The alternative voluntary job

parenting1Having recently discovered Viber I got chatting to a friend from Uganda who put me to task about my blog page that appears to have gone rather silent. It wasn’t for lack of topics to blog about, the real reason was down to my restlessness and poor practice in using my time.

To kick-start off my blog I’ve been asked to give my take on parenting. First of all, this is one definition on what parenting is about…

Good parenting happens when a person creates for a child a stable, nurturing home environment, is a positive role model, and plays a positive and active part in a child’s life. Good parents provide moral and spiritual guidance, set limits, and provide consequences for a child’s behaviour. Good parents accept responsibility for the total development of the child and guide the child in making sound, healthy, life decisions through open communication and mutual respect. – US systems policy, 2002

Most people think that a good parent is someone who has “good” kids. The truth is, however, that good parents can have any kind of kids and for the worst part not at all reflecting their goodness, but rather the genetic character of the child. What parents can claim credit or blame for, however, is their own behaviour.392683_10150447486643558_228102923557_8866395_670180841_n

Parents can do a good or poor job of parenting: socializing and educating their kids and providing a healthy model for them to emulate but whether or not the character of their child/children opts to emulate is an entirely different matter. In my native language of Luganda there is a saying which loosely translates, “we [mothers] give birth to the body but not personality”…tuzaala mubiri so si mwoyo.

Whilst definitions of parenting get isolated in to “good/bad/poor”, I am not keen on the use of ‘good parenting’; instead I opt to say positive parenting practice. Reason being: seeking to add what is positive or focusing on the positives in all situations adds motivation both to the one practicing the parenting and the one being parented.

Parenting style and family factors

The approach to parenting differs dependent on personality, character and existing family factors. It can also be compounded by cultural and/or religious beliefs and practices.

Whilst I have been accorded some beautiful compliments over how well my daughters are maturing in to young ladies, I do not accept the credit is all down to my parenting alone as a single mother/parent over the years. This was before I met my current partner of the last five years and hopefully one to spend my old age with. My partner has actually accentuated my parenting role.

A whole system of support way back from birth not least their genetic makeup has played and still is playing a part in how these young people are maturing in to as adults. Verna Springer, a friend, mentor, sister from another ‘mother’, midwife being  one of many!

Overall and in effect I owe my parenting skills to my late aunt who nurtured me to become the person I grew in to. Authoritarian and stern, but effective.

My older brother ‘Uncle Beno’ has been a pillar of support since I can remember, taking on the role of a male figure during the girl’s formative years and still does to this day. This is not to say the girls’ father was absent physically from their lives.  He was…at least until they were teens. Enabling the girls to grow up balanced was more important than indulging my revenge for the adult issues that existed between me and their father.

Mind you, divorce or separation where children are involved does have an impact on all concerned and this is where parenting skills can truly be challenged. This and the teenage years are the critical periods of parenting  where I’ve been advocating for parental support from the social system here in the UK.

When parents separate or divorce, it is imperative to support the children to not take the burden of the issues the adults have between them.  When the affected parent(s) are hurting it is sometimes very difficult for the characters/personalities involved to put the interests of the children foremost.  Hence why it is imperative for social systems to give this area redress and support.

Comparisons

Nostalgia allowing and if I am to compare the brief childhood time spent in Uganda, parenting was a practical and community affair entailing physical care and practical education. The business of psychological or emotional care was predominantly the preserve of grand parents – assuming the grandparents had welcomed your mother! If not, well you just forewent the luxury of wallowing in a grandparent’s dotting and instead faced up to reality early.

Everyone older than you was a parent and could even discipline you as they saw fit. A child belonged to the whole clan in which shared responsibility was expected. Note: I said nostalgia. I cannot vouch for what is taking place now.

These ends (UK) when you become a parent and find yourself to not have a supporting network of friends or extended family members, then I’m afraid you need to imagine yourself as someone that has just taken on flying a plane for the first time. I remember having to take my eldest daughter with me shopping for groceries 72hrs after she’d made entrance in to the world. It certainly wasn’t for wanting to show her off – I simply didn’t have anyone to leave her home with and Tesco hadn’t started doing home deliveries then! That’s another thing that comes to mind…it is rare to find new-born babies with their mothers shopping or in public places in Uganda. Give it time though…

Whilst reading up on parenting books may help, and hopefully if you’ve had exposure or even practice looking after other people’s children, the reality of you being in the driving seat can be overwhelming. And that’s only in the early part of parenting when the little bundle of joy has not yet learnt to assert his/her rights other than exercising the vocal chords and lungs.
It’s the teenage years that can make or break you as a parent when you alternate between losing the will to leave and wondering if somehow in your labour pangs you picked up the wrong child. Accepting I was the most hateful person and yelled at for refusing to agree to what was deemed to be cool became part and parcel of my teenage parenting drill. Remember I had this on rotation of 3 girls.

Teenage yearsP3

Teenage parenting is the period when you have to reach deep to use all your skills, both mental and physical as a parent to keep the communication open while remembering to remain mutually respective to your child. It is important to get in there first before external influence does it for you in exploiting their naivety. I remember my telepathy skills went up a notch monitoring what was spoken or not spoken, taking interest in friends made or dropped, then the sleepless nights when the rebellion phase hits. Repeating the mantra of focusing on their beautiful positive characters did save the day and my sanity.

P4In the process I also learnt that reacting to inappropriate behaviour made it worse resulting in the behaviour becoming an attention seeking method. Instead I would pay attention to appropriate behaviour by rewarding or praising it. I find as humans even in my working environment, praise or show of sincere appreciation wins big time in motivating people. As does genuine respect. of an individual’s input no matter how small in age or status/social standing  – well all need to feel appreciated and respected.  If I was practicing empathy, customer care skills, management etc at my workplace, why not put it to use on the most precious investment in my domestic setting?

Of course this is not to say or believe all at home was like Little House on the Prairie! In between I’d experience moments of wanting to send them to Uganda to be straightened out or until their hormones calmed down. I am aware some parents in the diaspora have taken this option, however this was not for me.  I’d remember that my role in their lives did not just extend to just the pleasurable aspects of their existence but in all stages of their growing up to hopefully become responsible persons.   Using that option would simply be passing on my inability to learn how to deal with the effects of their changes and instead giving that stage of their development to someone else. I guess  I like doing things the hard way!

Sending them off to boarding school like had been part of my earlier childhood was not an option and besides, boarding school fees here in UK unless your earnings are well over £40K, is not an option. I missed out on that boat soon as I had the 3rd child and was looking at a single parent income.

Conclusion

It is my belief that family therapy is vital in as much as parenting support to all of us parents especially when we lack any kind of extended family or community support. It gets parents to re-evaluate how they interact with each other as a family and seek solutions on how best to communicate taking in to account each other’s personalities and characters.  No one method fits all – parenting skills are an acquired skill on the job moulded to fit in accordance to the personalities, quirks or individual characters that make up a family unit. Open communication remains the key in all and sometimes this key can only become visible when family therapy or support is in place.

The experience has shown me the value of having taken a career break in the first 5yrs of my daughters lives. It put me in a better position to study and learn their characters and how best to communicate with them as individuals – something I wouldn’t have been able to perhaps do fully if I’d placed them with another person. It also made me realise why grandparents always seemed to know more about the characters of their grandchildren than the parents. However, this has been my experience and my journey.  It shouldn’t translate to be a template for everyone. but rather as a reference point on some issues that might come up during parenting.

I wish every parent the best and for them to enjoy the experience. I have.

“More important than the quest for certainty is the quest for clarity.” ~Francois Gautier

My partner is the gift I really never expected to find. I never imagined that I deserved the kind of love that he was capable of giving me. With complete certainty, I felt safe in loving him and lucky to have him share my life.

We both have children from previous relationships, and with high hopes we have entered into the balancing act of a blended family.

I have reasonable expectations that among the hard work there is to be an unspoken respect for each other, and we’d slowly start to make new memories and become our own. I am optimistic. I remain open and ready; and look forward to the new journey that we have all embarked on.

Some would probably say I am blinded by love.

I do anticipate a period of adjustment for us all. Albeit with apprehension, I hope I can cope with the insecurities that are bound to surface, emotions to flare, and to allow compromise to become our very best friend. In all sincerity nobody can predict what the future is to unveil nor how well or not, we deal with the challenges that come with it.

When faced with challenging relationships especially with teenagers let alone step-family; it is easy to begin to question oneself, everything you’ve had worked so hard to find in your life, your own self-acceptance and self-confidence. All of a sudden you start to feel it all slipping away.

Even trying every angle seems to be at odds if not futile. You give space, you give time, and most of all, you give love. You can give until you feel there is nothing left to give. As result you start to lose pieces of yourself every day to this. Going out to work can turn in to a welcome respite such that you start suffering anxiety attacks about returning home.  Sadly you start to lose your grip on all other beautiful relationships that make up your life.

At worst you start to feel like you are being punished, and soon realise that you are punishing yourself and others as well. You see a side to yourself  that you never knew existed. Anger, sadness and feeling out of control and helpless creep up on you. You are at a loss what to say to your GP and being told you are depressed does not take away the reality of what your life is.  Taking anti-depressants may not be an option either.

We have all dealt with a “Negative Nigel,” The person at the office who thinks everything is a bad idea. The one who ruins every holiday. The neighbour who for some unknown reason just seems pissed off that you rented/bought the house next door. The happy ending to that story is that you get to go home, get away, regroup and recoup after they have sucked the energy from you.

What if you dont? What if this person is a part of your everyday life? You want things to be different, but they do not and maybe never will for that matter. You have to find your own way.

I’ve learned that you must make a conscious choice to own your peace, to protect it. To take time-out each day to embrace my “quiet,” the quieting of the mind—the self-doubt, anger, and resentment. I am working on putting a stop to questioning everything and also to stop trying to rationalize their bad behavior.

I have stopped trying to seek acceptance from them; this most likely has nothing to do with me anyway but their own issues of which I have no control whatsoever!

Lastly, I have stopped judging. It’s so unbelievably hard to do but necessary. I had to continually remind myself, even while writing this.

You cannot change the way someone else feels if their mind is set or their past has a hold of them. Until they want it for themselves, I have to let it be. My mantra now is: “Be brave, be gentle, and set myself free”.

This is not a life-altering tragedy that you are a victim of. This is a life-changing lesson you are faced with; use it wisely.   The challenge I am still working on is not to resign myself to the fact that I’m not to blame for what’s happening to me but instead consciously decide to play a part in what happens.  It does not matter how I got here, how I will handle it is what’s called for.

So, with my motives and expectations in check, let me be more mindful of my thoughts.

To just lead by example. Actions speak louder than words: shall leave an open invitation for them to join me but will not give them the power to take mine from me.

To keep from being distracted by negative people and hurtful moments is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I hold on to the hope that someday this anger will leave us and be replaced with a chance. I hold on to that hope but I don’t depend on it.

daily comings of parenting and commutes

Do you ever get those moments when you start something but never get to finish even thinking it out? I started writing about this evening’s irritation on my homeward commute and each time something kept disrupting my chain of thought. It started when I spotted a young lady I shared the same bus with the other evening. I think she is originally from W.Africa, although she has this weird American twang to her accent like she is rolling her tongue around some balls inside her mouth whilst talking. Truth be told her voice was grating on me, made worse that she seemed so caught up with sharing all her ill feelings of bitching sessions with another, I would assume female friend on the other end of her call. Same as on the previous journey we’d shared, she kept gesticulating whilst talking at the top of her voice about the same person that she felt was jealous of her but yet needed her as a friend. Then the volume of her voice went up a notch when beside her, an Asian guy too took up position of next in the stakes for talking to his friend on the phone. Not long it turned into a competition of who could talk loudly for the whole bus to hear. Unfortunately their competition was disrupted rather rudely when in matched a group of Somalian ladies with children. Now this got very interesting in terms of who was to win the war on loud speaking or should I say shouting…

but back to the reasons as to why this has taken me over 2hrs in writing…First it was my daughter who after pause for thought on an earlier disagreement we’d had, I called her to put the bad feeling to sleep so to speak. See, I dislike going to bed with unresolved anger of any kind – especially with the girls. Unfortunately I chose a bad time yet again. She was even more irritable than I’d been on first arriving back home this evening after that episode on the bus, and my attempt at reconciliation just made matters worse. Realising my error in judgement, I let it go so she could go sleep; and strangely enough she remembered to go and removed the heavy eye makeup she has taken to using these school days without my nagging. This is one child I can not quite place. She has a mind of her own and does things her way which does not sit well with my controlling personality. She is a very intelligent child but very untidy in more ways than one and this is always the route of our disagreements. This evening it had been down to her wanting to know if I would allow her to go to the fun fair this Friday evening.

Unfortunately, I was still annoyed with her inability to tidy away her stuff from around the house especially her bedroom area over the preceding weeks. As a result I didn’t feel up to giving her this treat and went to explain away why when she cut me off to ask that I give her a yes or no answer! Damn it. Even if I gave her a yes/no response, she’d still have asked why. But after time “apart” cooling off and talking calmly to her, I got to seeing her point.

We have agreed on a month’s trial of monitoring to see that she adheres to tidying away her items …I truly will need all the prayers to keep my patience in check.

The other disruptive thought has been down to what I should do about a clash of programmes tomorrow. It is one of those things that come about and you really wish the missing parent can read you telepathically and throw in his/her presence to do his/her part of parenting. You see my girls have a father that only remembers them in his dreams I think…For the greater part he appears to be a figment of my imagination that I sometimes think I am in denial too about sperm donation I might have written up for once upon a time in my younger years. Now I have to stop being so petty and mean with this line of of thought and face my choices like a woman! C’mon girl pull yourself together I tell myself and for the greater part it works. The dilema I face is threefold. My youngest daughter is to have an orthodontic appointment when she gets measured up for her braces and my middle daughter is to attend college visiting open day sessions in preparations for her choice of college for next year. The orthodontic appointment has been long in coming and cancellation could cost me a fair amount on my purse as it would be late notice having been put forward from the previous day. The college appointment is just as important and already the person it relates to has threatened to disown me as a mother to her if I don’t escort her. Her appointment after all she says is “life changing” and was made earlier to the rescheduled orthodontic one. Plus she “absolutely will not go with anyone besides me” – actually she changed this statement not long after extending it to my boyfriend who she keeps telling me to be nice to and not bully him! I think she just wants him to spend money on her planned attendance to the theme parks for this Halloween malackey. However all this is besides the point. I have already taken off more days than I can count for such visits that work is surely about to search where my pending P45 is stacked… So what will I do?? HELP!