robyn

Playground Politics

I am very traditional and old school in my parenting approach. I’ve always taught my kids that you get what you give: work hard at school and you will reap the rewards, do your chores at home and mommy will be happy, be nice to other kids and they will be nice to you. Uh oh, wait… that last one… not true at all.

And herein lays the fault to my parenting approach.

Being nice to someone, does not guarantee that they will be nice to you. As an adult, difficult as it may be, we can condition ourselves to deal with horrible people. We are more able to muster enough self-esteem so that the foolish people we encounter in our lives will not scar us permanently. But when a little kid is the target of bullying, the effects can be devastating. Being bullied as a child is physically, mentally and emotionally traumatic. It is abuse.

In his article entitled The Long Term Effects of Bullying , Mark Dombeck, Ph.D listed the following as possible results of bullying…

Quote

“In the short term:

  • Anger • Depression • Anxious avoidance of settings in which bullying may occur.  • Greater incidence of illness  • Lower grades than non-bullied peers  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings (In one British retrospective bullying experiences survey I came across (of unknown scientific value), 20% of the sample attempted suicide secondary to having been bullied, whereas only 3% of participants who were not bullied attempted suicide).

In the long term:

  • Reduced occupational opportunities • Lingering feelings of anger and bitterness, desire for revenge. • Difficulty trusting people  • Interpersonal difficulties, including fear and avoidance of new social situations  • Increased tendency to be a loner  • Perception of self as easy to victimize, overly sensitive, and thin-skinned  • Self-esteem problems (don’t think well of self)  • Increased incidence of continued bullying and victimization”

I sure don’t want my child to suffer any of those, if I can help it. My husband and I have very different views on how to handle a bully. He encourages our children to fight back; to stand up for yourself. While I promote standing up for yourself, I absolutely do not believe in fighting back, I believe you run and tell the nearest adult. My husband believes that this opens your child up to being bullied when he/she is constantly running to the teacher with complaints about the other kids. I am of the belief that encouraging fighting is NEVER the answer. Because I am old school like that, remember. I’ve always said no hitting, punching, biting, no NOTHING, basically you don’t touch another person unless you’re hugging them. But I also don’t want my kid to be the playground push over. And my husband makes a valid point in saying that standing up for yourself IS old school because that’s how we sorted out scuffles in the old days… we’d meet after school and fight it out!

This is a personal piece, my opinion is just my own. I believe that while my old school approach is noble, the only way to get a bully to back off is to stand up to him or her. I’ve started to encourage my kids to “fight” back in the sense that they do NOT need to keep quiet for some loser kid who gets his kicks off hurting others. I’ve started teaching them to say things like “YOU WILL NOT TALK TO ME / TREAT ME / TOUCH ME LIKE THAT.” I try to build their self-esteem up, I coach them on confidence, I am constantly adding value to how they see themselves. I’ve gone so far as to say that if they need to defend themselves, they absolutely must if they feel threatened, and as a last resort. I don’t know that this is the right approach, I parent by trial and error at the best of times (sorry kids), but I cannot sit back and insist that my kid should “show the other cheek” if they were on the receiving end of some horrible bully.

How are you gearing your kids up for playground politics? 

Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader.

My son learned to read last year. It was, and still is, the greatest milestone I have witnessed in the life of my child. Yes, learning to walk was amazing and one cannot deny the joy a parent feels when your little one graduates from diapers into underwear. These are all wonderful and should be celebrated, but there is nothing quite like learning to read. Listening to my son read often brings tears to my eyes, being a reader myself, I know the power a book has to transform your mind, to transport you to places you may never see in real life; a book has the power to heal and imparts knowledge that you may never be able to learn from anyone else. More so, reading is independence. It allows you to read important labels, to follow important rules, it can give you direction when you don’t know where to go and it can often save your life. I think adults often take for granted the absolute gift it is to be able to read.

I’ve encouraged my children to read from an early age, I’ve tried to grow their little library of books at home and when asked, I always encourage gift-givers to give books. Even with the introduction of digital readers and tablets, which no doubt, has made reading more accessible and even cheaper, I still believe in the magic of a real book, turning pages until they are dog-eared from continuous use, the musty smell of an old library book; reading is a legacy I hope to leave for my children long after I have gone.

In saying this, I thought I’d share a few of our favourite books; books my children and I have enjoyed reading during their toddler and preschool years.

The Curious George series.

If you grew up in the 80s, you know Curious George. The gutsy little monkey who belongs to the Man in the Yellow Hat; his antics will keep your little ones entertained.

The Mr Men and Little Miss series

What I love the most about these books, are the lessons they impart in a rather unconventional way. The books are all about people who are very different – tall, short, angry, happy, worried or loud. It gives you a chance to discuss with your children the diverse world in which we live.

The Cat in the Hat series (Dr Seuss)

Little children love rhyming books, and Dr Seuss is all about the rhymes! There are so many books in the Cat and the Hat series, and they are great for older kids too.

The Berenstain Bears series

Also a favourite from my own childhood, these books always end with such a good lesson for little people.

When I’m feeling… series (Trace Moroney)

These books are amazing for discussing feelings with children. In the series, you will find titles like When I’m feeling Angry, When I’m feeling Jealous, When I’m feeling Lonely. There is a book for every emotion!

Which books does your family enjoy?

Why I bake my kids’ birthday cakes.

Moms have a lot of things in common; the way they love their kids, the way they nurture their families, and how they make ends meet even though it can be difficult at times. They also have the same special gifting for making their children feel equally loved, no matter how many children they have. I’d say we’re all pretty much on par when we look at those qualities. But moms are also very different and that’s what makes them so special, each and every one of them is unique; uniquely perfect for their family.

Some moms are exceptionally good at keeping their homes in immaculate condition, like something you’d find in a lifestyle magazine, they make housekeeping seem effortless even with messy babies to care for. Other moms are really handy with a screwdriver and are excellent DIY’ers, these moms can fix anything and come in really handy when you lock your keys in the car. You also get moms who are really good with a calculator and keep the best budgets to ensure their families are well taken care of, these moms make Pythagoras look like a dummy with their ability to make up equations to make the washing powder and dishwashing liquid last for the whole month. You get the moms who have the patience of heavenly angels, they never shout or lose their tempers and they can calm crazy toddler tantrums quick-sticks.

I must admit that I am not any of those moms. Occasionally my house looks like Martha Stewart is my personal advisor… but that’s maybe for five minutes before the kids get up every morning. I am a terrible DIY’er, in fact I’ve only just discovered how to change a light bulb and would have happily sat in darkness were it not for the frightened cries of my children who hate the dark. I can’t budget to save my life, if I see something I like, I’m going to buy it regardless of whether it’s in the budget or not. Hashtag Shopaholic. That’s me. And as for my patience levels, my children will testify that Daddy is definitely the one to go to if they’ve done something wrong.

Before you start feeling sorry for my family for being lumped with a mother like me, let me tell you what I can do… I can bake. No, not well. But well enough that my children absolutely love their birthdays because it means I’ll be baking them a cake. It’s never anything fancy, the closest I’ve come to fondant is licking it off some other kid’s cake, but it’s always a labour of love.

I’ve baked every cake for their birthdays over the last six years and it is the one thing I will continue to do as long as I live, whether they like it or not! You see, this is my “thing.” I hope that it will serve as a warm memory every birthday, whether I am there in flesh or spirit to enjoy it with them.

What’s your thing, mom? What do you do for your children that nobody else can?

How do you know when your family is complete?

Growing up I always imagined that I would have a big family one day. I thought I’d have four children just as my mother had had four children. I quite liked the idea of a noisy little soccer team. Furthermore, I had even considered the amount of grandbabies four children would give me in my retiring years. I had it all figured out, the perfect big raucous family.

Then I had my first kid.

I won’t say that my vision changed, but I will say that the cost of having one child made me reevaluate my desire for a big family. And I’m not even talking about the financial cost here. The emotional cost, the cost of my time, the cost of my marriage, the cost of all the outpouring of myself that I had to do as a mother; it was life changing. Then of course the financial cost of having kids, let’s be honest, children are a liability of gigantic proportion.

When I fell pregnant with my second child (oops) I wasn’t anywhere near making the decision to have another child. It happened and just as well, because had I had a choice, I would have probably waited years longer before taking the pregnancy plunge again.

But here we were, two kids deep and because the age gap was so tight (15 months), it was hard. Having two kids both under the age of two will bring out the best and the worst in you. The “worst in me” decided then and there that I would never-ever-ever-ever sprout another baby. The mental and physical exhaustion put me clean off doing it ever again. My husband felt the same way and we stuck it out in the trenches with our two babies waiting for the day when we wouldn’t be knee deep in dirty nappies, toys that make far too much noise and medical bills that don’t ever stop when you have small children.

We’re five years past that crazy time. We managed to keep our children alive! More so, they have flourished under our care. Who would have thought! That intensely difficult phase of parenting seems like a distant dream. Make no mistake, each stage definitely comes with its own challenges, but I think when you’re well rested from having a normal eight hour sleep (versus the two or three we used to get in those days), you look at your challenges differently!

All of a sudden, I’m thinking about that big family I dreamed of years ago. All of a sudden, I’ve forgotten how difficult it was, how depleting it was and all I can remember is how awesome it was to bounce a rosy cheeked baby on your lap. I thought we were done. I thought my family was complete. But now I have to admit that there could possibly be room for one… or maybe two…more?

Is your family complete? What made you make the decision to complete your family?

You are what you eat

If this statement is to be believed, then I think a lot of us would be ashamed of ourselves. I am the first one to admit that I do not have an entirely healthy wholesome diet, and that my children could probably be eating better. Don’t get me wrong, I incorporate fruit and vegetables daily into our diets, they drink lots of water (I personally am really bad with water drinking) and they are reasonably active… but they are five and six, show me a kid in this age group who isn’t active? However, there is great room for improvement.

I’m that parent who allows everything in moderation. I believe that a healthy regard for food benefits you in the long run. I disagree with banning food items because I’ve seen people get drunk on food that was previously prohibited, just because they could. So I do allow my kids to eat sugar, drink soda and eat a bag of chips – all in moderation.

However, I’d be a foolish parent if I wasn’t actively monitoring the food they put into their mouths. The childhood obesity rate speaks for itself. Statistics on childhood disease linked to poor diets are becoming quite alarming. “You are what you eat” has never rung as true as it does for this generation. I’ve been looking for easy ways to make changes to their diets without breaking the bank or messing with my motto of “everything in moderation.” Here are a few ways I am introducing healthier options for my kids Choosing a healthier cereal, and not adding any sugar. I still give them the freedom of choice but I limit their options. So instead of giving them a choice of three sugar loaded cereals (you know the kind), I give them three wholegrain options. They still get to exercise their independence by making their own choice and instead of adding sugar, I allow a minimal squirt of honey on the top. They love it.

I’ve swopped all soda to the low calorie version and make it the exception, rather than the rule. I don’t buy fizzy drinks at home, but if we’re at restaurant or at a play date and they ask for a soda, I oblige with a no sugar, no caffeine version. Every little bit helps, right?

I’ve never added any salt or other seasoning to their food (although the amount of tomato sauce my children consume probably makes up for it!) and because they’ve never known the taste of salt, they are quite OK without it.

I limit treats to once a week – if they remember. Between all the birthday parties and treats from grandparents and aunts and uncles, my kids get sugary treats thrown into the faces almost every day.

I keep a sweetie jar at home and everything gets added into the jar. Once a week I allow them access to it. Some weeks they forget and mostly I just throw out stuff without them even noticing. This works really well, however I try really hard not to incentivize them with food, because that of course opens another can of worms.

How do you control what your children eat? Are you particularly careful about what they eat? Do you believe the statement “you are what you eat” to be true?

DOES YOUR KID KNOW YOUR PHONE NUMBER?

I’ve always written my phone number on the inside of my kids’ school bags and told them that it’s there in case they ever need it. But their school bags are not always with them. I considered sewing labels with my phone number onto their clothes, but that just became impossible with two children who can’t stand regular clothing labels which I need to cut out of every garment. I soon realised that the easiest way to get around this problem of my kid needing my phone number and not having it, was if they knew it in their heads.

I started teaching them our important numbers from a young age; mine, my husband’s and the police. I’ve impressed upon them the absolute importance of using this number whenever they feel uneasy or scared or need my help in any way. I’ve told them to ask an adult for a phone or if they are at home, the only number they are allowed to dial without asking is mine or Dadddy’s. It took a while for them to get it; I’m always amazed at how they remember the month, day and time you jammed their finger in the door, yet they can’t remember important things like a 10 digit number.

But we’re finally at the age where both the 4 year old and the 6 year old know our numbers. This is good. Except when your kid calls you five times a day: first call just to say hello, second call to ask if they can go make a wee, third call to ask what’s for lunch, fourth call to whine about how bored they are at home and so on and so on.. you get the picture. They’ve also requested a list of other people’s phone numbers who they might like to call, like their grannies and aunties and cousins. Now I know how my father felt when I would spend hours on the landline talking to my mates.

But Mr Bell did not invent the telephone for nothing, so I’ve made a list of all the phone numbers they may like to try, on condition that they ask first. I do believe that small amounts of freedom for a little child are exhilarating, so a few self-made calls to Granny won’t hurt. I may regret saying that when I see the bill, won’t I?

I also think it’s important to make them aware of the important emergency numbers, along with informing them on how to use the panic button and your house alarm. This makes sure they are prepared in case of an emergency, especially if the emergency involves you, and you are not able to make the call yourself.

Does your child know how to contact you in an emergency? Does your child know how to contact an emergency service if they need to? Equipping your child with these could be lifesaving, so do not delay in making sure they know how to get hold of you. The simplest approach is parrot-fashion. Before a child can even read or identify numbers, if he or she can recite the numbers, you are half way there. When they are able to recognise the numbers themselves, and can write them down or recite them back to you, you’ll sleep better at night. I know I do.

Getting an education in South Africa.

Growing up, all the kids in my neighbourhood went to the same school. The school was in the area, our parents assumedly handed in some paperwork and the nice principal said we could gladly attend his school. We walked to and from school and after sports or other extra mural activities, we went home because there was no aftercare. We envied our “latchkey” friends who would let themselves into their houses and stay there alone until their parents got home. Some of us stayed with our helpers and some of us were lucky enough to have a mom who didn’t work at all. That is how it was.

These days, things are different.

On Monday, I stood in a queue along with the rest of Gauteng, trying to enroll my child at a public school for Grade 1 next year. Some parents had been queuing for 48 hours, others were turned away because they were missing an all-important document like an unabridged birth certificate, and the general mood was one of disgruntled unhappiness at the process. While we were jovial in the queue, hoping for the best outcome, we all agreed that the process itself was absurd.

A quick summary of how it works for public schools: you may apply to any school you want but preference is given to those families who live or work within a 5km radius of the school. Preference is also given to those families who already have other children in the school. Preference is also given to those children who have attended a “feeder” pre-school. These children are placed on an A list. The B list is for anyone else who doesn’t fit any of those criteria but still wants to apply. You can see from the above, that B list applicants have very little chance. But I understand this process, it makes sense and it is fair. No problems there.

My problem however is this number system. For example, I stand in a queue so that I can be number one but at the end of the day if number 427 lives/works in the zone or has a sibling in the school, my number one means nothing and number 427 still has a better chance of being accepted than I do. In the same vein, if you fit all the criteria that will get you onto the A list, why ever would you go and stand in a queue anyway, if your application is somewhat “guaranteed” because you fit the criteria? I was led to believe that every single application will be reviewed in order to ensure that the children who HAVE to be placed in that school, are placed. So that means that you could apply at any point during the open registration period (13 April – 26 May) WITHOUT having to stand in a queue and you are guaranteed that your application will be reviewed, no? So why then do we queue? Are schools not following the policy as laid down by the government and only reviewing the first 200 or 300 applications? Are parents just anxious and so they try all routes to ensure their kid has a standing chance? Does it mean anything to be first in the queue? And if not, why then are we queueing at all?

Who can shed some light?

Growing up can be sad

My son lost his first tooth. I think it is too early. He is six. I think it is too soon for him to be losing teeth. What next? University? A girlfriend? Marriage? It’s just going too fast. Make it stop.

Mothering is a weird thing. Some days I am so happy that they are grown, that they can wipe their own bums, sleep through the night, fetch my slippers and BE QUIET when I tell them to. But on the contrary, I feel this sadness that they are growing so fast. There’s a part of me that misses the sleepless nights, the endless stream of dirty diapers and the utter dependence that my babies had on me. I looked at my children’s bodies the other day; there are hardly any signs of babyhood left. Their bodies are lean, there are no dimples on their thighs and no pudginess left to squeeze. I remember a time when their arms couldn’t reach around my neck to hug me, but these days they almost strangle me with their gangly limbs wrapped twice around my neck.

I don’t know how much time I have left for them to fit onto my lap. Already it’s getting awkward because it’s all arms, legs and poky bum bones and I’m like WHEN DID YOU GET SO BIG? I do know that I’ll keep them right here on my lap for as long as they will let me.

I love that we can still cuddle.

There are many moments in my parenting future that I am dreading… puberty, boyfriends and girlfriends, school projects, slamming doors and ALL that. But one moment which will truly break my heart is when the cuddling stops. And I KNOW it will happen, that’s the cycle of life, it’s a normal progression, I get that. But man, it will hurt. I still hug and kiss my own parents but I know that if I tried to sit on my mother’s lap I would most likely render her injured, ha. But I wonder if she misses it? I need to ask her that. Does the growing up part get easier? I know that each stage comes with wonderful things, I can’t wait to have a teenage daughter – shopping together, going for spa days, getting her to colour my greys and ogling over movie stars… I look forward to those times. As I do with my son… I look forward to fostering a relationship where he’ll talk to me about stuff, I pray every day that my boy and I will be able to talk about STUFF. That he’ll feel safe talking to me about STUFF. All sorts of STUFF. And hanging out together, playing Xbox or Playstation or whatever is cool for teenage boys in 2022.

But for the moment I do hope that time will stand still, I wish that these babies of mine would stay just that for a moment longer. When you’re in the throes of new parenting and it’s difficult, older moms will often say “don’t wish this time away, they grow so quickly” and at that moment you don’t get it because it’s just so hard and you want it to be over, you just want to sleep a full night’s sleep or get through a day where you can shower and pee in peace. But it’s true. Enjoy every moment, even the extremely awful moments of colic and teething woes, because time is the one commodity we cannot buy. Blink, and you may miss it.

 

 

Parents, back off.

“By pandering to your child’s every need, you are doing them a huge disservice”

 

I read this in my doctor’s office a few years ago and at the time I was mostly annoyed.

I mean every mother (in her right mind) wants to over provide, rather than under provide for her children, right? Every mom wants to meet her child’s every need, and sometimes that means sacrificing a lot of yourself and your needs so that your child wants for nothing. Having a child means that your life as you knew it before having children gets put on the back burner and instead, you dedicate your life to that of your child’s. Your free time is no longer spent reading a book, but sowing name labels on little clothes and washing and sterilising bottles. We don’t do it selfishly, but rather selflessly… for our kids. Right?

 

However, six years into this parenting job (someone give me a medal please), I’ve come to realise the truth of that statement. I believe this statement is referring more to the helicopter parent who loves to hover (guilty as charged), I believe it is referring to the parent who can’t bear to see their kid’s little heart break when they can’t do something or can’t get something right (again, guilty as charged). What I’ve come to learn, is that by constantly jumping to their aid, we are prohibiting them from learning and understanding the bigger life lesson. And it’s a number of lessons that you could be teaching in such a situation:

 

  1. Slow and steady wins the race – let them learn and understand that not everything is easy but that practice does eventually make perfect.
  2. It’s ok not to be the winner, as long as you have tried your best.
  3. It’s ok to be frustrated, but freaking out when you don’t get your own way or you can’t reach the toothpaste or you can’t put the CD into the DVD properly, is not cool and doesn’t help the situation.
  4. And most importantly. Mommy loves you, but I want you to LEARN to do these things for yourself. Because quite frankly, I am not going to be around forever, and I need to equip you to DO life.

 

And I think children love the independence of being able to do things for themselves. And by constantly butting in and doing things for them, we are giving them less credit than they deserve. I am a helicopter-parent, no doubt, but I’ve decided that tough love isn’t a bad thing. For me, this means letting them do age appropriate things for themselves, letting them make mistakes, letting them battle things out before jumping in and saving the day. I do believe that this will go a long way in raising kids who will become responsible and capable adults.

How much are you spending on gifts?

I’ve been assessing the damage to my wallet caused by birthday gifts for the many birthdays we have celebrated this year, and the results are not good. We’re still in the first quarter of the year, and already I need to start thinking of ingenious ways to spoil the people in my life without spending a fortune. I am a firm believer in gift giving. Firstly because I love receiving gifts myself, but secondly because everyone deserves to be spoilt on that one special day that celebrates their lives and the wonderful and unique value they place in YOUR life. I especially like to carry this through with my female friends and with the children in our circle – because us girls and kids like to be made a fuss over right?

However, recently I have discovered that gift giving is becoming outrageously expensive. And this has got nothing to do with my gift choices, but rather with the number of birthday parties my kids are being invited too. Not forgetting that almost every week, someone in our family or close circle is celebrating a birthday. I used to work on R150 for a child’s gift and R200 on an adult’s gift. This was a guideline figure and an absolute maximum amount, and even still I almost always get gifts cheaper than this amount. For me, the true value of a gift has very little to do with monetary value and everything to do with customizing a gift that you know the person will love. So if you wanted to buy me a gift, for example, spending R30 on a Lindt slab and R70 on a pair of bedroom slippers would be an awesome gift – and just for R100; because I love those sorts of things. Just as going to Bargain Books and getting three books for R100 would be an ideal gift for my kids, compared to a R250 toy from a popular toy store.

But even still, if we attended three school birthday parties and had three adult friends celebrating birthdays in a month, that’s about R1000 that was unbudgeted for. And considering the tough financial times we are living in, every penny DOES count, right?

So my questions to you are:

How much do you spend on gifts for your children’s friends?

Do you have any winner gift ideas which won’t break the bank – for kids and adults?

Share with us!