February 24, 2016

The Wisdom of Owls – and the value of an enjoyable book.

This article was authored by Jeanette Miller, Senior Training Consultant,
Parenting Education and Support Program, at the Australian Childhood Foundation.

It’s true what they say about grandparenting! It’s just the best thing ever… so much easier than being a parent; with less worry and less responsibility, and the added bonus of ‘previous experience’ to free you up to fully enjoy every precious moment of being with little people.

I’ve discovered too, how much more you notice, when your only job is to be there and to notice… and what a joyous, liberating experience that can be. If only we could do it like that, first time round!

I’d like to share with you, some special moments I had recently with my almost-two- year- old grandson after his parents had gone out to dinner.

We’d been reading bedtime stories and it was time for bed. This was the first time that H had been away from his mother at bedtime and as I put him to bed he started to cry, saying ‘I want Mummy.’ No amount of comforting seemed to help, so I took him back to the couch with me to read more stories. Among the pile of children’s books, I noticed a copy of Owl Babies by Martin Waddell- the story of three owlet siblings who woke up one night to find that their mother was GONE. The story traces the baby owls’ thinking and worrying and coping, as they wait for their mother to return… because of course she does come back. Sarah, the oldest owlet, reassures her younger brothers, but despite her regulating presence, baby Bill continues to say ‘I want my Mummy’ until she returns.

The first time I read the story to him, H cried whenever Bill said, “I want my Mummy’. But then he said, ‘Again!’…and after another teary reading, ‘again’…and ‘again’ … and ‘again.’ I continued to re-read the story, and as I did, H’s tears subsided. He seemed to be processing his own experience through the experience of the baby owls in the story. Finally he felt safe and comfortable enough to fall asleep.

The following morning, having woken to find his parents had come back, we were playing outside on the deck. H was playing with dolls a lot at the time (maybe because his mother was 7 months pregnant and there was lots of baby talk going on at home). I was instructed to stay on the seat holding his ‘baby’ while he ran off to the end of the deck. I made crying sounds and called out to H in the baby’s voice, ‘I want my H!’ ‘Come back H!’

H called back to his ‘baby’, ‘I just getting some food.’ As he turned to run back to us with the ‘food’, I jumped the doll up and down on my lap saying, ‘Here he comes! He did come back!’

H’s role reversal re-enactment of his own experience of separation and reunion with his mother became his favourite game to play with me wherever and whenever we were together over the next few months. The game would start when he would instruct me, ‘You do a big cry.’

In our Bringing up Great Kids parenting groups, we read aloud to parents selected children’s stories. Our reasons for doing that are varied – with there’s a strong element of ‘story’ throughout the program – and include

  • A focus on supporting parents to make sense of their own life story because we know that coherent self-narrative in parents is a powerful predictor of secure attachment in children, and viewing parenting itself as an on-going story.

We also like to model the relational benefits to parents and children of enjoying story- reading or story telling together. Often our story choices for the program are aligned with the content of each of the ‘chapters’ of the program, but we certainly don’t limit book choices to ‘bibliotherapeutic’ stories like ‘Owl Babies’. Instead, we promote the idea that any story that a parent and child enjoy together is ‘the right book’.

Can you remember any favourite books from your childhood, or experiences of being read to by someone who cared for you?

You can never underestimate the power of a good story!

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