Saturday, December 25, 2004

Crying in the Night

Amid all the conventional parenting books and family sleep therapy and whatever else middle class parents are turning to to try to get a good night's sleep, one important piece of information seems to slip through the net.

A child does not cry to inconvenience hir parents. Se is attempting to communicate with them but does not have the words or gestures in that moment to make hir meaning clear.

This is why controlled crying is so wrong wrong wrong. Instead of watching one's clock from outside the nursery to see if it is time to check that the child has not broken hir arm between the cot bars in hir rage, fear and frustration, the parent of a crying chld should be trying to work out what the problem is.

Here's a likely list: hungry, thirsty, cold, hot, lonely, uncomfortable, in pain, sick, teething pain, frightened, alert and bored, a nightmare.

How exactly is leaving a child alone in a quiet room going to help them solve their problem, or learn anything except that when things get tough, noone will help them? :-(

PS if a parent sleeps in the same bed as hir child, it is often possible to solve the problem before either person is fully conscious, thereby facilitating those glorious hours of sleep for which the parents yearn.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Frightening childhood illnesses and cures

We can have lots of splendid ideas about how to interact with the people we live with, but in the heat of the moment, concrete examples are sometimes more inspiring than abstract theories. They can perfectly well be made up, but being concrete can really help.


Abstract theory: doing something to my child against hir will damages hir, damages me, and damages our relationship.

Concrete example related by friend: "Our child had awful teething pain and was crying and crying. When I tried to give hir infant paracetemol, se closed hir mouth tight and turned hir head. So I said 'Mmmm, yummy' and licked the spoon, and then se drank it all up and wanted more".

In the moment: preverbal child has (*thinks for a hypothetical*) such a ghastly tummy bug that the doctor prescribes a suppostitory (*do doctors even prescribe suppostitories any more?*). The very prospect of inserting said suppository is ghastly. I'm assuming that the parent's best theory is that the child definitely needs the medicine. The most likely thing is that the parent will grit their teeth, hold the child down and do the deed, giving lots of hugs and apologies afterwards (but the child won't associate getting better with the 'necessary evil' of being held down and having medicine pushed up hir bottom). In that stressful moment, ("I know it's going to bloody hurt my child and our relationship, but what am I supposed to DO??? MY CHILD NEEDS THIS MEDICINE"), the model of the friend's anecdote might help one think creatively more than the abstract theory.

The anecdote might just get one thinking of parallels. I'm not suggesting that one should attempt to jolly the child into wanting the suppository... it's not quite the same as a painkiller in a sweet suspension... but instead of thinking "I have to do this right now, even if it hurts my child", wait for a good moment. Find a way of distracting the child during a nappy change so they hardly notice? Or when they are just out of the bath? Or maybe when they are asleep?

Friday, December 17, 2004

"Please don't go to work, Daddy"

In most families, there are times when what one person wants seems incompatible with what another wants. Rather than the parent self-sacrificing, or telling the child, however kindly, "life isn't fair", there are alternatives. The main investments required are time, creativity and flexibility.

For example, many children miss a parent who is at work all day. Is it possible for the child to go to the workplace too? Is it possible for the child and the person who cares for them during the day to make the commute to work with the parent, so they get some extra time together? Or come to the workplace to have coffee or lunch with the parent? Maybe there are good places to hang out near the workplace so the parent can pop out to touch base from time to time during the day.

I don't think we ever find a solution to balancing work/family that everyone is happy with for the foreseeable future. Families have to regularly recalibrate as their interests and activities change. A newborn baby might easily be welcomed in an open plan office in a sling, where they are at the mostly feeding and sleeping stage; a slightly older child might disturb colleagues less if the parent can have their own office, or take work home rather than sharing the office space.

I think families should try to find flexitime solutions wherever possible - being able to work while the child(ren) is/are happily occupied with something else, working at the weekends (which is often a great time for taking a child into an office) translates into four half-days during the week, making lists until the child's activities permit a whirlwind of ticking jobs off.

Sunday, December 05, 2004


Anyone know where Curiosity has gone?

musing about uniforms

I walked past a goth the other day. Not the variety which sacked Rome, but the kind with long black leather overcoats and black jeans and black books with metalwork on. It occured to me that the cool thing about being a goth or a punk or a member of another clearly-defined fashion subculture is that moving city is really no problem. All you have to do is hang around in the market square of the new town for a couple of hours on a Saturday, and you'll guarantee to meet people with the same taste in music, literature and film, and probably with similar political and moral views too.

Religious clothing laws are not the same shorthand. A goth wears goth stuff to show his gothicness; a plymouth brethren, amish, or Hassidic Jewish woman wears modest dark clothes similarly to identify herself as part of a group, sure. But there's more to it than that - it is a morally good act not to send signals of sexual availability with provocative clothing if one is not actually available. It is easier to focus straight in on the person and the mind of someone in neutral clothing - the person IS the mind, the wrapping is largely a distraction.

But the burquha is different again, IMO, because it is hard to interact in person with a mind whose mouth and eyes are invisible.