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LIKE Aunt Annie on Facebook

LIKE Aunt Annie on Facebook

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The importance of water play: get that cotton wool wet!!!

It's absolutely bucketing down here.  Sorry about the blurry picture- that's water on the lens. And that bit that looks like a river leading to the dam- um, that's actually the lawn. It's coming down faster than it can flow away, and has been for three days now.

Where I live, this isn't unusual- I live in a wetland area, and we get flooded in at least once a year. To survive in a place like this, you really need to understand water and have respect for its power, or you'll find yourself doing stupid and dangerous things like swimming in floodwater, or driving through floodwater, or underestimating the power of a current.

There's a bridge near my house where a young man drowned some years ago, because he had no respect for the power of water. His car was washed off the bridge during a flood because he didn't understand that the water didn't care that he wanted to get where he was going, and it would always win a directional battle against a car. That car just bobbed up like a toy boat, and over the rail it went.

I didn't think twice about that aspect of things when I moved here, because I was brought up with a healthy respect for the power of water from early childhood. I know quite a lot about water, really, and it all stems from the way I was allowed to play with it when I was a child. I love water- but I also fear it, in a very rational way.

And as I stood in the bucketing rain today with a shovel, clearing channels so the water could run away instead of being trapped where it'll kill the grass my animals need to survive, I thought about how some children won't be allowed to play with water because of parental fear, or because of lack of opportunity in an increasingly over-regulated environment. And I thought, that's worse than sad; that's actually dangerous.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A jug of wine and thou, in the wilderness of parenting

I have to tell you a story which has absolutely nothing to do with childcare. Please, bear with me. I will wind it around to childcare eventually. (You know I always do, in the end.)

When I first came to this neighbourhood (alone) I knew NOBODY. I was invited to a few people's houses, was offered a glass of wine the moment I stepped through the door, and then looked at as though I was an alien life form with green fangs dripping slime when I politely declined.

Now, I must point out that when I was a young married woman I used to drink wine-  quite a lot of wine, actually- but when I got pregnant, my body suddenly decided that wine and I were mortal enemies; if I drank a single half-glass of any white and most red wines, I would immediately discover that I'd been stabbed in the back with a red-hot poker, and would retire to the smallest room in the house to writhe in agony for half an hour or so.

It's an unpleasant sensation. I try to avoid it.

Fallback position for the hostess was always to offer me a beer, but I just don't like the taste. And out here, that's usually the end of the drinks menu. It got a bit embarrassing after a while.

Well, I got through those first few visits drinking water and making an early exit. Obviously I wasn't quite fitting in, and my inability to share a glass of wine with the women was part of the problem; they probably assumed I was a prig, or judging them for their Bacchanalian enjoyment. But I hadn't had it really brought home to me how vital alcohol can be as a form of female 'social currency' until I revisited one of the houses where I'd been looked on as somewhat difficult for refusing a wine, despite my explanation.

Rather than put the hostess back into Awkward City by refusing a drink altogether, this time I'd brought my own premix G and T (yes, that's right folks, I'm a spirits lady these days and I do enjoy a drink), and I waved it at her gaily as I arrived. She immediately looked relieved.

"Oh, you drink spirits! Thank goodness!" she bubbled. "If you didn't drink, I couldn't see how we could be friends."

I suppose I should give her points for honesty, though her reaction effectively put a line through her number in my little black book. I've experienced lesser degrees of that reaction so many times, due to my wine intolerance, that it's made me think pretty deeply about the role of drinking in our culture- particularly in Australia. It seems that many people are completely nonplussed by someone who doesn't trade in the accepted social currency of alcohol, to the point where non-drinkers make them deeply uncomfortable. We don't give our society's drinking norms a second thought, really, until someone bucks the system or falls off the edge.

So how does that aspect of our culture fit in with parenting? (There, you knew I'd get to it.)

In the interests of full disclosure, and in case you think I'm about to launch into a guilt-trip alcophobic diatribe (yes I made that word up), I'm writing this with a neat bourbon in my hand. It's generous, but it's the first and last of the night.

In the interests of full disclosure, I spent 17 years of my life co-parenting with a drunk, and I really, really regret that. I wish I could find a way to use that for good.

In the interests of full disclosure, I'm currently writing a book which deals in part with the destruction that parental alcohol abuse wreaked on the childhood of one of my dearest friends.

Do you parents out there dare come on a trip with me through the stages of drinking, from relaxation to degradation?

Monday, January 16, 2012

When your daughter thinks she's fat

I'm guessing a lot of you have read this post, which has been circulating on facebook: 

I read it too, and I've been mulling over the issue of little girls thinking they're 'fat' (!) ever since. That mum ended up dancing proudly naked in front of the mirror with her daughter (and good on her!!). But maybe that's not what's going to help everyone. (Personally, I'm just not the dancing-naked type.)

So what else can we do when our daughter gets attacked by the fat police before she's even in her teens? What do we do when a little girl in our care declares sadly "I'm fat!"?

Aunt Annie has joined the Twitterati...

Oh my goodness... My dear friend Jane (the one who designed that gorgeous new header for the blog) has dragged me kicking and screaming into the 21st century and I am now on Twitter.

Look for Aunt Annie @auntanniescc to follow me....

...and please be kind while I make lots of Twitty mistakes! :D

Oh, and I've got to give Jane a plug too. She has an absolutely beautiful web page at 
and I am still wondering how she does all this with three little kids running around! Maybe I'd better find out her secrets and share them here.

Ah well, off to try to work out how to Tweet now. See you there?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Caught in a clash of parenting philosophies? 3 steps to sanity

A query by one of Janet Lansbury's readers caught my eye this morning. I quote:

'Genevieve asks: "When we are around others I find it hard to stand by and watch as well meaning and loving family members and friends treat her in a way that goes against my parenting philosophy. I am not sure how to manage these interactions or if I should I interfere at all?" '

This is such a common problem, whether it's the in-laws giving your child lollies, an acquaintance treating your child without respect or a carer 'saving' your child when you want her to discover the world and explore risk her own way. The answer's not an easy one (and certainly not one I could contain within a Facebook comment!).

Without knowing the age of the child or the type of clash of philosophies in this case, it's hard to give targeted advice, so I'll just try to provide some general hints.

1. Don't sweat the small stuff. If your child or baby is in genuine physical or emotional danger, then of course you must intervene even if it costs you a relationship- but I don't need to tell you that, because if your child REALLY is in danger you WILL act- you won't need to ask for advice. It's the grey areas that are difficult. Make sure that you're not blowing an incident up out of proportion.

Your child's teeth won't be ruined for life if Aunty Mary gives her one sugary lollipop. Try to let isolated incidents flow over you; if necessary and if your child is old enough, talk about the incident with your child later (and clean her teeth). Make 'I' statements to your child to ensure she knows how you feel about it and WHY. (And listen to her response!)

2. Don't act in the heat of the moment. If you have a repeat offender, to the point where you feel you have to say something, you don't have to say something right now while you're upset. Take a deep breath, because 'changed behaviour' and 'direct personal attacks' don't belong in the same sentence.

Write down what you want to say. Then rewrite it till it's polite. Make sure you're making 'I' statements, not 'you' statements. Try to understand and acknowledge the other person's point of view- yes, they probably mean well. 'I can see that when you give Mitzi a lollipop it's a gesture of love, and you want to make her happy.' Explain your concern. 'But I worry that sucking on sugar for hours will damage her teeth.' Make a polite request for the POSITIVE behaviour you want to see- eg 'I would really love it if you could offer Mitzi beautiful fruit instead, such as strawberries which she loves.' And close with more appreciation of the motives- 'Thank you for wanting to show your love to my daughter; I really appreciate the intent behind your gifts.'

When you've got your statement into a form where the other person is likely to hear it, instead of closing down because their good motives have been misunderstood and their behaviour criticised, that's the time to decide whether to send them the note or try to say it to their face.

You have every right to do exactly this within a childcare setting, if you see a behaviour that doesn't fit with your philosophy for your child. The response, once you're out of sight, will depend on how diplomatic you've been and how well you've explained yourself.  Once you kill the goodwill, you have ZERO chance of changing people's behaviour. Treat difficult relatives and friends with exactly the same diplomacy and respect!

3. Remember that children are resilient. In the big wide world that they must join some day on their own terms, they will see that different people treat them differently. Life is not consistent. All people are not the same, but we still have to deal with them. They will like the way some people treat them, and dislike the way others treat them, but the fact remains that this is something they'll have to learn to cope with.

Children whose parents break up, for example, often discover that there's a different set of rules at dad's place and mum's place. This can be the source of much grief for a parent who's spent a lot of time and thought deciding on his or her philosophy, only to see it undermined on a weekly basis. 

BUT you need to understand the extent of your personal power in this. The most important thing is that YOU are consistent. You can't control other people, but you can control the way you respond to your child when they try to apply other people's rules to your own home context. If you consistently point out to a child that this is the way things happen in your house and that is the way things happen at (say) grandma's house, you're teaching them an important life lesson. Children are capable of learning and adapting to this quite early on.

Talk to your child about inconsistencies in people's way of talking to them, or what other people allow and disallow. Tell them about your and your partner's own childhoods- how people talked to you, what your parents and other people let you do or forbade. Show them that the world is full of variety. Reassure them that you truly believe that the way you're bringing them up is the best for them, but tell them that other people may see things differently; there are lots of different ways to bring up children. Ask them about their friends, what they're allowed or not allowed to do. Open discussion is the best way to help children deal with the complexities of human behaviour.

Make your own position clear. I found this statement very useful while bringing up my son in a split relationship: 

"I'm your mother, and it's my job to make sure you grow up knowing how to be happy. Doing (....) probably won't make you happy when you grow up, because (...). That's why I don't want you to do that."

Dealing with clashes of philosophy can be really exhausting. Keep it in proportion, stay authentic with your child and stay respectful towards those with different views and you have a good chance of retaining both your sanity and your parenting integrity.

Friday, January 6, 2012

5 ways to keep dads engaged in parenting

There's this crazy belief still doing the rounds that women can 'have it all'- the family, the job, the fabulous social life whilst still doing Nigella Lawson impressions every night in the kitchen- and this is the key to happiness.

What rubbish. Admit it, go on! We are NOT Wonderwoman! Parenting is a full-time job. A full-time job is also a full-time job. Housekeeping is a full-time job. Somewhere in there we have to sleep and have some recreation and exercise. We'd all be just fine if there were 72 hours in a day.

We need help to stay resilient for our children, we need support systems, and we probably hope or even expect that our first lifeline will come from our children's dad. But you know, we can be our own worst enemies when it comes to accepting support from our partner.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The suitcase is too heavy: parenting your own inner child

Recently I wrote a post about misplacing the 'I' in parenting. As I continue to think a little more about the difficulties of calibrating how best to put our self into our child's world- contributing, supporting and intervening only in the best possible way for our own particular child- I realise that many of us are struggling to define normality, so that we have a stable position from which to work. We struggle to even see our own frame of reference clearly, and how it compares with average (let alone 'best') practice.

This struggle to feel that what we're doing is 'okay' according to some obscure definition of 'normality' seems to be the source of much sadness and conflict in the world of parenting. I believe that this is because many of us have had really problematic issues placed into our 'normality' frame, through our own experience of being parented. This is something we do need to deal with before we can be our best self for our own children, by giving our own inner child better care than we've received to date.

And I also believe that all of us, even those who've had wonderful parenting ourselves, will benefit as parents from taking better care of our own inner child.