Tuesday, 18 November 2014

ALL mums are full-time mums

I've ummed and ahhed about writing this post for a long time. Part of me felt that, as a stay-at-home mum, I didn't really have a right to rant about this issue. But then it occurred to me that maybe I'm the right person to rant about it, to show that nobody wants this stupid label, not even the mums to whom it supposedly applies.

The label I'm referring to is "full-time mum."

It's a label I've been given a fair bit when I've said that I 'stay at home' with my daughter. (That's also problematic as I don't actually stay at home with her, believe it or not we leave the house on a regular basis. But it's the lesser of two evils.) I've never been comfortable with this label, and have always been careful to avoid using it myself.

Why? Because by calling me a full-time mum, you are implying that working mums are part-time mums. Which is absolute nonsense. There is no such thing as a part-time mum.

I'm willing to wager that a woman who leaves her children in childcare or with another relative in order to go to work thinks about those children all day. In many cases, working mums will be going out earning money that is essential to give their children the upbringing they wish for them. I fail to see how a woman who spends however many hours and days away from her children in order to pay for the roof over their heads, the food on their plates, the clothes on their bodies and maybe even a nice holiday or two for them, is any less of a mother than one who stays at home.

Not that I'm saying that the only reason a mother should go back to work is financial necessity. There are lots of reasons why a woman would want to go back to work - perhaps she has a highly rewarding career, and so will serve as a fantastic role model to her child. Perhaps she needs the mental stimulation of being elsewhere and doing 'non-mum' things in order to be the best possible mum she can be when she is with her children. And there are probably countless reasons I haven't even thought of too.

Whatever the reason, you don't stop being a mum at nursery drop-off. Before I had Toddler, I went to work five days a week, and for all that time spent in the office I was still a wife. How is this any different?

I suppose next time I'm called a full-time mum I should say this:

Yes, I'm a full-time mum. As is the mum who works three days a week. As is the mum who works five days a week. As is the mum whose children are in school now. As is the mum whose children are adults and have long since left the family nest. Once you become a mum, you never stop being one, not even for a minute. Whatever you do career-wise, it's as full-time as you can get.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The line between support and pressure: A post for World Breastfeeding Week

When I was a child I went to a childminder. I don't have many recollections about that time, but one thing which has strangely stuck in my mind was the time when, after finishing my lunch, she told me to put my knife and fork together on my plate. I didn't understand what she meant and tried several different positions, all with the tips of the knife and fork touching - because that's together, right? But every time I tried, she would say, "no, put them together," in an increasingly exasperated tone until she lost patience and put them side by side for me. Only then did I realise what she meant. I felt pretty stupid.

What has this got to do with breastfeeding? Well, the other day I was talking to a friend who said that she'd read (I don't know where) that all the pressure to breastfeed is stopping new mums from even trying because they don't want the hassle. Having not read the source I don't know how true this is, but it does point to a problem, or a perceived problem, that there is more pressure than there is support. Telling someone to do something is useless unless that someone is shown how to do it, much like my childminder repeating an instruction over and over when I needed to be shown what she meant.

It's quite hard for me to write about this topic, as actually, I didn't feel pressured to breastfeed at all. I was asked at one of my midwife appointments how I planned to feed and I said I wanted to breastfeed, and that was it. Of our three NHS antenatal classes, half of one session was devoted to watching a DVD about breastfeeding and asking some questions afterwards. And when my Health Visitor paid her first visit she gave me some leaflets and a little demonstration with a doll and a knitted breast (which I found rather comical). Personally I didn't feel that constituted pressure, but then I wanted to breastfeed, so the information was useful.

Similarly, after birth I didn't feel particularly pressured. At one point when I was really struggling my husband said he thought I was being put under a lot of pressure, but I didn't see it that way. Yes, I had a lot of midwives giving me advice, and when I mentioned feeling like giving up and using formula they would just give more advice - but that was exactly what I wanted them to do. To me it was support, it was encouragement. When I said I was thinking of giving up I expected them to agree with me, and I knew that I'd be heartbroken if they did. So their continued advice gave me the courage to just keep trying until I cracked it.

I don't doubt that there are genuine instances when mothers are actually pressured - I've read stories of women being told they were bad mothers and didn't love their child enough if they gave up. But equally, I've probably read a similar number of stories about mothers being pressured to give formula for health problems such as slow weight gain or reflux, even though in the cases where the mothers persisted in breastfeeding these problems did work themselves out in the long run.

So when does promotion become pressure? I think the big problem lies in what happens in those few weeks after birth, perhaps even in the few days after birth. I was in hospital for three days, and if I'd left sooner I'm not sure I'd have been able to carry on breastfeeding, but a lot of women are rushed out after 24 hours or sooner. When in hospital, midwives are overstretched and just don't have the time to support women who are having difficulty with feeding. Back home, one midwife visit a day (if that) is not enough to keep breastfeeding going when things are tough - mothers need access to support groups, breastfeeding counsellors, peer supporters etc. Support groups aren't always easy to get to, and counsellors and supporters are usually volunteers who, wonderful and dedicated as they often are, have their own lives and therefore may have limited time. There is the option of seeing a lactation consultant, but my understanding is that many of these charge (as they are generally not employed by the NHS) so new parents with all sorts of other money concerns may not feel able to afford this service. And besides, are new parents told that this support is available? I was given a leaflet with the numbers of local breastfeeding counsellors (of the two in my town, one had given up counselling and the other didn't seem forthcoming with help - although I may have just got her on a bad day) but it was months later that I heard the term 'lactation consultant'.

This all adds up to a situation like little me desperately trying to figure out how to place my cutlery without being properly shown, then feeling embarrassed and ashamed that I couldn't. As much as pressure may be in the eye of the beholder to some extent, promotion without proper follow-up support will lead to mothers not being able to breastfeed then feeling guilty about it. I don't know what the answer is, but I think that more funding to allow for increased midwife numbers (in the wards and in the community), more support groups and more access to professional support such as breastfeeding counsellors and lactation consultants would certainly help. That funding, however, doesn't seem forthcoming as this government just doesn't see breastfeeding as a priority.

In the meantime, we'll just have to help each other. I have huge admiration for mothers who give up their time and money to train as peer supporters and breastfeeding counsellors, whose only payment is the knowledge that they're helping other mums. But even without that training, I think we can all play a part in normalising breastfeeding, talking about the highs and lows, offering support to friends and family members (even if that is just bringing a meal round so a mum can have an extra hour to focus on feeding instead of cooking) and generally showing that it can be done, in an unpressured, non-judgmental way.

If women are being put off by all the pressure to breastfeed, that's really sad. If you feel like that, please know that support is available, you may just need to do a bit of digging to find it. You don't have to figure it out on your own. And, when it does work out, it really is a wonderful thing.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Our First Day Apart

I'm under no illusions about the fact that some, nay, most people who read this post will think this is a big fuss over nothing. But hear me out.

On Saturday it was a momentous day in our region. The Tour De France set off mere miles from where I live, and the whole of Yorkshire went Le Tour mad. Bunting, yellow bikes, Frenchified pub names - you name it, we did it. It really was a great event. I have minimal interest in cycling, I can't even ride a bike, but even I was swept up in the excitement.

But it was also a momentous day for Toddler and me. Because, after two and a half years, it was the first day we spent apart.

Yes, yes I know. Most of you reading had to go back to work in the first year of your child's life. Some of you will have spent weekends, maybe even longer away from your little ones. One day away after two and a half years seems trivial, right?

But it didn't to me. Because every day for two and a half years Toddler had been with me. And I'd been there for her. I'd spent the odd afternoon away from her, but never a full day. But I had an all-day event booked, and due to road closures I had to get there before 7am, and didn't finish until 5pm. Ten hours. Twice as long as I'd ever left her before.

In the run up I was really anxious about how she'd cope. Just a few weeks previously she went through a particularly close-to-me phase (I flatly REFUSE to use the word 'clingy' because I hate the negative connotations associated with it) and wanted me around all the time. I was so worried this would last, and she'd spend the day being miserable.

And then there was breastfeeding to factor into the equation. She still feeds pretty regularly - I'm talking newborn frequency during the day - so I worried about how she'd cope without that. I also worried about the effect suddenly not feeding for 10 hours would have on me - would I get engorged? Or would it reduce my supply?

In the end, it turned out I had little to worry about. A couple of weeks before she suddenly started asking for daddy throughout the day, and lighting up when he got home. Don't get me wrong, she has always loved her daddy, but something definitely changed. So on the day she had a lovely time with him. They hung out at our church and watched the caravan and the race go past. Then they went back to his parent's house with Toddler in the carrier so she nodded off. She had a decent nap (another concern as I usually feed her to sleep at naptime) then hung around the house until I was all done. She asked for 'mummy milk' just once, as Daddy laid her down for her nap, but she has half asleep and nodded back off straight away.

And me? I actually cried saying goodbye (she was fine about it though) and missed her loads through the day. But there was some relief there - we'd had a particularly intense week as I was stressed about work, she was ill on and off so we didn't get out much, and there were some major tantrums going on - on both our parts! So a day away from being Mum probably helped to relieve the pressure. And the lack of breastfeeding didn't seem to have any effect at all.

Afterwards, I assumed she'd be up half the night wanting to catch up on mummy time (and mummy milk) but she only woke up once. In fact the only negative issue we had was when I fed her to sleep for her nap the next day. When I laid her in her bed, she started crying and saying, "Don't want Daddy to stop," obviously thinking she was still in the carrier. When she realised she wasn't, it woke her up properly. We tried to get her to sleep but in the end she wouldn't, which resulted in a particularly kicky-and-screamy bedtime. But everything's been fine today, so hopefully it was just a blip.

I know that all this will be commonplace for many mums. But it was a completely new experience for us. I feel so lucky to have been able to spend every day with my daughter for 30 months. She was very separation-sensitive when she was younger so I absolutely believe this was the right thing for our family and I'm glad I could do it this way. But equally, I feel so proud of how my little baby who hated to be put down has grown into a confident little girl who can spend time away from mummy without even a tear.

It's so reassuring to know that all those days spent together haven't hindered her confidence and independence. In fact, I'm convinced that all those days spent together were exactly what she NEEDED to grow into her own little person. This may not be the case for every child, but it was for mine. And the reunion cuddles were just LOVELY!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Breastfeeding - there is no normal. And that's normal.

I don't know if it's because I'm a first-time mum, or particularly neurotic or a bit of both, but I seem to spend a lot of time worrying about what's 'normal'. As if there's some benchmark of child normality and if my daughter doesn't fit that, then I must be doing it all wrong.

Now that I've had a bit more practise at parenthood, I can usually quash these worries with the silent mantra, "It's normal for her." Toddler is very much her own special person, and she's all kinds of ace, so who cares if she's not like another child her age? But when she was a baby, when that brilliant personality wasn't quite popping out yet, when all I had to go on was her weight and nappy habits, I was always anxious about whether she was 'normal', by which I mean whether I was doing it 'right'.

Breastfeeding was a particular source of anxiety, especially as most of my mum friends were formula feeding either partly or wholly so I had a skewed sense of comparison. I remember worrying about how long each feed took, and obsessively counting the number of feeds my daughter had in a day to make sure she was getting enough. And the older she got, the woolier the guidelines got and the more I worried!

But recently I saw some interesting research carried out by Medela which I wish I'd seen in those early months with Toddler. It showed that when it comes to breastfeeding, as with so many things in child-rearing, there is no 'normal'. Take a look at this, for instance: 

I wish I'd seen this when Toddler was a nipper! She took aaages to feed - I remember once being late to a baby group because she had spent 70 minutes on the first side!! Some of the reactions and comments I got at the time made me feel like this was completely wrong, that she was just 'using me as a dummy'. (A bizarre phrase - what exactly did babies do before dummies existed? Oh yes, they comfort fed!!) But actually, I think those long, leisurely feeds helped me to build the strong supply I needed at the time - and that has seen me through for the last 30 months of breastfeeding!

When Toddler was a newborn, knowing how many feeds she needed per day was easy - "8-12 times in 24 hours" was seemingly plastered on every surface of the maternity wing! But as she got older, there was very little guidance about how often she 'ought to' be feeding - aside from baby training manuals which I steered clear of due to the fact that they generally made me want to hurl them against the nearest wall. I got the vague impression that she 'ought to be' feeding less from around the age of four months, and then still less after solids were introduced at six months, so I gradually reduced the number of times I offered a feed. Looking back, I don't think it's a coincidence that it was around four months that she dropped off her centile line, never to return. I wish I'd known then what I know now - that it's perfectly fine for a non-newborn to still want regular feeds. Heck, at two and a half she still has around 7 or 8 feeds in a 24 hour period!

I think it's really encouraging that research is out there to show new mums that 'normal' just doesn't exist. Ignore the advice that says babies should be fed every four hours, or that you should limit time at the breast. Every baby is different, every mother's supply is different. Trust your baby to show you when they're hungry, and trust your body to give them what they need. Because in most cases that's all you need!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Pushchair bans - Is our society anti-child?

Recently I saw a story that got my goat. A cafe bar in Leeds has imposed a ban on customers bringing in pushchairs, citing health and safety reasons. But this isn't what has got me annoyed - no, it's the comments from Joe Public commending the cafe for their actions, and even saying pushchairs should be banned from buses.

Yes, you read that right. There are people who think PUSHCHAIRS SHOULD BE BANNED FROM BUSES.

I'll come back to the hideousness of that point later. But even the comments that restrained themselves to merely discussing the horrors of buggies in eating establishments also tended to rail against the noise of crying and screaming from the children. So even if the parent had used a sling, or carried baby in using a car seat, this would still not have met with the approval of these miseries. This is the revealing part of these reactions: the pushchairs aren't the problem. It's the children.

There seems to be a surprising number of people who see children as an inconvenience. Never mind the old adage about children being seen and never heard - these people don't even want to see a child. They apparently think that parents should stay at home and raise their offspring behind closed doors, so that they don't get in the way of the oh-so-important grown ups.

Back to the bus point. Imagine this - you're a mum of two small children. You don't have a car. You need to get somewhere that isn't in walking distance - perhaps you need to go to a particular shop, or you have a medical appointment. Now, it's conceivable that if you had one child you could pop them in a carrier, but if you've got two, unless you're really adept at tandem carrying then your only real option is a buggy of some kind, and to take that on the bus.

But what if that wasn't an option? What if these perpetual moaners got their way, and buses banned pushchairs? What would you do then?

Being a parent can be a very isolating experience. Suddenly just getting out of the house is tough. If you have no car, getting anywhere further than you can walk is a battle. And yet there are people in our society who want to isolate parents even more, to cut off their access to public transport. There are still more that feel aggrieved by parents who dare to try and have a nice lunch out, or even just a coffee, with their children in tow to break up the monotony of the day or to have some much-needed time with friends.

It makes me fume. Children, and by extension their parents, are increasingly treated as irritants. In one of the playgroups I go to, the version of 'Wheels on the Bus' they sing contains the line, "The children on the bus make too much noise." Yes, that's it, tell them they're noisy and annoying from infancy. That'll really help their sense of self-worth and belonging.

The trouble is, a baby who is kept indoors for fear of offending others, a toddler who is taught that they are inherently bothersome, a child who is made to feel unwelcome in public places becomes a young person who is disengaged and disrespectful. Because why should they engage in a society which has been putting them in the wrong since birth? Why should they show respect for people when they haven't been shown any themselves?

Perhaps if we all accepted children as part of our society, wholeheartedly and with open arms, then we would be able to maintain a more harmonious relationship with young adults. Just a hunch. And wouldn't that be worth walking around a buggy for?

Thursday, 6 March 2014

How to Get Your Baby To Love Books

Toddler loves books. I mean, LOVES them. She spends most of her waking time looking at books, whether I'm reading them to her or not. Roughly 85% of what she says is repeated from a book. She asks to go the library almost every day.

I remember when she was a fairly new toddler, a friend of mine with a baby asked me how I encouraged her to love books. Well, as today is World Book Day, I thought I'd share my wisdom with you all. Lucky you. So here's my step-by-step guide to getting your baby to love books ...

1. Read to them.

It's that simple. Read them books, willingly and enthusiastically, and they will grow up knowing that books are enjoyable.

I'm actually tempted to leave the guide there, because it really is that easy, but if you're looking for some extra tips, read on.

2. Choose books wisely.

I remember getting frustrated trying to read a story to Toddler when she was around five months old. After just a few pages she started to whine and squirm. She was bored - there were too many words, and seeing as she didn't understand any of them, I can now see why she got so restless. So start out with books that have few words but lots of pictures. Talk about the pictures with them, point things out. Books with flaps and different textures are great for babies. As they get older, gradually increase the word count. Now Toddler is 2 she will happily sit through a full story. Several times over. In one sitting.

Also, as your child gets older, be very wary of books 'for boys' or 'for girls'. Children should be encouraged to read whatever they want, not feel that one type of story is off-limits for their gender. Plus, gender neutral books can be passed down to siblings and cousins of either gender, saving you money!

3. Make books available.

This one goes against all my anti-mess instincts but ...

Once your baby is mobile and able to pull books off shelves, don't be tempted to hide them away. Let them get to their books, explore them, choose what and when they want to read. I remember a friend telling me they overheard a grandparent in a doctor's waiting room tell their grandson that they wouldn't read him a book because it wasn't bedtime. I found that so sad. Bedtime is a great time to read - but I think that reading to children whenever they ask (as far as is practical) is the best way to really kindle a love of books.

4. Take them to your local library.

Toddler really does adore the library, it's one of her favourite places. And it means you can expose your baby to a variety of books without spending a fortune. I try to let her choose at least a couple of books to take home, which means I've read some questionable ones, but she likes getting a say in what she reads and I want to encourage her to develop her own tastes.

5. Share your favourites.

In the picture above you'll see our copy of 'The Owl Who Was Afraid Of The Dark'. I remember reading this book in Year 2 at primary school and loving it then, so when I saw a second-hand copy for sale when I was pregnant I bought it. Toddler loves it, and I think that's partly because I love to read it, so put that extra enthusiasm into my voice. So if you have an old favourite, dig it out (or track down a copy) and share it with your baby whenever you feel s/he is old enough.

So there you are, those are my tips for encouraging a love of books. If you have any tips of your own do comment below.

And if you're unconvinced about the value of getting little ones to love books, just think about this. I have a rubbish cold today, but I've managed to get some much-needed rest this morning while Toddler pulled books off her shelves and 'read' them to herself from memory. If that reason is not compelling enough for you, frankly, I don't know what is.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Toddler shoes: because apparently girls don't go outside

This morning, on our way to Toddler's music group, I noticed she was walking funny. Then she asked to be carried when we'd only just reached the end of our street. It suddenly occurred to me that we hadn't had her feet measured in over three months.

I know, I'm a wonderful mother aren't I?

So this afternoon we took her to our local shoe shop and, sure enough, she's gone up half a size. Time to part with some cash. The shoe shop stocks Clarks children's shoes so we had a look at their girls' range.

Every single shoe in Toddler's size had big open bits in the top. They were either Mary Janes or T-bars. (Yes, I had to Google shoe styles to find the proper names!) When we got home we looked at the Clarks website to see if there were any other options, and they did have some trainers, but they were all canvas.

Now, that would be fine for indoor wear, or for walking down a clean, dry path. But my daughter likes walking on grass and splashing in puddles and going to places that tend to be muddy. Because she's a child. Children like exploring the outdoors.

Obviously Clarks knows that children like exploring the outdoors because the boys' range is so very practical - lots of trainer styles and leather. So how come girls don't get the same options?

To be fair, we have previously had some much more practical shoes made by Clarks, but that makes their current range all the more disappointing. They've actually taken a step backwards in the choice they offer to young girls. Yes, I know this is probably their spring/summer range, but do you know what? We live in the UK. It rains here in all four seasons, and grass and mud exist all year round too. So children need shoes that will keep their feet dry for more than five minutes. That's why the boys' range is full of leather trainers.

Perhaps Clarks are expecting girls to stay inside until the weather is dry enough for them to go out without fear of messing up their pretty little shoes. Well my girl doesn't. She'd go outside in her pyjamas if I let her. And she doesn't much care about keeping her shoes pretty. She just wants something that fits so she can walk and run and climb just like any child.

Looks like I'll be buying from the boys' range then.

Friday, 14 February 2014

What is Gentle Parenting?

OK. Before I get started here I want to make something clear. I'm not an expert. I haven't read every book going so my use of parenting terms may be a bit loose. Furthermore, I've only been doing this motherhood thing for 26 months, with one kid. So what follows is what gentle parenting means to me, and is not intended as a judgement on any other way of parenting. Heck, I don't have all the answers, so who am I to judge?

But anyway.

A few times on this blog I've mentioned the term 'gentle parenting'. But what actually is it?

Well, despite it's rather woolly sounding name, it's actually rooted in an understanding of the human brain – more specifically, a child's brain. It's also influenced by childrearing practices that are considered completely normal in many cultures, and were probably considered normal in our culture once too. So before anyone dismisses it as a fluffy, new-age fad, it's not.

For me, gentle parenting is about asking myself three questions:

  1. Would I like it if someone treated me like this?
  2. Am I being reasonable in my expectations of my child at this stage in her development?
  3. Is this helping her to grow into the kind of person I want her to be?

Let's look at these each in turn.

So, number one. This is a rule I try my best to live by. (Note I say 'try my best'. I'm not always successful. Too often, I'm unsuccessful. But still I try.) I do believe that, as far as possible, you should treat others how you wish to be treated. So it makes sense to apply it to my relationship with Toddler. Would I like it if someone yelled at me? No. Would I like it if someone I love ignored me when I was deeply upset? No. So should I do those things to Toddler? No.

There is a limit of course. I wouldn't particularly like someone changing my nappy. And I wouldn't like someone to say no to me if I asked for icecream for breakfast. So, of course, I'm sensible about this – if it relates to health, hygiene or safety I may have to ignore this rule. But most of the time I don't have to.

Number two – here's where the science comes in. I'm not very good at science, but one book I've found that explains child brain development very clearly is ToddlerCalm by Sarah Ockwell-Smith (you can read my review of this book here). Basically, I have to continually remind myself that Toddler's brain is very different from mine. Huge chunks of it (the empathy bit, the logic bit, the emotional regulation bit) aren't there yet – or at least they are still massively under-developed. The rest is a mess of links and connections that haven't been pruned down yet. Which explains why an innocent question about what she wants for pudding might trigger off a 10 minute monologue quoting a dozen children's books. She hasn't sorted the wheat from the chaff yet, mentally speaking. So when she's reciting 'Horsey Horsey' to herself instead of telling me which tights she wants to wear today, I have to stay calm and repeat my mantra – "she's only two, she's only two, she's only two ..."

So this means that I need to fill in for the bits of her brain that aren't working quite yet. If I ask her to tidy up but she's off in her own little world, I may have to accept that I'm doing the tidying for now. If she has a tantrum over something seemingly ridiculous, I have to be the calming, consoling bit of her brain rather than ignoring her, or worse, laughing at her. (Although I may share the most bizarre tantrums with friends or on social media later when she's not around. Because if I don't laugh about it, I'd probably cry.)

Number three is probably the most crucial question. There seems to be a bizarre contradiction in our culture where we want our kids to be obedient and quiet and do as they're told until they're sent out into the big wide world where they have to be independent and assertive and think for themselves. So as much as I can I try to remember the qualities I want Toddler to possess when she becomes an adult.

This means I don't make her say sorry, because I don't want her to grow up thinking that sorry makes everything better. It often does if it's sincere, but using the word as a 'get out of jail free' card is not sincere. It means I think hard before I make a rule, to make sure it's actually necessary and just me exercising my authority for the sake of a quiet life. It means that if she does something wrong, I take the time to explain to her why it was wrong, and hopefully will one day help her to work out how to put it right, rather than inflicting a punishment on her that she will remember long after she's forgotten what she did wrong.

So that's what gentle parenting means to me. It's essentially about treating my daughter respectfully – like I would any adult, with the caveat that as she isn't an adult, she'll need a little more help while she learns and grows.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Our Screen Free Day - a link-up with #LetKidsBeKids

I fret a lot about screen time, whether that's TV or computer-type devices. We do pretty well at avoiding screens since on the whole - Toddler doesn't play on my phone and very rarely looks at the laptop either. But she watches at least a couple of TV shows a day (albeit 10-minute ones) and she will slouch on the sofa with her toddler-tablet like the world's smallest teenager.

So when I heard that Karen over at Let Kids Be Kids was organising a screen-free day for Sunday 19th January, I decided I'd test myself and take the plunge.

We planned some activities in for the day to keep Toddler busy, but we knew that the big challenge would be first thing in the morning. Often when we walk downstairs she will say to me, "Watch Raa Raa!" or, "Watch Abadas!" (Those are pretty much the only TV programmes she watches. She can pretty much recite whole episodes of 'Raa Raa the Noisy Lion', she's watched them so many times) Usually we relent and let her watch a couple of episodes before breakfast, and maybe one or two afterwards, so I was quite anxious about how to distract her from these demands. In the end, it wasn't that bad - she just wanted to look at books at first, and it wasn't until about 8.30am that she realised that she hadn't watched any TV and had the long-expected meltdown about it. I offered her a few alternatives and she decided to play with her train set, which she did very happily. Crisis averted.

We then went to the farmer's market in our town. After the success of our walk a few days before I decided to walk there with Toddler, and my husband met us there with the car. In the end we probably spent three times as long getting to the market as we did actually there! It had been dry when we set out but started to drizzle and then properly rain, so we didn't hang around for long, but it was good to see how far Toddler could walk without the incentive of puddles!

Then came nap time and an unexpected challenge - what do I do now??! I'm terrible for faffing about on the internet and most days I waste nap time playing online. If I don't do that, I'll often catch up on TV instead. Deprived of these options, I ended up cleaning our kitchen more thoroughly than I have done in ages, and then I settled down to do some knitting.

(That's knitting. I'm not quite sure why I feel the need to illustrate this. It's actually a cardigan for a newborn that I started before Toddler was born then abandoned when I realised that babies STEAL ALL YOUR TIME. Oh well, I'll save it for the next friend to have a baby.)

Once Toddler was up and fed, we played with trains and read books until it was time to go to our next activity - Messy Church. If you're of a churchy persuasion and have small children, I thoroughly recommend Messy Church. The format varies from place to place, but at our local church it consists of about an hour of doing different craft activities (you can pick and choose which activities you do and in what order) followed by a short 'service' (basically a bit of singing and dancing followed by a story or a child-friendly talk) then topped off with a shared meal. It's a fantastic chance to try different crafts out with your kids and there's something for all ages - yesterday Toddler played with playdough, did some colouring in, decorated a little jewellery box and sabotaged what could have been a very nice little picture frame.

(You can see in the background of that picture that the card should have had a border of lolly sticks. Toddler decided that it looked better without them and pulled them off. My daughter, the wrecking ball.)

We only did about half of the activities because Toddler preferred to just wander around, and was keen to get into the church sanctuary for the singing and dancing - and in her case, climbing under the communion rail repeatedly. Fortunately the minister didn't seem fazed by this!

We went home, played and read some more, then Toddler went off to bed, falling asleep much more quickly than normal. Again bereft of TV and laptop, I did some more knitting before having the one thing all parents need the most after a busy day - an early night!

It surprised me how easy it had been to keep Toddler away from screens all day. It helped that it was a weekend so I had my husband to help; often I use TV as a distraction while I go and get dressed or get the laundry on, so having someone else to entertain her was useful. But other than that, it really wasn't hard. The harder thing was keeping myself away from the laptop! But it meant that I achieved more and had some proper downtime instead of staring at a screen.

In the end, we didn't need to do anything particularly exciting or elaborate to get through a day without screens, which just proves that anyone can do it! You don't have to travel anywhere, or spend lots of money - long walks, local events and favourite toys are really all you need!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Puddle Hunting

Today is a beautiful day in our little corner of the world - sunny, cool but not chilly, and still a little wet underfoot from the recent rain. Perfect conditions for a puddle hunt, I thought, so that's what Toddler and I did this morning. (I'm not sure where the phrase 'puddle hunting' came from, it was just something that I said once to Toddler and she liked it, so it stuck.)

Not far from our house is an unadopted road leading onto a bridleway, and it has some epic potholes so is a great place to take Toddler for a good splash. It never ceases to amuse and amaze me how she will happily plough into an enormous puddle, while I'm cautiously stepping around it, trying my best not to put a foot in it despite wearing wellies! When we've gone puddle hunting before we've not ventured too far up the road, but this time she was insistent on hunting out more puddles and we walked further than ever before, and went back and forth along the road and bridleway twice to get maximum enjoyment from the puddles!

(Apologies for the rubbish pictures, it was a bit hard to take them one-handed wearing gloves!!)

We're lucky enough to live in a small, former industrial town on the outskirts of Leeds and it often feels like the meeting of two worlds. This morning, walking along the bridleway halfway up a hill, it struck me how I could look one way and see nothing but fields and trees, but if I turned my head the other way I could look down the hill and see a shiny new housing estate, with houses packed close together. In one ear was the sound of birds, in the other I could hear sounds from the nearby mill and factories. It's amazing how you can feel like you're in the countryside so close to the bustle of the town. I really need to take more advantage of this, so that Toddler will keep her love of the great outdoors.

It's a while since I'd taken Toddler for a proper walk, due to illness, injury, wet weather and the simple fact that I'm not keen on being cold. But I was surprised at how far she could walk, how sensible she was about crossing roads, and how much energy she had. Last time we did this walk we didn't go as far and I had to carry her the last few yards. This time she could happily have walked for much longer had I not been so conscious of the need to get back for her nap! I guess it's just my brain adjusting, as it will have to do continually, to the fact that my daughter is becoming ever more capable, more energetic and stronger. She will surprise me more and more as she grows.

It seems bizarre to think that this is the same girl who, this time last year, couldn't walk. I wonder how far we'll be walking on our puddle hunts next year?!

   photo letkidsbekidslogobadge_zps424b7d61.jpg

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Books for boys, books for girls: how innate is this?

When Toddler was born, I was halfway through an Open University course on Children's Literature. As part of this course, I studied the rise of gender segregation in children's books from the eighteenth century onwards, and an interesting point kept popping up: while girls would (and still will) read books intended for both girls and boys, boys would only read books intended for boys. Put bluntly, girls see boys' books as providing action and adventure that girls' books tend not to contain, but boys see girls' books as a load of sentimental, pink mush. But how innate is this divide?

Over the past two years, I have read A LOT of books aimed at babies and toddlers (largely thanks to our wonderful local library) and I've noticed a worrying trend. Even in books aimed at very tiny people, gender divisions creep in. For instance, Toddler has a book called That's Not My Fairy in which all the fairies are female - because boys aren't supposed to identify with fairies, right? Ladybird's similar offering, This Little Angel fares better with one angel out of five being male, but conversely another book from the series, This Little Footballer has four boys and only one girl. Considering the rise of popularity of football with girls, this is surprising to say the least. Here, the inclusion of a token girl seems to say, "well, some girls play football, but it's not really normal, now is it?"

So even with the most basic of books, gender divisions are being taught. And they creep into some books aimed at toddlers too: one of Toddlrr's favourite library books is Get Dressed, Max and Millie which shows two friends, um, getting dressed. It's a lovely little book, but what riles me is the start where Max and Millie are playing dress up. Millie dresses as a princess and a fairy, Max as a builder and a superhero. Humph. (Another book about dressing up that Toddler likes is Zoe and Beans: Look At Me which is much more gender neutral and even shows the boy and girl dressing up as each other at the end!)

Have a think about some of the picturebooks you've read and you'll notice a creeping inequality. Much as I adore The Gruffalo, where are the female characters? (Thank goodness for The Gruffalo's Child which ever so slightly redresses the balance!) How often do you see a book where the main character is female, or where the gender balance is equal, let alone girl-heavy? Perhaps this is one of the reasons why girls read boys' books but not vice versa - girls are so under-represented in books aimed at the very young that girls just get used to reading about boys, but boys don't get used to reading about girls.

So what to do? I'm certainly not going to refuse to read  Toddler anythingawith any less than 50% female representation, because the pool would be so small I wouldn't be able to satisfy her seemingly limitless appetite for reading! Instead I try to slip in comments to even up the scales, or subvert the text a bit - for instance, I might have changed the gender of one of the footballers in the aforementioned book. But the day will come when she can read and will notice things like that, and what to do then? Well, hopefully by then I'll have found a decent collection of books which show girls as more than fairies and princesses.

And here's where you come in - what books for little ones have you found that give a good representation of girls, or simply that have equal male and female characters? The more we share our knowledge, the more we can raise the profile of these books and give a message that we want more of the same!