Parenting through Disability, Art and Feminism

Tag: parenting tips

Raising My Kids to be Allies

Raising my kids to be better

I want my kids to be respectful, tolerant and an ally. I am a feminist, a disability activist and an equal rights campaigner. I live my life based on the truth in my heart that every person on this planet is worth of love, acceptance and integration. I truly believe that everyone’s unique differences are their strengths. But I am also aware of my privileges. I am a white person living in a predominantly white area of the UK. At the moment my I just do not know enough about race inequality to be as active an ally as I would like … and that means I also know I am not yet doing everything I can to ensure my children grow up as allies. So, I decided to use this quarantine time to do a little digging and a little teaching. Having a structure for our homeschool provided the perfect basis to begin this work. (You can see what else we have been up to here and here)

Why I was tailing to raise my kids to be allies

How I was going about allyship all wrong

So first up, I was shocked to discover that raising ‘colourblind’ children was not the way to go. It could, in fact, be causing harm. I know, there’s my privilege at work. So, what do I do? Thankfully, I stumbled across Rebekah Gienapp’s excellent blog which gave me a start in my thinking.

Next, I had to think about the ways my kids learn. So, I know my boys respond well to stories. Therefore, I needed to be more proactive in promoting those books that touch on race and other social justice themes. Unfortunately, a couple of my favourites (like Julian is a Mermaid) have been quarantined along with my mum about 15 miles away. A quick googling brought me a few others but I don’t want this to turn into a shopping list. Check out this blog, and this one, to find my inspirations.

How do you start to raise your kids to be allies?

Okay, okay. Books are a good start. BUT studies show that reading alone isn’t enough. We need to actively discuss differences to raise your kids to be allies. So, where to begin?

We started with Aesop’s Fables – the story of the Lion and the Mouse. I found a simple version of the story that was about three paragraphs long. I edited it to make it a little more child friendly. In order to help 6er better engage, I was inspired by the storytelling style used in Godly Play. Godly Play utilises images, objects and other devices to help children engage with the story. I made a few simple devices to help them visualise the story. I used images of a lion, a mouse and a few strips of paper for the net.

I would recommend you read the story out loud at least once to get used to speaking aloud. In the version below, you will also find instructions for moving the pieces in italics. Have a little go moving the pieces around as you speak to see what works best for your technique. I also urge you to really get into character, roaring and squeaking. Sometimes storytelling feels a bit silly, but I usually find thats when it is most engaging for the small ones.

When we reached the end of the story, 6er had great fun helping the mouse remove the net.

Using Aesop's Fable The Lion and The Mouse to raise my children to be allies
The Lion and the Mouse – Aesop’s Fables: An image of a mouse

Once we had finished the story, I used the lion and mouse pictures and the word cut outs. I asked 6er to place the words beneath the animal he felt they applied to – strong under the lion, quiet under the mouse etc. We had a brief discussion about the fact that it was not the appearance of the lion and the mouse looked that helped them in this story. I asked 6er to tell me some things that did help the mouse and lion in the end. He came up with lots of ideas including kindness, ingenuity, compassion etc.

The Family Connection

I didn’t want to just leave it there though. I then placed out some family photos. Unfortunately, there was more than one person in each photo, so I had to tell him which family member to focus on in each photo. I’d recommend using singular portraits. Then I pointed to all the words and said that they could be applied to different members of our family. I asked him to put a word under the member of the family he thought it best described. I then lead 6er in a discussion about what each of the characteristics might be an advantage. For instance, being physically weak meant that other people did jobs so Grandma was always available for hugs and chats. Although, my favourite response was

“Uncle Ben is big so he can hide his sweets where people can’t reach”.

6er

A Confession

Now, I’m going to get real with you. I’ve found this really hard to write. Talking about difference hasn’t come naturally to me. However, I also recognise how important it is for me to become more comfortable. When 6er was a baby, I read the NSPCC guidance on teaching the scientific names for body parts. BUT, like many people I was uncomfortable with lots of those words. I didn’t want my little to pick up on my discomfort. Genitals are not dirty words. To become comfortable with saying ‘vulva’, I said it to out loud every day until it didn’t feel weird.

Race and allyship are obviously more complex than becoming comfortable with the word ‘vulva’. It requires much more self reflection and work, in order to raise my children to be allies. But I also know that my children will pick up on my attitudes as I discuss these things with them. I feel I gained a lot of positives from this session but I know we have a long way to go. I intend to continue working through Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad, alongside our lessons.

Resources

Below you will find the FREE resources I created for this session. There are images for storytelling, alongside a quick version of The Lion and the Mouse. I wrote the version of The Lion and the Mouse, so you can all finally benefit from my professional skills. If you’ve learned from my struggles, or would like to come on this journey of allyship alongside us, please sign up to the mailing list.

How to Cope with a ‘Bad’ Day

How do you cope if you’re having a ‘bad’ day? If you are part of the ‘crip community’ a “bad day” has different connotations to those with ‘able’ bodies. In my world, a bad day is a day where I am feeling betrayed by my body. My body isn’t doing what I want it to, despite my best efforts. This may be because my mental health has taken a turn. My pain could be flaring. The fatigue has hit my like a train and every movement is as if I am walking through tar. Or on lucky days, all three at once.

Cope with a 'bad' day. How to cope with a sick day or a flare day when you still have to care for the children
Having a ‘bad’ day – A family of four snuggle under a blanket on the sofa. The father holds a thermometer

In those prechildren days the response would be to stay in bed, or at least my pyjamas and do very little until it passed. But, clearly, I can’t call in sick with my small ones like I could with my work. With these things I find barrelling onwards with a “bad-but-not-too-bad day” leads to more worse days and longer recovery. So what’s a crip with kids to do? Or a parent with the flu, or a hangover?

How to Cope with a Bad Day Using Mantras

Firstly, I mentally chant two mantras

Just Get Through the Day

My focus is on everyone having their basic needs met throughout the day. If everyone is fed, healthy (relatively), hygienic (relatively) and sleeping roughly when they need to be, then it’s a win. More on how to achieve this later.

This too shall pass

This is the mantra I discovered in a La Leche Group for when your breastfed child is going through a particularly trying time. Yes, you may feel awful right now. Your condition my be chronic and slowly degenerative. However, there are always days that feel better than others and those days will come round again . Sometimes you just have to practice patience.

Coping with a bad day when you have a chronic disease is hardwork. And soemtimes you just have to focus on the little moments of good.
A momma in a wheelchai shares a contented snuggle with her child

Getting Through the ‘Bad’ Day

So we’ve got your mental mantras to remind yourself of throughout the day. Now, how do you ‘just get through the day’ and cope when you’re having a ‘bad day’? There are a couple of elements to this, which involve some preplanned elements and some not requiring as much preplanning. So let’s recap the things we need to get through the day: food, hygiene, sleep, and play. These are the four elements I focus on on a bad day.

Food

So the preplanned version is when you are well to make a couple of premade meals and freeze them for days like this. However, if like me you have a slight aversion to frozen meals, an alternative is to ensure your freezer is stocked with easy meals (chicken and chips anyone?) Or your fridge and cupboards have grab snacks.

Coping wih a bad day as a disabled parent sometimes means eating food that is full of quick energy and delicious and easy rather than nutritious
A Bad Day Parent Meal in our house. There might be too much sugar buuuut – Remember our mantras

However, sometimes this isn’t possible. Maybe you never freeze anything? Or like we are during quarantine, you can’t get hold of your usual go to groceries. In that case, I embrace the takeaway. Yes there is an expense involved. We tend to find if we go big, then we can get 3 meals from one takeaway which outweighs the monetary cost for me.

Hygiene

So the preplanned version is a relative or loved one agrees to come over and do bath time on these days. Or, you have a stash of baby wipes/flannels/wash cloths that can be used to clean you all.

However, there are times when getting someone to help, or a flanel wash cannot be achieved for any of you. On those days, IT IS OKAY if no one is washed. IT IS OKAY if teeth are only brushed once. IT IS OKAY if hair is pulled into a quick ponytail rather than styled. Remember mantra two? This too shall pass. This isn’t your new normal. This is about trying to cope with a bad day.

A caveat. I know that on some days, even brushing teeth seems like an unclimbable mountain. For me one of my anxieties runs to dental hygiene, and so I have to have everyone’s teeth clean more than any flare of symptoms I have had (so far). But I can’t see how one missed brush is going to have long term effects on your oral health, as long as a schedule is returned to quickly. Disclaimer: I am not a dental health professional.

Sleep for the Kids

The preplanned version might be the old grandparent sleepover, or staying at friend. But that is not possible at all in these Covid-19 times, and there are many reasons it could not happen even when we aren’t all quarantined.

One Legged Parent absolutely done for the day before its even begun

So, what if you have children like mine, who don’t sleep. Who won’t sleep. Who need endless hours of me sat on the floor in their bedrooms to sleep. How do you cope with this on a bad day? In my case it is three things. Firstly, my husband is banished to the bottom bunk of 6ers bunk bed. Secondly, the children are in the bed with me. Thirdly, the tablet or screen. There are arguments against screen time close to bed time. However, both my wiggly-bottomed-small-people, need tthe screen to force them to sit still long enough to get sleepy.

I abandon my idea that they need to be asleep by a certain time. I abandon any idea of having an ‘evening’ I might have. Thank God for smart phones. I can scroll endlessly while they gradually drift off. It’s a very imperfect plan, but sleep is a big issue for us, and we definitely follow the needs must. Having them in my bed, means any bedtime waking can be dealt with without me having to even sit up. So, everyone goes back to sleep quicker. And more sleep is the quickest route out of a bad day, it is the clear winner in our house.

Play for the kids

The preplanned version involves a box for each child, full of secreted away toys, and activities. It is important they only come out to help cope on bad days. They need to feel special. In ours there are pencil crayons, a little notebook, a couple of toys that they like but won’t miss on a day to day basis, a book and some play dough. I recently bought some little plastic eggs which I can put some of the things in. Bonus surprise toy excitement. The novelty of the box usually gives a couple of hours of play with very little interaction from me. Intersperseplay with Netflix and most of the day is done.

However, sometimes these things hit us unexpectedly. Maybe you haven’t got the time or resources to put a box like this together, or maybe it just hasn’t worked for them this time. This is the point where you enter full on crisis mode. Chant “just get through the day” over and over. Screen time. I know there are people averse to too much screen time but at one point they thought too much reading would “addle” people’s brains too.

I read the research summarised here. I decided that if we are allowing our children to self regulate their food, drink, play, sleep then why am I not doing it with screen time? The thing is we just don’t know what the long term affects are but that doesn’t automatically mean bad. Some of the longer term studies equal good. But, if you just can’t bring yourself to break your screen time rules … I get it and that’s your choice as a parent to make. Here are some other things you can do that are low energy on your part but high energy on theirs.

Games and Activities

Go count the windows

This game came into being in my mum’s three storey town house. There were no grown ups with the energy to ‘exercise’ the small folk. As a joke, I told my 6er that I needed them to go up to the third floor and count how many windows there were. To my surprise they ran up to do it. And the 4er followed his sibling! We were able to repeat the running up to the top of the house a further four times, before both children were “too knackered” to continue. Obviously, it doesn’t have to be windows, but think of something as far away from where you’ve sat that you desperately need them to inspect. Most children under 7/8 want to ‘help’ and so you can help them burn some energy this way. You have to act very grateful though or they will quickly get on to the ruse.

Doctor/Bury Mummy

These games involve you lying on the sofa under a blanket while the children either ‘treat’ you or bury you under a mound of cushions. The suitability of these is totally based on your personal circumstances, pain etc. I tend to find they are games that require very little interaction from me by way of talking. And, personally, when I’m coping with a bad day not talking is only a good thing.

Creative Challenges

Lego Challenges. Google lego challenges and you will find a plethora of challenges that your small folk can use to occupy them with building for a while.

Colouring. Get the kids to select some of their favourite characters to colour in. I find my kids are more engaged with the colouring process when they have picked the ones they want.

Chalk On the Ground Outside. This one is great for getting some fresh air. Don’t worry about mess because the rain will eventually just wash it away. The kids love it though because they feel like ‘rule breakers’. We have used activated charcoal mixed with water and a little vinegar when we didn’t have chalk to hand.

An example of 'chalk' when you can't chalk. Sometimes, and particularly when you're having a bad day' you've just gotta make something out of what youve got.
‘chalk paint’ we made using some activated charcoal I had

Reading

Sometimes I can sit with a pile of books, and just read through them with my two littles. It doesn’t feel like too much but sometimes I don’t have the concentration. We recently invested in a few kids audiobooks (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Several Paddington books, How to Train Your Dragon and Fortunately the Milk if you’re interested). We play this on our speaker and it keeps 6er occupied for an hour and 4er half an hour.

Keynote/Powerpoint games

I have spoken in past posts about my use of presentation software to make simple point and click games for my children. I have a few of these ‘spare’ that I can load up keep them occupied for a few minutes.

Leave the House

It’s not as possible now with quarantine, but I find sometimes the energy or effort I put into a change of scene makes the rest of the day easier. Soft play or grandma’s house in days of old. Nowadays its getting the mobility scooter out and taking them for a yomp in the woodlet near our house. I emphasise using the car and/or mobility scooter because I am not worrying about fitness here. I am worrying about getting through the day.

Resting for you

Some of the things I’ve already mentioned are in order to optimise rest for yourself when you are feeling grim. And the only thing I am really going to do is give you permission. You only have to cope with a bad day. You just need to get through it.

It is okay to leave the cleaning and tidying until you feel up to it. Hire someone to help if you never feel up to it.

It is okay to eat the same meal for a several days in a row – even if it isn’t particularly nutritious.

It is okay to not shower for a couple of days.

IT IS OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP (and to keep asking until you get the help you need and to accept state social security to give you financial assistant).

You are not ‘less than’ for needing help. Everyone needs help.

If you’ve found this helpful, I am really glad, and I hope you’d considering signing up to my mailing list. I won’t spam you, I swear. I will send you the occasional email with some ideas about things to do with the kids. And I have a FREE ‘paper games template’ which will get delivered to you whn you sign up … I hope. If not, contact me and I will check what is going on.