Parents: a soft place in a hard world

“You’re too soft on her!”

How many times have I heard this phrase? I imagine if I got paid every time it was said to me that I would be a very rich lady! Instead, the words just irritated me and eventually started to eat away at me.

I worked with children for many years and I was often described as “too soft”. At first it was said in jest then it became a byword for criticising my methods. When I first began to work in the early years sector I realised that, although we are all trained in much the same way, our methods vary widely. So it seemed that, yes, I was one of the ‘soft’ teachers; more likely to offer a cuddle than an admonishment. It is tough to stand by your beliefs when they are judged or held up as less than okay. It became tougher as the years went by. But, to me, it seems that childcare staff stand in for parents when they can’t be there. I tried to act in the way their parents would want their children to be treated.

I have left the sector since but now I have my own little girl. And what do I still hear? You are too soft! Sometimes it is said jokingly, sometimes gently, sometimes irritably. What has changed is my reaction to it. Now I just say so bloody what? Yes I am soft, too right I am soft! My daughter will too often have to deal with a world of hard edges, negativity and judgement. I want to be the one place in the world where she is welcomed and loved just how she is; where she will find praise not criticism, love not hate, warmth not coldness.

I believe in being firm and kind; offering a safe place for a child often works better than cold words of rebuke. When my child is all worn out, after an epic strop, her emotions vastly over-whelming, I offer a cuddle. That doesn’t mean her behaviour is alright but it means I am here for her, no matter how how far her temper flies. I believe it is our job as parents to provide a soft place, a safe haven for our children. This doesn’t mean being overly-permissive or spoiling them. It means showing them understanding when they can’t cope with life, kindness when they have lost their way and a warm hug when that tantrum becomes just too much.

Too often we rush in with harsh words or reprimands because it is seen as spoiling a child if we are too gentle. I have had days where the Tesco temper tantrum causes me to be stern and angry; under pressure from judgemental stares I rush to assure on-lookers that I can deal with this, I am a strong parent. But when did being strong mean you had to be hard as well? There is a quiet kind of strength in being the type of parent who teaches through gentleness, who talks to her child, who listens. Children respond better when they feel understood; don’t we all?

So yes call me soft. I will gladly wear that badge. I will wear it with pride.

Toy Story 3 – oh the tears…

toy_story_64021-1400x1050

This morning I made the mistake of watching the end of Toy Story 3 with my daughter (yes we allow her watch TV in the mornings – bad parents). I say mistake as it was a dull, wet Monday morning and I had a serious case of PMS. I was crying over the smallest of things. Needless to say the heart-wrenching scene where Andy leaves his best friend Woody behind had me in floods of tears. I literally couldn’t hold in the emotion. My husband looked on bemused as my little girl (who was sitting on my lap) studied me intently; why was mama crying? Obviously she could not comprehend why mama was having a full on meltdown. There was so much hitting me right that I just managed to sob out ‘mama’s being silly’ before running for a box of tissues.

Woody, Buzz and the gang are almost like stand-ins for us parents in this film; watching as their once tiny children begin to out-grow their space in the family unit and need to forge their own path (for a little while at least). I watched my tiny lady wave as the end credits rolled up and felt so very thankful not to be Andy’s mum. I had years ahead yet before I was consigned to the sidelines of my daughter’s life. But there will come a period of time when she will be so focused on her own life and her own path that I may well be relegated to the attic as it where while she figures things out on her own. I’m not too worried. This is all a natural part of growing up and as heartbreaking as it can be our children know we are never far if they need us. And if we have done our job right they will come back to us; loving the security of family and home while they figure out their place in the world.

I felt as if I was watching Toy Story from both the perspective of parent and child. The child in me still remembers packing up for college….and hating every second of it. I was not like Andy. I didn’t want to leave my cosy family nest. I was homesick for months. I would never have given away my toys (one of which still resides in my now adult room upstairs – and he won’t be leaving until I do). I longed to put the challenges and perplexities of adulthood away for another year. I wasn’t ready for that step and it took me a long time to feel at ‘home’ away from my family. In fact it’s only since I got married and had my own child that I felt a sense of home again. I do still cry when leaving my parents (at the grand old age of 34) but I also look forward to getting back to my own space, my own nest. It’s taken a long time to get here but like all late bloomers I found my place in the end.

 

Parent Hangover – enough said

I have been absent from the blog-sphere for the past while as I have been recovering from one of the more hideous afflictions of parenthood – the parent hangover. I haven’t been struck down by one of these in about a year so it took a few days to actually feel somewhat human again. Recovery wasn’t helped by a bouncing toddler who refused to sleep past 6am and the need to constantly make sure she was (somewhat) safe. Yesterday was spent shamelessly giving into her demands and bribing her when I wanted her to do something without making a fuss. I figured the only way to live through it was to take the path of least resistance…and this meant agreeing with everything my toddler had to say.

The morning after the night before, it came screaming back to me why I now, very rarely, drink. It just does not pay when you have to deal with a small child on very little sleep and a headache that would make you wish for death. They don’t understand why you don’t want to play cars or colour pictures or why you keep running to the toilet every five minutes. They don’t get why you need nap time more than they do. And they especially don’t get why having a temper tantrum in a public place could result in tears (yours not theirs)…though if they did it probably wouldn’t stop them.

The reason for the intensity of this hangover was that my husband and I were out on a date night. These are like precious jewels to us now. Even more thrilling was the fact that we were staying over-night in a hotel. We hadn’t done this in about a year and, as we wouldn’t be going away this summer, this would double nicely as a mini holiday as well. We were like two small children let loose in a sweet shop albeit one with bottles of wine and glasses of beer. We started early and finished late. We even chanced going to a local nightclub. We sobered up a little at the sight of those black stamps on our hands and I admit we left after about five minutes. Sometimes you have to realise you just aren’t into that scene anymore…and we were big players on the old nightclub scene back in the day. We even met in one.

I don’t remember much after the club…though I have a hazy recollection of wanting more drink. Thankfully the hotel bar was closed by the time we reached it and so to bed. Waking up the next day was not pretty and indeed I wasn’t much better the next couple of days either. Today I was overjoyed to wake up feeling back to normal again. I have vowed to go easy on the next date night maybe just dinner and a movie…a glass of wine with dinner rather than for dinner!

Watching Movies (parent-style)

Myself and my husband are big film fans. Our pre-parent selves watched a lot of movies and made numerous treks to the cinema. We stacked our shelves with all the new releases as well as hunting down eighties and nineties classics. Trust me when I say we have a lot of DVDs. Fast forward to now and our child is two. Since her arrival I have noticed a steady decline in our movie watching. I was prepared for this when she was a newborn. We broke up the night into two shifts so that each of us got at least five hours sleep. This usually meant that the person on the second shift (who got to wake up at…three am!!!) had to be in bed by ten. This usually meant making moves to get to bed around half nine or so – the time our pre-parent selves would just be settling in for a film night with popcorn, crisps and wine. So I begrudgingly accepted that our movie watching might be curtailed for a bit.

However, I’ve now been forced to acquiesce that, for now at least, the only way we can watch a full movie together is if we either go to the cinema (good luck finding a babysitter) or break the movie up into two halves. Now you can risk a full movie in one night but it will cost you…inevitably the tiny lady will wake up much earlier than usual and you will cry into your pillow, regretting that second glass of wine and bedtime at eleven o’clock. She honestly has a sixth sense about these things and punishes parents for attempting to enjoy themselves. I’m kidding…probably.

I have also found that if we try and watch a full movie in one night than about half an hour towards the end I will find myself drifting off, eyes heavy and full of sleep. I will turn to my husband and suggest we watch the rest of it the following evening. He will try to cajole me and remind me that it’s nearly over. This will go on for about five or ten minutes until one of us gives in. If I give in and stay up I end up quite out of sorts by the time the end credits roll by and usually won’t wash my teeth, remove my make-up or take out my contact lenses!

Recently I’ve started to remember watching movies with my parents when I was a child. And what was my mum doing while we all watched? Well she was fine for the first half hour or so then you would look over during a particularly funny scene and there she was …fast asleep!! And now I get it…I totally get it!!

Parenting in the Age of Facebook

Yesterday my tiny lady had a meltdown. By meltdown I mean a major, off the scale, shrieking at the top of her voice tsunami of toddler emotion. It was epic. It started with my husband and I coaxing her into her buggy. We managed to get her strapped in but then, as if possessed by a demonic spirit, she began to strain against the straps; yelling as if we were trying to torture her. With tense voices we encouraged each other to stay calm; terse, short sentences were the order of the day. We attempted to carry on as if we couldn’t hear anything while all the world (or so it seemed ) stared at us. Finally I decided to carry her. This didn’t help and the screaming continued. We were on our way to buy some much needed warm weather clothes (neither my husband nor I had quite believed the optimistic Irish heatwave forecast). In the end we decided to divide and conquer. My husband went shopping while I took the toddler into Tesco to buy juice; yes I committed the ultimate parenting sin of bribery. Five minutes later – and trust me it was a very long and brutal five minutes- we were sitting down outside Tesco with a four pack of juice and peace had returned to my world. Yes, yes perhaps I could have solved it without the bribe but sue me I just wanted the shouting to stop.

As we sat there I started thinking how very quick we are to judge each other as parents in this age of Facebook and instant status updates. The looks of some of the customers in Tesco were heavy with disapproval. I caught the odd sympathetic glance but these were few and far between. The majority of people seemed to wonder why on earth my child was so upset. Welcome to the world of parenting a toddler, I thought grimly. I could only imagine the status updates the incident might have sparked off. I am guessing none would have been very supportive.

I have been following the case of the parents whose child recently fell into the gorilla enclosure in Ohio zoo. There has now been an investigation launched to assess whether or not the parents are to blame. While I wholeheartedly wish this majestic creature could have been saved I wonder have we been too quick to point the finger at the parents? How many of us have lost children when in a brief second of inattention we do not have our eyes on them? We are all just human and none of us are perfect.

I remember, as a child, going on a shopping expedition with my parents. My brother, who was only about two at the time, was carefully kept close by means of the controversial toddler harness. My Dad had a tight grip on him while my mum browsed the clothes section of M&S (note – how terribly restrictive for my poor mother to have her whole family follow her around clothes shopping). Suddenly, my brother had somehow gotten free and was racing through the aisles; joyous to be finally let fly. However, his flight of freedom soon ended with a bump to the head and a visit to the hospital.

It got me thinking if this happened today would my family have ended up on Facebook, my father widely criticised for allowing his child to break free? Would my mother have been judged for trying to take five minutes to herself to do some shopping? Would there have been cries of ‘This would never have happened to my child’ or ‘Parents should have watched child more carefully?’ A simple incident like this could have gained my family a level of unwanted internet fame. I wonder are we far less understanding these days or do we just simply have a greater outlet for our disapproval? Access to more ears to pour our judgment into?

I don’t know about you but I do think we are too quick to judge, too quick to update our statuses without thinking and too quick to throw our opinions out there without considering who we might be wounding. Remember, be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting their own hard battle.

The practical side of parenting

Since my daughter’s birth nearly two years ago (TWO yikes!) I have been constantly confronted by the notion that I am completely unprepared as a mother. It started in the hospital. I arrived with 0 to 3 month clothes having been convinced she wouldn’t fit into the teeny newborn items. In my defence at my last scan she had measured 7.5. This was a few days before the birth so I figured she would have grown a little by the time she actually arrived. But wouldn’t you know it she was a tiddler. So she spent her first day swimming around in the outfit I had spent ages picking out for her. Pink and perfect and much too big. Relatives were duly dispatched to nearby shops. Oh and could you also bring some cot sheets, more blankets, mittens and chocolate (that last was for me – not a fan of hospital food). Thanks so much! I was woefully unprepared despite the two bags I’d lugged into the hospital that first day.

Since then things have pretty much been the same. In my first few weeks as a new mother I was constantly forgetting some must need item from the nappy bag from actual nappies to muslins to bibs. Each time it happened I vowed to make a ‘nappy bag list’. This list was never written .

I’d like to tell you things have changed since those early weeks…but that would be a big fat lie. Only the other week out for a shopping trip with a friend I forgot to pack a spare pair of clothes for my daughter. Obviously the tiny lady then had to go and spill juice all over herself. “But she rarely needs a change!” I wailed! My friend wisely said nothing.

Only a few weeks before this fateful trip my husband and I had brought the tiny lady out for a picnic…and forgot to pack a nappy. She did the biggest poop ever….then went down a slide and mushed it all up her back. That was one long stinky drive home!

Today the long promised heat wave hit. What was my daughter wearing? A long sleeved vest, long sleeved top, a skirt and tights! Yes tights! I realised her summer wardrobe consists of two t shirts and both were in the wash. One frantic trip to tesco later and there she was in shorts and a sleeveless t shirt (for a wonder we actually did have short sleeve vests).

As we drove home I thought about how utterly useless I am at the practical side of parenting. I just don’t seem to be clued into it at all. She can go at least a week without me remembering to cut her nails and don’t get me started on the onerous task of ear cleaning! I can’t even excuse myself on the grounds that I hate these tasks I just genuinely don’t think of them! What does that say about me??

All I can hope is that she knows she is very much loved despite my devil may care attitude to the more practical side of life!

What’s in a toy?

A recent phenomenon struck me the other day; while the worlds of young girls are expanding everyday the worlds of young boys are contracting more than ever. Little girls are now being raised to believe they can be anything from Elsa to Spiderman to Darth Vader! Meanwhile little boys are still very much expected to tow the line of convention. I came across an article written by the mother of a five year old boy who loves Elsa just as much as my little two year old girl. But, while my tiny lady could easily find a costume and swish around the room to her heart’s content, this little boy will tread a harder path. His mother spoke of how she and her husband have to balance a fine line between allowing the child freedom to express himself while at the same not allowing the world to hurt him when he does express himself.

The world is a tough place for a boy like this. He enjoys My Little Pony but his mother worries about the reactions of other people to him if he plays with these type of toys in public. We are all about allowing little girls the freedom to engage with what were once traditionally seen as ‘boys’ toys e.g. cars, garages, toolboxes etc. Yet it seems as a society we are not as comfortable seeing boys play with dolls and make-up kits. There is still something unsettling about it.

Personally I do not yet have a little boy but I did work with toddlers for years and they do not know anything about gender division at this young age. Little boys would happily wheel their dolls around in buggies and help set up house. Yet as two turned into three the gender divide began to emerge. The girls began to play kitchen and dress-up and dolls while the boys played rough and tumble in the soft play area. Where is this coming from? I don’t think it’s instinct. I think it comes from a society that still is caught up on ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ toys. Look at any toy catalogue and you will see girls’ toys separated from boys’. The ‘boy’ toy pages are coloured with blue and red and darker tones while the girls’ are all pink and yellow and bright tones.

We have come a long way sure but I think that there is still much much further we can go. And unfortunately until society can be more open-minded about gender and gender roles the life of a little boy who loves My Little Pony might be harder than his parents would like. I wish them all the best and hope one day he can wear his My Little Pony t-shirt with pride.

Mama knows best

Naptime and Bedtime have become a bit of a battle in our house over the past few weeks. My daughter’s latest trick is propping herself up at the end of her cot, throwing all her cuddly toys out then shouting for us until she gets some attention. This can go on for at least half an hour sometimes longer before she finally gives up…or we do. Now I know some people might suggest she doesn’t need as much sleep anymore now that she is nearly two. Couldn’t we cut back on the naps? To those people I would say – are you f***ing kidding me?? This child needs her sleep and we need her to sleep. She is not a pleasant kid to be around when naps are off the agenda for the day.

All children are different and I think, as a parent, you are able to recognise when your child doesn’t conform to the developmental guidelines of a particular stage. I used to work in a creche and there were some two year olds who could last the day on very little sleep. Others….well the less said about them the better. They needed that rest! As children get older some drop naps altogether while some still benefit from an afternoon siesta. As it stands my tiny lady has quite an odd napping schedule. I always thought she would need an afternoon nap – all the books speak about an afternoon nap and thats what I was familiar with. But my tiny lady gets tired around half ten so its usually snack then bed at eleven am. She has her lunch when she wakes up and is generally good to go for the rest of the day…until the dreaded five o’clock slump but that’s a tale for another day.

I am very glad she attends a childminder rather than a creche as in a creche it is easier for the older toddlers to nap around the same time. Generally this is just after lunch around one o’clock. This is to allow for children to get maximum fun and activity time but it would not suit my little girl. If I try to stretch her nap past eleven then we miss the vital window of opportunity. After that it’s terror toddler for the rest of the day as she fights any attempts to put her back down. Thankfully her childminder works around her schedule not the other way around for this we are very grateful!

The point of this slightly manic blog is this; you know your own child best. So if she wants to nap for 15 minutes or three hours then work with her needs. If she wants to nap mid morning go with that. Don’t listen to the advice of others if you have a routine that works for you and your child. Yes there will be times when your toddler fights her sleep or just doesn’t nap but this doesn’t always mean she is ready to go without sleep either. Trust your instincts and trust your gut. Mama (and papa) know best!

Play – taking pleasure in the littlest of things

I love to watch my daughter play; those golden moments when she is just fully absorbed in her own world, fixing, sorting and chatting. Her latest obsession is Sylvanian Families and she can spend a long time just placing the characters in different positions and pulling boots on and off their feet. She combines this with her love of cars so quite often the Slyvanians are visited by a whole host of cars – I’m sure they are delighted to have their country abode invaded but they keep silent on it so I’m grateful. This morning a giant Makka Pakka came to play; they are still in recovery as can be seen from the picture above.

I would love to know what goes on in my daughter’s mind while she is so busy and she looks so focused; I wish I had half her levels of concentration when I sit down to write. Of course she is a toddler so can very easily be distracted but I have noticed if she chooses to play something by herself (rather than me choosing for her) she is less easy to disturb …and forget about asking her to come to the shop or go for a walk – recipe for a meltdown!

They say the work of childhood is to play and my daughter most definitely does her work well. I know she must be learning something from all her little tasks but I couldn’t say what it is. I do feel, however, that the times she is fully absorbed are the times she is learning best and those are the times I try to be as inconspicuous as possible! Though this doesn’t always happen. She quite often wants me to watch or help or play.

She is quite sociable in her play. By that I mean she loves nothing more than to fetch her cuddly toys and have them ‘play’ with her. This involves me putting on all manner of silly voices but my tiny lady takes it all very seriously as she shows Iggle Piggle around her farmhouse or invites Makka Pakka to play cars. They are her friends to all intents and purposes. Yet she still finds it hard to interact with real-lfe children. I believe this is mainly due to the fact that Iggle Piggle and co. do everything she asks and wouldn’t dare to snatch her favourite toy. But perhaps this love of her cuddly gang will help her with her friendships in the future.

There is something very peaceful about watching a small child play. For one thing it provides a lovely break from the screaming, temper tantrums and endless noise that is usually present in the house. It’s quiet, gentle play. But on another level it is very soothing to watch such a tiny being take such joy in the simplest of things.

Lazy Parenting or Sanity Preservation?

I often find myself plagued by the question – am I a lazy mother? Today I brought the tiny lady to the park and she ended up playing sticks with another little boy. By playing sticks I mean throwing random bits of wood into the fountain and creating lots of splashy wet fun! Needless to say tiny lady ended up soaked to the skin and in need of a full change of clothes. Luckily we live five minutes away so this wasn’t a big problem.

But later I found myself wondering was this just an example of lazy parenting? I knew if I stopped the tiny lady from participating she would inevitably throw a strop. I’ll be honest I wasn’t in the form for a battle to see who was boss today. I couldn’t face her throwing herself on the ground and screaming while I made ineffectual gestures at picking her up. I felt tired just thinking about it. So yes I let her play in the questionably dirty water.

The same thing had happened earlier. The swings and slide were wet. Another mother cautioned her daughter against going down the slide while I quickly dried it with a ball of tissues to avoid a possible meltdown. She still managed to get wet but I found myself just not caring. I wondered was this just mere laziness or have I managed to become a bit more chilled out about things? When she was tiny I used to change her clothes if even a speck of dirt got on them; now not so much. She spends her days covered in various forms of gunk and USG (Unidentifiable Sticky Goo – a substance that just seems to grow around toddlers). Her hair…well the least said about that the better. She starts off with a cute pony-tail and hair-clips. By the end of the day her hair is down in her face, sticky looking and the hair-clips are long gone (side note – where do all these hair-clips disappear to??).

I have given up the fight; the battle to have a well-presented child. I see these other little girls all cute in their little (clean) outfits and hair up just so. I must admit I get a bit jealous when I compare them to my little mound of messiness. But that’s who she is. She hates getting dressed and don’t get me started on trying to do her hair. So I throw on whatever is easiest, don’t change it unless it gets really, really gross and I don’t bother too much when her hair becomes a tangle of ick.

Laziness or just a way to maintain my sanity? I’m still trying to decide.