The Children’s and Teen Health Summit

I am so excited! My friend sent me a link to some free presentations around children and teen health and parenting issues, although many of the topics would be of interest to non-parents too! There are new presentations available every day for a week and we are currently on day 3. Each talk is available to watch for 24 hours but there is also the option to purchase all 30 presentations. I started listening to a couple yesterday and just had to share. I feel that parents can be so easily convinced to do things a certain way to make sure they are seen to be doing a good job and bringing up well-behaved children, or simply because they lack the confidence to follow their own judgement, but really, we need to look deeper within ourselves and question what is really best. We must be responsible for our own lives and health and be aware of the impact our choices have on our precious children which means questioning the brainwashing information that is all around us that we often blindly accept. Many of the talks discuss hot parenting topics such as unconditional love, our expectations of our children, learning and education, relating to our children, attachment, family life, diet, pregnancy and health and well-being. Yesterday I listened to Naomi Aldort, author of “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves” and found very much in line with my existing attitudes. It talks about how to change our behaviour as parents in order to change our children’s behaviour. However, she points out that this is not about manipulation but about allowing the child’s natural unfolding of the mind through nurturing, which results in natural co-operation without the need to control. Parents who say their children are behaving “badly” are more likely to behaving in a way that is provoking this “bad” behaviour due to their own experiences as a child or their idea of what it means to be a parent. When we address this our children will show dramatic shifts in behaviour and life is more harmonious all round! She also touched upon the topic of household chores, which I found quite amusing being subject to a rota of chores myself as a child! Could you stop telling your child to do chores completely? This morning I listened to another discussion, “The Fearless Parent” with Louise Kuo Habakus. This particular talk touches on plenty of health issues including illness, homotoxicology and vaccinations, but the theme is that as parents we should be making informed choices and educating ourselves on ours and our children’s health. It is about putting you in the driving seat and making confident choices without fear. One topic which really interested me was wifi. I have known for a while now that EMF radiation can be damaging but it really hit home just how damaging it could be and how much more vigilant we need to be with reducing our exposure. Children absorb up to 10 x radiation than adults due to immature skulls that facilitate absorption. There have been links to leukemia, brain tumors, infertility and neurological problems. Other countries in Europe are starting to ban wifi in schools whilst we are ignoring the warnings and exposing our children to more and more of this radiation, through mobile phones, tablets, wifi and more. It baffles me why a toddler needs to play on a smartphone anyway but sadly I see it all the time. If I told you that EMF radiation from these devices has been classified as a group 2b possible carcinogen (cancer causing) and that this classification is the same level as exhaust fumes, lead and DDT pesticide, would you think about taking steps to reduce your child’s exposure? You can switch off the wifi in your house, turn off your mobile phone and set limits on their own time on these devices and you WILL be making a positive change and reducing their exposure levels. Yes it is all around us, but we can take measures to reduce their direct exposure. Just like you wouldn’t want them standing behind a car exhaust breathing in all the fumes 24/7 but you would probably be happy for them to walk around a busy town with lots of cars…the closer they are to to point of radiation the more effect it will have, so start in their home environment.

Having a look at the schedule it looks like there are loads of interesting topics coming up that I am desperate to hear. Day 4 there will be a whole talk regarding the EMF radiation I have discussed. To access the presentations click here. If any of the talks resonate with you I would love to hear your thoughts!

Controlling our children with praise and rewards

It may be fairly easy to understand why some parents do not agree with punishment, in any form, because they believe it to be disrespectful to the child, damaging to a child’s self-worth, damaging to the parent-child relationship and ultimately, ineffective in the long run. Teachers will be familiar with the temporary compliance that punishment may bring but do the ‘troublemakers’ ever realise why their behaviour is wrong and start to make better choices? Or do they display anger and rebel further in the future? The child feels controlled and isn’t involved in their decision making, meaning they are less likely to make good ones in the future. In any act of defiance, any tantrum, any unacceptable social behaviour, there should be an opportunity for the child to learn. How can they do this when we work against them rather than with them? All they really learn is to do what they are told or suffer. These consequences only make the child interested in how their actions affect them and therefore do not learn to see other people’s point of view in order to become compassionate, moral decision makers. The research is clear as day; punishments don’t work. It seems obvious to me that we need to work with children, taking the time to understand them, and resist the urge to control these situations, if we want them to grow up to be ethical, confident, sociable adults with good thinking skills.

However, it might be harder to understand why anyone would think that offering their child praise, a form of reward, could be damaging in similar ways. After all, how can something that is intended as positive encouragement and often given with love, do anything other than boost self-confidence and motivation? I have been really interested in this topic since it was first brought to my attention during my Montessori studying and I have recently finished the book ‘Unconditional Parenting’ by Alfie Kohn, which puts a lot of emphasis on the negative impact of positive praise. I am sorry to say, particularly if you are someone who goes out of their way to avoid punishment but focuses instead on the ‘good’ behaviour, that verbal praise, along with tangible rewards, is actually just the other end of the same spectrum.

When we tell our children that they are ‘good’ for behaving in a certain way we are telling them that we approve of them for behaving in that way. Despite how we dress it up, we are making sure that we are still in control of their actions. Just like when we punish them for doing something we disapprove of, we are conditioning our children, in a similar way to how we would train a dog. We are giving them the message that we will only love them if they please us and do as they’re told. I know what you are thinking; of course I love my children regardless of how they behave! But it isn’t what you, the adult, knows. It is what the child hears. Being condemned when you do this and praised when you do that; you have to earn my approval, acknowledgement, attention…you have to earn my love.

Montessori disagreed with any form of reward or punishment and children were viewed as having the best intentions from birth; children are not born ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’. When we suggest that a newborn baby is ‘good’ – something that so many people said to me when Poppy was younger – we are saying that there is a possibility that they can be ‘bad’, which for a child who has no understanding of the world or social interactions and is only behaving on their most basic human instincts, is a ridiculous thing to suggest. Labelling a child as good or bad we are merely gauging how much of an inconvenience their complex behaviour is to us without understanding the reasons behind it. I find this baffling that we are not interested in getting to know our children better but instead want to tell them how to be to fit in with us. Being eager to learn about my daughter as an individual and unique person I agree with Alfie Kohn who advocates ‘working WITH’ strategies in favour of the ‘doing TO’ approach to raising children.

We should be cautious of manipulating children in any way to comply with what we want. Encouraging a child to be obedient, either because of a fear of punishment or a desire for praise, may backfire when they become old enough to be influenced by people other than yourself. Everyone knows of a teenager who had been good as gold all their life, until one day they got in with the wrong crowd. They might appear to have changed their behaviour drastically, but in fact they are likely to be complying, as they always have, to somebody else’s rules. They are basing their actions on someone else’s judgement and lacking the confidence to follow their own minds, because they have never learnt how.

But there are more reasons to avoid rewards and verbal praise and you may find yourself more able to relate to this information as you read and reflect on your own life. Humans are intrinsically motivated to learn. Babies and children have an overwhelming urge to explore the world and find out how things work. They do not need anybody to tell them that they are doing a good job at splashing in puddles or that they are a good boy for putting the puzzle piece in the correct hole, the discovery they have made is satisfying enough. If we offer them rewards they get the message that what they are doing is something that they wouldn’t want to do, otherwise we wouldn’t have to bribe them. Instantly, their interest in the task declines. Thereafter the effort they put in is a means to an end, the end being praise, because unfortunately, the more a child gets the more they will want. That means that despite their innate desire to learn independently, if they are constantly being told that they are doing well – a quick, easy and satisfying assurance- they will become reliant on this reward and act in order to gain more approval rather than being driven by their intrinsic motivation. This is a key aspect of the Montessori approach, where concentration on their work is fundamental to their development and praise of any sort is seen as an unnecessary distraction. Both Montessori and Alfie Kohn suggest, and it has in fact been proven, that work motivated extrinsically is of far lower quality because the person becomes more focused on achieving recognition than they do on the task in hand. I notice this in Poppy already and when she is really focused on something I daren’t say a word for fear of breaking that vital concentration that is visible evidence that her brain is developing as I watch her. A quick ‘well done’ is enough to draw her out of her own learning and suppress her ability to think for herself. A child who is being conditioned to behave according to their parents or teachers standards, simply notices how the adult perceives their work or play and then alters it to suit the adult. True child-led play is an incredibly valuable, natural part of growing up that we cannot afford to interfere with.

water concentration

We can apply this degeneration in quality of work to the workplace as well. Alfie Kohn cites very interesting research that shows how incentives in the workplace do more harm than good whilst intrinsic motivation improves the quality of work being produced. And what happens when the rewards are no longer there? In a workplace you might see employers disengaging because they don’t see the point if they aren’t being acknowledged for their hard work and at school grades are a fine example of where rewards fail to encourage long-term commitment. I myself worked very hard short-term to get top marks at school, and yet didn’t internalise any of the information, nor did I feel genuine interest in anything I was studying. I took the easiest route to what I had been conditioned to think was success, which meant cramming in information, memorising it as if it were lines for a play, regurgitating it all under exam conditions and having nothing but a piece of paper with a meaningless A on it to show for it afterwards. Similarly, if a child becomes confident of how to gain rewards, even verbal ones, they are likely to take the easiest, most tried and tested route to do so. They won’t take risks or think outside of the box, because they see no point when they only have one end goal in mind – reward. This results in them missing out on a lot of learning opportunities considering exploration and discovery are key to learning. For example, imagine a child takes a drawing of a rainbow to their teacher who instantly says “Good girl! Clever girl! You drew a rainbow!” The teacher ends up with a picture of the same rainbow for a week. In the meantime the child could have been exploring how to draw different objects or use different materials. But moreover, is this the sort of adult we want our children to grow up to be? Taking the easiest route to self-gratification?

So it seems that there are many reasons that praise and rewards are detrimental to a child’s development, and on top of that they have been proven to be as ineffective as punishments in what they supposedly set out to achieve. Of course, there are times when you feel that you naturally want to give your child encouragement and the good news is that you can offer something constructive that will not only help the child to reflect and feel proud of themselves but also ensure that their intrinsic motivation remains as strong as ever. It might seem difficult to get your head around, and impossible to change a habit passed down through generations, but instead of focusing on the details and what not to say, try to focus on working with your child and avoiding all elements of control. If this is in the back of your mind at all times it might be easier to banish the praise forever because it starts to feel so wrong.

There are plenty of ways to show children that you are interested in their actions or efforts without showing judgement. Asking them questions is one of the best ways to do this whilst allowing them to reflect on the situation and learn about themselves. For example, “How did you paint those animals? They are really detailed!” or “I noticed that little boy appreciated your help just then, how did that make you feel?” You are simply observing but inviting your child to think. It might not feel natural at first but soon it becomes a part of everyday conversation and brings you closer to your children. For the big achievements there are phrases that can be used to share your child’s happiness and boost their confidence. For example, a simple, “You did it!” allows the child to reflect on their achievement, keeping their own goals as the motivation for their efforts. It says, “You did what you were trying so hard to do for so long. You must be really proud right now” in one little phrase. When your child has behaved in a way that is convenient to you and you would usually shower them with “Well done!” and “Great job!” try commenting on the effect their choices have had. For example, they are ready to leave the house on time; “You are ready to leave, which means we will be on time to collect your brother. He will be so happy!” Again, the child is able to reflect and learn how their actions have consequences on others. There are many alternatives to praise and rewards, and I have included some links below to help you get started. But one thing to also consider, is do you need to say anything at all? What are your reasons for saying it, and will it benefit the child?

If this topic has made you re-evaluate your approach to parenting then I urge you to read Alfie Kohn’s ‘Unconditional Parenting’ which highlights many aspects of what it means to show your child unconditional love and why you should relinquish control. One thing is for sure, verbal praise is not something to be used to enhance a parent’s unconditional support and love for their child, because in reality it equates to completely the opposite.

Read more here:

Montessori rewards and punishment

Alfie Kohn – Punished by Rewards?

Alfie Kohn on praise

Alfie Kohn – Five reasons to stop saying “Good job”

Alternatives to praise:

What to say instead of praise

Alternatives to “Good Job”

 

 

Clarity.

As you will have noticed, I have been on a bit of a blogging break. And, like any good break, I have come back with a clear mind and having learnt a few things about myself. As this blog acts as a sort of diary on this journey of self-discovery that is parenthood, I thought it was necessary to write it all down. It might seem a little over-analysed to you, but that is because it was, and that’s OK.

I recently went to visit a couple of Montessori nurseries, with the view of completing my dreaded 420 hours work experience in order to gain my full diploma that I have been working so hard towards for what feels like forever. I had been putting this off knowing in my heart that I didn’t want to leave Poppy, but with the 2016 deadline for completion on the horizon I thought I had better face reality if I wanted to reach graduation day. I decided that maybe it was a good thing to do something for myself now that Poppy is getting that bit older. The idea was that she would attend the same nursery I worked at (in a different room) and seeing as I am passionate about Montessori I started to tell myself that perhaps this environment would help her to thrive even more. I convinced myself that I was excited about the extra work I would be subjecting myself to. I started to imagine how much Poppy would love it and that maybe by the end it would be hard to leave the wonderful place we had grown to love.

Montessori is a method of education, but I believe it is so much more than this. It is respect for the children, love of nature, trust in the human mind and body and it’s natural ability and overwhelming urge to learn and a focus on hands on experiences to satisfy those innate driving forces. Parents and teachers alike can adopt all of these principals, and much of Montessori’s philosophy fits so perfectly into our home environment, even though we are planning on going down the ‘unschooling’ route of home education. So I felt hopeful, despite our choice to stay away from school and our ‘alternative’ approach to parenting, that a Montessori environment might just be the only place I would be happy to leave Poppy. Perhaps all of my worries about how often she still breastfeeds, how accustomed she is to having me near her every minute, every day, how well I know her better than anyone else could and how when she isn’t with me I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach that something is missing…perhaps all of those worries would just fade away when we walk through the doors of that beautiful, idyllic, understanding and gentle Montessori environment. Of course they didn’t.

I was open-minded. At least I tried to be. But it dawned on me pretty quickly that a classroom, Montessori or not, was still a classroom, and a teacher, loving, caring and gentle or not, was still not Poppy’s mummy. The picture in my head of the perfect Montessori setting quickly disappeared when I noticed some fundamental ‘rules’ being broken. The baby rooms full of plastic, a teacher reprimanding a child in front of the whole class, the shelves cluttered and verbal praise being thrown around left, right and centre. To the untrained eye this might seem like no biggie, it happens all the time in regular nurseries and schools, but it goes against the most basic of Montessori principals. Being so passionate about Maria Montessori’s work – her methods and the reasons behind them – I hated to see it not being implemented in these well-regarded schools. I started to feel disheartened; my own efforts at creating a Montessori home environment weren’t looking too bad at all! But I tried to remain open-minded and told myself that it was unrealistic to expect everything to be perfect.

montessori bedroom
Poppy playing in her Montessori inspired bedroom

As I spoke to the teachers showing me around I tried to gauge how similar their views were to my own, whether or not our alternative parenting style would fit together with the way they ran their nursery. I didn’t really care about where I did my teaching placement, but if it wasn’t right for Poppy, it wasn’t going to happen. I smiled and nodded when they said things that I didn’t agree with. I tried not to recoil in horror when I looked at their menu and saw junk food and a lack of wholesome nutrition (unfortunately true for many settings these days it seems). They answered my questions about things that they knew I felt strongly about, and their friendly voices and sympathetic eyes almost made me feel like they really did know best and I was living in cloud cuckoo land. After voicing some of my concerns over leaving Poppy, one of the teachers introduced me to the staff as somebody who was ‘very precious about her daughter, and her daughter is probably very precious about her’. Wait a minute, aren’t all Mum’s precious about their children? She said it in the nicest possible way but I have worked in childcare; she didn’t realise I knew that it was code for ‘This woman is an over-protective psycho and is going to make our lives very difficult’. The thing is I remember telling anxious parents the same thing once upon a time, that their very attached child who cries every time they leave them will be just fine, as soon as you are gone they won’t even remember why they were sad. I believed it, and sure, it may have appeared to be true. But how do we know how they are really feeling inside? Especially when we hardly know the child. Don’t get me wrong, Poppy is confident and increasingly independent and very sociable. She would be fine. And the comfort she would have gotten from a member of staff would be fine. And the reduced milk feeds would be fine. And the way that people would have spoken to her, in a tone that I wasn’t quite comfortable with, would be fine. And the fact that she would have had a biscuit as a snack everyday instead of her usual green smoothie, would be fine. It would all be fine. I suppose. But what if ‘fine’ just isn’t good enough?

I came home from the second nursery almost feeling convinced that I was being an over-the-top, paranoid, too-hard-to-please, obsessive mother who absolutely had to relax if I wanted us to fit in and be classed as almost normal. But then I realised that spending just one hour in an environment that was so far from what we now consider our normal, I was being sucked in and questioning myself where I never had before. I am so happy with our parenting choices, our life is amazing and Poppy is thriving; why should I change that to fit in somewhere we don’t even belong? The fact is, being in a nursery even for just four hours without me is most definitely not the best possible situation for Poppy right now. I knew it I just couldn’t quite acknowledge that my reasoning’s were important enough to ignore the influence of others. I had to speak to someone who would tell me I wasn’t crazy before I started to believe I was. I messaged one of my lovely friends who I know completely ‘get’s’ me when others might not. And after I had spoken to my wise friend everything was clear again. No matter how many nurseries I visit, I will never find the right one, because as she put it, Poppy and I are still one. No one can ever love and care for her like I do, understand her needs entirely, or accept and work through her overwhelming frustration and tears when her sock is just ever so slightly bunched up by her toes which means she feels it every time she steps down on that foot (this happens everyday). Most Mum’s will relate to that, and yet we are constantly given the message that we need to break away from our children, give them the opportunity to be independent or they will never learn how to be; stop holding them back, smothering them, spoiling them, molly-coddling them and learn to let go. Stop being so ‘precious’. But this isn’t a natural way to teach independence. Why is attachment so feared in our society? Since when was it so terrible to love your child so much that it hurts to think of leaving them with someone who won’t do it as well as you can. As my friend pointed out, it is human nature to protect and nurture our young, and that protection covers all manner of things, including the emotional stress of separation and all of the things in the world that you, as a parent, decide might be harmful, in any capacity, to your child, their development or well-being. Yes I go above and beyond to make sure I am doing this at all times, from the diet I feed her, to the medicines I choose to use, from the techniques I use to teach her to the way in which I communicate with her. And I will avoid anything that I believe could be detrimental to these efforts, to the most important years of her life and to our strong, secure relationship. If this means that I come across as an obsessive weirdo at times, then so be it. These little details, and the niggling issues I had with the nurseries, may be small and seemingly insignificant to others but to me they make up the beginning of my child’s life, and that is huge.

And so it was decided. I am completing my exams to be awarded a certificate but I won’t be graduating and gaining the full diploma. It was difficult for me to accept that this is not failure but another turning on our journey. I have learnt so much, and will continue to do so, and it will enrich Poppy’s childhood for sure. But for now, I need to focus on family, and just be a Mummy to Poppy…because I am the only person who can be.

As I am sure you can tell, this post isn’t just about deciding not to send Poppy to nursery. It is about the realisation that it I do not have to compromise in any area of my parenting. The truth is, I often feel awkward or embarrassed when voicing yet another opinion, or explaining to family why we don’t do things this way, or requesting that they try to do things that way. I spoke to my Dad recently about why we don’t use verbal praise like ‘good girl’ in the same way we don’t use punishment or any other conditioning techniques (I will write a post about this soon). I found myself feeling a mix of guilt and defensiveness before the words even came out. I don’t want people to feel like I am criticizing them; especially people who I know love Poppy so much. Incidentally, my Dad was, and has been with many things, very understanding and open-minded, which made me realise that I didn’t necessarily need to feel so worried. I am no longer going to protect other people’s feelings or indeed my own feelings of being judged as over-reacting, if it compromises Poppy’s chance to the best possible start in life. I have taken on that label of being a bit whacky or weird because we do things differently, but in reality I am simply passionate, dedicated and motivated to do the best I can. There is nothing wrong with that. I need to realise that so that other people can too. This post is about realising that you are perfectly entitled to be unconventional, you are allowed to want complete control over how your child is raised and you have the right to say no. This post isn’t about anybody else’s choices; it is about me not apologising for mine.
2015-01-28 11.23.11

Thank you to my friends who are there when I need that clarity, who give me the confidence to write things like this, who I would be lost without. You know who you are.

Breastfeeding to sleep: creating bad habits?

P1040506I am feeling really proud of Poppy right now. For the third night in a row she has just fallen asleep all by herself, after her milk, rather than during, and with me just lying next to her. I know people whose babies did this at 12 weeks old, but at 13 months this is a big achievement and significant milestone for us.

Up until now I have breastfed Poppy to sleep every single night, and never considered doing it any other way. At times I might have wondered if I was really doing the best thing, but these thoughts were very fleeting and I didn’t take any notice of them. Breastmilk is designed to make a baby sleepy, in fact it changes during the day so that the night time milk contains a much higher concentration of the sleepy stuff, and our bedtime feed is a lovely, peaceful time where me and Poppy get to reconnect after even the most manic of days. Luckily for me no one has really questioned this decision and told me I was making a rod for my own back, but I know that many mum’s are told exactly that, and perhaps pressured into teaching a baby to ‘self-soothe’. Although I wasn’t worried about our bedtime feed, I did once try to reduce her middle of the night feeds, which I wrote about here and here, so I understand this idea about self-soothing and worrying that your baby will take forever to do so if you don’t actively encourage it. But although Poppy did start going back to sleep on her own, the whole process was far too emotional (despite us taking a ‘gentle’ approach) and more exhausting for us so we gave up after 3 weeks and welcomed our old ‘habits’ with open arms.

I let go of all of any doubts and just went with it. I find that we have ups and downs and sometimes, yes, I wish she slept through the night, but that is usually when we have other stresses in our life and I am emotionally tired rather than physically. The majority of the time, the night time wakings are more than bearable, sometimes I even enjoy them. Sometimes. At 13 months I would say she is waking on average 5 times a night (between 6pm and 6am roughly), a few weeks ago she only woke twice, a few days later she woke every half an hour.

So how is this all relevant to tonight’s events? Because as Poppy lay in the dark chatting to herself and kicking her legs I got a little impatient that she wasn’t falling asleep quick enough. I picked her back up and tried to offer her more milk, in the hope it would relax her some more and speed things up. She arched her back and made such a fuss; she refused milkies! She got herself back onto the bed, snuggled up beside me and was asleep within 10 minutes. It was as if she was saying “I can do this on my own!” And she did just that. I feel hugely proud of this step towards independence, as well as a little emotional (everyone always tells you how you will miss the little things when they are gone!) It honestly feels as significant to me as her first steps, because I know that she has got there on her own, without any expectation from us, and this is her natural progression towards independence so should be celebrated just like all the other big firsts. As well as that it has proved that letting your baby fall asleep on the boob every night does not mean they will never self-soothe. It may have taken 13 months but this feeling is amazing. It has given me hope that her night time feeds might reduce as she learns that she can get herself back to sleep when she wakes, she doesn’t need me, but I am there if she wants me. That light at the end of the tunnel is enough for me to keep feeding her during the night for as long as she wants, as much as she wants. And I know when the day finally comes that I close my eyes at 11pm and open them at 7am (yeah right, more like 5.30am!) I will feel so much pride for my precious girl, it will all be worth it.

So keep feeding mama’s! All the way to dreamland!

Clutter-Free Birthdays

photo 1ghAs you may know, Poppy has recently had her 1st birthday. But instead of buying more toys and ‘things’ for her, I decided to have a clear out. You see, ever since learning about the Montessori approach I have been dreaming up her perfect minimalist bedroom layout that will inspire her to learn through exploration, instead of overwhelm her with colourful, noisy stuff. It is quite a challenge as Poppy’s bedroom is so tiny (more reason to avoid clutter), and thankfully her birthday has come and gone and her minimalistic bedroom has remained in order.

Children, especially babies, don’t need hundreds of gifts when it comes to birthdays and Christmas. The more they get, the more they expect, but the endless toys then have no value to the child as they are so easily replaceable. Spoiling a child does not encourage gratitude or foster a respect for their belongings. Instead they feel entitled to objects and become possessive, and any parent knows how ugly that can be. With so many toys to choose from they don’t need to be imaginative in the way they use them, they simply discard them when they become bored and move on to the next one. When a child has few toys they are far more likely to spend longer concentrating on all of the different things they can do with them, becoming resourceful and developing flexibility of thought which will help them in all areas of life. They also look after their things better and when things do inevitably get broken they experience true disappointment and learn valuable lessons from it. If a child grows up with the view that material things are to be desired in great quantities, with no sense of responsibility or value for those objects, surely we are just breeding more selfish and greedy human beings. We are doing our children a disservice by allowing this snowball effect to happen, and why? Because as parents we crave validity from our children? Their faces light up and you get endless hugs and kisses! Of course any parent would love that! But I bet it doesn’t last, as the gifts get bigger and your wallets get lighter your children’s reactions get less satisfying as they become harder to please!

So what are the benefits to a more minimalist approach? As well as avoiding all of the above you will be creating an accessible environment that will help them to flourish. A tidy, organised bedroom is helpful for a child to organise their minds and make selections based on what is in front of them, which is difficult when there are flashing, bright pieces of plastic hanging out of every crevice and toy boxes crammed full. This mess will send their minds into overdrive, and that is a very damaging state for a child to be in as it does not allow for natural learning to occur. I know I can’t focus when the house is a mess! A calm, organised environment is at the heart of a child’s learning, and this fosters a deep concentration that will unlock never ending learning opportunities. A child raised in this environment will be contented, as learning is what they are designed to do and their energy is not being wasted on pointless activity or darting from one thing to the next without purpose. When you have just a few educational toys available the child will be able to get the most out of them they possibly can and return them to where they belong by themselves, because every toy has its own place. That last sentence has got to be enough to keep Mum and Dad happy too, right?!

Of course there is room for a few toys that don’t have a specific educational purpose. But choose wisely and be frugal. For example, I am thinking of buying Poppy a rag doll for Christmas, as she loves her teddies and as her play develops she can use a doll to learn about responsibility and different roles (hopefully wearing her in a sling and pretending to breastfeed if I have set a good enough example!) I have written about play before, and it is so important that children develop a good imagination, but a big part of this is using one thing to represent another. Limiting the number of toys they have available to them encourages them to think outside of the box, and turn wooden blocks into a campfire or a bedsheet into a tent. Of course, if they already have a pop up tent then it has already been done for them, so they don’t need to think and ultimately they will learn less during their play.

With all of this in mind I have started as I mean to go on, and for Poppy’s 1st birthday I got creative, making two out of three gifts myself. The third was the little wicker chair; something we knew she would love at this age and that would promote further independence. I also made some 1st birthday gifts for Poppy’s friends recently and it was great to hear how much the babies loved them and I am sure they went down even better with the parents because they were hand made. This is something I will be continuing and hope to involve Poppy as she gets older. This way I hope that she will start to appreciate the effort and love that goes into gifts and understand that it isn’t all about how big, expensive or new something is. Even Tim said that his birthday present of 365 reasons why I love him in a jar, one for each day of the year, was the best gift he had ever received.

For people who did want to buy Poppy gifts, I requested that they looked in charity shops first, and I was really pleased that a few people did. Again, this will be something I continue, because when Poppy notices a pencil mark on one of the books, at least I can explain to her that another child has loved that book before her and it is now being reused instead of thrown away, an important lesson in todays economy.

So here is my small list of DIY 1st birthday presents. They were mostly Montessori inspired, cost little and were easy to make:

Nature frame:
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Montessori promotes a love of nature, and classrooms will often contain real plants and pictures of real wildlife. Children are fascinated by the world around them, and I find it such a shame that we spend so much time inside, away from that. So in an attempt to bring some natural beauty indoors I created this photo frame filled with stunning photographs of animals and scenery. The frame was from Ikea, and I was so happy when I found it as it was perfect for the job. I have hung the picture just above Poppy’s floor bed so that it is at her height. She loves pointing at all of the animals, although at the moment each one makes the noise of either an elephant or a lion.
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Photo album:
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Poppy loves looking at our big picture frame full of photo’s of the family. It is a great way to help a child establish a sense of identity, familiarising themselves with faces they see regularly, their immediate community. So I put together a mini album of friends and family that can live with her books for her to choose anytime. The album was £4, so I am not worried if the pages get a little bent.
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Montessori latch board:
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This idea came from the internet and I made it for Poppy’s friend. We are going to make one for Poppy too but just haven’t got round to it yet! It is great for fine motor skills and fosters that deep concentration that is key to learning. I guess it is also a sort of practical life activity as it includes thing that children are likely to find around their homes. You can add all sorts of things, such as light switches, door knobs and any type of latch or bolt you can think of! I secured them onto an Ikea chopping board, which worked perfectly. (Note: you might want to wash the items thoroughly first as some hardware stores items may have some chemical residue)

Treasure basket:
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You all know how much I love these! I made a mini one for a friend of Poppy’s a couple of month ago and have recently made Poppy a nature treasure basket as well as one full of purses, pouches and containers all made of different materials and with different openings for her to practise opening and closing. This is a great idea for this age as they also love carrying things around in bags and boxes and transferring objects. This is probably the easiest gift to make and there are so many variations, it never gets boring!

Matching colour board:
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I am cheating here because this one wasn’t made by me. In fact it was made for Poppy from the friend we gave the latch board to! But I love it and love that it was hand made so had to include it on the list. I was told the idea was from pinterest, and I am sure there are loads more ideas on there and on the blogging scene too.

A poem:

I am not going to share it on here, but I wrote Poppy a poem for her birthday, which is now in her ‘Bump to Birthday’ book. I hope it is something that she will treasure when she grows up as it came straight from the heart and is rather special to me. I think this is a lovely keep sake for a 1st birthday, that doesn’t cost a penny!

More no-clutter gift ideas for all ages:

  • Personalised book – I am definitely making one of these for Poppy’s 2nd birthday! A hand made book all about her. You can also use these to help explain different events, such as the arrival of a new baby, or moving house.
  • Craft activities – always a winner!A day out – I would rather spend money on enjoying the birthday and making memories than lots of presents
  • Tickets – to a show, concert, event
  • Promises – write vouchers to your child for a night in PJ’s with a movie and popcorn or an afternoon baking with Mummy
  • Cookies in a jar – layer up all of the dry ingredients in a jar, decorate it and attach a label with instructions
  • Magazine subscription – if you child has a particular interest this is a great idea
  • Membership – national trust, local farm, zoo, soft play centre, swimming pool…
  • Lessons – swimming lessons or music lessons
  • Home made bath things – you can find loads of recipes online for bath melts or bath bombs
  • Home made play dough – so easy, and also makes a great party bag filler
  • Home made tasty treats – wrap them in a nice bag or a pretty chocolate box for the perfect gift
  • Experiences – an afternoon at a ceramic workshop, cooking class or dance academy. The possibilities are endless!
  • Seeds, pots and a pair of gardening gloves – another brilliant way to help your child get in touch with nature
  • A child’s cookery book – you might be grateful when it comes to Mother’s day!
  • An atlas or globe
  • A magnifying glass and insect book
  • Audiotape – I can’t wait until we can use these on long journeys!

There are loads of ideas on the following website too: http://lulastic.co.uk/parenting/sixty-great-gift-alternatives-to-toys/#

I hope you have been inspired!

Cocoa-nut bites

photo 2-1There are hundreds of these delightful little balls circling the blogging scene! I usually just make them up as I go along, but this one was particularly good. I haven’t been updating you on my sugar free challenge at all! But because of little lifesavers such as these nutritious snacks, I have managed fairly well. It hasn’t been as hard as I imagined, but then again we haven’t cut out natural sugars, so I can still satisfy my sweet cravings. Although many people say sugar is sugar, processed or not, I have to disagree. The foods that I get my sweet fixes from have so many health benefits that far outweigh the sugar content, and the extra goodness in them helps your body to process the sugar more efficiently anyway. I do feel better as a result of the challenge, with no more energy dips mid afternoon. I slipped up yesterday when I was testing a brownie recipe for the party this weekend, and today I have been feeling so lethargic! The other girls are doing great too and the online food diary has helped us to share ideas and really evaluate what we are putting into our bodies. I have realised that I really don’t snack as much as I thought! Michelle has lost a heap of weight and we have both said we want to make it a more long term change. I am also pleased that I have managed to, pretty much, cut out all processed bread (and haven’t eaten anything else processed the entire time!) and am now considering asking for a bread maker for Christmas!

If you have ever thought about going sugar free you should definitely try it. If you are happy to eat natural sugars in fruit, honey and maple syrup, for example, then you may find it is a piece of *sugar free* cake!

So to get you started here is a quick recipe for those moments when you just need a treat:

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup soaked cashews

2-3 cup soaked dates

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 tablespoon coconut oil

Handful raisins

Desiccated coconut to coat balls in

Method:

Puree or blend your dates, cashews and coconut oil (I used my juicer to do this which makes them much smoother than blending, but either works ok) If the mix seems too crumbly add more dates. It should be sticky, holding together easily but not wet.

Put mixture in a bowl and stir in cocoa powder and raisins until mixed well. You can add more or less cocoa depending on how chocolatey you want them.

Roll into bite sized balls and then roll through the desicated coconut.

Refrigerate for an hour before serving (unless you are desperate to eat them straight away, but they really are better after being in the fridge!)

Store them in an airtight container and pack them in a picnic, in your child’s lunch box, for a long journey. You could even put them in a pretty box and give them as a gift…or just demolish them all whilst watching your favourite tv!

Enjoy!
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Home Education – A Personal Journey of Freedom

P1040440 Being surrounded by home educating families at a recent picnic, it struck me how happy the atmosphere was. The children just seemed alive, bursting with positive energy and a passion for life, and the parents too had this peaceful sense of bliss about them, like they had found the answer to eternal happiness. Here was proof that home ed is a successful, magical journey, that most people don’t get the chance to see or perhaps don’t even have a clue it exists. I felt compelled to shed a little more light on this wonderful, mysterious community, starting by discussing some reasons why people choose home education. Some of my friends, who are all normal, sane human beings by the way, just like you (no really they are just like you…even those of you reading this whilst your kids are finishing their homework for school tomorrow, those of you who could just never home educate because you are not ‘brave’ enough or don’t know the first thing about anything), …those friends kindly answered some short questions for me about their reasons for home educating and I loved their responses. All of them are so different and yet something so strong underpins them; freedom. I guess first of all I should tell you a little bit more about our reasons. It may seem bizarre that we have already decided to home educate Poppy when she isn’t even a year old. But to me, education begins at birth and should be a continuous, life long journey, with no concrete milestones that dictate when you are suddenly ready to learn the alphabet or how to count to ten. We didn’t dictate when she should crawl, or start babbling, nor did we test that she could do a certain number of tricks by her first birthday (the questionnaire we got from the GP is still sitting unanswered on the shelf, soon to be binned!) Making our decision to home educate early on makes everything just feel so much more relaxed and free to unfold naturally, as it has all along, letting Poppy take control of her learning right from the start. There will be no pressure on us to make a quick decision before she turns 5 when everyone will be talking about her starting school, because by then we will very much submersed in our home ed world and hopefully confident with our decision. An unintentional but major result of being so forward thinking is that we are able to make friends with other children who will be home educated from now, so that when she does reach that tender age, not all of her friends will be heading to the school gates leaving her wondering why she is different. We have been so lucky to have met some wonderful like-minded families, many of which have children close to Poppy’s age as well as older children. It is so encouraging to know that these little Einstein’s will be growing and learning together, hopefully becoming a little community, supporting each other and building long lasting friendships. I know that socialisation, or a lack of, is people’s first concern when it comes to home education, but the home ed community is thriving around here. Yes, she will end up ‘different’ from the kids that go to mainstream schools, but is that necessarily a bad thing? It doesn’t mean she will be unhappy, weird or less socialised, just that she has different experiences to them and therefore will be building a different view, her own individual view, of the world around her. I feel that the school social environment is artificial and hope that Poppy will gain better social awareness and acceptance of others by being around children and adults of all different ages and backgrounds on a daily basis, learning different things from each and every one of them simply by playing with them and talking with them. P1040462 So what about when she gets older? Surely she will have to go to secondary school and take exams? We are not qualified or intelligent enough to teach her all of that! Maybe not, but we don’t need a qualification to provide love and support and I am confident that Poppy will be intelligent enough to learn the rest all by herself. Having studied child development from birth I know that Poppy has a natural instinctive drive to learn, and in the right environment that desire should never disappear. Babies are desperate to learn about the world around them, everything is new and interesting, and then they learn to talk and socialise and another world is unlocked. They play and interact with others, take interest in how things work, ask questions, seek answers…all by themselves! Then what? Aged 5 (5!!!) we suddenly need to guide them in a certain direction to make sure they don’t accidentally miss something out? God forbid they don’t learn how to read and write by the time they are 7, or they leave secondary school not knowing the meaning of pi. The thing is I truly believe that the children themselves are more capable of knowing what they need to learn, than the adults who set this curriculum. I can’t remember an awful lot from school, other than which boy I was going out with at what time! What has really taught me lessons in life are my experiences. Real life experiences that teach me about people, the world I live in, and perhaps most importantly, myself. I was always ‘academic’ and ‘clever’ at school, but it was lost on me because I didn’t know who I was anymore. I checked all the boxes, I could be whatever I wanted, but having gone through this system that aims to give every child the same knowledge, I had no idea what I wanted anymore. I had dreams but I was confused about whether they were good enough, whether I was better at something else that I didn’t like very much. As it happens I didn’t follow my dreams and I haven’t really used anything that I learnt in the curriculum in my adult life either. Ok I can put a sentence together (most of the time) but all of my ‘A’ grades are pretty much forgotten. I am defined more by what I do, my group of friends, my interests and hobbies, my family and my personality than a letter on a piece of paper. So as you can see, we are planning a very autonomous approach to home education. No lessons, no structure as such, just as many experiences as possible, from everyday mundane chores which teach valuable life lessons to adventurous trips around the world. I am excited to see what I learn along the way as well and I know that the fresh, eager eyes with which Poppy views the world will make everything that much more enjoyable and motivating for us too. And as for the fact that I will be spending every waking hour with my daughter, for all 52 weeks of the year…I can’t wait! I could go on forever, but I promised my friends they would be blog famous. So here are a few more perspectives on home education, I hope you enjoy the diversity of these answers and hopefully seeing home education in a new way: Zoe has two children, Vigo aged 3 and Leilani aged 1. Although she worries that her son may feel he is missing out on something by not going to school she hopes that the freedom that surrounds home education will give her children more opportunities and make them happy, confident children in the long run. What are your main reasons for choosing to home educate? “I think it has to be giving them both more of a chance to be children, free to learn through play without constant testing. In the long term, I want to give them more opportunities to choose their own direction in life, however diverse it might be. My dreams were always quashed by my school. I want them to feel confident and happy that they can succeed in whatever path they choose to follow.” What is your one favourite thing about home ed? “Having quality time with my family, doing the things that we love.” 10636236_10154596016970643_2170334459246196159_n Do you have any fears with regards to home ed? “My main worry at the moment is whether they will feel that they’re missing out on something by not going to school.” What are you hoping your child will gain in the long run? “In the long run, my main goal is to raise happy, confident children with a wide and varied knowledge of the world around them, ready to take on any challenge that faces them.” Michelle has two children, James aged 4 and Imogen aged 1. James was going to preschool when Michelle started to have doubts about the mainstream education system. She decided to take a very child led approach and listen to what James needed, and couldn’t be happier with her choice. What are your main reasons for choosing to home educate? ”It started with not being happy about a 50 child intake for reception aged children at the local school and this coincided with James starting to say he didn’t want to go to pre school anymore. People then started to say to me, “You’ll have to take him when he starts school, he won’t have a choice”…the thought of me dragging him to school when he didn’t want to go just filled me with dread! We started looking into home education and the more we learn the more we know this is the right decision for our family.” P1040455 What is your one favourite thing about home ed? “The freedom!” Do you have any fears with regards to home ed?  “No fears at all. I trust that my children will learn what they need to as and when they need to. Going to school doesn’t guarantee that you will pass all your exams and get a good job!” What are you hoping your child will gain in the long run?  I’m hoping that my children will be independent and confident. That they will be able to think for themselves and whatever path they choose they will be happy!” Sam has a little girl called Zara who is 3. Sam is passionate about her daughter learning in a natural way, without having to conform to certain rules or fit into any boxes. By allowing her to be an individual and explore the world in her own way she hopes that Zara will always have a love for learning. What are your main reasons for choosing home education? “Keeping my child in a safe and loving environment, where someone is mentally and emotionally present 99% of the time. Someone is there understanding the hugely specific emotional needs of my child and able to help guide her through those times, the way I want her to learn. Structural learning is so insignificant for me at the moment. I brought this child into the world, I will raise her. Keeping her love for learning alive is hugely important to us. I want my child to explore the world with passion and energy. To continue the way she has been learning since she came into this world. There should be no structure forced upon her – she is her own and I want to keep her individuality as such.” What is your one favourite thing about home education? “That we are within our individual rights to specialise our own learning. We can educate ourselves and our families whichever and whatever way, structured or unstructured, whatever works best for us.” Do you have any fears with regards to home ed? “That I won’t be able to provide enough opportunities to explore everything in this amazing world. But maybe we don’t need that. Maybe we, as the ‘learner’, just need to explore our own little space and we are happy with that. I am an introvert. I myself struggle with getting out of my own physical comfort zone. I don’t want my fears to impede on the learning of my child’s. I am NOT worried about not being able to provide enough social encounters. Already, I have found that you can do sooo much of that!” What are you hoping your child will gain in the long run? “To be a worldly, well rounded individual, who can get through the toughest of times and let it run like water off a ducks back. Thrive in life and be happy and confident.” P1040433 Ali has 3 children, Winnie aged 1, Alice aged 2 and Anthony aged 8 who is currently in full time education. Although Ali has her reasons for this at the moment she hopes one day she will be able to home educate all of her children. Ali plans to follow a more structured approach than the others but hopes that her knowledge of child development will allow her children to thrive. What are your main reasons for choosing home education? “I chose home ed after learning about the neuroscience of child development and how the school system is a complete contradiction to that.” What is your one favourite thing about home education? I love that it can harness a child’s creativeness, rather than force them into conforming. Do you have any fears with regards to home ed? “I worry that as a family unit we will struggle within the home ed community, we plan to follow the curriculum and be quite structured in our approach and I don’t think this is a popular approach.” Sue has 3 children, Elysia, the baby of the group at just 6 months! Ben aged 4 and Sophie aged 14. Being the only one of us with a secondary school aged child, who was taken out of mainstream school, it is lovely to hear positive feedback from Sophie herself. Sue is confident that this was the right choice to make and it is lovely to see that confidence in everything they do as a family. What are your main reasons for choosing home education? “To facilitate and support my children’s learning, to enable them to study subjects that are of interest to them and to spend more time as a family.” What is your one favourite thing about home education? “Seeing how happy my children are and being there to see their excitement when they learn something new.” Do you have any fears with regards to home ed? “No fears, there is so much support within the Home Ed community, I can always find an answer to my queries. My eldest has already sat her first GCSE at just 14 and the life skills my children are learning will be there forever.” What are you hoping your child will gain in the long run? “Happiness, contentment, to find a career and future that is personal to them, not something that they are doing just because ‘the system’ has taken them there. For them to learn from others and have some incredible life experiences. From a personal point of view I have spent the past 18 months educating myself on Home Education and getting to know my children better than I ever would’ve if they were still at school. Our bond as a family has grown immensely and I can only see us moving in a positive way in the future.” And a final word from Soph…”I love being home educated because I’m studying subjects I enjoy in a relaxed environment opposed to sitting in a dreary classroom studying subjects I probably dislike.” Let me know what you think, and if anything has changed your idea of home educating, or if you are already home educating and have similar reasons to any of these Mum’s. I look forward to posting more about home education in the future as it is seemingly very unknown to those on the outside of it. So many people ask me about the ‘rules’ surrounding home ed, when really there aren’t any! Your child, your choice! Thank goodness for that! 10405536_10154596017315643_5052342720040510202_n

A Year To Celebrate

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Less than one year ago Poppy was thrown into this unfamiliar world, knowing nothing, doing nothing, completely dependant on her parents. And now she is a walking, almost talking, increasingly independent, huge personality with a whole range of feelings and ways of expressing them and an unfathomable amount of knowledge and skills that blow me away every day. How did that happen?

I was thinking about her upcoming birthday and how much she has changed in that first year, how truly amazing she, and every other baby, is! And it occurred to me that we have so much more to celebrate on that special day. Poppy may have had a shock when she came into the world all those months ago, but it wasn’t just her life that changed drastically. And despite how hard everyone said it would be, how many ‘You just wait’ looks I was given, to be honest, I think we have done a bloody amazing job so far.

For starters, Poppy’s birthday will mark a whole year of exclusive breastfeeding, no formula in her entire life so far, which less than 1% of Mum’s in the UK can say. I know this isn’t always possible so I consider myself very lucky to be contributing to that statistic, but despite the fact that she latched on immediately with no trouble, it hasn’t been without its difficulties. It was always so important to me that she was breastfed, I didn’t ever consider another option, but looking back on how much I actually did to make it possible makes me feel quite proud. Poppy spent the second week of her life crying in pain every time she fed and woke from her sleeps screaming and bright red in the face. She struggled to empty her bowels and had a blistered rash on her bottom. I was horrified seeing her like that, but kept being told that it was normal, just colic that would go away eventually. I didn’t buy it and took things into my own hands, researching how my diet could be affecting her through my breast milk. Looking at the common culprits, I decided to start by cutting out dairy, which was incredibly daunting considering I used to have cheese at every opportunity! I looked at the list of names for hidden dairy and read labels vigorously. It seemed I couldn’t eat anything. But I had to try something, and so for the next week or so I literally ate nothing but fruit and veg to be absolutely certain that nothing was contaminated. I felt pretty fed up not being able to eat the proper meals I was used to, but things with Poppy improved quickly which kept me going. I gradually got used to preparing wholesome meals without any dairy at all, using oat milk in our risotto and almond milk for my breakfast, tea and coffee. It was still so alien to me, but after two weeks on this diet Poppy was a new baby. I felt so relieved that I knew what had been causing the pain and angry that none of the professionals would take me seriously. Even after I had seen the amazing results my doctor and health visitor refused to believe it and made me feel pretty inferior to them. Then one day, after I had enjoyed some dairy free dark chocolate, Poppy seemed to react the same way as before. I checked all of the ingredients and Googled some more. Soy. Many babies who are intolerant to dairy are also intolerant to soy. So another thing to look out for, and this one really was in everything I picked up. I was constantly worried about eating out, or grabbing something on the go, I had to read every label meticulously to be sure that I wouldn’t be hurting my precious girl. I felt miserable that so many things seemed to be off limits, and I worried I would never have a social life again! But I still never considered giving up breastfeeding. I carried on, learning new recipes, changing the entire contents of our cupboards, without even questioning it, because it was for Poppy. I did this with little support and whilst juggling a newborn baby, recovering from a traumatic birth and adjusting to all of the other changes in my life. Of course, I may have felt a little sorry for myself, but at the time, in the blur of those early hazy days, I didn’t fully appreciate my own efforts. It was just another thing I had to do, something that perhaps would pass, like the spit up on my shoulder and the middle of the night feeds (little did I know that they weren’t going anywhere fast either). Almost a year later we are still breastfeeding and my diet is radically different. I don’t even have to think about it now, I am simply dairy and soy free, just like I have brown hair, an embarrassing laugh and a weakness for Pimms. It has become a part of me instead of a temporary fix to a problem. I remember wondering if I would continue to breastfeed for as long as I wanted because of this, but that no longer crosses my mind. For starters I have discovered that dairy seems to have been the main cause of my eczema, and I feel better in many other ways as a result of my new diet. It is difficult at times, going to social occasions, being tempted by my old favourites when we go out for dinner, but I can count on one hand the amount of times I have knowingly slipped up (and Poppy still reacts when I do). I never had that sort of will power on any diet I have ever been on! I have to refuse chocolates and cakes that are offered around without a second thought, pass on a lovely cup of hot tea when there is no alternative milk available, watch everyone else scoffing my favourite foods without making a fuss, accepting the fact that it is my responsibility to avoid temptation rather than expecting people to accommodate for me. It has become second nature and with our breastfeeding journey going beautifully I don’t plan to give up until Poppy is ready, which judging from the earlier statistic, is (sadly) not all that common. Now I know this may not be worthy of front-page news, but I am allowed to brag every once in a while.

There are other reasons why I feel this has been such an achievement. Having always struggled with accepting my body and eating healthily, knowing that I was nourishing Poppy forced me to take better care of myself. Since those first small changes I have learnt so much more, incorporating so many fresh and wholesome foods into my diet, trying new things all the time, constantly learning more about nutrition and ditching the junk almost completely. More importantly ditching the fasts and yoyo diet cycles completely. I am finally respecting my body which deserves to be as healthy as can be, because I have realised it is actually pretty incredible, to have grown and nourished a strong human being all by itself. Funnily enough I now, without even trying, weigh less than I did when I was practically starving myself, but I am happier than I have ever been regardless of what the scales say. I believe food is the most important thing to get right in your life, and I am proud that I have turned my relationship with food around completely. I am also proud that I can offer Poppy the best start and hopefully teach her about healthy choices throughout her life too. 

So I guess my next achievement links in with that perfectly. This last year has made me more confident in myself than ever before. My post baby body and new inner peace is just the beginning! There are so many choices to make, small and big, when you have a child, suddenly you have to be sure of yourself, otherwise you might cave under all the pressure. I have always been headstrong to an extent, but vulnerable and my confidence was easily knocked, over the smallest of things. But starting when I was pregnant, I had someone else to make decisions for, and I started to believe in myself more for the sake of that unborn baby girl. I refused induction when the doctors were making me feel like I was wrong. I knew deep down everything was OK, and I was right. Every other decision after that made me more and more sure that I would do things my way. People who scoffed at the fact that we co-slept, or wore Poppy in a sling for the majority of her newborn life; they didn’t make me question my choices one little bit. Suddenly I didn’t care what other people thought of me, because it wasn’t them who would be affected by my decisions, it was Poppy. Initially I had been worried about postnatal depression, having gone through depression and anxiety many times before. But previous bouts of depression left me feeling worthless, unmotivated and with no sense of purpose. I remember thinking, even during Poppy’s 4 hour crying fits, I had never felt more worthy, important, purposeful or in control of my own emotions in my whole life! There were hard times but I just felt like finally I had found what I was meant to be, I had so much to be happy for and someone else to be strong for and nothing would bring me down. Not that I am claiming to be a better mum than the next, or better able to cope with the hard times; in fact accepting that I cannot be perfect and that is still good enough, was a huge realisation and perhaps part of the reason I did remain so positive. When I see Poppy smile at me every day I feel as wonderful as she thinks I am.

As well as these personal achievements I will be celebrating the more simple things that have happened in the past year. We have moved to a fantastic place, made fantastic friends and we have shared so many good times as a family. Tim has come so far in his career, and I am so proud of him. I have thrown myself into a new life here, juggled a baby and a diploma, which is going pretty darn well, as well as keeping the dog alive and the house tidy (ish). So I hope you don’t mind the very personal (and slightly long) post, but I wanted to share with you all of those positive things that explain why Poppy’s very first birthday means so much to me. People warned me that having a baby would change my life, and it has…entirely for the better.

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What are you proud of since becoming a parent?

Breastfeeding: 10 things they don’t tell you

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It is world breastfeeding week! Instead of a soppy post about how amazing our journey has been and how lucky I feel to be able to breastfeed my daughter (which I do), I thought I would inject a bit of light hearted fun into the week and warn all of you mother’s to be about the things the midwives don’t tell you. I know many of my readers will get this, for those of you without children, and my Dad, I apologise if this is TMI. So here goes:

1. Your newborn doesn’t give a damn who the milk comes from:

You may want to warn visitors to wear high cut tops, unless they are down with wet nursing. Your little bundle of joy will nuzzle into any warm, welcoming chest if their tummy is rumbling, even Grandad’s.

2. You need different sized bras for morning and night:

Depending on your babies sleeping schedule, you will probably find that sometime during the morning you look like Katie Price, and feel like you could model for the cover of FHM. By early evening that E cup bra is hanging off of your deflated balloons and you understand why your mother-in-law warned you that breastfeeding will give you spaniels ears for tits.

3. In the early days – you stink:

This isn’t always the case but I guess I was lucky. All of the weird hormones flying around your body, and I am assuming the fact that your milk producing glands are modified sweat glands, may mean that for the first few months of breastfeeding, you stink. Remember when I told you that I couldn’t make that lunch date because Poppy was over tired/poorly/teething/all of the above? I meant to say that I just couldn’t shift this smell of B.O and didn’t want to put you off your food. Of course if you manage to avoid this lovely by product of breastfeeding, you are still likely to smell pretty offensive. Sour milk anyone?

4. You might just leak all of the time:

Pre-baby if someone had told me they had enjoyed a milk bath it would have conjured up romantic images of some new age spa treatment in a mountain retreat, surrounded by exotic flowers and floating candles. 9 months later and I was having them on a daily basis, through no choice of my own. But hey, at least when we had unexpected visitors we didn’t need to worry about having the fridge stocked with fresh milk.

5. Your baby does not care about your dignity:

Poppy has never been the type to settle down for a cosy, lazy, relaxed feed. At least not when we are in company. God forbid she misses something more interesting! She latches on and off and on and off, making sure everyone gets a good look at my chest in the meantime. I have heard people say it IS possible to feed discreetly…I am sceptical.  At first you feel self-conscious, but you soon surround yourself with understanding people who you know are not offended by a woman’s beautiful, natural anatomy. If that isn’t possible you get very quick at the top up, top down, top up, top down manoeuvre and hope that in your sleep deprived state you don’t get it the wrong way around. TIP: By all means relax in the comfort of your own home and let your baby latch on and off as much as they please without a care in the world. But I speak from experience when I say that if you are so relaxed that you haven’t noticed you are still undressed after your baby is finished and playing on the floor, just make sure the curtains are shut if it is around the time that the postman does his rounds. That parcel exchange was the most awkward I ever had.

6. Nursing bras are hideous:

When I was pregnant I went to get fitted for a new maternity bra. The woman in the shop clearly mistook me for an 80 year old virgin as she fetched the most hideous contraptions I have ever seen. I swore that I could still be a Mum, a breastfeeding Mum, and be sexy too. I was wrong. A year later and I am longing for those supportive, practical, beige, boulder holders as I desperately faff about with uncomfortable, lacy, balconette bra’s every time Poppy gets hungry. I try to pretend that she isn’t the only other person who ever sees them, but who am I kidding?

7. Babies are not immobile, floppy, blobs forever:

Eventually they learn how to sit up, crawl, do the crab…and you might find they like a “drive-thru” as much as the next person. You see babies are busy little beings with lot’s to learn, and sometimes they just don’t want to stop and do nothing whilst they eat their lunch. If you breastfeed lying down, like I do on occasion, you may find your baby getting into all sorts of funny positions, nipple still in mouth. It is actually quite amazing how stretchy those things are. Downward dog was a favourite in our house for a while, sometimes with a little twerking for good measure. Sometimes she doesn’t have time for a full tank. She stops, mid-play, pulls down my top as affectionately as you would unscrew a petrol cap, and refuels, sitting bolt upright the entire time. The blue-eyed baby in the follow-on milk advert doesn’t do that.

8. Babies are also very flexible:

Settling down for a good feed is the perfect time to practise their acrobats. Foot to face is the favourite…your face that is. I am kicked in the face and have toes up my nose on a regular basis. A word of warning: when your baby first discovers they can do this. DO NOT PLAY KISS THE FOOT! It is cute the first time, your baby looks at you and giggles as you pretend to nibble their sweet little toes. But the thing is, babies like repetition. Mums like peace and quiet. So if you want to make the most of that “peaceful” twenty minutes, try not to interact with them at all.

9. Nipples are to babies what speed is to sniffer dogs:

There are times during the night when I do my best not to feed Poppy back to sleep. But, for practicality reasons I don’t always sleep with a top on (sorry for the mental picture, or you are welcome depending on who you are). So there I am lying on my front, absolutely adamant that my goodies are staying firmly squished into the mattress as I attempt to shh her back to sleep. Poppy is rooting around and I have this very brief smug feeling of power (I did not just say that, all of my AP friends close your ears!), when all of a sudden, out of nowhere I feel a familiar suckling and Poppy is looking pleased as punch as she drifts into a milky dream. How….? Wha…? I told you they were stretchy!!

10. Breasts are really interesting for a 10 month old:

*See earlier points about elasticity of nipples

So we are 11 months in and the fun continues! But would a change a thing? Absolutely not. For all of the inconveniences, there are so many positives. If you are considering breastfeeding, do it, do it, do it – just don’t say I didn’t warn you!

HAPPY BREASTFEEDING WEEK EVERYONE!

Chickpea Tagine

Root-Vegetable-Tagine

You may already know that we are a little obsessed with this recipe. In fact it was the first meal we cooked when we had decided to give veganism a go, and it was so good that we didn’t think we would ever be tempted to eat meat again! These days we are ‘chegan’s’; a name I heard somewhere that means vegans who cheat. Everything I cook at home is vegan, but if we are invited to a social event, we would rather just join in and eat what everyone else is eating to make life easier and ensure our social life doesn’t die out. I have also found it really difficult eating in restaurants, as a lot of the vegetarian options still contain cheese, so I often just opt for something with meat in order to avoid dairy. It is early days, but I think overall we are doing pretty well. 

Anyway, back to the tagine. This recipe has been adapted ever so slightly from one in our ‘Crazy Sexy Kitchen’ recipe book by Kris Carr. It is really delicious and healthy, and although it seems like a lot of ingredients, I now kow the recipe off by heart and it is easy. Try not to skip any of the flavour-y (it’s a word) ingredients as the overall taste is amazing! I once ran out of cumin seeds and discovered that these are an essential part of the dish!

You can, however, use any root veggies you like. For some reason I am always drawn to orange veg for this dish! I make my own tomato paste for this recipe, so I will start with that.

Tomato paste:

8 sun dried tomatoes

1 large tomato

1/4 red pepper

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp cinnamon 

1/2 tsp black pepper

Blitz and set aside.

Chickpea Tagine:

1 tbsp. cumin seeds 

1 tbsp. ground coriander

3 tbsps. olive oil

1 medium white onion, diced

2 cloves garlic

Your pre-made tomato paste

1 pint (ish) vegetable bouillon

3 large carrots peeled and diced

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1/2 butternut squash

1/4 jar pitted and chopped green olives

400g carton of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 jar artichokes (optional but tasty)

Zest of 1 lemon

Large handful raisins

3 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus some to serve

3 tablespoons chopped coriander, plus some to serve

(The original recipe also had mint, but we don’t usually buy this so I leave it out)

Method:

1. Toast cumin seeds and coriander in a pan until aromatic. Once toasted, add to your tomato paste and mix in. 

2. In a large heavy-bottom shallow pot or deep skillet (cast iron works best) on medium heat, add oil, onions and garlic. Cook until onions are translucent and golden, stirring continuously for about 4 minutes.

3. Reduce heat to medium-low, add the tomato paste and all of your root veggies (not the chickpeas), coating them in the paste.

4. Add the vegetable bouillon, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the veggies are tender. 

5. Add the olives, chickpeas, artichokes, lemon zest and raisins. Continue simmering for about 5 minutes. 

6. Add parsley and coriander and season with salt and pepper if desired. 

7. Garnish with sliced red chili and fresh herbs if desired.

I have just eaten a huge bowl of this! It is also one of the only meals that keeps Poppy’s attention for longer than 5 minutes. She picks out the chickpeas and eats them one by one! And today she had a go at the carrot and sweet potato too!

Enjoy!