#shetoo – can i protect my daughter from being a victim?

Like many of you, I have watched the #metoo hashtag go viral on social media this week. I haven’t posted publicly about my feelings towards what I’ve read, but it has occupied my mind more often than not.

As one of the – alarmingly few, it would appear – women who hasn’t experienced sexual harassment or abuse in her lifetime, reading about such events in the lives of my friends – even when they’ve simply written “#metoo”, without wishing to go into the sordid details behind that simple phrase – has moved and discomforted me. I feel naive and stupid. Why was I not aware that this was so widespread?

Of course I’m not naive and stupid – I’m simply part of a generation of women who have covered up, made excuses, assumed that they must be partly responsible for the behaviour of the men around them. Friends sharing their experiences now on social media would not have done so to me when it happened because they would have assumed it wasn’t worth sharing, wasn’t as bad as it seemed, that it was somehow (at least in part) their faultThey didn’t want to make a fuss.

And this scares me.

It doesn’t so much scare me for me – but it scares me for my daughter. Can I protect her from being a victim?

The short, and sad, answer is no. Much as we would like to, none of us parents can protect our children from the effects of sin in our world. Our children will have many ills performed and spoken against them during their lives – some to do with gender, some not. They will suffer at the hands of those they study with, work with, live with, marry. They will be hurt by those they care about. And there is absolutely nothing we can do about that.

I cannot protect my daughter from being a victim, because the sin of abuse lies with the perpetrator, not the sufferer.

But are there ways I can educate her, raise her, so that – should she experience such behaviour in the future – she will know exactly what to do? And are there ways I can raise my sons to respect women, to fight for equality and kindness, to recognise and stand up to abuse?

As I was pondering these things, I read this tweet:

tweet

It resonated with me. Yes, let’s raise our sons to be allies. But you know what? Let’s raise our daughters to be allies too. Some thoughts have come my way in the last 24 hours about how to do this – not a definitive list, just some thoughts. (I’d be delighted for you to add your own in the comments below.)

Respect starts with the basics. I’m regularly amazed by how blase us parents can be with regards to teaching our kids respect. It’s as if we think there’s some magic age at which it starts. WRONG. Like everything we teach our kids, it has to start from birth. When a kid pushes another kid at a toddler group, and the parent says nothing, I’m worried for that kid. When a parent makes excuses for his/her child’s attitude in class, I’m worried for that kid. When a parent doesn’t model manners to his/her kid, I’m worried for that kid.

Now maybe you think there’s little to connect childhood bolshiness with adult harassment. Allow me to disagree. When we teach our kids to say please, thank you and sorry (even if it was an accident), when we encourage respect towards other children and adults, when we encourage them to think positively and to comment positively on their situation, we are pushing back the gender-focussed language we might otherwise, albeit unwittingly, encourage them into (boys are tough, girls are beautiful – that kind of rubbish). We are saying to both our boys and our girls, “Those around you are equal in value to you. You need to respect them. You need to expect respect from others. You can be grateful for the good friends in your life. You can revel in the beauty of your surroundings, rather than comment or act negatively. Life is precious.”

On the other hand, us humans are naturally sinful – we are naturally prone to bad thoughts, bad actions, bad motives. If we don’t take a handle on our children’s attitudes when they’re young, encouraging them to self-regulate their emotions and think of others, we are allowing them to be overwhelmed by any negative influence around them – a friend who treats women as objects; a boss who speaks disparagingly of a gay employee; a wife who gossips about other women. Basic respect is not everything – but it’s an excellent start.

Teach the importance of friendship

This is a tricky one, as we’re not usually around when our children are making and forging friendships. But we can sow the seeds by teaching the importance of friendship, and encouraging it to blossom before our kids start school, when we’re around a lot more for them and can help teach them how to make friends. And – for those of us who do this kind of thing – we can pray that our children will make good friends (both ‘good’ in terms of influence, and ‘good’ as in ‘close’).

The important bit about this is that, should our children (daughters or sons) ever experience untoward behaviour from another, their instinct should be to talk to someone – and having a bunch of understanding friends around will be critical. We won’t always be their first port of call. They need their friends – and their friends need them. Let’s teach our children to listen to their friends and take their concerns seriously too.

Over-drinking leaves us vulnerable

This is a sensitive one, so please hear me out. Some – not all – cases of harassment/abuse stem from drinking. Alcohol lowers our inhibitions and weakens our defences. If a girl is harassed/abused when she is under the influence of alcohol, it is still abuse – no doubt. And it is not any more her fault than if it had happened when she were sober – no doubt. But it is harder to spot, harder to remember, harder to make a statement, harder to convict the offender – and, therefore, I want to teach my children the dangers of over-drinking. There is a reason why Paul commands us not to get drunk on wine but to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) – and that is because the Holy Spirit heightens our sensitivity, whereas alcohol dulls it.

I’m not saying that if you’re tee-total you’re never going to be a victim of sexual harassment. I’m saying that if you’re not heavily under the influence of alcohol, you’re going to be able to think more clearly. In some cases, yes, this might mean the ability to pre-empt – and move away from – a situation where you’re feeling increasingly uncomfortable. In other cases, it might mean that having a clear head means that you’re in no doubt about what happened that night, whose fault it was, and you’re able to go straight to the police to make a statement.

And, in case it wasn’t clear, this will be what I teach my daughter and my sons. They all need to be responsible. Alcohol makes us act inappropriately on impulses which might be dodgy in the first place. Alcohol makes us less capable of supporting our friends on a night out.

Of course there will be the contingent who respond to this with, “You can’t tell people not to get drunk!” to which my response is I’d rather my kids were sober and clear-headed than drunk and victimised. And, if it really bothers you, get drunk in your own home. But when out with strangers? I hope I can teach my children how to know their limits when it comes to alcohol.

Communication lines need to stay open – especially when it comes to sex

Whatever we teach our children about sex, we need to make it very clear that we are open, and non-judgemental, and will not be shocked by anything our children tell us. I have little experience in this area, having not hit puberty with any of our kids yet, but I would like to think that, despite what my husband and I teach our children about sex (that it is designed for lifelong marital commitment), we will be able to communicate to them that we respect their decisions when it comes to sex and relationships, even if they differ to our own views. We will be teaching about consent, about what is OK and what is not OK. We will teach them that if something happens that is not OK, or makes them feel uncomfortable in any way, they need to tell someone immediately. Not jump to an allegation, of course, but tell someone who will be able to advise on whether further action is needed.

Going hand in hand with this is teaching both our sons and our daughter what constitutes showing interest in someone they like. I honestly believe that some teenage girls are harassed by boys who simply don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t know how to communicate verbally that they like a girl, and wrongly think that grabbing a boob will instantly make the girl feel valued and loved. Of course this is harassment – but some boys don’t know any better because they haven’t been taught. Which brings me to my next point…

Model what it is to give and receive love.

Are you physically affectionate with your kids? Can you show your love with words? Do you give them quality time? Can you demonstrate how much you love them by what you do for them? Or with small gifts?

The chances are that we don’t all match up in all those areas. I certainly don’t! But making sure our children not only feel loved, but are able to show love in appropriate ways is just so important. As they grow into adults, they need to feel comfortable with the concept of love – both platonic and romantic – and when/how it is appropriate to show love. If we never show our children physical affection, for example, they may crave it from inappropriate people in unhealthy ways.

It also feels important to me that my kids are able to love a variety of different important people in their lives, to understand how the love for a parent, for example, differs from the love for a grandparent. Or how love for a sibling differs from love for a friend. Do we allow and encourage our children to build strong, loving relationships with each other? I know this is hard work – siblings love to bicker! – but are we reminding our kids that actually, deep down, they are called to love and serve each other?

In addition – are we modelling healthy, loving partnerships to our children? Those of us who are partnered with the parent of our children – are we demonstrating the equality, respect and support that we hope they will look for in their choice of partner? Those of us who are parenting on our own, are we teaching our children that our value doesn’t come from being in a romantic relationship? Those of us starting to date again, are we teaching our children how to pick a partner who respects and values us?

*

My prayer is that my sons grow up to respect women for their inner beauty, showing love to those around them in healthy and appropriate ways. And that my daughter grows up with a secure sense of her own identity, and a rock-solid awareness of how she should and shouldn’t be treated.

But my prayer is more than that, actually. It is that my sons would also have a secure sense of their own identity – which means that they never need to walk over others in order to pursue their dreams, nor that they allow others to walk over them. My prayer is also that my daughter grows up to respect men, able to love them for who they are, and not just pursue them for romantic gain.

To all those who’ve bravely shared the #metoo hashtag, thank you. I pray that your bravery will ensure that things are different for the next generation.

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adoption and the suzuki method

A small disclaimer – because I’m over-anxious about my blogs and no-one likes to be sued! These views are my own, and come from my 20-month experience as a Suzuki parent in a SECE class, as well as a couple of days’ observing SECE training this summer, and a few weeks under my belt as a Suzuki teaching partner. In short, this post represents my understanding of the Suzuki method, and the effect it’s having on our family – it doesn’t necessarily represent the views of any trained Suzuki teacher. Thank you for reading!

Shortly after our boys came home to us, I signed them up to a local Suzuki music class. As a former music teacher, I’d always shied away from paying for something I felt I could do myself – but the Suzuki approach had intrigued me, and felt like something very different to what I would naturally do at home.

The boys seemed to like music – both in their foster home and once they moved to us – so I was very excited when they were offered a place in a Suzuki Early Childhood Education (SECE) class, for which there is usually a sizeable waiting list.

What I didn’t realise was just how much the Suzuki method would support me as an adoptive mum – and my boys as adopted children.

It will help if I briefly outline what the Suzuki method actually is. What it isn’t is the method by which I – and probably most people – was taught to play an instrument. There are three main beliefs underlying the philosophy:

Every child can learn – the idea that there is no such thing as ‘genius’, that everyone possesses ‘ability’, and it is how this ability is nurtured which determines what we achieve.

Ability develops early – right from inside the womb, we are listening, growing, developing. You’re never too early to start learning from your environment!

Environment nurtures growth – and therefore the environment has to be a good one – stimulating and engaging. Children must see excellent modelling from others in order to develop their ability.

These beliefs are implemented in Suzuki classes through four principles:

  • Children learn from one another (the classes are mixed age, from newborns up to school age – younger ones learn new skills by watching older ones, and older ones learn empathy by watching/helping younger ones)
  • Success breeds success (once you’ve felt the joy of doing something well, you want to do it again and again – and try succeeding at new things too!)
  • Parental involvement is critical (unlike many preschool music classes, parents play a full role in SECE classes – singing, playing and modelling all the activities so that their child can learn from them)
  • Encouragement is essential (sometimes the goals we set children seem too big and impossible to them, so they get easily discouraged, but with Suzuki, every small step is praised, nothing is overlooked)

A helpful way to summarise it is to think of it as the ‘mother tongue’ method. How do you learn your mother tongue? By listening to those around you as they talk to you, by copying, by listening and copying some more. It develops from the womb. In the same way, Suzuki believed that if a child was surrounded by music, he would learn it naturally.

Learning the Suzuki way has had a massive impact on Monkey and Meerkat’s musicality. They’ve just turned three and can sing in tune, clap/beat in time, and read simple rhythmic notation. They can pause, wait and anticipate when a particular sound or action is required in a song. They can respond to music with an awareness of different timbres and textures that many of my Year 7s used to struggle with. Their musical achievements have surpassed those of Mister and Missy (who weren’t Suzuki-educated) at a similar age.

But I’m not here to tell you that. I’m here to tell you the incredible impact that the Suzuki method is having on my children’s wellbeing – and on me – as we navigate the tricky terrain of adoption.

Dr Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998) developed his philosophy following the Second World War. Appalled by the awful acts he’d heard of, saddened that the human race could perform such despicable acts against one another, he believed that, through education, humans could become better people, and work to build a better world. And he felt that music, with its emphasis on encouraging empathy and mutual respect, could play a big role, saying “Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart”. So it’s no surprise to discover that, for my boys, the Suzuki method is helping them to develop their whole character.

Firstly, nurture is of immense importance and can often override ‘nature’. This is not to ignore the genes that will obviously have an impact upon an adopted child’s life, but it is to say that the ‘nurture’ (good or bad) that has occurred since birth will significantly shape that child’s future. The genes do not need to be the end of the story. Suzuki believed that there is no such thing as ‘genius’, that we all possess immense ‘ability’, and it is the nurturing of this ability which determines our futures. This, of course, is an incredibly affirmative philosophy for any adoptive parent, as they’re aiming to give their children great opportunities throughout life and encouraging them to raise their aspirations. I don’t know how my boys’ lives will pan out, but I do know that they’re already surpassing my expectations of them musically, so why not socially/emotionally/academically?

Secondly, the environment around us needs to be a good one, in order to nurture growth. Adoptive parents know this only too well, having heard and seen many examples of a poor environment on a young and formative child. They never give up hope that the environment they are providing for their children will encourage them to grow and develop into all they were meant to be. The environment of the Suzuki classes themselves is calm, respectful, joyful and encouraging, and this challenges me to reproduce this through the week as I play or eat with my boys, get them dressed or clean their teeth. Before you start to imagine the calm, dream-like environment of the Desert household, let me tell you that I am, by nature, incredibly impatient, snappy and irritable when my children cross me. We are by no means a calm household! But, with the encouragement of the Suzuki philosophy, we are trying!

Thirdly, parents are critical to a child’s development. A parent is the most important model a child has. Think about it: when an old friend comes to the door – someone you know but your child doesn’t – and you greet them warmly, doesn’t your child warm to them too? When the friend is invited in, won’t your child be happy to play with them and get to know them, because they’ve seen you model that this person is ‘safe’ and ‘OK’? On the contrary, when a cold-caller comes to the door, and your manner is stiff and abrupt (well, mine is!), doesn’t that also breed anxiety in your child, who’s watching you all the time, looking for signals from you as to how they should respond?

Suzuki strongly believed that, for children to see the value of something and want to do it for themselves, they first had to see their parents valuing it and modelling it. If you take your child along to a music class but refuse to join in any of the songs, do you really have a right to feel frustrated when your child doesn’t either? They look at you, see that it’s not something you value enough to do yourself, and think to themselves, “This is not important – I won’t bother!” On the contrary, in a Suzuki class, parents are encouraged to play a full part in all the activities – singing, clapping, playing, dancing, moving – both to model how these things are done to a child who is not yet ready to do them for himself, and to communicate to their child, “This is of value – this is important – I rate this enough to be doing it myself”.

Of course all parents need to consider what they are modelling to their children – but for adoptive parents in particular, who are aware that some of the behaviours and thought-patterns presenting in their children are very deeply engrained, the need to be a strong, positive and consistent role model in their children’s lives is an urgent one. The Suzuki approach has definitely affirmed my role in the lives of my boys – otherwise I may have started to feel quite helpless when confronted by some of their more challenging behaviours.

Finally – for now, although I could go on much longer – every small step is encouraged. There is a 2-month-old boy who attends one of the Suzuki classes I have the privilege of assisting with. He can’t sit up, let alone sing or clap or dance; a non-Suzuki observer might think it ridiculous that he be there at all. But every week he is becoming more awake and alert. Every week he is starting to respond to the music – either by turning his head towards the sound, fixing his eyes on the instrument being played, or watching the older children play and dance. This might be overlooked by a non-Suzuki educator, but a Suzuki educator would know better. A Suzuki educator would know that, as we develop our language by being surrounded by it, so we develop musical ability by being immersed in it. I can’t wait to see what this little boy is doing in a year’s time!

Suzuki families are taught to be observant, noticing every small step, reminding their child of the small ‘successes’ they had that day, and encouraging them to keep watching, listening, learning. In fact, parents complete a journal at the end of each session, outlining a couple of ‘positive’ steps their children made during the class. This encourages us to stay focussed on our children throughout the session, and not plan meals or write shopping lists in our heads!

This process of observation has helped me to observe my boys outside Suzuki lessons too. It’s not one of my skills as a parent – it usually takes me months, if not years, to work out what my children are doing and why – so developing a practice of careful observation in Suzuki classes has really helped me to spot trends and patterns in my boys through the week. I watch more, I listen more, I notice their play and interactions more – and this helps me to focus on what they might need from me and their Dad as they grow and develop.

Has anything about the Suzuki method jarred with my adoption training, or parental instincts? Well, aside from the back ache resulting from carrying two non-walking twins around in a circle for numerous songs in the early days when I couldn’t allow others to pick them up, not much. There is, however, an interesting idea within the Suzuki philosophy that we are not to ‘over-praise’ our children, the basis for this being that children ultimately need to be motivated by their own sense of pride/success, rather than doing things purely for others to pat them on the back. Over-praising a child, according to the Suzuki philosophy, can lead them to become demotivated.

While I agree with this from an educational perspective, when our boys arrived with us – and even now – I hugged and kissed them a lot, and used verbal encouragement/motivation as much as I could, partly to make up for lost time (the 14 months before they came home to us), and partly to build attachment, to reassure the boys that they were home and they were ours. To start with, holding back on this during Suzuki classes felt unnatural. But of course this has to be balanced with ‘encouraging the small steps’ so, 20 months in, I feel we’ve now found a good balance, and I praise my boys when they need that encouragement, and hold back when they need to feel that surge of pride coming from within themselves. And the whole Suzuki approach is teaching me to know the difference.

The gentle Suzuki patterns of modelling, repetition and encouragement are transferable to so many parenting situations – but adoptive parents in particular will find the approach therapeutic for them and their children, giving them a philosophy to underpin their parenting, week-in, week-out.

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For more info, please see:

http://www.musicatheart.co.uk/ – the very accessible website of our SECE teacher here in York

https://www.musicmindgames.com/ – Music Mind Games, some of which are used in Suzuki classes

http://www.musicinpractice.com/ – Sue Hunt, experienced Suzuki teacher, shares invaluable practice tips and games for children and parents, and you don’t even need to be learning the Suzuki way to use them!

http://www.britishsuzuki.org.uk/ – the British Suzuki Institute

http://internationalsuzuki.org/ – the International Suzuki Association

 

 

what i’m into (the birthday edit) – september 2017

With my four hooligans all deciding to have a birthday in September – three of them thoughtfully choosing to do this on consecutive days – I confess that this month’s edition of ‘what i’m into’ has been hijacked by cake, balloons and working out which party game suits which age group. Please don’t be surprised if I haven’t got up to much else this month!

Books

I’m still on Captain Corelli – enjoying it very much – but probably won’t finish till October!

Food

At the start of the month, with a busy few weeks looming, I didn’t have the energy to be creative with meals, so I did what any sensible person would have done, and bought enough chicken nuggets, frozen pizza, and ready-made pies to last us through September.

Actually – nope. This is what I should have done. But cooking relaxes me, gives me a chance to breathe and to think, so I didn’t want to give it up altogether. I did the foodie version of stocking the freezer with frozen meals, which was to scour the Good Food website for easy family midweek meals, enjoying the fruits of the GF team’s labours rather than having to be creative myself. Some of the recipes were real winners, like this Three Veg Macaroni Cheese. Who doesn’t love Mac ‘n’ Cheese, eh? This one packs in some hidden veg that kids won’t notice (or at least ours didn’t).

And actually, I took a leaf out of my busy cousin’s book. She’s a few years down the line with her brood, so I rate her wisdom, and she’s married to a church leader, like me, so she understands the crazy pace of vicarage life. They unashamedly eat from the freezer once a week – so we’ve adopted this habit too, and it is so freeing, particularly on evenings where our extra-curricular schedule looks like it needs outsourcing to a logistics team.

And of course I can’t leave this section without mentioning the cakes, of which there were quite a few this month. A cartwheel one for my gymnastics-mad daughter:

lois

Two Stick Men cakes for my boys who adore the story (particularly the BBC’s magical dramatisation):

monkey

meerkat

And a football pinata cake for my footballing son:

IMG_3323[1]Friends, we have reached the stage of football parties, and I’m not quite sure when it will end. I can see us quite happily celebrating Mister’s birthdays in this fashion for a good few years yet.

Music

Image result for jojo siwaOh gosh, it was all stuff like Taylor Swift and JoJo Siwa, ‘DJed’ via YouTube by my eldest for his younger siblings’ parties. But I did get Coldplay’s Parachutes out for the first time in years, and spent a happy evening remembering how good they used to be, and what a perfect album this is – as well as not a small amount of time realising how old it is, and therefore how old that makes me.

Image result for coldplay parachutes

Stage and screen

Twin Peaks finished and actually reached some kind of conclusion! Not perhaps exactly as I’d have liked, but as good as you’re going to get from David Lynch – and that made it perfect, really. We then watched a fair amount of Curb Your Enthusiasm. So, so funny – perhaps not for the faint-hearted – but clever and original.

I also got to enjoy all of Missy’s birthday DVDs – Sing (for the second time), Trolls (very surprised by how much I liked this one!) and Moana (in bits). I say I got to enjoy these films – I enjoyed them in the way one enjoys films with small kids, where you see excerpts in between toilet trips, making dinner, answering the phone, fetching snacks, applying plasters, and the like. Eventually, after about 35 viewings, you’ve filled in all the gaps and seen the whole film, piecing the order together in your head to make some kind of logical plot progression. It’s one of those parent hacks no one ever tells you you’ll need – but you master it, and feel quite damn proud of yourself when you do.

Articles

This was an interesting one on a couple learning to date again after having kids. And I appreciated this guy’s perspective on why him doing housework is not to ‘help his wife out’.

Stand-out for me this month, though, was Why Tired Mothers stay up so Late – one I can very easily resonate with!

In other news…

Did I mention we had four birthdays and three parties?? Did I????

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  • 8 year old Mister had his football party, and his guests ranged from those who eat/breathe/sleep football like he does, to those who don’t play at all. To make it accessible to everyone, we had some football-themed crafts and a few standard party games as well, and kept the football-playing sections quick-moving, with skills as well as matches. Big thanks to our wonderful friends Sam and Tom for running the football side of things!IMG_3343[1]
  • 6 year old Missy wanted to make lip balm. I took this simple recipe and got the kids working in pairs to mix and melt the ingredients, adding essential oils and cosmetic colourings near the end to see it magically transform into lip balm that was beautiful to smell and look at!
    IMG_3030[1]
    Stick Man play dough!
  • Monkey and Meerkat, who turned 3, had a Stick Man party. Fairly low key, given their age, but it was fun to find ‘stick food’, attempt a couple of simple party games, and play around with stick man themed play dough.
  • I also began a little job, one morning a week, as a teaching partner to our fab Suzuki Early Years teacher. I assist with her two Tuesday morning classes, where the kids range in age from 2 months to nearly 3 years. I can’t tell you what an absolute joy it is to witness such young kids responding to music with such sensitivity and awareness – and I really will blog about it soon, I promise!

As always, I’m linking up (just! within hours of the deadline!) with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into series. Why not check them out? And let me know what you’ve been up to this September!