In terms of child development, the differences between boys and girls are far outweighed by their similarities. All children basically have the same needs regardless of their gender. And yet “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” is almost always the first piece of information we give (or ask for) about a newborn baby. Socially, gender is a very important fact.
There are different schools of thought as to whether gender differences are hardwired into babies’ brains or are a product of social conditioning. In reality, it’s almost impossible to disentangle whether differences between boys and girls are biological or social because, right from birth, adults treat boys and girls differently. Continue reading →
Books are a great tool for preparing toddlers for new babies. There is so much about babies that toddlers can’t anticipate and sustaining a sensible focused conversation with a toddler is never easy. So that precious time when you are snuggling up for a good story is a wonderful opportunity to introduce new ideas and prompt conversations about feelings and upcoming changes (see tips on Preparing your child for a new baby).
Whether you are just about to tell your toddler there is a baby on the way or have already welcomed your new bundle of joy, these are my personal recommendations of books that help young children cope with the arrival of a sibling. But be warned, talking to toddlers about new babies can throw up some probing questions about how the baby got into Mummy’s tummy in the first place – so you might also want to check out these Top 10 Books for talking to children about sex too! Continue reading →
Over the years, I have come across some absolutely brilliant time- and face-saving parenting hacks for working parents (not all of which I could repeat or recommend).
When it comes to working parents, one of the key issues is always going to be time – lack of it, how to spend it wisely and trying to be in the right place at the right time. Often it can feel like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for the things you want to fit in. So ideas that help working parents save time and achieve their goals (have their cake and eat it!) are always worth sharing.
Here is a selection of top parenting hacks for working parents (by working parents!) to help you maximise quality family time, keep up appearances (without putting in the hours), and maintain good relationships but still get to work on time…. Continue reading →
Recent research published in the New Scientist suggests that there is no such thing as ‘baby brain’. It seems that the muddled-headed forgetfulness that women often report during pregnancy and after having children has no foundation in neuroscience.
According to this latest research, there are some slight temporary effects on women’s brains during late pregnancy and in the immediate post-partum period. Lab tests (which I am hoping refers to questions and answers undertaken on appropriately comfy chairs with frequent loo breaks and not to rooms full of heavily pregnant women with wires coming out of their heads!) reveal a slight temporary dip in women’s verbal memory during the third trimester of pregnancy.
For a short time, this makes it just a little harder to recall lists or string complex sentences together. This might explain a woman at 8 months’ pregnant momentarily forgetting her own date of birth, for example (to use a personal experience).
Other than that, being pregnant or recently having given birth has no demonstrable impact – positive or negative – on a woman’s cognitive abilities.
So why do I find myself simultaneously annoyed and delighted by these new findings? Continue reading →
For me, becoming a mother was like being hit by a bus. I knew there was a baby coming and that babies were full-on and hard work but I was not expecting the complete shift in my identity that I actually experienced. I didn’t see it coming.
I was in my thirties by the time I had my first baby and I had lived a wide and adventurous life. The baby was conceived while I was living in Mongolia, a place where life and death come and go daily in a nomadic life too focused on the basics of food, fuel and water to get introspective about identity. I waddled back to the UK at 34 weeks feeling like a cow about to calve, more concerned about how I would fit all the baby kit into my suitcase to take back to Ulanbaatar than about how becoming a mother might change me.
And then the bus hit me. It turns out, babies aren’t just a practical undertaking after all. Continue reading →
When it comes to children, no two parents in the history of this planet have ever had exactly the same approach to parenting. This is hardly surprising since co-parents have (by law!) grown up in different families and have had different experiences of being parented. Parenting style is seldom the critical factor in deciding who we fall in love with – and many of us are attracted to our opposites. So when parents disagree about parenting (to some degree or another), it’s just par for the course.
Having delivered parenting courses for many years now, it is a rare workshop where I don’t hear the words “The problem is my husband/wife/ex-partner/mother-in-law. How can I get him/her to parent differently?” When parents disagree about the right way to bring up children, it is invariably the other person who is doing it wrong!
Telling someone they are parenting all wrong is a conversation that is unlikely to go well. And since there isn’t only one correct way to parent, it will invariably provoke confrontation and negative emotions rather than constructive problem solving. But when parents disagree about parenting, there are ways to talk about the issues in a more helpful way. Here are a few tips to help keep parenting discussions child-centred and positive. Continue reading →
Working mums often ask me “What’s the ideal number of hours to work if you want to be a good parent?” It is, of course, an impossible question and – like most coaches – I usually counter it with a question of my own (such as “How do you feel about the number of hours you work at the moment?” or “How would you define a good parent?“). The truth is that there is very little hard evidence with which to tackle that question objectively.
There’s definitely research that demonstrates that working mums are good for their children in certain regards (particularly daughters and particularly where lack of money would otherwise tip the family into poverty). Comparisons between the children of working mums and stay at home mums show no consistent evidence that one is better for children than the other overall – though there is emerging evidence that part-time working mums can bestow some benefits above either of the full time extremes. Continue reading →
Talking to children about bodies and bits and how they fit together isn’t always easy. The earlier you start and the more relaxed you are about it, the easier it will be (see Talking to children about sex, bodies and relationships). The hardest bit is getting started. Luckily, there are some great books for teaching children about sex, bodies and families, which can make launching into those conversations much easier. There’s no need to buy them – your local library will have lots of books for teaching children about sex (and that way you can check them out and find exactly the right one for your family).
To help you along, here’s my top ten list of the best books for teaching children about sex, puberty and relationships (and other things we don’t like talking about). Continue reading →
A new baby means big changes for the whole family. Second (or third) time around, you’ve got a pretty good idea what’s coming. But your toddler has no idea what’s about to hit them and there’s a good chance they won’t particularly like it when it happens. A new baby means lots of things toddlers don’t like: sharing toys, sharing the limelight, sharing mummy, well, sharing in general!
It’s not uncommon for toddlers to have confused reactions to the arrival of a new sibling – one minute being the perfect big brother or sister, then angry, jealous or aggressive, or even self-harming. My eldest son reacted to his brother’s arrival by banging his head – hard – against walls, the floor, people, sometimes hard enough to cause a bruise. It was very distressing (though thankfully passed quickly) and I will always be grateful to the lovely mum who came up to me in the pub garden and told me not to worry, her son had done the same thing.
There’s no guarantees that things will go smoothly, but preparing your child in advance for the new baby’s arrival should help to get things off to a good start. Continue reading →
Everyone experiences becoming a mother differently. For me, it was a bit like being hit by a bus. Of course, I knew there was a baby coming and that babies were hard work but in terms of the fundamental irreversible impact on my sense of identity, I just didn’t see that coming. For the first two months I sleepwalked in a post-traumatic haze: I was a mother who hadn’t yet become a mother and I was utterly conflicted. I couldn’t let go of the pre-birth me (the person I had invested 30 years into becoming) but I couldn’t see how to be that me in the face of the sheer scale of demands and love that had arrived with my new baby.
Life After Birth by Kate Figes was the catalyst that eased me through the transition to
motherhood. Or, as I melodramatically announced in my sleep-deprived haze, “This book saved my life.” Continue reading →
The basic premise for Sue Gerhardt’s book Why Love Matters is simple: the way that mothers respond to their babies during infancy influences how their brains develop. On the face of it, it’s a no-brainer. So why did I find it such a deeply uncomfortable and annoying read as both a parent and a professional?
Despite the erudite academic stance, Gerhardt’s argument is utterly reductionist – parents are to blame for all the ills of their children all the way into adulthood (behaviour, mental health and even cancer) and that if we get it wrong in the brief window when our kids are babies then, basically, they are doomed. What’s more, mothers start getting it wrong before their children are even born by providing the wrong in utero environment. The complex interplay of factors that affect the growing child after their first birthday is pretty much dismissed as irrelevant: if we have got it wrong in infancy then their only hope is many years of psychotherapy as adults. Continue reading →
My house has gone really quiet and I don’t know what to do with myself. Aside from brief forays for food and toileting, the kids have retreated from the rest of the house and taken up residence in their bedrooms.
It’s my own fault. This Christmas I caved in and set the boys up with the wherewithal to watch DVDs in their rooms. Even as I write that I feel the need to justify it – we have very strict parameters on completion of homework and eating together and both boys participate in heaps of sport and, after all, teens need their space and they promised me they wouldn’t retreat to their bedrooms! I firmly maintain it is the complete box set of Friends that my brother gave them for Christmas that is the real root of the problem.
A lot of attention is paid to the process by which mothers bond with their babies, but not so much on how we are supposed to unbond at the other end of childhood. Continue reading →
I want to write about my love for my children, but I’m not sure I am up to it. Romantic love, religious love, even love of one’s country are common subjects for verse (good and bad), so how hard can it be to describe how I feel about my kids?
We all love our children, right? Surely there’s nothing else to say on the matter. But when you stop and think about it, what does that love actually feel like and how do we express it?
More often than not I know I love my children because of the other emotions I feel: a chest full of pride when they succeed or excel, a rush of fear when they aren’t there in the place I expected them to be, a nagging anxiety when things just don’t seem quite right, or a surge of anger that shakes me like the primeval roar of a lioness when something threatens them. If I search my day for love, I find mainly proxies: joy, guilt, annoyance, hope. Continue reading →
I am troubled by children and sleep. This is nothing to do with my own children: we are thankfully long past the years of night crying. (I am now awoken most nights by a toilet door banged by a half-asleep teenager who has not got used to the length or strength of his limbs since his last growth spurt. But that’s another story.)
I am troubled by children and sleep because I made the mistake of reading a book on the subject by a parenting expert with a very fixed moral stance on how parents should respond to bedtime problems. That led in turn to some internet digging on the advice peddled to parents in regards to children and sleep training.
It is clear that there is a strong backlash against ‘sleep training’. Changes in fashion in parenting advice are common, as with all walks of life, but what alarms me about this one is the vitriol. Parents who would even consider (let alone attempt) a sleep training strategy that involves leaving a child to cry are dismissed as cruel, heartless, selfish and neglectful (with accompanying images of Romanian orphanages). Continue reading →
Writing about parenting is a bit of a minefield, liable to set off strong emotions at unexpected moments. Having resolved to start a blog, I was completely flummoxed by what to call it. A good title should set the scene, the tone, the direction – all packaged up in a Google-friendly phrase. Great if you know in advance where you’re going, but a little trickier when taking the fluid approach…
I first settled on the idea ‘Growing Up’. For me, being a parent has been (and still is) a huge part of my own growing up journey and one that feels far from completed. It also seems to capture that very basic parental mission to ‘grow up’ our children into adulthood, whilst recognising that this isn’t always an active or controlled endeavour but sometimes just a case of hanging on for dear life while the kids grow up anyway. But in the end, that seemed like too much meaning for one phrase to carry.
After skating around a lot of daft synonyms, I realised that I was contorting myself and the English language to avoid one particular word: ‘parenting’. The truth is, I have a very ambivalent relationship with that word (an odd confession, I know, from a parenting coach!). Labelling this huge rollercoaster journey in a single word suggests that it is knowable, explainable, teachable. Add an adjective and you have an instant ideology and a whole heap of rules and blame to boot: Attachment Parenting, Gentle Parenting, Liberal Parenting…..
Yet the love we feel for our children and the lived relationship we have with them feels anything but knowable or explainable to me. Continue reading →