The “Mother Guilt” Warning Light

A quick Google search of Mother Guilt and you’ll soon feel guilty about feeling it. 

Sure, you could read “31 Reasons You Shouldn’t Feel Mom Guilt” or “5 New-Mom Guilt Cures” and feel bad about feeling guilty and vow you’re going to squash those guilty feelings once and for all but I’ve never found it a good idea to deny feelings - especially not feelings that seem to be intuitive and come from somewhere deep within me.

I’ve never ignored my mother guilt. That doesn’t mean I always surrender to it either. The thing is, I think mother guilt is natures’ way of saying "Hang-on, you’ve got a responsibility here to another human being that’s very important. Your child is completely dependent on you. Are you meeting that responsibility?"

When I feel guilty, I take it as an opportunity to stop and really reflect on what’s going on - to look at the situation rationally through my eyes and through the eyes of my children. I look at it as a kind of warning light, like the kind you find on the dashboard in your car. Sometimes those lights mean you need to fix something fast because something’s wrong. Sometimes they’re faulty or hyper-sensitive and go off for the wrong reasons. But I’d never ignore them. I’ll always check my car out if a light goes on.

So, when my guilt light goes on, I’ll stop and look at what’s going on. I’ll try to analyse why I feel guilty and whether my feelings are warranted. I’ll look at my needs in the situation and my kids’ needs in the situation and try to work out if I really am making the right decision. I’ll often talk it over with people I trust and whose opinion I value.

I find working through situations like this will mean that next time I go through the same situation, I actually don’t feel guilty at all because I’ve processed what I felt guilty about and realized the feelings are unwarranted. Pushing the guilt away and telling yourself you don’t need to feel it doesn’t seem to do this. If the feeling comes back in the same situation, it’s time to reflect again.

This parenting game is hard and it’s often difficult to manage your own emotional needs while meeting those of your children. I think it’s actually a good thing that nature has given us a little warning light to keep our focus where it needs to be, especially when life gets hectic and busy.

What I Would Say to New-Mum-Me

Em turned 10 a couple of weeks ago. It's been a time of reflection. 

I keep thinking, what would I tell that poor, frightened, sick, anxious, mess of a mother I was when little Em came along all those years ago? Here are  some things I've come up with:

  • Get your act together, this is normal, this is just what having kids is. It will all come together.
  • Stop trying to breastfeed, it's making your child hungry and is literally driving you insane.
  • Bond with that baby and love her no matter what. Do whatever it takes to do that, the rest will work itself out.
  • Realize how strong and capable you are.
  • Start enjoying her, she's lovely.
  • She'll be big before you know it and she'll love you so much.
  • Accept the good times and the bad, they all pass.
  • Have some time for yourself, the baby will be ok.
  • Embrace being a mother it's the best thing you'll ever do.
  • Let go of who you were, you'll never be that person again, but you'll be bigger, stronger, wiser and more alive.
  • Make some friends and get some help.
  • Don't take on too many things, being a mother takes up a lot of time and that's ok.
  • Forget what everyone else is doing and saying, no-one has ever mothered YOUR child before.
  • When you have 2 kids, you still find the strength to manage.
  • Be kind to yourself, it all turns out ok ....

What would you say to your New-Mum-Self if you had the chance?

Keeping Play Open-ended

I love play that doesn't have a specific outcome or result. Play that's just play for the sake of it.

Open-ended play allows kids to take an activity exactly where they want it to go. This usually means that they will take it where they need it to go developmentally. Kids will often naturally, instinctively engage in the kind of play they need to help themselves along or process what's going on around them. The other great thing about it is it let's kids be just right there in the moment. Nothing is expected of them, nothing needs to be done, they just get carried away in creative bliss. What a nice state to be in.

To encourage open-ended play you can:
  • Have play resources organised and accessible at all times
  • Choose to include natural items in play like rocks, stones, gumnuts and leaves
  • Make sure kids have a space to let loose with their play
  • Choose to buy toys that can be used in lots of different ways
  • Include everyday items in play tubs too - things like notepads, pens, containers, wooden spoons, purses, handbags, pegs, kitchen cooking equipment (just remember  to check for safety issues when using everyday items)
  • Start a box of craft materials that can be used for open ended art impulses!

Playtime: Don't Get Rid of Those Soft Toys - They're Actually Good for Development!

When Em was born, I couldn't believe how many soft toys we got as gifts and I remember thinking at the time - what on earth are we going to do with all of these? Well, fast forward almost 10 years and our soft toy collection has at least quadrupled in that time and doesn't look like shrinking any time soon!

Soft toys are great for development. Their sweet little faces and soft furry ways help encourage empathy, compassion and caring. They can also be a reassuring source of comfort for a child who is feeling sad or insecure. There are plenty of ways to encourage soft toy play.

For Babies 
Have a basket of 3 or 4 accessible for baby play time. Choose toys that do not have any loose bows or buttons that can fall off. It's great if the toys have smaller limbs or a tail that baby can grab and hold onto. Remember that babies will always put toys in heir mouth so make sure no bits of fur or fluff can come off.

Baby will practice using her fine motor skills grabbing her soft toys and will feel happy and secure looking at friendly, kind faces. She may also enjoy kissing and cuddling the toys and older babies might even start to like to feed them a bottle or some pretend food. You could also add a soft baby brush so she could brush her fur.

For Toddlers
Soft toys are great play companions for toddlers. They can be put into bags, prams, boxes, carts, baskets and ride on cars and taken out again. This is one of toddlers' favourite things to do.

A toddler will play out social situations with her soft toys and help to look after them. This works on her empathy, compassion and caring skills. Playing out social situations also helps your toddler to make sense of her social world and her place in it.

For preschoolers and older children
Preschoolers and older children will enjoy constructing entire imaginative worlds for their soft toys. Your preschooler will perhaps start by making voices and acting out a role using the toy. With this kind of play, the toys are the centre of the imaginative process. They will need props or accessories which can be created by your child, bringing in the possibility of a range of art and craft activities too. Over the years we have made teddy jewellery, back packs,  shoe box beds, tissue box cars, school books, invitations, hats, clothes, just to name a few.

Your preschooler or older child will work on his social and emotional skills during this kind of imaginative play activity. He will play out social situations he has been in and will use the toys to play out different outcomes. By giving his toys different personalities, he is learning to look at situations through other people's eyes and reinforcing what he knows about caring. Making and creating props and accessories for toys works on fine motor skills as well as literacy and numeracy skills.

Fun Soft Toy moments

Some teddy bear jewellery as modeled for a PP photo shoot
Teddies in an indoor tent

A soft toy, a shoe box and a ramp - hours of fun

A homemade shoe box bed  - Good night!

Book Review: Little Hoot

The kids and I have just been enjoying this great book called "Little Hoot". It's written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
Like most little people, Little Hoot doesn’t like bedtime. What makes this story a different is, in the world of owls, children don’t go to bed early. Little Hoot doesn’t like bedtime because he has to stay up too late! He hates staying up late, he's tired. He doesn’t want to play all night, he wants to go to bed early like all his friends. "No" says mum, "you need to stay up for one more hour!"

This is a lovely, fun book. There are lots of little quirks in the way the book is illustrated and the language used is playful and sweet.

My kids love this story because it’s the opposite of what they always say. It makes my 6 year old giggle at the thought of Little Hoot liking the opposite to what he likes and it makes my 9 year old stop and think about the role of perspective in defining our experience of things. Pre-schoolers will love the mixed up world the owls live in and if you’re lucky, they might even pretend to be owls and enjoy an early bedtime, even if it’s just for one night!

Reading Round Up: Spoiling Children and those Pesky Teenagers

I love articles like this one from Kerri Sackville from The Age on the weekend. 

We should all be as honest and reflective as parents. Kerri talks about how she spoilt her third child and now regrets it. She has seen the error in her ways and vows to make amends. We all make choices as parents and sometimes we make them for the wrong reasons. Kerri sums this up in such a frank and poignant way. It’s definitely worth a read.

This next article made me think about parenting teenagers. It seems like a hard gig, I’m not looking forward to negotiating it. 

It’s written by 19 year old Steph Bowe and gives advice from her perspective about the mistakes parents make and what young people need from their parents. I know it seems the world has changed a lot since we were teenagers but I’m not sure teenagers have changed that much. They seem to want the same things we did – time, love, understanding, someone to be there. I hope I can remember that when I’m on the receiving end of irrational hormonal screaming just a few years from now!

Full of Writing

I'm back here again after (another) break. I thought I was maybe done blogging, but something keeps pulling me back and I feel the need to explain my absence a little before I start off again.

When Ed was around 2, he looked at me one dinner time, took a deep sigh and said "Mum, I'm full of carrots!" He'd just had enough. He'd always loved carrots and had eaten loads of them in his 2 years and on this day, he'd had enough. He had a litlle break and started enjoying them again of course, but I was just thinking the other day about why I hadn't been around these parts at all in the last 6 months and suddenly realised that last year, I was full of writing.

I wrote heaps last year. I wrote for PP, for my blog and for a magazine a friend was working on. It was great and I really enjoyed it at the time, but when I sent my last article into PP in August last year after banging out 3 in one month, I just felt tired and full and I needed a rest.

I wasn't sure if or when I would be back, but I didn't panic, I just let nature run it's course, knowing I'd hit this keyboard again if and when I wanted to and guess what, now I do!

I have reservations, I was actually nervous about starting back. Is anyone still interested in what I've got to say?

I started this blog not really knowing the answer to that and I wrote for magazines not really knowing the answer to that. I wrote just with the knowledge that I'm passionate about what I write about. I wrote because I believe raising and teaching kids is important and should be valued and respected. I wrote because kids are special and delightful and deserve to have articles and blog posts written about how to raise them well. So, I'm going to keep writing and anything else that comes from that is really just icing on the cake - delicious, sweet, frosty icing ....