said by a mother “I love my son but I don’t like him much.” Or an older daughter or son “I love my mother but wish she had done it differently in my own childhood.” True bonding in the parent-child relationship calls out ‘unconditional love’ in us. ‘Like’ on the other hand often reflects the identification of a particular quality which is liked in the other. It is true that in children these likes can be very pragmatic and egocentric. “I like grandma because she gives us ice creams.” “I like Dad because he takes me to the football.” But when the ‘like’ comes from a true appreciation of some fine quality in ourselves, we begin to feel really seen. When we are given something that involves effort and thoughtfulness on the giver’s part we feel much more appreciated.

That is what I would argue that an authentic Mother’s Day celebration needs— a day with ‘love’ and ‘like’ in it, not a response to the emotional blackmail of commercial advertising, like the one I saw once: “How much is your mother worth? $20? $30? $40……..?”

I met a woman on my walk this morning who shared that in her family, Mother’s Day involved the making of a special card for her by her sons. Just the card hand-made with love. A ‘love gift’. Even a bought present can be love-filled when it is thoughtfully planned or bought with specially saved pocket-money, or money earned to buy the gift.

Make the acknowledgement of our mothers authentic by being at once thoughtful and love-filled. That’s the short version of this post. More ideas can be found on “Lovegifts” at http://www.creativelivingwithchildren.com/nurturing-childrens-growth-2/play/love-gifts/

Maybe more thoughts on celebrating mothers later.