“The Next Step…”

Early in the morning I awoke,

And snuck into the bedroom to watch him sleep.

He stirred in his sleep,

Opening his eyes,

And smiled sleepily whilst beckoning me over for a cuddle.

I snuggled up close,

As he wrapped his little arms around me,

And rested his head in the nook of my neck.

We laid there breathing in unity together,

As I stroked his head gently.

In what seemed like no time at all,

The day arrived,

And he skipped merrily on ahead,

To the next stage of his life.

The one where I would no longer be the centre of his universe.

The one where his ears and eyes would be opened wider by the world around him.

The one where I cannot protect him in an instant as I am not by his side.

This is the world where he has to stand on his own two feet.

This is the world where he grows in knowledge.

This is the world that I have been slowly preparing him for over the last few years,

And now it is time to let him take that next step in his life,

For this is what parenting is about,

Giving our children wings to fly.

“Friday Group”

For a number of years I have been involved in a group that meet regularly on a Friday morning.

The group was set up by a friend who felt prompted by God to set up a little group to meet at her house on a regular basis to enable support and to develop friendship between those with young babies in our church.

The original group consisted of six mums and their babies. Over the years the group has grown, members have moved on and new ones joined. We’ve watched bumps grow into babies turn into toddlers and observe them develop as children. The group opened up beyond Mums to include Dads and Grandparents.

Various people have taken on the role of opening up their homes and hosting over the years to enable our group to maintain that homely feel.

When I was invited to join the original group, none of us had any idea that it would flourish all these years or the impact it would have on us individually. For me personally the group enabled me to have social interaction at a time when I struggled to be in bigger and noisier environments due to my rapidly declining hearing. For a another friend it enabled her to just come and be a Mum and not as an organiser running the group.

Within the group there is no pressure to attend regularly, and all are supportive of one another that extends outside of the times that we meet.

It is a group where we can come, just sit and have a brew with a slice of cake with no expectations upon us to talk if we just want to sit. Equally there is no judgement if we need to offload or seek advice. There is recognition that caring for a baby or child can be exhausting and challenging especially when surviving on little sleep. Quite often you will find a small baby being passed around being given attention by others to enable an exhausted mother to have a hot drink and the chance to relax.

I recall on one occasion when an exhausted mother came with her newborn whereby the baby had a major poop explosion. The group sprung into action to help the mother clean herself and her baby up, providing wipes, nappy and change of clothing as the mother in her exhausted state had forgotten to bring a bag with all the essentials. No judgement was made, as we’ve all been there at some point.

It’s not just the adults that have benefited from this group. Our children have too. It has enabled them to develop their social skills and build up relationships with others outside of their immediate family.

In today’s society it is easy to feel isolated as a parent particularly as very few have a network of family close by to offer advice and support. This group has enabled so many to find a support network and to build long lasting friendships. We definitely need more “Friday Groups” in today’s society as it would make such a difference to many people.

My time at the group is coming to an end as my youngest prepares to start school. It will seem strange not to attend the group anymore although I suspect I may not be able to resist sneaking in for the odd slice of cake and baby cuddles!

I am so thankful for my friend plucking up the courage to invite five other strangers and their babies into her home, and so proud of how that vision has developed over the years.

I can honestly say that it has been a real privilege to be part of “Friday Group” for so long and to share in the lives of so many lovely people and their families.

“Father Figure”

Growing up my Dad was my hero. He was the centre of my universe. Full of wisdom and keen to encourage us to be creative and questioning of the world around us.

He was firm but loving in his parenting approach. Always took time to listen no matter how insignificant the issue was, because if it was inportant to us, then it was to him too.

He made sure we knew that we were loved, giving us cuddles and telling us that he loved us.

So when he died, my world came crashing down as I was lost without him in my life.

Then along came another man into my Mum’s life. At first it was hard not to compare him to our Dad or to find fault.

Gradually I came to love and respect my Step Dad as mine for he show love and affection towards us even when it must have seem an impossible task.

Two men totally different in personalities, skills and knowledge. But both strong wise men with hearts full of love wanting the best for their family.

I was told once by a friend that I was lucky because I had two great father figures in my life which for some people they never get. My friend is right, I was and am blessed with having known and loved two men who cared for me as their child.  They both played an important role in shaping and defining who I am today. Without them my life may have well been different today. 

I am a parent now myself and I watch my children with their father. I see so many of the qualities of my own Dad and Step Dad in him that it makes me smile knowing that I choose to be with a man who reflects the best of both of my fathers. I can only hope that my children will recognise and know that they too are blessed with a loving father who takes time to invest in them because he cares deeply about them.

“Three years of breastfeeding…”

Today we have reached the milestone of breastfeeding until age three years.

I didn’t intend to breastfeed this long. It has just sort of happened.

At the beginning of our journey my baby fed and fed for over an hour that the MIdwives had to wait to do their checks as he refused to stop feeding and got distressed if removal was attempted!

He had a strong suck and this made breastfeeding painful for the first few weeks. Eventually we figured it out and things settled down. At times such as when he was teething we faced challenges again, and it was hard to resist the urge to jack it all in. I’m so glad we persisted as he’s growing up to be a secure healthy child full of confidence and joy.

How long will we continue for, that I don’t know, as he is gradually reducing his feeds. What I do know is that I’ll enjoy those moments whilst we have them because one of these days he’ll stop just as nature intended, having being fully nurtured by my body.

“The Loss of my Hero.”

When I was eleven years old my world fell apart, as I witness my Dad dying of cancer, and then he succumbed to death.

For a child it was hard to watch the man who was my hero become frail and weak.

Initially my parents tried to protect us by playing things down, but you cannot hide everything from curious children. The throwing up randomly and frequently made us wonder what was going on. Then he got taken away to hospital in a private ambulance at the end of the summer, the day before I started secondary school.

Then at some point, I can’t recall whether it was a few days later or weeks my Mum told us the news that our Dad was dying. I recall that moment well, sat in a little side room at the hospital eating a packet of mini Chedder crisps, and not knowing what to say or do, other than to eat my crisps.

My Dad stayed in hospital for a few more weeks, then came home. At first he was able to take part in activities at home, even if he did tire easily, but then he became more weak and spent much of his time in bed.

I recall going into my parents’ bedroom after school to chat and tell him about my day. I don’t know if he knew that I struggled at school, and would sometimes have to leave lessons because I couldn’t cope with being there, knowing my Dad was dying.

Not long before my Dad died, I recall breaking down in class as someone said that another of my family had gone home, and I instantly thought the worst has happened. My teacher a lovely kind and gentle man took me aside, allowed me to cry and then asked me would I rather my Dad live in pain, or die. I recall saying that I didn’t want him to die, and I would rather he was alive and not in pain. But my teacher shook his head sadly and said that wasn’t going to happen, and that my Dad would either live in pain or die. He went on to share his own personal experience of losing a family member, and said that he understood exactly how I was feeling. 

That teacher was the first adult to be totally honest with me and not attempt to tell me that it was all going to work out fine. He helped me to acknowledge what was going to happen, and didn’t sugar coat it.

A few days later on Monday 7th December 1987 my Dad died at home. We were in the room when he died. I recall him taking his last deep breath, and all of a sudden it seemed really quiet. You could have heard a pin drop, it was that quiet, and so peaceful. One minute he was there, the next gone.

At first none of us were sure if he was really dead. It seems absurdly comical now when I look back, but we were trying to watch him to see if he was breathing, until one of the family hit on the idea of using a mirror to see if his breath would make it foggy. Tea got burnt and we ended up having a chip tea, not that any of us were very hungry.

In the days, weeks, months and years afterwards it took time for me to recover from the loss of my Dad. Even now I get the odd moment where I feel such a sense of loss and sadness. But what I do know is that my Dad loved us, and that he was strong in spirit right to the bitter end. He instill in each of us his passion for life and a stubborn spirit. He shared his wisdom with us, and created memories which cannot be taken away, but cherished forever.

My Dad died, but he lives on in spirit in each of his children, and we pass on what we learnt from him onwards to the next generation.

“Parenting through the mess”

As a parent you spend a lot of time sorting out your family, making sure that their every needs are met. It can be hard to switch off and relax.

So often you are busy thinking ahead to try and ensure things go smoothly. For example I could be sat relaxing, reading a book or watching tv in the evening after finally having wrestle the toddler into their pyjamas, sent the child back to bed several times and told the Tweenie to put away her mobile and go to sleep, when all of a sudden a random thought will pop into my head, and I think uh oh must sort before I forget! So I still don’t get time to myself even when the children are in bed because I find myself doing little tasks now, in case I forget to do it in the morning.

I am like the majority of my friends very self conscious about the state of my house, as it seems no matter how much you tidy up, there always seem to be a child untidying behind you! So I find myself apologising for the state of my house when friends called round. Which is daft really as the majority have houses in similar state to mine! There are the odd exceptions to this, and I look at their houses wondering where they find the time and energy to keep on top of it all.

I recall a few years ago feeling that I was failing as a mother, as I was struggling to juggle the demands of caring for a very young family alongside maintaining the house. Then a card arrived through the door from a friend. The timing of that card couldn’t have been any better and the message behind it was so apt in reminding me that no one was perfect, and that life with children is not mess free. What is important at the end of the day is that our children are loved and nurtured, not whether their clothes are wrinkled free and the floor clear of toys.

“Hopes and Dreams…”

Growing up, children play at being parents. We’ve all seen them pushing a doll or teddy in the pram mimicking the behaviour of those they observe around them.

As they get older, often conversations turn towards their future hopes and dreams. There can be very few of us who didn’t lie idley in the sun talking about how many children we would have, and what we would call them.

Then as we go onwards into adulthood and settle down, well meaning relatives and friends ask, or drop heavy hints about babies. You see it written in wedding cards too, such as “Here’s hoping for lots of little blessings!”

Whilst the majority of people go on to have children with relative ease, there are a number out there who sadly struggle to get pregnant or maintain a pregnancy.

Society is rubbish as a whole to acknowledge these losses. Remarks such as “Oh it was never a baby, just a collection of cells!”, “Obviously nature’s way of getting rid, as there was probably something wrong with it!” or the killer line “Never mind, you can always try again!” hurts deeply. That baby was very much wanted. That baby represented hopes and dreams.

Some people are open, whilst others are private about their loss. 

We need to be more aware and sensitive to those around us. We need to acknowledge their pain and sorrow. Most of all we need to realise that life is fragile, and that things don’t always turn out like we imagine.

“Still Breastfeeding?!”

When you first have a baby and breastfeed, most people are very encouraging, saying things like “what a lovely natural thing you are doing feeding your baby.” 

Then as they get older, people start giving their opinion on why baby should not be breastfed. Such as “He’ll never learn to sleep through if you don’t wean him off the breast at night.” or the classic “You’ll be having to feed her through the school gates if you’re not careful!” Actually this is a load of rot! No two child is alike in their nocturnal sleep habits, as all of my children have proven, regardless of whether I ceased feeding at night or allowed them to do it naturally. I’ve not yet had to feed one through the school gates, nor have I heard of anyone else doing this! 

Natural term weaning is viewed as being “a bit out there” by a number of people. Usually emitting “bitty!” jokes, or looks of horror when it becomes clear that you are still feeding past 6 months. 

It is the recommendation of health organisations such as the World Health Organisation that breastfeeding should continue up to two years of age or beyond. So it isn’t helpful when faced with a health professional who takes a dim view on feeding past what is seen as the social norm of 6 months.  In fact this can leave the breastfeeding mother feeling uncomfortable, or upset about not being supported in their choice.  

So what is the natural weaning age? From the information I have read, it appears to be around 6 to 7 years of age, when children start losing their milk teeth, as once the adult teeth comes in, children loses the natural ability to breastfeed.

So why am I still breastfeeding my youngest child, I hear you ask.  Well it’s not to provide his main source of nutrition, more a way to supplement it, and to provide him with a source of comfort. Breast milk also provide him with vitamins, and strengthens his immunity system. If he does get ill, nursing is one of the few things he takes comfort in.

When he is hurt, or upset offering him the breast instantly soothes and calms him right down. Trust me I would rather deal with a wriggly toddler twiddling my hair, poking at my moles, attempting strange nursing positions than a screaming full on melt down toddler tantrum!

Breastfeeding also has health benefits for me, it reduces the risk of various types of cancer such as breast cancer, reduces risk of rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease, protects against osteoporosis and impacts on other health factors too. Pretty impressive really when you think about it, what breastfeeding does for both baby and mother.

I’ve been told that breastfeeding will make my child clingy. Obviously they’ve not spent time with any of my children as they are all fiercely independent, and have been from a young age!

“But the teeth?! Surely that must hurt?!” is another question asked with a look of horror. Actually no it doesn’t, because the breastfed child learns how to feed without chomping down. Initially it can be uncomfortable as each new tooth comes in, but they soon learn to adjust their latch. 

My breastfeeding days will come to an end at some point, but I can’t answer when yet as I simply don’t know. All I know is that both my child and I are still benefitting from it right now, and that’s what matters.

“Growing Up…”

My firstborn is off to secondary school. It doesn’t seem that long ago since I was gazing at her in awe in the delivery room. When did that little baby become a big girl?!

She’s growing up fast, and I’m not sure I’m ready for it yet.

Gone are the days when I was the centre of her world. Where she would cry for me, and only I would do when she wanted comfort.

The days are slowly slipping by, whereby she will skip happily beside me on the way to school, chattering incessantly about her favourite animals, friends, the world as she sees it through her eyes. These days I’m lucky if she engage in a conversation that doesn’t centre around her wants, or engage in physical contact via a hug or hand holding.

Yet despite all this, I’m proud of how she is growing up to be a fiercely independent young person who knows her own mind, and won’t be sway by others if she doesn’t think it would be the right course of action to take.

I love it when she does want to spend time with me, just the two of us. Those times are definetly more preferable to the “stompy stroppy” days, where she rolls her eyes at me, huffs and disagrees with everything, or tells me that I am “embarrassing” because of something I did, wore or said.

My daughter is no longer dependent solely on me, and is increasely becoming more and more independent. But would I have it any other way? Honestly, no because it shows that I’m succeeding at this parenting lark. Like a baby bird, she has to learn to fly independently. She would resent me so much more if I clipped her wings. So as much as I find it hard to let her go, I know that for her to succeed in life I have to let her do this.