The Five Stages of Toddler Discipline!

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You’ve probably heard of  the ‘five stages of grief’. It is an actual really useful and sensitive theory coined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. But for me they were made immortal by the inimitable Homer Simpson.*

As I observe Bubs’ transition into the ‘terrible twos’ (yes, he’s one and half, but the name is false advertising, trust me) it strikes me that my coping-mechanisms for all his wobblies fit eerily well with these ‘stages’. Sometimes I’m pretty Zen about it all, whilst in other moments a baby-shaped strop can bring on the mists of deep self-loathing (#dramaqueen).

When I say ‘stages’, I don’t mean that there’s a clear progression. No ‘from denial to acceptance in five easy steps’ here I’m afraid, and I know that you discerning readers wouldn’t buy that kind of crap any way. It’s more of a cycle, not a vicious one, more a sort of normal-and-slighty-annoying cycle. Let’s see if it rings true for you…

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All My Single Mummies!

(Dear Beyonce please don't sue me for using your image: I'm trying to be nice.)

(Dear Beyonce please don’t sue me for using your image, thank you please.)

It’s Mothers Day so by rights I should be reclining on a chaise longue, having a foot massage whilst eating peeled grapes. But I’ve got something to say! (no surprises there then)

Firstly I’d like to big- up all mums. Birth mothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, god mothers, people-who-aren’t-called-mothers-but-maternally-care-for-many-others. You all rock.

But as I was lounging in bed this morning, being brought brekkie by my lovely Hubs (and Bubs who has no idea what day it is and just wants to eat my croissant) I realised that there were probably some Mothers Days when my mum didn’t get any of that. She was a single parent and when I was four-years-old I doubt I popped down the shops for a bouquet of a Sunday morning. Maybe other people did stuff for her. I imagine my Dad would have marked it in some way now and then (he’s lovely and they are together now so don’t go making assumptions #It’sComplicated). And she had some kickass friends who were totally my extended family growing up. (seriously guys, when my mum had tonsillitis and I was a baby they made a 24-hour rota and took care of use both, hurrah for friends!).

Still, we were lucky in ways that many single-parent families aren’t, so there must be a lot of women waking up this morning to no card, no flowers, no cup of tea. Just a hungry child and a pile of washing.

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I know I’m adult. But am I a GROWN-UP?!?

Sometimes when I’m watching Bubs waddle around, playing and what not, it hits me: I have a child. An actual child. Ergo, I am an actual parent.

Can that be right? Am I really grown-up enough to be a parent? Why haven’t the authorities been alerted?!

When I was 10 or 15 or whenever, I would imagine the things adult-me would do, like, waaaaaaaaaaay in the future. You know, getting married, having kids, living in a family home. Well, guess what? Those things have happened. That is my life now. I am basically living in the future. When did this occur and where’s my bloody hover car???

Okay, I’m 30-years-old, I can accept that this means I’m firmly in the ‘adult’ category. And I’m really okay with that. What’s the alternative? You couldn’t pay enough money to be a teenager again and the twenty-something ship has sailed. But when Hubs and I talk, we often still refer to our parents as ‘the grown-ups’. Because they the real adults, aren’t they? Unlike me, 79% of the sentences that leave their mouths don’t have the word ‘like’ needlessly injected into them. I mean I know all of the words to Fix Up, Look Sharp by Dizzee Rascal, for crusts sake!*

ALERT THE AUTHORITIES

(This photo of me was taken two Saturdays ago. No joke of a lie. I seem to be making gangster-style hand gestures. Heaven help us.)

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Cave women: A perfect model of motherhood?

og og

As far as I can tell, ‘attachment parenting’ seems like a good thing to do. Though I’m not really into ‘parenting philosophies’ (the very term makes my skin crawl, tbh) I think keeping your baby close etc sounds pretty lovely and I know a lot of people that it really works for. I mean, some of it’s defo not for me. Your kids sleep in you bed? For as long as they like? Like, every night?? Er, thanking you kindly, but no. However, the whole emotional-bonding-closeness-communication stuff is fab. Obvs.

Like any ‘parenting philosophy’ though, about 5% of people who follow attachment parenting get a bit smug about it all. #understatement2015. Their way is no longer just ‘what works for me’, it becomes ‘the best way to do things’. Bleurgh. Not the stuff on the Attachment Parenting International website, that all seems very kind, thoughtful and inclusive to me.  No no, it’s all  the blogosphere-forum-comment-section chitter chatter that goes on about doing what comes ‘naturally’ and being in-tune with your baby’s needs. I mean, yeah, obvs, no one is purposefully being out of tube with their baby’s needs, are they? But does it not occur the writers of these comments that the very fact of describing what you’re doing for your baby as ‘natural’ is a pretty sure fire way of making another parent feel like they are doing something unnatural? And wrong.

One of the biggest and most vexing culprits of all this is references to what ‘cave women’ did.

Comments such as “I mean, cave women wouldn’t have (insert modern parenting practice here)” appear on blogs and forums regularly, usually in reference to attachment parenting. They are likely to have been inspired by articles such as the gem “Why Cavemen were Better Parents than we are Today.” (I know, Daily Mail, why do I even do it to myself?).

Somehow, we have come to associate the practices of our distant ancestors with the way of parenting that ‘nature intended’. More than this, that nature’s intentions are the ones we want to follow. You know: high mortality rate, fight-or-flight, survival of the fittest. Now, am I alone in not wanting to apply these principles to the care of my children? Didn’t think so.

So I’ve decided to outline a few reasons why you should not feel obliged to emulate cave people parenting. Commence ranting mode!

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Attention, Attention! Why all play is hard work.

Did you know that you’re supposed to talk to your baby? Well, you are. You should talk and talk and talk. All the time. At every opportunity you should be spouting forth nonsense in order to stimulate those tiny synapses. Or something.

Seriously, dude. Go and TALK TO YOUR BABY. DO IT NOW! Why are you still reading this? I don’t care if she’s asleep, go and whisper your shopping list into her little ear.

Of course, I jest. But it sort of feels like that sometimes doesn’t it? All the leaflets and webpages and well-meaning suggestions on engaging with your small, and perhaps as yet uninterested, person; it can be a bit daunting. There are pages and pages of this stuff. I came across one article whilst researching this post called ’50 simple ways to make your baby smarter’ (Google it if you like, I’m not going to dignify it with a hyperlink). It’s like, WHAT? Seriously? Make your baby smarter? Your BABY? The implication here is that you can also make your baby more stupid, by not following all 50 ‘helpful hints’. Bleurgh to that.

I kept seeing those articles about making sure your child was getting enough stimulation in the early days. It’s. Really. Important. *hyperventilates* One health visitor told me to talk to Bubs constantly. She used that word. I’m sure she didn’t actually mean constantly, but, you know, I was sleep-deprived at the time. Nuance wasn’t a thing.

So, I endeavoured to talk constantly to my baby, giving him a running commentary on nappy changes, shopping lists and antibacterial wipes. Let’s face it, I haven’t got much good chat these days. But still, we do as we’re told don’t we?  One NHS guide tells us

“When you cook, show them what you’re doing and talk to them as you’re working.”

Cooking is always used as an example. “Now, Bartholomew, I’m just sauteeing these onions and then I’ll tomatoes, thyme and a dash of salt.”  It’s a bit like being on Saturday Kitchen, except without make-up artists, an appreciative audience or getting paid.

Sometimes I just want to make some pasta. In silence. Who’s with me?

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“Oh just get some bloody jars!” The weaning stuff you probably do need (and shouldn’t feel guilty about!)

tins and jars

I was at some sort of baby class while ago chatting to your mother he’s seven month old son was waking every 20 minutes in the night. That’s right, 20 minutes. That shit is full-on torture. Obviously we tried to offer empathy and a little bit of advice, but mostly we just looked at her with wide sympathetic eyes. Then she started talking about weaning and how when her son went to bed in the evening she had to start making all of his food for the next day, cooking batches etc. At this point any attempt on my part at subtle sympathy went array as I blurted out “oh just get some bloody jars!” Luckily, I’m not sure the poor harassed woman heard me, but I feel this statement nicely sums up my attitude to weaning.

Of course we all want to feed our children what fresh organic produce that we have cooked with our own hands lovingly. But we are also real human beings who have other things to do, like give said children some attention, clean their floors occasionally and SLEEP. So it’s okay to cheat sometimes. In fact, I don’t think it’s even okay to consider sometimes giving your child  precooked food as cheating. Its just life. So here’s my guide to the weaning paraphernalia that is fine to use:
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“Can I interest you in some more plastic crap, madam?” The weaning paraphernalia you DO NOT NEED.

Buying stuff for a baby is a bit like buying stuff for a wedding. Ooh, that’s a nice white dress, £90, you say? Oh, it’s for your wedding day? Then it’s £900. Oooh, what a lovely small blanket. For a baby? Well, sorry the cost just doubled.

Weaning is the same. They will try to sell you stuff. So much bloody stuff. They will manufacture products in brightly coloured plastics and then  charge a premium for what are essentially smaller versions of things you already have. And you will go, oooh, that looks useful.

But, no! You’re wise to it all now, right? You’ve been in this game for at least four months and your box room/cupboard/garage is already stuffed all that superfluous new-born junk you bought and never used. They won’t get you this time.

Well, just in case, here’s a little tour through all the superfluous weaning junk you don’t need.

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Is ‘baby led’ a bit misleading?

baby led

I love the ideas behind ‘baby led’ weaning. Waiting until your baby actually wants food and, therefore, escaping the vicious circle that is ‘mush on spoon à spoon in mouth à much spat out à mush on spoon again’ sounds like a reasonable proposition. Then there are the added benefits of not spending your evenings pureeing ‘batches’ for the freezer. Instead you just hand your baby a broccoli floret and let them suck on it for half an hour whilst you play Candy Crush. What’s not to love?

My health visitor was the first to explain the basics of ‘baby led’ to me. She was awesome; always really supportive and reassuring. She told me about the signs that your baby is ready for solids. They can sit in a high chair, has a gag reflex, hand-eye coordination and is interested in food etc. “You go with your baby” she encouraged me, and said that it didn’t really matter if I didn’t wait until 6 months as long as I was being attentive to Bubs’ needs. So, you know – baby is leading. Coolio.

Cut to a month or so later, when I attend a baby led weaning workshop at my local Sure Start centre. The nurse who ran it announced that ‘baby led’ weaning is waiting until six months and then only giving finger foods. To be fair, she did mention earlier weaning as an ‘option’ but it was clearly not recommended. It was a really useful workshop in a lot of ways, especially learning the difference between gagging and choking (that shizzle looks SCARY if you don’t know what it is). But I did not abide by the guidelines it laid down, no Siree. There were definitely some spoons and mush involved.

Still, Bubs eats almost everything with his hand nowadays; veg, cereal, spaghetti, you name it! And that makes things a lot easier as I can eat when he does. At some meals I even get to eat sitting down, using both of my hands, at the same time!!  #winning

So, I have no beef with ‘baby led’ as a method. Well, almost none. It’s just that I’m a bit irked by the fact that it’s called the ‘baby led’ method.

From what I understand (and I’m certain some of you will correct me if I’m wrong), baby-led simply refers to offering your baby finger foods etc from the beginning, rather than starting on puree etc. It also refers to waiting for them to be sitting, with good hand-eye coordination and the ability to swallow (okay, that last is pretty obvious, obvs). Then you have the whole six-month milestone, when they are ready for proper solids. Hmm.

If we’ve decided which foods we’re going to give our baby and what age they’ll be when we start, aren’t we the one’s leading?

I don’t know how else to put this, so I’m just gonna come right out with it: to me, the name ‘baby led’ just sounds a bit, well, smug.

Obviously the average parent chooses when and how to weaning their children based on a) what’s best for the child and b) what works for the rest of the family. So please don’t think I’m saying that parents who start with finger food are smug. I’m not. But what I am saying is words have power! If one group of people gets to say that they have engaged in ‘baby led’ weaning, whilst the other say ‘spoon-fed’ I think the latter might feel a bit belittled, or even disempowered.

Let’s just say, hypothetically, that a mother has a very big baby, who cannot get enough milk down himself. He’s depleted the breast milk supply and is a  formula fiend: hungry hungry hungry!! Say that mother does A LOT of research and decides to give him food bang on 17 weeks; just easily digestible mush on a spoon for the first while. Perhaps the baby is much more settled and happy after that, sleeps better, doesn’t cry as much… You see, to me that would seem pretty ‘baby-led’. But this mum might feel she isn’t doing the ‘right thing’, she might be seen as old-fashioned or, much worse, selfish for her decisions. She might even be told by a health visitor that she had “put her baby at risk”.

This is all hypothetical, you understand, and defo didn’t happen to someone I know or anything. Sigh.

No informed decision that a parent makes, lovingly or pragmatically, should be seen as inferior. I mean, come on guys, let’s not create an additional infant-feeding hierarchy. We already have ‘breast-feeding v formula’ pretty much nailed (insert angry comment below).

Terminology surrounding parenting choices often becomes value-laden. THIS way is the right way, and all others are what lazy/uninformed/bad parents do. Most of us know that is utter tosh but that doesn’t stop us from worrying that we are in the latter category sometimes. So perhaps we could choose our words more consciously. If it’s going to be ‘spoon feeding’ for the puree-first stuff then maybe the other approach should be called ‘finger feeding’ or something. Okay, that’s not the most inspired name but it’s a lot more accurate and not half as up itself!

Or maybe, perhaps, possibly, we might think about just not labelling ourselves in camps. Let’s face it, when it comes to parenting the only ‘method’ most of us actually stick to is trail-and-error (my new book Trial and Error Child-Rearing: the technique for parents who can’t be bothered will be in all good bookstores next Spring).

But that’s not enough is it? We have to have something to say about our choices. It has to be this guideline, or that book, or someone else who led us to our conclusions. We have to have thought it all through. Otherwise how will we explain ourselves?? I mean, imagine the scene:

Have you weaned your children?

Yes, I have.

What method did you use?

Oh, I pretty much stuck to the give-them-some-food method. You know, food in the mouth, swallowing it and then pooing a bit later. Then some more food after that at some point.

Great, where can I get the book?

Sigh.

What do you think? I ‘baby led’ an accurate and helpful name? Maybe you’ve felt judged for you weaning choices, either way? Get involved by commenting below, tweeting me @aafew or.going to my Facebook page.

Parenting: It’s actually a bit boring.

 

an average day's parenting - Word 15122014 205030.bmp

As a parent, you will experience more contradictory emotions than ever before. This little person that you love most in the world will, in all likelihood, also drive you to complete and utter distraction (destruction??) on multiple occasions. You may be infinitely happy that your baby was born whilst still remembering actually giving birth to them being the worst. The absolute worst. But that’s parenting for you isn’t it? It’s just a roller-coaster. From the sublime to the ridiculous and back again, all in one afternoon.

Well, no, not quite. That would leave out one important detail.

In Hollywood movies mothers usually either the embodiment of all that is kind, wise and maternal or a hot mess. You know those films, with the friend who has six kids (yeah, that’s pretty much all the character development you’re going to get love, sozzers) who is always arriving late with her hair a complete mess and a child on each nipple? Oh what larks! But most of the time parenting is not an extreme sport. You aren’t either completely nailing or basically dead: there are other options. Day to day, it’s more likely to be just a bit dull. Parenthood is so dramatised at the moment that it’s often these normal experiences that trip us up.

Picture the scene: It is mid afternoon. A child, surrounded by an array of educational and expensive toys, sits playing with an egg carton. A few feet away his mother sits on the sofa. She is staring into the middle distance, her eyes are glazed over and her expression is lifeless. What is happening here? Perhaps she’s got post-natal depression, or has she just received some bad news? Maybe she’s just a neglectful mother.

Erm, no. She’s bored. It’s 3 O’clock in the afternoon and she’s been attempting to entertain her children for the past 8 HOURS. She has prepared two meals (one of which was scraped into the bin and replaced with toast). She has picked umpteen bits of crap from the floor. She has embarked on 3 nap attempts (two failed, one successful). And now, just run out of steam, and ideas. So she’s just sitting there.

If you hadn’t quite decoded my cryptic third-person, hypothetical, throw-em-off-the-scent nonsense, then I shall just clarify that she is me.

Yes, Dear Reader, I too get bored. There, I’ve said it. I love my son, he is great company, but spending all day every day with a one-year-old gets a tad repetitive. I love children’s books, but after the 50th reading I feel I have entered into the subtext of the narrative just about all I can. The suspense is gone. I know it’s not your duck. I know where baby’s belly button is. I know which pet the zoo sent you. I know it all. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll keep reading those classics of modern literature, because it makes Bubs happy and it’s educational and all that good shit. But every now and then I’ll be doing it on autopilot.

I do try to mix it up.  I even venture onto the internet for inspiration, even though Pinterest usually makes me want to vomit with jealousy and the creativity and energy some parents seem to have. ‘Today tabatha and I made a fully functioning space rocket using only the contents of our recycling bins and some small pieces of dowelling. #thrifty #ecomum #recycle #educational’ Hashtag keep your parenting successes to yourself, knobend. Ahem, motherly solidarity and all that. Let’s move on…

Honestly, we get all of my scarves out and do lots of wafting and giggling. Or we build towers out of various toys. The other day I actually made corn flour paste and added different food colourings to make a sort of messy play scenario. Of course, Bubs was only interested in eating it and consequently got high on e numbers. The thing is, Dear Reader, that however long I spend coming up with these activities, whatever effort I put in, they only ever last about 10 minutes. 15 max. You look at the clock, you eyes wide with pleading hope, but it was 10.25am when you started playing and now it’s 10.35am. That’s basically the same time.

Then are the excursions. We’ll head off to play groups. I do have some nice chats with mums some of the time but it’s mostly just following Bubs around, making sure he doesn’t poke any babies in eye and that no toddlers step on his hands. Play groups are an absolute life saver, but they aren’t necessarily a particularly social experience for the parents. And what is it with the ones that don’t give mums a cup of tea? I mean what is the bloody point? 

When you have a child, parents of older children will constantly encourage you to ‘cherish every second, it goes so fast’. I have previously expressed my thoughts on saying that to parents of newborns here, but I do think the general principle is absolutely right. Of course you could spend your child’s first years only half-present, scrolling your Facebook feed looking at other people’s kids instead of giving full attention to your own. Of course that would be a terrible shame. I’m not a frickin’ monster! But the idea that every moment, of every day you can be fully engaged with your child, watching their every move and storing it all up as treasure in your heart? Jog on, mate! I’ve got a life to lead.

In all seriousness there are ways I could probably help myself. Bringing some mindfulness into my parenting would be one (there’s a parenting on that, but we all know how I feel about the books). Buying in a massive amount of craft supplies would be another. And I might do one or both of those things, time shall tell.

In the mean time I’m not going to stress. You know that thing that people used to say when you were a kid? Only boring people get bored. Well, that’s crap. Everyone gets bored sometimes. Just because you’re getting bored in the presence of your child it doesn’t mean you we need to have an existential crisis. I imagine train drivers, or accountants, or nurses, often get a bit bored doing repetitive tasks. But it doesn’t mean they suddenly become paralysed with shame and think ‘What have I done? I never should have become an accountant, what if I’m no good at it? Oh my God, I’ve ruined multiple lives!’ Being a parent is a job, and all jobs getting boring for time to time. I bet Beyonce wakes up some mornings thinking ‘Oh damn, another makeover a photo shoot? How dull‘.

So, yeah, just be bored for a bit. There’s no shame in it. Your child will inevitably doing something funny, adorable, stressful or a combination of all three, and that’ll soon snap you out of it.

bored

What bores you the most about childcare? Do you feel guilty about the duller days? Or maybe you think I should shut up moaning? Whatever your thoughts let me know. Comment below, go to my Facebook page or tweet me @aafew.

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My son, the pick pocket. #WickedWednesdays

So, what’s your child’s favourite game right now? Bubs’ is currently ’empty mummy’s handbag’. To be more specific it’s ’empty mummy’s handbag and then take all of the cards out of her purse.’ Observe:

In the act.

In the act.

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Caught red handed.

'And wot you gonna do about it??'

‘And wot you gonna do about it??’

Hmm, I really need to start putting my things in less easy to reach places!

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