DEAR JOHN

MUMS AND DAUGH­TERS

Parenting - - Contents -

Mums and daugh­ters - a dad's per­spec­tive

IJohn Cowan on mums and daugh­ters – from a dad's per­spec­tive.

have not had much ex­pe­ri­ence as a woman but I did, in fact, live for two whole months com­pletely as a fe­male. (They were the first eight weeks af­ter my con­cep­tion, when all em­bryos are essen­tially fe­male – then my Y chro­mo­some pulled the trig­ger on some hor­mones that launched my male ca­reer). I ad­mit I can­not re­mem­ber much of that time but I think my mother was very im­por­tant to me, even though I prob­a­bly made her sick.

Pe­tra Bagust and I re­cently ad­dressed a group of mums and daugh­ters about their re­la­tion­ships with each other. Pe­tra was able to speak au­thor­i­ta­tively be­cause she is both a mum and daugh­ter, and I spoke be­cause I sel­dom know when to shut up. The feed­back? Of course they loved Pe­tra, but my per­spec­tive as a dad was ap­pre­ci­ated as well. Here are a few ob­ser­va­tions based on my own home and from dis­cus­sions with other dads.

It’s close – we envy the easy in­ti­macy be­tween mums and daugh­ters. It’s com­plex – at times, that sen­tence above is com­pletely wrong, and the ten­sion just makes us want to go and find some­thing to fix in the garage. The close­ness is easy enough to un­der­stand. The com­plex­ity is more com­plex. (I have such a way with lan­guage). That very close­ness means mums and daugh­ters will know how to ir­ri­tate each other per­fectly! The closer some­one is to you, the more op­por­tu­ni­ties they have to bug you. (An­other ex­am­ple of this is the sur­vey that asked 800 peo­ple who the most an­noy­ing per­son in their world was. The most com­mon an­swer was their spouse, even if they loved them!) When things are sweet with mums and daugh­ters, no love could be bet­ter. But when ir­ri­ta­tions and stress come, they know ex­actly where each other’s but­tons are and how to push them for best ef­fect.

Be­cause so many of the blow-ups hap­pen dur­ing the daugh­ter’s ado­les­cence, it is easy to blame it all on hor­monal moods. Hor­mones are pow­er­ful (look what they did to me at eight weeks ges­ta­tion) and they can def­i­nitely am­plify emo­tions, but I think the real is­sue is of­ten that daugh­ters are want­ing to as­sert, “I am not my mother!” And here is the in­ter­est­ing thing – dads get this! We are wise enough to know we will not un­der­stand very much about the fe­male world, but we are sur­pris­ingly wise to the idea that

IJuliet Small, Prin­ci­pal of Saint Kentigern Girls’ School, shares how we can en­cour­age our kids to see a mis­take not as a fail­ure but as an op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary – a ‘beau­ti­ful oops’.

have a favourite pic­ture book which I love to read to chil­dren as it has such a pos­i­tive and pow­er­ful mes­sage. Bar­ney Saltzberg’s Beau­ti­ful Oops! is it­self a work of art.[ The book

1] shows chil­dren that we can get cre­ative re­sults through re­lax­ing about our mis­takes and ac­tu­ally us­ing what we think are er­rors to cre­ate beau­ti­ful pieces. This three-di­men­sional pic­ture book fo­cuses on cre­ativ­ity and imag­i­na­tion, turn­ing mis­takes into an­i­mals and mys­te­ri­ous shapes. I have read it again re­cently to groups in our school li­brary dur­ing Book Week.

Is your child that per­son who starts draw­ing, makes one lit­tle line and says, “Oh no, that’s not right!” be­fore scrunch­ing the pa­per into a ball and throw­ing it into the rub­bish bin? Does she then try again and throw it in the bin re­peat­edly in frus­tra­tion? In sit­u­a­tions like these, chil­dren need to be en­cour­aged to em­brace any im­per­fec­tions, and be told that they can draw, they can write and they can cre­ate!

Our New Zealand Cur­ricu­lum states that we want our young peo­ple to be, “Cre­ative, en­er­getic and en­ter­pris­ing.”[ The doc­u­ment

2] lists val­ues which are im­por­tant and makes spe­cific ref­er­ence to, “In­no­va­tion, in­quiry and cu­rios­ity, by think­ing crit­i­cally, cre­atively and re­flec­tively.” Sir Ken Robin­son is an English author, speaker and in­ter­na­tional ad­viser on ed­u­ca­tion. He speaks a great deal to ed­u­ca­tion­al­ists about the im­por­tance of cre­ativ­ity in schools. Robin­son says, “Cre­ativ­ity is as im­por­tant in ed­u­ca­tion as lit­er­acy and we should treat it with the same sta­tus.”[

3] As teach­ers and par­ents, we need to cre­ate sit­u­a­tions where we en­cour­age risk-tak­ing. It is es­sen­tial that we demon­strate to chil­dren that mak­ing mis­takes is part of learn­ing.

What can we do to help chil­dren?

As adults we must model hav­ing a go, mak­ing a mis­take, and tak­ing a risk We need to share our feel­ings by ver­bal­is­ing what is go­ing on for us dur­ing frus­trat­ing mo­ments, be­cause it shows our kids that it is nor­mal to get frus­trated and cross with our­selves In fact, we can model work­ing through this frus­tra­tion. Walk away and come back with ‘fresh eyes’ Get some help or ad­vice

guess that I was ac­tu­ally the de­signer. I sewed a skirt pre­cisely to the pat­tern with gor­geous Ital­ian fab­ric. But, on com­ple­tion, the zip stuck out as it was placed on the side in this par­tic­u­lar de­sign. I was so dis­ap­pointed. How­ever, in­stead of loathing it for the mis­take, my sewing teacher en­cour­aged me to cel­e­brate the gar­ment and cre­ate some­thing truly orig­i­nal. She guided me to gather the ma­te­rial at the side, and cre­ated a so­phis­ti­cated ruched, Span­ish look that made the hem asym­met­ri­cal and helped me cre­ate a com­pletely orig­i­nal skirt.

I now wear this skirt with pride, know­ing that I cre­ated a piece that is to­tally unique and su­pe­rior to the first de­sign. By shar­ing my story, I demon­strated not only that I make mis­takes, but ac­tu­ally by be­ing pos­i­tive and view­ing the hap­pen­ing as an op­por­tu­nity, I cre­ated some­thing novel.

If your child is bat­tling with a Science Fair project, think of the in­ven­tion of the pop­si­cle. Some­times the sim­plest idea is the most ef­fec­tive. It doesn’t mat­ter if the re­sult­ing idea is dif­fer­ent to what was first planned. A poem for school may have started out about the beauty of win­ter but ended up be­ing an en­ter­tain­ing ac­count of the time when Dad slid over on the ice.

It doesn’t mat­ter that the out­fit that your child put to­gether for Book Week looks more like ‘Thing One’ and ‘Thing Two’ than her first idea of a char­ac­ter from Harry Pot­ter. If one of the hip hop dancers is away sick on the day that your child’s group is record­ing the video en­try for the school com­pe­ti­tion, help your child to look on the bright side. Maybe the asym­met­ric look of the chore­og­ra­phy will start a new dance craze?

So the next time there are tears over a home­work project be­cause it doesn’t look right or the work didn’t come out as planned, en­cour­age your child to view it as an orig­i­nal piece of work. To use Bar­ney Saltzberg’s phrase, “When you think you have made a mis­take, think of it as an op­por­tu­nity to make some­thing beau­ti­ful.” Juliet Small, Prin­ci­pal of Saint Kentigern Girls’ School sain­tkentigern.com/girls-school

Beau­ti­ful Oops! by Bar­ney Saltzberg. Work­man Pub­lish­ing, New York. nzcur­ricu­lum.tki.org.nz/ The- New Zealand- Cur­ricu­lum Cre­ative Schools by Ken Robin­son. Pen­guin.com. au.

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