A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

Monthly Archives: July 2009

I look after my little niece every Thursday.  So yesterday morning, I sat the girls down at the dining table with a bowl of porridge each.  (What was I thinking?)  Then Birdy decided that her porridge-covered spoon was actually a microphone and she started singing into it.  So naturally her cousin copied her.  I suppose at this point I could have intervened, but they were having fun so I let it go.  Anyway, the screeching got louder and louder, their voices got higher and higher and the porridge ended up distributed fairly evenly between the floor, the table and their hair, so that by the end of breakfast my kitchen looked like a rock star’s hotel room.

Have you ever noticed how nearly everything that little kids get really excited about involves some kind of mess?  Painting?  Mess.  Cooking?  Mess.  Playdough?  Mess.  Jumping in puddles after the rain?  Mess.  And as soon as you try to stop it being messy, it just isn’t half as much fun anymore.  Do you know I hardly ever did any painting with Birdy for the last two years because I was so afraid of the mess?  It’s only now that we’ve conquered toilet training that the idea of cleaning up a bit of paint doesn’t seem so bad.

I always try to get the girls involved in cleaning up, even if its counterproductive at times, in the hope that it might pay dividends in the long-term.  I also try to emphasise how nice it is to have things clean and tidy again, in the hope that they might start to appreciate tidiness.  But my main strategy is to try to limit messy activities to just one area of the house.  So any kind of activity involving food, water, play-dough, paint or any other suspect substance has to take place in the kitchen area on the lino.  That way Birdy can still have fun with her friends but it doesn’t have to take over the whole house.  Even so, it’s a constant battle, and I find I’m always balancing the desire to let the girls have fun, with the need to protect my sanity.  After all, one of the beautiful things about childhood is their ability to just enjoy the moment and let the adults worry about the consequences.

Do you have trouble keeping up with the mess your kids make or do you take a zero-tolerance approach?  What strategies have you used to keep mess under control, or have you given up completely?  What do you do when you’ve got visitors arriving in half an hour and your child asks to do cooking, painting, or lego?  Have you taught your kids to clean up after themselves?

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Oh it’s been another action-packed week for me and Birdy.  We’ve been fully immersed in toilet training this week.  (I had to wait until the flower-girl thing was over – didn’t want any accidents going down the aisle.) There’ve been some emotional highs and lows, let me tell you, but we’re starting to see some success.

This isn’t my first attempt at toilet training. We actually had a go about six months ago and didn’t get anywhere.  Birdy just wasn’t interested and after a whole week of sitting on the potty with no results, I got sick of cleaning up the mess and just gave up.

So what’s made the difference this time?  Bribery.  It was the only way I could get her interested.  Look at it from the child’s perspective: if they’ve been in nappies for their entire life so far, it’s a pretty big habit to break.  You need some kind of incentive to get them to make the effort.  So we did the sticker chart on the wall.  (It’s actually in our dining room so all our guests can assess Birdy’s toileting progress over dinner.) Every time she uses the potty she gets a sticker on the wall.  Then when the row is filled up she gets a treat.  So far we’ve handed out two chocolate eggs, one toy fox, and the big final prize for when the whole chart is filled up is a pretty pink Disney Tinkerbell bike helmet.  Even without the rewards, I think the stickers have helped her to see her progress and feel like she’s achieving something.

Everybody wants to know if there’s a ‘right’ time to do toilet training.  Experts say there’s a window of opportunity between about 20 and 36 months, but every child is going to be different. A lot of people told me that when they’re ready you can train them in about a week and I’ve certainly found that to be the case.  According to the experts, the signs to look out for are:

–       when they’re showing interest in toileting and bodily functions

–       when they start telling you that they need a nappy change or that they’re doing a wee

–       and if they’re staying dry for longer periods, because that means they’re starting to exercise control.

But in our case, none of those things were particularly relevant, so my advice is just to have a go and see if it works.  You certainly shouldn’t do it when the child is already stressed, like when you’re moving house or they’ve just started at childcare.  And you also shouldn’t put any deadline on it, like expecting them to be trained before the new baby comes, because you don’t want them to feel pressured.  But you’ve also got to consider when you as the parent are ready, because it takes up so much time and energy and you’ve got to clean up all the mess.  Personally, I think there should be a sticker reward system for the parents – clean up five accidents and reward yourself with a caramel latte and Double Choc Tim Tam.  Works for me.

When do you think is the best time for toilet training?  Did you use a reward system with your kids?  And what do you do when you’re out at the shopping centre and your child has an accident?  Did you use pull-ups or go straight to underpants?  What was the secret to your toilet-training success?

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Some parents just don’t appreciate how grown up a two-year-old can be.  (Namely, me.) Today when we were getting ready to go out, Birdy thought it would be a good idea to put her shoes on before her pants.  “Birdy, you’ve got to put your pants on first,” I said.  “Mum, I can make my own decisions,” she declared.  “I’m a big girl, I can make my own decisions.”  How could I forget?  Toddlers know everything.  Next she’ll be asking for the car keys.

Photo by Scott Sanders

Photo by Scott Sanders

It was a big week in the Roe household.  Birdy had to perform a duty of immense responsibility last weekend – she was flower girl at a friend’s wedding.

Two-and-a-half is on the young side for a flower girl, so we’ve been building up to this event for some time, even if the bride was extremely relaxed about the whole affair.  We didn’t go shopping for the flower girl dress, we just googled around to get a few ideas.  When I found something online that looked OK, the bride said, ‘Sure, get that one.’  ‘What about this one?’ I asked, clicking on a completely different style.  ‘Sure, that looks fine too,’ she said.  I ordered them both.

A few weeks went by and I eagerly checked the post everyday.  When nothing turned up, I was starting to get a bit worried.  Maybe I’d been conned.  The wedding was five weeks away.  I emailed the company website to check on my order.  No response.  I’d definitely been scammed.  I did a run over to Myer to see if I could get something off the rack.  Just as I was starting to panic, the parcel came in the post.  I’ll never forget the look in Birdy’s eyes when she saw the beautiful white dress with the flowers and bows and the heavenly puffed sleeves.  She was so excited when she saw herself in the mirror, looking so beautiful.  She was especially excited about the satiny white bloomers that came with it.  She kept lifting her dress to admire them in the mirror.  I had visions of Birdy walking down the aisle, excitedly showing her underpants to the entire church.  At two-and-a-half, anything was possible.

The rehearsal went brilliantly.  Birdy walked all the way down the aisle, holding her imaginary basket of flowers, into the arms of her proud father who was waiting at the front of the church.  Then she did it again.  And again.  This was going to be a piece of (wedding) cake.

Of course, it wasn’t quite so simple when the church was full of people.  I didn’t exactly have to drag her down the aisle, but she did drag me with her.  Being too shy to throw the rose petals out of the basket when everybody was watching her, she waited until the ceremony started, and surreptitiously chucked bunches of rose petals at the bride when she thought nobody was looking.  Once she’d warmed up, she ran up and down the aisle scattering rose petals everywhere.  Then, when the bride turned to face her husband-to-be to make her vows, she was surrounded by a perfect ring of rose petals.  Good one, Birdy.

With the ceremony over, we moved onto the morning tea.  Somehow, Birdy managed to scoff five scones with jam and cream without getting a single spot of jam on her flower girl dress.  I was seriously expecting some kind of major disaster involving tomato sauce, cream and orange fizzy drink, but there wasn’t so much as a drop of jam spilt, let alone anything as disastrous as a projectile vomit or a leaking nappy.

If the wedding ceremony was relaxed, the reception was even more so.  I can honestly say it’s the only wedding I’ve been to where the groom spent half the reception on the floor playing Mr Potato Head with a two year old.  They even let Birdy blow out the decorative tea-light candles when they cut the wedding cake.  I got the feeling they probably would have sung a round of Happy Birthday if Birdy had demanded it.  Thankfully she didn’t.

Deprived of her afternoon nap, Birdy was just starting crumble as we waved goodbye to the bride and groom at five o’ clock.  So all in all, Birdy’s debut performance as flower girl was a disaster-free event.  I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed that we wasted such a golden opportunity to win a new surround sound stereo system from Australia’s Funniest Home Videos, (the underwear flashing could have paid dividends) but I’m certainly relieved we got through the day without a temper tantrum, vomit or allergic reaction.  That, in itself felt like a major achievement.

Has your child ever been a flower girl or pageboy? Maybe you remember being a flower girl as a child, or had a flower girl at your own wedding. How did it go on the day?  Did they get stage fright, or perform perfectly?  Why not share your story with the rest of us?

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Well it’s been a sad week with the news of the Perth mother who was found unconscious beside her two dead twins – beautiful little seven-month-old babies who should have lived full and healthy lives.  The mum was known to be suffering from post-natal depression but obviously nobody realized just how distressed she was.  It’s a reminder to all of us to look out for family or friends who might be struggling to cope with a new baby.

Post-natal depression is actually more common than you might think.  About 16% of mums will experience post-natal depression after giving birth, which is almost 1 in 6.  I didn’t experience it myself, although I felt like everyone expected me to.  I did go through a brief period of depression after my daughter turned one and was weaned.  I’d had such a strong sense of purpose around breastfeeding for the first year that once it was over I sort of lost direction.  I think it also took me a while to adjust to life with a toddler, rather than a baby.

For those who are wondering about the difference between post-natal depression and any other kind of depression, the symptoms are actually the same.  Things to look out for are moodiness, irritability, overreacting to minor criticisms, losing interest in everyday activities, not sleeping well, being tired all the time, sudden weight loss or gain and often physical health complaints like unexplained pain.  Every Mum is going to have those overtired days where they burst into tears over something as silly as a tissue in the wash, but when it happens all the time, that’s when you should be concerned.

Women who are most at risk are those with a history of depression or anxiety and those who experience complications with their pregnancy or birth – like a difficult labour, a baby with major health problems or a baby who has difficulty breastfeeding or sleeping.  It’s usually caused by a combination of factors, but anything that makes life more stressful, such as moving house or being a single parent, can contribute.

If you’re reading this and thinking ‘That’s me’ or ‘That sounds like my wife’, please do seek out support from family and friends, but keep in mind that many women will also need help from a medical professional.  The Beyond Blue website is also a good starting point.  It has lots of useful information and a space for people to share their stories.  Remember, you are not alone.  Post-natal depression may be common, but that doesn’t make it any easier to live with.

Have you or your loved ones experienced post-natal depression? How did you deal with it?  What helped you turn the corner?  What do you wish people knew about post-natal depression?  How could friends and family be more supportive?

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Holidays are over and I’m definitely back in the real world.  Sigh.  I do have one more story from our holiday that I wanted to share with you though.  While we were away, we stayed with some older family friends and as we were saying goodbye to them, Birdy started crying and turning her face away.  She’s not very good at goodbyes.  And somebody said to her ‘You’re a sook!’.  It didn’t worry me too much at the time, but afterwards I realized that we don’t think it’s acceptable to speak like that to other adults.  People don’t just say, ‘You’re a whinger!’ or ‘You’re a bad person’ but somehow it’s OK to insult children.

The other thing people sometimes do is talk about kids in the third person as if they’re not there. You hear that all the time.  Parents say ‘Johnny has been giving me such a hard time lately’ when Johnny is standing right there hearing every word.  But imagine if it was their husband instead of their child and he was standing right there beside them.  We wouldn’t say, ‘Bruce has been such a lazy slob recently’, would we?  Because we know it would hurt their feelings.  But somehow people seem to forget that children have feelings as well.

I think we sometimes we don’t recognize that children should have the same human rights as other people.  Lousie Porter is an early childhood academic and the author of a book called Children Are People Too.  In her book, she tells how she used to ask her students what a caregiver should do when feeding someone who deliberately spits the food back at them.  When the students suggested giving the child a smack, she would say that she wasn’t thinking of a three-year-old but an 80 year-old person with Alzheimer’s.  Now suddenly it’s not OK to hit them.  What’s the difference?  (Obviously you are training the child and not the 80 year old, but the brutality is the same.) I found that story quite challenging, because it made me realize that we don’t always treat children with the same respect that we do adults.  But all people deserve to be treated with respect, regardless of their age, sex, race, or religion.  When this person called Birdy a sook, he wasn’t meaning to insult her.  But he was judging her for acting like a 2 year old, when she is a 2 year old.  We don’t judge other adults all the time like we do with kids.  And we certainly don’t insult them when we think they’ve acted inappropriately.

Have your children ever been insulted or criticized like that?  Do you ever find yourself talking about them as if they’re not there?  Maybe there’s been a time when other people judged your children’s behaviour too harshly, eg. expecting a 3 year old to behave like an adult?  Do you think society has grown a bit intolerant of kids?

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