Tag Archives: self esteem

Sad (or School Allocation Day)

17 Apr

School run

The last few days have been anxious ones for parents as they waited for news of where their little darlings will start their formative years in education. Primary school allocation day. Nerves have not been so frayed since this year’s mamas and papas twisted their hair and scuffed their Doc Martens waiting for exam results. The anxiety isn’t helped by what is seen to be a complicated (and seemingly random) allocation system. It’s another challenge on the rocky, emotional road that is parenting.

The wait between the application deadline and allocation date is a long one – three months. Quite what is happening during this period is uncertain. One can only imagine that FBI checks are being run, dustbins rifled through and shopping habits scrutinised. We were delighted to get our first choice (thanks to our close proximity to the school) but we still had three long months of not daring to count our chickens. Of course, none of the available schools are ‘bad’ but they do each have a different ‘feel’ that you need to be happy with. (Obviously, my choice was not at all swayed by the Convenience (C) equation: C = X + Y, where X equals eXtra time in bed and Y equals Years of life spent on same stretch of pavement making sure kids don’t run into the road or step in dog poop.)

I wasn’t prepared for how emotional today would be. Once the initial excitement of getting the school we wanted had passed, the significance of the moment started to set in. My little girl would be going to school. Really, truly. I even shed a tear or two, something I had not expected to do until she actually starts school. Four months of blubbing beckons for me as the build-up to September starts: buying her uniform, the school visits before the summer holidays, choosing a pencil case … Another chapter in my life as a parent is well and truly opening.

Am I ready for it? Excuse the selfishness but I think the girl will be fine – after all, her excitement today was focused around the colour of the uniform. The prospect of structure, PE and making new friends hardly factors. So back to me. Life is going to change. What are my concerns?

  • Can I accept that my daughter is growing up? Will I start dressing my 2-year-old son as a baby again and push him around in a pram in a desperate attempt to keep at least one of my kids needing me. (Buying a cat is also an option here.)
  • Will my precarious self-esteem survive life at the school gates? Will it be a bed of roses or the snake pit I’m led to believe it is?
  • How the jiggins will I cope with having to feed her tea every day of the week? I currently struggle with being imaginative twice a week. Does tinned mackerel constitute a balanced diet? (The aforementioned cat would be in for a treat at least.)
  • Will I be required to only leave the house in full make-up, possibly purchase Ugg boots, and, worst of all, join the ranks of the Ballet Mums skilled in the dark art of making other mothers feel uncomfortable?

My worries for my daughter are another blog post entirely. For the moment, I’m wallowing in my own regret at the speed with which time passes. Sometimes it’s difficult to focus on the parental joys you have already experienced and those that are yet to come. Every stage of being a parent involves some form of letting go and accepting that life is changing and changing rapidly. The pride that can bring is often tinged with sadness. As I watch my daughter head off for her first day at primary school I’m sure I’ll be grateful that it’s just her new found independence I’m worrying about and not the length of her skirt or the boy waiting for her at the school gate. That is all still to come. God help me.

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Yummy Mummy or Boring Bob?

27 Mar

women's magazines

I am at an age where I’m old enough to be someone’s mother. I am actually a mother as I have two kids. What I mean is that I am now old enough to be the mother (maybe even grandmother) of the generation I consider to be ‘young’, the wannabes, the men and women who will be our next future. And that makes me feel old. Listen closely enough and I can sometimes be heard uttering the telling phrase: “Policemen are so young these days”. What’s a girl woman to do when she finds herself at the top of  a slippery slope grabbing on for dear life with her stubby fingernails?

I’m not a big fan of health and beauty magazines aimed at women. They’re very pretty to look at and sometimes even include an interesting feature amidst their trivialisation of women (under the guise of empowerment of course). They have the ability to tweak the love handles and poke the pimples of anyone harbouring a dash of insecurity. One day they could even be the cause of my daughter valuing lipstick over the human race. It was to my horror then that I found myself reaching for the latest issue of the Boots Health & Beauty magazine looking for inspiration and solace. Such depths of self-pity had I reached.

Egged on by the promise of “tiny and oh-so-doable steps” and just the hint of the chance to CHANGE MY LIFE, I stumbled across Louise Kearney whose goal was to “look glam at the school gates”:

“When I drop the kids off at school, the other mums always look so well turned out and cool – I wish I knew their secret! … I’d love to re-invent myself as a yummier mummy, but I’ve got no idea where to start.”

Louise may have been smiling in the photo but it was a desperate cry for help and it struck a chord. My two children are now old enough that I can start to reclaim my body safe in the knowledge that I’m not planning a pregnancy that will come and b*gger it all up again. Like Louise, I will become a school runner from September when my oldest starts to drag me daily into the snake pit that I’m led to believe the school playground to be. Oh clever, clever Boots magazine! Louise could be me. I was practically ripping open the laptop to order the magical products prescribed to cure lovely Louise of her baggy mumsiness.

Most exciting of all was the discovery that I was already halfway there to achieving the status of aged, yet desirable, woman. I have a bob. There was me thinking I had a boring old haircut. But no, look in the mirror again and feel the power of the bob. According to Lord Trevor of Sorbie, Louise’s ‘hair expert’ in the article, a razored bob is the way forward: “Trust me – a shorter style will help turn back the clock”. I trust you Trevor, I trust you.

Content that I now had the tools to be gorgeous, I let my guard down and dipped into the rest of the magazine. Little did I realise that my new found confidence was about to be shaken. On page 24 I received the following slap in the face courtesy of the magazine’s columnist, soon to be 40-year-old (gasp!) Katy Regan:

“Plus I’ll ditch the bob, which my twenty-something make stylist informs me ‘is a look only women over 35 go for these days’!”

Only sad, desperate old women over 35. The bob: the blue-rinse for the 30-something generation. How we’ll laugh at them behind their backs when they ask for a cut a bit more ‘Ann Hathaway’ and we tell them that a bob would much better flatter their face shape. It hides the wrinkles and the jowls, darling. Know thy place.

The world of women’s magazines yet again reveals just how superficial it can be. Whilst I am frightened by the industry’s output and the negative impact it can have on self image, I am even more frightened that there are people (usually women) writing this content and failing to see the hypocrisy of it. Scarier still is if they are producing the content in full knowledge of their influence but are choosing to subjugate any twinges of sisterly solidarity. Of course these magazines have their place and should never be taken too seriously (indeed, I feel I am getting a bit serious here and may need to pause to adjust my blue stockings). But the potential of even the most lightweight and frivolous of magazines to do harm should never be underestimated. Especially by an old duffer with a bob like me.

Me! Me! Me!

17 Jan

Raising considerate children

A day off work waiting at home for a delivery is not without its dangers. First, there is the guilt over sending the kids to nursery whilst you put your feet up and enjoy visiting the toilet in peace. Secondly, stuck inside and craving interaction with the outside world, your usual defence mechanisms are weakened and this can lead to you answering the door in a reckless fashion. Cue people of a certain denomination ‘spreading the word’. Cue a parenting blog post. Yes, really. Inspiration moves in the most mysterious ways.

I don’t believe in God myself but I do make time to listen on the doorstep. I will inevitably shut the door clutching a selection of leaflets and, because I feel guilty at having taken leaflets that could have gone to someone more likely to be converted, I do try to at least flick through them. (Thus, I expect, earning myself brownie points should there turn out to be a god.) Amongst the latest batch of leaflets, little did I expect to find a whole pamphlet on parenting. Whilst it didn’t leave me questioning my lack of faith, it did leave me questioning my parenting skills.

The feature article was entitled ‘Raising Considerate Children in a Me-First World’ – “If you are a parent, how can you help your children to reap the benefits of being kind and to avoid being contaminated by the self-absorbed culture that surrounds them?” I was transported back to Christmas Day and an image of my 4-year-old surrounded by piles of toys and wrapping paper. She asked “Are there any more presents?” whilst I sat thinking about how lucky my children are and wishing she could find contentment and happiness in a lump of coal. Everyone wants their children to be happy but how can you ensure this without the negative consequences of them believing that they are at the centre of the universe?

The article outlined 3 “traps” that can create inconsiderate, self-centred children:

1. Overpraising

“Do not dole out praise just to make your children feel good about themselves” – a slapped wrist for parents who “have been unduly influenced by the self-esteem movement”. Of course, you shouldn’t praise your child for everything and bad behaviour should be addressed in an appropriate way. If my 4-year-old threw a plate of spaghetti at the wall I certainly wouldn’t praise her for the wonderful mural she had created. However, as someone with low self-esteem who is terrified of passing on my own neuroses to my children, please do excuse me if I choose to lavish praise on them to make them feel good about themselves, however small the achievement. A lack of self-confidence has the tendency to saddle you for life. That self-doubt (whether it be a drop or an ocean) can permeate everything you do and hold you back rather than propel you forward. I would much rather my children approached everything believing they can do it well, rather than wondering whether they will do it well enough.

2. Overprotecting

“Whilst it is natural to want to protect your children, overprotecting them can send the wrong message – that they do not need to take responsibility for their actions.” In my opinion, there is a difference between protecting them against the consequences of their own actions and protecting them against adversity in the world around them. My children are both under 5 and are firmly wrapped up in the cotton wool I have spun just for them. Every day in the car I have to switch the radio off when a news bulletin comes on describing death and destruction in the world. Yet my 4-year-old still picks up odd words and asks questions – as much as I can sensitively bat away those questions, I know that little snippets will be sticking in her mind and sowing seeds of worry. She is not old enough yet not to be overprotected from the world around her. As for my children’s own actions, no, I won’t completely ignore it if, for example, they fail a test. However what I will do is ensure they understand how they can do things differently in future. I hope I can give them the confidence to accept responsibility and move forward, learning on the way.

3. Overproviding

“In a survey of young adults, 81 per cent said that the most important goal of their generation is ‘to become rich’ – rating it far above helping others.” This is about stuff. Stuff and money. Stuff and money and things. It is also where I hold my hands up and look shiftily at the floor. I acknowledge that I am guilty of buying my children things as treats to make them happy and – okay, okay, I admit it – things that they ask for. I also acknowledge that I’m not doing a good job of trying to instill in them a sense of the value of things or that treats sometimes have to be earned. Am I creating monsters? If I am watching a full-on tantrum in a toy shop then I would say ‘yes’, I am. If I am watching my oldest sellotape tissues to a toilet roll and use it as a sword to attack her brother then I would say, most definitely, ‘no’. Like all children, they take pleasure in the most modest and unexpected of things and, thankfully, are not complete slaves to the best that money can buy.

The emergence of a generation of self-centred individuals seems to be weighing heavily on society’s conscious. The policy in China of only one child per couple has, it is commonly believed, created children who, being used to being the sole focus, have grown up selfish and prone to neglect their parents. Indeed, China has recently introduced a law to force children to visit their elderly parents. In the last few days, research in the US has suggested that high-self esteem in students can actually lead to less successful lives. (Of course, the definition of success is debatable – if my kids end up scraping gum off the pavement for a living but are happy, healthy and contented then I would consider that a success.) My own recent experience in a very rich foreign country (which shall remain unnamed) and the proliferation of kids there with an enormous sense of entitlement and a complete lack of manners left me very conscious of the little people I am bringing into the world. Reminders of my duty as a parent to help my children become considerate members of society appear where I least expect them – and for that reason my door will always be open.

You’re beautiful, you’re beautiful, tra la la laa

25 Jun

It’s been some time since the last C&P post. I blame the dribbling, vomiting and farting baby #2 who arrived exactly three months ago. (He’s gorgeous by the way – the adjectives there were just for effect.) Postpartum hormones have left me liable to cry at most things from the cutesy to the darned right evil. Being responsible for little people has made me more sensitive to what can be a relentless and frightening world – something shared by parents the world over I’m sure. If I could buy rolls of cotton wool in toddler size then I’d be picking fluff off the playmat right now.

Last week there was one incident that made me more sad than anything else has recently. Here’s how the conversation with my two and a half year old went:

Her: Mummy, can I have some of your make-up on please?

Me: No.

Her: [through sobs] But I won’t be beautiful!

Me: Oh sweetheart, but you ARE beautiful.

Her: [still sobbing] I’m not beautiful. Without make-up other children will say I look like a boy.

After calming the sobs with cuddles and plenty of reassurance I was left wondering how on earth my little girl could have got this into her head and what kind of society do we live in that could have a girl thinking this from such an early age. I do recall on occasion telling her that I put on make-up to ‘make me look beautiful’ – an off the cuff remark but is this what has stuck in her head? (What I haven’t explained to her is that a 34-year-old who hasn’t taken care of herself and wasn’t blessed with natural beauty needs a little help whereas a two-year-old doesn’t.) She doesn’t watch any grown-up TV. We never have a copy of Glamour in the house. I can’t believe that exposure to a class of two-year-olds at nursery has put this in her head. Do they chat foundation and lipstick over the sand tray? Paint their nails when they should be painting something impressive for ma and pa’s fridge?

The sexualisation of children has been a hot topic recently what with a new crackdown on inappropriate marketing aimed at children and criticisms of a children’s beauty parlour opening in Brentwood, Essex. Even David Cameron has managed to speak a few words of sense about it. These (including David Cameron) are things I can help my daughter to avoid (and let’s not forget my son, the pressure on boys shouldn’t be underestimated). I can’t protect her from everything though and influences can come from seemingly innocuous places. Today we watched Disney’s Pocahontas – like most Disney heroines and princesses she has a tiny waist, an enviable bust and luscious hair. She’s beautiful, yes, but she ain’t a real woman (well, Pocahontas is but you get my drift). My girl would love to be a princess. How long before she starts to cut out the chocolate buttons to try to be one?

Two pieces of advice I got stood out. “Show her pictures of Pauline Prescott, Jodie Marsh etc – that should scare her off make-up” – my friend Jennifer is spot on, that would be enough to scare anyone. Another friend recommended dressing my daughter in pretty dresses to make her feel beautiful. This is less clear-cut. Wouldn’t that just be reinforcing the external messages? To be beautiful you must have a pretty dress, pretty make-up, pretty hair. I feel a vicious circle coming on …

To be honest, I can’t see my daughter ever wanting to burn a bra. Equally, I hope she never aspires to be Jordan. If she doesn’t feel ‘beautiful’ then I will do all I can to help her with that. But lightning strike me down if I ever start with her nails and hair rather than her self-esteem.

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