Friday, 26 November 2010


To have a strong relationship with someone, it is essential to trust them, but if we trust our children, we're often frowned upon, or at least deemed irresponsible.

It is not only children who are mistrusted. From the moment of conception, we're encouraged to put ourselves in the care of professionals. Doctors and midwives take blood samples, measure heart rates and take scans. During the birth, mother and baby are monitored, and all too often the birth is taken out of the mother's control. It seems a natural progression then that professionals should continue to be involved with the subsequent care of the baby. Health visitors, well meaning friends and of course, the ubiquitous baby care book are all on hand to offer advice and the mother learns to ignore her instincts.

Those who practise cry it out or controlled crying techniques rarely enjoy the experience. The sound of a baby's cry, even one that isn't ours, spurs us to do something about it. To ignore a baby's cry goes against our instincts. Jean Liedloff writes in The Continuum Concept that 'young mothers read and obey, untrusting of their innate ability, untrusting of the baby's 'motives' in giving the still perfectly clear signals." (p.49) In our society, children, even babies, are viewed with suspicion. Rather than trusting that their cries signal a need, we are told that they are manipulating us. Liefloff continues, saying that "Babies have, indeed, become a sort of enemy to be vanquished by the mother. Crying must be ignored so as to show the baby who is boss, and a basic premise in the relationship is that every effort should be made to force the baby to conform to the mother's wishes." (p.49). In this relationship, there is no trust. The mother no longer trusts herself, and she certainly doesn't trust the baby to know his own mind. Saddest of all, the baby soon learns that its mother cannot be trusted to fulfil his needs.

This pattern continues as the child grows. 'Pick your battles' while true in essence, and something I regularly remind myself of, emphasises the way we view our relationship with our children as an adversarial one. There can be no real trust with an adversary. Locked in a battle of wills with their children, it is no surprise that many parents find themselves under huge stress. Would it be so disastrous, however, to trust our children? To assume, unless clearly proven otherwise, that their motives are good? Christina Fletcher, writing in The Mother says of children 'it's important to see them as Who They Really Are through our words, actions and thoughts, and make them feel like they have great worth to the world." (p.31) When we see them this way, when we trust in them, they will more often than not live up to our expectations.

Fletcher, C. (2010, November/December).Dealing with sibling rivalry with spirit. The Mother, 43, 31-32.

Liedloff, J. (2004) The Continuum Concept (New Ed edition)
London: Penguin.

Monday, 22 November 2010


Life is tough for a toddler. Imagine you have just begun to realise your sense of self. You have preferences and are starting to realise that your actions have an effect on the world. This is an exciting development, but it's also a frustrating one. Barely an hour goes by without someone trying to make you sleep when you aren't tired, to stop you pulling put the interesting wires in the wall, to put you in a pushchair when you haven't finished playing or to feed you unknown substances without giving you a chance to look at them closely.

Imagine you are living in a world where people communicate through an unfamiliar language, and although you are beginning to understand, there is a lot of confusion. Your own words are few and frequently misunderstood by those around you. You are beset by emotions that are too big for you to deal with yet, and sometimes the strength of them is scary.

It is all too easy to view toddlers' tantrums and shouting as mere defiance. To think that their sole purpose in life is to thwart whatever you have planned for them. It is easy to become frustrated and wish that they would just do as they were told. Taking a step out of your own needs and feelings for a moment, and seeing the world as it is to them can help us to remain calmer and more tolerant. Allowing some freedom to choose, to consider whether what we are asking is too much and to devise compromises wherever possible can go a long way to smoothing their path through a tricky time, and allowing ourselves to feel calmer.

1. See it from their point of view. A child who screams when having their coat put on may just be too hot. They don't know that the temperature will change when they get outside. Maybe try going outside first before putting it on, or playing a hide and seek game with their fingers.

2. Leave lots of time for potentially contentious tasks. Walking to the shops may take four times as long if you stop to look at every leaf and stone on the way, but it will be a lot less stressful.

3. Allow some degree of choice. Sometimes choices overwhelm children, but allowing some control over their day will make them feel a little less powerless. It makes no difference to you which shoe goes on first, but it might to them.

4. Distraction often works like magic. Breaking into song or playing pat-a-cake might be all that's needed to halt a stand-off.

5. Be aware of danger times. Tiredness and hunger makes us all grumpy, but is especially hard when you are small. Try to arrange jobs that must be done just after nap times or meals when your toddler is at their most amenable.

6. Talk to them. Explain what you are doing and why you are doing it. They may not understand every word, but they are starting to get the gist of most of what you say. If you're going to leave the park soon, tell them. To be whisked away from a task you were enjoying would annoy anybody, but some advance warning may help.

7. Listen to them. Even if they don't seem to be saying proper words, they are trying to communicate and it is only polite to listen to them. You might be surprised at how much they can convey. Even if you don't understand, they will at least feel you are taking notice.

8.When tantrums hit, stay close. Turning your back or ignoring the tantrum isn't showing your child that their behaviour isn't acceptable, it is telling them that they are unacceptable. Although a hitting, kicking, screaming child might seem defiant, they are just out of control. You wouldn't leave them if they were crying in sadness or pain, why leave them when they are overwhelmed with anger and frustration? Sometimes a hand laid on their chest, or just sitting by is all that's needed to let them know you are there to help. Naming their feelings is another useful way to show you understand and to help them recognise what is happening to them.

9. Enjoy your toddler. When you've had a particularly trying time, make sure you find some time to reconnect with your child. Taking a nap together while you stroke their hair, or playing a favourite game reminds you both that your relationship is based on love not opposition.

10. Take time for yourself. If you are exhausted and at your wits' end, you can't give anything back to your toddler. I know you've heard this advice before, and it's easy to scoff and say you've no time for it, but make time. It takes far less time than you'd think to recuperate. 5 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes for a cup of tea and a biscuit or 20 minutes for a hot bath. Try and fit time for yourself in to the day and your whole family will benefit.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Christmas Cake

I'm quite overexcited about this one. It's always been an aim of mine to make a Christmas cake, but I've always been too disorganised to get one prepared earl y enough. Seeing how cheap they are in the shops compared to how much the ingredients cost is another little niggle, but I'm confident the time, effort and money spent will be worth it.

Contending with a scorchingly hot fan oven has put me off baking a little until my mum kindly bought me an oven thermometer. With this I have discovered that turning the dial to 50° results in an oven temperature of 150°! Some careful jiggery-pokery and turning the dial fractional amounts allowed me to finally get a l ow enough temperature to cook the cake long and slow. I held my breath a little before taking it out, and actually gave a shriek of joy that it looks like it should do!

I wrapped it up in foil and settled it into a tin with no less care than I tuck Alice up at night, and I'm already looking forward to feeding it next week. You don't get this much fun with a shop bought one!

No more daydreaming

15 years ago I had my first period. It was a time of mixed emotions, but I was excited (and relieved) that I was on the first step to womanhood. Through my teens my time of the month was regular as clockwork, and always very painful. After dreading every one for so many years, it seems strange now that I can't wait for its return.

Despite Alice having started weaning at 6 months, she still relies heavily on breastmilk night and day. As a result, I haven't had a period since November 2008. My teenage self would be jumping for joy, but I'm getting so frustrated. Since Alice was barely a month old, I've felt broody, and that broodiness has only kept on growing. I find myself frequently daydreaming about how life would be with another baby around, and I absent-mindedly rest my hand on my tummy as if I was already carrying a new little life.

I've realised that I need to try and stop this. Daydreaming won't make my fertility come back any faster. However much I wee on sticks and squint at them until I could swear I could see a line won't make that baby appear any sooner. At times, I have considered trying to night wean Alice, and have even tried to put her off when she comes to me for a feed. This was the final straw. It is important to me that I nurse Alice until she's at least 2, and if she self weans before then I wouldn't want it to be down to my actions. I have been putting my desire for a new baby ahead of her needs, and I must stop it. I am going to try my hardest to enjoy every stage of her toddlerhood and a sibling may or may not come along. I don't have a right to have another baby. I realise how lucky I am to have one, and I should stop taking her for granted.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Carrying the Donkey

I've been thinking a lot lately about how other people perceive me, especially regarding how I parent Alice. I think about it far too much and sometimes worrying about what people will think affects my actions. I was reminded recently of a folk tale I read once as a child. I can't find the book it was in, nor can I find it on-line, so I thought I'd write it down as best as I can remember it. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

One day a man decided he and his son should travel the long journey to the markets. They took their donkey to carry their supplies home and set off. The father got up on the donkey and the son led it along the road. It wasn't long before they met a traveller coming the other way. The traveller looked at them in disgust. "How shameful. That poor boy is being forced to walk, while you his father are taking it easy riding on the donkey." In great embarrassment, the father quickly got down from the donkey.
"Of course, you're right. I'll let my son ride instead. I don't know what I was thinking!" he exclaimed, and they carried on their way.

Soon after they were met by an old woman walking along the road. She looked them up and down and tutted. "The young have no respect. That boy is full of energy, but is making his poor father walk while he rides the donkey. Surely there's room on that donkey for two." As she passed them by, father and son looked at each other, and the father said "she's right. The donkey could manage us both. Let me ride with you." and he got up on the donkey too.

As they neared the market another traveller met them with wide eyed horror. "Good heavens! That poor beast's legs must be nearly buckling under the weight of you two! The cruelty some people show to animals is astonishing."

Without saying a word, father and son got off the donkey, hoisted it onto their shoulders and carried it all the way to the market. Everyone in the busy town square pointed and laughed at their foolishness.

Sometimes I think I end up carrying the donkey as I desperately try to please all the people all the time. This little tale has been a reminder to me to do what I feel is right, not what other people think I should do.

Sunday, 14 November 2010


I've decided to start Christmas preparations in good time this year. Usually I leave it until the last minute, but with a toddler in the house, it's not so easy to manage!

Yesterday I made my first lot of mincemeat. I've never made it before and was pleasantly surprised at how simple it was. I won't be going back to the jarred stuff in a hurry!

I used a modified version of a recipe in Best Kept Secrets of the Women's Institute: Jams, Pickles and Chutneys by Midge Thomas

6oz sultanas
4oz raisins
4oz currants
2oz chopped almonds
2oz mixed peel
grated zest of a lemon and an orange
juice of lemon and orange
2 chopped apples
3fl oz brandy
1tsp cinnamon
1tsp allspice
4oz shredded suet (I used veggie)
1tsp nutmeg
8oz dark muscovado sugar

Then I mixed them all up in the bowl, covered in clingfilm and will leave it for a week, stirring daily. Then I'll pot it up into sterilised jars and leave for a couple of weeks before using.

It already smells amazing, and I can't wait to taste it. The brandy and spices made me feel like it's Christmas already. My next project is the Christmas cake. Wish me luck!