Category Archives: Parenting

The 12 Days of (Competitive Christmas)

New to parenting at Christmas Time?

Want to know what is required of you in order to give the children their BEST Christmas ever?

Read on for my top 12 tips for a competitive Christmas.  These are the latest MUST HAVES for all parents at Christmas.

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Advent calendar

Ideally the purchase should be accompanied by a fanfare and should be talked about ad infinitum.  You must protest loudly about having to buy a chocolate advent. You are supposed to instill the spirit of Christmas and chocolate doesn’t say Christmas. (or does it?)

Letter to Father Christmas

Decision is whether this should be via NSPCC, Royal Mail or some other random company.  Or will you just pretend to post one because really you desperately need to rip it open to read the contents.  Bear in mind that  if you do the latter, you’d better find a good place to hide them before they discover the truth.

Pantomime

Oh yes you must!

Portable North Pole

Let’s not IMAGINE Father Christmas. Let’s actually see him, in the North Pole addressing us personally and showing us photos of ourselves for authenticity.  It will take you about an hour to make and be watched for approximately a minute and a half.

Elf on a Shelf

He’s keeping an eye on you (to feedback to Father Christmas or to murder you – no one can tell)

Buying the tree and decorating with colour matching decorations

If you are the families that do the full kit and kaboodle and buy a real tree, this has to be ceremoniously done AS A FAMILY.  Drag everyone, including the baby down to the ASDA carpark on a cold, wet evening and discuss the merits of the tree that is tall and has thicker branches at the top versus the small one that will actually fit in your house.

Woe betide you if you if you put it up too soon as well. Which is November for most and the first week in December for some.  Get that date right, folks.  For every day it’s put up too soon an elf gets drowned in a little frozen lake at the North Pole.

Father Christmas’ Wrapping Paper

This might be COMPLETELY different to any other wrapping paper you have otherwise small ones will cotton on that you had a hand in it.  This bit isn’t so difficult – it’s the hiding of the damn 1 metre high roll for the other 364 days of the year that’ll kill you.

Christmas eve night 1 Present rule

Family tradition or a case of just not having the patience anymore?  It’s literally 10 hours away people!

Christmas Eve pyjamas

By my calculations that means you’ll have 40 pairs by the time you are ….errr…40!

Milk, mince pies and a carrot

Keep the magic alive by instilling the concept of over feeding in your children. Father Christmas didn’t get to the hefty weight he’s at without re-fueling at EVERY house on his journey.

Reindeer Food

Your going to make it near impossible for Dasher, Prancer, Thingy and so and so to land unless you sprinkle a hefty amount of reindeer food* out on the front or back garden. You’ll need to ignore the fact that this directly contravenes any other rules, pictures or stories you may have led them to believe about Father Christmas and the reindeers landing on the roof.

*porridge oats and glitter

Footprints on the hearth

So apparently you can buy feet shaped stencils to shake icing sugar/talc over. Better still have it run the entire length of the house from the door to the bedroom. Nothing quite as exciting on Christmas morning than having to get the hoover out.

So you got all that?  Written it down?  You should be Christmassed out by about 10pm on Christmas Eve by my reckoning.

Merry Christmas!

Disclaimer:  I can neither confirm nor deny whether I do all, some or none of the above.

Disciplining Children

I had an interesting conversation on twitter on the weekend.  It was about discipline.

It started with a few tweets about the banning of THE BOOK. I won’t go into it here, but you can find out about it by visiting http://adadcalled.spen.wordpress.com .  It’s not a very nice book. It’s been about for quite a while, but not promoted, so when someone who actually gave a shit about the way children are treated saw it and read a few pages they quite rightly stepped up to the plate and started a campaign to have it removed from circulation.  Anyway, it’s all about corporal punishment for children.  As young as 4 months old.

It was nice watching us all come together on twitter.  A common ground, a group of parents that are probably old enough to remember when punishment of this kind was common practice.  Some of us were smacked (a lot) by our parents (I was even caned at school), but perhaps some remember stories their parents told of the way they were treated.  Nowadays, we know that systematic physical punishment of this kind isn’t good.  We know that even the occasional physical punishment isn’t great, but it does happen. 

I have never smacked my children, but I have come very very close.  I was raised in a smacking household.  My parents were quite a lot stricter than other parents and my mum lost her temper quite a bit (I’m afraid I do too).  When I was older I always remembered the look my mum gave when she was in a bad mood and how scary it was and I always thought, why didn’t she just do that? Why didn’t she raise her voice, tell me how disappointed she was with me.  It would have done the same thing.  She didn’t need to wallop me over the head.

Pickle was a challenging baby, but a delightful toddler. She was nearly 2 when she did something I had asked her 2 previous times not to do. She was only 2, she had probably forgotten I’d said it, but I was stressed about something else at the time and tired of repeating myself (oh, how I could have seem my life 3 years hence…it’s a daily ritual), and I rushed over to her with one raised hand ready to give a short sharp smack to the bottom.  She was watching television at the time, so to my absolute relief, she has no idea I nearly smacked her.  I literally had to force myself NOT to smack her.  So ingrained was that reaction.  My husband saw it, with horror.  We calmed down and talked about it. There’s been a few occasions since where I was tired, my brain wasn’t working, I couldn’t quickly come up with a solution to resolve the issue and my first thought was a smack.  Just a thought. The reminder of that near miss all that time ago, stops me.  I walk away, grab a few minutes to find a different solution.

I did “tap” my son’s leg once, whilst he was on a changing mat, whilst he was kicking me ferociously and ignoring my request to stop. I couldn’t leave him on it and he was too heavy to lift off and back on again.  The tap says it all really. It was a half-hearted reaction.  I know I’m not that kind of mother, or I don’t want to be.

So, what is that kind of mother.  Well, it’s the kind of mother that makes mistakes. That was raised in a household where smacking was the norm, who may have made her mind up early on in motherhood that she wouldn’t treat her children the way she was treated, but often finds herself in situations where she falls to the default.  This is especially noticeable if a child has been about to do something life threatening, like running on to a road. A friend of mine who is French, has smacked both her sons on separate occasions.  I wouldn’t have done it, but I wouldn’t judge her for it.  She is the product of her own convictions, her own upbringing,  she reacted in the heat of a serious moment.  She is a good mother.

I think we all want to live in a world where children are treated with respect, but who can be shaped to behave appropriately in certain situations.  I don’t want to see anyone smack anybody (least of all me) but I do need to discipline my children.  So I do.

I use the 3 and out rule.  On the last one, I usually count to 3.  That gets a response 9 out of 10 times.  If they are being very stubborn, then they get to have timeout on the step.  Both of them spent a fair bit of time between 2-3 yrs on the step. Pickle rarely goes  on it (maybe once in the last year) and The Monster used to be on it daily or several times a day, but we can go almost a week nowadays without using it.  He’s about to turn 3. That’s a success for me. 

I know that’s probably not far enough for some mothers.  They are confident in their beliefs that children do not need discipline.  That they will find their way in the world through guidance. I applaud you, I am intrigued (and will read up about it) and I hope that your way will produce well-rounded good citizens and if so, that your way will be “the way” in the next generation, but I can’t do that. 

Perhaps you have done a lot of research, met mother’s who have done it. Perhaps you are a 3rd generation of not experiencing physical punishment, the leapt isn’t so far for you.  The leap is too far for me.  When my son is walloping my daughter over the head with a wooden hammer, I have to do something, my daughter would be confused.  When my son is pushing someone elses son off the steps of the slide, I have to make a “thing” of it. It’s not fair on the other children or their parents. I can’t overcome that.  I have to find a way to tell my son that he shouldn’t be doing that.  I have few resources at my finger tips at that moment.

We all do what we can within the parameters of our personalities, genes and upbringings.  That’s all we can do. Strive to be better parents than the ones before and slowly find the right balance to raise good, resilient and respectful adults of the future.

 

 

Bridget’s Jones’s Diary – The Death of Mark Darcy

A TERRIBLE end to September

132lbs, alcohol units 0 (I’ve been unwell), Cigarettes 0 (I quit 14 years ago), Calories around 2000 (I really can’t be doing with calorie counting. Life is too short and food is far too yummy)

I have woken to the terrible news that Mark Darcy has been killed off.  Like many others that knew him well I did a *sad face* on twitter and mourned his death, the only way I know how.  By GETTING ON WITH MY DAY BECAUSE HIS A FICTICIOUS CHARACTER YOU NUMPTIES.

Everyone is up in arms. People have taken to social media to groan, grumble and ask Helen Fielding what the bloody hell she was thinking by killing off Darcy.  Yes he was eye candy in the films, yes he was quite a lovable character,  however, let’s look at the alternatives.bridget_joness_diary_ver1_xlg

Let’s say he wasn’t killed off.  Let’s say they were happily married living in the outskirts of London (I don’t know where they were living, I haven’t read the excerpts) and with two children, they are pretty darn busy.  Darcy is off a lot, doing his human rights thing and Bridget is perhaps having some hilarious school gate mishaps with other mums and dads, perhaps walking in to school with her skirt tucked in her knickers or saying something highly embarrassing at the PTA meeting.  I imagine she’s a good mum. An honest mum and probably a lot of fun.  She may also be doing a bit of part-time work, maybe a PA or perhaps she’s doing some cooking for her own catering company “Blue Soup”.

So. What kind of major storyline can we introduce at this point, a focus for the entire book. Something much BIGGER than fighting between two beau’s or a spell in a Thai Prison.  Can’t be too big, she’s got 2 children to care for.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything.  Sounds like a pretty mundane story to me.

However, let’s pull on the writer’s experience as a single mother. Let’s highlight the complications of that, that’s a good story to get across and in order to do that, let’s mix in the double whammy by having poor old Darcy cark it 5 years earlier.  Then the story isn’t about her mourning, her loss, but about how she has cared for her kids in the interim, overcome this sadness and then how she embarks on her new life with a new younger lover.

This kind of goes back to the heart of Bridget doesn’t it. Back to her self-esteem issues, constant panicking about wearing the right knickers and back to a story line that Helen Fielding can actually work with.

I think it was a great idea.  Who wants to do the happy ever after?  It’s a tad boring. This is a new adventure for Bridget and I for one am looking forward to reading it.

What the hell is Helen Fielding doing?  She’s writing a book that is sellable and readable and might actually be quite interesting. That’s what she is bloody doing.

 

Choosing a Primary School – A Warning

As October arrives, parents of children who are turning 4 between September 2013 and July 2014 will start thinking about researching, visiting and choosing a school for their child to start in September 2014.

I really wanted to get this post sent out during this critical time, because I need new parents to understand exactly what they need to look out for in a potential primary school and not have a knee jerk reaction to “markers” just because we are led to believe that these are what makes a school good.  Don’t be dazzled by numbers, especially at Primary School and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t discredit a school entirely based on an Ofsted.  This story may explain why.

Much like many of you when we moved house, we considered the schools.  We knew we had a couple of good primary schools very close to us, but when you’ve got a 2-year-old, the thought of doing in-depth research doesn’t cross your mind and you read a report on Ofsted, feel happy that it’s not a demon school, move and then do all the in-depth research when your child is 4. When it really matters.

We had a choice of 2 schools.  Both were given a “good”.  The one closest to us (walking distance) was “good” with “outstanding features”.  The other one looked bigger, but was also in higher demand because it was a feeder school to a much coveted secondary school in the area.  Most people chose that one, just for that reason. I think last year, the “feeder” system was removed, but you’d need to check that yourself.  Anyway, as we thought it was unlikely we would stay in the area long enough to use the secondary, it didn’t sway us.  We saw both schools as potential candidates and went to their open visits to walk around and meet the head and other teachers.

Bollocks, does it.

Bollocks, does it.

Both schools were lovely.  The one further away felt a little impersonal to us (but we visited on a strike day) and we didn’t much like the head.  They didn’t show us any outdoor areas other than that in Reception.  The one closest to us, had a very warm feel about it.  Maybe we were biased because we really wanted to be able to walk to school, who knows, but I did fall in love with the school. It reminded me of my school growing up. The reception classrooms were just lovely, the outdoor space was huge and the head teacher was a great, down to earth kind of guy.  I would have been happy in a school like that.  So, decision made.  We put that down as our first choice and Pickle got in.

Pickle LOVED her school. We loved the school.  On any one day the mix of students was perfect. Every nationality, religion, social demographic was there.  This was what we were looking for and Pickle made great friends with children who’s parent’s I also liked.

Then in April we had a bomb shell.  The school had an Ofsted inspection and went from being “good” with “outstanding features” to “Inadequate”.  That was the old “Special Measures”.  You know, the one where you imagined 12 year olds smoking around the back of the class room and teachers drunk in the staff room.  Where disorder reigns and results fail.  Except that WASN’T our school.  That couldn’t have been further from what our school was like!  The report was patchy about where it failed.  It mumbled on about not allowing students real application of their skills (physical learning).  It talked about children not being asked to come up and participate in learning, about not splitting by ability often enough.  A lack of maths focus.  That was it!  Reception was marked as Good with outstanding features.  Year 1-2 as “needing improvement” and the rest as “Inadequate”.  To us though, it didn’t feel inadequate at all!!

We obviously all got very very upset.  This was around the time new parents had received their notification of which school their 4 year olds would get into and I imagine there was a mass panic by parents at our Local Authority to reject the offer and go to the other school.  We all demanded answers, but we got a new Head in place (our old one, bless  him, had wanted to retire at Christmas but the governors had asked him to stay on. So he left in the wake of this!) and a promise that they’d turn it around.

Then we got the news the school was becoming an Academy.  More worry. More upset. More parents demanding what was going on.  Academies are bad, right?  They are run by owner’s of Carpet shops for money.  They don’t care about the kids?  So we researched into the cows came home. Decided we’d all rebel if the right academy owner wasn’t found.  Recent news, at the end of the summer term, was a well-respected local secondary school which had recently, voluntarily, become an academy was going to be our Sponsor.  We all heaved a sigh of relief.  Fingers crossed it all gets sorted by January as promised and we can get on with the job at hand, teaching our children.

I then stumbled upon this article this week.  Which was EXACTLY what we thought happened with our school but couldn’t prove. I don’t think there is any doubt that the pushing down of our Ofsted was because of the boroughs need to get its first primary school to become an Academy.  There are no outstanding primary school’s in our borough so I imagine they picked on one they thought they could manipulate, one that was due an Ofsted.  Read the article. It’s a real eye opener.

The point is.  Ofsted has changed A LOT in the last 5 years.  Whilst we all look for a way to be able to grade our primary schools and help us make decisions, I think they do us all a disservice by setting a criteria (a moveable criteria) that immediately segregates our local schools based on what the government thinks is flavour of the month.  Yes, we want to make sure the curriculum is stuck to. Yes, we want good marks, but the criteria has become so narrow, our schools have no choice but to teach to the dot….oh no hang on. As long as they appear to teach to the dot on the day of the inspection.  Yes, no guarantee it actually happens every day.  An inspection can be 1-3 days long.  Wonder how many schools have a special “Ofsted Teaching Plan”.  How the hell can that be a sign of a good school?

I guess the big advantage for us, about to become an Academy, is that strict structure gets done away with, but it was still a really rubbish time. A time of uncertainty that made your realise one very important fact when you are choosing a school.  Your school cannot be EXACTLY like the last Ofsted (especially as they are done every 3 years). Things change.  Head teachers move on.  Teachers leave, new ones come.  Standards rise or fall.  It’s a moving organism.  You can NEVER guarantee that the school that is “good” will stay good whilst you are there.  You have to LOVE that school for all of it’s parts and be prepared to stick with it.  If you’re local school doesn’t have a good Ofsted, find out why.  Meet the head. Ask what is being done. That will be the biggest mark of how good your school is.  Drill down.  It probably isn’t a bad school at all.  Things may change. That school may become “good” even “outstanding” at a time your child is in Year 5 or 6 and the school you chose over it, could drop down, right when you need it to be there for you.

All I’m saying, is please don’t judge a school by its Ofsted.  Ofsted can be a load of baloney!

 

 

Sense of Entitlement

I started following someone on Twitter. To be fair, their bio said they were grumpy but they liked a bit of a gardening and I like that, so I thought I’d give it a go.Money

Within 3 tweets I’d already decided I had made a mistake following them and it was all about a guardian article that told the story of several different families and how they pay pocket-money.  How much, how often, for any reason and whether the child in question has to use it to buy things like their own clothes etc..  The reason I got annoyed is because they expressed their disgust at the amount of money these children were getting.  Annoyed that one couple were talking about the cost of their nanny.  Angry that one 18-year-old had been upset that his mother had used his child allowance to help herself out of financial issues, despite giving him a generous pocket-money allowance.

Now, the tweeter in question was well within his rights to be pissed off.  He is perfectly entitled to his own opinion.  Unfortunately I am well within my rights to get annoyed about that opinion, because it happens to be an area that I get quite het up about.

Why does everyone get annoyed about people who just happen to be born into, work hard for or come into money?  Does undermining people in privileged financial positions make those that don’t feel better about themselves?  When I see it, I just feel bad for those doing the undermining.  Why so bitter?

I get that a lot of people feel that they have had the rough end of the stick.  Raised badly, poor education, mixed with the wrong crowd, have a lot of bad luck.  There isn’t a lot you can do about the earlier issues, but I do think that the thinking that you are bad luck, and the negativity to others who seem to get good luck, is actually part of the problem.  The difference is that those that appear to have good luck often just have a positive outlook and therefore recognise opportunities for the taking. They don’t sit about moaning about what they don’t have.

I have many people on Twitter I follow that have so little money, they really do wait for the next pay check, put things on eBay to get the money to pay for something else and generally scrimp and save and buy second-hand. They are happy with their lot, they wish they had more, but they accept that this is where they are right now and focus on what is important.  I also follow people who have a lot more money. Doctors, Lawyers, wives and husbands who’s spouses earn a tonne.  They also have their own spending issues. Different ones, granted, but they often live in bigger, more expensive houses, in more expensive areas and then insure everything up to the hilt because they do know they are lucky and one day, something may happen and that income will be gone.  You can’t really compare them, however, each end of the spectrum have their own social circle, their own social expectations, their own moral compass, but they get on with it. Nobody begrudging anyone for their chances in life.

So I guess I get a little annoyed when people who don’t earn that much get annoyed at people who do.  Like, given the chance, they wouldn’t do EXACTLY THE SAME.  People moaning that doctors and bankers hire a yacht for a week in the south of France. “What a waste of money” “How dare they”.  Geez.  Give me their income and I’d do exactly the same.  I’ll spend £5000 on a handbag if I earnt £250,000.  Right now, though, more than £50 on a handbag would have to be carefully thought out.

However, I’ve never been dirt poor. I was never raised in a council house (although many of these high earners do start here – Caitlin Moran for one) but my parents were extremely careful with their one, modest income and hit a lot of lows in their financial situation.  I even recall my mum saying she “lost” an engagement ring for 10 years in order to claim insurance to pay the mortgage.  My dad had been in an industrial accident and couldn’t work and there was no worker’s compensation back then.  My mum was never happy with her lot.  She talked a lot about our families’ bad luck.  If I thought about it too much, I’d agree. Until I met 1000 other people and discovered EVERYONE has shit happen to them. It’s just the way you view it.

When I came to the UK I lived in a bed sit. I paid £70 a week for 1 room. I worked as a data entry clerk whilst I tried my luck at acting. I earnt £600 a month. I worked bloody hard, I put in as many hours as I could, I worked Saturdays, I gave a good impression, I looked interested I was promoted.  From that one lowly, badly paid job I gained the experience over 8 years to apply for my current position and ever since I have built on my learnings. I earn a decent salary now. My husband who earnt less than me as an actor for many years has managed to build up a corporate portfolio that has helped us out. It’s not always what he loves, but sometimes it’s not about that.

If the old “bed sit” me had seen the “18 years later” me, she’d probably be a bit dismayed that balance between incoming and outgoing hasn’t really changed. It’s on a higher scale, but it’s still there. I’m not struggling to pay my rent or eating beans 3 days in a row anymore, but I’m trying to do the right thing by me and my family.  And bloody hell, I’ve worked darn hard to have the dilemma over whether I can afford to get a cleaner. Why the bleedin’ hell should I feel guilty for that.

In my group of friend’s we are the least well off and it’s taken me a while, but I’m cool with that. We are very very lucky and I’m going to endeavour to focus on what I have and not what I don’t have.  I don’t need to put other people down to make myself feel better.  Do you?