Guiding Our Children in a Sexualised Society

Pole dancing kits for girls, high heel shoes for babies, pornography symbols and images on children’s pencil cases and sexually suggestive slogans on children’s clothing. These are some of the more shocking examples of the landslide of sexualisation that is sweeping our children as they helplessly stand in it’s passage.

Sometimes a landslide isn’t always dramatic, landslides often happen as little by little it creeps forward and erosion gradually occurs before a catastrophic result.  There are examples of subtle forms of sexualisation everywhere.  Music videos with suggestive lyrics, dance moves, skimpy clothing, airbrushing in magazines, billboards flashing bare skin and adult content and innuendo in advertising.

The result of our kids being caught in this landslide is grave. Girls who get caught in this sexualised society can have low self esteem, unrealistic body image, anxiety, eating disorders and depression. And that is just the beginning.

Boys can also have these side effects. The other danger is that boys are receiving an inaccurate message that girls are a commodity. We need to raise our young men to value women and not think of them as a sexual service station.

Sexualisation is defined as making something sexual in character or quality, or to become aware of sexuality, especially in relation to men and women.  Thanks to our hyper-sexualised society, adult sexual concepts have crept into children’s worlds. Of course kids are simply not cognitively ready to handle sexual content. Before coming to terms with your sexuality, you first need to be confident in your own self and your own worth. Becoming a secure and balanced person should be the focus during childhood and teenage years. There should not be a pressure to be sexy or sexual.

Wishing for a future with no sexualisation
Wishing for a future with no sexualisation for our children.

Sadly sex is cheapened and it’s value diminished as it becomes a major cog in the wheels of popular culture. So often children growing up in families who are very cautious to what their children are exposed to still receive mixed messages in the sexually saturated society.

So how can we guide our children through this sexually saturated society?

There is a lot to be said for limiting exposure to sexual images and content. I make no apologies for keeping my children sheltered from concepts they are not ready to deal with.  I think it would be naive to think that you can simply shield your child from all the sexual onslaughts that seem to soak every street corner. not to mention the dangers lurking online. (For heavens sake, a child searching for a You Tube clip on Dora can inadvertedly come across a whole heap of “Dora” that would make Boots and Diego blush.) I think it’s important to speak to our children and teach them to be critically aware of issues so they can be on guard and responsible.

Here are some ways:

Watch TV with your children
Yes, this can be a chore. But hey, you may have noticed that parenting is full of chores. ABC 3 isn’t always compelling viewing for an adult or you’d prefer to be catching up on work rather than viewing a music clip. However, as you watch, there is a good chance that you will start noticing hidden messages (or perhaps not so hidden?) that are in these shows that are not part of the values your family upholds. Discuss with your child, (not lecture), the issues which will gently guide their awareness so they are not blindly being indoctrinated. This applies to all forms media and popular culture.

Set Boundaries
Don’t be afraid to not let your child watch certain things. Or wear particular clothing. Or listen to inappropriate music. Explain to your child why you have set those boundaries and communicate that you make these boundaries because you love them. If they’re not feeling the love. Remain strong. The love will catch up to them someday!

Role Model
Mothers be careful about what you are communicating to children through your actions. Don’t obsess about your weight and image in front of your children. Eat healthily with them and resist the urge to do fad diets. Fathers treating your family, and women in general, with dignity and respect is a particularly strong role model for your kids. A Father’s positive words and actions have enormous influence on his daughter and his behaviour is a guide for a son’s attitude toward women.

Challenge the Status Quo
Don’t just protect your own family from our sexualised society. Speak out for the benefit of your own children and those voiceless children who are suffering from the side effects of this sexual pollution. Sign petitions, write letters of objection, speak out against sexualisation or post links to articles on social media. Join websites such as Collective Shout and become aware and engaged in the fight for purifying our culture. The challenge may seem insurmountable, but little by little our collective voices can make a change!

The Australian Psychological Society has more detail on helping girls have a healthy self image.

Let’s call our families and our society to a higher level. Remember, the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

This is another post in the series I am doing for my friend Letitia. She is cycling 40km in 40 days Cycling Challenge and seeking to raise awareness about women’s issues for her 40th birthday. Tish speaks on this video about sexualisation.

I did a double take when I saw the shirt she was wearing at first! I get so mad when I see blokes wearing shirts like that. How dare they expose my children to soft porn. How.Dare.They. I hope Tish burned the shirt when she was finished with it. It did help her make a good point though.

Fighting for Our Daughters Ride | Week 3 from Toowoomba City Church on Vimeo.

If you want to support Letitia and make a donation, head to City Women and follow the links.

Has the sexualisation of our society ever made you mad? What limits do you set in your family to protect your children?

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Christian Books and Craft Activities for Easter

For Christians, Easter is one of the most significant events in the Christian calendar. I love teaching my children the Biblical Easter story each year. This year we have been reading a collection of books from Koorong* and have followed up the story with craft activities. All our craft activities have been simple. (Hello! Three 3 year olds make simple projects challenging anyway!) We have done stickers into scrapbooks and coloured in and painted with their watercolour palates this week, but my favourite activity of the week was doing these Resurrection tombs with a paper plate, paint, push pins and colouring-in. (You can add some paddle pop stick crosses to the top also, but I found this was enough with four children 4 and under!)

Easter Resurrection Craft

There are instructions and the printable here. Their example was quite obviously not completed by a three year old! My nephew also joined us doing this activity and he thought it was a lot of fun also.

easter craft

Lining the children up to read a story first felt like I was in a classroom! Mind you, this lot had reduced attention spans compared to school children! (And my students didn’t get away with using a footrest)  It may have taken a few prompts and some dramatised reading, but “The Easter Story” (Candle Books) did manage to keep their attention until the end.

Reading an Easter story to children

The Easter Story (Candle Books) – $2.99

The Easter Story by Candle Books

The bright illustrations also helped catch the children’s interest. Taken from Candle Bible for Kids the story closely follows the Biblical account only with age appropriate language. It is probably best suited for primary aged children, being suitable both as a read aloud or as a readable text depending on ability level.

The Very First Easter (The Beginners Bible) – $2.99

Father reading Easter story

This story was more suitable for pre-school and lower primary children. There was bright, highly animated (and fun) illustrations, simple language and not too long. At the beginning of each passage scripture references were given so you would be able to examine the story with your child in the Bible if you wished. My children enjoyed reading this book with Daddy.

The Easter Story (Antonia Jackson & Giuliano Ferri) – $9.99

The Easter Story Jackson and Ferri

Another Biblical account of the Easter story recounting from Palm Sunday, the crucifixion and resurrection. This book has particularly beautiful illustrations. The type of illustrations children tend to linger over and examine intently.

Easter – Bible Comic (Scripture Union) $3.99

Easter Comic Book

This has been my 8 year old son’s favourite book this year. I always get so excited when he is inspired to read independently. Comics are a great way to get children inspired to read, especially boys. Once again this is a highly Biblical account of the Easter story, only this time retold in comic strips. References are given to the corresponding story in the Bible so the children can go and read it for themselves in the Bible.

Easter comic book

 

Included is also Easter facts, a word search, quiz, and an explanation of what Easter is all about. It is actually a really great little book to include in a child’s basket on Easter morning or would be great to give away to family, friends or neighbours. After all, what child doesn’t like a comic?

Easter Sticker Book – $5.99

Easter Sticker Book

Stickers always cause children a great deal of excitement, so an Easter sticker book is a bit exciting!

Triplets and Easter Sticker book

The story is well written and long enough for children to listen to it, but not to long that they get impatient to start sticking! (Mostly!) I sat down and did this with the triplets who were very engaged. We will need to complete it over a few sittings I think since three year olds tend to fight a lot and although it was a good exercise in patience (they each had to wait for their turn to stick a sticker in), there’s only so much that can be expected of a three year old before it gets to distressing that “he put the grasshopper on the rock and I wanted to” or “I want to put the wine on the table like we have at church”, etc, etc.

placing stickers in easter sticker book

One more week until Easter and our household is certainly gearing up for the big event! Thanks to Koorong for their help preparing the children for the big day! I love that all these books follow the Easter story closely to the Biblical account and are so affordable. If you check out Koorong’s website they have all these books plus a huge range of Easter books for children as well as adults. Definitely a great chocolate alternative accompaniment.

Are you doing anything with your family in the lead up to Easter? Do you have any favourite Easter books?

 

*Thanks also to Koorong for gifting these books to us. This is not a sponsored post and my opinions are my own. Plus, the pictures speak for themselves that my children truly enjoyed the stories!

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Domestic Violence

I knew domestic violence is a large problem in our society. Until I read these statistic, I did not realise how large.

Every week, on average, in Australia, more than one woman is murdered by her present or former partner.

Family violence is now the leading cause of death and injury for women under 45, and a staggering one-in-three women experience violence by a former or present intimate partner.

It is a national problem that accounts for 40% of police time, costs the national economy $14 billion each year and affects more than one million children.(Green Left Weekly)

That’s not just large. That’s gargantuan.

I know from speaking to police officers who are friends over the years that this is one of the largest parts of their job. Every night, women just like me are being battered.

The Salvation Army in South Africa recently released a highly effective campaign speaking out against domestic violence capitalising on the hype surrounding the viral black and gold/blue and black dress. By the by, I thought it was gold and lilac, but in this picture, you can’t ignore the black and blue.

White Dress stands against domestic violence

 

Today my thoughts are for the girls that Tish is cycling 40 days for.

Children are also the innocent victims of domestic violence. In 2006 UNICEF estimated that in between 133 million – 275 million children witness domestic violence. MILLIONS. Yes, I’m shouting. This is an epidemic. We need to raise our voices in horror.

These children constantly exposed to domestic violence are being abused themselves. Even if a hand has not be laid on them. The psychological impact of growing up in this environment is understandably long.

Domestic Violence Effecting Children

This list is not exhaustive. They are more likely to be involved in conflict with peers and participate in substance abuse. They are more likely to have eating disorders, leave school early and commit suicide. Perhaps most worrying of all is that children who grow up with frequent exposure to domestic violence are more likely to repeat the cycle. Boys in particular are more likely to repeat the cycle of violence and be approving of violence. Girls are more likely to choose abusive partners become victims when they are adults.

The thing with women’s issues, is they are not only women’s issues. They are men’s issues also. They are societies issues. With issues such as domestic violence it is so often a case of damaged men damaging women.

For me, sitting in my white middle class home, it’s easy to be complacent. To pat myself on the back that I am bringing children up that will not commit domestic violence. Apart from the fact that it’s dumb to be complacent, this is MY problem. I am not OK with that domestic violence is so prevalent in our society. I am not OK with this issue being so widespread. I’m not OK with it draining justice, medical and police resources. I do not like the economic costs it has on our society with lack of productivity and unemployment. I am not OK with the amount of damaged people that are trying to recover from abuse.

This is a problem we need to address as a society. To address an issue this large takes individuals tackling one issue at a time. Every time we stand up against this issue we are fighting back. For myself, the statistics I shared at the beginning of this post is enough for my radar to be tuned in for opportunities that I may help. At this stage my contribution may be small, but small is never insignificant. Especially when collectively we all start making small differences.

Are you in?

Were you aware of the prominence of domestic violence in our society? Got any solutions?

 

PS. One way you can start making a difference in donating to Tish’s 40 km for 40 days ride. Tish directly works with girls who are affected by domestic violence.

 

Linking with Essentially Jess for IBOT.

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Preventing Marriage Breakdown in Families With Multiples

Preventing Marriage Breakdowns when parenting twins or triplets

It is Multiple Birth Awareness Week this week from March 8-15, 2015. This week celebrates the joy of having twins, triplets and other higher order multiples and also seeks to increase awareness of the unique challenges when raising children for families with multiples. Because I was speaking about family breakdown yesterday, I thought that I would continue this theme today because one common challenge for parents of twins and triplets is a strain on their marriage.

I really do believe that having twins and triplets is twice, thrice, (or more!) as much love. However, the same applies to the workload that is suddenly thrust you. So many nappies, bottles, washing to be added to the normal household responsibilities. Combine that with a dramatic decrease in sleep and often an increased strain on the budget. After all, as well as doubling all the normal baby costs the rapid influx of children in a family often requires larger accommodation and transport requirements. This financial strain is often extenuated if there has been a high risk pregnancy where the income of the mother may have abruptly stopped before planned.

It’s no wonder why there is a higher rate of divorce for parents of twins compared to other families with a new baby.

To be honest, I always found having a newborn to be a difficult time in our marriage. On the one hand you are celebrating this new life together and are united in such a deep love for that little person. On the other hand you are SLEEP DEPRIVED and hormonal and stressed and exhausted. No doubt about it, the intensity was insane when the triplets were newborns.

Yet, one of my most precious memories during that newborn period was in the early hours of the morning. Alex and I were feeling completely smashed. We had been bickering with one another the past few days (maybe longer) and I was feeling completely emotionally depleted to deal with any more antagonism with one another. We sat opposite one another, me crying and breastfeeding two babies, and Alex not so patiently waiting with the third wailing child, deep rings under his eyes and the pressure of having to be a professional and function in a job the next day that demands high concentration.

All of a sudden we began to talk to one another. We stopped blaming each other for everything going wrong and started understanding one another’s perspective. It started with acknowledging that yes, having triplets was plain hard work and there was no easy way around it and it was a stage we just had to endure. But then the lights just started to illuminate to me as Alex explained that he was feeling impatient because we had a plan of how to do things before we had the triplets and he was prepared to execute that plan, but all of a sudden we weren’t going by the plan anymore. I suddenly understood why he was being snappy with me, it was because he wanted to help and was feeling helpless instead. I could then explain why I had abandoned some of the plans. (Primarily because planning for triplets is tricky when you don’t know what it’s going to be like and at that point in time I had never received any advice from another triplet mother.) And so at 2am in the morning we formulated a new plan and resolved to be supportive of one another. It was one of those turning points in our marriage for me. Our communication was already strong, but it reached a new level of mutual respect and resolve to understand one another’s perspectives.

The next three years have continued to be difficult, but we are committed to putting safe guards in our marriage to ensure it stays divorce proof. Here are what I would consider the three top actions that have helped us survive and remain happily married as parents of multiples.

  • Roll up sleeves and get hands dirty. Work together as a team to do the jobs.
    Husband’s, we know you work hard all day. We appreciate all that you do. However, we are working hard all day too. (Whether it’s in the home or in the workplace) Parenting doesn’t finish at 5:30. It would be lovely to clock off sometimes, but it’s just not possible. Children need to be fed, dirty faces washed, teeth cleaned, stories read and bottoms wiped. Get into a routine of sharing the duties. My husband is wonderful. He is brilliant at loading and unloading the dishwasher. It’s a chore that is so helpful and when he doesn’t do it, I really struggle trying to find the time to fit it in. Alex also brushes the kids teeth and reads them stories at night and gives the children breakfast in the mornings. We’re a team.
  • Find ways to enjoy one another’s company.
    Alex and I love dates. We love to leave the home and just be “us”. Movies, dinner, a getaway. We just relish those times. Dates are not always possible though. Finding a babysitter can be extra hard when you have multiples. We had very few nights alone in the triplet’s first year. Apart from that, it was just too hard to go out at night when there were three babies at home, especially when those babies had reflux and would normally spend several hours screaming before settling down for interrupted nights sleep. But we still found opportunities to enjoy one another. We didn’t consciously do a ‘date at home’ type of thing, although that may have worked had we thought of it. We just made an effort to slow down and took small opportunities to enjoy one another. Sometimes that was simply collapsing on the couch, turning off the TV and me lying down with my feet in his lap and we would talk. Other times the TV was on and we would watching a movie together, or we would have a baby (or three) cuddled in and we would sit there companionably and watch our favourite show, “The Amazing Race”. Grand gesture or simple things, remember you are only parents because first you were (and are!) a couple. Slow down enough to enjoy one another. Keep the connections that made you fall in love with one another strong.
  • Communication
    One of my favourite times of the day is when Alex gets home from work and I’m finishing off dinner while the kids are somewhere else in the house and we just talk, talk, talk in the kitchen. We talk about our respective days events and our feelings about what had gone on and then whatever else.
    Another important aspect about communication has been talking with one another if we’re feeling there is a problem. It’s much easier to explain how we’re feeling while the issue is still small so we can deal with it. If we are snappy at each other, when things are cooled down, we will try to deal with the root issue rather than letting it ferment. That way we can dismiss the superficial issue we fought over and our relationship stays strong.

I asked some other triplet Mums about their marriages and this is what they said.

Roxanne: In the early stages we worked together as a team as we had next to no support available. Being confident that we were on the same page with tasks meant we could each take turns going out alone to do jobs and have some breathing space. This helped keep us sane. We have struggled with our relationship especially as the physical care demands have decreased and the more mental and emotional demands with the kids have increased. We get through it by talking issues through or recently where we sought professional help and after the first session we both agreed the person was not for us, we committed ourselves to working harder as a team but respecting our individual needs.

Samantha: We talk and spend time with the kids. I found it hard not having family close to me and trying to juggle 3 newborns and 2 older kids.  My partner is a truck driver and not often home to help with the kids but our marriage had been good all around. But I would not change anything for my kids.

Paulette: After having multiples the marriage seems to take a back seat, it’s rare to find someone who would mind all three so you & hubby could go out… And even less when 2 out of 3 have Autism. We generally feel pretty tired especially when they were younger. And that’s about that really!

Clare: Not long after my triplets were born a friend told me that “Your children are your first responsibility and your marriage is your first priority”.  That advice really helped my husband and I to keep our perspective right. I think the consuming nature of raising multiples means that everyone involved gets squeezed to capacity all the time and the ‘dregs’ are what the spouse receives. Keeping this in check with open communication and making time out for each other we found really vital to surviving and thriving. I’m blessed with a great husband who helps me in all sorts of ways. I’ve found it really important to have the emotional support from him too. We’re there to pick each other up and keep on encouraging. We are both committed too. Like minded in realizing that we want to care for each other and thereby care for the children well.

It’s so easy to take one another for granted during the busyness of life with multiples in the family. When we consciously remember our partners and work on our relationship it might be difficult at first but in the long run it makes life easier, more fun and more beautiful. Sometimes the best way to love our children is to first love one another.

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Family Breakdown – Fighting For Our Daughters Ride

My friend Letitia, inspired by her work with teenage girls is celebrating her 40th birthday in an unusual way. Last week I explained how she is cycling 40kms for 40 days in a Fighting for our Daughters Ride. Each week she is focussing on an issue that she has personally seen having a negative impact on the lives of young teen girls. She is hoping that during this ride she will raise funds that will allow City Women to continue working with women and girls, creating a more positive environment and a brighter future for them. City Women does this through a variety of programs such as The Gap – a transitional house for young women that have experienced a troubled past to help them learn life skills, experience and confidence to live life purposefully. Or there is the 8-10 week Bella Girl Program designed to teach girls within school and educate them on their beauty, value and purpose. It covers such topics as, “The Value of a Girl”, “Healthy Thinking”, “Friendships”, “The Power of Music” and more.

On Monday Tish started riding!

Letitia Shelton

This week she is wanting to bring awareness to issues surrounding family breakdown.

FFOD Week 1

Let me preface this discussion by saying I do not condemn those raising children out of marriage or in single parent families. I wish you every success, for your own and your children’s sake, in defying the odds and producing well rounded healthy children within your family.

However I also want to encourage those who are raising children within a marriage to persist through the inevitable hardships for the sake of the child.

Family separation is linked to lower achievement in school, higher crime, lower personal income and employment. The impact of divorce shows that children from broken homes are twice as likely to have problems compared to children whose parents remain in a reasonably intact marriage. Younger children are more likely to experience mental health problems, have poorer self-control and lower reading skills. Teenagers are more at risk of psychiatric symptoms, impulsiveness, early sexual activity, substance abuse, delinquency and poor educational achievement.

Bettina Arndt writes a compelling argument on why a bad marriage may be better than a good divorce. Nobody wants to remain in a position where they are miserable, however we must think of a child’s needs before our own. I know this is a very controversial thing to say in this day and age. Research has shown that children who had parents in a marriage with mild to moderate conflict were half as likely to need psychological help as children whose parents divorced, separated or remarried. In fact another study shows that many children from divorced homes didn’t even realise there was conflict in the marriage until after divorce. Children are often scarred psychologically being exposed to a high level of conflict between parents, and are better off being removed from a situation of intense and sustained conflict within marriage. The reality is that divorce often will increases the conflict and the child has no release. For the child, it is often a double edged sword.

Research such as this helps me resolve that divorce is not an option for Alex and I. The truth is, sometimes marriage really sucks. Sometimes you feel like you are in a hole with nowhere to go and it’s really not worth it. When you look at the evidence though, you realise that persisting through the conflict really is worth it. Often the determination to stay in a marriage automatically reduces the conflict. If you are not opting out, you are working to reduce the conflict to make it more bearable for everyone, yourself included. By doing so, you actually end up improving the marriage. Keeping honest and open communication without blame and accusation helps Alex and I move beyond our own agenda and work on our marriage not only our own sake, but also for the well being of our children.

It is equally concerning that the children who don’t witness conflict between parents because they grow up without a father. This is equally concerning as these children and teens are subject to a host of negative side effects, including feelings of inadequacy and lack of self confidence, increased aggression and higher tendency to resort to substance abuse.

As a society we must never devalue the extremely important role father’s play in moulding well adjusted children who become upstanding members of our society. A father has an impact on a child’s life in a way that is completely different to a mother. I was interested to discover that a Melbourne University study of 212 children found that fathers, even more than mothers, had a major beneficial influence on children in their first year of school. The study found that kids with regular father involvement were more cooperative and self-reliant in school than kids who did not have a fathers involvement. The more regular involvement the father has with the child, the study’s author said, the better the child does in his or her first year of school.

It makes me grateful for the role that Alex plays in our children’s lives. He is such an interested Dad. Alex loves to turn up to school events and is constantly on the sidelines for sporting activities. On weekends he normally is always shadowed by several children as he does odd jobs around the yard, and giving rides on the mower and motorbikes is a consistent Saturday highlight. It’s often the simple things, and just involving children in things that you already love, but it creates security and gives children the unmistaken message that they are loved.

DSC_0968

Sadly there are so many children who do not feel such simple gestures of love. Almost 20,000 Australian children are living in foster care, removed from their biological parents for their own safety, and as the number of children in need of foster care rises, the number of carers is dwindling.   The long term prospects for many of the children are not good, with high rates of imprisonment and homelessness, and poor education outcomes. Through issues like family violence, mental health, substance misuse, particularly alcohol misuse, we have many more families struggling to meet the needs of their children and many more children needing to be removed from their families and placed in care.

There are some adults who by the age of 20 have lived in 20 placements. That’s 20 families to live with and often every change requires a change of school. Why do we wonder when those children are more likely to be homeless, more likely to be illiterate, more likely to be in juvenile justice and more likely to have had a baby at 13 or 14 themselves when they’ve never attached, they’ve never known trust because they keep being moved?

Letitia regularly comes in contact with these girls. I remember her recently telling me how she came into a school to do the Bella Girl program and was chatting afterwards to a young girl who had abruptly been put in foster care. The girl was wearing clothes several sizes too large for her and was searching through the schools lost property to see if she could find something that she could wear that was closer to her size because she wasn’t able to go home and get any of her own clothes and possessions.

Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own little middle class life that we are oblivious to the amount of pain out there of children growing up in broken families and living fatherless lives. When I hear stories such as this, it inspires me to give to organisations that assist children to grow into adults that still feel valued and hear the message that they are important, despite their personal circumstances. I mostly can’t give my time right now at this stage of my life, however, when possible, even if it’s in small ways, we like to at least make financial contributions to help. The other way I feel that we can make a change to this epidemic of broken families, is to be committed to raising our own children in a loving home environment. I think it’s important to also raise children with awareness of other’s plights so that my children not only have an understanding of how fortunate they are, but also are filled with compassion for others. I hope that one day they can also be a part of the solution to this and so many other issues in the world.

What concerns do you have with eroding family values? What do you do to counter this problem?

If you would like to support Letitia during her 40 day Fighting for our Daughters ride, please donate here.

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Family Breakdown – Fighting For Our Daughters Ride

My friend Letitia, inspired by her work with teenage girls is celebrating her 40th birthday in an unusual way. Last week I explained how she is cycling 40kms for 40 days in a Fighting for our Daughters Ride. Each week she is focussing on an issue that she has personally seen having a negative impact on the lives of young teen girls. She is hoping that during this ride she will raise funds that will allow City Women to continue working with women and girls, creating a more positive environment and a brighter future for them. City Women does this through a variety of programs such as The Gap – a transitional house for young women that have experienced a troubled past to help them learn life skills, experience and confidence to live life purposefully. Or there is the 8-10 week Bella Girl Program designed to teach girls within school and educate them on their beauty, value and purpose. It covers such topics as, “The Value of a Girl”, “Healthy Thinking”, “Friendships”, “The Power of Music” and more.

On Monday Tish started riding!

Letitia Shelton

This week she is wanting to bring awareness to issues surrounding family breakdown.

FFOD Week 1

Let me preface this discussion by saying I do not condemn those raising children out of marriage or in single parent families. I wish you every success, for your own and your children’s sake, in defying the odds and producing well rounded healthy children within your family.

However I also want to encourage those who are raising children within a marriage to persist through the inevitable hardships for the sake of the child.

Family separation is linked to lower achievement in school, higher crime, lower personal income and employment. The impact of divorce shows that children from broken homes are twice as likely to have problems compared to children whose parents remain in a reasonably intact marriage. Younger children are more likely to experience mental health problems, have poorer self-control and lower reading skills. Teenagers are more at risk of psychiatric symptoms, impulsiveness, early sexual activity, substance abuse, delinquency and poor educational achievement.

Bettina Arndt writes a compelling argument on why a bad marriage may be better than a good divorce. Nobody wants to remain in a position where they are miserable, however we must think of a child’s needs before our own. I know this is a very controversial thing to say in this day and age. Research has shown that children who had parents in a marriage with mild to moderate conflict were half as likely to need psychological help as children whose parents divorced, separated or remarried. In fact another study shows that many children from divorced homes didn’t even realise there was conflict in the marriage until after divorce. Children are often scarred psychologically being exposed to a high level of conflict between parents, and are better off being removed from a situation of intense and sustained conflict within marriage. The reality is that divorce often will increases the conflict and the child has no release. For the child, it is often a double edged sword.

Research such as this helps me resolve that divorce is not an option for Alex and I. The truth is, sometimes marriage really sucks. Sometimes you feel like you are in a hole with nowhere to go and it’s really not worth it. When you look at the evidence though, you realise that persisting through the conflict really is worth it. Often the determination to stay in a marriage automatically reduces the conflict. If you are not opting out, you are working to reduce the conflict to make it more bearable for everyone, yourself included. By doing so, you actually end up improving the marriage. Keeping honest and open communication without blame and accusation helps Alex and I move beyond our own agenda and work on our marriage not only our own sake, but also for the well being of our children.

It is equally concerning that the children who don’t witness conflict between parents because they grow up without a father. This is equally concerning as these children and teens are subject to a host of negative side effects, including feelings of inadequacy and lack of self confidence, increased aggression and higher tendency to resort to substance abuse.

As a society we must never devalue the extremely important role father’s play in moulding well adjusted children who become upstanding members of our society. A father has an impact on a child’s life in a way that is completely different to a mother. I was interested to discover that a Melbourne University study of 212 children found that fathers, even more than mothers, had a major beneficial influence on children in their first year of school. The study found that kids with regular father involvement were more cooperative and self-reliant in school than kids who did not have a fathers involvement. The more regular involvement the father has with the child, the study’s author said, the better the child does in his or her first year of school.

It makes me grateful for the role that Alex plays in our children’s lives. He is such an interested Dad. Alex loves to turn up to school events and is constantly on the sidelines for sporting activities. On weekends he normally is always shadowed by several children as he does odd jobs around the yard, and giving rides on the mower and motorbikes is a consistent Saturday highlight. It’s often the simple things, and just involving children in things that you already love, but it creates security and gives children the unmistaken message that they are loved.

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Sadly there are so many children who do not feel such simple gestures of love. Almost 20,000 Australian children are living in foster care, removed from their biological parents for their own safety, and as the number of children in need of foster care rises, the number of carers is dwindling.   The long term prospects for many of the children are not good, with high rates of imprisonment and homelessness, and poor education outcomes. Through issues like family violence, mental health, substance misuse, particularly alcohol misuse, we have many more families struggling to meet the needs of their children and many more children needing to be removed from their families and placed in care.

There are some adults who by the age of 20 have lived in 20 placements. That’s 20 families to live with and often every change requires a change of school. Why do we wonder when those children are more likely to be homeless, more likely to be illiterate, more likely to be in juvenile justice and more likely to have had a baby at 13 or 14 themselves when they’ve never attached, they’ve never known trust because they keep being moved?

Letitia regularly comes in contact with these girls. I remember her recently telling me how she came into a school to do the Bella Girl program and was chatting afterwards to a young girl who had abruptly been put in foster care. The girl was wearing clothes several sizes too large for her and was searching through the schools lost property to see if she could find something that she could wear that was closer to her size because she wasn’t able to go home and get any of her own clothes and possessions.

Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own little middle class life that we are oblivious to the amount of pain out there of children growing up in broken families and living fatherless lives. When I hear stories such as this, it inspires me to give to organisations that assist children to grow into adults that still feel valued and hear the message that they are important, despite their personal circumstances. I mostly can’t give my time right now at this stage of my life, however, when possible, even if it’s in small ways, we like to at least make financial contributions to help. The other way I feel that we can make a change to this epidemic of broken families, is to be committed to raising our own children in a loving home environment. I think it’s important to also raise children with awareness of other’s plights so that my children not only have an understanding of how fortunate they are, but also are filled with compassion for others. I hope that one day they can also be a part of the solution to this and so many other issues in the world.

What concerns do you have with eroding family values? What do you do to counter this problem?

If you would like to support Letitia during her 40 day Fighting for our Daughters ride, please donate here.

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Soul Searching Sunday – Happiness for Eternity

Soul Searching Sunday

Last week I started a new series entitled “Soul Searching Sunday” and we first examined Ecclesiastes 7:14. While I was leafing through Ecclesiastes I was reminded just how much I love this book of the Bible. It is written by an old man who feels he hasn’t relied on God fully and therefore his life has become meaningless. With the benefit of age this old man is able to indulge in philosophical and theological reflections and make the accusation that life without God is meaningless and lacks purpose.

I just love the honesty and candour in this book of the Bible. I feel the book is very conversational. I can imagine an old man who is opinionated and passionate speaking many of the passages to a small group of people. Perhaps he is trying to inject some purpose and passion into the lives of his children and grandchildren with the noble ambition of helping them avoid some of the mistakes that he has made in their lives. Whatever motivated the writing of this soliloquy, I personally gather strength from reading the words in this book. It makes me want to go out and laugh, have a good meal accompanied by a nice wine with friends and family during the good times and it encourages me to rely on God and his strength during the difficult times.

I thought I would share another scripture from Ecclesiastes today that encouraged me recently. It’s beautiful and poignant.

What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.
Ecclesiastes 3:9-14

I love it that God notices our hard work and efforts. I also like that in Ecclesiastes it doesn’t dismiss work as easy or to just get over it. It calls it toil, it acknowledges the effort and often difficulties that are required when working.

My favourite phrase in this passage is, “He sets eternity in the hearts of men”. It makes me think of Arthur Stace in Sydney – Mr. Eternity.

I first heard the story of Mr. Eternity. after the word “Eternity” was emblazoned across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the year 2000. Soon after, it didn’t take long to hear the inspiring story which was well known already within Sydney.

Eternity - Sydney Harbour Bridge
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Arthur Stace was born in 1884 and grew up in the Balmain slums, living a life of poverty with drunken parents and family members. He was virtually uneducated and started working at age 14 but was already to experience the first of many jailhouse stays at age 15. In his early 20’s he worked carting liquor as well as other jobs in his sister’s Surry Hills brothels. Following the example he had been exposed to growing up, he was a hopeless drunk himself, especially upon returning from France gassed and almost blind in one eye after World War 1. After another appearance in court, and feeling challenged by a judge to change his behaviour, Stacey went to a soup kitchen during the Depression years and was impressed with the quality of the people serving the vast amount of down and out men. It led to him deciding that he wanted to experience the same thing and he left the building and went across the road to a park where he kneeled and asked Jesus to become his Lord and Saviour.

The transformation of this hopeless meth drinking drunkard was phenomenal. He finally gave up drinking. He obtained a job. He became an active member of a church.

One night he was listening to an evangelist, the Reverend John Ridley. The preacher proclaimed, “I wish I could shout Eternity through the streets of Sydney.” Ridley kept shouting, “ETERNITY, ETERNITY”. It had such an impact on Arthur Stace that he later recollected, “His words {Eternity} were ringing through my brain as I left the church. Suddenly I began crying and I felt a powerful call from the Lord to write ‘ETERNITY’. I had a piece of chalk in my pocket and I bent down there and wrote it. The funny thing is that before I wrote I could hardly have spelled my own name. I had no schooling and I couldn’t have spelt Eternity for a hundred quid. But it came out smoothly in beautiful copperplate script. I couldn’t understand it and I still can’t.”

For 37 years Arthur Stace would write this one word on the streets of Sydney. Over half a million times Stace would declare his one word sermon in his unique evangelical style. At first he wrote it in chalk, but later he changed to crayon because it lasted longer in the weather. He was almost arrested 24 times, but Stace claimed he had permission from a higher power. Committed to his mission, Stace would wake at 4am, pray for an hour before leaving home to the Sydney suburb he felt God had told him to go that day.

The appearance of the word Eternity around train stations, walls and pavements was a mystery to the people of Sydney. For many years no one knew who “Mr. Eternity” was. There was speculation in the paper and some who even claimed to be the writers. The real truth was revealed when a minister noticed his church cleaner write the word Eternity when no one was looking. The Minister asked if he were Mr. Eternity. Stace replied, “Guilty your honour.”

Arthur Stace

I find this story so inspiring. God can use everyone of us, no matter if you are illiterate and have an awful past. Who would think that such a simple thing such as writing one word repeatedly would make such an impact that 70 years later that wonderful word would illuminate the city’s most well known landmark in spectacular fashion before millions of spectators?

Back to Ecclesiastes. When I consider that simple word Eternity in that context, it makes me determined to live my life full of purpose, just as Arthur Stace did.  To find happiness in my life here on earth. To enjoy not only what I eat and drink, (and enjoy this I do! I’m thinking particularly of the Wagyu steak and pear cider which was the highlight of my culinary week this week) but also to find satisfaction in the work I do, whether it be paid employment or the myriads of tasks I do every day so that my household functions and the task of raising my children.

It’s not easy. Life is not easy. But when you have an eternal calling, everything becomes meaningful. An eternal calling makes you bold to live a life worthy of the God who created us as eternal beings. We don’t know what God has in store for us. It’s not all going to be rainbows and sunshine. There may be storms and blackness and dark holes.

In its time God makes all things beautiful. This assurance can bring such happiness to life.

 

You can find a more detailed story of Arthur Stace’s life story here.

 

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Ride for Our Daughters – My Friend Letitia

Let me tell you about my friend Letitia. Of all the women on the planet, she is one of the ones I most admire.

Letitia Shelton with friends
Letitia and I with a mutual friend last year.

Letitia has invested her life to helping girls, although in reality, it’s far more than girls, because she doesn’t forget the girls have mothers, so she invests into female generations.  But I think Tish’s biggest passion is to reach teenage girls. She loves them unconditionally and teaches them messages that they haven’t heard and values they have not been taught. It’s amazing in this day and age how many girls are trying to grow up as a complete person, yet have never been told they are valuable. Talk to Letitia and you will hear story after story of girls whose parents have told them they are worthless. Who live in the fear of domestic violence. Girls who look to the media for validation yet gain a warped perception of what they aren’t and are compelled to lower standards ever further to become what they are not. The girls try to cope but they are often sucked into a cycle of depression or eating disorder or have to deal with teen pregnancy.

Tish realises she cannot solve this problem on her own so has set up an organisation called City Women. Women from all over our city join a wide group of organisations all with the common aim of bringing good to our community. Communities rely on families and so much of what Tish does is building individuals and investing into families.

I went to school with Tish. I first met her in year 3. Tish is very sporty. I am not. In primary school we didn’t really mix in the same circles, even though our school was very small. She played sport with the older girls. I played make believe games with my age group and younger. It was in High School that I really started getting to know her. This was cemented during our youth group days and various missions trips to Fiji and The Philippines.

Letitia Shelton and Caitlin in The Philippines.
Letitia and I in the Philippines in 1994.

Tish and I turn 40 this year. While I have a vague idea in the back of my mind of a garden tea party, Tish has decided to do something amazing. She is riding her bike 40km for 40 days for her girls. Our girls. The girls that are our collective future. Each week she is focussing on a particular issue that effects women in our society. I have agreed to blog about these issues each week to raise awareness.

Ride for Our Daughters Letitia Shelton

Tish is hoping that people will donate $40 towards her ride for our daughters. If you would like to contribute to changing our society. Please click on the links to donate.

What problems do you see with teenage girls that are growing up in our society?

Linking with IBOT and Essentially Jess.

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Curly Girly

When Scholastic gifted me the beautiful book, “Curly Girly” there was one little girl I thought of instantly. Imogen enjoyed the story and we had a lovely discussion with loving the body you have, but considering she has lovely wispy straight hair, I thought the book needed to be read by a curly girl as well. So I gave the book to my friend Lacey and she has graciously written a review of the story below.

 

A common tableau happens in our home and I’m positive it’s unique to my family alone. It looks a little like this. Child x wanders into child y’s bedroom, and absentmindedly picks up a toy that hasn’t been played with in months. Child y, who was happily engrossed in Peppa Pig, begins to whine/sulk/pout/scream/convulse because, “She’s playing with my favourite toy! I want it! It’s mine. GIVE THAT BACK!”.

Just us, right?

A problem common to humanity: wanting what we cannot have, and cultivating contentment within myself and my children can be a battle at times. And perhaps one of the biggest battle grounds for females comes in the matter of our personal appearance. The skinny long for curves, the short long for height and …. the curly haired long for straight locks. I happen to hear this particular sentiment rather often, as my eldest child has rather striking curly hair.

Curly toddler

I adore these curls.They seem to personify my daughter’s personality and zest for life. She, however, often tells me she wants straight hair and is always incredibly tearful at the process of washing, conditioning, combing and styling it. So when Caitlin passed along “Curly Girly” for us to read together, I was really pleased. The story is told in a lighthearted and comical manner, of a girl named Sophie whose curly hair drives her a little bit batty. After dealing with the maintenance and care of curly hair, I can see why that might be the case! And, like most people with curly hair, Sophie wishes she could be more like her best friend Claire, “who had lovely long, straight hair.” The pair experiment with various ridiculous methods for straightening Sophie’s hair, before Sophie gives up and decides to embrace her curly style with good grace.

Reading Curly Girly

We loved reading this book together. It’s always fantastic when you find a story that your kids relate to on a personal level, and as we have plenty of tears and tantrums over hair brushing or taming, this fits the bill. The book is written in bouncing rhyme, and was just long enough without my two year old losing interest. My four year old with the gorgeous curls enjoyed the pictures, particularly the styling of Sophie’s outstanding hair. I loved the message of learning to embrace your unique qualities and think it’s a particularly pertinent message for all young girls, whether they relate to the “curly hair” storyline or something else. Some of us will spend a lifetime struggling to appreciate our own gorgeous selves, so it makes sense to start early.

Curly Girly Title

Now if anyone has handy hints for taking care of curly hair, I’m all ears. This stick-straight mum needs need all the help she can get!

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Soul Searching Sunday – Happiness

Soul Searching Sunday

Welcome to my new weekly Sunday session. I am wanting to have space on this blog to contemplate and reflect on the deeper aspects of life. To me, a person’s soul is very important. It is the core of who we are. Sunday is a day of the week that I set aside to nourish my soul. It really is a day for soul searching. It is a day I examine how I’m handling life, how I can get better at what I’m doing well and how to improve in the areas that I have failed, because fail I do. Regularly.

Sundays are the perfect day for doing an inventory on what I have to be grateful for and it’s a day that I will most often spend with family and friends. Enjoying one another and becoming better together.

Because I am a Christian, often God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit and the Bible feature in my soul searching. I find my faith keeps me centred and my reliance on a higher power keeps me humble and inspired to keep improving and living my life with passion and purpose. I want to share some of this revelation during a regular Sunday blog post. I know many of my readers may not be Christians, and I hope that this is still a section that you will be able to read and get something out of. Spirituality is expressed in many ways, I hope my soul searching can aid your own soul searching, in whichever way you connect with your soul and spirit.

I thought it would be fitting to start this inaugural Soul Searching Sunday post talking about Happiness. I think being in touch with your soul is a happiness creator. That’s not to say it’s easy and full of laughter all the time. There is a joy that is present when you are being real with yourself and examining the issues and tackling the problems that will make you a better person or help you to maximise your effectiveness in this life.

SUNDAY
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When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about the future.
Ecclesiastes 7:14

 It is so easy to be happy during the good times in life. Sometimes we can feel guilty for feeling good. Maybe I should be taking life more seriously? I find it reassuring that God wants us to be happy. In fact he explicitly says to be happy. He also recognises that there are going to be bad times. Life cannot be filled with only happy moments. If we have a belief that God is still in control, he is still in charge during the bad times, it can bring reassurance. Happiness is wonderful, bad times have purpose. We don’t know why as we walk through those difficult days.

I think back to the days I struggled with infertility. The crippling disappointment when I would have a period signalling yet another month without a child. The intense pain when I would hear another person I knew was pregnant and I still wasn’t. The hoping, the wondering, the pain and the grief. I was not to know in the future I was going to be fortunate enough to have five children. How much easier those would have been if I had discovered my future. Yet because I did walk that road, when I have increased the intensity of happiness while watching my children grow before my eyes and listen to their ever so cute conversations and cuddle them in my arms. I know how abundantly blessed I am, and I never take this opportunity I have been given to be a mother for granted. It helps me get through the hard days like the rainy day with triplets I described earlier this week.

It’s amazing as I reflect back on my life that the getting through the hard times have made me a happier person in the long run. I have a depth to me that I would not have without those hard times. I have a greater perspective. Depth of character and perspective built into me during the hard times of life really does increase my happiness during the good times.

 

Has there been times in your life where you have walked through the bad but have made you a happier person later?

 

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