12th October 19

Family support can be vital - but how do we navigate the trickier parts?

It’s not very often that a subject like family is met with such emotion. Most of our sessions (if not all) seem to be interwoven with family, whether its politics, negotiation, too much interference, not enough interference, logistics, geography, tradition, culture etc. How can we find the balance, improve relations or increase distance (both emotionally and physically) when, for the most part, intent comes from the right place, with our children at the centre of it?

Perhaps that’s where it starts for most - the children. Some of us discussed about tense relationships. Ones that require work and patience where conversations have been fractious before we had a family with both our own and in-laws. For others, relationships are more positive and for the most part, harmonious. Others expressed a desire for more, feeling a sense of isolation because family didn’t play a big part or were perhaps located too far away. Some of us are single parents and help provided by family is essential to every day life and some are single parents with no help at all.

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New research published by Grandparents Plus found that a quarter of working mothers said they would give up work if they didn’t have grandparents available to help. They also discovered that 93% of families receive some form of help with childcare from grandparents, and over half of parents will rely on grandparents over the summer holidays. That’s a whole lot of help right there and that’s just one aspect.

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And what about our life choices with regard to how we raise our children? Many of us expressed frustrations over intense questioning and disapproval when it came to how we parent. From diets and schooling to sleeping and routine, conversation could be tense when we felt questioned on our actions. Some of us said they felt awkward at wanting ‘to do things differently’, not because our own childhoods weren’t happy or fulfilling but because times have changed and technology continues to evolve and consequently shape all aspects of daily life. The film ‘Captain Fantastic’ (Matt Ross), whilst extreme in plot (family living off the grid, children learning to hunt once they can walk & challenging social norms) highlights an interesting point - how can we maintain relationships if they aren’t respectful of our own beliefs and strategies?

In a recent poll undertaken by Mott’s Children’s hospital in Michigan USA, nearly two-thirds of mothers said they felt they had been criticised for their parenting decisions with ‘Discipline [being] the most frequent topic of criticism, reported by 70% [of participants]'. How do we tackle sensitive subjects that are often so impassioned? Most of us shied away from dealing with it at the time but felt upset and angry afterwards.

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Our own session activity centered around the topics we felt most prevalent; advice, communication, adjustment & politics. Sometimes the mere act of an offer of help had to be met with advanced sensitivity when intent was there but execution wasn’t in line with our own beliefs.

Most of us all however, felt very lucky to have family (by the single person or by the bucketload) to help out and to lean on and in some cases, friends had become family with their reliability, patience and love needed both infrequently and regularly. It is a constant negotiation, with communication at the very heart, even when the conversation is tricky and fuelled with emotion. The NHS states ‘It's best to be clear about the kind of help you want, rather than going along with what's offered and feeling resentful’. Seems straightforward, right?! Total void of empathy aside, there is perhaps some truth in there. If we are to work together, maybe we can try and voice our, er voice and build on whatever we can, to benefit everyone. The truth shall set you free? Or failing that, save it all up and write a lengthly WhatsApp rant to whoever’s prepared to read it.

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