Saturday, June 25, 2011


This post is the fifth in the series on "PARENTS LIVING UNDER DIFFICULTIES".

"The normal ebb and flow of day to day family life for Christchurch families has been challenged to some degree either directly or indirectly following the Canterbury earthquakes. Furthermore, living with ongoing predictions of future shakes to come only adds to the fragility of our anxiety and emotions.
Thankfully for us our house has remained relatively unscathed bar a few cracks in the interior roof (which have since been repaired) and a few wobbly floor piles. We are so grateful our family has remained safe, warm and dry, with only power and water supply cut for several days during repairs of unstable power lines down the road.
However, what does not remain unscathed is our emotional wellbeing. Like every other Cantabrian, we all feel a sense of vulnerability. We live day by day continually struggling to push to our sub conscience the threat of yet another statistically predicted 'big' earthquake. The daily aftershocks make a frequent unwelcome reminder, unsettling our minds, interrupting sleep, even invoking physiological responses to the stress and anxiety (for example, palpitations). People are being worn down. often with outbursts of tears and panic. It has been evident in my primary health care profession, the rise in depression and other anxiety related health problems. Each aftershock is like an emotional roller coaster between terror and relief. As I sit here and write this I have be jolted aggressively twice.
In my own home it has become evident my children are easily disturbed at night to any noise. They are overly "jumpy" to any little shaking and repeatedly express concern about our family's safety. We imagine earthquakes even when there are none!
During day-time activities environmental safety concerns are on the top of everyone's mind. We also avoid unnecessary entry to some buildings and avoid parking the car in a "fall zone" of a wall or building. Like most people, I consciously scan for signs of previous damage in any building I enter and note exits for a quick escape if needed. I also feel anxious when I work on the ambulance and are transporting patients to the city hospital because of the cities oppressive feeling and appearance of a demolition site. In contrast I sense a relief when I am back in the safety of the open country road. The fears may or may not be rational, but rational thinking has no place with the surprise and suddenness of earthquakes.
As a family we are also now more diligent about knowing the activities and whereabouts of each other during the day. This is hoped to potentially reduce unnecessary worry should communication networks fail again. I am aware of an increasing separation anxiety during the day when aftershocks occur. Everyone values the security of human company at all times. Many people are developing phobias about being alone, particularly the elderly. In a strange way I am thankful my husband's office is inaccessible (in the "Red Zone") which has forced him to work at home indefinitely. The family all feel he is much safer not venturing into the city.
The earthquakes impact on our daily life in many ways. Like many families we are generally more content to stay in our own geographical area rather than venture to the city centre for leisure activities or shopping. We choose to avoid busy built up areas and Christchurch city has lost its central hub and aesthetic attraction and therefore has little appeal. 
Thankfully our local town has street entry shops that are single level and easy to run out from. The one time we went to the local movie theatre, it was surprising how vulnerable I felt, making the experience less enjoyable. Sport activities have been interrupted due to damage to fields.Everyday in so many ways we are reminded by the flow on damage effects. 
I feel people have a renewed sense of appreciation for quality family time and simple activities at home. There is a resurgence of home hospitality as an expression of valued friendships and giving support. Times like this strengthen our sense of community and sharing.
Our children are living through a remarkable time in history. One they will share in stories for the remainder of their lives. They are alert and knowledgeable about the cause and effects of earthquakes both geographically and how it affects society. They also appreciate how imperative it is to have a safety plan and be prepared with a disaster kit. Like us they are careful to go to bed each night with clothing and footwear ready to grab in case we need to run outside in the cold frosty Canterbury air. We routinely check torches have charged batteries, gas bottles are full, water is stored in the freezer and canned food and matches are available. One thing we did discover was our dependence on power for the TV and internet broadcasts in emergencies. A battery radio may be a valuable asset to acquire.
On reflection the days immediately following the first and second earthquakes were special family bonding times. In some ways it was like a wake, with an air of sobriety filling the house. It was a time where we were inherently aware of our appreciation of one another. Sharing memories of the past.
It was a time to forget trivial day to day irritations and focus on being an integral member of the family team, pulling together to cook, bake and collect water for people in need that we then delivered to the "Earthquake Express Helicopter" to be delivered to the worst hit locations. 
We also had the privilege to serve others by accommodating out of town trades people (welders) who had the task of fixing the fuel pipeline from Littleton to the city over the Port Hills. Very little accommodation with water, power and septic services were available. The long drive between Littleton and Rangiore after each long day of hard labour on steep hills was welcomed by a warm bed, hot shower, hot meal, packed lunches and TV. A luxury many others did not have.
These earthquakes are a sobering experience for each Cantabrian. A time when our existence is threatened day by day by the earth we stand on as it shakes repeatedly. To some it is the loss of monetary assets they have spent years accumulating and cherishing as a form of security and personal self worth. Others have lost loved ones and have been forced into inexplicable grief. Everyone, even those not directly affected by tragedy and loss seem to be reflecting their spiritual beliefs or where they are situated on their spiritual journey and purpose in life.
I think there is a need to remain philosophical about life. It is futile to worry about aspects of our future we cannot control. We need to live each day with hope and prayerful anticipation that this period of earthquakes will settle soon and that the whole experience has challenged us to realign our priorities with values and principles that support our spiritual belief and social connectedness."

Thursday, June 16, 2011


This is the FOURTH in the series of posts called "PARENTS LIVING UNDER DIFFICULTIES".

"Our family falls into the probably rather small category of Westerners parenting in slums. We are living outside of our home culture in a rapidly developing country with a high rate of poverty. We find ourselves living in a two-room 'house' with our three small children, aged 7, 4 and 2, intent on an experiment of identification with our poor neighbours. This probably sounds like lunacy to some, or a recipe for disaster; yet we made the choice to come and do this with our children because we want to live out our beliefs, and engage with a part of society too easily relegated to the side-lines.
Poverty is everyone's issue. For those of us who live in wealthier nations with social welfare benefits for all, it is easy not to engage. We too easily forget that the poor in other nations are our poor - the people making our clothes, shoes and electronic goods. We believe that there is a need to be advocates for justice and peace in the midst of this situation; hence we came to live and learn amongst poor friends.
Parenting in a situation like this is far from easy, though I would wager that parenting small (and big) children is a challenge at any time and in any place. For us, we find the challenges and difficulties of parenting are multiplied here, as we lack many 'essentials' that parents in our home country have access to. Shaped as we are by our home culture, there are aspects of child-rearing here that we dislike and choose to avoid; yes, this makes it harder for us in some ways, but it is also healthy to stick to your ideals sometimes. For example, we choose not to have a television (great baby-sitter that it is) because we want our children to grow up learning to play creatively and make their own fun.
Our three boys are highly energetic lads, and move from one activity to the next with gusto, accompanied by plenty of noise and chaos. With three like these, the ideal location to live would be a farm somewhere - with endless opportunities for exploration and play. Instead, our neighbourhood is a barren, dusty wasteland; and play is limited by security concerns and a lack of facilities.

Everything here is dusty and grey; you can forget grass to roll about on or trees to climb. There are no public parks or libraries, swimming pools or beaches. It is hard to offer children good opportunities for normal healthy development. And when everyone feels a bit house-bound and in need of a change of scenery, there is no-where else to go. We often need to creatively separate the three children so they can have some time and space to themselves - even building a little fort outside so that they can have their own 'place'.
We've had to let go of some parenting methods that worked back home, and look for solutions to the parenting struggles that result from our new situation (these include a lack of privacy, negative influences from outside, limited space, few opportunities for development etc.). Children here usually go to bed at 10pm or later which is stressful for parents. Strategies like time-out don't work well when there are no quiet places for children to retreat to. Other strategies continue to work well, for example, motivating and rewarding children by giving them small privileges, e.g. who gets to check the hen-house for eggs or extra reading time at night. Without that wonderful helper SPACE, one needs to use a lot of psychology and encouragement to keep the children happy and compliant.

Most parents want the best for their children - a good education, a healthy and happy upbringing, a united family etc. The parents in our poor community are exactly the same. They too have many hopes and dreams for their little ones. For many, these dreams will die to the reality of poverty; others will fight hard and hopefully achieve their vision of a better life for the generations to come. However, one healthy aspect of parenting here is the lack of competition which is so prevalent among parents in the West. One often encounters mothers and fathers who live vicariously off their children's achievements, or find their worth and pride in the successes of their sons and daughters. Back home, expectations are high and there is often a lot of pressure put on children to succeed and 'do their parents proud'. Life here is a lot more relaxed and easy-going. There are not endless practices and extra-curricular activities to attend - children spend more time being children and not running on the treadmill of success. I like this.

I hope that, in the future when we look back on our time here, we can celebrate the opportunities we had to spend time together as a family, the slowness of life and the many hours of simple play. That we look back with fondness to the many friends we made here and the way we were invited into people's lives despite our differences. And hopefully, we all will have been changed .... hopefully our children will grow with greater maturity and grace, aware of the gross differences that exist in the world, and empowered through their experiences here to be advocates for justice and peace."

THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ you have probably been made aware of all your SPACE, freedoms and choices along with your possessions that, like mine, have been taken for granted for the last while. This is somewhere to start this week with your kids - to find and see the privileges we live in. Next step would be to put this into the context for your kids that the majority of the world don't live in this way. The experience of the above Western children living in the slum, will give them some knowledge of its reality, but how about your kids and my kids? Is this an area you need to consider more in how you parent?

Saturday, June 11, 2011


This is the THIRD part in a series called   PARENTS LIVING UNDER DIFFICULTIES.

"My occupation as an international pilot, means that at times I have to parent from a distance.
It is very important to me to maintain a normal, healthy Family environment for all of us. Some months I have less than half the normal parenting time in New Zealand to achieve this, so the need to spend time together as a Family can prove to be difficult. 
For my wife it can feel like being a solo parent and this naturally develops independence. This needs to be managed carefully by me when I am home, as it is easy to arrive home and effectively upset the normal day-to-day routine from my wife's perspective. We almost have to plan time, so that the two of us can spend time together to just talk and catch up in general.
It is difficult but important for me to ensure I am in touch with the children on a daily basis, to ask them how their day was and what they have learned at school. It is easier to stay in contact with my wife at any time of the day but this can prove to be difficult in general with large time zone changes between countries and it can mean I may not talk to them for a few days.
From a parenting together perspective it is important to both be on the same page in terms of the Family plan.... This requires a 'hand over' as such, so I am up to speed with the children and their needs. This is not that easy to achieve as it is more important for me, being away, than it is for my wife. She is already aware of any day-to-day issues of course but it is important for me to find out what is going on and what is planned for the next period that I am home.
Although I can be away quite a bit an advantage of this lifestyle is that I can spend a whole week or more, 24 hours a day, with my Family between trips. I would spend far more time with my Family in that week than almost any other parent I know who is working.
Living up here in the country has been an enjoyable move for us as a Family compared to our Latte drinking days in the Eastern suburbs. Parents living their lives for themselves and not for the children.... caught up in the 'keeping up with the Jones' scenario.
I appear to be old fashioned compared to some of my peers in terms of things like ~
    *  I usually ensure we sit down together a Family for dinner at any opportunity, even though 
        the girls are very young.
    *  I usually encourage the girls to play by the fire to do puzzles and read at their age to avoid 
        excessive television.
    *  We talk to our children constantly about how important manners are and the importance of
        treating other people with respect especially people who are older than themselves.
I think the biggest cause of families not coping is the lack of communication. People are forgetting to talk about their day-to-day issues, marriage issues, children and financial issues. They struggle to deal with the backlog of perceived problems as they arise because they are constantly avoiding them, and either haven't been brought up with strong values or they do not have the skills, support or inclination to work their way through these things. 
Taking some pride in what you do and who you are, would go a long way. I don't have the answers but I do have the awareness of the way Society is and its downsides. Helping people identify their own issues and problems is a good start. And when they have the tools and start communicating they will go a long way, if not get there!!"

THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ a timely reminder is presented here for us all to make the most of our times together as Families - our need to identify, plan and put into practice routines and habits which 'glue' us together more as a Family. What that means in your Family is probably different to what it will be in mine. This week ask your Family for ideas on how they would like to to spend more time together enjoying being a Family.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


"Doing nothing for others is the undoing of one's self.
We must be purposely kind and generous or we miss the best part of life's existence.
The heart that goes out of itself gets large and full of joy.
We do ourselves most good by doing something for others."
               Horace Mam  (1796 - 1859)  American educator, writer and politician.

The author this week chose this quote and prefers to stay anonymous.

This is the second post in the series "PARENTS LIVING UNDER DIFFICULTIES". 

PART 2 ~  Parenting a Special Needs Child

"After we had our special needs child I found an article about a person who was interested in the culture of France, in particular in Paris and the French language. It was a dream for this person to travel to Paris and the preparation for the trip took many years. Finally one day he could go. But by mistake he hopped on the wrong train. He went to Venice and he only realized the mistake on arrival. He looked for the things he had read about that were in Paris, but they weren't there.
It is like this for parents who give birth to a special needs child - they end up in Venice instead of Paris.
With a special needs child everyday doings are hard and I often don't know what to do. People give me different directions and advice, often not understanding what I'm going through. I experience this a lot. But then I think even though I am not in Paris, Venice is still a very beautiful place.
A special needs child still goes through the same development as a normal child and there are still joys and challenges along the way. Parents of special needs children need to change their mindset from Paris to Venice, then the difficulties are not overwhelming and in time you find you get better and better in what you are doing.
For me as long as I have had a special needs child in our family, I feel that she has been a blessing, like all healthy children are to their families. A special needs child creates lots of learning opportunities for everyone in the family. Some people think I must be dissatisfied I have a special needs child in my family, but I am not. A parent with a special needs child must change their mindset to see it is an advantage to have this child who has special needs.
I like to think of it as being like when someone learns to play the flute, where you only need to read one line of music to play. However if you learn to play the piano you need to learn to read two lines of music at the same time. This is like the family with the special needs child. The special needs child is less independent, requires prolonged physical care, makes others in the family have to learn to be patient - everyone in the family lives with the difficulties a special needs child brings into the family. It is hard to live with it. It is hard to learn to play the piano with two hands at once, but with lots of practice it can be done successfully. To live at home with a special needs child, the rest of the family is given training and lots of practice, so when they go to work or school each day the troubles they find there can be handled. The training at home has equipped them to handle more.
I have had to change my thinking. I refuse to be negative about our special needs child because it can affect the attitude of my family, making them negative towards her.

Three suggestions for people in a similar position as us ~
1. Educate yourself about your child's area of special need. Get all the help you can to understand them.
2. Find something that recharges you - so you can keep going because it's a long journey. For each person it will be different things - maybe nature, looking after a garden, reading books, exercising - anything. Once you know the thing that will recharge you, work out different ways to do it. Say you love nature but you can't get out of the house - look out the window and study the clouds for a few minutes. You need to train yourself because the job of caring for the family is overwhelming! If you let your busy life  be only filled with doing the job, you will end up being depressed. Keep yourself in good shape.
3. Surround yourself with people who are positive and supportive. You could have different reactions from people towards you and towards your child. Some people because they don't know enough about special needs children, withdraw. It doesn't mean they don't care about you, they just don't know what to do. Other people may have their own issues in their own lives. It is said that 80% of people's problems is to do with how people feel about themselves. 
So we need to stay close to positive and supportive people to help us do our job.

THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ you probably like me have been challenged in your parenting. The quote at the beginning has a message which is rarely in my mind - how about yours? But if I pursued those thoughts I know I would parent differently, better. How about you? Some food for thought for this week.