I’m in Bourke at the moment. We had a wedding in the Hunter Valley last weekend, so we decided to keep going west to Dubbo and then Bourke in outback New South Wales. Every time I come out to the country I’m confronted with the fact that I’m raising my child in the city. As cities go, Sydney’s got a lot to offer, but I always thought I’d bring up my kids in the country.
My earliest memories are of life on a big irrigated cropping property on the Hay Plains. Later, when I was about seven, we moved to a quiet little river town in the Riverina, with a population of 650. I loved growing up with all that space. As kids, we spent a lot of time down in the bush building bridges and cubby houses, yabbying or swimming in the river. A lot of kids I knew had motorbikes, or old cars, or lots of different animals. There was always something to do.
We didn’t have McDonalds, we couldn’t hang out at the mall, and I only ever went to the movies once, but I certainly never felt that I was missing out on anything. But I know there aren’t as many educational (or medical) opportunities in a small town. For example, I wanted to learn the guitar but for a long time there just wasn’t anyone who could teach me. Just the other day, as we drove through some of the smaller towns out west, I got the sense that a lot of the teenagers in the towns are bored. Most of the playgrounds had been really badly vandalised and grafittied. So I’m guessing that the older kids hang out in the parks and set fire to the slides because there’s nowhere else to go and nothing much to do. Here in Bourke, there seems to be a lot of alcohol and drug use among the school kids, and also a lot of youth unemployment. A lot of kids here move away or travel long distances to finish school, go to Uni, get a job, or to take their sport to the next level, which means that often the talented kids end up leaving town.
So maybe country life isn’t quite as idyllic as I remember it, but I still like the idea of being able to take the kids to Saturday sport without sitting in a traffic jam on the way. Or to be able to take a picnic out without having to fight for a parking spot or reserve a barbeque three weeks in advance. Or to live in a town where my kids could ride a bike to school without having to cross any six lane highways… I’ll keep dreaming, but for the meantime, I get my fresh-air fix by escaping the city every month or two. And for now, that will have to do.
Did you grow up in the country or the city? What would you wish for for your kids? The freedom of the country? The opportunities of the city? Or somewhere in between? Where is the best place to raise kids? What choices have you made for your family?
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My husband works some very strange and unpredictable hours. Sometimes he does really early mornings, late nights, weekends, public holidays. It’s all over the place. And sometimes I find this quite frustrating because it’s hard to maintain any kind of routine. But when Birdy was first born, his boss took pity on him and gave us three months of solid day shifts. It was amazing. It made all the difference just to know that help was coming at the end of the day. When the baby was crying, and I had no idea what we were going to eat for dinner, and I was worn out, it was so nice to know that in a couple of hours Daddy was going to walk through the door and I could pass the baby to him. Ever since, I’ve had a secret little fantasy about being married to someone with a regular nine to five job. (Assuming that someone was still my husband!)
But I’m not sure if that fantasy actually exists for many people. I often find myself talking with other Mums and Dads about the impact that their working hours have on their family life. I have quite a few friends whose husband’s travel a lot for work – they might go away for two or three weeks at a time, and the Mums find it really hard to adjust to being the sole carer while they’re away. I would be a complete mess if my husband went away all the time. I find it hard enough just to cope with the odd working hours.
But whenever I complain too much, my husband reminds me that it could be worse. My own grandmother was, like many women of her generation, effectively a single parent during the Second World War. My grandfather was in a prisoner of war camp in Germany for almost five years, and for at least some of that time she didn’t know whether he was dead or alive. I think she must have often wondered whether he was ever coming back. In the meantime she had to bring up two young children (my father was maybe five or six at the beginning of the war) and she had to do it with very little income. It must have been quite lonely at night, because when the kids went to bed, there would have been nobody to spend the evenings with. So here am I complaining about my husband working weekends, when my grandmother didn’t even see her husband for five years. And, of course, my Dad grew up without a father for a very formative part of his childhood. So when you put it in perspective, I guess I don’t have so much to complain about.
Does your husband/wife/partner work strange hours or travel a lot for work? How does the family cope when Mum or Dad is away? Do the kids feel it when one parent isn’t around much? If you’re a single parent, how have you learned to cope on your own?
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The three year old is yelling and hitting his brother again. I can’t let this go on because his brother is crying and then hitting back, and the three year old has to learn that he can’t behave that way, doesn’t he?
Five years ago, I would have smacked the three year old. Two years ago, I would have instituted a ‘naughty chair’ and made him sit there, think about it, and then apologise to his brother. This year, I wouldn’t do either of those things.
This year, I’m asking the questions: Why this? Why now? What do both children need?
From being a ‘smacking mum’ five years ago, my ideas have changed drastically and I now don’t believe ‘punishment’ achieves what we think it achieves.
Yes, smacking and naughty chairs might bring about apparent ‘better behaviour’ in the short term, but in the long term I am doubtful if it changes the heart.
In fact, I think punishment is counterproductive in many cases. I know from my own experience, punishment often taught me to hide my feelings, needs and behaviour. These traits have not gone away as I’ve become an adult.
So what do I do? Well, grace, guidance and a great example do much more for me than punishment.
But aren’t we supposed to be responsible parents who train up their children in the way to go? Surely we can’t just ignore bad behaviour. That would be irresponsible.
Of course, and I agree. But I think a lot of the time, the stuff we parents get cross about is not actually ‘bad’.
A lot of what I formerly considered to be ‘naughty’ is often just behaviour that doesn’t suit me. Children are often careless, slow, impulsive, forgetful, neglectful or just immature – that’s because they are children. Most of the time that kind of behaviour is not ‘naughty’.
I’m far more interested in locating the source of the behaviour, listening or discerning, and seeing if we, together, can solve the problem that’s at the root of the issue. In a lot of cases recently, I have found myself having to make changes rather than trying to change the children – for example, in giving everyone more time, listening more closely to what they are actually saying and slowing down rather than making them race to my schedule.
Of course, children do do ‘bad’ things sometimes. We all do. Where there is sin, calling attention to it and identifying it is probably the best thing I would think to do. From there, my approach changes from what is traditional. Whereas before I would have thought of an ‘effective’ punishment, now I’m more interested in finding a solution in which everybody wins, and through which we all grow.
I saw this illustrated really well with my husband recently. I was snippy, cranky and hard to get on with for a few days in a row last month. He finally had enough and said, “Why are you doing this? Please stop”. I straight away knew the answer – I was having a really tough time with my autistic child and felt at a loss with what to do with him. By picking on my husband, I could make myself feel better, and not have to address the fact that I am not completely wise, capable or together.
After a bit of sulking around, I finally admitted this to my husband, and was blown away by the lack of judgment, anger and effectively ‘punishment’ in his demeanour and actions. It made me feel much more able to be honest and open with him in the future. To me, that’s grace and that’s what I want to be showing my children.
So what would I do with the hitting and yelling three year old?
First of all, I can make sure that I’ve been listening well enough to their play to make sure that he’s not just retaliating to some unseen crime by his brother.
If that’s the case, I try to remember that he’s only three. At about four or five is when he will develop more empathy and the ability to relate to the other person. He has a little of it, but still not enough. I can’t make him develop more quickly than he will, but I can give him a great example of empathy to store in his mind for the future.
I can make a big fuss of his brother’s ouchies and kiss them better. I can say, “Oh, it really hurts when someone hits you doesn’t it. I wouldn’t like that.”
I can give his brother words like, “I don’t like that. Please leave me alone. Let’s play something else” to help him protect himself.
I can hold his flying fists and say, “That’s not ok. Hitting your brother makes him sad. He doesn’t like it. Please be gentle with your hands.”
Then, I can give both of them a book and help them find separate rooms for ‘calming down’ time.
Does it work? Yes, for many reasons. It’s a low-stress solution for me. I don’t have to fight either of them to make them take their punishment. Generally, all the problem has been is a little too much build up of excitement, and the solution is simply for them both to calm down. And afterwards, I’ve been touched to see the three year old say, “Sorry for hitting you” to his big brother. Lesson definitely learned, and I know it’s a real apology when I didn’t make him say it!
What do you think about punishment? Does it achieve discipline or escalate conflict? Is it possible to discipline without using punishment? How have your ideas about discipline changed over time?
Thursday October 15 is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. This poem, by Dorothy Ferguson, is published in the book Be Fertile With Your Infertility by Christine Bannan and Winnie Duggan.
How very softly
you tiptoed into my world.
only a moment you stayed.
But what an imprint
your footsteps have left
upon my heart.
In loving memory of baby Samuel.
Since I became a new mum, there’s been one moment I’ve been completely dreading. I know it has to happen eventually. But just thinking about it is enough to send me to the shops for a Bex and a good lie down. I’m not talking about the day Birdy brings home her first boyfriend, or gets a nose-ring or wants to go bungy jumping over Niagara Falls. No, I’m thinking of something much more terrifying. The subject I don’t mention in front of her. I’m talking about the day that Birdy drops her daytime sleep!
I’ve been talking to other mums, and I’ve been reliably informed that there comes an age when you can’t get them to sleep until 9 o clock at night if they do nap in the day. And that’s when you have to make the call that afternoon naps are a thing of the past. (Consigned to the dustbin of history along with flared jeans, Rick Astley and Soda Streams.) And that is exactly what happened to us the other day. We came back from the long weekend, we went straight to the Colin Buchanan concert and when we got home Birdy was so tired that I put her straight to bed. She slept and slept and slept and slept. She was so tired I could not physically wake her up. I could have started a chainsaw next to her bed and she wouldn’t have stirred. But then she wouldn’t go back to bed until 9 o clock that night. And that was when I knew that our days of daytime napping were numbered.
In fact, while I was writing this, I had two little girls, both in their beds, both playing and singing and calling out, refusing to take their afternoon naps. But for my sanity, I put them both to bed with a couple of books, and let them entertain themselves in bed for an hour. I need that time out and so do they. Otherwise we all get cranky pants.
But the question that’s really bothering me is this: If Birdy gives up her daytime sleep, when am I going to get anything done? Right now, I use that time in so many different ways…. to do work, to clean my floor of mashed up food, to write my blog, to sit back with a cup of tea and a book or to call a good friend for a chat. It’s my little window of peace and quiet and tranquility and restoration and opportunity and it’s ALL MINE! MINE, I said. It’s the only time of the day when I do something for ME. (OK so cleaning the floor isn’t exactly for me, but it is important to my sanity.) So you can understand why I’m so reluctant to give it up.
So for that reason, I’ll keep putting her to bed in the afternoon, even though I know I’m fighting a losing battle. I’m sooo not ready to give up my cherished little snippet of me-time just yet. Some things are worth fighting for.
What age did your kids give up their daytime sleep? Did you prolong it for as long as possible? Did they start refusing to go to bed during the day, or did it just get harder to get them to sleep at night? Do you still enforce some kind of rest time? If so, how successful is it?
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After being a mother for twenty-six years, with three children, I became a grandmother a couple of months ago to a beautiful little boy, Darcy. It’s been an amazing experience taking me through a whole range of emotions that I hadn’t expected. I was very on edge the day Darcy was born. Some of this was imagining all the things my daughter-in-law might be going through, as well as my son. Before he was born, I thought I’d cry when I finally saw him, but when I actually did meet him, I felt very calm. I didn’t immediately bond with him as a parent would, but that seems to be the right way to feel. I’m getting closer to him each time I see him. I’m a Gran in love with her grandson.
So how is parenting different in this decade compared to ‘my day’ in the 1980s? Actually, some things are identical. Babies continue to be conceived and born in the same old way; milk still comes out of breasts; and babies still cry and exhaust their parents. Also, babies all have their own unique personalities, meaning no two of them are the same and none of the parenting books give the same advice. In some ways, not much has changed.
But some things are different. Although I wasn’t raising babies in the dark ages, we only had cloth nappies. Disposables were around, but they were leaky, expensive and reserved for holidays or the first week or so after bringing home a new baby. We lived in the country, with tank water for drinking and bore water for everything else, meaning all our white laundry was a grey-yellow. Cloth nappies meant a good half-hour each morning over the laundry sink cleaning off yesterday’s poo (into the toilet, then scrubbing the rest off with a scrubbing brush under running water). It was just part of the routine and I did it because that’s what we did then. Before you reel back in horror remember that your mother probably did the same for you.
Living in the country also meant that we had to light a fire every day in our Metters No.2 kitchen stove so we could have hot water – every day, summer or winter. This meant that many hours were spent by all of us in the bush collecting firewood, then chopping it and carting it to the house. This was also our cooking method in the kitchen. I’m so glad I experienced all this, even though it was hard work.
So now I’m a Gran, I love it. There’s a little boy who only lives a short distance from me who I hope to grow a relationship with. But I know I need to be careful. As I’ve spent time with other new mums over the past few years, and now with my daughter-in-law, I’ve learnt that things are done differently these days. Mums, Dads and babies see obstetricians and pediatricians, whereas I only had a GP. I still remember him coming in to the hospital from his farm to deliver my babies. Babies are wrapped differently, and don’t wear nighties, and we have to sterilise everything that goes within coo-ee of them.
But if I, as a very new Gran, could offer any advice to other grandparents out there it’s just to respect these new ways. If you want to stay on the ‘in’ with your kids and their kids, accept that our old ways were new ways once too, and that just because things are done differently, it doesn’t mean we need to say anything. The last thing that new parents need is to feel judged by their family.
Take care with how much you get involved. You may want to be helpful, but you should try hard not to drive your kids nuts. I’ve done things like just texted to say, “Can I come over and bath Darcy?” “Can I drop a meal in?” or “Can we meet at a café for coffee?” But I’ve also made mistakes already – just minor ones, I hope. The key is not to be overwhelming, but to be there if you’re needed. And when you do go to bath the baby, ask how they would like it done, don’t just do it the way you used to do it. They want to trust you, but if they think you’ll do things your way the moment their backs are turned, you’re not building that trust.
I’m still working this out and I imagine it will morph from week to week, month to month.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that my son parents by Google. “Not sure? Look it up?” would be his philosophy. An interesting approach and very helpful at times, but my only warning to him is not to believe everything he finds on Google but to stick to a couple of reputable sites.
Even though I’m a beginner, I hope my experiences have given you a different perspective on what it is to be a grandparent.
How is being a grandparent different to being a parent? How much has changed since you, or your Mum, were having kids?
To view Jackie’s painting blog, click here.