A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

Monthly Archives: November 2009

As the end of the year approaches, I’ve started to think about what I’m going to do with Birdy next year.  She’s turning three in January so I was hoping she’d get offered a place in pre-school, but around here places in pre-school seem to be harder to find than a car park at Bondi.  But I’ve noticed that as she gets older she’s looking for the company of other kids a lot more.  In fact, she often puts on her little Wiggles backpack and tells me she’s ready for pre-school.

So far we haven’t needed to use any formal daycare.  We’ve been using a nanny one morning a week, which has been perfect while she’s little.  I liked the idea of Birdy having that one-on-one attention and forming a long-term relationship with her babysitter.  It’s been so good for her to have another adult take an interest in her.  A nanny also gives us great flexibility. There’s been a number of times when we’ve had a wedding to go to, or one of us has ended up in hospital and in those situations it’s been wonderful to have a babysitter that Birdy already knows.  But the disadvantage of a nanny is that your kids aren’t making friends with other kids their own age.  Not to mention it’s expensive, because there’s no rebate.

One of the things that irritates me about the Australian government’s childcare rebate system is that it totally favours institutional care, without there being any evidence (as far as I’m aware) that this is the best type of care for children and their parents.  This encourages parents to place their kids into long daycare, rather than using a nanny or family member to care for their kids.  It’s also an example of how the government doesn’t value women’s unpaid work.   I think it’d be great if grandmothers and aunties who provide regular childcare while the child’s parents are working (like I do for my sister and she does for me) could have their contribution acknowledged through some form of government payment, rebate or tax deduction.  Then many more grandparents and aunties would be enabled to look after their grandkids, nephews and nieces one or two days a week, as an alternative to part-time work.  I say this because as our population ages, many of the nations’ grandparents are continuing in paid employment right into their 60s and 70s.

I don’t think any one type of childcare is better than another.  Whatever you choose, every type of childcare has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s just a matter of working out what best suits your particular situation and each particular child.  If you use family members for childcare, it’s wonderful for them to have that time together, but then you have to be prepared to make other arrangements when they get sick or go on holidays.  If you use family daycare, then they’re in a home environment with one carer, but there may not be as much accountability because no other adult is present while the kids are there.  On the other hand, if you go with a long-daycare centre, then your child will have access to lots of stimulating facilities and kids their own age, but they might not get quite as much personal attention.  So there’s a lot to consider and we’re still weighing it all up.  But if we got offered a place in pre-school next year then that would solve all my problems!

What kind of childcare do you use?  Are you happy with the quality of care your kids receive?  How have your children responded to it?  What are the advantages and disadvantages of that type of care?  What would you do differently if you could?  Are the government rebates for childcare adequate in Australia?

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Wow!  What a day!  Birdy got through the entire day from start to finish without watching a single scrap of television.  Not a DVD.  Or even a video on the internet.  But you know what’s even more amazing?  She went for a whole day without even asking to ‘watching some-ping’.  I can’t remember the last time she did that.

Now is it just a coincidence that she was also as sweet as an angel today?  She didn’t muck up.  She didn’t throw any wobblies.  She didn’t get grumpy.  She helped me beautifully with the sweeping and the grocery shopping.  She even had a daytime sleep and woke up happily.  Normally after she watches TV she gets quite grumpy.  And often after a sleep she wakes up in a filthy mood.  But not today.  Today she was as good as gold.

Maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with the new swing-set in the backyard.  Some friends of ours are moving overseas, so to keep their girls happy, they decided not to sell the swing set, but just to ‘lend’ it to us instead.  That way their girls can still feel as though they own the swing-set and can have it back if or when they return.  This morning, as soon as she finished breakfast, Birdy asked to go outside for a swing.  (Normally she asks me to ‘watch some-ping’.)  Then as she sat there, swinging away, she said, “It’s so lovely to have a swing here.”  I was like, “Who is this angel child and what have you done with my Birdy?”

I have no idea whether the little angel will make a reappearance again tomorrow, but I wanted to write about it today,  just to remind myself that days like this do exist.  Days when the world is peaceful, a swing-set is all it takes to keep a child happy, and my Birdy is a perfect little angel.


Photo by Lisa Jay

If you think your beloved doesn’t do enough to help around the house, try this simple experiment: take a pair of gardening clippers and snip that delicate little muscle at the back of their leg known as the Achilles tendon.  Or apply a crowbar to your beloved’s kneecap with considerable force.  Or drop a brick from a great height onto a thronged foot.

It may sound as though I’m advocating torture, but I’m really just trying to say that when your better half is incapacitated, you suddenly realize how much they must normally do around the house without you noticing (or fully appreciating).  As I write this, my husband is in hospital recovering from an operation to his Achilles tendon, after it snapped during a routine bushwalk last week.  Fortunately, he hasn’t been in pain, but this operation has a 12-month recovery period.  This means that for the next few months at least, my husband can’t walk, can’t drive and more importantly, can’t take out the garbage!

So suddenly I’m noticing how much he normally does.  I’m feeling really physically tired just from doing all the physical jobs my husband normally does for me.  For example, I mowed the lawn this week for the first time in ten years.  You may be wondering why I’ve never mowed the lawn before.  It’s because when I was first married my mother gave me an excellent piece of advice:  She said, never start out doing any job that you don’t want to be doing for the rest of your married life.  Hence, I moved the lawn about three times when we were first married, and then we gradually demarcated our roles.

However all that has gone out the window, and now I’m doing everything!  When you’re on crutches you can’t even carry a cup of coffee over to your chair!  So I feel like some kind of 1950s housewife, serving my husband drinks while he sits with his feet up!   Although I don’t think 1950s housewives had to drive their husbands everywhere as well!

I can see there’s only one solution to this predicament.  I’ll have to teach Birdy how to mow the lawn, carry the groceries, vacuum the house and make Daddy’s coffee.  After all, we all have to pull our weight in this family.

Has someone in your family been temporarily incapacitated? Did you find yourself doing everything?  Did it make you appreciate how much they normally do?

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Photo by Lisa Jay

This is a topic close to my heart.  There’s been a lot of debate in the Sydney media this week about the closing of Kingsdene School in Telopea, which is a facility for severely disabled kids. And naturally a lot of parents are really upset at the thought of losing the school. But the positive side of all this is that it’s led to a lively discussion in the media about the needs of families with disabled children. And particularly about the stress that families are under now that there is so much less residential care and respite for kids with severe disabilities.

In one discussion I heard, there were a number of parents who were saying that if the school closes they may have to hand their child over to DOCS because they just can’t cope any more.  I can’t imagine anything more heartbreaking. I don’t have a disabled child myself, but I do have a brother with cerebral paulsy. He’s an intelligent, happy person, but he’s in a wheelchair and he needs full-time care. Fortunately he was able to go to school at The Spastic Centre, so my parents were never overwhelmed by that need for 24-hour care. But there seems to be a lot less options for disabled kids now, and many of them live at home until their parents are simply too old and frail to look after them any more. That has to be an enormous source of worry and stress to their parents.

I think there’s much more recognition today about the impact of disability on siblings than there was when I was growing up. When you have a sibling that’s disabled or sick, you grow up being very aware that life isn’t ‘fair’. For me, that question really tormented me in my teenage years: Why was it that I could do so many things that my brother would never experience? And I felt quite a big responsibility to live my life to the full because of that. But I think there are lots of positives that can come out of it too. I think my sisters and I all have a bit more compassion for people who have special needs. And I think we experienced something of the way God sees us. The bible says that ‘man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.’ As a child I used to get very angry when we would go into town and people would stare at my brother as we walked down the street. These people were just seeing the disability, the ‘difference’. But of course, when you love someone you don’t see their disability, you just see the real person, you see what’s in their heart, rather than what they can or can’t do for themselves.

Do you have a child with a disability in your family? What kind of impact has it had on their siblings? Have their been some positives aspects to your situation or has it just been really hard on your family? What do you wish other people would understand about your disabled child or sibling?

You can find out more about the fight for a National Disability Insurance Scheme here.

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Tantrums are a special feature of daily life with an Autistic Spectrum child. From the age of two and a half to about four, my son Campbell had, on average, six or seven major tantrums per day. They involved kicking, screaming, head banging, running through the house, throwing things around and other generally uncontrollable and extremely undesirable behaviour.

A number of times, I tried to explain to people around me how difficult I found it dealing with the constant outbursts. I’d be greeted by knowing looks from parents of other small children. “Oh, yes,” they would say. “Just the other day my Jack threw one in the supermarket. Soooo embarrassing!” The implication was that there was nothing different about my autistic child, because every child throws tantrums. Tantrums are normal.

And that is true – to a degree. I had already experienced them with my older daughter Jemima, who had been an expert at the pinching, hitting and hair pulling kind from the age of two. At the age of three she wrote ‘No Mummy’ on the wall when something didn’t go her way. (It was in black permanent texta, but that’s a whole other story.) Up to the age of five she was having regular screaming matches with me when she got overtired, which unfortunately was a lot of nights in a row.

But there are differences with ASD tantrums. One of the differences is that they are almost completely unpredictable. I could usually understand why my daughter threw her wobblies, but even now I can hardly ever pinpoint the exact reasons why Campbell explodes.

One morning, when he was three and a half, we had been outside and had just come back inside the house. Campbell sat down, took two shoes and one sock off, and then just began crying. He yelled for his sister and dad who were out at her hockey game and then screamed, “James’ room, James’ room,” at the top of his lungs. At that point he ran sobbing to James’ bedroom where he climbed into the cot and continued to cry for the next half hour.

I had no idea what had happened and I still can’t even try to guess at it.

The other difference with ASD tantrums is that it is almost impossible to talk or reason the child out of it. Campbell is still only now, at the age of 6, learning that he can use words to express his anxieties. Back when he was smaller, with much poorer receptive language, it was useless to say what I would have said to my daughter at the same age, which was something like, “hey honey, next time you’re sad, you can use words to say how you feel.”

I think ASD tantrums are like the tantrums of a 12 to 18 month-old in that you’re dealing with pure emotions that are completely out of the child’s control. You are also dealing with a child who is constantly anxious and overwhelmed – much more so than with neurotypical children. I once heard an autistic adult say, “I still feel like I’m constantly on the edge, on the precipice of everything,” and I realised that when Campbell was younger, his tantrums were his reaction to falling off the edge.

With many neurotypical children you can often head the tantrum off at the pass, but with an ASD child, there’s only a tiny window for bringing calm back to the situation. With many neurotypical children, you can often talk about the tantrum once everyone is recovered. With ASD children, it’s very difficult to revisit anxious feelings. With neurotypical children, you know that tantruming is a stage that every child will go through. It will almost always be over by the age of six. With an ASD child you don’t know when, if ever, it will stop.

Have you found any useful tools to deal with or prevent tantrums? At what age did your children stop throwing wobblies (if ever)? Have some of your children had more tantrums than others or have you known children who have had particular trouble with them?

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I got a scary little insight into gender relations the other night, when we visited friends with a three-year-old boy.

Birdy and her little friend Samuel, were watching Charlie and Lola together.  Every twenty seconds or so, Birdy would reach over to affectionately pat Samuel’s hair.  Each time Samuel would swipe her hand away and look at her with an expression that said, “What are you doing?  Can’t you see I’m trying to watch telly?”  After repeating this tactic a few times, Birdy got the hint that she wasn’t winning over his affection and learnt the lesson that there is just one way to a man’s heart – through his stomach.  So she started breaking off little pieces of her corn cracker and feeding them to him, which he accepted without so much as glancing away from the tele.  Something about this little scenario reminded me so much of how men and women relate all the time.  Women are always looking to connect with their partners and be affectionate, while men so often just want to be left alone in peace!

Fortunately for Birdy, she did get a big good-night cuddle out of Samuel before bed so her affections weren’t completely unrequited!

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