A celebration of parenting with Katrina Roe

Monthly Archives: May 2013

Yesterday was a bit of a milestone day for me.  I spoke at a conference for librarians for the very first time.  Fortunately I was able to get some tips from the illustrious Collett Smart, but I thought today I would share with you just a little of what I was talking about: Bibliotherapy, – Seeking solace in stories.

So what is bibliotherapy?

Bibliotherapy is using books to help kids with the tough issues they face in their lives.  So there tends to be a focus on disability or chronic illness, but it also extends to issues like divorce, loneliness, grief and loss, depression, ageing, basically any difficult or confronting issue that a child might be facing.

How does it work?

My picture book Marty's Nut-free Party is available from all good bookstores and from Wombat Books at www.wombatbooks.com.au

It works in two different ways.  The first and most obvious one is to help the child who has the problem by normalising it and helping them to realise that they’re not the only one dealing with this issue.  So for example with my book Marty’s Nut-Free Party, it can be used to help a child with a food allergy to see that they’re not alone, that it’s normal to make mistakes and it can also give them some ideas about how to deal with their problem.  So with some discussion and activities, bibliotherapy should help children to find their own solutions to their problems.  It may also help them to realise that solutions may be possible.

The other main purpose is to help raise awareness and empathy among those who don’t have experience with the issue.  So for example, Sharon McGuinness has written a beautiful book called Coming Home about a young girl whose father has severe depression.  That book can help to raise awareness among people who don’t have experience with depression and give them a little insight into what it might be like for children who do live with that.

Coming Home is available from Wombat Books.  www.wombatbooks.com.au

Coming Home is available from Wombat Books. http://www.wombatbooks.com.au

Does it actually help kids to read about these kinds of tough issues? 

The best kind of bibliotherapy is when the issue is just wrapped up in a good story, with great characters, who aren’t defined by their issue or their disability.  It’s really important that the characters aren’t two dimensional.  There has to be something more to them so that children can identify with them.  And if children are drawn into the story, then they’ll learn something without even realising it.  It’s only when you talk about it more that some of those things they’ve learned will become more conscious.

What parents should keep in mind is that learning to empathise with others is actually an important skill in itself.  So if your child brings home a book from the library about disability, even if your child doesn’t have a friend with a disability, it’s still valuable for them to learn to think about what life might be like for someone who does.  Because that skill of being able to empathise will be valuable later when they do come across someone in life who is a bit different to them.  And there’s actually some evidence that childhood is the best time to learn that skill.  So I would even go so far as to say that if we can teach our children to walk around in another person’s shoes, and to develop that empathy, we could even be helping to build a more compassionate and empathetic society in the long term.

Finally, if you do have a tough issue that your child is dealing with such as grief, divorce, disability or ageing, here are some good resources.

Title Author Publisher Issues covered
Anthony Best Davene Fahy Sky Pony Press Aspergers
Amy & Louis Libby Gleeson Scholastic Australia Moving House,Losing friendships
Bear’s Last Journey Udo Weigelt North-South Books Death/Grief
Big Dog Libby Gleeson Scholastic / Bright Stars Fear of dogs
Clancy & Millie and the Very Fine House Libby Gleeson Little Hare Books Moving House/Friendships
Coming Home Sharon McGuinness Wombat Books Parental Depression
Do you know Millie? Gordon Winch New Frontier Moving
Goodbye Mousie Robie H Harris Aladdin Death/Grief
Herman and Rosie Gus Gordon Penguin/Viking Loneliness
Living with Mum and Living with Dad Melanie Walsh Walker Books Divorce
Looking for Rex Jan Ormerod Little Hare Ageing
Marty’s Nut-Free Party Katrina Roe Wombat Books Food allergies
Mum and Dad Glue Kes Gray Barron’s Educational Series Divorce
My Mum’s Got Cancer Dr Lucy Blunt Jane Curry Publishing Cancer
Nathan’s Wish Laurie Lears Albert Whitman & Co Cerebral palsy, disability
The Very Best of Friends Margaret Wild Margaret Hamilton Books Death / Grief
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge Mem Fox Omnibus Books Scholastic Ageing / Dementia
When I’m Feeling Sad/Kind/Scared/Angry etc Trace Moroney The Five Mile Press Understanding emotions
Ziba Came on a Boat Liz Lofthouse Penguin/Viking Refugees

Have you ever used a book to help your kids understand a difficult issue?  Did it help?  Why or why not?  Are there any you would recommend to add to this list?

Anyone who has watched the movie ‘Date Night’ will know that as much as parents might try to make it a priority to have good quality couple time, it’s not always easy to find the time, energy, finances, babysitters etc to make it happen.

My eldest daughter is six and a half now and I have to confess we have been quite a bit slacker at this than I would have hoped.  We’ve had the odd night out here and there, but a few weeks ago, my husband and I had our very first ever mini-break, just the two of us, for two whole nights and it was quite amazing!

For me, the most crazy thing about it was spending two whole nights not doing anything for anyone!  It was so strange to have nobody asking me to fetch something or find something or help them with something or get them something to eat.  You don’t realise how much of your day you spend doing things for your kids until suddenly there is nobody to look after. And it was also totally bizarre to spend two whole days without doing any housework!  Even when we go on holidays we usually get a beach house or a self-contained apartment.  I can’t remember the last time I stayed somewhere without having to cook or clean anything.  In fact the only task I had to compete the whole weekend was pouring the champagne!  That was tough.


It’s fun to be a tourist in your own city. This is Paddington Reservoir, one of the discoveries we made on our long walk into town.

The other bizarre thing about it was just being able to do whatever you want.  When you have young children, you spend so much time trying to anticipate the children’s needs that you don’t get a chance to even think about what you want to do.  So to have a completely free afternoon in which I could do whatever I wanted was almost paralysing.  In the end, I just took myself to the hotel lobby with a book and a cup of tea and spent two hours reading without anybody interrupting me or needing me to change their nappy.  It was incredible!

For us in our current circumstances, the weekend was more about recovery and reconnection rather than purely romance, but there’s no doubt that it was easier to connect when we weren’t being interrupted every five minutes.  It was also good to be able to talk openly about difficult or painful things, without having to either censor or explain our conversation for little ears that might be listening in.  It was also fun to go out together without having to focus on making it enjoyable for the children.  We could do things that we enjoy and finish them when it suited us, rather than when a child was getting hungry or tired.  Fancy that?

Relaxing at Berkeleow

Chris relaxing at Berkeleow Books. Well, I was relaxing, he was probably wanting to move on by this stage. It can be hard to drag me out of a place like that.

 It’s funny.  Even though I know it’s a good thing to do to have some time away together like that, we never would have done it if our family hadn’t pushed us out the door.  My sisters volunteered to babysit, my family paid for the hotel and we had a voucher to a nice restaurant left over from Christmas, but if we didn’t have all those generous people helping us out, there’s no way it would have happened.  So if anything, I feel a bit convicted now that I should probably do the same thing for my sister when her baby’s weaned.

Obviously doing something as extravagant as having a few nights away in a hotel is not the sort of thing you can do all the time, it’s probably more realistic just to try to make time for nights out together.   But even when you have good intentions, it’s amazing how much time can go by without making the effort to do something really special.  Just yesterday my husband stumbled upon my favourite little Kookai silk slip dress, held it up and said, “You haven’t worn this for a very long time.”  (I realised I haven’t worn it since last year…  It’s one of those dresses that requires a certain amount of confidence!)  So I said, “That’s because you haven’t taken me out for a very long time.  I can’t wear that dress unless I have something special to wear it to!”

Although quality time is important for all couples, I know it’s even more important for me, because my primary love language is quality time.  Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that my secondary love language is acts of service.  So when I don’t get quality time and start feeling insecure, I tend to ask people to do stuff for me or help me out with something.  (Not generally a brilliant tactic!)  That means my husband has a clear choice:  either to take me out for dinner more often, or to put up with me asking him to mow the lawn or clean out the laundry.  As you can see, we clearly need more dates!

The fact is that we simply don’t have the finances or the access to babysitters to go out very often, even just somewhere cheap and cheerful, but every Christmas we ask family to put in for vouchers to a nice restaurant or tickets to a show so we at least have one or two special nights out together every year.  The other thing we often do is set aside Monday morning to spend some time together.  We usually just go somewhere around the harbour and have a walk and a coffee together, so we can feel like we’ve been out somewhere nice without breaking the bank.  Molly comes with us so it’s not strictly couple time, but even just having that regular time set aside each week forces us to reconnect.  When one of us gets busy, and we don’t have our Monday catch-up, I notice that I feel a bit niggly.  So I have to make sure I keep that time free as often as I can.  And if you can find some generous family members to sponsor you for a kid-free weekend away, I highly recommend it!

Have you ever been away without the kids?  Do you have a regular time for couple time or date nights?  How do you make it work?  Do you have any brilliant ideas for date nights on a budget?

One Nail

This week is Food Allergy Week.  Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia are asking us all to paint one nail as a sign of support to the one in ten babies being born with a food allergy.  So all this week and next week I’m visiting schools and libraries reading my book Marty’s Nut-Free Party.  This morning I’m visiting Broughton Anglican College, tomorrow Pacific Hills Christian School, Thursday I’m at Lane Cove Library Story Time and on Friday I’ll be at Putney Public School.  Next week I’m visiting Randwick and Mowbray Public Schools.  So even though most of the time I live the relaxed, easy-going life of a full-time stay at home Mum (HA HA), the last few weeks I’ve had a little taste of what it’s like to be one of those busy Mums who work from home.

 Based on the week I had last week I think it might be a tad easier to work when you actually go to work.

Let me tell you about my week.  On Monday, Birdy had the day off school with a cold, on Tuesday night she was up vomiting all night, so then she had to have Wednesday off school.  On Thursday morning, hubby got sick and I also discovered that Birdy had cross-country carnival that day.  Somehow I managed to spend almost the entire day down at the cross-country carnival and still managed to miss her actual race!  Molly decided not to take her afternoon nap, so by this time it was Thursday afternoon and I still hadn’t managed to get any work done.  On Thursday night, Molly screamed the house down from midnight until after 3.30 am, so on Friday I was like a walking zombie just trying to clean up the detritus around my home from the week of sickness and sleep deprivation.  On Friday night, I put Molly to bed at 7, hoping to get some work done and after two hours of carry-on she finally fell asleep in my arms sometime after 9.  So by the time I finally sat down at the computer it was 20 to 10 on Friday night.  Seriously?  What’s so great about working from home?  Who wants to work at 10 o clock on a Friday night?

There must be some Mums who manage to make it work.  A lot of mums seem to be running home-based businesses off their laptops.  

It’s definitely easier to work with your kids around now that we have such a proliferation of mobile devices and laptops etc. because you can take your work to the park or out into the backyard.  I hear that there are kids who are quite happy to play while Mum types away, but I don’t seem to have one of those kids.  (It might be easier if I had a laptop!)  I’ve had to master the art of typing one-handed with a baby on my lap because the second I go near our computer, Molly will want to be picked up. And it’s not just when I’m doing ‘real’ work, it’s the same if I start doing housework, or any task that requires two hands.  The exact moment that I start chopping tomatoes or carrots, Molly will want to be held.  Have you ever tried cutting a pumpkin one-handed?  If anyone knows how to chop a pumpkin with one hand, please let me know.

The only time I seem to be able to get anything done is when my kids are in bed.

That’s also the time I want to put my feet up and relax with a glass of wine and an episode of Offspring!

But working at night seems to be the only way I can make it work.  Otherwise I get frustrated and cranky that I’m always being interrupted.  The other problem with working from home is that although I’m physically present, I’m not fully present, because I’m always distracted by what I’m trying to get done.  And that can be true whether you’re running a business at home or just tyring to wash and cook for an army of kids.   How do you stop your work from taking over every available part of your time and energy?  How do you make time just to be with your children?  I know a lot of mums feel guilty about leaving their kids to go off to work, but in some ways it’s almost easier if your work is contained at work and you can just leave it there when you go home.

Do you work from home?  Have you tried running a home-based business?  What are the pros and cons of working from home?  Do you find yourself working odd hours like at 4 in the morning or late at night?  If you work from home, how do you stop it from taking over the rest of your life?

Mum with her newest grandchild, Lilly, my niece

Mum with her newest grandchild, Lilly, my niece

I’m not a big fan of Mother’s Day.  I love the concept – it’s wonderful to appreciate our mums, and I love the little loving notes my daughter gives me, but the actual day itself is always a bit of a non-event.  My Mum lives far away, my husband always works, my sister goes to her mother-in-law, so after church when everyone else rushes off to their special mother’s day lunches, I’m always at a bit of a loss as to what to do.  But I love and appreciate my Mum so I want to share some of the things I’m glad my mother taught me.

1)    My mother gave me a love of all things creative – books, stories, theatre, art, singing etc.  My earliest memories of my Mum were of her reading to us, or writing down our stories, of her sitting outside in the bush sketching a tree or talking with us about her acting days.  Even when she was doing boring things like housework, she was always singing or humming.

2)    There is no such thing as too many hugs or too much love.  My Mum was always very affectionate and affirming of her four children and that’s something I really appreciate.

3)    How to make a proper roué, real gravy and a good omelette.  I can’t claim to be much of a cook, but those kind of basic skills come in very handy.

4)    That it’s never too late to learn something new.  Our church lost their organist quite a few years ago, so my mum started learning the organ at age 69.  She’s now 75 and still playing the organ every week.  Onya Mum!

5)    Never be ashamed of who you are, your family history or anything about your family because all those things make you who you are.  Growing up in a small town, it was sometimes hard to be different, but now I am pretty relaxed about who I am and where I come from.

Mum and Dad engagement

Mum and Dad celebrating their engagement

6)    When picking a fellow, make sure you can be yourself with him.  Mum used to tell us this story about her little cappuccino test.  She liked to eat the froth off her cappuccino with a teaspoon.  One time when she was out on a date, the fellow she was with told her off for eating her cappuccino froth.  (Not the done thing, apparently.) Needless to say, he didn’t last long.  So when she went out with my Dad, she ate the froth off her cappuccino again to see how he would react.  He just smiled and laughed good-naturedly.  She told us that story a few times, so I got the message that your hubby should be someone you can relax and be yourself with.

7)    If you’re ever feeling shy at a party, just start offering something around.  My parents used to have a few dinner parties and us kids always had to pass around the beer nuts, the camembert and water crackers and my personal favourite, the ‘devils on horseback’.  I was a pretty shy kid, so now whenever I’m in an awkward social situation, I just grab something and start pouring it, passing it, offering it or re-filling it.

8)    A smile is free and it makes people feel good.  When I was a kid, my Mum used to take us to the local pool and the whole time she was watching us she was always smiling.  My friends used to say, “Why does your mum smile all the time?”  And I don’t mean that kind of fake, plaster-a-smile-on-your-face-even-when-things-are-going-crap smile.  It was just a genuine, natural kind of smile that is a response to enjoying the moment or being genuinely pleased to see you.

9)    Be content with the life you have.  This is probably a reflection of my last point, but the main thing I learnt from my mother is to be content, whatever your circumstances.  To be honest, I’m completely hopeless at this, but I do try.

10) You don’t have to yell, get cross or lose your temper to teach your kids right from wrong.   My mother never raised her voice (no really, I mean never!)  She always had a gentle and quiet spirit and I just wish I could live up to that with my kids.

So thanks Mum for all these little things you taught me.  I hope I can be half the mum to my kids that you are to me.  Happy Mother’s Day xox

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