Friday, 30 July 2010

Team Mum and Dad

I hear a lot of mums complain about their husbands' 'dad' duties, or lack of them. They lament that their husbands never get to experience a full day with their child and have no idea how challenging and tiring it can be. They feel like their husbands think they spend their days swanning round, having coffee with other mums whilst they are slaving away at the office. A couple of mums I know with young babies are only allowed out between feeds or naps because their baby won't take a bottle from the dad or because the dad can't settle them down for sleep. Don't worry, this isn't going to be a smug post about how wonderful my husband is, although I'm happy to say I don't have any real complaints. He does his fair share of nappy changes when he's at home, gets breakfast for my son every morning before work, takes him out to the park,  plays with him, reads and has fun with him at weekends.

Getting your partner involved with a child from the beginning is important for several reasons. It's good for bonding and establishing a closeness between child and father. It's helpful for you, knowing you can have a break whilst your partner takes over childcare duties. Raising a child in a two-parent family is teamwork after all. We had my husband give a bottle to our son the first time a bottle was introduced. Maybe we were just lucky but there was never any problem with him taking a bottle from my husband. During the sleepless nights at the beginning of parenthood, we took it in turns as much as we could to settle him back to sleep. Sometimes, my husband was more effective at settling him back down than me!

Mums generally attend to waking children during the night, trying to allow their partner a decent night's sleep before work the next day. They also are usually the ones stuck with an ill child, which can be particularly tiring and difficult. If you're a stay-at-home mum, you have things like teething, tantrums, falls, maybe hitting other children and snatching other people's toys to deal with, a lot of which dad never gets to experience. It's naturally these more challenging aspects to motherhood that make us feel a bit hard done by sometimes. The days when they skip a nap and get grumpy or when they won't eat or seem to cooperate make for long days. It's natural, as with anything, that people remember the negative things more and focus more on the hardships than on the brighter side.

If we stop to consider from a dad's perspective, we might view things a little differently. They're out at work all day with stressful deadlines, meetings and objectives to achieve. Lots of them work long hours and don't get to see their children much at all during the week. Maybe they don't get to see them in the morning before they leave or they get home after their bedtime. They miss out on the energetic cheery morning wake-up and the quiet tender cuddles before bed. Some rarely get to see them interacting with other children and seeing their personality develop amongst their peers. They might miss the exciting milestones of the first roll over, sitting up or walking those first steps. They miss out on a ton of smiles, laughter, babbling and chatter. Sometimes they wish their child would run to them when they're upset instead of going straight to mum. It's not easy for the dads either!

I think sometimes mums treat motherhood as a bit of a battle and don't stop to consider that whilst their partner might not be around much to help with the children, they are working hard to support the family and enable them to do all the fun things they do together. Like I said earlier, parenthood is about working together as a team, sharing chores and responsibilities, each contributing their bit towards happy family life. There are always going to be difficult days but ultimately, mums and dads share the common aim of wanting to do the best for their children. As long as there is love and respect for each other's roles and a reasonable balance in parenting duties, there should be little space for complaints!


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Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Safety First

I attended a baby and child first aid course at the weekend. It was one of those things I had been meaning to do for a while so I was glad to finally do it! It was certainly helpful and I came away feeling a bit more prepared to deal with any unpleasant eventualities, should they occur. I expect many of you have also done a similar course but I thought it might be helpful to share a few things I learned or was told, that you might find useful. The instructor we had works at a big London hospital and had some anecdotal information from working there that was interesting to hear too.

• Most burns on children that they deal with at her hospital are caused by hot coffee or tea spillages. Whilst our skin can take the heat, theirs is that much more delicate that it can cause a more severe burn. She mentioned the coffee we all buy in coffee shops that's usually too hot to drink at first - that's what we need to look out for!

• With head injuries, it's usually a good sign if the child cries out after hitting their head. This was good to hear, as it seems once children start walking, they have so many falls and bangs to the head you are never sure when to be worried.

• If a child is choking, they won't be making a noise. If you can hear them gagging or making a noise in the back of their throat, that shows that the airway is still clear. If it's blocked by some food, they're not able to make a noise.

• When a young child sticks something up their nose, one way to get the object out is to close the other nostril, put your mouth over theirs and give one short, sharp breath into their mouth.

• In instances where CPR is done on a child, the success rate in getting them breathing again is fairly high and a lot higher than with adults. Even if we don't remember the exact number of breaths and chest compressions we are supposed to do, we were told that anything we do will likely help.

We all hope that we don't have any scary situations with our children, no severe injuries or accidents but you never know what might happen and it's good to be prepared.

What kinds of injuries have been most common with your children? Have you got any first aid tips to share?


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Friday, 23 July 2010

Positive Thoughts

I heard some sad news last week. A friend of mine with two young children, her youngest around the same age as my son, has been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was really shocked and upset when I found out about it. I kept thinking about how tough it must be dealing with something like that when you have two young children to look after. She has just started chemotherapy which will go on until mid-December. After that, the plan is for surgery, followed by radiotherapy and hormone treatment. It's going to be a long, hard journey for her and her family.

This week, I received a letter from her husband with a 'Livestrong' wrsitband enclosed. He's sent letters and wristbands to 100 people who know his wife, with the thought that she'll know at any moment that at least 100 people around the world have her in their thoughts and prayers. He asked that we send photos of ourselves wearing them, on holiday or in exotic locations for example. I think it's a really caring, thoughtful gesture. His letter also explained more about the cancer, the treatment and how she's expected to feel as a result of it, as well as letting us know what they have told their oldest child (age 4) about the cancer. The last sentence of the letter ends on a great positive note:
Annie is determined to rejoice in her life and I hope you will do the same. With hope, love, faith and a large amount of medicine we move forward.

It's not everyone's approach to be open with friends about something like cancer but I find it easier to know how to react when they are. Now I've been told exactly where she has the cancer and that it hasn't spread anywhere else in her body. I know how it's going to be treated medically and how they are dealing with it amongst their immediate family. Maybe most importantly, I know the outlook Annie is aiming to have - one of optimism and determination. All possible questions have been answered and I don't feel like I have to tip-toe around the subject or feel uneasy talking to her about it.

She's certainly not the first person I know to have cancer but she's the first person I know with it who has a young family. Whilst I can in no way imagine how one would cope with a situation like this, I can appreciate that it's an especially difficult one with two young children.

However, I've been asked to keep up the postive thoughts and prayers for Annie and that's what I'll most certainly do! Providing love and support is what friends are for. I feel honoured to have received the letter and wristband and to have been asked to help in this small way. Annie has got through other struggles in the past and fought on to achieve things important to her so I know she can do it again. She's a wonderful, warm, fun person to be around. We share a love of home-baked cakes! We used to work together a few years ago and her thoughtful leaving gift to me when I moved on was a collection of her favourite baking recipes that I use to this day. She sent me a box of clothes when our son was born, that her children had worn briefly and grown out of. Such a helpful gift to new parents! I'm trying to think of something I can do or send to her on a regular basis to help keep her days bright over the months to come. We don't live nearby unfortunately but I'll come up with something. I too am determined to 'rejoice in her life'!

Do any of you know other mothers close to you and young families who've had to deal with something like cancer?


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Wednesday, 21 July 2010

What's on the (Kids) menu?

A friend was telling me recently how she doesn't like her 1-year old to eat the food in restaurants because the children's menus are always so unhealthy. I got to thinking about places I had been and the meals on their kids menus and I had to agree that they definitely tend to be quite unhealthy choices. Things like burger and chips, chicken nuggets and cheesy pasta seem common. There's a distinct lack of nutritional fruit and vegetables in those dishes.

After parents are advised during the weaning stage to introuduce a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and to steer clear of salt and sugar in the food for their children, it's strange to see such a different approach in restaurant food for little people. It appears they are aiming to please the fussy eater who doesn't like their veggies, rather than appealing to the health-concious parent who wants their child to enjoy a varied, nutritious diet.

I recently met with the head chef and manager of a nice restaurant in our area. They are trying to attract a more local crowd and to strengthen links with the community. They want families to come to their restaurant and so they want to make it as family-friendly in as many ways as possible. One way they are doing that is to not provide a children's menu. They think it's a more flexible approach to provide food for children as per their parent's request. If the parents want their child to have a small portion of something on the adult menu, they'll do that. If they want something in particular for their child, be it a vegetable dish or chicken nuggets, they'll happily accommodate. I think that's a good way to please most people and certainly a lot less restricting than a kids menu can be.

We hear a lot about childhood obesity in the news these days and according to a study by the British Heart Foundation in 2004, 1 in 3 children is overweight or obese. It would be great if restaurants could provide healthier options for children to make eating well easier for families to do when they are eating out, as well as at home. There are lots of easy nutritious meals that are appealing to younger customers. Even those who don't enjoy an extensive repertoire of vegetables will probably eat them if they are disguised in something like a lasagne for example.

What do you think? Do you find the choice limiting when you eat out with your children? Do you eat out rarely enough that the odd unhealthy meal here or there is not a big deal or would you prefer to see some healthier choices on the kids menu?


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Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Gift Ideas for First & Second Birthdays

A friend mentioned she was taking her son to a little girl's second birthday this coming weekend and she was stuck on ideas of what to get her as a birthday present. As we're both mothers to boys, we were saying how much easier it is for us to think of things to get for a boy's second birthday but we have less of a clue what little girls of the same age are into. This made me think it could be helpful to share ideas here and hopefully get more suggestions from you!

Thinking back to my son's first birthday, there are some gifts that were a big hit and ideal for a one-year old (boy or girl). Here are some suggestions (I've tried to keep to fairly inexpensive items):


Stack and Nest Cups - as well as stacking and nesting the cups, my son loves putting small things in the cups and tipping them from one to the other
Stacking Rings
Stacking Boxes - trust me, they love stacking toys!
LEGO DUPLO Bricks - they may be too young to build with the bricks but my son loves pulling apart the bricks when we build something for him and he also loves playing with the individual pieces of lego, putting them into cups, boxes, trucks
Building blocks
Hammer and pegs
A ball
A Noahs Ark - this works well as there are little doors to the ark to open and close, lots of different coloured animals to look at and play with, to put in and take out of the ark. My son really loves his and it can entertain him for quite a while.
Bucket and spade - not restricted to sand castles, digging around in the soil or with pebbles and putting them in the bucket can be great fun for the little ones
Push-along toys
Pull-along toys

Moving onto the second birthday, this list is more guess work than experience but I feel it's a bit easier to know what a two-year old might enjoy than it was with a one-year old. They are able to do more creative things and are enjoying pretend play more and more.


Sticker books
Colouring books
Play Doh
Toy cars
Pots and pans
Cutting fruit set
Household toys- these types of toys allow them to mimic you and feel more grown-up
Play tent - fun to use both inside and outside
Pop-up tunnel
Train set


It goes without saying that books always make a great gift. Here's a small selection that would be suitable for one and two-year olds:

Over to you! What gifts did your children receive for their first or second birthdays that you remember them really liking and getting a lot of use from? What would you recommend as a good gift for a boy or girl turning either 1 or 2?


Friday, 9 July 2010

Is parenthood all joy and no fun?

There's a fascinating article in the current issue of the New York magazine, called 'All Joy and No Fun. Why parents hate parenting'. It's a longish article but I'd really recommend you read it. It's certainly thought-provoking and raises some interesting points. I'm going to highlight just a few of them.

The article begins by stating that although it's a common assumption that having children will make you happier, several studies have proved that parents are not happier than those adults without children.
“The broad message is not that children make you less happy; it’s just that children don’t make you more happy.” That is, he tells me, unless you have more than one. “Then the studies show a more negative impact.”

The way children are thought of these days has changed as the western world has moved into more modern, prosperous times. Whereas in earlier generations, children would be considered 'economic assets' to their parents, helping with whatever work their parents had to do each day (farming, assisting in the family shop...), nowadays we view them as little beings to be 'sculpted, stimulated, instructed, groomed.' We raise them in a much more protected environment.

The subject of organised activities for children is mentioned and the fact that we tend to be very pro-active in encouraging a constant stream of stimulation for our children. There are other cultures who sit and play with their children, with much more relaxed attitudes to child-rearing and no comparing or competing with other parents.
Middle-class parents spend much more time talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child’s thought as a special contribution. And this is very tiring work.” Yet it’s work few parents feel that they can in good conscience neglect, says Lareau, “lest they put their children at risk by not giving them every advantage.”

Later, the article discusses the more modern tendency for delaying having children, as parents work hard, advance their careers and save money. Often they then have high expectations of what having children will mean to them, which are invariably unrealistic and disappointing.

Another study is mentioned, one which revealed that those countries with a stronger welfare system had more children and happier parents. Longer maternity leave, state-funded childcare and healthcare possibly give parents less to worry about and less to be unhappy about. Just this week an American mum and I were discussing differences between the attitudes towards stay at home mums here in the UK and in the US. My American friend felt lucky that her family supported her and her husband's decision for her to stay at home. She suggested it was quite rare back home where many women return to work after 6 weeks or so, leaving their children in daycare. Often, she told me it's because of a sense of obligation, not necessarily because that's what they want to do or because it makes them happy. I don't want to make any sweeping generalisations of the US but it was interesting to hear this friend's impressions.

There are further discussions of parenthood and happiness raised in the article but I'll let you take your time and read the article yourself. Personally, I feel pretty happy as a mum most of the time. I think the title of this article, 'All joy and no fun' perhaps describes to an extent how your life changes as a parent. I think all of us would agree our children bring us immense joy but with parenthood comes responsibility and compromise and it's therefore natural that some of the 'fun' things we used to do before we had children disappear. I like how my husband described parenthood as giving your life a sense of purpose.

It's hard work being a parent and that hard work is something you can never have a grasp of before becoming a parent. We all have tough days, challenging behaviour and difficult situations to deal with and it's always the bad stories shared. After all, who's that interested in hearing about how wonderfully well-behaved another person's child is?! For me, the smiles, laughter and tender moments experienced with your child far outweigh the harder side to parenting....but then again, I only have one child to deal with!

Do have a read of the article and then come back and let me know your thoughts in the comments. Are there any particular parts of the article that you relate well to? It's a big question, but how do you rate your happiness as a parent, compared to before you had children?


Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Food, gadgets & schools

Today's post is a sharing of a three links I think you'll be interested in. Sometimes you come across things that need to be shared :-)

There's a wonderful free e-book full of tasty recipes that can be prepared in 10 minutes with just 5 ingredients over at Stone Soup. Ideal for busy parents and people looking for inspiration in the kitchen, the e-book is beautifully presented and has some great ideas.

At Girl Geek Chic, there are 10 tips to being more green with your gadgets. Many of us spend a lot of time on our phones and computers so there's some helpful advice  to benefit from.  I had no idea that updating your Facebook once on your PC uses the same amount of energy as updating it a hundred times on your phone.

A reader of Mummy Zen has registered a proposal on the government's Your Freedom website suggesting state funding is stopped for schools who select pupils on the basis of faith. Have a read of her argument here. Some of you will no doubt have run into this issue so it will be of interest. Do register to rate and comment on the proposal if it's a view you share.

I hope you enjoy these links. Is there anything you've come across recently that you'd like to share?


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Monday, 5 July 2010

Keeping them busy but not too busy

Another mum and I were talking about various classes and activities in our local area the other day. She had just signed up her 18-month old son for Little Kickers and was telling me about what they did in the first class. Several of my mummy friends take their toddlers to similar classes and some mums I know fill up the week with all kinds of scheduled activities each day. Swimming classes, music classes, physical play classes like Gymboree and Tumble Tots, there are loads on offer. My friend and I were discussing what was the best balance in attending classes and having time for less structured play and exploration.

I haven't taken my son to any of these types of classes. I take him to our local library for singing each week. On a Tuesday we go to a brilliant local free playgroup where they have all kinds of toys and activities like water play, painting and varied forms of creative play. Every day we go to the park  and meet up with a group of other mums and toddlers so he plays outside and mixes with other similarly aged children . A lot of the aforementioned activities require you to sign up and pay for a whole term in advance. I prefer a more flexible approach so if my son's ill or if we're away, I'm not wasting money on something we can't attend.

Having said that, I recognise that the range of classes available provide a great deal to children and parents. They can encourage physical development, confidence, creativity and social skills. Most programmes offer a free trial class initially so you can try it out and see if it's for you and your child before commiting to a term. Even if you don't plan on signing up to them or find them too expensive, it can be fun to do a round up of all the free trials in your area and try them out anyway! One of my friends told me she asks relatives for money towards classes for her two children, rather than more toys and clothes for birthdays and Christmas. I think that's a really good idea.

As children grow older and start school, they invariably take an interest in a few activities and might attend classes a couple of times a week after school. At that stage they are able to voice opinions on what they enjoy and want to pursue. Before that age, I think it's good to encourage a well-rounded, diverse series of activities. It's really down to personal preference and the services and facilities available in your local area as to whether you choose to provide activities via structured classes or not. It also depends on the type of parent or carer. If you or the person looking after your child enjoy creative play and have the time to spend trying out new things, going to groups or play areas, then that works well. For others, it works better to take the child somewhere where the creative environment and activities are readily provided for them.

Down time is equally important. Letting your child be, to play and explore surroundings as he or she likes, without any pressure to do something or perform is time well spent. It helps encourage their independence and their ability to play by themselves, to enjoy imaginative play and to develop their own sense of curiosity in the world around them.

How do your children spend their time? Do you take them to some of the kinds of classes mentioned at the beginning of this post or do your children have a less-structured social calendar?


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