Peterborough SANDS

Posted by Natasha in Campaigns & Activism, Children & Childhood, Children's health, Children's Rights | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

 

Peterborough SANDS is a regional division of the National Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS).  Tragically and without an obvious reason 17 babies every single day in the UK are born as stillbirths or die soon after (11 due to stillbirth and 6 neonatal deaths) this amounts to a staggering 6,500 deaths of babies every single year; on their website SANDS liken this to ’16 jumbo jets crashing every year with no survivors’.  Like most people, I too thought that stillbirths and neonatal deaths were a relic from the distant past and not a common feature of our ‘advanced’ and ‘modern’ lives.  The shocking truth is that 6,500 families every year are devastated by the loss of their baby; with ten times more stillbirths every year than cot deaths.  For the majority of us these sad facts remain hidden and we only become aware of these issues when we read in the press about public figures such as Lily Allen and Amanda Holden losing their babies.

SANDS is charity that provides much needed support and guidance for parents and their families who are suffering from the loss of a baby.  Although, SANDS is a national charity they now have almost 100 regional support groups such as Peterborough SANDS, which are run by and for bereaved parents.  Helen Cross and her husband Steve established the Peterborough division of SANDS after their own son Jack was born a stillbirth in July 2008.  They now use their own experience to help other grieving parents come to terms with the loss of their baby, as well as raising money for research and working alongside Peterborough City Hospital to help improve the maternity services for bereaved parents.

At present Peterborough SANDS is looking to provide Peterborough City Hospital with two portable CD/MP3/Radio systems for their bereavement suite.  Helen explained to me that these music systems will be used by bereaved parents that will be staying in the hospital   following the loss of their child as well as being used by labouring women who will be delivering a stillborn baby.  These modest items will bring some much needed small comfort to parents in the darkest moments of their life and bring a modicum of distraction and focus.  To this end, Peterborough SANDS is seeking donations from anyone who could provide one or both portable stereo systems or anyone who could provide a generous discount for such a worthy cause.

If you are local to Peterborough and have suffered the loss of baby either through stillbirth, miscarriage or neonatal death whether this is recently or a long time ago and you feel you need support then follow this link to the Peterborough SANDS contact page. For those who are in need of support that live outside of Peterborough then here is the link for the SANDS support page.  

If you are reading this and would like to lend your support to those who have experienced the loss of a baby then SANDS are running a campaign entitled Why17? and are seeking pledges of support.  You can also donate to Peterborough SANDS by following this link.

I urge you to help Peterborough SANDS to help bereaved parents by sharing this article through Facebook, Twitter, Email, Google + or any other social media you can.

Thank you.

‘Feral Rats': London Riots and the Vilification of Youth

Posted by Natasha in Children & Childhood, Children's Rights, Deviance, Discrimination, Juvenile Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CC George Rex, Source Flickr

Currently the United Kingdom is in a vice like grip of horror, disgust and panic over the riots that engulfed parts of London and other major cities nation wide.  No-one who has watched the news coverage of the events can help but be shocked and sickened by the devastation that has been caused to families, homes and businesses.  It is a sorrowful imputation of our society and the times we are living in that members of our community feel compelled to express themselves through violence and believe they have nothing to lose, no aspiration and no care for the consequences of their actions.

The analysis has begun and people are asking why? Why, did members of our own communities do this?  Why, the needless and wanton destruction and violence? Why, are they looting? Why, do they think this is acceptable?  The truth is that at the moment no-one knows.  May be there is no answer or at least there is no answer that will please everyone.  Unfortunately, with the question why comes accusations and blame.  Whose to blame?  The individual? The parents? The schools? The community? The economy? The government? To root blame at any one door may make us feel better and alleviates our anxiety over a seemingly random act, as if to classify it we can distance ourselves from it and be safe in the knowledge that it has nothing to do with us.  That it is someone else’s child, someone else’s problem, someone else’s fault and like pontius pilate we can wash our hands and absolve our guilt.

I believe that there is no more rationality behind the actions of the rioters than there is from the outpouring of hate by the general public via twitter and facebook.  Both are subsumed and being swept along with the power of the crowd.  Within the crowd the individual as we know it ceases to exist and in its place the collectivity of the crowd  takes on its own life and consciousness.  Once an individual is ingratiated in such a crowd they find themselves capable of interacting in ways that may be completely alien to them, be it benevolent or malevolent.  Extreme examples of this are the Rwandan genocide and the atrocities of Nazi Germany, a more benign example is the crowd at a football match (I’m not a fan of football but have been found jumping, cheering, booing and chanting at a live match!)  The power of the crowd makes us bigger, braver, bolder, than we would be on our own, as well as more senseless and unthinking.

Much ink has been spent with people from all quarters venting their rage, disgust and incredulity at the insurrection of  our youth.  This leaves me questioning whether it would appear more acceptable to our sensibilities if the rioters were older?  Surely, crime, criminality, disorder and violence are equally abhorrent no matter what the age of the perpetrator?!  The youth element of the riots have fed into and reignited societies deep seated fear of youth.  Unless youth is controllable and containable then it is to be viewed with suspicion, mistrust and apprehension.

A question that also begs to be asked is, what do we mean by youth?  Are we even all speaking the same language?  Do we all share the same definition of the situation?  To my mind, youth refers to young people from adolescence to the age of majority at eighteen.  The pie chart below demonstrates that using this definition of youth that in fact they make up only 19% of those appearing in court charged with offences related to the riots.  Whereas, if you use a wider definition of the term youth, as referring to those from their teens to under twenty-five this would account for  70% of those facing charges.  The difference between these figures is huge.

Media representation of the riot from the outset has almost exclusively focused on the youth element.  Using terms such as ‘spoilt children’, ‘marauding youths’, ‘masked youths’, ‘hooded youths’ and ‘knife-wielding children’.  Thus creating an image in the public imagination of our young, as unruly, out of control, and menacing, as well as solely responsible for the recent riots throughout the UK.  They have been described as ‘feral rats’, ‘animals’ and one twittterer even suggested ‘Bring the army in. Bring back public flogging for feral youths’ and Anthony Daniels is noted with saying that British youths are ‘the most unpleasant and violent in the world’.  I find this vilification of our youth worrying to say the least and fear what the consequences of this type of thinking will be on an already marginalised group.

The majority of the discussions surrounding the riots has as its locus ‘the problem of youth’, our young are disenfranchised, they come from ‘broken’ or ‘troubled’ families, they have a warped sense of morality and that this can be fixed by ‘zero tolerance’, removal of benefits. evictions and the ‘full force of the law’.  All of these statements are troubling and strike fear straight into my heart, as they scream reactionary right-wing diatribe that is only serving to demonize and scape-goat a whole generation.  The media and governments misguided centrality of youth involvement in the riots will only facilitate the further restriction and intrusion into our children’s lives.  I know within my own town that police have been heavy handed and in the days following the riots were pulling over cars with young people, performing searches and arresting youths for walking home as ‘loitering’.

The recent riots have been marketed and sold to us, as sign of our ‘broken’ and ‘sick’ society epitomised in our anarchic, amoral and recalcitrant youth.  The figures do not match the discourse, they may have been an element in these events, but they were not the driving force that has been portrayed.  In whose interest is this?  Certainly not a generation of young people who are being tarred with the same brush and may see their freedoms and movements restricted as a consequence.  Why were these riots not packaged as a problem of male dominance and violence?  After all, they are accounting for  92.2 % of the people appearing in court being charged with riot-related offences?  Is it because male violence is so normalised within our society that it doesn’t make good copy? It doesn’t shock us enough? It doesn’t make us suitably fearful of an enemy within? It doesn’t fit into the political agenda?

We need to refrain from making sweeping generalisation, we need to not punish a generation for the crimes of a few, we need to understand the recent events for what they are and not what we envisage them to be.  If the vilification of our youth continues we are sure to witness an actual rather than imagined youth uprising.

If the young are not initiated into in the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth (African Proverb)

Children’s Day.

Posted by Natasha in Campaigns & Activism, Children & Childhood, Children's Rights | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I would like to introduce you to our fantastically impassioned guest poster today; Neil Thornely who is working tirelessly in a effort for the United Kingdom to recognise a National Children’s Day.

As some of you may know, today is International Youth Day.  It comes as a bitter coincidence that on this day in 2011, Britain’s youth is grabbing headlines for causing carnage on the streets of London, Manchester, Liverpool and many other UK cities.

There is no excuse for this violence.  There is never an excuse for expressing frustration or anger in a way which causes damage to public property or people’s livelihoods.  But beneath the surface media coverage of youths raiding sportswear shops and tearing out street furniture there is a dialogue, a message – this behaviour is a symptom of a much larger problem within our society.  Sane people do not riot for days on end when they are content with their lives.

Here we are seeing an entire generation of impoverished youngsters reacting in the only way they know will garner the attention they want.  Let’s not romanticise them and elevate them to martyrdom, what they are doing is criminal and wrong, but here is the surest indicator that something needs to be done.

Anybody who watched the recent BBC documentary ‘Poor Kids’ (watch our interview with the creators TrueVision TV here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zm352_lTi2A) will have seen that aspirational poverty doesn’t only affect youth but also exhibits itself in much younger age groups.  In the documentary we see the adorable Courteney (eight) and her friend Holly comparing their respective futures (Click here to view the clip http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00hfbk4).

There is a clear problem here, and a huge oversight from our leaders to address the matter of engendering ambition and self-belief into our children.  We are seeing many children’s services being axed, funding for charities in decline and increasing disenfranchisement of young people from the government.

Surely we need a system of co-design, where young people are included in shaping their own world (eg. Service design, education etc.) to empower them and give ownership.  Understanding all the factors that have led to certain behaviours allows us to change systems, processes and ultimately beliefs that young people have about the role they play in the world.

We need decisive action from communities, charities and parents to educate children that they can do well, that they are talented and that the responsibility of shaping their future lies with them.  Today is International Youth Day, an awareness day de­signated by the UN that we accept a human rights document.  The UK currently doesn’t recognise this or the much older Universal Children’s Day, which is an observance that we acknowledge the 1959 UN Declaration of the Rights of a Child.

We are currently working on behalf of Sheffield not-for-profit Youth Can Achieve to have Children’s Day recognised in the UK.  It is currently celebrated by over 60 countries around the world, and would be an opportunity for charities, schools, community groups – indeed anyone, to celebrate the day in their own way and take the time to acknowledge and celebrate the guardians of tomorrow.  The day would be celebrated on November 20th, in line with the UN’s current Univeral Children’s Day.

Visit www.ChildrensDayUK.org to have a look at what we’re doing and sign the petition, and the parent not-for-profit www.YouthCanAchieve.co.uk

I would also like to thank Natasha for giving me the opportunity to post on her wonderful blog!

Neil Thornely

Thanks Neil for a thoughtful and passionate post.  I would urge you sign the petition in support of a National Children’s Day so we can recognise the value and contribution that our children make not only to our future, but also to our present.

Bullying: A Sad Fact!

Posted by Natasha in Campaigns & Activism, Children & Childhood, Children's health, Children's Rights | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bullying refers to the deliberate and systematic verbal, physical and/or emotional harm inflicted from one individual to another where the recipient feels unable to defend themselves.  Regrettably, bullying is an all too sad fact in the lives of our children with 69% of pupils claiming to have experienced this within the past year; according to statistics from the National Bullying Survey 2006.  ChildLine has also reported that bullying is the single largest reason for children and young people calling their helpline with proportionally more boys than girls doing so.

Considering the centrality and incidents of bullying is so high in our children’s lives media coverage of this issue is sporadic and sparse at best.  It is all too often the case that the experiences of children are ignored or trivialised rather than being given the spotlight and attention they deserve.  If a large volume of the adult population were subjected to the same treatment on a daily basis this would be considered a serious breakdown of civilised society and a human rights crisis of monumental proportion.

Children are most likely to experience bullying between the ages of 12-15, although, within the 5-11 age group the incident rate is still high at forty percent.  Bullying can and does take many forms (in order of frequency);

  • Name calling / teasing
  • Physical bullying
  • Verbal or written threats
  • Extortion
  • Racist bullying
  • Sexual bullying
  • Caller bullying
  • Isolation bullying
  • Homophobic bullying
  • Family bullying

The vast majority of bullying goes on within the confides of the school, however, this often spills out into the community and many children find themselves continually harassed and bullied in their own neighbourhoods.  This quote from a ten year old girl demonstrates this point; “I am getting bullied at school and I live near the bullies so it happens when I go out and play as well.  I told the teacher and she said I should avoid them. I don’t feel like going to school sometimes.”  For these children there is no break from the relentless cruel treatment they are subjected to and with the increase in mobile technology and social media they can literally carry their tormentors around in their pocket.

Cyber-bullying is the use of information technology to harass, ridicule or otherwise degrade another person through text messages or postings on social networking sites.  The sheer scale of the potential audience and participants in cyber-bullying means the impact on the individual can be immeasurable.   Research carried out for the Anti-Bullying Alliance by Goldsmiths discovered that 22% of 11-16 year olds had experienced some form of cyber-bullying.  The insidious and invasive nature of cyber-bullying makes it particularly distressing for the victim, as they are stripped of privacy and personal space, as well as being publically ridiculed.  This quote from the study demonstrates this point; “I felt that no-one understood what I was going through. I didn’t know who was sending me these messages, and I felt powerless to know what to do.”  Children are not the only victims of cyber-bullying, as it has been reported that one in five head teacher’s are finding themselves the subject of abuse by pupils and parents via online campaigns.

Bullying can and does have devastating consequences for the individual that they often carry around for the whole of their lives.  Victims of bullying are likely to suffer from low self-esteem, low self-confidence, poor education performance, medical complaints, depression and anxiety, as well as have suicidal thoughts.  In extreme cases children make the devastating choice to take their own lives; as they feel they are unable to cope with the torment, isolation and loneliness that has become their daily existence.  Research carried out by Beatbullying revealed that between 2000-2008 44% of child suicides within the United Kingdom were linked to bullying.  This tragic, needless and senseless waste of life does not and should not be an inevitability, as teachers, parents, friends or bystanders we need to be proactive and not sweep this issue under the carpet.  We need to protect our children and take their concerns and worries seriously and not minimise what there are experiencing, as ‘kids being kids’ or telling them ‘to sort it out themselves’.  It is our responsibility, as adults, to ensure our children are free from fear of violence and intimidation.

Children find it very difficult to talk to their parents or other adults about bullying, as many believe it is their own fault and feel ashamed.  There are some signs that parents can look out for, which may give them an indication that their child is being bullied.  Here is a list provided by Kidscape the bullying prevention charity. Your child may:

  • be frightened of walking to and from school
  • change their usual route
  • not want you to go on the school bus
  • beg you to drive them to school
  • be unwilling to go to school (or be ‘school phobic’)
  • feel ill in the mornings
  • begin truanting
  • begin doing poorly in their school work
  • come home regularly with clothes or books destroyed
  • come home starving (bully taking dinner money)
  • become withdrawn, start stammering, lack confidence
  • become distressed and anxious, stop eating
  • attempt or threaten suicide
  • cry themselves to sleep, have nightmares
  • have their possessions go missing
  • ask for money or start stealing (to pay the bully)
  • continually ‘lose’ their pocket money
  • refuse to talk about what’s wrong
  • have unexplained bruises, cuts, scratches
  • begin to bully other children, siblings

If you suspect your child is being bullied then you need to ask them and listen carefully to what they tell you.  It is helpful if you note down dates, times and incidents of bullying along with who was involved and how long it has been going on.  Your child will need your reassurance that they have done the right thing.  The next step is to take your concerns to your child’s teacher; if you feel that the school is not or has not taken your concerns seriously then the following organisations can help you:

  • Parentline Plus helpline: 0808 800 2222 (Monday to Friday 9.00 am to 9.00 pm, Saturday 9.30 am to 5.00 pm, Sunday 10.00 am to 3.00 pm)
  • Kidscape helpline for parents: 08451 205204 (10.00 am to 4.00 pm)
  • Anti Bullying Campaign advice line for parents and children: 020 7378 1446 (9.30 am to 5.00 pm)
  • Advisory Centre for Education (advice for parents and children on all school matters): 0808 800 5793
  • Children’s Legal Centre (free legal advice on all aspects of the law affecting children and young people): 0845 120 2948

On the flip side if you believe that your child is bullying others then you need to make it clear to your child that this sort of behaviour is not acceptable.  You will need to talk to your child’s class teacher about how you can make positive changes to prevent your child from bullying in the future.  If we all play our part and work together then hopefully we can stamp out this damaging behaviour and provide a brighter future for all our children.


 

Parental power

Posted by Natasha in Children & Childhood, Ideologies, Parent-Child Dynamics, Parental Discipline, Power Relations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

This is a paper of mine that was previously published by the Working Papers of the Warwick Suminer Group (Volume 4: Summer 2008) at the Institute of Education, Warwick University.

Parental Power: A theoretical Discussion

Parental power within family and childhood research has a distinct ubiquitous quality, as it is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.  Parental power over children is constantly assumed and taken for granted but to date there has been little systematic theoretical and/or empirical sociological analysis of this enduring element of parent-child relations.  It is therefore the intention of this working paper to explore parental power conceptually, as a way to further our understanding of the parent-child disciplinary dynamic.  This will be achieved by drawing on the work of key theorists within the field of power and assessing the usefulness and applicability of these ideas to the power relations between parents and their children.

Introduction:

Within social scientific enquiry theorising of power tends to be the provenance of those concerned with issues of gender inequality, elitism and politics (Bachrach, 1967, Connell, 1987, Nash, 2000) Therefore, it is most often used as a conceptual tool in the analyses of the classic trio of class, gender and ethnicity.  Power, however, is implicit in all social relations and is especially pronounced amongst those that are divided along the axes of age. Family and childhood research is criminally scant of rigorous analysis of this most enduring and enigmatic of social scientific concepts.  Power, although frequently vaunted as a core feature of parent-child interactions is paradoxically at once everywhere and nowhere within current research.  It is consistently referred to within research as if it is axiomatic, as it is continually alluded to and assumed without its qualities, dimensions and character being either defined or investigated.  This situation not only leaves gaps in our knowledge concerning what is thought to be a defining attribute of the parent-child relationship but also sadly questions the precise nature of much social research within this field.  The work presented here is an attempt to readdress this balance and provide a considered and analytical appraisal of power within the parent-child dyad.

Theories of power:

This working paper will draw on the work of theorists of power hereto unconnected with the field of childhood and family research and will seek to assess the utility and applicability of these ideas to the parent-child disciplinary dynamic.  Discussions of power within political thought tend to fall into two major traditions, which can largely be categorised as modernist and post-modernist.  The intellectual antecedence of these traditions lies with Hobbes (1955) in the modernist camp and Machiavelli (1999) within the post-modernist tradition.  These two schools of thought differ in their approach to theorising about power.  The modernist position can be described as a paternalistic top-down theory, as it is concerned with defining the ‘essence’ of power and thereby it essentially seeks to theorise what power is.  Whereas the Machiavellian approach can be regarded as more akin to a bottom-up theory, as it is concerned with the effects of power or what it does (Clegg, 1989).   The thinkers that are under scrutiny within the modernist/Hobessian approach are Dahl ([1957] 1969), Bachrach and Baratz ([1962] 1969), and Lukes (2005) while Foucault (1977) represents the post-modernist/Machiavellian tradition.   These theorists will be appraised to assess the theoretical relevance of their analysis of power and how it might enlighten our understanding of the parent-child disciplinary dynamic.

The Modernist Tradition:

Within the Hobessian tradition power possesses a distinct external reality, which is encapsulated within rulers, leaders and those in positions of authority.  Power, is conceptualised as a totalitarian entitlement that is wielded to subordinate and subjugate the inferior and unruly.  Although Hobbes’ (1955) theorising is concerned with the nature of state power, the essential elements of his ideas can be transmuted to the parent-child relationship.  After all, are not families frequently conceptualised as microcosms of the state and parents depicted as sovereigns over their children?  Hobbesian thinking legitimates the myth of supreme power and thereby represents the dominant view, which seeks to justify and naturalise the unequal power distribution between parents and their children.

In Hobbes’ estimations, power is monolithic and purely consists of a one-way transfer from those who have power to those who experience its force.  Dahl’s formulaic expression perhaps perfectly encapsulates this view, as he contends that,  ‘A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do’ (Dahl, [1957] 1969, 80).  In Dahl’s theorising we can clearly see the genesis of Hobbes’ ideas, as here it is demonstrated that one possesses and wields power (A) whilst another (B) is subject to its influence to the extent that it modifies their behaviour.  On a speculative basis we can appreciate how this definition of power can be translated to the parent-child dynamic. Parents, as the beholders of the master status of adulthood are believed to possess rights and duties over their offspring, one such right is the normative use of power.  We can all draw upon personal experience – either as a parent or as a child – of incidents where parents exert corporeal expressions of power over their children.  Parents can and do regulate their children’s behaviour by utilising various means, be it by ‘the look’, word, or deed. Children, however, within this line of thinking are conceptualised as merely the recipients of power and provide either no resistance or agentic force to bear upon its application.

Power, therefore, comes to be the epitomization of its embodied manifestations, thus rendering it an empirical phenomenon.  If we adopt Dahl’s proposition then power only exists and can be known in and through its visible application.  If this is the case, then we can only ever accept or know power on face value, as individuals’ intentions and motivations are not perceptible in any empirical sense.  Dahl’s reliance on the age-old scientific equation of cause and effect denies us access to ways of knowing the complexity and nuance involved in power relations.  Power in this model can only ever be one-dimensional and when applied to the familial context represents parents as merely the points of power but allows us no deeper understanding of the intricacy of its constitutes.

Power therefore, as the individual experiences it, is not merely rooted in episodic interactions.  On the contrary, it is suffused and omnipresent within all fields and types of social relations.  Bachrach and Baratz ([1962] 1969) identified this in their own work and developed upon the ideas set forth by Dahl, however, they take us beyond empirical understandings of power and have allowed a space for its more metaphysical elements.  According to Bachrach and Baratz, power exists outside of its physical manifestations and is inextricably linked to the control of information.  In other words, those who possess power are the very people who set the decision-making agenda.  Power in this sense concerns a form of censorship, discretion or manipulation of those who are not privy to the full scope of the information available. This understanding enlightens us to the insipid character and form that power can assume; as decisions taken can have wide reaching ramifications for the individual[s] concerned, however, they would not necessarily possess any awareness of this.

It does not require a great leap of the imagination to apply this theorising to the parent-child relationship, as agenda setting is almost certainly a key dimension of parental power.   Part of the parental role is to protect, curb, and censor children’s access to the knowledge, experiences and activities of the adult world.  This will presumably mean that parents either manipulate or withhold information from their children under the pretext that it is ‘for their own good’.  By accepting Bachrach and Baratz account of power is to acquiesce that one (A) derives their power (over B) through the mere fact of another’s (B’s) ignorance or delimited capacity to realise the full scope of the information available.  Power of this nature is constructed upon precarious grounds and as such is unstable and temporal as well as being continually under threat.  We are all too well aware that parental power suffers this very fate due to its transitory nature, as children’s experiences and knowledge increases outside the realm of the parental home this can lead to the compromise and potential decimation of parental authority.

Power, in accordance with this theorising inherently involves a conflict of interests or values.  Therefore, if A is to retain or gain power over B their interests/values need to be maintained, this, as stated by Bachrach and Baratz is accomplished by recourse to a threat of sanctions.  In order for this to be effective B has to understand the expectation placed upon them as well as consider the sanction as a deprivation and possess a desire to avoid the sanction that outweighs their investment in the aforementioned interests or values (Bachrach and Baratz, [1963] 1969).  This dimension of power is a frequent and consistent element of the parent-child disciplinary dynamic, parents perceive part of their role as the vanguards and architects of their children’s moral character (Grusec and Goodnow, 1994).  Children, for their part persistently attempt to negotiate, redefine and/or transgress the moral codes set forth by their parents.   In turn parents defend what they believe to be their inalienable right – let alone duty – to modify behaviour and when necessary to impose sanctions to regain their child’s compliance.  This illustration demonstrates the synthesis of the ideas of power – as proposed by Dahl, Bachrach and Baratz – being both an empirical and metaphysical phenomenon.

The thesis set forward by Bachrach and Baratz laid the foundations for Lukes (2005) and his ‘radical’ yet still firmly modernist view of power.  Power could no longer be simply theorised as the manifestation of observable behaviour, instead, it was to be associated with ideation, and it is at this point where Lukes adds his own dimension to the discussion of power.  Lukes essentially embraces the ideas established by Dahl, Bachrach and Baratz and incorporates them into his own theorising in what he calls a three dimensional view of power (Lukes, 2005).  For Lukes, power as it is observed, follows Dahl’s formulaic expression and as it is wielded adheres to the principles of Bachrach and Baratz.  His own particular theorising is in the vein of the analysis of Bachrach and Baratz, as it is rooted in the unobservable expressions of power.  According to Lukes, power is at its most effective when it is least detectable, he queries,

Is it not the supreme and most insidious exercise of power to prevent people, to whatever degree, from having grievances by shaping their perceptions, cognitions and preferences in such a way that they accept their role in the existing order of things, either because they can see or imagine no alternative to it, or because they see it as natural and unchangeable, or because they value it as divinely ordained and beneficial? (Lukes, 2005,28).

Lukes’ thinking is a significant turning point for theorising of power as it introduces the concept of ideology into the discussion.  According to Lukes, a significant factor when considering power is how it manifests and maintains itself ideologically, thus sustaining false consciousness and thereby denying agents the capacity to know or recognise their ‘real interests’.  We can see how this can be readily applied to the parent-child dynamic, as both parenthood and childhood are deeply entrenched with ideological notions and expectations (Drakich, 1989, James and Prout, 1997, Wearing, 1984).  In relation to power, parents are expected to wield it, whereas children are compelled to yield to it.  Parents’ are therefore ideologically beleaguered into exerting disciplinary power as an expression of their morality and competence at parenting (Finch, 1989).  False consciousness, as an imperative element of ideology thus promotes and sustains the asymmetrical power relationship that parents and their children share.

This disparity within the parent-child relationship renders children almost completely reliant on their parents – particularly in the early years – for their knowledge and experiences of the world.  Therefore, in keeping with Lukes’ standpoint the very process of socialisation in itself can be regarded as an insidious form of power which moulds the ‘perceptions, cognitions and preferences’ of children to the extent that they believe their position in the family and the wider world is ‘natural and unchangeable’ or even ‘divinely ordained’ (Lukes, 2005,28).  Following this reasoning, parents as the guardians of this insidious power ought to be deemed as at the forefront of repression.

Conversely, parents themselves may be serving the prevailing social orders interests and not necessarily their own ‘real interests’, which leaves us in a quandary, because if supreme power shapes our perceptions, cognitions, wants and desires how is it ever possible to 1) recognise this and 2) know what our ‘real interests’ are?  Under Lukes’ guidance we can appreciate how ideology feeds the machinery of power and give it its basis.  However, we are left wondering for whose benefit does this serve?  And, to what extent does this represent the actual lived experience of power relations within the home?  Lukes’ analysis is instructive in bringing the concept of ideology into the discussion of power as it allows us to appreciate how the asymmetrical power relations between parents and their children are produced and sustained.

The Post-Modern Tradition:

In contrast to the modernist viewpoint of power the post-modernist position places greater emphasis on the effects of power in other words what it does and how it works.  The post-modernist view attempts to conceptually free power from the ‘iron cage’ of what it merely is to the more intriguing question of how it is used.  Machiavelli (1999) is attributed as possessing what we would now describe as a post-modern view of power because to him power is comprised of strategy rather than simply being present in any one individual by sheer virtue of his or her social status or role.  He goes as far to argue,

… that the one who adapts his policy to the times prospers, and likewise the one whose policy clashes with the demands of the time does not…men use various methods in pursuing their own personal objectives, that is glory and riches.  One man proceeds with circumspection, another impetuously; one uses violence, another stratagem; one man goes about things patiently, another does the opposite; and yet everyone, for all this diversity in method, can reach his objective…This results from nothing else except the extent to which their methods are or are not suited to the nature of the times (Machiavelli, 1999,80).

Power therefore, is not a fixed concept instead it is subject to continual reappraisal of the strategies used and whether these strategies are suited to the particular historical and cultural context of the interaction.  In Machiavelli’s hands power changes from being something that is out there and external to the individual to something that can be internalised, learnt and deployed in order to gain or maintain advantage.

Machiavelli’s theorising is particularly useful for the parent-child disciplinary dynamic, as it can take into account how the nature and substance of these power relations may change over historical periods of time.  Writers such as DeMause (1991) have noted that parents in the past not only wielded greater power over their children -the form which this took would largely be construed as abusive to the modern eye– but that this is part of a social-psychological evolutionary process.  Another more contemporary illustration is the increased global intolerance of parental use of corporal punishment as a legitimate means of punishment (Hodgkins, 1997).  What both these examples demonstrate is that strategies of power can and will be influenced by transformations in social thinking.  This is an issue that hereto has been overlooked by the modernist approach to power.

Parental discipline thereby, as a strategic manifestation of power is not merely control for dominance sake it has a distinct tutelary function.  Through discipline, parents endeavour to mould the subjectivities of their growing child, in order that they internalise and espouse, as there own the interests and values of the prevailing social order.  It is easy to recognise here that parental power bears an obvious Foucaultian (1977) quality.   For Foucault, power is essentially a vehicle for social control and the maintenance and reproduction of the existing social structure; therefore, it is in and through power that individual subjects are made (Foucault, 1977, Rose, 1999).  Power in the first instance is usually experienced as a force that bears upon the individual and constrains them until such a time that it is assumed as a natural extension of their being.  Hence, parents through subjecting their children to regimes of discipline are not only employing but externalising their power with the expectation that it will lead to self-constraint on the part of the child.  Power thereby, becomes internalised and rather than necessitating a controlling element from without individuals scrutinise and monitor from within.

For Foucault the body is the principal locus of power, as it is deeply invested in,

…relations [that] have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs.  This political investment of the body is bound up, in accordance with the complex reciprocal relations, with its economic uses, it is largely as a force of production that the body is invested with relations of power and domination; but, on the other hand, its constitution as labour power is possible only if it is caught up in a system of subjection the body becomes a useful force only if it is both a productive body and a subjected body (Foucault, 1977, 25-6).

Disciplinary power is utilised to tame and eradicate any animalistic traits that may exist within our psyche and bodily deportment and in its place generate a production line of pacified and ‘normalised’ subjects.  The object and purpose of disciplinary power is to standardise and categorise human behaviour into the discreet and familiar dichotomies of good/bad, sane/insane, deviant/non-deviant and normal and abnormal.  The bad, insane, deviant and abnormal all have one thing in common, which is that their bodies have defied subjection and by default are considered unproductive, as a consequence they come under the full force of regulatory powers.  Disciplinary power in Foucault’s (1986) account is not simply the power over an other or others that can lead to punishment, incarceration, or confinement it is the power to knowledge that defines these very discourses and lays claim to the truth about the ‘right’ and ‘proper’ development, conduct, behaviour etc…of the human subject.  These discourses of ‘truth’ serve to possess a ‘hold over others bodies’ to ingratiate them into webs of surveillance, power and control (Foucault, 1977).

Parental power thereby derives it momentum from these discourses of disciplinary power, it is normalised, even customary that parents should scrutinise, probe, inspect, invade, colonise and judge the body, mind, and soul of the growing child.  Parents are encouraged to obsess and dissect from the day of birth, the intakes and outtakes of their newborn child.  Mothers in particular are concerned to gain information of the inner workings of their children through such odious tasks as inspecting their faecal matter and judging whether the consistency, colour and odour are ‘right’.  This serves a double purpose both to check the health of the child and give the mother external confirmation on her proficiency as a parent.  In this sense, discipline becomes a dual process, the mother disciplines the child and the child in turn disciplines or sculpts the mother into a capable parent. It is in and through these micro practices that are – largely unseen and even less discussed – that parents gain admittance and control over their children’s bodies and eventually their minds.  It therefore becomes normalised and routinised for the child that no area of their body, minds, soul and existence is beyond the scrutinising gaze of their parents.  It is through these various mechanisms of power that parents seek to discipline their children firstly through the body and subsequently through the mind.

Parental Power: A discussion

The primary objective of this working paper has been to examine existing theories of power and gauge the usefulness and applicability of these ideas to the parent-child disciplinary dynamic.  Up until now the discussion has focused on situating power within its theoretical landscape.  It is now however, the contention of the rest of this paper to organise these threads of discussion and weave them into a comparatively coherent narrative concerning the nature and quality of the power relations between parents and their children.

Parental Power as Power Over:

Parental power as understood from the tradition of Hobbes (1955) and Dahl ([1957] 1969) constitutes what can be described as the dominant or popularist view of power.   On an intuitive basis it appeals to our common sense assumptions of not only what parental power is but also what it should be.  Parents almost certainly wield power over their children in the manner exemplified by the modernist position.  Therefore, Dahl is correct in asserting that power in its most overt and observable manifestations does express itself in the formulaic terms of A exerting control over B’s behaviour and/or actions with the result being that A’s subjective interests are realised and B’s are overridden, ignored or suppressed.  Parental power at its most efficient exudes an air of uncompromising sovereign authority with no capacity for manoeuvre or compromise.  To be on the receiving end of this supreme power can be an intimidating and overbearing experience for young children, as data from my own previous research has revealed.  Some children even likened the experience to bullying[1] although undoubtedly, most parents would be mortified to learn of the effects that their normative use of power can have upon their offspring.

Dahl’s analysis however, becomes unsatisfactory because although it gives us a good demonstration of the embodiment of power, it offers us no insights into its impetus.  Parents after all, are not automatons they are driven to implement power for particular interests, values or genuinely held beliefs.  This is where the theorising of Bachrach, Baratz ([1963] 1969) and Lukes (2005) becomes valuable, as it enlightens us to the possible motivations behind power.  Parents do not blindly wield power over their children, they are motivated to do so for a variety of reasons some of these may be due to deeply held personal beliefs and others may stem from an unknown source.  Regardless of their origin, once parents have invested in an interest, value or belief it is in their benefit to preserve that interest, any failure to do so may be deemed as a failing of their power.  Parental discipline – as a manifestation of power – derives part of its strength from a parent’s ability to deliver consistent boundaries.  It is at this juncture that it becomes apparent how the ideas of Bachrach and Baratz are congruent with parental disciplinary practices.  Not only do parents possess interests and values, which it is to their advantage to defend but they also do this by recourse to sanctions.

Parental use of sanctions however, is not solely to coerce children into conforming to their own standard of interests or values but to that of the wider social group.  Parental power is not monistic in either its outlook or application.  Parenting is an inherently social phenomenon and as such is inextricably embedded in ideological convictions and expectations.  If Lukes theorising is to be accepted then parent’s use of power is self-referential and self-sustaining, as it is their actual belief in that power and their right to wield it that gives it its basis and provides its impetus.  Parental power under this model accentuates and preserves the asymmetry and ideological disparity between parents and their children.

Although modernist theorising certainly possesses its merits and has illuminated for us how the dominant view of parental power has manifest itself, it is still insufficient.  We are presented here with a lop-sided, monolithic, ‘official’ version of parental power that lacks nuance, complexity, colour and life.  Essentially this position is power over theorising, which conveys power as existing external to the individual and is expressed as an oppressive force.  Power of this variety is unproductive, as it produces nothing but compliance.  This theorising explains or more aptly justifies power from the viewpoint of those with power and consequently ignores the experiences of the ‘powerless’.

Parental Power as Power To:

The modernist view concentrates on individual acts of power and treats it as if it is a fixed and coherent entity, which can be consolidated and exercised at will.  Parental power may emanate the appearance of a sovereign coalesce power but in everyday practice, this is far from the lived reality.  From a post-modernist perspective, power has a productive quality and is not merely represented as an oppressive force.  According to Foucault,

Power must be analysed as something which circulates, or rather as something which only functions in the form of a chain.  It is never localised here or there, never in anybody’s hands, never appropriated as a commodity or piece of wealth.  Power is employed and exercised through a net-like organisation.  And not only do individuals circulate between its threads; they are always in the position of simultaneously undergoing and exercising this power.  They are not only its inert or consenting targets; they are always also the elements of it articulation.  In other words, individuals are the vehicles of power, and not its points of application (Foucault, 1986, 234).

Foucault’s thinking represents a theoretical shift from conceptualising power as a constraining force to an enabling influence; as such it is imbued with creative capacities.  Power may still be exerted and/or experienced as described by Dahl, Bachrach, Baratz and Lukes however, this is not its consummation on the contrary it is simply another link in the chain of power.

Under this theorising parental power transmutes from a despotic force into a dynamic process.  Parental power after all is not simply the exercise of power for its own sake; it is a transformative power, which seeks to sculpt the developing subjectivity of a growing child.  Children are widely conceptualised as tabula rasa in other words they are born without prior knowledge or experiences of the physical and social world (Jenks, 1996, Locke, 1693, Rousseau, [1762] 1993).  If this proposition is true, then it matters what their experiences and knowledge of the world are, as it will determine their character (Locke, 1693).  Parents therefore, are charged with the precarious task of managing their children’s access, experiences and knowledge of the world in such a way that it does not result in detrimental outcomes on both an individual and societal level.  Parental power thereby, is a productive power and should not be conceptualised as a power over but as a power to, a power to create, mould, and shape the developing character of a human child.

Within the post-modernist view, power is not only reconceptualized as a creative force but also as ever-present and all encompassing.  Power is not simply located and consolidated within authority figures; it is dispersed and disseminated amongst all individuals.  In the words of Foucault, ‘individuals are the vehicles of power, and not its points of application’ (Foucault, 1986, 234).  Using this theorising, children can be recognised as not merely the recipients of power but as its willing consort.  To acknowledge that children can and do exercise power is significant for theorising of parental power.  Although parents due to their chronological age, social status and physicality possess particular strategic advantages that may make wielding power over their children appear unproblematic, the actual lived reality is somewhat different.  Children are rarely passive recipients of the power their parents attempt to exercise, instead, they will draw on their own techniques and strategies of power in an attempt to deflect and exert their own autonomy and authority (James and Prout, 1997).

Parental discipline cannot be understood as unfettered autocratic control; rather, it is a creative, responsive and negotiated power.  When practicing discipline parents rely on various techniques, strategies, methods, knowledge’s, and discourses, which are related to the context of the interaction and the individual concerned.  Parental use of power therefore, is continually mediated by their children’s operationalisation of their own strategies of power.  Conceptualising power in this respect integrates its intricacies and how it is neither situated here or there; rather, it circulates, interweaves and constructs not only the parent-child relationship but all social relationships.  Coming to understand parental power in this context allows us to appreciate that it is not merely a one-way process that is acted upon subjugated underlings but that it is a reactive process that moulds, sculpts and creates the subjectivities of those within its influence.

References:

Bachrach, P. (1969) The Theory of Democratic Elitism: A Critique, London, London University Press.

Bachrach, P. and Baratz, M, S. ([1962] 1969) ‘Two Faces of Power’, in R. Bell, D, V. Edwards and R, H. Wagner (eds) Political Power: A Reader in Theory and Research, New York, The Free Press.

Bachrach, P. and Baratz, M, S. ([1963] 1969) ‘Decisions and Non-decisions: An Analytical Framework’, in R. Bell, D, V. Edwards and R, H. Wagner (eds) Political Power: A Reader in Theory and Research, New York, The Free Press.

Clegg, S, R. (1989) Frameworks of Power, London, Sage.

Connell, R, W. (1987) Gender and Power: Society, the Person and Sexual Politics, Cambridge, Polity Press.

Dahl, R. ([1957] 1969) ‘The Concept of Power’ in R. Bell, D, V. Edwards and R, H. Wagner (eds) Political Power: A Reader in Theory and Research, New York, The Free Press.

Dahl, R. (1986) ‘Power as the control of Behavior’, in S. Lukes (ed) Power, Oxford, Blackwell.

DeMause, L. (1991) ‘The Evolution of Childhood’, in L. DeMause (ed) The History of Childhood: The Untold Story of Child Abuse’, London, Bellew Publishing.

Drakich, J. (1989) ‘In Search of the Better Parent: The Social Construction of Ideologies of Fatherhood’, Canadian Journal of Women and Law, 69: 69-87.

Finch, J. (1989) Family Obligations and Social Change, Cambridge, Polity.

Foucault, M. (1977) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, London, Penguin Books.

Foucault, M. (1986) ‘Disciplinary Power and Subjection’, in S. Lukes (ed) Power, Oxford, Blackwell.

Grusec, J, E. and Goodnow, J, J. (1994) ‘Impact of Parental Discipline Methods on the Child’s Internalization of Values: A Reconceptualization of Current Points of View, Developmental Psychology, 30:(1):4-19.

Hobbes, T. (1955) Leviathan, Oxford, Blackwell.

Hodgkins, R. (1997) ‘ Why the ‘Gentle Smack’ Should Go’, Children and Society, 11: 201-204.

James, A., and Prout, A. (1997) Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood: Contemporary Issues in the Sociological Study of Childhood, London, Falmer Press.

Jenks, C. (1996) Childhood, London, Routledge.

Lukes, S. (2005) Power: A Radical View 2nd Edition, Hampshire, Palgrave.

Machiavelli, N. (1999) The Prince, London, Penguin.

Nash, K. (2000) Contemporary Political Sociology: Globalisations, Politics and Power, Oxford, Blackwell.

Rose, N. (1999) Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self, Second Edition, London, Free Association Books.

Rousseau, J, J. ([1762] 1993) Emile, London, Orion Publishing Group.

Wearing, A. (1984) The Ideology of Motherhood, Australia, George Allen & Unwin.


[1] This is drawn from my MSc Dissertation ‘Shared Secrets: A Sociological Study of Parents, Children and Discipline’, Department of Sociology University of Leicester 2006.

Keep a-breast!

Posted by Natasha in Breastfeeding, Children & Childhood, Children's health | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CC Alessandro Source Flickr

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and this is definitely true when it comes to breastfeeding.  There are many common myths and horror stories that circulate amongst mothers of poor unfortunate women whose rapacious newborns have ravaged their nipples to near non existence.  Culturally we have a perception that breastfeeding is difficult and beset with problems and therefore not something that’s easily achieved or even desirable.  I mean, why would any sane woman after the ardours of child birth want to run the gauntlet of breastfeeding?  Every woman has her personal reasons, for me it was seeing for myself how calm and content babies were at the breast. Then when I discovered at my twenty week scan that my son had dilated renal pelvis (enlarged kidney) and would possibly need an operation when he was six weeks old, this made me even more determined to breastfeed.

In my opinion to be able to make a real choice about whether to breastfeed or not you need information.  Yes, you can talk to your mum and your mates but often their opinions are blighted by their own biases and experiences or the stories they have been fed.  No-one in my immediate circle had first hand knowledge of breastfeeding so I had to go on a foraging frenzy trying to glean as much information as possible.  I must confess that I am class A geek and a complete information junkie, but I live by the adage to be forewarned is to be forearmed!   I would like to share with you some of the useful information and videos that I have found invaluable, as a first-time breastfeeding mum.

When I first began contemplating breastfeeding like many people I believed that it would be something that was painful.  For me, this is the number one breastfeeding myth.  Yes, breastfeeding can be painful and many do experience it as so, but it should not be.  Like sex, if it hurts you’re doing it wrong!  Breastfeeding is all about attachment or latch and the video below made by Best Beginnings demonstrates how to achieve good attachment.

My simple advice for new breastfeeding mothers (or mother’s to be) are;

  • Go to a breastfeeding workshop and talk to a lactation specialist they are great at dispelling myths and giving you real information and support.
  • Find out about local baby café’s and peer support networks
  • On a practical level; make sure when you are breastfeeding that you are seated in a comfortable position because you may be there for some time.
  • Ensure that baby is positioned so that you are tummy to tummy.
  • Have a glass of water or juice beside you as you can become quite dehydrated.
  • Use this time as special wind down time where you can relax and charge your batteries.
  • It is also a good idea to have a snack to hand especially mid afternoon, as you can experience sugar lows.

Another major concern that breastfeeding mothers have is how much and for how long should I breastfeed?  We have it drummed into us from the bottle feeding culture that we live in that babies need this many ounces, at this many intervals, this amount of times a day.  A breastfeeding mother needs to unlearn all this because it is probably the greatest cause of anxiety and one of the major reasons why breastfeeding is abandoned.  A breastfeeding mother needs to forget the clock and feed on demand for as little or as long as the baby wishes.  The baby knows exactly how much it needs at that particular feed and will unlatch when they are satisfied.  I know that many are instructed to feed so many minutes on one breast and then the other; I never did this (my son has only ever had one breast per feed) taking your baby off the breast before they are ready (i.e. before the breast is emptied) can cause an imbalance between fore and hind milk, which can lead to engorgement.  The La Leche League have this great information leaflet that provides a wealth of knowledge.  I also found this really helpful video.

Feeding on demand is critical especially in the first few weeks in order to get a sufficient milk supply.  Breastfeeding is a supply and demand system, if your baby does not feed often enough it sends signals to breast that your baby is not very hungry and to stop producing the milk.  Low milk supply is a common reason cited for abandoning breastfeeding, however, in 99% of cases it is due to not establishing a good supply-demand relationship rather than there being a biological basis.  If you believe your milk supply is low there are thing you can do to increase it.  On the flip of the coin there are those who like myself have the opposite problem of over-supply.  This brings with it it’s own set of issues such as a forceful let-down (which can be quite uncomfortable) and a gassy baby.  I dealt with my over-supply by hand expressing some milk before a feed so not to blow the back of my son’s head off and frequently taking him off the breast to catch his breath and wind him.  This does settle down in time with a little work and patience.

There are many wonders and woes of breastfeeding that I am unable to go into here, but be rest assured that if you are experiencing any issues with breastfeeding there are numerous others that have and are sharing this too.  I spent many hours in the dead of night scouring for information on my particular woe and finding assurance that what I was going through was ‘normal’ and there was a practical solution.

Here are a few of my favourite sites that you will hopefully find helpful.

Association of Breastfeeding Mothers

Kellymom 

La Leche League

The Breastfeeding Network

Breastfeeding

The Lactivist 

Little Angels

NCT

Best Beginnings

I would love to know what your breastfeeding tips and lifesavers are.

I’m Coming Out…

Posted by Natasha in Breastfeeding, Children & Childhood, Children's health, Guest Posts | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

In honour of World Breastfeeding Week I am very lucky to share a guest post from Milli Hill who may be know to some as her blog handle The Mule.  I don’t wish to give away the content in the introduction, so just enjoy!

Pregnant with my first child, I knew I was going to breastfeed, but I didn’t give the question of ‘how long’ the slightest consideration.  Well, you don’t, do you?  When you are waiting for baby number one, you obsess about the birth, the day you have the baby, and giving birth, in that order.  Oh, and which are the best maternity jeans.  That one had me googling for a few weeks.  But as for projecting yourself into your future life as a mother?    Maybe it is fear of the unknown that prevents this activity, or maybe it is just more than our brains can manage; suffice to say, for whatever reason, I didn’t give the question of ‘How old will my baby be when I stop nursing?’ any more attention than ‘What approach will I take to toddler discipline?’, or ‘How will I respond when they flunk their A Levels?’

However, I’m pretty sure that if, in my life before children, I had heard of a mother who was breastfeeding a child who could walk and talk, I would have muttered something mildly judgemental under my breath.  If you’d told me she was nursing a toddler and a baby as well, I’d have gone all out and said she must be some kind of mung-bean-eating-commune-dwelling-razor-shy weirdo and made a sort of shuddery nose wrinkly gesture to show my distaste for such odd behaviour.

Well, I guess this is my Diana Ross moment, because, deep breath, shoulders back, say it, say it, weeeeelll…that woman, with the baby, and the toddler? That’s me.  Yes folks, I’m coming out, I want the world to know, got to let it show…I nurse my one year old daughter, on demand, and I also nurse my three and a half year old, most nights at bedtime, and on rare occasions in the day if she is poorly or needing extra reassurance or comfort.

There was no plan for this, it’s just that somehow, the three year old never wanted to stop, and neither did I, and so we kept going.  I thought she would wean during my pregnancy, as I had read that this often happens, but she didn’t.  Then I thought she would grow out of it, or stop wanting it, but she hasn’t.  In fact, quite the opposite, I think if I encouraged it, she would still nurse far more often than just once a day.  She adores ‘having boobie’, and any time I mention the idea of stopping one day she looks devastated, as if I had told her that one day I would go away and stop being her mummy.   And so we go on.

Sometimes I feel fed up with breastfeeding her, in particular on days when I am tired and have just nursed the one year old to sleep.  And sometimes I feel uncomfortable with it, when I project myself into other people’s minds and know how they would judge me, just as a few years ago, I would have judged others.  Sometimes the nursing dynamic between the three of us is the seat of enormous jealousy, as the three year old feels the injustice of her sister getting more milk, more often, than she does.

But most of the time, our choice to continue brings a great closeness.  Often on those nights when I am tired and feel I can’t give any more, I snuggle up with her in bed and she says something funny or lovely, or just smiles up at me one of her magical smiles and I know I would have missed this moment if I had left her to fall asleep alone.  At times when I feel worried that others might think me a weirdo I remind myself that many people around the world and throughout history have nursed their babes for longer than me, and that the people most likely to judge me are probably the ones without children.  And often I notice that ‘tandem nursing’, as it is called when you feed two at once, brings a sisterly closeness to my girls, and teaches them many lessons, for example how mummy can easily love two people at once, and about sharing and enjoying a shared experience.

Breastfeeding in our culture is rare, especially beyond six months, and even more so into toddlerhood, despite WHO recommendations to continue to two years or beyond.  I realise that this puts my family in a tiny minority, and that by ‘coming out’ and sharing our choices with the online world, I am – excuse the pun – exposing myself to criticism or even disapproval.  But I’m ‘out and proud’, and I’m not ashamed or apologetic for my choices.  And I have to say, there is nothing like inhabiting the lunatic fringe to make you become less judgemental, so whatever your choice, from formula to nursing your six year old, I can honestly say you have my full approval.

From one non mung-bean-eating-commune-dwelling-razor-shy weirdo to another thanks for sharing your story. 

World Breastfeeding Week

Posted by Natasha in Campaigns & Activism, Children & Childhood, Children's health, Children's Rights, Ideologies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

This week is World Breastfeeding Week  a global initiative organised by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action to protect, support and promote breastfeeding.  This year the theme focuses on communication and how Breastfeeding needs to be understood as a 3D Experience; breastfeeding does not exist in a vacuum and is not simply about an individual mother and child it is about community and culture and how knowledge is shared and transmitted.

I’m sure there will be many a mother who will already be rolling their eyes, sighing and muttering under their breath that here in the UK we have ‘the knowledge’ about breastfeeding rammed down our throats. That hardly a month goes by where we are not told of the virtues of breastfeeding and how breastfed babies are smarter, healthier  and  more well rounded. That you’re sick of the ‘smug’ breastfeeding ‘militia’ bantering around slogan’s such as ‘breast is best’ that serve only to propagate guilt, hostility and resentment.  This may be all true but as a bottle feeding mother have you ever tried to walk a mile in the shoes of breastfeeding mother?

  • Have you ever had anyone ask you how long you intend to feed your baby?
  • Have you been looked at with disgust and asked to feed your baby in a toilet?
  • Have people come into your own home and asked you not to feed your baby in front of them because they find it offensive?
  • Do you get constantly harassed about how frequently your baby feeds and made to feel it’s not ‘normal’?
  • When your baby cries does everyone immediately assumes they’re not getting enough food and that your inadequate body is starving your child?
  • Are you made to feel that your child’s dependence on you is a bad thing and that you’re ‘spoiling’ them?

A breastfeeding mother has to walk in the path of a bottle feeding mother everyday.  Our culture is bottle shaped, bottle orientated and bottle brainwashed.  I may be an educated woman but until I was a lactating mother I did not realise the extent of the formula hegemony that our culture is suffused in.  Formula feeding is branded to us as a choice; a personal decision that is based on our own particular lifestyle preferences.  Really?  How many people actually make an informed decision and not just a judgement?   I would say not many.  When I had my first child at twenty-one I formula fed and at the time I would have said that I made that decision, it was ‘my choice’, but in truth it wasn’t either a decision or choice, it was a knee-jerk reaction.  I wasn’t interested in breastfeeding, I made a judgement, I wasn’t the sort, I was too young, it was too demanding, I was on my own and besides my baby had the rest of my body let me keep my breasts!

I never looked into breastfeeding, it wasn’t an option my mind was closed and my fingers were firmly jammed in my ears.  I didn’t know the benefits of breastfeeding and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t care, I was selfish and very resolute in my selfishness.  No-one around me challenged my thinking or should I say lack of thinking because no-one else I knew breastfed, therefore, it not a problem, I was following the norm.  When some twelve years later I discovered I was pregnant, again, no feeding decision had to made I would just do what I had done before, formula feed.  Upon my first midwife’s visit my partner was under strict instructions to say we were considering ‘breastfeeding’ when the reality was, we weren’t.  The midwife never raised the subject again with me, I was off the hook.

My change of heart about breastfeeding was a process of evolution.  A tiny seed was planted in my mind, probably from the desire to be the sort of person that breastfeed’s; if you like an imagining of an idealised me that doesn’t really exist.  At the time I was also working within a secured child protection unit and two lactating mothers came to stay.  The first and only two I had come across.  Part of my duties was to observe and record the daily care of these parents towards their children and this meant watching these mothers feeding their children.  To begin with they felt awkward and so did I, but after a few sessions it became natural and I began to see the true beauty of breastfeeding.  Through the course of one day I would see dozens of feeding sessions and I soon became aware of the stark contrasts between breast and bottle feeding.  The breastfed babies were more content, less fussy and did not seem to suffer from the chronic colic that the other babies did.  During a regular bottle feeding session I would record a page or two of the proceedings, whereas, conversely I would only write about half a page for the breastfeeding sessions.

These mothers were not writhing around in pain, their nipples were not hanging off, their babies were not ravenous beasts.  I was finding less and less excuses for not researching into breastfeeding and viewing it as a viable option for my unborn child and me.  To begin with I kept my musings to myself, as I didn’t want the added pressure of other peoples thoughts and opinions on the subject.  During the coming months I read about breastfeeding in books and on-line, the more and more I read about it the more and more amazed and in awe I  became of our wondrous bodies.  I went from a position of ‘not on your nipples’ to I’m at least going to try it and I cannot tell you how glad I am that I made that decision.

It has not been easy being a breastfeeding mother in a culture that expects my son and I to fit into a bottle shaped mould.  I cannot count the times that people have enquired to how often and how long my son fed for in the early days and then when I responded they shook their heads and sucked their breath and told me they would not tolerate that.  Or the amount of times I’ve been told that ‘I’m ruining’ or ‘spoiling’ my child because of our physical proximity and his dependence on me as his mother.  I never would have imagined the worlds of difference between the ‘simple’ choice to feed from a breast or a bottle, but the reality is that they are a different language, a different way of being, a different culture.

I don’t think it is any coincidence that the boom in formula feeding came at a time of seismic cultural change; ironically we view this as a time of female ‘emancipation’ where science set us free from our biological constraints.  Our cultural veneration of science and its power to free us from disease, pain or inconvenience has turned our bodies into deviant and problematic entities that need to be tamed and controlled by the voodoo of modern science.  We no longer trust ourselves and our bodies to do what they are biologically programmed to do and instead we believe it is necessary and desirable to eradicate, medicate and fear any semblance of our animalistic biological roots.

Formula feeding at one point in history may have been a choice and at times it is a medical necessity (although this is rarer than imagined) but now it resembles more of a dogma.  A dogma that possesses at it heart the ideals of personal freedom and independence, which any ‘sane’ and ‘normal’ person would hold in high esteem.  These ideals are packaged and sold to us not to enrich our lives and our souls, but to line the pockets of the multinational corporations who care nothing about the health of our children and only the health of their profit margins.  Women have been duped into believing that their biology is what is constraining them and if only they were released from these shackles then the fruits of society can be their’s to enjoy.  This has not happened.

Our biology should be our strength; mothering or the capacity to mother is not a disease that burdens women and makes them redundant.  The fact that we can conceive, carry, birth and nurture a child is our strength and our society should recognise that for the health of ourselves and our children women need to be supported to make proper informed decisions.  We need cultural acceptance of nursing mothers and their infants, where it is viewed as a natural state and not some social aberration  practised by the eccentric ‘earth mother’ few.  Breastfeeding take up rates are increasing within the UK but these drop drastically after the first week and continue to plummet until only 1% of mothers are nursing at six months, which is the minimum recommendation by the World Health Organisation.  If women are properly educated and supported there is no reason why they cannot enjoy a successful breastfeeding relationship with their child.  It should be in all our interests to nurture this relationship for the benefit of all our futures.

Love Parks

Posted by Natasha in Campaigns & Activism, Children & Childhood | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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This week is Love Parks Week and I thought it would be a great idea for us all to share our park adventures to show how much we love our parks.   Posts can be in the form of a photo gallery, vlog, written post or a combination of all three; the only limit is your imagination!

Over my thirteen years of parenting I have spent many, many hours within these kingdoms of the little people.   Come to think of it there are a lot of my own childhood memories that are tied to parks.  One of my earliest memories is tottering down the road in Gillingham in Kent holding my granddad’s hand (he passed away when I was three).  My granddad was a tall man (well to me anyway) he was wearing a brown suit and matching hat and we were on the way to the park.  Almost all of my experiences with parks have been fully of fun and frivolity, apart from the time when my brother broke his arm falling from the monkey bars and my sister went missing, but we won’t dwell on those!

Nothing quite compares though to the joy you get as a parent watching you own child explore, investigate and interact with the sights, smells and sounds of their new found homeland.  The shrills of laughter,  the whispers of adventures and a whole world of imagination is unleashed. The playground in the eye of a child is transformed in a instant from a colour splashed obstacle course into a magical fairyland, a race course, a pirate ship or a million and one possibilities.

 

 

 


THE FORGOTTEN YEARS

Posted by Natasha in Children & Childhood, Children's health, Children's Rights, Guest Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Today on the blog I have a guest post by very lovely veteran blogger Bethan Townsend. Bethan is a talented writer, consummate twitterer and is the proud owner of a brand new blog aptly entitled The Pieces of Me.   

Imagine you’re coming to the end of your school years. Now imagine you’ve been at the same school, possibly hundreds of miles away from your family since you were five years old. Now imagine you’ve got a profound learning disability or Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Not easy right? Every year hundreds, maybe thousands of 18 and 19 year olds with additional needs are removed from the comfort zone of their schools and back into the world. This position is known as transition and in most instances begins at 14 with the aid of a transitional social work who can help the individual make the big decisions about their futures.

Transition from education to work is hard for everyone and it becomes even harder when you’re an individual who requires additional support to perform some of the most basic daily tasks or in some cases, just need a little extra guidance in some areas. There are a range of options for children leaving the safety of residential or special educational schools and making the right decision requires a lot of planning and support, which is why it begins as early as fourteen.

There are a number of fantastic online resources to support both the children entering the transitional period as well as their guardians and people who work in the sector. The government’s Valuing People Now paper discusses all areas of improving life and personalisation for people living with learning disabilities and their families and a whole section of the report is dedicated to transitional services and they pledge that

Valuing People Now says that all young people with learning disabilities should have person-centred transition reviews and plans, so that they can plan for keeping healthy, where they want to live, a real job, and friends and relationships.”[1]

With this report in mind there are other documents more appropriately designed for the individuals actually making the decisions i.e. the children and young adults. Transition Pathway is fantastic resource accessible to children making the difficult decisions which will shape the beginnings of their adult life. With a range of simple to read and follow diagrams, PDFs and documents, the child in question should be able to confidently make their own decisions with regard to their future work, housing and education. The Transitional Information Network also provide a range of great resources such under the following headings:

  • How do I prepare for leaving school?
  • I’ve left school – what’s next?
  • Where can I find information for me?

The brilliant thing about websites such as these as they are directed at the children and young adults in question, they are all about the person centered approach to care which is fast becoming the only fair and acceptable way of approaching it! Of course, individuals with complex needs may need additional support in making their decisions but charities such as Mencap provide a range of resources for parents and carers too such as their Transition: an introduction guide.

Having worked in the care sector, I have had the opportunity to aid in the transition of one individual with extremely complex needs who was moving from her residential school to her own independent living property with 24 hour support. The new home was in the same town as their parents which was a welcome change as they had lived over 100 miles apart before, as is the case with a lot of families with children with complex needs. The physical transition process was extremely strictly organised in this instance as the individual in question had not been in a car or travelled for nearly twelve years. Every member of the new care team was given the opportunity to visit the individual in her school, stay overnight and spend some time becoming acquainted with them, so they would have some degree of familiarity in her new home. The whole process was extremely eye opening and made me truly understand how labour and time intensive the transitional period can be. Despite this, it’s extremely important. In my line of work I was also unfortunately met with the case of a thirty-eight year old with a severe learning disability who had been at home with their mother their entire life and who had seriously missed out on developing their interests and communication skills. For this person, the transitional stage began late in life when he should have experienced it as a child.

This is not an isolated case. There are many children who (in part due to the constraints of modern society / the UK governmental cuts) reach 14 and are not assigned a transitional social worker or team, in fact they remain with children’s services until they hit eighteen and then their case is simply passed on without second glance. It shouldn’t happen. Transition is an essential and formative part of our lives between childhood and adulthood and should be taken extremely seriously and considered integral. These children need to be supported and helped to make independent decisions for their futures and not be forgotten.

Thanks Beth for sharing this interesting and informative article with us. 


[1]Valuing People Now < http://www.valuingpeoplenow.dh.gov.uk/valuing-people-now/transition > – accessed 20/07/2011

 

 

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