They Call It Puppy Love

Just last week my lovely sister took her niece and nephew (aka my kids) out to lunch at a local garden centre. As kids do they managed to get her to agree to buying them something. The interesting thing was that neither picked something for themselves. My daughter picked a cupcake shaped bath bomb as a gift for her best friend.

And James? The store stocks all sorts of boys toys from footballs to water pistols, so what did he pick? I’ll show you.

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Ah how sweet I hear you say (well I don’t really but I’m imagining you are). A gift for his wonderful mum perhaps? Or a thank you to his Aunty?

No this was what my 8 year old chose for his current girlfriend! He wrote a message on the back of the box and headed off with it safely tucked away in his school bag to be delivered to the girl in question the next day.

It made me laugh at first but then I wondered, if as adults we should be encouraging children to act out relationships at such a young age?

When he came home on Valentines day with his card from the girl in question, should I have advised him that there was plenty time for girls and to concentrate instead on school or at least football?

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I strongly believe that children should not be made to grow up too soon. My daughter won’t wear a bikini or crop top till she is much older and neither child will have facebook or other social media accounts until they are both of legal age and more importantly when I think they are ready, so what about this?

Well to be honest I’m not too worried, this is James’s third “girlfriend” in 4 years (I know quite the ladies man) and I am not sure he has ever said much more to any of them face to face other than  “can you pass the pritt-stick.”

It does however encourage discussion at homes around relationships. Not long ago he asked me if it was right that men should always do what women tell them. I bit back my gut response of “yes, of course” to explain that no a relationship is all about give and take and helping each other out (oh such wisdom, it’s taken 37 years to learn that one).

It may be just a bit of fun but hopefully he is also learning. Girlfriend number one didn’t last long after she started demanding he transport her everywhere by piggy back, he may need that lesson in later life when it’s a Porsche they’re after!

With girlfriend number two he learnt a lesson in being left for a more sporty boy in the class. He shrugged it off and went back to playing football with the new boy in her life, because as he said friends are more important than girls. Unfortunately I fear it will not always be that simple.

And with girlfriend number 3? Well she meets his (and my) approval because she is interested in space and the universe (better than shoes and handbags). I think they may have a way to go before I have to worry about it getting serious though. At a recent out of school activity when I mentioned in front of his friends that said lady was in the building his embarrassed response was, “tell her I’m sick and I’m not here”, well that’s men for you!

So as long as these things are taken light heartedly I think it’s fine. I still think kids should be kids but then hasn’t being a kid always meant playing house or pretend weddings etc. Of course I wont be saying that should any boy ever go near my nearly 11 year old daughter 😀

Binky Linky

The Donkey Of Happiness And Other Techniques Super Nanny Failed to Mention

Like many parents trying to promote good behaviour or stop poor behaviour I have tried many traditional methods such as reward charts, naughty steps, threats (you won’t get your pocket money if you don’t stop that) and bribery (you’ll get extra pocket money if you stop that) with varying degrees of success. As I discovered though sometimes you need to think outside the box.

The Donkey of Happiness (sometimes known as The Donkey of Peace) has featured in our house for as long as the kids can recall and I would be lying if I claimed to remember the first time she (yes she) made an appearance. I do know it was when the kids were still very young and after another long day of tears and tantrums (mine and theirs) nothing was working to calm two bickering children.

In desperation and for want of any other ideas left in my arsenal, I dropped to all fours (which immediately caught their attention), hee-hawed and asked them to climb aboard the Donkey of Happiness. Scowling faces were replaced with shocked and then smiling faces as they climbed on my back and we ambled across the room, resulting in us heaped on the floor in fits of giggles, all thoughts of previous fights or grudges forgotten.

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Throughout the years the Donkey has made regular appearances to calm fraught situations or cheer up children distraught from a bad day at school or a siblings teasing. I don’t do it too often after all that would ruin the element of surprise and fun and of course the children are getting bigger and the donkey older but it’s still effective.

Other similar techniques have meant popping our favourite holiday tune on full blast (sorry neighbours) and demanding everyone stop fighting and start dancing, actually no demanding is required, as soon as the opening strains of Chocolate (Choco Choco) fill the house it takes a pretty determined child or parent to remain in a huff, don’t believe me try it.

Sausages also loom large in our family, whether it’s for dinner with mash, or cooked and then eaten cold as we wander round Edinburgh Fringe Festival (another odd tradition we have adopted) but for the purpose of distraction techniques just as a funny word one or other of us will shout out in a silly voice to interrupt an argument and which has almost become a code word for “ok let’s all just calm down, cheer up and start again”, shorter, easier and of course funnier.

So when you are ready to tear up the sticker chart and time out has become more frequent than time in, why not be like Monty Python and say, and now for something completely different, and do let me know how it goes!

You’re My Favourite – Do Parents Prefer One Child Over Another?

fave“You’re my favourite” is a catch phrase my daugher has picked up from Bruce Forsyth’s time on Strictly Come Dancing, it is now used with annoying regularity between her and Mr B, whenever we are having a family discussion where they inevitably take each others sides.

My son and I just look at each other and roll our eyes at the pair of them, it’s all taken in good humour, because obviously parents don’t have favourites, do they?

Well yes they do – sometimes!

My mum makes no bones about the fact that her son, my eldest sibling is her favourite, he is her first born and only son and is jokingly referred to in our house as the prodigal son, so much fuss is made of him when he returns to the family home.

Does it bother me? No, well ok maybe there are times it has a little but on the whole not really, my mum has done so much for me and my children, that I know with complete certainty that I am loved. We see or at least text, email or speak on the phone to each other most days, she is the one who is there when my children are ill and I have to go to work or when I need parenting advice/help or just a moan. So if she has a soft spot for my brother who she doesn’t get to see as often due to geographics then so be it. I of course though would never have a favourite, would I?

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Well no I didn’t think so either, when my daughter was born, like most parents I couldn’t imagine loving anyone else as much, when I was expecting my son I was wracked with guilt that I would be starving my daughter of my undivided attention. As it is I found out when my son was born, yes you can love another child just as much as the first, but can you love one more?

Both my children are (I think) relatively well behaved, loveable children, but they are different. My daughter is the more sensible of the two, she does well at school, is confident and sociable, she never has to be asked to do something twenty times unlike her brother, she rarely has to be told off for misbehaving, fidgeting or being too boisterous (again unlike her brother), in many ways she is pretty close to the model child, so why then would I appear to favour her brother?

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Now don’t get me wrong this is definitely not something I did consciously though there was a niggle at the back of my mind but it took Mr B (in a fit of daring) and my best friend (in a fit of alcohol) to point the fact out to me that from outside appearances my son was my favoured child. I was shocked, upset and at first in denial but I knew deep down they had a point. The fact was I had more time, more patience and more affection for my son (I know I’m not proud).

Let me first of all say that no I do not think I have a favourite child, I did however have a child I found easier to relate to and in doing so was guilty of giving out the impression that he was preferred to his sibling, yes I hang my head in shame at the idea I could have had let my children think this.

My son is cuddly (my daughter was never a touchy feely child), he is loud and whacky (and with it sometimes extremely annoying) and full of positive energy which is something I empathise with, so even after telling him to sit still, or quieten down repeatedly while his sister did as she was told I would still crack into a smile as he came out with some daft expression or threw his arms round me, while brushing his sister off for seeking attention.

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My daughter does not always show enthusiasm in the same way my son and I do, she is less energetic and I found that hard to relate to, if she didn’t jump at a suggested activity I would think her moany or ungrateful and showed it in my response to her.

So confessions made (and yes I know they are awful). Once the facts had been pointed out to me, and I’d taken it on board out the next job was to confront the issue, and I think I have.

My children are there own individual people and I have tried to accept that and encourage it, my son loves cuddles, my daughter far more appreciates you sitting down and giving her some undivided attention while she sings you her latest song or puts on a play. My son likes to get out on a bike, or kick a ball, my daughter would rather get the art kit out, so I try and make sure I do both in as equal measures as I can.

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Bonding at Hairpray

As my daughter gets older she is developing a fashion conscience, and though no fashionista myself we have enjoyed girly shopping trips and I have tried to give her some hints and tips she may regret that later), we both love musicals and have had great outing to Fame and Hairspray.

I think (hope) I have managed to repair any damage caused by my previous behaviour  and that neither of my children will ever feel they were favoured, but it has taken time and effort.

So back to the question? Do parents have favourites? Well yes I think sometimes they do, they may not mean to, or even want to but it can happen and a conscious effort is needed to try and alter that behaviour, I hope I’ve done it!

Binky Linky

Keep Them Close or Cut The Strings – Should children be let out or left in alone?

The recent news article about parents in Maryland, USA who have been charged with unsubstantiated child neglect for letting their 10 and 6 year olds walk a mile home from a local park on their own got me thinking.

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Danielle Meitiv and her husband were found responsible for a form of child neglect after their children were spotted walking the streets of Silver Spring, Maryland, alone.

How much freedom or  supervision should we give our kids?

Like many children of my generation I was allowed to roam the area surrounding my home from an early age with groups of friends, expected to return home in time for dinner and with no means of being contacted in the meantime (this was long before mobile phones).

I had an older brother and sister so apart from the first day of school, I walked with my siblings to and from school, crossing roads on the way. With two working parents we had our own key (my sister still winces when she remembers being made to wear it on a string around her neck to ensure it didn’t get lost) and were expected to let ourselves in and entertain ourselves until they returned from work, we had their work number on speed-dial and several neighbours we could go to in case of emergency (only used once when my elder brother somehow managed to trap his hand in the hydraulic mechanism of a swivel chair).

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At the age my daughter is now (10) I regularly went into town with my friends on a Saturday and spent the day wandering around the shops admiring jewellery and spending our pocket money on cream filled meringues which caused an inordinate amount of hilarity as we ate them getting cream smeared across our faces. By the age of 12 I was allowed to take a train with friends into Edinburgh (a huge, bustling city) to spent the day shopping.

My parents were (and are) responsible, intelligent people, we spent quality time together and were well cared for, so why (and when) did the way they brought us up become so wrong?

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There is more traffic these days which makes roads more dangerous and of course we are far more aware of the terrible cases where children are snatched or attacked, though I am not sure these are more common just more publicised, so perhaps these influence our actions? We also live in an age where we are used to having constant contact with others, via email, texts, calls, whats app etc and where our kids are encouraged to be far more involved in our conversations and our attention (no more children should be seen and not heard) so perhaps we find the change when they are not in contact or in eyesight harder to adjust to.

Of course I want my children to be safe but I also want them to have some independence. My children are now 10 and 8 and walk to and from school themselves (just over a third of a mile), this was a gradual process when I realised despite greeting them everyday from school, I would then be left carrying schoolbags while they disappeared to walk with friends, so I gave up my bag carrying days, instructed them to make sure they stuck together, lectured them on road safety (they have 2 roads to cross, one can get a little busy) and let them go for it. They also love the thrill of being allowed to go to our local corner shop themselves (probably because they usually return with sweets).

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A few of their friends do the same but a lot are still accompanied to and from school, am I a bad parent or just trying to give my kids a little responsibility and freedom?

The other big question that comes up is should they be left alone in the house? Now this is a biggie. I recently saw a post on facebook for people campaigning to make it illegal to leave a child alone in a house under the age of 13? I personally don’t think such a law is necessary but many would disagree.home

I have left my daughter (the older and more responsible of my children) in the house herself, for about 20 minutes while I collected her brother from a club or event, should that make me a criminal? I know a friend who finishes work half an hour after school finishes so allows her children (similar ages to mine) to go home and get a snack until she comes in, should she be made to pay for an afternoons childcare instead?

I tend to believe parents know their own children and should be allowed to judge if that child is responsible to be left safely in a house alone.

I do however feel there should be laws or guidelines to prevent neglect or even tragic accidents, I don’t think children should ever be left alone overnight, or that children too young to use a phone or contact someone in an emergency should be left alone and perhaps time limits could be put in place, though how these would be monitored is hard to see.

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I dislike labels such as free range parenting or helicopter parenting, we all do what we feel comfortable with and what we believe is the best for our children and whatever I think I know plenty others will have different opinions, I’d love to hear them.

A Little Less Conversation?

So parents evening survived with glowing reports on both kids, reading, writing and numeracy skills, but… James is a chatterbox, well tell me something I don’t know. he talks constantly at home, sometimes to me, often at me and if all else fails to himself.

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Only now it seems this is a real problem. Unlike my daughter who was speaking fluently by 20 months, my son barely uttered a word until he was 3 years old, nursery teachers commented how different he was from his talkative sister, oh how times have changed!

Coming from my family where the women in particular are famed for the speed, volume and quantity in which they speak he didn’t stand a chance, I recently came across this old school  report of my own, say’s it all really.

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In past years teachers have commented that he contributes well to conversations, that he is sociable and a character but now it appears sociable has turned to disruptive and resulted in several desk moves to try and stop him from chatting to friends and disrupting others.

I’m sure this is not unusual for an 8 year old boy, and my initial instinct was to think what does the teacher know (actually probably quite a lot, she is an experienced teacher), after all what parent takes any criticism of their child well?

Some of her speech I think was designed to give my son who was present a fright that his parents were being made aware of the situation and hopefully be enough to get him to curb his  talkativeness. She did however made a good point that he is bright and able but now is the time to focus as brains will not get you everywhere, hard work is also needed and a little less conversation.

The question remains then, apart from talking to my son about this and asking him to try and talk less in class, how do you change what is fundamentally in his nature to chat?

Well after a long evenings discussion, googling and worry here’s what we’ve come up with so far.

1. More physical activity, my son has bundles of energy and already attends cubs and jogging club but he has decided he would like to give badminton a try, I am hoping using up some of his energy outside of school might make him calmer and more focused in the classroom.

2. Dropping drama group ( not as a punishment this was a joint decision), both my children have attended a drama group for a while and whilst enjoying it have no wish to pursue drama or acting as a career or hobby. Whilst it has given them confidence it has also I feel given them a believe that they should be wild and whacky and more importantly heard! Great if you want to be a reality show star not so great in the classroom when a teacher is trying to quieten down 33 children.

3. More focused and less gadget time at home. We are all guilty in our house of being attached to laptops or tablets and whilst you would think this would be a quiet activity not so for my son, he becomes immersed in games and gives a running commentary or speaks to the screen. More time sitting around a table doing an activity or even just building lego together I’m hoping will encourage an ability to focus quietly or with relevant conversation.

4. This one’s for me, pay attention to what he’s saying and if it’s nonsensical or just too much actually stop him, rather than my usual response of either tuning out or just responded with a yeah, uh-huh. Get him to either slow down and explain (he has a habit of beginning stories half way through) or point out that now is not a good time to talk but we can speak later over dinner/before bed etc.

5. Love him and remind him he is a intelligent, well behaved boy and that all I and the teacher want is for him to be able to make the most of what he can be, and hope he listens!

6. Buy a gag?

Please if anyone has any great hints or tips I’m all ears 😉

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School and the Single Parent

Tonight is parents evening at school and as usual I will wear my office clothes and make sure my nails are done in an attempt to feel like the “grown up” it sometimes feels like I’m pretending to be (not helped by the teachers making you sit on those tiny little kids seats). I have always worried about being perceived as a responsible parent, but even  more so since becoming a single parent.

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Before my divorce I am ashamed to say I may have held preconceptions about “single parents” and their offspring, I’m not proud but yes I thought they were not as well brought up, less educated and less responsible than Mr & Mrs Happily Married Couple and their kids. Awful I know, but it’s a sad fact that before being on my own with the kids I probably only had one friend who was a single parent, now of course I have loads, we tend to gravitate together as a support system, for helping out with childcare or just for proffering a glass of Merlot when it all gets too much.

I have loads of happily and possibly a few unhappily married friends too and at last I have realised that we are all the same, all just trying to do the best we can for our children.

So why do I remain ever so slightly embarrassed about the fact that I am not with the kids dad? I work, I put food on the table, my children are healthy, well cared for and hopefully polite and well behaved (we’ll find out tonight), they are brought up in two loving households with even more people to care for them now, they have a great relationship with Mr B and yet I worry that being from a split family will give other people preconceived ideas like the one’s I used to hold about them.

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I don’t shout about it

Perhaps that’s partly why after my divorce like many women I kept my married name and still use the title Mrs. There are other reasons though, I didn’t want the hassle of changing my name on bank accounts and bills but mostly it is because I feel it is a connection between myself and the children I don’t want to break, it also makes it easier for schools and other clubs to identify me as their parent, but if I’m honest, in my mind if I have to contact the school and say hello it’s Mrs C phoning about my child Miss S it immediately shouts SPLIT FAMILY!

I know this sits uneasily with some people, I noticed the other day that my partner has me logged in his phone contacts under my maiden name even though it is a name I have never used while with him, when I questioned him he couldn’t explain why but I’m guessing he doesn’t like the fact that I am still in someway linked to my ex, maybe he thinks I want to keep some kind of connection to him (but I can say hand on heart it’s not that), although obviously we will always be connected because of the children.

Why do I still feel in this day and age it’s such a stigma? I don’t know but I do know that when my son told me his teacher had asked them to draw a picture of their family and he had asked whether he should draw his dad as he didn’t live in the same house, I was upset for my son having to ask the question and felt responsible for putting him in that situation.

At the start of another term my daughter was asked to fill in a form letting the teacher know a bit more about them, I’m not sure which upset me more the fact that she again had to highlight the fact that she didn’t live with her dad or the fact she claimed McDonalds was her favourite meal, we hardly ever have McDonalds. Great I thought now the teacher has labelled me single parent who feeds her children a diet of junk food!

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I know the teachers aren’t judging and hopefully other parents (unlike I did) aren’t either, the school needs to know a bit about the kids background so they can deal with any uprising situations in their personal lives and I’m sure they’ve seen it all before. So why do I get so het up about it? Maybe it’s because I feel I have let the kids down by not being able to give them the family unit other children have, but then who’s to say kids in 2 parent families are necessarily better off? (If you ask my daughter she’d definitely say she has the better deal especially when it comes to 2 lots of birthday and Christmas presents.)

So I will try harder to be proud of who and what I am and set a good example to my kids by showing them they have nothing to feel embarrassed about, and when Mr B joins me at parents evening like he did last year (work commitments make it difficult for dad to attend) I won’t just let the teachers assume he is the other parent, well maybe 🙂

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Single Parent Pessimist

Struggle Through or Stay At Home – How Sick Is Too Sick?

sickWe’ve all had the lurgy over the last couple of weeks, sore throats, coughs, sneezes and the shivers, it was my turn first and now Mr B is suffering, then this morning Rachel got up and said she was feeling sick and had a terrible headache, to be fair she’s had the sore throat for a couple of days now so it wasn’t unexpected.

The question is though when do you keep the kids off school or even the adults off work? In my younger days it was simple unless your legs had fallen off you went to school (and even then my mum would probably have popped me in a trolley and wheeled me there). My mum’s famous saying was, just go and if you get worse the school will send you home! Of course it wasn’t that simple and they rarely did.

It seem’s times have changed though, I recently heard from a parent who on attending her child’s school was shocked at the amount of children coughing and sniffling. She was extremely angry at the parents who had let those children attend school as she feared her child who had already had several episodes of poor health would catch something, but my question is as a working parent should I take time off work to keep my child at home every time they have a runny nose or are sneezing?

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If your child has chickenpox or some other contagious disease we all know to keep them off school and if they’ve got a sickness bug the schools insist on 48 hours after the last bout of illness and that makes sense, but what about when they have a cold or cough or are generally under the weather?

Today I kept Rachel off school because she rarely says she feels unwell, and loves school so much (give it a few years) that she doesn’t like to miss it, the deciding factor was when I told her she wouldn’t be able to go to drama tonight if she missed school and she readily agreed, the fact she was willing to miss her beloved drama was proof enough for me that she was indeed ill.

However some calpol and a quick nap later while she is not exactly bursting with energy she probably could have struggled through a day at school and I would not have had to take a day off work, because although my workplace is infinitely understanding it is not unheard of for co-workers in any job to complain of their colleagues who are also parents taking time off to tend sick children and subsequently increasing their workload.

Sometimes it feels like you can’t win, send them to school and you risk being labelled a bad parent for spreading germs, keep them off and you risk an unhappy employer and a child who may grow up expecting to have time off work every time they cough.

Let me know your thoughts and in the meantime I’m off to distribute tissues and throat sweets.