A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

Monthly Archives: October 2010

Yesterday I spent most of the day at the children’s hospital – it turns out Birdy had tonsilitis.  And while everything went really well, I always find I’m particularly drained and exhausted after a day at the hospital.  So when I got home yesterday I did something I hardly ever do.  I went out for a walk by myself to recharge the batteries.

It was lovely just to have 20 minutes of peace and quiet, especially after a day of quite full-on caring for a sick kid.  But I had this really interesting moment where I was trying to cross the road at a busy roundabout.  It’s not actually a pedestrian crossing but one of those pedestrian islands.  Anyway, I just stood there for ages before I could get across the road.  And it occurred to me that for the past three years I’ve always have a pram or a toddler on tricycle and cars just stop and wave you across when they see you have a young child.  It was really bizarre to realize that without a pram, nobody stops for you.

I think that children and babies break down a lot of barriers.  If you got out with a baby you suddenly find yourself having sympathetic conversations with total strangers in lifts and toilet queues and parents’ rooms.  It usually just starts with a smile and a simple comment, like, ‘Oh he’s teething’.  Or ‘She looks tired’ and then suddenly you have this instant bond.  But it’s not just the mother’s club.  Often it’s grandparents or Aunties who comment as well.  They’ll say “Oh I’ve got a granddaughter that age and she does that too.” And if you add into the mix a fairy dress, a painted face or a big ice-cream, suddenly everybody’s smiling at you and making little comments.   I just think people are friendlier and more helpful to people with babies and young children.

What really got me thinking about how children can be an icebreaker was my day at the hospital.  If people are friendlier to children, you can double it when you’re talking about sick children.  Yesterday people were opening doors for me, offering to help with my bags, offering to watch my child while I went to the bathroom.  It wasn’t just one person, it happened repeatedly.  Normally in Sydney there just isn’t a culture of talking to strangers, let alone offering to help, but in a place full of sick kids, everyone’s suddenly the Good Samaritan.  I think it’s lovely that children have the capacity to bring people together and bring out the best of them.  It’s just a pity it took a bout of tonsilitis to experience it!

Have you experienced this kind of goodwill?  Do cars stop more readily when you’re pushing a pram?  Have total strangers offered to help you at the airport, train station or hospital?  Have you found yourself exchanging knowing smiles with other Mums or having conversations with strangers in the lift or the parents’ room? 


Last week I wrote about Free Range Kids and the idea that parents these days can be a bit too paranoid and overprotective.  But that whole conversation made me realize that there are some things we’re probably not protecting our kids from that we should be.  And the thing that springs to mind is advertising.

I’ve noticed the negative effect advertising can have on children in quite a dramatic way this week.  You see we recently painted our mailbox, (it’s now a lovely purple colour) and in the process our No Junk Mail sticker got moved to the side of the mailbox.  Which means that if the person delivering the junk mail comes down the hill, we’re spared the junk mail.  But if they come up the hill, we receive copious amounts of it, mainly in the form of catalogues.

The first time we received a catalogue it was kind of a novelty. I thought it might be fun to cut out the pictures of bikes and dolls as a little activity. But what happened almost immediately was that Birdy started browsing.  “Mum, can we get this nightie?”  “Can I have that doll?”  “I don’t like my blue bike, I want that pink one with Barbie on it!”  And it wasn’t just for five minutes.  A whole week has gone by and she is still asking for the Dora Explorer nightie she saw in the catalogue.  Advertising turns our kids into little consumers who think that they need all this stuff.  And it’s also an introduction to the power of branding because they don’t want just any bike it has to be the one with the Disney Princesses.  And that’s all just the ripple-on effect of one Big W catalogue!

So other than a No Junk Mail sticker, what are some ways to protect kids from the power of advertising?  Well, I would just avoid all magazines and commercial television.  There are so many good shows on ABC2 and on DVD that you never have to go near a commercial channel.  But even then, the ABC puts their entire product catalogue in the DVD jacket, so the minute you bring home a new DVD you start getting requests for another one.  Of course the other thing we can do collectively is try to hold accountable corporations that target children with their advertising.  For example, there’s been a lot of discussion in the media about the latest Witchery clothing campaign aimed at children because it makes the kids look like adults.  If parents actually start to speak up about advertising aimed at kids, we might be able to encourage a bit more corporate responsibility.  One way to do that is through grass-roots organisations like Collective Shout and Kids Free 2 B Kids.

There’s a book by Tanya Adrusiak called Ad-proofing Your Kids that talks about the importance of being media literate and talking through with your children what the advertisers’ intention is.  She says you should discuss things like: Who created this message?  What is the point of view?  What does it want me to do?  How does it make me feel?  Why is it on during this program?  She says most advertising is designed to make us feel that we’re lacking, particularly in the area of beauty and body image, so the less children are actually exposed to those messages in their early years, the better.

However, Tanya also points out that while children are very influenced by advertising, until the age of 8 they just don’t have the capacity to understand the persuasive intent of advertisers.  And she argues that if people are being advertised to, they have the right to be aware of it.  And for that reason she feels any advertising aimed at young children is wrong.  I couldn’t agree more.

Are you concerned about the effects of advertising on children?  How do you protect your children from it?

BY ALEESAH DARLISON, Children’s author

Is there such a thing as guilt free motherhood?

I don’t know about you, but I feel guilty about loads of things about my kids. I want them to be well-rounded and happy. I want them to be polite and liked by others. I want them to be thoughtful and unaffected.

And if they’re not, it’s a reflection on me, isn’t it?  For isn’t it my responsibility as a mother to ensure my kids turn out just right?  It’s a huge responsibility, this thing we call ‘Motherhood’ and we all strive so hard to be absolutely perfect at it. But are we expecting too much from our children and ourselves?

I gave up full time work in corporate marketing seven-and-a-half years ago, a few weeks prior to the birth of my first child. I was determined to be a full time mum and thought that by becoming one, I would give my children the greatest chance possible to grow up to be the best kind of adult.

What I didn’t count on was my in-built need for mental stimulation that went way beyond changing dirty nappies or cleaning up baby vomit. Sure, the dirty nappies and vomit cleaning-up didn’t take their toll for a while. At first, I was delighted (and completely unprepared) for anything my new baby did.  But by about nine months into this motherhood gig, though I loved my son dearly and we did everything together and I remember saying he was my ‘best friend’ (surely a sign there was something wrong!), there were times when he slept for hours on end and the housework just wouldn’t cut it as something that fulfilled my life’s purpose.

My mind kept wandering back to that latent desire I’d always had: to be a writer. And, while he slept it was a perfect time for me to research that historical novel I’d always wanted to write. Some nights while his father minded him, I could even slip into the State Library to delightedly trawl for hours through roll after roll of micro-film, piecing together the potted history of colonial ancestors from old newspapers. Then, after several hours, I’d skip home just in time for the midnight breastfeed. It was all timed perfectly. Motherhood and a few hours of freedom. Who could ask for more?

Now the years have flown by and my writing career has surprisingly taken off. I’m finding it’s demanding more and more of my time. So, too, are my three children.

Who comes first?

I’d like to say it’s always them, but sometimes it’s not. And here’s where the guilt creeps in… Am I being selfish for occasionally putting myself first?

Sometimes they have to go to daycare or after-school care because I’m working. The guilt on those days is horrendous. It’s not made any better by the fact that my two-year-old daughter cries most mornings when I drop her off at daycare. Though several minutes later she’s perfectly fine, it’s the crying when I leave that makes me feel depressed and guilty. Am I damaging her irreparably? Or is she just ‘putting it on’? I don’t think I’ll ever know.

It’s even harder to juggle everything in school holidays, because I try to spend more time with them but the work doesn’t slow down. The emails keep coming, demanding to be answered. The deadlines march ever closer, demanding that I write that manuscript I’ve been paid an advance for.

One way I try to cope is by limiting any unnecessary time I have away from them. It’s not easy. Most events I attend take place while the kids are at school (or daycare, which is only three days a week). Any night time activities take place after they are in bed anyway so I don’t feel so much that they are missing out.  And when I am with them, I try to remember that there is more to life than ironing and washing and cleaning. That time with them can be spent playing board games, reading books, drawing, going on trips to the zoo or the beach and so on.

If we have take away some nights because I’ve spent time playing with them instead of cooking a fancy meal, then so be it.  If I didn’t bring the washing in from the line and it gets soaked from the rain (again) because I was reading with them by the fire, then so be it.  Life’s too short to worry about these things, anyway.  At least this way, the time spent with my kids is as special as it can be.

I need to work for that good feeling inside me. That sense of achievement and worth. And I want to work. I love writing and expressing myself and seeing my books illustrated and published. So, I must keep doing it.

If I could have my kids stay the ages they are now – 7, 5, and 2, life would be perfect. But wishes like that don’t come true and life is never perfect, so I guess all I can do is make the most of the age they are now and the ages they will be in the future.

Aleesah Darlison writes picture books and novels for children. She also reviews books for The Sun Herald.  Her first picture book, Puggle’s Problem, was released in July. Her junior series for girls aged 7 plus, Totally Twins: Musical Mayhem, was released in September. The series follows the adventures of identical twins, Persephone (she’s the sensible one) and Portia (she’s the messy one) Pinchgut and is written in diary format by Persephone.  To find out more about Aleesah, visit her website here.

Next stop on Aleesah’s blog tour is the Squiggle Mum blog, where Aleesah will be talking about the joys and challenges of writing for children.

Is your motherhood guilt-free?  Do you struggle to combine your work with your motherhood? Do you crave more mental stimulation?  What choices have you made and are you happy with the balance you’ve achieved?

Photo by Lisa Jay

Birdy and I have been feeding our neighbours chickens this week.  It’s been a fun experience, but I’ve also found that I’ve become a little paranoid about how I am going to catch them and get them back in the coop if they ever escape.  In an uncanny coincidence, Sydney received a visit from Lenore Skenazy – a New York based columnist and author who advocates Free Range Parenting.  She’s been tagged “America’s worst Mom” after she let her nine year old son catch the subway home by himself and wrote a column about it.  Since then she’s written the book, Free-range Kids: How to Raise Self-Reliant Children Without Going Nuts with Worry.

According to The Australian, Skenazy’s main point is that she “wants parents to think about the benefits, rather than just the costs, of letting children take risks”.  She argues that we do too many things with them and for them.  She says kids should be allowed to walk to school by themselves, ride their bikes or go to the park without their parents following them around.  I mean when I was young we were all free-range kids.  Everybody walked to school and rode their bikes to their friends’ houses and made their own way home before it got dark.

I think there are two main causes behind the shift in attitude.  One is a community change and the other is about the media and perception.  When we were young there were always people around, neighbours knew each other and the default position was that most people could be trusted. With more people commuting and more families having two parents working, (or being single parent families) there just aren’t as many people around in the community looking out for our kids.  And there aren’t as many kids around because so many of them are in daycare or after school care.  So it doesn’t feel safe for kids to walk around if the streets and parks are empty.  Also, a new study from the University of Western Australia has found that parents’ fears are limiting their child’s physical activity and independence.  They found that even though the chance of a child being abducted, robbed or assaulted hasn’t increased substantially over the past 50 years, (the abductions that do happen are usually in the context of a custody dispute) parents are more anxious, because the few abductions that happen receive so much press coverage.  They also found that parents are worried about how other parents perceive them.  In actual fact, we should be more worried about our kids being inactive or overweight or socially inept because that’s a much more realistic threat to their wellbeing.

So I did a little experiment yesterday.  We were at our local shopping centre, a very small local place with about 10 or 20 shops.  And there was a reptile show on.  Birdy wanted to watch it, but we were in a hurry.  So I said to her, “You stay here I’m going into the fruit shop and I’ll be back in a minute.”  I knew she wouldn’t move, but if she did she would have known exactly where to find me.  So I left her there for a minute while I grabbed some bananas.  My logical brain told me that the chance of somebody stealing her in the exact minute that I was gone was next to nothing.  And what I learnt from that little experiment was this.  I wasn’t actually worried about anything happening to Birdy.  I knew she’d still be sitting there when I got back. But I was worried about what the other parents would think of me.  And that’s one of the points that Lenore Skenazy is making, that as parents we should worry less about what other parents think and more about what’s good for our child.

So am I a fan of the free-range kids movement?  Well I think Skenazy has a point, but she also goes a little too far to prove her point.  This year she started Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There Day to encourage parents to leave their kids to play unsupervised.  But you don’t need to abandon your kids to allow them to play independently.  You just need to step back a bit, and not jump in at the first sign of trouble, so they learn to negotiate their own problems.  Every time I see a parent hanging onto their 2 year old as they go down the slide I find myself thinking, “Just let go, what’s the worst thing that can happen?”  And there’s no doubt that even very small kids get more satisfaction out of the experience when they climb up themselves, slide down by themselves, go flying off the end land on their bottoms and then look at you and say, “See I don’t need any help Mum, I can do it myself!’

BTW,  I’ll probably consider letting Birdy catch a train on her own when she’s 25! 

What do you think about the idea of Free Range Kids?  Do you let your kids go to the park or walk to school by themselves?  What age is it OK to start doing that?  Did you have a lot of freedom as a child to ride your bike around, explore the neighbourhood, visit your friends and find your own way home?  Are children over-supervised and wrapped in cotton wool or is the world less safe these days?

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