Looking into Rosetta’s eyes, I felt a strong desire to help create a fairer, freer, more peaceful world for her to thrive in. I volunteered for Saturday child care duties. Rocking her to sleep and greeting her as she awoke from her morning nap were special moments. I sang her the same songs I had sung for my son. So far, so easy! ‘I know how to do this’, I said to myself.
When Rosetta was eighteen months old, Peter was born. When he was little, I took Rosetta out to a wildlife park I had last visited with my son 20 years before. The continuity of place and of childhood joys strengthens family ties. Rolling down a grassy bank at Blickling Hall with my grandchildren, just as I had done with my son, was a joyful experience. Fortunately, I was able to fling myself down the slope at 64 years old! Rolypoly is now firmly established in their bodies and psyches and, in due course, their children will be doing the same, I hope. These are the threads that weave the generations together.
HOPE AND RESPONSIBILITY
Some things remain the same, but the world my grandchildren inhabit has changed significantly since I brought up my son. Now I have a girl’s future to consider. As a therapist, I see many teenage girls who hate their bodies and buckle under the huge pressure to achieve at school. Boys too suffer anxiety and feel they have to hide it which creates added stress.
90% of teenage girls are unhappy with their bodies. It seems that their mothers’ body insecurities as well as the media onslaught cause them to feel insecure about their appearance. A quarter of 14 year old girls are considering plastic surgery or diet pills and 19% of them confessed to already having an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.
Many boys today are watching pornography that shows women supposedly enjoying sexual acts that are degrading and downright violent. Girls’ expectations and enjoyment of sex is at an all time low. How can we, as committed parents and grandparents, empower girls to resist these threats to their sense of self and help boys to grow into caring, emotionally intelligent men?
One day I heard Australian parenting expert, Steve Biddulph, talking on Radio 4. He highlighted the threats to girls growing up and I ordered his new book immediately: Ten Things Girls Need Most to grow up strong and free. I bought a copy for myself and one for my son and daughter-in-law. Amy and I had already talked about parenting. Having been brought up by an anxious mother, she is determined to let Rosetta explore the world with confidence.
Steve Biddulph writes: “Even as young as two, the world puts limits onto girls. We have to encourage our daughters to be adventurous and brave, to help them stay in touch with their wild nature. And we have to fight the forces that want to steal their childhood away.”
“'We are all learning and navigating the extraordinary challenge that is raising happy and confident children'”
LEARNING THROUGH NATURE
I am teaching Rosetta and her brother to connect with nature. We put our hands on trees and look up through their branches to see how they stretch up to the sky. We breathe in their strength and wisdom. We stroke leaves to feel how smooth or rough they are and sniff the roses growing in their garden. I explain that Rosetta means little rose. We greet slugs, snails and robins. I encourage my granddaughter’s wild nature by allowing my own. A foundation in wildness will help her resist the media messages and have the courage to be herself.
Steve Biddulph’s book on girls is a workbook which asks each parent to examine their own childhood as they consider their attitudes towards their children. Amy tells me her insights. I also encourage my son to read the part about the importance of dads, especially for girls. My son and daughter-in-law are pattern breakers, as I have been. My father was distant until his final years. My son grew up without a father so his loving presence in Rosetta and Peter’s life is a great blessing.
Amy talks about how she is monitoring and changing the language she uses with the children. She tells me she has to push away the critical voice inside her that stems from her own childhood. I admire and actively support her mindful approach. I also read Steve Biddulph’s book, Raising Boys and we discuss it. She was feeling concerned that Peter seems very attached to her but, after absorbing Steve’s wisdom, she feels reassured. By reading the books together we are all learning and navigating the extraordinary challenge that is raising happy and confident children.
Recently I discovered an award winning outdoor nursery (Dandelion Education) and enrolled Rosetta for a few days in their holiday club. It is run on Forest School and Philosophy 4 Children principles. She settled in rapidly, the sign of a secure child. All credit to her parents. She learned to use a hammer and nails to make a wooden pirate ship. She let the chickens out of their cage and helped make breakfast using the hens’ eggs. They all went out for a walk into the country and the children slid down a muddy bank.
Thanks to our discussions, Rosetta’s parents understood the importance of such activities and adventures, especially for girls. Our explorations together of Biddulph’s ideas and other sources of parenting wisdom have enabled us to work together to provide Rosetta and Peter with a childhood that encourages their free spirits, their creativity and their connection with nature.
I am so grateful for this opportunity to play a part in my grandchildren’s lives. On Saturdays my son comes home from work mid-morning and we often take the children out together. We talk and share the fun and have become much closer than before he became a father.
Bringing up children in today’s world is an enormous task. We cannot rely on the methods that worked fine twenty years ago. We need strategies to help children grow up ‘strong and free’ today. Parents and grandparents need to join forces to ward off the damaging media influences that threaten the wellbeing of our children. Mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote: ”The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” How true that is today.
READ Steve Biddulph: Raising Boys AND 10 Things Girls Need Most to grow up strong and free.
EXPLORE Sarah Ockwell – Smith: Gentle Parenting
READ John Gottman: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.
Ideas for parents to help their children and grandparents to form strong relationships:
Based on my experience, these are my tips for parents:
- Let the grandparents spend time with the children on their own so they can bond with them and realise how much fun it is. Children relate very differently to grandparents when parents are not around. But also, do include grandparents on fun outings so you can enjoy the children together and let them help practically and financially. Consider getting a year pass to a place the kids love so you can either go together or individually.
- Be careful of leaving too many exact instructions as grandparents like to do some things their way and children develop flexibility. However, discuss important matters like discipline, toilet training and what to feed them and when. Bedtime routines need to be explained.
- Small gestures like dressing the children in clothes that the grandparents bought them when you meet up are appreciated.
- Keep grandparents supplied with photos, preferably in frames so they have the latest ones to display to their friends! Sending photos of what the kids are up to via WhatsApp is also a good idea.
- Let the grandparents know if you are struggling with disturbed nights or feeling low. They can come over and be helpful and take the children off you to give you a rest. Ask for help when you need it.
Ideas for deepening your relationship as a grandparent to your grandchildren
- Volunteer for childcare and spend time in charge of them so they relate to you when mum and dad are not there. Don’t do more than you want though.
- Rediscover your wild side by doing silly things with the children like rolling down grassy banks. Find out how much fun it is to hurtle down a tall slide! Or scream as you float along on a zip wire! The children love to see you enjoying yourself and will pick up a positive atmosphere. Be uninhibited so they can be too! Dance wildly, sing loudly and get muddy with them.
- Get or stay fit as lifting small children onto swings, into buggies and car seats is tiring. Bouncing on the trampoline and playing tag running around the garden is also tiring but a good workout! When I first looked after the children I used to go home and sleep for two hours afterwards!
- Give them lots of hugs but don’t tell them to hug or kiss you or let their parents do so. Hugs need to be freely given and received.
- Try not to comment on appearance at all though this is difficult with girls who like to dress up. Encourage dressing for play, not to look pretty.
- Read up on what is required to be a good parent these days. There has been a great deal of valuable research and we now know that authoritative or positive parenting is what works. Authoritarian parenting styles damage children’s confidence. Update your knowledge to deal with today’s challenges and discuss strategies as an extended family. Share a subscription to The Green Parent as we do!
- Consider what you can offer the grandchildren such as an emphasis on connecting to nature, musical or artistic skills or involving them in a hobby such as woodwork that they can learn from you.
- Take them out to places that you love and tell them that this was the tree that Daddy used to climb on or these were the animals he loved at the wildlife park. You have a special role as you can tell them about their parent’s childhood.
- Listen to their troubles when they are older. They may feel they don’t want to burden their parents. Help them to problem solve for themselves as far as possible.
- Make time for them in your busy life. Many grandparents are retired but I am combining involvement with my grandchildren with working almost full time.
- Above all encourage the grandchildren to be free spirited and imaginative and kind to each other and to you. You have a big part to play in their lives if you choose to. So often when I see clients who have had unhappy childhoods they mention a grandparent as being the one person who was there for them. Never underestimate your influence on your grandchildren.