Can I let you in on a secret? Aside from having to pop a watermelon sized baby out of my vajayjay soon enough, my big fear is breastfeeding. It’s not been a success for me over the years. At.all.
We talk a lot of breastfeeding shaming that goes on, but I can tell you there’s almost an equal amount of bottle feeding shame that one endures. Because apparently when you bottle feed your child, you’re practically murdering them. They’re going to grow up to be illiterate sociopaths via the bottle. Think of the children! Shove a boob in their mouth for crying out loud!
I did. I really, really did. And I could not feed my children fully. With my first, she was premmie, and didn’t have a sucking reflex developed. It was a hard slog. I tried it all- with every lactation consultant under the sun helping. I vividly remember one day sitting in the feeding room of the special care nursery- one boob stuck to a pump, the other one being squeezed to within an inch of it’s life by a nurse- trying desperately to get milk supply happening.
We had a new chapter in our household last week. One that sends many a parent running for the hills. Or at least me. Right now. Sans wine. Man I miss that stuff.
“Hey Mummy and Daddy. Guess what? I’ve got a boyfriend”
Say wha?? It’s that toe-curling moment you freak out about as a parent. When those words are uttered from your cherubs mouth.
I may have nearly snorted my tea. My husband may have snapped his head around in shock a little too quickly that required a heat pack. He’s getting on, the poor sod. Just No. Not now. Please. NOT NOW. I NEED LEAD IN TIME. AND WINE.
“Who-is-this-boyfriend-when-did-this-happen-what??” were the jumble of words that flowed from us in unison.
“It’s a secret” she giggled.
“From who?” we questioned
I had to bite my lip to stifle a giggle. And also a sigh of relief. Boyfriends that don’t know they’re boyfriends are a-ok in my book for a 5 year old. Can we keep it like that until uhhhhh… let’s say, 30? That will be good for Mum and Dad. Thanks.
But like our scare with ‘the talk’, the time is soon going to come where we need to talk boyfriends (or girlfriends. We don’t discriminate around these parts!). And it’s better out in the open, right? Maybe? Kinda? Or we just don’t let it happen. EVAH.
So, looks like another bambino is joining our crew. We’re pretty rad, I can understand why this little one busted through and wanted in. But. THREE.
In a quest to prepare for life being ‘outnumbered’ (Eeek! Gasp!), I of course turned to Google. Like any rational person does. Because. Oracle of knowledge on EVERYTHING and all. And do you know what I found?
Fear. I found fear.
All I could read about was ‘how much three is a big change’ and ‘three will ruin your life’ and ‘three makes for the unhappiest parents’ and ‘three outnumber you’ and ‘you’ll be stressed’ ‘you’ll be miserable’, ‘you’ll struggle’ ‘you don’t have enough hands’. Well, I’m feeling pumped now. You?
We’re getting to the end of our Monster Series. We’ve seen enough of these suckers to last us a while now I think, yes? This one critter today though is a particularly tough one, and tends to recruit all the other monsters we’ve discussed previously. That’s how sneaky this bastard is. Please meet the Learning Monster.
Ahhhh the old Silly Monster. A crowd favourite with kids, an arch nemesis of parents and adults alike. What is the silly monster? Is it what happens to Mummy when she’s had one too many wines and thinks that singing karaoke and staying out partying until 5am is a good idea? Not quite. That’s a monster of a different kind I think (hello alco monster, I hope to meet you again in a matter of months….).
For kids, the Silly Monster represents that little part of us that can get a little too active sometimes. At the wrong time. Not understanding personal boundaries, not picking up those subtle cues that people might be getting a bit put out. Getting so excited our little brains get a bit scrambled and we can’t really put our impulse control or regulation skills into place. It’s not that we don’t know what to do, but the act of putting it into practice can get short-circuited by this Silly Monster. Sometimes the Silly Monster is just a by-product of excitement, or over-tiredness, or sometimes it can be a symptom of something bigger. Anxiety, ASD, ADHD can all feature the Silly Monster.
There are so many monsters lurking around, isn’t there? We’ve looked at the worry monster, we’ve looked at the sad monster and we’ve seen what little bastards they can be. But what about the angry monster? What’s the deal there?
The angry monster is a little different to it’s previously mentioned cousins. The angry monster can pop into any kind of difficulty a child is having. It’s not necessarily a ‘disorder’, but the angry monster is a main player on the kidlet scene. The angry monster can mean bigger things, like anxiety, depression, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), or it may just be a function of testing boundaries and learning their place. It’s a tricky minx, the old angry monster.
So what does an angry monster look like? Prickly, loud, breathing fire maybe? Possibly. Seething, quiet and contained? Could be. Our angry monsters can look different depending on the situation we’re in, and depending on our personalities.
The angry monster can be hard for parents to negotiate. And even harder for kids to manage. It’s tough. But it’s not impossible! It’s really about helping kids to understand what’s going on for them, what the angry monster is, and why it might be popping up at this time.
The biggest message to share with our kids about the angry monster is that anger is normal! Anger is common and we all feel it. What’s not ok though is when we let our anger get the better of us and it takes over. Normally the angry monster is at the surface, while another monster bubbles below. So when we explain the angry monster to kids we need to be able to let them know they are allowed to feel angry, but letting the angry monster make them aggressive is something else entirely.
How do we explain the angry monster? Try a little something like this:
Let’s have a look at what’s been going on for you lately. Seems like things have been pretty tough. Maybe you’ve had a visit from the angry monster, do you know much about the angry monster? Well, it’s a monster who can get really annoying and LOUD. And when an angry monster gets loud, it can make us loud. Yelling, screaming, stamping and stomping. So much noise! That’s the work of the angry monster. They hit our bodies, our minds and our actions. They do things like make our fists clench, grind our teeth, get all our muscles tight. They can make our cheeks feel hot, our eyebrows frown. The angry monster is tricky like that. And then when our bodies are all tight, they start telling us all sorts of things, like “it’s not fair”, or “I want that toy!” or “they can’t do that to me”. If you think things like that, how do you think you’ll be feeling? Pretty darn angry! Aha- the angry monster is working! So when we think angry, we feel angry. And when we feel angry, sometimes it can come out in not-so-nice behaviours. We can get aggressive- hitting, throwing, yelling, breaking things. Sometimes we can get so aggressive we can hurt others. And that never feels good, for anyone. Before we know it, our angry monster has us all twisted up, and we don’t know how to get out of it! Why does the angry monster visit? Well there can be many reasons. We can find something unfair, we can feel like we’ve been hurt by others, we can actually be scared or sad about something, and it feels so yuck the only way we feel like we can get it out is by letting the angry monster take over. So we need to be detectives, get to the bottom of why the angry monster is visiting us, and learn ways to shrink the monster down so we can shine again.
Sadly with anger, we inadvertently paint it out to be a bad thing, and something we need to hide away and not express. Anger is a valid emotion, and both ourselves and our kids are allowed to feel it. It’s all about how we deal with it that’s the issue though, and what we want to upskill our kids on. With kids, particularly younger ones, anger is the go-to emotion when they’re struggling to understand or express what’s going on for them. So it’s always helpful to try and educate them on anger, and get them to understand what is happening, and why they might be acting in such a way. A lot of the time, once we can see what’s going on, our anger tends to simmer down.
Got concerns your cherub’s anger is over and above what is appropriate for their age? Chat to your GP. More complex issues like Oppositional Defiant Disorder do exist, but the prevalence rates range from 2% to 10% (Maughan et al., 2004; Costello et al., 2003. Source). Some sessions with a psych might help give you some tricks, and enable further support for your child.
One resource that is great for explaining anger is the book “Mad isn’t Bad” . And all the cute series of “When I’m feeling…” are really useful too. You can often pick them up from Kmart. For children with Aspergers, a fantastic book to help them understand is “The Red Beast”. And if you’re stuck on how to deal with misbehaviour (because we’re all about the anger being ok, the aggressive behaviour is not though) here’s some strategies on disciplining kids that we’ve looked at before. But truly it’s about helping your child uncover what is driving the anger. And not having them beat themselves up for it. That’s what we have monsters for!
How’s your anger monster travelling? Are you all over it, or does your angry monster get the better of you sometimes? I tell you, without my wine, my angry monster has a little too much spunk. Must remedy that. In a few months.
Next up in our monster series is the very good friend of our little (or not so little) worry monster, the sad monster.
Sad monsters are pretty common, although while it’s easy to spot in adults, it can be really tricky to spot in kids. And for poor cherubs, an attack of the sad monster can be the absolute worst. It’s a serious issue that we need to address sooner rather than later. In the past we thought that children couldn’t get depressed. I mean, really, what’s there to be sad about when the biggest decision you need to make in a day is whether to eat from the blue plate or the yellow plate, right? Sadly not quite. Although it is less common in younger children than it is in adolescents, there are some studies that propose that 4% of preschool children show symptoms of depression and 10% of children aged 6-12 years deal with persistent feelings of depression, and 2% of those children go on to develop serious depression. Once you hit the age of 12, the stats rise, until you get to 16 and depression is now one of the leading causes of death in young people. Horrific to think, isn’t it? (See info here and here). It can even impact babies if they’re not given enough nurturing contact and develop a positive attachment. Babies can become apathetic, unresponsive, suffer from failure to thrive. All through depression. Not cool.
Monsters. They’re little fuckers. They tend to be upsetting across the board. From storybooks, to hiding under beds, to jumping out of cupboards, it’s hard to find a good one these days. They can even follow us into adulthood.
We all have monsters. For most of us, our monsters are pretty tame, they’re small and occasionally flare up, but mainly we’re in control of them. But sometimes our monsters get big. Like, really big. So big that they block our ears and cover our eyes. They jump up and down like a toddler denied the last chocolate biscuit in the pack. They suck balls when they get that big. And they can have a huge impact in our lives
It’s insidious. Akin to dragging nails down a blackboard. You feel all the feels: confused, annoyed, unsure, sad, worried, amused. It can hit you anywhere, anytime. Mainly in public or when you have company though. That’s when you’re vulnerability is exposed. And all you can do is smile through gritted teeth and use your ‘nice but firm voice’. Is it leprosy? Nuclear warfare? Food shortage? No. It’s worse. So, so much worse…….
It renders even the toughest of us defenceless. Particularly when it’s children doing the selective hearing. How do you manage a little human who can hear you, but won’t hear you all at the same time? You can be CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, but you can’t manage selective hearing. Dominate others in your chosen career, but are nothing more than a helpless sap to a toddler. The struggle is real.
Ok, I’m calling it. This working mum vs Stay at home mum stuff is bullshit. I’m so sick of seeing lists and ideas pitting one against the other. It doesn’t help any of us. Or dads for that matter. You don’t see them copping this kind of shit. Let’s think about the psychological upheaval having kids does to one’s mind. It’s crazy. One day you feel in control, next you feel like you’re not cut out for it. One day you feel so grateful and blessed to be in the position you’re in, the next you feel ready to tear your hair out with the mundane and the Groundhog day. BOTH working mums and stay at home mums feel this. Doesn’t matter the location, doesn’t matter where the kids are. This is an intrinsic thing within us all. So let’s clear a few things up:
No, working mums don’t get to enjoy coffees in peace. Because often they are running around so madly trying to cram in so much extra work into a shorter time frame so they can get out the door to get to their kids. They too suffer from the cold cup syndrome.
No, stay at home mums don’t lounge on the couch eating bon bons and go have fun coffee chats and playdates every day. It’s a grind. A big grind. Of cooking, cleaning, keeping kids alive, running errands, keeping everything in line. There’s no let up.
There’s been a ton of these articles getting around late, espousing what not to say to a working mum, or what you should never say to a stay at home mum. For fucks sake. Let’s just stop it all now, shall we? We are our own worst enemies sometimes, perpetuating this division. So I propose let’s make a list- 5 things you should never say to a Mum. That’s it. A MUM. With no caveat about being at home or at work. Because that is irrelevant. Or you know, we could even stretch out on a limb and say things you should never say to a Dad. Ooooh errrr… taboo!
Don’t ask a Mum what she does all day. Whether that be ‘lounging at work’ or ‘lounging at home’. Mums are freaking busy. No matter where or what they do, they are busy. There is no let up. The job just continues around the clock. Whether it be working outside the home and then rushing home to work in the home, and then having to take outside work home with them. Or whether it’s working in the home, from 6am until 10pm. We ALL work non-stop.
Don’t tell a Mum she looks tired. No shit. She will be tired. Whether she’s at home all day (no she doesn’t get to have a rest) or whether she’s at work all day (no she can’t use her lunch break to rest. Because often she doesn’t get a lunch break), she’s going to be tired.
Don’t say to a Mum “I don’t know how you do it” Whether working, or choosing not to work, coping can be tough either way. Being at work for a lot is a necessity. How do they cope being away from their kids? They do it bloody tough. Even when women work because they need that for themselves, they still don’t escape that feeling of sadness and guilt at missing their children. Being at home is also a tough gig. Giving up a career, walking away from a job which gave satisfaction and an income? That too brings its own guilt at times.
Don’t bring up choosing career over kids, or choosing kids over career. Either way the decision is a hard one. And often not done flippantly.
Never ask “don’t you feel like you’re missing something” Erm. No. No no no no no. Working mums ARE missing their kids and stay at home mums ARE missing that previous career. For the most part. There are some working mums who feel like they’ve got the best deal, and there are some stay at home mums who feel like they’ve got the best deal.
We all come from different walks of life, with different values and different priorities. But no matter what our own values and ideas are, you know something? All of us are just trying to do our best for our kids. If we feel that’s us going out and working, then we’re out there doing it. If we feel that’s us being at home, then we’re doing it. Can we just cut ourselves some slack here? One type of mum is no more superior than the other, our kids are going to thrive regardless of our decision to work or stay home. Wanna know why? Because whatever we’re doing, we’re doing for THEM. And they know it. They don’t know any different- they see us working in the home and out of the home. It’s about quality, not quantity. And ensuring they know they’re loved, they feel secure and safe and they’re happy. That’s it. Happiness comes in many forms.
For all the studies that show children are better off with a parent at home, you’ll find an equal amount of studies showing children thrive when parents work. Research is a ridiculous thing. You can skew data to show you almost anything you want it to. Don’t be fooled by ‘scientific’ studies and ‘experts’. Truly. It’s all smoke and mirrors. There are often many caveats in their research and when it comes to human functioning there is no precise, hard and fast rule. What works for one might not work for another.
So what does it come down to? Respect. Simple really. Respect for others’ choices, or necessities. Respect that others’ situations work for them, and we have no right to go raining on their parade. And where do we think our kids learn respect from? If we can’t show it to other Mums, what hope do our kids have?