“My journey as a mother and grandmother, a pediatrician and UNICEF Representative”
This first-person article is part of UNICEF Bulgaria’s Parenting month initiative.
For me celebrating the Parenting month of June brings fresh memories of my childhood and of my journey through life as a child, parent and professional woman. It is an interesting journey which I would like to share with all those parents who, like the parents of my 5 weeks old grandson, worry and stress as to whether they are doing the right thing!
Recently you became a grandmother once again. What is the feeling to welcome new life to this world and to support your own children to give the best start in life to theirs?
Five weeks ago, I became a 4th time grandparent. It was a joyous moment for me, the parents and the whole family who were engaged throughout the pregnancy. It was comforting to know that these first-time parents had the support of a health system that included a visiting midwife to guide them through the pregnancy, through the birth and the early moments of the child! On the 18th of May 2019 a healthy baby boy named after my late Husband “Muita” made the first cry announcing his presence to the world and demanding care and protection! Thanks to technology I was connected most of the time to provide the guidance and support to my children…. This is an advantage that I did not have in my time! The first time I saw my new grandchild at two weeks of age brought tears to my eyes and as a mother a tightness in my chest! I felt that once again I had a chance see a new life, a new beginning, a chance to parent and a chance to care and mentor a new second generation of Muita’s! It is not often that grandparents get to live and share time with their grandchildren. I count myself blessed to have this opportunity especially to be there for my children in the early moments. I embrace it with all my heart!
The first time I saw my new grandchild at two weeks of age brought tears to my eyes and as a mother a tightness in my chest!
You are a pediatrician by education and professional occupation. What are the most common challenges that young parents face in the early years of their children’s development?
Growing up in my country of Kenya in the post-independence period taught the value of a government investment in the priority areas of education, health and poverty reduction. I benefited from the efforts of the country to develop rapidly and I got the chance to go to school and become a pediatrician and public health specialist. My parents believed in education from the first time each of their 7 children were born and they invested every penny and effort to ensure that we all went to school! As a parent I have ensured too that my four children got a good education and family where they felt safe and could consult and get guidance. This continues into their adulthood and allows me to be there for my grandchildren. In my practice as a pediatrician I was a counsellor, a mother and a family friend! Most young parents have very simple questions…Is my child Normal? How do I bathe the child? What are the vaccinations and when? Is my child gaining weight properly? The grandmother says I should do this and this, what do you think? And now Google says that - what do you think? All these and many other questions are normal. The parents do not want to make a mistake!! That is why I am so grateful that UNICEF has developed “expert advice to give children the best start in life!” It is important to avoid harmful practices because what happens to the baby at this time determines the future ...
As a UNICEF Representative it must be very dear to your heart that the organization puts such big emphasis to #EarlyMomentsMatter. Why “Eat”, “Play”, “Love” are the elements of nurturing care?
When I close my eyes, I think back to my childhood as far as I can remember! I smile remembering the time we sat around the fire and my parents told us stories or the toys that we built and spent the whole day playing and getting dirty! When I think about the joyous moments in parenting my children I think about Breastfeeding – I practiced exclusive breastfeeding for my 4 children to 6 months in the 80’s and 90’s when it was not as easy as it is today! As a professional woman I travelled with my infants to work, to meetings and continued to breastfeed… Combining professional life and parenting. Breastfeeding gives a chance to the parents to love, care, protect and play with the baby in the early moments…. Bath time is also a great moment for parents and infant. Nurturing care is an instinct but now maybe clouded out by various interests including technology and information overload – but in the early moments of a child’s life when parents focus on appropriate feeding, loving, caring and safe environment and provide stimulating experiences such as play, the results are evident immediately… The child is more active, more engaged with others, more loving and developmental milestones are observed…. No wonder that UNICEF puts emphasis on Eat, Play, Love as critical elements of nurturing care!
Tell us a bit more about the first ever Parenting Month that is underway in Bulgaria and globally. Why is it important to support parenting skills and positive parenting?
This year UNICEF Bulgaria has supported a month-long campaign on parenting. It is the first ever parenting month. We have been able to show case Bulgarian parents contributing to the most rewarding job in the world – that of parenting their children. Examples of celebrities who have ably combined their roles with that of parenting, Fathers who have opted for different and lower paying jobs to find time to be good parents, social services workers who have contributed to visiting vulnerable parents who need guidance and support to provide the best start in life. We have learnt a lot in the process and we continue to generate data that will allow us to improve our support to the parents in Bulgaria and we acknowledge most strongly that the best place to bring up a child is in a loving family. We also know that parents need the capacity to care which includes knowledge and the necessary resources. UNICEF continues to work with government providing technical expertise and tested global evidence on what works in both policies and actions. UNICEF Bulgaria considers the month of June a time to reflect but also acknowledge that the work of supporting parenting continues throughout. The evidence is overwhelming that early moments matter and we encourage parents to visit our tailored online information hub, specially designed for them: www.roditel.unicef.bg
The focus of the campaign in Bulgaria is on supporting Parents of children with disabilities. Why is it crucial to see the abilities, talents and potential of these children?
The Convention on the Right of the Child is the most ratified human rights treaty in history and demonstrates the world’s concern for children – and it is becoming 30 years old in November 2019. UNICEF seeks to ensure that all children enjoy their rights to grow in a nurturing environment and, using evidence, identifies children who are likely to be vulnerable and where extra effort is needed to ensure that their rights are fulfilled. For this reason, UNICEF Bulgaria has identified Parents of Children with disability as requiring our combined efforts to focus on and we have chosen 2019 Parenting Month to do just that. We have learnt a lot about their challenges, their strengths, their needs and their wishes. Through this campaign we have focused on points at which we could do better – for example, in supporting parents and social systems to identify faltering early and to intervene early. We have seen the need to improve services for care and to support capacities of parents and care givers. We have noted the challenges of working parents with children with disabilities among other issues… The campaign therefore not only highlights successes but also identifies challenges and opportunities that we could take moving forward… We however continue to emphasize that early moments mater for all children, everywhere…
As all of the above – mother and grandmother; pediatrician, UNICEF Representative – what advice would you give to the parents of young children, what are the most important and practical things they need to know.
With over 36 years of parenting, 32 years as a pediatrician and 20 years working with UNICEF, I can say with confidence that it is a great honour to be a parent! It gives you a chance to be human and to nurture a human being throughout life. It starts with the decision or the knowledge that you are going to be a parent and takes you through all the stages of a child’s development. The investment you make in the early moments is critical and sets the stage for your own development as a parent and for the development of the child.
For a young or new parent, I know it sounds like a great experiment! But there are simple and practical things based on your context – the most important is to gather the correct knowledge and be prepared for the journey. The support you as a parent receive – from the extended family, the health system and other social services, is very important to help your child, especially in the early moments, to experience the elements of nurturing care “Eat”, “Play”, “Love” in safe and family environment. The participation of both parents is ideal and here I emphasize that fathers are equally important in the nurturing of children as much as mothers! The Grandmothers, other family members and friends provide the necessary extended support according to the context. In my case I provide counselling and 24-hour availability for consultation for the young parents in my life and I respond with expert advice and share my experiences as needed. It is crucial that all mothers have a chance to learn about parenting and have a trusted source of expert guidance, especially for those mothers who may be alone! That is why UNICEF has established a partnership on “parenting workshops” in Bulgaria that gives parents a chance to learn and to enquire on issues that worry them.
We must not forget the carer!
The parent needs support – both psychological and physical.
The breastfeeding mother needs to relax and have proper and adequate nutrition and family environments must be free of stress and violence. As I pediatrician I also add that the young parent needs to know how to feed the child, including complementary feeding after 6 months, to follow the vaccination schedule that babies need to keep them healthy and avoid childhood illnesses. The parents also need to start thinking about education so that they can plan from the early years… As a proud grandmother of four and hoping for even more grandchildren and as a pediatrician and UNICEF Representative, I am committed to supporting parents make appropriate parenting choices!