What Makes Parenting Simple

mamathreeprince

The only thing that can ever make anything complicated is the way we think about it, approach it, dream it. We make meaning of everything, and in doing so, we create the world around us. It looks like it is the other way around, but indeed, we are authors of our own lives, and no one can take that power away from us.

It is all a matter of choice.

Simple parenting is a choice.

Like any writer, we borrow from convention, trying on other people’s stories to see how they feel on our own skin, but we bring each pen stroke to life all by ourselves in our own authentic way. By choosing to live it.

One need look no further than the practice of parenting across cultures to see how invented our family life is. If you are Balinese, Brazilian, or British, the chances are you have grown up around certain notions of childhood and family, which differ to those held elsewhere in the world.

If you were a member of the Beng, living on the Ivory Coast of Africa, then you would likely believe your child to be a reincarnation of an ancestor. Your baby would have been drawn direct from Wrugbe, the Beng land of the dead, into a new life. You would wash your newborn with special black soap, reserved only for use on babies and dead bodies, the two groups inherently connected in your mind. You would need to persuade your little one into this new life of theirs and prevent them from returning to Wrugbe, which, after all, would be a more natural environment for them.You might prioritise buying them a cowry shell bracelet to protect them from illness and bad spirits.

For more about the Beng, and childrearing practices in different societies, see ‘A World Of Babies’ by DeLoache and Gottlieb, Cambridge Uni Press.

Common beliefs about parenting from our own stomping grounds cover the accepted practices for responsible care-giving and child-rearing. Some examples that come to mind are:

  1. Parenting is the hardest and most rewarding activity you will ever do,
  2. Struggle is bad for you and therefore should be eliminated from parenting,
  3. Children’s upbringings need to be carefully managed according to what scientific evidence indicates,
  4. Parent and child relationships are very complicated,
  5. We must prevent our children from becoming vulnerable to the world,
  6. We must protect the world from our children and their chaos,
  7. Having a child means you should stop doing a lot of other stuff, like sleeping, working,  going out in the evening, and travelling,
  8. Experts are better qualified than us in the field of childrearing, and therefore are the best people to decide how our child needs to be raised,
  9. The best way to promote rest is that children should go to bed early, at which point their parents have free time as a couple or as individuals,
  10. Parenting is not relaxing. EVER.

Do you find yourself nodding along at all? Do you recognise these notions? In my personal and subjective experience, they are often presented as the real truth about bringing up children.

Hang on though, because THIS IS ALL MADE UP CULTURE STUFF.

We can create ANYTHING.

We can do better than the cultural equivalent of Dan Brown.

We are not the victims of circumstance. We are the authors of our lives.

Even when you feel like Lord of the Flies has nothing on one of your average family outings, and you wonder if you are The Heart of Darkness to everyone else’s Swiss Family Robinson…..

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No, no, no.

I cannot speak for you, but this is what looks real to me right now:

  1. Parenting is a social construct which suggests an active role on the part of mum and dad when engaging in a relationship with their offspring. It neither MUST be hard nor rewarding.
  2. Struggle is a natural part of growth, and indicates that either a) growth is about to happen or b) consciousness is low and self-care is needed. Struggle need not be synonymous with chronic stress and anxiety. It only becomes so when people fall victim to the idea that no form of discomfort is OK in life, and/or people are not able to access appropriate support, and/or high levels of stress and anxiety become accepted as normal in that culture.
  3. Scientific evidence provides a patchy, yet valuable, resource of information for parents to make use of in their decision making, should they wish it, including the level of involvement parents should expect to have in their child’s development. However, any given piece of research informs practice best  where it has been well-evaluated with a particular context in mind.
  4.  Parent and child relationships are extremely simple. There is a mother or father and a child who interact with one another. Complications arise through the layers of thought that they create about one another. In this, adults are at a disadvantage due to their well-developed egos, inner autobiographers, and long, long memories. Not to mention, whatever beliefs and personal stories they have picked up from their own childhood.
  5. Like it or not, we inhabit a vulnerable physical place in the natural order of things, and we are not bullet proof, disease proof, shatter proof, or shock proof. There is only so much we can do about this. However, we are also resilient, with many innate gifts and abilities. The best way to access these inner resources is to try them out in a variety of contexts and manners of our choosing. Though children need to be kept from running into speeding traffic or launching themselves lemming style over balconies, they also need to experience failure, loss, mistakes, and difficulty.
  6. Children may be noisy, vigorous, curious, honest, and insatiable, which goes against social convention at times. It seems fair to expect that people should try to respect one another, as far as they are able, whether they are teeny weeny or big and grown up. However, we are built for social flexibility and negotiation which helps us figure out lots and lots of ways to interact. Therefore, we are quite capable of flexing those cultural muscles if caught off guard by an enterprising youngling. The best teacher of respectful behaviour is demonstrating by example, rather than getting all bent out of shape for fear of breaching decorum.
  7. Having a small person in tow does indicate that lifestyle will not be the same as without one. However, there are many, many forms that the lifestyle can take. Though change is an inevitable fact of life, there is no foregone conclusion that specific limits apply to families in terms of whether, when, and where people work, sleep, play, travel. Many parents do feel exhausted and limited, but it is more to do with being in modern Western society, plus having children, rather than a natural consequence of parenthood. Rigid beliefs about how family life should look which do not take into account everyone else’s view in that family can also lead to self-imposed limitations.
  8. Every person on this earth is unique, with their own physical form and their own version of reality. This means that understanding how to raise your child relies more on ability to understand your child than anything else. There can be no one size fits all techniques or tricks, and no formula which comes close to simply listening with great care and respect to a) your child and b) your common sense.
  9. In our packaged and managed, time-obsessed society, it is natural to want to package and manage chunks of time. However, experience is often much, much too messy for this. When attempting to manage how a group of people spend all their time, there are bound to be clashes, disagreements of expectation, misunderstandings, and differing needs. Also, people’s needs for solitude, company, leisure, play, or work, are not uniform, and do not conform to a set timetable. Too often people are not encouraged to respond to their actual needs, but rather to a clock or schedule. Though rhythm and routine are shown to have a calming effect on our physiology, whatever convention dictates in terms of when and how life happens can be totally off the mark. That is before you even introduce the question of what is practical, which can further influence who does what, how, and when.
  10. Parenting does not need to be hectic all the time, and there is such a thing as downtime with children, as well as without them. Everyone needs a bit of R and R during the day, especially small, growing, beings. What prevents parents from relaxing, much of the time, are minds which are too switched on and overstimulated to be present during these moments, or to recognise that quietude is an option. Most of all, looms a never-ending list of tasks that must be done before relaxation is permissible, which is the real rest-killer. Finding little, quiet windows is trickier when caring for multiple children, or a single child who is especially lively for whatever reason, but even so, half the battle is slowing down to a mellow mental pace, as and when an opportunity for respite occurs (however brief it may be).

The bedrock of our society is CHOICE, and yet all too often we forget that we have the power to write our own lives like never before. Instead we say, ‘Ah yes, we were once young, carefree souls, but now we have kids so’………

…..and then we tail off in despondent resignation.

INSERT HEAVY PAUSE

(Because, having spawned, and brought tiny humans into the world our own desires, our own needs, our own happiness is somehow shelved)

And we look back on nostalgic visions of childhood where the celebrations and wonderments, the big and small experiences, were always NOW and there was a magical sense of CONNECTION. A time when there were no details to worry about, and no forms to fill in, and no need to feel weighed down. We were so free.

Then we say ‘but that is what CHILDHOOD is like, and that reminds me, we have to provide this incredible, rich, textured experience to our own little ones, and gosh, what hard work it is’.

But we also have to make sure they do well in school. They have to learn to do calculus, or speak Mandarin, or score goals, or play the oboe. And we have to make sure they have a successful career and that they get to be happy because they can get all the material goods they could ever require, plus spiritual fulfilment, emotional health, and whole-brain heartfulness.

At some point we might start looking for a set of magic techniques to take care of all this.

Then we see that we need to do all these things for ourselves too, in order to be enough, and to be happy, and that now we have to do it ON TOP OF parenting. If we don’t then we are setting a terrible example, and our children are doomed.

You see now, what a complicated burden parenting is.

However, this reasoning ignores the glaring fact that IT IS ALL 100% FABRICATED.

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The only thing that parenting needs to be is a connection between you and your child that is grounded in the present moment. A connection through which you attempt to understand them and to do what is best to help them grow. It is that simple. All good decisions and feelings and experiences will flow, natural as rainfall, from that connection.

There are so many choices. Bold choices, timid choices, creative choices, wise, foolish, and wacky choices.

The rest is just generic, made up, dime-a-dozen culture stuff.

What are you making up today? Is it necessary? Is it beautiful?

Treat your obligations like furnishing your dream house. Does it make sense to you? Does to bring you pleasure?

Then choose, choose, choose. And remember that you chose, so that you can unchoose it should you so wish.

What do you choose, you Mamajestic lovelies? Tell me what matters most to you.

What would you choose over and again?

What could you unchoose to make your parenting more simple?

Come share your thoughts in the Mamajestic Facebook Group.

With lots and lots of squishy love,

Alexis xxx

PS You can read more about parenting and connection at the Three Principles For Families Centre Site

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A Simple Approach To Better Communication

This week I did a group session about changing relationships before and after a baby is born. Inevitably, the discussion turned to communication, and how it feels when one or more people in a family feel misunderstood or sidelined.

When a new baby arrives into a family group, everyone enters into a new learning cycle, where questions about role, identity, and belonging may arise. In addition to this, normal sleep patterns and opportunities for rest, relaxation, and alone time shift around, and getting used to new ways of doing things, and different priorities, can leave you feeling disorientated and tired.

This disorientation is a natural part of learning. Beginning is easy, ending is sweet, but the messy middle requires you to realign yourself in all kinds of interesting ways, and to have new insights about your life. So much of what we do is composed of messy middles of one sort or another!

At a time where big changes are occurring, it is only natural that people should get a bit wrapped up in their shifting world. Perhaps too, there is social pressure to keep it together, to have the answers, to be proactive, and to suck it up, and we can get in a bit of a panic when we feel swept along and out of control.

Getting wrapped up in our thoughts about how we are doing, where we are up to, what we want to achieve, and how our lives should look focusses our attention on our internal world. That means, that we are less able to focus outwards and be open to new ideas, the perspectives of others, and cannot obtain a clear view of our situation. If we want to reach out to other people, then it is much better to do this from a place of relative clarity and openness.

The good news is that it is really easy to spot when we or other people are feeling open, relaxed, and ready to truly listen and collaborate. You only need to observe basic body language to see where other family members are at-

Good mood= open and relaxed body language, clear eyes, sparkle, easy smile, easy eye contact

Bad/preoccupied mood= defensive and closed off body language, glazed expression, lack of  eye contact, or aggressive eye contact, furrowed brow, strained features

Even before any speaking happens, we can see if it is a time when conversing will flow with ease, or we need to tread carefully, or when we need to back off and come back later.

The other bit of good news is that because it is only natural that people get down in the dumps or confused, then there is absolutely no need to take their moods and whims personally. When problems in communication occur it is because people are innocently bogged down in whatever is going through their minds at that moment, not because we are distancing ourselves on purpose.

We live in separate realities, so sometimes it is difficult to see through our own perspective, and get a glimpse into what is real for the other person. However, when we do, we can connect in profound ways with one another, and family members of all ages, shapes, and sizes!

I made a video with some examples. I hope you enjoy it!

Please do come and share your own experiences of relationships and transitions in the Mamajestic Facebook Group, or indeed to share any related blogs or videos you come across in your travels.

Do go ahead and share this post if you found it spoke to you! I love it when posts get shared about. It helps other people to find the site.

Take care and lots of love,

Alexis xxx

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Book Club: Exquisite Mind- How A New Paradigm Transformed My Life, And Is Sweeping The World, by Terry Rubenstein

There are a growing number of books that demonstrate the simple power of the Three Principles Paradigm, and the impact that it has had on the lives of the authors and those who are in …

Source: Book Club: Exquisite Mind- How A New Paradigm Transformed My Life, And Is Sweeping The World, by Terry Rubenstein

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Small Acts Of Genuine Desire

Here Comes The Sun, Hello Spring

Spring is in the air, the season of fertility and new growth. Can you feel it breathing its breezes and butterflies around you?

I hear the church bells ringing, and an image pops into my head: I am looking at a tree in our hillside garden. A stream of water is flowing from its base, making the twists and turns of tree root shapes. It tumbles down the verge, and over the side of the terrace. Life is waking up. It is everywhere.

Time to wake up! What growth do you want to see? What would please you most right now?

Observe the springy glow on our homeside hillside!

In previous weeks, the prospect of Spring had me ready to crawl back into bed. Of course, the commencement of this fertile season meant I should make all kinds of stuff happen. After all, the world has turned round a sufficient amount that I no longer see my breath in the air. That must mean it is time to purge my mind, body, home, and life of the extraneous.

Then I remembered that these things are all made up and resolved to languish in a duvet nest until further notice. Then a child jumped on my head.

Well, that didn’t take long.

Bit by bit, I did get the urge to consider what my authentic desires for growth might be. So I gave it a whirl.

It is not always easy to figure out what you really, truly want. Often, the moment you stop and try to focus on your desires, what comes out is a list of things you would like to get done, or to have done already. For instance…

Me: So, Alexis what would please you right now?

Me: Well, let’s see….Time to declutter the house. Time to try and sell baby gear that we no longer need. Time to create better systems for organising life. Time to lose weight. Time to smarten up. Time to look for new projects and new income. Time to study. Time to really spend some quality one to one time with my husband and the kids. 

Me: Nope. That is just a list of things you think you should do. Tell me, what do you really want in this exact moment?

Me: Hmmm. 

Now, I find myself doing this from time to time, and it ends with two results: a longer list of things to do; a feeling of dissatisfaction with the way things are. Not a fabulous energising result, then.

The Problem-Solution Pattern

Back when I studied text and narrative at the University of Glasgow, we learned about typical discourse patterns that exist in our literature, and our thinking. These patterns are structures for the way we assign meaning in our communications. Michael Hoey identified a number of these prevalent in English texts, and noted that there are different kinds of pattern popular in different societies. The presence of a common discourse pattern reflects a predilection for a particular kind of reasoning about the world.

I notice that the problem-solution story is very prevalent in our society. We just love to analyse, measure, assess, solve, and evaluate. So, it makes sense that you get sucked into a problem-solution mindset on a regular basis. Perhaps this is where the proactive, goal setting, to do list fetish comes from, which is such a common approach to the stuff of daily life in our society.

For instance, you can take just about any sensible personal desire and turn it into a bewildering series of actions to be taken. Here are a few examples:

Desire: I would love to sleep more….

  • Problem: BUT my baby wakes up at night
  • Solution: I could use gentle sleep training, less gentle sleep training, feed the kids soporific foods, create elaborate bedtime routines, pray for change, pick up and put down, get husband to take over, run away, hire a sleep trainer,
  • Action: Meh, I guess I am pretty much OK with this
  • Evaluation: You are not trying hard enough, go back and do a bunch of techniques until you get a result no matter what.

Ooh this is fun. Let’s do another one.

Desire: I would love to make beautiful nourishing food for my children…

  • Problem: BUT my child only wants to eat bananas and breakfast cereal, not a wide range of healthy foods from kale to kefir to kumquats
  • Solution: Ban all forms of breakfast cereal, involve him in shopping for, cooking, and growing food, read books about children eating healthy food, watch TV shows featuring healthy food, buy healthier cereal, always have bananas, delegate all responsibility to husband, run away
  • Action: who wants a bowl of wholegrain alfalfa crunchies? OK fine. Weetabix it is, and a banana. Super
  • Evaluation: When this goes wrong it will be all your fault (ouch)

It works with things like appearance too!

Desire: I would love to be fit, (somewhat) lithe, and strong…

  • Problem: BUT my stomach is too big, I feel unattractive, and I am getting OOOLLLLDDDDEEERR wah!
  • Solution: Get up early and do yoga routine, followed by core abs, run, run, run, and stop time. Ok, well buy lots of lotions and potions that promise to do that very thing. Buy new clothes. Combine exercise and housework. Get the kids to ride off at speed on their bikes and chase them. Then have sex. Then have a makeover, and a bath, and a pedicure, and a manicure, and don’t forget to pluck your eyebrows, epilate your legs, and wax your nether regions.
  • Action: bit of yoga, bit of running after kids, bit of falling for empty product promises, bit of sex.
  • Evaluation: You could still lose a few pounds, you know. Plus, you are even older than when you started.

And cleaning.

Desire: I would love to live in simplicity and order…

  • Problem: BUT my house has things in it that I wish were somewhere else
  • Solution: Simplify, declutter, buy better storage, reorganise, teach the children to tidy and organise until they are full self-cleaning minions of orderliness, get husband to build beautiful storage solutions, buy more plastic boxes, chuck out everything, whether it belongs to me or not, pass on old things to new owners, alphebatise, colour code, and above all, stop the everyone from messing it all up again.
  • Action: throw some stuff out, tidy a room, feel proud. Watch as it gets messy almost straight away.
  • Evaluation: well, that didn’t last long. Hide under bed. Find a lot of dustballs.

It is truly a marvel to see how fast a wish for sleep, to nourish others, to tend to your health and sexiness, to create orderliness can turn into a problem. Incredible too, how many solutions there are to choose from, of which many require outlaying time, money, and energy that are not available at that moment, and often do not have the promised or predicted effect anyway.

When my mind and body are asking to have their needs attended to, and I feel depleted,  this is what seems to pop up out of the cosmos: the definition of problems and projected solutions. I am sure that, this is one reason why the world sometimes feels so busy. Our problems may have solutions, but often the relentless pursuit of resolution, wholeness, and happiness can take us further from well-being.

In fact, we are surrounded by advertisements which inform us about the problems we barely considered we had! From the point of view of putting energy in the bank, giving attention to these constructions can sap our dwindling reserves, just when we want a little boost.

Not that there is anything wrong with genuine problem solving. It is unnecessary problem creation I am on the look out for.

Uncovering Authentic Desires

I am going to go out on a limb and say that this is not the stuff of genuine desire. I am going to go beyond that and say that much of what is written about bettering your parenting, body, home, and work, is meant with the best of intentions, and useful to some, sometimes, in some situations. However, all too often, what we get from our society, which prizes the rational, the productive, and the effective, has not got a lot to offer in terms of identifying and nurturing healthy everyday desires. What we seem to have instead are objectives, passions, and goals. Not to mention that we are encouraged to go big or go home. Do it on a large scale, or it isn’t really worth it, it won’t be going anywhere!

This means that, rather than living in deep appreciation for the many wonderful opportunities, material goods, and cosmic gifts that we already receive on a daily basis, we get caught up in what might be, who we might become, what we might do tomorrow or next year. These thought balls get lobbed around our collective unconscious and insinuate themselves. Then we get so worn out figuring with all these pesky mental globules, that appreciating anything seems too much of a stretch. Then we say, I am tired, and you know there is never enough time just to be, just to look after myself. I don’t even know who I am or what I want right now.

Thinking Outside The Box

For me, the question of desire has to come back to a level of understanding that does not come from out there in society, not from the habits and fetishes that are prized at present, not from received wisdom in any form.

Genuine desire is personal, quirky, and does not fit into a problem and solution pattern. Figuring out what you really, absolutely need comes from an intelligence within you, which does not have to correspond to identifying a lack, then taking a range of actions to address the situation in an efficient manner. We are not cars to be serviced by mechanics, we are complex organisms with spirits, with whims, we are animals with instincts, and we are beings who might benefit from many varieties of interaction, stimulation, and growth in all kinds of non-standard forms and patterns.

When it comes to taking action you desire, then whatever it is can be an end in itself. It can be small, minuscule choices, or grand designs. There is no size and shape requirement. No measurements, analysis, no specifications. There do not need to be elaborate plans, as the satisfaction of a desire in the moment can be a spontaneous meshing of opportunity and fancy.

This is self care. It is not self-assessment. It is not self-judgement. It is pure attention to your own joyfulness, for its own sake. It is honouring your own wellbeing in the moment.

Down The Rabbit Hole

As I became accustomed to observing my thoughts and the forms that travelled through my mind on a daily basis, I became aware of just how many of them there are. Also, not all of them make conventional sense. I got interested in the seeming random stuff that entered my skull, and that DID serve me. I found that I was helping myself, without knowing how or why or where a particular notion or image would turn up. For instance, I had a vision of me swimming in a pool, being supported by a giant turtle, which reassured me when I was in labour with my youngest. Why not pay a little attention to these images, colours, textures, and feelings? What were they saying?…

…I am talking a little attention here, not analysis or deep interpretation, not directing or getting bound up in thought, just drifting into a dream…

I continued the conversation with myself thus…

Me: Hello there, quiet corners of my conscious self, what would you like more of in our life?

It’s cool if it doesn’t make sense or appears well thought out because I get that you are coming from the heart. I know you don’t do lists and goals and such. A seeming random abstract notion would be fine…

Me: RED.

Me: Red?

Me: RED: YES. RED. 

Me: Well, I could change my blog to red right now. I can adorn myself with these nice, red, clothes. Ooh I like it. Yes that does feel nice. 

Me: MUSIC.

Me: OK. I could put some music on….Satie? too sad. OK. Rocky Horror it is….

Me: (holds up image of rather mystical looking woman in manner of ancient fantasy land character) 

Me: I’m a sweet transvestite…..Sorry, I was distracted by the awesomeness. What have you got there….I am not sure this is a career move…. 

Well, let’s see. Oh she’s WISE.

Me: (image of Kevin Smith as Silent Bob rolling eyes in assent)

Me: She has time for what she does and needs to do, because she is centred in a reality where life is not expected to run twenty times faster than it actually does,

She does not believe she has to be everything to everyone all the time, 

She can nurture herself and others

She does not try to do, be, and become too many things, and feeling not enough,

She is fierce and strong,

She is not perfect, and does not need to be,

She takes nourishment for herself,

She can work charms and mystical awesomeness,

Sounds good.  I want to cultivate greater understanding, compassion, physical health and wisdom to my life!

I wonder if I could give myself permission to explore this.

I could!

Excellent. 

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Some Concluding-ish Thoughts On The Practice Of Desire Fulfillment

I made a little video…

Now, the thing to remember is that desires are not meant to be turned into checklists. Turning desires into ‘have-tos’ zaps all their power to energise, clarify, and assist us in our lives. Moulding a desire into a need for productivity and rushing through it all does this too. Desires are suggestions regarding what I might enjoy.

Self care in the form of fulfilling small desires does not always have to wait until the children are in bed or at school, does not depend on your partner’s schedule, does not depend on you being at work or at home, or the recommendations of experts. Self-care in the form of attending to our desires is available in many moments if we simply ask ourselves what would be pleasing, in and of itself, in the time and space I am inhabiting at this very moment.

At the end of the day, happiness does not come from creating a perfect set of circumstances, or performing a particular set of behaviours. It comes from within, where there is nothing in particular getting in the way of it. For this reason, it is best not to put too much thought into the question of what you want to create or not. Neither to think too much about thoughts. The point is to allow yourself awareness of small desires, and permission to fulfill wishes just because you can, and not because it is improving, transformative, productive, or with a set agenda. Though, you may find that listening to yourself and your needs may well pay greater dividends in time.
By listening to small desires, I can look past habitual behaviours and make choices which are better for me, or see what I can be grateful for already. I have more fun, more lightness. The feeling that I get to live in, when I am more attentive to what I have genuine need of, is so much more rewarding than the feeling of checking an item off a list (oooh baby and you KNOW that does feel good, doesn’t it!).

The feeling of, a small genuine desire fulfilled is a little charge of energy which keeps me company as I set about my business. It helps to put me in touch with where my feet next need to land, and what to give attention to. What’s more is that giving to myself leads to having more energy to share with others, and to care for my family.

I usually leave my posts with an invitation, but today I challenge you to look at what is hanging out quietly in the wacky and abstract world of your consciousness and see what it suggests for you!

Have fun exploring your desires and do come share your experiences with me by posting a comment here or on the Mamajestic Facebook Group.

What kinds of conversations do you have with yourself? What would you like to ask your heart? Do you now think I am a crazy lady?

Let me know!

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Fifty Shades of Green: Surprising Secrets of Snot

 

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Coming to get you…

 

Two years ago, I wrote this post about children, snot, breastfeeding, and immunity. It includes one of the coolest things I ever found out about lactation! As it is somehow the middle of March (what?), I thought a reprise was in order….

….I have come to associate the changing of Autumn to Winter, Winter to Spring with coughs, colds, and mucus. Spring truly is green, and this year has been no exception. As I type, I have my snuffling youngest in my arms, where she recently passed out.

It’s times like this when I ponder the important questions: How can I best look after my children? What do they need me to do? Most of all, why must my kids cover me from head to foot in snot?

If you are a sensitive soul, who dislikes mucus and bogeys (or nose monkeys- my favourite Portuguese expression, ever) my advice is to turn back now. Watch this video to take the bad taste away.

Anyone still reading? Thank you for staying with me. I did a little research to get some answers, and found a few emerald-tinted surprises.

The Fascinating Nature Of Snot

Bearing in mind that Biology is not my specialism, unless you count study at GCSE level, I began by clarifying what snot is and what it is for. Then, buoyed on by curiosity, why there is so damn much of it.

The human body is a rich source of nutrients and water which various pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, seek to colonise for their own ends. Luckily for us, our bodies have lots of clever tricks for preventing these invasions. The stars of the defence line-up are white blood cells, which can engulf and consume pathogens, thus destroying them. Other forms of defence involve the production of substances which harm pathogens like sebum, sweat, or stomach acid. Mucus is a mass of sticky protein produced by mucous membranes which line the natural entrances to the body, such as nose, mouth, genitalia.

When they sense a pathogen attack, mucous membranes make mucus to trap the nasties and prevent them from exploring our bodies for a place to call home. It is unknown why they should produce so much of it in response to cold viruses, but it is thought that they tend to be a bit jumpy and go into overdrive when they sense a threat. In ‘Human Defences’ the movie, the white blood cells would be the most likely of heroes. The mucous membranes would be the supporting characters who mean well, and provide loyal support to the heroic white blood cells, but are given to dithering followed by enthusiastic overcompensatory action.

This explains a lot, but as yet, the reason why I am doomed to be covered all over in green streaks whenever my children catch colds. So I kept reading and thinking.

The Super Cool Link Relationship Between Lactation and Immunity

It is well-documented that when children are breastfed, they receive greater protection from illness:  when babies are exposed to pathogens they share them with their mother through activities like cuddling or drooling, so that her immune system can create antibodies, which are then passed to the infant in her milk. With their immature immune system otherwise handling only so many invaders, this gives the child’s chances of fighting off attacks a big boost. The act of snuggling in for a good wipe also releases oxytocin, which ensures that the breastfeeding relationship remains strong. So far, so good. There’s a description of how this all works on the Dr Sears website.

In an ideal world, this also acts like a sort of vaccine for the mother, as she is exposed to low dose of the virus and creates the correct antibodies before the enemy launches a full attack. Of course, sometimes you do catch stuff from your kids, but a notable number of times, I have been the only family member not to come down with a cold which is doing the rounds. This seems to be truer, the more children we have and the older they get. At the very least, there is the lovely warm oxytocin rush from being encircled by their little arms, before being used as a human hanky, which makes me feel better about it all.

Now, I am aware of a scratchy feeling in my throat and I wonder if I have just jinxed myself, but then I am writing in the space between getting my baby back to sleep at 6.30 am and my kids getting up at 7.30. I am a bit run down and that does make a difference to whether I pick things up. Unfortunately, those pesky pathogens prey on our vulnerabilities.

The breastfeeding factor explains why it is in my baby’s interests to cover me in bogeys and so on. It could also explain the older children’s behaviour: For most of human history, babies have breastfed for at least the first three years of life, which could explain why my older children continue to cover me in goo, even though they each weaned from the breast when they were around a year old. Even our eldest is still only four, and may well still have been a breastfed child, were we living in a more traditional society.

Lactation: An Unexpected Origin Story

The story doesn’t end here though. When I was researching this, I came across a blog post about a hypothesis which suggests that breast-milk evolved first as a function of the immune system, and second as means of feeding young. This is based on what milk contains and how milk production occurs: Milk is full of immunoprotective proteins, which fight bacteria and fungi, and are also present in mucus secretions; the two main nutritional components of breastmilk, fat and sugar, are created by proteins, which are otherwise only associated with immunity; the parts of the body used to control milk-making also trigger inflammation and cause fevers, which is another facet of our defence mechanism. It is an elegant example of how nature likes to streamline processes by which our existence is possible.

Given that the body’s general defence system produces many other slippery substances like sweat, tears, and oils, it is quite plausible that breast-milk was once intended to cover the skin in a protective layer, in both women and men. This being the case, perhaps there is a message from deep within our monkey brains which tells our younglings they should rub themselves up and down on the nearest adult when ill.    

So, I’m left with a feeling of awe over the cleverness of the human body, and a mild queasiness at the thought that breast-milk is really, really similar to snot.

Age Old Medication for Big and Little People

Curiosity satisfied, I can turn to the business of how to look after a snotty family. I read up on evidence for the efficacy of some popular home remedies and found that the best bets were chicken soup and honey. There is a summary of some research on the matter here.

I loved this super-simple, one ingredient chicken soup, by Jack Monroe. Though, my heart truly belongs to chilli and citrus scattered noodle soups like this one. The kids eat it without the chilli and citrus. They can cope with a little kick, but have yet to travel with me up the Scoville scale.  I also love to make this Korean ginger and honey tea. After all, it is nice to know you have centuries of Oriental Medicine behind you, when running round after sick kids and praying you don’t catch the lurgy. I mixed some with some baby oatmeal to make a porridge for the children, and I drank the tea.

I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed researching it! I have chicken on the stove as I type.

I am going to be posting a few old chestnuts, re-purposed and lovingly shone for you, as I have a LOAD of study to get through for my personal development as a pregnancy and maternity coach. Please know that I will be back to share all the amazing new stuff that I find out as a result of my ongoing education! 

Can you recommend a great cold-beating recipe?

What is your snot status (snatus? snotus?)? And how is your snot-based knowledge (snowledge)?

It occurs to me that since I wrote the original text, you may have come across new and interesting research that explores whether breastmilk components might be possible cures for diseases AND the solution to what we do when the antibiotics stop working….

Come share resources, thoughts, and recipes in the Mamajestic Facebook Group!

If you want to talk all things lactation, raise difficulties, discuss doubts, have a chin wag, then do not hesitate to get in touch through Project Happy Milk. Both online and in person appointments are absolutely welcome, as are queries via email (mamajestic1@gmail.com).

Hope everyone is well and you are full of the joys of Spring, whether snot encrusted or otherwise:)

Much love,

Alexis

xxx

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