Babywearing with Jess


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Talking with kids about death

So if you’ve read any of the posts I’ve made like The Grandfather my kids will never meet, New Years Giveaway – in memory of my Nana MaysieTo Andy, on what would have been your 40th birthday, you would probably have already guessed, there has been more than a few really important people in my life that my kids won’t have the chance to really know as they’ve left us earthside already.

Whenever death comes up as a topic of discussion with children thought, I am really aware of what I am saying to them about it and conscious that it will influence how they think and feel about the topic not only now, but in years to come. I know this doesn’t sit well for everyone and sometimes makes people uncomfrtoable but its a reality in our world loss & grief and I think it might better prepare our kids for them if we can talk about it more…

Also I think personally as children, there is a lot more that we are spiritually in touch with before the realities of other peoples or societies opinions or our own questions or unsureness of these things really clouds our views.

I think children are much more connected to the spiritual world than we give them credit for. In a recent TED talk I watched by Phil Borges he told a story about viewing, from an outsider perspective, a relationship between a great grandmother and great granddaughter and they time they spent together in the village life as peculiar.

He said the tribe explained to him it wasn’t at all strange, the elder was just about to return to the spirit world and the young girl was just leaving it so in fact they had the most in common.

It made me think about being a very young girl and spending lots of time and sleep overs at my Great Aunty Fayette’s house.

I don’t know how old I was when we used to do these sleep overs but very young.

My mum is the eldest of her family and my dad the eldest of his, me being the eldest in my family, it’s kind of logical I am also the eldest of my generation, of my cousins, of my family line in both sides.

I do remember there being a time when it was just me. When I was the only grandchild, which would have been in my mums side of the family, up until my sister was born when I was three and a half. I think the sleep overs where probably around that age.

When I think about it now, it may well have been a way for my mum to prepare for having my sister and my Aunty Donna would have been pregnant with my cousin at the time too.

I remember handing out with the “oldies” lots during that time and as a little girl. They we all “greats” in the family line to me, my great grandmother and my great aunts (many of whom we not actually blood relatives but friends of my Great grandmothers, who we called Gran, and people who we all considered family).

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Having four generations of your family alive is very special. I loved hanging out the “oldies” but when that is the case, death is also obviously something you come to experience before you even know what that means.

It would although avoided, a topic that came up lots. Reading the obligatory section of the paper was a common thing that was done as a group to see if anyone they knew where in them – more often than not, there was. But death wasn’t something spoken about with fear, it was almost like waiting for a bus. You never know when your one is going to arrive but you do know it’s on its way eventually.

Aunty Fayette’s was my favourite place to be though. Her and Aunty Dot, they were always my favourites.

But sleep overs at Fayette’s weren’t my favourite cause she was but because I got to sleep in her room with her and Honey, her wee dog. In my Great Uncle Jack’s bed.

I never met Jack. He was someone who dies before my time. But I feel like I know him.

 

 

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When my Great Grandmother got dementia my Aunty Donna made her this big pin up board of everyones photos and thier names to help her remember when she got frustrated. I loved that it was this that my Aunty sent when I asked her for a photo of Fayette and Jack because not only is there them but right next me with Aunty Dot around the age I am reminising about right now, just above us “Jenny & Grahame” are my parents and in between us all, my Great Gran who this pin up board was made for before she passed…

 

 

 

On those nights I stayed at Aunty Fayette’s she always made sure she had Vienna Ice cream cake, we loved that stuff – both of us.

And she would cut us both a big slice and we would take it to her room and prop ourselves up in bed (it was the old school set up of two single beds-his and hers, with a small draws set in between) and she would turn on old school movies on the old TV set she has in her bedroom (she was also the only person I knew with a TV in her bedroom – which made her extra cool to me) and she would tell me stories about her and Jack travelling through Asia after the war.

They travelled to some crazy places and had amazing experiences at a time when travelling like that was just not something people did.

On Jack’s side of the room, the one I slept on, I slept in his bed, there was a chair at the foot of the bed and next to the dresser.

It was where he put his shoes on in the morning after he got dressed. I’m not sure if someone told me that and for some reason in my mind I have an image of him doing exactly that. As an adult I feel it must have been a photo or something I saw as I can’t rationally have seen him doing that as he died before I was born… The reality is though; I am not sure if a photo like that exists.

But I do know as a little girl sometimes Aunty Fayette would be telling me a story about Jack and their adventures and we would be eating our ice cream cake and have old movies playing and there were times she would laugh as she told stories of what seemed like and probably were, very exotic and dangerous situations they lived through together and then other times she would finish telling a story and she would seem sad.

And I remember in those times literally seeing Uncle Jack, sitting in his chair at the foot of the bed, smiling, radiating love but kind of glowing, like he was see through in a way.

And he was there whenever she said, “I miss Jack”. And while she said it with sadness and she didn’t say it that often, when she did the overwhelming emotion was the nostalgia, rather than so much that of loss.

And every time – I would look at him smiling there in his chair – and I would look at her and say “but he’s right here”.

Like in a matter of fact way. In a three-year-old way. Like I didn’t overthink it, I didn’t grasp that might be a strange thing at all. It didn’t feel strange – it just was. He was just there. In his chair.

And she would wipe away the tear from her cheek and look at the chair and look at me and she could smile and say to me, “I know”.

And we would continue on as we were. Talking well past my bedtime, often eating a whole Vienna Ice Cream cake slice by slice and watching old movies or looking at her slides from her travels around Asia with Jack.

I didn’t even think of this story for such a long time. I do remember feeling this overwhelming desire from Fayette for me not to go to her funeral. When she totally unexpectedly dropped dead at her own doorstop many years later on Christmas eve, we found out she had long since planned and paid for her own funeral years in advance.

The funeral home called and said she had everything organised for it all, pretty much, “just bring us the body” kind of scenario.

We were all there for Christmas that year. I didn’t have to travel to get to the funeral, there was nothing stopping me from attending or staying around for it. Yes, it was going to be a few days before I had a big camping trip for New Year’s planned with friends and changing my flight might have interfered with that. That was the premise under which I took my intended flight back to New Zealand, to my home, days before her funeral and never attended it but it isn’t why.

I remember sitting on the front steps of the house I was boarding in at the time, which means I must have been seventeen when she died, and it was the night of the funeral.

I remember just at that moment having this guilt stricken panic, “oh shit! Why didn’t I stay for the funeral? I’m not even leaving for the camping trip for two days! I could have totally been there…”

And looking up at the stars, because I was told that’s where we can see the spirits of our loved ones, that the brightest star we could find would be them, shining for us to remember them. In that moment it was like I almost heard her say, “I don’t want you to remember me like that, remember me like Jack” and without even thinking about what that meant, any guilt or indecision I had was gone in that moment. I wasn’t meant to be at the funeral.

It was a dark phase in my life when Fayette died and things over the years got darker before they got lighter again. I had made my peace with my guilt and loss. In fact, despite being so close to Aunty Fayette, my grief and loss over her death was the easiest for me to seem to get “closure” on. I guess because it felt like she never left.

I didn’t even think about or remember the specifics of staying at her house actually until this morning. Someone mention something about their young child saying they could see a past relative. I commented on it about how I do truly believe we are closer to the spirit world when we are young.

I shared with them a story about Josh telling me when he was three he could hear and see Pa (my dad) but now he’s four he can’t and he didn’t “feel” the love the same way. I’m not sure if he’s incredibly insightful, if he has a great imagination, if it’s because of the way we’ve talked to him about these things or a combination of all of them.

He’s also talked to me about past lives lots. He once said as we were driving down the road to me, “we’ve been together before but you weren’t my mum then, we were brothers. We rode these big carts and had these costumes and horses pulled us around”…

He would have been three at the time. As I said he has an active imagination and had a new brother so maybe it was just a story he thought up, but James and I kind of exchanged glances for a sec..

“Was it a really long time ago?” I asked.

“Oh yeah. Ages ago!” he replied.

James said something like “I didn’t know you had seen chariots? That sounds like what you are talking about with the carts and horses?”

“Ohhh…” said Josh, just casually looking out the window deep in thought, “chariot… hmmm”

And James and I just looked at each other a bit bemused, fairly certain we have never exposed him to anything where he would have seen a chariot and not sure what was fact or fiction but not really caring either way.

As I thought about myself at 3 this morning as I was in the shower and I thought of the story of Aunty Fayette and Uncle Jack and it all came flooding back to me, I thought, man there must be so much stuff we know but forget by the time we are old enough to express it.

I’m not really sure how you or I are “meant” to deal with and talk about death with children but for me, I try to follow their lead and always leave my answers as reflective, open ended questions because in a way they are not only their own, but my greatest teachers with this stuff.

I don’t have the “oldies” to learn from anymore but there is now a whole new generation and my kids and the opinions and ideas from them who haven’t yet been shaped or closed by their own adult perceptions or realities of life in this lifetime.

By being open, by admitting to them often when they ask questions that I’m not really sure how it all works, or if anyone really does, its all just different ways of thinking and believing and having faith and connection to something greater than us. And then most importantly I ask and actually listen when I say “what do you think?”

I continue to learn and develop and progress my own perceptions and ideas whilst also encouraging them to develop and understand them for themselves. Especially while they are still young. The might be able to answer their own questions better than I could in years to come but by then they would have probably forgotten it.

But I won’t. I will remember what they think life and death and all the big questions meant to them before the world encourages them to forget and I can be there, hopefully I will be there, to remind them.

 

 

 


 

Skylight Trust has amazing resources for helping support people through greif and loss, particularly with children. Check out thier site and the many different ways they can support you if this for you, like me, like many of us, can be a tought topic to discuss with your kids – http://skylight.org.nz/

 

DISCLAIMER: Obviously we are not a family that prescribes to a set religion or school of faith but that doesn’t mean we are not open to them, in fact, there is lots we like from many of them, but for us, nature is our temple. Even between James and I we have slightly different takes on what destiny and God and all those things mean to us but one thing we have always firmly believed is giving our children exposure to lots of different ways to find faith and belonging in the world and encouraging them to answer those decisions for themselves. But this is not meant to be offensive to someone with different beliefs, my favourite tenants of the faiths that speak to me most are the ones about us all being on our own journey up the same mountain and that your relationship with something bigger than us is a very personal one.

 

 

 


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Your needs matter too: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs & mothers sleep

So as humans we love labels in our current society. Maybe as our communities are so fractured it helps us feel a sense of belonging maybe..?

Anyway, when I got pregnant with Josh, like many first time parents, James and I did lots of reading and discussing about what “kind” of parents we might be.

All scientific evidence and literature (we are fundamentally a scientist and a researcher respectively- we approaches this “new subject matter” the same) suggested “being attached” and having strong bonds built by being responsive to your children as individuals was fundamental.

It is. It’s totally fundamental to healthy and balanced adults.

BUT, does that mean we truly “fit in” with this whole “attachment parenting” label and do we wish to be?

 

Ummm, I’m not sure and probably not.

 

So what “kind” of parenting philosophy do we follow?

The one that works best for all of us in that situation/time/scenario.

See all parents, and I’m pretty sure it’s all of us I am yet to have one tell me otherwise, is just trying to do the best they can with the resources they have available.

Resources could include information/experience and support for the record which I think are commonly overlooked as many of us jump to consider money. Sure money can buy you those things but money doesn’t equate to happiness – some of the most financially rich people I know or have meet have been the most “happiness poor”..

But there are aspects of the label “attachment parenting” that kind of don’t sit well for me. And that may be unfair even to that label-there are aspects of the modern concept of “mothering” in some circles that can be detrimental to us as people I think.

Like night-time parenting and the holy grail- SLEEP.

So to explain what I mean, because I don’t want anyone to misconstrue or misinterpret what I am saying here, I want to introduce you to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs…

This is an old psychology theory from Maslow (1943) which is widely used in many professions. I learned a lot about using this in business settings when it comes to making staff happy and motivating them as part of my International Business and Human Resources papers at uni.

But it was actually brought up on the first day of our Slingababy consultant training when I ruined the exercise for my group (sorry guys haha) by asking too many questions about the vague group discussion exercise and working out Lorette was trying to get us to understand the same theory in application to having successful learning environments. (I had actually done a similar exercise in a special interest paper at uni “How people learn” so it is clearly a great exercise and I was cheating a bit, sorry Lorette :P).

So before I started writing this I did the good old “google it” and of course others have already applied this to parenting and presented and explained it much better than I could do it justice.

But basically, Maslow stated that there is a fundamental hierarchy to our needs as humans. Our “bottom” needs have to be meet for us to “move on” to the next. In other words, the bottom needs are the most important. Those as our physical needs. Then come our needs for security, social interactions, esteem and self-actualisation respectively.

 

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Intersecting Mothers and Children’s Needs – PHD in Parenting & Megan Francis (www.thehappiestmom.com)

 

Included in this diagram from PHD in Parenting are the “child’s hierarchy of needs” as well which makes the sleep example a perfect one.

So we co-sleep as a family because in order to meet our need for sleep and our kid’s needs to feel safety and security in terms of how we as a family approach night time parenting, this is what we worked out to be the best solution for us.

So the boys each have bedrooms and beds of their own and for daytime sleeps or if they had fallen asleep in the car say, we would transfer them to their own beds.

Sometimes they even sleep in them at night! I think Josh did once last week for the first time in probably a month!

So to make this work in our house, we have like a massive “family bed”, with mattresses directly on the floor “dorm styles”.

 

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Kids would say, “preferably insert parent in this gap” haha 😉 But even each others company in the dark is reassuring to them & now Jai’s older it is safe as he can well and truly hold his own and there is more risk of him squishing his brother than the other day round..

 

 

Seriously, most of our master bedroom is bed. It’s a king size mattress and king single next to each other. And most nights lately the boys both want to sleep in there. Partly because for a while now, Jai doesn’t want me to hold him captive in a darkened room boobing him to sleep when he can hear his dad and brother having bedtime stories – he wants to be like the big boys and read chapter books.

And it works for us to have James be strongly involved in the bedtime process too. Obviously I am usually ‘on hand’ for back up and still sometimes have to come in to “boob the baby” after the stories finish but not every time anymore. Not tonight for example.

 

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Another risk of cosleeping is you may lose your spot if you get up to pee… 😉

 

This works for us too as James doesn’t have the same “lighter sleep patterns” with the kids in the bed. It’s like another one of those instinctive, cave man things. In fact, it’s in all the safe co-sleeping guidelines that babies are safest sleeping not in the middle of mum and dad in the bed but on mum’s side.

Because we as mums don’t really sleep the same when they are there. Especially if you are breastfeeding which is again one of those “safe co-sleeping” guidelines.

But my “baby” in this story is 20 months old.

He kicks, wriggles, squirms – they both do, they are restless sleepers. Like his big brother at his age, we have made attempts to get Jai sleeping in his own room.

But what are “little stir” in the big family bed with someone else nearby, are massive cries and resettles when he is in a dark room alone. So this time around, we haven’t really pushed it.

 

 

 

 

But lately this “unsettled stirrer” is making my ‘light sleep patterns’ an issue for my busy brain. When he stirs it wakes me, he’s asleep in a second but I take half hour to get back to sleep, usually promptly timed with yet another small stir and self-settle.

And all that stirring and sleeplessness meant my basic physiological need for sleep has been depleted and even if I have food, safety, financially stability, experience and education to draw on etc etc, I can’t interchange any of those for sleep.

So if I feel excessively sleep deprived for long periods of time, then I am likely not going to be able to meet my child’s “social needs” for loving interaction myself. Depending on the resources at my disposal as a parent, my personal history or background and/or the context or scenario, hypothetically I might not be able to meet their needs for safety and security, “free from abuse or neglect” (hello me losing the plot and screaming) or maybe even physiological needs, “human touch” (let me introduce you to my good friend, “being touched out”)…

 

 

And as hypothesised in the great outline of Maslow’s Hierarchy applied to parenting and outlines in PHD in Parenting’s post, it is probably more important to meet our kid’s needs in a physiological, safety and security sense, which I fundamentally need to do the same for myself, before we consider anyone’s need for esteem or self-actualisation.

That means if I want to write, meaning self-actualisation in my pyramid as I need time to both ‘think and create’ I need to a) make sure I have some down time and uninterrupted sleep at least for a few hours a night if I can and, b) make sure I balance that (or try to!) with my kids and husbands pyramid’s respectively.

And that is a constant balancing act.

We have a unique situation to many others. My husband is currently having a turn at being the “primary caregiver” for our kids after me covering myself in paint and sand at Playcentre was my primary focus for the last four years. But obviously I don’t want to “blow the top off” his pyramid and he too still needs ‘time to think’ and his other own self actualisation needs meet.

But more than this, he is still working on the side. I am just currently doing more hours than him. But that means he also needs time to “create and write” just like I do. And obviously sleep and everything else…

But as I already mentioned, he doesn’t have the same light sleep patterns that I do with the kids in bed. Dads are wired differently.

I remember my mum telling me when I was just a new mum myself that my Dad was the one who shared a night time sleeping surface with me as a baby as she felt he handled it better. She said actually more something like “I just couldn’t deal with it”.

At the time I thought, wow that’s strange… My dad had to go to work running his own business in the morning, Mum helped at the office obviously but was the primary caregiver and “stay at home mum”. Modern parenting approach had lead me to initially assume, she was the one not working right? Doesn’t that mean that all of that responsibility was hers? Surely I couldn’t do the same with James (who was working fulltime at the time) especially as I didn’t even help in the office…?

So it may have taken me 4+ years but a few weeks ago I was like, “I think she might have been onto something here!” haha

My mother would be the least surprised to hear it has taken me that long to listen to her advice properly by the way 😉

So I now spend at least the first part of the night, at least a few hours if I can, sleeping in Jai’s bed which is also a mattress on the floor.

The boys cuddle into their dad while he snores his head off (he’s pretty proud that something I have been complaining about at night for years, is actually something that soothes the kids-great free white noise haha) and I get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep-hopefully. Sometimes anyway 😉

Now I am not saying our solution right not the “holy grail of sleep” should be yours. I mean if it works, cool. But at other times we have taken different approaches…

We have done the old “take shifts” approach in the past as well as the adage “catch it when you can” and nap when my babies do. But the PHD in parenting article really highlights how important our “tribe” and need for support from others in with this parenting gig.

Bethany from @bigblisshoney is quoted in the article saying “I just did something really hard. I communicated my limits and asked for help. Urgh”

James and I had to collectively do this recently and sent out a few “SOS calls” saying “Shit. We need help” a few times in recent weeks and his parents have come to ‘save us’. We are very thankful to have family in the same country as us after all these years of both being in NZ “alone” with family off shore so we can now do that.

But it is hard.

It’s hard to stick up your hand and say “over here!! We need some help!!” It’s even hard to take your own advice sometimes 😛

It’s hard to make the constant juggle work. It’s hard to balance everything and not “blow the top off” someone’s pyramid in the process.

And while we are fortunate, it is particularly hard being ‘self employed’ and juggling both parents essentially “co-sharing’ child care roles and having contract work too. It is really hard to balance it all.

And I don’t think anyone gets it right all of the time. It’s a constant reshuffle and juggle of everything.

But we had a ‘family meeting’ today and one of the things we talked about modelling to our kids is that it is ok to get it wrong. “Mistakes” is another word for “learning” or “growth”. We don’t want our kids to be scared of making them.

But we also want to model that we need to work together to meet everyone’s needs as a family.

And we won’t get that balance “right” all the time. And that’s ok too. But we do need to be respectful and considerate of each other’s needs and pyramids and we also need to talk and plan together to make sure we all have a say, the kids included.

Who knows how well this “monthly family meeting” plan will actually go or how well we will even “stick to plan” but either way, bring on 2017.

Here’s to more attempts from us to ‘work together to achieve balance for everyone’ in our family (the “heart” of our families planning model).

 

Much love and have a safe and happy new year’s ❤

 


 

 

Safe Co-sleeping information…

 

La Leche Leauge – http://www.llli.org/sweetsleepbook/infographic

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Mumanu Safe Co-Sleeping Guidelines – http://www.mumanu.com/2013/05/16/safe-cosleeping-guidelines/

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