Monday, February 18, 2013

on hair, and being there


Ever since Becky started morning school this year, I've been having to get her up at six every day to get her ready. Getting up at six has certainly never been much of a habit with me even under regular circumstances, but now that I'm usually up every few hours during the night with my pregnant calls to pee, it has been a bit of a challenge (though sometimes I'm actually up from about 3am onward; on those occasions I'm just sitting in bed waiting for the dawn haha).

Well, Becky takes about half an hour all in all, from brushing her teeth to finally getting her socks and shoes on, but I guess the most time-consuming part of the whole thing is her hair. As you probably know, B's hair reaches to her waist (we cut it whenever she's able to sit on it) and, as her school rightly expects long hair to be neatly tied, I usually spend a fair amount of time doing this.

I'd sit on the toilet lid cover, and she'd stand in front of me while I comb and braid her hair, and all the time we'd be talking about how her various classes are going, what someone at school said or did, or what hopes she has for her future sport meets or class responsibilities. Sometimes we don't talk about school at all; she might ask something about a particular occupation, or tell me about something she read in a book, or share her thoughts on what sort of bra she'd prefer next time (sports) -- any number of things really. But there's one thing we do every day that never changes -- just before she leaves, we hug and say, "Love you, have a good day, see you soon!" And I'd watch her skip off, smiling.

Do you think I'd pass up on all that just so I can get a few hours' extra sleep? Even if I had to do it for the next nine years or so (counting Ro)? But because of that, I've been having these regular exchanges with my cousin on the subject, whenever he happens to see us on the weekend. I might happen to make some reference to being able to catch up on some sleep on Saturday, or it might just occur to him out of the blue; but he'd look at Becky's long hair and go, "Why don't you just cut it all off? Then you won't have to wake up so early". Essentially, he means that then B can just get herself ready and see herself off.

Well, on the practical side, I can of course appreciate that short hair might be a little easier to manage, but since any hair beyond an ear-length bob needs to be tied anyway, I don't know that that would give me that much extra sleep. Besides, B needs the longer hair for ballet, and, as most young girls aren't exactly hankering for short boy cuts, I won't do that to her.

So invariably I'd try to explain that I don't mind, and that in fact I think these little sessions together before B starts her day do have a cumulative positive effect. Because once B heads out the door, she's in a different environment, with a different set of people, for more than half the day; I really do think it worthwhile for her mother to take the time to chat to her about social and academic things that tend to occur to her right before class (besides the last-minute extra money for treats, or homework things she forgot to get me to look at). More importantly, I really think it makes a difference to her to know that I care, and that she is loved.

But when I tell my cousin this, his invariable answer is, "Well, I never had that and I'm fine". This, of course, unfailingly reminds me of what I'd written in a post almost a year ago: "I know people who say, "Well, look at me -- nobody bothered about me when I was growing up and I turned out fine", but I find that flippant and shallow, because honestly, nine times out of ten, you're not "fine". The deep-seated insecurities, fears and hang-ups; the detrimental character flaws that hurt friendships, marriage, career and spirit; all the consequences of misguided decisions, reckless actions, and irrevocable choices... And again, to think of what might have been, how much better one might have done..."

I'm aware of course that my cousin's view is fairly commonplace -- many parents here have no qualms about letting their maids or in-laws take care of all their children's needs, seeing them for only a few minutes at night, largely indifferent to any issues beyond the superficial.

I know too that I can never adequately explain what I instinctively feel; what I do know is that it would have made a great difference to me, and many of my own friends, if we had had this sense of care and love as we were growing up -- not just in the big things, like making sure we were clothed and had enough to eat -- but in the smaller details, things which sometimes go unnoticed, for weeks, months, years; things which sometimes desperately need attention.

I think you can learn a lot about what someone is thinking or going through in just a few minutes of genuine interaction -- and I think you can do a lot to help or encourage or even turn things around for that person in those few minutes; how then can one say that it makes no difference to a growing child to have such support, to be able to start each day off right -- confident, peaceful, positive and optimistic?

I'd read a wonderfully-written article some time ago by the international lecturer Lawrence Kelemen, entitled Life is for love: Raising emotionally healthy children requires plenty of attention and affection. In it, he wrote: "The first step in loving a child is being sensitive to his needs and attending to them. This is not an easy task. Many new parents are shocked by how difficult it is to sustain sensitivity and attentiveness throughout the day and night. We have no choice, however, since attentiveness, and all the love it represents, is crucial to our child’s development.

"When we are attentive to a child’s needs, we create a sense of security and confidence -- what psychologists call attachment -- and this provides the internal strength children need to handle stress later in life... Research also links self-esteem to attentive parenting. Moreover, not only do attentive parents produce sons and daughters who enjoy greater self-esteem than other children, this positive self-image persists up to 20 years later.

"In one study of women raised in Islington, England, investigators found that children raised by more responsive parents were twice as likely to have positive self-image in their adult years as those raised by less responsive parents. And children who feel good about themselves have higher aspirations, do better in school, earn higher salaries when they grow up, and handle stress more effectively than children with low self-esteem.

"Parents sometimes worry that attentive parenting undermines independence and confidence. The opposite is true. “Children who experience consistent and considerable gratification of needs in the early stages do not become ‘spoiled’ and dependent,” explains Dr. Terry Levy, President of the Association for Treatment and Training in the Attachment of Children, “They become more independent, self-assured and confident"...

"As children mature, they continue to need parental attention... Elementary school children need us to listen to them as they retell the day’s adventures, and they will often repeat the same stories over and over again just to hold our precious attention. They crave our participation in their homework and in their play, too. If our children learn that they can count on us for the attention they so badly need during their early years, they will continue to turn to us throughout teenagehood, too.

"Affection is more than just attention. Attention just requires being responsive to a child’s needs. Affection is the next step. It is warm, and it is the most powerful medium we possess for communicating love. We need to make special efforts to infuse this magical ingredient into our interactions... Affection also primes children for friendship and intimacy. A plethora of scientific literature reports that children who receive more affection tend to have more positive peer interactions and closer friendships...

"Hugs defuse delinquency. So say researchers at the Duke University Medical Center who compared the backgrounds of normal children and delinquents. After controlling for a range of factors, the Duke researchers discovered that parental affection was the active ingredient. They conclude their report noting that, “Violent boys were almost twice as likely as matched control subjects to have fathers who never hugged them or expressed verbal affection.

"Criminologists at the University of Illinois and Northeastern University also report that lack of parental affection is “one of the most important predictors of serious and persistent delinquency.” Sociologists at the University of Wisconsin and Florida State University reviewing the psychological literature, similarly find “absence of warmth, affection, or love by parents” associated with aggressiveness, delinquency, drug abuse, and criminality...

"Taken together, the basic ingredients of love -- attention and affection -- might constitute the single most important factors in human development. Love is not a luxury... Practically, what all this data means is that we need to pour on lots of attention and affection, and this takes time -- more time than most people who are not yet parents would ever believe... Looking after a baby or toddler is a 24-hour-a-day job seven days a week, and often a very worrying one at that. And even if the load lightens a little as children get older, if they are to flourish they still require a lot of time and attention.

"For many people today these are unpalatable truths. Giving time and attention to children means sacrificing other interests and activities. Yet I believe the evidence for what I am saying is unimpeachable. Study after study… Long before the first child is born, we must come to terms with the fact that our lives must change dramatically; that we must refocus; and that sacrifices must be made...

"The average U.S. teenager speaks seven minutes a day with her mother and five minutes a day with her father... Providing for the emotional needs of our children is not easy. Children need love. They cannot thrive without our attention and affection. If this demands a reshuffling of our lifestyle, it is a reshuffling we will never regret" (extracted from the article by Prof Lawrence Kelemen; italics mine).

And so yes, I will continue to rise and shine at six -- to braid hair and share my kids' joys and woes -- however silly some might think me. At the very least, they will look presentable.

20 comments:

Jacquelineand.... said...

Those who think you are silly are probably hiding from the fact that they wish they'd had the same thing as a child...or even now.

There is no greater gift of love than the giving of our attention, acceptance, and active participation.

Sulky Kitten said...

It's quality time for the two of you and I'm sure that your daughter will always remember these little early morning chats.I think it's a great idea and well worth the effort to spend this time together. Affection and attention - we should never underestimate the powerful influence these can have on a child's healthy emotional development.

The Dainty Dolls House said...

I think it's wonderful. Many children don't get the attention they need, it's a wonderful thing to give our attention to our children!! xx

Sara said...

I always appreciate the time I spend with my mother in the morning, we talk, and it's a better way to start the day, less stressful. I was reading an article the other day about how stressful the lives of young ones are these days and I agree, children should spend more quality time with their parents just being children.

And about the time you sleep, there is a thing called the sleep calculator online and by that you can see that sleep is a matter of sleeping periods and not the amount of hours you sleep. I actually get more tired during the day if I sleep until late. (:

Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

It is wonderful that you spend this time with your daughter. She will remember these moments her whole life, and possibly create similar ones with her own children. This time is reserved for the two of you where she has you all to herself, and where the two of you can bond and share information, thoughts and feelings. There is nothing wrong with this attention and affection. I think people confuse control and overprotecting with attentiveness. The former does not allow a child to grow to be an independent and self-assured individual whereas the latter does. When a child has a strong and healthy foundation at home that makes him/her feel safe and loved, they feel confident and empowered, which boosts their ability to 'take on the world', or so to speak. So I think it's wonderful that you are sharing these moments with your daughter. My daughter will be 16 this summer, and aside from the fact that I don't need to get up very early anymore (which I do all the time) because she can get herself ready and out the door without seeing me at all in the morning, she waits at the front door before leaving so she can get a hug, a kiss on the head and the 'I love you' and 'have a good day' moment that we share before she heads out. So, can I choose to sleep in instead and not bother with this? Sure. But how many more of these mornings will we have together before she's all grownup and gone? Not many. I'll continue to set my alarm clock to wake up in time to see her off. As long as she wants and needs me to.

Claudia Aguilar said...

Exactly the reason why me and my husband decided that I'd be a stay home mom!! My daughter is 11 now and she thinks she's too old for braids now, but I still do her half messy ponytail that she wants now. She is only in fifth grade and she tells me all the pressure there is in school luckily she is not trying to be one of the 'popular girls' hello fifth grade?!?!?!

Dee said...

Your daughter is blessed and so are you to have this time together...I would never cut her hair ♥

Libby said...

Your braiding is beautiful. As a teacher, I always enjoy seeing kids come to school groomed. I know that doesn't always happen, but I've noticed over the years that students seem to feel better about themselves at school when they look more presentable.

As a kid, my mom always did my hair. There were difficult days because I was super tenderheaded and my hair was super thick, but good mother-daughter times nonetheless. Bonding. :-)

Magic Love Crow said...

I think it's fantastic that you do this! I think this is what is missing in today's world! The parents don't see their children! Everyone else, is bringing them up. It's not good! And, I know, some of these kids, have a chip on their shoulder! It's not nice! I often wonder, when I see them, if the parents had of been with them more often, would they be different? I think so!

The Domestic Sweetheart said...

How sweet :) I hope to be as involved as a you are when I have children :) Such beautiful hair!

Kim (A Very Sweet Blog) said...

you're doing the right thing. don't listen to others. do what's in your heart and you feel is best. takes a little sacrifice, but it's worth it.
http://www.averysweetblog.com/

Christine Altmiller said...

finding ways to connect and nurture and cuddle and reinforce what kind and loving people the kids are growing up to be is never time wasted. if it is done over hair or dinner or baking or in the car, it doesn't matter, as long as the connection exists. and it is time that they will remember and pass on to another generation. i take the best of how my parents parented and add the ways i wish they parented and try my hardest to deliver a good mama to my girls. you are in a beautiful rhythm with your girls. outsider naysayers are just that. and they seldom understand what you hold dear. mornings are rough no matter what. but it means a lot to you so you make it happen. you are a great mother :-)

Fundy Blue said...

What a wonderful post, B&R! Your Becky will remember and treasure this morning ritual all of her life. Kids need attention and affection in mega doses! They also need to be accepted for who they are, which I have no doubt Becky feels from you! As a teacher who has taught hundreds and hundreds of kids, I knew who was cared for almost immediately! The most heartbreaking kiddos were the ones who were smelly, disheveled, and dirty! I would hug them all repeatedly, because all kids need to know they are loved and cared for. Trust your intuition ~ you are on the right path! Lucky Becky! Lucky you!

Miss Val's Creations said...

It is so amazing that you get to spend this quality time with your daughter. She will always remember the times when you braided her hair and you guys talked about everything! This is a perfect reason to keep her hair long. :)

Almost Precious said...

Children are only children once. They grow up far to quickly, so savor those precious moments, for every second is priceless.

Your daughter has beautiful hair, it would be sad to cut it short.

Rainbow Gatherer said...

I think this is lovely.
I'll be happy if you check out my blog too=)

Real College Student of Atlanta said...

great article -- you sound like a great parent!! <3

Beth said...

I love this, Janice. I feel sure that Becky will look back with great fondness on all those mornings and remember both the feeling of her mother's loving hands and your caring, loving words. Ariel also had long hair and I did the same thing every morning. To this day, she remembers that. And when I first saw her right before her wedding, she handed her hairbrush to me and asked me to brush her hair, just like I used to.

P.S. I must admire, too, your beautiful French braid! I never did learn to do that.

trishie said...

I love your morning routine with B, tying her hair and chatting to her about school and everything else. I used to have a similar routine - with my maid and we shared such a special bond even to this day, we're still in touch and meet up every time I go back to Singapore.

PS: I'm hosting a Living Nature skin essentials pack giveaway at my blog, hope you enter: http://www.underlockandkeyblog.com/2013/02/living-nature-review-and-giveaway.html

AntiquityTravelers said...

Janice you are such a beautiful mother to your girls, it is a joy to hear your thoughts on parenting. I agree completely with you ... the notion that we would repeat what our parents did even tho in our hearts we wanted more is absurd. I try very hard to do more, give more and be there more with my girls as I didn't have any of that. Yes I turned out fine ... but it took some time to get here. Why would I want to do that to my girls?

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