South London Photographer: Empathy, children & me

“Mum,” said the big child who for most of his life has been up at roughly 5.30am, “Why is it, the moment I enjoy sleeping in in the morning I have to start waking up really early to get to school on time?”

“One of life’s hilarious ironic jokes, my sweet,” I answer with perhaps less empathy than I might have shown.

The thing is I’m tired too. It’s not only him who has to get up earlier than we’re used to every day. I feel it’s only right to be there with him, making encouraging sounds and offering support where necessary, struggling together through the dark, sleep-deprived morning, but it’s a bit bloody exhausting.

Today shortly after 6am I made something called coffee-tea. It’s exactly what it says on the tin – coffee with some tea in it.  Either I’m so sleepy that mistakes like that are inevitable or somewhere in my preconscious mind I think I need the caffeine from not one but two different milky beverages in the morning and was trying to get it in fast.

Nevertheless, despite the earlier-than-we’re-used-to-mornings, I am finding this whole new paradigm we have all stepped into pretty good most of the time. Son No 1 has taken this giant step towards independence and in the main seems to be revelling in it, although as I point out later, sometimes needs to remind me he’s still very much a little boy.

The middle one has just about gotten over a slight crisis of confidence about who his friends are after the summer holidays. And the littlest one has taken to full-time nursery with gusto. Although, I should add that this Monday, at the beginning of his second week, he said to me,

“I don’t want to go to school today.”

“Oh? Well, you don’t’ really have a choice,” again with perhaps less empathy than I might have had.

“Why?” he asked, looking genuinely perplexed and even dismayed, evidently only just beginning to glimpse the very outer corners of a new reality.

“Because that’s how it is. School every day from Monday to Friday except in the holidays. Which is great, isn’t it? Because you love it there!” I added hopefully.

“But I want to go the park…”

“Maybe later, after school.” I suggested. Mmmmm – I could see him thinking – I’ve been tucked up right and proper up here!

A friend of mine must also be adjusting to earlier-than-she’s-used-to-mornings. Not long after I’d discarded my coffee-tea when it was still quite dark, I received an email from her inviting me to join her at a gentle-parenting seminar later this year. “I know it’s preaching to the converted,” she said, “but I think it will be interesting”. I can’t help feeling she’s deluded about my parenting skills. Converted? Yes, I do and have read much about gentle parenting, and I do my best to follow many of the principles. I have read about how to model empathetic and open behaviour, point out the good moments, use communal rather than individualistic language which can come across as accusatory (so say we and us rather than I and you when attempting to correct unhelpful behaviour), encourage everyone to apologise and make up with each-other following arguments, rather than simply fighting and then ignoring the damage done, and above all listen to what they are telling me and take their concerns seriously.

But I am very much a normal mother with normal failings. So, and perhaps it’s down to tiredness or just the general stresses of life, last night for instance, when they were yelling and refusing to sit down on their bums at supper time for longer than thirty seconds, I totally lost it and flounced out the kitchen like some mad prima-donna, but not before slamming down the banana I was slicing for a fruit salad and screaming, “If you’re not going to listen to me, make your own bloody pudding and clean up afterwards! Brats!!”

A while later the smaller two people came upstairs with ice-creams which I’m glad they found because if your mum is going to yell at you and abandon pudding mid-way through making it, the least you can expect is a sneaky Nobbly Bobbly. They asked me why I had been so cross.

“Well, because you guys never listen and you’re so loud at supper and I just want you to stay seated throughout a meal without me having to keep saying ‘sit down!’ But it was wrong of me to lose my temper and shout and I’m sorry,” I added.

Then they both hugged me, which I always love, and apologised most sincerely too. (Yay – evidence of empathy, as well as making up properly after an argument.) Afterwards they went downstairs and dragged their older brother to the kitchen, where they emptied the dishwasher and cleaned up the plates. I followed and we all repacked the dishwasher together, finished making the fruit salad and laughed a lot when No 3 said that he liked the ‘garlics’ in Doctor Who the best of all. Then No 1 decided to make apple turn overs; he’s become much more confident about baking since starting secondary school and cooking lessons.

So, I was feeling very smug and pleased with my little family, but this morning when Son No 1 told me was ill in order to stay off school when he clearly wasn’t, I just felt weary and annoyed by the fact that the feeling should have lasted for so short a time.

“You’re not ill,” I said with a lot less empathy than I might have had, “You’re just tired!”

“Of course I’m tired, getting up at this time every day! And I am ill. You just don’t love me.”

“You’re not ill! I’m not having you lying around in your pants all day feeling sorry for yourself when you should be at school.”

“It’s not fair! I’m one of only four people in my class who hasn’t had a day off sick this term…” he wailed.

I knew he wasn’t ill and was probably just feeling overwhelmed so I held my ground and eventually he sloped off to school but not before I called after him,

“I love you, little boy!”

He responded by blurting out, “No one loves you, no one even likes you!”

Okaaay – I thought to myself. Maybe I could afford to work a little harder on the whole empathy thing with my belligerent pre-teen, although, I do think if you’re going to say such nasty things then that’s about the right age for those kinds of insults.

I replied to my friend’s email inviting me to the gentle-parenting seminar, “Sure,” I said, “I’ll come along!”

In the meantime, lots to do; photos to edit, essays to write, books to read. Lots of wedding pics in next week’s blog. It’s a good job I’m not full time with weddings; I keep blubbing as I edit them – it’s so lovely! I’d be a wreck. SJ

(c)Sarah-Jane Field 2015

Photograph taken in Son No 1’s new secondary school which has just been renovated and looks fantastic – of course he wants to go there instead of lying around here all day.  He just didn’t know it at the time.



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Sarah Furniss

Family and corporate, portrait and event photographer working in London and surrounding area.

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