Friday, 31 March 2017

Taking the Positives From The Disney Fairies films

Image credit: Flickr (Ben Sutherland), from 'Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure' (2009) Dir. Klay Hall
Girl Child has a slight obsession with Tinker Bell and the Disney Fairies at the moment. I say slight, I mean that she insists on watching 'Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue' on a near-daily basis and will only read the Disney Fairies stories out of the book of Disney-based short stories we read for bed every night.

I'm trying to contain my eye rolls over this. I'm not a massive fan of Disney, I have to admit. And the snob in me was ready to dismiss these films as contrived nonsense. But actually, there are some positives to be taken away from them. For instance ...

Tinker Bell is basically an engineer

She mends and makes, she problem-solves, she thinks logically and creatively. In 'Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue' we see her trying to work out how a car works and fixing a leaky roof with great ingenuity. She's practical, methodical and curious. She's actually a pretty good role model.

There are far more females than males

Despite the proliferation of princess films, Disney often don't do brilliantly on the female representation front. A report from last year showed that, in most Disney films, male characters get more than half of the dialogue. But in the Disney Fairies films, you have a female lead with five female co-stars, and much of the action is centred around them. I don't know what the line-count-by-gender is but it seems very balanced, possibly even tipped in the favour of females.

The female characters can rescue themselves

In 'The Pirate Fairy', the fairy friends go in search of Zarina who has become a pirate, are captured in the process and manage to escape. In 'Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue', Tinker Bell's friends go to 'save' her from a human house - then must rescue Vidia when she is captured whilst pushing Tinker Bell out of danger. In the latter example they are helped by Bobble and Clank, two 'sparrow men' (why the males can't be fairies too I don't know), but they are mostly there for comic relief and it's the girls who do much of the work. These are resourceful and brave characters who work together.

There is very little romance

I still feel a bit iffy about Girl Child watching romantic films, she's too little to be thinking about that in my eyes. Luckily there isn't an awful lot of romance in these films. There is a romantic sub-plot in 'Secret of the Wings', and Rosetta has a tendency to swoon over sparrow men. But other than that it's all very innocent. Tinker Bell even has a male friend, Terence, and their relationship appears to be platonic despite him having what would typically be a 'love interest' appearance.

It's about positive female friendship

The fairies are all good friends despite having different talents and personalities. Even Vidia, who started out as an enemy to Tinker Bell and often loses her temper, is welcomed into the group and learns to be a good friend. It shows girls making mistakes but being helped to learn by their friends. And it shows that you don't all have to be the same to be friends.

All in all, for films to get obsessed over, the Disney Fairies films aren't too bad. And talking about these positives is a good way to draw Girl Child's attention to them, and to encourage her to see girls as creative, brave, and loyal friends.

Friday, 24 March 2017

What Kind Of Parent Are You?

There are so many labels put on parenting styles these days. Tiger Mom, Helicopter Parent, Yummy Mummy ... It's hard to know which labels are meaningful and which are just a stick to beat parents with!

I've been offered the opportunity to take part in the Attachment Parenting UK Positive Discipline online course, and so far it has been fascinating. The second module of the course involves filling in a questionnaire to identify your parenting style. This gets away from all the animal/transport comparisons and snappy monikers and focusses in on three major types of parent - Autocratic, Permissive and Democratic.

I don't want to go into too much detail here as the course does a far better job of explaining these styles than I could. But in simple terms, Autocratic parenting involves lots of rules and 'tough love' without much warmth; Permissive parenting is all about the love but falling short on the boundaries; and Democratic parenting is a respectful combination of warmth and boundaries. You'll probably have guessed that option 3 is the one to aim for.

When I was filling in the questionnaire, it was tempting to put down what I thought would be the 'right' answers to get the result I wanted - namely, saying that I'm a wonderfully democratic parent. But I stuck to the truth and found it to be revealing.

The good news is that Democratic came out on top! Yay, maybe I'm not doing too bad a job after all!

However, it wasn't as straightforward as that. The questionnaire was split into 15 questions on parenting beliefs, and 15 questions on parenting behaviours. While my beliefs were predominantly in the Democratic camp (10 points ahead of both Autocratic and Permissive) my behaviours were far more mixed. The scores here were very close together, with Permissive coming out on top and Democratic bottom. Oops.

If I'm honest with myself, this doesn't surprise me much. I think it's very easy to doubt your parenting beliefs and instincts when push comes to shove (sometimes literally). Much as I would like to respond with empathy every time, when I've just been hit or called a name I'll waver in my convictions and think that some 'tough love' is needed. And sometimes when energy is lacking I'll give in rather than sticking to a boundary. While gentle parenting (or Positive Discipline, or whatever you want to call it) sounds wonderful in theory, in practice it is easy to get stuck in a cycle of letting things slide for an easy life then clamping down when things turn nasty.

I found the questionnaire really useful in highlighting how I'm muddling my parenting styles up at the moment. But as the course leader Michelle says in the introduction, this isn't a tool to beat ourselves up with - it's a way of understanding where we are right now so we can know how to change.

I'm really looking forward to taking the rest of the course, hopefully it will help me to unmuddle my parenting styles and become a model Democratic parent! OK, probably not model ... I'll be writing about my progress on the course in the coming weeks so watch this space!

Would you be interested in taking the Attachment Parenting UK Positive Discipline course? APUK are kindly offering my readers a 50% discount on the course! Just use the code theishmother50 when signing up through the above link.

DISCLAIMER: I was offered an opportunity to take the Positive Discipline course for free, however all views and words in this post are my own.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Is There A 'Perfect' Age Gap?

When I was expecting Baby, I thought we'd figured out the perfect age gap. There are just over 4 years between him and Girl Child - which meant that she was in nursery two and a half days a week when he was born, and she started school when he was six months and properly waking up to the world. So I've been able to have time alone with him that I wouldn't have had if Girl Child had been younger, plus she was already toilet trained, dressing herself independently and generally less in need of practical help which made life easier.

But I'm discovering there are downsides. Toys, for instance. With two children close together, you're unlikely to have many toys around that could pose a significant risk to the younger one. But Girl Child is older, so loves things like Lego and tiny little plastic toys I mentally file under the umbrella term of 'tat'. And she rarely remembers to keep them all upstairs, so I have to be ultra-vigilant. Plus it means they won't be able to play with the same stuff for years, if ever.

And bedtimes. Baby is tired about an hour before Girl Child, which means we have to try and keep her quiet once he's asleep. Which is impossible because it turns out five year olds are still very loud and not always very considerate. I keep thinking it'll get easier when Baby can stay up later but realistically by then Girl Child's bedtime will have shifted again.

Then there's the impact on my life. I've blogged before about my worries about being a stay-at-home mum for so long so I won't repeat myself, but I do sometimes wonder if getting the early-years stuff out of the way quickly would have been a better idea.

So is there really a perfect age gap? I asked some other bloggers and they said ...

My age gap between all mine is 2 years. It can be really tough going but they are all so close. My gap between my youngest and oldest is 4 years and they sometimes struggle to play well. - Jaymee, The Mum Diaries

The gap between mine is 3 years. It worked well for me as I had the oldest out of her cot, pushchair, highchair and nappies before the younger one came along. They are close enough in age to still play together and be close too. - Kelly, The Best Version of Kelly

My kids are 21 months apart. At times I think it is perfect and other times I feel the major mum guilt because I'm worried the eldest spent too much time in front of the TV when I was feeding baby, or I don't get enough time to spend with her on learning to write, for example, because the youngest is still quite demanding and wants to be doing whatever the eldest is, and often ruins it! But then I see them together and they're so close and I think perhaps it was the right gap after all! - Lauren, Belle du Brighton

Mine is 3 and a half between my son and daughter. To me it works perfectly-he was at nursery part time so I had time with my daughter as well as a go at getting used to two under 4. He's now at school and she's at nursery and it works really well. - Jemma, Mayflower Blogs

I had my twins when my son was 4 and a half. I had them in June so he was at nursery and started school in the September. It was lovely to have this gap as he could help me out and also he had his own thing with school meaning he never felt left out. He's 8 & the girls are almost 4 and the relationship together is amazing as they play together all the time. For me, it was perfect and I'm glad I waited as I got 4.5 years with him alone and we are so close for it. - Beth, Twinderelmo

I have a 10 year gap between my eldest and middle child and it was so hard going back to the baby days after such a big gap. My eldest loved helping with her little sister though, they have nothing in common now and never play together now they are 14 and 3. I also have a really small age gap of 14 months between my middle and 3rd child and that was really hard! I felt like I did not spend enough time with either of them when they were small as they were both still babies who needed me a lot. Now they are 2&3 they are the best of friends and like the same things. Personally I don't think either of the gaps between my children were right as they were too big / too close. - Lindsay, Newcastle Family Life

I have 16 months between my first two, and 25 months between my second two, so at one point I had three kids under 3.5 years. It was difficult at times, but they're really close now and I'm really glad we had them close together. We are now coming out of the baby/toddler stage (the youngest is 2 and a half) and it was nice to get bottles/sleepless nights/ tantrums/potty training all over in a short space of time rather than doing it every few years! - Rachel, Coffee, Cake, Kids

I have a 20 month age gap. They're currently 2.5 years and 8 months and it's hard because the toddler is still a baby herself so the tantrums are difficult but I can always see they're going to be so close. My brothers are 6, 10 and 12 years older than me and I'm hoping they have a closeness together that I never had as a child. - Vicki, Tippytupps

I have a 14 year gap between mine. I'd kind of given up on the idea that there'd be another. We'd started travelling and the Teen was getting quite independent. Along comes Dinky & 13 months of maternity leave, a house move, breastfeeding & sleepless nights! The Teen found the adjustment particularly hard to begin with, but now he adores his little sister. He still hasn't changed a nappy though We've just continued as we did before, especially with our travels. - Emma, Canny Food

We only have one so far but I grew up with a gap of four years to my brother and eight to my sister. I wouldn't want a similar gap for my children. It was nice in that we each got a bit of alone time with our parents when the others went to school but definitely difficult to play together or bond as children. When you're 16 there's nothing less cool than an 8 year old who wants to play with you all the time! Now we're adults it's not an issue at all although I still find myself mothering my little sister, she's still a baby to me! - Hayley, Devon Mama

What do you think? Have you found the perfect age gap? Does it even exist?

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Small Hypocrisies of Parenthood

Yesterday there was a familiar scene in our house. After bedtime stories on the sofa, I told Girl Child it was time to go bed.

"But I'm toooo tiiiiired!" she protested, sprawling on the sofa.

We got annoyed. Every night this happens, no matter how early we get things done. Why can't she just go upstairs when she's told?

Fast forward a couple of hours and I'm sat on the sofa, quite frankly, messing about on my phone. I know I need to go to bed. And yet still I sit there, because I simply can't face the effort of getting up and climbing the stairs.

And it dawns on me. I'm a hypocrite. I expect my daughter to go upstairs the moment she's told, and yet when I know I need to go to bed I faff about on Twitter for 20 minutes.

Of course, parenting involves a lot of these petty little hypocrisies. Such as ...

Me: No you can't have biscuits, that's not a healthy snack, we've got plenty of fruit!
Also me: *secretly eats biscuits in the kitchen, standing next to the overflowing fruit bowl*

Me: When I ask you to do something, I mean to do it NOW!
Also me: I'll get you a snack in a minute, I'm just busy. *continues looking at Facebook*

Me: You've spent far too long looking at screens today, you need to do something else.
Also me: *checks phone every 2 minutes*

Me: Hurry up, we're going to be late if you don't get ready!
Also me: Wait, don't go yet, I've just got a few more things to do!

Me: It's important to share with your brother/friends.
Also me: Get off, that's my phone!

Me: No isn't an option, this needs doing whether you like it or not.
Also me: Oh do we *have* to play schools again??

Of course, I'm the grown-up, I have a better understanding of priorities and it's my job to instill good habits in my children. But quite often, it's just a case of double standards. I wonder if Girl Child would be more cooperative if I cooperated with her a bit more?! Or maybe I should just stop expecting a higher standard of behaviour from her than I can manage myself most days!!

What small hypocrisies have you indulged in? Please tell me I'm not alone!

Friday, 10 March 2017

What I've Learnt From A Year Of Having Two Kids

So now Baby is one year old, that means I've been a mum of two for over a year now. Surely that makes me an expert, yes? Pahaha, nope. I'm still winging it just as much as before. But having two kids has taught me a few lessons. Such as ...

The second time is easier

Not easy, please note. I would never call parenthood easy. But with your second, you kind of know what you're doing to some extent. You're not having to learn the basics of feeding, changing nappies etc. You've learnt all the shortcuts first time round. Yes, there's the challenge of juggling two and at times that feels impossible. But so far it hasn't been. Then again, so far I've been able to strap Baby to me while running around after Girl Child. I suspect in a year's time I'll be a broken woman after trying to keep up with two mobile children!

It feels unfair - but not in the way you'd expect

Before Baby came along, I was so worried about the impact he would have on Girl Child's life. I worried that we were being unfair by taking our undivided attention away from her. Actually, most of the time it feels like baby has the raw deal. He has to fit around the school run. He has to wait for attention while I deal with the bigger, noisier one. He gets his toys snatched off him far more than he snatches toys off her. Even when Girl Child is at school I'm more preoccupied with housework than I used to be - because of course two kids means more washing up, more mess and let's not mention the constant battle that is keeping all required items of uniform clean and ready at all times! It's all he knows so he probably doesn't realise the injustice yet, but Girl Child definitely had it easy when she was a baby!!

Every child is different

You'd think this was obvious, wouldn't you? And it is. But it's only when you have your second child that you realise they really are born different. Unless you drastically change your parenting style for the second, they have similar upbringings and environments, and yet still they turn out unique. I used to worry that Girl Child's more, ahem, spirited behaviour was somehow down to me until I was pregnant with Baby and noticed that even then he moved less. Not that his movements were concerning, they were just more gentle and interspersed with rest times - whereas Girl Child would kick me so hard I'd actually gasp and never seemed to stop wriggling! Sure enough, Baby is now the calm to his sister's storm. So it's probably nothing that I did - she's just who she is, and he's who he is.

Fatigue is relative

When I had one child, I used to scoff ruefully at memories of ever complaining I was tired before. Now there are times when I wonder why I was so tired with just one! But here's the thing - I really was tired sometimes before I had kids. And I really was tired when I had one. And I really, really am tired now. But still I seem to be coping, just about. I wasn't a wimp before, my circumstances were just different. I'd be shattered if I went for a 1k run, but that's nothing to a marathon runner. Our bodies respond to the situations we put them into. So don't go rolling your eyes when someone with fewer children says they're tired - they really are!

Love grows

I think all parents who are expecting their second child have that worry that they couldn't possibly love them as much as their first. I know I did. But honestly, you will. Every bit as much. In fact, you'll love them both even more when you see them together, loving each other. When I look at them together, with the beautiful bond they have, my heart could burst. I believe the more love you give, the more you have to give. So bringing a new child into the family won't mean there's less love to go around - there'll almost certainly be more.

If you have more than one child, what have you learnt from them?

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

To my son, on his first birthday

Sampling his baby-friendly birthday cake!

So, baby. You're one. Where did that year go, eh?

It doesn't seem like a year since we welcomed you into our living room. And yet at the same time I only have the fuzziest recollection of life without you. You've quietly and calmly carved out your place in our family like you were always here.

And that's you all over isn't it? Quiet and calm. Not always, of course. Like all babies you have a good cry when you're tired, or ill, or just frustrated by your limitations. And you have a good line in babbling too. But in comparison to the whirlwind that is your sister, you're a pretty laid-back kid. You're our gentle giant.

It's interesting watching you develop. I thought I'd seen it all before with your sister but then you're a different person so of course your path is already your own. You crawled earlier - five and a half months - but stood unaided later. You took your first steps just over a week ago and have been persisting with a quiet determination despite not getting any further than two steps. You may be quiet and laid-back but you still wreak havoc, just more stealthily!

You were an 'easy baby' from the start. You fed well despite having tongue tie (I suppose my experience helped there) and rarely cried. At first it looked like you might be the better sleeper but no such luck. That's the one sticking point in an otherwise glowing report actually - seriously, kid, you need to sleep. If the time starts with a 4, that's not morning, OK?

But you get away with being a sleep thief because you're so darn cute. You have a cheeky little smile, and a way of looking at me that reminds me of the heart-eyes emoji. You learnt to cuddle at 3 months and will wrap your arms round my neck and plant a big 'sploshy kiss' on my cheek (your sister's phrase) many times a day.

I'll write more another time about your relationship with your sister, but it's heart-melting. I love you. I love her. But you and her together - well, it blows me away. I'm so happy you have each other.

So baby. Another year is ahead of us. One in which you'll stop being a baby. I'm not sure I'm ready to let go of the baby stage yet seeing as you're my last one, but your persistence in learning to walk tells me it won't be long before I have to admit you're a toddler. Girl Child keeps asking me if I'll cry when that happens. I probably will. You've just been such a lovely baby to have.

OK enough of this soppiness. Here's to being one, baby, and may your gentle and calm personality continue into toddlerhood. Please. I can't cope with two livewires!

P.S. In case any readers are wondering about the cake in the photo - it was adapted from this recipe by Clare from A Wee Bit Of Cake and tasted yummy. I also attempted banana cream cheese icing but that wasn't so yummy!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Review: 'Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World'

In the run-up to Christmas and her birthday I made an Amazon wish list for Girl Child, ostensibly of books she might like but of course I snuck in a few that I would like her to read as well! One of those books was 'Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World' by Kate Pankhurst, and I was really glad her uncle bought it for her!

She didn't read it straight away - frankly, it's difficult these days to get her to read anything that isn't related to fairies or Minecraft - but she picked it out at the weekend and sat giving it a good read, so I finally got chance to check it out properly too.

It really is a great book. It features the stories of 13 women and girls whose actions had a big impact in our world, and it's a brilliant introduction to women's history.

I love how the women and girls profiled come from a real mix of different eras, ethnicities and nationalities. Some are very famous, others I'd never even heard of before - Sacagawea, anyone? She was pretty awesome! It's a really inclusive book and could be used as a springboard for discussing all sorts of issues, from gender inequality to colonialism to racial segregation and more.

The breadth of subject matter covered in the book means I don't think it's one to read cover to cover. There is just too much to take in at once and, especially for younger readers, understanding the difference between eras and cultures would probably be overwhelming. But if anything that just adds to the longevity of the book because a child can look at each woman or girl individually and keep coming back to learn more.

As you might have guessed from the picture above, Girl Child's main focus at the moment is Amelia Earhart. She absolutely loved reading about Amelia, over and over again. It was really exciting to see her getting enthralled in this fantastic role model's story, and she loved the quirky illustrations.

This is definitely a book for reading with an adult present, because it does cover some difficult topics - for instance, it goes into the life of Anne Frank, which could be confusing or upsetting for a child to read independently. I think, at age 5, Girl Child is probably only just old enough for some of the content, but it is a really gentle and carefully worded introduction into bigger issues so I don't think anyone should be put off by that.

In all I really love this book and I hope Girl Child enjoys using it to learn about women and girls from the past who achieved great things or shaped the world we live in today. 

Now, anybody got any recommendations for books about Amelia Earhart?! Seriously, there's an obsession going on here!

Linking up with 'Read With Me' hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.