Knocked out Jacq

Throwing punches at parenthood

Don’t be that parent

After three years of this parenting gig I’ve realised how lucky I am to have made so many lovely parent friends (entirely separate from my pre-existing lovely friends, who also happen to be parents). I knew that the odds were good that having children would increase my social circle, and the twin mum solidarity thing was also a good bonding element, but having children the same age as somebody else obviously isn’t enough to form the basis of a proper friendship. But I have been extremely fortunate: Hattie and Joe arrived at roughly the same time as many other sets of twins in our part of Auckland, and several of their mothers were the kind of awesome people that I would have loved to have as friends pre-kids as well. So now the kids have all become mates, and the mums and I organise a lot of play dates so we can have excuses to catch up with each other (and also some child-free catch-ups when we can manage it, because you sometimes need to drink more wine than is socially acceptable on a weekday afternoon). The kids’ third birthday party extravaganza involved ten sets of twin friends, plus two older siblings.

So yes, I’ve been very lucky. But having this circle of supportive, witty, kind, thoughtful friends has made me aware of the people who aren’t always as helpful. I’ve broken them down into three categories.

1. People with strong opinions about children’s behaviour and how parents should manage it, despite not being parents themselves.

The people in this group aren’t parents, which makes a bit of a mockery of the title of this essay, but that’s just the kind of rule-breaker I am.

I’m quite sure that every single person in the developed world has made at least one disparaging comment about parents and children before being parents themselves, usually after witnessing a public tantrum or seeing a kid running amok in a restaurant. I know that I was a bloody awesome and highly knowledgeable would-be parent. Of course, those of us who go on to have our own kids rapidly realise that occasionally seeing how our nieces, nephews, or friends’ kids behave is absolutely no substitute for being a parent ourselves. Those of us with any self-awareness blush inwardly at the thought of the stupid things we used to think (and say, although hopefully not to actual parents, who must have really laughed at us in private). Long story short: you can obviously have all of the opinions you like about how children should be parented, but regardless of your experience as a nanny, teacher, aunt, or anything else, if you haven’t actually raised a child yourself you only know around 1% of what’s involved.

2. Parents of older children who endlessly tell you “you think that’s bad – wait until your kid hits the [whatever horrors await] stage!”.

This is a common affliction amongst some parents: the urge to supposedly reassure a parent who is struggling with their child’s current stage by telling them that said current stage is actually no big deal compared with the much more awful stages that lie ahead. I definitely had a few people who pulled this trick on me, particularly in the early days. It’s a response that I will never understand. If, for example, I’m finding the newborn stage really scary, challenging, and exhausting, how is it helpful to tell me that future stages will be even worse? It does nothing to minimise my current struggles, or make me feel understood or supported. It just makes a struggling parent feel like there’s nothing but bad times, now and later, and that’s not good for a person’s mental health.

I’m sure that all parents have a wry smile at some of the things that people who are less far down the parenting track than them say (or post about). I’ll certainly own up to having a wee chuckle recently, when a new twin mum posted on our multiple birth club’s page about how her two day old babies were so good and well behaved. But in my opinion telling somebody who is being driven crazy by their four month old’s sleep regression that the toddler stage is even worse is just unkind. See also: telling parents of tantrum-throwing two year olds that they don’t know bad behaviour until they’ve dealt with three year olds; and telling parents of three year olds that the cheekiness and deliberate naughtiness is nothing on the high jinks of four year olds; and telling parents of smart-mouthed four year olds that they’ve never seen an attitude like they can expect to see when their kids start school; and telling parents of contrary primary school-aged kids that their hair will curl at the antics of teenagers.

The moral of this particular story: parenting is hard, at every stage – not all the time, obviously, but each stage presents unique challenges. A parent who has the courage to actually admit to finding things difficult should not get undermined by a barrage of comments that minimise their current struggles. If you’re a parent with a wee bit of empathy and you remember what it was like when your kids were at that stage, try just saying something like “Oh yes, I remember those days and they were hard. You’re doing a great job – hang in there” – or similarly trite but comforting remarks. It’s all that parents want to hear. You may be well aware that the next stage will make the current stage seem like a day at the races but please, keep this privileged information to yourself. And if you have good, sensible, concrete suggestions to make a parent’s life easier as they grapple with tantrums, cheekiness, big bed partying, or whatever, share them.

(And a subset of this group is the parents of twins or triplets who like to disparage people with ‘only’ one child, whenever said parents of singletons find things difficult. I know that all parents of multiples do this occasionally – I certainly have – but it’s a dickhead move. Everybody is entitled to find life as a parent difficult. Yes, having two or three kids at once is obviously more challenging than dealing with just one child at a time, but the parents of singletons are still allowed to find things challenging. We don’t have the monopoly on tough parenting times. And I’d argue that some singleton kids that I’ve met appear to be infinitely more formidable than my two healthy, happy, bright children combined.)

3. Parents of younger children who think that they know where you’re going wrong with your (older) kids.

This final group is the flip side of the previous group. It’s also, probably, made up of people who were very strong members of the first group, and who haven’t yet developed sufficient humility after becoming parents to recognise that you’re a fool to think that you know much about parental stuff that you haven’t yet experienced.

I know that all parents are guilty of this kind of thing occasionally, but it’s the repeat offenders who really annoy me. Forgive me for being blunt: If you have a young baby, you know NOTHING about what it’s like to have a toddler. If you have a young toddler, you know NOTHING about what it’s like to deal with a preschooler. If you have a preschooler, you know NOTHING about what it’s like to deal with an older kid. I’m sure that you get the idea. When the parent of, say, a sweet little 17 month old who has the occasional stroppy five minutes tells me that they just sternly tell the child “No!” and that this stops the ‘tantrum’, all it does is make me fervently pray that their child turns around one day in a public place and has an absolute meltdown. And then does it again. And again.

The difference between the kind of tantrum that a young toddler has and the kind of apparent psychotic break that an older toddler or a preschooler can go through is the difference between night and day. Younger toddlers who throw tantrums are ruled by frustration and emotion, and a lot can be cured with a cuddle (I learned this the hard way, with Hattie as my fiery daughter). Older toddlers and preschoolers who throw tantrums fuel their breakdowns with frustration, emotion, manipulation, naked bids for attention, and a whole host of other elements that serve as kindling to a bushfire (as I continue to learn the hard way, with both Hattie and Joe). Dealing with this kind of tantrum is utterly exhausting, and getting judgemental ‘helpful’ comments from people who haven’t yet dealt with it themselves is not appreciated. Children don’t throw tantrums because their parents are crap. Children throw tantrums because they’re children. If your child is only a baby, you just don’t know what it’s like.

So those of us with children older than your children will do you a deal: we won’t try to terrify you about the bad behaviour that you might have in store for you, if you stop telling us how to deal with something that you don’t know anything about. OK?

(A subset of this group, which I’ve thankfully only encountered very occasionally, is the parents of singletons who really don’t believe that dealing with multiples is more difficult than what they’ve handled – and I’m talking about parents of perfectly healthy children here. Basically, I think these people lack imagination and empathy.)

Let’s break up this negativity with a cute photo.

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So that’s it: my diatribe about people who annoy me. Can you tell that I’ve been bottling this up for a while? I could have included a fourth group: older people who have totally forgotten about what it’s like to deal with small children, and who like to tut, shake their heads, or (if you have the misfortune to be related to them) tell you where you’re going wrong. But there’s no need to go into that, as I think we can all agree that they’re halfwits.

Hello again…

I can’t believe that it’s been so long since I regularly updated this blog! It’s enabled me to pretty much gloss over the toddler years – on reflection, you’ve only really missed a lot of complaining, so it’s probably for the best.

We’ve now got two crazy three year olds! Proper threenagers (chronologically they’re three, emotionally they’re often like 13 year olds). Living with a couple of three year olds is a lot like dealing with really drunk people when you’re sober – one minute it’s all laughing and good times, and in the blink of an eye everybody is crying and the world has almost ended. But the kids are fantastic. So funny, so sweet, and such great friends.

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Anyway, I’m intending to write updates a couple of times a week from now on. This plan is despite my three week countdown to a full time uni course load, but I’m as determined to do this as Hattie is determined to never eat a vegetable (we’re talking iron will, in other words). There are so many things to write about! And I have many long bus rides to and from uni ahead of me this year.

 

Two years and eight months

I’ve just updated the Hattie and Joe page with a new picture. Here’s the shot and the ones that followed it – needless to say I had no chance of getting the monkey in on the act before the two of them were off and running…

  
  
   
 

Manners

I always knew that I’d be a stickler for good manners as a parent. In my opinion parents don’t make life easy for their kids if they choose not to worry about things like saying please and thank you – everybody seems to respond better to people who automatically know how to be courteous. And I realised late last year that, by emphasising the importance of good manners from young toddlerhood, Hattie and Joe would never remember a time when they didn’t know that you always say please when asking for something, or thank you when receiving something.

Of course they’re only little kids and teaching this kind of habit is a slow process: we still have this kind of exchange several times a day…

Child: “I want milk!”

Adult: [silence; or a querying look; or a reminder about needing to ask in a nice voice, using nice words]

Child: “Please could I have a drink of milk please Mummy!” (This double please thing is their own convention)

Sometimes they get it right first time, which is great. And they’re given absolutely nothing until they’ve asked nicely. The same rules apply with saying thank you, although they’re very good at saying that unprompted nearly every time. Tristan, Nikita, and I all handle the please and thank you thing in the same way, and I’m sure that the consistency has helped a lot.

However, I am quite sure that our approach of never letting the kids get away with not using their manners probably looks like a whole lot of nagging to some people, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it might even elicit some eye-rolls from other adults who witness it and secretly think “For God’s sake, the kid is two, and one missed ‘please’ isn’t the end of the world”. And that would be a fair enough attitude. I know that me thinking something is important isn’t the same as it necessarily BEING important, and other people may emphasise other behavioural elements of childrearing that I’m probably totally neglecting. I also know that most kids will develop decent manners in the fullness of time, if only because they’ll realise that life is far easier if other people like dealing with you. I guess I’m just trying to shortcut that process for Hattie and Joe. And when we do feel the need to remind them of how to ask nicely, or the importance of saying thank you, we don’t do it in any kind of angry way – we know that they’re just little and are still learning everything. But that’s what I see as my job: teaching them how to function in the world, and, for me, understanding the importance of good manners is one of the fundamental elements of knowing how to play nicely with others.

We also emphasise and recognise other courteous behaviour, like making sure that we acknowledge kind behaviour like sharing, taking turns, voluntarily doing nice things for others, and generally just being lovely:

The next big good manners challenge ahead of us involves teaching the importance of replying when people say hello. I don’t expect a great dialogue, but if they’re with me and somebody greets them, they should say hello back, even if they don’t say anything else to that person. This is proving to be a much tougher nut to crack than the whole please/thank you thing, even with people that they know really well.

Another courtesy-related issue we face involves Joe’s occasional tendency to declare a wholly irrational dislike of somebody, often before he’s even met them, and then demonstrate his feelings by glowering at them when he sees them. Combatting that is a work in progress!

There was an interesting conversation recently in a Facebook group to which I belong – a heated discussion about whether it’s a big deal if children use swear words, and whether parents do anything to manage their children’s exposure to ‘bad language’. Now, I swear like a drunken sailor on shore leave whenever I’m not around the kids, as anybody who has ever spent time with my on campus, or seen me after a glass of wine, can testify. However, I work very hard to moderate my language around the kids, and I honestly don’t think that I have sworn in front of them more than a tiny number of times. My confidence regarding this comes from the fact that neither of them have said a swear word – and they are total parrots, particularly with regard to my use of language, so if I was cursing around them, they’d be cursing as well. My reason for this is simple: I think it takes an adult’s maturity to understand when it is appropriate (or not inappropriate) to swear, and when it is just inappropriate. I know, for example, that my 18 year old class mates or my twin mum friends finishing a bottle of wine with me won’t turn a hair if I swear, but I also know that my 60-something lecturer might not feel comfortable with swearing, so I moderate my tone depending on my audience. It’s the basic reason why swearing in public has traditionally been beyond the pale, I think: you don’t know the sensitivities of the listening audience, and it’s not good manners to risk offending people. In my opinion children lack the maturity to understand when it might or might not be inappropriate to swear, and so the best strategy is for them to not be around the language and, if they do hear it, make them realise that it’s only something that grownups say. So I have asked people in my house not to swear, and I’ll continue to do so if they kids are still up. After 7pm you can say what you want, of course!

Despite some ongoing challenges, I feel pretty happy that we’re raising two little people who are going to have sufficient knowledge of social graces to function well in the world. And we’ve had one good breakthrough this week: both kids have recognised the importance of saying “excuse me” if they fart in public. Winning!

Little big kids

Check out the size of these kids of ours now!

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Unfortunately the monthly monkey shots have fallen off the schedule in recent months, largely because of my occasionally uncooperative models. However, I’ve updated the kids’ monthly photo page with shots taken on or near to the 16th of every month. Enjoy!

One minute, Mummy!

There are so many things going on with the kids every day that I forget what I’ve told people, and what I’ve forgotten. One such thing is Hattie’s recent tactic for delaying whatever (in her eyes) outrageous request, such as coming over for a nappy change. It involves an imperious finger in the air, and the command “One minute, Mummy!” And finally I have photographic evidence of it:

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I have finally found a tactic of my own: counting. If I tell her that I’m going to count until ten and then she needs to come over, it always seems to work. I count out loud, slowly, and I’ve never actually discussed what the consequences of non-compliance will be, but I think she must have figured out that time out may be involved. Ordinarily I don’t get past five or six before she’s joined me. The most challenging part is resisting the urge to laugh out loud at this little display of toddler attitude.

In the bear cave

Hattie and Joe have a huge number of books. I love books, and reading, and I really want them to be keen readers too, so I figured that the best way to help with that goal is to make books a crucial part of their lives. Their big book collection has come about not because I’ve won Lotto (books are SO expensive in New Zealand), but because I love charity shops: such a great place to buy kids’ stuff. So I pay $1 or $2 for books that would otherwise cost $29.99 new. Some of the kids’ favourite books

Anyway, one of their favourite charity shop books is Two Bears and Joe. I chose it primarily because I’m collecting books that feature their Christian names.

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It’s a very cute story about a little boy who entertains himself all day with the help of two bears, who his parents can’t see (although they can see the aftermath of Joe’s games with the bears). At one point Joe and the bears play in a cave under the stairs:

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This particular part of the story has resonated with the kids, and they’re talked about making a bear cave, so when they were out at a playgroup this morning with Nikita (our amazing au pair for this year) I transformed their playhouse into a bear cave complete with resident bears, with the help of a couple of blankets.

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The kids were absolutely delighted to find their bear cave! They had lunch in there – honey sandwiches, plus some fruit:

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And they stayed in their bear cave, with the blanket down, for ages, chatting and singing to each other. Later they insisted on wearing their slippers, which have been seen as Gruffalo feet until now, but which are very good substitute bear feet as well:

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They’re having their naps now, but I’ve promised them that, if they’re good for the rest of the day, they can have their dinner in the bear cave as well.

23 months

I’m posting this so late, although I did take the photo a day or two after the 23 month mark:

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I’ll save the actual update for next weekend – Hattie and Joe turn two on Friday!!

So sweet

Even in the midst of Hattie and Joe’s crazy toddler days there are pockets of such unbelievable, adorable behaviour that it makes my heart squeeze a bit. Some examples from the past couple of days:

1. Tristan tends to get the kids out of their cots first thing in the morning. On Wednesday he sat down with Joe first in their bedroom and removed his sleeping bag, at which point he immediately walked over to Hattie’s cot and gave her a good morning kiss – and she’d moved over to that side of her cot to receive his kiss. I’ve been reliably informed by many twin mums that we can anticipate some twin battles in the near future, and that once twins start fighting, it can become a regular feature. This prediction makes me even more determined to relish the current and ongoing signs of utter delight in each other. They really are besotted, and their relationship is the loveliest thing ever.

2. On Wednesday night I was putting the kids to bed, and when I zipped Hattie into her sleeping bag I said the same kind of thing as every night: “Good night, Hattie’s feet! Thanks for being such great feet today and letting Hattie run around and play” – and she bent down and gave her two feet a kiss each.

3. On two occasions today, when I was getting Hattie dressed, Joe looked at her admiringly and declared, “Pretty Hattie!”

4. When we leave any location Joe insists upon waving goodbye to any person that we’ve spoken to, even briefly, and pretty much won’t be keen to leave unless each person that he’s waved to has said goodbye back.

5. Both children fail to see why they’d only farewell people – they want to day goodbye to anything that they like. Today they waved and said goodbye to the park, the swings, the bubbles in the bath, and their story books.

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22 months old

Here they are, our loveable little nutters:

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And my goodness, they’re full on at the moment! In fact, they were sent to bed without dinner tonight, when they wouldn’t eat what we gave them (they had milk). Their favourite word is “no” at the moment. Seriously, there are some days when it is just as well that they’re pretty cute! Their eating habits are just awful these days – so bad, in fact, that I’m going to be getting some help with their diet from a nutritionist, before they develop scurvy and rickets.

Here are their sweet little faces for your viewing pleasure. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day!

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