John Marsden has a point: Let’s strive to build our kids’ resilience, rather than trying to turn them into something they’re not

Many of you won’t be aware of this, but quite a large chunk of my career has been spent in education – working with kids with special needs. At the beginning of this year, I returned to the field to become the co-ordinator of a new after-school care facility.

Child sitting in a tree with her doll.
Photo by Vivek Doshi on Unsplash

Last week, we completed our first week of vacation care. For reasons of confidentiality, I can’t tell you too much about what happens on the job, but what I can share is the wonderful experience of working in a progressive school, ie. the type of school that encourages the type of childhood that most of us Generation Xers experienced – with its focus on outdoor play and exploration, and the inherent dangers therein.

While I try not to waste too much time reflecting back on my own parenting fails these days, it’s hard to ignore the ongoing evidence of the relationship between our kids’ deteriorating mental health and “helicopter parenting”. The link has made me think about how I would do things differently if I had my time again.

The school in which I work is a green, progressive school, set in beautiful, lush grounds in the bush where the kids spend much of their day, with the option not to wear shoes – apart from during funnel web season, when (obviously) I wear full body armour. And the focus is on learning through exploration and play, using nature as the primary resource for teaching. Technology is used minimally and the culture of the school is based is on kindness and respect.

I have never seen happier, more fulfilled children. Perhaps, because there are fewer rules, but most likely because they have the freedom to explore and take control of their own learning. That approach makes it the perfect setting for kids of different abilities and the responsibility it encourages boosts their self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities. It is such a privilege to watch them make up their own games and then extend them, and to work out their own problems. During after-school care, they sit together and play board, construction and card games, they colour in, they play together outdoors, they craft out of recycled materials, and even help cook their afternoon tea. Some of them are happy to simply sit and read a book.

While it is a child-centred environment – there are still expectations in terms of behaviour and respect for our resources, of course, but most of the time the kids sort out their own issues among themselves because they are encouraged to problem-solve at every stage of their learning.

As you can imagine, I was horrified in my interview for the job when I found out that the children were encouraged to climb trees and retrieve balls from snake-infested bushes. Hence, I have been forced to learn how to keep my own anxiety in check. As my supervisor explained to me, if a kids falls out of a tree and breaks their arm, they won’t climb as high the next time.

Humorous meme.
Found on Pinterest from http://www.shopatartworks.com

Raising my own kids, I know that I was guilty of the type of “helicopter parenting” that educator and author, John Marsden, talks about in his new book, The Art of Growing Up, so with this new responsibility I have been mindful of my need to relax and let go more. John worries about the effects of this parenting on the resilience of our children. ‘When I hear parents say ‘I want my children to enjoy their childhood; there’ll be time when they’re older to learn about those things’, I hear the voices of those who are scared of the vastness of the universe. These adults have a view of childhood as some kind of discrete interval, rather than just a few years from the continuum of life. How fortunate that the spirit, courage and curiosity of many young people remain largely undefeated by such adults.

One of the points he raises is the danger of putting our kids in a bubble to “protect” them from outside influences, which means that once they grow up and enter the real world they are unable to cope with its demands. Worryingly, when he interviewed a group of children and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, many said that they didn’t want to grow up at all.

Of course, backing off and letting children with special needs like Kurt fail isn’t quite as straightforward. It is important to advocate for them at every step of their education, but towards the end of Kurt’s schooling I had learned not to sweat the small stuff and to pick my battles in relation to homework and lost uniform, a change that has stood me in good stead for this job – particularly on the days the kids make slime and potions, or when I catch one of them at the top of a tree!!!

But, perhaps, my enjoyment of this more relaxed approach to childcare has something to do with my appreciation for less drama in my own life right now, as well as my personal appreciation of nature and mindfulness that has developed with middle age. This new simplicity to how I live my life, boosted by my greater respect for nature, is empowering. And it is so much more fulfilling than the exhausting drive of my thirties and forties that I see evident in modern parenting, where parents are continually striving to turn their kids into something they’re not.

Flying, And The Criminal Act Of Exceeding Your Baggage Allowance

Last week was not an easy one in terms of anxiety, because I had a flight booked at the end of it. So what should have been a week of relaxation – the first of (for the most part) a two-week staycation – culminated in sleepless nights as I catastrophized about the terrifying superpowers of seagulls, Trump’s craziness, and the week of unsettling windy weather that settled upon Sydney.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

I have never liked the wind – especially when I’m about to board a plane – so it’s not surprising that my anxiety levels had hit the roof by the time I reached the airport on Friday morning and learnt that my flight was delayed by three hours as a result of strong winds. This news, on the back of a week of menacing emails from my airline about my baggage allowance sent me straight to the airport bar – answering my question of who the fuck drinks at ten in the morning.

As an increasingly intolerant middle-aged woman, I am highly appreciative of good customer service ie. follow up emails about the details of my flight, special offers etc. However, I do not appreciate being hounded to “manage” my travel booking on an hourly basis, especially when we all know that “manage” is airline code for getting you to spend more money.

I’m not certain which part my airline didn’t understand about my choice of the cheapest flights to get me from a to b for the weekend, but obviously they still believed they could bully me into purchasing their soggy banana bread, my seat on the plane – or extra legroom – or some extra weight allowance for my baggage.

‘We noticed that you only have 7kg of baggage,’ they warned me threateningly in several emails leading up to my departure, as if the worry associated with getting on a plane and expecting it to stay in the sky wasn’t bad enough.

What they no doubt didn’t realise was that the words “baggage allowance” are already a trigger for me since my last trip to Queensland, when I mistakenly picked the standard 7kg max baggage allowance option without really understanding what the weight means in woman terms; henceforth initiating a personal quest to fit in every variable of clothing, beauty product, and accessory I might need for two days into my tiny case. Fortunately for me, my talent for being such a stickler for detail (AKA anxious), meant that my baggage did come in around the 6.99kg mark at its final weigh-in – something to do with wearing eight of my twelve outfits, I imagine. But then my sister foiled my plan by returning a book to me at the airport – the thickest fucking novel ever – and insisting that I take it home.

That weekend marked the start of new rules imposed by domestic airlines about hand luggage allowances and I was hauled over the coals publicly for being a few grammes over my allowance and forced to layer my last four outfits before they would allow me on board.

Not that I disapprove of the new laws. It used to get on my tits whenever passengers turned up with whole sets of suitcases as hand luggage.

But that’s why this time I was on guard. I took a large bag as opposed to a small suitcase – which weigh around 2.5kg before you put anything in them, ie. an entire outfit option including boots – and I started to pack my bag several days before I was leaving, safe in the knowledge that should I veer over my cheapskate limit, I could always leave my niece and sister’s gifts behind.

However, that didn’t stop me fretting and waking up at night to obsessively-compulsively re-measure the Borrower-sized quantities of my beauty products and re-weigh my bag. Stupid, really. I mean, it’s all a load of bollocks in the grand scheme of things, isn’t it? Because when I’m up there in the sky at the mercy of the elements, or birds – seagulls, I presume – that fly into the plane’s engines, Kamikaze-style – will whether I packed both sets of hair straighteners really make a difference to my chances of survival?

Let’s Stop Judging Ourselves By Our Bodies

I went on a girls night to the city last Friday night.

I’m ashamed to admit that it took me longer to get ready than usual because the outfit I had put together in my head that week looked crap when I put it on and I had a confidence crisis, which meant I had to go through every other outfit in my wardrobe until I came back to the original one.

Seriously, I thought that by this age I wouldn’t care how I look, but apparently, I’m not alone – all four of us “girls” that night had our own personal what-to-wear crisis before we met up.

Comments about fat thighs and dog jowls were bandied about, and sadly they’re not unusual. Honestly, anyone listening in on our conversation would have thought we were teenagers on the pull, not a group of middle-aged women praying we’d be home in bed by 10pm at the latest.

Who has done this to us? Who or what has driven a giant bulldozer through the confidence of women when it comes to their bodies? Because you’d think that by your fifties we’d have accepted ourselves for who and what we are, wouldn’t you? And that when we tell our daughters that it’s what’s inside that counts, we’d really mean it?

Sadly, our problem is pretty universal. Check out The Bikini Rant below:

I need to take her advice. I mean it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever wear a bikini again in public, but why do I still care so much about how my body looks at this stage of my life? Who do I want to impress? I should be proud of it. It’s been a reliable vessel to two children, a ton of junk food and a veritable Tardis when it comes to Chardonnay.

And it’s not like the old man ever worries about what his bum looks like.

This week I listened to one of Yumi Stynes fantastic podcasts from her Ladies, We Need To Talk series – during which she discussed this very issue.

Yumi mentions the importance of us having some self-compassion when we think about our bodies. She asks if we would say to our friends what we say to ourselves when we look in the mirror?

Like ‘Shit, Lou! You’d be quite pretty if you didn’t have those three chins!’

But of course, we wouldn’t, because a) It would be rude and hurtful, b) It doesn’t matter, and c) there’s probably nothing that I can do about them even if I really cared.

So, whose standards of beauty are we trying to live up to and judging ourselves by – because they’re not universal standards. Countries such as Mauritania, Tonga and even Fiji embrace a little extra weight in women.

No, they are magazine and social media standards – hello, Instagram – that push men and women to to attain impossible standards of perfection. In the same way that porn influences men to believe that women should be hairless down below, some of them now see a women’s size 6 as the norm.

Kim Kardashian has launched a new range of shapewear called “Solutionware” – a name which has the ‘built-in implication that there is a problem’, according to India Knight of The Times. And Kim’s range isn’t targeting mid-lifers like my friends and I, who are showing the normal wear and tear signs of ageing, they are aimed at our daughters.

Which is why we have to demand better role models for women and our girls. We don’t want our kids fawning over Love Island and Bachelor wannabees; we want them inspired by “real” women – true heroines, whose success isn’t derived from their looks, but from their magnanimity, their intellect and talents. Women such as Ashleigh Barty, Nakkia Lui, Malala Yousafzai, Lady Gaga, Jacinda Ardern or Tiera Guinn, to name but a few.

Historically, women have been prized for their looks and ‘valued for their sexuality’ (Darcy Steinke), because we used to live in a man’s world. But not any more. However, if we are to be taken seriously as equals, we need to value ourselves so much more.