Journey towards Motherhood; Experiences on Pregnancy & Postpartum : Mamma Love Series

Do you think pregnancy focuses on preparing for motherhood as much as preparing or a baby? 

Ramya, who lives in Chennai with her toddler shares, “I do not believe pregnancy focuses on preparing for motherhood. Throughout pregnancy, a mom, especially a first time mom, usually thinks a lot about the course of pregnancy, how to get through it & how to keep her growing baby healthy. Then there is of course labour and delivery, which preoccupies many moms-to-be. And finally, one thinks about processes and things for when the baby comes – how do you swaddle, what stroller do you need. There is very little mention – from healthcare providers or more experienced moms’, in literature, depictions in popular culture of what motherhood entails, and the mental fortitude required to deal with it. 

Shilpa, mother of baby Dhruv who is 11 months old, writes, “Contrary to what I thought, not in the least. While I was pregnant, it was all about staying healthy, happy and focusing on having a safe pregnancy. Rest, sleep, nutritious food, supplements, yoga – the days just whizzed by. Coupled with long hours at work, there wasn’t really any time to think of anything else. And no one really spoke about motherhood, at least to me. Other than the usual, “Oh, this is nothing, wait for the baby to arrive!” – no one had much to say, and it never occurred to me that we actually do need to prepare for motherhood.

Can you share with us the emotional and physical ride you went through soon after your baby’s arrival?

Shilpa begins, “Remember how I said that people tend to tell you, “Oh, this is nothing, wait for the baby to arrive!”. At the time I thought, well, it would really help if the same people could actually tell me something useful instead of these unwarranted comments,” she says. “But, what I can tell you now, is that, NO ONE can really tell you anything about how you are likely to feel. Every pregnancy is different, every baby is different AND every mother is different. There is really no ‘one size fits all’ advice – and it would really help if that is what people would tell new mothers.”  She continues, “For me, it was much easier to deal with the physical aspects than the emotional ones. I had a C-section, it was not easy, and it was painful, but with the help of doctors and nurses I found it quite manageable. For someone who really really needs sleep to function, the lack of sleep that comes with a new baby hit me like an express train! Even that I managed to deal with in the best way I could. 

She says none of the physical challenges came close to what was going on in her mind. “The answer to what was going on in my mind is, nothing, and everything,” shares Shilpa.  “A lot of the time I was completely blanked out and functioning like a robot, and when I wasn’t in that mode – I was paranoid and overthinking EVERYTHING baby. Is he sleeping ok, is he being fed enough, is he peeing enough, is his poop the right color, is he breathing while he is asleep (yes, even this!), have I covered him enough and so on. ” She assures, “But, things do settle down eventually and the important thing for you and your immediate family is to acknowledge what you are going through.”

Meanwhile, Ramya speaks of her experience, “I had been waiting to be a mother my whole life. Since I was five years old, I would play pretend with my dolls, and as I got older, I’d imagine scenarios with my future children, and fantasise about life as a mother. I struggled to get and stay pregnant, which added to my deep yearning to be a mother. This pregnancy and my unborn baby were so precious and important to me – it’s not wrong to say that all my hopes were pinned on them. Then my daughter was born, and all my castles went up in smoke.” She says, “I knew it almost immediately – I did not feel all the emotions that everyone says you must, that I was prepared to feel – the overwhelming love, the immediate affection. I felt removed from my baby, I couldn’t bring myself to feel the quantum of love that I expected and wanted. She was low birth weight, and had experienced some in-utero stress. This led her to being diagnosed as a baby high needs. The intensity of her behaviour and emotions were jarring. She would cry for hours on end, and I would be at wits end, unable to comfort her, and not knowing what to do. Our bonding was not immediate, and took lots of time and effort. I felt deep anguish when I saw how easily my husband and father bonded with and loved my daughter, and I struggled to do the same. 

My angst was compounded by the fact that I moved back to my parent’s house after living away from them for more than five years. My father is a doctor, and was very involved in my daughter from the moment of her birth. My mother- in- law and husband’s aunt were also very keen to help and would come over everyday. I am an introvert at heart, fiercely independent, and deeply opinionated. This combination did not bode well for me in my circumstances. I felt like I was drowning under the torrent of constant advice, comments, and suggestions. I felt that I was not getting the support and rest I truly needed, and started feeling resentment towards those around me. The restrictions on eating, going out, and general to-dos, mild though they were, felt unbearable to me. 

About her initial breastfeeding experience, Ramya shares, “Breastfeeding was probably the worst part of the initial days. I struggled to produce sufficient milk, and felt like I was subjected to an inquisition from all the elders at home. It was deeply anxiety inducing. To add to this, my baby was born with a tooth, which rendered breastfeeding traumatic at times. Physically, my recovery was quite quick and relatively easy, given that I had a vaginal birth. However, I had stitches and some digestive issues that left me in constant discomfort for the first couple of months. Coupled with my lack of sleep, I felt like a zombie. 

Finally, she says, “Of course like all things, the lower the lows, the higher the highs. I could watch my daughter sleep for hours on end. Hugging her tiny 2.5 kg body to my chest on those chilly winter afternoons as we did skin to skin, was tranquility epitomised. I always maintain one of life’s greatest joys is holding a sleeping baby, a truth I realised in those early days. When my daughter would smile in her sleep, or yawn, or I’d count her tiny fingers and toes, I truly understood why it was called the miracle of life.”

Mamma Love Series Set 1

In those initial months, what kind of support comforted you most and what caused turbulence? 

“My husband was my biggest support, my rock and my wall”, begins Ramya. “When he was there, I felt completely confident and comfortable. He always let me take the lead and played the perfect complement. He was ever ready to do any physical task, and give me a break. This rejuvenated me and kept me sane. I found his presence to be calm and soothing because he never questioned me, and instilled in me the belief that I was doing my best. I also found immense comfort in my best friend who had a baby 18 days after me. We were able to go through all the trials and tribulations of new motherhood together. Speaking to someone who was feeling all the things that I was feeling, was an immense reassurance. My parents were very supportive and generous. I feel I took them for granted to some extent, but knowing that they were there for relief and my father for medical help and advice was very comforting. The things that caused turbulence was constant critiques and criticism of my choices and parenting style, and people providing anecdotes about the choices that they made with their children. I felt that there was so much pressure and instruction, it left me dizzy, and unable to think out the best choice for me and my baby.”

Meanwhile, Shilpa says space and privacy were what she needed and when given that, she was able to enjoy the initial days and stay comfortable. She adds, “This was essential to recover, bond with and get to know my baby. I didn’t want a long lines of visitors at the hospital or at home, and that was THE factor that caused turbulence in my case. Being in India, a LOT of people tend to visit – out of courtesy, even when you don’t want/ expect that courtesy!  The cardinal rule of “never wake a sleeping baby” was thrown to the winds, and that was incredibly upsetting for me.”

At any point in this journey, have you felt that you were so unprepared for the task in hand?

“Honestly this happens so often that I have lost track,” admits Shilpa. “While most matters appear fairly routine and ‘everyone has gone through it’, when it is your own baby, and when it is you who are completely responsible – even the simplest of tasks can put a lot of pressure on you. At the start, even changing diapers used to stress me out – have I cleaned him properly so that he doesn’t end up with a rash?! After getting through the first few months, I can now probably tell another new mom to hang in there and that it gets better.”

“Yes!” exclaims Ramya.”Many times in the first three months, I’d cry to myself, asking what I had done to my husband’s and my life.” “The physical and mental exertions were nothing close to what I had expected, and I was completely overwhelmed. At the same time I felt like a complete failure, because I thought that since the start of time, billions on billions have undertaken motherhood successfully, why am I finding it so hard. I also felt a great amount of guilt since I knew the majority of people have minimal amounts of help and I had so much. I was perpetually petrified of what life would be like when I moved out on my own.”

Is there anything that you have learnt on this journey that you want to share with other mothers?

Shilpa advices new mothers, “You may have heard a lot of people talk about how they are independent and how they managed to do everything for their baby all by themselves. Now, that’s great. But, if you are in a position to get some help, take it! You will feel much better. While it is beautiful, it is not an easy journey, and every mother needs her rest, as well. You don’t have to feel guilty if you are unable to manage by yourself, taking care of a newborn is no easy task and especially for a new mom who doesn’t sleep nights (or days). Even now, with an 8 month old, I don’t need help with any chores, but I do ask the grandparents to come and just play with the baby. I physically don’t have the amount of energy required to keep my baby entertained for hours and that’s the one thing I ask for even now.”

Ramya puts into words something beautiful for expectant mammas, “I think I would want to share that there are so many narratives, dictats, rules, and expectations. There are so many voices in the background. There is so much stress and tension. Hard as it may seem, block ALL of that out. Remember the only thing that is right is what works for you and your baby. There is no wrong. There are no winners and losers. There is no better and worse. So focus on making yourself happy and content because that’s when you will be able to make the best choices as a parent for your child and family. Learn to trust yourself, that’s how you can be the best mother you can. 

Cut out the competition in toto. It doesn’t matter – epidural or non, vaginal or c-section, breast, bottle or both, co-sleeper or in the crib. These choices literally do not matter at all in the long run in any material way, they have no reflection on you or your child. You aren’t better if they did things one way, nor are you worse. She finally says, “Don’t derive a sense of achievement from your children!  Enjoy each milestone, quietly and peacefully.” 

The Changes that Come with Motherhood : Mamma Love Series

Becoming  a mother is a transformative experience for a woman! The physical, psychological and emotional changes that accompany are often hard for many mammas to express in words. While many may associate the birth of motherhood with the birth of a baby, motherhood truly begins in pregnancy. 

As part of the Mamma Love Series, I approached a few mothers to share with us the changes they have experienced in their journey of being mothers. Each of these mammas have had different experiences and births, reiterating that even with something as universal as motherhood, no two paths are the same. 

How has becoming a mother changed you as a person? Is it anything like you imagined it to be? 

“Motherhood cannot be imagined, only experienced”, begins Apoorva, mother of a 3 year old from Chennai, India. “I started putting my unborn baby’s needs before my own and made so many lifestyle changes in such a short span of time. I was never a morning person, but when I was pregnant, I was up every single day at 5 am to practice prenatal yoga. Once my baby was born, even the slightest movement or fuss would wake me; it was such a contrast to the heavy sleeper that I was who would sleep through blaring alarms.” 

Karuna, mother of a toddler from Bangalore, India opens up about her experience, “ I lost my mother at a young age. Losing her was hard, and as I grew, I began to feel strongly about becoming a mother. I have always feared hospitals, blood draws and injections,” she says, “but when the time came, I had to have a Caesarean Section due to birth canal issues and embraced the situation. Women are designed such that despite the pain, sleep deprivation and hormonal changes, we put our baby’s needs before our own. This was the first change I observed in myself.” About her breastfeeding experience, she adds, “I had latching issues and received a lot of advice from so many people. It finally got sorted only when I went to a professional for assistance.” Her advice to other mammas is, “When it comes to breastfeeding, a lot of people have a lot of opinions. I have realised that no matter what people say, do your own research, find the right person for help and make decisions based on what works for you and your baby.” 

Dhivya, mamma of a 4 year old from Basel, Switzerland shares how motherhood has changed her, “Every single woman changes once she becomes a mother. The biggest change in me has been the happiness my daughter brings into my life with her positivity and innocence. We learn to look at life through their eyes.

How important is self-care for a mamma & how do you think she can fit this in with a busy lifestyle?

“Self-care is very important for new mothers,” emphasises Dhivya. “Newborns consume a lot of our time and in this, we forget ourselves. The mental, physical and emotional changes, along with just the drill of a new routine with a newborn can make a mother feel very low. So, taking some time out for yourself is so important. Don’t hesitate to leave the baby with a family member or a sitter for some time to take a break. You are not a bad mother for doing that! Do what you like to do in that time. It can be watching your favourite show or a fitness activity, a massage, book or meeting a few friends. You won’t  realise how refreshed this can make you feel until you try!” 

Drawing from her practice of self-care, Apoorva feels, “If you want your baby to be happy and satisfied, you as a mother need to be happy and healthy, both mentally and physically. Dealing with a child patiently every single day is simply not possible without self-care. Self-care can be anything from watching a show to heading outdoors, listening to some music, talking to a friend or just treating yourself to a peaceful shower. These things can do wonders to relax you. Once you are relaxed, you can jump right back to being a mother!”

Karuna feels the lack of awareness of a mother’s physical and mental health in many societies is something that needs more focus and care. “With the enormous changes that happen in a woman’s body during and after pregnancy, a lot of people fail to recognise the importance of self-care.” From her experience of being a mother and interacting with other mothers, Karuna says, “Being pressed for time, if a mother can get a jump start to her day with a peaceful shower before the baby wakes up, she can begin her day refreshed.” She emphasises that physical exercise is so important for a mother to feel healthy mentally and physically. “Even if you cannot steal time to go for an individual workout, just involve your child while you are doing yoga or going for a walk. You can even wear your baby on a short hike, if you are up for it! 

Abirami Apoorva

What kind of mindset will help expectant mammas embrace motherhood?

“Be positive and prepared to take things as they come,” says Dhivya. “A first time mother may have countless difficulties; breastfeeding might be an issue, latching might be an issue, baby might cry endlessly, but remember that you are not alone in this. Every mother goes through these difficulties. So, stay calm and just be open to taking things as they come.”

“The first few months make you feel like you never have enough energy and sleep!” sighs Apoorva. So, her mantra is being prepared, “Having all of baby’s things ready and the nursery ready made me very calm. I also made sure to have a strong support system. This can be anyone from your parents to your husband or even a nanny.” She smiles and adds, “Oh, just be open to changes; the baby will change your life for the better!”

Karuna’s go-to mindset is, “I CAN DO IT!”

Sometimes, expectant first-time mothers make detailed plans on how they want their life after the baby to be. What would your advice to them be? 

Both Karuna & Apoorva instantly say, “It is good to make plans before the baby arrives but important to be flexible and open. Being rigid causes unnecessary stress.” Apoorva also adds, “Take each day at a time and proceed keeping in mind what is best for you and your baby.”

Drawing from her experience, Dhivya says, Planning things may and may not work. There are a lot of if’s and but’s when it comes to parenting. One thing that works is trying things in motherhood. Some women fix that they will breastfeed for 18-24 months but are unable to after the first few months. So, while having plans is wonderful, make alternate plans and just be open to accepting circumstances if things don’t work the way you imagined.” 

Is there something you have learnt in this journey that you want to share with another mamma? 

“The first two months are so critical, so bond with your baby,” says Karuna who is also a Montessori guide. “Having eye contact with your baby while they breastfeed can make you both feel even more connected. Talk to your babies, respect them, challenge them!” she adds. “Never hesitate to share your worries with someone who has a kind and non-judgemental ear. This can even be a therapist.” Her biggest advice is, “Mammas, let your partners also be involved. Give them the space to bond with the baby and just back off when they are interacting with them.”

“Everything is a phase and things are bound to change,” reflects Dhivya, as she looks back on her journey so far. “Do not fret over milestones; different babies do things at different times. Just widen your circle and have a network of mammas to talk to about your experiences. This will give you perspective and also lessen your worries.” 

For Apoorva, taking time out for oneself as a mother is vital to having everything else together. “Never hesitate to ask or look out for help from a professional or family member.” She says, “Being a first time mamma can be outright overwhelming on several days. So, seek help, keep yourself happy, be your best self and most importantly, forgive yourself.”

Preparing for a Child; Preparing for Motherhood

The arrival of a child is one of the most defining moments in a couple’s life. In many ways, it signifies the birth of a family. If a child is born from a loving and trusting relationship, most women look forward to this phase in their lives. But pregnancy is not just about the impending birth, it is also about the huge transition towards motherhood. Many mammas spend a large portion of their pregnancies sifting through umpteen options and information revolving around their unborn baby. A major part of pregnancy thus passes and before they realise it, they are facing childbirth and the inevitable role change. We forget that a mamma is born when her baby is born and needs nurture, comfort and reassurance herself. 

The journey towards motherhood requires just as much thought, time and preparation. A small care package with moral, psychological and physical support can be a source of strength and support during the transition.

Personal Support: Something or Someone to lean on

The days and weeks following the arrival of a baby is often overwhelming for a new mamma. A personal care package carefully put together during pregnancy might come in handy during this time. 

  • A hospital buddy 

The moment a baby is born, the attention immediately and naturally shifts from the mother to the baby. While the whole world spins around the baby, having someone exclusively for the mamma can be just the support she needs. Someone whom she trusts – a parent, partner or friend – who is around and able to regularly check on her can be the emotional nourishment that sees her through those vulnerable moments.  

  • A chore buddy

In many cultures, chore buddies are typically the grandparents of the baby. In some other cultures, friends usually pitch in as much as they can. New parents have a lot to grapple with and in this phase, having to worry about shopping, food and laundry might take a toll on resting and recovering. Planning for a chore buddy during pregnancy might be one of the best gifts a mamma can give herself for the fourth trimester.

  • A reflective journal/ friend

A reflective journal can be a best friend in those initial months. When we want to pour our racing thoughts somewhere, a journal might come in handy. This journal can hold some of those emotions, those overwhelming feelings, joy over small wins, a string of  gratitudes, frustrations and worries. For those mothers who find that talking works better than documenting, reaching out to a friend can lend the same kind of support. Sometimes, talking to someone outside might give just the perspective needed to support their own changing dynamics. Both a journal and a friend can show how far we have come and also guide us when it is time to seek help. 

  • A support group 

The power of a support group in helping new mothers is largely undervalued. A support group is a small group of mothers, all going through or having recently gone through the changes of motherhood. The members in this group often answer and support each other because they are all walking in similar shoes. Finding or creating a small support group during pregnancy might make the journey towards motherhood smoother while also being a source of great strength in the fourth trimester. 

Excerpt from Promoting Maternal & Infant Health in the 4th Trimester: “Mothers may be anxious about their baby for good reason and providers must respect that perspective as valuable and valid. In order to support maternal and paternal role attainment, it is important to affirm and encourage all that is going well with the parent–infant relationship and caretaking. Women need affirmation of their newly acquired abilities as mothers; they are very sensitive to any perception of guilt or shaming.”

Professional support: Reaching Out 

After the high of the birth, most women who have had a relatively smooth birthing experience return home and this is when everything starts to feel real: the cycles of breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, the sway of emotions, soreness, tiredness and the drastic hormonal changes. In most countries, a new mother is typically not scheduled to see a doctor for up to several weeks postpartum. While new parents are swamped with the task of ensuring everything is progressing well with the baby, mothers are often not asked how they are coping with the changes. 

Excerpt from Postnatal Care for Mothers & Newborns: According to the WHO, as of 2013, “at 10-14 days after birth, all women should be asked about resolution of mild, transitory postpartum depression, also known as postpartum blues. If symptoms have not resolved, the woman’s psychological well-being should continue to be assessed for postpartum depression, and if symptoms persist, evaluated. Women should further be observed for any risks, signs and symptoms of domestic abuse. They should be told whom to contact for advice and management.”

Despite WHO recommendations, the reality is that most women are left to navigate the changes in surroundings where symptoms of postpartum blues or depression go unnoticed. Putting together a self-care team prior to the baby can help new mothers know that they do not have to navigate every crisis alone. 

  • Breastfeeding Support 

The uncertainty and questions surrounding breastfeeding are not only plentiful, but emerge in the weeks following childbirth. It might help to see a lactation consultant who can reassure new mothers and help them navigate any crisis that might be brewing in their breastfeeding journey. Sometimes, having a professional perspective from someone who deals with many women going through breastfeeding changes is far more reassuring than talking only to a small group of women who share anecdotes from their personal experiences.

  • Postpartum Physical Support  

Many mammas suffer from postpartum perineal pain and some even develop infection from a cut or torn perineum. They return home after childbirth with little or no information on urinary incontinence, back pain, organ prolapse or pelvic-floor weakness. The toll that pregnancy and childbirth takes on women must never be overlooked; mammas need to feel no shame in reaching out to a doctor or physical therapy for support in  the weeks and months following childbirth.

  • Postpartum Psychological Support

According to the WHO, about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience depression. In developing countries this is even higher, at 15.6% during pregnancy and 19.8% after child birth. So, postpartum depression and depression during pregnancy is all too real! By neglecting this important transition, we put new mothers and babies at risk. If a new mamma feels consistently low, it is important to reach out for psychiatric help. 

Excerpt from Promoting Maternal & Infant Health in the 4th Trimester: “Listening to women and families, whose opinions and needs often go unexpressed or unheard, or both, is foundational to providing high-quality care. Well-meaning providers and practitioners may assume they know what new mothers want and need, and should do a better job of asking them, phrasing questions in a manner that solicits their goals and engages them in program design and development. It is likewise important to honor mothers and fathers as experts about their babies. Truly, no one can know or understand the infant as well as the baby’s primary caregivers.”

The Fourth Trimester Agenda

  • Eat. Sleep. Love.

The fourth trimester to every pregnancy is often the most neglected. A mother has months to prepare for childbirth but soon after the baby arrives, her body goes through a sea of immediate changes necessitating plenty of support and rest. This is a period when the mother-baby dyad must continue to to be looked at as a single entity. The mamma needs external support to sync up to her baby’s schedule, eat healthy, nutritious and simple food, sleep when she feels the need to sleep and have plenty of time to cuddle with her newborn. When this is offered, she has better chances at being able to address the needs of her baby.

By nurturing a new mother, we are not just nurturing the bond between her and her baby, but also supporting the emotional & physical wellness of the next generation.

  • Music. Mindfulness. Positivity 

Being in a positive frame of mind is the best gift a mamma can give herself and her baby. But, it might be challenging to wonder how to keep this positivity alive when the body is going through changes. So, creating a playlist of songs that lift you up or put a smile on your face, collecting a few books that help you be mindful and joyful  and surrounding yourself with people who lift you up are treasures to keep at your arm’s reach for those blue days.

  • Keeping visitors to a minimum

Sometimes, new mothers are faced with a swarm of well-meaning visitors in the days following birth. While this may be just the source of strength for some, some others find that socialising is overwhelming for both the baby and themselves. From the outside, it is important to respect a mother’s wish and honour this space. The time to socialise will come and when you feel ready, you can step out of your cocoon.

  • Making gratitude your friend

Perhaps the most forgotten of all virtues is gratitude – a dear friend to keep close during trying times. Devoting a few moments in a day to just focus on things that are going well can drastically help shift ourselves to a more positive frame of mind. This simple practice can help significantly improve the quality of our lives and also give us perspective when everything seems to be spiralling down.

In The Fourth Trimester Companion, Cynthia Gabriel says, “The work of mothering and fathering is slow paced and repetitive. Parenting challenges can be measured in hours, while joy is measured in moments. If you can believe the difficult moments are just as normal, as necessary as the delightful moments, you will come out of the 4th trimester with more stamina and reserves for the months ahead. 

The fourth trimester should ideally be a nesting retreat for a mamma and her baby. This is a time when we continue to look at the duo as a single unit, depending on each other for physical and psychological support. From the outside, we can offer them plenty of support, understanding and nurture to adapt to their new lives. It takes a village to raise a new mamma and it is the responsibility of all those who surround her to make this beautiful phase as comfortable as possible.

 

The Importance of Practising Gratitude with Young Children : Part 2 : HOW?

Part 1 of this article focuses on Why it is important to practice gratitude with young children. In Part 2, let us look at  a few different ways in which we can practice gratitude with young children.


Children under 3 are different from those over 3. Very young children are less articulate and require verbalisation from our end. However, this does not mean we cannot engage in dialogue with them. We can use their coos and babbles or their few words as a response in our interactions. With children over 3, we can expect more response by encouraging reflection through prompts and also by presenting events of the day that urge reflection. 

How might this be?

  • With Children Under 3

Let us assume a parent is talking to their toddler at the end of the day. The parent can casually talk about some of the events of the day. “Today, we went to the park that has the giant fountain and you played with your new blue ball. Do you remember who got you the ball?” (pause) “Yes, thatha (grandpa) got you the ball. You laughed so much while playing with the ball. Tomorrow, lets go again to play with the ball and I can take a video of you to share with thatha. He will be happy to see that you like it.”

Initially, babies and toddlers observe and may coo, babble or say a few words in response to the conversation. It maybe something liketha” for thatha or “ba” for ball or something else in connection with the incident. Regardless of the response, the aim of this simple practice is to bring the incident back to focus, acknowledge the emotions experienced and highlight the intention behind the contribution (in this case, grandpa’s gift).

  • With Children from 3 – 6 years  

If older children are habituated to unwinding with gratitude, they might share some experiences. “I played on the swing with Mudra.” or “I liked the dosa today.” While helping children express experiences that spark a feeling of gratitude, we can also probe further to help them understand emotions around gratitude, building perspective. “Why do you think thatha came all the way to play cricket with you? (pause) Do you think it is because he cares for you and enjoys having time with you?” Children in this age group can also be helped to reciprocate acts of kindness with kindness. “How did you show/tell thatha you were happy he came?” Maybe tomorrow, when he comes, you can give him a hug.

Gratitude Part 2

  • With Children in a Community 

In a communal setting with several children, this can be done in groups. The adult can help the children in the group bring their attention to benevolent acts, such as “Do you know who washed all the hand towels for lunch today?” or “Radha Akka swept the veranda clean so that some of you can work outside after lunch.” By highlighting these acts, children understand that kind gestures are valued in the community and gradually begin to reciprocate with kindness.

In “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier”, Robert .A. Emmons says, “The momentary experience of gratitude is not the same as having a well-honed grateful disposition : although at one moment their emotional experiences might be identical, a person who always seem to have a deeply grateful heart no matter what the circumstance is very different from another who is simply appreciative of a gift he has recently received.” 

So, what is important? 

  • Being Consistent

Routines are a reliable way for children to integrate a practice into their daily lives. Creating a simple gratitude practice for children and sticking to it makes this yet another bedtime ritual, much like brushing teeth or bathing. While routines do help children look forward to and predict their day better, it is our responsibility as adults to prioritise and value these practices until children are themselves able to to consistently fulfil them. 

  • Enabling Recollection 

Helping children reflect on their day allows them to look back at events in their lives and focus on those that make them feel thankful. As adults, we often look at events that make us complain, “Oh, the traffic was just horrible today” or “ I wonder why my manager always picks on me”. Instead, we can focus on simple things that light up our lives. Reflection not only allows children to gain perspective, but also helps them recollect incidents which is crucial in practicing gratitude.

In The Whole Brain Child, Dan Siegel says “ Memory is like so many functions of the brain : the more we exercise it, the stronger it becomes. That means that when you give your children lots of practice at remembering – by having them tell and retell their own stories – you improve their ability to integrate their memory.

  • Being a Representative of Gratitude

Perhaps, with young children, the most important of all is for adults in their lives to share their own experiences that spark gratefulness. “I am so thankful to Papa and you for waiting in the car for almost an hour to pick me up this evening.” or “I was so touched when you shared the last chocolate with your sister.”  This gives them examples of how, as adults, we also end our day with  gratitude.

The Importance of Practicing Gratitude with Young Children : Part 1 : WHY?

The word gratitude brings to mind a feeling of thankfulness; an acceptance of circumstances and an acknowledgement of the gift of life.

But, does gratitude end with just the feeling or is it much more than a fleeting feeling of thankfulness?

When we choose to make a habit of gratefulness by adopting an attitude of gratitude, we are making a long term investment in the mental and physical well being of not just ourselves but of those around us, as well. A grateful disposition is probably the best gift we can give our children to take with them into adulthood. 

“It is gratitude that enables us to receive and it is gratitude that motivates us to repay by returning the goodness that we have been given. In short, it is gratitude that enables us to be fully human.”

Robert .A. Emmons,Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier

Gratitude & Children

With children under the age of six, gratitude begins as a subtle and indirect ritual which gradually becomes a more active and involved process. This can be as simple as a conversation at the end of the day between a parent and child or a teacher and a small group of children. The adult in the picture brings to focus some of the events of the day and helps the children pin emotions around them that focus on gratitude.

Young children understand a lot more than they can speak and by giving words to emotions that they feel, we give them the opportunity to narrow down these emotions to specific words. “Were you relieved when Mudra brought you a tissue when you fell at the park today?” or “You seemed delighted to set the table for dinner.” The words that surround gratitude such as joy, thankful, relief and happiness are simply highlighted in this practice with children.

Why?

  • Learning to Unwind with Gratitude 

Studies have shown that adults who spend a few moments each day journaling at least three things that they are grateful for have better mental & physical health, sleep & exercise better and tend to avoid depression. Although young children may seem inherently more joyful, practicing gratitude is a habit that will stay with them through life. It can be a simple bedtime ritual just like brushing their teeth.

In its own way, gratitude is a kind of prayer; instead of asking, we show our children to give thanks. Gratitude is a dynamic and open prayer where we recollect events of the day and be thankful for how those events have enriched and shaped us.

  • Acknowledging Collective Effort 

Gratitude helps children acknowledge that so many people and circumstances come together to sustain us.  Let us take a family, for example. Different members of the family support each other in different ways. Every member of the family is a contributor – tangible or intangible and every presence makes a difference. Many of us often take our closest family and friends, the ones who always love and support us, for granted. When we help our children acknowledge such presence in their lives, and when we ourselves acknowledge the same with our children, they begin to understand that life is made beautiful by the collective effort of so many.

  • Gratitude in the face of Adversities 

When a child has had a painful experience – falling down, an argument with a friend or sibling or losing something, we often try to either suppress or dismiss the experience. “Do not talk about the park or he will remember he fell down and start crying again” or “Stop crying! It is not such a big deal.” 

Instead if we talk about the experience, for example, “Today, what happened at the park?” (pause) “You fell down and cried. It must have been painful. Do you remember what happened after that?” (pause) “Yes, Mudra came running with a tissue and helped you. I am so grateful you have a friend like Mudra.” (pause) “Do you remember what we did after that? (pause) “We went to the doctor and he gave you an injection. You were scared. I held your hands and stayed close by. Did that make you feel better?” (pause) “Now, you are back at home and resting. Once you feel better, we can go back to playing in the park.” 

When we talk about trying experiences and help our children find hope even in those circumstances, it shows them perspective. It helps them always try and look at things to be grateful for even in adverse circumstances.

  • Spontaneous Thank You’s! 

How often we ask, rather nudge and even force children to say Thank You! As aware as we of the power of these words, we seem content with the words more than the feeling. With children, we expect instant responses.  While our children might say the words out of fear or compulsion, do we stop to think if they really are thankful? Instead, by talking to children through simple conversations such as, “I am so thankful for grandpa. He came all the way just to play with you”, we help them become aware that a certain person has done an act of kindness for another. It helps our children gradually build a habit of reflecting on the act of the other person. “Why did grandpa come? Does he really love and care for me?” 

When we think of it this way, we help our children build a web of emotions around benevolent acts. These will eventually lead to spontaneous thank you’s. Such thank you’s will stem from a deep sense of gratitude and give the words their true value.

“Childhood maybe the optimal time to promote healthy attitudes and the prevention of problems, and gratitude training could play an important role in any program designed to foster well-being. As in adults, gratitude may be a very valuable tool that children can use to negotiate both the ups and the downs in their lives.”

Robert .A. Emmons,Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier

As indirect as the practice of gratitude is with young children under the age of six, it is like a seed that we plant in childhood and nurture with love and care. This seed of happiness will eventually instil a genuine sense of gratefulness and is possibly one of the most invaluable gifts we can offer our children.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of the same article on the different ways in which we can practice Gratitude with Children under 6 at home and in communities. 

 

Savi Paaty Series : The Squirrel & its Three Stripes

Savi Paaty Series is a tribute to oral stories. I have created this in memory of my beloved grandmother – Savi Paaty. Each story in the series is a story within a story. Although oral stories are becoming a lost art, it is time we revive and bring them back to life, into our homes and schools, back into our children’s lives. 


Here is a story of Apoo, Abi and Janu – three siblings who live in Coimbatore, India and love listening to Savi Paaty’s stories. Savitri Paaty, whom the children fondly call Savi Paaty, always parted her hair in the centre, wore bright silk sarees and used the pallu of the sarees to repeatedly polish her already sparkling diamond nose-pin. Apoo, the eldest of the three siblings at 8 years, loves playing basketball, spends most of her time out in the open, climbing trees, and sporting new scars on her knees every day. Abi, at 7 years is Apoo’s closest confidant. He loves his cars and precious mechanic set. He never fails to bring the set out, screw, un-screw and explore the parts of his dashing wheels collection. Janu, the youngest at 5 years, tries hard to join in with her siblings in climbing trees and fixing cars, but secretly loves playing with her kitchen set and making ‘green-medicine’ with the fallen leaves on the porch.

It was a bright and sunny morning in April; the three siblings had made plans to go swimming later in the day. Apoo was the first of the three to wake up; she came and sat on the திண்ணை (stone bench in the porch) with a glass of Boost in her hand, watching some squirrels chase up and down the neem tree. She was still groggy and waking up, while the squirrels were briskly and busily playing run and catch! Savi Paaty was sitting on the easy-chair, her morning spot, with a ஜெபமாலை (prayer beads), busily chanting away “Asaadhya Saadhagam”, a sloka of her beloved monkey-god – Hanuman. She sometimes participated in the children’s conversation and then went back to chanting. Paaty had already clocked around 400 chants since she was up from 4 in the morning. Right now, she was waiting for her second dose of filter coffee.

Apoo was just finishing up her glass of Boost and using her fingers to lick away the last of the chocolate paste, when Abi and Janu entered the porch. Abi came running down and joined Apoo on the திண்ணை, while Janu who was rubbing her eyes and yawning, sat on Paaty’s lap. Apoo quickly updated Abi on the squirrels and now, they were chatting away. 

Apoo said, “Look at these squirrels Abi! Look how fast they are running on the tree.” Abi ran up to the neem tree to inspect the squirrels closely. He wanted to tell Apoo that even he can run as fast as the squirrels, in fact faster! As he was craning his neck to get a closer view, he saw a squirrel jump up to a higher branch. Abi was now ready to climb the tree, when Paaty suddenly said, “Do you know why squirrels have 3 white stripes on their body?” Janu, who was until now slouching on Paaty’s lap, sat up straight and turned towards Paaty. Abi came running back to the திண்ணை and Apoo wiped the sticky Boost paste on her dress – washing hands had to wait! The children became attentive. They knew their beloved Savi Paaty always had lovely stories up her sleeve. 

Paaty, with her expressive eyes and hand gestures, began, “Long, long ago, there lived a brave and beautiful princess called Sita. She was married to Prince Rama of Ayodhya. Once, when they were in the forest, Ravana of Lanka came in his pushpaka vimana, and took Sita away to Lanka.” Apoo and Janu gasped. It was Abi who broke the silence by asking, “pushkapa vimam?” Paaty immediately said “It’s push-pa-ka vi-maa-nam, Abi – Ravana’s mighty aeroplane” and continued “Rama and his brother Lakshmana were distraught and sought the help of the vanara senai.” Apoo, now asked, “Paaty, what is vanara senai?” and Paaty clarified that they are an army of monkeys and bears. She said “Rama and Lakshmana needed a lot of help to reach Lanka because they needed a bridge to get across the sea.” 

Abi was puzzled, confused even! He wanted to know how monkeys and bears can build bridges. He said, “Paaty, but monkeys and bears cannot build bridges, only big people can!” Apoo, promptly said, “Abi, you keep quiet, this is just a story!” Paaty went on, “… So the monkeys and bears were lifting heavy stones and carrying them to the water. It was difficult, manual labour that required a lot of strength. Suddenly, they noticed a small squirrel on the side. It was carrying small pebbles with a lot of effort and dropping them in the water. This little squirrel went about its work in full earnest. The monkeys and bears found this very amusing and started mocking the squirrel.” The silence was palpable in the air, with the three children listening to Paaty with rapt attention.

Paaty continued the story, “… One bear went straight to the squirrel and said, “Ai Anile (squirrel in Tamil), you think you can build a mighty bridge for Rama with these tiny pebbles? Look how small and tiny you and your pebbles are! You need to be big and strong like us. Your tiny pebbles will drown in the water. Now clear this place up and go from here!!” She said, “The little squirrel was upset and hurt by the bear’s statement. It really wanted to help Rama find Sita. Rama, on hearing this, went and lifted the squirrel up and ran his finger on the body of the squirrel to acknowledge its contribution.” Paaty showed her three fingers and drew the stripes in the air to describe to the children Rama’s action. “The little squirrel proudly wore its honour of stripes and went back to collecting more pebbles.” Paaty concluded her story by telling her grandchildren that we must never mock at people, however small their contribution. She said, “Like Rama, we must be humble and acknowledge everyone for their effort and good intentions.” 

As she was finishing, her second dose of coffee came right up and Paaty said, “Now, you three go in and help Amma. Apoo, you can peel the carrots, Abi you can help set the table” and she looked at Janu and said “You must eat on your own today without Amma having to feed you and then see how your work is acknowledged.” Saying thus, Paaty went back to her ஜெபமாலை and filter coffee. 

The three children stood up and went inside – they had their contributions to make!

Peeling Cucumbers

Peeling is a challenging activity that aids young children’s developing muscle strength. The repetitive action of peeling helps them gain control over their fine motor skills and also draws them into bouts of focus and concentration. Peeling not only engages their tiny fingers but also their mind in a constructive activity whilst building judgement and coordination. 

Who is this for?

I would begin around 2.5 – 3 years depending on the fine motor skill of the child. 

Things Required

  • 1 medium sized cucumber/carrot
  • 1 cutting board
  • 1 sturdy and small peeler (I prefer Y peelers) 
  • 1 medium sized bowl for peels 

Preparation

I have observed that children have a better latch over the peel when the edges of the vegetable are cut. This can be done by the adult while the child watches. I also prefer not to hold and guide the child’s hand while they are peeling. This gives adults complete control but a very false sense of ‘peeling’ to the eager child. If you find that you are anxious, increase the challenge gradually by having them collaborate in the process. Also, refrain from telling them how to peel because this shifts attention from peeling to talking. Instead, just show them how it is done and have them repeat after you. 

As always, you are the best judge of what works well for your child in your kitchen! 

Illustrated Guide 

I like to begin with an invitation, “Let me show you how to peel a cucumber today.” Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what is required and gather them together. 

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Let the child smell, feel and touch the cucumber. Wash the vegetable at the sink and discard the edges. 

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Show the child the peeler. Point to the blade and mention that it is sharp and used only for peeling the vegetable.

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Hold the cucumber down using your non-dominant hand to give support and hold the peeler using full support of your palm and fingers. This gives children better support when they repeat after. 

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Begin at one end of the cucumber and point to the blade touching the peel.

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Exaggerate applying pressure and glide from end to end, pausing in between to watch the peel come off. 

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Place the peeler down and pick up the peel and place it in the bowl for peels. It is nice to point to the color difference where the peel is removed and touch and feel the cucumber. 

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Rotate around and continue peeling. Let the child peel however they can. You can offer to hold the cucumber for support. 

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Once the cucumber has been peeled, the peels can be put in compost. Guide the child to put the other items away or for wash. 

Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “Let me show you how to peel  a cucumber today.” 
  • Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what is required and gather them together. 
  • Let the child smell, feel and touch the cucumber. 
  • Wash the vegetable at the sink and discard the edges. 
  • Show the child the peeler. Point to the blade and mention that it is sharp and used only for peeling the vegetable. 
  • Hold the cucumber down using your non-dominant hand to give support and hold the peeler using full support of your palm and fingers. This gives children better support when they repeat after. 
  • Begin at one end of the cucumber and point to the blade touching the peel. 
  • Exaggerate applying pressure and glide from end to end, pausing in between to watch the peel come off. 
  • Place the peeler down and pick up the peel and place it in the bowl for peels. 
  • It is nice to point to the color difference where the peel is removed and touch and feel the cucumber. 
  • Rotate around and continue peeling. 
  • Let the child peel however they can. You can offer to hold the cucumber for support. 
  • Once the cucumber has been peeled, the peels can be put in compost. 
  • Guide the child to put the other items away or for wash. 

Note : You can also cut the cucumber in half to prevent it from rolling. I have used Persian Cucumbers. Use whatever is locally available.