Sunday, 24 June 2012

The death of a child

Friday 29th June is Red Nose Day, when we are encouraged to make fools of ourselves for a serious cause.  For those of you who don't know, that cause is SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), now expanded to include other childhood deaths, as SIDS and Kids.

It seems ages since the day started and when checking, found this year marks the 25th year.  In that time, the SIDS and Kids Foundation has 
  • raised awareness of SIDS,
  • funded extensive research leading to an intensive community and professional education program which has resulted in the marked reduction of SIDS in Australia,
  • created a 24/7 National Bereavement Support Line (1300 308 307).
With the reduction in the incidence of SIDS, the foundation has broadened its role to the areas of sudden unexplained death in childhood (SUDC) and to deaths as a result of accident.

A less tangible benefit of the SIDS and Kids work is that there has been an increased awareness of death in childhood in the community.  

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this is probably the greatest fear of any parent.  The death of a child is shocking.  The funeral of a child is overwhelmingly sad. The absence of a child from the intimate family and friend network is an appalling gap. 

There is nothing to say that doesn't sound trite or clich├ęd.  There are limits to the number of casseroles and cakes that a family can eat.

So what can you do?

  • Be there, in person and by phone but only for brief calls. Don't avoid the family just because you feel unable to cope: it's ok to say that you don't know what to say.  Don't feel you have to be bright and cheerful, just sit quietly and listen. Don't presume to know how someone is feeling: ask. People need space as well as company. 
  • Mention the child's name when talking. Share any memories you have and ask for the parent's memories.  Take copies of any photos you might have.  Don't be afraid of tears, and don't disapprove of laughter about happy times. 
  • Continue to ask the family to social events that you would have invited them to prior to the child's death, suggesting that they need only stay as long as they can manage.
  • Remember that any children in the family are also grieving and experiencing a tremendous dislocation.  Don't forget to talk to them too, about their brother or sister.  Don't smother them with attention/affection, but don't ignore them or think they are too small to notice the change.  Even very young babies are sensitive to changes in atmosphere.
  • Ask if you can bring a rose, rosemary or some other plant for the family's garden to remember the child, or make a donation in memory of the child to a children's charity.
  • Avoid the unhelpful, false hope of comments like 'time heals', 'you'll soon feel better', 'keep busy'.  Everyone copes in their own way.
  • Many families attend annual memorial services on Red Nose Day, and you can join them to commemorate the children who have died.
If you check the SIDS and Kids website, there are many resources that you can read that will help you to understand a little of what families may feel and think, and what they have found helpful.

And in the next few days, if you see a stall for SIDS and Kids, or are approached to buy a red nose or other merchandise, give generously. 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

"I don't want to leave my child."

When people ring the agency about hiring a nanny, one of the commonest lines we hear is:
"My maternity leave is coming to an end, and I have to go back to work, but I don't want to leave my child."

This is only natural, and the result of time spent bonding with your baby.  You are in love with this wonderful little being, and as in any love affair, you don't want to be apart.

Behind this however, are usually a number of anxieties:
  • the nanny won't look after my child as well as I do
  • my child will miss me
  • my child will love the nanny more than me
  • the nanny might hurt my child
Responding to these, we attempt to reassure parents that:
  • No one will look after a child as well as you, but a good nanny will provide a high quality of physical care, help a child develop skills, give emotional support and have fun.
  • Yes, your child will miss you, and may cry when you leave and return, but these are signs that the child has formed a good attachment (just like you have bonded), but when you are not there your child will settle and adapt to the nanny's presence.
  • If your child is well attached to you, you can expect the child to attach to the nanny.  This is healthy and is not a sign that you are loved less.  Love is not a finite amount that has to be divided up, it is infinite and expands to include many figures, especially those that provide warmth and nurture.
  • It is highly unlikely that your child will be harmed by the nanny.  Our nannies are interviewed, police checked, trained, experienced and carefully reference checked. They work as nannies because they enjoy looking after children, and so are unlikely to harm a child. The agency has a policy of 'no tolerance' of abuse and any allegations would be immediately referred to Child Protection and the police.
The other main issue is guilt based on the belief that 'I SHOULD care for my child.'

To this we usually say that this is a belief that society has fed in the past when a woman married and devoted herself exclusively to the welfare of her family.  These days women do have careers, their incomes are important to maintaining a household, especially if they are the sole breadwinners, and it is accepted that the years of intensive parenting cover only a small part of a woman's life, though in different roles, parenting is lifelong.

So parents, leave your child in the care of a professional nanny and relax.  Both you and your children will benefit from the experience.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Nannies: 5 tips to make life easier!

Nannies, from experience, I know your days can be busy, and expectations high so here are some tips on how to keep organised and not feel as though time is passing, your days are filled, but somehow they all feel the same.

  • Buy an expanding file (or set up a file on your computer) and label it Activity Ideas.  Then label sections/subheadings with Indoors, Outdoors, Rainy Day, Outings.  You can break these down further if you wish eg Indoors: Toddler; Indoors: Preschool; Indoors: Crafts.  Under these headings, sort all the ideas you have collected over the years and are still collecting, and add new ones as you go.  We know that activity suggestions are very popular on our Facebook page.
  • Make a weekly timetable.  This is not about being regimented, 'ring the bell and change activities', it is to give you (and your client family) a guideline of what you are planning for the week.  Just list the days, and put activities next to them.  This will also help keep track if you have specific timetabled activities eg story time at the library; Gymbaroo.  It also helps you not to fall into a rut, doing the same things all the time and that you get a balance of indoor and outdoor time.  You also need to build in a routine of tidying up after lunch and each play activity so the house doesn't look like a bomb blast at the end of the day (even if you found it that way).
  • While I've suggested a weekly timetable, bring with you each day a flexible attitude so that you can be spontaneous eg you've planned an outing to the park but it's raining cats and dogs.  Just like adults, children vary in their moods and sometimes your initial plans just aren't appropriate on the day.  Of course, too, they grow and develop new skills so what you were doing with them 2 or 3 months ago needs variation to still present a challenge.
  • Set up a communication book with your client families.  In the front list:
                Address and telephone number of the house
                Parent(s) names remembering that parents may have different surnames,                                           workplaces and contact numbers and emergency contact numbers
                Children's names, dates of birth
                Important medical conditions of children eg allergies, epilepsy
                Name, address and phone number of family doctor
          Each day enter what the children had for lunch, activities and reactions, any quirky
          sayings, minor accidents etc.  Ask parents also to contribute eg children unwell.
  • Give yourself time greet the children and communicate with parents at the beginning of the day by being on time. At the end of the day, don't rush out the door when you hear the car in the drive, but take time to say goodbye to the children, give them a hint of what you'll do the next day you see them, and spend a few minutes with the parents.
Who knows, with all this organisation Supernanny may be looking for a new job and you'll be out there starring !!!!

Monday, 4 June 2012

What's a parent worth?

Late last year I was asked to give evidence in a damages case that required me to estimate the financial value of a mother.

Not being an economist, I based my valuation on nanny care costs, plus some additional amounts for household management.  It was very much a 'guesstimate' and undoubtedly an underestimate, as I vaguely recall the occasional newspaper story which has come up with an astronomical amount based on the hourly wage rates for all the different aspects of being a parent eg child care, cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, etc.

The problem with these estimates is that they are an attempt to put a figure on only part of the parenting role.  Sometimes there are attempts to add in the value of such roles as counselling and social organisation,  but these tend to be in the more 'humorous' articles.

Of course, too, these attempts only consider the economic value of parents, but what are the intangibles of being a parent, or perhaps more accurately, a child's experience of a parent?

Some possibilities might include:
  • Love, a bond of mutual care, belonging. Ideally this doesn't require a child to be good, or act in some prescribed manner to be experienced.
  • Dependability, the 'being there factor', the backstop.  Even when parents feel inadequate, the fact that they don't run away or shirk the issues is something many children value. 
  • Shared history, a knowledge of shared experiences good and bad, that shape our lives.  Outsiders might share some of these, but it is the day to day shared experience, and often little details, that children remember.
These, I think, are the most important parts of parenting, and are the parts that last.  Some us are more fortunate than others in these areas and their economic value lies in their absence because where they are missing, mental health can be at risk.

But does parenting ever stop?  Those of us with elderly parents know that while they may now be increasingly dependent on us to meet a variety of their needs, they are still our parents.  When they die, it is these intangibles that we will miss most.