>Children First?

>I was quite impressed to read Steve Webb’s take on yesterday’s report which stated that British kids, despite living in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, did not fare so well in wellbeing – coming bottom of a study of children in 21 industrialised nations. It was good to see a politician recognise the value of raising confident citizens who can fulfil their potential.

It is an abomination that so many children are still living in poverty. You would think a Labour government would have done something about it, but yet again they are found wanting.

In terms of mental health, it’s hardly surprising that we have such a poor record. The Netherlands and Scandinavian countries who have the top four places are renowned for healthy lifestyles, healthy breastfeeding rates and, in the case of the Scandinavian countries, much more severe restrictions on the sale of artificial baby milk. Their maternity leave provision is also much more generous than our’s. Anyone who has ever been to Spain, who came fifth, will know how highly children are valued. When we go there, we tend to eat late along with all the Spanish families and it’s very telling to see how involved the children are in the conversation and how, without exception, the entire family tucks into the biggest mound of fruit and vegetables, showing that it’s not impossible to wean them off the chicken nuggets. Jamie Oliver would be in Heaven.

Here, the prevailing culture seems to be that children are some sort of inconvenience to socialise with when necessary. The rise in the number of “family pubs” with vast soft play areas keeps children out of proper restaurants, where they would be welcome in Spain. I am appalled to hear parents complain about the advent of the school holidays because they will have the kids around all day. I cherish every moment I have with my daughter and dread the Easter holidays only because I will hardly see her due to the election campaign – it will really hurt not to have that time with her. She will be fine, as she’ll be home with her Dad, but I will suffer.

The way in which we handle relationship breakdown in this country also leaves a lot to be desired. The whole system is designed to create an adversarial environment, and often the needs of the kids are not treated as a priority. People talk about their rights and not about what is best for the children. My aunt and uncle provide a fantastic example of how to break up properly – they split up completely amicably, found a routine for the kids that worked for everyone and even now, 20+ years on, the whole family has lunch together every Sunday.

I wasn’t surprised to see another study show a benefit to breastfeeding. There are so many obvious benefits to establishing a successful breastfeeding relationship. The authors of this study can’t suggest whether the benefit is emotional or physiological but my guess is that it’s a bit of both.

There is enough evidence now to warrant significant investment in ensuring that mothers are not let down by bad information and inadequate support. Department of Health figures in England show that of all mothers who give up breastfeeding within the first 6 weeks, 90% don’t want to. I have been shocked to find, over the years, that health professionals don’t know things about breastfeeding management that I would consider basic. Even worse, we actually have to pass legislation to give women the right to feed their babies in public.

Our cultural attitudes to breastfeeding are bizarre. Russell Brand, that great childrearing guru, made a really obnoxious comment about breastfeeding babies being little perverts, not helpful in a programme being watched by so many young people.

Anyway, this campaign gives hope that something is being done to ensure that women are given the information and support they need. Without the support I got, the initial hell would never have been able to turn into the eventual bliss and both my daughter and I would have suffered.

About caronlindsay

Scottish Lib Dem internationalist, mum, LGBT+ ally, Doctor Who, Strictly, F1 and trashy tv addict and blogger. Servant to two spaniels. She/her.
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