A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

Monthly Archives: August 2009

Photo by Lisa Jay

Photo by Lisa Jay

Did you know it’s children’s book week?  I’ve always loved children’s books, but I’ve recently joined a children’s writer’s group so I’m particularly engrossed in them at the moment.  Part of the reason I’m so passionate about kid’s books is that young children read their books over and over and over again.  So what they read can have a profound influence on them.  And because it’s something you do together, (at least with young kids) it should also be enjoyable for the parent as well.  So I thought I’d  share some of my ideas about what makes a good children’s book and conversely what doesn’t.

Things that really turn me off a children’s book

–       Any book that’s too gimmicky always sets off warning bells in my head.  There’s a place for pop-ups and shiny things, and books that change colour, and they can help get kids interested in reading, but those books are often very light on content.

–       Any book that doesn’t have an author’s name on the front cover sends me into cold shivers.  They’re usually mass-produced, written by some 22 year old in-house copywriter for a publishing house, and the standard of writing can be really appalling.

–       Books that are connected to a TV series can also be hit and miss.  Some of the better ones are Maisy, Spot and Charlie and Lola while some of the Banana’s in Pajamas and The Wiggles books are very average, but they’re such strong brands they could publish anything and it would sell.

Things I look for in a great children’s book

–       Good stories equip children to deal with real life.  So the characters should learn something, or achieve something or find solutions to their problems. I really hate books where things just work out by accident, because that tells kids that they’re powerless to deal with the situations they face.

–       But books are also an opportunity to learn about things you have no experience of.  Often the best books take children to another place (whether it be the moon, the African jungle or an Aboriginal community), or teach them to walk inside another person’s shoes.

–       Children love stories with a sense of adventure – nearly all the children’s books that have endured over the generations have an adventurous spirit.

–       I look for vocabulary that extends the child, including words they can’t say yet.

–       The pictures and words should work together, and build on each other, but not be the same.

–       If they’re starting to read to themselves, then repetition is good for building confidence.

–       Also don’t forget the vast majority of our kid’s books come from overseas so support Australian authors by buying books that originate in Australia and reflect our culture.

What is your all-time favourite chlildren’s book?  Which one drives you mad?  What do you look for in a book when you’re choosing it for your child?  Who’s your favourite children’s author or illustrator and why?

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A friend of mine recently told me that she’s expecting her first baby and it took me back to when I was pregnant for the first time.  It was such an exciting and daunting time.  I remember very clearly the reaction of some of my friends who already had kids when I told them I was pregnant.  Usually they tried to warn me about all the changes I would have to adjust to once the baby came along… coping with less sleep, feeling like a milk-machine, not going out whenever you want to, having less time with your partner… it felt like everybody was always warning me about how much life was going to change.  And usually they were quite negative.

In the end the biggest adjustment for me was actually the housework.  You wouldn’t think that one little tiny baby could make so much housework, would you?  But I was used to washing once a week and suddenly I was washing all the time, because she’d sick up on me, or all over the sheets, or all over the playmat.  Then there’s the fact that newborns need an entire new wardrobe every three weeks, so you’ve got to wash all the new stuff.  Then there seemed to mountains of dishes to wash up – because I was at home all day with a constant stream of visitors and endless cups of tea. Not to mention the perpetual sterilizing of the expressing gear… I loved looking after my baby, but I hated all the extra housework, and it’s taken me a long time to come to terms with that part of the job description.

I think part of it was the changing expectations – feeling more responsible for the housework because I was at home full-time. When we were both working full time, there was an unspoken expectation that we shared equal responsibility for the housework.  But once a baby comes along, usually the mother is home full-time (at least in the beginning) so she feels that she’s expected to take care of it.  For me, that was the big adjustment – feeling suddenly responsible for the cleaning, cooking and shopping when in the past that was always a shared responsibility.  Now don’t get me wrong, I have a very helpful husband, but we still had to work out our expectations.  So that was the biggest adjustment for me but I’d be interested to hear about other people’s experiences.

What was the biggest adjustment you had to make when you first had a baby?  Sleep deprivation?  The impact on your social life?  Or maybe just the need to be responsible for another little person?  How did your expectations differ from those of your better half and how did it affect your relationship?  If you’re expecting your first child, what concerns you most about how life will change?

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I’ve been job hunting for a couple of months now.  And I’ve become convinced of one thing – Australian employers as a whole don’t value motherhood.  Oh they say they do, but when push comes to shove, they’re not prepared to offer work conditions that work for Australian mums.

I always thought that when I had a baby I would return to work after a year.  That wasn’t possible for me because the part-time job I had enjoyed before giving birth was scaled up to become almost full-time.  I wasn’t interested in working full-time while my daughter was so young.

Now a year and a half later, I’m finding most private employers aren’t interested in employing part-time workers.  They all want full-time.  They want passionate, committed people, but don’t seem to realise that these passionate committed women are also passionate about being good mothers.  Most Mums of young kids don’t want to work full-time.  So as a consequence they don’t work or they work in jobs that are way below their skill-level or they work full-time and torture themselves with guilt because their kids spend their entire lives in day-care.  Women who have a willing grandparent nearby to help with childcare are probably the exception.

OK so maybe that sounds a bit extreme.  But I think there’s something else going on here.  Employers, particularly smaller ones, don’t like dealing with the issue of maternity leave.  I actually know of a case some years ago where two women of equal merit applied for the same job.  One was married.  One was single.  If anything, the married woman was the stronger applicant.  But the employer chose the single woman, because they wouldn’t have to worry about her going off on maternity leave.  It’s probably easier to get a job if you’re an axe-murderer on parole than if you’re a married woman of child-bearing age who already has one child.  The assumption is that you’ll just be popping out another baby any minute.  I’ve decided to take any reference to ‘Maternity Leave’ off my resume.  I’d rather let them assume I spent the year in gaol – it’d probably improve my chances.

The most surprising job interview I had recently was with a parenting magazine.  They actually wanted to employ a Mum with young kids, but weren’t willing to consider part-time, job-share or flexible employment.  In fact, they said the role was going to be really full-on.  How many devoted mothers of babies and toddlers, who are passionate about writing on the subject of parenting, want to work in a high-stress job with long hours so they never see their babies?

I realise it’s harder for the employer to employ two part-time people than it is to employ one person full-time.  It’s another lot of paperwork, another lot of superannuation, another name for the CEO to remember, another head to pay for at the Christmas party.  And maybe it’s not their responsibility to worry about the working mums of this world.  But whose responsibility is it?  And how is it ever going to change?

Last night I told a friend about how hard it was to find a decent part-time job.  She joked that her husband always tells her to get a job packing shelves at night.  The implication was that if you really want a job you should just get one doing anything.  But should women with university education, and fifteen plus years of experience really have to consider packing shelves just because Australian employers don’t value women’s unpaid contribution to society?

And it’s not just mothers of young children who find themselves in this predicament.  I know of another woman who’s just become a grandmother for the first time, who also wants to work 2 – 3 days a week.  This is because she values the contribution she makes to her grown-up family, her husband, her grandchildren and wants a good work/life balance.  Again, she’s finding it really hard to get work because everybody wants a minimum of 35 hours a week.  Is that the kind of society we want?  One where grandmothers don’t have time to spend with their grandchildren?  Where those people who give back most to society can’t find paid employment?  And not only that, where employers are missing out on a whole generation of talented, hardworking and highly skilled women because they won’t consider part-time, flexible working arrangements.   I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read about women trying to find a work/life balance, but I still have no idea how to achieve it.  I do know women who are teachers and nurses who manage to find part-time work, but maybe its easier for them because these industries are dominated by women – they’ve simply had to adapt to a workforce of mothers.  In media, I can honestly say I’ve only seen one part-time job advertised in the last six months.  I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking Dad’s go to work and Mum’s stay at home.  But I also don’t want to miss out on the precious years while she’s young.  So the search for part-time work continues, however frustrating it might be.  So… know anyone who’s looking for good shelf-packers?

How old were your kids when you returned to work?  Since having a baby, have you been happy with the amount and quality of paid work you’ve undertaken?  Do you feel that your skills and experience are valued in the workforce?  How have you achieved a work/life balance since becoming a parent?



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