I currently have three children under the age of 5 and now ring infrequently, having previously been an active peal ringer, Sunday Service
ringer, practice attender, and participant in the National 12 Bell contest for many years. I haven't consciously stepped back from ringing, but with several young children, a job, and a husband who travels quite a bit, it's almost impossible to do otherwise.
I don't resent this at all....if I'd wanted to keep ringing regularly peals in the evenings and weekends then I wouldn't have had children! I am asked into very few peals these days, whereas my husband still gets asked and rings quite a bit, but honestly I think this is because he has sought to be part of bands and, if only one of us can ring, it's usually just easier if he goes and I think he'll get more out of it. Again, I have no issue with this at all as I'm not actively looking to ring peals and, if this were to change in the future, I think I could take it upon myself to look for opportunities. The person who pushes me to most to ring more now is him!
Peals aside, keeping up ringing for Sunday services and at practice nights is hard work. I live in a great city where people are very welcoming but there aren't many other small children going ringing. Here are ideas of things that can help encourage young families to go ringing:
- If my husband and I are sitting outside the circle with children on our knees, it's really hard to get up and "catch hold". It helps if the person in charge is conscious of this and invites us to ring a bell, and is also conscious that we might not be able to ring at the same time so plans this into the ringing session. Our local tower is run well like this, but I've sat through an hour of Sunday service ringing when visiting elsewhere without ringing at all because no-one has thought to offer (or are too busy trying to get the bell they want!) so I've just sat there stranded with a child on my knee. It feels far to pushy to create a fuss at the time so frankly, it just means that next time I won't bother to go up the tower, which is a loss to the band as much as me. I think people who don't have children are sometimes completely unaware of the big logistical effort you've gone to to get there in the first place, so if you don't ring it feels pointless.
- Similarly, it's sometimes really nice if someone offers to sit with / talk to your child so you can ring. I get that this can feel uncomfortable if you don't know them, but parents know what's safe and if a child will behave, and this helps again.
- It's not always possible, but if there is a space to put children safely whilst ringing (sometimes there in towers with several young families) this really helps.
- It's nice if bands go for coffee on a Sunday after ringing. It can be hard for parents with young children and jobs to make it to the pub when getting up very early every morning and in the night, so this gives a chance to get to know people.
- Likewise, at practice nights, if I go then this is usually for a bit of social interaction and the change to do a bit of ringing rather than to push my own ringing boundaries. I very rarely make it to the pub so having a bit of a chat whilst at a practice is welcome. All too often, some people seem to look at their feet and say nothing until at least 2 pints down in the pub afterwards, by which time I'm at home in bed. Many this is a wider observation on general bellringer social skills:-)
- Please keep in mind that mothers are able to ring as well as fathers. Bizarrely, I'm sure that some people still think that the mother is busy looking after the children and my husband gets asked to ring a lot more than me....
- I used to ring in the 12 bell contest, but my local band now doesn't all ring together regularly on a Sunday morning, so being part of the squad involves being able to travel to other 12 bell towers at evenings and weekends, including to the practice for the eliminator and final which can take a whole day and is a long way away. This set-up means I count myself out straight away. I'm pretty sure I can ring to the same standard as in past years, so it is a shame (for me and possibly for the band...) that people in my position end up being discounted (though equally I think it's great that our local organisers are putting so much effort in). This isn't meant as a criticism, but it's just another example of why people like me fall out of ringing. If we all just rang together locally on a Sunday morning, I'd be there.