Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Eggs, lies and escapades

As Easter eggs reared their shiny, foiled heads a couple of months ago, I felt a sense of dread. ‘Here we go again,’ I thought. ‘Another one of those supersized, intercontinental stories about a larger-than-life character who delivers sweet joy to children.’

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas and Easter: the planning, the food and the crazy family get togethers. I just don’t do the ‘magic’ part well. It’s probably because my son takes after me. I’ve been a sneaky present-peeker for longer than I care to remember and my son has developed that same inner suspicion. Over the last couple of years he has found many presents that were headed to Santa’s workshop. Instead, they became presents from the ‘family’.  Friends of mine have told me that I have to work a little harder at maintaining the magic of Christmas. So last Christmas, Santa must have been listening and put on his best show: amazing the children with genuinely surprising gifts under the tree.

I know Christmas is long gone, but the ‘magic’ continues at Easter. I have been gearing myself up to retell more stories about the legendary bunny who will find us, regardless of where we spend Easter. I’ve been planning logistics and where the location of our family dog will be, so he can’t treat himself to midnight chocolates in the yard. I’ve listened, as no doubt you have, to endless discussions about the types of eggs the Easter Bunny might bring and what he really looks like. Maybe it’s end-of-term, maybe its cynicism at it’s best, but aren’t we making life harder than it has to be? Well that was what I was starting to think a couple of weeks ago, when I was feeling tired from parenting overly exhausted kids.

But then a little magic happened, magic I wasn’t expecting. I picked up my daughter from kinder and my son from school on their last day of term one and their excitement was palpable. They both ran out of their rooms, arms cradling eggs with stories of the Easter Bunny who had been visiting them. My daughter told me how she tiptoed around the classroom hunting for eggs so she wouldn’t scare the bunny away. My son told me that he saw a part of the Easter Bunny’s purple waistcoat as he hopped around the corner. Their smiles were wide and their laughter was infectious.

And then it all made sense. This is why the Easter Bunny and Santa work hard every year to keep the magic alive: there is nothing more thrilling than watching the innocent joy of our children as they celebrate these festivities.

I hope you have a Happy Easter!   

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I have a little girl who has a little curl right in the middle of her forehead...

And when she is good, she is very, very good and when she is bad, she is horrid!

Ah the blessed three-year-old stage. The tantrums of yesteryear have faded and in their place are cunning and strategic dialogues between a parent and a child, read: myself and my middle child, Minnie.

Corporal punishment is out. These days, parenting is all about negotiation, time-outs and consequences. And so, rational, verbal exchanges are all I've got to work with, and that's pretty tricky when my three-year-old hasn't quite reached the level of maturity required for the conversations... or is it that she has well and truly surpassed this level of exchange? See below example:

"Minnie, if you continue to write on the table, I will take away your textas."

"You can take them, Mum. I don't want them anyway."

And this:

"Minnie, pick up your blanket off the ground, or I will put it in the wash."

"Just put it in the wash, Mum."

Or this:

"Minnie, it's time to come out of time-out now. "

"No. I don't want to. Go away."

You see, I've got nothing. She leaves me speechless. Consequences are inconsequential and time-outs cause a role-reversal where she forces me away. The rest of the day is more of the same. See below:

"Minnie, let's look at some different clothes, too much pink can look silly at times."

"I'm not silly."

"I know, I'm talking about the clothes...oh, just wear whatever you want. I give up."

And I have given up, on clothes anyway. It is extremely hard to teach an obstinate child about the delicate balance of matching, complementing and contrasting colours in an outfit. It's hard enough teaching them to wear a jacket on a cold day.

Everything is a battle of wills right now.

"Get my drink bottle, Mum."

"Why don't you go over to the coffee table and bring it back."

"No. You get it."

"I think you need to ask nicely."

"Get it...Please."

"Hmm." Note silence as I begrudgingly picked bottle up.

I think I'm meant to be embracing my child's new-found independence, her ability to speak her mind and her forthright nature.

Instead, I'm longing for the days when children were seen and not heard.

For better or for worse

Mothers Matter walks the relationship tightrope between a mother and daughter-in-law.

The relationship between a mother and daughter-in-law has long been the subject of jokes and folklore because of its inferred volatile nature. Hollywood’s recent comedy with Jane Fonda as the Monster-in-law further cemented this notion of tension between a wife and her husband’s mother.
Anne Hollonds, vice president of Relationships Australia, said every relationship needs to be realigned when a marriage takes place and this can overwhelm a mother. “What was a special relationship between a mother and a son changes. And [mothers] feel fearful on many levels that they’re no longer important to that person.”
She said new wives may similarly feel apprehension about marriage, what kind of partnership they’ll have, and how the mother-in-law will fit into that.
Clinical psychologist Dr Vivienne Cass said if the mother has been close to or dependent on the son then she might feel threatened by or jealous of the daughter-in-law.
“The in-law relationships always require some finesse, some capacity to compromise and some capacity for biting one’s tongue!” said Dr Cass. She said that while a wife may want to vocalise what’s on her mind, often that’s not the best solution because she has to continue with the relationship later, particularly if there are children involved.
Ms Hollonds said occasionally the mother-in-law may act malicious or deliberately try to sideline the new wife.
Mothers Matter spoke to Melbourne mother Rachel Gibbons*, who was aware of the tight relationship between her future husband and his mother when they first became involved. “I knew that she had this strange relationship with her eldest son, my husband-to-be,” she said. “So I used to manage that relationship. I would speak to her every week, be interested in what she was doing, be interested in what she would think.”
Ms Gibbons said she consciously and actively worked at the relationship to involve her mother-in-law and make her feel more secure about becoming her son’s wife. She said her husband had been playing the role of spouse to his mother by managing her finances and running her errands.
Consequently, the mother-in-law had a lot of influence in Ms Gibbons’ marriage, to the extent her son would call her after every marital disagreement and she would advise him what to do.
Ms Gibbons said the relationship triangle between her husband, mother-in-law and herself started to deteriorate during her two pregnancies when she suffered severe morning sickness for the first 20 weeks.
Vomiting every day and losing an enormous amount of weight, Ms Gibbons couldn’t work and had to rely on her family to do everything.  The stress of her predicament came to a head on a family holiday with the mother-in-law, when she was 12 weeks pregnant with her second child.
“It was like she was gathering information [in that two-year period of dating and marrying] and it just came out on holidays.” Ms Gibbons said her mother-in-law delivered a rant that chronicled her daughter-in-law’s actions over the previous two years.
“She let fly and started all these accusations…I just sat there and listened. Three times I asked her, ‘have you finished?’ When she finally had, I just sat there and said ‘it was nice to know your opinion.’…I looked at my husband and asked if he had anything to add and he said, ‘Well, I actually agree with her.’”
The stress of the situation left Ms Gibbons so depressed that she felt almost unable to bring her second child into the world, and the confrontation was the catalyst for her marriage breakdown.
After giving birth to her second child, the couple tried for two years to salvage their relationship by undergoing marriage counselling, but the situation did not improve. After the separation, Ms Gibbons said her mother-in-law told her son that she “wouldn’t interfere in [his] relationships again.”
In a situation like this, where relationship struggles between a mother and daughter-in-law become public, Ms Hollonds recommended the husband move swiftly to diffuse it.
She also recommended the husband address any issues with the parent, alone.
“There’s not much [the wife] can do as the target,” said Ms Hollonds. “You’re not part of the family, you’re the interloper in that situation. It’s got be the husband who steps in and pulls his mother into line, but in a compassionate way.”
She said negative behaviour comes out of fear and anxiety, but the husband has to give clear messages about what is ok and what is not ok.
“That’s where you and your husband or partner need to be on the same team. You need to work together on agreeing what are…the ground rules that you want to have between your relationship, your family and your in-laws.”
Ms Hollonds said sometimes problems arise when a new wife steps into an issue that already exists between a mother and son, though the problem may not be obvious. “You become the focus of attention rather than them having to sort out their own relationship.”
However, in most cases, Ms Hollonds said the wife should look carefully at her own role. “One of the biggest mistakes we can make in any of these important relationships is that we try and get the other person to change or we blame them for stuff. We do that a lot more than we are prepared to look at our own behaviour,” she said. 
Dr Cass advised women to look for the positives in what a mother-in-law might be saying to see if she has good intent behind her comments. “That kind of reasoning can help you to put it into a different category than someone who is truly being manipulative.”
Adelaide mother-of-five Elaine Boswell* has struggled to maintain a good relationship with her mother-in-law. “She’s very intelligent and manipulative. She’ll do things very calculatingly and then pretend that she had no idea that it could be offensive,” she said.
Ms Boswell said her mother-in-law was one of the main reasons her family moved interstate five years ago from Sydney. With occasional visits their relationship is now much better.
Ms Boswell’s relationship with her mother-in-law hit a deep low when she walked in on her attempting to breastfeed Ms Boswell’s infant while babysitting. Ms Boswell only stumbled on the situation after re-entering her unit because she had forgotten something.
Ms Boswell was so shocked she couldn’t speak, so she took her children into a separate room and waited for her husband to come home. “She violated my trust and my husband was mortified. Even now he’ll say ‘don’t leave her alone with the baby (Ms Boswell’s latest child).’”
Ms Boswell said the difficulty lies in the long-term nature of the relationship with a mother-in-law. “If I could just wash my hands of her, I’d do it in a second.”
Ms Hollonds said, that people usually only behave in negative ways when they are incredibly fearful. “Anyone who feels comfortable and secure in themselves doesn’t go around maligning somebody else,” she said, and added that people showing fearful behaviour need to be placated with positive messages before they can be told about the boundaries.
Dr Cass offered an alternate solution. She said that if the daughter could speak positively, without antagonising the mother-in-law, then she should call her up, offer a cup of tea and sort it out, even if the mother-in-law has been absolutely nasty.
“Sometimes I have seen mothers-in-law melt at that because in truth, most people don’t want conflict. Only a small percentage hate their daughters-in-law and don’t want to fix it up.” 
Dr Cass said if a mother-in-law repeatedly speaks her mind with little regard for the people she’s hurting then she’s probably just someone that doesn’t have a great deal of sensitivity in relationships, as other people might. “So part of the problem with some difficult mothers-in-law is that they are probably difficult anyway.”
Relationships Australia hotline: 1300 364 277
*names have been changed in this article. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gastro ban

There has been talk across facebook, twitter and even at the old-fashioned playground about some bad gastro strains lurking around.

The tricky thing about gastro is knowing the incubation period. I remember a time last year when the kids and I were struck down with gastro and my husband seemingly escaped symptom-free... It was not to be. Exactly two weeks later he took ill with a more violent episode than we had.

One of my friends admitted yesterday that she has a two-week ban on any face-to-face communication with people post-gastro. She said that rule has helped her house stay gastro-free for almost five years.

To me gastro can feel like the plague so maybe she's on to something. Anyway, it's one thing to enforce a ban like that, but another to properly adhere to it. There's no way you can avoid contact with other families across school and kinder runs.

So what do you do? How long do you wait isolated at home before you reintroduce yourself and your germs back into your social circle? And what happens if your friends, post illness have declared themselves gastro-free, but you're not so sure?

Hmm. Spew Food for thought.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kiddie sports: the art of pushing

My three-year-old's gymnastics class is hilarious and cute. There is nothing more divine than watching eight little bodies rocket jumping their way across a massive trampoline; their bodies like little bullets with rounded bellies.

My daughter has been doing kinder gym for almost a year and she loves it, at the minute anyway - such are the whims of a preschooler. And it's because of those whims that I'm sometimes left wondering whether she should really do the class. There are days when she looks at me on the big blue mats, and says, "I'm not doing that." Instead of somersaulting her way down the wedge, she'll say, "No. I don't want to."

Fair enough.

I wonder what I'm meant to say to that? She is only three after all, it's not like her life depends on it.

She's not alone, every other three-year-old will have their days when they think they shouldn't do the exercises either. And here's the thing, then parents like myself will try to cajole their child into it. "Aww, but you're so good. Show me how you do the somersault, I can't remember how to do it." Some kids will bite at that, forget their pig-headedness and get on with the task. Other children need more work, and this is where the waters of pushing get a little murky.

Is it okay to gently push your child into the activity, teaching them about times when they need to follow instruction? Are we expecting too much from such littlies by enrolling them in classes like these and stealing their childhood and unlimited hours of unstructured play?

Every now and then I find myself saying, "We've come here to do the class and we need to do the class. If you don't want to do it then lets go home." Then a neat little power struggle will play out, and eventually my child gives in and does the job. But once again, is that child too young to be argued into the task?

There is another mum, who sends shivers down my spine each week, as she yells at her child to perform. I liken it to the 'ugly parent syndrome': parents sitting on the sidelines of a sports match, yelling abusive remarks at players, coaches and their child in a bid to get a better game from their kid. This woman booms at her child, who prefers to be more wayward than obedient, "C'mon. GET OVER HERE NOW! I said, do it!" And the kid runs away - I would to. She's pretty scary.

So at what point does the gently-pushing mum, who's given up on cajoling her child, turn into the 'ugly parent' and should any three-year-old be pushed into the lesson simply because they're scheduled to be there?

My daughter has been having a few of these non-compliant days. Each time I think about withdrawing her from the class, she tells me how much she loves it and that she can't wait to go back.

Tricky isn't it?

I do know one thing, we'll be cancelling classes before my voice bellows, "C'MON, GET OVER HERE NOW."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Consulting grief

Do you remember that postnatal check-up with your obstetrician; the final appointment eight weeks after giving birth to your baby?

I do. And to be honest, I felt a little sad ending a relationship with the doctor who delivered my baby. The finality of it, made it feel like a 'goodbye' I'd say to an old mate heading overseas to live.

It wasn't until a friend of mine popped over with her baby, just shy of four months, that I realised this could be a common feeling. We had shared obstetricians (two of them, since our first had retired) and were reminiscing about check-ups when she said, "You know I feel kind of sad that I don't see him any more." And I knew exactly what she meant. 

Each pregnancy I had to help a little baby thrive in utero. A job I did with some expert guidance regularly overseeing the project. That doctor had to listen to all my anxieties about the health of the baby, the impending birth and any other concern I could think of (hormone-fuelled nuerosis). All of the sudden, once my baby came out, that guidance was gone. My fortnightly appointments were swapped with child health nurse visits and it was time to get on with the job of parenting this child. 

Don't get me wrong, this wasn't a school-girl crush (my first OB was at retiring age, remember?)! It was more like a little hero-worshipping. I idolised these doctors that knew so much. I was so appreciative of the eight-minute visits I had with them that I'd write my questions up in advance, just to soak up all that time in their surgery rooms. 

Not only did I adore these doctors, I was consumed with trying to get to know everything about them. Who were these men checking the beats of my baby's heart and what were their wives like? Were those women also grateful for their partner's on-tap advice? How many children did they have; natural or Ceasar; breast or bottle; and, what age gap between said kids? Every trivial question that I'd discussed with my mums group, I was wondering about these doctors. And I know some of the other mums were thinking them too. While the kids were making sand castles at playgroup we were discussing the amount of children our obstetrician had and whether the rumour of his wife expecting twins was true (it was). 

What is it with antenatal care that brings out the craziness in women? I've been visiting the same dentist twice a year for the past 20 years and I know he has kids the same age as mine, but I don't care. I have no desire to know about his out-of-hours life, so why the intense interest in the obstetrician? 

Williamstown Psychology's Camille Folley, a psychologist specialising in postnatal parents, said the bond between a woman and her obstetrician may be formed (particularly during the pregnancy of a first child) "because of the continuity of care provided by this person and the support [a mother] gets from that relationship. Women who had a positive experience will report positively and often speak of their obstetrician fondly."

I considered women who chose to have their babies in the public system, where continuity of care is harder to come by, did they experience this attachment with their on-duty midwife? I can imagine that women who hire private midwives for home births might experience a more intense relationship with their care providers, as they meet with them in their own home regularly over the nine months. 

Ms Folley said the relationship ends at a busy time that can be somewhat challenging and confusing as women transition into their role as mothers. And there's nothing quite like the  conversation at a postnatal check-up to finalise the chapter of pregnancy with your doctor. Suddenly the euphoria of birth fizzles out when it's time to talk about pelvic floor maintenance and effective contraception. 

You might have left your doctor's rooms, hoping to be back in two years with another bundle of joy. After having three children, I said goodbye and walked out knowing this would definitely be the end of our relationship. And I was looking towards the next phase: walking around without a nappy bag!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Oh I feel guilty...

I am at home feeling very sorry for myself with an annoying bout of Tonsillitis. But I brought this on myself. As children have a habit of carrying around every active germ in their vicinity, I have a little rule with myself, not to share my kids' drinks. I'm not a massive germaphobic, but I really detest colds and feeling sick - particularly when breastfeeding because most medication is off-limits.

Anyway, I took the kids to a play centre the other day. And after realising I left my son's water bottle in the car, I chose to share my drink with him rather than get off my lazy bum and fetch his. Later that night my throat swells up, neck promptly stiffens and I feel like I am constantly trying to swallow a boiled egg stuck in my oesophagus. This vindicates my 'kids as germ hosts' feelings.

So after a trip to the doctors, I bunker down with some medication and attempt recovery. And you know what, I feel rotten. Generally, I think I have a high pain threshold (not sure why, since I can't really compare it), but this illness has knocked me for six and I feel like attacking my throat with a chain saw, to perform my own tonsillectomy. Drastic I know, but I feel terrible.

I started thinking about my son last week and his complaint of a sore throat and how dismissive I was of it. Unfortunately for him, he comes from a long line of men who suffer from 'man colds' and many other forms of hypochondria and exaggerated illnesses.
So I told him to toughen up, have a drink of water and play. OMG - what if he really felt like me because I feel like death and not just warmed up, feverish.

I did a quick mental checklist in my head: he didn't complain of headaches and I would've noticed if he had a fever. He must have only had a sore throat. Score: Bad Mums 0, Mediocre Mums 1.

This has been a quick reality check to consider his symptoms a little more, before I throw him to the 'man colds' pile for unsympathetic mums.

As for me, my feelings haven't changed: kids are so germy, they are a hotbed of germs... luckily they're cute eh?