Breaking the News to a child

Last week, I was interviewed by a journalist for the Telegraph who wanted to know how I explained and answered difficult questions about current affairs to Boy1.

Its a really interesting issue because I’ve always wanted to make sure I don’t overprotect my children from the big wide world. In fact its my responsibility as a parent to teach them about ‘real life‘, but at the same time, I have to filter and edit to a level that’s comfortable for them, and me (to be totally honest).

We have the news on every morning, as I always tell him its important to know what is going on in the world around us, but I guess that world has always seemed quite distant from him and nothing to worry about.

So when, out of the blue, Boy 1 asked me about the Westminster attacks a few weeks ago (just before I headed to London), it took me by surprise. I had to try my best not to use the word ‘terrorism’ as I knew this might scare him even more. Instead I described this very angry man that wanted express his anger and unfortunately some people died because of him. But with any ‘deep’ conversation I have with him, I try to end on the positive, so explained that the police were on the case, keeping us all safe. Because, for a child, that’s the most important thing. They need to have confidence and optimism and it’s our job to maintain that view for them. 

When he asked my why Donald Trump had won the election if he’s such a mean man, that says horrible things about women and Mexicans, I had to explain that sometimes not everyone agrees with each other. That’s how democracy works.

I’ve found that in these situations its beneficial to put things in a context a child can related too, without over-simplifying the situation.Whether that’s through the importance of talking and compromising or helping those in need, it helps to put their mind at ease.

Through the interview I realised that whilst I try to be honest, I will still try to change the conversation in certain situations. Seeing injured bodies of innocent children that could the same age as his brother, or hearing about young people being attacked by their family members – he doesn’t need to hear that, not just yet.

But in a world of hyperbole and click-bait driven content, where youngsters have easy access to media, the challenge for us as parents is to ensure they are enlightened, not exposed. Educated, not excluded from the world they live in. We use this an opportunity to build strong citizens of the world.

Then, as in most cases, after about 5 minutes they’ll turn to you and ask ‘what’s for dinner?’.

X

PS – if you are really struggling for words to explain the news, I’d highly recommend a subscription to The Week Junior. Boy 1 loves it!

 

Give it a go! 

This is my mantra for 2017.

Following in from last year and embracing the power of ‘yes’, this year I just want to give it a go. 

Nothing specific, but whatever random experiences and activities that spring to mind, I’m just going to try them. 

I’m currently on a busy train, drinking overly priced Merlot from a plastic cup, having missed bedtime, but I’m buzzing. Why? Because I gave something a go. Details can’t be shared just yet, but I’ve had a brilliant day trying something out. Not the best of outcomes, but I have it a go. 

In fact one of the reasons I’ve done this ‘thing’ today is to encourage my kids to give it a go. While it’s great to plan and be prepared, sometimes time isn’t on your side and you can’t wait for things to be just right, because that perfect time may never come. 

You have to seize the opportunity, especially if you can’t lose either way. Children need to see us trying new things and challenging ourselves. Showing them that it’s ok to ‘fail’, trying is the important thing. 

You can’t regret trying. The worst kind of regret is when you’ve done nothing at all. 

So, join me. Just give something a go. No matter how small, make that step into the unknown. You’ll thank yourself for it! 

Afro momma! 

As a child I spent many a Sunday evening having my hair washed, greased within an inch of its life, then plaited so tight I could hardly close my eyes to sleep that night. Pretty standard for most young girls of African or Caribbean origin, then and now. 

As a mum of two boys, I thought that I’d never have that Sunday drama. I’d just need to deal with me own hair whilst my boys bonded with daddy during a trip to the barbers for their short back and sides or a quick ‘shape up’.

But last year, at the ripe old age of 7 and a half, Boy1 decided to embrace his fro. Having always had regular cuts he decided to let it grow. 

One year one and we’ve fully embraced the ‘wash days’, mighty Afro comb and even that funny in between ‘what is going on with his hair?’ phase. 

He’s started to embrace my love for new hair products, but doesn’t quite get what they all do. He just trusts my wisdom! 

This whole process has meant I’ve been more involved in his hair management than the hubster and it’s actually been fun. We’ve had chats about all kinds of issues, not just his hair,but school, politics, Pokemon! It’s been a great opportunity to bond with my big boy whilst helping him to find his identity. I’ve loved every minute. 

I guess what it’s shown me is that you don’t need a dedicated, cash driven ‘event’ to spend quality time with your child. In fact as he gets older, it might be that we find more of these natural moments to bond, rather than forced fun. 

And now he has the most luscious of ‘fros and I’m so proud 😊

X

Ps – to anyone rocking an Afro I’m loving Shea Moisture products at the moment 

God bless the USA, please

Regardless of my views of Mr Trump, America has spoken.

All change…

This time eight years ago, I remember holding a very little Boy1 as America took a massive step forward by electing its first black president. At that moment he was entering a world of progress and opportunity. He’d never know a life where the idea of a black president was unfathomable. There was a feeling of hope, progress, pride and most of all, unity.

Today, I sit with Boy2 and emotions couldn’t be more different. I see people angry, upset, shocked and disappointed. I see others boasting and laughing. I see a nation, in fact a world, divided and confused.

Regardless of my views of Mr Trump, America has spoken. Democracy is democracy and the majority has spoken.

We must now try to come together and teach our children about love and tolerance. We must embrace change and go forward with a positive outlook. We can not let negativity win.

Today might be stormy, but sunshine will return.

xx

 

Why 2016 Is The Year To Teach Kids About Democracy

2016 – the year politics and democracy changed. If anyone had told me at the start of the year that we’d experience a Brexit saga (oh, what a saga it is turned out to be) and that a property tycoon with no political experience would be within touching distance of becoming the next POTUS, I would have laughed in your face. Very loudly.

But with all the surrealism and confusion, on both sides of the Atlantic, I’ve realised we must use the period of time to engage children in the issue of democracy.

hands

Yes, you can have ‘family meetings’ to vote for which film to watch or what topping to get on a pizza. Pretty sufficient for a child, right? At the end of the day, they’ll probably be happy with either outcome, so no skin off anyone’s nose. But is that really a lesson?

What about when they’ve voiced their opinion and ‘done the right thing’ but things don’t go their way? What about when they see a parent, a family member, a commentator on TV is truly set back, shocked, angry and even upset at the outcome of a vote? Do we teach them to just give up, because they didn’t get their way? This is where the democracy talk really comes into its own.

I often like to say, ‘democracy is a chance to have your say, not a guarantee you’ll have your way’. Never has this phrase been so true.

The Brexit result fueled lots of anger, and every time my son hears Trump’s name, there’s usually some kind of negative story attached and it’s up to me to explain why these people are still ‘winning’.

My God, does it make me wonder if children might just lose all faith in democracy altogether when he hears people’s reactions to these victories. It might make many people want to give up, but as parents we have to remind our kids just how important it is to have the right to vote. Our western, first world freedoms often make us slightly complacent about voting because the differences between outcomes aren’t always life-changing, but we must remember that not everyone lives in a nation that lets people express their opinions.

We have the right to share our views and influence the direction our country takes through our democratic system. In fact, if we don’t like the system, we still have the right to debate it, challenge it and try to make changes by encouraging people to make a stand together and vote.

Children need to know that sometimes not everyone will agree with you. In fact, there will be occasions where that group is larger than yours so they will ‘win’. What’s great about democracy is the opportunity, not necessarily the result.

I read far too many articles about how young people have become distanced and disenfranchised from the political system – not just in the UK – and this is worrying. We should use this period of time as an opportunity to stir up more political passion in them than ever before. Ask them what they don’t like about the current political state, but also, what they think can be changed. We need them to stand up and attempt to change things. If they think politicians are ‘all the same’, then let’s encourage them to be the difference, rather than pleading ignorance. Be the change they want to see in the world….If now isn’t the time to teach this lesson, then I don’t know when is.

While debates, complaints, protests and strikes don’t always get the desired outcome, they are a step forward. They can be powerful weapon in making your voice and opinion heard. They can be liberating. A chance to engage in a conversation for better understanding of each other’s views and maybe persuade them to accept your view. Because sometimes just one extra voice or vote can tip the balance.

So whilst we wait to witness the clear up of the mess that is 2016 and ask ourselves if all this stuff really happened, let’s not forget to remind our children, democracy is good and that their one vote is always better than no vote at all.

XX

This blog post first appeared on HuffingtonPostUK

#MiddleClassRebel

I walk into the kitchen to find Boy2 with the fridge door wide open, trying to open a pot of houmous! 

My mum, who helps out with looking after him a couple of days a week, told me that he stole the smoked salmon off her plate at breakfast time! 

I have some how managed to create some kind of middle class monster. I laugh, but do wonder if I should be exposing him to more crap. Not just food wise, but generally in life. 

My mother moved to the uk when she was just 18. From living in a dingy flat in Nottingham, to a cold terraced house in Salford and eventually a lovely three bed and the leafy ‘burbs’, she worked her ass off to provide for us. She used every penny she had to pay for our education (I’ll share my thoughts on education another time). 

We were lucky enough to witness her struggle and the eventual rewards. We are eternally grateful for what she sacrificed to make sure her children put on the right path. I think it’s paid off. We all have decent jobs, work hard, have good friends, give to charity etc. 

But now that she’s put the hard work in, she’s got these middle class grand children. They live in a nice part of Manchester, have good schools on their doorsteps and a wealth of extra curricular activities to choose from. 

Life is good. It could be better, and I want it to be better for them, but I’m acutely aware that by reaping the benefits and rewards of a previous generation’s struggle, they become less aware of how hard life can be.

Yes they know about poverty and drought. But that’s different to the everyday battles educated and focused people go through to provide for their dependents. They don’t realise that whilst they are tucking into brioche on a Saturday morning, their neighbours or class mates could be counting the number of slices of bread left to get them through before pay day. 

I’m not sure exactly what point I’m making in this post. I guess I just don’t want my children to take for granted the half decent lives they have been given, by becoming ignorant to others. 

Or is this just a case of middle class mother worries?? 

Was I just trolled? It kinda hurt

I’ve mentioned before that I’m trying to challenge myself more this year. Saying ‘yes’ more often in a bid to finding the ‘new’ or ‘real’, post-baby me. Just starting this blog and more importantly, sharing it, has been quite a big step.

This week, I took a bigger step. A journalist asked me to post my most personal piece on the Huffington Post. VERY.BIG.DEAL. So in the shock and excitement, I posted it. People were happy for me. My mum said she was proud (sob!). It felt great.

Then I started to read the comments. Yeah, someone called it a load of tosh. Fine, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. Someone on Twitter said I was perpetuating the issue – I don’t think they got what I was trying to do with the piece. Whatever. But one of them really stuck, suggesting ‘we return to my country of origin if I think the UK is so bad.’ Woah.

Do people really say that? And to complete strangers?! Isn’t it this kind of ignorance I’m trying to challenge? Was my piece so offensive, that a stranger took the time to type such a comment, rather than just click on the next article? If they’d read it in newspaper, would they have written a letter to respond? Probably not.

Whilst this was a faceless person, I’m very unlikely to ever come into contact with, it still hit me and it hurt. I’ve always just thought ‘ignore trolls’, ‘they have nothing better to do’, but my instinct was to reply, defend my opinion and put him in his place. I could have so easily given in to his provocation.

It’s really made me think about how powerful social media and the internet is. I consider myself to be quite a strong, confident person, but was quite surprised at how much one random comment hit me. What if I was a young, impressionable teen, whose taken months to build the confidence to post something online? The impact it could have had on me, could be so much worse.

Social media and the internet has made it so easy to react, insult, provoke people we do not know, without any thought of the consequences. Maybe I should be worried about my children going into a world where this is the ‘norm.’ I just  hope I can give them the confidence and resilience to ignore these faceless, and probably spineless, people.

xx

PS – you can read the piece in all its glory here http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/claire-quansah/teaching-children-about-racism_b_11873270.html?utm_hp_ref=uk

 

My son is black, he needs to know 

I have a nearly 8 year old son. He’s handsome, funny, smart, caring. He makes us proud. But in recent months I’ve become increasingly aware of the difficult conversations I’m going to have to have with him. Aside from the puberty and girls chat (eeek! Think I’ll leave those to hubby!) there’s a somewhat more challenging topic. Race.

It wouldn’t be fair to avoid it altogether and keep him wrapped in cotton wool for the rest of his life, but I have to manage how honest I am with him.

You see, I’ve told him that there are small minded people out there who treat people badly just because of the colour of his skin. He knows that had we been living a few decades ago he wouldn’t have made many of the friends he has, because they would have been sent to different schools. He knows about racism. He knows that it’s wrong.

But what he doesn’t know yet is that as he gets older, as he gets bigger, this issue will stop being just a conversation he has with his parents, or sees on the news, but will very likely become a genuine battle he will have to face. And that is a difficult conversation.

I can’t tell him that just by being a black boy/man he will automatically be treated as a statistic by many members of the society in which he lives.

I can’t tell him that this society will expect him to achieve less than his peers.

I can’t tell him that as he gets older and bigger, people might cross the road or clutch their bags tighter, or follow him around a shop, because they feel intimidated by him or just don’t trust him. 

I can’t tell him that when he’s play fighting with his white friends, as boys often do, it’s his face that a passerby will most likely point out as the ‘aggressor’.

I can’t tell him that once he learns to drive, he will get stopped by the authorities at least once, regardless of the speed he is driving or the car he’s in. 

I can’t tell him that he might not get that job or role he wants because his ‘face doesn’t fit’.

I can’t tell him that the confidence to debate and share opinions that we try to encourage in him will one day be seen by someone as having an attitude, being arrogant or even aggressive.

I can’t tell him that no matter how articulate and polite we raise him to be, some people will be shocked to hear him pronounce his t’s when he opens his mouth.

I can’t tell him that when people crack a joke with him in a generic ‘African american accent’, that there might be a hint of inappropriate unconscious bias, that the deliverer might not even be aware of.

I can’t tell him that he will experience negative relationships, sometimes without even knowing, where people will discreetly put him down and subtly treat him differently.

I can’t be the one to ruin his view of the world. Not yet. That time will inevitably come. 

But what I can tell him as that he must continue to be a positive influence and think of the people who have and still fight for equality. 

He must work harder than every one else to prove to any doubters just what he is capable of.

I can tell him the importance of building positive relationships, regardless of race, gender or background, where he and his friends feel free to discuss concerns, encourage each other and more importantly, look out for each other.

I can tell him that he shouldn’t be afraid to challenge and debate issues he feels strongly about, in a well rounded, articulate manner.

I can tell him that by putting his God-given talents to use, that he can make a difference.

Because by doing this – by continuing to be the smart, caring, honest, funny person he already is and I know will continue to be – he could be that person. He could be the one to spark a light in someone’s mind. He could make someone question their opinions and behaviours. He could be the one to change someone’s small-minded views for the better.

Now, isn’t that a more positive conversation to have?

xx

PS. This post first appeared on the fabulous Selfish Mother 

 

Being brave

A few weeks ago I did something I hadn’t done for a long time. I stepped out of my professional comfort zone.

I received an email inviting me to speak on a panel (won’t bore you with the topic details). My first instinct was to pass it on to my line manager. He couldn’t make it, neither could anyone else more senior to me. Bugger.

Just as I’m about to hit ‘send’ on an email to decline, I stopped. I realised I didn’t have a good reason not to take part, only fear. I had been recommended for the event, I’m not sure by whom, but clearly someone out there thinks I’m pretty good at my job.

Rewind a few years and I would have jumped at the chance to talk in front of a room of people. I’ve always been the friendly, chatty one. People love having me at events because I tick a few boxes (female, black. done!). But without realising , my confidence had faded and I had been turning away from opportunities.

I had become the person that said ‘why’ rather than ‘why not’. I was slowly slipping into a habit of just doing what was in my remit, rather than pushing myself. Not the ‘me’ that many people would describe. The impact of motherhood or wifelyhood (yes, its a word!), I don’t know, but I need to change it.

So I reminded myself of my commitment to say yes more often and accepted the invitation. And guess what, the event went well and I had loads of positive feedback. Result!

Then last week I was asked to do an interview with the local paper about ‘successful women handling careers and motherhood’ with the help of family-friendly workplaces. I laughed out loud about the successful bit, but was honoured to be asked. I guess I’m doing a good job of juggling everything.

That’s two yeses in a few weeks. Has my life been transformed? No. But I’ve reminded myself of a few things:

  • Taking on a challenge every now and then is good for the soul
  • If someone else says you are good at something, they are probably telling the truth, even if you don’t believe them
  • The more opportunities you invite into your life, the more that will be opened to you. It’s down to you to accept them or not

Feeling good after a few positive experiences, I think I’m slowly starting to find ‘me’ again.

xx

 

Schools out…whenever

Last week, pretty much every newspaper, news channel, parenting blog and the like covered the landmark ruling, pretty much allowing parents to take their kids out of school for holidays during term time.

Whilst I agree with the argument that it should be a parent’s decision to take their child out if they have been attending school ‘regularly’, I can’t help but think this is just one big first world problem. I come from a country where hundreds of people are desperate to get an education. Children get excited about the idea of going to school and learning. Parents send their children hundreds of miles away, to stay with family or even boarding school, to give them the opportunity of an education.

Yet, here we are, complaining because we want to save a few hundred pounds on an all inclusive to Mallorca. Is this really a case worthy of the High Court? Is our world so perfect that this is the issue we have to protest?

Now, I get that people want to go on family holidays, but don’t use the excuse of ‘family bonding’ to justify it. We rarely went abroad as a child. We visited parks, museums, played games etc and guess what, I’m still very close to my mother. Isn’t it a little bit insulting to poorer families by saying you can only bond with your children when you’re abroad?

Then people argue that they children can ‘learn so much more’ on holiday’. Let’s be honest, you and I both know that most family holidays are an excuse to have lie ins, lay about in the sun, eat as much as you want and crack open the sangria at midday without being judged. Nothing wrong with that, in fact, it’s a great way to live for a week or two. But let’s not use education as a cover up for our need to just get away.

My worry with this whole argument isn’t about whether children should be permitted to take time out of school (although the 13 weeks they already get seems like plenty) or what they do when they are away. It is really about the example we are setting for children. We spend so much time teaching them about following rules and listening to their teachers, but now we are saying ‘follow the rules unless it is more convenient not to.’ I’m not saying children should become sheep and blindly abide by rules regardless. But shouldn’t they be encouraged to question, challenge and debate, instead of just ignoring the rules that don’t suit them?

The parents that have taken their children on term time holidays have done so in full knowledge that their school rules didn’t allow it and they would be fined. But they still went ahead. Why? Because it was convenient, in most cases financially. How can you distinguish this rule breaking from others, when talking to a 7 year old. I know I couldn’t!

I know I sound old now, but many young people are growing up with a sense of ‘entitlement’. They want what they want, when they want. We see too many cases of disregard for others, purely for their own benefit. Is this something else that we are just handing to them?

If you can’t afford something, don’t buy it. Sure you can complain about holiday companies, but is it really their issue? Plenty of products get cheaper when they are out of season. And what about the families that still wouldn’t be able to afford a holiday even if there was some price capping?

All that will happen now is we’ll see in an influx of parents taking their children on holiday during term time, causing more frustration for teachers and the pupils left behind. During this time, the government will be looking at ways to tighten up the rules and make it more difficult to take any time off at all, during term, regardless of the reason.

So whilst I might praise this ‘hero dad’ for sticking by his guns, I have a horrible feeling it might not be the happy ending we all hoped for.

xx