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Tze Yeng

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Finland gave us Nokia and Angry Birds. Recently, they showed us how to raise the best students in the world.

Interestingly, Finland’s schooling and child-raising focuses more on a child’s happiness and health rather than academic achievement.

And now, the world is getting a glimpse of the amazing support system they have in place for parents and families.

We talk to Finnish mothers Sanna and Kirsi, who share just how the Finnish people do parenting.

It is all about what’s best for the child

The Father often takes care of the baby’s hygiene whilst the mother focuses on the breastfeeding. Image credit: The Guardian

Finnish society has organised itself so that parenting and raising children is according to gender equality principles.

It all begins at birth. Most hospitals provide family rooms for both parents to be with the child after the delivery. The idea is to encourage the mother to focus on breastfeeding. Meanwhile the partner (typically the father) takes care of the infant’s hygiene.

Once settled at home, this arrangement continues. The father will usually take care of the cleaning and cooking. Visitors bring food to help temporarily lighten the load.

The Baby Box

The Finnish state also provides comprehensive maternal child health services.

Since the 1930s, expectant mothers who attend ante-natal appointments are entitled to a baby box  which becomes a cot with a mattress for the infant.

The baby box contains practical items such as baby clothes for the seasons, bodysuits, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bathing products for the baby, nail clippers, diapers and even contraception!

Families however, can opt for cash.

Sanna shared that “most first-time parents opt for the box as the value of the items is more than the cash. As the items are of good quality, I reused them for my second child and took the money instead”.

The box that comes with a mattress also turns into a bed for the baby. Image credit: www.bbc.co.uk

It doesn’t stop there…

Sanna, who worked as a maternal health nurse, said that hospital staff provide post-delivery support through home visits.

A nurse is assigned to the mother and she follows through from the time of the mother’s pregnancy until the child’s seventh birthday. This provides continuity of care.

They measure the baby’s growth, monitor the mother’s breastfeeding process and recovery, and more importantly, check how the family unit us faring. The arrival of a child and parenting can after all, be stressful.

The nurses are also trained to watch out for signs for possible domestic abuse and make interventions.

Kirsi shared that the highly trained nurses provided invaluable support to her, giving practical advice for all her “silly questions”.

They even help you make new friends!

Parenting is also supported through the joint 24 weeks parental leave after birth.

Coffee mornings for parents organised by the local authorities and churches are also important spaces for social support.

Both Sanna and Kirsi said that it was through these spaces that they made lifelong friends who journeyed with them in the trials and tribulations of parenting.

When parents share the load

Co-parenting is very much the care-giving model in Finland, where both parents are encouraged soothe, play, feed and clean the baby.

Kirsi explains that this arrangement often continues with school going children.

Children are also expected to be independent from young.

With both parents working, primary school children usually come home first. Whilst waiting for their parents (usually about 2 – 3 hours), they prepare their own snack, do some light chores and manage their time indoors or outdoors (which they do a lot of). The family will then cook dinner together.

And mother’s are freed to work

These arrangements and guaranteed public day care services has contributed to an almost equal number of men and women in the workforce.

Kirsi said that from her experience, work arrangements are also very flexible in Finland. For instance, it is common for parents to leave work early to attend to their children and pick up on the work later in the day.

A shared history that shaped the present

Sanna opines that the strong Finnish work ethic, where women and men worked side by side in industries to repay the debt gained from the post war food shortages  contributed to a gender equal environment, and a sense of pride from being financially independent.

“Although a woman can live off her husband, doing that is not something to be proud of. Finland’s women’s right movement is very strong”, she quipped.

It was the Finnish feminist groups that fought for universal day care and paid parental leave.

Gender equality also has roots in Finland’s government politics. Women could vote and stand for elections since 1907.

That election saw a total of 19 women elected to Parliament. Today, there is a total of 42% women members of parliament.

This was due to the reform of the Act on Equality between Women and Men.

The  Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has jurisdiction on matters pertaining to equality from a local to national level. It works to continuously improve gender equality matters.

The League of Finnish Feminists, founded in 1892. One of their members, Lucina Hagman was one of the first female members of Parliament elected in 1907. Image credit : Embassy of Finland, The Hague

A possible reality for Malaysian mums?

A new dawn has risen in Malaysia, and as more of us speak out, and get more involved, anything is possible.

Looking at historical trajectories of societies, I think this ideal of an equal partnership in families, could one day be a reality for us in Malaysia.

 

Preparing meals is an important life skill for both boys and girls and there’s no better way for them to learn than from their own parents and in the comfort of their own home.

Based on my few years of experience,  a great wealth of benefits are derived when the family cooks together.

For parents who are stretched, this is a great way to squeeze in some nurturing, quality time with your kids.

I have two boys. Determined to raise them as feminists, my husband and I began  cooking with the kids when they turned two.  This special time spent together can be made more rewarding by following some simple steps.

1. Anticipate spills, thrills and delays

It will look nothing like the pictures in the recipe books, but will taste delicious. How do you like the look of our blueberry pastries?

From the beginning, manage your expectations.

It is inevitable that when you’re cooking with the kids, it will take double the time and effort to get meals ready. The children are still learning the ins and outs of food preparation.

Their motor skills are still developing and there might be things that they are not ready to handle on their own. Things might get messy, tip over or land on the floor.

The kids might even get cheeky and playful with the kitchen utensils. Ingredients such as chocolate chips may mysteriously disappear, so a good precaution is to double such delights when using them.

Finally, if you love pinning and instagramming, know that not everything that comes out of the oven initially will be insta-worthy.

However, take heart. As the kids progress and get older, they will become more adept and and less clumsy around the kitchen.

2. Keep calm and smile in emergencies

Some serious Jedi master cutting skills at work.

Burns, cuts, slips. You name  it, we’ve had it. Please equip yourself with knowledge on  how to use a knife and how to treat minor burns and cuts before you start cooking with the kids. This will help you stay calm when the inevitable happens.

I’ve also found it helpful after calmly treating an injury (although freaking out in my head), to take a short break before getting back to the task at hand.  In my experience, they will get back to the job, although with trepidation.

Persevere and all concerned will be less fazed with the next accident. Kids are resilient and will soon learn that this is part and parcel of cooking.

Having braved through a few accidents, our eight-year-old can now independently serve up a salad, albeit with  haphazardly chopped tomatoes and cucumbers.

Our six-year-old can happily make omelettes for his elder brother (who will only eat eggs in this form, and cooked by his sibling).

3. Make it exciting and seize teachable moments

Cream cheese is another ingredient that may end up in the children’s mouth before it reaches the mixing bowl.

When you cook with the kids, get them involved in the whole process from beginning to end. Look up recipes together and read through them. Our favourite site for recipes is Tasty.

We choose recipes based on  the ease of preparation, the cost and availability of ingredients. We prepare the shopping list and buy the groceries together. They learn so many things through this process: decision making, writing lists, how to choose fresh ingredients, counting the cost, purchasing and teamwork.

We give them many reminders too.

Before we cook with the kids, we remind them that a good chef is also one that tidies up.  We work alongside them to clean up as we cook and this helps the kitchen stay “reasonably” chaos free.

Part of the fun is to devise ways to reduce cleaning up. This has led to the unintended benefit of learning measurements and Maths. For example, when baking we use one large stainless-steel measuring bowl that doubles up as a mixing bowl. So, if a recipe requires 300g flour and 100g sugar, they would have to work it out that the final measurement would be 400g on the weighing machine when they add in the sugar.

4. Make room for creative expression

Neil created this recipe of oats, butter, strawberry jam, ikan bilis, tau sa peah, water. Heated for two minutes in the microwave – all his favourite ingredients. This was for his friends’ friends in preparation for his playdate.

After making his first breakfast pancake with his father,  our then five-year-old began to regularly churn out his own versions. It usually had a mix of his favourite oats, soy sauce, eggs, marmite, flour, salt, sugar, honey, olive oil and sesame oil.

In an effort not to waste food, we would fry them as pancakes and serve them with other dishes at dinner. His brother would uncharitably label these creative expressions  as “elephant poo”,  but some of them turned out surprisingly tasty.

In an effort to gently steer his exploratory journey, we eventually learnt how to make Pajoen (Korean pancakes).

When you cook with the kids, avoid trying to fit them in a box. Recipes are great in the beginning but should not hamper their culinary exploits. Let them explore if they have it in them. You never know where it will lead.

Give it a go!

If you’re convinced your kids are ready to work with you in the kitchen, go ahead and make arrangements for this fun, family time.

To start you off, try this fail proof puff pastry recipe that we made numerous times for grandparents, aunts and friends. It uses readily available ingredients such as frozen puff pastry, blueberries/chocolate chips, cream cheese, vanilla  and sugar.

Once our own kids were familiar with pastry it was easy for them to confidently make with us this vegetarian cheese and onion roll  and also this  beef sausage roll.

Remember: Start small and with simple recipes. Add dollops of reminders and instructions. Stir in cupfuls of life lessons. Sprinkle with kindness and love. The finished product should be filled with confidence and ready to take off in its own direction!

I am a parent of a deaf child. My second child, Neil has a malformed right ear with severe hearing loss. We soon found out that his left ear is progressively losing hearing. He may eventually experience a hearing loss in both ears and be completely deaf.

A Parent’s Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance

Learning that my child has a disability was crushing. I experienced the emotions articulated in the Kübler-Ross’s model of death as I mourned the loss of a “normal” child.

In denial, irrationality ruled. We bought Earwells ear moulds in hopes that we could fix the malformation despite being advised against it. (Our intervention was too late) We did this as we had prior success in reshaping our elder child’s slightly deformed ear with  Earbuddies, an ear splint.

In sadness, I put on a false face of courage – I texted smiley laden messages that we now had the opportunity to learn a new (sign) language! Only to weep in fear that he would be bullied for the rest of his life.

In inexplicable anger, I was also mad at my husband, for his experience with progressive deafness meant to me that he could navigate this pain better than me.

The moment of dread, acceptance, relief all rolled into one was when I submitted the forms for my child’s Orang Kurang Upaya application. There! Neil has a disability in the eyes of society.

Neil doing what he doing what every Malaysian child does best – scale the house grills with his cousin.

The light does shine through the cracks

Initially, we grew his hair long to cover his malformed ear. I kept his deafness known to close friends and family. My husband was more open about it as he came from a family of six siblings where five have hearing disabilities. Our incredible support system kicked in to connect us with medical experts and hearing aid distributors, sign us up for newsletters for families with deaf children and lug books on parenting deaf children that we ordered. One friend even bought us an entire set of sign language DVDs for children.

When Neil was about one year old and ready for a hearing aid, we cut his hair short to fit the band. As I became a better advocate for our child, a wider circle of parents who have children living with a diverse range of disabilities offered their stories, opened up their hearts, bottles of gin, and a lifeline. Their sincere and consistent acts of trust and kindness provided solidarity and the occasional intoxicated respite.

Neil, three years. At a his weekly playdate. He is shown wearing his Bone Conduction Hearing Aid.

Forming the deaf child

His speech remains the key concern and source of light-hearted moments. As speech is guided by what one hears, Neil speaks with a high pitched distorted voice as he imitates the electronic feedback from his hearing aid. He also has problems discerning the “s”, and “sh” sounds. During one bedtime, I kept rejecting his request to “sit on me” as we just had a jujitsu playfight that evening. It was only after a few tries that I realised that he wanted his “sheet on me”!

He also has trouble discerning the appropriate volumes of speech, and so I usually get woken up when he thinks that he is ‘softly’ waking up his deaf father up (yup, another oxymoron!). This inability to discern volume has also brought Neil to falsely believe that he has succeeded in quietly scaling the kitchen cabinet in pursuit of the sacred snacks, when I have heard every thump and bump.

The search for a long lasting working relationship with a speech therapist proved to be the most difficult. We are now at our fifth speech therapist, having worked with both the public and private sector.  We faced systemic and structural challenges. There was the inability to secure follow up appointments and dissatisfaction at the level of cooperation that his holistic intervention required. And in an extreme case, there was a disappointing lack of accountability by the therapist and her organisation. Needless to say, going the private route is also financially straining.

And still the deaf child sings…

Neil circa September 2016. Catching them all with his community of Pokemon fans.

Nevertheless, we are grateful for Neil’s community of adults and children at his school, our neighbourhood, our family and support system. They have been contributing towards a key development for Neil – his confidence. The community whose love, kindness and acceptance that is continuously forming this daring, caring, persevering, fun-loving cheeky child.

They, who have patiently listened to him, engaged respectfully with him about his ear and his hearing aid, and become his Ninja/Jedi teammates. The community who listened to him as he demanded initiated and lead a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ in Mandarin to a room full of people he hardly knew at a family friend’s sixtieth birthday party. They, who listened to this singing kid with the funny ear and speech. And they, who cheered.

 

Photo credit: Tze Yeng – Neil’s mom