A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

Monthly Archives: March 2009

Not so long ago, I visited some friends with a new baby.  They were doing really well, but when I asked them what they found hardest about becoming new parents they said it was not having as much time for each other.  I think it’s one of the biggest challenges when kids come along – how do you make sure you still get quality time with your better half?

We’ve found it pretty hard to go out as often as we’d like to.  We don’t have a lot of family in Sydney who can babysit for free.  But I was reminded of how important it is recently because my husband and I are taking a young engaged couple through the The Marriage Preparation CourseThe Marriage Preparation Course is really big on what they call ‘marriage time’.  They suggest spending time together on a daily, weekly and annual basis.  The daily part is pretty easy – you just need to keep in touch throughout the day.  The weekly part is the hardest, because that means dedicating one night a week to ‘marriage time’, which is essentially a date-night. And then the annual basis means going away somewhere special for a weekend to recharge and reconnect, without your kids.

If you don’t have a host of willing babysitters just lying in wait to look after your kids, then it’s pretty hard to make that happen every week.  Once a month might be more achievable.  One idea is to set up a reciprocal arrangement with somebody else who also wants to have more time with his or her partner.  One of my neighbours and I have just started doing a baby-sitting swap after the kids are asleep on a Sunday night.  They went out last week and we went out this week.  The kids didn’t even notice.

Of course it’s also possible to have a date-night at home, (if you can resist the call of the TV, the phone, the internet and the unfinished ironing), but you have to put in some effort to make it feel special.  You need to dress-up, light candles, put flowers out, cook a really sumptuous meal or play some good music… whatever it takes to get you excited.  Frankly, if you have a new baby right now, it probably all seems way too hard.  But I don’t think there’s any way to have a special night together without somebody putting in some thought or effort.  Pizza in front of the telly might be easier, but it’s not likely to invigorate your relationship!

How has your relationship with your husband or wife changed since you had kids?  Do you still find time for a ‘date’ together without the kids?  If not, what stops you spending time together?  Money?  Tiredness?  No babysitters?  What could you do to make your relationship more inspiring?  If you’ve got a great relationship with your other half, tell us what works for you.

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Last weekend some people at my church organized a bush dance to raise funds for the Westmead Children’s Hospital. I was really looking forward to it.  Because Birdy is just so into dancing at the moment, I was sure that she would enjoy seeing all the dancing and hearing the live music.  It was going to be so much fun… Or so I thought.

From the minute we got there, Birdy said she needed to go home.  She refused to play with any of the other kids.  She wouldn’t eat a sausage.  She wouldn’t talk to anybody.  She kept telling me she felt hot and that she needed to go home.  She didn’t feel hot to me, but after an hour of non-stop complaining I gave in and we went home.

Then as soon as we got home, she was fine.  Totally fine.  She was not even slightly unwell.  So I made her some dinner, and after she’d eaten quite a lot, she started throwing her food on the floor.

Now, throwing food on the floor is a pretty normal thing for a toddler to do. But I was grumpy because I was at home on a Saturday night, while everybody else was enjoying the bush dance.  So I said, ‘Don’t throw food on the floor.  If you do that again, you’ll get a smack.’ And she looked me in the eye and threw the food on the floor.  So I said, ‘Right, you’re getting a smack.’ And I smacked her on the hand.  Now, my husband and I don’t normally smack.  So she was really shocked and devastated.  And I felt terrible.  Because I realized immediately that I hadn’t really smacked her because she threw food on the floor.  I’d really smacked her because I was angry that I’d missed the bush dance.  So I said I was very sorry and we had a big, big hug and a big cry together.

I now know for sure that I don’t believe in smacking… for me.  I’m a pretty emotional person and I’m not self-controlled enough to know the difference between smacking that is really about discipline and smacking that is done in a moment of anger.  And if I can’t tell the difference until it’s too late, how is Birdy going to know the difference?  I was never smacked as a child and I don’t want to smack my child ever again.  I just hope that I’m self-controlled enough to stick to my decision.

Do you believe in smacking? Were you smacked as a child and has that influenced your attitude to it? Is smacking an effective form of discipline? If you don’t smack, what forms of discipline have worked for you?  Have you sometimes found yourself smacking your child, even though in theory you don’t like to?

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Last week I wrote about our big trip out to Bourke. Even though we had a great time, I actually feel like I let Birdy down a bit. You see, I kept telling her that we were going camping. Last time we went camping, she loved it, so I really talked up the whole camping thing. We pitched our tent by the river, surrounded by the beautiful gum trees and the laughing kookaburras, but… let’s just say the tent didn’t get much use.

I blame the good people of Bourke. They’re just too hospitable. Every time we told someone we were camping, they would insist that we stay at their house. So we never actually slept in the tent!  I felt a little bad because I’d promised Birdy a camping trip, but we didn’t do any camping. Slack, hey?

But that’s not all. As we were driving out of town, she spotted this great park that she wanted to play in.  I said no, because I wanted to get to Dubbo to go to the zoo. (Dubbo, for those who don’t know, has Australia’s best open range zoo.) So again, I talked it up. I said, ‘We’re going to see the giraffes and the zebras and the elephants.’ Unfortunately, we were a bit late getting away, and we stopped a bit too long for lunch so by the time we got to Dubbo, the zoo was closing. We couldn’t do that either.

Birdy was fine about it. I felt really terrible. But it made me realize two things. Firstly, I shouldn’t have talked up the zoo or the camping trip quite so much if I wasn’t going to follow through. (Being an extrovert, I tend to think out loud a lot, which can be a dangerous habit.) But secondly, we’re all going to let our kids down. There’s going to be times when we can’t make it to the school play or the soccer final or whatever. Or we lose our temper. Or we say something stupid. There’s a great picture book by Mem Fox that really captures that feeling of when we let our child down. It’s called Harriet, You’ll Drive me Wild. Do you know it? It’s about this pesky child, Harriet Harris, who always does the wrong thing. She doesn’t mean to, and she’s very sorry, but she drives her mother round the bend. And her mum tries very hard not to yell at her. But at the end of the book, the mother just explodes. And then the roles are reversed and it’s the mother saying sorry to the child. And I just love that book because it’s so true. We’ve all done that. And I guess we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves… Even so, hopefully next time I’ll plan the trip a bit better, so we get to the zoo on time.

Have you ever let your kids down? Has there ever been a time when you promised them something and you just couldn’t make it happen? Or when you lost your temper and said something you shouldn’t have? What did you learn from your mistake?

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We went away on a road-trip last week to go to a 30th birthday party in Bourke in outback NSW.  It was a big party and it was held in a big old empty pub, so there was plenty of space, and there was even a DJ and a disco room with a mirror ball and flashing lights and the whole works.  We wouldn’t normally have taken Birdy to a party like that, but we didn’t have anyone to babysit in Bourke so she just had to tag along. 

But as it turned out Birdy had a great time. And because she was the only child there, everybody would come up and say, “Hello darling, aren’t you beautiful?” and she would do a little twirl in her party dress.  Then she discovered the disco room, and well… it was all on then.  She took Daddy’s hand and twirled and kicked her legs and danced her little heart out, while Daddy looked on admiringly.  Do your little girls twirl?  When they put on a pretty dress, do they twirl for you?  Why do little girls do that?

There’s a book by John and Stasi Elderidge called Captivating that talks a lot about the way that women and little girls need to feel that they are beautiful and captivating.  I had a lot of resistance to this message.  I’m not someone who focuses on appearances.  I know that women and girls should be valued as being more than just a pretty face.  But seeing the way Birdy puts on a pretty dress and twirls, I’ve realized that not only does she want to hear that she’s beautiful, but she wants to hear it from her father.  She wants her father’s attention, she wants his full undivided attention. 

On the way back from Bourke, Birdy kept saying she didn’t want to go home.  And we couldn’t figure out why.  Then we remembered I’d said we had to get back so Daddy could go to work.  Sure enough, when Birdy woke up on our first day home, and saw that Daddy had already gone to work, she started crying and asking for Daddy.  She was missing Daddy’s time and attention.  And when I think about the way that Birdy was dancing at the party, it says to me that little girls really do come alive when they’ve got their Daddy’s undivided attention.  Obviously boys need their father’s attention too, but little girls really need to know that their father thinks they are beautiful and special. So much of their self-worth depends on it.

Do you have little girls?  Do they twirl?  Do you agree that little girls look to their Dads for affirmation?  If you’re a Dad, do your little girls get enough of your time and attention?  What can Dads do to make their girls feel special?  If your daughter doesn’t have a father, or has an ‘absent father’, how can you make up for it in their life?

It’s amazing how when your kids start talking you suddenly hear what you must sound like yourself.  For example, whenever Birdy says, noice instead of nice, I think, ‘Do I really sound like that?’  But on a more serious note, whenever she says something really noice to me, it’s also a reminder of how good words of affirmation are for the soul, and that encouraging words spoken to one person often have a flow-on effect to others.

Just the other night, when I was tucking Birdy into bed, I leant over to kiss her and all my hair fell down over my face.  Birdy very gently reached up and pushed my hair to one side, but it kept falling over my face again.  With great concern she said, ‘Your eyes go in your hair, Mum.’  I had to try hard not to laugh at that.  And then she said, ‘You need a pretty, Mum’.  Like many toddlers, she thinks hair-clips and hair-bands are called prettys because whenever we put them in her hair, we say, ‘Ooooh, pretty.’  So I tied my hair back and then she said, ‘You look berry cute Mum.’  And my heart just melted.  Not because she really thinks I’m cute, but because she’s repeating back to me exactly what I say to her every time I do her hair.  And it reminded me of how everything we say to our kids gets absorbed by them and comes out again later. 

But of course it’s not just what we say to our kids that’s important; its also how we respond to what they say.  Some kids have never really been listened to.  Listening to a child is a very powerful form of affirmation.  In fact as I was preparing this segment for the radio, Birdy was being looked after by her babysitter for the morning.  As they were playing I heard Birdy say, “I like you, Hannah.”  And straight away Hannah said, “I like you too.  We’re good friends, aren’t we?”  It was wonderful to hear Birdy’s positive words being affirmed enthusiastically back to her, because kids need to learn that their words actually have an impact on how other people feel as well. 

What have you said that your kids have absorbed?  Has your child ever just melted your heart with something cute they said? 

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