Monday, 23 May 2011

Nappy Free

It's been a couple of weeks since Alice wore her last nappy, so I'm pretty confident that she's now 'potty trained,' except there wasn't any real training involved.

I've had numerous comments about how early it is to be out of nappies at 20 months, but in reality the process has been pretty extended. I first came across Elimination Communication when Alice was a few months old, and I already felt I'd missed the boat. I couldn't recognise any of her cues to eliminate, and I thought it would be too much like hard (and messy) work to start. At 11 months, Alice was suffering from bad nappy rash which seemed to be caused by teething. As it healed, I tried to give her as much nappy free time as possible. It didn't take long for her to get interested in her eliminations. I noticed that she would do a little wee, crawl to another place and squeeze hard to wee again. It made me realise that she had more control of her bladder than I thought. Without any real expectations, I sat her on the potty, and we were both delighted when she did a wee inside!

Around the same time, she started making it clear when she was about to pooh. I began sitting her on the potty to catch these, and within a short time discovered that she would hold on until her nappy was off before poohing. It certainly made my washing load easier! Over the next ten months, she usually wore a nappy. I'd sit her on the toilet or potty after naps.

At 20 months old, she started removing her nappy, and showing more interest in the potty. She began to say 'big pooh!' and 'wee wee!' before she eliminated, and I thought we'd try going nappy free at home. There were many accidents, especially if I wasn't paying attention. One morning, I was in the kitchen and heard the sound of splashing. I ran in, muslin in hand to wipe up the puddle only to find Alice sitting on the potty. This was the first time she'd got there herself. That was a majot turning point, and the accidents virtually stopped. Alice chose some 'big girl pants' and wore them while we were out. After a few wet trouser incidents, she suddenly was dry and I began to feel more relaxed about taking her out nappy free.

Although I hadn't planned to cut out night nappies, believing that would be a step too far, Alice led the way by removing her nappy and sleeping until the morning without wetting.

Our transition from nappies to pants has been a very long and gentle one, and it has given me great faith in allowing your child to take the lead. In line with the way we choose to raise her, she's never been praised for eliminating on the potty or toilet. We've done no reward charts or stickers. I've just tried to follow her cues. I realise that this is a thoroughly self indulgent post, as our experience is unique. I'm certainly not holding it up as a method for others to emulate. It was a process that worked well for us as a family, and more importantly, it responded to Alice
's needs as she developed. In my mind, that's the most important thing.

Saturday, 14 May 2011


A few weeks ago, I read Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and found myself challenged by a number of ideas. As the title suggests, the book encourages parents to simplify their family lives, limiting possessions and establishing a daily, weekly and yearly rhythm. I was already on board with keeping a limit on toys, and tried to ensure that the ones available to Alice were open ended to encourage her to use her imagination. What threw me was that the author recommended limiting the number of books available too. Initially, I was dismissive. As a child, there was nothing I loved more than to read or be read to. I always had a few books on the go at once, and would disappear for hours as soon as I got home from the library. Echoes of my teacher training also returned to me, reminding me of how important it is to have a rich and varied reading environment. Clearly 'simplifying' Alice's already plentiful collection of books wasn't for me.

A few days later I was reading with Alice. Cuddled up together, we reached the final page. I closed the book. Then, in the grand toddler tradition, my little girl looked at me and said "Again?" This was far from the first occasion this has happened. At any one time, there are always two or three books that she adores and will listen to as many times as I have patience to read. For a week or two, she'll obsess about them. Snippets of their plots will pop up in her conversation and several times she has mentioned favourite phrases in her sleep. I found this pretty wearing. She had so many books to choose from, why bring me the same ones? To my shame, I ended up trying to hide some books when I became fed up of reading them. Suddenly, the wisdom of reducing available books made sense. The richness and quality of a child's exposure to books isn't down to how many they are read. Becoming totally familiar and involved with a story is of far greater importance. Repetition puts a small child at ease and they are able to process the words, pictures, intonation and associated feelings far more than if they read a new book every day.

I have decided to take the same attitude to books that I do with toys. I will be ruthless with those that do nothing to inspire the imagination, and keep only those that are good quality stories. Out of that collection, I will store some out of sight to act as our own mini library, leaving just a few for Alice to choose from at any one time. Although I thought this would involve consigning myself to literary boredom, I'm surprised at how much I enjoy rereading the stories. It is amazing at how a well written and illustrated children's book has more to offer than it at first appears. Through learning to take my daughter's lead, we're both finding the benefit of saying "Again?"

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Honouring Moontime

OK, I confess. When I wrote the title of this post, it made me cringe. Our society likes to keep periods pretty quiet. Sanitary products are advertised by letting us know that nobody else will ever know you're 'on'. Fear not! Normal life can be resumed and you can go jogging in white shorts. Any celebration of your 'moontime,' on the other hand, is frankly rather weird. Well, with apologies to anyone's delicate sensibilities, I'm going to tell the story of my relationship with periods .

My feelings about menstruation have been pretty mixed over the years. My first one arrived on Halloween when I was staying over at a school friend's house, aged 11. Thanks to my mum and the school nurse, I was pretty clear on the theory, but the reality was never the less quite disconcerting. In the following years I would dread my time of the month coming. I suffered with awful cramps that would wake me sweating and crying in the night. I had PMT that made me hard to live with, and my acne covered face really knocked my confidence. I always struggled to use tampons, and towels made me feel hot and unclean. I felt far from womanly.

A significant change in attitude came during my university years when I discovered the Mooncup. For the uninitiated, it is a silicone cup inserted into the vagina which collects the menstrual blood. For someone who couldn't even use a tampon, this seemingly giant cup looked pretty intimidating, but after a few tries I was amazed to find I couldn't feel a thing. Emptying the cup removed some of the mystery of my period. It was no longer something foul and hidden. I felt clean and for some reason I still don't understand, my cramps eased considerably.

Then came pregnancy followed by ecological breastfeeding and my Mooncup was packed away. When my period arrived yesterday, 30 months after my last one, my heart sank. It appears my luteal phase (the time between ovulation and menstruation) is only 5 days. Far too short to sustain a pregnancy just yet. I've decided to put away my negative attitudes, and celebrate this time of the month. It is a time when my body is giving me clear instructions to take it easy. It's a few days where I can focus on myself and gaining the energy to begin again with renewed enthusiasm. I've taken the time to learn and try a few gentle yoga positions to relieve cramps. I've taken out sewing projects that have been put to one side and I'm making an effort to eat wholesome foods. My lovely husband is shouldering the responsibilities I'm stepping back from, and as a result, he and Alice are getting some closer time together. By respecting this time, I'm able to see my moontime as a blessing, not a curse.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Controlling anger

Lately, my gentle parenting aspirations have taken a bit of a battering. Alice has traded in her meltdowns for less spectacular, but more prolonged whining. Unfortunately for us both, this presses all my buttons, and I find myself frequently snapping and shouting. What follows then, is by no means a perfect solution. I'm quite clearly no expert when it comes to anger management, but I find some of the ideas below are helping me, and making my angry outbursts less common.

The key to preventing toddler meltdowns is making sure your child is well fed and rested. Difficult as it sometimes is, make sure you do the same for yourself. It's worth the investment. Think about when you're at your most volatile. For me, this is the afternoon when Alice is often whiny, and there's still a few hours before my husband gets in. I've started sharing a cup of chamomile tea with Alice, and we talk about the day. Whether it's the chamomile taking effect, or just the act of spending a relaxing few minutes together, we're both soothed by this little routine. Try to find a shared activity that you both enjoy. I also find it really crucial to spend time with other adults, ideally every day. Being in the house with your child all day can make both of you irritable with each other. I find getting together with other mums acts as an invaluable pressure relief valve.

If your well laid plans have failed and you feel the anger rising, try some techniques to control yourself. These are almost clich├ęs, but sometimes the old ones are the best!

If possible, make sure your child is in a safe place, then walk away for a little while to collect yourself. Make it clear to them that you are going to calm down for a moment, and will be back soon.
Close your eyes and take a few deep, slow breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth.
Make yourself aware of areas of tension, especially in your neck, shoulders, jaw, brow and hands. Make a conscious effort to relax them.
Remind yourself of how wonderful your child is. Think of the moments when you felt you could hardly breathe because you loved them so fiercely. Remember how they look when they sleep.

Once you return, you try to explain that you got angry, and how you're both going to move on. I find it really important that I reconnect with Alice, and the easiest way for me is through physical contact. Sharing a hug, or stroking the nape of her neck. Gentle, maternal actions awaken my motherly instincts and are often enough to shake off any remaining ill feeling.

If all this hasn't worked, and you've blown your top, apologise. Not for being angry, that's a valid emotion we all experience, but for how you expressed it. Maybe tell your child what you should have done instead. Don't labour the point though. Children are generally more forgiving than adults, and a clear, simple apology is all that's needed. No self-flagellation necessary. Try to forgive yourself too. I first heard the idea that people who feel bad behave badly in relation to children, but I think it's the same for us all. When I feel like a crappy mum, I generally act like one. No, it's not OK to shout and scream at your child, but we all slip up now and again. Remind yourself that you're the best parent this child can have, and move on from your mistakes.

As with most things in parenting, we're never going to get it right all the time, but hopefully we can aim to improve as we go along.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Living in the Moment

While walking back to our holiday cottage in Cornwall last week, I was chatting to Alice about the horses in the field. She was clearly very excited to see them, and I casually asked "Do you like horses?" She didn't reply. It's not the first time. She's a chatty little girl, but she has never replied to a question about her preferences. I started thinking about the way toddlers view the word, and realised that they live in an eternal present. They simply experience what goes on around them without weighing it up against previous encounters. To say we like or don't like something requires that you compare it with other times we've experienced it. It's a developmental stage that is still ahead of Alice.

I tried to imagine what life would be like if you live completely in the moment. You would become mindful of what was around you. I've often been amazed at the tiny things Alice spots or faint sounds she hears that are just background noise for me. I think this is because toddlers minds aren't clouded by the countless thoughts that whirr around an adult's head. I don't think it is sustainable, or even desirable for an adult to constantly live in the moment in the same way, but taking time to experience the world like a child for short periods would be very liberating.

Taking my daughter as my teacher, I've been trying to really sense what goes on around me. To throw myself into our games without planning how they'll end up, thinking about when to put dinner on, or worrying about what other people might be thinking. I aim to enjoy time with my daughter without comparing her to her past self, or thinking about what will happen as she grows up. I hope it demonstrates to her that I value her play. Even the short periods I manage to spend in this way act like little calm oases, reinvigorating me to take on the rest of the day.