It has been a real day of contemplation here for me today. It's not very often that I actually get to dissect my thoughts and really delve deep into my feelings about things - with 5 younger people around me almost 24/7 that makes sense right? The children seemed to be having a we-are-happy-to-entertain-ourselves-today-mama sort of day, so I sat with them and did my own thing alongside.
The first thing that I did was listen to the first two episodes of the Dayna Martin 'Rock Your Life' teleseries. I resonate with so much that Dayna talks about, and it really did make me think about the path on which we are taking. She discussed how our own upbringing may have been totally different to how we are bringing up our children - oh yes! She also mentioned Jo Frost of Supernanny fame, and similar shows - those that know me well will be sure to remember how much I detest such programmes and their one size fits all, no rhyme or reason for such behaviour discipline methods. *Scream*
Anyway, this led me on to thinking about so many things. My issues with food for example. I didn't have a huge appetite. I've always been on the small and slender side, and my appetite has always been a reflection of this. I was bought up in a waste no food household, told that clean plates were good, leaving food was naughty. Puddings were used as a reward for eating all our dinner, not as a nice offering from parent to child. Sometimes I was even 'fooled' into thinking I was eating different food to what I actually was. One example that sticks in my mind of this is when we were eating a meat pie. For some reason, an overheard conversation perhaps, I thought that what was in the pie was rabbit meat and I refused to eat it. I asked my mum outright if it was and she said no don't be silly. Only when I'd eaten it all did she confess that yes, I had indeed just eaten rabbit and "didn't it taste lovely?" I remember being utterly confused, feeling betrayed and actually sick at the thought of eating what I pictured as a cute pet bunny- we even had a class rabbit at school at the time. But my mum's reaction? "Well, it got you to eat it didn't it?" I was about 8 years old and it is engrained in my memory even now at the age of 36. My mum has done the same thing to my children - telling them that Calamari (squid rings in batter) were onion rings, knowing that they like onion rings and probably wouldn't have entertained the idea of eating squid. The result? Severe mistrust and an angry mama, along with a son who refused to eat onion rings for a long while afterwards just in case.
As parents we just don't realise the damage that our words and actions can do long term. My mum believed that she was acting in my best interests, strongly believing that she was teaching me good eating habits and opening up my food repertoire to new horizons. She wasn't deliberately trying to cause me sadness or distress, that isn't in her nature. She did what she thought was best. But the outcome has been that I now dislike food, and I am reluctant to try new things. Cooking and eating is a chore for me, ranked alongside cleaning the toilet and scrubbing the floors. I don't enjoy food. I eat to survive, that's all. I don't get the excitement of watching cooking programmes on TV, buying recipe magazines, or experimenting with food. I do try. I have watched said programmes and bought those magazines, but unless it is a money-saving budget meal idea I'm not interested :) I can go through a whole day not eating, only remembering to do so when cooking for everyone else at dinner time. My appetite is severely lacking so I rarely feel hungry, no matter how much exercise or busyness I am fitting into my days. Now obviously I can't attribute this to how I was bought up for sure, but I certainly wasn't encouraged to have a healthy relationship with food and eating. I am trying to change this though as I think it is the obvious thing to relate to my almost every day headache suffering and tiredness.
As a positive though, I have used my experience to do things differently with my own children. None have been forced to eat things they dislike, none have been forced to try things they don't want to, none have been forced to clear their plates or go without dessert, none have been forced to eat all their meal before leaving the table. All have good appetites, are willing to try new foods, help with food preparation and cooking, and actually bake and cook for pleasure. Admittedly, I'm not the kind of parent that will provide different meals for different children, I'm just too lazy to faff around in all honesty and the cost would be too high for us financially if everyone had separate meals.. We all eat the same (or very similar) but if a child isn't hungry or doesn't feel like that food, they can get something to eat later of their own choosing. I do ask the children for meal ideas for our weekly plan though, so the meals are usually what the children like to eat anyway.
For Joseph, his relationship with food hasn't always been this good.
When Joe was about 3 years old he was violently sick all over the dinner table - at dinner time, with us all sitting there with food on our plates (subsequently splattered with vomit). Erm, not the most pleasant thing for anyone to experience, but it triggered something in Joseph that seemed to create a battle to conquer. Overnight he went from a child who would love food and would eat and try anything, to a child with 'picky' tastes. His food repertoire went from all to practically nothing. He would eat cheese sandwiches, plain pasta with butter, eventually adding in cheese and tomato pizza (the cheap sort without actual slices of tomato), and yoghurt without fruit chunks. That was it. For years.
School pressured him into 'better eating', telling him he wasn't allowed to eat cheese sandwiches every day and he had to eat other things. His answer to that was just not to eat.
I admit to worrying. I worried about the repercussions on his health and future growth. I worried about his brain development. I worried that he would never ever try new foods. Just how utterly ridiculous is that last statement? That he would NEVER EVER try new foods. I chuckle at that now.
I didn't cajole or pressure. I didn't force him to eat (much to my mum's disgust!) I didn't make a big thing about food, just quietly placing things on the table for him to try if he wanted to. I trusted him. It has to be said that he was showing no signs of health deterioration nor severe weight loss, or else I would have seeked 'professional advice', but I am sure glad we didn't have to go down that route.
Years later Joseph started to eat different things. Day by day new things were tried and liked, sometimes it was just a mouthful, at other times the plate was cleared. At first he would gag on the food he was eating, as if he couldn't cope with the texture. We didn't make a big thing of it, just casually commenting as we would do about any other part of our day. Now you wouldn't know that there had ever been any issues as Joseph has a very healthy appetite and eats most things. Obviously he has his own likes and dislikes just like anyone else, but there is no fear of food any more.
Am I rambling? Are you bored yet?
What I'm trying to say in this rather longwinded opening up my heart to reflect on my own thoughts kinda way, is that by reacting differently to a 'problem', we can create a totally different outcome. I have also learnt how to trust my children and it's not for me to decide what is best for them. We are living a totally blissful lifestyle where trusting children is made easier by not having to follow schedules and live within time restraints. We don't have bedtimes for example, the children instead choose when they need to head off for some rest and sleep. Some times this will be early, sometimes Chelsea will head off just after 9pm. At other times I have company until 11 or past midnight. The fact that they can get up at a time of their choosing in the morning means I don't have to worry about them receiving enough snoozing time, and again I am graced with their presence at various times of the morning - from 7am through to nearer lunchtime (although the latter is getting rarer). Obviously there are times when we have to follow a schedule - to get to a doctors appointment on time for example, or our home-ed groups. The children know this and work around it. Just because they are allowed the freedom to choose the amount of time they spend in bed does not make them unable to fit in with society and thus will never be able to work regular hours for example. Indeed when my teens did the morning paper round they were up at 6am without cajoling because they took responsibility for the job they chose to do.
Because I trust the children to make their own choices, we have little (practically no) conflict in the household. I don't have arguments with my children, we don't shout at each other and it's not often that doors are slammed in anger or frustration (but it does happen sometimes, we aren't perfect!) There are no rules as such, thus none can be broken. That's not to say that it is ok to hit someone for example, or be mean or selfish. Such incidences very rarely happen as it is natural for my kids not to behave that way - they instinctively know that is not nice or acceptable, just as they instinctively know that they should respect others. If they do occur it is because of an underlying problem - ill health developing for example, or tiredness or hunger, not because they need discipline and rules to abide by. I smiled when I was at church on Sunday (for the second time!), sitting with Taisia on my own as the teens sit with their youth club friends at the front and Tiegan goes into the group for her age. At the end of the service a lady came over to me and said how fabulous Taisia has been throughout and how it must be because I'm so calm around her. I liked that. But I am well aware I haven't always been that way and I have learnt from mistakes along the way. Years ago I did the whole shout the loudest to instil fear thing, goodness I'm so glad I found a new way. Funny how home-education can open you up to new ideas about all sorts, not just education related - politics and parenting as two examples. As siblings my children have respect for each other, although will tease each other mercilessly at times but in good humour. I look back at my own relationship with my brother and feel so sad. We didn't spend time together (I was an embarrassment to him), he called me names, belittled me in front of his friends, bossed me around and made me feel oh so stupid and worthless. Our relationship today is strained but slowly improving. We don't spend time together as brother and sister, but speak more as landlord and tenant. Sad, but I am mightily proud of my children and their relationships - again blessed that we live such a bond creating lifestyle.
Today we have all been to the park again, ALL of us (apart from the money earner who was sadly working and couldn't join us), from the 1 year old through to the 16 year old plus me their mama. We visited the library first, returning finished-with books and borrowing new ones. We took them to the park and whilst some of us sat in the sunshine reading, others ran around in all directions with an abundance of energy. It was good and I just love watching the children enjoying each others company. At home we also watched a TV documentary about the Natural History museum in London, painted pictures, read more books, talked about future plans, and decided on fancy dress costumes for the teens Easter celebration at youth club this week. Pictures of said costumes will be shared on Friday :)