Category Archives: Poverty

What I Heard at the Fathering Conference

People who work in parent-child programming are accustomed to attending conferences where women outnumber men by a significant margin.

It is a novel – and enlightening– experience to attend a conference where there are as many male participants as there are female, and where the majority of the presenters are male.

The national Fathering Conference in Winnipeg March 1 and 2 was just such an event.

Sponsored by Dad Central Canada, the one and a half day event was entitled “Side by Side: Strategies for Working with Vulnerable Fathers”.

Attending any conference always involves choices – ‘which breakout sessions do I attend?’ – and one person’s notes may not look anything like another’s as a result. When I reviewed my notes after the conference, I found these nuggets.

Father involvement:

  • Is greater in the upper and middle classes
  • Affects child development
  • Is affected by vulnerability and marginalization

Words I Will Not Forget

“I have not failed; I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

What makes a father vulnerable:

  • Mental illness
  • Incarceration
  • Military career
  • Newcomer status
  • Domestic violence
  • Aboriginal background
  • Youth
  • Non-residential
  • Racialized
  • Special needs

(I think I would add socio-economic status to the list. Poverty equals vulnerability in many cases and this supports the earlier statement that father involvement is greater in the upper and middle classes.)

Five strength-based assumptions:

  • Fathers desire to have regular interaction with their kids.
  • Fathers have an innate ability to nurture and care for their children
  • Fathers focus on success in all areas of their children’s lives
  • Fathers have important and unique gifts to bring to families
  • When we strengthen fathers, we strengthen kids.

Words I Will Not Forget

Adolescence is a stage, not an age.

What do dads want in a dad’s group? (as selected by dads in Ontario’s Niagara region).

  • Peer to peer
  • Evening
  • Facilitator with lived experience
  • Accessible location
  • Topics of interest
  • Food
  • child care
  • “not like school”
  • Group of dads

Words I Will Not Forget

Every time you say the words “at risk”, it is potentially prejudicial.

For further information and resources you can go to

The Scandinavian Village


Icelandic babies are left outside to nap in freezing temperatures. It is not uncommon to see a pram outside a coffee shop parents grabbing a cup while the baby sleeps. Or to see one outside of a home as many Icelandic babies nap outside at least once a day, no matter the season.


These are not identified as pictures from Iceland; they are, however, identified as pictures from a Scandinavian country.  In all Scandinavian countries, parents let their babies nap outside even in winter. They also leave prams untended outside restaurants and stores while they drink their coffee and do their shopping.

The Finnish Ministry of Labour specifically recommends outdoor naps for infants:

“Irrespective of the season, many children have their evening naps outside in prams.

Many babies sleep better outdoors in the fresh air than in the bedroom. Sleeping outdoors is not dangerous for a baby. One may gradually start going outdoors when the baby is two weeks old. “

Nowadays most day-care centres in Sweden put children outside to rest. It’s common to see rows of prams lined up in the snow at naptime, with youngsters fast asleep inside.

The theory behind outdoor napping is that children exposed to fresh air, whether in summer or winter, are less likely to catch coughs and colds – and that spending a whole day in one room with 30 other children does them no good at all.

Many parents also believe their children sleep better and for longer in the open.

While the weather may be cold, however, it is important that the children have wool closest to their bodies, warm clothes and a warm sleeping bag.

As the Swedes say, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”

Another saying sums up what Swedes are likely to think when toddlers in other countries are kept indoors in sub-zero temperatures: “A little fresh air never hurt anyone.” It’s a saying that many Canadian parents and grandparents have been heard to say, as well.

Those who grew up with Dr. Spock as their parenting guide remember his instructions to let children sleep with an open window in their bedrooms, regardless of the season. Somewhere along the line our society decided that the dangers of cold air outweigh its benefits, although as awareness of something called nature deficit disorder is becoming more widespread, we are beginning to think more about the importance of the outdoors.

But the fresh air issue is only part of it, of course. There is an element of fear involved as well. What if someone abducted your child while he was alone outside? What if the child were in distress and we were not there to fix the problem?

Child abduction is not something that Scandinavian parents worry too much about. In Denmark, for example, kidnappings are exceedingly rare. Reports suggest that there have been three in the last 30 years (and two of those were by would-be thieves who just wanted to steal a bike, not a bike and a baby).

Child abduction is perhaps not a significantly high risk in Canada either, although the fear of it is significant. So is the fear that something bad might happen if we take our eyes away for too long.

It’s not as if Scandinavian parents don’t make use of modern devices such as high-tech monitors attached to strollers; they do. And they’re never that far away to begin with. They’re usually sitting by a restaurant window where they can easily see their pram. And if they don’t hear or see what is happening with their child, passersby will nicely let them know.

Not so in other parts of the world where leaving a child outside and alone is enough to bring law enforcement to your door. In one well-publicized case from 1997 (20 years ago now), authorities turned a child over to foster care and arrested the parents — a Danish-American couple, it so happens — after they enjoyed a snack in a New York eatery while the baby lazed in her stroller outside.

In Scandinavia, it seems, people are still willing to help people out, not judge and/or convict them for their parenting habits. They seem to be residents in the village that raises the child and wouldn’t we all like to live in a village like that?

What do you need for Christmas, Mom?

Both my children have asked me that question recently.

Seems like it was only yesterday that I was mailing letters to the North Pole for them. Their Dad and I always knew what they wanted for Christmas. They told us over and over again.

But now they are adults, although always our children, and they are the ones asking the question.

It’s not that easy a question to answer.

There are not so many things I ‘need’ these days, you see, but I haven’t stopped ‘wanting’ yet.

The older I get, the more I find that the things I want the most can’t be wrapped in shiny paper. They are huge, but have no shape that would fit neatly inside a box or bag.

Some of them can’t be purchased at all. They are priceless, but have no price tag.

Some of them are not even possible, but that doesn’t stop the wanting.

My Christmas List

I want a calendar to mark the special days and remind myself that each day can be special.

I want a journal to hold time in one place for memory’s sake.

I want a snowflake to remind me of the awe and excitement that was winter in childhood.

I want a candle to symbolize the season, but also to remind me of candles lit within the year: on birthday cakes, for example, or spooky Hallowe’en nights.

I want the smell of that candle burning.

I want the colours of the seasons, wrapped in a bow.

I want the sound of your voices on the phone, saying that you arrived safely and all is well.

I want yesterday back for just the length of the Christmas season. I want the presence of family and friends who cannot now be with us except in memory. I want the excitement of Christmas morning with young children.

I want the sound of a bell. Just the sound.

I want kindness and warm hugs. I want great big bellyfuls of laughter.

I want peace on earth.

I want you home for Christmas. But if you can’t be here, I want you safe wherever you are.

I want the words to tell you just how much you mean to your Dad and me.



P.S. What do YOU need for Christmas?

P.P.S. I hope your list is easier than mine.


Four pillars

At Healthy Child Coalition – Central Region we are, of course, familiar with the four pillars set out by Healthy Child Manitoba:

  • literacy
  • physical education and nutrition
  • parenting, and
  • building community capacity.

Until recently I had never heard of the “four pillars of excess”. Then I read an online article titled “Simplifying Childhood May Protect Against Mental Health Issues”.

What are the four pillars of excess?

  • having too much stuff
  • too many choices
  • too much information, and
  • too much speed.

The author refers to Kim John Payne’s book Simplicity Parenting. Early in his career, Payne volunteered in refugee camps where children were dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Years later when he ran a private practice in England, he realized that many affluent children were displaying the same behaviour as those refugee children had. Why?

Because, Payne says, we have overwhelmed our children with more and more toys, more and more activities, more and more information.

Children need down-time, he says, in order to increase creativity and self-directed learning.

“Our children have their whole lives to be adults and to deal with the complexities of life, but only a fleetingly short time in which they can be kids. Silly, fun loving kids.”

To read the article go to:

Let’s go play in the barnyard!

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I am a farmer’s daughter. My grandparents were also farmers. On top of that I married a farmer and in time became a farm mother. I have an intimate knowledge of farm dirt. But I have never been worried that it was bad for me or my children.

So recent headlines that farm dirt is good for us are no surprise to me. Just saying….

City cousins used to come visit us on the farm every summer. The two sons in one family were asthmatic; they would come armed with an arsenal of protection and their mother would map out the areas in the yard they could and could not venture into. They never listened to her; they were having too much fun.

Back in the city afterwards they would inevitably have asthmatic attacks and I remember a summer when one of them was actually hospitalized as a result. It was the first time that my siblings and I had ever thought of  farm earth and air as potentially dangerous.

(It never stopped our cousins from wanting to come again the next summer. Fun on the farm was apparently worth the price .)

What is asthma, we wanted to know. Why does the farm make our cousins sick?

Because they’re not used to the farm, mom said. If they lived here, they would be used to dust and mold and pollen.

Last week I read in several different publications – with varying degrees of scientific complexity – the news that studies in Europe and elsewhere have shown that children raised on farms have relatively low rates of allergies and asthma. Something like 25% compared to 45% in the general population.

Boiled down to their simplest components, the findings are that exposure to the common bacteria and microbes found on farms leads to the development of a special protein in the lungs that protects against allergy development.

The scientists warn that it is not quite as simple as that, however. There are other factors at play. For example, drinking unprocessed milk also seems to ward off asthma in children and there will be more studies done about that.

But it does seem that dirt, especially farm dirt,  may play an important and positive role in the good health of our young children.

Something to think about.

FURTHER DISCLOSURE: I love it when I get to say, “I told you so.”


When is a blog not a blog?

When it is a quiz!

At the Crossing Borders: Understanding the Newcomer Experience conference hosted jointly by South East and Central Healthy Child Coalitions in mid-May, the following quiz was part of a role-play activity.

Judging by the number of copies remaining at the end of the session, not many participants took advantage of the opportunity to show how much they knew about Canadian slang.

There are many sayings and slang words that are common to all English-speaking countries, but Canada has some of its own.

So here it is. Have fun. And if there are people who request the answers, I will be happy to oblige with “When is a blog not a blog? Part 2”


Please circle all answers that apply:

1, What is pop?

a) A name for your father

b) The sound a burst balloon makes

c) What a weasel does

d) A soft drink

2,What are snowbirds?

a) White-haired Canadians who spend their winters in the United States

b) The birds in a song made famous by Anne Murray

c) Canada’s military aerobatics or air show flight demonstration team

d) Tiny little birds who make nests in a snow bank.

3, What is a cop shop?

a) A place to rent a police officer by the hour.

b) A store in which you can purchase police uniforms.

c) The local police station

d) The local Tim Hortons

4, What are dainties?

a) Women’s frilly underwear

b) Delicious treats served at Christmas and bridal showers

c) Finicky eaters

d) Breakables

5, What would I do with a toque?

a) Carry my mitts in it

b) Forget it at home

c) Put it on my head

d) Never take it off

6. What does kitty-corner mean?

a) Where two cats meet

b) Located diagonally across from

c) Two women gossiping in a corner (Meow)

d) All of the above

7. What is pogey?

a) An affectionate name for your pogo stick

b) Your dog’s name

c) Employment insurance

d) Lazy man’s perogies.

8. “He was doing 90 clicks.” What does that mean?

a) He was travelling at 90 kilometers per hour.

b) His keyboard speed is 90 words a minute.

c) He had sent out 90 text messages in the last 24 hours.

d) He scored 90 out of 100 on a video game.

9. My goodness, what a kerfluffle. What is a kerfluffle?

a) An all-natural handmade marshmallow

b) An upsetting event

c) The same thing as a kerfuffle

d) An Australian truffle tasting event

10. Am I ever bushed. What should I do?

a) Get out of the bush.

b) Get some sleep.

c).Beat the bushes to wake the birds.

d) Call for help.

11. What do you mean “nuisance grounds”?

a) The brown stuff at the bottom of your coffee cup.

b) Time out space for your children.

c) A garbage dump

d) All of the above.

12, What is hydro?

a) Electric power

b) The masculine form of hydra

c) A narcotic drug

d) A health spa


Capacity Building by Definition

CAPACITY BUILDING – the development of knowledge, skills and attitudes in individuals and groups of people relevant in the design, development and maintenance of institutional and operational infrastructures and processes that are locally meaningful. (Groot & Mulhern, 2001)

What’s that you say?

This is an official definition of the term “capacity building”, one of the four possible program requirements for Healthy Child Coalition – Central Region funding. But ‘officialese’ is not that easy to understand.

I prefer a simpler approach.

One of the meanings of the verb ‘build’ is ‘to establish, increase or strengthen”. Capacity can be defined as “the ability or power to do, experience or understand something.”

Therefore, capacity building becomes establishing or strengthening that ability.

Part of the coalition’s mandate is to help establish or strengthen the ability of Central Region communities to address the needs of their children and families.

Each community is unique. Each community is at a different stage in its journey.  But many are showing signs of their success.

Logically, if all communities grew in their ability to meet their needs, there would eventually be no more need for the coalition. It would have done its job.

It’s not that easy, of course. Nothing is. The process does not have start and end points; it is ongoing.

But when you come to think about it, it’s rather like being a parent. You teach your children how to do things so that they can do them on their own without you.

Parenting as capacity building. Put that in your dictionary.