So, your friend has a newborn baby…

Visitors

This year has been a year of new babies in my little world. Lots of dear friends and family, both near and far, have had babies or announced pregnancies. And of course the sublime Miss Pords entered our world.

Perhaps it is because I know more babies now so I’m on the look out, or perhaps it is because there are more people writing about it (or maybe a bit of both) but I have been seeing a lot of articles purporting to explain how to behave when your friend has a newborn baby.

And it’s driving me kind of crazy.

Parents of newborns are not a homogenous blob of brainless goop, unable to exercise autonomy or say what they mean.

Straight up I’d like to say that of course if your friend has a newborn baby and is withdrawing more than usual, or you suspect that they need help that they are not asking you for, they may need additional support. Depression and anxiety associated with the transition to new parenthood is quite common and early intervention is important. This post is by no means meant to make light of that scenario.

Nor is it meant to suggest that thinking of ways to make someone’s life easier is not a worthy pursuit. The thing is, when I’m reading these lists I often find myself thinking that if my friends started doing any of those things I’d find it more stressful than helpful. And I surely can’t be the only one.

From my massive personal sample size of two, I know for a fact that the experience of parenting a newborn baby is not always the same. And from just being a person who interacts with other people, I know that people’s personalities are not always the same. What might be just right for one person, might seem like the worst idea ever to someone else.

For example, I’ve read that parents of a newborn don’t want to leave their home to see you so you should always visit them there. Actually, when my babies were newborn I’d much rather have come to your place. You could have made me a tea and then held the baby while I drank it. Don’t worry, we wouldn’t have stayed long.

I’ve read that it’s the absolute pinnacle of friendship to leave frozen meals at the door and run. Quite frankly I would never have had the freezer space. Plus I always found that bit of time in the kitchen preparing a meal was a nice break in the day. And if you’d gone to the effort to come around, I’d definitely have felt bad if I thought you didn’t feel you could knock on the door. I’d have spent the next few days agonising over how to make it up to you and probably ended up inviting you over for an ill-advised dinner party. Now, if you told me you’d meet me at the park and you brought me a sandwich, then we’d be friends forever.

I’ve read that parents of newborns desperately want your help with all their housework, but are too tired or embarrassed to ask. I was raised in a household where a clean and tidy home was a priority. The consequence of this in my life has been that I don’t like people seeing my house when it is not in order. I can cope with a mess, but not if I have visitors. If you said you were coming over to see if you could help around the house, I would have spent the preceding hours in a whirlwind of stress, making sure you wouldn’t find too much to be done. I would have much preferred you to say that you’d love to get me out of my disaster zone of a house for a while and go for a walk with me. Fresh air and friendship – always a winning combination.

Now, here’s an idea. If you are close enough the parent of a newborn to be considering visiting them, don’t worry about my story, or any lists you find online. Your friend is the same person they were before. They may be tired and overwhelmed, but that doesn’t mean that they’re planting hidden messages in everything they say. It’s not your job to second guess them. Use what you know about them, plus a generous helping of common sense, to work out how to behave appropriately.

And if you don’t know enough about them to work it out, maybe leave visits until you’re personally invited. Send them a text, or a card if you want to let them know you’re happy for them and looking forward to meeting the new arrival.

Luckily for me, either my friends weren’t big consumers of these online manuals for behaviour, or they had the good sense to ignore them. Just as you, in turn, should ignore this and do whatever feels right for you.

Do you think people need guidelines for how to behave when their friend has a newborn baby? What would you put on the list?

My Random Musings
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A letter to the guy who ran a red light

light

To the guy who ran a red light and nearly smashed into my double pram,

Re: Why I’m not hunting you down. (But I might next time).

I have a baby and a two year old. When I cross roads with them I’m conscious of the fact that I’m not just crossing the road. I’m also modelling how to cross a road. So I model caution. We always stop, look, and listen. When there are lights, I get my toddler to watch for the green and let me know when it is safe to cross. It annoys my husband when we’re stopped waiting for a light to change with no car in sight. But I figure if we wait now, the little people are more likely to wait when we’re not with them. (Not that they’ll be crossing roads on their own any time soon, but good habits start young!)

Today I was out for a walk with the kids in a double pram. We stopped at a light. We waited for a couple of minutes and then the light turned green for us to cross. My toddler shouted: “Green!” I went to step out but noticed your car just in time. You went straight through the red. You and your passenger glared at me as you drove passed. I was the woman giving you my fiercest looking shake of the head. That shake of the head will surely haunt your nightmares.

And maybe it should.

If I had stepped straight out with the green signal, you would have collected the pram. In an instant the two most precious little lives in my world might have been taken from me. It made me sick to the stomach to think about at the time. I wanted to hunt you down. I wanted to shake you until you realised what you had done and what might have been. To realise that you were a menace to society and shouldn’t be driving.

But as I walked on, I started to wonder if you frequently have near misses with double prams, or if maybe driving through that red light was the worst lapse of concentration you’ve ever had behind the wheel.

Maybe you’re usually an exemplary driver. Maybe you have kids and when you take them for walks you make sure they stop, look, and listen. Maybe you think that people who run red lights shouldn’t be behind the wheel.

I started to think about the fact that so many of our encounters with other people are only moments. We only catch a glimpse of what they are like as a driver, or as a parent, or as a person.

Most people don’t see us most of the time.

Most of the time I spend 29 hours a day (at least) chopping vegetables and preparing healthy food for my kids to snack on. But to the couple who saw me at the park last sunny Sunday afternoon, I am the mother who feeds her two year old ice cream.

Most of the time I’ll smile and have a chat with strangers. But to the woman at the shops who wanted to engage me in conversation when I’d had a terrible day and just wanted to run in and out with two sick children, I am the rude mother who doesn’t stop.

Of course, some things are more excusable than others. If I know I am already cranky, I probably shouldn’t attempt a shopping trip with a toddler and baby.

And if you know you are too tired, or otherwise distracted, to drive, you definitely shouldn’t be driving.

For all the many, many moments when I fall short of perfection and have to hope that people realise that they are only seeing a glimpse of me, I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt on this one. I’m not going to hunt you down.

But watch out Mister, because if I ever see you doing something like that again, I just might.

Yours in hope that I never see you again.

Kyles

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Toddler dinnertime: Resolution in Rhyme

Pip eating

I really don’t love cooking,
But I really do love you.
For you I would do anything,
Even learn to cook a stew.

In my head I keep a list
Of foods that you prefer.
I know you like to help,
So I always let you stir.

I cook for health and taste,
Put a rainbow on your plate.
I time it oh so carefully,
Not too early, not too late.

Finally the moment comes
To call you to your chair.
We start the meal with such high hopes
But soon there comes despair.

It makes your mama sad
To see salmon on the floor;
Mashed potato on the walls,
Peas rolling out the door.

I know that before bedtime
You just want to have more fun.
But you haven’t even had one bite,
When I hear you shout “All done!”

So I’ve decided in the future,
I’m going to save my time.
You can have a sandwich.
Mummy’s having wine.

Prose for Thought
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Fighting fires: Toddler discipline

Firestarter

When I was a kid there was a public service announcement that used to run on tv about what to do if your house was on fire. I don’t remember the exact details, but I do remember Ronald McDonald telling me to: “Get down low and go, go, go!” I’m sure it was good advice for getting out while avoiding as much smoke as possible, but I wonder how many kids had nightmares about crazed clowns starting grease fires in their bedrooms. Just me? Thought so.

Fast forward to today and there’s a new fire starter in my house. He’s not a junk peddling clown but a feisty two year old. I hasten to say that he hasn’t actually started any actual fires yet (although when I am tied up feeding or changing the baby, I do sometimes wonder if the noise is him lighting small ones in the next room).

Hunger and tiredness, however, are two sticks rubbing together. It only takes the tiniest spark for the fire to ignite. Maybe I’ll say that ice cream is not a breakfast food. Maybe he’ll notice that one of his pictures has been moved from the fridge. Maybe I’ll tell him that he has to wear pants to the library.

And then… Kaboom! The fire has started.

The fire burns in an unpredictable manner. Often, all that needs to happen to douse it is some food, or a nap, or a hug. Usually we know the warning signs well enough to have avoided public places. Don’t take a hungry or tired toddler to a supermarket. If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.

But then there are the other times. When the fire spreads out of control. How do you douse the raging flames of cranky, crazy defiance?

There are several schools of thought on toddler discipline. And I have been reading the books, as is my wont. As with all parenting advice, there are some pieces of information that just don’t fit right for me or our family. There are other things that I have taken on board to adapt and implement. I’m sure our methods for discipline and setting boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour will need to change over time.

In amongst it all, there is one piece of advice that has stood out for me and that has had an almost immediate impact; when you want to change the way your toddler is behaving you need to physically get down to their level.

Sometimes my toddler drives me crazy. Sometimes I want to yell. But this doesn’t get us anywhere. I feel myself looming over him. My voice is thunder. The power imbalance is enormous. It is intimidating and unfair. It also tends to only add extra fuel to the fire.

When I get down on his level he sees me. He hears me. He listens.

When I get down on his level I see him. I hear him. I listen.

When we are face to face I can’t be angry. I realise that the world is still big and new and scary. I remember that when I’m hungry I get “hangry”. I remember that when I haven’t had enough sleep little upsets are devastation. I remember that he’s small and I’m big and it’s my job to help him through this tough business of growing up and learning about the world as best I can.

So now when I see the toddler fire starting to burn, I remember Ronald McDonald, that wise old sage. I get down low, and I go, go, go. And we can usually escape unharmed.

Digital Parents

 

Happy Mama Happy Baby



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Word of the Week: Runcible

RUNCIBLE

Sleep did not happen this week.

I’m actually ok with this. When you have the privilege of little people in your life, sometimes sleepless nights (or weeks) are going happen. Usually a good night’s sleep is traded for quiet midnight cuddles with someone who just needs to know that all is ok in the world. I’m prepared to pay that price. I’ve even written about how getting up at night is something I’ll miss later down the track.

The thing about sleep deprivation is that it fuddles the brain. On three separate occasions this week, I’ve been recounting something that happened and suddenly I wasn’t sure if it happened in a dream or in reality.

I’ve heard people talk of experiencing this before, but it had never happened to me. In some ways it’s terrifying. A slowly slipping sanity. In other ways it’s kind of great. Getting closer to nonsense puts me in touch with a childishness that delights in silliness and play.

So, Pickles and Pords and I have been eating with runcible spoons. Dancing with madness. Laughing at all things ridiculous.

And when I got so tired that I had to lie down on the floor and close my eyes, Pickles covered me with a blanket, kissed me on the head, and read me “Good Night, Sleep Tight”. It made me want to be sleepless evermore.

The Reading Residence
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6 Tips for Reading to Babies

-POP

Reading to babies can seem silly at times. When a baby is not yet talking, you might wonder if they are able to take anything in. It might feel like a waste of time. Yet, there is a lot of literature that says that reading to babies is crucial for many aspects of their development.

Here are some tips to optimise your reading for your baby’s development and enjoyment.

1. Choose books with no words

It may seem counter-intuitive but, in terms of aiding language development, choosing books without words is a great way to go. This is largely because of your own reading behaviour. When you are reading from set text, you can get stuck just reading through the book without taking the time to stop, point things out, discuss what is happening, and relate the story back to your child’s own experiences. With wordless books, you are much more likely to have an active, engaged experience.

2. When a book has words, steer away from the text

There are lots of great books for children with interesting stories and clever rhymes. Great children’s books are also well designed with repetition and rich vocabulary to help developing brains. So, of course, it is useful to read the text. As adults, that’s what we’re programmed to do so it’s probably inevitable that we’ll read exactly what the words say at least the first time around.

Once you get to the second, or third, or four hundredth read through it is a great idea to steer away from the text. Pretend that there are no words and tell your own story.

3. Make your reading interactive

Use the book as a vehicle for talking about things in your baby’s life. For instance, if there is a dog in the book you could talk about your own dog, or a dog you saw at the park. Point things out in the pictures and name the things that you see. If your baby is at an age where he or she can point to things, ask them if they can point to the tree, or the bird, or the rainbow.

A great way of making your reading time interactive is to have some books that you have made yourself. So, you could have a book that just has the faces of people you know. Then you can point to grandma, and talk about how she looks happy. Point to her eyes and nose and mouth. Or point to daddy and talk about his red shirt. Talk about something you did with daddy today. All of these things helps your baby to make connections between words and the world around them.

4. Only read when your baby is interested

When you’ve been told that you should read to your child for at least ten minutes every day, it may be tempting to get through that time, or at least through one book, even if your child is fussing or looking away. However, forcing a child to stay on your lap while you continue to read is not beneficial for development and can actually be detrimental as the child begins to associate negative experiences with reading.

5. Choose books you both enjoy

When choosing books, think about books that you will enjoy reading, as well as books that your child will enjoy listening to. Babies can pick up on attitudes and emotions. If you are happy, enthusiastic, and engaged in the reading yourself, your baby is much more likely to have a positive experience. For very young babies, you can even try just reading them whatever you happen to be reading yourself. They will benefit from hearing your voice, and the language. The content isn’t as important as the attitude.

6. Read early and often

It’s never too early to read to your children. Try and get into the habit of reading to them everyday, from as early in their life as possible. Not only will you be fostering a love of reading and enhancing their cognitive development, but you will also be nurturing your own bond with them as you share special times with books.

Did you read to your babies? What are your favourite books for babies?

Happy Mama Happy Baby

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Other Great Loves

Love

It was well passed my bedtime. Well, ok, it was 8pm. But I was eyeball-sore tired and I was drinking wine on the couch.

I’ve become addicted to watching those how-to-be-a-good-mother themed parenting documentaries. They don’t make me into a better mother. They just make me realise all the things that I’m doing wrong and subsequently my wine slightly salty because of all the tears.

And yet I just can’t look away.

One day there’ll be the little nugget of gold that makes me into the queen of the parents. Well, this show had a nugget alright but it sure wasn’t golden.

A very shiny looking lady said: Until you have a child of your own, you don’t really know what love means.  “Say what!?” The wine sprayed from my mouth. Actually, that reminds me, I better clean that up.

Before I had Pickles and Pords my life wasn’t a barren, loveless wasteland. To suggest as much not only diminishes the lives and loves of those who are childless or childfree, but also any other great loves in a parent’s life. It limits the selfhood of the parent to simply being a mother or a father, disregarding all of the other incarnations of self that they had prior to children, and continue to have for their whole lives.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that you might never love any children at all, or even like the little buggers very much, and still know deep, soaring, eternal love. Love that consumes you and changes you and crushes you while making you feel whole.

Or you might not have children of your own, but love nieces or nephews, or the children of a close friend. I’ll always remember where I was when my brother called me to tell me his baby girl had been born. I’ve loved her and my nephew right from the start. Babysitting is not seen as a favour for my brother and sister-in-law because spending time with them is happiness.

I didn’t have my own children and think ah well, that wasn’t really love at all. I didn’t suddenly see my husband as a mere passing fancy. The feelings I had for other family and friends did not cease their importance.

Being a mum has been a remarkably wonderful experience so far. My love for my children is immense. But I’m not mother-nothing-more. And my friends who are not parents are not incapable of knowing love.

What do you think? Was the lady on my tv crazy, or am I crazy?

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My Random Musings
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Word of the Week: Wonderstruck

WONDERSTRUCKexperiencing a sudden feeling

This week I discovered Twitter. Ridiculous, I can hear you thinking. (Your thoughts are much louder than you might assume). Twitter has 500 million users. You no more discovered Twitter than Christopher Columbus discovered America. And friend, you have a point. The Twitterverse has been home to some great civilisations for some time already. I am not a pioneer. I am, in fact, very slow off the mark.

The thing is, I always thought Twitter was just for self-centred emos shouting their thoughts into the great abyss. And to some extent it is. And that’s ok. Shouting your thoughts into the abyss is rather liberating. What has surprised and impressed me from my one week onboard has been the parts that are more than that. The parts that are community. I have been wonderstruck, no less.

I have been immersing myself in the global community of parenting bloggers. These are people who share their thoughts and ideas, their triumphs and struggles, with eloquence, sincerity, and good humour. And I’ve only just scratched the surface. I am looking forward to being informed and entertained by many more of these mums and dads over time.

There must be countless other such communities, creating a space for like-minded people to support one another and in turn be supported. But for now I am grateful for the one I have found. So thanks to everyone who has been so welcoming and warm, and to Jocelyn at The Reading Residence for asking me to share my word of the week.

Until such time as my cynicism returns I shall remain,
Wonderstruck.

The Reading Residence
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Lessons from 4 mums in a waiting room

Today I had to take Pickles to the doctor. We were in the waiting room for a very long time. But never fear, I put all that time to good use, by learning some great lessons from the other mums around me.

Frog Mum

Frog Mum came in with a toddler and a pre-schooler. Both children were carrying books and the pre-schooler sat himself down and immediately opened his book and started looking through it on his own. The toddler passed his book to Frog Mum to read. The book was about frogs. “Now Aiden”, She began. “What’s this?” She pointed to a pictures in the book. “A frog!” Aiden replied. Good answer Aiden, that would have been my guess too. “Yes, but no I mean what type of frog?” “A green tree frog.” Wow, Aiden was a superstar. I would have been struggling. But apparently so was he, because Frog Mum was slightly exasperated: “No. It’s an African Spotted Frog.” Aiden nodded solemnly. “Yes,” He said with all the graveness of a scholar. Then Frog Mum continued: “See how he puffs himself up to attract the lady frogs?” I nearly fell off the chair. But Aiden just nodded again. He was so interested, it was fabulous to watch. This kid was going to know about the mating rituals of every species of frog before kindergarten. So, my takeaway lesson from Frog Mum was to treat my children a bit more as I would an adult. And to learn some more about the fascinating world of frogs.

Nonna Magpie

Sitting opposite us was a woman with her adult son. He was talking about his business and what his kids had been doing at school. She wasn’t listening to a word. She was watching Pords the whole time. If Pords dropped a toy, or the rusk she was chewing on, Nonna Magpie would swoop straight down and retrieve it for her. She may have looked kind of frail, but Nonna Magpie was sprightly as they come. At first I thought that her son was accompanying her to the doctor, but by the end I wondered if it was perhaps the other way around. From Nonna Magpie I’m going to learn to be more attentive. And not to complain about constantly having to bend down to pick up dropped items.

The Cat Lady

Cat Lady sat in the corner of the waiting room and talked the entire time about her fur baby. Now, this might not seem like that big a deal until you realise that we were in that waiting room for close to an hour. And she did not draw breath. I now know what and when that cat eats. The ways in which it’s behaviour has changed over the eight years since Cat Lady has owned it. Its preferred route through the retirement village where Cat Lady lives, and the full list of people that love the cat. The names of other, not so great, cats in the neighbourhood. A super story about the time Cat Lady’s daughter had to bring a ladder around to get the cat out of a tree. Three different people came and went from the seat next to her. I’m not sure she even had an appointment. But I’m pretty sure that anyone who loves their cat that much has a heart of gold. From cat lady I’m going to learn to celebrate the ones I love more loudly and more often… although perhaps not that loudly or that often.

Speedy Cheetah

We had been waiting for about half an hour when Speedy Cheetah arrived. She was in a pink tracksuit and looked like she’d just come from the gym. Her son, who was about eleven, complained the whole time. Evidently he had a cold and it wasn’t much fun. Speedy Cheetah patted him arm and said “Don’t worry the doctor will see us in a minute.” I felt sorry for the kid, that she had got his hopes up when they were so clearly running behind. Let alone the fact that the doctor really wasn’t going to be able to do much about his cold. But Speedy Cheetah was on it. She went and had a quick word to someone and moments later they were through. I don’t know what she said but it worked. I’m pretty sure the doctor also would have been talked into giving her son the secret cure for the common cold that doctors have been keeping under wraps for their own personal use. Speedy Cheetah inspired me to be more efficient and assertive right then and there.

So I sprang into action…

Pickles had fallen asleep with his head on my lap so I gently lifted him under one arm, had Pords tucked under the other, and hooked my bag through the tips of my fingers. I struggled across to the reception desk. “Be a cheetah. Be a cheetah.” I recited to myself. “Yes?” The receptionist looked at me from behind her glasses. “Ummm… well, we’ve been waiting for a long time. I was just wondering how much longer she’ll be?” She pretended to look something up. “You’re next in.” I felt a surge of cheetah power. I made that happen. No doubt everyone else in the room was learning lessons from me. This no-nonsense mum was getting things done. Half an hour later, we were finally called through.

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

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Impostor Syndrome in Parents

mask

If you are a parent, do you ever look at your kids and wonder how they got to be so awesome? It can’t be nature, because you’re not all that. It can’t be nurture, because you’re not doing that great a job. Must be sheer luck.

Impostor Syndrome

I teach at a university law school. Every time I start a semester with a new group of students I give them the same speech. Students often find it daunting to participate in group discussions in class, even when they have valuable contributions to make.

There are a few different reasons for this, but one of the main ones is that they suffer from impostor syndrome. They are afraid that any minute now someone is going to find out that there has been some huge mistake, that they’re not actually smart enough to be at law school, that they don’t deserve it. If they open their mouths in class someone is definitely going to realise it, report them, and they are going to be frog marched straight out of there. I tell them that this is ridiculous. Getting into law school requires brains and hard work. Staying in law school requires commitment and more hard work. If you’re in my class, you’ve earned your right to be there. No phonies here.

Except maybe me. I’m terrified that I’ll be found out. I might have graduated law school, completed a Masters degree and a PhD, worked in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors, and taught in a number of universities, but I certainly don’t belong up here at the front of the class.

Such is the nature of impostor syndrome. No matter what you have achieved or how hard you have worked to get where you are, you still somehow think you have fluked your way through life and ended up somewhere you really don’t belong.

Do you ever feel like an impostor?

Consider this. If someone says to you something along the lines of: “Your kids seem really happy, relaxed and friendly, you must be doing a great job.” Do you, a) accept the compliment and acknowledge your role in your kids undisputed greatness, or b) downplay either your role, or your kids undisputed greatness, or both? Things that have come out of my mouth in such situations include: “Yeah, they’re awesome kids but I don’t know how that happened. We must just be lucky” and “They’re not so sweet when they’re screaming in the middle of the night.” If I don’t make it clear that it’s not perfect, it’s going to be pretty obvious I’m just a massive phoney. The fraud squad will be hauling me away.

The thing is, when I make any sort of disparaging remark about my children I immediately regret it. After all, they are in actual fact indisputably great. But on the other hand I rarely regret downplaying my own role in their formation. I don’t want to claim too big a hand in their greatness. What if this woman at the park finds out that I let them watch tv, or eat foods containing sugar, or sometimes even watch tv while eating foods containing sugar. (Not the baby, obviously. But she’ll no doubt get there one day). Never mind the hours and hours spent playing with them, preparing their meals, talking to them, reading to them, and laughing with them every single day. Never mind the countless nights spent up consoling them, reassuring them, being there for them. Those bits don’t count.

Except of course, they do. All of these things are the things that make your little people who they are. Whether it’s agonising over a care provider for when you are at work. Or the hug you save up especially for them at pick up time. Or pushing them on the swing at the park. Or the special story at bedtime. The big and little things that you do every day. Just being you. In this scenario it’s not possible you’re an impostor. Don’t worry what the world thinks. Don’t worry what “they” might find out. To a certain little someone you are indisputably the absolute greatest.

Now if only I could take my own advice.

My Random Musings
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