Janette Bremner is a Nurse and Health Visitor based in the South of Spain. Janette, founder of Maat Family, has been a health visitor in the UK for over 20 years. She offers advice, support and information to help parents in whatever area they wish, most commonly, sleep, behaviour, mealtimes and routines. Janette talked to MumAbroad Life from her home in Malaga.
It was really time to change pace and enjoy a different lifestyle with some decent weather. We were lucky enough to spend some time in California a couple of years ago and we realised how lovely having good weather is. Andy, my husband, has always loved Benalmadena and was visiting for years before we met, more recently we have visited together, so it seemed a great place to start with our plans for early ‘retirement’ although neither of us like doing nothing. We both now have Spanish residency so we’re here to stay!
I founded Maat Family because I wanted to continue to do what has given me so much satisfaction over the years. I have had such a rewarding career supporting families with small children and did not want to stop this just because I am no longer in the UK. Maat was an ancient Egyptian goddess with many virtues including calm, harmony and order. She restored calm after chaos. Her symbol is an ostrich feather which I think suits the feelings of rest and peace parents so badly need. The work I do helps families achieve a less stressful family life. I chose the name Maat for this reason.
I think there can be huge variations in parenting between different cultures and I see that in some areas Spanish parents are more relaxed and in others more strict. The daily routines can be very different too. My work very much focuses on what makes each child and family ‘tick’ so regardless of differences, families everywhere have similarities. A mother who is not getting enough sleep will be equally exhausted regardless of her culture and language and if I can offer help it must always be within the context of that individual family. So to bring in yet a third culture – “Vive la difference!” – is what keeps life interesting.
The place I always start is the child and what they are telling us with their behaviour. There is always a reason they are doing something, even if they don’t understand it themselves. I always tell parents that they do not always need to agree on everything but it is worth exploring a little why they may each have rigid ideas they don’t want to change. Often people want to parent a certain way because it was how their parents did it, or equally, often it is because they do not want to do it the way their parents did it. My work can help parents realise what their child needs based on their development stage and past or current behaviour.
Helping parents change their rigidity of approach takes skill and is a hugely important part of their role. When they see that a slightly different approach, tried together as a team, is getting results, they realise they can still be individuals and parent with their own personal style, but with common goals and a consistency in the approach which in turn helps children feel secure. It also helps couples feel closer and better supported. Communication which is not accusatory but appreciates what each parent can bring is vital in this situation. Allowing each parent to keep enough of themselves in the process helps each work together in a positive way.
Communication is key and very often parents feel that communication with each other and with their children is about what they say. My work helps parents observe and listen more and to ensure their message is both clear and more importantly received. Many psychological and physical things stop us all hearing what someone is telling us and it is this which I help parents achieve for themselves and their children.
The most common difficulties include sleep deprivation, a child’s challenging behaviour, relationship changes, feelings of inability to cope and unsettled, crying babies. I can help families with all of these issues. So often parents feel overwhelmed and my experience has given me the benefit of getting to know thousands of women, babies and children and I have seen many parents turn around seemingly impossible situations with my support. There is not much I haven’t seen and I rarely get stressed by difficulties. My calm guidance is often all that is needed for parents to realise they can actually do it without me once they understand how.
Definitely. Anxiety has risen enormously and many of my recent testimonials have been from mothers saying they were so grateful to have my support during the pandemic. Anxiety is so often about fear of what will happen and not having a sense of being able to predict or control events which happen to us. Parents with a new baby and small children who have not had the same support networks available to them, and often not even been able to see family, have understandably had difficulty coping. By helping parents understand their baby or child better and by helping them with information about feeding, sleeping, behaviour management and so on, they have been able to feel much less out of control.
Advising about how to manage anxiety with a child has been a regular feature of my work in the last year. One thing I help parents with is how to interact with their baby or child so the child does not see or feel the anxiety. This helps keep the child’s stress hormones low which in turn helps everyone. This also means that at least when things feel better further down the line, there is not even more guilt about how the anxiety might impacted the little one.
I think that non stop entertainment can have its drawbacks. Children who are over-scheduled and kept frantically busy do not have the same capacity to be inventive in their play and they have a diminished ability to just sit, reflect, enjoy quiet moments and be self-reliant. Some children have met every Disney princess, been to every amusement park and go to several after school clubs a week but are unable to explain what happened in the book they were just read. I think a balance between stimulating play initiated by parents and child focused activities led by the child is the best approach. I think this is one small good thing that has come from the pandemic, despite the other hardships which have come with it. Many new parents have had to just spend time with their babies, learn with them and bed in as a nuclear family without the multitude of other distractions.
Instant gratification can be a double-edged sword. Children need whatever they need fairly immediately to feel confident and heard. Behaviour management strategies need to be very prompt to be effective, including the reward element. However, if children never have to wait or take turns this impacts not only their sociability but also, in the early days, their speech development and attention skills. Children need to learn to take turns, that they are not the centre of the world and that they will be viewed much more tolerantly if they in turn exhibit tolerance. It’s no wonder parents get confused!
Time saving devices can be a godsend. If these help parents focus on their children and frees them up from the incessant juggling which modern parenthood brings, I say bring them on! Modern advancement means we no longer spend a whole day washing clothes by hand or making lasagne with home made bechamel (unless we want to), so I’m all for it. If it replaces our quality interactions and communication with our children then I am less keen. Like many things there is a balance to be had but we live in a modern world and should take the bits that work for us and leave those which hinder.
Buy them hats and sunscreen! Spain is a lovely place to live with children. The healthcare and education system can be excellent. If they are young enough to join a Spanish school and learn the language in preschool do it! They will forever be grateful that they are bilingual. Remember you don’t need lots of friends. One or two good ones is better than hundreds of acquaintances so be friendly at the nursery/creche pick up times and offer a glass of something nice at your child’s birthday party if parents need to stay. One or two of them may just be your lifeline for several years to come.
I love that I become part of families’ ongoing support system. They have a family doctor and they have their family. But so much of what parents need relating to parenting advice cannot be gained from either of these. Doctors only want to know if a child is unwell. Family always say what worked for them even if it is outdated, unsafe or was just luck. I can advise according to recommended strategies and guidelines but with a personal approach which takes the family into account. I love seeing the results and the parents who thank me for making such a difference. I recently had a message from a lady I helped 10 years ago. She finally managed to find me to thank for all I had done for her during her postnatal depression all those years ago. That is what I love. I didn’t even know I’d made such a difference at the time but she assures me that her life would have been very different had I not been there for her.
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