“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”
(A quote widely attributed to Frederick Douglass but original source unknown.)*
Nowadays of course we would say “than to repair broken men and women”; but the message remains the same and this quote comes from an organisation that was set up to help families in the UK by bringing together professional services; advising government and independently reviewing exactly how the first 1001 days of our children’s lives in the UK are best supported.
I do not know if there is a similar foundation in Spain, do let me know if you are aware of such support. I was drawn to the UK website by a Guardian article mentioning Covid Babies, highlighting that for the under 2’s most of their lives have been under the shadow of lockdown restrictions. In January the 1001 days foundation published a detailed report on the impact of bringing a new-born up during a pandemic. If you still have connections with the UK then this makes a very good read, but I would argue that it is probably fair to extrapolate the report to many other parts of the world, including here on Majorca.
Last week I quoted Jennifer McCrae:
“In indigenous cultures, part of the work of the Elders is to help each child recognize his/her unique offering. Observing a baby with patience. With stillness. What is the baby naturally drawn to? What is it innately interested in? What calms it? What makes it laugh with joy? What causes it pain and sorrow? What gifts come easily to it?”
In our westernised culture, more and more, the onus of ‘observing a baby with patience’ falls to the parents. The question then, is how the pandemic has affected our ability to bring our children up, perhaps without the wider support of family; friends; health care and education professionals.
The 10001 foundation has some sobering words when we consider them within the context of the pandemic; bringing children up is a serious business!:
“It is now widely recognised that what happens in the first 1001 days of life are incredibly important. Children’s brains develop fastest and are at their most ‘plastic’ or adaptable in the womb and early years of life. During this time, many millions of neural connections are made and then pruned. This builds the architecture of the brain upon which other forms of development will rest”.
“Early relationships influence a baby’s brain, and in particular their social and emotional development. This early development plays an important role in how well a child will go on to achieve many of the key outcomes that parents, the public, professionals and policy makers care about.
For example, babies who have had good early relationships start school best equipped to be able to make friends and learn. This increases the chances that they will achieve their potential in later life and contribute to society and the economy”.
“If a child’s emotional environment causes them to feel unsafe or fearful, or if they experience toxic stress in the absence of a buffering relationship, this influences their psychological and neurological development. It will influence how their brain develops to deal with stress in later life”. Many parents may be finding isolation challenging during this pandemic, but I wonder if we have a tendency to reduce the importance of societal support and feel OK about leaving parents to struggle without the aid of the equivalent “indigenous elders”.
There are a few practical things we can do:
1. If you are a parent and think you need help, ask. These first few years are crucial to your baby’s development and parenting is challenging enough without the impact of lockdowns and restrictions – so please ask for help!
2. If your children are grown up; or you do not have children, see if there are struggling families in the community, offer a helping hand to the voluntary teams that are in your area, be on the lookout for ways of showing kindness.
3. Raise awareness of how the pandemic may have affected local and national services and lobby to improve provision.
4. If you work in any of the support services let us know what is happening and if we can help to improve access to these services.
Barbora and I have discussed the role of voluntary support groups such as Pj’s and how the pandemic has restricted our provision, and this will probably realistically extend well into 2022. There is simply no sure safe way to bring babies and toddlers together in the ‘drop in’ form. A sad but pragmatic reflection. But this is happening everywhere so once again the impact on the development of our babies is potentially huge and we need to be creative in finding new ways of responding to the constraints placed upon us.
The Guardian article paints a pretty bleak picture for our under three’s, but the 1001 report does highlight some of the good things that have come out of the pandemic. Parents reporting better relationships simply because they were ‘forced’ to stay home and interact with their babies; some reported that it was easier to breast feed too. However, it was noted that many of these benefits were skewed towards those with better financial security. Poorer families continue to suffer most at these times, and as we have seen in the demonstrations in Palma, parents are protesting, as the anguish of not being able to provide for their families increases.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”. The role of the local and national communities is highlighted in the report, it is widely accepted that we are all involved in bringing up children, parents are not alone, and we need to encourage them to ask. We need to ask “how can we help?”.