A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

Monthly Archives: March 2012

Molly took a great leap towards independence this week!  She started to eat real food for the first time.  Well if you can call Farex mixed with breast milk to form a gloopy mess real food.  But it’s a step on the road to growing up and it’s the first real milestone we’ve reached in her short life so it’s quite exciting.

This is one of the things that’s changed since I had Birdy.  At that time they were recommending not starting solids until 6 months.  That was because it was hoped that by introducing food a little later it might reduce the number of allergies and intolerances children develop.  But it didn’t make any difference.  In fact the number of allergies continued to increase and now the norm seems to be starting solids at 4 months again.  My paediatrician and GP both suggested starting at 4 months.   But you don’t have to go by the book. The classic signs that your baby is ready to start eating are

1)    that they start to become interested in food, maybe even swiping at your chocolate biscuit,

2)    they get more hungry and don’t seem satisfied after their milk feeds and

3)    they start opening their mouth when you offer them the spoon.

In some ways, I feel like there’s no need to rush into starting solids because it’s just one more job to do.  You’ve still got to give them just as many milk feeds and then you’re adding the solid food in between.  When Birdy started solids I remember being quite overwhelmed by the constant cooking and mashing and pureeing, not to mention the fact that you now have to carry little containers of pureed broccoli and beans everywhere you go.  But I remember one of my friends reminding me that it’s really only a few short months of pureeing and then you can start to give them toasted soldiers and mashed banana and other easy foods.  We’ve just started at four months because our paediatrician suggested it’d be a good way to fatten Molly up.  But for the first few weeks it’s really just practice, they don’t actually get much nutrition out of it.

So I’ve started giving her just a little bit of rice cereal once a day.  At first she just looked annoyed.  It was like she was saying, “What is this weird gluggy stuff in my mouth and how did it get there?”  I’m pretty sure more ended up on the bib than in her mouth.  I’d forgotten how messy it is trying to feed a baby.  They don’t exactly come to the table straight out of finishing school.  But she did open her mouth so I think she was at least interested to try it.  The problem is she can’t really sit up yet, so she gets a little uncomfortable in her high chair, poor thing.  It’s also makes it even messier because she ends up flopping forward a little.  Seeing that gluggy mess bursting forth out of her little mouth brought back memories of all the food that gets mashed into the floor with a baby.  There’s that lovely stage where they’re just learning that if they drop something they can make it fall to the ground and it disappears.  It’s like they think it’s some kind of magic trick.  And that goes on for about six months at least.   I’m looking forward to that.  Not that our 70s style mock tile lino could look any worse than it does already.

On the plus side, the nicest thing about starting solids is that it gives the other members of the family a chance to get involved with feeding the baby.  When babies are breastfed it all comes down to Mum and there isn’t too much that anybody else can do for the baby.  Now that we’re giving Molly a daily bottle of expressed milk and a serve of rice cereal it gives Dad and Birdy a chance to get in on the act.  Birdy came home from school and was really excited about giving Molly her second ever bowl of rice cereal. And it was nice for me to just sit back and watch that relationship of trust developing.  But by the end of that first meal, Molly looked so tired.  It was like it was all too much.  The sensory overload of the milk and the rice cereal and the spoon in her mouth for the first time.  Even something as simple as a little bowl of rice cereal is a big adventure for a bubba!

What do you remember about starting solids?  Were there any foods you found to be a winner in those early days?  What advice do you have about making the transition easier for everybody?

So you might have heard that babies have their own language.  If they cry with a ‘neh’ sound that means they’re hungry, if they cry with an ‘ow’ that means they’ve got wind etc etc.  When you first have a baby, there’s a lot of emphasis put on understanding the baby’s cues so you learn to interpret what they’re telling you.  Well what you may not know is that babies also learn to take their cues from us.  They put their own interpretation onto the things that we say.  Admittedly it’s not a clinical study but I’ve been observing this very carefully over the past few months and I think I have cracked the baby language code.  So I thought I would translate a few key phrases that may help you to anticipate your babies response.

When we say… “I think I might phone a friend for a chat.”

They hear… “Time to cry as loudly as possible.”

When we say… “Right, ready to go!  In the car, kids!”

They hear… “Could you please fill up your nappy just as we all get in the car?”

When we say… “Lovely cup of tea.  So nice to sit down with a book for a sec.”

They hear… “Wake up now and demand to be fed instantly!”

When we say… “I’m really looking forward to a night out this evening.”

They hear… “Be sure to get sick tonight with a raging fever and preferably vomiting as well!”

When we say… “Don’t you look sweet in that dress from Granny?”

They hear… “That dress needs more decoration.  Some mashed banana should do the trick.”

When we say… “How do I look for my job interview?”

They hear… “Sick up on Mummy’s shoulder just before she leaves the house.”

When we say… “I think I need a haircut.”

They hear… “Mummy doesn’t like her hair.  She wants me to pull it all out for her!”

We say… “You need a nap now.”

They hear… “Something exciting is just about to happen and you don’t want to miss it!”

When we say… “I’ve got a lot of work to do today.”

They hear… “Just cry today for no apparent reason.”

When we say… “I’m so tired.  I just need a break.”

They hear… “Mummy will miss you too much if you sleep in your bed today.  Be sure to sleep only in Mummy’s arms!”

And finally if we say, ‘I need you to go straight to sleep tonight because everyone’s coming over for a BBQ/Bible study/wine and cheese night tonight’, they hear ‘Carry on and fuss for as long as possible when I put you to bed’.

I hope you’ve found this list helpful as it may explain some of your baby’s more difficult behaviours.  Perhaps you have your own translations to add to the list.  Let’s all help each other understand our babies a little bit better. 😉

So what does a ‘traditionally built’ female detective have to do with discipline?  Heaps actually!

Yesterday I was part of a panel chat about discipline on Erica Davis’ morning show on Sydney radio station Hope 103.2.  I talked about the idea of restorative justice versus punitive justice.   It probably sounds like an odd way of approaching behaviour management but for me the philosophy behind what you do is just as important as what you do.  Especially when it comes to discipline.  What we are doing needs to make sense with what we are actually trying to teach our children.

I first started thinking about these ideas when I was studying international relations and the use of state force.  You see, the use of force is limited under international law.  One of the new doctrines that was attracting a lot of attention at this time was the ‘responsibility to protect’.  The generally accepted idea is that it’s not OK for a nation state to use military force against another country unless it is in self-defence.  (Stay with me).  But then what about when something like the Rwanda massacre occurs?  This new doctrine says that the international community has a responsibility to protect a state’s citizens.  If people are being butchered by their own state, the use of ‘protective’ force is acceptable to safeguard the innocent.

So I took these ideas home and started applying them to my then one-year-old.  I decided to try not using ‘punitive force’, like smacking, but using protective force instead.  That means if my kid hits another kid in a George W. Bush style ‘pre-emptive strike’, (ie. aggression dressed up in the language of self-defence, “But she was going to hit me, I just know it!), then rather than smacking my kid I would intervene to protect the other child.  That could mean separating them (putting in a new border), making the ‘hitter’ play elsewhere (extradition), or physically staying present to make sure no more hitting occurs (peacekeeping troops).  Hopefully this also sends a clearer message to the child.  Rather than saying, “You’re not allowed to hit your cousin but I am allowed to hit you,” (like bombing Iraq) my actions will say, “Hitting is not acceptable, and I am here to protect you both.” (The UN).

Enter Mma Ramotswe, fictional proprieter of The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency and enforcer of common sense justice.  Mma Ramotswe is a self-taught private detective (self-taught from the esteemed Clovis Anderson’s seminal instruction book, Principles of Private Detection) who goes about setting right the wrongs in her beautiful home country of Botswana.  Mma Ramotswe solves mysteries and rights wrongs but she almost never involves the law or shames the wrong doer.  Instead she finds ways to ‘restore justice’, to set right what was wrong without punishment.  This doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for the criminals, but the answer usually involves them taking responsibility for their actions in some way.  Having read about 10 books in the series, I’ve found my thinking constantly being shaped by the idea of ‘restorative justice’, as opposed to ‘punitive justice’ which is designed to hurt the wrong doer and make them regret their action.  Unfortunately, punitive justice tends to create bitterness and resentment between people whereas restorative justice is about restoring trust in the relationship.  I didn’t even realise this concept had found its way into mainstream ideas about discipline until I saw it on the cover of Sydney’s Child last week.  Apparently restorative justice is now being applied among at-risk kids in high schools with massive success.  It’s harder work than just dishing up a punishment, and many of the kids would rather just take the wrap than face up to those they have wronged.  But the long-term results are impressive.

If you’re not convinced, just think about how you feel when you have stuffed up in some way or have let someone down.  What would your prefer?  To be punished, or offered forgiveness?  Adults are not immune from punishing each other.  We do it by withholding affection or intimacy, by avoiding those who we perceive have wronged us, or by giving someone the silent treatment.  (Is this really so different from isolating a child by sending them to their room or putting them on the naughty chair?)  If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of this kind of treatment then you’ll know it hurts like hell.  Especially if you don’t know what you’ve done to deserve the snub.  Different people will respond to that kind of treatment in different ways.  Either they will detach from the relationship so they don’t continue to be hurt, they will confront the person and demand an explanation, or they will try even harder to please the person who is punishing them.  If on the other hand, you already know and have acknowledged what you’ve done wrong, then why do you need to be punished?  What you need at that point is to be restored to the other person, which only comes about through the process of seeking forgiveness and extending grace.  It’s as simple as saying, ‘That’s OK’, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ ‘Thanks for your apology’, ‘I appreciate that.’  I’m not saying that there’s never a time to send a child to their room or put them on the naughty step, but you need to be clear on why you are doing it and be sure that it makes sense in the context of what you’re trying to teach them.

At this point, the advocates of the punitive model usually say, ‘Ah but it’s different, because with children you have to teach them right from wrong by punishing them.’  But is that really so different to adult relationships?  When adults hurt each other, we don’t usually do it deliberately.  We usually hurt each other, or behave badly because we don’t yet know better.  We didn’t realise that thing we did or said or failed to do would be hurtful to that person.  We didn’t understand the way they think or feel, what they expected of us, or what their particular sensitivities were.  Once we have learned and communicated without blaming then we can improve that relationship.  Children usually also stuff-up because they didn’t quite realise what was expected of them, or they didn’t know how to deal with their feelings.  Children, like adults, need to experience the consequences of their mistakes, but we don’t have to make those consequences disproportionate to the original problem.

It is self-evident that you don’t get punished for doing the wrong thing, you get punished for getting caught.  (If you do the wrong thing, but don’t get caught, there’s no punishment.  Also if you are punished unfairly for something you haven’t done, it creates resentment.)  This can lead to deceptive behaviour, lying or far worse a child (and later an adult) who only behaves well when people are watching.  Punishment says, “If you do that behaviour, you will be punished, so don’t do that behaviour again.”  It’s a model based on obedience and good behaviour as the goal.  What I want my children to learn, more than obedience or how to behave, is empathy.  Punishment does not easily model empathy.  When we punish, we switch off our own empathy temporarily.  We leave our child crying on the naughty chair or in their room instead of comforting them, or we smack them with the deliberate intention of hurting them, even though we ourselves would not like to be treated that way.  So the child in response has several choices; to also switch off emotionally and accept the punishment, to rebel against the punishment or to try harder to please us in the future.  Learning to please others is not the same as developing empathy or consideration for others.  Clinical psychologist Lyn Worsely talks about how even babies as young as six weeks who have experienced trauma will look to their caregiver for cues and create fixed expressions that aim to please their parents.  It may be compliant but it’s not necessarily healthy.  And it can lead to anxiety down the track.

So now when I’m faced with a conundrum, rudeness, an injustice or a behaviour I don’t like, I ask myself “What would Mma Ramotswe do?”  (WWMRD?)  How can this problem be solved in a way that respects everybody’s autonomy, encourages each person to take responsibility for their own actions and treats the child as a person in their own right, rather than a puppet, expected to dance when we pull their strings (which, by the way is the American approach to international diplomacy!)

Mma Ramtoswe isn’t perfect.  She isn’t even real.  She doesn’t have all the answers.  She makes mistakes.  But she’s prepared to admit it as the following passage demonstrates:

Mr J.L.B Matekoni looked suprised. 

‘I can’t imagine you making any mistakes,’ he said.  ‘You’re too clever for that.  You would look at all the possibilities and then choose the right one.  Every time.’

Mma Ramotswe snorted.

We all make mistakes.  We don’t usually need to punish each other.  We just have to admit when we’re wrong.

Yes I’m talking about MJ.  She’s a runt.  There’s so much emphasis on losing weight that it’s a bit of a shock when you find yourself with the opposite problem, not putting on enough weight!  According to the paediatricians and the infant health nurses and the health department an infant needs to put on about 150 grams a week to be doing well. In a good week, little MJ has managed about 100 or 110 grams but in a bad week sometimes even less. It is natural for weight gain to vary from week to week, and there is some genetics involved, but even small babies still need to be putting on weight. And MJ just isn’t cooperating in that department. Each time after I’ve weighed her, I’ve been really diligent about trying to squeeze in extra feeds, setting my alarm for 3 am, dragging myself out of bed to give her an extra feed, but then after a week or so of that, I see her little double chin and those little fat rolls on the top of the thighs and think she must be doing OK. Then I put her on the scales again and she barely tops 5 kg. But she looks so healthy! It’s not like her skin is flapping around like an elephant or anything. But no matter how good she looks and how happy she is, the scales tell a different story.

So how can I fatten her up? Both the Australian Breastfeeding Association and the Raising Children Network recommend feeding more often as the best way to boost your milk supply. They say the evening and night-time is an especially good time to fit more feeds in because you tend to make more milk then. They also recommend giving little top-ups or snack feeds in between each feed, so you may as well just have the baby hanging off your boob all the time, African style. Of course you also have to make sure you’re drinking well, eating well and resting well, which for me probably means a few less social events and trips to the city.

Birdy's Buddha Belly

This has all come as a bit of a shock to me because Birdy was a tank. She didn’t feed anywhere near as often but she just packed on the weight. I had milk spraying across the room. She could have survived a week in the Antarctic just on her own body fat if she needed to.

So the question is does it really matter if babies aren’t putting on the correct amount of weight? Surely to get those averages there have to be some babies above average and some below. The answer to that question seems to vary depending on who you ask. I was speaking to a midwife at a charity function a few weeks ago, and she told me not to even bother weighing her. She said if she’s happy and she’s got plenty of wet nappies and she’s sleeping well then don’t worry about it. And lots of Mum’s say that as well. Any time I tell another mother that she’s not putting on enough weight, they usually have a story to tell about their own baby who had the same issue. My own mum even said that I didn’t put on much weight until I started solids. It was the good old Farex (the baby rice cereal) that fattened me up. We’ve only got two weeks to go until we start solids so I’m hoping that will solve the problem. But there is always the risk that the baby could have some kind of food intolerance or an infection that is preventing them from putting on weight so that’s why it is important to see a doctor if giving extra feeds doesn’t help.

MJ's a little more delicate

And if that doesn’t work, what next? I have considered eating hot chips and chocolate chip cookies and see if that helps fatten her up! But usually if a baby isn’t getting enough milk, and if you’ve tried to boost your supply without success, then the next step is to compliment with formula. I really don’t want to do that, because I know that once you start giving formula there’s a risk your milk supply drops even further. So on the advice of a paediatrician friend, I’ve just started expressing extra milk. But it’s so demoralising. I sit there pumping for about 20 minutes and wind up with 20 mls if I’m lucky so it hardly seems worth the effort. The plastic pump just doesn’t get the feel-good mummy hormones flowing in quite the same way as cuddling a beautiful baby. But as much as I love breastfeeding, if she’s not thriving then it’s really not the best thing for her, so I may just have to overcome my pride and put her on a bottle. For now though, I’ll keep setting the alarm for 3 am and hope it pays off at the next weigh-in later today… it’s the least I can do for my little MJ!

Have you had the same problem?  How did you fix it?  What was the turning point for you?  Do you think it matters if some babies put on less weight than others?

Illustration by Chris Roe

Last week I wrote about how Birdy doesn’t do too well with eating her lunch at school.  And the worst part of this isn’t the wasted food or the frustration of emptying another lunchbox into the bin – the worst bit is the after school meltdown.

We try to walk to and from school as much as we can.  After school she’s usually quite tired so if she hasn’t eaten or drunk much that’s when the probability of a meltdown skyrockets. Ever since she was a toddler, Birdy becomes miserable if her blood sugar gets low. She used to wake up totally feral from her afternoon nap.  Sometimes the only cure was a cup of warm milk or a tiny bit of something sweet to snap her out of it until I could get some real food into her.

The most recent meltdown was over chocolate.  We were walking home and she asked me if she could have a little bit of chocolate when we got home.  I said ‘Yes, when we get home you can have two squares of chocolate.’  Last time, when she’d had three squares of chocolate, she’d had trouble falling asleep at night so I thought I’d let her have a smaller amount this time.  Well instead of ‘thanks Mum’ we had tears and screaming and throwing things on the ground because she wanted three squares not two.  This went on for quite some time, right outside the shops where all the other mums and kids from the school were congregating.  It was so much fun!  NOT!  I didn’t give in to the tantrum, and needless to say she didn’t get any chocolate, but boy, it took us a very long time to get home!

The other major tanty was in the first week of school, which was also the first week of swimming lessons.  We made the mistake of going home in between school and swimming. Once we got home she didn’t want to go out again and threw a massive tanty in the house, in the car, and on the way to the pool, screaming that she was NOT going to do swimming.  She was extremely tired so in one sense it was fair enough that she didn’t want to go.  And if she’d simply said, “I’m too tired to go swimming” I might have given her the week off, but after the massive barney I felt I had to send her.  Otherwise she might have got the message that all you have to do to get out of swimming is throw a massive wobbly.  Once she got in the water she fine – I think the sensation of the water on her skin was actually quite soothing.

So how should we deal with tantrums when they happen?  According to child psychologists, when a kid has a tantrum its because they’ve lost control of their emotions, so the first thing you have to do is help them get back in control.  That means we have to stay calm and not lose control of ourselves and also not get anxious about what other people are thinking.  The easiest way to help them calm down is to ‘bring them in close’ physically.  This is a tactic I learned from child psychologist Louise Porter and it definitely works, but it can take time.  It’s much harder to do it successfully when you’re in a hurry.  So firstly you have to drop the expectation of being on time, or getting home quickly and deal with the situation first.  Once they’ve calmed down you can address their physical needs (tiredness, hunger, cold, overstimulation) or whatever has prompted them to feel out of sorts in the first place.  Then when everybody is feeling calm you can reaffirm your message and boundaries (you have to go to swimming, or you can’t have the chocolate or whatever the issue is).

Obviously its better if you can prevent the tantrum in the first place.  Aaron Wright from Breakfast with Aaron and Erin sometimes talks about the idea of “Setting up for Success” and that’s definitely the best way of preventing tantrums. So on Fridays when Birdy is really tired after a big week of school we now sometimes drive home instead of walking.  I’ve also started taking along cold snacks or drinks to have on the way home as fuel for the walk.  I’ve never really had to deal with tantrums much before now, but I think it’s helpful to look for the pattern of when and why they happen and try to change the circumstances around them.  For us, the pattern has been straight after school, when she was tired and hungry.   Thankfully the hungry part is an easy one to fix.  And so far it’s working.  Since I started arriving at school with a snack or a cold apple juice, we haven’t had a meltdown again, so let’s hope it continues.  Of course kids aren’t the only ones who have meltdowns, so it’s a good reminder to look after ourselves as well.  We need to make sure we don’t neglect our physical and emotional needs.  If we’re tired, hungry, dehydrated or not getting any time out, we’re probably just as likely to lose our cool as they are.

Do your kids throw wobblies?  What are the triggers?  How do you set up for success?

This week I had the chance to take part in a new parenting panel on Erica Davis‘ morning show on Hope 103.2.  It was very kind of Erica to invite me and I had a ball.  I couldn’t help feeling though, how much my life has changed in just four months!  I felt ridiculously nervous appearing as a guest on the show that I used to host.  I also felt incredibly out of place in a professional work environment, (not unwelcome, just out of place) where people are all busily carrying out their business.  The pace of life at home and school is just so much more relaxed and casual.  It was also the first time I’d ever been so physically far away from Molly and the 40 minutes of freeway between us felt like a void as wide as the Simpson Desert.

This week on the panel we talked about the publicity that surrounds celebrities getting their “body back” after a baby.  Is there too much pressure on Mums to get their body back into shape?  In once sense I find this question a little laughable, as if we were all perfectly sculptured gym junkies before we had kids.  I don’t know about you but I had wobbly bits before kids, and I have wobbly bits after kids, at least now I have more of an excuse!  Personally I don’t compare myself to celebrities.  They’re paid to look good – it’s their job and they have a team of personal trainers, nutritionists and nanny’s to help them.  (I certainly don’t envy her job.  If I wanted to be gawked at while standing around in my underwear I’d visit my dermatologist.)  So if Miranda Kerr looks hot after a baby, good on her.  She was hot before and it has no relevance to my life.  If women feel pressure to look like her, before or after bub, then surely it’s a pressure they’re putting on themselves.

If anything, the time immediately after giving birth is the time you could head out in your pyjamas and people would tell you you’re fabulous, they’re just so impressed that you’ve managed to leave the house.  If you bother to run a tiny bit of lippy over your mouth before you head out they’ll say you’re amazing.  I remember clearly when Molly was six weeks old walking to the local shops in the late afternoon. I passed a Mum of twins cutting through the park and she looked a little despondent so I stopped for a chat.  I remember exactly what I was wearing.  My hair was in plaits that had been done at the crack of dawn and were now falling out in a mess.  I had a green cap on, an old stained white singlet that was thinner than a supermodel, an orange skirt that was falling off my hips,  and red Birkenstocks.  A medley of clashing colours, no make-up, no jewelry, probably hadn’t washed my hair or shaved my armpits for several days.  This lady I’ve never met before asked me how old the baby was and when I replied that she was six weeks, she gushed, “Wow, you’re looking fabulous!”  It was all I could do not to burst out laughing.  I looked like an unwashed hippy who had escaped a commune for the day.

Having said all that I did struggle with my body when I was pregnant.  By the final 8 weeks I really did feel like a whale.  I shamefully confess that I turned down a number of invitations to events, lunches and catch-ups in those final weeks because I felt too conspicuously unattractive, un-coordinated, inelegant and unsociable.  The last thing you want to do is knock over somebody’s expensive glass of wine with your mega-pregga belly as you try to squeeze past the white tablecloths without inadvertently collecting one on the way.  I also didn’t want to meet new people at a time when I felt so awkward and exhausted and wasn’t capable of giving them my full attention and energy.

While it’s nice to get a bit of positive, albeit unrealistic, feedback about bouncing back after bub, it seems a little unfortunate that we’re more likely to be told we’re looking good and less likely to be told we’re doing a good job.  The other day I arrived late to school pick-up after racing across to Chatswood to pick up my niece from pre-school.  I had phoned my neighbour and asked her to wait with Birdy until I got there.  A full ten minutes late, I garbled my frantic apology.  “I’m so sorry I’m late, I just totally underestimated how long it would take, thanks so much for waiting, I’m so, so sorry.”  My friend stopped me, “Katrina, it’s fine.  Can I just say that I think you’re coping really well?  It’s a lot to take on with a new baby.”  Wow, what an encouragement it was to hear those words for the first time in three months.  (It may not be the first time somebody’s said that, but it was the first time I’d heard it.)  And it was just what I needed to hear.  So while it’s lovely to have somebody say we’re looking great after a baby, let’s also encourage each other with how we’re doing.  That’s the feedback new Mums really need to hear.  Because while our bodies may change after a baby, what changes so much more is the heart.  Our own selfish ambitions and desires gradually fade into the background while our better selves, the one that just wants the best for our baby, fights its way to the fore.  That’s taken a little longer for me second time round, not because I’m more selfish, but because I had more to give up.  So on those days when I’m feeling tired, haggard, grumpy and restless it means a lot to hear that I’m doing OK, even if I look like crap.

Are you concerned about regaining your body after a baby?  Have you struggled to lose weight, exercise or to find time to take care of  yourself?  How have you changed since having a baby? What has encouraged you in your parenting role?

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