My inner critic.

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Interesting or troubling? This article popped up on my facebook feed, recommended by an extremely caring, loving mother, who commented on the big responsibility she felt to make sure she didn’t nurture her child’s inner critic. She is a really, really fabulous Mum and to be honest I was a bit put out at the idea at her feeling this kind of pressure.

I’m wary of articles that suggest that caring, loving parents should constantly fret over ‘doing it wrong’.

The article itself even acknowledges this pressure – referencing the ‘Shitty Guilt Fairy’ before racking up a couple of lines of coke for the aforementioned fairy.

I’ve got some issues;

First; the author tells us that we shouldn’t tell our children off in a negative way. Here she is describing her daughter pretending to tell the adults off in a stern way,

I decided she must have picked it up from someone. But who? She spends most of her time with me and I know I don’t shout like that. I certainly don’t use that horrible inflection at the end of my sentences. Who the hell could she have picked it up from?

Then, in the car park of Pak n Save, she did that thing that I’ve asked her not to do a thousand times. That thing where she lets go of my hand and runs off. It scares the shit out of me for obvious reasons. Coupled with my fear is also my anger: she knows better than this. Our subsequent conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey, you know not to run off in car parks. That really scared mummy!

Her: [eyes looking somewhere above the top of my head]

Me: You know you must hold my hand when we’re near cars!

Her: [eyes looking off to the right as she starts humming a little tune to herself.]

Me: What do I say about cars? You must hold my hand, okay?  OKAAAAAAY?!

Ugh. So that’s where she’s been getting it from. That’s one harsh penny dropping right there.

I don’t know about you, but I find hearing my own shitty communication mirrored right back at me through my angelic two year-old’s mouth particularly hard to swallow. I feel not just ashamed but also incredulous at how oblivious I was to it. I literally spent two weeks trying to work out who she’d modelled her behaviour from and I had ruled myself out almost instantly. I’m a conscious parent for God’s sake! I care about this stuff! I read parenting advice on communication! WTF?

The other particularly horrible thing is that I’ve had a successful career as a life coach for the last 12 years; I get paid to help people be happy. And there’s one major thing that makes all the difference to how happy someone is and it’s not about earning the highest income. It is our inner dialogue…

This inner dialogue eventually develops into your Inner Critic. You know, that little voice that beats you up, and says really unhelpful things to you like: Who do you think you are applying for that job? You suck at your job.  You’re a crap parent. You’re a lazy parent. You really screwed up today. It’s your fault your partner left you. I can’t believe you buggered that up again – idiot. Don’t be silly, why would they like you?

In summary, there are two main categories of feedback being played inside your head: Who do you think you are? And: You’re not good enough. If you pay attention to your Inner Critic for a while you will see this for yourself.

You can see how treating yourself this way has an erosive impact on your wellbeing and happiness and holds you back. Our aim in coaching is to transform the Inner Critic to Inner Coach. The Inner Coach is far from Pollyanna positive. We don’t want you going around giving yourself high-fives for making a sandwich, or looking in the mirror saying, “yeah, you shouted at your child – AWESOME!’ We want you to have a reasonable voice in there, a logical one, a kind one. You want to help yourself manage your life, make good decisions, and recover from adversity, be resilient. You want to learn from your mistakes and encourage yourself to grow. You want a reasonable, logical, truth-telling voice that helps you learn. You want to say: ‘Charlotte, that wasn’t your best parenting moment. I know you can make improvements.Why don’t we do it this other way tomorrow…?’

The question that everybody asks is why? Why does it evolve to become your inner critic, rather than your inner coach? Why does it evolve to be negative and not positive?

From my own experience and my work with clients, I subscribe mostly to theory that we model language from those around us and unfortunately some of those people weren’t or aren’t always kind. We learn to talk to ourselves in the same way we are talked to and around.

This last point means that we all do what my daughter did: we talk the way we got talked to. Our brains can’t help it – we have to learn language by modelling as there is no other way to do it. That same language eventually gets used to communicate to ourselves inside our head.

This means that way you talk to and around your children will become their inner dialogue.

So, saying, ‘No! Don’t run into the traffic!’ helps your child develop their inner critic, the voice that will eventually develop into ‘Hey, loser! Run into the traffic!’.

You know what? I’m not buying it. Almost everyone I know was brought up with ‘No! Don’t do that!’ usually promptly followed by; ‘Or you’ll get a smack’. As the Dunedin study tells us, almost all children of the 1970s were brought up with physical punishment – almost entirely gentle, but physical none-the-less. This goes hand in hand with the kind of ‘negative talk’ described above. As does life-long success.

Which brings me to the author, a ‘life coach’ whose experience is wrestling people’s ‘inner critics’ into submission. Life coaches do not deal with people who think they can solve their own problems. Now I don’t doubt she helps people, or feels that she does. However, I don’t think she can draw on her experiences with her clients as evidence of her theories.

There’s something else worrying here;

She tells her almost pre-verbal daughter that her actions caused Mummy to be scared.

Two year olds have enough trouble dealing with the concept that they have their own thoughts, feelings and sense of self. It’s a seriously big concept to deal with, and one that is at the heart of much tantrumming.

Telling a toddler they are not only responsible for their own actions, they are also responsible for Mummy’s feelings is pretty intense.

Apparently, during these ‘telling offs’ the author’s daughter looks above her head, and then off to one side, and then starts humming to herself. This is completely consistent with a kid who is too young for the pressure of being responsible for an adult’s feelings.

Mummy is very, very important. And now I’m making her scared. I need to modify my behaviour so she isn’t scared. But it’s really hard to modify my behaviour. I’m working on it, but man, IT’S HARD. Cos I’m TWO.

Hey toddler, it’s your fault if Mum goes tits up. No pressure, kiddo.

And then there’s your inner critic. It’s actually bloody great to have an inner critic. No, not an ‘inner coach’. An inner critic. Sure this critic can get out of hand. But it can also tell you things you don’t want to hear, but really, really fucking need to.

Your inner critic might enable you to work harder towards your goals. It might actually enable you to be more considerate of the other people in your life. Fear and anxiety isn’t necessarily limiting, it is usually motivating. Tenacity is the result of a robust debate with your inner critic.

We have turned to a world of wooly booly psycho-babble that places the individual at the very core in every facet of life. Personally I think this is an effective way of depoliticising people – (hey, pay attention to your personal world and nothing else) but that’s Cranky Mum for another day. It’s fashionable to endlessly mull over your personal ‘wellbeing’ – without considering the social factors that it is almost entirely comprised of.

And……This article is aimed at middle class mothers, who’re already at the pointy crescendo of Mummy-guilt. Hey, Mums, forget everything you know about mothering (from your own mother. FIRST THE GINGER CRUNCH, NOW THIS!), you must change how you speak to your child. Every single utterance must be monitored. No pressure!

AND…..The author tells us that telling your kid off is bad, but gives no alternatives. I mean really, aside from telling her toddler she’s scaring her, I thought her admonishment was completely fine; DO NOT BUGGER OFF IN THE CARPARK is pretty clear. There is, I know, a fashion for ‘no negative talk’ parenting, where children are never told no, in any way. They are discouraged from bad behaviour by distraction. Darling, I can see you really love the plasma cutter (validate their experience), but look at this! It’s tickle me Elmo! (distract child from imminent emasculation).

Of course, the no-negative-talk parents are usually middle class working parents, so by the time their child is two it’s likely they’re no longer the kid’s primary caregiver.

For many, many parents, especially the ones who read these kinds of articles (or indeed, might consult a life coach), they are not their kid’s primary caregiver. Many children spend most of their waking ours in a childcare setting,

“Here’s his organic snack box and filtered water. Now, we don’t tell Oliver ‘No’, as we’re nurturing his inner coach, not his inner critic”.  

Good luck with that. Kids learn ‘negative talk’ pretty smartly in a maxxed out daycare centre.

 

 

 

Things we don’t talk about….

No, sadly it’s not sex. Everyone talks about sex like it’s running out.

I recently ran into a friend who has had gastric surgery to address her obesity. She was happy, very happy. Being obese saddled her with misery and social stigma, the likes of which I can only imagine.

Obesity is framed as ‘your fault’, but obesity – and by that I mean, proper obesity, not just overweight – is almost entirely the fault of something other than the triumph of the will. I’ve ranted about this before, but the idea that we are in the throes of an ‘obesity epidemic’ is often read to mean we’re a nation of irredeemable fatties.

Everyone loves a spot of moralising but we’re moralising in the wrong place.

The real causes of risk of obesity (note, I said risk, not direct cause) are pretty well known. The more fat you’ve got, the more leptin you’ve got. At a certain point you’re brain gets tired of listening to leptin and becomes resistant to its messages.

Yeah, you’re full. BORING. 

And, the more you eat, the bigger your belly gets. The bigger the top of your stomach is, the more ghrelin it produces. Ghrelin tells your brain you’re hungry.

And then there’s insulin.

Fat cells generate hormones. Getting fat is like an accelerator – the fatter you get, the fatter you become.

The answer is clear right? Don’t get fat in the first place. Step away from the chiko roll. Except what we should be saying is; step away from the baby bottle. Because formula fed babies turn into fatties before they even get a chance to puree a big mac and squirt it into a sippee cup. Their brains are set up to become fat before they can roll over. They ingest far more protein than breastfed babies. They’re hardly ever actually hungry, because formula ‘fills you up’. In other words, the amount of protein in formula makes them feel full for longer. This is why formula fed babies sleep through the night. This is why childhood obesity is such a predictor for adult obesity – regardless of what you eat, your body will tell you to eat more because you’re genuinely hungry.

It’s not all about formula. It’s food too.  Generations of babies grow up eating western food – high in protein, fat and sugar. Yeah you think they’re eating well, but actually almost all processed food has added sugar, or is processed in a way that human bodies will recognise as sugar.  Obviously, there are hard ways to address this problem – you can lose weight, a lot of it, and this will change your body chemistry, making it easier to stay thin. But it’s extremely hard. Not just ‘oh I don’t really feel like it hard’ – extremely hard nigh on impossible. 

Why don’t we ever hear about the clear link between formula feeding and obesity? Well who can breastfeed every twenty minutes when they’re at work?

Disclaimer – I was a formula fed and I turned out FINE!

When the ABC does it too….

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 8.55.39 AM.pngEvery year or so Life Matters *discusses* preschool education for Australians. Yesterday we were treated to the wisdom of two experts, one of whom runs a preschool in Newcastle, and the other, an early childhood education researcher at Victoria University.

Australia sits near the bottom of relevant countries when it comes to GDP spending on pre-primary school aged children.

Industry experts say the number of years spent in early childhood education and care is a strong predictor of the level of performance reached at later stages, both in and out of school.

Naturally we were treated to frightening statistics. Well, one anyway. Did you know that children who attended preschool did twice as well in high school science? And did you also know that there’s almost no point in sending kids to preschool for just one day a week, they need to attend much more than that!

Let’s start with the claim that kids who go do preschool turn out better human beings. Here’s the thing, preschool costs money. Poor kids are less likely to go to preschool. Poor kids also do worse in high school generally. This obvious confounder was not even mentioned. Same goes for women in the workforce. Kids with working Mums tend to grow up and work themselves. Mum-key see, mum-key do.

Certainly, some studies show that children from highly disadvantaged backgrounds who attend preschool do better at school than their peers who don’t, but this is probably because they’re getting access to an enriching environment instead of sitting front of the TV. Spending the day in jail in an underground Nepalese coal mine would most likely improve their performance, compared to staying at home.

No matter, though, that’s just research. BORING! We all know that preschool education is awesome for all kids! In fact, some countries have now decided to do away with parenting altogether and turn the whole thing into a profession that the state pays for. It worked with dentistry!

The message from Life Matters was unashamedly biased – Australia should provide access to preschool for all three and four year olds. It helps them with their literacy and numeracy when they reach school, and teaches them how to cope in a large group.

I could go on about the multiple ways this is bullshit, but I won’t. It is, after all, a shameless puff piece engaging in the worst kind of cherry-picking to appeal to its demographic – working, predominantly middle class women who want free, full time childcare. It’s telling that for all the talk of ‘preschool as education’, the head of the Newcastle centre still referred to it as ‘childcare’.

So here’s the other side of the story; children with an enriching home environment can and do thrive when they hit school. Moreover, many children find the noise, chaos and violence of a preschool setting troubling and exhausting. Have you ever been to a preschool? It’s like someone airdropped a shipping container of methamphetamine into the meercat enclosure. However, as with daycare, stressing the shit out of small children isn’t destined to get a whole lot of government sympathy and attention.

And this is because it’s the economy, stupid. There is no longer an option for anyone to stay at home with the kids, unless you’re part of the minuscule elite. Mum or Dad must now work. Grandparents who are well enough to look after children are actually in Tuscany/Rome/Portugal at the moment. And who can afford to rent a place in the same neighbourhood as a baby boomer anyway? What everyone could do with is a spot of free childcare. And so this is the line Life Matters is pushing.

I’m not anti-preschool. My kid went to preschool, for two years, before (public) school. In the first year (at age three) my kid attended one day a week. This was all we could afford. The following year we were a little better off financially, and started going two days a week. The kid did not cope at all and was a complete wreck. We quickly pulled it back to one day a week. Of course, I’m not suggesting our experience is generalisable – unlike the radio program that entreated listeners to call in with ‘their experiences’. Did you go to preschool? How has it worked out for you? Very scientific.

But seeing as you ask….I went to preschool – it was a community run playgroup thing. We didn’t have ‘early childhood educators’ – we had a bunch of Mums in track-pants not contributing to the tax base while we tried hard to set one another on fire. It was excellent. My later high school performance can be best summed up as abominable.

Perhaps I wasn’t ‘ready’ for the classroom – didn’t have my literacy and numeracy nailed, compared to my peers. Well, this is just a comparative measure – pretty meaningless. Who cares if you can’t read when you’re six? Steiner kids don’t even start to read until someone really needs to know what’s in a packet of Cheezels. Doesn’t seem to do them much harm. Or those home-school weirdos. They seem to do rather well, actually. In fact, there are heaps of kids who do rather well outside the mainstream, homogenising school system.

Again, we’re in the mainstream school system, and it’s bloody great – our experience with the public school education system is that it’s creative, engaging and bloody good fun. It does not need to start any earlier than five though.

 

500 words – Technology and kids

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This kind of thing pops up on my facebook feed from time to time. This time it’s from a woman by the name of ‘mudfaery’. I am grateful for the resurgence of the term ‘faery’ –  it is an extremely quick and incisive way to delineate the type of person who is constantly amazed by the body’s ability to heal itself! I could say more. I won’t.

Anyway, apparently technology is replacing human connection, play, creativity, social interaction, gardening and the ability to eat handfuls of dirt and smash your teeth through your top lip. What is the world coming to? It’s the END. The END!

Well, yeah, if you allow your kid to spend all fucking day in front of a screen playing something really inane, then yeah, it might be a problem. But let’s be real, most of us don’t do that, and the parents who do are shit parents anyway. Tech isn’t the cause of their problems, their misuse of it is a reflection of them.

There’s something else we often overlook – technology often gets used instead of TV, and frankly, that’s probably a good thing. In the ‘olden days’ – usually a halcyon period in the 1960s fondly misremembered by baby boomers – kids got to play outside all the time. This was because no-one was allowed inside. Because Mum had been driven ABSOLUTELY FUCKING MAD BY ALL THESE FUCKING CHILDREN CHRIST ALMIGHTY GET ME A DRINK.

Nowadays children can remain inside during snow storms largely due to the advent of technologies that keep them quiet (or prevent them from being born in the first place).

We use tech in our house as chill-out time – we’re careful about the games that are on the ipad, but there’s no hard and fast rules about when or how long they can be played for. I think kids old enough to play these games (+ 6) can regulate themselves on this, in the same way they can regulate their intake of sweets. They actually can. I’ve never had to tell my kid to stop eating lollies, as long as she eats them slowly enough she can tell when she’s had enough. She usually eats a couple and stops.

Anyway, I’m over the tech paranoia – it’s making our kids way smarter in a lot of interesting ways. And they’re still playing and engaging in ‘creative play’ – which is also different to the ‘olden days’ where it involved a complete lack of supervision resulting in endless bullying or setting fire to the local library.

I think tech means kids are less bored now. They’re still bored enough to come up with their own fun, they’re kids, they’re just less bored. For the record, my kid spends more time reading books than playing with tech. As she grows older she will likely do even more learning on her ipad – she already does maths that she doesn’t do at school on the ipad. She’s learning that this kind of maths extension is fun and interesting, and she can do it at her own pace. This is a vast improvement on the good old days, when she would have been otherwise engaged pulling her teeth out of someone’s head.

 

 

 

The strangeness of kidness

I am not well. I have some kind of face sinus rage thing. It’s also in my knees. I’m going to say it’s a cold, because no-one ever seems to have those anymore – everyone has ‘the flu’ instead. The contrarian in me thinks this is part of the general trend towards catastrophisation which is overtaking mundanity, good sense and any understanding of normally distributed data. The humans seem to spend an inordinate amount of time dreaming up novel versions of, ‘shakes fist at sky’.

So, this afternoon I took to my bed and quickly fell asleep. Soon after, my child quietly stole into the room and carefully tucked teddies all around my prone body. I was aware of her whispering something about making sure I wasn’t lonely, and that Mong Bear in particular would make sure that I didn’t have bad dreams. Mong Bear has a magic ‘dream hand’ that emerges out of her eyes and goes into your head to retrieve badly behaved dreams. It’s magic. Even though magic doesn’t exist it’s just science, Mum.

She also slid a two dollar coin under my pillow, perhaps in case my teeth fell out during my slumber.

It is hard to feel more loved than when you wake up surrounded by your daughter’s favourite teddies, positioned sentinel around your fevered body. She told me tonight, when I thanked her, that she wanted to make sure I felt like I was being looked after.

She also said,

‘There’s nothing wrong with your cooking Mum, except for sometimes you forget things, and sometimes you think the oven is hot when it’s not. And sometimes you cook things that don’t taste very good. And then there was that curry you made that nobody could eat. But otherwise, it’s fine’.

 

500 words; Risk, autism and wooly thinking

None of this makes much sense, it’s really just me mapping out questions rather than answers.

Recently a friend claimed that everyone at MIT (where she studied) was on the spectrum. The assumption that intelligence corresponds with autism is well known – here’s a primer on the idea that certain alleles crossover for both.

Basically, the argument runs that autism is like a concentrator – some bits of the brain get gooderer, while others get badderer. The article I’ve cited talks about this from an evolutionary perspective, including ‘assortative mating’ – like mates like.

Here’s my question – everything I’ve read about the ‘stratospheric rise’ in autism suggests that it has something to do with rapid changes in the environment (in an evolutionary sense), especially pre and immediately post-natally. In other words, the food we eat and behaviours we engage in, especially stressful ones, positively correlate with a diagnosis of autism.

I don’t know if I believe in a ‘rise’ in autism – seems like the diagnostic criteria is tremendously malleable, you can see this in the discrepancies across social categories too.

I guess I’m musing on an apparent paradox;

The rise in autism is supposedly caused by poor environment – high maternal sugar intake, high post natal stress/cortisol etc.,. and yet autism would seem to correspond with high ‘innate’ IQ – that is, ability to think about difficult topics logically (expressing this is a different story).

Does this lead to the conclusion that the rise in Lifestyles of the Poor and Ignominious have resulted in higher levels of IQ – albeit alongside autism?

Doesn’t stack up for me.

I’m wary of labelling everyone smart with being ‘on the spectrum’. As a child I was diagnosed as 100% NutBar – with many troubling behavioural and learning issues (I’m NOT labelling being on the spectrum with being a nutbar – I am claiming my own experience not speaking for anyone else’s here).

My life was very stressful but we lived in an affluent area where social problems are far more likely to be pathologised as medical ones.  Then at 13 I moved schools and started living in a hostel. Suddenly (almost) every problem I’d ever had with learning and behaviour magically evaporated. I’m not suggesting that I am completely ‘not nutbar’ – I am a bit odd, and that’s good. I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with being on the spectrum – as long as the consequences are good rather than negative (stigma etc.,.) but that’s another set of issues. But, I am suggesting we should be realistic about the range of human variability, and realistic about what that means. Diagnosing epidemics of this and that makes me uncomfortable.

I’m not suggesting autism doesn’t exist, or making claims about causality or anything else, I’m just very interested in what appears to be a paradox described above.

I guess another way of saying this would be – if we define IQ as the type of stuff people with autism are good at (the type of thinking defined in the article I cited above) then is there now more of it? And is this due to shitty western lifestyles?