As we were driving along the motorway in our newly hired car, the two children strapped into their appropriate for age/weight car seats, the older one let us know that his sister was opening the car door. She was merrily clicking the latch beside her.
I, in the front passenger seat, turned to hold the door shut, the child screaming at her now inability to open the door, while the driver aimed for a pull off place. We were reasonably sure the car would have a child safety lock, although they are not mandatory in the UK, but the hire company didn’t provide a car manual. After some searching and trial and error we found the lock, locked it, and set off again.
Back to the car – the children were hugging enormous stuffed dogs that they brought with them. We (grandmother and aunt) were on a weekend trip to a caravan by the sea. It was the first time that the younger child had ever slept away from her parents. So we were in an experiment, aware we might have to drive them home in the middle of the night if they freaked out.
Over the course of the weekend’s various activities – at an adventure farm, at the beach, at a funfair, at the swimming pool, in the car – I became aware of the several brushes of safety. They repeatedly came up in four forms, often intertwined:
Mental safety – is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. What’s great about being with children is that they ask so many questions and take such delight in things provide the small pleasures adults are constantly missing in the hurry to get down the ‘to do’ list. Watching my grandson experimenting and learning how to operate a water pump, watch the water flow down a series of pipes and finally construct a circular water flow in the sand the water was flowing down into – asking questions all the way – was entrancing for me. I love the questions, the experimentation, the concerns and (sometimes) the mistakes – I’m still learning how to give positive spins on these, and keep my knee-jerk reaction of ‘Do it like this’, ‘No’ or ‘Don’t’ or – my mother’s favourite, ‘How could you be so silly?’ under wraps.
Emotional safety – is the feeling that in relationship, you can trust each other, relax in each other’s presence, and feel confident that you have each other’s best interests at heart. The whole plan of us taking the children away for a weekend was an exercise in trust and emotional confidence from the perspective of their parents and the children themselves. It’s quite a parental tug (tinged with excitement) to see your ‘adorables’ drive off for a weekend without you. The children seemed to have no qualms – they see me almost every day, and they love their aunt beyond measure – they’d been telling their teachers about the great caravan adventure they were setting off on. In the event they managed two nights without any difficulty and we didn’t have to activate our fall-back plan to leave early and shoot off home. Their stuffed dogs came with us on our outings – acting, I think, as an emotional tie/safety blanket back to home and parents.
Physical safety – is having the confidence that you are in a situation with low or no risk of physical harm or hurt. The car door incident is one where we saw physical danger, but the younger child didn’t, in the swimming pool the older child – even with a buoyancy aid – clung tightly to me, terrified of letting himself go into the water, but merrily did grass sledging in his own sledge. Personally, I thought the grass sledging much more terrifying than the swimming. I’m intrigued by what they find physically frightening for themselves, and what I do on their behalf (and mine). There’s so much emphasis on physical safety in our day-to-day. I wonder if it’s all necessary and was amused by a blog, by Peter Hitchens, on the topic, which begins: “My day is besieged with infuriating health and safety warnings. If I buy coffee at the station it says on the lid that the ‘Contents May be Hot’. I should jolly well hope so.”
Social safety – is both having the ability to interact with others, develop healthy relationships, and the ability to participate in society and do this from a position of reasonable financial security not from a position of poverty and its related disadvantages. We’re in a fortunate position of being able to make choices. Our original plan was to travel to the caravan site by train and bus as the children love going on them. I wrote a list of the stuff we needed to take a couple of days before setting off, and realised there was no way two of us could transport everything we needed (we had to take sheets and towels) and manage the two children on public transport, so we hired a car. Once there we could afford to pay the entrance fee to the adventure farm, and the funfair – a situation many of our fellow citizens, and others, are unable to do. Had it been raining we could have afforded to go to the soft-play area.
There is a striking and alarming increase in the number of UK household falling into poverty. The Big Issue reports: “As many as 16 million people in the UK could be officially classed as living in poverty by 2023. Up to 14.5 million people were in poverty before the pandemic, the Government estimates, when taking housing costs into account – that’s one in every four or five people.
However, with income falls projected at 6 per cent for the poorest quarter of households, the latest analysis by the Resolution Foundation predicts that 1.3 million more people will be plunged into absolute poverty by 2023. Including the 700,000 who fell into poverty during the pandemic, that’s around 16.5 million people.”
Dealing with poverty restricts the ability to interact with others, develop healthy relationships and function with confidence and self-esteem. The report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Sociology Perspectives on Poverty, notes that ‘sociologists have pointed to the importance of stigma and shame in understanding the experience of poverty. A particular concern is with how the spending patterns of those in the greatest poverty are often subject to stigmatisation.’
During the weekend, I came across a quote from Anais Nin, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Safety seems to be something that falls into that way of thinking. I haven’t thought about it in terms of these four aspects before and the reflection I’m now doing on it is pointing me towards new explorations around safety. I’ve learned a bit about four forms of safety from the weekend, I’ve also learned that challenging my assumptions and attitudes to it would be worth doing, and that being more conscious and alert to supporting my grandchildren form attitudes to, and experiences of, safety might be helpful to them.
What’s your view of safety? Let me know.