Category Archives: Parenthood

New Englishisms I Learned From Being a North American Mum Living in the UK

I’d lived and worked in the UK almost 7 years before we had kids, so I thought I’d pretty much mastered the lingo I needed to get by in British circles. But becoming a parent in England has often made me feel as if I’ve just stepped off that plane starting out on a journey I thought I’d mastered all those many years ago.

No, Dummy it’s a nappy!

Learning the names of baby items is a steep learning curve for any Mum, let alone someone who is not native to England. But there were some I just thought were universal or at least familiar enough to be used interchangeably. Nope. Tell someone your baby uses a pacifier and most Mums will do a double take. Why the name dummy anyway? Nappies, prams, buggies and pushchairs. Why do we need 3 words to describe a child’s mobile chair? And really what is the difference from diapers, strollers, playpens and bassinets?

Dress for confusion

Once my daughter became old enough to go to preschool, her confusion multiplied when I asked her to put on her pants and a sweater. She told me she already had her pants (undies) on and this is called a jumper. Too many times I’ve been the butt of the joke referring to my pants getting wet and needing to change. Don’t laugh, it’s embarrassing.

The class divide

Who knew the age of entering school could be a whole new set of learning that we have to master? Brits do love their acronyms- after all, none of these seem to require any explanation if you’re a regular reader of the Guardian: EYFS, KS1 and KS2, GCSEs and A levels. And don’t get confused by the fact that public schools are actually private schools, state schools is an umbrella term for anything not private and you’re left to figure out the rest of them from community, voluntary, religious, grammar schools or academies…I could go on.

Accentuating our differences

With a Mum who says, “waaader” to a Dad who might say “watah” and living in a country that pronounces it “woortah”, our poor daughters are confused.

Potty talk

I’ve always gone to the bathroom where you do a pee. Now, I find myself asking my daughter if she needs to wee or, if we’re alone ‘wee wee’. No matter what, I always feel silly.

Questionable Subject matter

How is ‘maths’ plural but ‘sport’ is not?

Sesame Street anyone?

I thought Sesame Street was universal until I started singing the ‘Rubber Duckey’ song to blank stares from my fellow Mums. It seems I’m out of the loop when it comes to remembering child’s programming. I’ve never actually watched Blue Peter or Top of the Pops – so if you refer to an episode growing up, it’s pretty much guaranteed I won’t get it.

Hokey what?

Songs for kids. I thought these were universal. Especially when you hear the familiar tune and words to the wheels on the bus. But which clever person decided the bus should go all through the town instead of all day long?? Who decided that the spider should be itsy bitsy instead of incey wincey? And really what difference does it make if we do the Hokey Pokey instead of the Hokey Cokey? If you’re going to make a change, make it worth it people!

The rest is child’s play

At the end of the day, we have more in common than I’ve let on. Somersaults might be called roley poleys and popsicles are ice lollies but my daughters are products of their multicultural living. Some things change but a lot remains the same. Pancakes are still thick and fluffy and costumes are not swimsuits. It’s the little things that count.

As featured in the Huffington Post…

The Ultimate Guide to Handling After School Meltdowns

Do your kids have after school meltdowns? It’s normal, right?

Meltdowns, difficult attitudes for the rest of the afternoon, homework refusal and defiance at home are quite normal in the weeks following the start of school. These meltdowns and bad moods are often a result of after school overwhelm.

Kids have to sit in school for looooong periods of time. They are expected to behave, do what they’re told, remember their pleases and thankyou’s and navigate the playground politics with old and new friends who may-or may not- be playing by the rules.

Not to mention having to handle disappointments and expectations of just what their day might look like. Maybe they don’t want to sing right now. But they are expected to. And on top of that they are expected to handle it alone. You’re not there. They don’t necessarily know or trust their teacher yet. So they are expected to deal with it all.

Then you — their chosen comforter, the one they take all of their hurts and needs to — arrive to pick them up. But instead of melting into your arms and proclaiming how amazing their day was, how they loved their packed lunch you so lovingly prepared, they angrily exclaim that you packed them the worst lunch ever. And that they hate their teacher. And music is stupid. And you’re being annoying.  And why did you bring that lame snack?

And basically YOU’RE THE WORST Mum or Dad EVER!!! The comfort of having that person who they know and trust to let out all of that frustration can be the trigger for letting it all go. 

It’s like a pressure cooker. It’s bound to explode.

They have nothing left in the tank to regulate their emotions. No easy way to just say, “I’m tired Mum. And hungry”. Instead it all comes out in, well, a meltdown.

Tantrums are normal when kids start back at school. My oldest daughter cries. When she starts, my husband and I brace ourselves that she may cry for another half hour if we let her.

I have to be honest. My patience for it wears thin. I’ve read everything under the sun and do consider myself a good parent when it comes to being understanding and acknowledging feelings.

But sometimes it’s hard. It’s bloody hard because it doesn’t work like the ‘guru nannies’ describe it.

Advice such as: “If your child is sulking or having a hard time with something, acknowledge why she might be upset and validate her feelings on the subject- that, yes, it might be unfair. Then, offer her an alternative.”

Sounds easy, right? Well, here’s how mine went down.

Daughter finishes gymnastics. Comes outside, plays awhile in the playground, never mentioning anything is amiss. I say it’s time to go. Five minutes into walk home, whining starts: “I’m thirsty”, she says. I say, “wait ten minutes, we’ll be home soon”.

Whining gets louder and more insistent. Now turns to cries. We’re literally seven minutes from home. “I’m thirsty!,” she cries.

I say, “I know, I’m sorry, I should have brought water. You must be thirsty after gym. Can you wait?” “NOOOOOOOO!”

Sobbing starts. Real tears. I try to reason. I acknowledge her frustration, her thirst, I encourage her to hurry and it will take less time. I tell her her crying is probably making her more thirsty. It goes on… and eventually, I get angry and threaten her with all sorts of punishments/consequences if she  just doesn’t stop.

Not my greatest mum moment. I get it. It’s tough when you feel “h-angry”- as we like to call it- a combination of hunger and anger. But this was long. So hunger is a trigger. Now so is thirst. What about when she got home and had some water?

My daughter later confesses she couldn’t stop crying. She just didn’t know how. Heart brakes. I know she’s a good kid. Though I tried to get her to calm down, she just didn’t have the tools to manage her emotions.

It got me thinking, what can we as parents do to encourage our children to manage their emotions and calm down in those moments? Just like adults, kids get overwhelmed and don’t have the tools or understanding to know that the moment will pass or to put it into perspective.

How can we allow kids to release their frustration and emotions without it getting out of control?

  1. First step is realising that getting kids to calm down with words or distraction is not always possible.I was on my way home for example and I was doing everything I could to just speed through and try to talk her down. But I’ve found it goes a long way if I can just stop what I’m doing and hold herCreating a space where she can feel safe and calm almost immediately helps her to calm down, stop crying and move on.  At least until we can sort out the matter that’s upsetting her. The sobbing stops and she lets her body fall (literally) into me.
  2. Listening and responding. If I could, I would have gotten her that water. But I couldn’t at that moment and I didn’t have access to any. If she had said she wanted it ten minutes earlier, I would have needed to run back inside the gymnasium to get some. Because at that point, I would be able to see it coming. So the earliest signs should have been there to alert me to sort it out before it erupts. We talk about that later, knowing her body and when she might need to drink before it gets that bad.Handling After School Meltdowns
  3. That’s where the third tip comes in. Recognise and anticipate trigger points.By tracking her meltdowns, we’ve understood that my daughter gets ‘unreasonable’ (i.e. not herself) when her blood sugar is low. Carrying around extra snacks or recognising hunger or thirst before it happens is one more way to limit these episodes. Tiredness, attachment to certain things or people can also be triggers that you may wish to avoid if you know your child is triggered. I now make it a point to always have water and a snack.  She in turn, is more aware of her hunger or thirst when the crying begins.
  4. Safe words. When my daughter told me that she couldn’t calm down because she didn’t know how, it made me realise she needed to tell me something but couldn’t. We’ve since developed ‘safe words’. A word she can say to me to let me know she just needs me to hold her, no questions, no debate, even if she’s in trouble. It’s been mind blowing how much effect it’s had in calming us both down when we’re worked up.
  5. Talking about it and discussing it after it happens when the child is calm.We’ve joked about how, when we’re about 50 metres from home, she begins to whine and sometimes cry about being tired or hungry. It’s always in the same spot so we joked that it’s like the switch has been pushed. It makes her more aware of how she’s reacting, what her body is saying to her in that moment and how she can control it knowing it’s coming.
  6. I try to remind my daughter to become aware of her breathing, to take in deep breaths. It’s a distraction but it’s also effective in calming her down. She focuses on breathing in through her nose, out through her mouth and eventually, it works. Mindfulness. It doesn’t always work but if she concentrates, it does distract her a bit to focus on something else.
  7. Let go of expectations. It’s not going to sort out every tantrum but it goes a long way in her understanding her emotions. I don’t force it, if she needs to cry, I let her cry but she does tend to calm down sooner than she might have before because she is more aware.
  8. Give her space. Let the storm happen and give them time and space to just cry. If hugging her through it helps, do. If not, just let them roll around if they need to- as long as they’re not in any danger.

That’s great for handling it while it’s happening but how can we actually prevent the meltdown in the first place?

Handling After School Meltdowns

Talking about it afterwards with your child can help. She/He may also have a few prevention ideas for how she can come out of school calmer. And if that’s not possible, try some of these ideas out:

  1. FEED THEM! Such an easy win. See tip #3 above. Kids get h-angry after school, it doesn’t matter if they ate all of their lunch, had a big breakfast, the fact is they are hungry and need to refuel. Have something at the ready to give them that immediate energy boost before you launch into a million and one questions.
  2. Spend some time alone with your child before school. Wake up 15 minutes early to snuggle, read a book or just have a hot drink together before you start the morning getting ready routine. One of my most favourite routines waking up in Canada when there was snow on the ground and I had to get out of my warm bed was crawling into my Mum’s arms and basking in her warmth before I was expected to get dressed. It is still, to this day, one of my most lasting memories.
  3. Send yourself to school. Not literally. You can’t physically be with your child at school but you can insert yourself through little notes in their lunchbox, a picture of the two of you in their backpack or a small photo tucked into their coat pocket that they can look at at lunchtime.
  4. Set routines. Kids love routines. Morning routines, after school routines, daily routines. It means they know what to expect and what to look forward to. Our friday routine means they get a treat afterschool. They know they won’t get anything sugary after school Monday to Thursday but on Friday, they can look forward to an ice cream or going to the shops and picking out a treat on the way back from school.
  5. Lots and lots of hugs. Stay connected- all the time. No matter what age your child is. Let them know they’re loved and wanted. Kids can get difficult around that tween age and tantrums can look like outright disrespect, talking back or constant whining and complaining. It can be challenging sometimes to maintain that connection when, admittedly, there are times you really don’t like your child. But keeping that connection is so important. If they’re on the couch, gently pat their shoulder as you walk by, give them a cuddle when they wake up and make sure you give them a hug when you see them after school. They’ll be craving that connection. Keep up the hugs, it is so so important.
  6. LISTEN! At some point, your child will want to unload and it may not be the most convenient time. It might be at bedtime when you’re ready to shut down yourself after a long, trying day. It might be just before they need to go into gymnastics. But if that is the moment they need to unload, you need to go along with it. Take the time to turn off your phone, your iPad, your headphones and just listen.
  7. Let them just be. You might have a ‘no tele’ rule during the week and that’s respectable. But sometimes, kids just need a break. Give them some time to just relax and shut off. I know I use tele to unwind sometimes. And even if it’s just for half an hour, it might just be what they need to calm down. And you might even want to sit right next to them on the couch to give them that connection. When the tele is turned off, it’ll be easier to maintain that connection.
  8. Let them play. Go to the park after school. Let them run and laugh and play and just let go. Play and laughter is an opportunity for children to release all that frustration and pent up emotions from their day. Children will appreciate the time to release and that should help to prevent tantrums later on. Try not to over schedule their after school activities so they can have afternoons free after school. Trust me, they need it. 
  9. Don’t insist that homework be done as soon as they walk in the door. Just no. 
  10. Keep your bedtime routine and stick to timing. Children don’t deal well with tiredness and sometimes just a half an hour difference can affect them. Don’t rush through your bedtime routine but make sure it happens at the same time every night so your child can feel more able to handle the next day’s emotions.
  11. Don’t overload your weekends. It can be tempting to want to do a lot of activities and fun things on the weekend to make up for family time. But scheduling in a ‘duvet day’ every weekend when your child can just play at home and relax may be just what they need to re-energise for the week ahead. Think in terms of what we as adults need to prepare for a working week. It’s never wise to overload your weekend and then go into Monday with a hangover. Children need rest and relaxation as well.
  12. Finally, talk to your child’s teacher if you need to. If tantrums are happening fairly regularly, have a chat with your child’s teacher and make sure they’re keeping an eye out for things that might be frustrating but which she is not able to express.

For more from Mixed.Up.Mama, read on…

Handling After School Meltdowns

A Parent's Guide to changing schools

Handling after school meltdowns

Let’s Stop Forcing Playdates on our Kids

“Mama, tell Brianna’s mum that I don’t want a playdate.” I ignore her and keep talking, entertaining the idea of the playdate that Brianna herself has asked me for before and for which I now find myself being approached by her Mum.

Sensing the fact that this might just go ahead without her approval, my daughter panics and jumps in, patting Brianna’s mum on the arm. “I don’t want a playdate with Brianna.” Simple, short and to the point. She knows I’m embarrassed and the silence hangs in the air as I struggle to find words that might dull the sharpness of her declaration.

Public Domain Image via Pixabay.

“A, don’t say that. That’s not nice. She’s just tired,” I apologise to Brianna’s Mum.

I don’t know why I’m embarrassed. My daughter should be able to decide who she likes and with whom she wants to have a playdate. It’s not everyone that my daughter will become friendly with and it looks like despite my having a great relationship with her Mum, A does not like Brianna.

It’s a familiar story in our household, where after school conversations are dominated by who A played with, whom she didn’t and why or why not. “Why don’t you ever play with Sam?” “Because I just don’t, Mama. I don’t like him.” I wince at the matter-of-fact tone she adopts, taking me back to that place of pain at being the one left out when I was growing up.

My daughter is reasonably popular in her class, having gone through a period of settling in earlier in the year and experiencing her dose of feeling left out of the already-established peer groups. She came home a couple of times crying because she wasn’t asked to join in with the girls who were playing a game outside.

Slowly and gradually, I was able to convince her that she shouldn’t take it personally and that she should just continue being herself and people would like her.

Months later and she’s more at ease now, less desperate to be friends with certain people and confident in herself that she can do her own thing and others may or may not join her, but it doesn’t matter. It’s had a profound effect on her confidence and it seems others are now doing the chasing.

As she gets older, of course she is going to have more established peer groups which will form according to their likes and dislikes and what they have in common. But I thought at such a young age, most of the kids play with each other. Is this is an opportunity to teach her inclusion using her valuable after-school time as the forfeit, I wonder?

And now that she is the one being chased, how do I instill in her that feeling of compassion for others, careful not to live out my own childhood feelings of exclusion and bullying through her just because she is popular and confident. She hasn’t done anything wrong and she doesn’t want the playdate. So why can’t I leave it at that?

She groans as I gently suggest to her after school that we should have a playdate with Brianna. “Nooooo, Mama.”

I’m out of my element here, caught between respecting my child and what she wants and using this as an opportunity to teach. I drop it and make the decision to tell her a story about how it feels to be left out at bedtime.

The next day A comes home to tell me that she sat beside Brianna at lunchtime. “I saved her a spot in line as well,” she says proudly. Before I can respond, she’s already skipping off happily showing her sister the daffodils that have just begun to sprout.

A didn’t want the playdate and she shouldn’t have to. She knows that being kind is the lesson here. But extending that to two hours of forced play seems unfair when she’s done exactly what she knows I want her to do.

I smile as I realise the rest of the lesson is for me. To trust that she can and will do the right thing. On her own terms. And it’s that simple.

For more from Mixed.Up.Mama Why Walking to School is So Important

Raising the Middle child: Does Birth Order Really Matter?

Ask my brother and he would love to tell you how he didn’t get the same attention and love that my parents gave me and my sister. He’s the middle child and can seriously go on about how hard-done-by he was.

Fast forward a couple of decades and now I have three. My husband, third of six, also very aware of his ‘middle child’ status is keen to ensure our second daughter never feels deprived.

From hand me downs to sweet-giving to birthday parties… everything we say or give to our oldest is measured against whether we can do it for all three.

And this is harder than it looks. When the oldest grows out of her scooter and it’s still in great shape, why shouldn’t we pass it on to the next one? When one is old enough to go on a sleepover and the other isn’t, why should the eldest be held back?

It’s all gotten very confusing to me and I know we’re going to make mistakes along the way. But I am very aware of it and noted recently that  my middle child’s first and more powerful statements as a two year old is (with arms crossed firmly over her chest), “it’s not fair on me!”

I, being the youngest, undoubtedly had the stereotypical childhood of ease and indulgence as my parents were more relaxed with parenting, probably tired and much more ready to grant me that freedom.

Conventional wisdom about the middle child suggests middle children are neglected, misunderstood and undervalued. Their place in the birth order suggests parents are tired when they come along, having gone through the emotional turmoil of joys and fears with the first and willing enough to lavish it on when it comes to the youngest because they know it’s their last.

My middle daughter has all the hallmarks of what I thought marked the middle child. A feisty spirit, the constant feeling that she’s being hard done by- fighting for her place from both her older and her younger sisters-and fierce independence. Whether or not these are traits that will follow her until adulthood, I already feel guilty these first two years of her little life.

In researching for this post, I thought I’d come across a bunch of research that would back up my instinct that the middle child is less likely to succeed. But apparently I was wrong.

Research instead (and there’s a whole lot of it on birth order) suggests middle children are given attributes such as empathy, articulacy, independence and creativity. Having to negotiate with those both older and younger, they learn the art of compromise, loyalty, and the ability to see the others’ point of view. Take one of the modern geniuses of our time- Bill Gates. His ability to think outside the box and take risks are trademarks of a middle child.

Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy- heck, 52% of American presidents were middle children- well over their representative numbers.

In the same Swedish study, middle children were also found more likely to stay married. 80% of married middle children stayed together while only 50% of youngest children did.

So we can stop worrying. I certainly will. My child is fierce and she will fight harder to make her voice known but she’ll turn out okay- just like the millions who’ve gone before her.

One thing I know I can’t avoid however, is the tale she’ll tell when she’s grown about how her parents gave her her sister’s old scooter…

For more from Mixed.Up.Mama on parenting, read about Asking the Right Questions to get more information from your kids about school. 

Raising Mixed Race Kids in Multicultural London

Raising Mixed Race Kids in Multicultural London

Someone asked me today, why do you love living in London? I admit it has taken us years to get where we are, to feel settled in a way where both of us and our mixed race family can admit this feels like ‘home’- for awhile at least.

Our journey around the world to get here has been interesting, though restless. Starting out in Wales where my husband and I met, we felt out of place, alone and often resentful at having to drive to London so often to visit friends and family. South West England was better but it too had different issues that niggled at us. Its segregated feel, drawn along false economic lines made us feel uncomfortable as a multiracial family, knowing our loyalties lay on both sides but our economics pushed us to one more than another.

Our journey to Edmonton, Canada (where I grew up) and then eventually Lagos, Nigeria (where hubby grew up) were both attempts for us to feel grounded and settled. And though both were satisfying in many different ways, the pull was always back to London.

So what is it with this place that keeps us coming back? And what has finally made us feel like this has more of what we’ve been looking for? As a multiracial or mixed race family, I’ve always been told it’s important to find somewhere neutral for both partners- a place that isn’t home for either of you and that you can both forge an identity starting from scratch.

Starting out…

And that’s exactly what we’re doing. Starting out in multicultural London has been an entirely new beginning, from finding schools for our daughters, to researching areas to live, tradespeople for jobs and transport to get places, all the knowledge we’d built up as a couple over time was wiped for us to start again.

We don’t complain though. For me, it’s been exhausting with three kids but strangely enjoyable. From the smog of Lagos to the emptiness of Edmonton, multicultural London has offered us more than we could even imagine.

But the most important thing I love is its diversity. Not just from a race point of view but from every different angle, you see people doing their own thing.

Not only that but Londoners are even trying to be different so they can stand out from the crowd. Sure, you get that everywhere but perhaps not on the scale that you do in a big city such as London.

The Diversity of Multicultural London

I love that the guy who helped me pull my pram onto the bus the other day was black transvestite male. I love that my daughter asked out loud whether he was a girl or boy and he answered her with a smile.

I love that my eldest daughters’ class has at least ten kids from mixed black/white families, that there are over 15 different languages spoken in the class and that my daughter actually wants to speak a different language so she can be like her friends.

I love that I was with my 3 biracial daughters and 2 of their friends who are black and it was assumed they were all mine by a passerby.

I love that our friends consist of families of all different colours and mixes, even with seemingly monoracial families, the mixes span cultures and religions and this is normal in multicultural London.

I love that I can point out beautiful, smart, curly-haired women everyday to my daughters on our way to school.

I love that my daughters’ friends include kids of all different abilities and this is also normal..

I love that the tube was filled with blue and purple haired girls the other day inspiring my daughter to imagine her own self with purple hair.

I love that the bus journey into the city is littered with shops selling all sorts of wear such as elaborate costumes, beautiful wooden instruments and ornate, kitsch furniture that looks as if it belongs in a palace.

I love that my daughter thinks every ornate gate in London is Buckingham Palace.

I love that I can find festivals, traditions and days out featuring not just one but all of their multiracial heritage (Iranian, Nigerian and Canadian).

I love that police officers ride horses and wear funny hats.

I love that the Science Museum is free, workshops are led by young diverse students and that we’ve been three times in three months and each time we’ve had a completely different experience- all positive.

I love that my daughters have seen a West End show already 3 times in their life.

I love that hubby and my date night was at a restaurant that is filled floor to ceiling with beautiful Victorian paintings-and it wasn’t pretentious.

I love that Chinese New Year wasn’t just celebrated at my daughter’s nursery, they actually paid a visit to Chinatown to get the real experience.

If you’re in a multiracial or mixed race family, consider this…

There is more I could list but I think you get the picture. For a multiracial family, it’s not perfect but it’s as close as you can get I think if you’re looking for diversity and representation.

I just want to appreciate out loud that the last three years have been up and down but we are here in this place, at this time for a reason and as I contemplate ‘home’, I realize it is here in multicultural London.

Read more from Mixed.Up.Mama about reinforcing a positive identity in your mixed or biracial kids and why you need to start talking to your kids about race and racism.

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